Monday, January 16, 2012

Off With Their Heads!

image credit
You may recall last spring/summer I was actively researching Mithraic mysteries and Cilician pirates. Well, the research led me to some interesting places in my new MS -- places I'd always wanted to go, but never knew how to utilize.

Nemrut is one of those places. Search the word hierothesion, and you won't find an easy definition. What you'll find is a link pointing over to UNESCO world heritage site, Nemrut.

To paraphrase what I learned:

Nemrut is believed to be the burial site of King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene, high on the mountain top overlooking his kingdom. Hierothesion refers to the way the statues of the gods are arranged at the site. (see restoration below)

Now here's where I go off track a bit.

The statues are enormous (8–9 m/26–30 ft). Depictions of Hercules/Vahagn, Zeus/Oromasdes, Apollo/Mithra, Tyche, plus paired eagles and lions, flank the king. To confuse me some more, the statues wear Persian style dress/hair, but were carved with Greek faces. (And why are all the guys identified in Greek/Persian, but Tyche, the goddess of fortune, is only Tyche? I'm voting to call her Tyche/Mah, but what do I know?) It seems the hierothesion falls at some sort of midpoint between the two belief systems, circa 62 BC.

Something so big and so important draws attention. When religious ideas of the area shifted to monotheism, the statues were beheaded, lest they be used for idol worship. No one knows when or how it happened, but the heads are now located down the hill from their respective torsos.
Maybe that isn't such a travesty after all. The statues are interesting, but I think the detached heads are what make the site unique.

The image on the right of a restored Nemrut is from an Icelandic source that I couldn't really translate well. (Feel free to follow the link and try for yourself.)

For a long time, not many people made it out to Nemrut. It's out past Malatya, near Adiyaman in eastern Turkey. Read: very far from the beach.

Tourists are coming much more consistently these days. Now Malatya and Adiyaman are fighting for road access rights, airports, and hotels. I think before they worry about the tourists, they should worry about the statues. More people means more deterioration of the site.

Controversy over Mt Nemrut spreads

And PS - No spoilers in the comments, LTM! ;)


Old Kitty said...

I remember visiting this Cathedral and we went right to the top bit and looked over the parapet and the guide pointed out beheaded statues of saints in the alcoves. Apparently during the protestant reformation, statues and other catholic depictions were a no-no and so were destroyed, painted over and beheaded. I just think the act of beheading a statue is so bizarre! The act of beheading these huge statues and statues way up in the skies are even more bizarre! Imagine the effort! LOL!

Take care

Sarah said...

I find it so interesting how people are so threatened by stone statues and paintings. Images are powerful, and this is just one demonstration of that! Fascinating post, Carolyn!

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I agree with old kitty and sarah-- really amazing the effort it must have taken, and fascinating to think about what motivates people to do these things.
The restoration looks incredible, but I think ruins are beautiful in a different way. I think I prefer the decapitated heads (that sounds awful in my own head as I type it).

LTM said...

LOL! Me? Spoil??? Nevah! ;p Great post--Greeks, Persians, Tyche. She refused to be pigeonholed. :D No, seriously, you're always making me smarter. And they cut off all the heads, eh. Weren't the statues humongous? Whatever. I think this is all totally cool. :D <3

Unknown said...

I think it's sad how people would want to destroy history. I guess it partly due to intolerance but it's sad nonetheless.

Matthew MacNish said...

You always know the most fascinating things.

Southpaw said...

THAT is totally cool. It a new place for me. Giant beheaded heads, what a story!

Golden Eagle said...

I can't imagine "beheading" something that massive . . . it must have taken a lot of effort!

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