Ancient Roman civilization remains one of the most scrutinized fields in the realm of history, with copious works of studies done on Roman culture, engineering, political systems and military innovations. So it really does come as a surprise when experts are baffled by the identity of a what might be one of the still unknown Roman deities that has seemingly eluded the ‘legion’ of historians and enthusiasts alike. The said discovery was made in an ancient temple in present-day southeastern Turkey, and the find entailed a relief from 1st century BC that depicts a mysterious bearded god rising from what appears to be a plant (or flower).
The site in question is perched atop a hill, which rises above the ancient settlement of Doliche, in close proximity to the city of Gaziantep (which is actually one of the oldest inhabited places in Eurasia). This particular region had historically witnessed the influx and amalgamation of different cultures and factions, including the Hittites, Persians, Romans, and later the Arabs, Crusaders and Cilician Armenians. This mass scale of cultural convergence was due to the area’s unique geographical position that connects Anatolia with the Levant and ultimately Mesopotamia. To that end, it is not much of a surprise that the uniquely carved relief was found in a buttress wall that belonged to a Christian monastery from the middle ages.
Archaeologists have been digging in the site for over 13 years, and their hard work has yielded many remarkable specimens, including a Bronze Age monument that was hidden below piles of dust, and an ancient temple from the Roman Era dedicated to god Jupiter Dolichenus. This particular deity was one of those unique ‘hybridized’ entities, with its Romanized aspects being added later to an pre-existing Aramean sky god. In fact, according to Gregory Woolf, a classicist at the University of St. Andrews, the religion of Jupiter Dolichenus was spread across many parts of extended Eurasia and Africa (like Mithraism), mainly due to its adoption by Roman soldiers who were instrumental in the ‘global’ transmission scope.
This Roman Temple was later destroyed to make way for the medieval Christian Mar Solomon monastery. The historians located the special relief (pictured below) in one of the supporting walls of this monastery – with the depiction encompassing a bearded man coming out of a palm-like plant. The bottom portion of the relief further exhibits an arrangement of a crescent, a rosette and a star; while its top section is completely broken off. This is what Michael Blömer, an archaeologist at the University of Muenster, had to say about the fascinating find –
It’s clearly a god, but at the moment it’s difficult to say who exactly it is. There are some elements reminiscent of ancient Near Eastern gods, as well, so it might be some very old god from before the Romans.
As we mentioned before, this hybridization of deities was not an uncommon practice among the Roman recruits serving in Asia. In that regard, the entity in question might have very well belonged to the pantheon of a native religion, while it was given a Romanized ‘makeover’ during the said era of Roman expansion. Moreover, the god’s emergence from a plant-like form may allude to its connection to fertility.
In any case, the researchers from around the world are still baffled about the chance discovery of this unidentified Roman god. They are now looking forth to finding any new evidence or extant inscription from the proximate area that might shed some light into the coherence of the ‘mash up’ deity.