Archaeologists In Turkey Discover A Hidden Statue Of A Famous Emperor Beneath A Fountain

In the modern-day Turkish city of Denizli, archaeologists have been hard at work excavating various sites. The team has been focusing their attention on the areas that had once been a central location of the ancient Roman Empire. One particular site that they are working on has delivered some incredible finds in the past. Yet, in 2019, the team was astonished when they uncovered an ancient artifact that nobody was expecting to find, especially in the location that it was discovered.

The Location Had Been Excavated For Years

Painting of the ruins at Laodicea
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

One aspect of the team’s find that made it so miraculous is that, according to reports, historical digs have taken place in the area they were working on since the 19th century.

The location had once been home to the ancient city of Laodicea, which had been part of the Roman province of Phrygia. The city had become one of the key points in a massive trade network and therefore became quite wealthy because of it.

Laodicea Is Important

Old stone structures
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Considering that the area was a significant location during the time of the Roman Republic, archaeologists have deemed it a significant place of study. Detailed excavations of the area first began around 2002 and continued until recently.

Over the past years, experts have been able to draft a new and more accurate map of the site. They have also set to work attempting to decipher the significance of the many incredible finds that they have unearthed.

The Most Significant Find Yet

Picture of Simsek
YouTube/Pamukkale Üniversitesi
YouTube/Pamukkale Üniversitesi

In 2019, it was announced that what the team had discovered was considered one of if not the most significant finds. This was impressive, considering there were plenty of preceding discoveries.

The experts responsible for uncovering this ancient treasure were part of the Excavation Committee of the Ancient City of Laodicea. The team was led by Celal Şimşek from Denizli’s Pamukkale University.

Understanding The Past

Drawing of the city
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Team leader Celal Şimşek was obviously pleased with what he and his colleagues had surprisingly discovered when he announced their incredible find to the public.

However, to understand the importance of the team’s discovery, it’s important to understand the history of Laodicea as it had existed under the rule of the Roman Republic. It’s also crucial to have an understanding of the city before it had become a part of the republic as well.

Before Laodicea

Ruins of the city
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Interestingly, the city of Laodicea supposedly first came on the map as the Greek town known as Diospolis, which translates to mean “City of Zeus.” The area also had the name Rhodas at one point, at some time around the 3rd century BC.

Then, Seleucus Antiochus II established the soon-to-be Roman city in the area. After establishing the city and taking control of the area, he supposedly named Laodicea after his wife who was named Laodice.

It Wasn’t Always A Flourishing City

Remains of the city
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Although it wasn’t always the case, in the early days of the city of Laodicea, it was reported that the area wasn’t all that impressive or significant. However, it didn’t take long, and over the years, the city started to rise in both status and affluence.

By 188 BC, it had become a part of the Kingdom of Pergamon. Then, after some years of prosperity, from 133 BC and onwards, the city became a part of the Roman Republic.

War Ravaged The City

Roman soldiers charging
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Yet, between 88 BC to 63 BC, the Roman Republic was deeply involved in the Mithridatic Wars. The conflict was a series of three violent encounters between Rome and the Kingdom of Pontus.

Unfortunately, Laodicea was a victim of these hostilities and therefore suffered greatly during this period of conflict Rome was involved with. Although the city may have been hindered during the wars, incredibly, they seemed to bounce back with relative ease, unlike some other places.

The City Was In A Prime Location

Roman men
Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images
Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s likely that Laodicea was able to bounce back so easily, because of its geographical location, which made it a trading post for those on the way to Asia.

So, as the Roman Empire reached its end, and the rise of the Roman Empire began, the city took advantage of the situation and prospered. It rapidly grew to become an incredibly wealthy city, and at all times, had all manners of goods and money running through it.

Not Everything Was Perfect

Ruins of the city
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Even though the city may have been in a perfect location in terms of trade, it’s geographical location also presented some problems. Where the city was established was prone to earthquakes.

So prone, in fact, that one earthquake around the year 60 AD is said to have completely destroyed the city’s center. Yet, even after this event, the people living there decided to build the city once more from the ruins. This time, however, without the help of the Roman Empire.

The City Relied On Its Own Wealth

Ruins of the city
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Using their own finances and resources, the citizens of the city supposedly built up Laodicea into a city that was even more grandiose than before. Its wealthiest and most esteemed citizens are said to have personally funded the building of temples, theaters, and other communal areas for the city’s citizens.

Eventually, seeing the city’s success, Rome agreed to let Laodicea be a free city, meaning that it was basically allowed to manage its own affairs.

It Eventually Met Its Demise

Ruins of the city
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Throughout the time of the Roman Empire, the city of Laodicea was considered to be of great importance. However, it’s success went beyond the Roman Empire and well into the Byzantine Empire.

In fact, the city survived and flourished throughout the reigns of a number of Byzantine leaders. Unfortunately, the once-great city is said to have finally met its end and was destroyed at the hands of the Turkish and Mongol assaults during the Middle Ages.

One Leader Stuck Out

Statue of Trajan
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

During the time that Laodicea was still a city during the Roman era, the city saw a variety of leaders both come and go over the years. However, it appears that one Roman leader had a particular impact on the city, and the people of Laodicea revered him.

This was the Roman emperor Trajan, who reigned between 98 and 117 AD. And as you keep reading, you will see just how loved he was.

Trajan Was Quite The Leader

Statue Of Trajan
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Trajan is understood by historians as one of the most influential leaders to ever rule the Roman Empire. One of the main reasons behind this is that Trajan bravely led the empire during one of the empire’s most significant periods of military expansion.

By the time that Trajan died in 117 AD, Rome’s’ global territory was arguably at the largest that it ever was. He is remembered as an exceptional soldier-emperor that helped the empire reach new heights.

Hadrian’s Youth

Picture of Trajan
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

So, who was this great Roman leader? Long before he became the emperor or even picked up a sword, Trajan was born in Italica, a place located near what is now the modern-day Spanish city of Seville.

He then grew up to serve as a senior commander in the Roman Army, earning an impressive reputation for himself regarding both his leadership and prowess in battle. Finally, on January 27, 98 AD, Trajan ascended the throne of the Roman Empire.

Trajan Oversaw Great Developments In Rome

Trajans Market
CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images
CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

Under Trajan’s rule, the city of Rome also saw many new and major developments. To this day, many of the structures and monuments constructed under Trajan are still standing and are major tourist sites, with two of the most prominent being Trajan’s Column and Trajan’s Market.

While the citizens of Rome welcomed these new improvements to the city, they were far from Trajan’s greatest accomplishments. What made Trajan such a notable ruler was his expansion of the empire.

His Expansion Began Right Away

Engraving of Roman soldiers
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As a new emperor, Trajan got right to work on expanding the empire with little delay. One of the first things he did was take over Nabataea, an area that was straddling parts of what are now Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Once he took Nabataea, he established a new providence called Arabia Petraea. He later gained control of Dacia, a region that is today within both Serbia and Romania. This was an extremely successful campaign, as it provided Rome with copious goods.

He Was A Soldier And An Emperor

Trajan leading cavalry
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Later, Trajan would go on to wage war against the Parthian Empire in what is modern-day Iran. In the end, he and his forces were eventually victorious , and after the war, ended up with the control of Mesopotamia and Armenia, including them under the reign of the empire.

As a result of Trajan’s conquests, the Roman Empire would expand to control the most of the world that it would ever achieve, and his people loved him for it.

He Was A Revered Leader

Statue of Trajan
Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Both before and during his time as emperor of the Roman Empire, Trajan made quite a name for himself for his bravery on the battlefield, his vision for the empire, love for his people, and leadership.

For everything that he had accomplished him his life, he was given the title of Optimus princepus, which meant “the best ruler.” However, in the middle of 117 AD, he became ill while aboard a ship. He died in the town of Selinus on August 8, the same year, at the age of 63.

Connections To Laodicea

Statue of Trajan
Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images
Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images

Despite everything that Trajan did for Rome specifically and the empire as a whole, he also had connections that linked him to the city of Laodicea. Some historians have even suggested that Trajan directed massive amounts of money into the city, helping it become the successful establishment that it was.

Apparently, this act did not go unnoticed by the citizens of Laodicea, and they created a way to thank him for all that he did for them.

The Discovery

Broken statues
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

So, when Celal Şimşek and his team announced that in 2019 they discovered something that looked to be a statue of Trajan within Laodicea, not everyone was incredibly surprised.

However, what made the find so astonishing was the sheer scale of the statue that had been built for Trajan as a kind of tribute. Incredibly, the statue that they had uncovered of the emperor appeared to be unparalleled in size.

He Was Dressed As A Commander

Statue with armor
Eye Ubiquitous/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Eye Ubiquitous/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The statue that was found beneath the ground featured Trajan in his military attire. The Roman emperor is dressed in classic armor that protects the front of his body on top of a robe that is fastened to his left shoulder and wrapped around one of his arms.

Alongside his protective wear, he is also depicted wearing a short chiton, which is a similar style of kilt that is traditionally worn by the Scottish people.

The Image Of A Conqueror

Trajan with prisoner statue
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On top of Trajan wearing his military armory in a heroic fashion, an adversary is also featured next to him kneeling down and with their hands tied behind their backs. To complete the image, Trajan is also shown with his right hand pointing toward the sky to exemplify his superiority.

Incredibly, the statue is so detailed that if one looks closely, they can even see the actual etchings in Trajan’s armor that he wore in real life.

No Ordinary Armor

Statue of Trajan
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Şimşek went on to describe these incredibly detailed engravings to the Hürriyet Daily News near the end of March in 2019. He went on to elaborate that “The images on the armor can be observed very clearly,” the lead archaeologist of the excavation said.

“On the upper part of the armor, there is the thunder of Jupiter, the celestial god of thunder.” Of course, this wasn’t any ordinary armor that Trajan wore, but that of an emperor.

The Armor Meant Something

Statue of a griffin
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Şimşek continued to explain that “Medusa is located right in the middle of the chest, which is important because it shows the emperor’s frightening side.” This is so because although Trajan may have been a beloved ruler, that didn’t mean he wasn’t ruthless.

Furthermore, he continued that “There are two reciprocal griffins, which are the symbol of the god Apollo.” For those who are unaware, griffins are mythological beasts that are supposedly half lion and half eagle that represent ferocity as well as wisdom and power.

There Was Significance To The Symbols

Apollo at the forges
Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Şimşek went on to expand upon the significance of Apollo’s inclusion on the emperor’s armor as well. He continued explaining to the Hürriyet Daily News that, “We see Apollo as the god that protected the fine arts.

With this, what comes to mind is that the emperor did protect the fine arts at the time.” So, on a certain level, Trajan was viewed as an Apollo-like figure to many of his subjects during his reign.

There Was An Important Inscription

Roman Aqueduct
Alain DENANTES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Alain DENANTES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

On top of the statue being significant enough by itself, the archaeologists also revealed that the statue was actually uncovered together alongside with a significant inscription.

The inscription detailed what is known as the Water Law, which is considered to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in Roman society. As we’ve come to know it, the civilization was innovated in terms of its water systems, however, these things had to be regulated.

It Was A Particularly Strategic System

Roman water aqueduct
Alain DENANTES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Alain DENANTES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

So, in order for water to reach all over Rome, a series of pipes were designed to transport water throughout major Roman urban centers. However, during this process, it was crucial that citizens didn’t divert the flow of the water for their own personal benefit.

If only one or two people decided to break the rules, the entire sewer system would no longer work properly. The Water Law was then eventually put in place to maintain order.

The Water Law Was Strictly Enforced

Man being arrested
adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images
adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

The Water Law was strictly enforced by the Roman government and dictated that those who tampered with the sewage system were harshly fined.

In Laodicea, for instance, those who were arrested for contaminating the water supply or messing with the pipes were charged no less than 12,5000 denarii, not a small sum of money by any means. Even though Laodicea was considered a wealthy city, a fine like that would have been enough to put just about anybody under.

The Laws Were Clear

Man with livestock
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Although there were a number of different passages that made up the Water Law, there was one in particular that clearly shows what was considered to be illegal. It reads: “It is forbidden to use the city water for free or grant it to private individuals.

When translated into English, the law states that “Nobody who has farms close to the water channels can use this water for agriculture.” The Roman government was not fooling around.

Connection Between Trajan And The Water Law

Statue of Trajan
Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Interestingly, the statue of Trajan discovered by the archaeology team actually has imagery engraved on it in reference to the water law. According to one of the archaeologists, “There is can of water in the middle,” he told the paper.

He went on to add that, “The griffins stretched their front legs towards the water bowl. Given the Water Law, it shows that he was an emperor who brought the waterways to Laodicea with arches and pipes made of travertine.”

Trajan Made A Contribution

Picture of a fountain
The Print Collector via Getty Images
The Print Collector via Getty Images

The leader of the archaeology team explained that it is thought that Trajan may have contributed more than 30,000 denarii to Laodicea’s water system. Back then, the archaeologists explained would be around roughly $50,000 today.

So, the archaeologists theorized that the people of Laodicea constructed a giant statue in honor of Trajan, who personally helped to build their water supply, and then erected it appropriately near a water fountain, where it was discovered centuries later.

The Statue Looked Just Like Him

Roman bust of Trajan
Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images
Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images

Furthermore, according to the archaeologists that were excavating the site, the sculpture was made with such precision, that it’s almost as it Trajan modeled for the statue himself.

If not that, then the artists who made the statue more than likely knew the emperor personally, because the features were too precise. According to the local paper, “The portrait features on his face are really intricate and detailed,” too precise for someone who didn’t know the man.

The Statue Was Shattered

Men looking through the rubble
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When the statue was finally uncovered by the excavation team, it was found in an astonishing 356 different fragments from beneath the water fountain. It is assumed that the statue had been so broken down due to an earthquake that had struck the region, burying the city in a vast amount of rubble.

Yet, surprisingly, being broken into hundreds of different pieces, for the most part, the experts were able to reassemble the majority of the statue.

Thousands Of Years Old

Statue of Trajan with a dog
DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/GettyImages
DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/GettyImages

The experts estimated that the sculpture of the great emperor is over 1,900 years old, dating back to the year of 113 A.D. If this dating is correct, this means that the work was completed just four years before Trajan died from an illness.

Yet, despite almost being 2,000 years old and shattered into hundreds of people, the stonework has held up impressively well throughout the years. Of course, the archaeologists were thrilled by their find.

One Of Many Finds

Tourists walking through the city
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

However, the statue is only one of the most recent finds inside the remains of the city. Over the years, countless other artifacts have been uncovered in what is now considered to be the contemporary lands of Denizli.

Throughout the many years that archaeologists have been excavating the area, many buildings and smaller artifacts have been unearthed, such as temples, baths, sarcophagi, and a stadium, just to name a few.

An Aqueduct Was Discovered

Remains of an aqueduct
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In addition to the countless artifacts discovered within the city walls, recently, an aqueduct also uncovered some miles outside of the city. It is believed that this aqueduct would have fed water into a series of complex pipes that would have distributed the water throughout the city of Laodicea.

However, considering the waterway’s current condition, it is assumed that it was damaged in one of the same earthquakes that destroyed the statue of Trajan.

The City Is Open Four Tourism

People in the city
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Luckily, if you find the ancient city of Laodicea to be particularly interesting, you’ll be pleased to learn that the city is a popular tourism site. In addition, finances are partly contributed by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

This has helped to ensure that many of the remains that have been found were repaired and put on display. The archaeology team that discovered the statue of Trajan hopes that it will help increase tourism in the area.

A Proud Team

Aerial view of the city
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Thrilled by him and his team’s discovery, following the team’s announcement, Şimşek told the Hürriyet Daily News, that “Perhaps people from all over the world will come and see this work here.

He continued, “This statue is important in this aspect. Indeed, in terms of both proportion and portrait, we are truly happy to find this statue of the emperor.” Hopefully, there will be more of these incredible finds in the ancient city of Laodicea.