The Carian Zeus and the Father of History

[T]he Carians … suppose that they are dwellers on the mainland from the beginning, and that they went always by the same name which they have now: and they point as evidence of this to an ancient temple of Carian Zeus at Mylasa, in which the Mysians and Lydians share as being brother races of the Carians, for they say that Lydos and Mysos were brothers of Car; these share in it, but those who being of another race have come to speak the same language as the Carians, these have no share in it.

Herodotus, Histories, 1:172

The Classical Greeks believed the Carian people originated as a Minoan colony on the western Anatolian mainland. But Herodotus (c485-c425BC) noted that the Carians disagreed.

The Father of History had a personal interest in the topic. Herodotus was born in a Carian city the Greeks called Halicarnassus and the Carians Alosk̂arnos. His father’s name, Lyxes, was the Greek form of Carian Lukshu.

Like most wealthy Carians of their day, Herodotus and his family were thoroughly Hellenized. His uncle Panyassis wrote several highly-regarded Greek epics. Most Halicarnassus locals were of mixed Greek and Carian ancestry and most spoke a Carian-accented Greek as their first language. Carian was used mostly in the small villages amongst rural Carians who could read neither the Egyptian-inspired hieroglyphs of their ancestors nor the Phoenician-derived alphabet used in early Iron Age Hellas.

Silver and gold coins of Satrapy of Caria, 351-344 BC. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A few years after Herodotus’ birth, 300 Spartans made a legendary last stand against at Thermopylae. Not long after that the Persian Satrapy of Krka became Caria, part of the Greek Delian League. This kind of leadership change was nothing new to the Carians. For over 1,500 years Hittite and later Luwian emperors had alternately ruled over and warred against the lands they called Karkiya or Karkisa. The Greeks and Persians were just the latest warlords squabbling over this stretch of land. A few years after Herdotus’ death Caria would pass again to the Persians.

You might expect Herodotus to hold strong anti-Persian sentiments. The tyrannical Satrap of Caria, a Persian vassal, drove Herodotus into exile and executed his uncle Panyassis. Herodotus was certainly a great fan of Athens and Greek culture. But he also offers a remarkably balanced portrait of his erstwhile overlords, including some very interesting details on Old Persian social and religious customs.

[T]he Persians … have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine. Their wont, however, is to ascend the summits of the loftiest mountains, and there to offer sacrifice to Zeus, which is the name they give to the whole circuit of the firmament. They likewise offer to the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times.

Herotodus, Histories 1.131

Homer listed the Carians as Trojan allies, and complained their language was barbarphonoi. This is not surprising, as Carians were linguistically and ethnically closer to Troy than Hellas. But Carians showed up at many other famous Bronze and Iron Age conflicts. Many of today’s surviving Carian inscriptions are found in Egypt, where Carian mercenaries made good left inscriptions on their tombs.

While Homer thought the Carians and their Luwian cousins barbarians, the Hittites to the east looked upon them as lulahi, uncultured foreigners. Their languages were related, but to the Hittites the Lulahi were more often foes than friends. Carians spent their long history as a small kingdom pressed between powerful and often hostile neighbors. As sometimes they came not as sellswords but settlers.

Cycladic Female Idol, c. 2800-2300 BC

According to legend, the Carians controlled the Cyclades islands before the Minoans. Thucydides claimed the Minoans drove the Carians off the islands before the Trojan War. Herodotus, who had inside information, stated the Minoans allowed the Carians to stay on Delos and the other Cycladic Islands, but after the Trojan War the Greeks forced the Carians back to the mainland.

Over 4,000 years before the birth of Herodotus, Anatolian settlers landed on the Cyclades with emmer and barley seeds. Later Anatolians brought copper-working and bronze to these islands. These proto-Carians also created the haunting and spare Cycladic statues which so fascinated mid-century modernist sculptors.

As the Minoan civilization grew on Crete, there were inevitable tensions. But after some apparent squabbles over piracy vs. sea rights, the Cyclades fell under the Minoan sphere of influence. The Minoans always needed warriors and sailors and the proto-Carians, like their descendants, excelled in both skills.

After the Late Bronze Age collapsed so did the Minoan trade routes. As they had migrated to the islands, many of these displaced refugees (called leleges by the Greeks from the Hittite slur) returned to southwest Anatolia. Some were driven off by Greek raids, but many more left for lack of opportunity.

When the Greeks cleansed the sacred island at Delos by removing graves (in 540 BC and 426/5 BC) , Thucydides reported that more than half the burials exhumed were Carian. The graves determined to be Greek were ceremonially reburied elsewhere. It is unclear what became of the Carian corpses, but they were likely disposed of without ritual or ceremony.

This would have been especially insulting to the Carians who were known for their magnificent tombs and attentions to the dead. After the Persians drove the Delian League out, Halicarnassus grew wealthier than ever. The tomb of the Carian satrap Mausolus became famous as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and gave us the word “mausoleum.”

Tomb of Hecatomnus, Early 4th century BC,

The Carian Zeus pictured above is a Roman reproduction of the statue commissioned by the father of Mausolus, the satrap Hecatomnus (Ktomno in Carian). Hecatomnus moved his government from Halicarnassus to Mylasa upon attaining power (394-390 BC), and restored the temple to Carian Zeus. The reproduction lacks the double-headed axe, or labrys, carried by the Carian Zeus. (You can see it on the obverse of the coins pictured above). The labrys is most often found in the hands of female deities, but the Carians regularly placed it in the hands of their Zeus.

The robes worn by the Carian Zeus look Minoan in design, but the patterns on the fabric evoke the Persian magi, the eagle on his breast is a Hellenic symbol for Zeus, and his lotus hat is Egyptian. All the elements that went into creating a Carian culture were drawn together in their temple.

Because Ktomno was trying to cement relationships within the region, he moved his administration to a land where all the Children of Car could worship. But his efforts failed as those identities, as well as their languages and customs, were absorbed into Greek or forgotten altogether.

And what of the other Children of Car? That’s a story for another blog entry. Suffice it to say that one invented currency and the other laid the groundwork for the Roman Empire.

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