Zeus Olbios and the Priest-Kingdom of Olba

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Aug 3, 2020.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Quite a long time I was interested in the names Aias and Teukros on the coins of Olba (please, don't confuse Olba with Olbia!). Now I went further in this matter and here are the results of my investigation!

    1st Coin:
    Cilicia, Olba, quasi-autonomous, AD 11-12
    AE 16, 4.52g, 270°
    struck under Aias, son of Teukros, archiereus and toparch of Kennatis and Lalassis (year 2)
    Obv.: TOΠAPX / KENNAT / [Λ]AΛAΣ / ET B
    in dotted circle
    Rev.: Thunderbolt
    above APXIEP / AIANTOΣ
    beneath TEVKPOV
    Ref.: SNG BN Paris 807; RPC 3729; Staffierie, Olba 15, 14
    Very rare, about EF, glossy dark-green patina
    ex auction F. Sternberg Zürich XXV, 1991, lot 160
    ex auction M&M XVII, 2005, lot 965
    2nd Coin:
    Cilicia, Olba, quasi-autonomous, AD 10-11
    AE 21, 8.08g
    struck under Aias, son of Teukros, archiereus and toparch of Kennatis and Lalassis (year 1)
    struck AD 10-11 (year 1)
    Obv:. Priestking Aias, wearing priest's cap, as Hermes with kerykeion
    Rev.: Triskeles, sign of the Teukri
    Ref.: RPC 3725; SNG Levante 630

    Expansion of the legends:

    [1] TOΠAPXOV KENNATΩN KAI ΛAΛAΣΣEΩN ETOVΣ B = (on order) of the toparch of the people of Kennatis and Lalassis, year 2
    [2] APXIEPEΩΣ AIANTOΣ TEVKPOV = (on order) of the archiereus Ajas, son of Teukros
    [3] The thunderbolt is the symbol for Zeus Olbios, the Olbian main god.

    North of Silifke in the so-called Rough Cilicia, near the village of Uzuncabur, we find the old cult-place Olba with the temple of Zeus Olbios. This temple of Zeus was the center of power of the priest dynasty of the Teukri. Their symbol was the triskeles. The priest dynasty of the Olbian temple state has controlled an area which was circumscribed by the rivers Kalykadnos and Lamos. The center of their power was the Zeus Olbios sanctuary built by Seleukos I Nikator, the founder of the Seleukid Empire around 300 BC. In Hellenistic times (3rd - 1st century BC) it had been extended monumentally to become one of the biggest sanctuaries in Asia Minor. This temple and a huge army tower with a height of more than 20 m and a elaborately decorated tomb tower demonstrate the connection of religious and political power.

    About 45 BC Olba's Priest Kingdom had been weakened and Tyrants began capturing the country. At this time, one of the King's relative's, Zenophanes, cooperated with the Tyrants and seized the whole country. The Roman Administration preferred to control Olba with the help of a local priest king instead of a garrison, because of the unsuitable physical features of the region. When Zenophanes came to power, Rome started to lose control. Octavianus, Antonius and Lepidus established the Triumvirate Empire in Rome and shared the management. Antonius had the east lands. Octavianus and Antonius travelled to straighten out the east and killed Zenophanes and gained control over the priest kings again.

    Zenophanes's daughter, Aba, married the Priest King, and joined the Olba Kingdom family. The king died from the plague and the administration passed to their mother Aba as her sons were too young to come to power. There was a disagreement between Lepidus and Octavianus in 33 BC, as a result of this Lepidus accepted the superiority of Octavianus, and retreated from Triumvirate. So Octavianus and Antonius became secret rivals in order to dominate Rome. During Antonius's journey to Persia he fell in love with Cleopatra, so his relationship with Rome got worse. However, Cleopatra wanted to regain the old lands and own Ptolemaios's splendor. She succeeded in benefiting from Antonius's passion for her, and beat Rome with the help of the Romans. Antonius married Cleopatra and gave some land to her.

    Cleopatra owned the Olba Kingdom, which had many cedar trees used to make ships.
    Triumvirate ended formally in 32 BC by Octavianus, after Antonius gave the land to Cleopatra, and Octavianus went to war against them.
    Cleopatra donated the Olba to Aba because of her help. Aba was killed, but the Olba Kingdom continued up until 20 BC by her occupants. After this date Rome took responsibility of the administration of the area.

    The Olbian Priest dynasty which could be proud for good relations to Augustus didn't succeed in outlasting the fundamental changes in the course of the Roman engagement in Asia Minor. At least when the province Cilicia was established (1st century AD) the Priest reign changed to an urban administration. This fundamental change took place probably under Vespasian when he founded Diocaisarea which soon incorporated the temple. With it the sanctuary no more was the indisputable center of the whole region but primarly only an usual city sanctuary.

    The Priestkings of Olba ascribed their dynasty to Teukros, heroe of the Troyan War (Strabo 14, 5, 10). The Hellenistic inscriptions show a big number of theophoric names of typical Luwian origin. Especially frequent are names with the component 'tarki', 'tarko-', 'tarky-' and 'troko-'. These names refer to the Luwian weather god Tarhu(nt), the main god of the Luwian pantheon. Naturally Tarhu(nt) in Hellenistic times was equated with Zeus. Significantly under the names of the Zeus priests of Olba besides Teukros, Zenas and Zenophanes (these too theophoric names related to Zeus) Takyaris occurs too. So the assumption is close that the cult of Zeus Olbios was a Hellenized Tarhu(nt) cult (Trampedach).

    But what is the origin of the claimed ancestry from Teukros? The problem is that there are two different groups of myths containing Teukros and both are not compatible:

    [1] The Teukros of the Apollo Smintheus myth of Troas
    [2] The Teukros of the Troyan War of Homer

    The cult of Apollo Smintheus is said to be founded by Cretian Teukri near the Troyan Chryse when they settled there. So the identity of the names of the two mountains of Ida could be explained. Over the years the Troyans developed from the Teukri (Aischylos, Agamemnon 112). This Teukros then - as father of Tros - became the ancestor of the Troyan kings. To strengthen the connection with Troas he got as parents Skamandros and a Troic mountain nymph.

    Teukros too occurs in Vergil's Aeneis. Dido told Aeneas about Teukros who came as refugee to her father Belus who ruled in Sidon. He gave him the reign over Cyprus. Teukros claimed that he was related to the Troyan king dynasty by his mother Hesione, daughter of Laomedon, who had to follow Telamon as prisoner of war to Salamis. Vergil here skilfully connects both Teukros epics but doesn't mix up the genealogies.

    At Homer Teukros was the son of Telamon and half brother of Aias the Great. About the genealogic origin Homer reports nothing. This reconstruction is from Prinz: "Zeus created Aiakos with Aigina. Aiakos married Endeis and created with her Peleus and Telamon. They killed their half brother Phokos. After that murder Peleus and Telamon had to flee from Aigina because of the anger of Aiakos. Peleus came to Phthia and Telamon to Salamis." This genealogy leads from Teukros over Telamon and Aiakos to Zeus himself and got 'quasi canonic character'. This genealogy f.i. was adopted by Pindar (4th Nemean Ode).

    But how Teukros came to Cyprus? In Aischylos' 'The Persians' the chorus - describing the Persian Empire - lists the cities of Cyprus. And here appears - beside Paphos and Soloi - Salamis too! And now we have the missing link between Teukros and Cyprus. Teukros founded a city on Cyprus and named it Salamis referring to his hometown. Details could be found at Sophokles (Aias 1008-1021) and Euripides (Helena 87-104, 143-150). This founder myth was known already in the first third of the 5th century BC. But Athens too was interested in a myth which could legitimate its military intervention on Cyprus. For that purpose Athens had first mythologically to take in Salamis. This was done - according to Plutarch - by an arbitration between Spartians and Athenians by which Salamis was granted to Athens. A main argument of Solon, the leader of the Athenian delegation, was the hint that Salamis once was dedicated to Athens by the sons of Aias.

    But probably the Cyprian founder myth is originated from Salamis itself. The initial point according to Prinz was the homonymy of the island of Salamis and the city of Salamis on Cyprus. The descendants of Teukros, the Teukri, kept the power on Cyprus until c.310 BC when Ptolemaios I removed their reign.

    The suggested connection of Olba to the Greek myth is represented in this way:

    There is no convincing relation to the Troic Teukros. The founder myth of the Zeus Olbios temple by Strabon refers clearly to the heroe of Homer's Ilias. Additionally the name Telamon occurs in the region of Olba not scarcely and the geographical proximity of Cyprus is another evidence. And Teukros is not seen only as founder of the city but as founder of the important Zeus Salaminios temple too. This could be the reason for the Olbian priests to go back to Teukros. And Teukros was suggested as descendant of Zeus too which was stressed especially by Isokrates.

    The paradigm of Mallos has demonstrated for the first time that mythological founded Grecism could bring concrete advantages - in financial aspects too. The consequence was a race of cities and sanctuaries for a noble ancestry. Even the old metropolis of Tarsus participated with an 'Argivian' founder myth. This has been stressed after the appearence of Alexander the Great. He who searched for prestige needed a Greek myth. In the course of this development the Olbian priestkings too searched for a mythological connection to the Greek 'history'. Amphilochos and Mopsos were inappropriate because they were related to Apollon. The cult of the Anatolian weather god - who could only be identified with Zeus - needed another founder figure. Teukros was appropiate because of several reasons:

    [1] He was a descendant of Zeus
    [2] He was founder of a famous and not so far Zeus Sanctuary
    [3] He was the ancestor of a famous dynasty of rulers.

    After founding Seleukeia ad Calycadnum Seleukos I did reference to the nearby Zeus Olbios. The Olbian priests told Seleukos the founder myth of their sanctuary with the (now) noble Greek ancestry and as gratification they have been confirmed or introduced as regional kings by Seleukos (Trampedach).

    History of art:
    Of the temple of Zeus Olbios remained 30 high columns. They are of Corinthian order and were the oldest of this kind in Asia Minor. In the middle of an impressive mountain landscape these 2300 years old columns rise to heaven. I have added a pic. Recently the Universities of Rostock and Konstanz undertake archaeological excavations.


    [1] Kai Trampedach, Teukros und Teukriden. Zur Gründungslegende des Zeus Olbios-Heiligtums in Kilikien, in: Olba II, Mersin 1999, S. 94-110
    [2] Pilhofer/Börstingshaus, Olba/Diokaisarea - Priesterstaat und Doppelstadt -, Vorbereitungsübung zur Kilikienexkursion 2006
    [3] Friedrich Prinz, Gründungsmythen und Sagenchronologie, Beck 1979
    [4] http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/archives.php?id=24078

    Best regards
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
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  3. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Beautiful coins and well-researched!

    I also have an Ajax
    Ajax AE high priest olba.jpg

    And one of Marcus Antonius Polemo, the successor to Ajax, but perhaps better known as the King of Pontus. He was a great-grandson of Mark Antony, but held the position of high priest of Olba during the reign of Tiberius
    Marcus Antonius Polemo II high priest Cilicia Olba.jpg
  4. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Another view of the temple of Zeus at Olba:
    Temple of Zeus at Olba.JPG
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