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Roman amphitheater of ancient Side city Antalya Turkey drone photo, aerial top view. (Parilov/Adobe Stock)

SCIENCE & TECH: 2,200-Year-Old Mosaic of the Muse Calliope Exposed in Turkey

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Archaeologists exploring the site of an ancient Greek settlement in southern Turkey unearthed a beautifully preserved mosaic floor dating back to the second century BC. What made this mosaic floor especially notable was the distinctive portrait it featured depicting Calliope (or Kalliope), one of the legendary Nine Muses from Greek and later Roman mythology.

The excavations that produced this remarkable find were carried out as part of an ongoing restoration project in the ancient city of Side on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast. These digs are sponsored by Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which has just announced the amazing discovery in a post on its account on the social media site X.

A Greek Settlement Dedicated to Gods – and the Muses

Located in the Manvgat district in the province of Antalya, the city of Side had a rich and complex history, dating back to its founding in the seventh century BC by Greek colonizers from Western Anatolia. Destined to remain famous for many hundreds of years as both a bustling commercial port city and a vibrant cultural center, Side remained a Greek settlement up until it was first occupied by the Romans in 78 BC, after which the city’s culture evolved to include a mixture of Greek and Roman elements.

Roman amphitheater of ancient Side city Antalya Turkey drone photo, aerial top view. (Parilov/Adobe Stock)

In the centuries after its founding, Side was conquered at different times by the Lydians and the Persians, before being occupied by Alexander the Great and his armies in 333 BC. Hellenistic culture flourished in the city following the restoration of Greek hegemony, and it was during a period between the fourth and first centuries BC that Calliope and the other Muses from Greek mythology become widely known and worshipped in Side.

Meticulous cleaning of the Calliope mosaic in Side. (Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

Meticulous cleaning of the Calliope mosaic in Side. (Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

Calliope and the Muses

The Muses were said to be the daughters of the head of the Greek pantheon Zeus, and the goddess of memory and remembrance, Mnemosyne. In large part because of their beauty, they were assigned the role of inspiring humanity’s creative spirit, as expressed through art, poetry, music, dance and drama.

The Muses were fully introduced to Greek culture by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, in an epic poem he wrote between 730 and 700 BC known as Theogony. This work explained the origins and the genealogies of all the gods of the Greek pantheon, including the Nine Muses.

Often referred to as the leader of the Muses, Calliope was celebrated as the Muse of epic poetry and of creative writing in general. Called ‘The One with the Beautiful Voice,” Calliope was symbolized in physical form by the writing tablet and the stylus, and was usually portrayed holding a book of poetry beneath her arm.

Detail of Calliope from ‘The Muses Urania and Calliope’ by Simon Vouet. (Public Domain)

Detail of Calliope from ‘The Muses Urania and Calliope’ by Simon Vouet. (Public Domain)

One Greek myth suggested that the immortal poet Homer had prayed to Calliope for guidance and inspiration while composing the most famous epic poems ever written, the Iliad and the Odyssey. This was approximately 100 years before Calliope and the other Muses were introduced by Hesiod to a wider audience hungry for thrilling and awe-inspiring stories about the adventures of the Greek gods.

In acknowledgement of her superior status among the Muses, Calliope was also given the responsibility to inspire emperors, kings and statesmen to lead bravely, boldly, intelligently and humanely.

In 25 BC the founder of the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar, officially incorporated the city of Side into the Roman province of Galatia. But falling under Roman authority didn’t end the worship of the Muses in Side, as the Romans incorporated them into their roster of deities and continued the worship of these supernatural patrons of the arts. Even today it is common for artists to speak of finding their Muse, indicating just how influential these divine entities have been throughout Western history.

The Incredible Ancient City of Side, Then and Now

Under the authority of the Romans, Side prospered as a port city and grew to become one of the major commercial centers of Asia Minor, its population eventually expanding to 60,000. It was especially known for its trade in olive oil, but also became a prominent center of the regional slave trade, leaving a stain on the city’s legacy.

Side began to decline in importance in the fourth century, experienced an extreme loss of population in the 10th century after being repeatedly besieged by Arab Muslim and Christian invaders alike, and was finally abandoned for good in the 12th century. 

In the late 19th century, the site of Side was reoccupied by Muslim Turks from Crete, and ultimately reinvented in the 20th century as a resort town, with the current settlement standing adjacent to the remnants of the 2,600-year-old ancient city.

Most of the recovered or still-standing ancient ruins in Side consist of monuments, public buildings and infrastructure projects that date to the period of Roman occupation, from the first century BC through the third century AD (the Seljuks and the Ottomans respectively came in to occupy the power vacuum in the city in the post-Roman era). But hidden beneath the surface of these Roman structures there are many ancient Greek ruins and artifacts awaiting discovery, as the unearthing of the amazing Hellenistic-era mosaic dedicated to Calliope shows.

The current round of excavations at the site have been going on for decades, as archaeologists from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism continue to unearth evidence revealing the Greek origins of the legendary city of Side. The mosaic floor featuring Calliope is one of the more striking and intriguing artifacts that has so far been discovered, and its presence demonstrates the cultural and spiritual richness that defined Side’s long-buried Hellenistic culture.

Top image: Mosaic depicting the Muse, Calliope, excavated in Side, Turkey.      Source: Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism

By Nathan Falde





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