Turkey

Arsameia on the Nymphaios

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In the windblown highlands of the Taurus Mountains is the summer capital remembered as Arsameia (Eski Kâhta). It is overshadowed—almost literally—by Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı) and is forever tethered to it. Both are associated with the Kingdom of the Commagenê (see previous post here). Both require effort to reach. Both are monumental mausoleum sites.

The difference is that Arsameia on the Nymphaios (its full name identifies with the nearby stream) was a city of the living. Mount Nimrut, while more spectacular, was a necropolis.

Arsameia was a hub of the Commagenê, founded and named after Arsames.* He, and the Commagenê emerged in the first half of the 3rd century BC as Seleucid control of the region flagged during the Syrian Wars.

Pictured here is the Mithras Relief identified by the excavator as Site II. The standing stone has been partially restored. Carved on the side facing the valley (and the camera) is the god Mithras. He wears the floppy Phrygian cap. Inscriptions are carved on the reverse.

Blocks from the site were hauled downslope in the Roman period and used to build the Cendere Bridge (see post here).


*The Greek Arsámēs is likely drawn from the Aramaic ʾršm (“hero”?). It is an old name with a deep history of use by Persian notables.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for a trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Far and away

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The rugged region between the Cendere Bridge and Nemrut Dağı conceals the residues of many cultures. One of interest to Bible Land Explorers is Commagenê. In the time of Christ this tiny Hellenized kingdom of the East (Βασίλειον τῆς Kομμαγηνῆς) was positioned between the overlapping orbits of Rome, Parthia, and Armenia. Its strategic value lay in this nexus and in its control of crossing points along the Upper Euphrates.

The geographer Strabo refers to Commagenê as a small but fertile place, naturally fortified, and connected to the great river.* He considers it in the context of greater Syria, and, as some have suggested, its inhabitants may have been as comfortable working in a dialect of Aramaic as they were in Greek.**

At one rest stop, our local guide pointed out the ruins of “Old Kahta” above our heads. I fired my camera. While the Romans and Mamluks built here in later periods, it was originally a fortified site of the Commagenê.

Ancient Commagenê corresponds roughly with the Turkish province of Adıyaman.


*Geography 16.2. See the link here.

**Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East 31 BC – AD 337 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1993): 454.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.



The elicitor

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Steep hairpin ahead!

The response of an organism to external stimuli varies widely. Some pray. Some curse. Some alternate between the two.

The narrow and unimproved road between the Cendere Bridge and Nemrut Dağ elicits a wide range of responses.

Put differently: the lack of guardrails means that every rocky cliff, yawning chasm, and eroded roadwash may be fully appreciated without obstruction.

Nimrut Dağ is a 7,000 foot mountain in southeastern Turkey. It is one of the highest peaks in the eastern Taurus mountains.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.


A place of birth and death

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Let your eyes rise from the Cendere Valley (with its red-ribbon bridge, see previous posts like this one) to the mountains above. These windswept highlands are part of the eastern extension of the Taurus Range located in southern Turkey. Their secret folds are the birthplace of the Tigris and Euphrates, the rivers that define old Mesopotamia.

The highest point on the distant horizon is a 7,000-footer known as Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı). On its summit is a first-century BC funerary mound. Want to see it? Stay tuned!


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Fratricide and other grimness

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I’ve devoted a couple of POTDs to the Cendere Bridge in SE Turkey (see here and here). It is an amazing piece of Roman engineering that has attracted the attention of academics for more than a century. French epigraphers Louis Jalabert and René Mouterde were the first to study and publish its inscriptions in 1929.*

These tell, in part, how four cities of the region honored Emperor Septimius Severus and his family.

In the photo above Keith points to one of two inscriptions cut into vertical blocks that form a part of the bridge’s railing. The Latin (for the curious) is found here.

Three more inscriptions are located on columns positioned on the bridgehead. These columns were once adorned with statues. Emperor Septimus and his wife Julia Domma stood on one end. Their two sons, Caracalla and Publius Geta stood on the other. While their images are long gone, dedicatory inscriptions are still visible.

Three of the four columns are still standing. The fourth, that of Geta, was removed after Caracalla assassinated him (while clinging to his mother, it is said!) and sought to erase his memory.

It’s that old Cain and Abel stuff.


*See Jalabert, Louis, and René Mouterde, Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (IGLS) I, Commagene and Cyrrhestique (BAH 12), Paris, 1929.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you need to grab your seat quickly. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

On the way to the Euphrates

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Yesterday’s post (see here) offered a brief introduction to the Cendere Bridge (also known as the Septimius Severus Bridge) located in SE Turkey. It measures more than a football field in length (120 meters) and is a marvel of engineering from Roman period.

While a modern bridge has replaced it as a primary route over the Cendere Stream, light wheeled traffic still traverses it daily.

A gorge cut into the foot of the Taurus Mountains is visible behind the bridge. This incision is the work of the Cendere (or Bölam Su) which drains the highlands, flows under the bridge and continues south to the Euphrates River.

A Roman dedicatory inscription on the bridge identifies the stream by its ancient name, the Chabina.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com to request more information or see here for other upcoming travel opportunities.

The red ribbon bridge?

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These intrepid Bible Land Explorers pose on one end of what is possibly the second longest Roman bridge still standing today. The arch in the center spans Chabinas Creek and measures 34.2 meters (112 feet) across. The entire bridge, including build-up, measures 120 meters (390 feet) in length. It is a marvel of Roman engineering.

Nearby signage identifies it as the Cendere Bridge or the Septimius Severus Bridge. It was likely built between AD 198-200 as part of the Roman preparations for another chapter in the Parthian conflict.

The construction was undertaken by Rome’s XVI Legion. Inscriptions dedicate the bridge to Septimius Severus who was emperor at the end of the 2nd century AD. It may have replaced an earlier bridge from the time of Vespasian.

While some may dispute that the Cendere Bridge takes the red ribbon as far as Roman bridges go, there is no dispute about which bridge gets the blue. The Puente Romano on the Guadiana River in Mérida, Spain, is easily the longest with an impressive length of 790 meters (almost 2,600 feet).

The bridge pictured above is located in SE Turkey, not far from the modern town of Adiyaman.


*Note the discussion of construction/reconstruction in the article “Severan (Cendere) Bridge” posted in Turkish Archaeological News (11/18/2017). Here is a link.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you'll need to grab your seat now if you are going to get it. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information.

No strings attached

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Wheeling, dealing, and fooling around has been a part of life in Çorum, Turkey, for as long as anyone can remember.

Back in the days of Abraham (yes, that Abraham), the Assyrians established a trading colony here. It was part of a network of trading partners (Akkadian: kāru) centered in what is today the Turkish province of Çorum. The route was an economic lifeline between northern Anatolia and Upper Mesopotamia.

Money was not yet invented in those days; precious metals were the currency of choice. Gold was eight times more valuable than silver. Only one metal was more valuable than gold: amutum. This metal was forty times more valuable than silver! Scholars believe amutum may be iron. Keep in mind that this was, in the parlance of archaeologists, still the age of bronze.

The fun-loving friends pictured above demonstrated to me the value of a good laugh and an old mandolin without strings. I bought it. It proudly sits on a shelf in my dining room today.

Çorum is located in the highlands between Ankara and the Black Sea coast.


*See K. R. Veenhof, Aspects of Old Assyrian Trade and Its Terminology (Brill, 1972): 385.


51875727_1220269901475687_6508264772281040896_n.jpg

A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you'll need to grab your seat now if you are going to get it. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information.

Study-Tour 2000 (Israel, Egypt, Turkey)

I came across this image yesterday afternoon. It brought back some fond memories. It was shot in early March almost twenty years ago. The place was Giza, Egypt.

The faces are those of students and staff from the Cincinnati Christian University. These brave souls signed on for one of our most ambitious study-tours ever. Three countries in 14 days! Wowzer. But we filled every seat on the bus.

See anyone you recognize?

If you were a part of this trip, I’d love to hear from you. Care to share any photographs of your experience for other Bible Land Explorers? I can post them here. What memories does this image bring back for you?

Do tell. And show.


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These two young fellers were among the leaders of the trip pictured above. Funny, they haven’t changed a bit!

A few years have passed since 2000 but we are still up to old tricks. In March of 2019 we’ll be headed back to Israel/Palestine. This time we’ll have a student group from Johnson University in tow.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Christianizing folks

Caesar Augustus or Octavian (left) is often considered the first Roman emperor. He ruled between 27 BC and AD 14 and initiated the "peace of Rome." His name appears in Luke's account of the birth of Christ (read here). He was a shrewd and able politician who used traditional Roman religion to his advantage and was himself known as "Savior" and the "Son of God."

Livia (right), was already mother to future emperor Tiberias and pregnant with a second child when she met Octavian. Octavian fell in love with her immediately. Tradition has not been kind to her however. She is remembered as an unsavory character, responsible for poisoning more than a few friends and relatives (and possibly Augustus himself!).

These images of both Augustus and Livia were found amid the rubble of Ephesus. Their statues were likely "Christianized" and broken during the Early Byzantine Era. When found, crosses were carved into their foreheads. The practice is not unique. Is it wishful thinking on the part of Christians, an act of purification, exorcism, or something else?

You can find these artifacts as I did in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk, Turkey.

For more on cross-marks, see T. M. Kristensen and L. Stirling, The Afterlife of Greek and Roman Sculpture: Late Antique Responses and Practices (University of Michigan, 2016): 145-146.

Packing off Dad

In this partially preserved relief, the pious son carries his lame father while fleeing the sack of Troy. The son's name is Aeneas; the father's name is Anchises. Aeneas is guided by his mother, the goddess Aphrodite (upper left). Anchises carries a box that holds statues of the ancestral gods of Troy.

The purpose of the facade is clear: to communicate the heritage of Rome and underline provincial loyalty. According to the well-worn story, Aeneas was a Trojan hero (a grandson of its founder, in fact) who escaped the epic battle and eventually settled in Italy. His family, called the Aeneads, gave rise to the Romans. As a community foundation story, it is clever; the Romans reject the status of "newcomers" and claim a place of their own in a deep (and mythic) Mediterranean history.

Mentions of Aeneas are found in Homer's Iliad, but his story is played out fully in Virgil's Aeneid (a masterpiece of Latin literature written prior to the birth of Christ).

The detail pictured above is part of a larger set of reliefs recovered at the site of Aphrodisias, Turkey.

A stone story in stone

The exterior walls of Cathedral of the Holy Cross (Aghtamar Island) display many larger-than-life biblical scenes. Before us is David and Goliath. David is poised and at the ready with his arm cocked and a stone loaded in his sling. I'm assuming that is King Saul standing behind him, looking rather small, worried, and sultan-ish. Goliath towers above both of them, shouldering sword, spear, and shield. He glances out the corners of eyes, nonplussed by this new adversary. He has no idea of things to come!

This lavish 10th century Armenian structure stands on an island in Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. I wrote about this place a few years ago in a series of stories you can read here.

To encounter the biblical story of David and Goliath, look here.

A few laps

The stadium at Aphrodisias, Turkey, begs the legs to run. Our students couldn't resist.

The straightaway is lengthy: 225 meters. The turn at is tight. 

I previously posted an end-view of this structure here.

Details of the stadium are published by Katherine Welch in American Journal of Archaeology 102/3 (1998): 547-569.

Color magic

Well maybe the Persian army got the beat down from Alex and his Macedonian boys, but you have to admit the Persians had 'em on style. Efforts to reconstruct the colors from this 4th c BC coffin show members of the Persian army in bold stripes and diamonds. The Greeks wear . . . ah . . . ah . . . helmets and capes. Abdalonymous, King of Sidon, is pictured (center) on horseback.

While this masterwork of antiquity is often called the "Alexander Sarcophagus" (because the Macedonian hero is prominently featured as both friend and foe), it actually belonged to Abdalonymous and was unearthed at the royal necropolis at Sidon in 1887. I found it (detail pictured above)--and the colored reproductions (detail pictured below)--on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and set them side by side for comparison.

A beastly gate

Babylon's Ishtar Gate was erected in the early 6th century BC by Nebuchadnezzar II. It was decorated with colorful tiles that included depictions of flowers and beasts, both imagined and real. This detail of the gate depicts a ferocious lion. Robert Koldeway found the gate in the early 20th century. I found this panel lurking in Istanbul's Archaeology Museum.

A regular circus

The stadium at Aphrodisias, Turkey, is one of the largest and best preserved from the Late Roman world. The track is 262 meters from end to end and seats held a crowd of 30,000. Supporters of the Blues wished bad years on the Greens here. Sounds like Giant and Packer fans. 

Resting warrior

This statue of a resting warrior is on display at the site museum at Ephesus, Turkey. It was recovered at the fountain of Polius. Specialists suggest it was produced in the latter third of the first century AD. Post-biblical tradition puts another recliner, John, the disciple of Jesus, in Ephesus at this same time.

Finding our land legs

Touring the Aegean by ship is a great way to pack convenience and efficiency into a single experience. Shan Caldwell, Lydia Knoll, and Adina Waddell disembark at the Turkish port of Kusadasi. From here our 2003 student group from Cincinnati Christian University visited the biblical site of Ephesus.

Watermelon chicken in Turkey

Why? Because this is Denizli, silly! The crowing rooster is a celebrity in Turkey's Lycus River Valley and has been for at least a thousand years. Even at the nearby site of Laodicea, a chicken was discovered in relief. And God only knows what is buried upslope in the ruins of unexcavated Colossae.

Obviously there are many things that could kill you on one of our tours, but starvation is not one of them.

More chips, anyone?