Overview

HISTORY OF RESEARCH

The settlement, for which extensive studies have not been carried out until now, was first visited by Carsten Niebuhr in 1766. Niebuhr, who called the settlement Kasr Zerzaua, mentioned about some buildings and stated that he was not able to find any inscriptions in the area. No continued settlements were determined save the remains during the visit of Niebuhr. Meanwhile Eduard Sachau, who has traveled from Mardin to Diyarbakir in 1880 and visited the settlement, has made short and undetailed descriptions. Sachau also does not provide any information as to continued settlement in the settlement named Zerzaua. Subsequently, Conrad Preusser made a short visit to Zerzevan Castle in 1910, furnishing undetailed information. Samuel Guyer penned his observations as a memoir in 1911. His sister, Hanna Schätti-Guyer, who travelled with him, also provided some brief information as to the settlement. On the other hand Guyer mentions about the existence of a village which has not been seen by the previous travellers. Demirölçek Village 1 km from the settlement in our day, has been founded by those who lived in Zerzevan Castle mentioned through Guyer. It is known that a family first settled in the castle in the 1890s and after a time 17 other families also moved there. The inhabitants of this village settled in a place very close to Zerzevan in 1967, due to water shortage and transportation difficulties just in the vicinity of Aşağı Konak Village which is present in our day. The name Zerzevan must have been derived from the word “gold” in Kurdish and is the changed form of Zerzaua mentioned by the travellers and it is the name given to the settlement while the village was here.

The first excavation and restoration studies at Zerzevan Castle, which began in 2014, are still being carried out with the permissions of Ministry of Culture and Tourism and under the chairmanship of Diyarbakır Museum by Yrd. Doç. Dr. Aytaç COŞKUN as the scientific consultant, with support Governorship of Diyarbakır, Governorship of Çınar District, Dicle University.

HISTORY OF THE SETTLEMENT

The military settlement was at a strategic point on the way from Amida (Diyarbakır) to Dara (Mardin) in the ancient period. Zerzevan, with this location thereof, is also along the ancient road route starting from Edessa (Şanlıurfa) to Nisibis (Nusaybin). The Sassanid armies marched this road during the western campaigns of 359, 502 and 604 AD and captured Amida in connection with the Zerzevan Castle. Garrison cities commenced to be established for border security particularly following after AD 359. Ammianus who gave significant information about the siege informed that Legio V Parthica set foot during this period in Amida and he also recorded that five legions and a troop of cavalry running away from the Sassanid army took refuge in the city. Dara city, another border garrison previously which was a small settlement, was chosen as a garrison city through Anastasios I (AD 491-518) due to the oppression of Sasanians and the construction activities thereof were carried out in AD 503-507. The ancient writer Procopius has stated that castles between Dara and Amida have been reconstructed during the period of Justinian I (AD 527-565) and the region has become secured in an unconquerable way. It is interesting that Procopius does not make the mention of Zerzevan (Samachi) among the reconstructed castles. This situation suggests that the settlement was built prior to Justinian I. The general opinion is that great significance was attached to castles for border security in this period. Considering the fact that the name Zerzevan was given in our day, most probably the ancient name of Zerzevan Castle was Samachi.

The military settlement had also the nature of a shelter for people who had settled in the water-rich valley and dealt with farming. It can be stated that Zerzevan was not only a place where soldiers resided but also where civilians lived. The settlement, thanks to its dominant position over the entire valley, was a strategic Roman border garrison, on the ancient trade route, controlling a wide area and obviously it was a scene of great battles between Romans and Sasanians.

Much as the period when the settlement was first built is not certain, definite results will be reached with the excavation works to be carried out. Existence of a castle named Kinabu is asserted in the Assyrian Period (M.Ö. 882-611) in Zerzevan located on the ancient road route. It is also likely that residential area located on the King’s Road during the Persian Period (M.Ö. 550-331) has been used with an eye to provide road safety. It is possible to say that the area was used in the 3rd century AD when the current architectural remains and the finds unearthed in the excavations are examined however it is very hard to give information as to the dimensions at this time. It can be said that the city walls and buildings of the settlement were restored in the periods of Anastasios I (AD 491-518) and Justinian I (AD 527-565), and some of the constructions were reconstructed and thus the present final state was obtained. The settlement must have been used until 639 which is the conquest year of the region by the Islamic armies.  The region of Zerzevan lost its geopolitical significance as the settlement of Amida and Dara continued during the expansion of Islam, and was abandoned due to its location on a high hill, transportation and water problems. It has not been used from AD 639 until the 1890’s for any purpose except being used as a temporary shelter.

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