Kommagene: The Forgotten Kingdom

The kingdom of Kommagene was situated in the south east of Turkey, at the upper reaches of the Euphrates river.

“Oaks and plane trees cover the hillsides. The valleys are full of fig, olive, walnut and pomegranate trees, grapevines and oleanders; nowhere do the corn fields give such an abundant harvest.” You can hardly imagine that this description was given less than one hundred years ago, by a German who travelled through this region. If you read his report, it seems as if he describes paradise. Indeed, it is said that here once blossomed the Garden of Eden.

Today, this land resembles little its former paradise. Most of the trees have been felled and goats are busily eating away the last vestiges of vegetation. Nevertheless, irrigation, presently undertaken, will work miracles, and efforts are being made to regenerate the land. The soil is very fertile and silver mountain water sparkles from the numerous springs.

In the past, Kommagene was a very rich region known for its wealth of minerals and ores such as brown coal, gypsum, iron, gold and petroleum. A part of this richness has been re-discovered. In the sixties for example, an archeologist panned successfully for gold in the Euphrates.

Another discovery has been petroleum. During the last few years there has been extensive drilling for crude oil. Everywhere on the landscape oil rigs from the Turkish Petrol Organization (TPO) are multiplying, drilling for black gold.

But now, we have to travel back in time. Around 850 B.C. Kommagene appears for the first time in the annals of written history. According to the records of an Assyrian king, the population had to pay an annual tribute to him of gold, silver and the famous wood of the cedar trees. Apparently, the valuable cedar tree not only grew on the hillsides of the Lebanon in those days, but also in Kommagene. Kommagene became a satellite state of the Assyrians.

Around 700 B.C. a Kommagenian king rebelled against the Assyrians. The Assyrian king, Sargon, defeated him. Sargon has given us a vivid description of the rebel king: “He is a godless man, who does not fear the gods. He plots only bad things and is full of cunning.” We may assume that Sargons’ description is a little subjective. Sargon continues: “I took his wife, his sons, his daughters, his possessions, his treasures, and finally I took the population of his land and had them deported to the south of Mesopotamia. Nobody escaped. The people of the south of Mesopotamia I transferred to Kommagene.”

Around 600 B.C. the Assyrians were defeated by the Babylonians. The last battle was fought at Samosata, a town which would become the future capital of Kommagene. Here, at the banks of the Euphrates the remains of the Assyrian army had united with the Egyptian army to withstand the Babylonians. The Babylonian king defeated the united forces.

The people of Kommagene saw, how in their turn the Babylonians were replaced by the Persians, around 550 B.C. and then the Persians by the Greek under Alexander the Great.

Around 300 B.C. one of the heirs of Alexander the Great came into possession of the land. It was King Seleukos I Nicator, who founded the dynasty of the Seleucids. He is one of the Greek ancestors of the Kommagenian kings.

Around 160 B.C. Kommagene became an independent kingdom.