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S U M M A R Y

A Figure-Engraved Glass Bowl from the Early Byzantine Period
Çiğdem Gençler-Güray – Nilüfer Peker
The ancient city of Elaiussa Sebaste at Ayaş-Kumkuyu on the Mersin-Silifke highway is a port city of Rough Cilicia. In 2011 campaign work focussed in the area where one of the palace gates was probably located, and excavations there brought to light traces of damage that took place around the 530s A.D. in the northeast of the palace built as the residence of civic or military administrators. When 13 fragments of bluish colourless glass were joined a shallow bowl with a diameter of 15.7 cm. was formed. With respect to the fragments in hand, nearly half of the bowl has been identified and an engraved figurative composition was detected in the outer surface of the bowl.

The Elaiussa bowl uncovered in closed context dated to the 530s A.D. is a rare example of East Mediterranean glass technology with respect to technique and composition. The iconography of the Virgin Mary enthroned with Child Christ on her lap depicted on the bowl is seen in the Adoration of the Magi story, a story from the childhood of Christ, as of the Early Christian period. Based on the depiction of the Virgin Mary and Child Christ and iconographic features we are of the opinion that this scene depicts Adoration of the Magi and the architectural structure seen on the left should be the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem indicating the birthplace of Christ.

The depiction on the Elaiussa bowl is among the most important data to present us with clues regarding the function of the bowl. The scene, which we have identified as the Adoration of the Magi, was a preferred theme both for burial depictions and pilgrim objects for Byzantium starting with the early centuries. As mentioned in a chapter of Romanos’s Kontakion, which was chanted in the sixth century, the story of the Magi was an example for the believers. The gift-giving side of the story became a topic for imitation and was depicted on objects commissioned by the emperor and other dignitary. It looks as if the wealthy patrons and emperors of Byzantium considered themselves as gift-givers like the Magi who presented gifts to the Child Christ. Therefore, the Elaiussa bowl uncovered in the Early Byzantine palace of the city should have been commissioned by or presented to a high official of the city.

Publications on ancient glass from the Eastern Mediterranean to date do not provide us with a parallel or closely related example to the figurally engraved Elaiussa bowl. In addition, the situation is similar with the examples from the West. As there is no known example regarding the technique and composition it is only possible to suggest some centres as its production site.

Studies, on glass production and typology of the religiously and politically important Cilician centres, such as Tarsus, Antioch and Seleucia, are very few, and this causes lacunae in the evaluation of the Elaiussa bowl. As for the pottery finds of the Early Byzantine period from Elaiussa Sebaste, there is a continuity of commercial relations of the city with the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly Palestine, Cyprus, North Africa) and the Aegean. Thus, it is plausible to think that this bowl might have come from one of these regions.

The archaeological layer in which the bowl was uncovered contains traces of damage in the 530s along with numerous pottery fragments of the same date. In spite of the fact that the bowl was found in a closed context, considering the possibility that it was kept as a souvenir, it is possible to propose the period when the palace was in use, from the mid-fifth to the first half of the sixth century, as the period when the bowl was produced.


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