Cemetery of Roman legionaries found for the first time in Anatolia

(ORDO NEWS) — In the ancient city of Satala on the territory of modern Turkey, archaeologists have unearthed a necropolis carved into the rock in a fortress from the time of the Roman Empire. This is the first find of its kind in the region.

Until now, scientists have never found military burials of the times of Ancient Rome on the territory of Anatolia, although these lands became a Roman province in the II-I centuries BC, after the Mithridatic wars and the wars with Great Armenia Tigran II.

At the same time, we know for sure that legionnaires were usually buried where they served: extremely rarely, relatives wanted to take the body of a warrior home.

There are examples of military burials in Britain, looted cemeteries of legionnaires are known in Judea, in northern Africa. At the same time, no one doubted that the legions were quartered in Anatolia, and on a permanent basis.

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General view of the excavations of Satala

This year, Turkish archaeologists completed the excavation of an incomprehensible structure, which was previously revealed in photographs of the ancient fortress. It turned out that in the rock, to which the wall of Satala adjoins, holes were carved – graves.

In them, the researchers found human remains. Judging by the condition of the burials, they were not robbed. The skeletons are not disturbed (with the exception of those who were disturbed by animals), weapons, arrowheads and spears, fragments of equipment and even horse harness have been preserved.

The find was dated to the 3rd century AD – the period when Rome begins to lose its former power and glory.

There are several graves that date back to the beginning of the 7th century AD – at this time, the city was captured for some time by the Persians of the Sassanid state, who were constantly at war with Byzantium. They had no time to arrange their own cemetery, and they urgently need to bury the dead.

But the head of the excavations believes that the original purpose of the necropolis was the burial of Roman legionnaires.

In one of the graves, they even found a fragment of a bronze tablet with the inscription “Diplomata”. This is a kind of certificate of a veteran of Roman times, it was issued to legionnaires who served 25 years.

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A plate certifying that its owner served in the Roman army for 25 years

Satala (modern name – Sadak) is located at the intersection of key military and trade routes from Central Anatolia to Cappadocia and the Black Sea region. Therefore, the construction of a Roman guard fortress there is quite understandable.

A small ancient fortress existed there since the time of the Assyrian Empire, but the Romans, as usual, rebuilt everything to their liking.

Construction work (legionnaires often retrained as a construction battalion) was handled by the XV Apollo Legion (Legio XV Apollinaris). It is his brand that stands on the weapons found in the graves.

Historians believe that the Apollo Legion was formed by Octavian Augustus in 41-40 BC. This military unit was among the most combat-ready and actively fighting. His legionnaires suppressed the uprising of Sextus Pompey in Sicily, the uprising in Pannonia.

They participated in the Jewish wars, playing a key role in the suppression of the rebellion: it was the XV legion that took Jerusalem in 70 AD.

At the beginning of the 2nd century AD, the Apollon legion participated in the Parthian campaign of Trajan, and after the death of the emperor, his successor Hadrian stationed the legion in Satala. Small parts of it were also stationed in Trebizond (the modern name is Trabzon) and Ankara.

As it usually happened in those days, local residents quickly began to settle around the Roman military fortress (castrum), serving the interests of the legionnaires: from weapons and armor to food, drinks and all kinds of entertainment.

It was a mutually beneficial neighborhood: the Romans not only served as protection, they also equipped the city outside the castrum in accordance with their ideas. For example, they built an aqueduct to supply the civilian population (and themselves, of course) with fresh water.

Already from Satala, the legionnaires repeatedly went on military campaigns, for some time they stood in Artashat (modern Armenia), where, judging by fragmentary sources, they suppressed the Armenian uprising.

When in 175 the commander Avidius Cassius decided that the imperial throne suited him more than Marcus Aurelius, the XV legion did not follow him, remaining faithful to the oath. For this, he received an additional naming: Pia Fidelis (“Faithful and Faithful”).

We do not know exactly when the XV Apollo Legion was disbanded. According to Notitia Dignitatum , at the beginning of the 5th century it still stands in Satala, but here I Pontian Legion (Legio I Pontica) is already stationed in Trebizond – a late formation unit, consisting mainly of those who were not born Roman citizens. Scientists believe that he completely replaced the XV legion in Anatolia.

Rome was declining, including due to the fact that it was no longer the “faithful and faithful” who fought for it, but the legions of a new model, similar more to the armies of the barbarians, and not to what Octavian Augustus once created.


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