TUR­KEY: The stun­ning site of Nem­rut Dağı

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Nem­rut Dağı is one of Tur­key’s most fa­mous sites, with its colos­sal stone heads perched on top of a moun­tain, but few know of its history or func­tion. Chris­tine Win­zor vis­ited when the snow was thick on the ground

The colos­sal stone heads at Nem­rut Dağ, with their dis­tinc­tive ar­ray of crowns and caps, are among the most iconic im­ages of Tur­key. Many guide­books and tour agen­cies stress the im­por­tance of vis­it­ing this mon­u­ment - some­times re­ferred to as the Throne of the Gods - at ei­ther sunrise or sunset to ap­pre­ci­ate fully the spec­tac­u­lar il­lu­mi­na­tion and re­flec­tion of the sun’s rays on the sculp­tures and tu­mu­lus. Oth­ers specif­i­cally ad­vise against vis­it­ing at these times on the grounds that in­evitably you will share this im­pres­sive event with a large crowd of other spec­ta­tors, thereby spoil­ing the sense of ma­jes­tic iso­la­tion.

How­ever, as art his­to­rian and travel writer Fran­cis Rus­sell sapi­ently notes, ‘ Nem­rut Dağı is ex­tra­or­di­nary at any time of the day or sea­son of the year. But to see the great heads emerg­ing from the win­ter’s snow is an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence.’ And early April, the be­gin­ning of Spring, was pre­cisely when I first saw the gi­ant heads peep­ing out from the snow.

As re­cently as forty years ago trav­el­ling to Nem­rut Dağı, one of the high­est peaks of the Eastern Taurus moun­tain range in south­east­ern Tur­key, was an ar­du­ous jour­ney, in­volv­ing many hours of walk­ing or rid­ing mules through the des­o­late, moun­tain­ous coun­try­side. While still an ad­ven­ture be­yond the com­fort zones of Is­tan­bul and the well-known Turk­ish coastal re­sorts, for to­day’s visi­tor the trip is rel­a­tively sim­ple, as the site, lo­cated within the Nem­rut Dağı Na­tional Park, can be reached by good roads ei­ther from Adıya­man via Kahta (ap­prox­i­mately 75 km along the D360) or from Malatya (ap­prox­i­mately 120 km along the D300). Both cities are served by daily do­mes­tic flights from both Is­tan­bul and Ankara. A steep, but paved road leads to a car park at the base of the sum­mit, from which it is a 600 me­tre steady climb along a well-trod­den path to the sanc­tu­ary. Visi­tors are well ad­vised to dress warmly for this fi­nal as­cent, for at any time of year it can be bit­terly cold and windy at the sum­mit.

Crowned by the 50 me­tre high tu­mu­lus of crushed lime­stone rocks, Nem­rut Dağı, at 2,150 me­tres above sea level, is prom­i­nent and vis­i­ble in ev­ery di­rec­tion, but it was only in 1881 that a Ger­man engi­neer, Karl Sester, re­ported the dis­cov­ery of a large num­ber of colos­sal stat­ues, which he be­lieved to be Assyr­ian in ori­gin. The fol­low­ing year, he re­turned with Otto Puch­stein, from the Prus­sian Academy of Sciences in Ber­lin, to in­ves­ti­gate the site fur­ther, and from an ex­am­i­na­tion of the iconog­ra­phy of the sculp­tures, it was ev­i­dent to Puch­stein that the fig­ures were not Assyr­ian. A lengthy in­scrip­tion in Greek, read­ing ‘ The Great King An­ti­ochus, the God, the Right­eous One, the Man­i­fest, the friend of Ro­mans and Greeks, the Son of Mithra­dates Kallinkos and of Laodice, the brother-lov­ing God­dess, the daugh­ter of King An­ti­ochus Epiphanes, the moth­erlov­ing, the Vic­to­ri­ous, has recorded for all time, on con­se­crated pedestals with in­vi­o­lable texts the deeds of his clemency,’ en­abled the at­tri­bu­tion of the mon­u­ment to An­ti­ochus I, the Hel­l­enized ruler of Com­ma­gene, one of the many small king­doms to emerge in Ana­to­lia as a re­sult of the frag­men­ta­tion of the Seleu­cid Em­pire.

An­ti­ochus I and the King­dom of Com­ma­gene

Cit­ing the of­fi­cial line prof­fered by the lo­cal Cham­ber of Com­merce, our en­thu­si­as­tic young Kur­dish guide proudly told us that the term Com­ma­gene is de­rived from a Greek word mean­ing “com­mu­nity of genes”. Scholars, how­ever, ex­plain the name as a de­riv­a­tive of the 8th cen­tury BCE Neo-Hit­tite Kum­muh (or Kum­muha) found in Assyr­ian sources, re­fer­ring orig­i­nally to the main city of the re­gion, and sub­se­quently as­signed to a wider re­gion of fer­tile land be­tween the Anti-Taurus Moun­tains and the Euphrates River in south-eastern Tur­key. The in­de­pen­dent NeoHit­tite prin­ci­pal­ity of Kum­muh was de­stroyed by the Assyr­i­ans at the end of the 8th cen­tury BCE, and later be­came part of the coastal satrapy of Syria af­ter the con­quests of the Achaemenid Per­sian king, Dar­ius the Great (521-586 BCE). Af­ter the Bat­tle of Is­sus in 333 BCE, the re­gion was en­gulfed by Alexan­der the Great’s grow­ing em­pire and the name Kum­muh was Hel­l­enized to Com­ma­gene.

Upon Alexan­der’s pre­ma­ture death in Baby­lon in 323 BCE, his vast em­pire, which stretched from Greece and Mace­do­nia in the west to In­dia and Afghanistan in the east, was carved up among his gen­er­als. These suc­ces­sors es­tab­lished their own king­doms, and Com­ma­gene fell within the largest of these, the ter­ri­tory ruled by the Seleu­cid dy­nasty, named af­ter its founder, Seleu­cus I Ni­ca­tor. By the 2nd cen­tury BCE, in­ter­nal dis­putes and civil war weak­ened the hold of the Seleu­cids over much of Asia Mi­nor and var­i­ous lo­cal rulers se­ceded, found­ing their own king­doms.

Com­ma­gene be­came an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal en­tity in about 163/2 BCE un­der Ptole­maios, a lo­cal satrap, who claimed a com­pli­cated lin­eage from both the Oron­tid Ar­me­nian and the Ira­nian Achaemenid dy­nas­ties. He was suc­ceeded by his son Samos, who founded the new cap­i­tal city and fortress of Samosata on the west bank of the Euphrates (now sub­merged by the Atatürk Dam). Samos ex­ploited Com­ma­gene’s ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion as a buf­fer state and formed care­fully cal­cu­lated al­liances with both the neigh­bour­ing Seleu­cids and the Parthi­ans. To en­sure peace be­tween the king­dom of Com­ma­gene and the Seleu­cid em­pire, Samos’s son, Mithra­dates I Kallinkos was mar­ried to the Seleu­cid princess, Laodice Thea Philadel­phus, daugh­ter of An­ti­ochus VIII Gry­pus. How­ever, dur­ing the civil war be­tween An­ti­ochus VIII Gry­pus and his half-brother, Mithra­dates broke away from the Seleu­cids and Com­ma­gene was of­fi­cially de­clared an in­de­pen­dent king­dom in 80 BCE.

As the Greek in­scrip­tion cited above at­tests, An­ti­ochus I, the builder of the mon­u­ment at Nem­rut Daği, was the son of this

il­lus­tri­ous union be­tween Mithra­dates and Laodice and the most in­flu­en­tial king of the dy­nasty. Forced by Pom­pey into an al­liance with Rome, An­ti­ochus I ex­panded his realm and gained con­trol of the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant cross­ing of the Euphrates River at Zeugma. De­spite styling him­self as a friend of the Ro­mans (philoro­maios), An­ti­ochus’ Ira­nian de­scent nev­er­the­less led him to grav­i­tate to­wards the Parthi­ans and he mar­ried his daugh­ter, another Laodice, to the Parthian king Orodes.

Ul­ti­mately, the Parthian al­le­giance led to the king­dom’s down­fall, with the Com­ma­gene dy­nasty end­ing in 72 CE when the Ro­man Em­peror Ves­pasian de­posed An­ti­ochus IV for his al­leged in­trigue with the Parthi­ans against the Ro­mans. The re­gion was then trans­formed into a Ro­man province as part of North Syria and the name Euphraten­sis was sub­sti­tuted for Com­ma­gene.

Marginal­ized and ne­glected by his­to­ri­ans, Ori­en­tal­ists and Clas­si­cal scholars, the Com­ma­gene King­dom, An­ti­ochus and his mag­nif­i­cent mon­u­ment on the sum­mit of Nem­rut Dağ re­mained for­got­ten for cen­turies un­til its re­dis­cov­ery and sub­se­quent ex­plo­ration by Karl Sester and Otto Puch­stein. Puch­stein re­turned for a sec­ond ex­pe­di­tion with Carl Hu­mann (dis­cov­erer of the Great Al­tar at Perg­a­mon) in 1883, and in the same year, the Ot­toman gov­ern­ment sent the di­rec­tor of the Im­pe­rial Mu­seum in Con­stantino­ple, Os­man Hamdi Bey, and the sculp­tor Os­gan Efendi to Nem­rut Dağı to study the mon­u­ment and its in­scrip­tions.

Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions were not con­ducted at Nem­rut Dağı un­til seventy years later, when Theresa Goell, un­der the aus­pices of the Amer­i­can School of Ori­en­tal Stud­ies (ASOR), con­ducted sys­tem­atic ex­ca­va­tions from 1953 to 1973. The 2005 film, Queen of the Moun­tain, doc­u­ments her strug­gles and the ob­sta­cles she over­came to de­vote her­self to an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ca­reer and the ex­ca­va­tion of Nem­rut Dağı. Af­ter Goell’s death, work to lo­cate the ac­tual burial cham­ber un­der the tu­mu­lus us­ing ground radar and mag­netic mea­sure­ments was con­tin­ued by her Ger­man col­lab­o­ra­tor, Friedrich Karl Dörner. Sub­se­quently, work at the site con­tin­ued in the 1980s un­der the di­rec­tion of Pro­fes­sor Dr Sencer Şahin. In 1988 Nem­rut Daği was de­clared a na­tional park and added to UNESCO’s of­fi­cial list of world her­itage mon­u­ments. Cur­rently, in­ter­na­tional oper­a­tions are fo­cused on pre­serv­ing the mon­u­ment from the harsh nat­u­ral el­e­ments.

In­scrip­tions iden­tify the mon­u­ment at Nem­rut Dağı as a hi­eroth­e­sion, or tomb-sanc­tu­ary, a rare term which ap­pears to have been coined by An­ti­ochus I him­self to de­scribe the sanc­tu­ar­ies he built at the sites of royal buri­als. At Nem­rut Dağ An­ti­ochus es­tab­lished a highly so­phis­ti­cated royal cult for the wor­ship of him­self as the de­i­fied ruler, of his royal an­ces­tors and of a pan­theon of care­fully cho­sen syn­cretic gods, who com­bine Greek and Per­sian el­e­ments. This awe-in­spir­ing fu­ner­ary mon­u­ment, which com­prises a tu­mu­lus, three ter­races and an al­tar, is a tes­ti­mony to the as­pi­ra­tions of An­ti­ochus – to be buried close to the ce­les­tial throne and to leave a last­ing legacy of his de­scent from both Alexan­der the Great (through his Seleu­cid mother) and the Achaemenids of Per­sia.

East & North ter­races

From the car park, the visi­tor climbs the path­way up along the south­ern side of the tu­mu­lus di­rectly to the East Ter­race. Care is needed if the path is cov­ered in snow, as there is a steep drop to the side and strong wind con­di­tions can add to the dis­com­fort and dif­fi­culty of the climb. At the top, an open sanc­tu­ary area of about 500 square me­tres is reached, bor­dered on its eastern perime­ter by a stepped fire al­tar re­call­ing Zoroas­trian tra­di­tions. On clear days the view from this ter­race across the sur­round­ing coun­try­side is ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing, and pro­vided the ground is not cov­ered by snow, the visi­tor can dis­cern the route of the pro­ces­sional way wind­ing its way up to the sanc­tu­ary.

With their backs to the tu­mu­lus, a row of five colos­sal seated fig­ures, set on a tiered podium about seven me­tres above the sanc­tu­ary level, face to­wards the sunrise. Built in cour­ses of ash­lar blocks, orig­i­nally each statue would have stood be­tween eight and nine me­tres high, and they bring to mind the Colossi of Mem­non at Thebes. Their heads, which alone mea­sure two or more me­tres in height, have tum­bled to the sanc­tu­ary floor as a re­sult of seis­mic ac­tiv­ity in the re­gion, and have now been care­fully ar­ranged in a line in front of the ap­pro­pri­ate statue. These seated fig­ures are flanked on ei­ther side by stat­ues of a lion and an ea­gle, in­tended to

pro­tect the sanc­tu­ary. A chain fence and a whis­tle-blow­ing guard pre­vent close ac­cess to the sculp­tures, but the visi­tor can­not help be­ing over­whelmed by the majesty and scale of these fig­ures.

From the lengthy thanks­giv­ing in­scrip­tion carved into the rear of their thrones and their dis­tinc­tive iconog­ra­phy, these five en­throned fig­ures have been iden­ti­fied as An­ti­ochus and a pan­theon of Graeco-Per­sian tute­lary gods. In the cen­tre, in ac­cor­dance with the hi­er­ar­chy of the deities, is Zeus Ahu­ra­mazda, the “lord of knowl­edge” in Zoroas­tri­an­ism, the largest statue. He wears a cloak over his long-sleeved tu­nic, an apron-like skirt and low boots and holds a bun­dle of twigs (bar­som) sym­bol­iz­ing the sa­cred fire used dur­ing Per­sian-Mithraic re­li­gious rit­u­als. His head is crowned with a Per­sian tiara and his face is fully bearded. The winged thun­der­bolt re­lief on Zeus’ di­a­dem dis­tin­guishes it from the di­adems of the other deities.

As one faces the colossi, the statue of Ty­che, or For­tuna, the god­dess of Com­ma­gene, is seated to the left (south) of Zeus. She is the only fe­male fig­ure among the deities and up un­til the 1960s, this statue was still in­tact, with her head on her shoul­ders. The god­dess wears a hi­ma­tion and high san­dals and is hold­ing a cor­nu­copia filled with fruit and flow­ers in her left hand. She also has a gar­land of fruit in her right hand and lap. A bas­ket made from a sep­a­rate block of stone was orig­i­nally fit­ted into a round socket on the god­dess’s head.

Apollo-Mithras-He­lios-Her­mes is seated to the right of Zeus, and this syn­cretic de­ity rep­re­sents the fu­sion of the Greek god of the sun with the Per­sian Mithras, god of light and the helper of Ahu­ra­mazda. Like Zeus, he wears a cloak over a long-sleeved tu­nic, an apron-like skirt, and low boots, and holds a bar­som in his left hand, but he is clean shaven.

The god-king An­ti­ochus is seated to the left of Ty­che. He wears Per­sian-style boots and holds a bar­som in his left hand like Zeus and Apollo. His face is smooth and clean shaven in the Hel­lenis­tic man­ner, but his head is adorned with a Parthian-inspired di­a­dem and tiara.

Artagnes-Her­a­cles-Ares is seated to the right of Apollo-Mithras. He is dressed like the other gods but holds a club in his left hand. He is bearded like Zeus, but his di­a­dem and tiara are carved out of the same block as his bust.

Carved into the back of these en­throned gods – and hence not vis­i­ble to the visi­tor – is the two hun­dred and thirty-seven line Greek in­scrip­tion which ex­plains the ruler cult of An­ti­ochus and spec­i­fies how the as­so­ci­ated rit­u­als should be per­formed. In a ver­bose, pompous style, the sa­cred laws (or no­mos) dic­tate such de­tails as what type of clothes the priests should wear and what uten­sils the wor­ship­pers should eat from.

Goell’s ex­ca­va­tions of the East Ter­race dis­cov­ered a row of five very frag­men­tary re­liefs run­ning be­low and par­al­lel to the seated gods. Four of these ste­lae de­picted An­ti­ochus greet­ing the gods - the dex­io­sis – and the fifth re­pro­duced the so-called horo­scope lion re­lief found ear­lier by Hu­mann and Puch­stein, the sig­nif­i­cance of which will be dis­cussed in fur­ther de­tail be­low.

A row of now badly dam­aged ste­lae once lined the north and south sides of this sanc­tu­ary. On the south side these traced

To the dis­ap­point­ment of ar­chae­ol­o­gists and visi­tors alike, An­ti­ochus’ tomb re­mains suc­cess­fully con­cealed be­neath the man-made mound, which rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant en­gi­neer­ing feat

Nem­rut Dagı is ex­tra­or­di­nary at any time of the day or sea­son of the year... On clear days the view from this ter­race across the sur­round­ing coun­try­side is ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing

An­ti­ochus’ Greek an­ces­try on his Seleu­cid mother’s side to Alexan­der the Great and on the north side his Per­sian an­ces­try via his fa­ther Mithra­dates to Dar­ius. The row of pedestals that once held these ste­lae is still vis­i­ble and orig­i­nally there was a small fire al­tar in front of each pedestal.

From the East Ter­race, the visi­tor fol­lows the pro­ces­sional way around to the long, nar­row North Ter­race bor­dered by a se­ries of sand­stone pedestals. The ste­lae ly­ing nearby are all un­worked, bear­ing no in­scrip­tions or re­liefs, pos­si­bly in­di­cat­ing that they were left un­fin­ished at the time of An­ti­ochus’ death in about 36 BCE. In early spring, this north­ern side of the mon­u­ment may still be cov­ered in snow, which at the time of my first visit in early April reached thigh-high. The path­way was deeply buried and it took con­sid­er­able ef­fort to bat­tle through the deep snow to the West Ter­race. The less ad­ven­tur­ous mem­bers in our group turned back to the car park along the path on the south­ern side of the tu­mu­lus.

The cone-shaped tu­mu­lus it­self is made up of 30,000 cu­bic me­tres of crushed lime­stone rub­ble and is 50 me­tres high and 150 me­tres in di­am­e­ter. De­spite re­peated at­tempts, nei­ther ex­ca­va­tion nor tun­nelling nor mod­ern re­sis­tiv­ity or seis­mic re­frac­tion meth­ods have lo­cated any sign of a burial cham­ber. To the dis­ap­point­ment of ar­chae­ol­o­gists and visi­tors alike, An­ti­ochus’ tomb re­mains suc­cess­fully con­cealed be­neath the man-made mound, which rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant en­gi­neer­ing feat. From the lack of vo­tive of­fer­ings by wor­ship­pers at the sanc­tu­ary, it is gen­er­ally as­sumed that the site was aban­doned al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter An­ti­ochus’ death in about 36 BCE. As Ox­ford Pro­fes­sor Bert Smith writes, “It can be rea­son­ably sus­pected that the cost was dis­pro­por­tion­ate and the re­li­gious re­sponse was min­i­mal”.

The West Ter­race

The West Ter­race is con­sid­er­ably nar­rower than its eastern coun­ter­part, and had no main al­tar. With their backs once again to the tu­mu­lus, but fac­ing the set­ting sun, the se­quence of gi­ant en­throned gods and their guardian lions and ea­gles is re­peated on the West Ter­race. How­ever, those on the West Ter­race are in a more ru­inous con­di­tion, stand­ing only two or three cour­ses high and lack the com­mand­ing dom­i­nance of their coun­ter­parts on the East Ter­race. But their colos­sal top­pled heads are bet­ter pre­served, and when not buried tan­ta­liz­ingly in snow, it is eas­ier to ob­serve the carved de­tail­ing of their head gear and hair­styles.

The ge­nealog­i­cal re­liefs de­pict­ing An­ti­ochus’ an­ces­tors are also du­pli­cated, but due to the lim­ited space on this smaller ter­race they are ar­ranged at right an­gles to each other, with the plinths of the shorter Per­sian se­ries form­ing the south­ern perime­ter of the sanc­tu­ary, while the longer set of Greek fore­bears lines the western edge, and faces the seated deities. Orig­i­nally ar­ranged in line at a slightly lower level at the north­ern end of the row of en­throned gods and flanked at each end by a small lion and ea­gle were another se­ries of dex­io­sis ste­lae de­pict­ing An­ti­ochus shak­ing hands with each mem­ber of his pan­theon.

The cel­e­brated lion horo­scope re­lief, men­tioned above, found by Puch­stein and Hu­mann in 1883, also be­longs to this se­quence. The re­lief de­picts a lion with a mag­nif­i­cent full mane and a cres­cent moon slung be­low his neck against a low re­lief pat­tern of nine­teen stars rep­re­sent­ing the con­stel­la­tion Leo. The three largest stars are iden­ti­fied by in­scrip­tions as Jupiter, Mer­cury and Mars, and the bright­est star on the lion’s neck is the basilisk, or royal star of An­ti­ochus, while the cres­cent moon is the sym­bol of the na­tional god­dess of Com­ma­gene. The con­junc­tion of the ce­les­tial plan­ets has been var­i­ously cal­cu­lated to rep­re­sent a date in July of 61 or 62 BC, but scholars are un­cer­tain as to the ex­act sig­nif­i­cance of this date. Some have pro­posed that this may be the shrine’s foun­da­tion date or An­ti­ochus’ birth­day; oth­ers that it rep­re­sents the date a po­lit­i­cal agree­ment be­tween An­ti­ochus and Pom­pey was reached.

Due to their very frag­ile state of preser­va­tion and the very harsh weather con­di­tions pre­vail­ing on the moun­tain side – UNESCO iden­ti­fies en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as se­ri­ous sea­sonal and daily tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tions, freez­ing and thaw­ing cy­cles, wind, snow ac­cu­mu­la­tion, and sun ex­po­sure as threats to the mon­u­ment – some of these re­liefs have al­ready been re­moved and re­placed with barely dis­tin­guish­able repli­cas. Con­cerned about the dam­age, a few years ago the then Turk­ish Min­is­ter for Cul­ture and Tourism pro­posed re­mov­ing the gi­ant heads from the moun­tain­side by he­li­copter and es­tab­lish­ing a mu­seum to dis­play them, but this rad­i­cal plan has not been im­ple­mented and ar­chae­ol­o­gists and sci­en­tists are work­ing to­gether to con­serve these unique sculp­tures.

Visi­tors ca­pa­ble of mak­ing the de­scent in the twi­light can wait on the West Ter­race un­til sunset be­fore re­turn­ing to the car park for a very welcome glass of Turk­ish çay at the Rest­house. But for trav­ellers whose in­ter­est in the Com­ma­gene King­dom has been aroused and with a bit more time on their hands there are another two sig­nif­i­cant sites in the vicin­ity which are well worth the de­tour.

Ar­sameia & Karakuş

Ap­prox­i­mately fif­teen kilo­me­tres from Nem­rut Dağ, along the road to Adıya­man via Kahta, and si­t­u­ated above the mod­ern vil­lage of Koc­ahisar (for­merly Eski Kahta) are the re­mains of Ar­sameia on the Nym­phaios, where An­ti­ochus built a hi­eroth­e­sion for his fa­ther, Mithra­dates I Kallinkos. Ex­ca­vated by Friedrich Karl Dörner in the 1950s, the site con­sists of a pro­ces­sional way which zigzags its way up the hill to the en­trance of a deep tun­nel, ex­tend­ing about 160 me­tres into the moun­tain­side. Above the tun­nel en­trance is a 250 line Greek text in five col­umns, which de­scribes the build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties of An­ti­ochus at Ar­sameia and spec­i­fies the rit­ual cel­e­bra­tions to be prac­tised in hon­our of his fa­ther.

Frag­men­tary re­mains of a line of colos­sal stat­ues have been dis­cov­ered on the hill­top in front of the traces of a free-stand­ing al­tar, but for the visi­tor to Ar­sameia, the most strik­ing fea­tures are the re­main­ing re­lief sculp­tures which line the pro­ces­sional way. The first stele en­coun­tered by the visi­tor stands five me­tres

high and de­picts Apollo-Mithras and orig­i­nally formed part of a dex­iosos scene, with the god shak­ing hands with the Com­ma­gene king. A sec­ond, less well-pre­served pair of ste­lae fur­ther up the pro­ces­sional way de­pict An­ti­ochus and his fa­ther Mithra­dates. Best of all, lo­cated above the tun­nel en­trance is a mag­nif­i­cent mon­u­men­tal re­lief, al­most three and a half me­tres high, which scholars con­sider the finest sur­viv­ing piece of Com­ma­gene sculp­ture. Al­most per­fectly pre­served, the re­lief shows a naked Atagnes-Her­ak­les-Ares, with his dis­tinc­tive lion skin slung over his shoul­ders and hold­ing his club in his left hand while shak­ing hands with An­ti­ochus. The Com­ma­gene king is splen­didly at­tired in Per­sian dress of tu­nic and robe and wears an Ar­me­nian ki­taris – a high pointed cap and tiara - on his head. The im­age the visi­tor takes away with them is of a Com­ma­gene ruler who felt at ease in the com­pany of the gods.

Con­tin­u­ing about six kilo­me­tres along the road to Adıya­man, the trav­eller passes the in­cred­i­bly well-pre­served Ro­man bridge at Cen­dere which was built by the Ro­man le­gion XVI Flavia Firma in about 200 CE. Then af­ter another ten kilo­me­tres a com­mand­ing man-made tu­mu­lus is reached. Thirty me­tres high and with a di­am­e­ter of 150 me­tres, this con­i­cal tu­mu­lus is another royal Com­ma­gene burial site. Col­lo­qui­ally known as Karakuş (black bird) af­ter the statue of an ea­gle mounted upon one of the re­main­ing stand­ing col­umns, this fu­ner­ary mon­u­ment was built by An­ti­ochus’ son, Mithra­dates II for his mother, Isias, his sis­ter An­ti­ochis and his niece, Aka. Another sis­ter, Laodice, who was mar­ried to the Parthian ruler, Orodes II, is also hon­oured in an in­scrip­tion found on a dex­iosos re­lief de­pict­ing the sib­lings. The tu­mu­lus is built of gravel and sand and the col­lapsed south­west­ern slope is ev­i­dence of the ac­tiv­ity of tomb rob­bers in an­tiq­uity. When Dörner ex­ca­vated the in­te­rior of the mound in 1967 he found the burial cham­ber empty.

Quite fit­tingly, the peak of Nem­rut Dağı, the fi­nal rest­ing place of An­ti­ochus I, the hus­band, fa­ther and grand­fa­ther of the Com­ma­gene women buried at Karakuş, is clearly vis­i­ble to the north, as though with his di­vine com­pan­ions this vain­glo­ri­ous king, who as­sumed the ep­i­thet Theos (God), was keep­ing watch over his fe­male rel­a­tives.

Colos­sal heads on the West Ter­race

Head of Zeus Ahu­ra­mazda with head of An­ti­ochus I be­hind

View to the sum­mit of Nem­rut Dağ from Karakus

Stun­ning view from the western ter­race

The Eastern Ter­race with thrones and heads

Be­low left: En­trance to the hi­eroth­e­sion of Mithra­dates I Kallinkos. Above the tun­nel en­trance is a 250 line Greek text in five col­umns, de­scrib­ing the build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties of An­ti­ochus at Ar­sameia and spec­i­fy­ing the rit­ual cel­e­bra­tions to be prac­tised in hon­our of his fa­ther. Be­low right: Mon­u­men­tal re­lief of Atagnes-Her­ak­les-Ares shak­ing hands with An­ti­ochus.

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