Forming part of the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology, the Zeugma Mosaic Museum contains a superb collection of lovingly restored mosaics from the ancient Roman town of Zeugma. The museum itself is an impressive modern construction and a great many of the artefacts it features were excavated from ancientZeugma, which is located about 45km away.
Zeugma was one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire in the East. Originally founded around 300BC by Alexander’s general Seleucus Nicator, the city was a vital military and commercial point across the Euphrates river, with as many as 70,000 people living in the city at its peak. However, a devastating attack in 256AD by Sassanid king Shapur I led to the city’s decline. Though Zeugma remained an important Roman and subsequently Byzantine city well into the 6th century, the mounting pressure on the Empire’s borders led to its eventual abandonment.
The remains of Zeugma are located on the bank of the Euphrates and now lie mostly underwater due to the construction of a number of modern dams. Before the dams were built, great conservation efforts were put in place to preserve the ruins of the city. Everything that could be moved was excavated, not just portable objects but wall paintings, mosaics and frescoes – with many of the finds move to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. An unimaginable amount of work has gone into removing, restoring and reassembling these mosaics.
The Zeugma Mosaic Museum itself is among the largest mosaic museums in the world, exhibiting thousands of square metres of truly awe inspiring mosaics, originating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. Alongside this there are other excavations including the frescoes, fountains, sculptures and an intimidating bronze statue of the God Mars.
Sadly, the archaeological site from which the artefacts were excavated was subject to looting over the years. Some of the mosaics are therefore incomplete, due to the market for these artefacts which grew after Zeugma’s discovery. The museum today attempts to raise awareness against the looting and trafficking of artefacts such as these.
Despite this, some of the most impressive mosaics in the museum are vast works, depicting famous characters such as Poseidon, Dionysus and Achilles. Indeed, many of the mosaics have grained world renown; the haunting eyes of the “Gypsy Girl” are widely renowned. When in-situ, the mosaics would have adorned the walls of the Hamam (Turkish Bath) and many of the villas of the richer inhabitants of the ancient city. Archaeologists have recreated these decorated rooms, allowing you to get a feel of what they really would have looked like, thousands of years ago.
Contributed by Rebecca Carman