Micro-Identities of Bithynia during the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial Times: Archaeological Survey in Nicaea (Iznik/Turkey)

Contacts: Prof. Dr. Christof Berns & Ali Altın M.A.


Nicaea was a polis of local significance in Bithynia, an ancient region in the north-west of Turkey. The city was subject to the regional reign of the Bithyntian kings before it became the centre of the Roman province Bithynia et Pontus within the Roman Empire. After the divide of the Roman Empire it became the hinterland of the new royal capitals Nicomedia and Constantinople. It also is the one place where the most extensive monumental heritage in Bithynia can be found. The characteristic central position between centre and periphery makes Bithynia a significant case example for specific local characteristics of the cultural process of adaptations in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Surveying work at the Lefke-Gate
Fig. 01: Surveying work at the Lefke-Gate.

Rich of Material Heritage

Since the conquest of the Ottomans in 1331 the city is called Iznik and has been continuously settled. Remains of large monumental buildings from the Roman imperial times can be found between the houses of the Turkish territorial city. Among those an almost complete circle of the fortified wall and a theatre. In close vicinity to them several monumental Hellenistic burial sites can be located. Further features are architectural elements of large ancient buildings as well as funerary monuments which were used as spolia within the city region. Still this rich material heritage of Nicaea remains unexploited (merely the inscriptions have been published by Sencer Şahin and systematically recorded in his corpus).

Fig. 02: Tower of the city fortification with plinth made out of spolia.

Fig. 03: Hellenistic burial chamber

Interdisciplinary Fieldwork

As a result of the above mentioned rich heritage the Institute of Archaeological Studies of the RUB conducts interdisciplinary fieldwork in cooperation with the archaeological devision of the Uludağ university Bursa in Iznik since 2013. Additional project partners are the Institute of Geophysics of the Christian Albrechts University Kiel and the division of Remote Sensing and Geodesy of the Beuth University Berlin. This project is financially sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG) (BE-3219/2-1) and logistically supported by the city administration of Iznik. Goal is to thoroughly document the archaeological monuments and to exemplarily investigate the progression of a settlement at the margin of ancient metropolitan areas in consideration of various aspects. In this process a variety of different methods are of service.

Documentation of the spolia on the city fortification
Fig. 03: Documentation of the spolia on the city fortification.

Geophysical Prospection

The ancient street grid and the structure of the necropolises should be revealed with the aid of geophysical prospection. By mapping and documenting the spolia the local topography of the different phases of the history of the city can be reconstructed, completing the documentation of the monuments which are kept in the local museum. The preserved larger building will be studied and documented. The survey of the ancient monuments of Iznik allows us to draw inferences about the wider and more general issues.

Geophysical prospection
Fig. 04: Geophysical prospection.

Processes of Collective Identity Formation

When – in contrast to that – did supralocal narratives like the tradition of Bithynia, the values of the Hellenistic culture or the affiliation to the Roman Empire become more important? The answers to these questions convey a clearer idea of the patterns of identity that could be drawn on within the Roman Empire and contribute to a better understanding of those patterns.

Those general issues include the significance of cultural areas in process of collective identity formation. During which historical phases, in which functional contexts and based on which social groups did the reference to specific local nature become prominently relevant for the process of identity formation? In contrast when did supra-local narratives, like the traditions of the Bithynians, attain the values of the Hellenic culture or when did the affiliation to the Roman Empire increase in importance? The answers to these questions convey a more precise perception of identity patterns, referencing the past within the Roman Empire and contributing to a better understanding.