Zeugma was one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire in the East. Originally founded around 300 BC by one of Alexander’s successors, his general Seleucus Nicator, the city was a vital trading point across the Euphrates River.
The military and commercial importance of Zeugma led to major growth and wealth, with as many as 70,000 people living in the city at its peak. This strategic crossing became a military centre for Roman forces in the east, with thousands of Roman soldiers based in the city.
As such a crucial strategic strongpoint, Zeugma was always a target in times of war and a devastating sack of the city at the hands of Sassanid king, Shapur I, in 256 AD led to the city’s decline. Indeed, one of the reasons for the good state of preservation of some areas of Zeugma was that entire neighbourhood’s sacked by Shapur’s forces were never reoccupied.
Though Zeugma was still an important Roman and subsequently Byzantine city well into the 6th century, the mounting pressure on the Empire’s borders and later Arab raids led to its eventual abandonment.
Today much of the site is now underwater due to modern dam building projects. Amazingly, what is left of Zeugma itself has been protected to ensure it will survive the waters and be preserved for the future. The higher areas of the ancient city are also under renewed excavation, and protective structures have been put in place to cover the newly discovered remains of this ancient city.
Though not open to the public at this stage, those interested in seeing the remains of this ancient city should head to nearby Gaziantep where the impressive Zeugma Mosaic Museum contains an amazing number of brilliantly preserved mosaics from the site.
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