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The Stunning Greek Mosaics of Zeugma are Archaeological Treasures

Greek mosaics of Zeugma
Achilles at Skyros. Public Domain

The Ancient Greek mosaics of Zeugma in Turkey are true archaeological treasures that can thankfully still be admired at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in the town of Gaziantep.

The 30,000-square-meter (320,000 square foot) museum, which opened its doors in September of 2011 is the largest mosaic museum in the world, containing 1,700 square meters (18,000 square feet) of the ancient works of art.

Greek mosaics of Zeugma
Zeus, transformed into a bull, is portrayed stealing the goddess Europa. Credit: Dosserman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

The museum focuses on the mosaics found in Zeugma, which was originally founded as Seleucia by Seleucus I Nicator, a general in Alexander the Great’s Army, in 305 BC.

After Alexander’s death, his generals divided his empire among themselves. Although Seleucus moved his main capital to Antioch, Seleucia became an important center of trade, Hellenistic culture, and regional government under the Seleucids.

Greek mosaics of Zeugma
Akratos and Euphrosyne. CrediT: Dosseman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

The city was populated by Greeks, Syrians and Jews. It was an affluent city with a population of 80,000 and in the 2nd and 3rd century BC was of sufficient stature to be compared to another great center of Hellenism, Alexandria, in Egypt.

The Roman Empire’s forces conquered the city in 64 BC, renaming it Zeugma (meaning “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek).

Greek mosaics of Zeugma
The Greek god Acheloos. Public Domain

The Romans held Zeugma until 253 AD, when the Persian Sassanids conquered the city, putting a violent end to its greatest years.

The mosaic treasures of Zeugma

The treasures of Zeugma, including its vaunted mosaics, remained relatively unknown until 2000. Zeugma is now 80 percent underwater, after it was flooded with the waters of a nearby artificial lake.

Greek mosaics of Zeugma
Andromeda with Perseus, who is holding the head of Medusa.Credit: Dosseman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Archaeologists were alarmed at the flooding of the area and immediately began excavations to save the ancient treasures.

Most of the Greek mosaics of Zeugma — which were recovered in excellent condition — belong to the 2nd century BC, preceding the Romans.

Greek mosaics of Zeugma
Dionysos and Vacchi. Credit:Dosseman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

However, some of the mosaics appear to belong to the Roman era, as they depict Greek and Roman deities together.

In addition, some of the mosaics deviate from purely Hellenistic style and imagery, with archaeologists placing them in the Roman era of the city’s history.

Gree mosaics of Zeugma
Zeus in the form of Satyros tries to seduce Antiope. Credit: Dosseman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

The archaeological site of Zeugma

The archaeological site of Zeugma is a UNESCO World Heritage Center, located 10 kilometers (six miles) away from Nizip, within the boundaries of Gaziantep.

The preserved parts of the ancient city include the Hellenistic Agora, the Roman Agora, two sanctuaries, the stadium, the theater, two bathhouses, and the Roman legion military base.

Remains of the administrative structures of the Roman legion, the majority of the residential quarters, Hellenistic and Roman city walls, and the East, South and West necropolis can also be found.

The archaeological site of Zeugma is of immense historical significance for understanding the ancient integration of Hellenistic and Semitic cultural spheres and the birth of syncretistic hybrid cultures in the region.

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