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Added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2014, Pergamon, Turkey’s ancient northern Hellenistic city (Dimitri / Adobe Stock)

Ancient Tomb of Bird Oracle Priest Found in Turkey’s Pergamon

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The ancient city of Pergamon (or Pergamum) in Turkey has yielded several interesting finds recently. The latest in this series of finds is the tomb of the bird oracle priest Markos. Based on the recent findings, Markos, the ancient bird oracle priest, used the behavior of birds, their flight and songs, as a way to make divinations about the future.

Bird oracle practices were common in Hellenistic Pergamon, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2014. Pergamon is mentioned in the New Testament in Revelations as one of the locations of the Seven Churches of Revelation, also known as the Seven Churches of Asia . Pergamum was referred to as the location of “Satan's seat” in a New Testament Revelations passage.

According to the Daily Sabah , the bird oracle priest’s tomb contained a number of artifacts including a rare, perfectly intact ampulla, which is a small round vessel used for holding holy water and ritual oils. As of this writing, archaeologists are still trying to precisely date the tomb and its contents.

Bird Oracle Priests: Using Birds to Predict Everything!

Researchers discovered the “necropolis-like” burial site in Pergamon’s Asclepion healing temple , dedicated to Asclepius, the first doctor demigod and the son of Apollon. An inscription on an andesite block discovered in the necropolis, where looters had previously carried out illegal excavations, indicated that the tomb belonged to Markos, Trophimos’ son. Epigraphy (inscription) experts who studied the inscriptions in the tomb learned that Markos was a bird oracle priest living in the 2nd century AD, reported the Daily Sabah .

“One of the most important things in the excavation was an inscription on the stone . It was a tomb inscription and the tomb owner’s name was given. Markos, son of Trophimos. We already knew the name Mark because we came across that name during another excavation in the area. It was also on an altar near the Asklepion,” said Professor Ulrich Mania, an archaeologist from the German Archaeological Institute, who has been working at the site for more than three years.

The role of Pergamon’s bird priest oracle was to prophesize the future through his divinations of bird flight patterns, songs, and behaviors, acting as a conduit for the will and desire of mythological gods .

In this manner, Markos operated as an oracle who could predict the future, which made him a highly important individual in the ancient world of Hellenistic Pergamon.

The bird oracle priest’s tomb contained a number of rare artifacts including a perfume bottle , a plate, a candle, and a scraping tool called a strigilis, which is used to clean oil and sand from human bodies.

“There are many tombs in general and we do not know whom they belong to. Maybe we can find bones, ashes or a few burial gifts , yet we do not know the status of the owner of the grave. If it belongs to an oracle, a priest of higher status, this is a milestone,” said Professor Mania of the other necropolises in the area which have also been dated to antiquity.

This Etruscan wall painting by an unknown painter from Tomba degli Auguri (circa 530 BC) depicts two augurs and the one on the left is definitely a bird oracle priest. This tomb is located within the necropolis of Monterozzi near Tarquinia, Italy. (Public domain)

This Etruscan wall painting by an unknown painter from Tomba degli Auguri (circa 530 BC) depicts two augurs and the one on the left is definitely a bird oracle priest. This tomb is located within the necropolis of Monterozzi near Tarquinia, Italy. ( Public domain )

Bird Oracles From The Greeks to the Etruscans and Romans

Ornithomancy, derived from the modern Greek word “ornis,” meaning bird, and “manteia,” which means divination, literally translates to “omens from the flight and cries of birds.” Practiced by a wide variety of ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and the Etruscans and Romans, ornithomancy involved reading omens from the actions of birds. This practice is similar to certain forms of augury practiced by the ancient Romans.

The Hittites practiced ornithomancy as early as the 13th-14th century BC, and possibly introduced it to the Greeks. The Hittites practiced a simple version of observing birds and then noting down their observations, reports Arkeonews. Hesiod and Homer’s texts from ancient Greece also make a reference to the practice. In the classic Odyssey epic poem, an eagle flies by three times with a dead dove in its talon, an indication of the arrival of Odysseus, and the death of his wife’s suitors.

In Aeschylus’s works, Prometheus was said to have introduced ornithomancy to mankind, making a distinction between naturally favorable and sinister birds. Later on, the Romans learned the bird oracle arts from the local Etruscans of ancient Italy.

Top image: Added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2014, Pergamon, Turkey’s ancient northern Hellenistic city ( Dimitri / Adobe Stock)

By Sahir Pandey

References

Daily Sabah. 2022. Ancient ornithomancy: Pergamon reveals tomb of 'Bird Oracle' . Available at: https://www.dailysabah.com/arts/ancient-ornithomancy-pergamon-reveals-tomb-of-bird-oracle/news.

Kayra, O. 2022. The tomb of the “Bird Oracle Markos” was found in the ancient city of Pergamon . Available at: https://arkeonews.net/the-tomb-of-the-bird-oracle-markos-was-found-in-the-ancient-city-of-pergamon/.

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