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Virginia Sommella

Virginia Sommella
Bilkent Üniversitesi
Ṭūr ‘Abdīn Sınırları: Doğu Sınırı Üzerine Yeni Tarihsel ve Arkeolojik Perspektifler

Virginia Sommella, Ankara Bilkent Üniversitesi’nde tarih alanında doktora adayıdır. Napoli L’Orientale Üniversitesi’nden Roma eyaletleri arkeolojisi alanında lisans ve Siena Üniversitesi’nden Bizans arkeolojisi alanında yüksek lisans derecesine sahiptir.

ANAMED’de yürüteceği araştırması, dördüncü yüzyıldan 640’lara kadar olan dönemde Dicle Nehri boyunca ilerleyen Bizans sınırına, özellikle de modern Türkiye’nin güneydoğu köşesinde yer alan Ṭūr ‘Abdīn’in dağlık bölgesine odaklanmaktadır. Çalışması, böylesine dirençli bir insani ve maddi peyzajı anlamanın anahtarı olarak, yerel manastır örüntüsü ile Limes Orientalis’in idari ve savunma sistemi arasındaki bağlantıyı araştırıyor.

As we approach the conclusion of the 2023–2024 ANAMED Fellowship, it’s time to reflect on the culmination of a challenging yet immensely rewarding year. This report aims to provide an overview of the progress and outcomes achieved within the fellowship framework.

In September 2023, I embarked on what promised to be an incredible journey. Despite feeling hopeful and optimistic, I couldn’t fully anticipate how enriching this experience would be. Therefore, as I first sat at my desk, lined up the first pile of books, looking out from the window at the lively street of İstiklal, I couldn’t foresee the profound impact the following months would have on my academic and personal life.

The ANAMED Fellowship has provided two great advantages: the advantage of time and access to valuable resources. Freed from the university’s usual monthly academic schedule, I could fully concentrate on my doctoral thesis. Secondly, the fellowship granted constant access to the library and weekly opportunities to connect with other fellows. Last but not least, the inspiring atmosphere of Istanbul, with its never-ending series of academic and cultural stimuli, topped off our time here.

From the very beginning, as we strolled along the Haliç and explored the Kalenderhane Mosque, shared goals and plans began to condense among the fellows. We met weekly with Byzantinist colleagues to delve into specific topics related to our research interests. The format of these meetings gave everyone a chance to lead the discussion, offering a valuable opportunity to discuss uncertainties, theories, and perspectives with experienced fellows and external guests in our field. In due course, we organized a five-day research trip to the southeast of Türkiye, encompassing the archaeological sites in the modern provinces of Mardin, Şanlıurfa, and Diyarbakır.

In the same space provided by ANAMED for our ‘Byzantine meetings,’ some fellows and I took part in a Turkish B2 conversation class led by a TÖMER-certified instructor. The structured nature of this course, even over just a few months, immediately affected my life, work, and field research in Türkiye.

Moreover, thanks to weekly workshops organized by two fellow scholars, I finally had the chance to enhance my GIS software and methodologies skills, something I had been eager to do for a long time. These workshops revealed the numerous benefits of such a platform, primarily as a tool for creating maps. I learned how to merge and analyze various types of information using QGIS, allowing me to develop new interpretive models for understanding the relationships between rural, monastic, and fortified sites along the Ṭūr ‘Abdīn frontier.

My primary focus was on advancing my thesis, which delves into the Roman and Byzantine frontier along the northern course of the river Tigris, with particular emphasis on the mountainous region of the Ṭūr ‘Abdīn in southeastern Türkiye, from the fourth century to the 640s CE. The main achievement of this fellowship period was, in fact, the completion of two chapters. The first part will introduce the Ṭūr ‘Abdīn region to the reader, situating it within a carefully constructed geographical, anthropological, and historical framework. It will culminate with an overview of the local material culture and its distribution, drawing upon data from the small array of surveys and excavations conducted in the region over the past four decades. The academic network cultivated through ANAMED’s various events has truly enriched my knowledge of recent and ongoing projects in the broader area, including Ṭūr ‘Abdīn. Similarly, the research trip organized by the ‘Byzantine group’ and many moments of group discussion on standing buildings, landscapes, and socio-political dynamics of the Late Antique world greatly contributed to the development of this section.

The second phase of writing, to which I’ve been dedicating the last months at ANAMED, will become the third chapter of my overall thesis. This part focuses on a significant aspect of Ṭūr ‘Abdīn—Syriac monasticism—to depict the sacred landscape of the region. It will serve as a concise atlas showcasing over 70 local monastic sites and village churches. Each site will be examined individually and as part of the larger landscape, with a comparative analysis spanning different time periods. Both written papers were personally presented in two Doktora Tez İzleme Komitesi (TİK) sessions, held in December 2023 and May 2024 at the University of Bilkent (Ankara). Similarly, my in-house talk delivered at ANAMED on April 24 constituted a synthesis of these macro-sections.

Furthermore, while at ANAMED, I finalized the writing of an article focusing on the earliest material evidence of Christianity in the historical region of Bēt Nahrīn (Osrhoene), along with Bēt Arbāyē (Khabur Valley) and Ṭūr ‘Abdīn. This article aims to serve as a litmus test for existing research on the subject, providing an archaeological perspective through a collection of inscriptions and mosaics dating from the third to the late sixth centuries CE.

Thanks to the invaluable support and infrastructure provided by ANAMED, I also had the opportunity to organize and moderate a talk on the topic of liminality with my two thesis supervisors, Prof. Enrico Zanini (University of Siena) and Dr. Luca Zavagno (Bilkent University). Titled “From One Land to Another: Land Frontiers and Maritime Frontiers in the Early Byzantine World,” the talk took place on 6 May 2024 within the framework of a five-day tour exploring ‘Byzantine Constantinople’ involving students and colleagues from both universities.

During my fellowship, I participated in the 10th “Studying the East of Byzantium” workshop and conference organized by the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at Hellenic College Holy Cross and the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University. With ANAMED’s support, I engaged in various other events and projects, including the pivotal conference “Syriac Studies in the UK: Past, Present, Future” hosted at Durham University (21–23 March 2024). Additionally, I took part in a walking survey project concerning the late antique phases of occupation in the historical settlement of Parnassos, under the direction of Dr. Zavagno and Dr. Weissova (Bilkent University), located in present-day Şereflikoçhisar (a district of Ankara).

This report provides an overview of the progress and outcomes achieved within the fellowship framework, highlighting the transformative experiences and significant contributions made during this time. Reflecting on this experience, I am grateful for the opportunities, support, and experiences that have enriched my journey. I look forward to carrying forward the lessons learned and connections made as I continue to pursue my academic endeavors.