Antiochus, was the ruler of Commagene from 70 BC to 36 BC, and he was very unique ruler too. He was the sole son of King Mithridates I and Queen Laodice VII of Commagene. Commagene was a small but famous Armenian kingdom and Antiochus I was its most popular king. Antiochus I claimed his descent from Alexander the Great of Greece on mother’s side and King Darius the Great from father’s side. So, he had a great bloodline no doubt. But what was most interesting about this king was his pride and ego. After ascending the throne Antiochus I quickly declared that he had special relationships with many gods. He even instituted a royal cult or Greek form of religion similar to Zoroastrianism. Through this religion he wanted to be worshiped just like a god after his death.
One of the major achievements of Antiochus I was reform of the Commagene calendar. Prior to the reform, Commagene year was calculated on the movements of Moon and Sun. He included the Egyptian system of calculating days. This would suggest that Antiochus I was highly knowledgeable. During his reign, Antiochus I also commissioned the construction of a magnificent religious sanctuary situated on Mount Nemrut (which is a 2,100 meter high mountain). People were instructed to visit the sanctuary and pray to Antiochus. Antiochus wanted the sanctuary to be situated at a high and holy place. Perhaps he wanted to be seen in equal rank with the revered gods.
Antiochus I commissioned large number of workers to complete the construction and they built great limestone statues of various gods and a pyramid like tomb where Antiochus wanted to be preserved for eternity. There was an inscription placed on the top of the mountain that claimed resting place of “god king”. The statues of gods belonged to various cultures such as Armenian, Greek and Iranian. The effigies of these gods bear Persian as well as Greek influences.
When Antiochus I died he is said to have been buried in the pyramid he had built. He had also instructed all subjects to celebrate his birthday (16th day of each month) with great festivities as well as his coronation day (10th day of each month). But the sanctuary that Antiochus I so lovingly built was forgotten with time. Until in 1883 a German archeologist discovered Mount Nemrut. In 1987, Mount Nemrut was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. But the archeologists for long decades could not recover anything by excavating from this great mound. It was only last year, that archeologists used ground-penetrating radar to examine the site. On closer look they found a pyramid shaped structure and a box like object within it. This would be the sarcophagus of the great King Antiochus I.