MT NEMRUT-COMMAGENE KINGDOM

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NEMRUT MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Commagene Kingdom

May be, Antiochus I wanted to show to the next generations that this monument was not able to be turned into ruins with the harmful effects of time. What a nice, happy coincidences and conditions happened in this monument at the top of Mt Nemrut. I guess, Antiouchus I was right in his thoughts. Although Romans have looted and harmed Mt Nemrud; during the period the mountain was in silence, none of detrimental effect could have spoiled the mysticism of this place. After leaving your vehicles, it should be a compelling journey to climb to the peak through the 900 meters long stairs. If you don’t give a break at the beginning point, you might even experience a heart throb due to the decrease of oxygen on the way up. But while you climb the stairs slowly, a sense of curiosity, excitement and peace washes all your body and soul. It seems like the mountain range around Nemrut protects it and its climbers; tells us that Mt Nemrud is the biggest and the most magnificent mountain; as if the mountain range that surrounds Commagene people, Nemrut mountain and Antiouchus are all paying homage to it and respects those who climbs and visit his monument there, too. I couldn’t know! You may call me a dreamer, but every time I go there, this is the feeling I get.

Nemrut National Park, with Mt Nemrut in its center, is one of our most important national parks and considered Wold’s 8th Wonder and listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List with its rich historical sites. Including Karakus peak, Arsemia ancient city and Cendere Bridge, this national park is spread on a 13.850 m2 area. Built by Commagenes, the grandsons of Kummuhs, the civilization has lived between 109 B.C. and 72 A.D. and is known as a peaceful country between east and west. Nemrut Mountain National Park is the cultural heritage left to us by the Commagene Kingdom.

COMMAGENE KINGDOM

Meaning ‘Gen’s community’ in old Greek, Commagene got its name because it was the peaceful area where east and west civilizations met. Commagene was a powerful kingdom, where the culture, beliefs and traditions of Greek and Persian civilizations, established around 700 B.C., came together and were unified. Situated between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, this kingdom lasted until 72 A.D. The name Commagene can be found in the written historical accounts as early as 850 B.C. This should be the period where Commagene was a satellite country of Assyrians.

In the documents from this period, Assyrians mention this area as Kummuh area, which is considered as the pre-Commagene kingdom of the same civilization. According to these inscriptions, Kummuh Kingdom was paying taxes to Assyrian Kingdom in the form of gold, silver and cedar wood, which was a symbol of the wealth of the country. Apparently, cedar wood was growing not only in the Mediterranean region, but also in Commagene land too. Kummuhs had good relations with Assyrians and in return, they were getting land from them.

But in 711 B.C., a rebellion started in Kummuh Kingdom and King of Kummuhs revolted against Assyrians. In a scripture, Assyrian King states that 62 cities of Kummuh Kingdom were conquered. This shows that Commagene was a lot broader than it is estimated. People of Commagene witnessed first the defeat of Assyrians against Babylonians, then around 550 B.C. the conquest of the Babylonian lands by Persians and finally the invasion of the Persian civilization by the armies of Alexander the Great. Around 130 B.C. Kummuhs gain independence and get the name Commagene, which means ‘gathering of Gens’.

Establishment of Commagene Kingdom and King Mithridates I Callinicus 

Commagene Kingdom is established by Mithridates I Callinicus, who was the son of a prince was related to the famous Persian King Darius by the paternal lineage and to Macedonian King Alexander the Great by the maternal lineage.   

In the antique world, a small but very powerful kingdom, Commagene was born and became the melting pot of the eastern and western communities. Mithridates I enabled the people of Commagene, who were coming from different religions and cultural backgrounds, to live in peace and was very successful in maintaining unity among them. Yearly sport competitions, similar to ancient Olympic games were organized in order to honor their ancestors and this increased the trust in Mithridates. He was given the name ‘Callinicus’, meaning ‘Conqueror with Grace, Victorius’.

King Mithridates Callinicus married a Seleucus princess. His wife Laodice gave him four daughters and one son. Their son was named with the name of Laodice’s father, as Antiouchus.

Agreement of Mithridates I Callinicus with Gods

Commagene Kingdom was threatened by great powers beyond their strength and the country needed help. Therefore, Mithridates made an agreement with gods. According to the myth, these gods protected the independence of the kingdom and Mithridates’ deal was successful. On the other hand, people who come from different roots and religions felt themselves chosen and thought that they were respected and protected; so the disharmony among them has disappeared.

To honor the agreement with gods, Mithridates has built little temples called ‘Temenos’ all over the country, especially to the most eye-catching points. The most important and magnificent temple among them was built on the top of Nemrut Mountain. It was visible from every corner of the country. In each of these temples, there were 5 relieved tablets describing the King shaking hand with gods.

Mithridates I Callinicus made his country the most just, democratic and peaceful country in history. He created unity among people and treated both eastern and western descendant citizens justly. Mithridates revealed his fairness by giving the gods both Greek and Persian names. Those five gods were;

Apollon-Mithras

Heracles-Artagnes

Zeus-Oromasdes

Hera-Teleia

Hermes-Helios

By giving the gods both Greek and Persian names, he made it easy for people to feel themselves closer to these gods. Through these stone tablets, King Mithridates made his people believe that they can only be protected by the courtesy of him. Temenos temples which contained these five relieved stone tablets, were the witnesses of the agreement of King Mithridates with gods.

July 14th was the coronation day of King Mithridates and was accepted as the Day of the Manifestation of Great Gods. Every year on July 14th, Commagene people gathered in the temples near their villages and made celebrations. And on this holy day, Mithridates came together with respectable people in society at the temple on Nemrut Mountain and admitted the representatives of gods in front of thousands of citizens.

King Antiouchus / Theos

Antiouchus was the most famous Commagene King with his cult buildings on Nemrut Mountain and Arsemia city. The period of King Antiouchus the 1st (69 – 39 B.C.) was the wealthiest and most prosper period of the Commagene Kingdom.

When King Mithridates left the throne to his son Antiouchus, he continued to supervise and protect him. At an early age, Antiouchus made a political marriage due to his father Mithridates’ wish, with the Seleucus princess Isias. Antiouchus and Mithridates had designed the temple on Nemrut Mountain together. According Mithridates, the temple would be the center of the agreement he made with gods. His approach was as always very pragmatic. The temple had to be a magnificent monument; this way, everybody would understand the meaning of the agreement. Because, Nemrut Mountain, with its 2150 meters of height dominated the region, it was very easy that the temple was visible from any corner of the country.

Compared to his father, Antiouchus was more idealistic. According to Antiouchus, the agreement with gods would be the home of a new religion and Nemrut Mountain would be the center of this new religion. This new religion where east and west meet, would spread to the world from Nemrut Mountain. Probably because of this excessive confidence and pride of creating a new religion, right after the coronation Antiouchus gave himself the name Theos, meaning God. And he became a legend on his field.

King Antiouchus respected his father Mithridates deeply, but his love to his mother Laodice was above everything else. He named his mother Thea, meaning Goddess and placed her statue next to his statue among the statues of gods, he immortalized her mother Thea.

With its unique art tradition, Commagene created a synthesis of Greek and Persian arts. Both Mithridates and his son Antiouchus valued art and artists immensely during their reigns. In King Mithridates’ period, a more eastern dominance can be seen, where in his son Antiouchus’ period, with a plainer and natural approach, art has become closer to the Greek culture. Antiouchus even declared himself as ‘Friend of Greeks and Romans’.

In the first century B.C., growing problems between two super powers of the East and the West, Romans and Parthians were hindering commercial trade. Antiouchus didn’t lose time to take advantage of this. First of all, he made his daughter marry a Parthian prince; he also gained land because he was close with the West. This way he balanced the relations both with east and west, Therefore Kommegene had become a commercial center as the only independent country between these two giants. Commagenean merchants were easily going to both countries and trading easily. Due to the passages under his domination, Antiouchus could collect hefty taxes. During Antiouchus’ era, Commagene was not only a passage way; it was also a country where luxurious goods were sold. The land of Commagene became a meeting point where Parthians, Greeks, Romans, Commageneans and Arabs had come together and traded their goods.

THE END OF THE COMMAGENE KINGDOM

The attack of Marcus Antonius to Commagene during the reign of Antiouchus didn’t do much. So in his reign, Commagene Kingdom lived as a free country. But after Antiouchus’ death, the glorious times of Commagene couldn’t been maintained by his successors. After Antiouchus, his son Mithridates the 2nd inherited the throne. After that, his brother Antiouchus the 2nd wanted to overthrow him and the Roman Senate executed him in 29 A.D., Therefore, unfortunately Commagene Kings were being selected by Rome.

The Parthian King, deplored by the loss of his son in the battle against Romans, abdicated the crown. Even though Antiouchus, the grandfather of the crown prince, has risked his own country by protecting the Parthian soldiers who took shelter in his country, wasn’t much of a consolation for the Parthian King.

Parthian King was replaced by one of his sons. The new Parthian King was a ruthless king and didn’t spare anyone of death, including Laodice, the daughter of Antiouchus, who could jeopardize his throne.

Mithridates the 2nd buried his sister Leodice in the graveyard on Karakus peak and he placed an inscription on the grave: “She was the most beautiful of all women.”

Last time Commagene was independent, was during Antiouchus the 4th period. After the infestation of Roman soldiers in 72 B.C., the independence of the Commagene Kingdom ceased to exist. In an attempt to prevent any future rebellions, all the monuments, statues, memorials and temples that depicted the greatness and holiness of Commagene Kingdom were brought down to ruins.

King Antiouchus the 1st stated on the inscriptions placed on Nemrut Mountain:

“When I took over the diadem of our ancestors, as a result of my piety, I made the land that is under the reign of my throne a common land for all gods. In the course of time, he who protects this law and continues to worship us, will be remembered with my benediction. May all the deceased ancestors and gods be gracious to him. He who spoils or harms the holy validity of this order, or try to change its real meaning, may he and all his lineage incur the wrath of all my deceased ancestors and gods.”

The Nemrut Mountain Tumulus

In the Asia Minor, people had always built sanctuaries, monuments and temples on the hills and top of the mountains. During antiquity, most of civilizations had chosen the highest points to glorify their gods with thought of their gods were always in highest places, in the skies.In that sense, the Nemrut mountain sanctuary on the Toros Mountains’ Euphrates river passage can be considered as the most spectacular and magnificent prayer hall.

At the top of Mt Nemrut, where the sunrise and sunset can be watched at their highest beauty; Commagene King Antiouchus the 1st had built a magnificent mausoleum and a tumulus covered with stone ballast for himself. Kommagene Kingdom was such a small but very rich trading country. Gods of Kommagene had depicted around the terraces surrounding the tumulus with Antiouchus the 1st .

The tumulus covers the tomb of Antiouchus the 1st and is built with 30.000 mᶟ stone ballast on top of it. According to the research, the tomb of King Antiouchus the 1st is located in the burial chamber under the tumulus. In fact, according to some archeologists, not only Antiouchus’, but also his father Mithridates Callinicus’ and a religious leader’s corpses are there, in a mummified form. According to this argument, there had to be two kings and one religious leader’s tombs in this burial chamber which is in the lowermost part of the tumulus. The entrance of the tomb had to be under the foot of one of the statues and must be going down with a tunnel. According to archeologists, the entrance door of the tomb had been closed and concealed after the Romans became dangerous for Kommageneans. Today, entering into the tomb is still not possible.

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Terraces

In the both terraces, there are five statues each, thought to be placed in the same order. Placed on thrones, seven meters above the ground, each statue is made of stone blocks weighting 6 – 7 tons of weight. For an easy relocation, there are square grooves on both sides of the pieces. Being the king of the animals, the lion had symbolized the power of God on earth. The eagle had been the messenger of the gods from the skies and heavenly power. Therefore, the statues in the monument had been started and ended with a lion and an eagle statue. King Mithridates Callinicus and his son Antiouchus had tried to create a new faith depending on the ideal to unify and sustain Greek and Persian civilizations. Therefore, there had been identical statues both on the east and west terraces and the gods were named both in Greek and Persian.

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The Array of the Statues on Both Terraces:

Antioch I
Fortuna(Goddess Thea)
Zeus(Oromasdes)
Apollon-Mithras
Heracles(Ares-Artagnes)

From our point of view, the statues go in the order of; King Antiouchus (Theos), Fortuna (Commagene goddess), Zeus, (Oromasdes), Apollon (Mithras), Heracles (Ares-Artagnes).

The eastern terrace is the first place that the sunrise can be seen. It had been consisted of the gallery of gods, the gallery of ancestors and an altar. Across the gallery of the gods, a huge altar for a big fire and sacrificion had been settled.

The western terrace had also been constructed in a similar way with the eastern terrace, but since it had been more destroyed, it looks more scattered. The array of god statues should be the same with the eastern terrace.

Here, in addition to the god statues, there are five stone reliefs. There, the greeting of Antiouchus with gods had been depicted. On another one, there is a lion relief with stars and planets on which has been known as the earliest Horoscope of the history.

Lion Relief Horoscope

The lion gadroon, located on the western terrace, is known as the earliest horoscope in history. There are nineteen stars and three planets on the lion figure. Besides, there is a crescent under the neck of the lion. Three planets, lined up from the tail to the back of the lion figure had to be Mars, Jupiter and Mercury. Planets had to be characterized with sixteen beams and stars had been characterized with eight beams. There is another star over the crescent figure.

Lion Horoscope

In the book of Historian F. Karl Dörner , He had suggested this lion relief stone tablet on Mt Nemrut had to be establishment horoscope of this monument. May be, Antiochus I wanted to show to the next generations that this monument was not able to be turned into ruins with the harmful effects of time. What a nice, happy coincidences and conditions happened in this monument at the top of Mt Nemrut. I guess, Antiouchus I was right in his thoughts. Although Romans have looted and harmed Mt Nemrud; during the period the mountain was in silence, none of detrimental effect could have spoiled the mysticism of this place. After leaving your vehicles, it should be a compelling journey to climb to the peak through the 900 meters long stairs. If you don’t give a break at the beginning point, you might even experience a heart throb due to the decrease of oxygen on the way up. But while you climb the stairs slowly, a sense of curiosity, excitement and peace washes all your body and soul. It seems like the mountain range around Nemrut protects it and its climbers; tells us that Mt Nemrud is the biggest and the most magnificent mountain; as if the mountain range that surrounds Commagene people, Nemrut mountain and Antiouchus are all paying homage to it and respects those who climbs and visit his monument there, too. I couldn’t know! You may call me a dreamer, but every time I go there, this is the feeling I get.

According to a very old Hellenistic belief; the most distinguished and flawless dead people were taken among gods and later, illuminate people on earth as a star constellation (just like father Mithridates and his son Antiouchus have felt and believed).

King Antiouchus I adopted the Regulus star, which is close to the biggest planets in the galaxy and had chosen it as his own King star. And on this Lion Relief stone tablet, Using Regulus star over Crescent at the neck of lion had to be meant King Antiochus had been taken among the Gods as a God. This constellation in the sky confirms the place that King Antiouchus took on both eastern and western terraces among the humongous god statues. In this way, Antiouchus rose to the god status and accepted as one. According to these interpretations;  the star on the neck of the lion should be Regulus and symbolize Antiouchus. If we look at the planets; Mars symbolizes Heracles, Mercury symbolizes Apollon and Jupiter symbolizes Zeus. The crescent on the neck of the lion symbolizes Commagene Kingdom.

Regarding the making date of this lion horoscope; at first, it was believed to be built by King Antiouchus I around 62 B.C., but recent research confirms that the astrological event depicted on the lion horoscope took place on 109 B.C., July 14 around 07.30 PM. On that day, Mars Jupiter and Mercury went by the Regulus star in consecutive order. This event occurs once in every 25.000 years and is also the same day that Commagene Kingdom declared its independence and King Mithridates I  was crowned. So this lion Relief stone tablet has been telling the story of a very interesting event and a coincidence, the miracle of establishment of Commagene Kingdom. Therefore they had celebration events every year on July 14th.

It also shows that Commageneans were developed as well as the Greeks, Mesopotamians, even Indians in astrology.

ARSAMEIA (OLD CASTLE)

Arsemeia

In the inscriptions of King Antiouchus I, you can find these lines about the capital of the country, Arsemeia:

“Housing the Nymph river (Kahta river) which has inexhaustible, fertile springs, this city of Arsemeia was built by my ancestors, Arsames people. My ancestors, Arsames people saw that holy waters of a tumultuous river was flowing towards a cliff in the area and created a two sided city by surrounding the two-peaked body of the city with a wall on both sides. They named it Arsemeia. By reinforcing the insurmountable structure of the castles, they established a military base never to be conquered. And they’ve created a sanctuary here, where we can protect ourselves in any kind of dangerous situation.”

According to these inscriptions, the ancient city of Arsemeia was established in the second century B.C., by Arsemes, the ancestor of Commageneans. Of course, Commageneans had developed it immensely. The Arsemeia had become another capital of Commagene Kingdom to be used during summer time.

The ancient city of Arsemeia has contained many historical artifacts from Commagene Kingdom. The mausoleum built for Mithridates Callinicus, the father of Antiouchus I, who gained independence for Commageneans and started the kingdom, has located in Arsemeia. The biggest and oldest inscription tablet in Anatolian history has also located here and has provided us broad knowledge about Commagene Kingdom.

When entered through the south gate, we first see a relief tablet statue of Apollon/Mithras. There is also a water cistern and relief tablets of other gods. At the peak point, we see the huge relief tablet which had been depicted the greeting between Antiouchus and Hercules/Heracles with its almost 3.5 meters height.

THE NEW CASTLE

New Castle

This castle has located in Kochisar village, 26 kilometers far from Kahta town. Though it was built in Commagenean reign, there are no remains of  Commageneans in the castle. After Commageneans, the castle was used by Romans and Mamelukes and contains a bazaar, a mosque, a dungeon, water-ducts, epitaphs and pigeonries.

CENDERE BRIDGE

Cendere Bridge

It is an antique artifact, still in good condition, built on the Cendere brook in Roman period. There are pillars on both ends of the bridge. According to the inscriptions on the pillars, two of them were made for Roman Empire Septimus Severus and his wife Julia Domna, and the other two were made for Caracalla and Geta, sons of the Empire.

KARAKUS TUMULUS

Karakush-Black Bird

It is a mausoleum built for his mother by Mithridates II, who took the reins at the kingdom after his father Antiouchus I, but wasn’t as successful as his father. The bird statue in front of the mausoleum was named as Karakus (black bird) by public nowadays because of Bird statue. This burial chamber had been covered and lifted up by 25 meters of earth and brash. Though Mithridates II made this tumulus for his mother, when his sister Leodice and his daughter Aka died during the war with Romans and Parthians, he placed them into the same mausoleum. He had also decorated the structure with three pillars, each representing one of the women he loved deeply. On one of the pillars He put an eagle statue, and on others he preferred to put a bull and lion statue. For his mother, he had chosen the bull statue, had placed on the northeast of the tumulus.

In the first age, a bull was a very important symbol. According to Persian beliefs, God of Light, Mithra created the world by sacrificing a bull. And then, They had believed that all living creatures came to existence from the blood of this bull. As the God of Light, Mithra demolished all evil, enlightened all darkness and descended to heaven as the God of Sun. The reason for the representation of the bull in the Karakus tumulus was the respect of Commagene people to both western and eastern beliefs, as a general approach in the country.

For her sister who was murdered by the Parth King, he had chosen a depiction of a handshaking relief  and the lion statue on a pillar. For his another sister Anthiochis and his nephew Aka, he had chosen an eagle on a pillar.

Written and Published by Researcher Tour Guide Zerrin Sapmaz

Photographes have all taken and published by Researcher Tour Guide Zerrin Sapmaz

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