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An Ivory Relief of Saint Thecla
Celal ŞİMŞEK – Barış YENER*

An ivory plaque with a depiction of St. Thecla was uncovered in the excavations of Temple A in ancient Laodiceia ad Lycum in the western edge of Phrygia. Excavations ongoing for seven years have shown that the settlement at Laodikeia lasted uninterrupted from the Late Chalcolithic (ca. 3500 BC) until the beginning of the 7th century AD. Thus, the ancient sacred settlement of Diospolis and Rhoas was attested on the Asopos Hill.

Laodikeia’s time of prosperity was from the 1st to the 5th century AD. The city gained in importance as she was one of the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Extant churches date to the Early Byzantine period, i.e. 5th to 7th centuries. In the 4th century mostly chapels of the new religion were built. In addition to architectural finds, small finds such as unguentaria, ampullae and miniature glass bottles reveal the religious quality of the city.

Information on the life story of St. Thecla, an important saint of Anatolian origin from the Early Christian period, is found in texts in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Armenian and Coptic.

On the ivory plaque uncovered at Laodikeia St. Thecla is depicted in relief in front of a columnar architectural setting, perhaps reflecting her shrine at Seleukeia. She stands with her hand raised in benediction. She is flanked with a male and a female lion represent the lions that protected her from beasts in the arena of Antiocheia on the Orontes.

The posture and drapery of St. Thecla on this plaque are entirely reminiscent of the art of sculpture of particularly the 4th century BC; thus, this work continues the Classistic influence in Late Antiquity.

The plaque was uncovered on the southwest portico of Temple A and it is related with the Early Byzantine chapel here dated to the end of the 4th century AD. Other finds such as unguentaria, ampullae and coins uncovered at the same level as this plaque in Temple A place this work to the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century AD. Other ivory plaques with similar iconographic features also support this dating.
It is expected that plaques such as this one with relief depiction of St. Thecla are found at Laodikeia which is located on the Christian pilgrimage route.

* Prof. Dr. Celal Şimşek
Pamukkale Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, Kınıklı Kampüsü, Denizli
E-mail: csimsek@pau.edu.tr
Arş. Gör. Barış Yener
Pamukkale Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, Kınıklı Kampüsü, Denizli

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