Home | Archaeology Magazine | More Digs | AIA
Archaeology's Interactive Dig
July 2003-July 2010InteractiveDig Sagalassos
Map of the "palatial" mansion with the main construction phase dated to the fourth-fifth centuries A.D. indicated in pink.
View of Room LI from the northwest
View of the conservation works inside room LI
View of the "palatial mansion" seen from the Macellum. On the left side, the start of the new excavations in the northeast corner of the complex
View of Rooms LV and LXI on the seventh terrace level of the mansion, of which only the floor substratum was still preserved

Photos courtesy Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project. Click on images to enlarge.
by Marc Waelkens

Domestic Area: July 6-10, 2008

The Palatial Mansion

This week, our excavations of the "Domestic Area" in the eastern residential district of Sagalassos were resumed by a team of 7 workmen under the direction of Inge Uytterhoeven (KU Leuven), Rob Rens (KU Leuven), and Merve Sarilar (Mimar Sinan Ueniversitesi Istanbul). The substantial complex excavated in this area for 12 years (1995-96, 1998-2007) can be identified as a large, late antique "palatial" mansion, which might even be a good candidate for the city's bishop's palace or episkopeion, given the presence of an octagonal room (baptisterium?) and the enormous extension of the public part of the dwelling (at least three reception halls, one of them with an apse, two dining halls, waiting lounges, an enormous atrium with impluvium, and a private bath complex composed of at the least four rooms).

The main part of the complex seemingly was erected in the fourth century (and being repaired and changed until the fifth), but it incorporated on the south side at least one peristyle villa of the first century A.D. Most surprisingly, it followed a different orientation than that of the earlier villa, being that of the city's Bouleuterion with its northern courtyard west of the Upper Agora, in the early fifth century transformed into an atrium. Originally accessible from the south, by the early sixth century it was directly connected with the Upper Agora to the east by means of a monumental stairway and provided with a water collecting system installed between, the former senate seats ending in a fountain located along the same axis as the staircase and a basilica dedicated to St. Michael with piers and arcades supporting the roof.

Contrary to what we believed before, Sagalassos must have been one of the first cities of southwest Anatolia, where Christianity was so prominently visible at such an early date. Indeed, the Temple of Apollo Klarios, based on stratigraphical evidence, was already turned into a transept basilica, equally provided with a synthronon (curved seats for the clerics) by the early fifth century. That means that shortly after A.D. 400 two prominent churches dominated the west side of both the Upper and the Lower Agora. Therefore, the presence of a large bishop's palace dated to the fourth-fifth centuries may not come as a surprise, as the two churches mentioned above also belong to the oldest in the area, but in view of the fact that episkopeia known from much larger cities such as Ephesus, Miletus, and Side only appear 150 years later, makes our suggestion of the identification of the palatial mansion as an episkopeion thus far, no more than a possibility, which should be supported by further substantial evidence.

Thus far, we have exposed 60 rooms spread over six terraces. With exception of the western border, located immediately northeast of the public bath building, the edges of this urban mansion have not yet been defined. On the lowest level, eight rooms (Rooms I-VIII) belong to the utilitarian part of the house, given the presence of numerous water-supply systems here. North and northwest of this service area, we have identified a richly decorated private bathing complex consisting of at least four rooms (Rooms IX, X, XV and XVI) and provided with a hypocaust heating system. The main part of the southern zone of Domestic Area, however, consisted of (a) large courtyard(s) located south of the baths. A larger paved courtyard (Courtyard XIII) that was provided with an exedra (Room XI) and a private nymphaeum (Fountain XIX) was once part of a first-century A.D. peristyle house, as was a smaller court (Courtyard XXV) with a vaulted chamber (Room XXVIII) in late antiquity enclosed by arcaded galleries. Apart from the eastern and southern galleries of Courtyard XXV (Gallery XXXIII), at a later stage all these galleries were subdivided into individual spaces (Rooms XXI, XXXIX, XLI, XLII and small court XII). East of the courtyards, we have investigated two other rooms (Rooms XXXII and XXXIV), while to the south we have excavated another two large chambers (Rooms XL and XLIII), of which the easternmost (Room XL) probably functioned as a large dining room. Apart from the units at the floor level, four service rooms with restricted dimensions were identified in the area above Room XXVIII (Rooms XXIII, XXIV (waste deposition place), XXVI (staircase with cellar) and XXVII (provided with a settling basin and a water channel).

The northern part of the excavation area includes the public wing of the mansion. The heart of this part of the house was a rectangular atrium with impluvium and private nymphaeum (Room XLV) entered via Corridor LIX (not fully investigated). By means of a monumental door in its east wall Atrium XLV gave access to a very large vaulted audience hall (XLVI) that originally had an opus sectile floor. Above this room another reception and/or dining room with an apse in the east (Room L) was constructed. Toward the south, an impressive L-shaped staircase made of purple schist slabs (Room XXXVI) led from the atrium via a vestibule and a waiting lounge with polychrome mosaic floors (Rooms XXXV and XVII) to a very large vaulted dining room (Room XXII). Two doors in the northern wall of Room XXII gave access to two well-preserved symmetrical rooms (Rooms XXXI and XLIV). From vestibule XVII, another residential chamber with a mosaic floor (Room XVIII) could be reached. Besides, two other rooms with a still unknown function were investigated west of XXXV and XVII (Rooms XXXVII and XXXVIII). Finally, a door in the atrium's west wall gave access to Room LVI (unexcavated), which, given its large entrance, possibly also had the function of an audience room.

North of the atrium, a corridor (Room LVIII) led from the partly investigated Room LX to a large room (Room LI) immediately north of audience hall XLVI. The corridor was covered with tuff/brick arches, had marble wall decoration, and paved with a polychrome geometric mosaic floor whose borders are very similar to those of the large mosaic covering the floor of the Church of St. Michael. Room LX had a mosaic floor and Room LI similarly must have had a very rich floor and wall decoration in marble and colored stone. Large fragments of a black-and-white mosaic floor belonging to the room that was originally located at the upper floor (Room LVII) were found in the destruction material of LI. As was the case with the south wall of the atrium separating it from the L-shaped staircase leading to the upper public rooms, arcaded windows in the south wall of corridor LX offered a view towards the atrium. North of Room LI yet another room could be identified but not yet entirely be investigated (Room LV).

Both Room LVII and Room L, on the upper floors of Room LI and XLVI, respectively, corresponded with the floor level of a group of rooms at a higher, sixth terrace (until now the highest) in the northeast of the excavation area. Here we excavated two polygonal rooms (Rooms IL and LII), as well as a triangular space (Room LIV) and a corridor leading from Room IL toward the southeast (Corridor LIII).

Based on building materials, construction techniques, and stratigraphical data, we can distinguish several building phases. While the main construction phase of this "palatial" mansion, including the bathing complex and the public wing, dates to the fourth-early fifth century A.D., part of the building goes back to the first to third centuries A.D. After the early fifth century, the mansion was rebuilt and restored at various times. Probably during the sixth century, the house was subdivided into smaller dwelling units. During its final occupation, some of the private areas of the mansion, originally the most luxurious, received a more rural function. Courtyard XXV thus became stable for cattle, as shown by the height of the animal troughs that were built below the eastern arcade (Gallery XXXIII), whereas audience hall XVI was transformed into a storage room. All material and stratified evidence suggest that most, if not all, of the mansion was deserted when it eventually was destroyed by the earthquake that struck Sagalassos between A.D. 540 and 620, with a high degree of probability ca. 590. However, a limekiln, built in the northern part of the atrium on top of earthquake material, attests human activity in the area of the urban mansion, also in the post-antique period.

In line with the previous years, during this campaign we will concentrate on the public wing of the "palatial" mansion. In particular, we will further explore the entrance area of the dwelling, as well as the spaces north and northwest of Corridor LVIII. In this way we intend to entirely excavate Room LV, Room LVI, entrance corridor LIX and Room LX, which we all partially investigated last year.

On Sunday, the July 6, we started our excavations in the north, where we investigated two and a half sectors. These sectors coincided with the old crane road to the Upper Agora, created by us years ago but given up in 2006 and shifted to the West to allow the investigation of this part of the mansion. By excavating the soil dumped here in the nineties to construct the crane road, and the underlying erosion layer, we were able to define the dimensions of Room LV, of which last year the east wall and part of the north and south walls had already been uncovered (ca. 2.5 x 6m). Unfortunately, the rubble walls of this room are in a very bad state of preservation and only part of the mortared substratum of its floor is preserved. Immediately west of Room LV the compact floor substratum of a new room, which we will call Room LXI, was found. The two rooms are poorly preserved because they are on a higher terrace--not at the same level as the atrium as we presumed when we started--and they have largely been wiped away by erosion. In spite of this, our first results are very important for our knowledge of the organization of the mansion in accordance with the terrain conditions: it is now clear that the dwelling is constructed on at least seven different terraces.

At the end of the week, we moved our investigation area to the southwest, where the Slovenian team of geophysicists in 2005 traced the large northwest corner of a room, which we then thought was the northwest corner of the mansion. However, whether or not the dwelling really does extend in a western and northern direction will only be revealed by the excavations of weeks ahead.

Previous pageNext page

InteractiveDig is produced by ARCHAEOLOGY Magazine
© 2010 Archaeological Institute of America

Home | Archaeology Magazine | More Digs | AIA