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Excavations at Gritille (1982–1984): the Medieval Period A Preliminary Report

  • Scott Redford (a1)


Gritille is the modern name for a mound lying on the right bank of the Euphrates River in southeast Turkey. Four years of excavation by a team led by Professor Richard S. Ellis of Bryn Mawr College concentrated on uncovering two main occupation levels bracketing the site's long sequence, the Neolithic and the Medieval. This article will focus on the last three seasons of excavation on top of the mound.

The mound of Gritille lies 10 km. upstream from Samsat (Greek Samosata, Arabic Sumaisāṭ), a major halting point on the medieval road from North Syria through Urfa (Greek Edessa, Arabic ar-Ruhā) to Malatya (Greek Melitene) and central eastern Anatolia. It was at Samsat that the crossing of the Euphrates was attempted. Samsat was also a stop for East–West traffic from Diyarbakır (Āmid) to Birecik (Bīra) and beyond, but the road through Nisibin (Nusaybin) and Harran (or Urfa) to Birecik seems to have been heavily travelled in the late Middle Islamic period (Fig. 1).



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1 For pre-medieval Gritille, see Voigt, M. M. and Ellis, R. S., “Excavations at Gritille, Turkey: 1981,” Paléorient VII (1981), and Voigt, M. M., “Village on the Euphrates Excavations at Neolithic Gritille in Turkey,” Expedition XXVII (1985). For Medieval finds from the 1981 season see Ellis, R. S. and Voigt, M. M., “1981 Excavations at Gritille, Turkey,” AJA LXXXVI (1982).

2 The Gritille Project was sponsored by Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, with the cooperation of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and participation by the University Museum, University of Pennyslvania. It was funded through generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (Grants R0–00227–81–1315 and R0-–20394–82), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The University Museum and private donors.

The Gritille Project was directed by R. S. Ellis; M.-H. Gates served as field director for the 1983 and 1984 seasons; M. M. Voigt supervised the medieval excavations during the 1984 season. Participants in medieval operations at Gritille from 1982–84 included; Excavators: M. Adams, C. Eslick, J. Frane, C. Gates, S. Redford, H. Royden, P. Seabolt and G. Stein, Planners and Illustrators: N. Clark, O. Dalgün, T. Dilek, K. Gleason, J. Perlmutter, G. Ponti, and S. Trammel, Photographers and Surveyors: P. Thomas and A. Weiss, House Staff: B. Denton, A. Gunter and C. Royden.

The author's participation on the Gritille Project was made possible in 1983 and 1984 by grants from the Damon Diley Fund, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University. Support for research and writing in 1985–86 was provided by a Fulbright–Hays grant. Many thanks are due to the entire staff of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, specifically Director David French and Assistant Director Ann Murray for permission to read the manuscript of medieval excavations at Tille by Moore, John (BAR 1986 forthcoming). Thanks, too, to Dr. Gary Leiser for his comments on an earlier draft of this article. Inking of figure drawings was accomplished by Dory Slane and Gülden Çağlı, Ms. Çağlı also prepared the maps and phase plans.

3 In 1184 Ibn Jubayr travelled the east–west road and found towns along it prosperous, Riḥla (Beirut: Dar Sader, 1964), 214223. In the 1250's Ibn Sa'īd travelled from Malatya through Birecik, Nisibin and Mayyāfariqīn (Silvan) on his way to Āmid (Diyarbakır) and described Birecik as being “… on the border of Islam facing the Tatars,” Ibn Sa'īd al-Maghribī, Kitāb al-Jūghrafīyā (Beirut: Al-Maṭb'at at-Tijariyya, 1970), 171. The geographer Al-Idrīsī, writing in the 1150's, mentioned Samsat several times, La géographie d'Edrisi, trans. Jaubert, P.-A., (Paris: 1836; reprint ed., Amsterdam: Philo Press, n.d.). He mentions (II, 137) that the Euphrates was navigable from Baghdad as far as Samsat, but there is little evidence for it having been used for anything more than local traffic. Samsat is listed as a major stop on both north–south and east–west routes. The trip from Malatya to Samsat is listed as 51 miles (II, 138); from Diyarbakır to Samsat 70 miles (II, 152) or (II, 153) three days. From Samsat the road went down to Urfa or Harran before proceeding west.

4 Excavations at Lidar have been undertaken by Professor Harald Hauptmann of the Institute for Prehistory of the University of Heidelberg. Progress reports by Prof. Hauptmann on the medieval excavations can be found in Mellink, M. J., “Archaeology in Asia Minor,” AJA LXXXV (1981), 225–6 and in Recent Archaeological Research in Turkey,” AS XXX (1980), 225–6 and XXXI (1981), 197. I am grateful to Prof. Hauptmann for allowing me access to his stores in Arap Kantara as well as his archive in Heidelberg; this generosity was shared by the other members of the Lidar expedition.

5 Much of the following description is taken from Voigt and Ellis, op. cit., 87–9.

6 Buckingham, J. S., Travels in Mesopotamia (London: Henry Colburn, 1827), 29, provides the following evaluation of the waters of the Euphrates at Birecik: “Its waters were of a full yellowish colour, and were quite as turbid as those of the Nile; though, as I thought at the time, much inferior to them in sweetness of taste.” The workmen at Gritille preferred Euphrates water to the clearer spring water because it was colder.

7 A1-Idrīsī, op. cit., 138, writes that the mountains surrounding Samsat produced an abundance of nuts, grapes and other winter and summer fruits which grew wild.

8 Ellis and Voigt, op. cit., 323.

9 The formation of the mound, with medieval levels superposed on and to the west of the pre-medieval mound, finds a purely coincidental echo in the site's name, a conflation of two words for mound. Grit or girt is similar to the Persian gerd, tille to the Arabic tell. In Persian, gerd means a flat-topped mound, so formed because girded by a fortification wall preventing its erosion.

10 Ellis and Voigt, op. cit., 330.

11 Botanical remains from medieval Gritille are being analysed by Dr. P. Crabtree, Dpt. of Anthropology, Princeton University and faunal remains by G. Stein, Dpt. of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. Ceramics and small finds are being studied by the author. The varied numismatic record from Islamic, Byzantine and Crusader Gritille has been examined by, respectively, Dr. M. Bates, Dr. W. Metcalf, and Dr. A. Stahl, all of the American Numismatic Society in New York City, to whom many thanks are due. As their research is ongoing, results quoted in this article are only partial. For more numismatic information, see note 25.

12 McNicoll, Anthony, Taşkun Kale Keban Rescue Excavations Eastern Turkey (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1983). BAR International Series 168, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara Monograph 6, 8, Plate 2 for this rough herringbone pattern construction. Based on a method of construction similar to that at Gritille, McNicoll estimates the height of the walls at 4 m.

13 The same principle applied at Lidar; see Hauptmann, , AS XXXI (1981), 197.

14 During the course of excavation several steps were found, but only a few between habitation areas of differing level. Nothing resembling a staircase ascending as far as a roof was found. This leaves open the possibility that ladders were used.

15 See McNicoll, op. cit., 9 for a theory of oven differentiation according to location.

16 Puglisi, S. M., Meriggi, P., Malatya-I (Rome: Centro per le Antichità e la Storia dell'Arte del Vicino Oriente, 1964), 36, Plate 67/2. In excavating a village of late Roman or early Byzantine date, the Italian team unearthed an oven almost identical to that illustrated in Plate Xa. The authors are of the opinion that air was pumped into the tuyère with bellows, but it may have been sufficient simply to create an updraft.

17 French, D. H., Moore, J. and Russell, H. F., “Excavations at Tille 1979–1982, An Interim Report,” AS XXXII (1982), 170. Tille, too, had Roman ruins nearby available for tile ransackers. Medieval levels at Korucutepe near Elazığ produced roof tiles made out of clay, van Loon, M., “Excavations at Korucutepe, Turkey 1968–70: Preliminary Report. Part I: Architecture and General Finds,” JNES XXXII, (1973), 374, Plate 20 A, attesting to their manufacture in this period, but it is probable that they were more widely used in upland areas with harsher winters and more precipitation than Gritille.

18 At Lidar these are referred to as “… horse-shoe-shaped hearths with curbs on the outer side”. Hauptmann, , AS XXXI (1981), 197.

19 Unlike the larger settlement at Lidar, at Gritille nothing like the “… three singleroomed houses … shown by their furnishings to have been bathrooms” were found (ibid.). Nor as at Lidar (ibid.) and Tille (French et al., op. cit., 169) was a bathhouse found.

20 The fortification wall, with its many phases and peculiarities of repair, will be discussed in full at a later date. Space limitations, too, forbid a full discussion of the difficulty medieval builders seem to have encountered in keeping their fortification walls from sliding down slopes. Large sections of fortification wall are missing from steep slopes at Tille, Gritille, Taşkun Kale and Lidar, and not all can be blamed on stone robbers or sappers.

Contemporary accounts speak of devastating earthquakes striking the Near East often during the Middle Ages. During the occupation span at Gritille, earthquakes are recorded for Samsat in 1115 and 1170. The 1115 earthquake destroyed houses in Samsat (Hebraeus, Bar, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, trans. Budge, E. A. W., (Oxford; OUP, 1932), 247) and the city wall of Maraş, (Anonymi Auctoris Chronicon ad A. C. 1234 Pertinens, trans Abouna, A. (Louvain, Secretariat du Corpus SCO, 1974), 58). The 1170 earthquake destroyed the walls of Samsat (Bar Hebraeus, op. cit., 296). It must be remembered that these walls were massive affairs of rubble and ashlar masonry, much larger than those of Gritille.

21 See note 25 below.

22 Ellis and Voigt, op. cit., Illustration 3, 327.

23 Hauptmann, , AS XXXI (1981), 197.

24 Matthew of Edessa, Urfalı Mateos Vekayi-Namesi (952–1156) ve Papaz Grigor'un Zeyli (1136–1162), trans. Andreasyan, Hrant D. (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1962), 159–60; 57 for the first mention of the site. Also, Honigmann, Ernst, Die Ostgrenze des byzantinischen Reiches (Brussels: Editions de l'Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire Orientales, 1935), 143.

25 This hoard consisted of 15 coins, all silver; 5 deniers of Valence, France, and 10 Lucca issues of Emperor Henry III, IV or V. It will be published by Michael Metcalf of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in The Numismatic Chronicle, 1987. Thanks to Dr. Metcalf for his response to numerous queries.

26 For the best summary of this intermediate period see Laurent, J., “Des grecs aux croisés étude sur l'histoire d'Edesse entre 1071 et 1098,” Byzantion I (1924). Also, Segal, J. B., Edessa The Blessed City (Oxford: OUP, 1970), 215 ff.

27 “The First and Second Crusades from an Anonymous Syriac Chronicle,” trans. Tritton, A. S., JRAS (1934), 83. For another translation see note 20 above. The Abouna translation is complete, the Tritton abridged, but Tritton has been used in this article because it does not differ from Abouna substantially in passages quoted. During sieges, large batteries of siege machinery were not employed, such breaching of walls as was attempted seems mainly to have been the work of sappers. By and large, treachery and starvation were the best weapons at hand.

28 Schlumberger, G., Numismatique de l'Orient latin (Paris: Ernst LeRoux, 1878; reprint ed., Graz: Akademische Druck, 1954), 13.

29 Tritton, op. cit., 91. The site of Kaisun lies near the Euphrates near the Altıntaş Ovası in present day southwest Adıyaman province.

30 Tritton, op. cit., 278. Also, Abouna, op. cit., 84. Bar Hebraeus, op. cit., 265, puts the number of Frankish knights at 300, accompanied by 4,000 foot soliders. This underlines the importance of the caravan, and suggests that its aim might have been the provisioning of Urfa for the entire winter.

31 McNicoll, op. cit. (n. 12), Plan 1. McNicoll (190–91) argues for the site's function as a fort built for, and garrisoned by, Mongol forces in early fourteenth century.

It is hard to estimate the strategic value of the river crossing between Gritille and Lidar. This article has favoured control of the Euphrates floodplain as the major rationale for the fortification of Gritille. One textual reference points to the importance of the Euphrates as a barrier, indirectly indicating the danger of a long, slow river crossing to armies whose main weapon was their speed of attack. In 11 12, during the same campaign as that cited above, note 27, Emir Mawdūd came to the Euphrates with his forces and, because they found it frozen, “… he and all his Turkmen crossed in an instant, while, had they been forced to cross in boats, they could not have done it in five days.” Tritton, op. cit., 87.

In 1260, when the Mongols crossed over the Euphrates on their way to Syria, they used bridges of boats lashed together (Bar Hebraeus, op. cit., 435) in the time honoured Near Eastern fashion. Such an expenditure of time and materials ran contrary to the tactics of the Turkish armies which were based on swift cavalry.

32 Cahen, Claude, “Le régime rural syrien au temps de la domination franque,” Bulletin de la Faculté des Lettres de Strasbourg XXIX (1951), 228–9, points out that for the peasantry of Crusader lands, the coming of the Crusaders meant little more than the replacing of one overlord by another. There were exceptions for Muslims, but these do not apply for Gritille, which was a Christian settlement. Cahen indicates that, by and large, each rural settlement, or casal, had one overlord (ibid., 297) who himself owed allegiance to higher authorities. This arrangement, of course, was not unique to Crusader lands, but it does provide an alternative explanation for the inhabitants of the keep at Gritille.

33 Smail, R. C., Crusading Warfare 1097–1193, (Cambridge: CUP, 1956; reprint ed. 1972), 229–30. The author makes this point for lone stone towers as well as small castles in the Crusader heartland of Palestine, but it makes sense for Gritille, which must have been administered by the Crusaders from Samsat. McNicoll, ibid., emphasizing the indefensibility of Taşkun Kale (like Gritille, without a permanent water supply within the walls) for long periods of time, prefers to see the entire garrisoned fort as a kind of gendarmerie, but Taşkun Kale did not have the differentiation of fortified areas possessed by Gritille.

34 Tritton, op. cit. (n. 27), 299. See also Abouna, op. cit., 113. D. H. French has suggested that this quote may refer to the site of Tille (French et al., op. cit. (n. 17), 174). This is entirely possible; it is equally possible that it refers to Gritille. The aim here is not site identification, but rather a coincidence of archaeological and historical information, something rare enough for sites of this size.

35 Abouna, op. cit., 104. The chapter heading for this event is “The Last Fall of Edessa; its Total Extermination”, and the author emphasizes the totality of the destruction suffered by the city and its inhabitants. Bar Hebraeus (op. cit., 273) claimed that thirty thousand people were killed and sixteen thousand carried off into captivity. “And Edessa remained a waste place, and saturated with blood, and filled with the limbs of her sons and her daughters; and the sirens used to go into it during the nights to feed upon the flesh of the slain. And it became a habitation for jackals.” It is this event that prompted the Second Crusade.

36 Humphreys, R. Stephen, From Saladin to the Mongols (Albany: SUNY Press, 1977), 116. In 1202 al-Afḍal, defeated by his uncle and brother and deprived of all his lands save Samsat, submitted to Rukn ad-Dīn Kay Khusraw, the Rum Seljuk Sultan, and struck coinage in his name (Bar Hebraeus, op. cit., 351).

37 Humphreys, op. cit., 159, for the 1208 occupation, and Duda, Herbert W., Die Seltschukengeschichte des Ibn Bibi (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1959), 206, for that of 1238.

38 DuLaurier, Edouard, Récit de la première croisade: extrait de la chronique de Matthieu d'Edesse (Paris: Benjamin DuPrat, 1850), 105, note 3, makes reference to a letter by one Gregory Makisdros to the Syrian Patriarch; their conversion is attested by a letter of Patriarch (Saint) Nerces the Gracious.

39 Rice, D. S., “Medieval Harran,” AS II (1952), 44 note 1 for Shi'a propagandists. Rice, op. cit., 77, makes reference to the Bedouin Arab dynasts of Harran, the Numairids, owning land near Samsat, land which was seized by the Franks in 1118.

40 H. Duda, op. cit., 216–17.

41 Cf. McNicoll, op. cit. (n. 12), 92.

42 Mitchell, Stephen, Aşvan Kale Keban Rescue Excavations, Eastern Anatolia (Oxford: BAR, 1980) BAR International Series 80 British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara Monograph No. 1, Fig 96, No. 110, McNicoll, op. cit., Figure 81 Nos. 280–1, Ömür Bakırer, “The Medieval Pottery and Baked Clay Objects,” in van Loon, M. (ed.), Korucutepe (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 1980), Plate 71 CW 6 and 7. See also French et al., op. cit., Figure 8, Nos. 1 and 2.

43 Mitchell, op. cit., Figure 95, Nos. 1084–1087.

44 Ibid, Figure 95, Nos. 1089–93, Figure 105, Nos. 1289–90, 1293. McNicoll, op. cit., Figure 45, Figure 80, 267–268.

45 Öney, Gönül, “1978–79 ve 1981 Yılı Samsat Kazılarında Bulunan īslam Devri Buluntularıyla İlgili İlk Haber,” Arkeoloji-Sanat Tarihi Dergisi I (1982), 75.

46 Öney, op. cit., Plate 27 No. 3, Plate 26, No. 2.

47 Fehérvári, Geza, Islamic Pottery (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 113, Nos. 150, 151, Plate 61 a and b.

48 Bakırer, op. cit., 196; Mitchell, op. cit., 49–55.

49 Georgiev, G. G., “Old Bulgarian writing implements from Pliska and Preslav” (in Bulgarian) Arkeologya XXII (1980), Figures 2 and 3.

50 Lovag, Zsuzsa S., “Byzantine Type reliquary pectoral crosses in the Hungarian National Museum,” Folia Archaeologica XXII (1971), Figure 4. The reliquary cross closest to that found at Gritille is classified by the author as belonging to a group produced in Kiev in the 12th and 13th centuries (p. 158). These crosses, according to the author, were based on Byzantine prototypes, and not those produced for the pilgrimage trade in the Holy Land. If this is correct, then the phylactery found at Gritille must be an example of the Byzantine prototype.

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