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The Gods of Mount Nemrut – The most valuable monument of the Kingdom of Commagene

Jack Beckett
Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0
Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

Mount Nemrut, also called Mount Nemrud, is a 2,134-metre-high (7,001 ft) mountain located in southeastern Turkey famous for the giant head statues scattered on the summit.

It is the site of extensive ruins of the tomb of Antiochus I (69-36 BC) of the Commagene Kingdom (163 BC – 72 AD).

A mountain adorned with the fragments of vast statues built over 2000 years ago. Photo Credit

A mountain adorned with the fragments of vast statues built over 2000 years ago.Author:  Klaus-Peter Simon CC BY SA 3.0

 

Built by King Antiochus I in 62 BC it is thought to be a sanctuary and a royal tomb. Photo Credit

Built by King Antiochus I in 62 BC it is thought to be a sanctuary and a royal tomb. Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis CC BY2.0

This spectacular structure is made of large slabs of rock forming a pyramid-like configuration. The stone sculptures once stood nearly 10 meters high and depicted lions, eagles, various ancient gods.

Antiochus I himself is represented here as well. Sixty-two years before the birth of Christ, King Antiochus I ordered a huge tomb come sanctuary to be built for himself.

Heads of statues at the top of the mountain. Photo Credit

Heads of statues at the top of the mountain. Author: Urszula Ka CC BY SA 3.0

 

Persian Eagle God. Photo Credit

Persian Eagle God. Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis CC BY2.0

 

Lion head. The Lion was the sacred animal of the Commagene Kingdom. Photo Credit

Lion’s head. The Lion was the sacred animal of the Commagene Kingdom. Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

What was particularly notable about this king was his pride and his over-extended ego. Antiochus I claimed he had a special relationship with the gods and instituted a royal cult in the Greek form of the religion Zoroastrianism with the clear intention of being worshiped as a god after his death.

He wanted his sanctuary to be in a high and holy place, close to the gods in order to be in rank with them, and high enough that the whole kingdom could see it and remember him.

Heads of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene and Zeus Oromasdes. Photo Credit

Heads of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene and Zeus Oromasdes. Author:  Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

 

Left - Zeus Oromasdes. Photo Credit Right - Heracles Artagnes Ares. Photo Credit

Left – Zeus Oromasdes. Right – Heracles Artagnes Ares. Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

 

Karl Sester. Photo Credit

Karl Sester. 

King Antiochus’ burial complex, now known as Mount Nemrut Archaeological Site, was first rediscovered in 1881 by Karl Sester, a German Archaeologist, but archaeological activity only began in 1953. In 1984, German archaeologists, under the direction of Friedrich Karl Dörner of the University of Münster, began to survey and restore the monuments. Since the start of excavation, most of the heads have been found, in addition to temples, bas-reliefs, and inscriptions.

The pattern of damage to the heads suggests that they were deliberately damaged because of belief in iconoclasm. Photo Credit

The pattern of damage to the heads suggests that they were deliberately damaged because of belief in iconoclasm. Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

 

The statues appear to have Greek-style facial features, but Persian clothing and hairstyling. Photo Credit

The statues appear to have Greek-style facial features, but Persian clothing and hairstyling. Author: Onur Kocatas CC BY SA 3.0

A Greek inscription reveals that King Antiochus was buried here at the roof of his world as a sign of his parity with the gods.the burial chamber of Antiochus has not yet been found, but is nevertheless still believed to be the site of his burial.

Goddess of Kommagene. Photo Credit

Goddess of Kommagene.  Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

 

The statues have not been restored to their original positions. Photo Credit

The statues have not been restored to their original positions. Author: onur kocatas CC BY SA 3.0

A highly developed technology was used to build the colossal statues and orthostats (stelae), the equal of which has not been found anywhere else for this period.

The statues, all of them “beheaded”, have not been restored to their original condition, but the remains give some idea of the size and grandeur of Antiochus’ magnificent structure. Now only miniature sculptures provide the idea of the original statues.

Head of Zeus-Oromasdes statue. Photo Credit

Head of Zeus-Oromasdes statue. Author: China_Crisis  CC BY SA 3.0

 

Souvenirs. Photo Credit

Souvenirs. Author: Klearchos Kapoutsis  CC BY2.0

The sculpture, temples, inscriptions, and reliefs at Antiochus’ sacred mortuary complex are highly significant to archaeologists and scholars of Roman, Persian, Hellenistic, and Anatolian history.