Ancient municipal archive building found in Doliche

Archaeologists have discovered the municipal archives of the ancient city of Doliche near modern-day Dülük in southern Turkey. A team of University of Münster archaeologists unearthed more than 2,000 clay bullae, seal impressions affixed to official documents and private contracts, in this summer’s excavation. Many seals and impressions have been found at Doliche before, but at different locations in the city. Now for the first time the remains of the municipal archive building have been unearthed, one of very few ancient archive buildings from the Roman Empire ever discovered.

Doliche was famed in antiquity as the home of the shrine of Jupiter Dolichenus. Jupiter Dolichenus was a composite of the Greco-Roman god of lightning and the Hittite storm god Tesub. Rome conquered Doliche in 64 B.C., and over the next few centuries, the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus spread widely throughout the Empire, reaching its peak of popularity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. A shrine dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus was found as far away as the fort of Vindolanda in northern Britain.

The city’s patron deity was frequently represented on seals going back as far as the 7th century B.C. More than 600 stamp and cylinder seals left as votive offerings at the deity’s shrine in Doliche between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C. were discovered by the University of Münster team in 2013. Another thousand were unearthed in the 2017 excavation, these dating to the apex of the cult’s popularity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Unlike the earlier cache, many of these seals and stamps were administrative in nature, used as official signatures on government and private documents. They were found in the city center, not in the temple precinct, but the actual archive building was not discovered until this year.

Only the lower layers of the foundations remain of the archive building, which are made of solid limestone blocks, adds [University of Münster archaeologist] Engelbert Winter. “However, they reveal a sequence of rooms that come together to form an elongated building complex,” he describes. However, the exact size cannot yet be measured. So far, the building has been proven to be eight meters wide and 25 meters long. The width of the walls also shows that it was multi-story. The international research team uncovered the building parts over a period of eight weeks last summer.

The archive documents themselves were destroyed in a major fire. In 253 AD, the Persian king Šāpūr I destroyed numerous cities in the Roman province of Syria, including Doliche, as a result of a war between the Roman and Persian Empires. The city center, which also included a bathing complex and a monumental temple, was not rebuilt after the fire. “This is a stroke of luck for archeology, as the condition from the time up to 253 AD has been preserved,” emphasize the researchers.