Seleucia on the Tigris. — Field work was begun at Seleucia on the Tigris, in Iraq, under the directorship of Professor Leroy Waterman in November, 1928, after a season of preliminary exploration. The expedition was sponsored jointly by the Toledo Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the University of Michigan. Robert H. McDowell served as Field Director.
Seleucia was founded by Seleucus Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great. After Alexander died at Babylon in 323 b.c., Seleucus secured for himself the Middle East from the Mediterranean to India. He located his new city near an ancient trading center. It became the capital of the Seleucid empire, and was one of the centers of Greek civilization in the third century b.c.
In 141 b.c. the Parthians under Mithradates conquered the city. They were probably of Iranian stock from somewhere north of Persia. The Parthians made Seleucia their western capital. Prosperity came to Seleucia through trade and commerce. Sea-going ships came up Page 1472the river direct from India, Africa, and Arabia. On land, caravan routes from the East converged on Seleucia from Central Asia, China, India, and Persia, and continued west to ports on the Mediterranean coast.
Four levels of occupation were found in the excavations, dating approximately from 290 b.c. to 200 a.d. Seleucia is now a group of mounds covering some five square miles, about twenty miles south of the modern city of Baghdad. The average height of the mounds is twenty-five feet above the present level of the plain. The Tigris has changed its bed since ancient times, and the river is now several miles away from the ruins.
Owing to the vast extent of the mounds the work of the first two seasons was to a large extent exploratory. Systematic excavation was carried on, however, at a point nearest to the Tigris and resulted in the uncovering of a Parthian villa in Level I (115/20 a.d. to approximately 200 a.d.) and a date wine and molasses factory in Level II (about 69/70 a.d. to 115/20 a.d.). Aerial photographs of the ruins were also secured during the first two seasons through the British Royal Air Force. The gridiron pattern of streets of the Hellenistic city was visible on the photographs, particularly over the central parts of the site.
One of the city blocks (technically known as Block B) was selected for excavation. It was near the center of the mound and was approximately 450 feet long and 250 feet wide. Excavation showed that the entire block consisted of a single great house. During seasons 1930 to 1932, work, for the most part, was concentrated on Block B and resulted in the clearing of the first three levels.
After the 1931-32 season the financial effects of the depression were felt, and the field work of the expedition was discontinued. Work toward publication of the results of the excavations, however, was energetically carried on at the University of Michigan.
In 1936-37 another expedition was sent into the field under the directorship of Professor Clark Hopkins with Robert H. McDowell again serving as Field Director. During this season work was continued on Block B, and some houses of the fourth or Hellenistic level (about 290 to 143 b.c.) were cleared. A topographical survey was conducted with the help of new air maps, and a general plan of the site and the location of some of the more important buildings was established. Excavation of two of the most important temple areas was begun.
As a result of the excavations the University of Michigan has an outstanding collection of Parthian and Seleucid coins, architectural plaster, terracotta figurines, pottery, and other objects of everyday use. What is more important, knowledge of the Hellenistic and Parthian periods in Mesopotamia has been greatly extended.
Results of the excavations have been published in two preliminary reports and in four volumes in the Humanistic Series of the University of Michigan.
Among the members of the excavation staff at Seleucia at one time or another were the following: William C. Bellingham, Robert J. Braidwood, Neilson C. Debevoise, Henry Detwiler, Harry G. Dorman, Jr., Clarence S. Fisher, Clark Hopkins, Franklin P. Johnson, Robert H. McDowell, Mrs. McDowell, N. E. Manasseh, Frederick R. Matson, Jr., A. M. Mintier, Richard M. Robinson, A. Saarasalo, Charles Spicer, Jr., Leroy Waterman, Mrs. Leroy Waterman, and Samuel Yeivin.