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