Jupiter Dolichenus and the Dülük Baba Tepesi Part 1/2

The Architecture on the Mountain

As we are still quite some months away from any excavation work in Doliche, we decided to give you some insights into the results of our previous excavation project on the nearby mountain of Dülük Baba Tepesi. The Project ran from 2001 to 2015 and produced a large amount of interesting finds and architectural remains.

Doliche itself is primarily known for its main deity, Jupiter Dolichenus. In the early second century CE, his cult spread over large parts of the Roman Empire. He became especially popular in the Danube and Rhine areas, in Britain, and in the city of Rome. This prominence in the frontier zones was primarily due to the god’s appeal to Roman military personnel. The popularity of the cult peaked in the Severan period. Modern scholarship has, for a long-time, portrayed Jupiter Dolichenus as a prime example of an “oriental” religion in the Roman Empire.

The sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus in Doliche is not located in the city area, which, of course, is our current area of Investigation, but on the peak of the Dülük Baba Tepesi, a 1204 m high mountain that towers over Doliche. Franz Cumont was the first scholar to identify the site during his travel to North Syria in 1907. However, the unassuming character of the ancient remains and restricted access to the site precluded an exploration. Systematic archaeological investigations began only in 2001. Since then, substantial parts of the sanctuary were excavated and the results of fieldwork have furthered the knowledge about the cult considerably.

Important discoveries were made about the origins and the age of the cult. The excavations revealed that the sanctuary began operating already in the early first millennium BCE. The early sanctuary was an enclosed rectangular precinct. Within the enclosure, only little traces of architecture have survived, but massive ash layers with hundreds of thousands of animal bones that have been found both inside and outside the perimeter suggest that an ash altar was the focus of cult activities. A large number of votive offerings from the Late Iron Age corroborate that the sanctuary flourished in the Late Babylonian and Persian period.

In the early Hellenistic period, the place of worship continued to operate as before. Only in late Hellenistic times mayor changes occurred. The sanctuary expanded and ashlar masonry replaced the mudbrick architecture. The expansion continued in the Roman Imperial period. It is, however, difficult to get a clear idea of the layout of the sanctuary at that time and its splendour, because later destruction, reuse of building material, and recent pillaging of the site have wreaked considerable havoc. Finds of architectural elements corroborate the existence of a large main temple, but it has not been possible to ascertain its location. It is important to note that its character differed considerably from the places of worship known from the Western provinces. The sanctuary at Doliche was of substantial size and resembled the large civic sanctuaries of the Near East. However, it is also important to keep in mind that apparently it was far less monumental than the grand sanctuaries of Palmyra, Damascus, or Baalbek.

While it is hard to draw definite conclusions about the cult and its rituals based on the study of the layout and architecture, the analysis of finds gives important new insights. Finds of Roman military equipment and a high proportion of Latin inscriptions indicate the presence of Roman soldiers and visitors from the West in the sanctuary. In general, it appears that the communities of worshippers in the Western Empire and the Doliche sanctuary have been closer connected than has generally been assumed.

There is evidence for a destruction of the sanctuary that can be linked to the Persian incursion in 253 CE. Yet, it appears that the sanctuary ceased to operate only in the fourth century. In the early Byzantine period, the monastery of St. Solomon was established in the ruins. It flourished considerably in the subsequent centuries and a large part of material recovered in the excavations belongs to this Christian phase of occupation. The monastery was abandoned in the twelfth century CE. Later, the tomb of a Muslim holy man was constructed close to the site and continued the tradition of the mountain as a place of reverence.

The excavation project on the Dülük Baba Tepesi has stopped in 2015. We are currently mainly occupied with restoration works on site. We hope to shed light on the connection between the sanctuary and the ancient city in our current and future endeavour of excavating ancient Doliche. In the meanwhile stay tuned for the second part about Jupiter Dolichenus and the Dülük Baba Tepesi. Next time we will focus on his depiction and dress….

by Michael Blömer and Fynn Riepe

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