A BRIEF HISTORY OF ZEUGMA
by Dr. M. Semih SUMMAK (P.hD) Turkey’s southeast province of Gaziantep was until recently best known for its highly developed industrial areas, pistachio nuts and baklava.
Forty-five kilometers away from Gaziantep close to the town of Nizip on the Euphrates is the tiny village of Belkis, whose inhabitants carefully tender their groves of pistachio trees. The nuts are their sole source of income. Yet not all wealth can be measured in currency, and the villagsed real asset is the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Zeugma, which has stayed buried beneath the pistachio groves for nearly two thousand years.Belkis/Zeugma is considered among the four most important settlement areas under the reign of the Kingdom of Commanage.
In the Hellenistic Era the city was called “Seleukeia of Euphrates”. The ancient city of Zeugma, originally, was founded by Selevkos Nikador, one of the generals of the Alexander the Great, in 300 B.C. At that time the city was named after the general and called “ Selevkaya Euphrates.” And the population in the city was approximately 80 000. In 64 B.C. Zeugma was conquered and ruled by Roman Empire and with this shift the name of the city was changed into Zeugma to mean “bridge-passage.”
During the roman rule, the city became one of the attractions in the region, due to its commercial potential originating from geostrategic location. Because, the Zeugma city was on the silkroad connecting Antiach to China with a quay on the river Euphrates. In 256 A.D.
Zeugma city experienced an invasion and it was fully destroyed by the Sassanian King, Sapur I. The invasion was so dramatic that Zeugma city was not able to recover and thrive for a long time. To make the situation even worse, a violent earthquake hit the city and buried it beneath rubble. Indeed, the city never gained the prosperity once achieved during the Roman rule. In 4th Century A.D. Zeugma settlement became a Late Roman territory. During the 5th and 6th Centuries the city was ruled over by the Early Byzantine domination. As a result of the ongoing Arab raids the city was abandoned ance again. Later on, in the 10th and 12th centuries a small Abbassid residence settled in Zeugma. Finally a village called “Belkis” was founded in the 17th century. Later on Belkis/Zeugma became one of the four major attractions of the Kingdom of Commanage. During the Roman Era, troops called “Schythian Legion” consisting of Anatolian soldiers was positioned around Zeugma. For about two centuries the city was home to high ranking officials and officers of the Roman Empire, who transferred their cultural understanding and sophisticated life style into the region.
Thus the military formation acquired a Roman character and gave rise to an artistic trend of necropolis sculpture. In this respect, samples of beautiful art appeared in the form of steles, rock relieves, statues and altars. This unique trend in sculpture and art made the newly emerging Zeugma art well recognized in whole region. Zeugma became considerably rich, owing to the liveliness created by Legion formation. At that time, there was a wooden bridge connecting Zeugma to the city of Apemia on the other side of Euphrates, and current excavations revealed that there was a big customs and a considerable amount of border trade in the city.
The proof for this assumption came from the findings in the excavations carried out in “Iskele üstü.” In this site 65 000 seal imprints (in clay) called “Bulla”, were found in a place which is believed to serve as the archives for the customs of ancient Zeugma. The seal imprints used in sealing papyrus, parchment, moneybags and customs bales are good indication of volume of the trade and the density of transportation and communication network once established in the region.