Abstract: They Died With Their Boots On: The Roman Hobnail Burials at Gordion (Turkey)


Burial practices tend to vary widely between disparate cultures, and this is perhaps nowhere more evident than at the site of Gordion, located in central Turkey approximately 95 km. southwest of modern Ankara. Situated at the confluence of two rivers and at the nexus of several ancient trade routes, Gordion was occupied almost continuously from the Early Bronze Age to Medieval times. Among the wide variety of burial types are Hittite pithos burials, the great tumuli of the Phrygian kings and nobles, simple Lydian and Persian inhumations, Hellenistic chamber tombs, wooden coffins of the Roman period, and Byzantine cist graves. Three Roman cemeteries were excavated at the site between 1950 and 1994, and the objects and skeletal remains recovered from these necropoleis have helped to shape our understanding of Roman life at this rural town. Perhaps the most enigmatic of all the burial types are those containing the remains of hobnail boots, found in nearly a third of the total Roman period graves currently known. This burial type, dating from the 1st to 3rd century A.D. and common to sites along the Rhine and Danube frontiers, are unattested elsewhere in Anatolia. Their appearance at Gordion, in the graves of men, women and children, represents an intriguing phenomenon. Such boots have often been found at military sites, a fact which led the original excavators to hypothesize that either veterans or soldiers lived at Gordion during the Roman Empire. New excavations at the site in 2004 and 2005 have now settled this issue: the discovery of Roman weapons, armor and a barracks building have provided conclusive evidence that soldiers inhabited this small settlement. Indeed, as the chance discovery in 1997 of a Roman auxiliary soldier’s tombstone has shown, at least some of these men never made it home alive from their post on the Anatolian plateau, dying with their boots on.

Suggested Bibliography/Websites
“Roman Military Occupation at Yass?höyük (Gordion), Ankara Province, Turkey”. With J. Bennett. Antiquity 81, Issue 314, December 2007.

“The Roman-period Cemeteries at Gordion in Galatia”. Journal of Roman Archaeology 20 (2007) 299-320.

“From Phrygian Capital to Rural Fort: New Evidence for the Roman Military at Gordion, Turkey”. Expedition 49.3 (Winter 2007) 6-12.

“Reconstructing the Roman-period Town at Gordion,” Chap. 5 in Lisa. K. Kealhofer (ed.), The Archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians: Recent Work at Gordion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum Press, 2005).

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