Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.05.31 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.31

Lâtife Summerer (ed.), Pompeiopolis I: eine Zwischenbilanz aus der Metropole Paphlagoniens nach fünf Kampagnen (2006–2010). Schriften des Zentrums für Archäologie und Kulturgeschichte des Schwarzmeerraumes, Bd 21.   Langenweißbach:  Beier and Beran, 2011.  Pp. 245.  ISBN 9783941171633.  €67.00.  

Reviewed by Winfried Held, Philipps-Universität Marburg (

Table of Contents

The volume under review presents the first results of the excavations conducted by the editor Lâtife Summerer in Paphlagonian Pompeiopolis, a city founded by Pompey in the late 60s BC following his victory over Mithradates. Because it is the first excavation project focussing on the extensive investigation of an ancient city in the Black Sea region, its importance for archaeological scholarship can hardly be overestimated. All chapters are essentially preliminary reports which, in keeping with the international composition of the team, are written in German, Italian, French, and English.

In the first chapter Summerer introduces the research history, aims and methods of the project. Questions include the impact of Roman culture on local traditions, the dynamics of urbanistic development and the end of the city in the 7th century AD. The approach successfully combines the methods of archaeological survey, including geomagnetic prospection, with limited soundings in order to test the results of the survey and to achieve archaeological contexts and stratigraphy. This provides maximum results for effort expended, compared with traditional large-scale excavations. The excavators succeeded in reconstructing the architectural layout of the city center on Zımbıllı Tepe which – according to Jörg Fassbinder’s excellent report of 17 ha geophysical prospection – shows diverse orientations and an irregular street grid in contrast with the expectations of a regular, grid-plan Roman foundation. According to Summerer, the hill began to be inhabited at around the turn of the 1st to the 2nd centuries AD. Thus, the city founded by Pompey must originally have been in another location. Pompeiopolis flourished in the 2nd century AD and again around 400 AD.

Based on the results of the survey, excavators proceeded to investigate several building complexes by means of soundings. Klaus Müller deals with the 'Großbau’ on top of the hill, which resembled a Roman podium temple in the geomagnetic prospection images. The soundings revealed that above a base of limestone ashlar blocks there were exterior brick walls, laterally articulated by pilasters, and at the southeastern narrow facade by alternating rectangular and round niches. Inside, two longitudinal foundations allow the reconstruction of a basilica plan whose interior walls were adorned with incrustation of coloured marble and Corinthian pilasters. Müller interprets the building, which he dates in the 4th or 5th century AD, as a Christian church. In this case, an apse would have to be postulated at the as yet unexcavated northwestern narrow end, as implicitly suggested by the author. The resulting orientation yet seems rather improbable for a church. The ashlar walls Müller convincingly assigns to an earlier structure interpreted as a temple of the Roman middle imperial period. The foundation to its southeast, clearly visible in the geomagnetic survey, he interprets as the foundation of stairs. If reconstructed as attached to the basilical ‚Großbau’, these would have covered the niched facade. Müller therefore explains the stairs as a later addition, however this model fails to explain access into the basilical building before the addition of the stairway and the ca. 10 m gap between the foundation and the ‚Großbau’. As a solution for both problems I would propose the attribution of the stairway to the temple predecessor, which might then be reconstructed as a typical Roman podium temple with a stairway in the front. The gap between the stair foundation and the late antique ‚Großbau’ could then be explained by the demolition of the temple and its stairs for the construction of the basilica, whose entrance may have been on the opposite side.

Ruth Bielfeldt presents the Macellum, which represents another Italic-Roman building type. Within the peristyle court, clearly visible in the geomagnetic survey, the foundations of an octogonal building were uncovered (erroneously designated as a „Tholos“ with „Cella“). It was erected in the late 2nd or early 3rd centuries AD and used into the 7th century. The reconstruction as central-plan building with peristasis is questionable; while the interior foundation of ca. 1.5 m is rather strong, the surrounding ‚peristasis foundation’ shows a width of only 0.8 m. It should be considered whether this was instead an elevated paved platform around the octogon. The excavated section of the interior wall had two passages, allowing for a possible reconstruction of the building as an open structure on pillars. That would fit better with comparable interior buildings in other Roman macella, such as that of Pompei, while Bielfeldt’s problematic typological comparison to the (later) tetrarchic imperial tombs could be omitted.

Julia Koch worked at the bath of the Roman middle imperial period, located at the western foot of Zımbıllı Tepe, which was not geomagnetically surveyed. The two trenches partly revealed two large rooms with hypocausts. A reconstructon of the entire plan is not yet possible. Of interest is the use of precious coloured marble and the vaulting technique with funnel-shaped terracotta tubes

Luisa Musso, Giuseppina Bertolotto, Massimo Brizzi and Benjamin E. Westwood deal with the residential area at the eastern slope of Zımbıllı Tepe. Starting from rescue excavations of Kastamonu Museum in 1971 and 1984, the frigidarium of a late antique residential bath with a mosaic depicting a Nereid and Triton is presented. The main focus is on a late antique domus, of which several rooms aligned around a peristyle were uncovered. The excavators carefully describe the structures, stratigraphy and phases from the early 4th to the 6th centuries AD, followed by detailed descriptions of the mosaics of rooms A and E, including the restoration of the latter. In the center of the mosaic in room E there appears the bust of an allegorical female figure, not precisely identifiable, surrounded by the four seasons likewise represented as busts. Musso connects the iconography with the mosaics of Antioch but also reminds us of the almost unknown iconic repertoire of the Black Sea region and its possible relations to Constantinople. Although the excavators understand the peristyle court to be the centre of the domus, they note that the entrances to rooms A and E on their northwestern side are averted from the peristyle. Here a second court is to be assumed which was connected to the excavated peristyle by the corridor D. The 570 m2 excavated so far show only a small portion of the house, which is nevertheless sufficient to demonstrate the remarkable wealth of late antique Pompeiopolis.

Gabrièle Larguinat Turbatte investigates the water supply system. Since aqueducts or nymphaea have not so far been discovered, she concentrated on the canals for fresh water and sewage. These are technologically as one would expect for a Roman city, supplying public buildings as well as private houses.

Several chapters deal with finds. Constanze Thomas and Hagen Schaaff report on the restoration and conservation of metal, mosaics and small finds. Julie Dalaison and Fabrice Delrieux present 76 excavated coins dating from the middle 2nd (Faustina Minor) to the second half of the 7th century (Constantinus IV.). Of Pompeiopolitan coins which were emitted only during the Antonine and Severan periods, only one is attested. According to Denis Zhuravlev, apart from a small portion of Aegean sigillata the early Roman fine ware of the 1st to 3rd centuries AD consists mainly of Pontic Sigillata A and B, groups defined by the author and known from excavations at the northern shore of the Black Sea. Their production centres are still unknown, but obviously this pottery was traded by ship across the whole Black Sea area. Krzysztof Domżalski reveals a similar picture for the pottery of the 4th to 6th centuries AD. Imports include mainly Pontic Red Slip Ware, besides small numbers of African and Phocaean Red Slip Ware. Predominant in this period is a previously unknown local or regional production described by the author as „Micaceous Burnished Ware“ and „Micaceous Painted Ware“, which has partly painted decoration in the tradition of the hellenistic ‚Galatian’ pottery. Generally, the pottery covers the time from the end of the 1st century BC to the early 7th century AD. Local products also include the bone objects presented by Lâtife Summerer, among which an ivory panel from a small box and a mask-like head of a Maenad (?) stand out. The author connects the latter with Italic bone-decorated clinae. Christian Marek deals with epigraphic finds among which the earliest datable is Trajanic. The bulk of inscriptions date to the Antonine to Severan periods. Significant revelations include the presence of Roman citizens on a Trajanic list of ephebae, which points to Roman (veteran) settlers at the time of the foundation of the city; veneration of the main god Zeus Helios Sarapis together with Isis and other Synnaoi, and the existence of an oracle and an Imperial cult; the political structure of Pompeiopolis as a Greek polis with archontes, boule, and gymnasion; and the evidence for an agon.

Two chapters by Peri Johnson and Ursula Kunnert are dedicated to regional surveys. The first comprises the results of a single field season and concentrates on findplaces from the bronze age to the medieval period. The second presents structures and finds discovered during an epigraphical survey. Both demonstrate the high potential of this method and the – unfortunately decreasing – wealth of find places of all periods. They also attest that the region had no urban centre before the foundation and after the decline of Pompeiopolis. Hopefully this topic will be pursued in future.

In the final chapter, Alexander von Kienlin provides an overview of the results bearing upon topography and urban development. He suggests an early administrative centre at Ağıcıkişi near Taşköprü where a torus base of northern Syrian type, also attested in Paphlagonian rock-cut tombs, lies at the local mosque. Although von Kienlin considers a Hellenistic date possible, yet in Paphlagonia this type was introduced – like bull protome capitals – within the framework of Achaemenid rule. Thus proof of a Hellenistic settlement with monumental architecture in this place is still missing. The Roman city, vividly envisioned in a virtual model, was considerably larger than the Zımbıllı Tepe which was fortified in late antiquity – an indication of a shrinking town? Architectural elements ex situ indicate building activities from the early imperial period to the 6th century AD. On the hill, public buildings clearly predominated, including the agora, the macellum and two other peristyle complexes preliminarily interpreted as a bath and a gymnasion. Only in minor areas are houses attested (here wrongly denominated as „Villa“). Two neighbouring buildings with half round caveae may represent the boule of the city and the provincial council of Paphlagonia. Von Kienlin interprets the first phase of the ‚Großbau’ (see Bielfeldt’s chapter) as a podium temple with stairway and Corinthian peristasis. His reconstruction of the stairs in analogy to the aedes Castoris in Rome has to be rejected since the latter was also used as a speaker’s platform towards the Forum Romanum. Likewise remarkable is the proposed orientation towards the conjectural west gate – the temple then would be oriented towards northeast with the stairway at its back. A preferable reconstruction is that of a normal Roman podium temple with stairs at the front, oriented southeast.

This volume marks important progress in archaeological research on the Anatolian Black Sea region. Due to its preliminary character it can be somewhat cursory in form and leaves many questions open. It also contains some contradictions. The initial thesis that the town on Zımbıllı Tepe was founded only around the turn of the 1st to 2nd century AD (Summerer), is in contradiction with the presence of Roman early imperial architectural elements (von Kienlin) and especially with a pottery chronology starting in the late 1st century BC (Domżalski), which would fit a foundation by Pompey. Of great interest are insights regarding the cultural character of the city, which is in alignment with the Greek polis structure of cities in western Asia Minor, but architecturally shows clear affinities with Italy, in the mosaics with Antioch, and in the pottery clearly with the Pontic regions – remarkably excluding Constantinople. Considering the preliminary state of the research in Pompeiopolis these questions cannot yet be satisfyingly answered but rather show the enormous potential of this excavation. The volume thus has to be recommended to all those interested in the periods of Roman rule in Anatolia and the Pontos region, and the Pompeiopolis Project wished a successful and productive future.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010