The tiny ancient city known as Doliche to the Romans was famous for its popularizing of the “mystery” god Jupiter Dolichenus. Not really related to the head of the Roman pantheon, this god was exotic and the central figure in a mystery cult that proliferated in the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. And at Doliche, archaeologists have found a massive temple to him, along with rock graves, stone quarries, and — just announced today — an impressively detailed mosaic MOS -3.13% floor from the late Antique period.
The modern village in which Doliche is still partially buried, Dülük, lies in Turkey, just across the border from Syria. In Roman times, though, Doliche was part of the Syrian province. Since 2001, Engelbert Winter and colleagues from a variety of disciplines have been excavating at Doliche, primarily on the temple of Jupiter Dolichenus. Professor Winter, of the University of Münster’s Asia Minor Research Centre, said in a press release that Doliche “is one of the few places where Syrian urban culture from the Hellenistic-Roman era can currently still be studied. Our excavations in the city of Doliche can provide new information about the urban culture in the ancient Northern Syrian midland.”
Doliche is rather unique in this respect because other Syrian urban centers are at risk or have already been destroyed because of the war. According to Winter, “the situation today at the site of Apamea, one of the most important ancient cities of Syria, is particularly bad. Illicit excavations, clearly visible in satellite imagery, have destroyed the entire urban area.” And at Cyrrhus, another important ancient Syrian city, “the excavations that had recently been resumed also had to be stopped due to the current situation.” Even ancient Antioch – the capital of Roman Syria – remains inaccessible, according to Winter, although that is the result of modern construction.
Today’s revelation of an exquisite mosaic floor comes from a complex of buildings at Doliche that covered more than 100 square meters, according to archaeologist Michael Blömer. “Because of its size and the strict, well-composed sequence of filigran geometric patterns, the mosaic is one of the most beautiful examples of late antique mosaic art in the reason,” he says in a press release. Blömer speculates it was part of a wealthy urban villa and suggests the finding may mean more surprises for the archaeologists as they dig deeper into the environment of the urban elites at Doliche.
But even the common people are getting their due. Blömer mentions excavations planned for 2016 that will open up the public areas of the ancient city, and they have already begun to excavate simple houses, alleys, and water pipelines. “We hope to obtain a reliable picture of a Northern Syrian city from the Hellenistic era to the age of the crusaders as well as a clearer picture of the material of everyday culture and of local identities in this region,” Blömer concludes, “the research of which is still in its early stages as regards ancient Syria.”
By: Kristina Killgrove