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A Unique Discovery in Lycia: The Ancient Synagogue at Andriake, Port of Myra
Nevzat ÇEVİK – Özgü ÇÖMEZOĞLU – Hüseyin Sami ÖZTÜRK – İnci TÜRKOĞLU*

In the first year of the excavations at Myra-Andriake, at Andriake, which was the port quarter of Myra but then grew to become a settlement of Myra in time, a building on the south side of the harbour just in front of the Horrea Hadriani and referred to as the “Apsidal Building” in the earlier literature, was excavated. Its function was not known and only some proposals could be made. The finds revealed the identity of the building as a synagogue, something entirely unpredicted. Located in the heart of the harbour the building was entirely exposed and consolidated. A total of 282 objects uncovered in it mostly came from the filling in the apse area and date to earlier periods.

According to architectural data the synagogue is a small apsidal building like the chapels in the region. Three constructional phases were identified. The main hall is two-storey and the niche in the apse wall could be accessed from the upper floor only. The lower part of the apse area was filled in. Other auxiliary rooms are found on the west. Data obtained and comparisons indicated a construction date in the 5th-6th century AD.

Among the small finds three panels with menorah depiction and three inscriptions are worthy of note. The panel nr. 1 is put together entirely and features a menorah in the middle enclosed within a moulded frame. The menorah is flanked with a shofar on one side and etrog and lulav on the other side. The other finds include a panel with menorah depiction that could be completed only half, only a single fragment of another panel with menorah depiction, an undecorated panel, trapezoidal architrave fragments, columns and bals-sters.

The synagogue at Andriake proves the existence of a Jewish community strong enough to have a house of prayer. That the structures around have not been identified yet does not allow us to learn more about his community. Furthermore, the excavations are very young and practically nothing is known about the Jews of Myra, which is almost entirely buried under silt and mud. We expect a Jewish community in Myra as well.

The synagogue uncovered in Andriake is worth noting for its location just in front of the granary, the most monumental structure in the settlement, thus at a prominent place, and for its façade facing the harbour.

The other ancient synagogues uncovered in Anatolia are those at Priene and Sardis while the identity of those at Miletus and Mopsuhestia are not verified. Thus, the synagogue at Andriake is the third one uncovered in Turkey and undoubtedly identified as a synagogue. Although these structures do not resemble the one at Andriake with respect to architecture, they provide us with information about the Anatolian synagogues from the 4th until the early 7th century. In the Diaspora synagogues it is thought that local characteristics are also influential in addition to the Jewish features.

For the first time in Lycia, iconographic, architectural and epigraphic evidence regarding Jewish presence have been uncovered together, thus adding a new dimension to the cultural strata in Lycia. Analyses of the finds point to the 5th-6th centuries. The archaeological and epigraphic evidence from Andriake contributes a wealth of information regarding the Jews of Anatolia in the Late Antique and Early Byzantine periods. The synagogue at Andriake, a port city, must have served both the Jews working at the harbour and those visiting Andriake for commercial purposes. Therefore, presence of a Jewish community at Myra and other sites along the coast and major trade routes in Turkey must be anticipated. The relief decorations on the panels uncovered are of great importance for the Jewish art in ancient Anatolia because other objects used by the Jews in daily life reflect the characteristics of their period, thus making it impossible to distinguish between local Greeks, Romans or Jews as producers and consumers. The piece with a frieze of lamps side by side is a unique find for the interior decoration of ancient synagogues in Turkey. The term “Israel” mentioned in the Andriake inscriptions is rarely attested in Anatolian Jewish inscriptions. These inscriptions in ancient Greek also show that the Jews of Andriake were Hellenized and spoke and wrote in Greek. The debris used for filling the apse of the building provides a small reflection of Andriake before the Middle Ages. The finds from Andriake should lead to revisions of finds in the excavation depots of other archaeological missions. All these finds suggest that new traces for Jewish presence should be expected across the entire region.

* Prof. Dr. Nevzat Çevik
Akdeniz Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, Kampüs, Antalya
E-mail: ncevik@akdeniz.edu.tr
Dr. Özgü Çömezoğlu
İstanbul Üniversitesi, Edebiyat Fakültesi, Sanat Tarihi Bölümü, Laleli, İstanbul
E-mail: ozgu@istanbul.edu.tr
Dr. Hüseyin Sami Öztürk
Marmara Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Eskiçağ Tarihi Bölümü, Göztepe Kampüsü, Kadıköy, İstanbul
E-mail: hsoztrk@yahoo.com
İnci Türkoğlu, Art historian, MA
E-Mail: inci.turkoglu@isbank.net.tr

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