Let me introduce you a larger than life ancient king (half Greek, half Armenian) called Antiochus I of Commagene (you are seeing above the head of his statue). He lived in the first century BCE in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) and he apparently had a keen interest in astrology and hermeticism. He was born on the 16th of the Greek-macedonian month “Audynaios”, which roughly corresponds to our December, so chances are that Antiochus of Commagene was a Sagittarius.
This ancient king is somehow in vogue now, because as I am writing this article (December 2015) there are three topical issues somehow related to him: the bloodied Syria war, the Hannukah Jewish festival and the Hellenistic astrology! I am explaining below in what way.
First of all, Antiochus himself might have been a larger than life figure but his kingdom, Commagene, was a minuscule one (smaller than modern Israel). Furthermore, in his era (1st century BCE) his kingdom was surrounded by menacing empires like the Parthian, the ever expanding Roman and the Ptolemaic-Egyptian one. Geographically, Commagene is situated some 25 miles north of the modern Syrian borders, where some bloody combats are actually taking place and where innumerable refugees are flocking in a desperate attempt to escape the mayhem. This is the first element connecting our regal protagonist to the present timeliness.
The second link has to do with a Greek “Seleucid” king (an Alexander’s the Great successor), whose superior army the Maccabean Jews defeated in 165 BCE. This is actually the event that the modern Jews are commemorating in the Hannukah festival. By coincidence, that king was named Antiochus too – and in addition he was an ancestor of our own king’s mother! So, this is the second element connecting Antiochus of Commagene to the present period.
A third link to Antiochus is the much revived lately Hellenistic Astrology. Apparently Antiochus of Commagene was in it on a very deep, esoteric level. In his times the Hellenistic Astrology was beginning to take shape and form – revering though its mesopotamian roots – especially within the Commagene geographic area, which is very close to Mesopotamia.
So, the story with our Antiochus (who bore the title “manifest God” – “Epiphanes Theos” in Greek!) goes like this: either because he was a megalomaniac or because he was a shrewd politician (he was well aware that his kingdom was a tiny one and that the giant empires around him would eventually swallow it) he tried to artifiacially “pump up” his kingdom, to aggrandize it, to establish in his own way an illustrious “Commagene dynasty”. For this purpose, he commissioned a rather pharaonic project, the construction of a huge mausoleum atop the highest mountain of Commagene (mount Nemrut), where in Antiochus’ own words “my soul will be eternally abiding with the gods”.
Actually, his workers re-shaped (using many thousand tons of stones and gravel) the entire mountain top, so that it ultimately looked like a perfect pyramid cone! In that pyramid they allegedly located Antiochus’ tomb. And at the east and west of the pyramid they created two seperate terraces, where they positioned a similar array of gods’ statues (and remarakably, Antiochus’ own statue among them!). Below these gigantic statues there are bas releifs recounting the Antiochus’ – mostly fictitious – saga.
The most interesting to us – and perhaps to the entire history of astrology – is a bas relief located at the west terrace depicting a lion. We know that from remote antiquity the lion has been a symbol of regality, so its presence there dosn’t surprise us much (actually, there are plenty of lion statues on this sanctuary/mausoleum). But there is something else that makes this specific lion slab different: it clearly depicts on its surface several stars! In fact, it depicts 19 eight-pointed stars spread all over the body of the lion (and some around it). These 19 stars are not of the same magnitude. Some are bigger and some smaller. Such a fact cannot be coincidental, because the artist who sculpted this bas relief was good with his hands, so obviously there is a meaning to it.
And there is another thing: the arrangement of these 19 stars, over and around the body of the lion. Is this arrangement casual, purely decorative or is there something deeper in it? Well, even an amateur astronomer can tell that this arrangement is not casual at all. It clearly represents the constellation of Leo! You see, more than two millennia have passed from Antiochus of Commagene era but the constellations on the sky maintain pretty much the same configuration (it is only after tens of thousands of years that they significantly shift). So, we are seeing here the typical configuration of the Leo constellation and of its 19 commonly observed by the Greek astronomers stars! Knowing this, everything starts fitting in and it makes sense the fact that some stars on this lion slab are bigger and some smaller: they almost perfectly match their true corresponding magnitudes!
So, we know alright that this is an astronomical depiction. But it might very well be a sort of deification of the constellation of Leo (I am just hazarding a guess). How can we possibly be sure that the Lion sculpture relief of the Nemrut mountain is in reality a horocope? Surely, it doesn’t look like one! Or at least it doesn’t look like the horocopes we are used to (the cyclical ones with the zodiac inscribed on their circumference and the planets arranged around it). If this is an horocope then where are the typical horocopic elements like the planets, the Ascendant, the houses etc? Based on our own modern assumptions of what an horoscope is we do not see one here. Maybe we should change our point of view, because ultimately there is evidence on this bas relief that supports the horoscope scenario. All it takes to spot it is a discerning eye – and the notion of some greek!
We mentioned before that there are 19 stars on this lion slab. In reality there are 22. But three of them (the ones hovering over the back of the lion) stand out from the other ones, for three reasons. 1) They are much bigger than the rest 2) They are composed of sixteen-pointed rays (and not eight -pointed, like the other 19 stars) and 3) they bear names over them, in Greek. Actually their Greek names is the key to their mysterious nature!
Over the left sixteen-pointed “star” it is written in Greek: “ΠΥΡΟΕΙC ΗΡΑΚΛ(ΕΟΥC)”. This means: “the fiery one of Hercules”! Of course this sentence does not make much sense, unless one has some knowledge of ancient Greek astronomy or literature. Because in classical Greece “the Fiery one” was the name of the planet Mars, which in ancient Greek texts we often encounter simply as ΠΥΡΟΕΙC – the “Fiery”. We will see below why its full title “the fiery one of Hercules” is displayed here.
Over the central sixteen-pointed “star” it is written in Greek: “CΤΙΛΒΩΝ ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΟC”. This means: “the glittering one of Apollo”! Again this sentence does not make much astrological sense, unless someone is knowledgeable about Greek astronomy or litterature. Because “the Glittering one” was in classical Greece the name of planet Mercury (we often encounter it in ancient Greek texts simply as CΤΙΛΒΩΝ – the “Glittering”)!
Over the right sixteen-pointed “star” it is written in Greek: “ΦΑΕΘΩΝ ΔΙΟC”. This means: “the radiant one of Jupiter”! I guess this is the easiest item to identify on the Lion slab because indeed it refers to planet Jupiter! “The Radiant one” was in classical Greece the name of planet Jupiter (we often encounter it in ancient Greek texts simply as ΦΑΕΘΩΝ – the “Radiant”)!
It is at this point that the Lion slab takes a whole new meaning. You see, it becomes apparent now that it is not a mere representation of the constellation of Leo but there is more to it. It most probably has astrological connotations. Otherwise the three fully named planets over the Lions back would make no sense. Why should they inscribe and depict on the slab just the planets Mars, Mercury and Jupiter? Why not Venus and Saturn too? The latter are conspicuously absent!
The sequence of the planets over the lions back might be another important clue. They do not follow the classic sequence (Mercury, Mars, Jupiter) but they are enumerated in this rather erratic manner: Mars – Mercury – Jupiter. Did the sculptor commit an error in the sequence of the planets? Or is the famous scholar Otto Neugebauer right here when he claims that the sequence of these planets is either accidental or it manieristically repeats the late babylonian enumeration of the planets (Jupiter – Venus – Mercury – Saturn, Mars. If we omit Venus and Saturn we then get Jupiter – Mercury – Mars, which is the exact sequence of the planets on the lion slab – mirrored in reverse though). I personally think that this Neugebauer’s assumption does not hold much water (he didn’t have at his disposal some crucial archeological findings we know of today).
You see, I believe that the lion slab is “semiotically” connected to the gigantic statues of the deities, at the pyramid’s base. At both terraces (the eastern and the western) the same array of deities is replicated in exactly the same order: the deified Anticochus on the very left, then the all important to the Greeks goddess “Tyche”- Fortune, then Jupiter at the center, then Mercury and finally Mars on the very right. If we start enumerating these statues from right to left we get Mars – Mercury – Jupiter. That’s exactly the 3 planets’ sequence on the lion slab!
Of course there are some objections here. Why should we enumerate the gods/planets at the base of the pyramid from right to left when (on the lion slab) we enumerate the three planets from left to right? And why the two major statues/deities – Apollo and Mars – are located on the left (the “lesser”) side of Jupiter, while a mortal like Antiochus stands on Jupiter’s “good” right side? Well, the answer to the latter question is simple: the mesopotamians were always taking in account the observers’ point of view (the pilgrims’ in this case), so actually it is Antiochus who stands on the lesser left side of Jupiter! Regarding the former question, it was all a matter of “staging”. Since Jupiter had to be at the very center of the statues’ array (being the king of the gods) then the only viable option left was to enumerate the Mars – Mercury – Jupiter sequence on the reverse (ending with Mars on the far right of the array). Even so, the lion slab and the array of the statues are intrinsically attuned! Thus, the purpose of the full denomination of the planets over the lion’s back (as i.e. “the glittering one of Apollo” for Mercury) was to facilitate the pilgrims, so that they readily correlate the esoteric symbolism of the lion slab to the symbolism of the gigantic statues of the gods!
There is a last decisive clue on the lion slab that we haven’t touched so far. On the lions chest there is clearly visible some sort of sickle-shaped ornament. In the long mesopotamian tradition (and probably globally) this “sickle – shaped” item is a typical symbol of the Moon. So, the message conveyed to us here is that the Moon is in the constellation of Leo! Everything becomes crystal clear now! This isn’t an astronomical slab but an ASTROLOGICAL one! It is a slab commerorating some major – to Antiochus or to the kingdom of Commagene – event, that took place under the auspices of the constellation of Leo!
Did you notice that I am writing “constellation of Leo” instead of “zodiacal sign of Leo”? Although both of them are divided in 12 sections bearing the same names, the constellations and the zodiacal signs are two radically different things. The constellations remain (relatively) fixed on the celestial vault while the zodiacal signs are slowly shifting. Today, for example, the constellation of Leo largely corresponds to that section of the sky where the zodiacal sign of Virgo is. In some 2500 years the constellation of Leo will be corresponding to the zodiacal sign of Libra. That’s why I am cautious with the use of the terms “constellation” and sign”. But I shouldn’t be that much, because by a remarkable coincidence in Antiochus times the tropical and the sidereal zodiac were almost coinciding (they were off by just 4 degrees). So, astrologically speaking, whether you were referring to the “constellation of Leo” or the “zodiacal sign of Leo” was almost the same back then.
We are not sure to what extent the Commagene astrologers were aware of the “constellation” – “zodiac” conceptual difference. We know that within the realm of the Hellenistic world Hipparchus had already discovered the precession of the equinoxes back in 130 BCE. So, from then on the astrologers had to take a gigantic consciousness leap in order to comprehend and assimilate the fact that there was a new “entity” called “zodiacal sign”, an entity that was quite different and independent from its namesake constellation! It would definitely take generations for the astrologers to get the hang of it.
But let’s turn back to the lion slab. At this stage it is very apparent that the slab depicts an horoscope! To our modern eyes it might not look like one. You see, we instictively compare it with the modern horoscopic blueprints we are familiar with, the ones with the zodiacal circle in them, the symbols of the planets, the houses, the Ascendant etc. But we shouldn’t apply our modern preconceptions to an artifact that is more than 2000 years old. Back then i.e. the Ascendant was a concept not yet developed. There were no astrological houses, at least not in the modern sense. Apparently, the zodiac had already been invented but it was handled as a rather theoretical conception without much usefulness. The astrologers of that era were following the old traditions and were verbally writing down the positions of the planets in the signs (using words instead of symbols).
Those were times of a major transition in astrology. The “omen lore” era (where the “horoscopes” consisted of simple planetary omens inscribed on mud-bricks) was coming to an end and the gigantic wave of the new, revolutionary hellenistic astrology was emerging on the horizon! Thus, if we could see the mount Nemrut’s lion slab through the eyes of an educated person of that culture we would immediately realize that it depicts an horocope – and a much advanced one!
Apparently, this lion slab horocope is serving two major purposes. On the one hand it is a short of calendar, marking astronomically the date of some important event. On the other hand it is a short of “certificate”, giving a testimony that the aforementioned event took place under the auspices of some extraordinary cosmic occurrence, an occurrence that vibrationally “sealed” it for ever! But what was that important event and when did it occur?
Well, thanks to the lion horocope itself (and to our modern computers) it’s rather easy to establish the date of this unknown event. We are looking for a date when the Moon and the planets Mars, Mercury and Jupiter were all in the zodiacal sign or in the constellation of Leo. We will not get many such dates. In addition, thanks to the information provided by the inscriptions located at the site we know that this important event is related either to Antiochus himself or to his father Mithridates, who ascended the throne in 109 BCE. Thus, we can further narrow our time frame: say from 140 BCE to 38 BCE (Antiochus death). We are getting then the results you are seeing in the next table:
I dismiss right away case 2 because a) it doesn’t correspond to any major event in the lifes of Antiochus or Mithidrates (actually Antiochus was not even born in 98 BCE) and b) because it doesn’t obey the Mars – Mercury – Jupiter sequence that we see depicted on the lion slab . I dismiss too case 4 because a) Antiochus was rather old by then and on his mount Nemrut statue is portayed as a young man and b) because neither this case obeys the crucial Mars – Mercury – Jupiter sequence.
We are left then with cases 1 and 3. In fact, case 1 (July 14th, 109) corresponds to the year king Mithidrates (Antiochus’ father) was coronated (109 BCE). Thus, there are some scholars who claim that our lion horoscope is “cast” for the Mithidrates coronation. I don’t subscribe to that scenario. Why would they elect a coronation horocope leaving the most regal of the “planets”, the Sun out of the sign/constellation of Leo (and in Cancer)?
Case 3 is the most satisfactory of them all. Apart from the fact that it meets all the requirements, the Sun in this case is in the sign/constellation of Leo – and that would be the ultimate “certificate” of regality! But then – very reasonably – you will say to me “there is no sun depicted on the lion horoscope”. Well, I think that’s not true, because in my opinion the entire lion slab is depicting the Sun in Leo! Thus, there was no need to inscribe the Sun symbol on it!
Such an absolutely rare and unique accumulation of planets in the regal sign of Leo could not have gone unnoticed by an erudite man, well versed into astrology and hermeticism, our man Antiochus I Theos! Think now that those years were extraordinary from another point of view as well: the regal star Regulus (that lies at the “heart” of the Leo constellation – a few inches above the lunar “sickle” we identified on the lion slab) had just entered in the ZODIACAL SIGN of Leo!
It seems that Antiochus fully took advantage of this extraordinary cosmic occurrence, in order to deify himself and establish an illustrious dynastry. That’s why he built his enormous sanctuary/mausoleum on the summit of mount Nemrut. Most probably, on Augut 3rd, 62 BCE he performed a sort of “Theurgy” up there, where he equalled himself and his dynasty to the Gods (hence his title “Epiphanes Theos” – “Manifest God”) and propitiated his kingdom. He wasn’t very succesful in that, because a few decades after his death the Romans annexed Commagene to their huge empire. Nevertheless, the Antiochus monument and the lion horoscope have lasted for more than 2000 years, still exerting fascination to the people all over the world. In that sense, the legacy of Antiochus I of Commagene has indeed been immortalized!
Thomas D. Gazis
Copyright: Thomas D. Gazis