The excavation of the Archives (1967-1972) exposed an area of over 2600 sq m. Parthian dwellings and the only large Hellenistic building extensively documented in Seleucia were brought to light: the Archives overlooking the city agora. The recovery of thousands of clay sealings of documents stored in situ (over 25,000) was especially significant. The excavation allowed five levels of occupation, spanning approximately five centuries, to be identified.
The oldest level, the one belonging to the Archives, was reached only partially, as the foundations of the later structures, which could not be removed while the excavations were underway, englobed its architectural remains. However, the inner plastered surfaces of the walls, the beaten clay floors, the abundant traces of combustion and the mostly baked clay sealings show that the building was destroyed by a great fire. It was composed of two series of seven rooms each, for an overall length of approximately 140 m. These rooms, rectangular spaces with niches and pillars repeated in series, were aligned along the short side and were connected axially. The finding of the sealings mixed with coal and nails in correspondence of the niches would suggest that wooden shelves, on which documents made from perishable materials (which burnt during the fire) were placed, were mounted inside each niche.
Thanks to the impressions of dated stamps on over half of the surviving seals, it was possible to date the facility in which they were stored to the Seleucid period, while the other figured seal impressions, specifically those bearing the portrait of Demetrios II (second reign), show that the fire must have broken out after 129 B.C. The nature of the sealings, which bear the impressions of official and private stamps, suggests that this huge facility must have been run by a public authority and that Seleucia’s citizens could deposit copies of their documents (mostly commercial contracts and fiscal receipts) there. This is the largest known archive building of the Hellenistic world.
After the fire, this side of the agora served a different purpose, because if the archives served the public, the new complex, on the basis of the recovered materials – mostly common pottery, coins and terracotta figurines – appears to be a group of dwellings. The original nature of the ample square in front of Tell ‘Omar was thus at least partly reconsidered.
Only a few rows of the structures built on top of the Archives have survived, and in some points the excavation didn’t uncover any traces of them due to the contextual presence of subsequent reconstructions. However, thanks to the acquired data, it was possible to identify several open spaces belonging to this new complex, whose alternation with covered areas seems intentional, as it was plausibly ascribable to the area’s subdivision into inhabitative cells.
On the basis of these observations and the materials’ chronology, which suggest a relatively brief period of occupation (late 2nd century B.C. – first quarter of the 1st century A.D.), it may be hypothesized that Level IV was a transition level from the initial process of converting a formerly public space and the development that characterized the later phases.
Level III represents the longest phase of occupation of the Parthian period and is definitely the one characterized by more elaborate architectural work, as inside it two major reconstruction phases and a phase in which less extensive works were made (IIIa, IIIb, IIIc) may be distinguished. Compared to Level IV, this phase displays an increase in construction work and a more evident use of the ground. Moreover, new buildings were constructed on the remains of the old ones. Although they were essentially based, at least in part, on the previous layout, in many points they possessed thicker walls that therefore decreased the available floor space; this was likely offset by the buildings’ greater height, so as to recover some usable floor space.
The mostly inhabitative function of these buildings is further emphasized by the greater amount of available artefacts compared to the previous phase, although they are for the most part materials recovered from rooms in the north half of the building. Only a part of the complex, and for a period limited to Level IIIa-b, was used for commercial activities, but it was converted in the final period of occupation and used as a dwelling unit.
The passage from Level IIIb to Level IIIc seems to represent the height of the Parthian period’s architectural development. It is during this phase that burials inside dwellings, which were previously almost completely absent, increased considerably. The structures necessary for the residents’ daily needs were increased and distributed better – the wells, for example, were no longer concentrated in a single place as in Level IV.
The dwellings’ sizes vary slightly, but on average they are approximately under 200 sq m. They had in common the presence of a courtyard, where the main household activities (e.g. the preparation of food and the provision of water) took place. Within the context of Level III, the materials were distributed over a rather long period of time, spanning from the second half of the 1st century B.C. to the end of the 1st century A.D.
In most areas of the excavation site, the last two periods of occupation are indistinguishable. In fact, the evident overlapping of two architectural phases was observed with certainty only in a few parts of the complex. The buildings’ overall layout is essentially the same, but compared to the previous phases a tendency to simplify the layout of certain rooms or sectors and (especially in the southern part of the complex) to group together several rooms into large uncovered rectangular areas several metres long (approximately 15m on average), taking up the space previously occupied by covered dwellings, may be observed. As for the parts of the excavation site where artefacts were found, we may notice that the amount of materials progressively decreases over time – i.e. in correspondence of the topmost layers – while the number of burials seems to increase in proportion. Although reconstruction works are anyhow evident, human activity seems to be concentrated only in a few parts of the complex and the buildings appear to have undergone a slow but progressive decay.
It is not possible to reconstruct in detail the chronology of the materials connected with Levels II-I, but pottery generally ascribable to the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. is present at levels relatively compatible with the oldest architectural phase (Level II), while those present at more superficial levels, which are more ascribable to the last phase of reconstruction (Level I), date back to the mid-2nd century A.D. or to the 2nd-3rd century A.D. Overall, these phases may therefore be ascribed to a wide time span that undoubtedly encompasses all of the 2nd century A.D. that saw human activity take place in the complex at least into the early 3rd century A.D. A possible separation between the two levels could be dated, at least according to the context of several rooms, to the last quarter of the 2nd century A.D., because at the intermediate levels between the two architectural phases two small treasures of coins were found that, considering the presence of coins depicting Faustina Minor, could not have been left there before 176 A.D.