CIAMS Lecture Series – Felipe Rojas

Abstract: This paper is a diachronic study of alternative and sometimes conflicting ontologies of landscape in ancient Anatolia. I am interested specifically in the notion that some mountains were animate, sentient beings and that the boundaries separating them from men and gods were susceptible of transgression. Although examples of personified mountains as well as of metamorphosis and petrification can be found occasionally throughout the ancient Mediterranean, in Anatolia “mountain-persons” are more common and can be shown to reflect local traditions dating back millennia. Hittite kings regularly swore oaths by mountains and often represented them in visual art as partly anthropomorphized supports of royal power. Long after the Bronze Age—in fact, at least until the Byzantine period—people in Anatolia continued to celebrate cases of ontological permeability (and amalgamation) involving mountains that were thought to be divine before the classical period. Relevant examples range over a vast chronological span and include the case of the Christian martyr Ariadne in Phrygia who became a mountain to flee her persecutors, a civic club in Roman Sardis who claimed direct descent from Tmolus (a mountain that happens to have been one of the earliest kings of Lydia), the famous Niobe, a woman who according to Greek myth was petrified for boasting about her fecundity in front of a virgin goddess, and a host of other Anatolian mountains that were believed in Greek and Roman antiquity to have been genetically or sexually associated with both men and gods. Using current anthropological theory (drawn primarily from scholars working in the Amazon) I offer a glimpse into the lasting vitality of Anatolian ontologies of landscape according to which mountains, men, and god were dynamically entangled.