Excavations in ancient Salata unearth Roman legionary base

Excavations in ancient Salata unearth Roman legionary base

GÜMÜŞHANE – Anadolu Agency

Archeological excavations have begun at the site of a Roman legionary base in the ancient city of Satala in the northern province of Gümüşhane’s Kelkit district. 

A team of 25 people, including Bernard Van Daele of the Leuven University Archaeology Department, has been carrying out excavations in the ancient city. 

The ancient city of Satala had been established around the 15th Apollinaris legion, one of the four biggest legions in Anatolia, said Bartın University archeologist Şahin Yıldırım. 

Satala has become an important place in the system of forming the legions of the Roman Empire, or their armies. Four great legion castles were built in Anatolia. Satala is one in the northeast. There is a legion in Malatya and one in Adıyaman’s Samsat. Finally, the İskit legion is another one in Zeugma in Gaziantep,” Yıldırım told state-run Anadolu Agency. 

The archeologist pointed out that legion castles were interesting structures and that they were established in the plain areas and that the 15th Apollinaris legion in Satala had protected the northeastern border of the Roman Empire for centuries along the Euphrates River. 

The Roman Empire had established the legion in the ancient city of Satala for attacking, he said. 

“We see it was built on a flat area in such a way as to control the main lines. Gümüşhane was an area where important silver and gold mines existed in ancient times. This is why the legion was positioned here. It protects both the border line and the mines. Moreover, it is placed in the very middle of a junction extending from Syria to Anatolia, which is a very strategic point,” said Yıldırım. 

“This is the first time a Roman legionary castle is being excavated in Anatolia,” said the archeologist. 

“We have a general experience of the ancient cities in classical archeology but for the first time, a legion castle will be excavated. It is a military architecture we know only of from written sources. For the first time, we will unearth a military architect we know of only from sources. We plan to show the functioning of a Roman legion, tactical insights, weapons and other points related to it. In terms of experimental archeology, we also plan to give training about the legions here,” he said.

Satala’s Aphrodite bust in British Museum 

Yıldırım said important artifacts could be found during excavations. 

“There is an Aphrodite bust known to have been smuggled from here in the 19th century. It is currently exhibited at the British Museum in England. It is possible to encounter such objects related to religious beliefs. This is a military settlement. We will find more military structures, more weapons and military architecture here,” he said. 

Van Daele said he was interested in Roman military history as a field of study and Satala is an important place in this sense. 

“It is known there are only four Roman legions in Turkey. Among them, Satala is one which has not yet been unearthed. As my field of study is Roman military history, this place is very important to me. It is not always possible to excavate such a Roman military settlement. This is why I am here. I hope we can maintain this work in the coming years and receive the necessary support,” he said.