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Antiochus I of Commagene Shaking Hands with Hercules

Antiochus I of Commagene Shaking Hands with Hercules

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The Megalithic Stone Heads Of Mount Nemrut And The Gate Of Heaven

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Located in Southeastern Turkey, more than 2,000 meters above sea level on Mount Nemrut, lie the ancient ruins of the lost Kingdom of Commagene.

Thousands of years ago, to be more precise in 62 BC, Kling Antiochus erected a mysterious royal sanctuary there and made sure it would forever be remembered.

Supermassive statues of lions, Eagles, Persian and Greek Gods, as well as sculptures of the king himself, were built imposingly.

Three terraces, to the North, East, and West, surround the 50 meters high mound (145 meters in diameter) formed by small limestones:

On the East terrace, we find two rows of stone stelae with sculptures in relief: one of them with the Macedonian ancestors of Antiochus I and another with their Persian ancestors.

On the west terrace, there is also a row of stelae, where Leo’s horoscope and Antiochus I himself is shown shaking hands with a deity.

On the north terrace, the existing stelae have neither reliefs nor inscriptions.

Antiochus I of Commagene had a funerary burial mound built on top of the mountain flanked by huge statues (8-9 meters high) of himself. In addition, to massive statues depicting the King as one with the Gods, two lions, two eagles and different Armenian, Greek and Persian gods, such as Hercules, Zeus, Oromasdes (associated with the Persian god Ahura Mazda), Tique and Apolo-Mitra were also built at the site.

Archaeologists have found evidence that the statues were once seated, with names of each god inscribed on them.

Now, the heads of the statues are scattered on the ground damage to the heads (especially the noses) suggests that they were deliberately produced by iconoclasts.

There are also stone slabs with bas-relief figures that are thought to have been part of a large frieze.

Statues that depict King Antiochus shaking hands with the ‘Gods,’ as if the gods recognize him as one of their own, welcoming him to the stars.

This royal sanctuary, as well as the kingdom, were strangely abandoned in the first century AD.

So far, experts have not discovered the king’s legendary burial chamber.

Researchers did, however, find a shaft that King Antiochus had built into the mountain, which according to experts, displays exceptional knowledge of advanced astronomy.

The shaft runs into the mountainside at an angle of 35 degrees to the horizontal, and it is believed to be about 150 meters long. Curiously, there’s nothing at the bottom.

Computer analysis has revealed that on two days of the year, the sun’s rays would illuminate the bottom of the shaft once when in line with the constellation of Leo and once when in line with Orion.

This is a particularly exciting area in the night sky since it happens to be the path where the sun crosses over the Milky Way galaxy.

Curiously, this to the ancient world was known as the Gate of Heaven.

Even more interesting is the fact that there were Gates to Heaven one where they cross in the north and the other where they cross in the south.

More from Great Big Story:

Case 1: “Triangular Prism” shape

First we need to understand that the classic European cylindrical crown that we are so familiar with today was not a given in the ancient world. In the classical antiquity royalty wore many types of headgear usually a wreath, a chaplet, or ribbon called a diadem. The precursor to the crown was such a browband diadem, which had been worn by the Armenian and Persian kings, was adopted by Constantine I, and was worn by all subsequent rulers of the later Roman Empire. While some royal headgear of the ancient times had solar rays emanating from them, it wasn’t that common of a practice. The corona radiata, the “radiant crown” was worn by Roman emperors only as part of the cult of Sol Invictus prior to the Roman Empire’s conversion to Christianity. The Armenian Tiara can also be considered one of the precursors of the modern European crown. So if we consider that the classical European type of royal crown was not the model royal headgear of the ancients, we understand that royal headgear could have had many different shapes at different times in different regions. Now let us examine the evidence.

Kingdom of Commagene

The Kingdom of Commagene (Ancient Greek: Βασίλειον τῆς Kομμαγηνῆς ) was an ancient Greco-Iranian kingdom ruled by a Hellenized branch of the Iranian Orontid dynasty. [4] The kingdom was located in and around the ancient city of Samosata, which served as its capital. The Iron Age name of Samosata, Kummuh, probably gives its name to Commagene. [5]

Commagene has been characterized as a "buffer state" between Armenia, Parthia, Syria, and Rome [6] culturally, it was correspondingly mixed. [7] [8] [9] The kings of the Kingdom of Commagene claimed descent from Orontes with Darius I of Persia as their ancestor, by his marriage to Rhodogune, daughter of Artaxerxes II who had a family descent from king Darius I. [10] [11] The territory of Commagene corresponded roughly to the modern Turkish provinces of Adıyaman and northern Antep. [12]

Little is known of the region of Commagene prior to the beginning of the 2nd century BC. However, it seems that, from what little evidence remains, Commagene formed part of a larger state that also included the Kingdom of Sophene. This situation lasted until c. 163 BC , when the local satrap, Ptolemaeus of Commagene, established himself as an independent ruler following the death of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. [13]

The Kingdom of Commagene maintained its independence until 17 AD, when it was made a Roman province by Emperor Tiberius. It re-emerged as an independent kingdom when Antiochus IV of Commagene was reinstated to the throne by order of Caligula, then deprived of it by that same emperor, then restored to it a couple of years later by his successor, Claudius. The re-emergent state lasted until 72 AD, when the Emperor Vespasian finally and definitively made it part of the Roman Empire. [14]

One of the kingdom's most lasting visible remains is the archaeological site on Mount Nemrut, a sanctuary dedicated by King Antiochus Theos to a number of syncretistic Graeco-Iranian deities as well as to himself and the deified land of Commagene. [15] It is now a World Heritage Site. [16]

Cultural identity

The cultural identity of the Kingdom of Commagene has been variously characterized. Pierre Merlat suggests that the Commagenian city of Doliche, like others in its vicinity, was "half Iranianized and half Hellenized". [9] David M. Lang describes Commagene as "a former Armenian satellite kingdom", [8] while Blömer and Winter call it a "Hellenistic kingdom". [17] Frank McLynn describes it "a small Hellenised Armenian kingdom in southern Anatolia". [7] While suggesting that a local dialect of Aramaic might have been spoken there, [18] Fergus Millar considers that, "in some parts of the Euphrates region, such as Commagene, nothing approaching an answer to questions about local culture is possible." [19]

While the language used on public monuments was typically Greek, Commagene's rulers made no secret of their Persian affinities. The kings of Commagene claimed descent from the Orontid Dynasty and would therefore have been related to the family that founded the Kingdom of Armenia the accuracy of these claims, however, is uncertain. [13] At Antiochus Theos' sanctuary at Mount Nemrut, the king erected monumental statues of deities with mixed Greek and Iranian names, such as Zeus-Oromasdes, while celebrating his own descent from the royal families of Persia and Armenia in a Greek-language inscription. [8] Over the course of the first centuries BC and AD, the names given on a tomb at Sofraz Köy show a mix of "typical Hellenistic dynastic names with an early introduction of Latin personal names." [20] Lang notes the vitality of Graeco-Roman culture in Commagene. [6]

While few things about his origins are known with certainty, 2nd-century Attic Greek poet Lucian of Samosata claimed to have been born in Samosata in the former kingdom of Commagene, and described himself in one satirical work as "an Assyrian". [18] Despite writing well after the Roman conquest of Commagene, Lucian claimed to be "still barbarous in speech and almost wearing a jacket (kandys) in the Assyrian style". This has been taken as a possible, but not definitive, allusion to the possibility that his native language was an Aramaic dialect. [21]


Commagene was originally a small Syro-Hittite kingdom, [22] located in modern south-central Turkey, with its capital at Samosata (modern Samsat, near the Euphrates). It was first mentioned in Assyrian texts as Kummuhu, which was normally an ally of Assyria, but eventually annexed as a province in 708 BC under Sargon II. The Achaemenid Empire then conquered Commagene in the 6th century BC and Alexander the Great conquered the territory in the 4th century BC. After the breakup of the Empire of Alexander the Great, the region became part of the Hellenistic Seleucids, and Commagene emerged in about 163 BC as a state and province in the Greco-Syrian Seleucid Empire. Perhaps Commagene was part of the kingdom of Armenia in the early Hellenistic period, and was possibly annexed to the Seleucid kingdom soon after Armenia's conquest [23]

The Hellenistic kingdom of Commagene, bounded by Cilicia on the west and Cappadocia on the north, arose in 162 BC when its governor, Ptolemy, a satrap of the disintegrating Seleucid Empire, declared himself independent. Ptolemy's dynasty was related to the Parthian kings, but his descendant Mithridates I Callinicus (109 BC–70 BC) embraced Hellenistic culture and married the Syrian Greek Princess Laodice VII Thea. His dynasty could thus claim ties with both Alexander the Great and the Persian kings. This marriage may also have been part of a peace treaty between Commagene and the Seleucid Empire. From this point on, the kingdom of Commagene became more Greek than Persian. With Sophene, it was to serve as an important centre for the transmission of Hellenistic and Roman culture in the region. [6] Details are sketchy, but Mithridates Callinicus is thought have accepted Armenian suzerainty during the reign of Tigranes II the Great. [24]

Mithridates and Laodice's son was King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene (reigned 70 –38 BC). Antiochus was an ally of the Roman general Pompey during the latter's campaigns against Mithridates VI of Pontus in 64 BC. Thanks to his diplomatic skills, Antiochus was able to keep Commagene independent from the Romans. In 17 when Antiochus III of Commagene died, Emperor Tiberius annexed Commagene to the province of Syria. According to Josephus, this move was supported by the local nobility but opposed by the mass of the common people, who preferred to remain under their kings as before [19] Tacitus, on the other hand, states that "most preferred Roman, but others royal rule". [25]

In 38 AD, Caligula reinstated Antiochus III's son Antiochus IV [25] and also gave him the wild areas of Cilicia to govern. [26] Antiochus IV was the only client king of Commagene under the Roman Empire. Deposed by Caligula and restored again upon Claudius' accession in 41, Antiochus reigned until 72, when Emperor Vespasian deposed the dynasty and definitively re-annexed the territory to Syria, acting on allegations "that Antiochus was about to revolt from the Romans. reported by the Governor Caesennius Paetus". [27] The Legio VI Ferrata, which Paetus led into Commagene, was not resisted by the populace a day-long battle with Antiochus' sons Epiphanes and Callinicus ended in a draw, and Antiochus surrendered. [28] The Legio III Gallica would occupy the area by 73 AD. [28] A 1st-century letter in Syriac by Mara Bar Serapion describes refugees fleeing the Romans across the Euphrates and bemoans the Romans' refusal to let the refugees return [29] this might describe the Roman takeover of either 18 or 72. [30] The descendants of Antiochus IV lived prosperously and in distinction in Anatolia, Greece, Italy, and the Middle East. As a testament to the descendants of Antiochus IV, the citizens of Athens erected a funeral monument in honor of his grandson Philopappos, who was a benefactor of the city, upon his death in 116. Another descendant of Antiochus IV was the historian Gaius Asinius Quadratus, who lived in the 3rd century.


Commagene extended from the right bank of the Euphrates to the Taurus [31] and Amanus Mountains. Strabo, who counts Commagene as part of Syria, [32] notes the kingdom's fertility. [33] Its capital and chief city was Samosata (now submerged under Atatürk Dam).

The boundaries of Commagene fluctuated over time. Under Antiochus Theos, the Kingdom of Commagene controlled a particularly large area. [17] Doliche was under Commagenian rule "for about 35 years" [17] after being governed by Antiochus Theos, it might have been incorporated into the Roman province of Syria as early as 31 BC. [20] Germanicea declared itself a Commagenian city in Roman times, although originally it was not. [17] On the other hand, Zeugma, while ruled for a time by Commagene, was popularly and traditionally considered to belong to the region of Cyrrhestica [17] Strabo says it had been assigned to Commagene by Pompey. [34]

Archaeological remains

When the Romans conquered Commagene, the great royal sanctuary at Mount Nemrut was abandoned. The Romans looted the burial tumuli of their goods and the Legio XVI Flavia Firma built and dedicated a bridge. The surrounding thick forests were cut down and cleared by the Romans for wood, timber and charcoal, causing much erosion to the area. [ citation needed ]

Another important archaeological site dating to the Kingdom of Commagene is the sanctuary of Zeus Soter at Damlıca, dedicated in the time of Mithridates II. [35]

In Commagene, there is a column topped by an eagle, which has earned the mound the name Karakuş, or Black Bird. An inscription there indicates the presence of a royal tomb [36] that housed three women. The vault of that tomb, however, has also been looted. The main excavations on the site were carried out by Friedrich Karl Dörner of the University of Münster. Another royal burial site is at Arsameia, which also served as a residence of the kings of Commagene. [37]

Many of the ancient artifacts from the Kingdom of Commagene are on display at the Adıyaman Museum. [38]

Mithra and the right handed handshake of the Gods (part 1)

(This is an excerpt from ‘Seething Cauldron: Essays on Zoroastrianism, Sufism, Freemasonry, Wicca, Druidry, and Thelema’. By Nabarz. ISBN: 978-0-9556858-4-2. Available on Amazon and http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/webofwyrd):

The debate about the origins of the Roman Mithras continues, and, while it is clear that the Roman Cult of Mithras was a syncretic religion using elements of Greek, Roman, and Persian cultures it is less clear how influential different elements were in the production of the final Roman Cult. One aspect worth considering in the debate is the parallel between the act of the handshake, as seen in both the Persian Mithra and the Roman Mithras traditions. In modern times, shaking hands with the right hand is generally viewed as a sign of trust, as it shows no weapon is being held in the weapon bearing hand.

The oldest forms of handshakes were practiced by Babylonian Kings c. 1800 BCE, who had to ‘take the hands of Marduk’ before assuming the throne. According to Sir J. Frazer in The Golden Bough: ‘At Babylon, within historical times, the tenure of the Kingly office was in practice lifelong, yet in theory it would seem to have been merely annual. For every year at the festival of Zagmuk the king had to renew his power by seizing the hands of the image of Marduk in his great temple of Esagil at Babylon. Even when Babylon passed under the power of Assyria, the monarchs of that country were expected to legalise their claim to the throne every year by coming to Babylon and performing the ancient ceremony at the New Year festival.’[1]

The earliest mention of Mithra is on a 14th century BCE clay tablet, where he is the guarantor of an agreement between the Hittites and Mitanni. Mithra is the god of contracts and agreement, his name in Avestan means Treaty or Contract.

Antiochus I of Commagene, c.69 to c.31 BCE, on the Nemrud Dagh is shown shaking his right hand with Mithra’s right hand. Mithra has his radiant crown and his Phrygian looking cap and cloak on his shoulders. Mithra in his left hand holds the Barsom the sacred twigs, as he is described as doing in the Zoroastrian Avesta. This right handed hand-shake between the King and Mithra back in ca50 BCE might seem trivial at first, after all Antiochus I also shakes hands with other deities at Nemrud Dagh including Ahura Mazda as well as Mithra. However, Mithra means ‘contract’ he is the god of agreements and oaths, a point also mentioned by Professor Clauss: ‘Mithra was god of the oath, protector of oaths. He was god of good faith, of agreements, of loyalty. Plutarch has an anecdote of how the Great King reminded one of his servants that he had bound himself to loyalty by shaking hands and by swearing by Mithra: Tell me (the truth), keeping faith with the light of Mithra and the King’s right hand’ (Vit Alex 30.8). [3]

This relief from Taq-e Bostan near Kermanshah, Iran, showing the investiture scene of Ardashir II (379–383 CE) of the Sasanian Empire. In middle the king is being given the right to rule, the divine kingship by Ahura Mazda, who hands the diadem with his right hand to the king’s right hand. The two stand on a prostrate enemy. On the left is Mithra, wearing a crown of sun-rays, holding holy barsom twigs, and standing on a sacred lotus flower, he is also giving his blessings to his rule. One of duties of Mithra was to protect the Kingly Fortune or Divine Glory (khvarnah or Farr). The hymn to Mithra (Yasht 10) speaks of the divinity as the bestower of khvarnah.

The above examples show how in the ancient Middle Eastern Empires, the shaking of hands with the gods allowed the divine right of Kingship to be bestowed on the Kings by physical contact with a representation of the deity. This is a divine contract being formed when the handshake takes place, be it a peace treaty or the giving of the right to rule. The act transforms the person to stand in line with the Gods.

The divine handshake is taken from the Persian Mithra to the Roman Mithras however, before examining this there are several other examples of right handed handshakes that need to be examined in part 2.

rklein/images/shalthe3… reproduced here with kind permission of Prof Ralph W.Klein.

[3] Manfred Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries (Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p4.

Mount Nemrut Statues – West Terrace

Firstly, as I was visiting at sunset the west terrace was the star of the show. Of course, the sun sets in the west and splendidly illuminates the Mount Nemrut statues of the west terrace with its low light.


Apollo stands next to his father Zeus on this ancient tomb. The statue of Apollo was found buried and is severely damaged. He was the god of healing and medicine.

Of course, Zeus is the highest ranked god and therefore his statue is both largest and holds a central location.


Who was Heracles? He was the son of Zeus and Alkmene. He represents the violent power and endurance of man before nature. However, all his deeds are positive as he can destroy natural disasters and tragedies. This philosophy doesn’t ring true as the low sunlight glows over his cracked statue. In his Mount Nemrut Turkey statue, Heracles is portrayed as his Persian equivalent, Artagnes.


For me, Antiochus is the most picturesue statue of Mount Nemrut Turkey. In addition, it’s in the best picture to photograph with the sunset colors. But who is Antiochus? It is in fact, King Antiochus, the man who created this huge tomb. Now this makes sense! He designed it therefore he made himself the best looking statue in the best location.


Adjacent to the statue of King Antiochus is the statue of Commagene. But who is Commagene? Commagene was the goddess of fertility in the former Kingdom of Commagene.


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My Traveling Joys

Isn't the history just amazing here? And to just run into that fabulous stone relief you have pictured. I'm constantly reminded how very young America is. Interesting perspective.

another enjoyable post and a reminder to go back to Nemrut area.

@Jessica, yes it is! Turkey continues to amaze me. Stay tuned for more ruins around the area.

@Alan, thank you! More to come this week.

Joy, I envie you so much. you are living my dreams. Turkey is full of history and still not packed and explored with tourists.

What a fascinating site, it's been so long since I was there - thanks for bringing back lots of happy memories!

@Dolce Fooda, Well, please come visit us! Turkey is so full of history. and there are direct flights from Washington DC now. :-)

@Ozlem, Glad I recalled some happy memories for you! We know so many Turks from Istanbul that haven't ventured to this part of the country. My husband's colleagues are impressed and exhausted by the kind of trips we do here in Turkey!

i want to travel to turkey more and more with each of your posts. it is all so enchanting!

@Joyce, Happy to hear! Guess I'm being a good ambassador for Turkey after all then! -)

The Antiochus of Commagene Lion Horoscope

Let me introduce you to the larger-than-life half-Greek, half-Armenian ancient king Antiochus I of Commagene. He lived in the first century BCE in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) and apparently had a keen interest in astrology and hermeticism. Born on the 16th of the Greek-Macedonian month “Audynaios” which roughly corresponds to our month of December, Antiochus of Commagene was most likely a Sagittarius.

This ancient king is somehow in vogue now. I am writing this article in December 2015 in the midst of three topical issues somehow related to him: the bloodied Syria war, the Jewish Hanukkah festival of lights, and Hellenistic astrology.

Antiochus himself might have been a larger-than-life figure, but his kingdom– Commagene—was a minuscule one that was smaller than modern Israel. In his era (1st century BCE), his kingdom was surrounded by menacing empires like the Parthian, the ever-expanding Roman, and the Ptolemaic-Egyptian one.

Geographically, Commagene is situated some 25 miles north of the modern Syrian borders where some bloody conflicts are actually taking place right now and where innumerable refugees are flocking in a desperate attempt to escape the mayhem. This is the first element connecting our regal protagonist to the present.

The second link has to do with a Greek “Seleucid” king who was a successor to Alexander the Great and whose superior army had been defeated by the Maccabean Jews in 165 BCE, the event modern Jews commemorate in their Hanukkah festival.

Coincidentally, that king - also named Antiochus - was an ancestor of the mother of King Antiochus of Commagene! Here then is the second element connecting Antiochus of Commagene to the present period.

And the third link to Antiochus is recently revived Hellenistic Astrology which had apparently held the interest of Antiochus of Commagene at a very deep, esoteric level. In his time, Hellenistic Astrology was beginning to take shape and form through its Mesopotamian roots, especially within the Commagene geographic area very close to Mesopotamia.

Antiochus, who bore the title “Manifest God”--Epiphanes Theos in Greek—was either a megalomaniac or a shrewd politician. Well aware his kingdom was tiny and would eventually be swallowed by giant empires, Antiochus tried artificially to “pump up” his kingdom, to aggrandize and establish in his own way an illustrious “Commagene dynasty.” This goal led Antiochus to commission a rather pharaonic project—the construction of a huge mausoleum atop Mount Nemrut, the highest mountain of Commagene—where he said, “my soul will be eternally dwelling with the gods.”

Using many thousand tons of stones and gravel, his workers actually reshaped the entire mountaintop to resemble a perfect pyramid! They created two separate terraces at the east and west corners and added a similar array of gods’ statues including, remarkably, Antiochus’ statue! Bas reliefs below these gigantic statues recount Antiochus’ mostly fictitious saga. Inside the pyramid, they allegedly placed his tomb.

The lion bas relief at the west terrace is most interesting to us and perhaps to the entire history of astrology. We know the lion from remote antiquity has been a symbol of royalty. But although there are plenty of lion statues on this sanctuary/mausoleum, this specific lion slab is different: It clearly depicts several stars on its surface! In fact, 19 eight-pointed stars are spread all over the body of—and some around—the lion. Not of the same magnitude, some of these 19 stars are bigger, and some are smaller. Such detail cannot be coincidental.

The artist who sculpted this bas relief was good with his hands, and the arrangement of these 19 stars over and around the body of the lion presents another question: Is this arrangement casual and purely decorative, or is there something deeper to be seen? Even an amateur astronomer can tell this arrangement is not casual at all.

More than two millennia have passed since the era of Antiochus of Commagene, but the constellations in the heavens have maintained pretty much the same configuration. Only after tens of thousands of years do they shift significantly. Typically, Greek astronomers commonly observed the constellation of Leo with 19 stars. Knowing this, everything starts fitting in and it makes sense that some stars on this lion slab are bigger and some smaller: they almost perfectly match their true corresponding magnitudes!

So we understand this bas relief is an astronomical depiction that might very well be a sort of deification of the constellation of Leo. But while I am just hazarding a guess, another question comes to mind: How can we possibly be sure that the lion sculpture relief on Mount Nemrut is in reality a horoscope? Surely, it doesn’t look like one, or at least it doesn’t look like the circular horoscopes with the zodiac on the circumference and the planets arranged around it.

If this is a horoscope, then where are the typical horoscopic elements—the planets, the Ascendant, the houses, and so on? Our modern assumptions of a horoscope do not match what we see here. Yet supporting evidence on this bas relief points to the horoscope scenario. One needs a discerning eye - and the notion of some Greek!

We mentioned the presence of 19 stars on this lion slab earlier. In reality, there are 22, but three of them - those hovering over the back of the lion - stand out from the other ones for three reasons:

1) They are much bigger than the rest.
2) They are composed of sixteen-pointed rays, not eight like the other 19 stars.
3) They bear names over them, in Greek. Actually their Greek names are the key to their mysterious nature!

The Greek phrase—ΠΥΡΟΕΙC ΗΡΑΚΛ(ΕΟΥC)–over the left sixteen-pointed “star” means the fiery one of Hercules. Of course this sentence does not make much sense without one’s knowledge of some ancient Greek astronomy or literature. In classical Greece, “the Fiery one” referred to the planet Mars which in ancient Greek texts we often encounter simply as ΠΥΡΟΕΙC—the “Fiery.” We will see below why the full title “the fiery one of Hercules” is displayed here.

The Greek phrase—CΤΙΛΒΩΝ ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΟC—over the central sixteen-pointed “star” means the glittering one of Apollo. But without someone’s knowledge about Greek astronomy or literature, again this sentence will not make much astrological sense. In classical Greece, the name of the planet Mercury was known as “the Glittering one.” We often encounter it in ancient Greek texts simply as CΤΙΛΒΩΝ—the Glittering.

And the Greek phrase–ΦΑΕΘΩΝ ΔΙΟC—over the right sixteen-pointed “star” means: the radiant one of Jupiter. This is the easiest item to identify on the Lion slab because indeed it refers to planet Jupiter. In classical Greece, “the Radiant one” was the name of planet Jupiter. We often encounter it in ancient Greek texts simply as ΦΑΕΘΩΝ – the “Radiant”.

When planets and gods commune

At this point, the Lion slab takes a whole new meaning and becomes apparent that this is not a mere representation of the constellation of Leo, but there is still more to it. It most probably has astrological connotations. Otherwise the three fully named planets over the Lion’s back would make no sense. Why would they inscribe and depict just the planets of Mars, Mercury and Jupiter on the slab? Why not Venus and Saturn too? The latter are conspicuously absent!

The sequence of planets over the lions back might be another important clue. They do not follow the classic sequence—Mercury, Mars, Jupiter—but they are enumerated in this rather erratic manner: Mars, Mercury, Jupiter. Did the sculptor commit an error in the sequence of the planets? Or is the famous scholar Otto Neugebauer correct in claiming the sequence of these planets is either accidental or manneristically repeats the late Babylonian enumeration of the planets—Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Mars? If we omit Venus and Saturn, we get Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, the exact sequence of the planets on the lion slab although mirrored in reverse. I personally think Neugebauer’s assumption does not hold much water. In contrast to what we know today, he lacked some crucial archaeological findings.

I believe the lion slab is “semiotically” connected to the gigantic statues of the deities at the pyramid’s base. At both the eastern and western terraces, the same array of deities is replicated in exactly the same order: the deified Antiochus on the very left, the all=important Greek goddess Tyche—Fortune, Jupiter at the center, Mercury and, finally, Mars on the very right. If we start enumerating these statues from right to left we get Mars, Mercury, Jupiter. That’s exactly the sequence of the three planets on the lion slab!

Of course there are a couple of objections here:

Why should we enumerate the gods/planets at the base of the pyramid from right to left when, on the lion slab, we enumerate the three planets from left to right?

Why are the two major statues/deities—Apollo and Mars—located on the left, the “lesser” side of Jupiter, while a mortal like Antiochus stands on Jupiter’s right, “good” side?

The answer to the second question is simple: The Mesopotamians always took the observers’–the pilgrims in this case—point of view into account, so actually Antiochus stands on the lesser, left side of Jupiter. In the first question, it was a matter of “staging.” Since Jupiter as the king of the gods had to be at the very center of the statues’ array, the only viable option left was to enumerate the Mars-Mercury-Jupiter sequence on the reverse, ending with Mars on the far right. Even so, the lion slab and the array of the statues are intrinsically attuned! The full planetary denomination over the lion’s back—for example, “the glittering one of Apollo” for Mercury—enabled the pilgrims to correlate the lion’s esoteric symbolism to that of the gods’ gigantic statues.

A lunar "necklace" - Signs vs Constellations

There is a last decisive clue on the lion slab we haven’t touched so far. A clearly visible type of sickle-shaped ornament is shown on the lion’s chest. In the long Mesopotamian, and probably global, tradition, a sickle-shape symbolizes the Moon. Here, we can see the message that the lion slab shows the Moon in the constellation of Leo.

This isn’t an astronomical slab but an astrological one commemorating some major event either for Antiochus or the kingdom of Commagene, taking place under the auspices of the constellation of Leo!

Did you notice I’ve been writing “constellation of Leo” instead of “zodiacal sign of Leo?” Although both the constellations and the zodiac are divided into 12 sections bearing the same names, constellations and zodiacal signs are two radically different things. The constellations remain (relatively) fixed on the celestial vault while the zodiacal signs are slowly shifting. Today, for example, the constellation of Leo largely corresponds to that section of the sky where the zodiacal sign of Virgo is. In some 2500 years the constellation of Leo will be corresponding to the zodiacal sign of Libra. That’s why I am cautious with the use of the terms “constellation” and sign”. But by a remarkable coincidence in Antiochus’ times, the tropical and sidereal zodiacs were almost coinciding and were off by just 4 degrees. So astrologically speaking, the “constellation of Leo” and the “zodiacal sign of Leo” were almost the same back then.

To what extent Commagene astrologers were aware of conceptual differences between constellations and the zodiac, we are not sure. Within the realm of the Hellenistic world, Hipparchus had discovered precession of the equinoxes in 130 BCE. From that point on, astrologers had to take a gigantic leap in consciousness to comprehend and assimilate that there was a new “entity” called “zodiacal sign,” which was quite different and independent from its namesake constellation! Generations would definitely pass before astrologers began to adjust to this new idea.

But let’s turn back to the lion slab which obviously depicts a horoscope! To our modern eyes, we may not see it because we instinctively compare it with the modern horoscopic blueprints with which we are familiar—the ones with the zodiacal circle, the planetary symbols, the houses, the Ascendant and so on. But we shouldn’t apply modern preconceptions to artifacts that are more than 2000 years old. At that time, for instance, the Ascendant was a concept not yet developed. There were no astrological houses at least not in the modern sense. Apparently the zodiac had already been invented, but it was handled as a theoretical concept without much usefulness. The astrologers of that era were following old traditions and verbally wrote down planetary positions in the signs, writing the words instead of the symbols.

Those were times of a major transition in astrology. The “omen lore” era where horoscopes consisted of simple planetary omens inscribed on mud-bricks was coming to an end, and the gigantic wave of the new, revolutionary Hellenistic astrology was emerging on the horizon. If we could see Mount Nemrut’s lion slab through the eyes of an educated person in that culture, we would immediately see a very advanced horoscope!

Apparently, this lion slab horoscope serves two major purposes: On one hand, it astronomically marks as a short calendar, the date of some important event. On the other hand, this short “certificate” gives testimony to the event’s having taken place during some extraordinary cosmic occurrence that vibrationally “sealed” it for ever!

But what was that important event and when did it occur?

Determining the date of the "event"

Thanks to the lion horoscope and modern computers, it’s rather easy to establish the date of this unknown event. We are looking for when the Moon and the planets of Mars, Mercury and Jupiter were all in the constellation or zodiacal sign of Leo. We will not get many such dates. And thanks to information provided by the inscriptions at the site, we know this important event was related either to Antiochus or to his father Mithridates who ascended to the throne in 109 BCE. We can further narrow the time frame to the period between 140 BCE and 38 BCE, when Antiochus died. We then can obtain the results you see in the next table:

I immediately dismiss case 2 because Antiochus wasn’t even born in 98 BCE and it doesn’t correspond to any major event in the lives of Antiochus or of Mithridates. It also doesn’t obey the Mars-Mercury-Jupiter sequence we see depicted on the lion slab. I also dismiss case 4 because Antiochus was rather old by then and his Mount Nemrut statue portrays him as a young man. This case also fails to obey the crucial Mars-Mercury-Jupiter sequence.

We are left then with cases 1 and 3. Case 1—July 14th, 109—corresponds to the coronation year of King Mithridates, Antiochus’ father. Some scholars claim the lion horoscope is “cast” for the Mithridates coronation. I disagree. Why would they elect a coronation horoscope, leaving the Sun, the most regal of the “planets” out of the sign/constellation of Leo and in Cancer instead?

Case 3 is the most satisfactory of them all. It not only meets the requirements, the Sun is in the sign/constellation of Leo, the ultimate “certificate” of royalty! But then, very reasonably, you will say to me, “There is no sun depicted on the lion horoscope.” I don’t think that’s true. The entire lion slab depicts the Sun in Leo so there was no need to inscribe the Sun symbol on it.

Such an absolutely rare and unique accumulation of planets in the regal sign of Leo could not have gone unnoticed by an erudite man, well-versed in astrology and hermeticism—our man Antiochus I Theos! Those years were extraordinary from another point of view as well: the regal star Regulus, lying at the “heart” of the Leo constellation a few inches above the lunar “sickle” we identified on the lion slab, had just entered the zodiacal sign of Leo.

Antiochus took full advantage of this extraordinary cosmic occurrence to deify himself and to establish an illustrious dynasty that included the construction of his enormous sanctuary/mausoleum on the summit of Mount Nemrut. He most likely performed a sort of “Theurgy” there on August 3rd, 62 BCE and equaled himself and his dynasty to the gods. This was probably when he gave himself the title of “Epiphanes Theos” —“Manifest God” and propitiated his kingdom. He wasn’t very successful however. A few decades after his death, the Romans annexed Commagene to their huge empire. Nevertheless, the Antiochus monument and the lion horoscope have survived more than 2000 years, still creating fascination in people all over the world. In that sense, the legacy of Antiochus I of Commagene has indeed been immortalized while horoscope of the lion has been a perfect election after all.

Mount Nemrut

Antiochus is famous for building the impressive religious sanctuary of Nemrud Dagi or Mount Nemrut. When Antiochus reigned as king he was creating a royal cult for himself and was preparing to be worshipped after his death. Antiochus was inspired to create his own cult in the Greek form of the religion Zoroastrianism. Antiochus left many Greek inscriptions revealing many aspects of his religion and explaining his purpose of action. In one inscription, Antiochus wrote erecting his tomb in a high and holy place should be remote from people and should be close to the gods and be in rank with them. Antiochus wanted his body to be preserved for eternity. The gods he worshipped were a syncretism of Greek, Armenian, and Iranian gods, such as Hercules-Vahagn, Zeus-Aramazd or Oromasdes (associated with the Iranic god Ahura Mazda), Tyche, and Apollo-Mithras. The monumental effigies of the site show both Persian and Greek icnonographic influences. Persian influences can be seen in the clothes, headgear and the colossal size of the images, while the depiction of their physical features derives from Greek artistic style.

Antiochus practised astrology of a very esoteric kind, and laid the basis for a calendrical reform, by linking the Commagene year, which till then had been based on the movements of the Sun and Moon, to the Sothic-Anahit (Star of Sirius) and Hayk (Star of Orion) cycle used by the Egyptians as the basis of their calendar. This would suggest that Antiochus was knowledgeable about, if not fully initiated into Hermeticism.

Antiochus’ tomb complex was constructed in a way that religious festivities could occur. Each month Antiochus had two festivities: his birthday which was celebrated on the 16th of each month and his coronation which was celebrated on the 10th of each month. He allocated funds for these events from properties legally bound to the site. He also appointed families of priests and hierodules, whose descendants were intended to, continue the ritual service in perpetuity. Priests wore traditional Persian robes and adorned with crowns of gold the images of the gods and Antiochus' ancestors. The priests offered incense, herbs, and other unspecified "splendid sacrifices" on altars set before each image. All the citizens and military garrison were invited to the banquets in honor of the illustrious deceased. During feasts, grudging attitudes were forbidden and Antiochus decreed that the people should enjoy themselves, eat and drink wine, and listen to the sacred music performed by the temple musicians.

Antiochus’ tomb was forgotten for centuries, until 1883 when archaeologists from Germany excavated it. According to the inscriptions found, Antiochus appears to have been a pious person and had a generous spirit. In another city of the kingdom Arsameia, ruins have found of the royal palace. This palace is known as Eski Vale or Old Castle. In Arsameia, Antiochus has left many inscriptions in Greek of his public works program and how he glorified the city.


  1. Mezikazahn

    In my opinion, mistakes are made. I am able to prove it.

  2. Moogukree

    It does not approach me. There are other variants?

  3. Ambrosio

    They are wrong. I propose to discuss it.

  4. Radford

    In my opinion, you are wrong. I'm sure. I can prove it. Email me at PM.

  5. Sagal

    I don't see your logic

  6. Aristaeus

    What words ... Fiction

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