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The Roman Army at Satala

The Geographical Setting

The site of ancient Satala (modern village of Sadak, province Gümüshane, NE Turkey) was situated on the crossing of two singularly important routes in North-East Asia Minor: one was the only major natural East-West route in the North of Asia Minor leading from Ankyra via Nicopolis and Satala into Northern Armenia, and onward to the countries of the Caucasus as well as into northern Persia. The second route running roughly along the Eastern frontier of the Roman Empire connected the Black Sea harbor of Trapezus and other major military centers such as the legionary fortresses at Melitene, Samosata and Zeugma with Northern Syria and its capital Antioch. As the rugged and mountainous terrain of the region severely restricts easy travel and transportation of goods elsewhere the command and control of this crossing at Satala was of the greatest strategic importance.

The Historical Setting

Only little archaeological fieldwork in and around Satala has so far been carried out. Therefore, our knowledge of the historical events that took place in and around this site is marked only by shady outlines. What little is known, however, highlights both the great historical and archaeological importance of the site, as well as its enormous potential for future archaeological investigations.

Remains of the walls and Eastern gate of Satala's late Roman fortress.


The earliest traces of a settlement at Satala go back to the Early Bronze age. With Rome’s expansion to the east, Satala, now a city in the small kingdom of Armenia minor, increasingly became a base and a hub for major Roman military operations into Armenia, Northern Persia and the Caucasus region. In the later 70’s of the first c. AD, the Emperor Vespasian ordered a permanent legionary fortress to be built there and a Greek speaking city began to flourish below its walls. Initially occupied by legio XVI Flavia firma, this fortress became the permanent garrison place of legio XV Apollinaris since the reign of Hadrian. In 114 AD the Emperor Trajan came to Satala. He used the base for intensive diplomatic activities while assembling his troops from all over the empire before he set off for his campaigns in Armenia and Mesopotamia.

Project leader:Dr. M. Hartmann
Archaeologist: Werner Rutishauser
Geophysics: Prof. Dr. Mahmut Drahor
Surface surveys: Prof.Dr. Süleyman Cigdem; Dr. Hüssein Yurttas; Dr. Haldun Özkan

Consultants: Prof.Dr. Michael A. Speidel; Prof.Dr. C. Rüger


The emperor Trajan assigning kingdoms at Satala in A.D. 114. (BMC 1043).

In collaboration with:

The Erzurum Atatürk University, Turkey
The Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, Turkey
The Swiss National Science Foundation
The University of Bern, Switzerland.


Salata campaign 2004   

Salata geophysics 2004   


Henceforth the legionary fortress played a major role in the Roman defense system of eastern Anatolia against enemy incursions from the Araxes valley and the Caucasus. It also frequently served as a base for Roman offensive operations through Armenia and into Media. Thus, some of Rome’s and Byzantine’s finest armies, leading generals and emperors came to Satala. In 252 AD, Persian forces of King Shapur I invaded Roman territory via the northern route, thereby also capturing and destroying Satala. But Satala remained an important Roman and Byzantine military center for centuries to come, and even became a bishopric with bishops attested until after 1256. In 529 the Byzantine emperor Justinian I completely rebuilt the military fortress after yet another Persian attack. The remains of these walls can still be seen today. In 610, however, Satala was captured by the Persian King Osroes II and fell into obscurity.

Plan of the military fortress of Satala (by Sabri Aydal).

The Project

Satala is one of the last great military centers in the Roman East available for archaeological and historical investigations. Thus, Satala offers the rare opportunity to find a good number of answers to the many open questions concerning the military history of the Roman Empire, as well as the ancient history of Anatolia and the Near East in general. Only by uncovering new archaeological and epigraphic sources can we hope to further our understanding of these issues. In particular, we are aiming to gain as much information as possible on Satala’s fortress and military installations in order to substantially further our understanding of Satala’s international and regional history. This will also help us to understand the interrelations of the Roman army at Satala with the local cultural context. Combined with the archaeological and historical information from our project at ancient Zeugma, the results from Satala will lead to a great many new insights into the history of the Roman army, Roman foreign relations, the Roman Eastern frontier as well as into Satala’s local history.

Our fieldwork at Satala has been preceded by a detailed study of all hitherto known sources concerning the ancient site as well as by a detailed study of the local topography. Annual campaigns which include geophysical investigations, archaeological soundings and surface surveys are to follow. They will produce an extensive, x-ray like picture of the uncovered structures along with information on the chronology, the stratigraphy and the spectrum of finds the site has to offer. This cost effective method combines several advantages. It allows to collect a great deal of historical and archaeological information about the site within a relatively short period of time and without causing the irreparable damages to the archaeological remains some other methods do. Furthermore, the results of this investigation will prove invaluable to future full-scale excavations of the site. Finally, our Turkish partners from Erzurum Atatürk University will carry out an extensive surface survey of the entire Gümüshane province, which promises further discoveries concerning the Roman Eastern Frontier in this region.

From 9. - 17. August, we carried out our first campaign at Satala. It included geophysical investigations led by Prof. Mahmut Drahor and his team from Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir within the area of the still visible remains of the late Roman fortress. A surface survey was carried out in parallel. Both investigations produced very interesting results which suggest that the generally held view of the development of the military occupation of Satala may need to be revised. You can now download a short preliminary report!

Gravestone of a Roman legionary soldier and his wife from Satala.


Satala's late Roman fortress as seen from the North-East.

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