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To Survive Under Siege, the ‘Mother Goddess City’ Relied on Enormous Cisterns

The structures, which supplied the Turkish settlement of Metropolis with water, were later converted into garbage dumps

The city of Metropolis features structures from many eras. This theater dates to the Hellenistic period. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonianmag.com

For a city under siege, danger comes not just from enemies at the gate, but from dwindling supplies of daily necessities. Now, archaeologists have discovered one key to survival for citizens of Metropolis, a city in modern-day Turkey, during the conflict-filled Byzantine age: four huge cisterns capable of carrying a collective 600 tons of water.

As the Hürriyet Daily News reports, a team headed by Serdar Aybek, an archaeologist at Manisa Celal Bayar University, found the four connected structures buried beneath 23 feet of dirt.

Built during the late Roman and early Byzantine period (roughly 284 to 750 A.D.), the cisterns were situated in the walled acropolis—the highest part of the city. Other sources of water located in lower parts of the city would have been inaccessible when residents were hunkered down during attacks.

“We are excited to open a new door to the daily lives of ancient people that lived in the region 1,500 years ago,” Aybek tells Demirören News Agency (DHA), according to a report in the English-language Daily Sabah. “The new discovery of four cisterns in the acropolis prove[s] the skills of the ancient masters of Metropolis in the field of water engineering.”

The archaeologist adds that the three-story-tall cisterns are the best-preserved structures found in the ancient city. They probably supplied water to a nearby bathhouse, in addition to meeting other needs.

Metropolis, located in the Izmir province of western Turkey, was active over a long stretch of history. Established in the third century B.C., the settlement—also known as the “Mother Goddess City”—houses artifacts spanning the Neolithic Age through the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods and into the time of the Ottoman Empire.

The ancient city is located in western Turkey. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

During the 12th and 13th centuries, after the city stopped using the cisterns to store water, they became a dumping ground for locals’ garbage, the archaeologists say. Food remains, animal bones and ceramic pieces found inside the containers offer clues to the daily lives of the city’s residents in that era, suggesting their diet included beef, poultry and mutton. The ceramic pieces were glazed and decorated with plant and animal designs.

Daily Sabah reports that the site has been under excavation for almost 30 years, with the latest dig beginning in July 2020. Researchers have found more than 11,000 historical artifacts, including coins, sculptures, and bone, metal and ivory artifacts, at the site. Among the most significant finds was a lavish seat featuring carvings of griffins.

As the state-run Anadolu Agency reported in 2014, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry, Sabancı Foundation, and Torbalı Municipality conducted the work in collaboration with Celal Bayar University.

Aybek told Anadolu that the city is significant not so much for its size as for its design elements, including marble workmanship used in public buildings. It features structures that use a variety of historical styles, including a third-century Hellenistic theater and Roman-style baths. The baths, which offered hot and cold water, massages, restrooms, and places for political discussions, were a particularly important part of the city. According to Aybek, the largest of the baths covers an acre and a half.

“The artistic style of the theater, assembly building and baths in Metropolis is very important,” he said. “Structures were built like a sculpture.”

About Livia Gershon
Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.

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