School of Humanities

On the Euphrates

Further Information

In September 1988 a conference was hosted in Turkey by the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara on 'The Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire'.

Following the conference in Ankara, participants were taken on a superb 11–day guided tour of sites on Turkey's eastern frontier. We began at Gaziantep in the southeast and on the first day were taken across a wonderful landscape for our first glimpse of the Euphrates river in the shadow of the tall sugar-loaf hill called Belkis Tepe. The tepe was the citadel of the Hellenistic city of Seleucia and on the slopes below it were the shattered but impressive remains of the city itself.

Opposite Seleucia on the west bank lay the twin city of Apamea. Between them in antiquity had stretched a bridge, the only one across the Euphrates and hence it became 'The Bridge'. At an early stage this link between Syria and Mesopotamia acquired the colloquial name Zeugma and in time that came to be the name of the twin cities, too. We might call such a place Bridgetown.

It was immediately apparent when we visited Zeugma that although little was visible among the thousands of pistachio trees, this was an important and potentially immensely rich site. It was apparent, too, that it was in imminent danger – a dam was planned for construction just 500 metres downstream and preliminary work had started. The resulting lake would stretch far upstream and would flood all of Apamea and large parts of Seleucia. The dam was scheduled for completion in 1998 but in the event that was delayed till 2000.

In 1993 – for reasons set out in my subsequent book (Kennedy 1998: 7-10) – I carried out a season of excavation at Zeugma on what proved to be a Roman villa with a superb mosaic floor. No further funding was available to continue but the publicity I had gained brought a French expedition into the field and they excavated annually until 2000.

This website provides links to various web pages. First is the page I established in the 1990s after my season of excavation. Then comes an update I put on the web in 2000 while at Zeugma as part of the initial effort to salvage more of the site as the lake was rising inexorably. Third is my retrospective in 2008 as much of that frantic season of fieldwork in 2000 reaches publication. Fourth, I have compiled a bibliography on the Zeugma excavations since the 1990s. It makes no pretence to completeness but may be of value.

Finally, because of my interest in aerial archaeology, some years ago I wrote an introductory text and long explanatory captions to go with the wonderful aerial photographs of Zeugma taken in 2000 by Nezih Basgelen (Basgelen 2000). The latter had virtually no text and it was hoped a second edition could be published expanding it considerably and incorporating my material. That was not possible but it may nevertheless be useful for those who bought Basgelen's book or have access to know what they are looking at in the captions. The proposed second edition would also have had letters and arrows annotated onto the photographs to ease explanation; that is not possible here.