The Unknown Ancient Roman God Discovered In Turkey

By Heather Ramsey on Sunday, June 14, 2015
Gaziantep_overview
“The gods were different, the suffering was the same.” —Marjory Stoneman Douglas

In A Nutshell

Archaeologists recently discovered the sculpture of a previously unknown ancient Roman god in a Roman temple in Turkey. Dated to the first century BC, the sculpture contains elements of Near Eastern gods, suggesting that it may be a god that predates the Romans. It appears to be a fertility god. Scientists had previously found hundreds of artifacts at the site, leading them to believe that the ancient sanctuary was revered before the Romans established it as a sacred site. The temple is located in Gaziantep, a city near the Syrian border that’s been home to many cultures over thousands of years.

The Whole Bushel

In a puzzling find, archaeologists recently discovered the sculpture of a previously unknown ancient Roman god in a Roman temple near Doliche, an ancient city in Turkey. Dated to the first century BC, the sculpture contains elements of Near Eastern gods, suggesting that it may be a god that predates the Romans. At the time of discovery, the archaeologists were excavating the site of an important Roman Empire deity called Jupiter Dolichenus. The relief, standing upright at 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) high, was carved into a stone slab that buttressed the wall of a Christian monastery from the Middle Ages.

“The basalt stele shows a deity growing from a chalice of leaves,” said researcher Michael Blomer. “Its long stem rises from a cone that is ornamented with astral symbols. From the sides of the cone grow a long horn and a tree, which the deity clasps with his right hand. The pictorial elements suggest that a fertility god is depicted.” Yet, none of the experts seem to know who this god is. In fact, they may not be able to identify it unless they find a similar image in future digs with an inscription saying who he is.

The temple is located in Gaziantep, a city near the Syrian border that’s been home to many cultures over thousands of years. The Turks captured it in the 12th century, then it was claimed by many Turkmen and Arab dynasties. Various invaders also wreaked havoc with its heritage until Gaziantep finally became part of the Ottoman Empire.

In ancient times, cultures as diverse as the Arameans, the Hittites, and the Persians also came together in this area. So it’s not surprising to find a god with elements of different cultures. It’s possible that this god is a Roman interpretation of what was originally a Near Eastern god. The Romans were known to depict ancient Egyptian gods in Roman legionaries’ clothing. They also gave human faces to ancient Mesopotamian gods.

In this relief, the top part appears to be classical, but the symbols on the bottom look like they have a Near Eastern origin. The rosette on the relief may be linked to Ishtar, a Mesopotamian god. But a crescent moon on the relief is considered to be a symbol of Sin, a moon god.

Scientists had previously found hundreds of artifacts at the site, including over 600 seals and amulets with images of animals, deities, geometric figures, and people carved into them. The seals may have been used to stamp images into clay to authenticate tablet documents. It’s possible they were also religious offerings of some kind. “The amazingly large number proves how important seals and amulets were for the worshipping of the god to whom they were consecrated as votive offerings,” said excavation director Engelbert Winter. “Such large amounts of seal consecrations are unheard-of in any comparable sanctuary.” These finds lead archaeologists to believe that the ancient sanctuary was revered before the Romans established it as a sacred site.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image via Wikipedia
LiveScience: Mysterious Roman God Baffles Experts; Trove of Religious Offerings Unearthed from Ancient Sanctuary in Turkey
IB Times: Mystery Roman Fertility God Discovered at Sacred Turkish Site Baffles Scholars
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Gaziantep

  • OldBoris

    There were a lot of local gods in Roman times. In some cases, even individual houses had their own gods. In my area, they worshipped a goddess called Nehalennia. There were several temples dedicated to her, with carvings depicting her as a woman sitting on a chair accompanied by a dog and with a basket of special sacrificial food next to her.