‘Zeugma’ (‘yoke’) described a bridge permitting passage between one fixed point and the other over ‘yoked’ ships whose order was, naturally, variable. It is a neat metaphor for this type of schema – tolerated in poetry, though objectionable no doubt if Isidore found it in prose.
The first bridge of this sort mentioned in classical histories is that which Xerxes used to cross the Hellespont – after which Alexander is said to have made one at the best crossing of the Euphrates. A town on its Syrian side then came to be called Zeugma ‘of Commagene’.
It ever stood on a margin-line between empires in conflict, for which reason the town doubtless preferred a demountable bridge – though it proved no lasting protection and four years after this coin was made (above, left), Zeugma was destroyed and its long period of Greek, and then of Roman classical culture ended (252/3 AD).
By Isidore’s time Zeugma was again inhabited and was largely Christian, though its bridge was no more and there were other places bearing the same name – one being on the shore of Constantinople:
- and see ‘Zeugma’ in the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1914).
We know the state of the better-known Zeugma due to an account of the Emperor Valen’s exiling to Thrace a bishop Eusebius of nearby Samosata.
The bishop having been informed by a messenger of the Emperor’s order, Eusebius then warned the messenger not to spread the news through town, lest the townspeople become enraged. Then,
“He confided his own intentions to one of his household servants who followed him carrying nothing but a cushion and a book. When [Eusebius] reached the bank of the river (for the Euphrates runs along the very walls of the town) he embarked in a boat and told the oarsmen to row to Zeugma. When it was day the bishop had reached Zeugma, and Samosata was full of weeping and wailing. Then all the congregation bewailed the removal of their shepherd and the stream of the river was crowded with voyagers.”
Theodoretus, Historia, Ecclesiatica 4:13
- see also ‘St.Eusebius’ [of Samosata] in The Catholic Encyclopaedia (1914). He is distinguished from other saints of the same name by his birthplace and his description as martyr.
Samosata was certainly a name known to Isidore (Ety. 8.v.29) and perhaps since he, himself, was actively opposed to Arianism he too had heard of Zeugma. One modern writer takes it as the site of an early Church council:
“The name [Zeugma] appears regularly in the lists of bishops at Church Councils, including one Council held at Zeugma itself in AD 433. In the Greek version the name is still Zeugma but the Latin version – significantly perhaps as a sign of the changing pronunciation – often calls it ‘Zeuma’.
-University of Western Australia, ‘Late Roman and Byzantine Zeugma‘
Once more, belonging to the eastern Roman empire could not save the town, and two years after Isidore’s death, the sudden cataclysmic descent of Arab armies saw the town destroyed in 640 AD.
“The strategic and central position of the site is underlined during the Byzantine period, when its area, together with the whole North-Mesopotamian region, was involved in the frequent battles between Byzantium and the Sassanid Persian Empire. Only with the arrival of the Arabs, 640 A.D., the region around Zeytinli Bahçe was entirely conquered…”
USEFUL LINKS – Zeugma. Its history and modern efforts at salvage.
- ‘Mark Antony’ in Encyclopaedia Iranica ( Iranica Online).
- Corrado Alvaro, Francesca Balossi, Joanita Vroom, ‘ Zeytinli Bahçe. A Medieval fortified settlement’, Anatolia Antiqua Année 2004 Volume 12 Numéro 1 pp. 191-213.
- Skylitzes’ ‘Synopsis’ – Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional de España MS Graecus Vitr. 26-2) Also referred to as: the Madrid Skylitzes; ‘Codex Græcus Matritensis Ioannis Skylitzes’; Skylitzes Matritensis.
- William Aylward, The Rescue Excavations at Zeugma in 2000. Historical outline in ‘Introduction’ online as [PDF]. Zeugma is three times the size of Pompeii and only a fraction of the site has been excavated.
- David Kennedy, ‘Drowned Cities of the Upper Euphrates’, Aramco World, Vol.49, No.5 (Sept/Oct 1998) pp.2-29 (online).
- P.M. Kenrick, ‘On the Silk Route: imported and regional pottery at Zeugma’. Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, Vol. 14 (2009) pp.263-272.
- M.I. Rostovtzeff et.al. (eds.), ‘The Excavations at Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters: Preliminary Report of the Ninth Season of Work, 1935–1936’, The American Historical Review, Volume 51 Issue 3 (April 1946).
- C. Abadie-Reynal, A-S Martz, A. Cador, ‘Late Roman and Byzantine Pottery at Zeugma: Groups of the beginning of the 5th century’, in Byzas-Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut Abteilung Istanbul 7 (2007) pp. 181-194; (International symposium on late Antique, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman pottery and tiles in archaeological context). [payment only access].
- (2008) Late Antique and Medieval Pottery and Tiles in Mediterranean Archaeological Contexts (Byzas)
- Procopius speaks of the Zeugma as a sector of Byzantium when relating the upheavals of January 11, 532. The verbal war between Blues and Greens includes mutual accusations of having murdered a dealer of wood ‘in the Zeugma’. See the English translation by Dana Munro in Medieval Civilization.
Composite – border: edited from elements in the Madrid Skylitzes (Bib. Nac. de España MS Graecus Vitr. 26-2)
band – detail from a mosaic recovered at Zeugma on the Euphrates.
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