Researchers from the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” at Germany’s University of Münster have uncovered a rare bathing facility from the era of the Roman Empire in the southeastern part of Turkey.
As part of the mission, the archaeologists also found a splendid basilica dating back to the Christian late antiquity in the region. Speaking about the findings, classical scholar and excavation director Engelbert Winter of the university said –
Our excavations in the ancient town of Doliche clearly show how a town flourished across epochs and religions in what was then northern Syria – from the Hellenistic period through Christian late antiquity to the early Islamic epoch. The bath, decorated with splendid mosaics, was built in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, when public baths in Syria, unlike in the Latin West, were exceedingly rare. However, the bath was no longer in operation from as early as the 4th century AD.
Under the Roman Empire, Doliche housed the sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus, a so-called “oriental” god widely worshipped between circa 2nd century AD and 3rd century AD. By 4th century, however, the ancient town was abandoned as a result of economic upheavals and wars. Winter further explained –
A new heyday began under Christian auspices: the basilica was built, and the town, which had originally gained attention and become rich on account of the sanctuary of the Roman god Jupiter Dolichenus, became a bishopric.
As per Winter, excavations at the site have been ongoing since 2001. Through their survey, archaeologists have been able to trace the changes that the ancient town of Doliche underwent during its transition into the Roman Empire. He added –
Doliche is an ideal case study for the cultural, political and religious development of a town in ancient Syria. The bathing facility shows how Roman customs were adopted and shaped the townscape. It has the sequence typical of Roman times: cold, warm and hot baths.
While the original facility measured approximately 2,000-square-meters in area, so far, a 150-square-meter room with a swimming pool has been partially excavated. In addition to uncovering parts of the heating system under the floors, the team has found the remains of mosaics dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
Later on, according to the researchers, the lime and marble building material of the defunct bath was processed in a large lime kiln and repurposed for new constructions. It was during the later half of the 4th century that the three-nave basilica was built in the region. Winter went on to say –
The onset of Christianization changed the internal structure of the town. The changing townscape reveals a new Christian identity.
The structure, which was discovered as part of the latest round of excavations, is one of the few early Christian church buildings in the region that have been archaeologically explored. During their survey, the team came across the remains of rooms that might have once served as ancillary rooms and extensions of the church complex. He averred –
This makes the church facility much more spacious than expected. Its further excavation promises to make a significant contribution to our understanding of religious life and sacral architecture in the northern Syria of late antiquity.
Further investigation of the area surrounding the basilica revealed that it was likely destroyed in the 7th century AD due to an earthquake. The town of Doliche was eventually deserted in the 12th century AD. Hoping to develop a “high-resolution picture” of the ancient city, Michael Blömer, an assistant professor at the University of Aarhus, noted –
We are faced here with a monumental task that we are tackling systematically with the help of state-of-the-art methods and research questions. It is not so much about exposing magnificent buildings as it is about generating the most precise information possible on how people lived their lives through the ages. What did the inhabitants consume, what did their everyday lives look like, how did the economy function? And how did the town react to crises like wars, natural disasters, but also political and religious changes?
Source/Image Credits: University of Münster