Syria Archeology and Ancient Arts Part II

By | December 17, 2021

Near Tainat an English expedition led by Sir Leonard Woolley began in 1936 and resumed excavations in 1946 at Atchana, ancient Alalakh. Already since now the intersection of the civilizations of the West and the East is revealed there – starting from the moment when, around 2000 BC. C., the Mesopotamian civilization is entering a period of decline -, together with evident influences from the Aegean, as well as from Egypt, and from the civilizations of the Hurrians and the Hittites. Further south and inland, 7 excavation campaigns (1932-38) were carried out in Ḥamāt by a Danish mission led by H. Ingholt. 12 successive stratifications have been distinguished, starting from the Neolithic period up to the Muslim one. The second layer (above the last Neolithic), rich in ceramic material, corresponds to the Tell Halaf period, extending for about the second half of the fourth millennium BC. C. A period of great prosperity is represented by the fifth layer, that is the Aramaic period that goes from 950 BC. C. to the destruction of the city by Sargon II of Assyria in 720 BC. C.: prosperity manifested by the imposing ruins of the buildings set on fire by the Assyrians, by the decorative elements of these – like grandiose basalt lions – and by their furnishings. A trapezoidal stele in basalt, decorated with a large double-headed eagle surmounted by human figures, probably belongs to the previous layer, or submiceneo (about 1200-950 BC). The excavations of Byblos in Lebanese territory, resumed in 1926 under the direction of M. Dunand, were completed in 1932; the latest investigations have made it possible to complete the image especially of the early stages of its history. A Neolithic necropolis, with corpses huddled in jars containing the few furnishings (copper daggers, some silver ribbon, pottery) corresponds to the Egyptian pre-dynastic age, and revealed the existence on the site of a branch of the “Mediterranean race” of the Sergi. The foundation of the city would have been due, after a considerable interval of time, according to Dunand, to elements of the Djiblite civilization from the north and to contemporary Semitic infiltrations. Even in the most ancient Phoenician buildings we can see the evident Egyptian influence: so in the oldest of the two great temples excavated, belonging to the Ancient Empire, the plant is Egyptian, the beautiful foundation statuettes in bronze are of Egyptian style, and of the same style weighed down by the local interpretation of the decoration with colossal stone statues, one of which has been preserved entirely. This temple was open to worship until Roman times; to which other buildings also belong, such as a theater. For Syria 2007, please check

But by far the most sensational excavations on the coastal cities of Phenicia are those carried out in 11 consecutive campaigns, up to 1939, by a French mission led by FA Schaeffer, at Ras Shamra, on the Syrian coast south of Lattaquié (see ras shamra, App. I, p. 960 and in this App.). The architecture of the city is strongly influenced by the Cypriot-Mycenaean influence, as evidenced by a group of magnificent tombs of the type of that cnossia of Isopata. Syro-Mycenaean art has given us back products of rare beauty, such as a cup and a gold patera with reliefs and the lid of an ivory pyx with the πότνια ϑηρῶν between two rampant kids.

Coming to the historical age, 10 excavation campaigns conducted by Yale University from 1928 to 1937 under the guidance and inspiration of M. Rostovtzeff, managed to draw a relatively clear picture of Dura-Europo’s life and art. (see App. I, p. 530).

From 1931 to 1939 Princeton University in association with the Louvre conducted 9 excavation campaigns in Antioch on the Orontes, as well as in Daphne, its famous summer suburb near the river falls, and in the ancient port of the city on the Mediterranean. Seleucia. The excavations have brought to light important ruins, from the Hellenistic-Roman age to the Arab conquest. The route of the luxurious arcaded road that crossed the heart of Antioch has been outlined, part of the circus has been dug, outside the Justinian boundary wall, probably in the ancient island of the Orontes, moreover numerous houses and climbing houses have been brought to light on the slopes of Silpio and Staurin within the walled circle, and numerous and well-organized bathing establishments within and outside the walls. A cruciform church beyond the martyrion of the illustrious martyr of the city San Babila. In Daphne, in addition to the remains of magnificent villas and nymphaeums, the theater has been excavated, and in Seleucia villas perched on the hills, as well as buildings in the lower city near the port and the shops along the quays: among these a Doric temple and a another martyrion in a quatrefoil shape from the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century. d. C. Among the finds it is worth mentioning a very rich series of polychrome mosaic floors, which extend from the 1st to the 6th century. d. C. and which, as well as for the history of art, are of great interest for our knowledge of the civil and religious antiquities of the place. One of these mosaics, well datable towards the middle of the 5th century. it is important for the topography of Daphne itself, because on the margins there are various of its buildings identified by inscriptions.

In Apamea, 7 excavation campaigns carried out by Belgians under the direction of F. Mayence, up to 1938, have just begun to delineate, under the enormous heap of ruins, part of the great city, which so far has revealed mainly buildings of the advanced Empire and the late Roman period. The layout of the two grandiose arcaded streets in the center of the city has been determined – of which the largest, the north-south one, has a total width of 34.50 m., With two side arcades each 7 m deep. – and some of the buildings near their intersection have been partially investigated, including a synagogue, a large “triclinos”, a basilica, a spa, a theater, etc. Under the arcades of the main street, long sections of an interesting mosaic decoration were found, and other mosaics have been returned to us from various buildings, important for their precise written dating. A section of the colonnaded street, with its mosaic (part original and part in copy) was reconstituted in the Museum of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, but was destroyed by a recent fire.

The French administration to the antiquities of Syria continued its work of excavating and arranging the ruins in Palmyra and elsewhere until the end of the mandate. The aerial exploration, preliminary to most of the excavations listed above, has in itself given remarkable results in the topographical field. A. Poidebard, after the delimitation by this means of the Roman limes of all Syria, in collaboration with A. Mouterde determined the more precise organization of the limes of northern Syria. The underwater exploration for its part, in support of the aerial one, allowed Poidebard himself to delineate the submerged port of ancient Tire.

Syria Archeology and Ancient Arts Part II