MOUNT NEMRUT NATIONAL PARK
King Antiochus of Commagene built a magnificent tomb-sanctuary (hierothesion) for himself on 2150 meters Mount Nemrut. The tumulus on top of the burial chamber is made up of 30,000 cubic meters of crushed rock and is 50 meters high. On both sides of the tumulus, there are terraces, namely the west terrace and the east terrace, where reliefs and statues of deities are located. Antiochus erected his own statue beside the colossal 9-meter figures of the enthroned gods.
The Kingdom of Commagene during the reign of Antiochus I
The statues on Mount Nemrut National Park, seated in the same order on both the east and west terraces, are made of roughly 8-ton blocks placed on top of each other. The god-king is on the far left and the goddess of Commagene is seated to his right. Zeus-Oromasdes is enthroned at the center, with Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes next to him and Artagnes-Heracles-Ares at the far right end of the row. In accordance with the hierarchy of the deities, Zeus-Oromasdes is the largest statue, and the first step of his throne is higher than the lowest step of the other thrones. Eagle and Lion figures, symbolizing the kingdom of Commagene, occupy a symmetrical position at both ends of the two rows of deities.
The torsos of almost all the statues are in situ on the east terrace, while those (in the west terrace are seriously damaged). The torsos and the bases of the thrones (filled with limestone rubble) are hollow. The carefully joined mortarless blocks of the statues were supposed to provide flexibility in case of earthquakes that might happen on Mount Nemrut.
The huge heads of the deity figures have two square holes on either side of the forehead. This seems to indicate that the busts were carved on the ground separately from the rest of the statue and then hoisted with metal clamps onto the shoulders.
Seventy reliefs of Antiochus’s ancestors were located in front of the rows of statues. Only a few of these sandstone reliefs have survived. On the west terrace, four reliefs of Persian ancestors are still intact in their original position next to each other.
The East Terrace
The head of Zeus-Oromasdes on the east terrace of Mount Nemrut is carved out of two blocks of stone. It was probably shaken off its base by an earthquake, and it lies upright at the southwest corner of the court. The bust is fully bearded and is crowned with a Persian tiara with its top tipping forward. The winged thunderbolt relief on Zeus’s diadem distinguishes it from the diadems of the other deities. The father-god wears a cloak over a long-sleeved tunic, an apron-like skirt. and low boots. He also holds a bundle of twigs (barsom) symbolizing the sacred fire used during Persian-Mithraic religious rituals. The statue of Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes is seated to the left of that of Zeus. This syncretic deity represents the fusion of the Greek god of the sun with the Persian Mithras, the god of light, and the helper of Ahura Mazda (Oromasdes). Apollo’s head lies on its side on the court floor directly below his body. A block from his shoulder has been knocked off and lies on the rock scarp below his throne. Apollo’s head and tiara carved out of two separate blocks are fitted together with a round dowel of about 20 centimeters in diameter. The two pieces were reattached in 1998. Like Zeus, Apollo wears a cloak over a long-sleeved tunic, an apron-like skirt, and low boots. He also holds a barsom in his left hand.
Karl Humann and Otto Puchstein identified Apollos head as that of King Antiochus. After further examination, especially of the tiara the bust was correctly identified as that of Apollo.
The statue of Tyche (Fortuna, or the goddess of fertile land of Commagene), is seated to the right (south) of Zeus. She is the only female figure among the deities and is an indigenous goddess of the kingdom. In other inscriptions from Commagene, Tyche is referred to as Argande and Hera Teleia The latter name possibly identifies, her with the fertility and earth goddess of Persia, Anahita.
Up until the beginning of the 1960’s’, the statue of Tyche was still intact, with its head’ on its shoulders. The goddess wears a himation and high sandals and is holding a cornucopia ’of fruit and flowers in her left hand. She also has a garland of fruit in her right hand and lap. The only broken piece of Tyche’s statue before the- 1960s was the Calathus, the Greek symbol of fertility, which now lies on the court floor. A basket, made from a separate block of stone, was originally fitted in a round socket on the goddess’s head.
The statue of King Antiochus is at the south end of the row of deities of Mount Nemrut. He wears Persian-style boots and holds a barsom in his left hand like Zeus and Apollo. His head is adorned with a diadem and a tiara. The first reports on Nemrut by Humann and Puchstein indicated that the head of this statue was missing, and it was thought that the figure had been left unfinished. During excavations in 1953, however, the head was discovered behind the king’s throne.
Artagnes-Heracles-Ares is seated at the end of the row of deities. He is dressed like the other gods and holds a club in his left hand. His head is set up right near the bust of Apollo at the north end of the court. He is bearded like Zeus, but his diadem and tiara are carved out of the same block as his bust.
Low, oblong pedestals, about 74-86 centimeters high (roughly equal in height to the first course of the statues’ thrones); lie at either end of the row of deities. The pedestals supported the huge figures of a guardian eagle and a lion. The animal figures and pedestal at the south end of the row next to the statue of Antiochus have been almost completely destroyed.
The North Terrace
Although the inscriptions on the Nemrut monument declare that King Antiochus had decorated the sanctuary with reliefs of his ancestors, the eighty-five steles on the north terrace of Mount Nemrut have no images.
The West Terrace
Except for a few minor details, the enthroned gods on the west terrace correspond exactly to their counterparts on the east terrace. The great nomos of Antiochus is inscribed on the back of the throne bases in the same manner as on the east terrace colossi. Almost all of the statues on the west terrace were seriously damaged and their fragments were found scattered across the court floor. The order of the figures and their construction is the same as their counterparts on the east terrace. The statue of the goddess Tyche, or Commagene. is seated next to that of Antiochus. It is damaged above the third course of the throne, with fragments lying scattered across the court floor. Tyche’s head lies near the bust of Antiochus. She is dressed in a similar fashion to her East-terrace counterpart.
The statue of Zeus Oromasdes is enthroned at the center of the row of deities, as on the east terrace. He has a beard and a mustache and wears a high Persian tiara.
Apollo is seated to the south of Zeus. He is dressed like Heracles and the other male deities in a long-sleeved candys and Persian-style boots. His head is set upright below Zeus’s throne. Apollo’s diadem is decorated with alternating lozenges and circles in low relief, and his tiara is adorned with bands of graduated circles.
The crumbled parts of the lowest three courses of the throne near the center of the west socle are all that remains in situ of the statue of Artagnes-Heracles-Ares at the south end of the row of deities. The God is bearded and holds a club in his left hand like his east terrace counterpart.
The figures of the eagle and the lion on the west terrace have also suffered serious damage. They occupy a common plinth flanking the row of deities, in the same manner as on the east terrace. The slight difference in the sculptural style of their heads seems to indicate that the two animals were carved by different artisans.
At the far northern end of the terrace. there are sandstone reliefs depicting Antiochus I greeting the goddess of Commagene. Zeus-Oromasdes, Apollo-Mithras, and Heracles. A relief, known as the Lion Horoscope, stands nearby. There are two pictures of this Lion Horoscope: a) from 1883, b) from 1996. The planets Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars along with a crescent are carved on the lion’s breast. This combination of planetary signs indicates the date 7 July 62 BC, either marking Antiochus’s accession to the throne or the foundation of the monument on Mount Nemrut.
King Antiochus inscribed a 237-line nomos (edict) on the backs of gods Thrones each terrace of Mount Nemrut. The highly personal message states: that the ruler’s tomb -where he intends to spend eternity in contentment lies within the tumulus.
The Holy Edict (Nomos)
The living rock of Mount Nemrut was cut away to make a passage leading -to the inscriptions and a pathway to either the north or west terraces. The nomos is carved in two equal columns across the throne bases in conformity with the horizontal joints. Osman Hamdi Bey, Osgan Efendi (1883) and Humann and Puchstein (1890) numbered the throne bases from I to V, marking the beginning of the text on the back of Heracles and labeling the two columns A and B respectively.
The text of the nomos begins with Antiochus’s genealogy on the back of Heracles’ throne base and continues with the ruler’s instructions for the welfare of the state. He advises that the income from the royal property is used for the benefit of the kingdom and that hereditary priests, musicians, and hierodules maintain their traditions and customs. He also commands his followers to establish local sanctuaries throughout the kingdom for those people who cannot visit Mount Nemrut.
The nomos also states that Antiochus lies buried inside the tumulus on top of Mount Nemrut. But just as the exact location of the king’s tomb still remains a mystery, the full meaning and scope of the sacred monument on Nemrut’s summit are not yet fully understood.
The Translation of The Nomos
The Great King Antiochus. the God, the Righteous One, the Manifest (Deity). the Friend of the Romans and the Greeks, the Son of King Mithridates Callinicus and of Laodice the Brother- loving Goddess, the Daughter of King Antiochus Epiphanes. the Mother-loving, the Victorious, has recorded for all time, on consecrated pedestals with inviolable letters the deeds of his clemency.
I have come to believe that. for mankind, of all good things piety is both the most secure possession and also the sweetest enjoyment. This judgment became, for me, the cause of fortunate power and its blessed use; and during my whole life, I have appeared to all men as one who thought. holiness the most secure guardian and the unrivaled delight of my reign (or kingdom). By this means I have. contrary to all expectations, escaped great perils, have easily become the master of hopeless situations, and in a blessed way have attained to the fullness of a long life.
After taking over my father’s dominion, I announced, in the piety of my thought, that the kingdom subject to my throne should be the common dwelling place of all the gods, in that by means of every kind of art I decorated the representations of their form, as the ancient lore of Persians and of Greeks the fortunate roots of my ancestry had handed them down (to us), and honored them with sacrifices and festivals, as was the primitive rule and the common custom of all mankind; in addition my own just consideration has further devised still other and especially brilliant honors.
And as I have taken forethought to lay the foundation of this sacred tomb. which is to be indestructible by the ravages of time, in closest proximity to the heavenly throne, wherein the fortunately preserved outer form Of My Person, preserved to ripe old age, shall, after the soul beloved by God has been sent to the heavenly throne of Zeus Oromasdes, rest through immeasurable time, so I chose to make this holy place (Mt. Nemrut) a common consecrated seat of all the gods; so that not only the heroic company of my ancestors, whom you behold before you. might be set up here by my pious devotion, but also that the divine representation of the manifest deities might be consecrated on the holy hill and that his place might likewise not be lacking in witness to my piety.
Therefore as you see, I have set up these divine images of Zeus-Oromasdes and of Apollo- Mithras-Helios-Hermes and of Artagnes-Heracles-Ares, and also of my all nourishing homeland Commagene; and from one and the same quarry, throned likewise ’among the deities who hear our prayers, I have consecrated the features of my own form, and have caused the ancient honor of great deities to become the coeval of a new Tyche. Since I thereby, in an upright way, imitated the example of the divine Providence. which as a benevolent helper has so often been seen standing by my side in the struggles of my reign.
Adequate property in land and an inalienable income therefrom have I set aside for the ample provision of sacrifices; an unceasing cult and chosen priests arrayed in such vestments as are proper to the race of the Persians have I inaugurated, and I have dedicated the whole array and cult in a manner worthy of my fortune and the majesty of the gods.
I have decreed the appropriate laws to govern the sacred observances thus established for everlasting, so that all the inhabitants of my realm may offer both the ancient sacrifices, required by age-old common custom and also new festivals in honor of the gods and in my honor. The birthday of my natural body. the sixteenth of Audnaios, and the tenth of Loos. The day of my accession to the throne, I have consecrated to the manifestation of the great deities who were my guides in a prosperous beginning and have been the source of universal blessing for my whole kingdom. Because of the multitude of offering and the magnificence of the celebration I have consecrated two additional days. Each of them as an annual festival. The population of my empire I have divided up for the purpose of these assemblies, festival gatherings, and sacrifices. and directed them to repair by villages and cities to the nearest sanctuaries, whichever is most conveniently located for the festival observance. Moreover, I have appointed under the same title that, in addition to the observance Just named. my birth on the sixteenth and my accession on the tenth shall be observed every month by the priests. Now that these regulations have been established, to be observed continually as the pious duty of men of understanding. not only in my honor but also in the blessed hope of their own good fortune, I have, in obedience to the inspiration of the gods, ordered to be inscribed upon sacred, inviolable stele a holy law, which shall be binding upon All generations of mankind who in the immeasurable course of time, through their special lot in life, shall successively be destined to dwell in this lands, they must observe it without violation, knowing that the stern penalty of the deified royal ancestors will pursue equally the impiety occasioned by neglect as that occasioned by folly and that disregard of the law decreed for the honor of the heroes brings with it inexorable penalties. For the pious, it is all a simple matter, but godlessness is followed by backbreaking burdens. This law my voice has proclaimed, but it is the mind of the gods that has given it authority.
The priest who is appointed by me for these gods and heroes, whom I have dedicated at the sacred tomb of my body, on the topmost ridges of the Taurus range, and who shall at a later time hold this office, he, set free from every other duty, shall without let or hindrance and with no excuse for evasion keep watch at his memorial and devote himself to the care and the proper adornment of these sacred images.
On the birthdays which I have established forever as monthly and annual festivals of the gods and of my own person, throughout the whole year he shall, himself decently garbed in Persian raiment, as my benefaction and the ancestral custom of our race have provided, crown them all with the gold crowns which I have dedicated as the sacred honors due the deified ancestors; and out of income from the villages, which I have designated for the sacred honor of the heroic race, he shall offer on these altars rich additional offerings of incense and aromatic herbs, and also splendid sacrifices in honor of the gods and in my honor. in worthy wise setting up sacred tables with appropriate foods and filling jars from the winepress with a precious drink (that is, wine mixed with water). He shall hospitably welcome the whole of the assembled people, both the native and the foreigners who stream hither, and he shall provide for the common enjoyment of the feast by the assembled multitudes, in that, as is the custom, he shall take for himself a portion, as a gift in honor of the priest office, and then distribute the rest of my benefaction to the others for their free enjoyment, so that during the holy days everyone may receive a never-failing sustenance and may thus be able to celebrate the festival without running the risk of malicious calumny. The drinking cups, which I have dedicated, are to be used by them as long as they remain in the holy place and participate in the general assembly for the feast.
The group of musicians whom I have chosen for the purpose and those who may later be consecrated, their sons and daughters, and also their descendants shall all learn the same art and be set 6-free from the burden of every other responsibility; and they are to devote themselves to the observances which I have established to the end, and without any evasion are to continue their services as long as the assembly requests it. No one, no king or ruler, no priest or of5cial shall ever make slaves of these hierodules, whom I have, in accordance with the divine will, consecrated to the gods and to my own honors, or their children or the descendants of their children, who shall continue their family to all later times, he shall neither enslave them to himself nor alienate them to anyone else in any way, nor injure one of them, nor deprive him of this ministry-, but the priests shall take care of them, and the kings, officials, and all private persons shall stand by them, and the favor of the gods and heroes will be laid up for them as a reward for their piety.
Interdiction of any alterations in the status of the hierothesion or its property and threat of punishment: It is equally not permitted for anyone to appropriate or to alienate the villages which I have dedicated to these gods, to sell them or to devote them to some other purpose, or in any way to injure those villages; or to reduce the income from them, which I have dedicated to the gods as an inviolable possession. Nor shall anyone go unpunished who shall devise in his mind against our honor some other scheme of violence or of disparaging or suspending the sacrifices and festal assemblies which I have established. Whoever shall presume to rescind or to injure or guilefully to misinterpret the just tenor of this regulation or the heroic honors which an immortal judgment has sanctioned, him the wrath of the demons and of all the gods shall pursue, both himself and his descendants, irreconcilable, with every kind of punishment.
A noble example of piety, which it is a matter of sacred duty to offer to gods and ancestors, I have set before the eyes of my children and grandchildren, as through many other, so too through this work; and I believe that they will emulate this fair example by continually increasing the honors appropriate to their line and, like me, in their riper years adding greatly to their personal fame.
For those who do so, I pray that all the ancestral gods, from Persia and Macedonia and from the native heart of Commagene, may continue to be gracious to them in all clemency. And whoever, in the long time to come, take over his reign as king or dynasty, maybe, if he observes this law and guards my honor, enjoys, through my intercession, the favor of the deified ancestors and all the gods. But if he, in his folly of mind, undertakes measures contrary to the honor of the gods, maybe, even without my curse, suffer the full wrath of the gods.
Want to read more about Mount Nemrut? Check this post as well.