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The Roman Military Fortress -
Research by the Swiss Team

Swiss-lead research as part of the international 'Zeugma Archaeological Project' (ZAP)

The members of the Swiss Zeugma project group are part of an independent and privately financed team. The project is under the patronage of the Universities of Bern and Lausanne and has received financial support from Swiss and International Institutes and Associations. The project group is lead by the archaeologist Dr. Martin Hartmann and by the historian Dr. Michael A. Speidel, University of Bern, in association with Prof. Dr. C.B. Rüger, University of Bonn and Prof. Dr. R. Ergec, University of Gaziantep. The project works in close collaboration with the Turkish Antiquities service, the Archaeological Museum, Gaziantep, as well as with the University of Gaziantep. Many years of experience and dedication have made us internationally recognised experts in the fields of Roman military history, architecture, equipment, epigraphy and documents. We also have several years of experience in archaeological excavations in Turkey, as well as with the planning and the implementation of exhibitions of archaeological museums. (cf. http://www.chimtou.com).


The singular importance of Zeugma - an ancient metropolis founded around 300 BC - is due to its location on one of the oldest and best crossing points of the Euphrates river.

The position of the dam and area of investigation.

It was here, beyond the Anatolian mountains and through the narrow strip of the fertile crescent, that the most important antique trade route between the Mediterranean world, Mesopotamia and Anatolia passed by. As a gateway and at the crossroads of cultures, Zeugma became an eminent and flourishing settlement. Under Roman rule, the Euphrates River was proclaimed the border between Rome and its only true rival, the Empire of the Parthians and Persians.

Zeugma also played a major strategic role. Near the city a great (hitherto undiscovered) fortress was built as the garrison for an entire Roman legion, and Zeugma became the hub for most Roman military operations in the East. Zeugma then enjoyed both increased wealth and particular attention by the political and military elite of the Roman Empire.

Despite destruction and pillage by Persian invaders in the mid 3rd c. AD, Zeugma remained an important Roman military and economic centre well into the Byzantine period. The altered political and strategic situation in the Near East by the Arab conquest and the shift of the river crossing by a few kilometres to the south lead to the final decline of the city in the 11th century AD. Zeugma's history is therefore closely linked to the political and military history of the entire Near East. The development of this unique ancient site can be fully understood only through a thorough investigation of its military history. Archaeology provides the tools for such an undertaking.

Since 1996 the Swiss-lead international team has been investigating Zeugma's military history using the most modern archaeological methods available. These investigations were part of an archaeological rescue project linked to the imminent flooding of the Euphrates valley by the newly constructed Birecik dam. The results hitherto achieved are of far reaching importance for historical and archaeological research. Two Roman military camps were discovered. They are the oldest Roman fortresses on the Euphrates yet discovered, and shed important light on the historical developments of the early Roman Empire in the East.

Methods - Results - Goals

Research in the field was preceded by a detailed study of all hitherto known sources concerning ancient Zeugma. Furthermore, two intensive surveys were undertaken by both project leaders in 1996, in order to localise possible Roman garrisons at Zeugma in the area which was due to be flooded after the completion of the Birecik dam. A detailed analysis of Russian satellite photographs, which were acquired for this purpose, clearly appeared to confirm our initial results, for they showed the typical outlines of two large, overlapping Roman military camps at the very spot identified by our team during the 1996 survey.

Satellite photograph with the outlines of military camps.

Sondages opened in early 1997 further reinforced these results. In spring 1998 and 1999, final proof was achieved by uncovering several large areas. Both camps could be dated to the first century AD, and information on the internal building structures and the length of occupation was gained. The modern archaeological methods used here were, to the best of our knowledge, employed for the first time during an excavation of the Greco-Roman period in the Near East. This was unavoidable, as there were no stone structures but only the remains of mudbrick walls or of walls made of unfired condensed mud.

Investigation Area with position of the trenches and outlines of the Early Roman Military Camps.

These results are of far-reaching consequences for modern archaeology and history. For the military building structures discovered are not only the first Roman military camps on the Euphrates ever to be thoroughly investigated, but they are also the earliest structures of this kind known in this area. Important information was gained about the history of Roman foreign and frontier policy on the eastern border of the Empire in the first century AD.

Wall, posthole and ditch of the later fortress.

One of the insights gained is that - contrary to the generally held opinion - the large fortress of legio IV Scythica was not situated within Zeugma itself nor immediately close by the city on the banks of the Euphrates. This large and famous legionary fortress of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD is most probably to be found somewhere in the hinterland of the ancient city - an assumption that allows further conclusions to be drawn for the history of the region but also beyond.

Our research into Zeugma's military history continues even after the completion of the Birecik dam. Sondages were carried out in May 2001, which helped to narrow down the search for the legionary fortress of legio IIII Scythica. For the next phase of work, we plan to carry out a geophysical survey in the field "At Meydani" northwest of Belkis Tepe. Many stamped tiles of the legio IV Scythica have been found in this field over the last years, and the results of the planned geophysical survey could serve as a very important basis for future investigations in coming years.

All investigations during the year 2001 have been fully sponsored by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).

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