Archaeologists in western Turkey have uncovered an almost perfectly preserved terracotta mask depicting Dionysus, the Greco-Roman god of ecstasy. The team discovered the 2,400-year-old mask while excavating the ancient city of Daskyleion’s acropolis.
Popular legend suggests that donning a Dionysus mask freed worshippers from their hidden desires and regrets. This sense of liberation — and the lavish ceremonies thrown by the god’s followers — contributed to the development of Dionysian theater, encouraging actors to “fully embody their roles into the characters on stage.”
Excavations at Daskyleion are 32 years old, and this is the first time that researchers unearthed a mask which is nearly intact.
The mask appears to dates to the end of the fourth century BC.
The terracotta likeness is one of many intriguing objects found at Daskyleion to date. Located near Lake Manyas in the Bandirma district of Balikesir, the site was first excavated between 1954 and 1960. Archaeological work resumed in 1988.
Earlier this year, they discovered a 2,700-year-old Lydian kitchen cellar in the city’s acropolis. The researchers are now analysing organic matter present in the soil surrounding the structure to learn more about the city’s cuisine.
Daskyleion was reportedly named after Lydian King Dascylus, father of the better-known Gyges. Established around the time of the Trojan War, the city eventually came under control of the Phrygians, Lydians, Persians and Macedonians.
At its peak in 546 BC, Daskyleion served as a satrapal, or administrative center, for the Persian Empire. But the arrival of Alexander the Great’s forces in 334 BC marked the beginning of a shift toward Hellenistic culture.
The city was extremely multicultural. Masks are a recurring theme in Dionysian lore. Known as the ‘masked god’ in recognition of his numerous aliases, Dionysus was widely invoked in theater and revelry — both of which boast ties to masking.