NEMRUD DAĞI, mountain (elev. 2,150 m) in the Anti-Taurus range, Adıyaman province, Turkey, and site of the tomb sanctuary of King Antiochus I of Commagene (ca. 69-36 BCE). The sanctuary was discovered in 1881 by Karl Sester, a German road-building engineer. With some interruptions, investigations at the site have continued to the present. (History of research: Wagner, 1983, esp. pp. 177-96; also: Dörner, 1981, pp. 17-120; Dörner and Dörner, 1989, pp. 261-87; Dörner, 1991, pp. 19-26; Goell, in Sanders, 1996, pp. 26-33; Wagner, 2000; Moormann and Versluys, 2002, pp. 75-77, 102. Discovery expeditions: Hamdy Bey and Osgan Efendi, 1883; Humann and Puchstein, 1890, pp. 97-153, 155-208, 232-353. American site explorations between 1953 and 1973: Sanders, 1996; Jacobs, 1998b. German-Turkish site explorations 1987-1990: Şahin, 1991b; Lütjen and Utecht, 1991, pp. 31-38; Düppenbecker and Fitzner, 1991, pp. 39-45; Jacobs, 1997. Recent site explorations: Moormann and Versluys, 2002; iidem, 2003; iidem, 2005; International Nemrud Foundation, at http://www.nemrud.nl/.)
The burial mound of Antiochus I is flanked by terraces in the east, north, and west (overviews of the sanctuary’s arrangement are provided by Goell, 1957; Jacobs, 2000a; Moormann and Versluys, 2002, pp. 77-93). The settings of the sculptures on the east and west terraces are essentially identical: in each case, a row of five limestone statues (originally up to 8 m in height) overlook the terrace, their backs to the mound (Figure 1); from left to right, they are Antiochus I, the All-Nourishing Commagene, Zeus-Oromasdes, Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes, und Artagnes-Herakles-Ares. These are contextually linked with a row of five stelae, placed below the statues on the east terrace, next to them on the west. Four of the stele reliefs depict the king extending his hand (the gesture of dexiosis) to the other gods (Figure 2). The rightmost, fifth stele bears the so-called Lion Horoscope. This depicts a planetary conjunction, with the planets Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars, as well as the moon, in proximity to the royal star Regulus. The gods with which the planets are identified, i.e., Zeus, Apollo, and Heracles, plus the goddess of the land, Commagene, are the same ones represented with Antiochus in the reliefs on the other four stelae and as the monumental statues. On either side of each row of statues and dexiosis reliefs is a pair of animal figures—a lion and an eagle.
The sides of the terraces were defined with long rows of either 15 or 17 stelae with reliefs representing Antiochus’s paternal and maternal ancestors, beginning with Darius I and Alexander the Great, respectively. Shorter rows of stelae, the arrangement of which can be verified only on the eastern terrace, represented sons, and possibly other relatives, of the king. The eastern and western terraces alike each also has the remains of five stelae, among which the central one probably represented the investiture of Mithradates II, son and successor of Antiochus I, by his father.
On the north terrace is a row of more than 50 stelae, interrupted by an access way to the terrace; most of these are still in situ. Although their surfaces were prepared, no reliefs were executed on them. The planned themes, perhaps a sacrificial or divine procession, can only be a subject of speculation (Jacobs, 1997, pp. 176-78). Some have thought, for different reasons, that these stelae were not intended to be decorated with reliefs (Goell, Sanders, and Young in Sanders, 1996, p. 128; Utecht, Schulz-Rincke, and Grothkopf, 2003, pp. 104 f.).
The north terrace was not the only location where projected work was not finished. Also on the other terraces, many pieces remained unfinished. This suggests that, among Antiochus’s construction projects, the Nemrud Dağı sanctuary belonged to later ones and was not finished due to his death (Şahin, 1991a, pp. 116-22; Jacobs, 1991a, p. 135; Young in Sanders, 1996, p. 277). A late start is supported by, among other things, the fact that no objects and no traces of cult ceremonies were found at the sanctuary, and the fact that a stele for Antiochus’s wife was added to both maternal ancestral rows at Nemrud Dağı, although she had already found her final resting place at Karakuş. These points suggest that no cult practices took place at Nemrud Dağı (Şahin, 1991a, pp. 116-22; Jacobs, 1998a, pp. 44-46; idem, 2000c, pp. 303-5; idem, 2002a, pp. 83-86).
The cult at Nemrud Dağı applied to all deities. The gods involved in the conjunction of heavenly bodies described above were privileged by that stellar event, so that they were subsequently represented in images. This event can be dated to 7 July 62 BCE (Neugebauer and van Hoesen, 1959, p. 15; Goell and Neugebauer in Sanders, 1996, pp. 89 f.; a different proposal now in Moormann and Versluys, 2002, pp. 96-101; rejected by Jacobs and Rollinger, 2005, pp. 137-41). The syncretic link of the male gods with oriental counterparts—Zeus with Oromasdes, Apollo with Mithras, Heracles with Artagnes—does not necessarily follow from this event, but neither can it be separated chronologically from it in view of the preserved Commagenian monuments.
These theocrasies parallel Antiochus’s ancestry. He was the son of the “Orontid” Mithradates I Callinicos and the Seleucid princess Laodike Thea Philadelphos (on the history of the Commagene dynasty, with detailed source analysis, see Sullivan, 1978; Facella, 2006; on the land’s history, see Elr. VI, s.v. Commagene). The direct lineage back to Alexander the Great was based on a fiction maintained by the Seleucid house (Rostovtzeff, 1935, pp. 63-65; Tarn, 1938, pp. 446-51; Fischer, 1972, p. 142). The link to Darius I, on the other hand, was based on historical reality. The bond was established by the marriage of the satrap of Armenia, Orontes (see ORONTES, no. 2, at iranica.com; Figure 3), and the daughter of Artaxerxes II, Rhodogune, recorded by Xenophon (Anab. 2.4.8) and Plutarch (Artax. 27.7). The princess is not represented in the paternal line of ancestors but is mentioned in the inscription on the reverse of her husband Orontes’ (= Aroandes) stele (on the names of the represented ancestors, see Dörner, 1967; idem, 1975; idem, 1981, pp. 370-92; idem in Sanders, 1996, pp. 361-77; Krkiasharian, 1971; Fischer, 1972, Messerschmidt, 1990, idem, 2000; Jacobs, 2000c; Facella, 2006, pp. 78-224, passim).
Antiochus’s inscriptions refer repeatedly to those who are contemplating the sculptures. Since these viewers are by necessity visitors to the sanctuary, it seems logical to assume that the sculptures were designed to be meaningful to those who were raised in the Greek or Iranian tradition and recognized the sculptures’ Greek or Iranian elements. On the one hand, the envisioned visitors were probably the members of the Iranian noble families who after the Persian conquest had settled in the region. On the other hand, the Macedonian conquest must have lead to the establishment of Greek noble families. Both groups were likely to have enjoyed distinction within their shared societal order, though the relationship between the Greek and Iranian elites might not have been without tension (for comparable assumptions with regard to Armenia, see Chaumont, 1982).
The combination of Greek and Iranian elements nonetheless reveals that the concept’s starting point was Greek and that the image of royal power was strongly influenced by the traditions of the Hellenistic monarchies. Yet the Iranian elements are more than “very superficial” additions, as suggested by K. Humann and O. Puchstein (1890, p. 340). On the contrary, their balance is the result of a remarkable sensitivity.
For example, the priests spoke Greek, but dressed in Persian garments (Krüger, 1937, pp 27, 30); the faces’ iconography is Greek, though most of the male deities wear Oriental costumes; and the site of a tomb sanctuary, which was dominated by the veneration of Zeus-Oromasdes (Figure 1 and Figure 2), is a mountain top, which Greeks may have experienced as a kind of Commagenian Mount Olympus and Iranians associated with the Persian tradition of Ahura Mazdā worship (Herodotus 1.131; Strabo 15.3.13; cf. Jacobs, 2002b, pp. 35-42). In the Nemrud Dağı cult inscription [N] some words and phrases recall the Persian historical tradition, while others echo the classical sources of the Achaemenid Empire. The gods are described as “royal” and “paternal” (N 116, 224-25), and Herodotus (1.65, 5.106), Plutarch (Alex. 30.12, Mor. 338 F), and Curtius Rufus (4.10.34, 4.14.24, 5.12.3, 7.4.1) use the same attributes. The idea that after death the soul will stand before the heavenly thrones of Zeus-Oromasdes (N 41-43) is found in the Avesta (Vidēvdād 19.32), as well as in Achaemenid (Xerxes I at Persepolis, XPf 32-34) and Sasanian (Kirdīr on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt) inscriptions, and seems to be a shared Iranian concept (Schmeja, 1982; Jacobs, 2002b, pp. 38-41).
The historical connections with the two ruling houses, who had been the most important Near Eastern dynasties during the last 500 years, are based on very different foundations. Antiochus’s grandfather, Antiochos VIII Grypos (r. 125-96 BCE), was a Seleucid king, and during the first years of Antiochus’s kingship, distant relatives, who were later defeated by Pompeius (106-48 CE), still controlled the Seleucid Empire (Sullivan, 1990, pp. 66-69). In contrast, the Achaemenids had been off the political stage for almost three centuries. When Antiochus talks in the Nemrud Dağı cult inscription of the “ancient accounts of the Persians and the Greeks” (N 29-30), these histories were of very different quality.
The consequences of these differences become obvious in the three Iranian gods— Oromasdes, Mithras, and Artagnes—who merged with the Greek gods in the theocrasies described above. In the Old Persian inscriptions Ahura Mazdā is repeatedly mentioned, and his outstanding role is also attested in the classical historical tradition, where he is mostly hellenized and appears as Zeus (e.g., Herodotus 1.131 “the whole circle of the heavens they call Zeus”). Mithras is mentioned as Mit/tra- in the Achaemenid inscriptions (A²Sa 4 f.; A²Sd 4; A²Ha 5 f.; A²Hb; A³Pa 25), because at that time he was poised to take over the role the Persian sun god *Uvar/n, whom Mithra finally replaced (Jacobs, 1991b, pp. 55-58). But Artagnes does not occur in the Achaemenid inscriptions, the Persepolis tablets, which are remarkably rich in the names of deities, or the classical historical tradition (Carter, 1995, p. 119). During the Achaemenid period this god did not occupy the same station as Ahura Mazdā and Mithra, and only later could Artagnes join them on an equal footing to form a group of three deities.
One can therefore postulate that in Commagene between the Achaemenid period and the first century CE religious concepts and practices underwent considerable changes. This development was hastened through the shifts in political power, which interrupted the relations with the imperial center, as well as through conquests, migrations, and deportations. Yet the design of the Commagenian sanctuaries indicates that these changes had not yet been consciously registered. Antiochus did not consider his knowledge of the Achaemenids less authentic than his understanding of the Hellenistic past. His approach to history is documented by the oriental dress of Antiochus’s paternal ancestors (Figure 3). The Achaemenid rulers and their satraps do not look like the kings and governors who are shown in Achaemenid art, because their portrayal reflects contemporary fashion.
The extent of the religious changes, however, is difficult to gauge due to the paucity of the preserved sources for this period. Many questions about the development of the religious concepts of the Achaemenid period cannot be answered. For example, scholars do not agree whether the Achaemenid dynasty followed the prophet Zoroaster. This is affirmed by many (among them Gnoli, 1980; Boyce, 1982; Ahn, 1992), qualified by others (Duchesne-Guillemin, 1983, pp, 135 ff, esp. p. 138; Nagel and Jacobs, 1989, p. 362,), or disputed (Lecoq, 1997, pp. 154‑64). According to P. Lecoq, Zoroastrianism first emerged in eastern Iran as a development out of the older Mazdakism that the Persians continued to practice. Consequently, there is not a sound methodogical justification for identifying Artagnes of the Nemrud Daǧı with Vərəθraγna (see BAHRĀM (1)) of the Avesta in order to argue for a direct correspondence between Nemrud Daǧı’s sculpture program and the written Avesta (Waldmann, 1991; Petroff, 1998; cf. Jacobs, 1992).
It is equally difficult to interpret the ancestral galleries. Next to nothing is known about ancestor worship among the Persians, but in the Hellenistic world these rows of ancestors seem to represent in many ways a unique artistic program. The well-known Hellenistic family portraits are older (Hintzen-Bohlen, 1990, pp. 129-41, esp. n. 92), and do not offer any parallels for the double rows or the remarkably large number of portraits. The most obvious difference is that a Hellenistic family was always shown as a group of three-dimensional sculptures. For on the Nemrud Daǧı the ancestors are represented as reliefs, even though Antiochus was acquainted with the uses of three-dimensional sculpture for the figural representation of mortals (Waldmann, 1973, pl. XXVII, nos.1-2). There is evidence, however, that veneration, esteem, and transport of ancestral portraits was practiced by the Armenian dynasty, which was closely related to the ruling family of Commagene (Moses of Chorene n 8, 40, 49, 74, 77, tr. Thomson; Agathangelos, History, paras. 778, 799, tr. Thomson). Although the sources do not provide any information about the materials from which the Armenian ancestral portraits had been created, this evidence supports the conclusion that in a relatively late period in Armenia, as well as on the Nemrud Daǧı, a dynastic concept particular to the Orontid family¾whose roots were ultimately in Iran¾was represented with ancestral portraits. The reason for the choice of relief for portrayal of Antiochus’s ancestors could be that the image program at Nemrud Daǧı aimed at the visual representation of a concept for which a specific form of artistic expression had not yet become canonical. Such a concept might have been closely related to the abovementioned idea (expressed by Antiochus in the inscriptions) that after death the soul will ascend to the deity’s throne, because this idea (for similar views, see Dörrie, 1964, p. 190; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1984, p. 10; cf. Gnoli, 1982; Kellens, 1995).
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Originally Published: February 25, 2011
Last Updated: February 25, 2011