Writing during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, around 2000 years ago, the geographer Strabo mentioned a city in Asia Minor called Kibyra “which could provide 30.000 foot-soldiers and 2000 horsemen”. It is assumed to have been founded by immigrants from Pisidia, the mountainous region north of the city of Antalya in southwestern Turkey. This presumably took place some time in the 3rd century BC by relocating a nearby settlement of people from the well-known kingdom of Lydia in western Asia Minor.
Apart from this, very little is known about the city, which later became the leading member of a tetrapolis (a federation of four cities). It was obviously of enormous size, judging by the extent of the ruins situated close to the town of Gölhisar in the Turkish province of Burdur, about 150 km northwest of Antalya. Nevertheless, even among experts, the city remains virtually unknown. This is partly due to the paucity of the historical record, but there are other reasons. Excavations of coastal Greek cities such as Miletus or Ephesus have been going on for more than 100 years, but research on the indigenous peoples of Asia Minor, such as the Lydians and Pisidians, remains underdeveloped.
Following an Invitation from Vienna
In addition there has been a marked shift in research interests during the last few decades. As well as studying ancient cities and their public and domestic buildings, scholars have begun to focus on the structures of whole territories and their development over much longer periods. Clearly, excavations are not ideal tools for this kind of research. They have therefore been superseded by surface surveys, which allow for the comprehensive documentation and analysis of archaeological remains that are still visible above ground.
In 2008 I, a classical archaeologist from Munich University and an expert on Asia Minor, started such a survey in the territory of Kibyra (the so-called Kibyratis). I owed this opportunity to an invitation from Thomas Corsten, a professor of Greek history and epigraphy at the University of Vienna, who holds a research permit for the region issued by the Turkish authorities. Every summer since then, a small team of students of archaeology, ancient history and geodesy has been tracing the outlines of ruined structures in the Kibyratis. The walls of ancient houses or tombs are being meticulously documented, and potsherds and other small surface finds collected and analysed.
A Treasure of Shards
The study area is distinctive in many respects. For one thing, it is wedged between more prominent and better-known cultural landscapes. To the west it borders on Karia; its neighbours to the north are Lydia and Phrygia; immediately to the south lies Lykia; and to the east is Pisidia. So the Kibyratis can be seen as an “in-between” region, forming at once an interface and a zone of overlap. Indeed, this can be illustrated at Gölhisar Gölü, a small lake about 10 km east of Kibyra.
There, the remains of an ancient settlement have been found on a rocky peninsula. While its buildings can only be sketchily reconstructed, the archaeologists discovered its real “treasure” on a small offshore plain. Land disturbance during its recent use as an orchard has brought countless pottery shards to the surface, mostly dating back to the Archaic Period (7th and 6th centuries BC), and the range of styles reflects the hybrid character of the Kibyratis mentioned above. In addition to local wares, shards of Greek, Lydian, Phrygian and Karian origin have been identified.
Influenced by Multiethnic Interaction
Other interesting finds also came to light – fragments of terracotta once used for the decoration of the roof and exterior walls of a temple or small palace; a small terracotta horsehead that may have been part of a miniature chariot and which might originate from Cyprus; and, finally, the lower section of a unique sculpture of a bird-like figure, fashioned in limestone. All of these indicate that the settlement flourished during the 7th–6th centuries BC and also possessed a sanctuary of at least local prominence. It appears that the settlement must have served as a centre for the whole region, which supports the idea that it can be identified with the Lydian settlement mentioned by Strabo.
Me and my team are still trying to learn the detail of how the area developed. One important factor was, apparently, the interaction of different ethnic groups. Obviously, surface finds alone cannot provide answers to the many questions that arise. However, by the end of the survey in 2012 or 2013, a rough idea of the settlement pattern in the region should have emerged. But time is running out for the researchers. I am worried by the extensive quarrying of marble and the systematic looting of ancient sites and fear that in a few years the face of the Kibyratis will have changed radically.