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 and constructed a hierothesion for himself at Nemrut Dağ.

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 Nemrut Dagi 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.

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Back inscription of the fragmented dexiosis scene with Mithras and the river Nympaios 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 Mithridates 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 Greeks as Hercules.
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.

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Selinus

Selinus is an ancient city located in the district of Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey, 180 km east of the city of Antalya. The history of Selinus goes back to the 6th century BC. Assyrian sources tell us that the city was originally called “Sallune” and was connected by a maritime trade route with the island of Cyprus. Selinus is best known for being the place of death of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

The ancient city of Selinus was established on the River Kestros (today called Hacımusa) in 628 BC, probably by Phoenicians and was then incorporated into the kingdom of Cilicia. The city stood on the slopes and at the foot of a steep hill with a perpendicular cliff on the seaward side and was surrounded by massive fortifications. In 197 BC the area passed into the hands of the Romans.

The remains visible today date to the Roman and medieval periods. The most interesting and best-preserved monument in Selinus is a large rectangular building locally know as Şekerhane Köşkü. It is located in a flat area at the foot of the hill, between the agora, bath house and odeon on its western side and the necropolis to the east. The monument has long been thought to have been built as a cenotaph for the Roman emperor Trajan.

The death of Trajan at Selinus on 8th August 117 AD later prompted the temporary renaming of the city as Trajanopolis. It also received the status of ius Italicum, transforming the provincial solum (land) into Italian solum, a rare privilege for a non-Italian community. A tetrastyle temple inscribed with the name TΡAIANO appeared thereafter on the city’s coins during the late 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Near Trajan’s cenotaph are the remains of an odeon dating back to the Hellenistic era as well as baths from the Roman period. An aqueduct crosses the marsh near the mouth of the neighboring stream.

At its height, Selinus occupied an area of over 40 hectares and was the largest city in western Rough Cilicia. Selinus later became part of the Byzantine Empire alongside the rest of Cilicia. In the 12th century the Byzantines were succeeded by Armenian refugees who fled the Seljuk Turks invasion of Armenia and founded the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. At the end of the 13th century the city was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Archaeological research Selinus has been conducted by a team from Florida State University. The founds are exhibited in the Alanya Archaeological Museum.

Coordinates: 36°15’40.3″N 32°17’04.2″E

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The walls of the Acropolis fortress of Selinus and the harbour of Gazipaşa.
Modern stairway going through the gate of the lower fortification walls.
View of the so-called Şekerhane Köşkü from Selinus hill.
The cenotaph of Trajan. The Imperial monument consisted of a central tetrastyle prostyle building (with four columns in front and two on the sides) of the Corinthian order with a cella and pronaos, on a high podium enclosed in a large temenos surrounded on all four sides by porticoes.
The cenotaph of Trajan was remodelled by the Seljuks in the early 13th century using the ancient building materials which altered the monument in a structural way. The name Şekerhane Köşkü refers to the use of the building in Seljuk time as a hunting lodge.
The remains of the Hellenistic odeon.
The remains of the nymphaeum, part of the Large Bath Complex.
The aqueduct of Selinus used to carry a steady supply of water to the bath from its presumed origin only 1,5 kilometres away and over the river.
The remaining arches of the aqueduct.

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