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Statue of Ancient Greek Goddess Hygieia Unearthed in Turkey

Goddess Hygieia
A statue of the goddess Hygieia was found this week at the ancient city of Aizanoi. Credit: Screenshot from Youtube/Anadolu Agency

A statue of the ancient Greek goddess Hygieia, the goddess of health and cleanliness, was unearthed on Thursday in Aizanoi, in what is now central Turkey.

Viewed as the guardian or the personification of health, the goddess is always portrayed with a serpent, which is clearly visible in the statue’s arms.

Gokhan Coskun, the coordinator of the dig in the ancient city of Aizanoi, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency “We unearthed a statue of Hygieia, known as the goddess of health and cleanliness, the daughter of Asclepius, the god of health in Greek and Roman mythology.”

Goddess Hygieia
A statue of the goddess Hygieia was unearthed on Tuesday in Turkey. Credit: Youtube screenshot/Anadolu Agency

As is often seen in statues unearthed in Turkey, the head of the statue is missing. Coskun, who works at Dumlupinar University in central Turkey, said: “Unfortunately, (the head) hasn’t survived to the present day, but in its current form, we can see that this statue is about the size of a human.”

He added “During past digs in Aizanoi, finds related to Hygieia were also found. This situation makes us think that there may have been some construction and buildings related to the health cult in Aizanoi during the Roman era.”

Located near the town of Cavdarhisar in the Kutahya province, the site is also home to one of the best-preserved temples in Anatolia dedicated to Zeus, the thunderbolt-wielding king of the Greek Olympians.

With a history as rich as Ephesus, another iconic Ancient Greek city located in what is now Turkey, Aizanoi was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2012. Excavations there have been ongoing now for almost a decade.

Archaeological site at Aizanoi is almost 5,000 years old

Coskun told the Anadolu Agency that approximately 100 workers and 25 technical personnel are currently working digs at the nearly 5,000-year-old archaeological site.

“We’re trying to reveal the columned galleries on the west and south wings of the agora (bazaar) and the shops right behind them,” he explained.

The statue of Hygieia, from whom we received our word “hygiene,” was discovered inside the columned gallery along the south wing of the agora, or marketplace.

Located 57 kilometers (35 miles) from the city of Kutahya, Aizanoi was an important political and economic center in Roman times. A well-preserved Temple of Zeus, a spectacular complex consisting of a theatre and stadium, and macellum inscribed with the Price Edict of Diocletian are just some of the most notable ruins still present there.

The city was at its apex in the second and third centuries AD, becoming the seat of a bishopric episcopacy in Byzantine times.

Bronze Age city may have been named after mythological son of Arcas

With its earliest settlement dating back to the Bronze Age, the city may have taken its name from Azan, one of three sons of Arcas and the nymph Erato, the legendary ancestors of the Phrygians.

Recent excavations around the Temple of Zeus indicate the existence of several levels of settlement in the city, dating from as far back as 3,000 BC.

During the Hellenistic period the city changed hands between the Kingdom of Pergamum and the Kingdom of Bithynia, before passing into Roman hands in 133 BC. However, the city continued to mint its own coins. Its monumental buildings date from the early Empire to the 3rd century.

Aezani was part of the Roman province of Phrygia Pacatiana. After becoming the seat of a Christian bishopric, its bishop Pisticus (or Pistus) was a participant at the First Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council, in 325. Pelagius was at a synod that Patriarch John II of Constantinople hastily organized in 518 and that condemned Severus of Antioch; he was also at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

Although no longer a residential bishopric, Aezani is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.

Aezani fell into decline after the 7th century. Later, under the Seljuk Turks, the temple hill was converted into a citadel by Çavdar Tatars, after whom the town of Çavdarhisar is named.

The ruins of Aezani/Aizanoi were discovered by European travelers in 1824. Survey work in the 1830s and 1840s was followed by systematic excavation conducted by the German Archaeological Institute from 1926, resumed in 1970, and still ongoing.

Between 1970 and 2011, digs undertaken by the German Archeology Institute unearthed a theater and a stadium, as well as two public baths, a gymnasium, five bridges, a trading building, necropolises and the sacred cave of Metre Steune – a cultist site thought to be used prior to the first century BC.

Since 2011, Turkish archeologists have been carrying out the work at the ancient site. This year, the excavations were transferred to the Kutahya Museum Directorate.

In January 2021, archaeologists led by Dr. Elif Özer from Pamukkale University announced that they had discovered a cache containing 651 Roman coins dating back to approximately 2,100 years before the present in a jug buried near a stream. Researchers revealed the jug first in 2019.

A total of 439 different coins were denarius (ancient Roman coins minted on silver), and 212 were cistophori, or silver coins from Pergamum. Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony and Augustus the Younger are engraved on the coins, which for the most part are well-preserved. The hoard is now on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

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