Archaeologists from the Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University’s Department of Archaeology have unearthed a 2,000-year-old monumental tomb from the Roman period near the Apollon Smintheus Sanctuary in Gülpınar, Turkey’s Çanakkale Province.
Hamaxitus, an ancient Greek city, was originally settled by Mytilenaeans in the 8th or 7th centuries BCE and later became one of the Actaean cities in the Troad region, annexed by Athens after the Mytilenean revolt in 427 BCE.
The city’s religious significance grew with the construction of the Apollon Smintheion sanctuary and the Temple of Apollon Smintheus, dedicated to Apollo Smintheus, a deity associated with mice and rats. The recent excavations have revealed the burial practices in Hamaxitus during the Roman period.
The monumental tomb, believed to have been commissioned by high-status Romans, contains more than 10 burials, including disturbed skeletal remains of both children and adults. This finding indicates the influence that the sanctuary held during this period. Hüseyin Yaman, a member of the excavation team, stated in an interview with Daily Sabah, “We aim not only to acquire information about the burial traditions of individuals and communities that once existed here but also to contribute to the delineation of the distribution area of sacred structures.”
The excavation team aims to determine the boundaries of the sacred area by exploring the distribution of sacred structures. Remnants of two tombs and foundational remains of structures were revealed in excavations at three different points. Based on artifacts found in the only room that appeared to have survived with intact foundations in the monumental tomb, the researchers estimate its origin to be approximately 2,000 years ago, around the first century CE.
The Apollon Smintheus Sanctuary, associated with the cult of Apollo Smintheus, is deeply rooted in ancient mythology. According to Homer’s Iliad epic, Agamemnon, leading the Greek army to Troia, stopped by Chrysa (modern-day Gülpınar) and kidnapped the daughter of the priest of the temple of Apollo Smintheus. In desperation, the priest called on Apollo, leading to a plague epidemic inflicted upon the Greek army through mice. The priest’s daughter was eventually returned under the supervision of Odysseus, and in gratitude, a sacrifice was made in the temple.
The significance of mice in the cult of Smintheus is further explained by the term “Sminthos,” the ancient Mysian word for mouse. In Mysian culture, the mouse is considered the holy animal of Apollo, and the cult of Smintheus is closely linked to mice. The god Apollo, associated with justice, punished powerful kings for their injustice, often manifested through plague epidemics spread by mice.
The Apollon Smintheus Sanctuary, originally built around 150 BCE in Ionic style, became the second most important temple in the Troas region of Anatolia. Fragments of a monumental statue, over 16 feet high, depicting Apollo trampling a mouse, were discovered at the site, reinforcing the deity’s role in protecting farmers from crop-devouring mice.
Regular excavations at the temple site since 1980 have uncovered various artifacts, including pieces of the entablature decorated with scenes from the Iliad, fragments of the monumental statue, and evidence of the sanctuary’s expansion during the Roman period.