Decapitated Statues of Greek Deities Finally Reunited with Their Heads

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Decapitated Statues of Greek Deities Finally Reunited with Their Heads

Excavations at western Anatolia’s ancient Greek city of Aizanoi (also spelt Aezani) continue to unearth stunning artifacts and architectural wonders.

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Excavations at western Anatolia’s ancient Greek city of Aizanoi (also spelt Aezani) continue to unearth stunning artifacts and architectural wonders. The latest in the series of fascinating finds comes in the form of two exceptionally beautiful 5000-year-old Greek statue heads, whose bodies had been found earlier in a different area.

Aizanoi was continuously settled from the Bronze Age till the late seventh century, and then again by the Çavdar Tatars in the 13th century. The site’s excavation coordinator, Gokhan Coskun of Dumlupınar University, is reported by the Greek Herald to have said that the bodies of the statues were found in a previous dig, whilst the heads were unearthed during recent excavations in a creek bed in the ancient city. The heads belong to the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite and Greek god of wine, Dionysus.

The partially excavated statue head of the goddess Aphrodite in the ancient city of Aizanoi in Turkey. (Anadolu Agency )

“These are important findings for us, as they show that the polytheistic belief culture of ancient Greece existed for a long time without losing its importance in the Roman era” , Daily Sabah reports Coskun as saying.

Ancient Aizanoi

Located in what is now Çavdarhisar in the present-day western Anatolian province of Kütahya in Turkey, Aizanoi was home to the Aizanitisians, Phrygians, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines in ancient times. Bronze Age remains have also been found here. Aizanoi made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List in 2012 with its well-preserved ruins of a spectacular temple of Zeus dating to 3000 BC, an ancient theatre with a 15,000-person capacity, an adjacent stadium that could seat 13,500 people, two baths, the world’s first trade stock exchange building, a columned street, five bridges, two agoras (colonnaded market squares), necropolises, and waterways.

The most famous feature at the Aizanoi archaeological site is the Temple of Zeus - the best-preserved temple honoring the Greek god in ancient Anatolia. (ErdalIslak /Adobe Stock)

The most famous feature at the Aizanoi archaeological site is the Temple of Zeus – the best-preserved temple honoring the Greek god in ancient Anatolia. ( ErdalIslak /Adobe Stock)

The ancient city was discovered by European travelers in 1824 and survey work was carried out in the 1830s and 1840s; but excavations only started in 1926 under the aegis of the German Archaeological Institute. They resumed in 1970 and continue to the present. The ongoing excavations are being carried out by a team of 100 workers and 27 technical personnel.

Aizanoi has been described as the second Ephesus of Turkey. Ephesus, which is located on the Ionian coast, is in the Izmir province of Turkey. It was founded by the Greeks in the 10th century BC and subsequently passed to Roman control in 129 BC. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its spectacular ruins are a major tourist attraction.

Ephesus. (muratart /Adobe Stock) Aizanoi has been described as the second Ephesus of Turkey.

Ephesus. ( muratart /Adobe Stock ) Aizanoi has been described as the second Ephesus of Turkey.

Two Bodies Find Their Heads

The bodies of the statues were discovered in previous digs, and Mail Online reports that it is not yet clear how the heads and bodies were separated. Archaeologists involved with the excavations believe that finding the two statue heads suggests that there may have been a sculpture workshop in the area that produced the magnificent statues.

Both heads are carved out of limestone and Aphrodite’s measures 19 inches (48 centimeters) in height while that of Dionysus is 17 inches (43 centimeters). They have been described by the archaeologists as works of art of “astonishing beauty”.

Statue head of the god Dionysus found in the ancient city of Aizanoi in Turkey. (Anadolu Agency)

Statue head of the god Dionysus found in the ancient city of Aizanoi in Turkey. ( Anadolu Agency )

Was Aizanoi the Site of a Health Cult in Roman Times?

Another significant find by the same team of archaeologists at the site in August this year was a life-size statue of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation, from whom the word hygiene comes. The statue again had its head missing and so far it remains headless. Archaeologists feel that in this case the head may have been destroyed.

The Hope Hygieia, 2nd century AD. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The Hope Hygieia, 2nd century AD. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )

“Unfortunately, (the head) hasn’t survived to the present day, but in its current form, we can see that this statue is about the size of a human,” Coskun is quoted by Mail Online to have said. The statue was discovered inside the columned gallery running along the southern part of the agora. Other finds related to Hygieia have been unearthed at the site in the past, leading archaeologists to speculate that Aizanoi may have been home to a Hygieian health cult in Roman times. Coskun says:

“During past digs in Aizanoi, finds related to Hygieia were also found. This situation makes us think that there may have been some construction and buildings related to the health cult in Aizanoi during the Roman era. We’re trying to reveal the columned galleries on the west and south wings of the agora (bazaar) and the shops right behind them.”

Continuing excavations at Aizanoi are revealing newer architectural marvels and magnificent sculptures to add to our understanding of this fascinating city that was home to a multiplicity of cultures, some successive and others simultaneous, but each leaving its own distinct imprint.

Top image:  An archaeologist unearths the statue head of the goddess Aphrodite in the ancient city of Aizanoi in Turkey. Source: Anadolu Agency

By Sahir Pandey

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