(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists have found in the 6th century church images of heavens, peacocks, as well as a text in which a former slave thanks God for his release.
Specialists from the Hatay Museum of Archeology (Turkey) are excavating a 6th century Christian temple in Arsuz in southern Anatolia. By the standards of archaeologists, traces of the church were found not so long ago: in 2007, a resident of the city decided to plant orange seedlings in his garden and came across strange ruins.
Since then, they have been cleaned up in order. It became clear that the building was a three-aisled basilica. A basilica is a type of rectangular building characteristic of Christian churches of the Byzantine period. Its walls have not survived, but the mosaic floors of the temple remained in good condition.
It was thanks to the mosaic inscriptions that it became clear that the basilica was called the Church of the Three Apostles. This temple is mentioned in sources, so dating to the 6th century can be considered quite reliable. This season, archaeologists continued to clear the basilica’s mosaics and found an unusual image.
On it – heaven, peacocks (not the most familiar figure for Christian churches), and in the center – an inscription that says that the mosaic was made by a former slave in gratitude for his release.
In general, mosaic is not an easy task, time- and money-consuming, and it also requires special skills. Therefore, most likely, the former slave was a mosaicist even before his release and did the work on his own. Alternative option: he could get rich and hire a skilled artisan.
It is worth paying attention to the place of the find. In the 6th century AD, the settlement, which now bears the name Arsuz, belonged to Antioch: there was a port through which there were sea communications with it – once the largest city in the province.
In some works, Arsuz is referred to Iskenderun, but most historians believe that this is not entirely correct. Iskenderun was founded by Alexander the Great and named it Alexandretta (Little Alexandria). For a long time, Arsuz did not have a proper name at all, since it was considered the port of Antioch (although the distance there is quite decent).
Antioch is by far one of the most important sites in the history of the region. The city was founded by the commander of Alexander the Great, Seleucus Nicator, and named it after his father Antiochus. True, the son of Seleucus was also called Antiochus, but the main version still speaks of his father.
Seleucus belonged to those generals of Alexander, whom historians call diadochi – those who, after the death of the famous conqueror, divided his empire. The wars between the Diadochi went on for more than 20 years – from 323 to 301 BC. Seleucus, as the name implies, eventually became the founder of the Seleucid Empire, and Antioch was its capital for a long time.
Thanks to the conquests of Tigranes II, Antioch for some time became part of Greater Armenia (Tigranes even moved the capital of his state there for some time), but already in the same 1st century BC, the province fell under the rule of Rome.
Around the 4th century AD, Antioch becomes the center of the Christian religion. Historians believe that it was there that the followers of the new religion were first called Christians. And supposedly a visit to Antioch just convinced the emperor Julian the Apostate that the revival of paganism is impossible (this statement is extremely difficult to verify).
Obviously, Christianization took place with the active construction of temples. The main one is the Great Temple, founded by Constantine the Great, and finally completed by his successor, Constantius II. But besides him, many other churches were built. The three-nave basilica is a fairly common type of Christian church in Antioch.
It must be added that Antioch and its environs regularly suffered from earthquakes. From sources it is known that the first (documented) happened in 148 BC, even under the Seleucids. The next disaster happened in 37 AD, under the Roman emperor Caligula.
But the earthquake of 115 almost killed the emperor Trajan, who was just then in Antioch and was preparing to march to Parthia. The emperor (who was then 61 years old) barely managed to jump out of the window of the crumbling building, but many of his retinue were not so fast, which is why they died. In addition, the city was on fire several times.
It is clear that with such a series of catastrophes, the archaeological layers turned out to be partially mixed, but most importantly – hidden under other buildings or soil. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact.
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