Karakuş Tumulus

The Karakuş Tumulus is a funerary monument (hierothesion) of the Commagene Royal Family, located in the Kahta district of Adiyaman Province in Eastern Turkey. Like nearby Mount Nemrut, the Karakuş Tumulus is an artificial mound, albeit on a more modest scale. It was constructed by Mithridates II of Commagene ca. 31–20 BC as the last resting place of his mother Isias, his sister Antiochis and his niece Aka I, offering evidence of the importance that the Commagene Kingdom placed on women.

Coordinates: 37° 52′ 9.84″ N, 38° 35′ 16.8″ E

The tumulus, about 25 m in height, was originally encircled by three groups of three limestone Doric columns, one group to the north-east, one to the north-west and one to the south. Each column was about 9 m high and was topped with steles, reliefs, statues of a bull, lion, and an eagle. They were composed of six limestone blocks and a low Doric capital, and stood on a heavy square plinth.

From the group on the south side of the tumulus, only one column has survived. It consists of 7 drums and is topped with a 2.54 m high statue of an eagle which gave its name to the place (in Turkish “karakuş” means “black bird”). From the group on the north-east side, two of the three columns still stand upright. On top, one bears traces of a relief, and the other has a bull whose head has not survived. The central column is slightly higher than the left-hand one and bears an inscription in Greek saying that King Mithridates II erected this hierothesion for his mother Isias, his sister Antiochis and her daughter Aka. Skipping a couple of phrases where restoration has been doubtful, the inscription reads:

This is the hierothesion of Isias, whom the great King Mithridates, she being his own mother, deemed worthy of this final hour. And […] Antiochis lies herein, the king’s sister by the same mother, the most beautiful of women, whose life was short but her honours long-enduring. Both of them, as you see, preside here, and with them a daughter’s daughter, the daughter of Antiochis, Aka. A memorial of life with each other and of the king’s honour.

From the last group on the north-west of the tumulus, only one column is still standing with a dexiosis relief of King Mithradates II and his sister Laodice shaking hands in a farewell gesture. Laodice is wearing a Greek chiton, and her head is veiled with part of her mantle. Mithradates is dressed in oriental style, with trousers, a long mantle, and a tiara. Next to the column, a head of a lion lies on the floor. The grave chamber, located inside the tumulus, was later plundered. It is believed that the stone blocks were reused in the construction of the first Cendere Bridge.


The tomb monument of Karakuş with the eagle column on the right and the column with the dexiosis relief on the left.
The eagle column.
The column with the dexiosis relief and the lion’s head.
The column with the dexiosis relief.
Close-up to the dexiosis relief showing King Mithradates II and his sister Laodice shaking hands.
The lion’s head and the column with the dexiosis relief.
View of the landscape in the north-west. Mount Nemrut is visible on the left as the highest peak.
The path leading to the column group on the north-east side of the tumulus.
The column group on the north-east side of the tumulus. One column has traces of a relief, the other has a bull.
View of the same columns and the landscape in the north-east.
View of the landscape in the south-east.
The eagle column.

Links and references:

  • Turkish Archaeological News
  • Herman A. G. Brijder (ed.), Nemrud Dağı: Recent Archaeological Research and Conservation Activities in the Tomb Sanctuary on Mount Nemrud. Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2014.

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