Landscapes live. Sometimes they live long, even very long. This tawny landscape, not so very far from Sagalassos, contains one of the most important archaeological sites in the 1200 km2 wide study region of the Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project. Assemblages of stone tools were found here, made by our ancestors and relatives, the Neanderthals. Inevitably, these population groups would come across the continental land bridge which is Turkey. So far, the number of Neanderthal findspots in Turkey remains relatively low, adding importance to this landscape. Sadly enough, the active erosional processes which caused the stone artefacts of more than 100,000 years old to come to the surface, ready for archaeological recovery, are at the same time the biggest threat for this unique archaeological landscape. Landscapes live, with or without archaeology.
The Taurus Mountains provide a unique scenic backdrop for the development of the community of Sagalassos between Late Persian and Middle Byzantine times. The sense of place must have been strong for the local inhabitants. Tectonically, the Ağlasun Dağları form part of an active and complex geological region. In geological terms, the Sagalassos area is situated in the frontal area of the Lycean Nappe Complex, on the western limb of the so-called Isparta Angle. This western limb is composed of Mesozoic platform carbonates, overlain by the Lycean Nappe Complex, composed of Mesozoic to Early Tertiary marine sediments, peridotite and ophiolite sheets, and Cenozoic flysch and molasse deposits. Mass movement and other slope processes dominate the recent landscape formation. Human interventions include stone quarrying, forestry management, terrace construction and roadbuilding.
Prehistoric rock art was identified on a rock outcrop in the southwest part of the Yaraşlı Plain, between the modern Turkish villages of Sazak and Kocapınar. Next to modern graffiti, five schematic animal depictions were registered in total, which most likely represent wild goat and deer. The figures were engraved into the rock surface and no traces of paint were present. Although the dating of rock art is generally a very challenging task, it seems most likely that this example dates back to the Epipalaeolithic, near the end of prehistory (20,000-7000 BCE), as this type of ‘art’ is common at the well-known Epipalaeolithic cave sites of the Antalya region, such as at Öküzini and Beldibi. Both animals were common in this time and place as they were frequently found among the faunal remains of the Antalya cave sites. A spring named Kümbet Pınarı is present at the foot of the rock outcrop and Yaraşlı Lake is also nearby. The presence of these fresh water sources suggests that the site was an ideal location for occupation, even though no artefacts were found. The question remains of what to make of this Epipalaeolithic imagery.
Where is Wally? In line with the popular children’s books of the English illustrator Martin Handford, we are looking for the archaeologist here. Together, his knowledge and stature represent scale. Let one thing be clear: the Taurus mountains in Pisidia command irrevocable respect. Located near the village of Ahırtaş, this cave is called Kocain in Turkish, which basically means ‘enormous cave’. Enormous, as in 633 m long with an entrance of 75 m wide by 20 m high. Based on advances in geology, we could build an encompassing scientific explanation about this natural phenomenon. But the rationale of science could also stand aside and watch at Kocain, in modesty and surprise. It feels natural that a sanctuary for the mother goddess was established here in Hellenistic and Roman Imperial times, if not long before that. Mother Earth was there before us and will most probably remain there after us.
Rock slump from the cliffs near Sarıkaya. In this mountain facade one of the main limestone quarries providing ancient Sagalassos with stone building materials would operate.
Even from outer space, it is clear: if it is straight, it is made by humans. The contrast with what nature creates could not be sharper. The latter usually or even eagerly takes over where we fail. Natural balances are something completely different than the social, political and spatial order characterising ancient cities. The archaeological site of Adada in the region of Sagalassos defies this logic to a certain degree. A series of Roman imperial public monuments and temples are surprisingly well-preserved to this day. Even though these monuments remain very much recognisable, the ancient urban tissue which gave these structures meaning and function has disappeared. Even the citizens of Adada are no longer there. What remains, is one of the hidden gems of the Pisidian archaeological record, with the ruins remaining themselves in the natural beauty of the mountain landscape.
The remains of the Hadrianic Forum and Basilica at ancient Kremna represent the earliest firmly datable Roman Imperial monuments of this neighbouring town south of Sagalassos. This was the political heart of the Roman colonia, where veterans of Augustus’ armies were settled. The standing arch, together with two other collapsed arches, formed part of the western entrance to the Basilica. The Forum was rectangular in shape and the three-aisled Basilica was situated along its 57 m long north side. In the background, the flight of 20 steps of the large Propylon or monumental Gateway can be seen.
Around 100 BCE, the ancient geographer Artemidoros of Ephesos listed Aarassos/Ariassos as one of 13 Pisidian cities. By then, the presumed Hellenistic fortification wall may have encircled a built-up area of about 10 ha. Together, some additional mentions in ancient sources, a modest collection of inscriptions and limited series of local coinage represent the preserved historical framework of this provincial city. Some of the most striking standing ancient structures at Ariassos are monumental tombs, located in necropoleis surrounding the world of the living. The double vaulted tomb and adjacent temple form part of a group of 6 funerary monuments overlooking the main street of Roman Imperial Ariassos. No clues are preserved to identify the wealthy family who chose to spend eternity at this spot.
Sometimes even archaeologists are lost for words. How come this slender arched gateway in the town of Ariassos remained standing, while the remainder of the buildings and monuments on the archaeological site have neatly collapsed, as we would expect after all this time? The monument was dedicated to the Severan dynasty of Roman emperors. The 3rd century CE was no easy time for the Roman empire. Some scholars even talk about crisis. The fact is that in a series of towns in the historical region of Pisidia, a range of monuments was erected stressing the ties with these emperors. There are indications that the region became part of the logistical supply machinery of the Roman legions, then active in the Levant. This situation did not do the local elites any harm as they were officially promoted here and there in the administration of the empire. Then as now, the appreciation of crisis very much depends on the perspective.
Some people never die. Correction: they die but are not forgotten. Titus Flavius Severianus Neon, as a 2nd century CE mortal, grew into Sagalassos’ biggest celebrity and benefactor. His family liked big deeds, with his presumed grandfather, for instance, introducing the cult of the Roman emperors at Sagalassos. The Flavii Neones were one of the two most influential families at Sagalassos, which had received Roman citizenship during the reign of the Flavian emperors. Neon funded the construction of the Library at Sagalassos, in commemoration of his father and family. He may have sponsored one of the most iconic monuments at Sagalassos, the Antonine Nymphaeum on the Upper Agora, although we cannot be absolutely sure. As a matter of fact, the preserved inscriptions of Titus Flavius Severianus Neon remain vague on why he was honoured by the civic community of Sagalassos, as well as on his family ties. His wife saw to the construction of his mausoleum, now heavily overgrown, but still splendidly located along the southern, main access route into Sagalassos. Unfortunately, her name is only partially preserved on the epitaph. She was a certain Aelia, which implies that she belonged to a family who received Roman citizenship under the reign of Hadrian. Whether she was Publia Aelia Ulpiane Noe, linked to the construction of the town’s Macellum with her first husband, we will never be sure. In any case, Titus Flavius Severianus Neon’s final resting place offered stunning views on both Sagalassos and the fertile soils of the Ağlasun Valley, where the family accumulated as well as consolidated its fortune.
Part of the Hellenistic fortification system at ancient Sia, known today as Taşdandam Tepesi. The ruins of this little known Pisidian town are obscured by a thick forest, creating a visual feeling of the collapse of city life in classical antiquity.
Places always have a history. People did things in places. Somehow, however, history gets blurry, somewhat confusing when we cannot name the place. The majority of the settlements of classical antiquity in the region of the Turkish Taurus mountains are known by name. That is, the majority of the urban, monumentalised sites. In contract, the find scatters recovered in intensive archaeological surveying campaigns, which represent farmsteads, hamlets or villages will hardly ever be known by their original names. But sometimes even urban sites remain unnamed, unknown. To the north of Turkish Manavgat, in the eastern reaches of what used to be the historical region of Pamphylia, lies such an unknown place. Parts of a fortification system, an agora, baths and a handful of temples stand well-preserved as testimonies to a thriving urban past in Roman Imperial times. But was this ancient Seleukeia as mentioned in the so-called ‘Stadiasmos Maris Magni’, a 3rd century CE travel guide for sailors, or ancient Lyrbe as mentioned by the geographer Ptolemaios? No one can really tell at the moment. Which is a pity for the people that used to live here. They, in any case, had a strong sense of place. They left us with inscriptions in the very local language of nearby ancient Side. Rarely, such local languages are put to stone.
The archaeological site of Kökez Kale is sheltered in the mountains. A small community settled here in Archaic to Hellenistic times. As part of a contemporary network of similar sites on slopes, hilltops or mountain plateaux, the kale provided strategic visual control of the plains in the region. Sufficient water resources and arable land sustained life, which nonetheless must have been hard during colder months.
According to the latest evidence, a large community first settled at Sagalassos by the end of the 5th century BCE. Around the same time, another community settled at the archaeological site of Düzen Tepe, very close to Sagalassos. Düzen Tepe was abandoned when Sagalassos started to grow as a Hellenistic polis. The stony fields on the site now did not easily give away their buried archaeology. In any case, the appearance and nature of Düzen Tepe, and early Sagalassos, fit the regional Iron Age tradition of hilltop settlements. In the Ağlasun Valley other strings of smaller sites were discovered, making the settlement pattern relatively rich by Achaemenid times. It is an open question whether these developments implied growing population numbers. In other regions of Achaemenid Anatolia, population growth and feudal land management systems have been postulated, especially near satrapal capitals. In the case of Pisidia, the satrapal capital of Greater Phrygia at Kelainai (Dinar) is not that far. However, the fact that Pisidian troops are attested to have fought with, as well as against Persian overlords is indicative of limited direct Achaemenid control and the Pisidians having multiple alliances.