Cappadocia, Euphrates, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, Hadrian1900, Roman Army, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Zeugma

June AD 123 – Hadrian returns to the East and inspects the frontiers of northern Syria and Cappadocia (#Hadrian1900)

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After spending the winter of AD 122/3 in Tarraco (see here), Hadrian left Spain and set sail for Antioch and the Euphrates frontier, probably reaching his destination in June 123. According to a drastically abbreviated passage in the Historia Augusta, the Emperor aimed to meet the Parthian king (or receive Parthian envoys), indicating a renewal of hostilities between the Parthians and the Romans.

The war with the Parthians had not at that time advanced beyond the preparatory stage, and Hadrian checked it by a personal conference. SHA, Hadr. 12.8

Unfortunately, the journey from Spain to Syrian Antioch is very poorly documented. After inspecting the western provinces, the Historia Augusta abruptly telescopes Hadrian to Antioch. Nothing is said about how he got there. In all probability, he journeyed by sea along the North African coast, with possible stops in Carthage, Cyrenaica, on the island of Crete and Cyprus, before landing at the port of Antioch at Seleucia Pieria.

Voyage of Hadrian in 121-125.
Map created by Simeon Netchev for World History Encyclopedia and Following Hadrian (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

A stay in Carthage in Africa proconsularis is a real possibility as extensive road-building on the Carthage-Theveste road (via a Karthagine Thevestem) was undertaken around this time. Milestones found between Carthage (Tunis, Tunisia) and Theveste (Tébessa, Algeria) state that Hadrian had the Carthage-Theveste road paved by the Third Augustan Legion, under the supervision of Publius Metilius Secundus, who was the imperial legatus pro praetore and commander of the legion during Hadrian’s 7th tribunicia potestas (AD 123).

This Hadrianic milestone of AD 123 (CIL VIII 10081) was found on the via a Karthagine Thevestem at the 85th mile.
Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines, MND 1589 –

Metilius probably started building the 258-kilometre-long road and related structures (including at least 37 bridges) one year and a half earlier, during Hadrian’s 5th tribunicia potestas in 121/2 (Raaijmakers, 2019). On July 1 of 123, Publius Metilius Secundus was replaced by Sextus Julius Major, as mentioned on a bridge inscription (AE 1995, 1652) over the Wadi Naguess near Ammaedara at the 164th mile (Grira, 2016), also built by the 3rd Legion. Sextus Julius Major would start to build the via nova Rusicadensis in 125/6 (CIL VIII, 10296) in the neighbouring province of Numidia.

Triumphal arch on the Carthage-Theveste road near Musti in northern Tunisia.

Another plausible stay on the route eastwards is Cyrenaica, the province administered jointly with Crete (Birley, 1997), which had suffered widespread destruction during the great Jewish revolt in AD 115/7. The work of restoring the territory of Cyrenaica began under Trajan, but Hadrian was predominately responsible for the rebirth of Cyrene. He later brought in new settlers and founded a new city named Hadrianopolis, probably hoping it would put the province on its feet again (read here). Hadrian and his entourage could sail across to Crete from the port of Cyrene and then continue to the north to Cyprus. The governor of the province of Cyprus at the time was Gaius Calpurnius Flaccus (IGR III, 991), a Spaniard from Tarraco and the son of Hadrian’s host at Tarraco (Birley, 1997-Alföldy, 1981).

Hadrian probably arrived in the Syrian capital in June 123, as the chronicler John Malalas (11.278) reports that Hadrian founded a “festival of the strings” at Antioch’s suburb Daphne named Hadrianeion, to be held there every June 23. Antioch, where he was hailed emperor six years previously, had not fully recovered from the devastating earthquake that struck the Orontes Valley on December 13 AD 115 (see here) and still showed the scars of the disaster. Antioch received imperial largesse on an unprecedented scale. Malalas adds that Hadrian had public baths and an aqueduct constructed to help the city, while the Suda, the Byzantine encyclopedia, speaks of a”small elegant temple for the deification and honour of his father Trajan” (Jo. Ant, fr. 206).

Daphne 1
Daphne (Harbiye) waterfalls.
Daphne was a well-watered southern suburb of Antioch with luxurious residences populated by the Hellenised elite. It was naturally of extreme beauty, with waterfalls and abundant wood.

Hadrian had presumably come to Antioch to have a peace summit with the ruler of Parthia, so he proceeded to the eastern frontier. Birley notes, “traditionally, these diplomatic encounters took place on the Euphrates, with each side coming across in turn for dinner.” The Syrian army was indeed already there in force. It was composed of the legions II Traiana and III Cyrenaica and their auxiliaries under the command of Tiberius Claudius Quartinus, who was governor of Tarraconensis and despatched from there by Hadrian to accompany the military expedition (CIL XVI, 4473).

The Eastern frontier was, under Trajan, the theatre of Rome’s last significant wave of territorial expansion but with the accession of Hadrian to power in 117, the Parthian wars of his predecessor came to an end. Hadrian withdrew all Roman forces beyond the Euphrates, ordering the new territorial acquisitions to be returned to the Parthians and installed Parthamaspates as King of Edessa (SHA, Hadr. 21.10), who would then rule until 123 and the installation of Ma’nu VII of the Abgarid dynasty. The use of the term conloquium in the Historia Augusta suggests a personal meeting, but no details have survived about the dispute, and we don’t even know which Parthian king Hadrian met. It could have been Vologases or Osroes, as more than one king was occupying the throne of Parthia at the time.

The Euphrates River in Turkey near Gümüşgün, on the road between Antakya (Antioch) and Şanlıurfa (Edessa).
The Euphrates River at Rumkale, between Zeugma and Samosata. Rumkale (Roman Castle) was home to many civilizations throughout history and an important centre for early Christianity.
Silver coin of Osroes I.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

According to Birley, the Parthian king Hadrian met was Osroes, who pressed for the return of his captive daughter. Elsewhere, the HA (13.8) indicates that Hadrian returned the daughter of Osroes, whom Trajan had taken captive in Ctesiphon in 116, and promised to restore the golden throne of the Parthian kings, which had remained in Roman hands. Hadrian returned the daughter of Osroes in 128/9 but kept the royal throne as Antoninus Pius refused a later request from Osroes to return it (SHA Ant. Pius 9.7).

To petty rulers and kings he made offers of friendship, and even to Osdroes (Osrhoes),​ king of the Parthians. To him he also restored his daughter, who had been captured by Trajan, and promised to return the throne captured at the same time.​ SHA, Hadr. 13.8

The Shami statue, a 1.94 metre-high bronze statue of a Parthian noble. From the sanctuary at Shami in Elymais, dated 50 BC-AD 150.
National Museum of Iran, Tehran, Iran.

The HA is the only source claiming a personal meeting with the Parthian ruler or his envoys. Dio and all the other sources do not mention any quarrel on the Parthian border during Hadrian’s reign, and no other emperor appeared in person at such a summit. In the 1st century, the emperor had always been represented by a deputy, as Augustus by Tiberius in 20 BC, Tiberius by Germanicus in AD 18, and Nero by Corbulo in AD 63. In 116, Trajan met envoys from Osroes at Athens, not the king himself. Hadrian may not have met the Parthian king in person either(Doležal, 2017).

However this may be, the Parthians maintained peace during Hadrian’s reign, and Armenia, too, remained peaceful under Arcasid princes. It would be another thirty-eight years before Parthian troops marched into Roman Syria and threatened to take over Armenia and Upper Mesopotamia.

Representation of the province of Parthia or Armenia. Relief from the Hadrianeum, a temple of the deified Hadrian in the Campus Martius erected by Antoninus Pius in 145 AD.
Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Following the summit, Hadrian probably remained on the frontier, heading northwards into the valley of the Upper Euphrates to reorganise the defence of the borders in this region as he had just done in the West. Our sources don’t tell us about Hadrian’s whereabouts along the Eastern frontier. The HA says nothing further and passes at once to his return to Rome from Asia and Greece (13.1), making it “the most obscure portion in all the journeying” (Syme, 1988).

At the time of Hadrian’s visit, the defensive system of the Euphrates frontier was supported by four legions and by a large and permanent auxiliary army guarding crossings and vulnerable points. Two legions lay in Syria facing Parthia, Legio IIII Scythica at Seleucia/Zeugma (Belkis) and Legio XVI Flavia Firma at Samosata (Samsat), the capital of Commagene, and two in Cappadocia to the north opposite Armenia, Legio XII Fulminata at Melitene (Eski Malatya) and Legio XV Apollinaris at Satala (Sadak). The main military road, which ran along the eastern border of Cappadocia, connected Trapezus (modern-day Trabzon) with the legionary and auxiliary encampments. The limes road and proximity of the legions would have allowed the quick movement of troops down the river.

Map of the northern section of the eastern frontier in northern Syria and Cappadocia.
© The Frontiers of the Roman Empire (FRE)

Vespasian’s eastern frontier line began at Zeugma in northern Syria, passed through Commagene, Cappadocia and Armenia Minor, crossed the Pontic Mountains, and ended on the Black Sea shore at Trapezus, the headquarters of the classis Pontica. The limes continued eastward along the Pontic shores of the Black Sea up to Apsarus (Gonio), just across the modern Georgian border.

Map of the northern and eastern end of the eastern frontier in Cappadocia and Pontus.
© FRE project (“Frontiers of the Roman Empire”).

During Trajan’s eastern campaigns (AD 144-117), Hadrian, headquartered in Antioch as governor of Syria, was entrusted with the task of assembling a substantial army of 80,000 legionaries and auxiliaries for the coming campaigns, so he knew the area very well. He may have also taken the field as a member of Trajan’s entourage and witnessed at the legionary fortress of Satala in AD 114, the Optimus Princeps receiving Anchialus, king of the Heniochi and Machelones (Dio, 68.19.2), before advancing eastwards on Elegeia and Artaxata, the Armenia capital. Hadrian later relinquished their country with the other conquests of Trajan east of the Euphrates, and Hadrian “permitted the Armenians to have their own king”, the HA reports (SHA Hadr. 21.11).

With an overall length of about 550km, the Pontic-Cappadocian frontier, extending from northern Syria to the western Caucasus across a remote and desolate region, was among the longest in the Roman Empire but also the least known frontier archaeologically, in terms of physical remains and epigraphical evidence (Breeze, 2022). However, it was the subject of a unique account by Lucius Flavius Arrianus (c. AD 86/89 – c. after 146/160), better known as Arrian of Nicomedia, the famous biographer of Alexander the Great and governor of Cappadocia, between 131 and 137.

The Euphrates frontier line was confronted by four great ranges: the Taurus and Antitaurus, through which the upper Euphrates has carved enormous gorges; north of the river, the fractured mountains of Armenia Minor and the high Pontic ranges towering abruptly above the Black Sea.

Hadrian will likely have travelled up the Euphrates, then over the Pontic Alps to the port of Trapezus, along the frontier road that linked all the legionary and auxiliary camps. He will have visited the legionary fortresses established since the reign of Vespasian and surveyed the northern part of the eastern limes in the provinces of Syria and Cappadocia. He may, however, have left the difficult Euphrates route from Melitene and gone northwest to Sebastia (Sivas) and Neocaesarea/Hadrianopolis (Niksar) and then east to Nicopolis/Hadriane and the fortress of Satala (Biley, 1997).

Hadrian’s journey in 123-125.
Map created by Simeon Netchev for Following Hadrian (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Zeugma and Samosata in Syria would have been the first legionary bases on Hadrian’s route along the Euphrates River. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of the fortresses at those sites, and they have been irretrievably lost to archaeology as they now lie under reservoirs. However, Zeugma yielded roof tiles stamped by Legio IIII Scythica and a single inscription referring to the unit’s signifier (standard bearer) (AE 1908, 00025). In addition, inscriptions cut in the limestone quarry walls, located about 35 km upriver from Zeugma, record work by vexillations of the Fourth Legion (AE 2001, 1956). They also constructed three Roman miles of canal, with bridges, to improve water transportation near Antioch (AE 1983, 00927), while under the command of Marcus Ulpius Traianus, the father of the future emperor Trajan and legatus of Syria. At Samosata, at least three inscribed dedications naming the Sixteenth Legion (CIL III, 13609) shed light on the military presence there.

The Euphrates River, looking upstream from Zeugma.

Zeugma owes its name to the important bridge of boats (“pontoon bridge”) that crossed the Euphrates at that location (Zeugma means the ‘link’ or ‘bridge’ in Greek). From at least as early as its foundation by Seleucus I Nicator around 300 BC, some form of crossing linked both banks of the Euphrates. Pliny (NH 34.43) refers to an iron chain, apparently still visible in his day, which was shown to visitors as the chain used for this purpose by Alexander the Great.

Originally named Seleucia-on-the-Euphrates, the town was conquered by the Romans in 64 BC, who renamed it Zeugma and annexed it to the Kingdom of Commagene as a reward for Antiochus I Theos of Commagene’s support of General Pompey during the conquest. The annexation of Commagene by Germanicus in AD 17, the arrival of legio IIII Scythica about AD 66 and the final collapse of Commagene in AD 72 formalised Roman control on the west bank of the Euphrates, opening a new era of military and commercial importance for Zeugma.

Mosaic panel from Zeugma depicting the River God Euphrates. He is depicted bearded and crowned with reeds, lying on a couch, with his right arm wrapped in the cloth and resting on a golden jug. The water flowing from the jug symbolises the River Euphrates. Dated to the end of the 2nd century AD.
Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Gaziantep.

By the 2nd century AD, Zeugma had become the Empire’s most strategically and economically important eastern frontier city. Its vibrant commercial life made it one of the great cosmopolitan centres, reaching its peak population of about 70,000. As the inhabitants grew wealthier, they began decorating their villas’ floors and walls with frescoes and mosaics.

The splendour of Zeugma fell into decline in the middle of the 3rd century when Sassanids from Persia attacked the city and would remain forgotten for more than 1,700 years. Sporadic excavations started in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the site started attracting more attention in 1980 when the Turkish Government announced that it would be flooded due to the construction of the Birecik Dam. Archaeologists excavated several residential complexes were excavated unearthed many splendid mosaics in the city. They are now displayed in the magnificent Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep.

The ruins of the Houses of Danae and Dionysos at Zeugma.
The Roman houses of Zeugma are in the style of city villas with courtyards, covering around 600-800 square metres each. The architectural decoration of the houses mainly consists of exquisite mosaics and frescoes. A shelter protects the preserved parts of the ancient city.

One hundred and thirty kilometres upstream from Zeugma, the fortress at Samosata was also located in a position of great strategic and commercial importance, guarding another major crossing point on the Euphrates. Samosata was already a substantial town when Legio XVI Flavia Firma arrived there. The city, founded c. 150 BC, was the royal residence and capital of Commagene, incorporated in the province of Syria in AD 72. Coins show that Samosata acquired the title of metropolis during Hadrian’s reign. 

Samosata lay in a broad, shallow valley and was divided into two parts; the acropolis, which was a large citadel mound 50 meters above the surrounding plains, and the lower city, spreading over 130 hectares and surrounded by a five-kilometre-long retaining wall constructed in opus reticulatum (a rare construction style in the East). A raised aqueduct more than 40 km long (now submerged) brought clear water to supply the baths and fountains of the city.

The Roman military road has shown on the Tabula Peutingeriana, passing along the right bank of the Euphrates between Zeugma and Samosata to the northeast.

In 1964, Theresa Goell, an American archaeologist best known for directing excavations at Mount Nemrut, was the first to explore the site. She carried out short-term excavations, and salvage excavations were carried out by Nimet Özgüç between 1978 and 1989 before the mound was completely flooded due to the dam construction project. The excavations yielded abundant stamped tiles bearing stamps of the Sixteenth Legion, an inscribed dedication to Jupiter naming the legion (CIL III 13609) and other documents concerning soldiers of the legion (CIL III 06048). The location of the legionary fortress at Samosata remains unknown but may have been located on low ground at the foot of the mound.

Coin of Hadrian from Samosata showing that the city became an official metropolis (ΜΗΤΡΟ) by the reign of Hadrian (RPC III 3419).
From the author’s collection.

Immediately after the founding of Legio XVI Flavia Firma in AD 70, Vespasian moved it to the eastern frontier, initially at Satala and then at Samosata. It participated in Trajan’s campaigns against the Parthians (ILS 2660), and after the war in Parthia, the legion was deployed by Hadrian to Samosata. A vexillation of the Sixteenth Legion constructed the Mithraeum at Dura-Europos in c. AD 210, and fought in Caracalla’s Parthian campaign (216-217). The Sixteenth also built the Severan Bridge over the Chabinas River. After the absorption of the kingdom of Edessa by Caracalla in AD 212/3, Samosata ceased to be a frontier city, and the legion was transferred to Sura, downstream from Samosata.

Several key routes departed from Samosata. One road ran west of the Euphrates to Doliche (near Gaziantep), with three bridges (still extant) crossing the Göksu, Karasu and Merziman rivers, probably all built by vexillationes of the Sixteenth Legion and Fourth Scythica. Roman tombs standing along the Samosata-Doliche road have also been preserved (see here).

Roman Bridge near the village of Yarimca. The military road from Samosata to Doliche crossed the Merzumen Creek at this place. The bridge, built of large limestone blocks, crosses the stream with a single semi-circular arch.

Hadrian would have proceeded northwards along the frontier road, up the Euphrates’ western bank across the Taurus Mountains and into Cappadocia, the Empire’s north-easternmost province, to reach the legionary fortress of XII Fulminata at Melitene. The defensive system of the highly militarised province of Cappadocia extended to Pontus and the Black Sea, now governed by Gaius Bruttius Praesens, a close friend of Hadrian endowed with diplomatic talents. Writing to Praesens, Pliny refers to him as a Lucanian (Letters, VII.3). He was twice consul, governed provinces, commanded armies and ended his career as praefectus urbi (urban prefect) of Rome (AE 1950, 66). He was also an Epicurean in his tastes and beliefs, something he shared with Hadrian.

The road from Samosata passed through the fortress at Melitene, entering through the southeast gate and leaving presumably through the north. Writing under Justinian, Procopius (Buildings 3.4.15-19) speaks of a square fortress with sufficient space for the soldiers’ barracks and as a depot for their standards. Procopius, calling it the metropolis of Lesser Armenia, attributes the development of the civilian town that developed adjacent to the legionary camp to Trajan. The city had an agora with its shops, streets and stoas, baths and theatres, all the attributes of a large city. Melitene was also celebrated for its fertility, especially in fruit trees, oil, and wine.

The Roman military road has shown on the Tabula Peutingeriana, passing along the right bank of the Euphrates between Samosata and Melitene (mentioned as Melentenes).

After service in Syria during the First Jewish–Roman War, culminating in the siege and capture of Jerusalem in AD 70, XII Fulminata (“the Thundering Legion”) was moved by Titus, apparently in some disgrace, from Raphaneae, about 160 km (100 mi) south of Antioch, to Melitene, to control access to southern Armenia and the upper Tigris. It was to remain permanently in Melitene until at least the early 5th century AD (Notitia Dignitatum or. 38.14), but its presence is attested epigraphically only on a single tile found at Arslantepe bearing the legionary stamp.

Eski Matatya and the possible location of the fortress.

We have little evidence for the early fortress. The vast surviving walls of Eski Malatya, enclosing an area of c. 55 hectares, probably date to the 6th century AD, following the reconstructions carried out by Justinian. The fortress may lay beneath the ruins, but no study of the site has yet proved conclusively. It may have also been located at a site called Karamildan, 8 km (5 mi) east of Malatya, where a defensive wall surrounds a rectangular area measuring 320 by 300 metres.


The southern section of the wall circuit of Miletene with a pentagonal tower.

From Melitene, the military road ran north to Dascusa, a cavalry fort, where the Ala II Ulpia Auriana, an auxiliary unit set up by Trajan and transferred to the province of Cappadocia during Trajan’s Parthian War, was stationed (CIL III 6743). Dascusa is listed in the Antonine Itinerary on the route from Satala to Samosata (§ 207) along the bank of the Euphrates, 50 Roman miles from Melitene. Pliny (HN 5.83) gives distances in navigation of the Euphrates, 74 Roman miles above Melitene by ship. The Dascusa military camp was among the earliest garrisons on the Euphrates frontier, established under Claudius (Mitford, 2021). The cavalry fort was the principal defensive point of this vulnerable and important frontier section. It guarded against any approach from the strategic route leading westwards (Mitford, 2021). The Ala II Ulpia Auriana took part in Arrian’s operations against the Alani in c. 135 (Ektax. 1) and remained in Cappadocia until the end of the 4th century AD.

The area around Dascusa has been submerged since the completion of the Keban Dam in 1975. The road from the south crossed the 5-6th Karamağara Bridge near Ağın on the Kozluk Stream, an affluent of the Euphrates. The Karamağara Bridge is a notable example of an early pointed arch bridge with a span of 17 m between the cliffs of the rocky gorge. On its eastern, downstream side, a nearly intact Christian inscription in Greek ran along most of its length, citing a passage from the Bible (Psalm 121, verse 8). The inscribed stones of the Karamağara Bridge were rescued and transported to the Elazığ Museum for preservation and further study.

The site of Dascusa today. It can be located with certainty in the village of Kaşpınar, a village in the Ağın district of Elazığ province, lying beside the Euphrates on a low platform at the mouth of the Arapgir Kozluk Çayı.

The nearby forts of Ciaca, 32 Roman miles away to the south, and Sabus, 16 Roman miles away in the north, also held mounted cavalry units. These were equites sagittarii, mounted archers well suited to the high plain, guarding minor crossing points (Mitford, 2021). Ciaca was garrisoned by the ala I Augusta Colonorum, probably raised and stationed in Galatia under Augustus, and appears to have remained on the northeastern frontier throughout its history, also taking part in part in Arrian’s expeditionary army of c. AD 135 (Arrian, Ekt. 1.).

The Roman military road has shown on the Tabula Peutingeriana, passing along the right bank of the Euphrates between Melitene, Sabus and Zimara.

The cavalry fort of Sabus appears in the Peutinger Table as Saba and in the Notitia Dignitatum as Sabbu (38.14). Timothy Mitford surveyed this fort in the 1960s and reported traces of walls made of small ashlar blocks, forming a square surmounted by a triangle about 275 m long by 195 m wide. The western end of the south wall is preserved to a height of 3.70 m, which may represent the surviving sections of a 1st or 2nd-century fort (Mitford, 2021). No inscriptions or coins are known from this site yet.

The military road continued northwards to Analiba44 Roman miles from Sabus,and Zimara, 16 Roman miles further away. Analiba was garrisoned, perhaps as early as the mid-2nd century AD, by cohors IIII Raetorum, which belonged to the army of Moesia superior until the early 2nd century AD. It was included in the expeditionary forces for Trajan’s Parthian war, as shown by a new military diploma of AD 115 (Chiron-2005-64). After the war, the unit remained in Cappadocia as it was present in Arrian’s army and was still listed in the Notitia Dignitatum (38.14)

The site of the cavalry fort of Sabus, located nearby the Çit village in the Erzincan Province.
The site of the auxiliary fort of Analiba.

Pliny knew Zimara as a reference point in measuring the navigable length of the Euphrates (NH 5.20.1). Relying on information from Domitius Corbulo and Licinius Mucianus, Pliny reports that the upper course of the Euphrates was navigable in places: From Dascusa to Sartona for fifty miles, to Melitene for twenty-four miles and to Elegeia for ten miles. After passing through the Taurus range, the river became navigable again for forty miles to Samosata.

This place, too, will be the most appropriate one for making some mention of the Euphrates. This river rises in Caranitis, a præfecture of Greater Armenia, according to the statement of those who have approached the nearest to its source. Domitius Corbulo says that it rises in Mount Aba; Licinius Mucianus, at the foot of a mountain which he calls Capotes, twelve miles above Zimara, and that at its source, it has the name of Pyxurates.

The Euphrates landscape between the auxiliary forts of Sabus and Zimara near modern Kemaliye.

Directly continuing the road per ripam upstream from Zimara in the Antonine Itinerary and the Peutinger Table, the course of the frontier road ran east past the Kemah (Ani-Kamakh) area, the cult centre of the Armenian goddess Anahita, to the plain of modern Erzincan, where the road veered north and ran west towards Satata as far as Trapezus and the Black Sea.

The Roman military road has shown on the Tabula Peutingeriana between Zimara and Satala.

Standing 1650 m above sea level, Satala commanded the Euphrates and the north-south road between the river and the Black Sea across the Zigana Pass. It also protected the rich silver and gold mines nearby. Although much ruined, the fortress’s walls can be traced in part on all sides, confirming the rectangular shape of the fortress encompassing an area of 15.7 ha.

Satala was the base of XV Apollinaris in AD 61–c. 73, when it was transferred from Carnuntum in Pannonia in response to the defeat of Caesennius Paetus, and then from 118, when Hadrian moved it from Egypt (Urloiu, 2010). The presence of the XV Apollinaris at Satala was confirmed by abundant tiles bearing the legionary stamp and funerary inscriptions, including one dedicated to Tiberius Julius Martialis, born at Savaria in Pannonia, died at Satala at age 30 after 13 years of military service (AE 1988, 01043 – dated to 118 or 119).

Trajan visited Satala in 114 and received client kings from the Pontic coast, and from there, advanced on Artaxata, and descended into Mesopotamia, while in 135, Arrian would lead XV Apollinaris and a vexillation of XII Fulminata, against the Alani.

The East wall of the Satala legionary fortress.
Satala was built on a flat area with commanding views of the valleys leading north-east and south-east.
Recent archaeological excavations at Satala, led by Şahin Yıldırım from the Bartın University in Turkey and Van Daele from the Leuven University Department of Archeology in Belgium. The excavated remains date to the 6th century AD when Justinian extensively rebuilt the fortress.

From the Satala fortress, the Emperor would have continued northwards along the final stretch of military road over the high Pontic mountains to the Euxine (Black Sea) at Trapezus (Trabzon). There were two main ways of crossing the tortured landscape of the Pontic ranges. The shorter but steeper summer route was by the Peutinger route at 124 Roman miles from Satala through eight road stations (high altitude refuges), which the Greek general Xenophon and the Ten Thousand had already used more than five centuries before on their perilous march home. Following the Antonine Itinerary, Trapezus was 135 Roman miles away, passing through the Zigana Pass at 2,032 m (6,667 ft) above sea level and five road stations.

A Roman Bridge along the ancient roads crossing the Pontic Mountains.
The spectacular scenery of the Pontic Mountains near the Zigana Pass, looking towards the Black Sea.

Xenophon recorded in the Anabasis his fighting retreat from Mesopotamia to the Euxeinos Pontos (the Black Sea) across these same mountains and the joyful moment when the Ten Thousand finally saw the sea and shouted, “ThalattaThalatta!”, “The Sea, the sea!” (Anabasis 4.7.24). Hadrian undoubtedly followed the high-level frontier road in Xenophon’s footsteps, looked down on the Black Sea and paid homage to Xenophon. 

That Hadrian followed the steps of Xenophon is implied by Arrian in a letter to the Emperor written a few years (Perip. M. Eux., 1.2-3).

We came in the course of our voyage to Trapezus, a Greek city in a maritime situation, a colony from Sinope, as we are informed by Xenophon, the celebrated historian. We surveyed the Euxine sea with the greater pleasure, as we viewed it from the same spot, whence both Xenophon and yourself had formerly observed it.

Thálatta! Thálatta! (Θάλαττα! θάλαττα!, “The Sea! The Sea!”).
Trapezus was the first Greek city the Ten Thousand reached on their retreat from inland Persia, 19th-c. illustration by Herman Vogel.

Emphasising the Roman military presence within the province of Cappadocia are coins of the exercitus and province types. The reverse of the exercitus type shows an adlocutio scene with Hadrian, on horseback, haranguing three soldiers, while on the reverse of the province coin, Cappadocia is shown holding a vertical vexillum, indicating the military importance of the province.

Sestertius commemorating Hadrian’s visits to the province of Cappadocia in 123 and 129 (RIC II, Part 3 (second edition) Hadrian 1638)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Sestertius commemorating the speeches of the emperor to the legions when he visited the province in 123 and 129.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Emperor’s next stop was Trapezus, and then along the littoral of the Black Sea towards Bithynia.

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