The oldest levels currently reached by the archaeological excavation are related to the Late Chalcolithic 2 period, dated to the end of the fifth millennium BCE.
These levels are characterized by different levels of anthropic frequentation, of an essentially domestic nature. The dwellings are characterized by the presence of courtyards around which grow several rooms, and among which a kitchen is always present. This is clearly identified by the constant presence of a dome-shaped oven, sometimes accompanied by hearths, and slab-stones and pestles for processing cereals.
Traces of painted plaster were found on the mudbrick walls. Renovations are continuous, as evidenced by additions and modifications to the walls.
The pottery of these levels shows clear parallels with the contemporary developments of the southwestern regions (Gaziantep and Amuq).
Characteristic is a black or purple kitchen-pottery, with an entirely scratched outer surface.
The first occupation of Arslantepe dates back at least to the sixth millennium BCE but the oldest levels of the settlement reached over large extensions refer to the Late Chalcolithic, Periods VIII (4200-3900 BCE) and VII (3800-3400 BCE) of the sequence of the site. Period VII comprises 7 levels of settlement, with archaeological evidence testifying to the central role of the site in the Malatya region and its direct participation in the formation of the proto-state societies of the Near East.
In the north-eastern area of the hill there are mudbrick dwellings of one or two rooms, in some cases decorated with geometric paintings in red, black and white, craft areas with ovens, and burials under the floors of the houses.
Higher up, on the top of the tell were placed the monumental buildings with 1-1.20 m thick mudbrick walls, articulated in functionally diversified complexes. In the northernmost area there were craft and storage areas, and private buildings, including a large building with traces of geometric paintings in red and black and plastered mudbrick columns along the walls. On the floor of the building symbolic or prestigious objects such as a limestone mace head and a ceramic object similar to the “idols eyes” of Tepe Gawra and Tell Brak were found.
South of this structure but dated to a later phase was a large building with a tripartite plan, probably a temple, measuring 22 x 20 m and was elevated on a platform of large stone slabs and mud; the plan is typically Mesopotamian whilst the foundations and platform are as of today unique. The materials found inside are local: hundreds of bowls found in this temple and in the buildings connected to it, which, unlike the Mesopotamian ones, are made on the slow-speed pottery’s wheel. Along with the bowls numerous cretulae with seal impressions were also found, a sign that in the building food redistribution activities were carried out in a ceremonial context, possible as compensation for work practiced.
Specialized craft activities, such as metallurgy and mass-produced pottery, suggest complex forms of work organization, though not yet under central control, as the numerous recognized pottery workshops would suggest.
The Late Chalcolithic culture of Arslantepe has strong similarities with that of other sites in northwestern Syria and the Amuq plain. There are many elements of connection with the contemporary cultures of Upper Mesopotamia, but the extensive relations with the southern areas that had characterized the previous period of Ubaid are absent.
In the last centuries of the IV millennium at Arslantepe a grand development of that system of centralization and redistribution of goods already recognizable around the middle of the fourth millennium BCE in the great Chalcolithic temple (period VII) is attested, becoming also a system of strengthening central political power and the elites who represented it.
To this period, corresponding to the Late Uruk phase in Mesopotamia, refers the construction of a large monumental public architectural complex, which, because of its articulation into functionally and architecturally differentiated sectors (temples, storerooms, areas for unloading administrative material, courtyard, corridors) can be considered the first known example of a “palace” in the entire Near East with planned areas for the exercise of the main public, religious, and secular functions.
The whole area was dominated by a large monumental ceremonial building, probably used for receptions, at the highest part of the ancient hillside, and at the highest part of the palace, at the end of a long corridor leading to it, directly from the entrance. Two temples were also located on the highest parts of the ancient hillside, but it was probably reserved for the elites, while access to the main building must have been granted to all. The plan and dimensions of the two temples at Arslantepe are almost identical and show features of originality that make these structures, while generically falling within a tradition shared by all regions of so-called “Greater Mesopotamia,” obey needs and customs of local origin.
The palace was entered through a monumental chambered door and a sharply rising corridor under the floor of which runs a covered channel for water drainage. Evident everywhere are traces of a fire with collapses that have preserved all the materials in place.
Pictorial representations in red and black on the white plaster background decorated the walls of the palace with complex scenes and motifs that included human and animal figures, arranged near the entrances and along the walls of the large access corridor.
The second half of the fourth millennium also witnessed a great development in metallurgy, evidenced by the discovery of a wide range of objects made of copper, copper-arsenic alloys, and silver, including a group of 22 weapons, swords, spears, and a quadruple-spiral plaque, which document, among other things, for the first time the use of the sword in the world. Although the recipients of the products of this craftsmanship must largely have been local elites, the intensified production was linked to the ability of the Arslantepe center to actively enter the circuit of circulation of raw materials throughout Eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia and to broker trade with Mesopotamian centers at a time when their demand for the metal must have been increasing.
The great complexity of administrative organization in the palace of Arslantepe is documented by thousands of cretulae with seal impressions, found in various places in the palatial complex, where they attest to different phases of activities. Some were in situ in one of the palace storerooms, others piled up in dump sites. In a small room made inside the large wall of the corridor in front of the storerooms, an exceptional deposit of about two thousand cretulae was discovered, which had been neatly dumped after being collected by homogeneous groups bearing the same seal and the impressions of the same containers. These cretules constitute a kind of discarded archive and offered an extraordinary amount of information about the administrative system in use and the art of seal engraving in the late IV millennium.
The storage sector uncovered so far has yielded two warehouses, showing the two main phases of the collection and redistribution of goods: one room was used for storage and contained almost exclusively food vessels, large containers, and bottles; another, smaller room, probably intended for redistribution, alongside a few large vessels, has yielded hundreds of mass-produced cretules and bowls. In this room collection operations with opening and closing of the containers by sealing and distribution of foodstuffs, using the bowls as containers of defined size, must have frequently taken place under the control of officials.
Food collection and redistribution activities must also have taken place in the two palace temples, as suggested by the numerous vessels found in place in the side rooms, in the case of Temple A, and in the main hall, in the case of Temple B, as well as a number of cretulae. The interior architectural elements of these buildings (altars, basins, podiums) and the presence near the altars of cups on pierced feet (the so-called “fruit-bearers”), together with the dislocation of the vessels and the small number of cretulae, indicate that here such activities must have been clothed in a ceremonial character.
In Arslantepe the proto-urban experience came to an end around 3200 B.C.E.; the ruins of the collapsed public buildings were covered with layers of clean mud. On these, quadrangular huts with rounded corners were raised, consisting of a single room; the mud-plastered floors were usually at a slightly lower level than the external ground. The walls were made of wooden posts and reeds covered with clay to form the typical wattle-and-daub structure.
In the highest part of the tell, however, there was a hut, much larger than others, internally divided into three rooms and isolated from the rest of the site by a long and thick wattle-and-daub dividing wall. Large quantities of bones have been found in the space outside the hut, suggesting this was a place where food remains were thrown. We suspect this might have been a chief’s hut.
Another special structure is on the other side of the long dividing wall. Different from the rest of the buildings in this phase, this structure is in mudbricks. The building has a central room with a large hearth. A second room was filled with more than 40 storage jars. This building was probably a meeting place, with a community storage facility.
During this period, the site witnessed a radical change in material culture, with pottery that emphasizes the strong contacts that the community had with the Southern Caucasus, more than with Mesopotamia.
In the last phase of the Early Bronze I (period VI B2), following the final abandonment of the village by the shepherds with strong contact with the southern caucasian world (VI B1 period), a town with mudbrick houses was built at the site. Houses were small and separated by roads and courtyards for various activities (slaughtering of animals, copper metallurgical activities). The domestic structures consisted of two or three rooms and were all very similar to each other; the rooms were equipped with different installations such as benches, running against the walls, plastered platforms, basins, or small pits containing grinding stones for cereal processing. In the center of the rooms was a typical circular hearth with a small central cavity, specially created to contain the embers.
The settlement was destroyed by a violent fire and the floors of the houses and the outer spaces were almost entirely covered by charred grains, perhaps the remains of an entire harvest that was originally placed on the roofs and floors. In addition to wheat and barley, domestic vine remains, a wide variety of legumes, and other plants were found. The village stood on the slope of the ancient hill at the foot of a sort of citadel or acropolis, composed by a large 5m thick fortification wall. The layout of the village of the VI B2 reveals that the political organization of the town was completely different from that of the previous palatine system, where elites controlled the community economy, whilst here it is mostly military power to be exercised by chiefs. The importance of “military” power is testified also by an extraordinary burial at the edge of the settlement, in which a warrior chieftain was buried with great ceremony. The tomb was in stone slabs, as more common in the caucasian world and it contained numerous rich metal objects. Four youths had been sacrificed on the stone covering the tomb. All these elements and the number of metal weapons testify to the change in nature of power, now strongly linked to warfare. Despite the intermediate stage (VIB1) characterized by the arrival on the mound of pastoral groups of trans-Caucasian origin, VIB2 shows a strong continuity in the ceramic tradition with that of the earlier Late Chalcolithic period. In this period, the presence of the red-black pottery decreased and next to it is the local wheel-made, light-colored ceramic of Mesopotamian inspiration. This repertoire is in fact characteristic of the Early Bronze I cultures throughout the Upper Euphrates valley. The VI B2 period in Arslantepe represents the last phase of relevant relations between the Malatya region and the Syro-Mesopotamian environment. The cultural relations between the regions to the north and south of the Taurus weakened considerably after the end of this period and the mountain range became not only a geographical but also a political and cultural barrier.
The influence of the Southern Caucasus contributed to a profound change in the organizational structure and culture of the Upper Euphrates communities in the later developments of the Early Bronze Age. Wide regional networks broke up, into smaller and more separated communities with a less structured political and economic organization. The VI C period (2750-2500 BCE) at Arslantepe represents the beginning of a new cultural phase. The settlement narrows considerably, and the southwestern area of the mound becomes peripheral to the town proper; it is characterized by the presence of numerous wells and circular pits covered with mud. These are probably used by semi-mobile groups for food storage as well as for waste disposal. In rare cases, graves under the floors of houses have been found.
The upper part of the tell is occupied by a complex of dwellings consisting of quadrangular and single-roomed structures, with stone foundations. The division of the interior spaces and the domestic equipment changes considerably compared to the previous period: a new type of vaulted oven and horseshoe-shaped hearths. As far as material culture is concerned, we note the disappearance of the light-colored and wheel-made pottery of the previous phase. A new type of painted pottery, common also in the nearby Elazıg region, appears instead. Red-black pottery is still present but appears to be a local evolution of Transcaucasian production. That the groups occupying the Malatya plain at this time had some degree of mobility, is indicated also by the discovery of a small seasonal site on the rocky hills of Gelinciktepe in front of Arslantepe.
From the middle of the third millennium BCE, the slope of the mound is gradually reoccupied. The new settlement, which shows a specific urban planning, is set on terraces and is characterized by large quadrangular structures separated by streets, squares and drainage systems. The shape of the houses, installations and construction techniques are comparable to those of other sites in northeastern Anatolia and will remain unchanged until the end of the millennium. In addition to these there are also several oval buildings, partially buried, the use of which is difficult to decode due to the absence of the most common furniture and installations (hearths, food processing utensils). The excavations have brought to light, at the edge of the town, an imposing mudbrick and stone wall with a semicircular bastion that certifies for the first time the construction of a real urban fortification, present at many other sites of this period throughout the region.
The presence of the city walls indicates an increase in conflict, perhaps linked to competition between autonomous settlements. Although Arslantepe during the Early Bronze III was still the largest center of the Malatya region and probably its economic and political center, the internal characteristics of the town (lacking in real prominent public places) and the organization of craft production, stress that it was based on a relatively simple socio-economic system.
The hand-made pottery shows a strong continuity with the previous period: both the red-black and the painted pottery continue to be produced. Compared to the Early Bronze II period however (VI C), the models become more standardized and the production more cared of. In particular, the painted pottery is of sophisticated workmanship and has complex and codified motifs that were surely executed by specialists, with a wide circulation of products within the Malatya and Elazig regions. The only indication of wider-range contacts are rare examples of grey wheel-made pottery of Syrian origin and the presence of equally rare examples of painted Arslantepe-type pottery in Central Anatolia. Metallurgy is still used, as indicated by the discovery of a foundry atelier with various crucibles and molds, but even in this case, the circulation of minerals seems more limited than in the past.
Most of the evidence relating to this period has been brought to light in the southwestern area of the hill. The architectural structures found up to now are in fragmentary conditions and it is not possible for the moment to clearly define the shape and extent of the town, also because the complex stratigraphy of this phase has been strongly disturbed by dozens of pits. In the V A period there are two phases, V A1 and V A2, corresponding to the Middle Bronze I and II. In the most ancient phase various paved open areas have been recognized, cut by pits filled with clean clay that might have been used for some specific craftworks. To the more recent phase belongs instead a large domestic structure with a quadrangular plan at the center of which a monumental double horseshoe-shaped hearth had been built. In the house there were numerous large vessels for food and liquids and numerous loom weights. During the Middle Bronze Age the settlement of Arslantepe was defended by a system of double walls, well known in Central Anatolia. This fortification system consisted of a series of small chambers within a double row of stones.
During the Middle Bronze Age new political entities appear in the Near East, such as the ancient Assyrian kingdom, which based part of their economic power on the control of the exchange routes and on the foundation of the first commercial outposts in the heart of Anatolia, of which the site of Kültepe-Kanesh is the best known example. It is probable that the regions of Malatya and Elaziğ, thanks to the proximity with the mineral deposits of the Ergani Maden, were also directly involved in this same commercial network, even though as of today we have no direct indications of this at the site of Arslantepe.
Period VB marks the intensification of relations with central Anatolia as a result of both the stretening of the ties Arslantepe had begun to establish during the Middle Bronze Age and the military campaigns undertaken by the Hittite rulers.
During this period the entire hill was enclosed by an imposing fortification system made of pressed earth and which has been brought to light in several places along the slopes of the tell. The rampart, which was likely to improve the defensibility of the settlement and was therefore provided on its top with a real brick wall, was associated with a city gate that has been entirely excavated in the northern portion of the site. The defensive system consisted of a wide entrance framed by two bipartite towers with a longitudinal layout that shows interesting comparisons with the defensive architecture of the Hittite capital dated to the 16th century BCE.
A series of dwellings, on the other hand, have been unearthed along the southern slopes of the settlement, which are also enclosed within the walls. These are rather small and elongated spaces used mainly for the storage of household goods and equipped with single or double horseshoe-shaped hearths, which highlight the continuation of a long tradition attested at the site since the third millennium BCE.
This close combination of external elements, mainly related to the cultural heritage of Central Anatolia, and local traditions evident in the architecture is also detected in the material culture of this period. The pottery is in fact characterized on the one hand by the introduction, already quite significant, of forms typical of the Hittite world and on the other hand by the survival of local elements visible especially in the conspicuous number of painted ceramic classes that are in perfect continuity with those typical of the Middle Bronze Age.
Arslantepe Period IV corresponds to the Late Bronze Age II (1400-1200 BC). Also during this phase the entrance to the hill was located along the northern slope, although a new city gate was built further west than the previous one (Period VB).
Such rearrangements of the defensive system indicate that the reorganization took place under strong Hittite influence; in fact, this phase corresponds to the period of maximum expansion of the empire along the Euphrates, a time when the site was known by the Hittite toponym Malitya.
The size of the portion of the tell enclosed by the fortification also tended to be modified by shrinking from the earlier period and marking the emergence of a fortified citadel. The monumental gateway, known as the “imperial gate,” is a typical pincer entrance found in a great many Central Anatolian sites and is connected to a defensive system that is no longer an earthwork, as in the earlier period, but was instead rebuilt in mudbrick bedded on stone foundations.
A “false vault” tunnel, only partially excavated, built with the help of polygonal stones and slabs and most likely more than 4 meters deep, was also unearthed in this area. This is reminiscent of the so-called postierla of Hittite centers (an underground tunnel that passed under the fortifications), although in the present case it does not appear that the tunnel passed under the city wall. Indeed, it is more likely that this had another function, and it has been suggested that it was a tunnel dug to reach the water table.
The pottery of Period IV is characterized by significant changes from earlier phases, showing strong similarities to the productions of the major sites of central Anatolia and further highlighting the fact that Arslantepe at this time must have gravitated into the orbit of the Hittite empire.
The Late Bronze Age settlement was eventually destroyed by a violent and widespread fire.
Following the collapse of the Hittite empire, a series of small, autonomous political entities known as “neo-Hittite kingdoms” emerged in the southeastern Anatolia region. Arslantepe became the capital of one of these kingdoms, named in local sources with the toponym Malizi.
Italian excavations, conducted both in the past (1960s) and in more recent years at various points in the northeastern area of the hill, have revealed a wide range of monumental structures. These include a large building with a rectangular shape built on a mighty platform consisting of large rough-hewn stone blocks. The building dates to the 10th century B.C., and comparisons show interesting similarities with some Levantine Iron Age temple structures.
The levels below, dated between the 12th and 11th centuries BCE, were characterized by the presence of an imposing fortification wall probably connected to an access system to the citadel evidenced by the finding of two carved reliefs similar but stylistically different to those found in the past in the area of the Lion Gate by Delaporte.
Ceramic production, and material culture in general, continue only partly akin to those of the Late Bronze Age. A new repertoire of forms reflects interesting connections with the Levantine world, marking the interruption of contacts with Central Anatolia.
The later Iron Age levels are mainly characterized by the remains of the famous Lion Gate discovered by Louis Delaporte in the 1930s. This structure, which is flanked by two slabs carved in high relief in the shape of a lion with a head in the round, led into a paved courtyard decorated with a set of bas-reliefs depicting scenes of ritual hunting and libation.
The Lion Gate and the entire set of bas-reliefs can now be visited together with the large statue of a king found in the gate itself at the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara.
The recent resumption of excavations has also uncovered a large columned building, dated to the 8th century BCE, which, in its final phase, must have been structurally and functionally connected with the Lion Gate. A significant feature of the colonnaded building is the presence of a series of floors made by the alternation of pebbles and large slabs of squared stone.
The material from the different phases of the life of the colonnaded building is characterized by the presence of exotic ceramic classes that allow us to connect the site within a network of relationships that ranged from the Phrygian world in central Anatolia, to the Urartian world in eastern Anatolia, to the sphere of influence of Aegean and Cypriot cultures.
The conclusion of the Neo-Hittite period coincided with the end of Arslantepe’s power and prosperity. Indeed, the city was conquered and then destroyed by the Assyrian king Sargon II in 712 BCE and later permanently abandoned.
After the conquest of the Kingdom of Malatya by Sargon II, Arslantepe suffered a progressive decadence and the site was finally abandoned after the Cimmerian invasion. With the arrival of the Romans, a legion was set up in the region. The Malatya plain was in fact the border region of the Roman Empire and hosted the XII military legion from the age of Titus until the 6th century A.D. The Roman castrum was built near a crossing point of the Euphrates, in this way placed under the direct control of the army. Around the castrum later formed the town of Melitene (from the earlier name Melid) which is transformed into an important regional center and received from the emperor Trajan the status of municipium. At Melitene, as evidenced by the discovery of a Diocletian milestone, converged the military roads that ran along the eastern frontier in the direction of the Euphrates. The city of Melitene further developed in the Byzantine period. Its military importance is also evidenced by the fact that the city became the metropolis of Armenia Secunda.
Near Melitene, halfway between this and the modern city of Malatya, Arslantepe is, in these Roman-Byzantine phases, a small rural village probably no different from many Anatolian villages of the same period. The Italian excavations have brought to light the remains of a small settlement of Roman age in the north-eastern part of the tell and a road that crossed it, while more recently it is a necropolis that occupies the southern half of the hill. Based on the materials found (coins and pottery), the Roman settlement can be dated between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D.. In Byzantine times the site became a Christian necropolis. Finally, in the north of the tell there are remains of a possible Ottoman palace. With the exception of this last building, in the Ottoman age the site was essentially abandoned in favor of Eski Malatya (Melitene), closer to the banks of the Euphrates.