Bijan Island
L’île de Bidjan
Ancient names:
Sapiratum(?) – source: the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I
Izan(?) – source: Isidore of Charax
  • Project name

    Excavations conducted as part of the international “Haditha (Qadisiya) Dam Salvage Project”

  • Type of site:

    Settlement and fortress


    Western Iraq
    Middle Euphrates, island on the Euphrates
    Historical region: Suhu


    – Middle Assyrian period(?) (11th century BC; based only on written sources)
    – Neo-Assyrian period (8th–7th century BC);
    – Parthian period (1st century BC–2nd century AD);
    – Roman period (first half of the 3rd century AD);
    – early Islamic (Abbasid) period (8th–10th century AD).

Most interesting finds:

– Assyrian fortress (two phases) as a link in the chain of frontier defenses along the Euphrates
– Pottery vessel with a magical inscription in Aramaic from the early Islamic period (7th–8th century AD)
– Bronze Parthian censer with a horse-shaped handle (found in the Roman-period layer)
– Roman-period coins, lamps and a lantern
– Abbasid-period pottery (8th–10th century AD)
– Abbasid-period glass (8th century AD)

History of research:

Excavated by the PCMA mission in:


Type of research:

Salvage excavations


Michał Gawlikowski
Maria Krogulska

Co-operating institutions:

– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– Iraqi Department of Antiquities

Additional information:

Excavations of the site were very intensive: eight campaigns were conducted in the course of five years.

Description of the site and research:

Bijan is a river island, partly fortified, elongated on the north–south axis and measuring 330 m by 75 m. It lies on the middle reach of the Euphrates between Ana and Haditha (about 25 km down the river from Ana). It was cultivated in modern times: there were a date palm orchard and a noria (wheels used for lifting water for the purpose of irrigation) installed on the west bank. About 15% of the island’s surface was archaeologically examined. It is currently flooded by an artificial reservoir (Lake Qadisiyah).

The first fortress was built in the Middle Assyrian period, most probably in the 11th century BC. It was trapezoidal in layout, 120 m long and 28–37 m wide. The front part of the fortress was a stone platform measuring 28 by 31 m, the circuit walls of the island-fortress were approximately 5 m wide and were preserved to the height of 5 m. The space between the stone walls was filled with stone rubble, gravel and sand and the whole formed the foundation of the fort which was built of dried bricks. The entrance to the fortress was located in the south wall near the southeastern corner. There were three island-fortresses on the Euphrates in the Suhu region: Ana, Telbis and Bijan (Sapirutu in Assyrian sources). Together with fortified sites on both banks of the river, they formed a chain of defenses which protected the crossing of this section of the Euphrates from the Aramaic tribes.

In the Neo-Assyrian period (probably in the 8th century BC), the fortress was extended to the south and west, reaching 185 m in length and 72 m in width at the southern end. In the new fortress, the entrance was moved to the southern end of the east wall and was accessed by a ramp adjoining the wall (25 m long, 2–3 m wide and preserved up to 3 m in height).

After about 600 years of abandonment, the island was settled in the Parthian period (1st century BC–2nd century AD). To this period date the remains of domestic architecture: stone wall foundations, five graves (four pot burials and one with an underground stone structure resembling a rock-cut tomb), as well as numerous fragments of pottery, both storage jars and vessels of everyday use. The latter include vessels with relief decoration and glazed ones. Three pottery kilns were also found.

Probably in the first half of the 3rd century AD, a Roman garrison was erected on the ruins of the Parthian settlement. In many places, it copied the layout of the Parthian architecture so that most of the Roman stone foundations were built on top of the Parthian walls. An innovation of the Roman period was locating the entrance in the middle of the south wall of the fortress. Stone steps leading to it were built on top of a sandbank running along the wall. The finds include numerous fragments of kitchen vessels characteristic of Roman camps in the Near East, the so-called brittle ware pottery, as well as oil lamps and Roman coins.

Project bibliography:

Mierzejewska, M. (2014). Abbasid basins from Bijan Island. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 23/1, 643–662.

Krogulska, M. and Zych, I. (2013). Roman clay lantern from Bijan Island (Iraq). Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 22, 651–662.

Rzeplińska, M. (2010). Terracotta from Bijan Island. Parthica, 12, 47–67.

Krogulska, M. and Reiche, A. (2006). The Parthians on Bijan Island. In Ch. Kepinski, O. Lecomte, A. Tenu (eds), Studia Euphratica. Le moyen Euphrat iraquien révélé par les fouilles préventives de Haditha [=Travaux de la Maison René-Ginouvès 3] (pp. 339–365). Paris: De Bocard.

Stępniowski, F. (2005). The Gate of Hell. Some peculiar stone objects from Bijan Island. In P. Bieliński and F. Stępniowski (eds), Aux pays d’Allat: mélanges offerts à Michał Gawlikowski (pp. 263–276). Warszawa: Instytut Archeologii, Uniwersytet Warszawski.

Reiche, A. (1996). Early Islamic glass from Bijan Island (Iraq). In K. Bartl and S. R. Hauser (eds), Continuity and Change in Northern Mesopotamia from the Hellenistic to the Early Islamic Period (pp. 195–217). Berlin: Reimer.

Krogulska, M. and Stępniowski, F. (1995). Bijan: polskie wykopaliska w Iraku w latach 1979–83 [Bijan: Polish excavations in Iraq in 1979–83]. In M.L. Bernhard (ed.), Od Nilu do Eufratu. Polska archeologia śródziemnomorska 1981–1994 (pp. 127–134). Warszawa: Centrum Archeologii Śródziemnomorskiej UW.

Krogulska, M. (1992). Bijan Island. Polish excavations on the Middle Euphrates (Iraq). Études et Travaux, 16, 353–362.

Reiche, A. (1992). Excavations on Bijan Island. The graves. Études et Travaux, 16, 417–420.

Stępniowski, F. (1992). Bijan in the Neo-Assyrian Period. Results of the Excavations in 1981 (Autumn) – 1983. Études et Travaux, 16, 425–434.

Krogulska, M. (1990). Bijan. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 1, 10–13.

Krogulska, M. (1987). Bijan – Lamps from the “Roman” layer. Mesopotamia, 22, 91–100.

Krogulska, M. (1987). Baiğan. Archiv für Orientforschung, 34, 155–156, Figs 64–65.

Reiche, A. (1987). Wykopaliska na wyspie Bidżan w Iraku [Excavations on Bijan Island in Iraq]. Rocznik Muzeum Narodowego w Warszawie, 31, 201–218.

Kozłowski, S.K., Krogulska, M., Reiche, A., and Szymczak, K. (1986). Irak [Iraq]. In Z. Kiss (ed.), 50 lat polskich wykopalisk w Egipcie i na Bliskim Wschodzie (pp. 135–142). Warszawa: PCMA.

Gawlikowski, M. (1985). Bijan in the Euphrates. Sumer, 42, 15–21.

Gawlikowski, M. (1983). L’île de Bidjan sur la Moyen-Euphrate, une forteresse assyrienne et romaine. Archeologia, 178, 26–33.

Krogulska, M. et al. (1983). Wyspa Bidżan [Bijan Island]. Informator Archeologiczny: badania, 17, 249–250.

Gawlikowski, M. (1983/84). Beğan Island. Archiv für Orientforschung, 29–30, 207.

Krogulska, M. et al. (1982). Bidżan [Bijan]. Informator Archeologiczny: badania, 16, 313–315.


Posted in: