Archaeologists are fascinated by the infant cemetery and statues in the ancient Greek city of Hypios, Turkey

New findings excavated from the theater of the ancient city of Hypios (Prusias ad Hypium), known as the Ephesus of the Black Sea, are seeing the light of day

Archaeologists have uncovered exciting new findings in the excavations of a theater in the ancient city of Hypios (Prusias ad Hypium). Located in Turkey’s northwestern province of Düzce, the city is referred to as the Ephesus of the Black Sea and dates back to the third century B.C.

A view from the theater of the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Düzce, northwestern Turkey.
A view from the theater of the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Düzce, northwestern Turkey.

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism extended the excavations for another 12 months in the ancient city, which is the oldest settlement in the Western Black Sea region. The recent work unearthed the grave of a baby and a number of statues around the city’s theater, providing significant insight into the period of late antiquity in the region.

Although new structures have been built in the ancient city over time, the area’s underground wealth remains intact, including its theater, ramparts, aqueducts and Roman bridge.

An aerial view of the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Düzce, northwestern Turkey, Dec. 3, 2020. (AA Photo)
An aerial view of the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Düzce, northwestern Turkey, Dec. 3, 2020. (AA Photo)

Remarking on the city’s durability, a scientific adviser of the excavation, associate professor Emre Okan from the Department of Archaeology at Düzce University, said that the lower seating area in the western and front sections of the theater was sturdier than they expected. Okan said the team uncovered a large portion of the theater in their excavations, which progressed faster than planned.

The theater’s semi-circular seating area, known as the “40 stairs,” has a length of 100 meters (328 feet) and a width of 74 meters. Its steps, decorated with lion’s claws, and arched passages are among the structures that have survived the test of time.

“We paid great attention to the excavations in the stage section. When we started working in the area, we detected that there were walls built in the period of late antiquity. Our excavations in the western section continue at full steam, and the theater is beginning to come to light in all its glory,” he said.

The grave of a baby found in the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Düzce, northwestern Turkey, Dec. 3, 2020. (AA Photo)
The grave of a baby found in the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in Düzce, northwestern Turkey, Dec. 3, 2020. (AA Photo)

Okan said the findings exceeded the team’s expectations. “We came across findings belonging to different periods than we had anticipated. Inside the stage building, we found a fourth-century grave. Currently, we are still working on it. Since you normally don’t find graves within stages, the grave shows that the people of the period of late antiquity used this area in a different way. The grave looks like it belonged to a little baby. Based on the coins unearthed during excavations around the grave, we consider it to belong to the fourth century,” he explained.

The bones found in the grave will be examined, and the archaeologists will be able to determine the baby’s age, sex and whether it had any diseases.

The Orpheus mosaic in the Konuralp Museum.
The Orpheus mosaic in the Konuralp Museum.

Explaining that statues and remnants of statues were also unearthed in the area, Okan noted: “The excavation has now reached a layer where the compacted soil ends and findings start to reveal themselves. Now, we have gone down an original layer, and it is only a matter of time before we come across a significant find.”

Ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium

The settlement, initially named “Hypios”, was later renamed “Kieros”.

According to Ancient Greek historical writer Memnon of Heraclea (c. 1st century), King Prusias I of Bithynia (r. 228 – 182 BC) captured the town of Kieros from the Heracleans, united it to his dominions, and changed its name to “Prusias”. Pliny and Ptolemy merely mention it, one placing it at the foot of Mt. Hypius, the other east of the river Hypius. It was an important city on the road between Nicomedia (modern İzmit) at Propontis and Amastris (Amasra) at Euxine in the Pontus region.

The marble statue of Tyche from Prusias ad Hypium in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. (Getty Images)
The marble statue of Tyche from Prusias ad Hypium in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. (Getty Images)

In about 74 AD, control of the region, and so of the city, was taken by the Roman Empire. From then on, the city was called “Prusias ad Hypium”. The city grew from four to twelve phylai during the Roman period until the 2nd century. Three Roman emperors, Hadrian (r. 117–138), Caracalla (r. 198–217), and Elagabalus (r. 218–222), visited the city in northwestern Asia Minor. Already after the reign of Vespasian (r. 69–79), the city became autonomous in internal affairs and minted its own coins, though it remained dependent to Rome in foreign policy. In the beginning of the 5th century, the city became part of the newly established late Roman province of Honorias, and after 451 AD, it lost its wealth towards the end of the Byzantine period.

In 1323, the city was conquered from the Byzantine Empire by Osman Ghazi (r. c. 1299 – 1323/4), the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Osman Ghazi handed over the city’s control to his commander Konur Alp Bey. In the Ottoman period, the city center was abandoned, and the settlement was called “Üskübü” from σκοπή (skopi) meaning “watchtower”.

During the Ottoman period, Islamic culture became prevalent. With the beginning of the Republican era (after 1923), the town’s name was changed to “Konuralp”. The name “Üskübü” is still used among the inhabitants.

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