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Symbolism emerges as an already mature phenomenon in the Olba region that is located between the Rivers Lamos (modern Limonlu) and Kalykadnos (modern Göksu) in eastern Rough Cilicia. The deities were usually identified through the depiction of their symbols rather than through the carving of their names or relief carvings of them.

The earliest symbols are those belonging to the Greek deities that are found on structures dating to the lnd century ??. However, these deities originated from the Luwian pantheon, common also to the Cilician people, and these deities were syncretised with the imported Greek deities during the Hellenistic period. For example, the Luwian deities, Tarhu and Runt, the most popular within this region, became syncretised with the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes respectively. It is also known that Herakles, one of the most widespread cults in the region in the Hellenistic period, originated from Sandon, a Luwian god and, in addition, the Dioskuroi, considered to have been one of the most widespread cults of the region, is understood to have been the continuation of another Luwian cult. These deities are represented with their most common symbols in the Greek world: Zeus with the thunderbolt, Hermes with the kerykeion, Herakles with the club and the Dioskuroi with the pilos.

It is inferred that this symbolism was extensively continued as a tradition throughout the Roman period as well. The well-known deities of the Hellenistic period were joined by new deities and new symbols for example: Men, Selene, Mithras and Helios entered the repertory. The crescent was the symbol of both Men and Selene whereas the depiction of the crescent and star together symbolised Mithras. The menorah, seven-branch candelabrum of the Jews, is also to be found on finds from the Roman period.

Symbols can be found on many types of buildings from the Hellenistic period onwards and, in addition, the symbols of some deities are to be found on tombs, indicating their relationship with the cult of the dead. Moreover, there are other deities mentioned in the funerary inscriptions although their symbols are not depicted. For example, no specific symbol has been identified for Helios yet his name appears in some inscriptions, and a relief of this God is also found on an ash-altar. Athena is also mentioned in inscriptions and she is also understood to have been related to the cult of the dead.

Symbols have been found on only one tomb dating from the Hellenistic period. However, these symbols could not as yet have been linked to a certain deity and it is also possible that these symbols represented the deceased. These three symbols were interpreted different earlier; however, it is possible to identify two of them as shields and the other as a kalathos. This suggests that this house-type tomb housed two soldiers and a woman.

All the other tombs or steles bearing divine symbols that have been identified to date have been dated to the Roman period and, as they are few in number, their importance increases. It could be only guessed previously that Hermes, the most popular deity of the region, was linked to the cult of the dead. However, with the discovery of a kerykeion on a stele this connection has been verified. This same stele also bears a crescent representing Men (or Selene), thus indicating that these deities were the protectors of the deceased and of the tombs. The number of symbols related to the moon god Men (or the goddess Selene) found on these tombs are greater in number than those related to Hermes. The crescent symbol can be seen on the lids of sarcophagi, on columns erected in front of the tombs and in inscriptions. It has also been determined that the Dioskuroi were related to the cult of the dead. The depictions of the pilos, the headwear of the Dioskuroi, that are found on the lids of the sarcophagi and on chamosorion, indicate this link to the cult of the dead. As a matter of fact, the Dioskuroi are frequently encountered in the funerary art of antiquity, as they were understood to have provided aid and health, both in this world and the next, and it was due to this property of theirs, which must have been understood to facilitate the passage of souls to and in the other world. Athena, Helios and Zeus are mentioned by name in the funerary inscriptions. These inscriptions include statements against those people who intended to disturb the tombs, and mention is made of a fine that was to be paid to the temples of these deities in the event of tomb violation.

Other than the divine symbols, a depiction of a lizard was found on a temple-type tomb dated to the Roman period. The lizard with its chthonian feature is understood to have been a symbol of death, of eternal sleep and the resurrection after death in Roman period tombstones.

The historical development of symbolism at Olba displays parallels with the policies of the great states of the region. The first radical changes are observed during the Olba priest-kingdom in the Hellenistic period. Before this period the Luwian deities were worshiped at Olba; however, at this time it became the turn of the Greek deities. This process was strongly marked especially during the reign of Antiochos IV Epiphanes. Indeed, Rome made its power strongly felt during this period and prevented Seleucid interference from beyond Roman borders. Consequently, Antiochos IV Epiphanes focused his reforms in the cultural and religious areas. This process involved the syncretisation of the local deities worshiped by the various ethnic peoples living in the Seleucid land with the Greek gods.

The fact that the largest and the oldest temple in the Olba region was built in the reign of Antiochos IV Epiphanes and dedicated to Zeus provides the most significant surviving evidence for the acculturation undertaken by the Seleucids. It is possible to evaluate the symbols of the "Greek deities" that emerged in the Olba kingdom as forming a part of this process. These symbols, which suddenly emerged and spread over structures dated at the earliest from the first half of the 2nd century ??, can be related to the ongoing religious transformation, in other words, to the acculturation undertaken by Antiochos IV Epiphanes. As is the case with the Aramaeans, the Luwian deities were syncretised to the Greek gods. Tarhu was syncretised with Zeus, Sandon with Herakles, and Runt with Hermes. In addition, the cult of the Dioskuroi, who were as popular as these deities, also emerged in this period.

The archaeological, data from the 1st century AD reveals these new deities, who were not known until then in the Olba region, became prominent. The cults of Zeus, Herakles, Hermes and Dioskuroi, which were already venerated during the Hellenistic period and indeed had Luwian origins, were joined by other deities such as Men, Selene and Helios during the Roman period, due to the assimilative qualities of the new culture.

*Yrd. Doç. Dr. Murat Durukan, Mersin Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, 33342 Çiftlikköy Kampüsü-Mersin. E-posta:

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