Visitors to Amorium often remark on its attractive name, and several have assumed, incorrectly, that it is associated with the Latin word for love, amor. In fact, the name probably derives from a form of the old Indo-European root Ma, meaning ‘mother’. It suggests that from early times the site was associated with the cult of the Anatolian mother goddess.
In the 1st century BC Amorium had already developed into a fully-fledged city since we know it had started minting its own coins by then. Under the Romans it prospered and presumably came to be endowed with the usual range of public buildings and amenities. But Amorium does not appear in the historical record in antiquity except for a very brief mention in Strabo’s Geography, except now there is a new Hellenistic inscription found in 2003 at the neighbouring city of Pessinus which refers to Amorium. Little survives archaeologically of the city from Hellenistic and Roman times.
The Amorium Excavation Project has been directed principally towards revealing the nature of post-classical Amorium; that is, the mediaeval city of the Byzantine Empire, when according to one Arab source it was the largest and most important city in Anatolia.
Byzantine Amorium spans the gap between the classical world and the high middle ages, between the Christian world of late antiquity and the Moslem world of the Seljuks and Ottomans, and between the numerous Roman and the modern Turkish cities of Anatolia. The excavations at Amorium seek to reveal the nature of urban continuity in Christian Anatolia during the so-called Dark Ages and the middle Byzantine period; that is, between the mid-7 th century and the late 11th century AD. In this respect Amorium provides a unique opportunity to investigate a little known and poorly documented period of history.
The Upper City
The best views of this large and impressive man-made mound or tell can be obtained from the crest of the hills to the east on the road to Davulga. From this view-point the Upper City seems to dominate the whole site, but when seen from the southern sector of the Lower City its true position, lying in hollow between two streams and flanked by higher ground, is more apparent. Indeed, as one approaches the site from Emirdağ, the Upper City is completely hidden from view until one enters the modern village, and so most first-time visitors are taken by surprise when the south-western corner of the mound suddenly comes into view.
In Byzantine times the Upper City was completely enclosed by a fortification wall, traces of which are visible around the edge of the mound. The circuit wall was strengthened by a number of projecting square towers, and there appear to have been several gates. At the north-eastern and south-western corners of the mound the Upper City wall joins up with the circuit of fortifications around the Lower City. The mound was the subject of an intensive surface survey during the 1989 and 1990 field seasons. This immediately produced some unexpected results; for example, it revealed that the site had not been entirely abandoned when the Byzantine city of Amorium ceased to exist in the late 11th century, as scholars had previously assumed. Surface finds clearly indicated a Turkish presence, and the outlines of some buildings were also recognised as the remains of a substantial Seljuk occupation. In the south-west corner of the Upper City a small enclosure was tentatively identified as a Seljuk fort, perhaps the origin of the Turkish place name Hisarcık (meaning ‘Little Fort’), while the surviving stretch of masonry wall below the north-east tip of the mound is unlike any of the excavated Byzantine fortification walls at Amorium and so probably also belongs to the Turkish period.
The undulating surface of the Upper City indicates the presence of numerous square and rectangular structures, which excavations have shown to belong in their final stages to the Ottoman period. The lower courses of the walls of these buildings comprise large masonry blocks (spolia) from the ancient city. Many are Roman tombstones that were brought from the extensive ancient cemeteries and used for new construction by the Byzantines. Several such stones are strewn across the mound, while others are still visible built into the Byzantine fortifications around its edge. Finally, the apse of a church can be traced on the surface near the eastern edge of the mound. This building has not yet been investigated by the excavation team, although a geophysical survey was undertaken in 2001 by Dr. Ali Kaya. The large pit at the north-eastern end of the church bears witness to some of the stone-robbing and treasure-hunting activities that plagued Amorium before it became a protected archaeological site.
Two trenches have been opened on the Upper City, one on the southern side (marked as No. 3 on the site plan above), and the other at the northern edge and slope (marked as Nos. 5-7). These have produced evidence for Ottoman, Seljuk, and middle Byzantine occupation. In 1995 Trench TT produced a small kiln site of 10th or 11th-century date, probably the only recorded example of a local Byzantine pottery production centre so far excavated in Anatolia.
The Lower City
The Lower City was also surrounded by a massive fortification wall, the line of which can still be traced running around the site. Only a small section of these defences has been excavated, revealing not only part of the curtain wall but also one of the city gates and a large triangular tower (marked as No. 1 on the site plan above). Other gates and towers presumably exist at intervals around the circuit, but these at present can only be guessed at. The length of this circuit of walls prompts questions about how and by whom they were manned – imperial troops, soldiers from the provincial army, or militia recruited from the city’s inhabitants. But whoever manned the fortifications, it would have required a sizeable force to defend them effectively against attack. The future emperor Leo III is said to have placed a garrison of only 800 men in Amorium in AD 716, and yet this seems wholly inadequate to protect the whole of the Lower City in the face of a concerted Arab attack.
As a result, it has been argued that by the early 8th century the Lower City walls had already been abandoned and that only the Upper City was fortified. This theory, however, runs counter to much of the archaeological evidence. In addition, while no great reliance can be placed on the numbers given by the sources for the size of the civilian population gathered inside Amorium at the time of the siege in AD 838, the fortress was clearly defended by a substantial force, comprising not only troops of the Anatolikon Theme, under the command of their general (strategos), Aëtius, but also three of the four divisions (tagmata) of the imperial field army. It may therefore be assumed that these troops were sufficiently numerous to have adequately manned the circuit of Lower City walls.
Within the walls the Lower City can be divided into three distinct areas:- (a) the modern village, (b) a number of fields that are still under cultivation in the eastern and south-eastern sectors, and (c) a large stretch of open land running across the southern part of the site from the Davulga road to the edge of the ravine to the south-west. A similar area used merely for grazing is located to the northeast of the Lower City Church near the centre of the whole site. These uninhabited areas reveal numerous traces of buildings and streets; the existence of several large public buildings can also be postulated from the lines of walls and fragments of masonry that are visible on the surface. So, for example, it was possible to identify some remains close to the modern road through the village as those belonging to a church long before excavation of the structure began in 1990. Another important feature of the site is the number of wells that are scattered across the area within the Lower City fortifications. These wells now supply all the water needs of the villagers and of the excavation team, but their existence probably dates back to early mediaeval times. Although in Roman times Amorium may have been furnished with an aqueduct that supplied running water for the public baths and nymphaea, the Byzantine inhabitants needed a more secure source of water, especially during the troubled times of the Arab invasions. It was fortunate for them that an ample supply of water lay immediately below their feet; indeed, this may well be one reason for the continued existence of the city in the Byzantine Dark Ages.