In February of 2021, a restoration project was launched under the aegis of Ümit Aydınlıoğlu, associate professor at Mersin University, supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, Turkey. The goal was (and is) to bring back to glory the erstwhile ancient city of Uzuncaburç (Diocaesarea), a Graeco-Roman town located in Cilicia Trachea in Asiatic Turkey, reported Hurriyet Daily News . During these very excavations, 19 artifacts, dated to 1,400 years ago, were unearthed in the last week of 2021! And they all relate to the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628 AD.
The Byzantine-Sassanid War artifacts found in rapid succession at the end of 2021 included a skeleton, a necklace, pendant, chain, earring, and an amulet with a bracelet and a chain. These were all discovered in an inner room during the restoration and excavation works of the 23-meter (75.4 feet) tower in the ancient city. The tower was constructed in Uzuncaburç at the end of the 6th century or in the early 7th century AD, reported Arkeo News .
A closeup of one of the 2021 Byzantine-Sassanid War artifacts found in Mersin Province, Turkey. ( Anadolu Agency )
The Exciting Finds and the Byzantine-Sassanid War
Says Gökhan Yazgı, General Manager of Cultural Heritage and Museums, speaking with the Turkish Anadolu Agency (AA) state press agency said:
“The basis of archaeology is the excitement of solving the mystery. With such finds, all our colleagues are excitedly trying to describe the story of this, the events that took place at that time. That’s why these objects are so important to us. These finds shed light on them. When we solve the mystery in this excitement, we are also happy as a detective. All our colleagues and archaeologists are trying to carry out this with excitement.”
After rounds of carbon dating and other modes of scientific testing, it is thought that the skeletal remains may be that of a priest. “We have speculations that the skeleton may belong to a priest,” said Yazgı. There are plans to exhibit the Byzantine-Sassanid War artifacts in the Silifke Museum in the heart of Mersin Province, Turkey.
Added to the fray are coins from the period of Emperor Heraclius , minted during the Byzantine-Sassanid War (602-628) period. The end of the war forced the Iranians to withdraw from all occupied territories and return “The True Cross” to the Byzantines. The fire and damage to the tower in the ancient city of Uzuncaburç occurred during this tumultuous period, and similar forms of damage and destruction took place across the Silifke region of Anatolia.
“Until now, our aim has been to add value to our city in the field of archaeology, as in other fields. We act with the awareness of the vital importance of such projects in order for Mersin to become a center of attraction in terms of archaeotourism, and thankfully we achieve good results. These first findings, obtained by the hard work of the excavation team, herald that the archaeological richness of Uzuncaburç will come to light in more detail in the next period,” said Rector Professor Ahmet Çamsarı to the Haberturk.
An exquisite chain from the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628 AD found in Mersin Province, Turkey which was part of ancient Anatolia. ( Anadolu Agency )
Ancient Uzuncaburç and The Multicultural History of Turkey
After the fall of the empire in the 5th century AD, the power center shifted to Constantinople, with the succeeding empire (in continuum) being called the Byzantine Empire. However, the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire was different from Rome with a return to Greek customs and traditions, instead of Roman.
Golden tubular bracelet found at the Mersin site. ( Anadolu Agency )
Eventually, Constantinople too would meet its end a millennium later, when the Ottoman Empire took over in 1453 AD.
This forms the backdrop of what is now Turkey’s multicultural and diverse history, with different competing forces vying for power, and the establishment of different religious centers, made more complicated by this highly strategic location between Asia and Europe.
As for Uzuncaburç, formerly known as Diocaesarea, located in southern Turkey, it was the worship center of the Olba kingdom, which was dominant in the region during the Hellenistic period (323 BC – 31 BC). The Olba kingdom was a vassal state to both the Seleucid and Roman empires during this period. By the time of the Ottomans, this region was called Uzuncaburç, owing to the Hellenistic period ruins and the aforementioned tower.
Geographically, Uzuncaburç is a flat plateau set in a mountainous area, which made early settlements possible here. Even during the Hittite period (an ancient Anatolian empire between 1600-1180 BC), the region was allegedly a sacred area. Uzuncaburç continued to grow and develop until Roman period, when the huge fountain and the entrance gates were added, along with cobbled streets, as reported in Arkeo News.
One of Alexander the Great’s generals, Seleukos Nikator I, built a temple dedicated to Zeus in the city, which was converted into a church during the Byzantine period.
This rich history and the various undercurrents and powers that ruled Uzuncaburç over many centuries makes the region an exciting archaeological paradise that the Turkish government and people of the Mersin region wish to promote. And soon these beautiful pieces of ancient jewelry will be on display for all to see in Mersin Province.
Top image: At the end of 2021 Turkish archaeologists found 14 incredible artifacts from the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628 AD in the ancient city of Uzuncaburç, in Mersin Province. Source: Anadolu Agency
By Sahir Pandey