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Ruins of Anavarza (Anazarbus), Adana, Turkey.

Amazing Anazarbus: Digs Uncover Gladiatorial Ring, Triumphal Arch, and More in Ancient Anatolian City

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The long reach of the Roman Empire was felt in southern Turkey, where in the town of Anazarbus the Romans erected a triumphal arch after defeating a Parthian force in the first century BC. And archaeological excavations show that a well-preserved theater was the backdrop where gladiators once fought wild beasts.

Recent Finds at Anazarbus

Excavations at the ancient city, whose name means “invincible” or “unvanquished” in Persian, have been under way since 2013. The most recent discovery is the arena or gladiators’ ring, which archaeologists are still trying to unearth.

The oval-shaped theater measures 62 by 83 meters (203.4 by 272.3 ft.) and Çukurova University Archaeology Professor Fatih Gülşen says the archaeological team is currently examining a stone throne they discovered during the dig. There are some inscriptions on the throne that have yet to be deciphered as well.

According to Gülşen, the presence of a stone throne indicates that some of the spectators watching the gladiatorial battles were high status and had exclusive seating. Right now the focus is on discovering more about the stadium and the necropolis that is located to the south of it. Gülşen explained, “We are analyzing how the amphitheater was planned and designed, how the gladiator fights took place, which animals were used and what type of necropolis the deceased were buried in, all of which will shed light on the period's history.”

Carving showing a Roman Emperor presiding over gladiatorial games. (Sailko/CC BY SA 3.0)

Anazarbus Had Many Different Inhabitants

Underneath the amphitheater there are arches and chambers where wild animals, including lions and tigers, waited to be brought into the stadium to fight the gladiators. The stadium also had tall granite watchtowers where referees oversaw the combatants.

“We’ll be able to see how such structures operated beyond Rome, in distant states like Anatolia.” Gülşen said, according to an article in BGN News .

The area was inhabited long before the Romans took over, but the ruins being excavated now were built on the order of Emperor Augustus beginning in 19 BC. Anazarbus (Anavarza) was one of the most important Roman military outposts in the East.

The triumphal arch and city gates of the ancient Cilician city of Anazarbus in southern Turkey; archaeologists are excavating and restoring the city. (Mustafa Tor/CC BY SA 3.0)

There is evidence that the city was at various times home to Sassanian, Greek, Ottoman, Byzantine and Armenian peoples. The foundation of a fortress at the site may date back to the seventh century BC and the Assyrians. The Romans took it over from the Cilicians.

It declined during the later Byzantine period but became the capital of the Armenian kingdom in the 12th century AD. The Armenians abandoned the city in 1375 after the Marmelukes defeated them. The city was never reoccupied.

Anazarbus is on the outskirts of present-day Dilekkaya in the Kozan district of Adana Province. The ruins are becoming a tourist attraction.

The ancient fortress at Anazarbus or Anavarza, which may date back to Assyrians building in the seventh century BC.

The ancient fortress at Anazarbus or Anavarza, which may date back to Assyrians building in the seventh century BC. (Sarah Murray/CC BY SA 2.0)

Previous Discoveries at the Site

In 2015, the triumphal arch of Anazarbus, which is 22.5 meters (74 feet) wide, 10.5 meters (34.5 ft.) high and 5.6 meters (18.4 ft.) thick, was under renovations to restore it as a tourist attraction.

Gülşen said in May 2015 that the gate had three arches, but only two are still standing, according to Archaeology News Network . However, restoration experts used laser scanners to determine which blocks go where in order to replace them. The arch was made with granite, marble and smooth lime. Gülşen called it “an artistic wonder. Gülşen described the feature:

“It is a huge and unique structure decorated with Corinthian heads, columns, pilasters [rectangular columns] and niches. Because of these features, it is the only one in the region that we call Çukurova today, and one of the few monumental city gates within the borders of Turkey.”

1864 plan of Anazarbus, Turkey. (Public Domain)

Much More to Explore

Daily Sabah reports the city had the only known two-lane road in the ancient world. The road was 2,700 meters (8,858 ft.) long and was lined with monumental columns.

The city was home to some famous ancients, including the poet Opanius and Pedanius Dioscorides, who has been called the founder of pharmacology – he concocted medicines from 50 local plants.

It seems there is still more to find in the 4-million-square-meter (988-acre) city of Anazarbus. According to Daily Sabah, archaeologists have identified “castle, baths, churches, triumphal arch, aqueducts, rock tombs, stadium, mosaics” and the theater where the gladiatorial fights took place, so there is still a lot to unearth, analyze, and interpret.

Part of the defensive works of the fortress of Anavarza alongside the remnants of a fierce summer rainstorm. (Sarah Murray/CC BY SA 2.0)

Top Image: Ruins of Anavarza (Anazarbus), Adana, Turkey. Source: Sondem /Adobe Stock

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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