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Nemrud Dagi, Turkey

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page updated October 27, 2014
Some of the visuals shown there are available for viewing below and are available for purchase for use in any noncommercial educational context from the Institute for the Visualization of History (click on the Products button).
Nemrud Dagi location (click to enlarge)

Map of southeastern Turkey (click to enlarge).

Nemrud Dagi, topographic map (click to enlarge)

Plan of Nemrud Dagi (drawn 1956 from the survey by H. Brokamp for the Theresa Goell excavations; click to enlarge).

The marker points to the location of Nemrud Dagi.

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Begin the animation to view a fly-over of the site (about 12Mb in size).  The animation has been excerpted from our latest (2011) 3D model of Nemrud Dagi; a complete virtual world is currently under construction. 

The Sanctuary of Nemrud Dagi is one of the most remarkable, best preserved, but least known monuments of Asia Minor.  The site, called by its builder a hierothesion, or "common dwelling place of all the gods next to the heavenly thrones," is situated 2150m above sea level atop one of the highest peaks in the Anti-Taurus Mountains of southeastern Turkey near the banks of the Euphrates River.  The monument is one of the premier sites of the Late Hellenistic period.  It was constructed by King Antiochus I of Commagene in the mid-1st century BCE to command a 360o view of the ranges, plains, and towns that comprised his ancient kingdom.  It became the main sanctuary of his ruler cult to which worshippers from all over this kingdom were expected to go on the monthly and yearly anniversary of the king's birth and his accession to the throne.
View up toward the East Terrace (click to enlarge)

View up to the East Terrace from one of the processional ways leading to the site laid out by King Antiochus (image courtesy of Donald H. Sanders).

(click on the image to enlarge)

A Herculean effort by any standard, the construction of the site, covering more than 26,000square meters, involved carving three large terraces into the living rock of the mountain to flank its peak at the east, west, and north; the peak itself was covered with rubble chips to form a 50m-high tumulus.

The East and West Terraces together contain an astonishing array of sculpture, inscriptions, and architectural elements.  Each terrace bears a set of five colossal seated figures (8-9m high) of King Antiochus and his Greco-Persian tutelary deities.  In addition, there are dozens of reliefs with over-lifesize figures portraying Antiochus' glorious maternal and paternal ancestors garbed in authentic period costume; each stela bears an inscription on its back that identifies the figure on the front.  Investiture reliefs, scenes depicting Antiochus being greeted individually by each member of his pantheon, and the earliest known calendrical horoscope also appear.  Numerous statues of lions and eagles guard the site's features, and altars are profuse.

The ensemble is carefully linked to the townspeople in the surrounding countryside by three processional ways, one leading up to each terrace; each pathway was guarded by an advisory maker warning visitors to only have pious intentions or be struck down by the thousand arrows of Apollo and Heracles.  Nemrud Dagi is truly a remarkable testimony to the skills of King Antiochus and his historians and artisans.

Colossal Statue of King Antiochus, Reconstructed (click to enlarge)

View from the fire altar to the East Terrace monumental podium (image courtesy of Donald H. Sanders)

(click on the image to enlarge)

East Terrace podium mid1950s (image size 35k)

Computer rendering from about the same viepoint as the photograph at the left, showing the reconstructed podium and colossi.

(click the eimage to enlarge)

The monument was first discovered for Western eyes in the late 19th century.  It had always been known to the local population, who revered the site as the legendary home of their ancient kings. After a series of seemingly fantastic reports by the 19th-c. German explorers (telling of giant statues, 100s of relief sculptures, and immense animals), incredulous authorities sent a team to Turkey to climb Nemrud Dagi.  At the same time, the Turks sent an investigative contingent.  Each group set out to upstage the other; neither group spent more than a couple of weeks recording the visible remains as best they could in up to 4m of snow, howling winds, and with minimal equipment.  The two reports made by the two 19th-century teams, valuable as they are for detailed accounts of the site's sculpture and inscriptions, are incomplete and inaccurate; yet the two publications became the accepted foundation upon which numerous art historical, genealogical, and religious interpretations and extrapolations have been based. As a result, a false and biased view of the king, his sculpture, his lineage, his reign, and his political proclivities has pervaded Late Hellenistic scholarship to this day.

The site of Nemrud Dagi remained an enigmatic and distant curiosity until the excavations of American archaeologist Theresa Goell (the first Western woman to penetrate this far into Kurdish Turkey) and her international team of collaborators exposed the entire site in the 1950s.  Her efforts to reveal the true nature of Antiochus' architectural and sculptural programs continued into the 1960s with the pioneering use of many geophysical exploration techniques.  Miss Goell died in 1985, leaving the final excavation report unfinished.  After many decades of research, a full publication of Nemrud Dagi has emerged, coordinated by archaeologist Donald H. Sanders, with the assistance of many from Goell's original team of investigators.

West Terrace Horoscope (click to enlarge)
  • The site possesses the earliest extant Greek Horoscope in the form of a striding lion (see the image above; courtesy of Donald H. Sanders)--a reading of its date firmly fixes the site in time, a rarity in archaeological research.
  • The inscriptions on the back of the ancestor stelae provide conclusive evidence, available nowhere else in the ancient world, for the sequence of Seleucid, Macedonian, and Persian rulers back to Alexander the Great and Darius I, making the stelae on Nemrud Dagi crucial historical documents.
  • Evidence exists here for demonstrating for the first time that Alexander was called "the Great" already in antiquity.
  • The fusion of Greek and Persian deities and religious rituals at Nemrud Dagi, evident in the sculptural iconography and the inscriptions, provides stunning evidence of the extent to which the Mithraic religion had moved from the Near East toward Europe, marking here in Commagene the crucial crossing from East to West of this popular counterthrust to the emergence of Christianity.
  • The attention Antiochus' craftsmen paid to precise historical details of regalia on the figures depicting rulers hundreds of years earlier than the Hellenistic age is unprecedented.
3D Computer Models of Nemrud Dagi
LEARNING SITES latest version is a detailed 3D computer model of the sanctuary of Antiochus and its environs.  This model of the entire site was originally used (in 2001) by Ekip Film, Ltd., a Turkish documentary film company, in their television movie about the site, its excavation, and the travails of King Antiochus against the Romans (entitled Mount Nemrud: the throne of the gods).  Visuals from that model were also incorporated (in 2001) into the History Channel's documentary about the discovery, excavation, and publication of the site (entitled The Hidden Tomb of Antiochus). The model has since (2011) been updated so that new renderings and animations from it could be included in a new History Channel show to debut during the late summer of 2011 (stay tuned here for more information as it is released). The model continues to receive improvements and updates for use paper publications, online media, and TV productions.

In 2006, supplemental visualizations from this model were included in Lubell's award-winning Queen of the Mountain documentary.

Our first virtual reality model of the site ran on high-end graphics workstations and was developed to demonstrate the advantages of linking virtual worlds to text, 2D image, and narration databases for educational and self-guided research purposes.  That version used head-mounted displays (HMDs) to provide an immersive near first-hand experience of walking up to and around the site.

An interim process model (some views of which are mounted on this page) of ours used photomodeling technology to build 3D models from excavation photographs without the need to revisit the monument.  This is a long-term R&D project.

Goell, Theresa. "Throne above the Euphrates." National Geographic 119:390-405. 1961.
    "The Excavation of the Hierothesion of Antiochus I of Commagene on Nemrud Dagh (1953-1956)." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 147:4-22. 1957.

    "Nimrud Dagh: The Tomb of Antiochus I, King of Commagene." Archaeology 5.3:136-144. 1952.

Hamdy, Osman Bey and Effendi, Osgan. Le tumulus de Nemroud-Dagh: voyages, description, inscriptions. Constantinople: Pera, Loeffler. 1883.

Humann, Karl and Puchstein, Otto. Reisen in Kleinasien und Nordsyrien. 2 vols. Berlin: Reimer. 1890.

Sanders, Donald H. Nemrud Dagi: The Hierothesion of Antiochus I of Commagene: results of the American excavations directed by Theresa B. Goell. 2 vols. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, IN. 1996.  (This report can be obtained directly from the publisher.)

Sanders, Donald H. & David W. J. Gill. "Theresa B. Goell," pp.482-524 in Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky, eds., Breaking Ground: pioneering women archaeologists, Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press. 2004.

Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey) has prepared the official Nemrud Dagi Conservation Program Website under the guidance and support of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Reference Information

page created: 1996
page updated: October 27, 2014
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