2,500-Year-Old Reliefs Found in Turkey Portray Greco-Persian Wars
Archaeologists digging at the site of the ancient Anatolian city of Daskyleion in northwestern Turkey were delighted to discover skillfully carved stone reliefs dating back to the fifth century BC. These sculpted images featured battle scenes pitting the forces of Persia against those of the Greeks, recreating scenes of the Greco-Persian Wars that occurred 2,500 years ago.
An Epic Relief of the Greco-Persian Wars
According to a report by Daily Sabah, the reliefs depict encounters that could have occurred in many locations in the greater Mediterranean region over a 50-year period, from 499 BC to 449 BC. This is when the epic Greco-Persian Wars were fought, between the armies and navies of the Achaemenid Empire (the Persians) and those of the Delian League, a large political and military alliance of Greek city-states led by Athens.
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The Greeks would conquer Anatolia and absorb the city of Daskyleion into the rapidly growing empire of Alexander the Great in 334 BC. At the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, however, Daskyleion and the rest of Anatolia were occupied by the Persians. Soldiers dispatched by the legendary Persian emperor Cyrus the Great had conquered Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in 547 BC, which marked the beginning of the Achaemenid Empire’s 200-year reign as the primary political authority in the region.
The reality of the political situation in Daskyleion and the surrounding area were reflected in the images on the newly discovered reliefs, which were undoubtedly carved by a Persian military chronicler and artist.
Archaeologist cleaning a relief found in the ancient city of Daskyleion, Balıkesir, western Turkey. (Anadolu Agency)
“The figures on it are Greek soldiers and Persians on horseback fighting against them,” archaeologist and excavation leader Kaan Iren of Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University told the Anadolu Agency. “Greek soldiers are depicted under the feet of Persian horses … we can say that these reliefs are a scene from the Persian-Greek wars, and these reliefs were probably made for propaganda purposes."
The Persians and Greeks both enjoyed some successes during these wars. In the end the five-decade-long conflict ended in a stalemate, with the Persians maintaining control over their Anatolian province of Hellespontine Phrygia and its capital city of Daskyleion—for the time being.
Aware of the city’s complex history, the archaeological team working at Daskyleion has been busy looking for ruins and artifacts from different eras.
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Part of the extensive area that has been excavated at Daskyleion. (Anadolu Agency)
The city was founded sometime before 750 BC by the Phrygians, an Indo-European people from the southern Balkans who migrated to Anatolia. The original Phrygian settlement was seized by the indigenous Anatolian kingdom of Lydia in the seventh century BC, and remained under their authority until Cyrus the Great absorbed the city and its surrounding regions into the Achaemenid Empire in the mid-sixth century. From there it would be taken by the Greeks in the fourth century BC, and by the Romans in the second century BC. It would ultimately become a part of the Byzantine Empire when the original Roman Empire split into western and eastern halves.
Kaan Iren confirmed that the current round of excavations began on June 22, as a team of 30 archaeologists, students, and volunteers began their rigorous search for any and all remnants left behind by past occupiers. Their excavations have been productive, with the stone reliefs standing out as a most exciting discovery.
“This was one of the most important achievements of the season for us,” Iren confirmed. He said his team was quite surprised to discover the reliefs, which happened while they were digging near an ancient buried wall that was built during the city’s Phrygian period.
The relief depicts what experts think is motivational propaganda, showing the Greeks being trampled by Persian horses during the Greco-Persian Wars. (Anadolu Agency)
The Story of Daskyleion, a City Sought by Empires
Daskyleion was strategically located, with respect to self-defense and trade. It was founded by Phrygian migrants on the southern shore of Lake Manyas, just 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of the inland Sea of Marmara, which was bordered by the Black Sea to the east and Aegean Sea to the west. While offering easy access to the most important waterways in the region, it was in an ideal position to prevent further excursions into Anatolia’s interior, should invaders arrive from neighboring kingdoms and empires.
When the Lydians, Persians, and Greeks arrived in Anatolia, each sought political, economic, and military control over Daskyleion. Centuries later, the Romans and the Byzantines did the same, recognizing the importance of this thriving community to the welfare and security of their empire. Daskyleion was constructed and reconstructed as a fortress by all of its occupiers, and all dispatched highly qualified and respected administrators and leaders to manage the city and its surrounding area.
In the case of the Lydians, the king himself actually went to live in the city, in the early seventh century BC. This monarch, who was known as Daskylos, left Lydia’s traditional capital Sardis to escape from political turmoil. The king’s son Gyges was born in the city, and when he later became Lydia’s king he chose to name it Daskyleion, to pay tribute to the memory of his father.
Why Daskyleion is a Must-See Destination for Archaeologists
The long pattern of occupation in Daskyleion makes it an attractive location for archaeologists interested in exploring the ancient history of Asia Minor and Anatolia. It has produced artifacts and remains left by many different cultures, all of whom played a role in the development of not just Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), but in the greater Mediterranean Sea region as a whole.
The story of how the fifth century BC stone relief was found highlights just how exciting and fertile the ancient site of Daskyleion has been for archaeologists. At the time the relief was discovered, the archaeological team was excavating a significant discovery from another time entirely.
“We unearthed a 4-meter-high (13-feet-high) and 40-meter-long area of a Phrygian wall from the eighth century BC,” Iren said. “We think that this wall, made of stone and adobe, had a height of 7-8 meters. The adobe parts of it have been destroyed over time.” He further described the ancient Phrygian structure as “a 5-meter-wide fortification wall that these people built to protect their own area.”
The archaeologists also found a Phrygian tower just a short distance from the wall, and they will be continuing their excavations there as well. The stone relief turned up while they were busy with this important work, as an anomalous and totally unexpected find.
And that’s not all the archaeologists have recovered. Simultaneous to their work on the Phrygian ruins, Iren and his team have also been digging in and around a 2,600-year-old Lydian-era kitchen facility that was first excavated three years ago. The archaeologists have been carefully searching for (and finding) utensils, cooking pots, scraps of preserved food waste, and other items that might shed some light on seventh century BC Lydian cooking and eating habits.
Considering that the excavations that produced all this only began two months ago, it’s easy to see why so many archaeologists want to come to Daskyleion.
Top image: Reliefs of the Greco-Persian Wars found in the ancient city of Daskyleion western Turkey. Source: Anadolu Agency
By Nathan Falde