The first time in Anatolia, a cemetery of legionnaires belonging to the Roman Empire unearthed


In the ancient city of Satala in the Kelkit district of Gümüşhane in the Eastern Black Sea region of Turkey, a tiered legionary cemetery carved into the rock of the Roman Empire castle was earthen.

Additionally, a fragment of a 2,000-year-old bronze document called the “Diplomata”, given to Roman soldiers who completed their 25-year term, was also found in a tomb.

Director of Bartın University Archeology Research and Application Center in the last days of the excavations conducted by Associate Professor Şahin Yıldırım and his team, the cemetery of the legionnaires, who were the soldiers of the Roman Empire who ruled over Anatolia for centuries, was first unearthed in Anatolia.

According to historical records, the ancient city, located 28 kilometers from the center of the district, was founded as a military garrison by the Roman military legion Legio XV Apollinaris. The ancient city served as a military post and was strategically located at the crossroads of key military routes from Anatolia to Cappadocia and the Black Sea region.

A fragment of a 2,000-year-old bronze document called a “Diplomata,” given to Roman soldiers who completed their 25-year term, was also found in a tomb.

Serving as a strategic garrison during the reign of the Roman Empire, the city was ruled by Assyria, Macedonia, and Byzantine. Satala It is also believed to have been visited by the Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, and in the 15th century an aqueduct, or water bridge, with 47 holes was built in the city to bring fresh water to its inhabitants. .

Şahin Yıldırım noted that they completed the 2022 excavations at Satala and found a cemetery structure dating from the Roman Imperial period in the last days of their work.

    A tiered legionary cemetery, carved into the rock of the Roman Empire castle, has been unearthed in the ancient city of Satala.
A tiered legionary cemetery, carved into the rock of the Roman Empire castle, has been unearthed in the ancient city of Satala.

“In photographs from years past, the remains of a structure have caught the eye. We found a necropolis during our excavations around it. For the first time, a cemetery of Roman legionnaires has been discovered in Anatolia. We found many graves here. Most of these tombs belong to Roman soldiers. We found war material such as weapons, spears and arrowheads belonging to these soldiers,” he said.

Noting that they found a person, who was probably a cavalry officer, buried in the main grave of the cemetery, Yıldırım said that they found a bronze plaque, called “Diplomata”, next to this person, as well as horse harnesses and terracotta artifacts.

“The diplomas were a document issued to Roman imperial soldiers after completing their military service. We can call it a kind of discharge certificate. The diplomat piece we found was badly damaged. We could not find its part written but we found its back part. Almost all the tombs were dug in the bedrock and the skeletons were inside. A significant part of the finds we found date back to the 3rd century. These are the dates when the “Roman Empire lost its former glory and began to weaken. At the same time, this cemetery is a multi-level cemetery. We also obtained similar finds dated not only from the Roman period, but also from the Byzantine period and even from the years 607-608, when the Sassanids seized this city for the second time. It is not just a single-layered cemetery. It is t Very important that this diplomata was found here. During the Roman Imperial period, soldiers had to serve 25 years. When this period is over, these documents were returned to them,” he said.

Yıldırım said that for the first time in Anatolia, they got important data about the city walls, plan type and structures inside the city walls of a legion castle, and has for follow-up :

“So far, little data has been obtained on the structure of the Roman era castrum, which housed the 15th Apollinaris legion. The castrums were the main bases and encampments of the legions of the Roman Empire. During the excavations of last year we discovered some of the walls, but these walls were mostly medieval, however, during our excavations this year, we found the entrance gate to the castle, which is known to have been built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian of the Roman Empire. Thus, for the first time in Anatolia, we have obtained important data about the city walls, the type of plan and the structures inside the walls of the city of a legion castle.

Handmade ceramics and finds from the Hellenistic period, as well as military armour, numerous arrowheads, theatrical masks, oil lamps, Roman state coins and late bricks from the Roman period bearing the stamp of the 15th legion, were discovered in the excavation area.

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