Conjunctions of Planetary Gods and Deified Kings

Associations between stellar entities and rulers have been widespread in both time and space. The 1st century b.c. kingdom of Commagene (in what is now a region in south-central Turkey) provides fine examples of such associations in its hierothesia or cult-monuments.3 Commagene was strategically placed: It was at the crossroads of Hellenistic and Persian cultures and kingdoms. Cappadocia lay to the north and west; Cilicia and the Mediterranean, to the southwest; Armenia and Parthia, to the east, across the Euphrates River; and Seleucid-held Syria and Palestine, to the south. The region was continually traversed by traders as well as armies because of its control of favored crossing places of the Euphrates. It's lands were fertile, and the kingdom prospered. In late antiquity, it was renowned as the most prosperous of all the kingdoms owing allegiance to Rome. This

3 Sanders (1996, p. 91) describes a hierothesion as a "common consecrated seat" or "dwelling place" of all of the gods. As far as is known, the word actually appears only at Commagene (see the Nomos translation, below).

small and prosperous kingdom was not, however, destined to be long-lived.

The regional satrap Ptolemaios (~163—130 b.c.) led a successful revolt from the Seleucid Empire around 163 b.c. and consolidated the kingdom for his son, Samos (~130-100 b.c.), who constructed a 4-m tall rock relief of himself at Gerger, overlooking the Euphrates River, on which the kingdom bordered (Sullivan 1972, pp. 732-798; 1990, pp. 59-62 and Stemma 5). Samos maintained good relations with the Seleucids by securing as wife for Mithradates, his son, a daughter of the Seleucid king Antiochus VII Grypus [r. 125-96 b.c.]. Her name was Laodice Thea Philadelphos ("She who loves her brothers"); the marriage was celebrated not long before 96 b.c., when her father died. Mithradates I Kallinikos [r. ~100—70 b.c.] ruled over a kingdom that lay between the Hellenistic, and increasingly Romanized, world to the west and that of Persia to the east. Not surprisingly, the kingdom became highly syn-cretized, blending Hellenic and Persian culture and religion, as the name Mithradates ("Gift of Mithra"), with its Persian deity and Greek form, demonstrates.

The associations between the gods and Commagene's 1st century (b.c.) kings Mithradates I [r. ~100—70 b.c.], his son Antiochus I (Theos) [r. 70-36 b.c.], and his grandson Mithradates II [r. ~36-20 b.c.] have been explored through monuments constructed by these kings. Discussions of Commagene monuments have been given by Goell and Dorner (1956), Waldmann (1973), van der Waerden (1974), Dorner (1987), Beck (1998, 1999), and Sanders (1996).

One of the more impressive monuments is that built by Antiochus I at Nemrud Dagi (or Dag), just west of Gerger on the Euphrates; it consists of three terraced complexes placed around a 50-m tumulus on one of the highest peaks in the Taurus range, and a prominent landmark in the region. The east and west terraces have colossal statues of gods seated on thrones, and a separate series of panels that show meetings between the gods and Antiochus. The Nomos or Holy Edict, the Greek text inscription on the back of the bases of the thrones on both the east and the west terraces, begins, in part, as follows:

IA-1 The great king Antiochos Theos [god] Dikaios Epiphanes, friend of the Romans and Hellenes, Son of King Mithradates Kallinikos and of Queen Laodice Thea [goddess] Philadelphia,.. . records at the bases of the holy thrones, in imperishable letters,.. . words—for all time. 11 I believed that for us humans piety is not only the most secure of all possessions, but also the sweetest joy and even this judgement had as its source my lucky power as well as blessed custom. Throughout my life I have been standing before the citizens of my realm as one who took piety as his truest defence and his incomparable bliss. Hence, when, against all expectation, I escaped great dangers, I became the Lord over my hopeless situation and passed through it to reach an age rich in years. IB-24 When I undertook paternal rule, I declared from my godfearing soul that my throne and kingdom would be a hospitable resting place for all the gods. The representations of their forms, depicted in the most diverse manner—in the fashion of the ancient art of Persia and Greece—the fortunate lineage of my family—handed down to us. I honored them with sacrifices and festivals, as has been the custom since ancient times, and the general practice of mankind.

I also discovered, through due consideration, a suitable way to manifest these honors. 53 So I have erected, as you see, these true and esteemed likenesses of the gods: that of Zeus Oromasdes, that of Apollo Mithras Helios Hermes, that of Artagnes Herakles Ares, and of the all-sustaining (goddess) Kommagene of my homeland.

(Translated by EFM from the Greek and German translation in Waldmann 1973, pp. 63-77; bracketed comments added by present authors.) Note the interesting blend of Greek and Persian names: Zeus [Jupiter] Oromasdes [Ahura Mazda]; Apollo Mithras Helios Hermes [Mercury]; Artagnes (or Verethragna [abstract expression of Victory]) Heracles Ares [Mars]. The inscriptions indicate that the monument celebrates meetings among the gods with Antiochus, depicted on equal terms with them; this is hardly surprising because one of his titles is Theos, god, but the acceptance by the pantheon seems to be what is being celebrated on the panels of both terraces.

The west terrace contains a line of five 8-m-high statues of forward-facing god figures flanked by a pair of eagle and lion figures at either end. Adjacent to the line of god figures is a shorter line of smaller figures. These too are flanked by forward-facing eagles and lions, again with the lions on the outside. The whole scene is identified with a series of planetary conjunctions. Three panels in this smaller line of figures show the king clasping hands with each god in turn. King Antiochus wears a kitaris (the pointed tiara of the Armenian kings, who under the Orontid dynasty, once controlled the area). He is shown meeting and greeting Mithra-Apollo, characterized by the Phrygian cap and other Persian dress, and by a rayed halo. Another panel shows the meeting between Antiochus and Ares; the 3rd panel is fragmented, but presumably depicts the meeting between Antiochus and Zeus.

A 4th panel in the smaller line of figures is the so-called "lion horoscope," shown in Figure 15.3. The body is shown bearing the stars of the constellation Leo, and although the placement of all the stars is not fully accurate (see Figure 15.4), the triangle involving Denebola is roughly correct, and the brightest star, on the breast of the lion above an incumbent crescent Moon, is presumably a Leo, Regulus, sometimes known as Cor Leone, "heart of the Lion." Three bright stars above Leo's back are labeled with the names of the three planetary gods of the Nomos inscription, but with their astronomical descriptions: nupoetQ 'HpaKl[eouQ] ('Fiery planet of Heracles'), Mars; Exiipwv 'Apollwvov ("Gleaming planet of Apollo"), Mercury; and OasOwv Atov ("Radiant planet of Zeus"), Jupiter. That the lion wears a crescent Moon around its neck, and that planets appear above its back, suggests a horoscope, or at least one or more conjunctions in Leo of these objects and makes the panel an astrological record of historical importance. Interpreting the king as the star Regulus,4 and the three stars as those of the

4 A diminutive form of the Latin Rex, the name meant "king" throughout most of the region: It was called paotliaKOQ (basiliskos) in Greece: Sharru, "the king," in Babylonia; Amil-gal-ur, "king of the celestial sphere," in Akkadia; Miyan, "star of the center" or "the central one," in Persia;and Magha, "the Mighty," in India.

Figure 15.3. The so-called "lion horoscope," from the 4th panel in the smaller line of figures on the west terrace of Nemrud Dag: The body is shown bearing the stars of the constellation Leo, although the placement of all the stars is not fully accurate (see Figure 15.4). The bright star on the breast of the lion above an incumbent crescent Moon is presumably a Leo, Cor Leone, "heart of the Lion." Three bright stars above Leo's back are labeled with the names of three planetary gods: Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin photograph reproduced from Humann and Puchstein [Fig. XL, Vol. II (Plates), 1883/1890] by D. Stone.

Figure 15.3. The so-called "lion horoscope," from the 4th panel in the smaller line of figures on the west terrace of Nemrud Dag: The body is shown bearing the stars of the constellation Leo, although the placement of all the stars is not fully accurate (see Figure 15.4). The bright star on the breast of the lion above an incumbent crescent Moon is presumably a Leo, Cor Leone, "heart of the Lion." Three bright stars above Leo's back are labeled with the names of three planetary gods: Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin photograph reproduced from Humann and Puchstein [Fig. XL, Vol. II (Plates), 1883/1890] by D. Stone.

planetary gods, the lion horoscope dates the conjunction of these three planets. Paul Lehmann investigated all conjunctions in which these planets appeared in Leo in the exact order indicated by their labels and found only one date that would fit this description: July 17, 98 b.c. (reported in Humann and Puchstein 1883/1890, pp. 329-333). If this is a birth horoscope, it contradicts what Antiochus says about his date of birth in the Nomos inscription (16 Audnaios, a month equivalent to December/January, but the Sun is far from Leo at this time of year and yet the presence of Mercury in Leo indicates that the Sun must be near). If interpreted as a coronation date (11 Loos, equivalent to July), the horoscope creates severe chronological problems. This analysis, moreover, ignores the crescent Moon on the lion, and there is the question of the Sun, which is not explicitly indicated on the lion. It is true that both Helios and Apollo were also associated with the Sun, but Hermes would appear to indicate Mercury alone, and there is no association of the equivalent Persian Sun deity, Ahura Mazda, with the planet Mercury. Iconographically, the Sun is unlikely to be represented by a bright star; a Sun disk was in use in Persia.

In about 1958, an astronomical analysis was done by O. Neugebauer at the request of Theresa Goell, whose work on Nemrud Dagi is summarized in Sanders (1996). Neugebauer noted that none of the three planets was more than 3° from the Sun on the 98 b.c. date (yet the Sun was not represented on the horoscope). He therefore abandoned the assumption

that the order of the planets was exactly rendered on the lion horoscope, and instead, he examined all conjunctions within a historically plausible interval (120 to 35 b.c.). As pointed out by Neugebauer and van Hoesen (1959, p. 15) and summarized by Goell in Sanders (1996, Vol. I, pp. 87-91), the planetary positions were probably calculated rather than observed, but the precision with which such positions could be calculated in the 1st century b.c., would not have permitted sufficiently precise placements of either Mercury or Mars to ensure the accuracy of the labeled order. The date obtained by Neugebauer was July 7, 62 b.c., which modern software programs confirm. This would seem to be the date of Antiochus's coronation; indeed, Loos 10 was approximately July 4 (Ginzel 1906-1914, 3, 19). However, the usually reliable historian Cassius Dio [3rd century a.d.] indicates that Antiochus was already king by 69 b.c., and again the chronology is disrupted. Antiochus is mentioned by Dio because of his support of the Armenian king, Tigranes I the Great, against Rome, in the Third Mithradatic War. Following the successful conclusion of the war by Pompey, Antiochus was symbolically, although not literally, dragged through Rome in the triumphal procession. Diplomatically turning an enemy, Pompey confirmed Antiochus as king in a reorganization of the region in 64 b.c. Neugebauer suggested that because Antiochus mentions his friendship with the Romans in the Nomos, this act of confirmation was the likely occasion for the erection of the monument. Goell disagreed with this conclusion, however, arguing that it was scarcely likely that a defeat and humiliation could be the basis for such a work.

We agree with Neugebauer that this was the date of commemoration, but we believe that the date of erection must have been later than this, and that the event although probably calculated could have been driven by the impact of the observational event as well. The conjunction of two of the three planets in Leo could well have been seen after sundown, on July, 7, 62 b.c., (as Figure 15.4a indicates) and Jupiter's position known from observations carried out a week or so earlier, when it could have been seen approaching acronychal setting (see §2.4.3). Figure 15.4b shows the sky as it would have appeared on June 28, 62 b.c., at nearly the same configuration, but without the Moon. Tuman (1984) prefers Feb. 4-5, 55 b.c. The commemoration could have been realized only after Antiochus's regime was secure and his reconciliation with Rome in 64 b.c. could have provided that security. Antiochus's immediate forebears had preserved their kingdom through a series of diplomatic moves, which, when successful, would have demonstrated to them that the gods had approved. The comment in the

Nomos that he had come through difficulties against all odds suggests that Antiochus was supremely grateful to the gods for the perservation of his crown and kingdom. The conjunction would have seemed a sign of divine favor, and he could well conclude from the heavenly display that the gods did consider him as an equal. This is as sound a basis for the apotheosis theory of the monument as one may find.

The detailed instructions for religious ceremonies and festivals that are included in the Nomos further states that henceforth, in Commagene, all the gods would continue to find a hospitable dwelling place. Antiochus's expressed piety and gratefulness for his fortunate circumstance and life can certainly be regarded as genuine, but it also served a kind of deistic political purpose; after all, if the kingdom should fall and the dynasty swept away, who would ensure this hierothesion "for all time?"This implies great confidence on the part of Antiochus that his apotheosis was, in fact, real, but it undoubtedly reflects also Antiochus's preoccupation with diplomatic maneuverings that were so essential to the little kingdom's survival. But, was the lion used previously?

Another relief, from Arsameia on the Nymphaios [a site near to but not at Nemrud Dag (Hinnells 1973/1985, p. 24)], shows Antiochus's father, Mithradates I Kallinikos, greeting Verethragna-Herakles [Jupiter], who is shown in stylized Greek fashion, naked but for a lion skin and carrying a large club. This site was developed by Mithradates, but Antiochus is known to have developed it further. Evidently, this monument, too, was erected to commemorate the apotheosis of a king as well as a dynasty and, by implication, the harmonization of dynasty and kingdom with the gods.

Whereas the Antiochan monument involved a massive conjunction that would have been difficult, although not impossible, to see because of the proximity of the Sun, another monument commemorated a series of conjunctions and astronomical alignments that would have been brilliantly visible over an interval of about a year. Antiochus's son, Mithradates II [r. ~36-20 b.c.] erected a monument ~30 km to the southwest, at Karakus. This one consisted of a 21-m-high mound around which were erected three sets of columnar pillars arranged in a triangle centered on the mound. One of the pillars on the west side of the mound is surmounted by a lion, and another by relief images of the king and his sister; the sole (remaining) pillar to the south side has an eagle, and those on the east side included one with an ox (the other pillar is standing empty). Given the approximate dates of Mithradates's reign, it is certain that Leo set behind the monument group that included the lion; when this occurred at sunset, the constellation Aquila would have transited the meridian and thus appear to be above the

Figure 15.4. The recreation of the "lion horoscope" sky: (a) July 7, 62 b.c., at dusk. Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and the Moon are located in Leo. The horizon is made transparent in this Red Shift plot to show the Sun below the horizon. The Moon is a narrow crescent located just above Mars. Note that the Sun is not at the required arcus visionis (h below —10°) to permit easy visibility for the planets, and yet Jupiter is about to set. This indicates that the lion horoscope circumstances were probably computed rather than based on observations on this date, although two of the three planets could have been seen and the position of Jupiter inferred (by its position days earlier, when it could have been seen setting acronychally). (b) The sky as it would have appeared on June 28, 62 b.c., at dusk, at nearly the same configuration as in Figure 15.3 but without the Moon. Simulations by E.F. Milone with the Red Shift and Voyager software package with essential details confirmed with JPL ephemerides kindly provided by E.M. Standish.

south statue near midnight, and, finally, near dawn, Taurus would rise over the eastern monuments that included the ox. Roger Beck has suggested additionally that a series of yearlong conjunctions around 27 to 26 b.c. was commemorated in these monuments.

Beck, indeed, brilliantly demonstrated these phenomena in a public lecture in the Digistar Discovery Dome at the Calgary Science Centre on Oct. 17, 1997, by having the sky programmed as it would have appeared on the suggested dates. The planet Venus initiated a series of planetary conjunctions with Regulus, and the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, also appeared in conjunctions with Regulus, and sometimes with each other. Seen near opposition, the grouping of the giant planets would have permitted Saturn to be in conjunction with Regulus three times, and the "great conjunction"—between Jupiter and Saturn—occurred in this interval as well. Venus concluded the series in evening twilight. The association of Antiochis (the sister of Antiochus) with Venus is suggestive because the column relief displays Antiochis taking leave of her brother. The dynastic tree produced by Sullivan (1990, Stemma 5) shows another brother, Antiochus II, as deceased in 29 b.c.

Beck suggested further that these events spurred the rise of a new dynastic cult in the Middle East. It is interesting that such events should have been commemorated as they were shortly before the Christian era. Beck (1999) calls attention to the similarity of the Karakus figures with the description of the "four living creatures" of the Book of Revelation (4:6-9): "And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle " (King James version). Arndt and Gingrich (1957, p. 530) also indicate "young bull or ox" for "calf," (imooxw, mos-choi). As Beck again notes, correspondence with constellation figures is strongly suspected, even if no firm identification is agreed upon (Beck 1999; Malina 1995). Now we discuss perhaps the most famous of all associations between cosmic events and the birth of a king, the Star of Bethlehem.

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