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Antiochus I of Commagene, shaking hands with Heracles 70-38 BC, British Museum.

Antiochus I Theos Dikaios Epiphanes Philorhomaios Philhellen (Greek: Ἀντίοχος ὀ Θεός Δίκαιος Ἐπιφανής Φιλορωμαίος Φιλέλλην, "Antiochos the Just and Eminent God, friend of the Romans and friend of the Greeks", c. 86 BC-38 BC), was the king of Commagene from 70 BC until his death, and the most famous ruler of that kingdom.

The ruins of the tomb-sanctuary of Antiochus Theos are magnificent to behold even today. The site of his interment atop Mount Nemrut, a.k.a. Nemrut dagi, was named to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987. Several sandstone bas reliefs discovered at the site contain the oldest known images of two figures shaking hands.[1]


Family, Ancestry and Early Life

Antiochus I was the son and probably the only child of King Mithridates I Callinicus and Queen Laodice VII Thea of Commagene. Antiochus’ father Mithridates was the son of King of Commagene Sames II Theosebes Dikaios, while his mother is unknown. Mithridates in descent was related to the kings of Parthia and, according to archaeological research at Mount Nemrut, was also a descendant of King Darius I of Persia.

Antiochus’ mother, Laodice VII Thea, was a princess of the Seleucid Empire. Laodice’s father was the Seleucid King Antiochus VIII Grypus while her mother was Ptolemaic Princess and later Seleucid Queen Tryphaena (see Cleopatra VI of Egypt). Thus, Antiochus was a direct descendant of Seleucus I Nicator of the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt, Antigonus I Monophthalmus of Macedonia, Lysimachus of Thrace and the Macedonian regent, Antipater. The five men had served as generals under Macedonian King, Alexander the Great. Antiochus’ parents had married as part of a peace alliance between their kingdoms, while his father had embraced Greek culture. Little is known of his early life. When his father died in 70 BC, Antiochus succeeded his father as king.

Antiochus married a Greek woman called Isias. They had five children who were:

Relations with the Romans

While the Roman Republic was annexing territories in Anatolia through skilled diplomacy, Antiochus was able to keep Commagene independent from the Romans. Antiochus is first mentioned in the ancient sources in 69 BC, when the general Lucullus’ campaign against the Armenian King Tigranes.

Antiochus made peace with general Pompey in 64 BC, when Pompey successfully invaded Syria. Antiochus and Pompey then became allies. Antiochus in 59 BC was granted the Toga Praetexta and was given official recognition from the Roman Senate as an ally to Rome. Antiochus was given an ivory sceptre, an embroidered triumphal robe and he was greeted as king, ally and friend. This recognition was a tradition, which recognises and rewards the allies to Rome. From his reign onwards, monarchs from Commagene proved to be the most loyal Roman allies. When Marcus Tullius Cicero was Roman governor of Cilicia in 51 BC, Antiochus provided Cicero with intelligence of the movements of the Parthians. During the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, Antiochus provided troops for Pompey.

In 38 BC a legatus of Triumvir Mark Antony, Publius Ventidius Bassus, after conquering the Parthians wanted to declare war on Antiochus and his kingdom. Mark Antony and Publius Ventidius Bassus were attracted to the treasury and wealth that Commagene had. As Antony and Bassus, were about to declare a siege on Commagene and its capital Samosata, Antiochus made peace with Antony and Bassus.

Mount Nemrut

Statues of gods and the pyramid-like tomb-sanctuary of King Antiochus Theos of Commagene rising behind, atop Mount Nemrut

Antiochus is famous for building the impressive religious sanctuary of Nemrud Dağı or Mount Nemrut. When Antiochus reigned as king he created a royal cult for himself and was preparing to be worshipped after his death. Antiochus was inspired to create his own cult in a Hellenized form of Zoroastrianism. Antiochus left many Greek inscriptions revealing many aspects of his religion and explaining his purpose of action. In one inscription, Antiochus suggests his tomb must be in a high and holy place, remote from the people and close to the gods with whom he is in rank. Antiochus wanted his body to be preserved for eternity. The gods he worshipped were a syncretism of Greek and Persian deities, some of them personifications of the Sun, Moon and planets. The monumental effigies had Persian and Greek influences. Persian influences were the clothes, headgear and the colossal state of the deities. While the Greek influences were representation of the gods and showing ancestors of the king. The deities bore Greek features and styles.

Antiochus practiced 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 Moon, to the Sothic (Star of Sirius) cycle used by the Egyptians as the basis of their calendar.

Antiochus’ version of Hermeticism where his remains were buried. His tomb was constructed in a way that religious festivities could happen. Each month Antiochus had two festivities: his birthday which was celebrated on the 10th of each month and his coronation which was celebrated on the 16th of each month. He would allocate funds for these events.

Priests wore traditional Persian robes and adorn all effigies with crowns of gold as worship to the ancestors. The priests would place incense, herbs and sacrifices on the altars. All the citizens and military garrison were invited to the banquets in honor of the illustrious deceased. During feasts, grudging attitudes were forbidden and priests decreed that the people should enjoy themselves, eat and drink wine. Wine was served however, it was allowed to be consumed during the one day festivities. Antiochus created women musicians for the banquets. Antiochus’ tomb was forgotten for centuries, until 1883 when archaeologists from Germany excavated the tomb.

According to inscriptions, Antiochus appeared to have been a pious person and had a generous spirit. In another city of the kingdom Arsameia, ruins were found of the royal palace. This palace is known as Eski Vale or Old Castle. In Arsameia, Antiochus left many inscriptions in Greek of his public works program and how he glorified the city.

See also


  1. ^ Downey, Susan B. (1997). "Nemrud Dagi: the Hierothesion of Antiochus I of Commagene". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research: 94–95. doi:10.2307/1357708.  


Further reading



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