Mount Nemrut, Adiyaman
Adiyaman, the cradle of the oldest civilizations in history, is probably the most significant provinces in Turkey from the aspect of tourism. Especially, on the Nemrut Mountain in Kahta District, the graves, temples and the statues of kings are extremely interesting for tourists. The province has recorded great developments in agriculture thanks to the introduction of irrigation with the GAP project, and industrialization has accelerated in recent years.
The Commagene State was founded in the first century B.C. on the lands of the Adiyaman Province of today. King Antiochus I, who has been known to be an art lover, decided that his grave needs to be at the summit of Nemrut Mountain and said, “Those who come to visit my grave should wear their best clothes and the most fragrant perfumes.
I will give them happiness and prosperity for generations on these lands.” In fact, the Nemrut Mountain National Park and the summit of Nemrut Mountain, with its impressive silhouette at a height of 2150 meters, is where in the province visited the most by domestic and foreign tourists, with its natural beauty and historical assets.
The mausoleum of Antiochus I, located at the summit of the mountain, is surrounded by three sacred areas in the shape of a terrace carved into the hard rock, to the east, west and north. At the eastern terrace are located the statues of Apollo, the god of art; Tyche (Fortuna), the goddess of love and fertility and fortune; Zeus, the god of the heavens; Hercules, the god of strength; King Antiochus; an eagle and a lion. The height of the statues is close to 9 meters. The steles of the Commagene Royal Family are to the north and south, and to the east of the terrace, there is a rectangular shaped altar with steps, and beside it a protective lion statue. The western terrace, where there are the same statues, is more effective in its sculpture, regardless of the truth that it has experienced more damage in comparison with the eastern terrace. Nemrut Mountain has a unique pastoral beauty, especially at sunset on the western terrace, and visitors experience moments that they will remember as long as they live. The most suitable time of year for climbing the mountain is between 15 May and 15 October.
Nemrut Dag (Mt Nemrud) is a mountain measuring 2,150meters in height. It is located near the village of Karadut in Kahta county in the province of Adiyaman. Kings of the Kommagene dynasty from 80 B.C. to 72 A.D ruled Adiyaman and its vicinity. This kingdom, whose capital was Samosata (now called Samsat), was founded around 80 B.C. by Mithridates 1, father of Antiochos 1. The kingdom’s independence ended with its defeat by Roman legions in the last of the Kommagene wars and it became part of the Roman province of Syria. At its height, Kommagene extended from the Toros (Taurus) mountains on the north to the Firat (Euphrates) river on the east and southeast, to present-day Gaziantep on the south, and to the county of Pazarcik in Kahramanmaras on the west.
The magnificent ruins on the summit of Mt Nemrud aren’t those of an inhabited site however. They are instead the famous tumulus (burial mound) and hierotheseion (a word that is derived from Greek and refers to the sacred burial precinct of the royal family, and whose use is known only in Kommagene) of King Antiochos I of Kommagene,who ruled from 69 to 36 B.C. In a cult inscription, King Antiochos declares that he had the site built for the ages and generations that were to follow along with him “as a debt of thanks to the gods and to his deified ancestors for their manifest assistance”.
The king also declares that his aim was to provide for the people an “ex- ample of the piety that the gods commanded be shown towards the gods and towards ancestors. “Professor K. Dorner has traced the genealogy of Antiochos 1, who was himself born of a Persian father and a Seleucid-Macedonian mother. His findings indicate that Antiochos I of Commagene claimed descent, through his father Mithridates, from Dareios (Darius) 1 (522-486 B.C.) and, through his mother Laodike, from Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) Mt Nemrud is situated 100 kms from Adiyaman. No reference is made to it in ancient sources. Karl Sester, a German road engineer, rediscovered it in modern times in 1881. An expedition to Mt Nemrud was organized in 1882-83 by Karl Humann and Otto Puchstein, who published their findings in a book entitled Reisen in Kleinasien und Nordsyrien (Berlin 1890).
Osman Hamdi Bey and Osgan Effendi also investigated the site in 1883 and their findings were published in a book entitled Le Tumulus de Nemroud Dagh (Istanbul 1883). F. Karl Dorner and Rudolf Naumann mounted an expedition to Mt Nemrud in 1938. Dorner returned to the site after 1951 and began working there with the US researcher Teresa Goell. In 1984, a Turkish-German team led by Professor Dorner successfully executed restoration work at the site. Excavation and restoration work has long been continuing since 1989 under the direction of Sencer Sahin.
In 1989, Nemrut Dag and its environs were declared a national park. The tumulus on the summit of Mt Nemrud measures 50 meters high so they cover an area 150 meters in diameter. It is formed from stones the length of a fist and is bounded on the east, west, and north by terraced courts carved out of the native rock. The eastern court was the center of the sacred precinct and is a vey important group of sculptural and architectural works. It is surrounded on the west by colossal statues, on the east by a fire altar in the shape of a stepped pyramid, and on the north and south by low walls of orthostats (upright stone slabs) standing on a long, narrow base.
The orthostats overlooking the court on the north were deco- rated with reliefs depicting the Persian ancestors of Antiochos while those on the south had reliefs depicting his Macedonian forbears.
At the head of the list of deified ancestors there are two eminent names: that of Dareios 1, the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty on his father’s side, and of Alexander the Great on his mother’s.
The names of the persons depicted in the reliefs on the fronts of the orthostats were carved on the rear faces. In front of each relief there was an altar on which sacrifices could be performed.The well-preserved colossal statues overlooking the court on the east are made of blocks of limestone and measure eight to ten meters in height.
The figures are shown in a sitting position. Inscriptions identify the statues (whose names are given in Greek and Persian on account of the syncretic amalgamation of the Greek and Persian religions) on the eastern terrace from left to right in the following order: Antiochos, the goddess Kommagene, Zeus-Oromasdes (the Graeco-Persian sky-god and supreme deity, and also the largest-sized statue), Apollo-Mithras, and Herakles-Artagnes. On either side of the divinities stood a guardian eagle and lion.
The heads of all the deities have toppled over onto ground in the intervening centuries. Their finely worked facial features are striking examples of the idealized late Hellenistic style. The gods wear Persian headgear. The necks of Antiochos and the other gods are protected by lappets in the Persian fashion. The head of the goddess Kommagene is decorated with a crown of fruit.
The sides of the pedestals overlooking the court and the tumulus are inscribed with the country’s laws and commandments as well as with the king’s birthday and de- tails of cult procedures, all written in the Greek script. The colossal statues on the western terrace are arranged in the same way as those on the east. Their heads also lie about on the ground but are better preserved.
The statues were re-erected in their places in the course of work carried out in 1985 under the direction of F. K. D6rner. Owing to the different topographical features between the east and west terraces, the orthostats bearing the inscriptions and reliefs of the ancestors on the latter are arranged differently from those on the former. The slabs with the reliefs of the king’s Persian ancestors are set along the southern edge of the western terrace while those of his Macedonian forbears are arranged opposite the monumental statues. In the western terrace, the reliefs showing Antiochos shaking hands with different divinities are very well preserved; of the slabs that depicted the same scenes on the east terrace, only a few fragments remain. The handshaking scenes that are to be seen on the west are as follows: Antiochos and the goddess Kommagene; Antiochos and Apollo-Mithras; Antiochos and Zeus-Oromasdes; Antiochos and Herakles-Artagnes.
The relief of the lion in the west court is of particular interest. The stone slab measures 1.75 meters in height and is 2.40 meters long. It shows a powerful lion travelling to the right. Its body is decorated with nineteen stars and there is a crescent moon on the breast. From the three larger stars on the lion’s back, sixteen rays emerge as opposed to the smaller stars, which have only eight rays each. These three larger stars are identified in writing as Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars. What we see here is a picture of the world’s oldest horoscope. It was originally supposed that the horoscope referred to Antiochos’s birthdate but Professor Otto Neugebauer identifies it as the seventh of July in the year 62 or 61 B.C. This corresponds to the date on which Antiochos I was installed on the throne by the Roman general Pompey.
According to Professor Dorner on the other hand, the event being represented is the establishment of the Nemrut Dag, monument. The north terrace took the form of a processional way that connected the terraces on the east and west. The colossal statues of an eagle on either side guard the entrance through the exact center of the wall forming the north terrace. According to inscriptions on the backs of the thrones on which the divinities are seated, King Antiochos 1 of Kommagene ordered that he be buried in this hierothseion.
The excavations which have been carried out here have revealed that the tumulus was heaped up atop rocky hill. This makes it very likely that the king’s bones (or ashes) were placed in a chamber cut into the rock an that the chamber was then covered over with the tumulus. Despite efforts however, the burial chamber itself has not yet been reached.
Kommagene: The Forgotten Kingdom
The kingdom of Kommagene was situated in the south east of Turkey, at the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in Adiyaman.
“Oaks and plane trees cover the hillsides. The valleys are full of fig, olive, walnut and pomegranate trees, grapevines and oleanders, nowhere do the corn fields give such an abundant harvest.
” You can hardly imagine that this description was given less than a hundred years ago, by a German who travelled through this region. If you read his report, it seems as if he describes paradise. Indeed, it is said that here once blossomed the garden of Eden.
Today, this land resembles little its former paradise. Most of the trees have been felled and goats are busily eating away the last vestiges of vegetation. Nevertheless, irrigation, presently undertaken, will work miracles, and efforts are undertaken to refoster the land. The soil is very fertile and silver mountain water sparkles from the numerous springs.
In the past, Kommagene was a very rich region known for its wealth of minerals and ores such as brown coal, gypsum, iron, gold and petroleum. A part of this richness has been re-discovered.
In the sixties for example, an archeologist panned succesfully for gold in the Euphrates.
Another discovery has been petroleum. During the last few years there has been extensive drilling for crude oil. verywhere on the landscape the oil riggs of the Turkish Petrol Organisation (TPO) are multiplying, drilling for black gold.
But now, we have to travel back in time. Around 850 B.C. Kommagene appears the first time in the annals of written history. According to the records of an Assyrian king, the population had to pay an annual tribute to him of gold, silver and the famous wood of the cedar trees. Apparently, the valuable cedar tree not only grew on the hillsides of the Lebanon in those times, but also in Kommagene. Kommagene became a satellite state of the Assyrians.
Around 700 B.C. a Kommagenian king rebelled against the Assyrians. The Assyrian king, Sargon, defeated him. Sargon has given us a vivid description of this rebel king : ” He is a godless man, who does not fear the gods. He plots only bad things and is full of cunning.” We may assume that Sargons’ description is a little subjective. Sargon continues : ” I took his wife, his sons, his daughters, his possessions, his treasures, and finally I took the population of his land and had them deported to the south of Mesopotamia (Iraq). Nobody escaped. The people of the south of Mesopotamia I transferred to Kommagene.” As we see, the policy of deporting people was already excercised in those days.
Around 600 B.C. the Assyrians were defeated by the Babylonians. The last battle was fought at Samosata, a town which would become the future capital of Kommagene. Here, at the banks of the Euphrates the remains of the Assyrian army had united with the Egyptian army to withstand the Babylonians. The Babylonian king defeated the united forces.
The people of Kommagene saw, how in their turn the Babylonians were replaced by the Persians, around 550 B.C. and then the Persians by the Greek intruders under Alexander the Great.
Around 300 B.C. one of the heirs of Alexander the Great arrived to possession of the land. It was King Seleukos I Nicator, who founded the dynasty of the Seleucides.
He is one of the Greek ancestors of the Kommagenian kings. Around 130 B.C. Kommagene became an independent kingdom.
King Mithridates I Kallinikos
Like most of the other small kingdoms of Asia Minor, Kommagene was a melting pot of people from east and west. They had different cultures, habits and spoke different tongues.
They certainly did not feel united as one people. Family ties and bonds of blood were more essential than within the people of Kommagene. King Mithridates did a great deal to change this a ttitude.
For example, he organised each year in Kommagene, Olympic Games in honour of the ancestors. Those games could virtually be compared with the Olympic Games of the Greeks.
In his younger years, King Mithridates was one of the participants, which made him popular amongst the Kommagenians. His skills won him many victories. As a result of his sporting achievements, Mithridates received the honorable name Kallinikos. This means literally ‘He who triumphs beautifully’.
Mithridates married a Seleucid princess, named Laodike. They begat three daughters and after bearing their fourth daughter, they began to despair of ever having a son. This was very important, as without a son there was no heir to the throne, so the stability of the kingdom would be threatened. The joy and relief when Laodike bore a son was immense.He was given the name of the father of Laodike, Antiochus.
Mithridates was in need of help, for Kommagene was enclosed by powers which outnumbered Kommagene many times. Therefore Mithridates concluded a treaty with the gods. We do not know whether these gods were real or imaginary. Obviously it helped to protect his small kingdom and keep it independent.
Secondly this treaty softened the mutual discordance of his people. The citizenry of Kommagene was a varied mixture of people, coming from different origins. They hardly felt that they were relevant to each other. However, by this treaty with the gods, there grew the feeling amongst them that they are a chosen people, favored by the gods and under their protection.
As a result of this, Mithridates could forge a link between the different population groups in his kingdom. To honour this treaty, Mithridates had built everywhere small sanctuaries, called temenos.
The temenos of King Mithridates were built on top of striking points in the landscape. After that you could always see the most significant of them all, the sanctuary on top of holy Mount Nemrud. Each of these sanctuaries consisted of five stone slabs, depicting King Mithridates shaking hands with one of the gods.
Mithridates gave each one of the five gods a Greek and a Persian name :
The Greek and Persian names of the gods meant that each Kommagenian, whether he had Greek or Persian ancestors, felt close to them. These stone slabs were known as steles. By these steles, Mithridates made everyone aware that through him alone, all of his subjects were under the protection of the gods. These temenos had to bear testimony of his treaty with the gods.
The five steles of King Mithridates I Kallinikos welcoming the Gods Apollo/Mithras, Artagnes/Herakles, Zeus/Oromasdes, Hera/Teleia and Helios/Hermes.
The 10th of Loos, the 14th of July was called the day of the “Manifestation of the Great Gods“. It was also the day chosen for the coronation of Mithridates. Every year, on that particular day, all the citizens of Kommagene assembled at the small sanctuaries within reach of their village or town, to celebrate this occasion.
King Mithridates gathered together the nobles and other important men of Kommagene on top of Mount Nemrud. There, in the presence of hundreds of Kommagenians, the king received the representatives of the Great Gods. For the people of Kommagene this was the annual confirmation of their treaty with the gods.
King Antiochus I Theos
Antiochus, the son of King Mithridates, received an education from his parents that was a mixture of Greek and Persian. From his mothers side, queen Laodike, he descended from Alexander the Great. While from his fathers side, he descended from the Persian ‘King of Kings’, Darius I. When Antiochus was still quite young, his father arranged a marriage for him with a Seleucid princess named Isias Philostorgos, ‘the Beloved One’. Such a marriage had little to do with love, its purpose was purely political.
When Mithridates abdicated the throne in support of his son, he stayed by his side. Together, they planned the sanctuary on top of Mount Nemrud. İt was to be the spiritual centre of the treaty with the gods, for which Mithridates had lain the foundations.
As usual, Mithridates had a practical aim. It should become such an impressive monument, which it will give his subjects evidence of how wonderful their treaty with the gods. As the Nemrud dominated the landscape, this proof could be seen by every Kommagenian from virtually any place in Kommagene.
Antiochus had an idealistic aim. The cult of the treaty with the gods had to culminate in a new religion and Mount Nemrud was to become the centre. From Mount Nemrud his religion would radiate all over the civilised world. As the originator of this religion, he called himself Theos (God) directly after his coronation. A legend in his own mind !
For his father, Antiochus felt a deep respect, but his mother Laodike, he loved above all. He mentioned her specifically in various inscriptions, calling himself ‘He who loves his mother’.
He bestowed upon her the honorary name Thea (Goddess). Along with his mother he immortalised himself between the statues of the gods on Mount Nemrud.
He, sitting at the left side of Zeus, as the king of Kommagene, Theos. She, sitting at the right hand of Zeus, as the mother of Kommagene, Thea.
Kommagene had an art tradition which was completely its own. It was an unique synthesis of Greek and Persian art. Antiochus stimulated the art in a special way. He gathered together at his court a group of artists and scientists. They were called Philoi, the ‘Friends of the King’.
Under the reign of King Mithridates the art was still dominated by eastern influences. During the reign of Antiochus, the style became more naturalistic and less stylised. Antiochus himself, preferred the Greek culture. He called himself literally a ‘Friend of Greeks and Romans’.
The statues on top of Mount Nemrud became the crowning glory of Kommagenian art. Here, east and west fused into total harmony. A beautiful example is the head of Antiochus at the West Terrace. Any superfluous detail that could possibly disturb the form of the statue has been avoided. There are no luxuriant beards, jewelry and other ornaments. In this way a harmonic tension has been realised in the carving of Antiochus. Even today the gazing head of Antiochus impresses the people by its timeless beauty.
Trade was an important source of income. The growing difficulties between the Romans and the Parthians hindered the profitable trade between east and west. The only independent state between both super powers, Kommagene, was an acceptable trading partner for the Romans as well as the Parthians. The Kommagenian traders could travel freely through the land of the Parthians. They brought among other things, exotic animals and spices from India and silk from China.
Antiochus could levy heavy tolls, as he controlled the passes of the Taurus Range as well as the crossings of the Euphrates river. Because of its wealth, Kommagene was not only a transit point but could afford to import costly goods as well.
The traders sold their valuable wares in Samosata to Roman traders and prosperous Kommagenian citizens. Under the reign of Antiochus, Samaosata became the centre of trade between the east and west. Here, Parthians, Kommagenians, Romans, Greeks and Arabs met.
War with Rome
After the Romans had obtained a foothold in Western Turkey, they captured one by one, the kingdoms of Asia Minor, Bythinia, Pisidia, Galatia and Cappadocia. After Pergamum, they captured around 80 B.C. Bythinia and Pisidia. At the same time the Parthians reached the borders of Kommagene.
Around 70 B.C., the Romans destroyed their greatest enemy, the kingdom of Pontus. Next, the Romans overran the mighty ally of Pontus, the kingdom of Arm. Tocomplete their conquest, the Romans continued swiftly to the last independent kingdom, Kommagene. Like a steam roller, they invaded this small country.
In 69 B.C. the capital of Kommagene, Samosata, was besieged. Then the unexpected happened. The Roman war machine was stopped. To their horror, the Roman soldiers were ombarded with an alien substance, unknown outside Kommagene. A Roman historian Plinius recorded; “a soldier who is touched by it, burns with all his weapons”. Obviously the fear caused by this weapon was tremendous. Samosata could not be captured. There was a personal meeting between the Roman consul Lucullus and King Antiochus. We do not know what they discussed, but it resulted in the withdrawal of the Roman legions.
Still, the situation remained tense for Kommagene, as it was caught between two walls. On one side, the imperialistic, warlike Romans and on the other, the powerful realm of the Parthians.
Asia Minor 100 B.C.: Bythinia, Galatia, Cappadocia, Pisidia, Pontus, Arm, Seleucia, Kommagene, Parthia, Roma.
Asia Minor 80 B.C.: Bythinia, Pergamum, Galatia, Cappadocia, Pisidia, Pontus, Arm, Seleucia, Kommagene, Parthia, Roma.
Asia Minor 70 B.C.: Pontus, Arm, Seleucia, Kommagene, Parthia, Roma.
Asia Minor 60 B.C.: Kommagene, Parthia, Roma.
In 64 B.C. the Romans continued their conquests. The remnants of the Seleucid state were swept away and absorbed into the province of Syria. By this time Rome had subjected all the independent states of Asia Minor, except for Kommagene.
Kommagene even profited from the fall of the Seleucid state, by gaining a limited extension of territory. From the strategic position of Kommagene, it was obvious that sooner or later Rome had to conquer that land or halt its eastward expansion.
Therefore, Antiochus reinforced his ties with the Parthians by giving his daughter, Laodike, in marriage to the Parthian king. They begat a son named Pakoros. He was the favourite of his father and heir to the throne.
The wars in Asia Minor continued. In 53 B.C. the Parthians defeated the Romans and conquered Syria. Now, the subjected kingdom of Pontus felt strong enough to rebel against the Roman ursurper.
Julius Ceasar marched to Asia Minor and suppressed the rebellion. On the occasion of this victory, Ceasar spoke the famous words “I came, I saw, I conquered”.
After the assassination of Julius Ceasar, the Roman empire was divided among his successors. Marcus Antonius received the east and Octavianus the west. Marcus Antonius held court at Tarsus, where his beloved Cleopatra kept him company. Even Julius Ceasar had succumbed to the beauty of the queen of Egypt.
Marcus Antonius defeated an army of the Parthians in 38 B.C. He killed Pakoros, the Parthian crown prince. His mother, Laodike and his father, the king of the Parthians, were full of grief. Antiochus felt compassion with his daughter and her husband for the loss of their son and wanted to help them. When the survivors of the battle fled to Kommagene, Antiochus accorded them protection. He refused to yield the fugitives to Marcus Antonius. Instead, to avoid war, Antiochus offered the Roman 1000 talents. An amount equivalent to more than 25 tons of silver.
Marcus Antonius now saw a possibility to take possession of all the gold and silver of Kommagene, a land famed for its wealth. He refused the offer of Antiochus and demanded the entire treasure of Kommagene. Naturally, Antiochus did not feel inclined to agree.
Marcus Antonius, saw this as a grave insult by a petty local chieftain. He ordered his legions to invade Kommagene immediately. He himself stayed at the court of Tarsus in expectation of good tidings. In the meantime, he enjoyed the company of his beloved Cleopatra.
Unfortunately, the good tidings did not arrive. On the other hand, he received a note that the siege of Samosata was at a standstill. Marcus Antonius was forced to say farewell to the good life at the court. He left Tarsus and took personal command of his legions. To avoid failure, King Herod of Judea was summoned to his aid. Marcus Antonius felt confident that the job would soon be done.
Maybe this has happened : As the siege of Samosata continued the Kommagenian soldiers were amassing in the outlying districts of Kommagene. Loyal to the call of their king, every civilian who could wield a weapon reported for duty.
When their numbers were sufficient, they began an attack on the supply columns of Marcus Antonius. Soon the Romans were cut off from their supplies. Marcus Antonius had to send out his cavalry to re establish his provisions. İt was what the military council of Kommagene had counted on. Now the time had come for the dreaded elite corps of Kommagene, the heavy armoured cavalry, to move in.
Horse and rider were protected by a heavy armour of black steel, which made them almost invincible. They numbered only a few hundred riders, but when they attacked, no enemy could stop them. This steel hammer was the pride of Kommagene.
In the mist of early morning they awaited the Romans. The horses nervously kicked the ground with their hooves. Suddenly, the shrill sound of the trumpets rent the silence. On that signal the riders advanced. It was too late for the surprised Romans to retreat. Hastily, the Roman cavalry closed their ranks to resist the first blow.
Once the trumpets sounded a second time, the Kommagenian riders glided into gallop. The earth trembled. Like rolling thunder they approached the Romans. With a tremendous blow the heavily armoured riders clashed onto the Romans. The light armoured Romans were felled like skittles. The Kommagenian riders ploughed through their ranks. Cold bloodedly, the disciplined Romans pulled themselves together. Relying on their far greater numbers, they tried to encircle the small iron force.
Again the trumpets sounded shrill. From behind the elite corps, like the wings of an eagle, two regiments of mounted archers swarmed out on both sides. A barrage of arrows was shot into the ranks of the Romans. Their light armour was insufficient protection from the piercing steel arrows and many of them were injured. While the heavily armoured cavalry continued to beat the Romans into the arms of the Kommagenian archers, the archers systematically shot them off their horses. Panic arose and the Romans broke their ranks. First they lost their heads and then their lives.
By the end of the day, Marcus Antonius had lost all his cavalry. Caught between the walls of amosata and the Kommagenian cavalry, he was changed from the besieger into the besieged.
Whatever happened, Marcus Antonius was forced to relenquish the siege of Samosata. His ally, Herod, didn’t wait for the final outcome and had already returned to his kingdom, Judea. Empty handed, Marcus Antonius had to retreat. The magnanimous Antiochus gave him 300 talents to soften the blow. In exchange, Marcus Antonius had to deliver a renegade to Antiochus. Antiochus insisted on this, as he hated faithlessness and treachery.
The End of Kommagene
Shortly after these events, Antiochus died. Antiochus was interred in the sanctuary on the Nemrud, where his body was laid to rest in the tomb probably next to the tomb of his father.
The son of Antiochus, Mithridates II, succeeded him to the throne. Kommagene was no longer a match for the Roman empire. Under the reign of Mithridates II, Kommagene became a satellite state and finally a part of the province of Syria.
When the Parthian crown prince was slain in battle against the Romans, the sorrow of the king was so great that he abdicated. It was no comfort to him that Antiochus, the grandfather of the crown prince, was risking his kingdom by providing protection for the survivors of the defeated Parthian army.
The Parthian king was succeeded by one of his other sons. This son was merciless. He murdered everyone who could possibly threaten his throne. Laodike and her children were also assassinated.
Mithridates II transferred the body of his sister to Kommagene and buried her at the burial mound of Karakus (Black Bird). He placed the beautiful relief slab in memory of her. It shows his farewell to Laodike. From the inscriptions, we learn that Mithridates was very fond of her : “She was the most beautiful of all women…”
Mithridates built Karakus on the banks of the river Nymphaios. Also his mother Isias and his second sister Antiochis are buried here, together with Aka, the daughter of Antiochis. From the galleries of his summer residence, high above the dizzy depths of the ravine, he looked out over the green valley of the Nymphaios, at the striking mound of Karakus. In this way his beloved ones would always be close to him, even after their death.
His jealous brother, Antiochus II, tried to overthrow Mithridates II from his throne. For this, Antiochus II was adjucated by the Romans. The senate of Rome sentenced him to death and in 29 B.C. he was executed in Rome.
Kommagene became independent for the last time under King Antiochus IV. Which was only for a short time. Antiochus IV was defeated by the Roman legions during the War of Kommagene in 71 A.D. The small army of Kommagene was disbanded. Its dreaded archers and heavily armoured cavalry were made available to the Roman army as the ‘cohortes Comagenorum’.
To avoid any rebellion in the future, the Roman soldiers destroyed all the statues and buildings which recalled the earlier greatness of Kommagene. They demolished the sanctuary on holy Mount Nemrud. Kommagene died and the Nemrud began its long sleep, disturbed only by the howling of the mountain wind and the visit of a lost shepherd.
Nemrud: Throne of the Gods
The Nemrud is a mountain of the Taurus Range, in Adiyaman. From a height of 2,150 metres it dominates the entire landscape. From whatever side you approach it, its distinctive peak can be seen. The mountain is only accessible during the summer season. All of those other year it is covered by snow and ice.
The last priest of Kommagene probably left the sanctuary on Mount Nemrud in 72 A.D., after the rebelling King Antiochus IV had lost the war with Rome. For nearly two thousand years, only the wailing of the wind disturbed the rest of the three kings who are buried here.
The Christian population, which came later to live here, knew nothing of the origins of the sanctuary. They believed that it had to be the work of the legendary Nimrod from the Old Testament. Therefore they called the mountain after the first powerful ruler on earth, Nemrud.
It was not until the nineteenth century, that the German, Karl Sester, discovered the sanctuary on Mount Nemrud. He was less astonished by the impressive ruins than by the total absence of them on any map of Asia Minor.
After his discovery, the Turkish archeologist, Hamdi Bey, began the first excavations on the mountain. German and American archeologists took over the work and continued it to this day. The work of Professor Dicner and Professor Sahin is worthy of note.
The builder of the sanctuary, King Antiochus, wanted it not only to be his Hierothesion, but also the centre of his new religion. This religion had to unite in a peaceful fashion, the Persian Parthian world with the Greek Roman world. From the top of Mount Nemrud his new religion would radiate over the whole world.
Three terraces were built on the mountain. The East, West and North Terrace. To make these terraces large enough, the builders of Kommagene had to cut away almost the whole mountain top.
For the East Terrace alone 1,500 cubic metres of solid rock had to be cut away. On the West Terrace, you can see from a ten metre high rock face, left of the summit, what an enormous undertaking it must have been.
The tumulus, which covers the top of Mount Nemrud, was built from the innumerable pieces of angular and sharp stones thus produced. The tumulus has a height of 50 metres and at the base a diameter of 150 metres. An ancient processional way surrounds the tumulus.
The East Terrace
The worn treads of a rock stairway lead you to the East Terrace. The first thing you see, as you reach the square, is a row of five enormous statues. Massive and lifeless, they appear down on you from their thrones. They are in perfect harmony with the surrounding mountain landscape.The fallen heads of the statues have been completely set in front of them.
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- The Goddess of Kommagene
- King Antiochus I Theos
The gods are shown sitting, not as is usual, standing, since the top of Mount Nemrud is their home. “Here,” says King Antiochus, “are standing their heavenly thrones”.
Originally the statues were 8 to 10 metres high. They are made of limestone, now dull and weathered. Formerly, when the sun shone on their smooth, polished surface, their brilliance must have been visible from a good distance.
The statues tower over two raised platforms cut from the rock. On the lower, stood five steles, four showing the king welcoming the gods and one stele, depicting a horoscope. Little has remained of these steles, but on the West errace they are quite well reserved.
The court was originally paved with white slabs. A number of these have been discovered and set by the pedestal of the Lion Horoscope on the West Terrace.
Opposite the statues, at the other side of the court, there is a stepped platform. This is the restored fire altar.
If you stand with your back to the statues, you see to your left and right, a long row of pedestals with the remnants of steles. On each of those steles was portrayed an ancestor of Antiochus.
To the left, were the Persian ancestors, led by the King of Kings, Darius I. To the right were the Greek ancestors, led by Alexander the Great.
The Nomos: The Holy Law of Antiochus
If you stand behind the statue of Zeus, you can read the letters “N O M O [ ” (Nomos). Here, the Holy Law of Antiochus begins. The Nomos of the Nemrud can be viewed as the testament of Antiochus.
To guide the people Antiochus initiated the Nomos, the Holy Law. Maybe, as part of his education, Antiochus in his younger years, undertook a long journey to the east to visit some of the cities that were founded by his famous ancestor, Alexander the Great, such as Bucephala and Alexandra along the river Indus. It is possible that during this travel he learned all about of Buddha. And perhaps this impressed Antiochus so much that from the Holy Law of Buddha, Antiochus developed the Holy Law or the Nomos.
Whatever has been the reason, in all the sanctuaries in Kommagene the Nomos is inscribed. At Mount Nemrud, Antiochus carved the Nomos on the back of the gigantic statues.
In the Nomos, he tells the people how then when they need to honour the Great Gods. Antiochus says: “This Nomos is proclaimed by me, but it’s the strength of the gods that makes it law.” Further, Antiochus says that it is his intention to reveal this law to : “Kommagenians and foreigners, kings, rulers, freemen, slaves, all who’re part of humanity and only differ by birth or fate.”
Antiochus requested firmly that everybody would act according to this law. He included as well the people of future times: “All the near future generations of humans who will possess this land in the cause of the endless times, are asked to follow the holy law.”
His mention of the future people is remarkable. Antiochus understood that after him and after his people, others will come to live in this region. How humble and just how wise.
In the Nomos of the Nemrud, we can read his testimony at the end of his life : “I have come to the conviction that being pure and merely is not only probably the most certain possession we humans can gain, but also gives us the deepest joy we could have.”
“This conviction has led to my prosperous power and the beneficial use of it. The whole of my life, I was waiting in front of my subjects as a person who considers his respect to the gods as his most trustworthy defence weapon….. That’s the reason I escaped, despite all expectation, the greatest dangers, I mastered unforeseen, hopeless situations and I passed my life, rich in years, in happiness.”
Indeed, it is a historical fact, that Antiochus and his small kingdom were afflicted by all kinds of dangers. From the west, the Romans were approaching and from the east, the Parthians. Under the reign of Antiochus, Kommagene became the centre of the ruthless struggle of both super powers.
It is remarkable that Kommagene remained independent and even reached its most flourishing period !
The North Terrace
The pilgrims assembled at the foot of the mountain from the surrounding valleys. Here these folks were provided with food and drink by the servants of the priests. From there, two processional ways led to the sanctuary on the mountain. Both processional ways are marked with a stele close to the sanctuary. On these steles is carved a text. Here, Antiochus informs the visitors that they set foot on consecrated ground and should behave themselves as such.
The southern processional way was for the nobles of Kommagene and ended on the West Terrace. The northern was for the common people and led to the North Terrace.
At the North Terrace, in the forecourt of the sanctuary, the folks were prepared for his or her meeting with the gods. With some difficulty you can find the worn ramp, where the people entered the North Terrace.
From there, they moved in procession to the East Terrace along the 85 metre long row of steles, which separates the North Terrace from the rest of the sanctuary. These steles bear neither portraits nor inscriptions, as Antiochus intended them for his descendants.
The West Terrace
Walking further around the tumulus, you reach the West Terrace, the most sacred place on the mountain. From this terrace, you look out on the edge of the plain of Mesopotamia, the cradle of our civilization. The sun, the moon and all stars of the zodiac rise on your left, reaching their zenith directly in front of you, and descending to your right.
The West Terrace was not available to the regular people. The processional way, which led the nobles to this terrace, ended at the open place on the north side of the terrace. Here was the entrance to this terrace. The entrance was guarded by a monstrous lion with three heads. Walking down, you will find the monster fallen, face down.
The statues on this terrace are the same as those found on the East Terrace, but greatly surpass them in beauty. The statues are also in a less exalted position than those of the East Terrace which look down on the folks from their raised platforms.
The fallen heads of the statues have been set in front of them. The resemblance between the head of Antiochus and the god Apollo is striking. Apollo was the only god to whom Antiochus assigned his own priest to celebrate his rites. What chose to make this god so special ?
Apollo/Mithras is a combination of the Greek sun god, Apollo, and the Persian god, Mithras. About 1,400 B.C. the god Mithras is mentioned for the 1st time in a treaty of the Hitites. Further, he is mentioned in the Indian Vedas as a friend of the humans. He is the mediator between the Gods and the humans. In the Vedas we can read:”Mithras ! The mortal. This honourable and friendly Mithras comes into the world as a wise ruling King.” Mithras means literally Ally.
Each god bestowed a gift to folks of Kommagene. One of the gifts thought of as from Mithras was petroleum, for which folks are searching nowadays in this region.
The Roman soldiers were so impressed by Mithras, that he became their favourite god. The legions propagated his worship throughout the whole of the ancient world. Finally, Mithras was even worshipped in England in underground sanctuaries. Without Christ, people could possibly still worship Mithras.
Opposite the statues you see a long row of pedestals, on which stood the steles of the Greek ancestors of Antiochus. At a right angle to this row stood another row of steles, depicting his Persian ancestors. From all of these steles the ones of Darius and Xerxes are well preserved. In front of each stele is a small altar. Inscriptions have been found on two of these altars. They have, for a large part, been chiselled away. These inscriptions date from ealier times.
The examples below scheme is a survey of the Greek and Persian ancestors who have been depicted. Nevertheless there is not a whole lot left of the steles, this survey is assumed to be most likely.
Standing in front of the row of steles, you might see originally from left to right :
Pedestal Persian Ancestors
1 Darius I, King of Kings 522-486 B.C.
2 Xerxes I 486-464 B.C.
3 Artaxerxes I 464-425 B.C.
4 Darius II Ochos 425-404 B.C.
5 Artaxerxes II Mnemon 404-359 B.C.
6 Orontes I (Aroandes) 401 B.C.
7 Princess Rhodogune, married to Orontes.
8 name unknown ?
9 name unknown ?
10 Samos I 250 B.C.
11 Arsames 230 B.C.
12 name unknown 223-187 B.C.
13 Ptolemaios 163-130 B.C.
14 Samos II 130-109 B.C.
15 Mithridates I Kallinikos 109-86 B.C.
Much attention was given by Antiochus that everyone could be aware that he was associated with the dynasty of the King of Kings, Darius I, by the marriage of princess Rhodogune to his ancestor Orontes. The father of Rhodogune was the Persian king, Artaxerxes. In 401 B.C. he defeated his younger brother, who tried to throw him from his throne. Because of the help Artaxerxes received from his military commander, Orontes, he gave his daughter in marriage to him.
Pedestal Greek Ancestors
1 Alexander the Great 356-323 B.C.
2 Seleukos I Nikator 304-279 B.C.
3 Antiochus I Soter 279-262 B.C.
4 Antiochus II Theos 261-246 B.C.
5 Seleukos II Kallinikos 246-225 B.C.
6 Seleukos III Soter 225-223 B.C.
7 Antiochus III the Great 223-187 B.C.
8 Seleukos IV Philopator 187-176 B.C.
9 Antiochus IV Epiphanes 176-164 B.C.
10 Demitrios I Soter 162-150 B.C.
11 Demitrios II Nikator 145-125 B.C.
12 Princess Kleopatra Thea, married to Demitrios II
13 Antiochus VIII Grypos 125-96 B.C.
14 Princess Tryphaina, married to Antiochus VIII
15 Princess Laodike Thea Philadelphos, married to Mithridates I
16 Princess Isias Philostorgos, married to Antiochus I Theos
17 Antiochus I Theos 86-38 B.C.
Exactly the same ancestors have been completely depicted in the same sequence on the East Terrace. The required sandstone to carve the steles from the East Terrace, has been obtained from two quarries at the foot of the mountain.
The steles form an excellent contrast to the massive types of all of those other complex. The soft sandstone from which they’re made, appears certainly not “imperishable”, like Antiochus named it in the inscriptions. This material was well suited for i.e. Samosata but not for the harsh climate on top of the mountain.
Near to the statues are five large steles. They are equal to those from the lower platform of the East Terrace. On four of them King Mithridates I Kallinikos welcomes the gods. From left to right you see the Goddess of Kommagene, next Apollo, then Zeus and then finally Herakles. Their name is carved at the rear of the stele. Archaeologists have discovered that those names have been carved over an early on text.
To honour the god he greets, the king wears on his tiara the stylized leafs of the plant devoted to that god. For the Goddess of Kommagene the king wears the leaves of a pomegranate, for Apollo, laurel leaves, for Zeus oak leaves and for Herakles, vine leaves. Beside the stele ofHerakles, you observe the 5th stele, known as the Lion Horoscope. Just like the row of 5 statues from Antiochus, the row of 5 steles of Mithridates, is flanked on both sides by an eagle and a lion.
The Tomb of the three Kings
Under the tumulus is hidden a tomb. Several attempts were designed to find it by digging tunnels straight through the tumulus (burial mound). Many have tried, but neither Romans nor modern man have already been able to disturb all of those other dead.
The explanation for this, would be that the burial chamber lies in the massive rock of the mountain itself and not under the loose stones of the tumulus.
There’s a theory that there’s a tunnel, cut from the living rock. First, you have to go down a few steps, after which the tunnel gradually descends to the interior of the mountain. After passing a side tunnel, you reach the burial chamber.
In this chamber there are three tombs of marble. In the middle tomb lies King Antiochus and in the 2 other tombs, rest his father Mithridates and another king. Their bodies are still in good condition. The burial chamber measures about 5 x 9 metres with a height of 2.40 metres.
Based on the inscriptions, one cannot enter the burial chamber without danger: “The face of a demon has long been set as a guard, whom men can neither defy nor free themselves from.”
The Manifestation of the Great Gods
There were two important annual celebrations. On the 16th of Audnaios, a day in January/December, the birth of Antiochus was celebrated. The 10th of Loos wasn’t only the coronation day of Antiochus, but in addition the day of the “Manifestation of the Great Gods”, as the inscriptions called it.
The daily life of Kommagene came to a halt then and for two days the people joined in the celebrations on Mount Nemrud or the temenos, the local sanctuaries built by King Mithridates I. All these ceremonies were recorded in detail in the Nomos, which Antiochus carved on the back of the statues of both the East and West Terraces.
If we had lived in that time, maybe we’re able to have seen the long ribbon of bright lights climbing the mountain shortly before midnight. 100s of people assembled at the North Terrace. From there they proceeded to the East Terrace. They took their places on either side of the court.
The court was bathed in the soft light of the full moon. Motionless, the gods looked down on them, while the Moon sank slowly behind the tumulus. Fires burned in great metal dishes set on tripods. Fitful shadows danced over the lifeless figures of gods and humans.
It was completely silent. The king stood at the fire altar, awaiting the gods. His cloak billowed in the strong wind. The tension mounted. Suddenly the trumpets sounded, clear and shrill. A shudder ran from the mountain. It seemed as if the gods rose from their thrones of stone and their massive forms darkened the stars….
A few hours later the sun bathed everything in a golden glow. The ceremony was at an end and the citizens returned home satisfied. Once more it had been indicated that people were under the protection of the gods.
The tenth of Loos wasn’t only the coronation day of Antiochus, but also the day of the “Manifestation of the Great Gods”, as the inscriptions called it.
If we had lived in that time, maybe we could may see the long ribbon of bright lights climbing the mountain shortly before midnight. Hundreds of people assembled at the North Terrace. After that they proceeded to the East Terrace. They took their places on either side of the court.
Legal court was bathed in the soft light of the full moon. Motionless, the gods looked down on them, while the Moon sank slowly behind the tumulus. Fires burned in great metal dishes set on tripods. Fitful shadows danced over the lifeless figures of gods and humans.
It was completely silent. The king stood at the fire altar, awaiting the gods. His cloak billowed in the strong wind. The tension mounted. Suddenly the trumpets sounded, clear and shrill. A shudder ran through the mountain. It seemed as if the gods rose from their thrones of stone and their massive forms darkened the stars….
Some hours later the sun bathed everything in a golden glow. The ceremony was at an end and the citizens returned home satisfied. Once again it had been confirmed that they were under the protection of the gods.
The Legend of the White People
It is remarkable that simular to the Manifestation of the Great Gods in Kommagenian times, the local humans have worshipped the manifestation of the so-called white people.
On a hot summers evening of July 1987, an old woman named Firat from the village of Eski Kâhta, told me following :
“Long ago, before the Prophet , there was clearly a group of soldiers on their way to the town of Malatya. They were passing through the Taurus mountain range. At sunset they wearied. They had very little food. One of the soldiers saw in the distance the light. They went for the light and discovered a home. The home was inhabited by an old man with white hair coupled with his daughter and a boy. The soldiers were given food.
After they had finished their meal they saw to their astonishment that there was clearly as much food left as when they began. They did not understand this. They left the house and reached the town of Malatya with no further events. On their return from Malatya they decided to visit the house again. They refound the house and received hospitality again. The commander of the soldiers took a fancy to the daughter of the old man.
After the meal, the commander then asked the old man for the hand of his daughter in marriage. The old man did not want, but he was afraid that the soldiers would take his daughter by force. That’s why he granted the request and the soldiers left with his daughter.
When they came to Eski Kâhta, at the same place where the holy house now stands , the girl asked them to stop for a moment. She descended into the dry streambed of a water course. She passed her hand lightly over the dry soil and magically a spring of water bubbled up.
That spring still exists. She drank the water and washed herself. Then she asked the earth to open and bury her. Before the soldiers knew what was happening, the earth opened and she disappeared. Since that time it is a holy place and the people built a house on her grave.
The girl, together with some friends appeared after some time to the people at this place and at three other places in the region. In spring at Eski Kâhta, in summer on a mountain nearby Malatya, in autumn at Gerger and in winter somewhere in the Taurus mountain range. At Eski Kâhta, the annual appearance took place at the holy house .”
The old woman said that when she was a child, each wednesday and friday in spring, the villagers gathered at the end of the day in front of the holy house. They lit candles in the holy house and prayed. After sunset the people had to return to their houses. Nobody should disturb the girl and her friends who came at night to pray in the holy house.
Only a few people were allowed to stay. The old woman told me that her parents have witnessed the appearance of the girl and her friends. She said that they were smaller than normal people and had white hair.