The excavation programme

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After a limited rescue excavation in the potter’s quarter, a full excavation permit for Sagalassos was issued to Marc Waelkens of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in 1990. As absolutely nothing was known about the political history of the town, the two initial foci of excavations were the major city squares, respectively the upper and the lower agora, where most honorific inscriptions could be expected. Gradually both squares and the monumental constructions facing them were exposed. They produced dozens of public inscriptions documenting the involvement of the local elite in the monumental development of the city as well as their social mobility. In addition, a study of the architectural decoration of the monuments surrounding the squares allowed identifying the activity of local and foreign construction guilds or Bauhütten at Sagalassos providing a tool for situating the architecture of the town more accurately within the local building history. One of the most important structures excavated concerning the political organisation of the city was the well preserved city council hall dating to 100 BC, confirming its status of polis.

Simultaneously, excavations were initiated at the Neon Library and the Doric fountain house near the eastern edge of the monumental centre in order to get an idea of the urban layout of the city next to its local political history. The data thus obtained were supplemented with test-soundings carried out to study the urban development and infrastructure of the town. The results of these soundings, which exposed various street sections, were more recently fitted into the city map produced by intensive and geophysical surveys. Valuable additional information was provided by the exposure of no less than four 2nd century AD nymphaea, all of which attributed to the monumental view of the upper and lower agorae. The presence of water exits which were later cut halfway the parapets of the water basins of these nymphaea indicated, for example, that the level of the water table changed during the later occupation phases of the city resulting in an increasing water shortage. Since 1993, ongoing excavations have been exposing the largest water-consuming structure of the city, the large Roman baths. This complex was constructed between ca. AD 120 and AD 165 and was restored in a monumental way during the late 4th – early 5th century AD and after AD 500. It remained at least partially in use until the early 7th century AD at which time a part of the ground floor was turned into a collector of human faeces treated with lime which must have been used as manure on the nearby fields.

After the first years of excavation confirmed the presence of a potter’s quarter east of the city, it was decided to temporarily suspend the excavations in that area and to study the locally produced pottery in the stratigraphical contexts provided by the city excavations first. This research provided better grounds for establishing the typological and chronological sequence of the local pottery, as these deposits provided a relative chronological framework which could be dated with other chronological indicators such as coins, architectural decoration and inscriptions. This approach made it possible to identify 9 major phases in the production of the fine wares and a somewhat less refined chronological framework for the coarse wares. Furthermore, archaeometric analysis of the fabric allowed to identify the location of most beds in the region from which clay was extracted for the potter’s industry. Once the urban excavations had provided a basic knowledge of the local production, the excavations moved back to the potter’s quarter. Here two workshops have been exposed, one intermittently producing fine wares from the 1st to the 5th century, and the other one exclusively firing figurines, lamps and pilgrim’s flasks (oinophoroi) from the 5th to the mid-6th century AD. Clearly, local ceramic production shows a high degree of specialisation and during imperial times it must have been organised on a proto-industrial scale.

As the excavation of the public areas had provided valuable evidence about the elite of Sagalassos, it was decided to start working in the domestic quarters in order to document the living conditions within the town. Therefore, in 1995 excavations were started in the eastern domestic area on the slopes to the south-west of the theatre. In this area, a large urban mansion containing at least 50 rooms distributed over 3 successive terraces was uncovered, which is still being excavated. Beside this urban mansion, several smaller housing units/shops were examined alongside the main squares of the town which allows comparing the living conditions of different social strata within local society.

Finally, a series of test soundings was carried out as reconnaissance studies for some of the larger buildings such as at the supposed gymnasium, to document the Christianisation of the city (e.g. at the former temple for Apollo Klarios) and to study the occupation of the area after the mid-7th century abandonment of the town (e.g. on the promontory of the temple for Hadrian and Antoninus Pius and on Alexander’s hill).