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Have archaeologists found the tomb of the ‘god king’?


King Antiochus 1, ruler of Commagene from 70 BC to 36BC, an ancient Armenian kingdom, was a most unusual king. He claimed descent from Greek conqueror Alexander the Great on his mother’s side, and from the Persian King Darius the Great on his father’s side, thus combining the west and the east. But what was particularly salient about this king was his unerring pride and his over-extended ego.  Antiochus 1 claimed he had a special relationship with the gods referring to himself as Theos (divine or god), and instituted a royal cult in the Greek form of the religion Zoroastrianism with the clear intention of being worshipped as a god after his death.

King Antiochus 1 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 commissioned the construction of a magnificent religious sanctuary on Mount Nemrut (Nemrud Dagi), a 2,100 metre high mountain where people could come and pray to him.  Antiochus 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. At the peak of the Mount, workers constructed great limestone statues of gods and a pyramid-like tomb where King Antiochus requested to be preserved for all eternity. An inscription refers to the summit as a sacred resting place where Antiochus, the ‘god king’ would be laid to rest and his soul would join those of other deities in the celestial realm. The gods he worshipped were a syncretism of Greek, Armenian, and Iranian gods, and the monumental effigies of the site show both Persian and Greek icnonographic influences.

Antiochus instructed that every year after his death, great festivities would be held at the sanctuary – his birthday was celebrated on the 16 th of each month and his coronation was celebrated on the 10 th of each month.  Priests appointed by Antiochus made offerings and conducted ‘splendid sacrifices’ on altars to honour the illustrious king.

Antiochus’ sanctuary was forgotten for centuries, until it was re-discovered by a German archaeologist in 1883. In 1987, Mount Nemrut was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, so that it could protected and preserved for the years to come, something that Antiochus would presumably be very pleased about!

Until recently, little had been recovered or excavated from the great mound atop Mount Nemrut. The artificially constructed mound has sat undisturbed for centuries and archaeologists have long wondered what lay beneath it. Then, late last year, a group of archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to examine the site.  They discovered a pyramidal-shaped chamber with a box-like object (about 6 foot long) in the centre. There appear to be other objects, possibly statues within the chamber. Could this be the sarcophagus and final resting place of Antiochus the god king? It seems highly likely.

Archaeologists are now waiting in anticipation for permission from Turkish authorities to excavate the site.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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