Arsameia ad Nymphaeum

Arsameia ad Nymphaeum (Arsameia on the Nymphaios), located at the foot of Mount Nemrut in Eastern Turkey and known today as Eski Kale, was a royal seat and the summer capital of the Kingdom of Commagene, an ancient kingdom of the Hellenistic Age. It lays near the Nymphaios (Kahta Çay) River, a tributary of the Euphrates. Arsameia was named after King Arsames from Armenia who founded the Kingdom of Commagene around 260 BC. Its identification was based on a monumental inscription cut into the rock of a hillside to the south of Eski Kale. The ancient city extended to two opposite hills on either bank of the river. Scattered ruins from different periods can be seen on these hills today together with reliefs depicting dexiosis (handshake) scenes between deities and kings of Commagene.

Coordinates: 37° 56′ 34″ N, 38° 39′ 25″ E

Arsameia was first settled in the 3rd century BC by Arsames who fortified the city as part of his building of a power base against Seleucus II Callinicus (246-26 BC). It is here that, about a century later, one of the descendants of Arsames, King Mithridates I Callinicus, was to build his royal monuments and a cult center (hierotheseion). This made the city a place for worshipping the members of the royal house of Commagene.

The city was surrounded by walls and had a royal palace and luxurious public buildings. An inscription on the rock reports in detail the benefactions of Mithridates’ son, Antiochus I Theos, to Arsameia. Antiochus improved and expanded the palace, reinforced the city walls, secured water supply from nearby springs, constructed altars and dedicated statues to the royal family of Commagene. He also commemorated his father by building a hierothesion upon the Acropolis plateau of Arsameia (he also constructed a hierothesion for himself at Mount Nemrut).

In the Late Roman and the Early Byzantine period, Arsameia declined and was restricted to a fortified position on the hill of the subsequent Yeni Kale (“New Castle”), the fortress built by the Mamlūk sultans.

Excavations carried out in the 1950s at the hierothesion at the top of the hill confirmed four periods of occupation; Hellenistic (2nd-1st centuries BC), Roman (1st-2nd centuries AD), Middle Ages (9th-10th centuries AD and 13th-14th centuries AD). The surviving ruins are located mainly at the top of the Eski Kale hill. A processional road that started from the Nymphaios River led to the side of the hill. Three reliefs depicting dexiosis scenes between deities and kings of Commagene define the path up to the sacred place. The best-preserved of all the relief stelae shows king Mithridates, dressed in Persian attire, shaking hands with Herakles (the Persian Artagnes). It stands above a remarkable rock-cut inscription which describes the founding of Arsameia.

There are several other important sites in the vicinity of the famous mountain of Mount Nemrut including the Karakus Tumulus that served as the burial place of the female members of the royal dynasty of Commagene (Isias, Antiochis and Aka), and the incredibly well-preserved Roman Bridge at Cendere erected by four Commagene cities around AD 200 in honour of the Emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna and his sons Caracalla and Geta (see here). This was the heartland of the small kingdom of Commagene.


Back inscription of the fragmented dexiosis scene with Mithras and the river Nymphaios in the distance.
The right half of a dexiosis scene: the sun god Mithras shakes hand with a King, Mithridates or Antiochus. Only Mithra survives; of his counterpart only a shoulder has been found. Mithras is shown with the characteristic rays of the sun radiating from the god’s head and wearing a Phrygian cap
(photo: Ste.caneva, Wikimedia)
A monumental niche with barrel vault carved into the rock almost ten meters long, wide, and high. This underground chamber may be the burial chamber of king Mithridates or a Mithraeum (temple to Mithras).
Relief of a dexiosis scene inside the chamber. The unidentified king is shaking hands with Mithras who can be identified because of his solar rays.

Fragments of a relief depicting Mithridates and Antiochus.
Dexiosis relief depicting king Antiochus shaking hands with Herakles-Artagnes and the Great Cult Inscription which contains the history of the founding of Arsameia.
The entrance to the 158m long tunnel with, above it, the Great Cult Inscription that describes the building activities of Antiochus at Arsameia and specifies the ritual celebrations to be practised in honour of his father. The tunnel that might lead down to a cistern/spring but its purpose remains uncertain.
Close-up to the Great Cult Inscription, the longest Greek inscription found in Turkey. It is written in Greek in five columns.

I erected altars and sacred votive offerings as benefits the manes of my father in
accordance with my piety, and I have established statues and images of the gods, together with the representation of myself, lifelike in shape and form, for eternal memory’.

Dexiosis relief depicting King Mithridates I Callinicus, father of Antiochus I Theos, shaking hands with the Persian deity Artagnes, identified by the Greeks as Heracles.
The processional way leading up to the Acropolis. It was punctuated with monumental pedestals upon which stood relief sculptures and inscriptions.
The Acropolis of Arsameia.
A fragmented column with beautiful fruit motifs, possibly a part of an altar.
The Acropolis of Arsameia.
The Acropolis of Arsameia.


Severan Bridge

The Severan Bridge (also known as Cendere Bridge) is a Roman bridge located near the ancient city of Arsameia (today Eskikale), 55 km northeast of Adıyaman in southeastern Turkey. It is spanning the Cendere Çayı river which was known as Chabines in antiquity. Built by the Sixteenth Roman legion stationed at Samosata (Samsat) in the last years of the 2nd century AD, it replaced an earlier bridge probably built under the emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD). It is one of the best-preserved Roman stone bridges in Turkey.

Coordinates: 37° 55′ 56.64″ N, 38° 36′ 29.52″ E

The bridge, part of the road to Nemrud Daği, was constructed as a single vaulted arch sitting on two rocks at the narrowest point of the creek. With a 34.2 m span, the structure is the second-largest extant arch bridge built by the Romans. It is 123 m long and 7.50 m wide.

Inscriptions on the bridge reveal that it was built by the Legio XVI Flavia Firma, a Roman legion stationed in the ancient city of Samosata. The Sixteenth was taking part in the two campaigns of Lucius Septimius Severus (194 and 197-198), which culminated in the capture of the Parthian capital Ctesiphon and the re-establishment of the province of Mesopotamia. The area was reorganised and the river Chabinas was bridged by the soldiers of the legion deployed in the area.

There were originally four columns, located at each end of the bridge, which were erected by the four Commagenean cities (Samasata, Perre, Doliche and Germaniceia). The inscriptions on these columns state that the columns at the southeastern end of the bridge were dedicated to Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna while the columns at the other end of the bridge were dedicated to their two sons Geta and Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus. The latter eventually reigned as Caracalla (211-217), had his brother Geta killed and erased him from history. Geta’s column was therefore removed from the bridge after his assassination.

The Severan Bridge is situated within one of the most important national parks in Turkey, which contains Nemrut Dağı with the famous remains of the large statues dedicated by King Antiochus Theos of Commagene and declared as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO.

Until recently, cars and small trucks up to 5 tons were allowed to pass over the bridge. The bridge was restored in 1997 and another road bridge was built 500 m east of it. The Severan Bridge is now closed off, except to pedestrians.


The east side of the Roman bridge at Cendere.
The west side of the Roman bridge at Cendere.
The two columns dedicated to the emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna.
Inscription on the column dedicated to Septimius Severus.
The road on the Roman bridge at Cendere.
Inscription on the column dedicated to Julia Domna.
The east side of the Roman bridge at Cendere.
The column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus (Caracalla).

CIL 03, 06709
Imp(erator) Caes(ar) L(ucius) Septi/mius Severus Pius / Pertinax Aug(ustus) Ara/bic(us) Adiab(enicus) Parthic(us) / princ[e]ps felic(um) pon/tif(ex) max(imus) trib(unicia) pot(estate) / XII imp(erator) VIII co(n)s(ul) II / proco(n)s(ul) et Imp(erator) Caes(ar) / M(arcus) Aurel(ius) Antoni/nus Aug(ustus) Augusti / n(ostri) fil(ius) proco(n)s(ul) imp(erator) III / et P(ublius) Septimius [[Ge]]/[[ta]] Caes(aris) fil(ius) et fra/ter Augg(ustorum) nn(ostrorum) / pontem chabi/nae fluvi a so/lo restituerunt / et transitum / reddiderunt / sub Alfenum Senecionem / leg(atum) Augg(ustorum) pr(o) pr(aetore) curante Ma/rio perpetuo leg(ato) Augg(ustorum) leg(ionis) / XVI F(laviae) F(irmae)
CIL 03, 06710
Imp(erator) Caes(ar) L(ucius) Septi/mius Seve[r]us [P]i/us Pe[r]tinax Aug(ustus) / Arab(icus) Adiab(enicus) Par/thic(us) princ[e]ps Felix pont(ifex) m(aximus) / t[r]ib(unicia) potest(ate) XII / imp(erator) VIII [c]o[n(sul)] I[I] / proco(n)s(ul) et [Imp(erator)] / Caes(ar) M(arcus) Aurelius An/toninus Aug(ustus) Au/g(usti) n(ostri) f(ilius) proc[o](n)s(ul) / imp(erator) III et [P(ublius)] Septi/mius [Geta] Caes(ar) / [fil(ius)] et frat(er) Augg(ustorum) / nn(ostrorum) pontem Ch/abinae fluvi a so/lo restituerunt / et transitum red/diderunt / [sub Alfeno S]enecione leg(ato) / [Augg(ustorum) pr(o) pr(aetore) cu]rante Mario Per/[petuo leg(ato)] Augg(ustorum) leg(ionis) XVI Fl(aviae) F(irmae)

The east side of the Roman bridge at Cendere.