Roman-Byzantine settlement including a Severan temple and Late-Antique fortress.
The site is situated in the Central Syrian Steppe at the centre point of an imaginary cross from Hama to Raqqa and Palmyra to Aleppo, and is an important watering point at a nodal junction of desert routes.
The earliest pottery from the site is dated around the birth of Christ. A somewhat simpler predecessor to the Severan temple still visible today (see image) may have existed in the early imperial period. It is likely that the classical Bronze figurine of Apollo, 54 cm high (see image), also dates to this period. It was carefully deposited near the temple in the 4th century and not destroyed. A new temple, still visible today, was built at the site in the Severan period. Unfortunately, there is no epigraphic evidence that can be connected to this building. A recess in the bedrock beneath the temple (see image) is of further note: Such natural situations were frequently used as sites for oracles and similar sanctuaries - an interpretation that could also be extended to the vault beneath the level of the temple's Cella. A well inside the temple, as well as towers - which ought to be part of any reconstruction - are both reminders of typical oriental cult-related architecture in this predominately "Roman" structure. In the 4th century the sanctuary was abandoned and by the early Byzantine period the Cella was reused as a tower and integrated into a simple defensive wall of the city (see settlement plan). The military nature of the site in this period is indicated by a number of arrowheads and fragments of scale-mail found on the corresponding surface-levels. Pottery surface-finds from the neighbouring fort also date to the early Byzantine period. A troop of equites scutarii Illyriciani is attested as garrison for this period.
Topographic studies of the site suggest that the city wall was established earlier than the fort in its currently recognizable form. The Christian character of the settlement, which may even have been the seat of a bishop, is underlined by the presence of at least three churches. From around the 10th to the 12th century, the temple underwent a conversion to intensive residential use. This phase was brought to a rapid end by a catastrophic fire which caused large scale abandonment of most of the settlement. The Mamluk period saw the former temple converted into a reservoir (cf. image of Bedouin pottery). There is evidence that the governor Tankiz (1312-1329) utilized the site as a regular station between Damascus and Jêzira. Following these developments, the area around the structure which was now termed "qasr" or castle was used as a cemetery. These results of work at the site reflect the religious and military developments as well as the changing settlement patterns of Syria throughout 15 centuries in an exemplary fashion. Moreover, the site clearly show to what extent arable land could be extended into the Syrian Steppe under a fell structured and functional system of government. Several issues such as the establishment of the sanctuary and a possible predecessor to the temple have not been fully studied so far. Furthermore, there are some observations with respect to medieval use of the site which have not been discussed here. No excavations have been carried out in the settlement or the fort so far.
Dr. Rüdiger Gogräfe
Adolf Gerhard Str. 5, D 55128 Mainz
Tel.: +49-(0)6131-369201; Mobil: +49-(0)170-5645006; Fax: +49-(0)6131-791254
Reports: Damaszener Mitteilungen 7, 1993, 45ff.; Antike Welt 27 Heft 5, 1996, 353ff.; Syrian-European Archaeology Exhibition May 30th-July 11th 1996 (Damaskus 1996) 159ff.; Topoi 7, 1997, 801ff.; R. Gogräfe, Isriye-Seriana from the beginning of the caesarian to the end of the byzantine time in Syria: the archaeological and historical evidence, in: La Syrie de la mer à la steppe- Résumés des conférences, Hama 27 sep.-2 oct 1999 (Damaskus 1999) 71f.; R. Gogräfe, Der Apollon von Seriana-Isriye - Datierung und Funktion, in: Antike Bronzen - Werkstattkreise und Geräte. 14. Internationaler Kongress, Köln 21.-24. September 1999 (in print).
There are plans for the publication of a monograph presenting all small-finds and archaeological observations.