Treasure hunting & the monuments

A similarity of attitudes can be illustrated by one comparative example: the great villa at Casale, Sicily, is known as Piazza Armerina, "piazza" being a popular corruption of "palatium". The villa is relatively splendid, but far from being on the scale of a palace; it probably attracted this name because "treasure" of various kinds was to be found by digging on the site, the villa itself being covered by a landslip. Exactly the same attitudes were prevalent in Turkey as well. Chandler notes (1971, 97) that Miletus is a very mean place, but still called Palat or Palatia, "the Palaces" - or, in the modern name, Balat. At Pergamum, Fellows (1852, 25) complains that The Turks take you round, and show you all they have not themselves built, calling every ruin by the simple name of the "old walls". They know nothing of traditions, for they are only conquerors here, and extremely ignorant (Rohde 1982 13-19 for a brief survey of interest in the site). At Assos, whilst examining a road flanked by tombs (1852, 38-9), he reports that My guide called every ruin an "old castle"; and even with these tombs open before him, he said that he was ignorant that they were such; and again: They call all buildings which they have not themselves constructed, whether bridge, bath or aqueduct, temple, theatre or tomb, all "Esky kalli", "old castle". Conversely (and once again as in Western Europe), the Turks were puzzled by travellers' investigation of antiquities, the common belief being that they were hunting for gold and treasure.

William Leake (1824, 343) says that William Cockerell told him that at Sardis, no fewer than three columns of the Temple of Artemis were recently thrown down by the Turks, for the sake of the gold which they expected to find in the joints. And according to Wood (1877, 38), it was believed that even marble statues might contain gold: This belief has perhaps caused more destruction of beautiful sculpture than any other motive, and it is only within the last few years that the Turks have found it a much better speculation to sell statues than to break them to pieces in the hope of finding gold. But he also admits that it is just as likely that the Turks destroyed images for religious reasons. Thus Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, visited Iznik in 1555: While we were there, they had discovered a fine statue, almost intact, representing an armed soldier, but they quickly mutilated it by blows from their hammers. When we showed our annoyance, the workmen laughed at us and asked whether we wished, in accordance with our custom, to worship it and pray to it (Forster 1927, 45).

The place where treasure was most likely to be found was amongst burial goods, as we well know from the continuing problems with underground Etruscan tombs at locations such as Cerveteri and Tarquinia. In societies which (unlike Christianity) usually bury goods with their dead, all conspicuous tombs, including sarcophagi (which were never buried, of course), have long since been robbed. Underground burials may have fared little better: Butler, for example, digging at Sardis early this century, found some 1104 tombs, of which only 70 contained objects; only two of these appeared not to have been robbed, and there was clear evidence in the royal cemetery at Bin Tepe that one incursion was Roman, and another mediaeval (Hanfmann 1975, 2-3). Tunnelling amongst antique ruins was certainly a popular pastime in mediaeval Italy, and probably in mediaeval Turkey as well. As Haynes remarks (1974, 29), Bodrum in Turkish means a "subterranean vault", and she suggests that the Turks thus labelled Halicarnassus because they must have found substructures and upstanding parts of many ancient buildings still in existence.

Except for treasure-hunting, the usual attitude both amongst the Turks and further west was to disregard antiquities unless they could be made into something useful. Occasionally this meant the making of lime from convenient marbles; but generally it meant simply displacing blocks to re-use them, often in a non-destructive manner. At Birgi, for example, which takes its name from the antique Pyrgi on the same site, the only survivals are to be seen in Ulu Camii, which boasts a suite of 15 matching antique columns; although painted, these are probably marble, as they are too slender for granite. In addition, eleven of these have matching antique capitals. For the context of such re-use, see below, page 000, the chapter dealing with Decline. Fellows' decription of Smyrna (1852, 8-9) may stand for most still- inhabited sites: The walls of all the buildings in the upper part of the town are formed out of the ruins of ancient Smyrna; and columns, busts, cornices, and entablatures are seen built in everywhere [...] the features of the busts are generally destroyed, to satisfy the scruples of their present owners, the Turks. Hundreds of tombstones are constructed of the ornamental parts of ancient temples, all of which are marble. Near the city, he examined a wall to a corn field, which he discovered was entirely made of slabs of mosaic flooring. At Assos, he found a fence made from thirty Doric capitals (1852, 35).

Coins & medals

Such reuse for seemingly odd purposes is not always the case. Coins provide a different story. Ibn Khaldun's description of Byzantine workmen building mosques, cited at the beginning of this chapter, is far from the only example of invading peoples' using preceding works of art. As John Evelyn remarks in his Numismata (1697), Marbles with their deepest inscriptions crumble away, and become no more legible; pictures and colours fade [...] Medals [...] have survived, and outlasted the most ancient records and transmitted to us the knowledge of a thousand useful things of twice a thousand years past (quoted from Stoneman 1987B, 41). In Turkey, antique coins were surely available in sufficiently large numbers for their qualities to be recognised and their imitation assured: as Thierry remarks (1958, 99), several bronze coins perpetuated the memory of antique and mediaeval empires, and especially of their periods of prosperity.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey