Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Karakus Tumulus

 Photos by Jack A. Waldron


A very short distance from Cendere Bridge is one of the most well known tumuli in Turkey (behind the King Midas Tumulus of course), the Karakus Tumulus.

Pictured in the photo above, the Karakus Tumulus can be seen in the distant right of the photo.  The tumulus dates to the first century BCE, and according to an inscription on the Eastern column, the tumulus was built for members of the Commagene Royal Family.

The tumulus dates to the first century BCE, and according to an inscription on the Eastern column, the tumulus was built for members of the Commagene Royal Family.

Adiyaman and the surrounding area is rich with antiquities (marked in red on the map).  

More locally to Adiyaman, and as you will discover in future posts on the area, there are many more antiquity sites than those listed on the map below.

The Karakus Tumulus was built between 30-20 BCE during the reign of Mithridares II of Commagene, and is dedicated to Queen Islas, Princess Antiochis, and Aka I of Commagene.

The name given to the tumulus, “Karakus”, which means ‘black bird’, and is thought to have derived from the large sculpture of an eagle located on top of the column on the southern side of the tumulus (pictured below).

As you can see in the photo above, the tumulus was partially destroyed as a result of robbers digging into it and it’s vault for treasure.

Theft of the buried antiquities is believed to have occurred after the Commagene kingdom came under Roman rule in 72 CE.

I will do more research, but it would be more uniform if there were two columns at the South/East/North/West points around the tumulus.  All of the columns are in the Doric tradition.

Perhaps the second South column was quarried and repurposed, as we saw with the Cendere Bridge columns, which were repurposed from another site or sites.

Moving around to the East Columns (or, Northeastern columns?), we get a glorious view of the valley beyond.  Off in the distance are Mount Nemrut and Arsemeia.

As you can see, both columns at the east site remain in situ, however, only one of the sculptures has survived the 2000 year journey.  Further, there is a Greek honorific inscription to three women (apparently) that eluded my sight, that is supposed to be present on what is described as the “Northeastern column” which reads:
This is the hierothesion of Isias, whom the great King Mithridates 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 honors long enduring.  Both of these, 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.

An interesting experience and observation, I planned to revisit Mount Nemrut the following day, and though the clouds and sunny skies were beautiful, the 40+ kilometer per hour wind driven rain encountered while trying to go over and through the mountains pictured here forced me to rethink the the route . . . , I turned back went around along the valley.

The remaining sculpture is of a bull in an all four sitting position, however, it’s head has been severed from the body over the millennia.

When scale is added to the photo, the massive size of these columns can truly be appreciated.

When all of the elements come together, the tombs Being may show the enraptured observer some aspects of what it may have offered the ancients.

In the photo below, we can now clearly see the crouching bull, and on the second column, a fragment of the missing sculpture.

Here (pictured below), is what I think may be the missing upper sculptural fragment from the second column, which is laying just below the columns.

My guess is that the sculpture was of a lion, but, I could not get a good enough view of the complete sculpture.

Leaving the Eastern Columns for the Northern site (or, was this considered Northeast?) with the valley at our backs, we can get a strong sense of the beauty and prominence of the area and the site location.

Bypassing the Northern site, as there are no columns or sculptures in situ, we continue around to the Western site, where we discover some interesting remains.

The monumental sculpture of a lion bust pictured above may have come from any of several columns around the site.  That being said, how many column sites were there actually?  Were there four sites, or three?

It may be the missing sculpture from the Eastern site, or, perhaps it was one of the sculptures from the Northern site (if there were indeed columns at the site), or, maybe there was a second column at the Western site, which we’ll take a look at now.

Pictured below, a relief of Mithridates II shaking hands with his sister Laodice.  

With Mithridates II having descended from the gods, as his father Mithridates I had established his position amongst them through the graphical representation known as dexiosis (used here), the brother then must be reassuring all that his sister too is a goddess.

If there was a second column at the Southern and Western sites, what sculpture might have topped them?

I also am curious about the state of these remaining columns, when they were rediscovered, and if any were ever lost or repurposed? 

Again, I need to spend some time researching the archeological history of this sight.

Here are a couple angles of the relief, which seems redundant, however, some viewers have requested more detailed shots.

I love the photo below for a couple of reasons; one, the shear magnitude and beauty of the cloud, and two, I should have seen that the storm gods were giving warning!

Leaving Mithridates II and his sister atop the Western column site, it’s time to see things from above.

A climb to the top of the tumulus for an eagles eye view explains a lot about the chosen location (Karakus tumulus pictured above, with Eastern/Northeastern column site pictured below).

A final goodbye to Mithridates II and his sister, and then back around to the Karakus Column.

Just around the tumulus, the eagle atop its perch can be spotted (photo below).  Also interesting to me, is the crushed stone that was used to build up the tumulus, because a similar building material used at the Mount Nemrut tumulus, and further, who had to break all those boulders?

From this angle, the eagle seems even larger than it did before.  Quite impressive for a two-thousand year old specimen!

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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