Roman Seals Showing Hundreds of Gods Unearthed in Turkey
Previous teams of archaeologists excavating in the former Roman city archive of Doliche, Turkey, discovered hoards of clay stamps used to seal official Roman documents. Now, another 2,000 of these Roman seals have been unearthed, each one depicting a different deity and configuration of religious symbolism.
Roman Seals Uncovered in Roman Doliche
Doliche is an ancient Roman city located near Gaziantep, in southern Turkey. Dating back to Hittite times, around the 2nd millennium BC, over the centuries Doliche experienced various cultural influences, from Hittite and Persian to Greek and Roman.
Located strategically at the crossroads of major trade routes, connecting the Mediterranean coast to the Anatolian Plateau, during the Roman period Doliche was a chief pilgrimage site. Having travelled hundreds of miles, the devout made offerings at a grand temple dedicated to the god Jupiter Dolichenus, divine overlord of the sky and thunder.
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Previous archaeological excavations have revealed the remnants of the temple dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, which was heavily decorated with intricate sculptures and inscriptions. But now, an altogether more temporal discovery has been made, in the unearthing of more than 2,000 Roman seals made of clay used for securing official Roman government documents.
Aerial view of the excavations of the ancient Doliche archives where the Roman seals were unearthed. (Forschungsstelle Asia Minor)
Measuring Up the Decorated Roman Seals
Project member, Michael Blömer, a professor of archaeology at the University of Münster in Germany, told Live Science that the 2,000 Roman seals would have been “folded around strings that bound legal documents and letters, and that the clay seals officially closed the documents.”
Each of the delicate artifacts measure between 5 to 20 millimeters (0.2 to 0.8 inches) long. Each of these Roman seals depicts different compositions of popular Roman religious iconography. Blömer explained that the collection displays a wide array of religious imagery, including Roman gods and goddesses, while others show portraits or include inscriptions.
Clay impressions of the Roman seals discovered in Turkey. (Forschungsstelle Asia Minor)
When Roman Seals Clay Artifacts Resist War and Fire
According to the Turkish news platform Anatolian Archaeology, the Roman seals were discovered inside the ruins of the former city archive building that was operational during the mid-second and mid-third centuries AD. Previous excavations in the archive building unearthed approximately 4,000 similar Roman seals, which demonstrates the size of governmental archive stored at this site.
Today, all the ancient documentation that would have been sealed with these stamps has gone and the site comprises but a few crumbling limestone walls. The excavators told Anatolian Archaeology that the documents were destroyed in a major fire, “possibly in 253 AD, when the Persian king Šāpūr I destroyed numerous cities in the Roman province of Syria.”
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Notwithstanding, Blömer told Live Science that the recent excavation of the Doliche archive “will shed new light on the appearance and organization of this type of public architecture.” He also explained that the analysis of the images on the ancient Roman seals is providing new information about the cultural affiliations of the people living in Roman Doliche.
The 2023 excavation team which discovered the Roman seals. (Forschungsstelle Asia Minor)
Civic Archaeology with a Roman Sacred Centre
It is known that the city's religious life centered around the sanctuary dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, and that this site served as a major center of pilgrimage during the Roman Empire. The religious practices in Doliche involved rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies aimed at honoring and appeasing Jupiter Dolichenus, who was often depicted wielding a double-headed axe and a thunderbolt.
Pilgrims from various regions would visit this religious sanctuary seeking blessings, protection, and divine favor. The city's religious significance endured for several centuries, reflecting the diverse and syncretic nature of ancient Roman religious traditions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Over time, these Roman seals will illustrate the other deities that were esteemed at this Roman religious center.
Top image: Two of the Roman seals discovered at the site of Doliche in Turkey. Source: Forschungsstelle Asia Minor
By Ashley Cowie