Gallienus

A Day with Macedonian Archaeology—Styberra, Center of Devriop

Styberra—Center of Devriop

The ancient city of Styberra is located 16 km south-west of Prilep, in the immediate vicinity of the village Chepigovo. The town is spread on the hillside Bedem, the surrounding plateau towards the river Blato, the area between it and Crna Reka, as well as on the hill Bakarno Gumno.  Styberra was an important urban center that existed for a long period of time from the end of the 4th century BC to 4th century AD. It is assumed that one of the main reasons for the city’s collapse was the raid of the Goths in 267/8 or 268/9, during the reign of Emperor Gallienus.

In the ancient written sources about the Roman – Macedonian wars, it is recorded that during the expedition of the consul Sulpicius against the Macedonian king Philip V (200 BC), the Roman  armada withdrawing from Link, arrived in Styberra, where they renewed their supplies with grain. According to the same records, we also learn that the last king of ancient Macedonia, Perseus in the year 169 BC organized his military command post in the city of Styberra, from where he started conquering the territories of neighboring Penesti, who fought with him during the battles against the Romans.

After the conquest of the city of Uscana (Kicevo), the king returned to Styberra where he sold the captured Penesti and Illyrians as slaves. Later records point to the ubication of the city in the region of Devriop on the river Erigon (Crna Reka) and that it was on the ancient road communication Stobi – Heraclea.

Between the two world wars small excavations were undertaken by Nikola Vulić, while the first more serious archaeological excavations at the site Bedem – Styberra were realized by the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia in 1953. In 1959, there were excavations by the National Museum of Prilep. After a long pause, starting from 1983 until this day the National Museum of Prilep is excavating this site.

In the past archaeological campaigns, parts of the city wall from the time of the rule of the Macedonian kings were discovered, while all other discovered buildings were from the Roman Imperial Period, i.e. from the time of the great prosperity and flourishing of the empire (the Antonine and the Severan dynasties – II century and the first half of the III century).

The city walls from the Macedonian period were found in the northern part of the hillside Bedem and were 3 m. wide and 30 m long, while in its western part the wall extends parallel to the later roman gymnasium and is recorded in the length of 63 m.

The Gymnasium complex was a public building in which the young men – ephebe were educated and millitary-trained. It was erected on the lowest terrace in the western foothill of the hill Bedem, which mildly descends to the Blato River. A large courtyard was discovered – perisitil with atrium and vestibule-proatrium where public lectures were held, an exedra, a heroon- sanctuary, a small square with a drainage channel and a small part of the athletic path.

A number of movable artefacts were also discovered, objects for everyday use, as well as  marble altars, a herma and inscriptions with writing about the functioning of the Gymnasium. Comparing the number of the mentioned ephebes on the epigraphic monuments, we can calculate the number of inhabitants in the city, that is, we can see that the city of Styberra was a large city for that time with about twenty thousand inhabitants. Certainly, according to the importance, a large number of marble findings discovered in the Gymnasium stand out – statues of meritorious citizens, statue of the emperor and sculptures of deities (Asclepius, Nike, Mercury).

The temple of the goddess Tyche, the protector of the city, is located on one of the terraces on the hill Bedem which descends from east to west. From the west end, one can enter a room with dimensions of 10 x 10 m. The walls were made of crushed stone and bricks, connected with lime plaster. In the eastern wall of the room there is a central semicircular niche, and on the side walls there are three niches. In the interior, a well was discovered, most probably used for cultic purposes. From the inscription in the central niche we found out that the temple was restored in 126 BC, while from the inscriptions in the other niches we can read the names of the people whose busts were in them. The busts of the father Orestos and the son Philoxenus were discovered, they were members of the family who founded/sponsored the temple, as well as a small statue of a young Dionysus.

This year, during the excavations an adjacent building to the temple was discovered in which we assume that some ritual processions that preceded the main ritual activities in the temple were taking place. A few facts point to this assumption. In particular, the walls of the building are three times narrower than those of the temple, which of course ranks the two buildings in their importance. The width is 13 m, which means there was a sufficient space where a large number of people who participated in the ritual can be gathered, unlike the smaller space in the temple, where only a handful of citizens and the presets could enter.

In the central part there is a platform with marble floors and fencing blocks – parapets and a well in the middle, with the same depth as the one in the temple-up to 3 m. Only one part of the well was explored, so future excavations will confirm our assumption for its purpose, which was probably cultic. Another room, a workshop for terracotta figurines of deities and ceramic oil lamps, excavated in the last two years was also a part of this adjacent building of the temple. Also a large number of pits and four furnaces, used in the production process were discovered.

Latter in the 3rd century AD, a shrine of a God with a bird face was built above the workshop. It was modest in size, with only two rooms, with poorly constructed walls of crushed rock mixed with mud. This sanctuary was in use at a time when the city of Styberra started to lose its glow as an urban Roman regional center. But its great scientific significance is that it was intended for worshiping a deity with bird attributes, whose relief was discovered on a marble plaque, part of a small “house”.

Beside the “small house” with the relief, two more small “houses” from marble plaques were found, all radially positioned towards the platform in the western wall of the building. According to the symbol of a great eye shown in profile, the deity is similar to the Egyptian god Horus. But our God has bird claws on it arms and legs, whereas Horus has human limbs. We can chronologically place this sanctuary at a time when the cults from the East are spreading to this part of the Empire, including the ones from Egypt, such as the cults of Isis and Serapis.

If this is not a representation of Horus, then it would be an indigenous local deity with bird attributes. Previous research in our country, but also in the wider Balkan region have not confirmed a similar deity, so in this case this finding from Styberra would be a unique and rare scientific discovery.

At about 60 m. north from the temple of the goddess Tyche another very important building was discovered. A monumental structure which according to its size and the discovered findings in it, was probably a building of a public character. The front room with a width of 17 m. had walls decorated with an imitation of a monumental opus isodonum performed in a stucco technique. This decoration was divided by a horizontal line, where the upper part was comprised of several light-colored fields, while the lower part was painted in red. Also a low platform and several altars were erected beside the eastern wall.

A statue of an important citizen and a several marble fragments from the building were discovered inside. The upper room, which was only partially excavated, had walls and floors paved with decorative marble plaques with floral ornaments. Beside all of the abovementioned findings, the most valuable discovery was the epigraphic monument with an inscription that mentions the city council of Styberra. A finding like this suggests that the building was the assembly (Bouleuterion) of the city, which would make it the first of its kind in our country.

Unfortunately, the building had to be buried again, because the plot where it is located, as well as all the other plots in the area are privately owned. We are currently in the process of finding a positive solution for the legal status of this property so we can continue our research in the future.

With the archaeological excavations of the ancient city of Styberra so far, a very small percentage of the city is covered.  However, the discovered buildings and findings point to the high status that the city held, especially in the Roman Imperial Period. Also a very significant data about the history and the development of the city has come to light through the inscriptions and the altars discovered. With its 20,000 inhabitants, a number obtained by comparing the records of the number of ephebes in a particular year, Styberra was, of course, a significant urban center in the Devriop area. The rich findings and the high cultural and spiritual level of development are presented through a very beautiful portraits and cult marble statues, due to which the city rightly deserves the epithet “Macedonian Pompeii”.

Duško Temelkovski