You are here

Die Sakralarchitektur der kommagenischen Hierothesia und Temene

July 2019 (123.3)

Book Review

Die Sakralarchitektur der kommagenischen Hierothesia und Temene

By Werner Oenbrink (Dolichener und Kommagenische Forschungen 8, Asia Minor Studien 83). Pp. viii + 299. Dr. Rudolf Habelt, Bonn 2017. €79. ISBN 978-3-7749-4083-3 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The book deals with the architecture of the Kommagenian hierothesia and temene, the former defined as sanctuaries with royal tombs, the latter as other places for the ruler’s cult. They belong to the period of the two Late Hellenistic Kommagenian kings Mithradates I Kallinikos (late second century to ca. 69/62 B.C.E.) and Antiochos I Theos (ca. 69/62 to 35 B.C.E.). 

This study combines the evidence of formerly studied places with new finds: architectural elements in a private collection from Kâhta-Güzelçay and those found in the sanctuary of Juppiter Dolichenus at Doliche. It also contains formerly unpublished finds from Arsameia on the Nymphaios. One of its main topics is dating: the architectural elements have generally been attributed to Antiochos I, while epigraphic evidence has pointed toward the founding of hierothesia and temene during the reign of his predecessor, Mithradates I. 

Following an introduction to the hierothesia—in which he convincingly excludes the tomb of Sesönk as a nonroyal tomb—Oenbrink dedicates more than half the book to the architectural elements of the hierothesion of Mithradates I at Arsameia on the Nymphaios, which was studied and excavated by Friedrich Karl Dörner and others, including Wolfram Hoepfner. He provides an overview of the reconstructions of the architectural remains: three variations by Hoepfner and two others by Helmut Waldmann and Herman A.G. Brijder. While Waldmann’s reconstruction of a Zoroastrian fire temple is not in accordance with the evidence, the reconstructions by Hoepfner and Brijder vary slightly due to the fragmentary architectural remains. They offer different solutions regarding the existence of a peristyle behind the banqueting rooms in the west, and the localization and arrangement of sculptures, an altar, and a possible tomb monument in the east. 

Oenbrink undertakes a new and comprehensive study of the architectural elements, some of which were not included in Hoepfner’s publication (Arsameia am Nymphaios 2 [Tübingen 1983]). They are all made of local limestone and are categorized into two Doric, three Corinthian, and one Ionic architectural order. For the second variety of Corinthian order, Oenbrink offers a reconstruction of the capital that differs slightly from Hoepfner’s. Convincing are the more compact leaves, less convincing is the attribution to these Corinthian capitals of two astragalus fragments on the curled tip of an acanthus leaf; Hoepfner had assigned them to a composite order, together with the few Ionic fragments. Oenbrink rejects the idea of a composite capital as improbable (it would be one of the earliest examples) and locates the astragalus on the bottom of the Caulis knot on the Corinthian capital—a solution which is at least as unique and improbable as Hoepfner’s.

The torus bases were divided according to their size and proportions into six different orders; Oenbrink dates one to the Achaemenid, one to the Early Hellenistic, three to the Late Hellenistic to Early Roman Imperial, and one to the Roman Imperial to Late Antique period. The criteria for dating are not clearly stated. The torus bases remain strangely isolated, as no other architectural elements were attributed to any of them. Oenbrink explains their appearance in Arsameia with a North Syrian, Assyrian, and Achaemenid tradition, which was maintained over a long period in Kommagene. He lists Achaemenid torus bases in Kommagene from Tille Höyük, Samosata, and Doliche and sees these in the direct tradition of the North Syrian torus bases. He also mentions the torus bases at Ai Khanum and the Oxus temple at Taht-i Sangin, attributing them to the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom; yet, at least the latter were erected in the Early Seleucid period. Oenbrink omitted the (possibly Achaemenid) torus bases of Kilikian Meydanc─▒kkale.

In his discussion of the remains in situ, Oenbrink offers an interesting new idea: he considers the terraces projecting in front of the banqueting halls not as porticoes, as they have been seen in the past, but as corridors, a layout that has a close parallel in the palace at Samosata. Yet, he proposes a reconstruction of the plan that varies only slightly from the former ones, especially Brijder’s, without peristyle court, and with porticoes in front of the banqueting halls consisting of six columns between flanking side walls. His reconstruction of flat roofs has to be rejected, as Corinthian roof tiles were found during the excavations and such roof tiles require an inclined roof. Likewise, a parallel to Ai Khanum does not apply because there antefixes were added to flat clay roofs rather than inclined ones. 

A new conclusion, which is connected with the dating and attribution of the architectural orders to various parts of the building, is Oenbrink’s identification of two phases, attributed to Mithradates I and to Antiochos I. The earlier phase consists of the building with the banqueting halls and their mosaics, which he dates to the late second or early first century B.C.E. without further argumentation. He attributes to this phase the first Doric and first Corinthian order, and, due to the similarity of the wall construction (rather weak evidence for dating) the rock-cut chamber and hall complex. Oenbrink’s second phase comprises the processional way, the pedestals with relief stelae, the Doric porticoes with the second Doric order, the propylon with the second type of Corinthian columns, and the interior wall embellished by the third Corinthian order. The “mortar room” he interprets as a fountain house with torus bases.

For Arsameia on the Nymphaios, Oenbrink’s study does not result in a truly new and convincing interpretation, and it is significant that he dares to present no visualization of his reconstruction. This concern applies also to the distinction of two phases, which is based on the dating of the mosaics and the architectural elements. Their attribution cannot be resolved beyond doubt, and their precise placing within the roughly 70 years under discussion is difficult, given the limits of stylistic dating of architectural elements (F. Rumscheid, Untersuchungen zur kleinasiatischen Bauornamentik des Hellenismus [Mainz 1994] 2–3). This is especially true for a region without dated monuments and is due in part to the general difficulties of dating the Doric order and the torus bases.

The architectural elements from Kâhta-Güzelçay in a private collection come from a site that is now mainly submerged in the Atatürk Dam’s reservoir. They belong to a Doric and a Corinthian order, which, according to an inscription from the same site, belong to a hierothesion.

Among the temene, the sanctuaries for the ruler’s cult without royal tombs, new evidence comes from the sanctuary of Juppiter Dolichenus at Doliche. The fragment of a dexiosis stele with inscription proves the existence of such a temenos that cannot yet be localized precisely within the sanctuary. Oenbrink attributes elements of a Doric order to this temenos along with fragments of a large rectangular and a small round altar and suggests the reconstruction of a colonnaded precinct.

In the conclusion, the author characterizes the masonry, including the interesting detail of combined lewis and dowel holes at pillar blocks in Arsameia on the Nymphaios. Here, the Karian parallels (P. Pedersen, “The Ionian Renaissance and Alexandria Seen from the Perspective of a Karian-Ionian Lewis Hole,” in L. Karlsson and S. Carlsson, eds., Labraunda and Karia [Uppsala 2011] 365–88) should be added to the discussion. The minuscule δ that Oenbrink describes on block K10 from Kâhta-Güzelçay unfortunately is not visible in the photograph and indeed cannot be correctly identified since minuscules were not yet used in this period.

Like his predecessors, Oenbrink sees eclecticism of western and eastern elements in Kommagenian architecture, but with greater Syrian and Mesopotamian orientations. He emphasizes the walls of up to 1.60 m thickness in Arsameia on the Nymphaios and up to 1.80 m at Samosata. The eastern appearance of the architectural layout that he sees in both places is an important topic that he treats only briefly but that needs more detailed analysis, for example regarding the corridors. 

Formally, the book would have profited from a careful editing. The figures are distributed as in-text figures, plates, and color plates, and their captions are hidden in a separate list that makes use of the book arduous.

The value of this book lies in the presentation of the architectural elements from Kâhta-Güzelçay, Doliche, and those from Arsameia on the Nymphaios not included in Hoepfner’s publication. The differentiation of the two phases of the kings Mithradates I and Antiochos I in Arsameia on the Nymphaios is generally plausible in the context of the epigraphical evidence, but the assigning of rooms and columns to each remains speculative. The characterization of an eclectic Greek-Anatolian and Syrian-Mesopotamian architecture remains vague. For the present, comparison with Seleucid architecture remains a desideratum for a deeper understanding of Kommagenian architecture.

Winfried Held
Philipps-Universität Marburg

Book Review of Die Sakralarchitektur der kommagenischen Hierothesia und Temene, by Werner Oenbrink

Reviewed by Winfried Held

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 3 (July 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1233.held

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.