Month: August 2012

I Have My Eye On You: The Evil Eye in Antiquity

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Here in Turkey there are several things that leave to a foreigner’s attention: the awful driving, shameless staring, psychic rabbits, and what I used to think was the Evil Eye. Well as interesting as psychic bunnies are, from a historical perspective I would like to take a moment to tell you about Nazars, or what foreigners often call the Evil Eye.

Roman charms to ward off the evil eye

The evil eye is a look which is believed to cause harm and bad luck to the person it is directed at. It is a look of envy, dislike and ill-will and everywhere in Turkey you see charms, ‘Nazars’, to ward off this evil eye. The evil eye is a concept which is believed in many countries in the middle east and around the world. The Arabs know it as عين الحسود (ayn al-hasud), the Greek as το μάτι, and the Spanish as mal de ojo. Its significance in these cultures can vary widely but essentially it is the same, an evil wish against someone without their knowing which can cause bad-luck and needs to be protected against. Truthfully these Nazars have become a highly popular tourist item so we see hundreds of the everywhere in shops, but you also see them in homes, behind counters, in local jewellery and in rural non-tourist areas.

The evil eye has been a belief from as far back as Classical antiquity. There are mentions of it in Hesiod, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Aulus Gellius, Pliny the Elder, Theocritus and Plutarch to name but a few of the hundreds of references made in the ancient literature. All these sources express the idea of the evil eye in slightly differing and often fragmentary terms but the basis for our understanding of the ancient belief comes from Aristophanes, Athenaeus, Plutarch and Heliodorus. Plutarch attempts to explain the evil eye in scientific terms by relating it to deadly rays and poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person who possesses the evil eye. Different areas of the Greek and Roman world looked at the evil eye differently and with certain degrees of fear and trepidation. The people of Pontus and Scythia were particularly thought to possess the evil eye and were to be kept wary about. And Alexander the Great himself is believed to be the transmitter of the belief into the East with his influential campaigns in the fourth century BC.

Among references are:

Demosthenes, On the Crown 18.307: It was not his duty to look with an evil eye upon a man who had made it his business to support or propose measures worthy of our traditions, and was resolved to stand by such measures; nor to treasure vindictively the memory of private annoyances. Nor was it his duty to hold his peace dishonestly and deceptively, as you so often do.

Plato, Phaedo 95b: “My friend,” said Socrates, “do not be boastful, lest some evil eye put to rout the argument that is to come. That, however, is in the hands of God. Let us, in Homeric fashion, charge the foe and test the worth of what you say. Now the sum total of what you seek is this: You demand a proof that our soul is indestructible…”

Fredrick Thomas Elworthy wrote an interesting piece published in 1895 entitled ‘The Evil Eye’. Elworthy examines the power of evil working upon an object it beholds. He tells us that the origin of the belief itself is lost in the obscurity of prehistoric ages and while one may coin it as superstition, it is a belief that holds its sway over the people of many countries and must be set down as one the hereditary and instinctive convictions of mankind.

The evil eye has become more than mere superstition, but a tradition transmitted from antiquity when they used to use phallic symbols as one way of warding it off. The oldest testimonies of the eye in antiquity come from monuments in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians are believed to have believed in and dreaded the evil eye which was ever present. Elworthy points to evidence for this in the mythology of Ptah the Opener. He explains that Ptah brought forth all other gods from his eye and men from his mouth instituting the idea that that which emanates from the eye in the most potent.

Archaeology Travel Blog: Ancient Side

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The first weekend of the dig and now I have an opportunity to explore the world of Ancient Anatolia. So first stop: Side!

Side (Σίδη) (meaning pomegranate) is located in the region of Pamphylia in Anatolia and one of the first things you notice on arrival is that modern Side is a tourist town. But it is also one of the best preserved classical sites in Turkey. The ancient city of Side is found on a small peninsula measuring about 1km by 400m, so it is not a particularly big site.

Strabo tells us that the city of Side was founded around the seventh century BC by Greek colonisers from Kyme in Aeolis. The natural geography of the area made it an ideal place for trade and a harbour in Anatolia. Arrian tells us that the colonisers did not understand the dialect of the locals indicating that the area was already inhabited. Arrian asserts that the indigenous language had a strong influence though and gradually became the primary language in Side. This is seen in several of the inscriptions uncovered at the site in the local tongue. The Hittites also have connections to the area as attested to other artefacts found such as a basalt column base.

From inside the Byzantine Hospital at Side

Side has a history of great influence and personality. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great occupied the site and introduced the population to Hellenistic culture which became the dominate tradition until the first century BC. Ptolemy later overtook the site when he declared himself king of Egypt in 305BC. Side stayed under Ptolemaic control until it was captured by the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BC. Side was freed from the control of the Seleucid Empire after the defeat of Hannibal and Antiochus the Great. Despite conflicts and changes in control, Side remained prosperous and even minted its own money from 188 BC to the end of the 1st century BC. In the 1st century BC, Side also became an important base for the Cilician pirates and their slave trade and profited from this. With the defeat of the pirates, Side fell under the control of Rome and became part of the Roman Empire! Side began to decline around the 4th century AD with an influx from mountain invaders. It had prosperity on and off through the next few centuries before being abandoned around the 12thcentury.

Theatre at Side

It is a site with a long history which has left behind it numerous buildings and ruins for us archaeology and history fanatics to explore. The most complete of the ruins at Side is the Theatre complex which is the largest in the region in the Roman style. It could seat around fifteen thousand people and was converted into an open-air sanctuary with two chapels during the Byzantine Era. The seats still contain the inscriptions of names of patrons and on occasion shows are still shown there. The city walls also still remain alongside the Hellenistic main gate. There are colonnaded streets with many of the marble columns still standing and many others nearby. The local museum is the remains of the public bath house and elsewhere the agora and temple of Tyche still are visible from the second century BC. There are also the remains of a Byzantine hospital and a Basilica and three temples. An aqueduct (probably supplied by bringing water from the Melas river) and nymphaeum (an elaborate fountain building spanning three-stories and decorated with marble reliefs) can also be seen in a fair state of preservation near the city gates.

The state Agora is still visible within the sand dunes of the Eastern beach at Side. It is an amazing site surrounded by columns which held a giant cross in the centre during the Byzantine period. It would have been decorated by copies of Greek statues, some of which remain on display in the Side Museum. There may have also once been a library of this site. The ancient harbour was constructed during the Hellenistic period and is located on the south east part of the peninsula next to the temples of Athena and Apollo which are still standing in part on the beaches of Side.

Temple of Apollo at Side

We also were fortunate to have the chance to visit the Museum at Side which as I said is located in what was once a fifth century bath complex. The range of statues and coins in addition to the gardens, view and collection of inscriptions was wonderful. The statues are well-preserved and the inscriptions well cared for and readable. There are also interesting reliefs of the Sidetan victory over an army from Pergamum in the second century BC and a number of ornate sarcophagi recovered from Side’s necropolis which is now no more. There are a number of amphorae which have been recovered from the waters around Side and some fragmented displays of the Sidetan language which I mentioned previously, which remain undeciphered. So I will have to put that in my diary to do sometime after my PhD.

Agora at Side

Archaeologists from Turkey continue to excavate the site today since 1947. The archaeology department from the Anatolian University currently continues excavations at Side. One hundred archaeologists in 2012 are being led by Professor Huseyin Alanyali in order to preserve and restore sites. They will be continuing work on the temple of Apollo, the temple of Type, the temple of Dionysis, the temple of Athena, and a basilica. So there work is really cut out for them. Unfortunately because of excavations I couldn’t visit the site of the temple of Apollo when we visited but they look like they are doing some excellent work. There is also a team of fifteen archaeologists being led by Professor Peter Scherrer from the archaeology department of the Austrian Graz University who will be working alongside Turkish archaeologists in the Eastern side of the site.

So that is Side. Next site: Lamos, up a very big hill…

Archaeology Travel Blog: Selinus and Antiochia ad Cragum!

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So it is about time I told you all about this archaeological dig I am on. Welcome all to the wonderful world of Gazipasa and Antiochia ad Cragum!

Arrived in Gazipasa after a long bus trip from Antalya and several lessons: Lesson number one, learn more Turkish; two, people lie; three, people don’t know their own country. After many hours and help from a lovely Swedish woman who explained that the Turkish men were having fun confusing us, grrrr, we are now in a lovely town with lovely people and excellent food.

Gazipasa is located in the south of Turkey and is associated with the ancient city of Selinus. Selinus has settlement evidence from as far back as the Hittites in 2000 BC. Selinus was established on the River Kestros and is now called Hacimusa and was incorporated into Cilicia in 628 BC. It is located about 180 km to the East of Antalya on the Southern coast of Anatolia.

Beach side of Gazipasa

Selinus became part of the Roman Empire in 197 BC and became particularly famous in the first century AD when the Emperor Trajan died there. As a consequence, for some time Selinus was known as Traianapolis. Selinus later became part of the Byzantine Empire alongside the rest of Cilicia before falling into the hands of the Turks in 1225 AD. It is listed among the castles of Gazipasa alongside Iotape, Lamus, Nephelis and Antiochia ad Cragum and is still subject to archaeological research by a team from Florida State University. The archaeological artefacts from Selinus are now mostly housed in the museum of Alanya.

The dig site itself is located about 7 miles the east of Gazipasa. Antiochia ad Cragum has also been called Antiochetta and Antiohia Parva which basically translate to ‘little Antiochia’. Its name ‘Cragum’ comes from its position on the Cragus mountain overlooking the coast. It is located in the area of modern Guney about 12km from the modern City of Gazipasa. The city was officially founded by Antiochis IV around 170 BC when he came to rule over Rough Cilicia. The site covers an area of around three hectares and contains the remains of baths, market places, colonnaded streets with a gateway, an early Christian basilica, monumental tombs, a Temple and several structures which are yet to be identified. Excavations are currently being undertaken by the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project headed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The site and its harbour likely served as one of the many havens for Cilician pirates along the South Anatolian coast, likely because of its small coves and hidden inlets. Unfortunately no definite pirate remains are visible in the modern day. Its pirate past ended with Pompey’s victory in the first century BC and the take over by Antiochis IV. Initial occupation appears to have occurred in the Classical and Hellenistic periods followed by a surge of activity in these Roman periods. The city itself was built on the sloping ground that comes down from the Taurus mountain range which terminates at the shore creating steep cliffs; in some places several hundred metres high. The temple complex is situated on the highest point of the city and most of the building material remains though in a collapsed state. There is also evidence of a gymnasium complex nearby.

Side of Temple at Antiochia ad Cragum

The harbour at Antiochia ad Cragum measures about 250,000m squared and is one of the few large, safe harbours along the coast between Alanya and Selinus. On its Eastern side are two small coves suitable for one or two ships but with limited opportunity for shipping and fishing due to wave activities. The area is well situated as a defensible position against invaders. Recent Terrestrial survey at Antiochia ad Cragum has had emphasis on finding evidence of pirate activity which has been limited, but it has turned up Pottery principally from the Byzantine Period with additional pottery from the late Bronze Age, the Hellenistic and some from the Roman periods. There is little evidence of pre-Roman occupation at the fortress or pirate’s cove at Antiochia ad Cragum. Banana terracing may have caused much of the evidence to have been erased. The maritime survey has turned up shipping jars, transport Amphoraes and anchors from the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods as well as a range of miscellaneous items. The assemblage appears to indicate early activity to the West of the harbour moving East over time.

Part of Mosaic in Bath Complex at Antiochia ad Cragum

So that’s the site. Now to what I am doing because this is my blog! We have started a new trench at the back of the temple which is abutted by the temple wall and a neighbouring trench. So far we have uncovered all the steps down to the base of the temple, which isn’t bad for a week or so’s work if i do say so myself. We have a wall running oddly through the middle of the trench with a channel situated about two thirds down. Tomorrow I intend to investigate this channel but it looks like some form of drainage system. We also have stone and mortar strangely situated alongside the south edge of the trench which we can see also in the abutting trench but here it seems to lose uniformity. MMMM, questions arise. Well we continue in the hope of answering them!

My Trench on Day 2 at Back of Temple

Elsewhere we have two of the boys excavating the West side of the temple and the some others starting a new trench in which we have thus far found a snake, a frog and several snake eggs. A goat was also found in my trench but that was cheekily put there by the site foreman while I wasn’t looking! Sufficed to say I got a bit of a fright…

We have found several coins and a mountain of pottery as usual in addition to glass and tiles. We also have a Turkish team restoring the mosaic down the hill which is probably the largest mosaic in Turkey. And a team from Clark university drawing and recording the huge number of marble blocks in our block field so that one day work can begin on restoring the temple! Very exciting.

That’s the start of it. More soon. Now though it is time for dinner at a lovely little restaurant and bar owned by an English Expat which acts as our home away from home. Dig Hard and Live Free!

My Trench on Day 10