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Important to Archeologists : Ancient King's Tomb Is Tops in Turkey

November 16, 1986|KERIN HOPE | Associated Press

NEMRUD DAGI, Turkey — On top of this 7,150-foot mountain in eastern Turkey a dozen gigantic stone heads guard the tomb of an ancient king who didn't want to be forgotten.

Antiochus I, ruler of the small but strategically important Kommagene region in the 1st Century BC, built himself a showy funeral monument on the highest peak in his kingdom.

He claimed descent from Alexander the Great, who conquered the district 300 years earlier, and from King Darius, the 5th-Century BC Persian monarch.

"It's an extraordinary place to build a tomb-sanctuary. You can't help thinking Antiochus suffered from megalomania," said Scott Redford, an American archeologist who works in the region.

Stone Guards

In summer, tourists travel 70 miles by jeep from the town of Adiyaman to see the eight-foot-high stone heads turn pink at dawn: Nemrud Dagi is famous for its spectacular sunrises.

The shrine is important to archeologists because of its unique mix of Greek, Roman and Persian styles in religion and sculpture.

"It's a place where East met West. For scholars, it's a fascinating example of syncretism--the fusion of ancient religions," said Redford, who works at the American Research Institute of Turkey.

But no one knows whether Antiochus finally was buried beneath the 160-foot-high mound of loose, fist-size chunks of limestone that forms the centerpiece of the sprawling monument.

American archeologists digging at Nemrud Dagi 30 years ago tunneled into the mound but found no trace of a tomb chamber.

Skeletons Found

Archeologists probing other funeral mounds around the ancient Kommagene kingdom on the Euphrates River have found burial chambers and skeletons.

Nemrud Dagi's remote location near the Turkish-Syrian border and the logistical problems of excavating on a bleak mountain peak discourage archeologists from digging.

The American teams cleared two broad terraces east and west of the mountaintop mound. Each was overlooked by a line of identical seated figures, about five times life size.

Antiochus, shown as a clean-shaven young man, was flanked by eagles, lions and ancient mythological figures: Zeus, king of the gods in ancient Greek mythology; Hercules; Apollo the sun god, and Tyche, goddess of fortune. All but one of the 14 colossal heads were toppled by earthquakes. The American team set them upright and recorded dozens of Greek inscriptions engraved on the statue bases.

Future Worship Ensured

The inscriptions gave detailed instructions to ensure that future generations would worship Antiochus as a god. Priests were to crown the stone heads with wreaths of gold and slave musicians would perform as pilgrims gathered for sacrifices on the mountaintop.

But despite Antiochus' bid for immortality, history records him as a minor ruler.

"He happened to run a country that formed a buffer state between the two superpowers of the day--Rome and Persia," Redford said. "He signed a treaty with the Romans and was subsidized by them."

Antiochus was overthrown by Rome around 34 BC after apparently using some of his funding to support a local rebellion backed by the Persians.

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