Mt. Argaios in Cappadocia: Reception of Sacred Mountain in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Alexis Belis

J. Paul Getty Museum

Maximus of Tyre, in his 2nd-century-AD commentary on cult images of the gods (Oration 2), wrote of a mountain that the Cappadocians regarded as a deity (theos), an oath (horkos), and a statue (agalma). The excerpt doubtless refers to Argaios, the region’s most numinous peak (Strabo 12.2.7). In fact, the most prominent image on late Hellenistic and Roman coins of Eusebeia (Roman Caesarea), the capital city located at the foot of Argaios, is that of the mountain itself. Argaios appears not only as a rocky summit, often surmounted by a radiate figure or an eagle, but also as an aniconic agalma on an altar or in a temple. Contemporary bronze figurines echo these representations. Although the nature of a cult of Argaios in this period is unclear, the literary and visual references draw on a long-standing tradition of mountain-worship in the ancient Near East. Argaios was revered as a divine being by the Hittites in the Late Bronze Age, who made offerings in honor of the deified mountain, and pictured a composite deity: part-mountain, part-man. In addition, mountain-gods were frequently called on as witnesses for Hittite treaties, and there was a close connection between sacred mountains and kingship.

The passage in Maximus’ oration and the corresponding material evidence thus suggest the survival of much earlier ideas about the religious aspects of mountains. The coinage of Eusebeia-Caesarea depicting Argaios dates from the first century BC, the period of the last Cappadocian kings. Therefore, the image of the mountain may have been introduced to revive and perpetuate certain notions of local identity and power, which continued under Roman rule. Using a combination of texts and iconography, this paper examines how the divine nature of Argaios persisted in the cultural memory of the Near East throughout the first millennium BC, and the ways in which the new Roman province of Cappadocia defined itself through its relationship with the sacred landscape of the past

Session/Panel Title:

Visions of Ancient Cities...

Session/Paper Number

10.3

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