Practitioners of the Divine: Greek Priests and Religious Officials from Homer to Heliodorus

  Dignas, Beate, and Kai Trampedach, eds. 2008. Practitioners of the Divine: Greek Priests and Religious Figures from Homer to Heliodorus. Hellenic Studies Series 30. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

5. Priests—Dynasts—Kings: Temples and Secular Rule in Asia Minor*

Ulrich Gotter

The aim of this essay is to explore the complex relationship between sacred authority and secular power in Asia Minor, focusing exclusively on cases of personal rule. My dramatis personae will include rulers as priests and priests as rulers. More specifically, I will consider the role of sacred office for the exercise and mediation of “mono rule” in Asia Minor beyond the Greek polis; that is to say, in a territory which has been considered to display in principle a traditional tendency towards the integration of secular and religious power. To map the field, I have constructed three different case studies: first, the union of king and priest, figuring king Archelaus of Cappadocia at the Corycian Cave; second, the major examples of the so-called Anatolian temple states; and finally the dynastic priesthoods of Pessinous in Galatia and Olba in Rough Cilicia. At the core of the essay lie the expansion of priestly rule and the relationship between priestly rule and both cities in the immediate neighborhood and the superstructures (Hellenistic monarchies and Roman Empire) in which they were embedded.

1. Archelaus at the Corycian Cave

The list of priests is not only a convenient catalogue of letter forms in the first century BC and an immense collection of Luwian names. It also casts some light on a sparsely illuminated phenomenon: the significance of cults for secular rule. The key is the striking empty space below the name Arkhelaos Arkhelaou. With, or rather after, King Archelaus the list of priests was not continued on that ante. Since there is no evidence of a sudden change in the epigraphic habit, we are left with only two possible interpretations of that lacuna: (1) Archelaus held the office of priest once (that is for one year) and abolished it thereafter, at least in its traditional form; (2) with his rule, Archelaus also assumed the office of priest and remained, as long as he reigned, priest of Zeus in perpetuity.

In any case—and thus the decision between the two possible solutions hardly affects my argument—the rule of Archelaus in Rough Cilicia meant a decisive break for the priesthood at the Corycian Cave and its self-representation. Either an annual office was dynastically occupied and thus taken out of circulation, or it was ended symbolically. An abolition of the office in this sense, however, did not mean that with it the cult or its practices were ended as well. Yet, the change by Archelaus did affect the representation of the cult in the person of the priest, as it had been manifest in the keeping of the list at the ante of the temple of Zeus. The closure of the list did not affect the practice of the cult, but it affected the position of the priest in a regional context.

What can we conclude from this for the relationship between the priest and secular power on the Cilician coast? What rationale underlay the intervention of Archelaus in the morphology of the regional priesthood?

I can only read this as a calculated neutralization of a position which Archelaus must have seen as a latent risk for his rule. The nature of this handicap becomes clearer if one looks at who was priest of Zeus during the 213 years documented by the list. Although, apart from Archelaus, none of the others is known to us in any other context, much can be learned from the names themselves. Most importantly, the office holders appear to have been strongly rooted both in the region and within the regional elite. The list is full of (mostly theophoric) Luwian names. This holds true for the entire period covered by the list, although the proportion between indigenous and Greek names changes gradually in favor of the latter, especially towards the end of the list. The frequent combination of Luwian with Greek names in the same family indicates that even the bearers of Greek names should be considered as members of the regional and probably autochthonous elite. That the office holders belonged to a small, exclusive circle follows from the filiations from which family links over generations can easily and safely be reconstructed. [18] And the exclusivity did not diminish over time. On the contrary, as the increasing incidence of tenure for a period of two years indicates, [19] the circle of acceptable candidates shrank from the beginning of the first century BC. Possibly, with Zēnophanēs Teukrou [20] the priests included a member of the Teucrid family, which, based on evidence at the temple of Zeus in Olba (see below), ruled over the mountainous territory to the north. His presence may be seen as another indicator of the prestige which the priests at the Corycian Cave enjoyed in the region.

Even if one cannot say anything specific about the practical functions of the priests, and about the role which they played beyond the cult, the constellation appears to be sufficiently clear from Archelaus’ perspective. As a dynastic newcomer, not at all linked to the region, he was confronted with the most important sacred center of his new territory, whose personnel was deeply rooted in the region’s traditional ruling elite. He sought to neutralize this structure of local authority, which threatened to become a problem for his as-yet-underdeveloped legitimacy, by taking on the priestly office himself and subsequently either changing its character or abolishing it.

2. Temple States and Kings

The textbook example of a close tie between sacral authority and secular power is supposed to be the so-called Anatolian temple states. It is generally thought that they manifested a traditional, structural, and permanent connection between local rule and priestly office. In what follows I will show that such a connection did not correspond with the regional concept of priesthood and that the combination of priestly authority and territorial power in one person was not the rule but the exception.

In order to understand the relationship between priesthood and local territorial rule, it is important to note that there was not a single certified personal union of king and priest. This is all the more remarkable if one considers how important these priests and their territories were for at least some of those monarchies. Strabo reports, for instance, that in Cappadocian Comana the priest of Ma was appointed for life and—after the ruler himself—occupied the second rank in the kingdom (Strabo 12.2.3). The third highest rank was also occupied by a priest appointed for life, namely the priest of Zeus Dakiēos in Venasa (Strabo 12.2.5–6). Thus the Cappadocian king was flanked, so to speak, by priestly authorities.

The temples of Cabira and Zela, and their priests, who also served for life, likewise enjoyed great significance for the Pontic rulers. When swearing officially, the Mithradatids addressed the Men in Cabira, and the royal oath was: “by the Fortune (tukhē) of the king and by Men of Pharnaces” (Strabo 12.3.31). Finally, the temple of Anaitis in Zela, probably an old Persian cult, was marked by rites of particular sacrality, which, as Strabo writes, led the inhabitants of Pontus to Zela, where they made their oaths in relation to important matters (Strabo 12.3.37).

But what did the internal structures of the temple states look like? In what ways were sacred authority and secular rule connected with each other? Or to put it more precisely: what kind of rule did the priests exercise towards which subjects?

Strabo’s description offers anything but a straightforward classification of the power relations. The only certainty is that the priest of Comana was the absolute master over the temple servants (hierodouloi) and that he commanded a considerable territory and its revenues. Much less clear is the situation of those living in Comana who were not temple servants. Here, Strabo avoids assigning a clear hierarchy between king and priest. The inhabitants of the town were in principle subjects to the kings and obeyed the priests merely in most affairs. This juxtaposition itself suggests that the priest possessed merely a de facto, but not a formal and regular commanding power.

This conclusion does not amount to an overinterpretation of the quotation. For it would have been more economical for Strabo at this point to have formulated a clear ruler-subject relationship between the temple master and those who were not temple servants; it would also have fitted better with his general line of argument. The fact that he did not do so therefore means that such a relationship did not exist.

Where the problem of the temple states with respect to rule lay exactly, becomes unequivocally clear if we consider Pompey, after his victory over Mithradates, re-organizing the affairs of Pontus. He dissolved two of the three sanctuaries—not as cults, but as political units: he transformed Zela into a town, just like Cabira, which he renamed Diospolis (Strabo 12.3.37). [32] By incorporating surrounding territory (royal land?) the new poleis integrated temple territory and their own khōra into a single larger political unit (Strabo 11.8.4). In Comana, Pompey was somewhat more sensitive. He did not make the cult, which was rich in tradition, subject to the town of Comana, but appointed his comrade in arms, Archelaus, in the place of the priest who was loyal to Mithradates. At the same time, however, he created a political unit which, compared to the traditional organization of the temple territory, represented a radical innovation.

By describing Pompey’s break with tradition precisely, Strabo sheds a brighter light on the traditional order of Comana than any other source. Central for our question concerning the rule of the priests in the temple states is the fact that Archelaus required a double competence—after the Pontic king had gone—in order to rule over a territory which exceeded the temple land and included a population which did not consist exclusively of temple servants. On the one hand, he became priest of Ma and master of the temple servants; on the other, he became leader (hēgemōn)—a strongly artificial title—of the remaining inhabitants of the territory. Effective rule over both groups could obviously not be achieved with the traditional priestly office in a temple state alone. This, however, allows only one conclusion for the pre-Pompeian period: even under the Mithradatids, the priests never possessed sovereignty over those who were not temple slaves; moreover, it was not within the horizon of expectations of the participants, for otherwise the artificial title of Archelaus would simply have been unnecessary. In these circumstances we cannot speak of a traditional connection between sacred authority and territorial rule in the temple state of Comana. Archelaus, who, unlike the priests in the kingdom of Pontus, was expected to exercise real rule under Roman auspices, had to be more than a priest.

In summary, we can note the following for the temple states in Cappadocia, Pontus, and Pisidia: their priests did not, by the standards of the Hellenistic world, exercise political power. On the one hand, they were closely integrated with the surrounding kingdoms; on the other hand, they could not integrate different types of subjects under their aegis. They might have been autocratic, but only towards the temple slaves and only with respect to the temple’s own land. Under these circumstances the term temple states for these formations is in principle misleading, and actually obsolete. The most important priests in the kingdoms of Pontus and Cappadocia and at Antiochia ad Pisidiam were—to put it pointedly—nothing other than particularly privileged administrators of temple possessions—masters of a domain, as it were—invested with the kind of authority which allowed them to be extraordinarily functional in the context of the sacred household of their respective monarchies. The fact that the combination of sacred authority and aristocratic provenance occasionally turned these office holders into a considerable danger for the ruler was inevitable, but it has nothing to do with the temple masters having had a traditional competence to rule.

3. Priest-Dynasts: Pessinous and Olba

This negative result regarding the combination of sacred authority and secular power in Asia Minor notwithstanding, the file on Anatolian temple states cannot yet be closed. For there are two exceptions, regarding significantly different constellations: the Cybele-temple of Pessinous in Galatia, and the cult of Zeus of Olba in Rough Cilicia.

Yet while the information for the temple rule of Pessinous in general, and particularly for the first century BC, is very sparse, we are on much more solid ground with respect to Olba. In order to put alternative relationships between cultic authority and secular power into sharper profile, the dynasty of priests in Olba will take center stage in the following considerations. It makes sense to start again with Strabo, who offers the only available synthetic treatment of the Cilician temple state.

And above this [Cyinda] and Soloi is a mountainous country in which is a city Olbē, with a temple of Zeus, founded by Aias the son of Teukros. The priest (hiereus) of this temple became dynast (dunastēs) of Cilicia Trachaea; and the country was beset by numerous tyrants, and the gangs of pirates were organized. And after the overthrow of these they called this country the domain (dunasteia) of Teucrus, and called the same also the priesthood (hierosunē) of Teucrus; and most of the priests were named Teucrus or Aias. (Strabo 14.5.10)

Despite a whole series of mistakes and imprecisions, [
39] Strabo here provides a framework within which other evidence can be accommodated. Several relevant points can thus be made:

  1. The temple rule of the Teucrids was organized as dunasteia, as a hereditary rule, based at the sanctuary of Zeus Olbius. The master of the temple was at the same time priest and dynast. [40]
  2. Rule over a cult meant the rule over a territory, which Strabo here seems to conceive as the whole of Rough Cilicia.
  3. Near the sanctuary was a city, Olba, which the cult could be understood to belong to.

Even though Strabo is wrong in his statement that the Teucrid dynasty ruled over all of Rough Cilicia, [41] a considerable amount of territory was linked to the political domination over the temple. This is indicated by inscriptions and signs on dozens of towers between the rivers Lamus and Calycadnus, which refer to the temple of Zeus Olbius and thereby circumscribe the expanse of the Olbian dunasteia. [42] This Olbian territory was a patchwork of different elements. As shown by honorary inscriptions for the priestly dynast of the early first century BC, as well as by later coins, [43] the temple state consisted—on the level of organized groups—of the tribes of the Kennatai and Lalasseis as well as the polis Olba. In this way, the rule of the Teucrids in Rough Cilicia in many respects, albeit on a smaller scale, resembled the monarchical regimes in Hellenistic states. The coherence of the territory and its subjects was essentially provided by the person of the ruler. Those subject to his rule were and remained disparate: a city, tribes which were organized as koinon, and a rural population that lived in villages and small settlements surmounted by towers and fortresses of the dynast. In contrast with the Hellenistic monarchs, however, it was not merely, or primarily, the much-lauded victoriousness of the ruler that had an integrating function, [44] but the common cult, which apparently represented the central communicative platform of the curious union between Lamus and Calycadnus. The temple of Zeus Olbius was and remained the point of reference for both ruler and subjects. In this sense the priestly rule among the Teucrids was indeed a temple state.

Against the background of the conditions outlined for the remainder of Asia Minor, the question poses itself—how was it that the exceptional combination of religious authority and secular power occurred in mountainous Cilicia of all places? One essential facet, surely, is the specific embedding of the Olbian temple state in the Seleucid kingdom. Unlike the temples of Pontus and Cappadocia, the temple of Zeus Olbius possessed no cult function for the Seleucid monarchy overall. [45] The Syrian kings were obviously less interested in the religious capital of the Teucrids than in their politicomilitary potential in an inaccessible mountainous area, which always remained peripheral for the Seleucid realm. Thus all the evidence suggests that the career of the Teucrid dynasty began with the foundation of Seleucia at the Calycadnus by Seleucus Nicator in the early third century BC. The location of the town and of its fertile plain immediately below the slopes of the Taurus made well-ordered and amicable conditions in the adjacent mountainous area an absolute necessity. And in the first century BC the priests themselves referred to a connection between their shrine and Seleucus Nicator, who was said to have dedicated a building (or a part of it) in the Zeus-Olbius-complex. [46] Yet, a permanent and direct intervention of the Seleucids in the Olbian territory cannot be found, and this too may be attributed to functional causes. In the perspective of the Seleucids and their foundation of Seleucia at the Calycadnus one rather needed a power that was independent and capable of acting in the mountainous region of the Taurus. [47] Thus, the chief priest in Olba—unlike, for instance, those in the temple states of Pontus and Cappadocia—was not appointed by the monarch. Instead, his rule was the product of dynastic hereditary succession.


[ back ] * For support of various kinds, I wish to thank Matthias Haake, Holger Hook, and Kai Trampedach.

[ back ] 1. First publication by Bent and Hicks 1891:243–258; advanced transliteration by Heberdey and Wilhelm 1896:71–79; text again published by Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1. For the cult, see MacKay 1990:2103–2110.

[ back ] 2. Feld and Weber 1967.

[ back ] 3. Which is easily seen as the individual layers of the wall differ from each other in height. See also Feld and Weber 1967:256–257.

[ back ] 4. Blocks IV and V from top: Heberdey and Wilhelm 1896:71–72.

[ back ] 5. For a sketch of the situation, see Heberdey and Wilhelm 1896:71, 73–75.

[ back ] 6. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 B2 l. 8. For Asia, see Holtheide 1983:93–104. For Syria, see Sartre 1996:244–245.

[ back ] 7. Heberdey and Wilhelm 1896:72.

[ back ] 8. This assumption is strongly supported by the β after several names (cf. n16), indicating a second year of office.

[ back ] 9. Nonetheless, it must be admitted that there is some uncertainty concerning the total time covered by the inscription, as the ending of eight lines has been lost (Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 A1 l.1; A1 l.9; A1 l.21; A2 l.22; A3 l.1; A5 l.1; A6 l.1; A7 l.19). Of course, some of these lines might have shown a β after the name.

[ back ] 10. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 A9 l.9.

[ back ] 11. Sullivan 1980:1148–1149; Buchheim 1960:55–56; Hoben 1969:180–182. For Archelaus’ family, see Sullivan 1980:1150–1154.

[ back ] 12. Sullivan 1980:1154; Hoben 1969:182–183.

[ back ] 13. For the dating, see Hoben 1969:184–185.

[ back ] 14. See Cassius Dio 54.9.2.

[ back ] 15. For the remaining hazards of any precise dating, see n9.

[ back ] 16. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 A1 l.; A2 l. 16.17; A3 l. 5; A4 l. 1.3.14.; A5 l.; A6 l.; A7 l.; A8 l.; A9 l.

[ back ] 17. For the rule of Archelaus II, see Sullivan 1980:1167–1168.

[ back ] 18. These family ties ought to be studied more carefully and comprehensively in another context. For some obvious examples of close relationships within the first blocks of the priest list, see Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 A2 l.; Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 A1 l. 4.5. 11. 17. 19. A2 l. 1.

[ back ] 19. Cf. n16.

[ back ] 20. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Korykion antron 1 A 7 l. 4

[ back ] 21. Hoben 1969:181–182.

[ back ] 22. Harper 1968:99–100; Teja, 1980:1108.

[ back ] 23. So in fact Sullivan 1978:919–921.

[ back ] 24. See the compilation by Boffo 1985:15–52. For the Men temple in Antiochia, see Brandt 1992:71–72. Boffo 1985:50, and Mitchell and Waelkens 1998:7, do not count the Men cult in Antiochia as an Anatolian temple state, the latter—not very convincingly—because “the actual remains of the sanctuary are Greek in character and provide no architectural evidence for an ‘eastern’ or ‘Anatolian’ cult.” The degree of aesthetic Hellenization, though, is no indication of the political organization of the temple. There are temple states whose cultic centers show entirely Greek architecture—for instance, Olba—as well as polis cults with heavily Anatolian traits.

[ back ] 25. Virgilio 1981:57–59, 70–74.

[ back ] 26. Trampedach 2001:281.

[ back ] 27. Sullivan 1980:1127–1139.

[ back ] 28. Hoben 1969:157–159.

[ back ] 29. Olshausen 1987:196.

[ back ] 30. Κατάονες δέ εἰσιν οἱ ἐνοικοῦντες, ἄλλως μὲν ὑπὸ τῷ βασιλεῖ τεταγμένοι, τοῦ δὲ ἱερέως ὑπακούοντες τὸ πλέον· ὁ δὲ τοῦ θ᾿ ἱεροῦ κύριός ἐστὶ καὶ τῶν ἱεροδούλων, οἳ κατὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν ἐπιδημίαν πλείους ἦσαν τῶν ἑξακισχιλίων, ἄνδρες ὁμοῦ γυναίξι. πρόσκειται δὲ τῷ ἱερῷ καὶ χώρα πολλή, καρποῦται ὁ ἱερεὺς τὴν πρόσοδον …

[ back ] 31. τὸ παλαιὸν μὲν γὰρ οἱ βασιλεῖς οὐχ ὡς πόλιν, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἱερὸν διῴκουν τῶν Περσικῶν θεῶν τὰ Ζῆλα, ᾠκεῖτο δ’ ὑπὸ τοῦ πλήθους τῶν ἱεροδούλων καὶ τοῦ ἱερέως ὄντος ἐν περιουσίᾳ μεγάλῃ, καὶ τοῖς περὶ αὐτὸν οὐκ ὀλίγοις χώρα τε ὑπέκειτο ἱερὰ καὶ ἦν τοῦ ἱερέως.

[ back ] 32. Dreizehnter 1975:236–238; Olshausen 1991:449–454.

[ back ] 33. παραλαβὼν δὲ Πομπήιος τὴν ἐξουσίαν Ἀρχέλαον ἐπέστησεν ἱερέα καὶ προσώρισεν αὐτῷ χώραν δίσχοινον κύκλῳ (τοῦτο δ’ ἔστιν ἑξήκοντα στάδιοι) πρὸς τῇ ἱερᾷ, προστάξας τοῖς ἐνοικοῦσι πειθαρχεῖν αὐτῷ· τούτων μὲν οὖν ἡγεμὼν ἦν καὶ τῶν τὴν πόλιν οἰκούντων ἱεροδούλων κύριος πλὴν τοῦ πιπράσκειν·

[ back ] 34. Olshausen 1987:187–212.

[ back ] 35. Mitchell and Waelkens 1998:5–7.

[ back ] 36. Mitchell and Waelkens 1998:7.

[ back ] 37. “Now Phrygia Paroreia has a kind of mountainous ridge extending from the east towards the west; and below it on either side lies a large plain. And there are cities near it: towards the north, Philomelium, and, on the other side, the Antiochia near Pisidia, as it is called, the former lying in a plain, whereas the latter is on a hill and has a colony of Romans. [Antiochia] was settled by the Magnetans who lived near the Maeander River. The Romans set them free from their kings at the time when they gave over to Eumenes the rest of Asia this side of the Taurus. Here there was also a priesthood of Mēn Arkaios, which had a number of temple-slaves and sacred places, but the priesthood was destroyed after the death of Amyntas ‘by those who were sent thither as his inheritors’ (hupo tōn pemphtentōn epi tēn ekeinou klēronomian).”

[ back ] 38. Welles 1934 nos. 55–61.

[ back ] 39. Trampedach 2001:270–272.

[ back ] 40. For the foundation myth of the Teucrid dynasty, see Trampedach 1999.

[ back ] 41. Gotter 2001:299.

[ back ] 42. Durugönül 1998; Trampedach 2001:270–271.

[ back ] 43. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998: OlD 86, 100; Staffieri 1978 nos. 2–34.

[ back ] 44. Cf. Gehrke 1982.

[ back ] 45. Trampedach 2001:282.

[ back ] 46. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998:OlD 36.

[ back ] 47. Sayar 1999:129: “Die frühen seleukidischen Könige waren anscheinend an einer echten und effizienten Urbanisierung in der Kilikia Tracheia nicht interessiert.

[ back ] 48. Keil and Wilhelm 1931:66.

[ back ] 49. Verilhac and Dagron 1974:238–239; Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 OlD 100, OlD 91, OlD 92.

[ back ] 50. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 OlD 1; Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 Kan 8.

[ back ] 51. Hagel and Tomaschitz 1998 OlD 91, OlD 92, OlD 100, OlD 36.

[ back ] 52. Gotter 2001:301.

[ back ] 53. Gotter 2001:301–302, 310. For the identity of this Polemon, see Gotter 2001:315–319.

[ back ] 54. Staffieri 1978 nos. 29–34. For the end of the dynastic priesthood in Olba, see Pani 1970:327–334; Gotter 2001:302–303.