Nemrut Mountain Statues, Kingdom of Commagene and Mount of Gods

Nemrut Mountain Statues is an archeological site that is among the archaeological hits of Asia Minor, and at the same time still keeps many secrets. Until now, it has not been possible to pinpoint what the artificial embankment at the top of the mountain hides. The colossal statues on Mount Nemrut are an excellent example of religious syncretism and Antiochus’ attempt to introduce a new state cult combining Greek, Persian and Armenian influences.

Mount Nemrut Sculptures History and Art

Crowning one of the highest peaks of the Eastern Taurus mountain range in southeast Turkey, Mount Nemrut is the Hierotheseion (temple-tomb and home of the gods), built by the late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 BC). The mausoleum of Antiochus I (69-34 BC), who ruled on Commagene, a kingdom established in the north of Syria and the Euphrates after the collapse of Alexander’s empire, is one of the most ambitious structures of the Hellenistic period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced through two series of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of the culture of this kingdom.

The stone chip mound with a diameter of 145 m and a height of 50 m is surrounded by terraces on three sides in the east, west and north directions. Two separate antique ceremonial paths radiate from the east and west terraces. On either side of these are a pair of guardian animal statues, a lion and an eagle. The heads of the statues fell on the lower floor, which houses two rows of sandstone stelae mounted on pedestals with an altar in front of each stele. One row carries relief sculptures of Persian ancestors by Antiochos’ father, and the other of Macedonian ancestors. Inscriptions on the back of the obelisk record genealogical links. A square altar platform is located on the east side of the east terrace. On the west terrace, an additional row of stelae representing the special significance of Nemrut, handshake scenes (dexiosis) showing Antiochos shaking hands with a god, and a stele with a lion horoscope believed to show the date of construction of the cult site. The north terrace is long, narrow and rectangular and is home to a series of sandstone plinths. There are no reliefs or inscriptions on the stelae located next to the pedestals on the north terrace. It is believed to indicate the date of construction of the cult site. The north terrace is long, narrow and rectangular and is home to a series of sandstone plinths. There are no reliefs or inscriptions on the stelae located next to the pedestals on the north terrace.

Antiochus I Hierotheseion is one of the most ambitious structures of the Hellenistic period. Its intricate design and immense scale came together to create a project unique in the ancient world. A highly advanced technology was used to construct the colossal statues and orthostats (stellars), the equivalent of which could not be found anywhere else for this period. The syncretism of its pantheon and the lineage of its kings, which can be traced through two series of legends, Greek and Persian, is evidence of the dual origin of the culture of this kingdom. The tomb of Antiochos I of Commagene is a unique artistic achievement. The landscaping of the Mount Nemrut natural site is one of the most gigantic undertakings of the Hellenistic period (some of the stone blocks used weigh up to nine tons). The tomb or Hierothestion of Nemrut Dag is a unique witness to the civilization of the Commagene kingdom. Antiochos is represented in this monument by his father Mithridates, a descendant of Darius, and by his mother, Laodice, a descendant of Alexander. This semi-mythical lineage translates in genealogical terms the ambition of a dynasty trying to remain independent from the forces of both the East and the West.

Nemrut Mountain Statues, Tumulus, History Art, Kingdom of Commagene and Mount of Gods

Mount Nemrut Tumulus

The tumulus at Nemrut Dag represents an important, historical period through the liberal syncretism of an original pantheon rather than the tombs at Karakus and Eski Kahta. The assimilation of Zeus with Oromasdes (Persian god Ahuramazda) and Heracles with Artagnes (Persian god Verathragna) finds its artistic counterpart in a sincere blend of Greek, Persian and Anatolian aesthetics in sculptures and reliefs.

It is expressed as value. Important cult areas of Commagene still exist, the structures are original structures and their original relationships can still be observed and perceived. Although the property boundary includes the tumulus and the east, west and north terraces, it does not cover all the ceremonial paths. The greatest threat to the integrity of the property is property damage caused by environmental conditions such as severe seasonal and daily temperature variations, freeze and thaw cycles, wind, snow accumulation and sun exposure. In addition, this region is located in the first degree seismic belt and is very close to the seismically active East Anatolian Fault. For this reason, the tumulus, statues and stelae are sensitive to earthquakes.

King Antiochos ordered that the nomos (inscription) be written in his will. Nomos contains detailed information on the legal and historical aspects of the creation of the hierothesis (sacred space) on Mount Nemrut and the establishment of a new religious cult. The inscription is located on both the East and West Terraces and has the same wording, with minor spelling differences. To get a general idea of ​​the tone and message of Antiochus’ inscription, all you have to do is read the following excerpt, “The honors sanctioned by an immortal judgment will uncompromisingly pursue him the wrath of demons and all gods, both himself and his descendants, with any punishment. ”

By Who Made The Nemrut Mountain Sculptures, History, Art

When the entire text of Nomos was translated, it turned out that the mausoleum was built while the king lived “the life of many years”. Nomos also contains instruction that the new cult should be celebrated throughout the Kingdom, particularly on Mount Nemrut. The text of the inscription also gives instructions on how to celebrate festivals in honor of the gods, including Antiochus himself. Specially designated days are the “king’s body” and the birthday of the coronation. Antiochus devoted these two days to the revelations of the demons), guiding him during the successful reign of the kingdom. At this point, it is worth noting that in ancient times the term “demon” was ambiguous, describing both positive and negative superhuman beings; in this sense, demons often served as guardian spirits and the role Antiochus clearly refers to.

By Who Made The Nemrut Mountain Sculptures, History, Art Who Does the Mount Nemrut Statues Represent

Who Does the Nemrut Mountain Statues Represent?

Looking from left to right, the group of figures sitting monumental statues on Mount Nemrut are: Antiochus, goddess of Commagene, Zeus-Orosmasdes-Ahura Mazda, Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes and Artagnes-Bahram-Herakles-Ares. The complex nomenclature of these gods is due to the syncretic character of the religion promoted by Antiochus, which combined elements of Zoroastrianism and the classical Greek pantheon. The statues of the gods are seated, on huge thrones, and their feet rest on the pedestals between the legs of the thrones. It is worth noting the contrast between the relatively clumsy performance of the statues’ bodies and the precision and care that characterizes their heads. The figures of the gods consist of horizontally arranged layers of limestone blocks.

The clothing of the monumental statues is barely marked and lacks detail. Male figures wear costumes in oriental style: shoes, trousers, long-sleeved tunics and coats; The goddess of Commagene is dressed in Greek style with Chiton and himation. The goddess’ hair is parted and combed back, and her head is adorned with a braided wreath of poppies and fruits. Antiochus, Zeus and Apollo hold bundles of branches, called barom, in their left hands, which serve ritual purposes in Zoroastrianism. Heracles supports a stick on his shoulder and Commagene has the blessing. There was a terrace in front of the monumental statues, probably for cult purposes. Its dimensions indicate that it can hold an important meeting. Its sides are marked by rows of blocks set on stone plinths, each with altars in front. The row bordering the northern boundary of the East Terrace consisted of 15 blocks decorated with low reliefs depicting the Persian, Armenian and Commagene ancestors of King Antiochus. The southern row, on the other hand, consisted of 17 steles with depictions of their ancestors of Greek origin.

Nemrut Mountain Statues West Terrace Material Used

Nemrut Mountain Statues West Terrace

The appearance of the West Terrace actually almost mirrored the East Terrace. Also the most important element was the group of monumental figures of seated deities, guarded on either side by a pair of an eagle and a lion. Looking closely at the statues, it is possible to see a few minor differences in their appearance and clothing. Zeus and Heracles wrinkle their foreheads and, with their impressive beards, give them a much older and nobler look than Apollo and Antiochus, who were portrayed as youthful and neatly shaved. Also on the West Terrace there are two rows of steles with pictures of the ancestors of King Antiochus. The south row, consisting of 15 blocks, showed the eastern ancestors of Antiochos. The second row, which marked the western boundary of the terrace, depicted the king’s ancestors from the West. The north side of the terrace remained open to provide access to the North and East terraces. Additionally, on the West Terrace, there was the main entrance to the area of ​​the hierothesis for guests arriving via the main gateway from the direction of Arsameia. The secondary ceremonial route led directly to the East Terrace. There is an additional North Terrace along the path from the West Terrace to the East Terrace. Visitors can see 42 unfinished blocks lying on the hillside. They are probably accompanied by the 57 bases on which they were originally fixed. Because these blocks are perfectly smooth and do not have any decorations, researchers tend to assume that they served as a windbreak for pilgrims.

However, it is not the figures of Antiochus, his ancestors and gods that have fascinated researchers and amateur astrologers the most since the discovery of the tumulus on Mount Nemrut. The relief, which depicts a lion whose body is adorned with nineteen stars, most likely reflecting the constellation Leo, caught their attention. A sickle hanging from the lion’s neck probably symbolizes the moon. Moreover, three more stars can be seen on the back of the animal, often interpreted as examples of three planets when viewed from the left: Mars, Mercury and Jupiter. The idea that the diagram depicted in the relief could reflect the real situation in the sky has long caused immeasurable excitement and has been the subject of much speculation, guesswork and interpretation.

Material Used

The monuments on Nemrut Mountain Statues were built using two main types of rock materials; the first was a gray-green rock called tufite, consisting of a pyroclastic material containing a significant mixture of sedimentary material. These include steles with pictures of ancestors on the two main terraces, several small sculptures and minor architectural elements. The other material was the much more durable white and yellow limestone rock, which was also the main building material and from which huge statues and altars were carved.