Mount Ararat › Justinian II › The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan » Origins and History

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  • Mount Ararat › Origins
  • Justinian II › Who was
  • The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan › Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Mount Ararat  › Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: James Blake Wiener

Mount Ararat (Armenian: Masis; Turkish: Ağrı Dağı; Kurdish: Çiyaye Agiri) is a dormant, compound volcanic mountain, consisting of two ancient volcanic peaks, located in present-day eastern Turkey very close to the border with Armenia.Strongly associated with Armenian culture, mythology , and identity, Mt. Ararat is also where, according to some legends, Noah's Ark landed after the biblical flood.


Located roughly halfway between Lake Van to the southwest in Turkey and Lake Sevan to the northeast in Armenia, the Ararat Mountains dominate the Armenian Highlands. The Ararat Mountains are located within the southern end of the Ararat Plain, and they thus create a fertile agricultural zone with a temperate climate. Together, the Ararat Mountains straddle the borders of what are present-day Turkey, Armenia, Iran, and Azerbaijan. Mt. Ararat (“Greater Ararat”) rises to a height of 5,137 m (16,854 ft). Mt. Ararat's neighboring mountain, Little Ararat (“Ararat the Lesser”) rises upwards to 3,925 m (12,877 ft). Mt. Ararat and Little Ararat are the highest and sixth highest points in Turkey. On a clear day, both can be seen from downtown Yerevan, Armenia, which is 54 km (33 mi) away from Mt. Ararat. The monastery Khor Virip additionally affords stunning views of the Ararat Mountains from Armenia.


In ancient times, successive Mesopotamian peoples regarded the mountains as sacred, but they were also wary of the fierce, local inhabitants. The Sumerians, Akkadians, and Assyrians each believed that Mt. Ararat was not only the home of their gods, but also the source of their civilizations, as the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flowed downwards from the mountain to fertilize the lands adjacent to their cities and settlements. Assyrian texts, in particular, praise the holiness and majesty of the mountains, describing them as a place where “heavenly birds cannot reach.”
Mesopotamians, however, also associated the mountains with the fierce tribes that inhabited Mt. Ararat's slopes; regularly, they raided Mesopotamian villages and settlements. Another perceived danger associated with Mt. Ararat was that of disastrous flooding. Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians each had their own flood account, but they all in turn referenced the Mountains of Ararat as the place in which their respective heroes found refuge after surviving torrential rains and perilous waters. An ancient Akkadian tale from the 3rd millennium BCE delineates the exploits of a man called “Utnapishti” who became immortal and survived a catastrophic flood by landing his vessel upon the tallest mountains in the north of his country.Gilgamesh , the celebrated Sumerian hero, reached a northerly mountain called “Mashu,” which was the location through which the sun rose and set every day.

Flood Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Ancient Armenians called the mountain “Azatn Masis,” which meant “holy” and “free” in the Old Armenian language. Kajs, which were guardian spirits of royal and noble families, dwelled on Greater Ararat. Pagan Armenians found it taboo to scale the mountains as they believed, much like the Sumerians, that Mt. Ararat was the place where the sun came to rest during the night. Even after their conversion to Christianity , Armenians were still reluctant to risk climbing to Mt. Ararat's peak. There is, nevertheless, a legend that King Trdat III, Armenia's first Christian king, climbed Mt. Ararat to bring down stones for the foundations of eight new churches.
Armenians have many myths and legends about the base of the Ararat Mountains, many of which predate Christianity, and include dragons, snakes, and other reptilian monsters. These myths and legends are strongly correlated with the volcanic steam, ash, and black waters that spewed forth out of Mt. Ararat during eruptions and earthquakes. Movses Khorenatsi (c. 410-490s CE), an Armenian historian and the author of the History of Armenia , wrote that Armenians are the direct descendants of Noah through his son Japheth, and that Haik, the mythical founder of Armenia and ancestor to all Armenians, established his nation within the vicinity of Mt. Ararat.


There is much historical speculation as to when and how the biblical story of Noah and the great flood first became associated with Mt. Ararat. Some linguists contend that “Ararat” is merely a variation of “Urartu,” which was the leading ancient polity to the north of Assyria during the Iron Age. The Hebrew Book of Jubilees composed around c. 100 BCE, related that Noah's Ark was located on "Mount Lubar" in "the land of Ararat." (Jubilees 5.28, 10.15). The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE) used the "Ararat" to denote a mountain south of Lake Van, but he subsequently attested traditions that Noah's Ark came to rest on "Mount Baris." (Jewish Antiquities 1.93)

Mount Ararat

In ways similar to the older Mesopotamian myths and legends, the Bible references the Mt. Ararat in Genesis 8.4 in relation to the story of Noah:
...And the ark rested in the seventh month, and on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.
The Qu'ran is explicit in naming the mountain upon which Noah's ark landed as “Mt. Judi” and not Mt. Ararat:
A voice cried out: 'Earth, swallow up your waters. Heaven, cease your rain'. The floods abated and His will was done. The ark came to rest upon al-Judi, and a voice declared: 'Gone are the evil-doers'. (11:43)
The Arab geographer Ibn Khordadbeh (c. 820-912 CE) and the Arab historian Abu al-Hasan 'Ali al-Masudi (c. 896-956 CE) both asserted that the ark came to rest in in "Assyria", not too far from one of the sources of the Tigris River.
Previously it was thought by some historians that the presence of Jews in Armenia's Araxes Valley might have provided the catalyst in the reassociation of Mt. Ararat with Noah's Ark, but this assertion seems improbable. Just like historians throughout early medieval Europe (c. 400-1000 CE), early Armenian historians opined that the biblical Ararat was located in the ancient province of Corduene (Armenian: Korduk), situated to the southeast of Lake Van. Today this area is part of modern Turkey, and close to the source of the Tigris River and the city of Cizre. The arrival of European crusaders and intermarriage between Armenians and European crusaders in the 11th and 12th century CE seem to have accelerated the reassertion that Mt. Ararat was the spot where the Ark came to land. When Europeans returned to continental Europe from the Holy Land or Armenia, they reiterated that Mt. Ararat, located in the heart of Armenia, was where the ark could be found.


For thousands of years, the Armenian people have utilized the Ararat Mountains as emblems of their national and cultural identity. Appearing frequently in modern material culture - on everything from t-shirts and bumper stickers to wooden sculptures and necklaces - Mt. Ararat has also graced Armenian currency, stamps, and its three coats of arms since 1918 CE.Although Armenians see Mt. Ararat as a symbol for their deep losses and tragedies in the 20th century CE as it currently lies within the borders of Turkey, they also view the mountains as intricately connected to their faith, religious beliefs, and artistic traditions.
This article was made possible with generous support from the National Association for Armenian Studies and Researchand the Knights of Vartan Fund for Armenian Studies.

Justinian II  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

Justinian II “the Slit-nosed” ruled as emperor of the Byzantine Empire in two spells: from 685 to 695 CE and then again from 705 to 711 CE. It was after his first reign and prior to his exile that his nose was cut off by the usurper Leontios and so Justinian acquired his nickname. Unpopular with his people, whom he incessantly overtaxed, and suffering from a justified reputation for cruelty and disproportionate vengeance on those whom he perceived had wronged him, Justinian also struggled on the battlefield. He might have been one of the very few emperors to regain his throne but the fact that he was kicked off it twice by rebellious usurpers with no imperial connections is significant. Seemingly attacking cities at random, butchering anyone remotely regarded as a threat, and even laughing when he lost his own fleet in a storm, Justinian had descended into madness, and his second reign is now remembered as one of the most brutal and terrifying in Byzantine history.


Justinian was born in 668 CE, into the Herakleios dynasty, the son of Constantine IV (r. 668-685 CE) and Anastasia. When Constantine died of dysentery in 685 CE, his son and chosen heir, now Justinian II, inherited a troubled empire . The one positive was that Constantine had somehow seen off the siege of Constantinople by the Umayyad Caliphate between 674 and 678 CE. The Arabs, under the leadership of Caliph Muawiya (r. 661-680 CE), had made significant gains in Asia Minorand the Aegean , but when their fleet was torched by Greek Fire in 678 CE, the caliph was forced to sign a 30-year truce with Byzantium . It was the first major defeat the Arabs had suffered since the rise of Islam. In 679 CE Muawiya was obliged to give up the Aegean islands he had conquered and pay a hefty annual tribute.
Elsewhere, though, the Byzantines had been less successful, and the Arabs in North Africa and the Bulgars and Slavs in the Balkans had been making inroads into the empire. Treaties with the Avars and Lombards , as well as some gains in Cilicia , and the establishment of a protectorate over most of Armenia at least meant the Byzantines were shoring up the holes and slowly turning around the steady decline that had beset them for half a century. There was still much work to do, though.
The young emperor seemed determined to live up to his famous namesake Justinian I (r. 527-565 CE), one of Byzantium's greatest rulers, but, as the historian JJ Norwich here describes, he was not quite of the same calibre:
Intelligent and energetic, he showed all the makings of a capable ruler. Unfortunately, he had inherited that streak of insanity that had clouded the last years of Heraclius and was again apparent in the ageing Constans.Constantine IV had died before it could become manifest; in his son Justinian, however, it rapidly gained hold, transforming him into a monster whose only attributes were a pathological suspicion of all around him and an insatiable lust for blood. (102)

Byzantine Empire, 717 CE

The new emperor was only 16 when he took his place on the Byzantine throne, but, nevertheless, he enjoyed some early military successes in Armenia, Georgia, the Balkans, and Syria . Then, as the Arab armies ignored the agreed truce and pressed further into Byzantine territory in Asia Minor, Justinian was obliged to withdraw his own armies from elsewhere to meet this new threat. Consequently, the gains in the north were gradually lost. Both his spells as emperor would be ones of military weakness, but for the moment, there were more pressing matters to deal with within the empire itself.


Justinian was a great one for consolidating his territorial gains and cementing into the Byzantine Empire the diverse peoples who made up his subjects by forcibly relocating vast numbers of them. The Mardaites (an independent Christian group in Asia Minor), in particular, were shoved about all over the empire. Cypriots were removed to Kyzikos, the important port on the south coast of the Sea of Marmara. Slavs were another target, they were relocated in large numbers from the Balkans to the province ( theme ) of Opsikion in northwest Asia Minor. Finally, it is likely that Justinian was the creator of the new theme of Hellas (in the Peloponnese and parts of central Greece ) and the kleisoura (military district) of Strymon, east of Thessaloniki.
Despite all this upheaval, or perhaps even because of it, the countryside in many areas of the empire was actually prospering.The class of independent peasants was booming, their living standards were rising and the empire could rely on a solid base for its army's recruitment needs. Justinian then went and rather spoilt it all by raising taxes to an unbearable level. In 691 CE this led to 20,000 Slav soldiers defecting to the Arabs, and Armenia was lost as a result. As revenge for this disloyalty, the emperor picked out a specific target: Slav families in Bithynia. Thousands of men, women, and children were either butchered or thrown into the sea.
As was the case with many of his predecessors, the emperor took a keen interest in Church matters; Justinian was a staunch defender of orthodoxy. One group, in particular, was persecuted, the Paulicians, an Armenian sect which was keen on destroying icons. Monotheletism, that is the belief that Jesus Christ had or has only one will, was also condemned. Justinian convened the Council in Trullo (aka the Quinisextum Council), which met in Constantinople between 691 and 692 CE. The Council issued 102 canons on Church discipline, and when Pope Sergius I refused to accept them, Justinian tried to have him arrested.

Jesus Christ

The rumpus between the western and eastern churches was, no doubt, once again due to who exactly should have the right to decide the rules of Christianity as the Council's decrees were almost all trivial such as banning the curling of hair in a seductive manner or deciding the number of years of penitence for those who consulted fortune-tellers. There was one ruling which must have hit ordinary folk, and that was a ban on dancing to honour pagan gods and which, therefore, put a stop to masked-theatre, that art form having had a long association with Dionysos . It seems it was not going to be very much fun living under Justinian.
Justinian's piety is further illustrated in his gold coins, the first Byzantine coinage to depict Christ as the main image. The bearded and long-haired representation became the standard one for coins of the empire thereafter. The legends of Justinian's coins read: “ Jesus Christ, King of those who rule” on the obverse and “Lord Justinian, the servant of Christ” on the reverse, which showed the emperor holding a cross. During his second reign, Justinian's coins depicted Christ more unusually as beardless and with short curly hair.


Then, in 695 CE, disaster struck Justinian's reign when the usurper Leontios (r. 695-698 CE), an ambitious general and commander of the Hellas province, seized the throne for himself. The general, the most senior in the army at the time, was backed by a wave of popular discontent from the peasantry at Justinian's continual heavy taxes and the outrage of the aristocracy at the constant extortion perpetrated by the emperor's entourage, led by the fearsome whip-carrying eunuch, Stephen of Persia .
Leontios, who had already been imprisoned for his ambitions between 692 and 695 CE, got his revenge by first parading Justinian in chains around the Hippodrome of Constantinople and then infamously slitting the nose of the emperor, a punishment which was designed to prevent him from holding future office as the convention was that an emperor had to be free of physical imperfections. Justinian, henceforth known as “the Slit-nosed” ( rhinotmetos ), was then exiled to Cherson in the Crimea. Others who had been closest to the throne were less fortunate - dragged through the streets of the capital behind wagons, they were then burned alive in the Forum Bovis.
Leontios' unsuccessful reign only lasted three years, and its chief low points were a devastating outbreak of plague and the loss of Carthage to the Arabs in 697 CE. In 698 CE he was himself removed by another usurper, Apsimar, a military commander in the Kibyrrhaiotai theme in southern Asia Minor. Ironically, Apsimar had been sent by Leontios to retake Carthage but, failing to do so, he returned and used his fleet to oust the emperor instead. In the usual “what goes around, comes around” of the Byzantine court, Leontios had his nose cut off and was exiled. Tiberios III, as Apsimar was now calling himself, did not achieve much more than his predecessor, though, and he oversaw both a failed invasion of Syria and the loss of western North Africa to the Arabs.


With the empire in trouble, Justinian was able to make his move to return to power. Crucially, the ex-emperor had the help of both his future son-in-law Tervel, the Khan of Bulgaria (r. 701-718 CE), to whom the emperor had promised his daughter in marriage, and the Khazars, the semi-nomadic Turkish tribe on the other side of the Black Sea. The Khazar leader Ibuzir became Justinian's brother-in-law as the would-be two-time emperor promptly married his sister Theodora. In 705 CE Justinian and his extended family besieged Constantinople. Tiberios had prudently repaired the ageing sea walls of the city , but only three days after setting up camp outside the Theodosian Walls , the attackers gained entrance by an aqueduct pipe. Caught by the total surprise, the palace guards surrendered, and Tiberios fled to Bithynia. Justinian, now wearing a gold false nose, was back on the throne in the golden reception room he had himself added to the Great Palace. He then crowned his foreign-born wife Empress Theodora, an unprecedented move.

Justinian II & Tiberius

The emperor's second spell of rule (705-711 CE) revealed him as a nasty tyrant, and his first act was revenge. Tiberios was pursued and captured while Leontios was brought back from exile. Both were paraded in chains in the Hippodrome, pelted with excrement, and then executed. Next, Justinian went for the army and those generals who had sided with Tiberios. The biggest name was the ex-emperor's brother, Heraclius, but many others were hanged in a public display along the city's Theodosian Walls. The bishop of Constantinople who had crowned both of the two usurpers was blinded and exiled. Still others who were deemed of dubious loyalty were sown into sacks and lobbed into the sea.
On the military front, Justinian proved as ineffective as ever in stopping the Arabs overrunning much of Asia Minor from 709 to 711 CE. The situation was not at all helped, of course, by the emperor's murder of just about any capable officer in the Byzantine army. Tyana in Cappadocia was lost to the Arabs in 709 CE. A Byzantine attack on Ravenna - of mysterious motivation - was carried out with success in the same year, Justinian having had all the nobles of the city rounded up, shipped to Constantinople and then executed. Despite this attack so close to home, the new Pope, Constantine, travelled to Constantinople in 711 CE, and a reconciliation was made after the upset over the Council in Trullo. It would be the last time a Pope visited Constantinople until Paul VI in 1967 CE.
The cordial interlude of friendship was interrupted by Justinian making more enemies for himself and attacking Cherson - perhaps in vengeance for having been exiled there, but now just about all of the emperor's actions seemed like madness. The city was sacked, seven key nobles were roasted alive while others had weights tied around their legs and were thrown into the sea. On the way home, though, Justinian's entire fleet was sunk in a storm. The emperor was said to have laughed when he heard the news.
Then a serious rebellion broke out led by the general Philippikos in 711 CE. Once again, Tervel stepped in and provided the emperor with an army of 3,000 men. Tervel had already been granted the title of Caesar and given a favourable trade deal, but his force was not enough to turn the tide of change, and Justinian was ousted for the second time.


Philippikos, backed by the Khazars who had just retaken Cherson, supported by the Byzantine army, and bolstered by the news that other parts of the Crimea had already rejected Justinian's right to rule, seized power in 711 CE. To ensure there would be no third time lucky for Justinian, the emperor was executed on 4 November 711 CE. Shortly after, his son and co-emperor Tiberius was murdered too, along with most of his father's advisors. Philippikos would, though, reign for less than two years as the Byzantines witnessed an ever-changing roundabout of emperors and ever-more calamitous military defeats abroad. The trend would continue, too, until Leo III took the throne and provided some much-needed stability between 717 and 741 CE.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

O Creator of the material world, at what distance from the holy man (should the place for the dead body be)?" Ahura Mazda replied: "Three paces from the holy man". (Vend. 8. 6-7)
In September 2009 CE, one of my relatives suggested that we visit “an ancient and mythical cave”. The story behind this cave is that a man (commoner) had abducted an elite girl. He took her to that cave and married her. They lived together for many years and, finally, both were buried there after their death. This is one of the versions of this mythical story; many variations I have also heard of since then.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

The façade and entrance into the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan (Kurdish: The Cave of the Ravisher or the Cave of the Raped/Abducted Girl), which lies near Zarzi village and the Palaeolithic cave of Zarzi, Chemi Rezan Valley, Sulaymaniyah Governorate, Iraqi Kurdistan. It is not a cave; it is a rock-cut tomb , which contains 3 tombs in 3 different burial chambers. It dates to the Median- Achaemenid Period, 600-330 BCE. The entrance into the tomb lies approximately 8 meters above the ground level. Photo © Osama SM Amin.


Finally, we were there. He said this is Ashkawt-i Qizqapan (ئه شكوتي قزقاپان). The word “Ashkawt (ئه شكوت) is a Kurdish one, which means a cave; this is the Sorani dialect and accent of the people of Sulaymaniyah. Qizqapan (قزقاپان) is a Turkish word, which means a rapist or ravisher. The cave is also known as the cave of the abducted girl (Kurdish: ئه شكوتي كچه دزراوه كه). Western scholars use the word “Ishkewt”, not “Ashkawt”, when they describe that ancient cave; therefore when you Google the internet, type Ishketw-i Qizqapan!

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

The road to Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. Photo © Osama SM Amin.
Approximately, 65 kilometres north-west of the modern city of Sulaymaniyah (35°48'36.09"N; 45° 0'23.35"E), lies Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. It is not a cave; it is a rock-cut tomb, which was carved into a steep cliff of a small mountain. It is not a single tomb;there are three separate burial chambers, each contains a coffin. Because it lies inside a cliff, local people call it a cave.
In late 2002 CE, the Directorate General of Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah started a conservation and restoration project on this ancient tomb. The façade of the tomb was restored (the whole façade was and is still bombarded with modern writings, paintings, memories, bullet marks, etc.). A modern replica of the façade was made and was placed at the main entrance to the halls of the Sulaymaniyah Museum. An iron ladder was placed so that tourists can easily access the tomb; in the early 2010s CE, that ladder was replaced by a larger double ladder.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Mr Akam (a sculptor who still works at the Sulaymaniyah Museum) and Mr Qadir (died last year in 2017 CE, rest in peace) are doing the moulds of the replica of the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. This photo dates back to late October 2002 CE. Photo courtesy Hashim Hama Abdullah, director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum.
Iraqi Kurdistan contains only two rock-cut tombs; Ashkawt-i Qizqapan and Ashkawt-i Kur w Kich (Kurdish: ئه شكوتي كوڕ و كچ). The latter means the Cave of the Boy and Girl and lies some distance from Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. It is more simplified and lacks many iconographies and the stunning art of the former.
Two important questions have never been answered; when precisely was the tomb carved and who were the people who were buried there? The cliff of the mountain, which houses the tomb looks over a valley, where a small river passes through. Mr Hashim Hama Abdullah, Director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, told me that one day he asked a local farmer about that valley. The farmer told him that several times when he was ploughing his field, human bones came out of the earth. No tombstones are/were present. Therefore, Hashim suggests that the whole area seems to be an ancient (but not Islamic) cemetery. It is a well-known tradition in the near East that people entomb their dead beside or around a shrine or a tomb of a religious scholar. Accordingly, was Ashkawt-i Qizqapan a well-known sanctuary?
The façade (or we may call it the antechamber) of the tomb was decorated and carved with a single relief (a scene), three emblems (two rounded and one square-shaped), and two engaged columns. The capitals of the columns support a roof. The latter was carved in a way that resembles a wooden roof with eaves.
The antechamber lies about 8 meters above the ground level within the cliff. Hashim said that it appears that the area in front of the antechamber was smoothed out so the that the tomb becomes high and inaccessible. In addition, he said that there are some traces of a path which leads to the antechambers, not from the ground level, but from the right or left borders, high above the cliff.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

The rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. The “cave” is carved into the cliff of the mountain and is approximately 8 meters above the ground level; it seems that the area below the cave was artificially smoothed out so that the access into the tombs becomes difficult. This photo dates to June 14, 1999 CE, 3 years before the conservation/restoration work, which was done by the Directorate General of Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah. Note that the left half of the volute of the left capital is absent. At that time, the cave was not a destination for tourists and was inaccessible with no ladder. Photo courtesy Hashim Hama Abdullah.
This high level of the tomb and inaccessibility may simply prevent people from accessing it, right? Was that the intention? But, was this “high burial” part of a religious tradition of entombing people? The façade is full of signs of vandalism; people went there and wrote down their memories, names and stories! So, it is not that difficult after all if you want to go there in the absence of a built-in ladder or pathway. It is not (and was not) a local tradition to bury dead bodies high up in a cliff. We may presume that this style of architecture is outlandish or obtrusive. Therefore, who were the people who brought with them this method of burial and architecture?
Something striking that the whole tomb and its three burial chambers lack any inscription, of any kind. No writings and no language. But, can we presume that there were inscriptions and they were erased later? The constellation of multiple iconographies and the variations from already known ones have created a dilemma; to which period in the history does this tomb belong? Let us see the images and discuss them.



The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Detail showing the capital of the left-sided engaged column at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-I Qizqapan. The capital is of an ionic-style and is composed of two relatively large volutes flanking a central plant or flower. Photo © Osama SM Amin.
The overall depiction of those two ionic-style columns seems to be thick and short in addition to having unusually massive capital volutes. The single plinth is square, and the torus is rounded. The surface of the shaft is smooth and displays no flutes and fillets. The capital sits on a narrow neck. The volutes of the capital seem abnormally large and flank a plant or a rose, with petals and leaves. There is a pair of honeysuckles on the inner side of the volute. The motif of “egg-and-dart” was carved on the abacus. Overall, this is reminiscent of Iranian-type of columns. A roof, shaped like a wooden wall with eaves, sits on the abacus and completes the upper part of the antechamber.


There are three divine emblems, carved higher up on the façade. Two are rounded, and appear as roundels, and the third one is a sunken relief within a rough square.
A. The Astral Emblem:

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

This emblem was set on the façade, at the right side of the capital of the right column. There is a central rounded circle or boss, surrounded by 11 rays (or petals). On the top of the latter, there are oval cups or roughly half-circles. Traces of the original red paint can clearly be recognized on the upper rays, suggesting that the façade was painted with vibrant colours.What does this emblem represent? Is it a rosette, astral device, or sun? The star-burst of Ishtar -Anahita was suggested by Professor Zainab Bahrani. Scholars of the Sulaymaniyah Museum (Kama Rashid and Hashim Hama Abdullah) say that this may be the Lydian goddess Artimus. Whatever it was, the nearby lunar crescent (of the adjacent centrally-placed rounded divine emblem) may well suggest that this is an astral divine representation. Once again, there is no clear consensus on what this emblem tells us.
B. The Lunar Crescent:

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Detail of the relief carved at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. This roundel, of a god emblem, lies above the entrance into the main burial chamber and above the main relief of the standing men and altar. Photo © Osama SM Amin.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

A close-up image of the central roundel of the divine emblem at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. This image was shot just before the restoration/conservation work, which was carried out by the Directorate General of Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah in late 2002 CE. The date of the image is October 24, 2002 CE. Note the modern writings and the modern sketch of a human figure riding on a horseback (vandalism) as well the traces of the original red colour on the crown and the dark green robe. Photo courtesy Hashim Hama Abdullah.
This rounded emblem was placed midway between the inner margins of the volutes of the columns' capitals, above the main centrally-carved relief. A bearded crowned figure, looking to the left, sits within a circle. He appears to rise up from the lower part of the circle, which was thickened to resemble a lunar crescent. His right arm holds a long cup or a barsom (a ritual object used in Zoroastrianism) while the left hand, which faces up, holds an unrecognized oval object. He wears a long robe. The barsom was suggested by Bahrani while the long cup was mentioned by Rashid and Abdullah. Traces of the original red paint on the crown and the dark green pigment on the robe can be recognized. Who is this figure? If it is a god, which one? Rashid and Abdullah suggested that this is a representation of Sin, the moon god, while Bahrani stated that this a god sitting on a crescent moon (without naming this god).
C. Ahura Mazda:

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Detail of the relief carved at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan showing a bearded, crowned, and winged figure. Photo © Osama SM Amin.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Two close-up images of “Ahura Mazda” at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan (Kurdish: The Cave of the Ravisher or the Cave of the Raped/Abducted Girl). The upper image dates to June 14, 1999 CE, while the lower one was shot on October 29, 2002 CE, just before the restoration/conservation work, which was carried out by the Directorate General of Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah. Photos courtesy Hashim Hama Abdullah.
The aforementioned rounded emblems were placed at an approximately similar level. The third square-shaped emblem was placed at a little bit lower level than the above two roundels, at the left margin of the left capital. This asymmetrical placement, as well as the square shape of the emblem, had spoiled the asymmetry, balance, and regularity of the façade's decoration; this might well have suggested that this emblem was not planned to occupy that area, or it was added later.
Within this square, a bearded, crowned, and winged figure looks to the left. His upper body (from above the mid-chest appears within a ring. There is a pair of ribands and a single tail. The overall depiction, when superficially scanned, is reminiscent of Ahura Mazda; however, there are some differences or variations. This figure has two pairs of wings; one pair is horizontal and straight while the other pair is curled upwards towards the figure's head. The figure's wings are composed of two (upper and lower) rows of feathers surrounding a central bone-like structure; the wingtips are feathered and fill in the gap between the outer ends of the upper and lower rows of feathers. The feathers of both pairs of wings are different in shape and size. Is this figure Ahura Mazda?
Mithra was the supreme deity of Medes (who had practised Mithraism). This Mithra worshipping or pre-Zoroastrian Mazdaism was an ancient Iranian religion . The first depiction of the “stepped fire altar” appeared during the Median era. However, there is no consensus whether an early form of Zoroastrianism was common among the Medes. Ahura (mighty) Mazda (wisdom) is the creator and sole god of Zoroastrianism. The first documented appearance of this god was below the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great (reigned 522-486 BCE). Early in the Achaemenid period, Ahura Mazda was invoked alone. However, during the reign of Artaxerxes II (405-358 BCE), Ahura Mazda was invoked together with Mithra and Anahita, as a triad. Images of Ahura Mazda continued to appear during the Parthian Era. However, towards the end of the Parthian Period and the beginning of the Sassanid Period, the widespread iconoclasm had virtually destroyed all images of Ahura Mazda. During the Sassanid Era, Ahura Mazda was depicted as a dignified male figure, standing or sitting on a horseback, as part of their Zurvanism (a heretical form of Zoroastrianism).


The core and striking feature of the façade of the antechamber is the presence of a centrally carved relief, between the two engaged columns and just above the entrance to the central burial chamber. There are two men, flanking a stepped altar topped by a semicircle.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

This is the main scene, carved between the engaged Iranian ionic-style columns and above the entrance to the main chamber of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. Two standing men face each other, holding a combined double-convex bow in their left hands while raising their right hand in a gesture of reverence or salutation. In between them, there is a stepped altar.A semi-circle sits on the altar; this may represent a fire. Photo © Osama SM Amin.
The man on the left is a little bit taller than the right one and his body/clothes appear compact and thicker than those of the right man. This may suggest that the left man is higher in rank than the right one and/or is older in age. They stand and face each other, raise their right hand in reverence or salutation, while their left hand grasps the upper end of a compound (double convex) Parthian-like bow. The lower end of the bows is straight and sits at (or behind) the tip of their left shoes. The upper end of the bow is curved forward. Both men wear a similar headdress, which has covered the whole scalp, ears, cheek, and neck; this headdress is called “tiara”. It is not clear whether their mouth was covered by the same fabric of the tiara or by a separate piece of cloth (like the Magi of Zoroastrianism). Those Magi, to protect the sacred fire of the stepped altar from their breath, cover their mouth with a separate piece of cloth (like the modern medical facial masks). Part of their forehead hair, the upper part of their moustache, and the lower part of their beard appear. This headdress is Median in style and is called “bashlyk”.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Detail of the relief carved at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. This man stands on the left side. He wears what appears to be a “tiara”; a headdress which covers the head, neck, ears, cheeks, and chin. This headdress is Median in type and is called a “bashlyk”. In addition, a piece of cloth covers the mouth (very similar to the Magi of Zoroastrianism, who wore such a fabric to protect the sacred fire from their "polluted" breath). The forehead hair, moustache, and beard are clearly seen. Photo © Osama SM Amin.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Detail of the relief carved at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. This man stands on the right side. He wears what appears to be a “tiara” or headdress. In addition, a piece of cloth covers the mouth. The forehead hair, moustache, and beard are clearly seen. Photo © Osama SM Amin.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

A close-up image of the two standing men of the relief at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. The Median headdress (bashlyk) and the piece of cloth covering the mouth are obvious. Note the modern blue spray paint (vandalism).These photos were shot just before the restoration/conservation work, which was carried out by the Directorate General of Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah in late 2002 CE; the right photo was shot on October 24, 2002 CE, while the left photo was shot on October 27, 2002 CE. Photos courtesy Hashim Hama Abdullah.
The man on the right side wears the typical Median attire; long calf-length tunic and loose trousers. The man on the left also wears some long tunic and loose trousers but, in addition, he wears a “kandys”; a cloak or coat with long empty sleeves, which hangs loose downward on the sides and is draped over the shoulders. This kandys always reminds me of the chapan worn by the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karazai! Once again, the men's attire is Median. Therefore, both men appear Median.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan

Detail of the relief carved at the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. The lower legs of the man who stands on the left side appear here. He wears a pair of shoes, with a strap of “leather” just in front of the ankle joint. The man on the right (not shown here) wears the same “type” of shoes. Photo © Osama SM Amin.
They wear shoes and there is a strap of “leather” encircling the mid-foot just in front of the ankle joint. Dr Mouaid Al-Damirchi of the Iraqi Directorate of Antiquities (now retired and living in Amman, Jordan) suggested that this type of foot suggests a Hatra Period.
What are they doing? They seem to greet each other or perhaps are performing a ritual before the stepped altar.De halve cirkel zitten op het altaar verschilt van de klassieke piramide vormige weergave van het heilige vuur van Zoroastrianism. Daarom doet dit halve cirkel vormen een gewijzigde vorm van het vuur? De afwezigheid van wapens in de mannen juiste handen vertegenwoordigt zeer waarschijnlijk een vreedzame gebeurtenis; Het is een bekende lokale traditie om een wapen in de rechterhand houden als een man ontmoet zijn rivaal tijdens periodes van vijandigheid of conflicten.
De belangrijkste vraag is nu: wie zijn zij? Koningen, de lokale heersers, krijgers, elites, of edelen? De algemene voorstelling geeft aan het zeer waarschijnlijk dat ze elites / edelen. De afwezigheid van inscripties of bijschriften heeft ons verlaten in de war; wie zijn ze, precies?
Rashid en Abdullah verklaard dat:
• De juiste man is de Lydian koning Alyattes (regeerde 610-560 BCE).
• De linker man is de Medische koning Cyaxares (regeerde 625-585 BCE).
• De afgebeelde scène markeert het einde van de militaire conflicten tussen deze koningen. De Nieuwbabylonische king Nabonidus (heerste) waarbij deze verzoening hebben bemiddeld. De verering van de maangod Sin niet werd beoefend door de Meden; Daarom, waarom was de maansikkel afgebeeld op de gevel, centraal, tussen en boven de twee mannen? Rashid Abdullah geconcludeerd dat deze voorstelling van de wassende maan verwijst naar Nabonidus.
• De rechter-zijdige afgeronde goddelijke embleem is de Lydian godin Artimus, die de Lydian koning begeleidt.
• Ahura Mazda zegent Cyaxares.
Echter, werden deze analyse en uitleg niet genoemd door andere wetenschappers. De hele scène blijft een mysterie.


Van de voorkamer via een ongeveer vierkante doorgang, kunnen we de centrale grafkamer voeren. Via soortgelijke deuropeningen, aan de rechter- en linkerkant van deze kamer, kunnen we naar de rechter en linker grafkamers, respectievelijk.

The Rock-Cut Graven van Qizqapan

Dit is de centrale grafkamer de rotsgraven van Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. Foto © Osama SM Amin.

The Rock-Cut Graven van Qizqapan

Dit is de juiste grafkamer in de rock-cut graven van Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. Foto © Osama SM Amin.

The Rock-Cut Graven van Qizqapan

Dit is de linker grafkamer de rotsgraven van Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. Foto © Osama SM Amin.
Binnen elke kamer is er een rechthoekige kist in de grond, die werd uitgehold om dit rotsachtige vormen graf. Het bovenste deel van elke kist heeft een rand voor wat lijkt op een stenen deksel zijn. Elke kist ligt naast een muur, op een van de hoeken van de kamers. De lengte van de basis van de kisten te klein is om een liggende en uitgestrekte menselijke lichaam tegemoet. Ofwel deze graven waren astodans (waar de blootgestelde beenderen van de dode lichaam werden verzameld en hier verhuisd) of, zeer onwaarschijnlijk, ze waren graven voor kinderen. Ik zal niet de afmetingen van de kamers en doodskisten te bespreken, maar de centrale kist is een beetje groter dan de twee anderen. De wanden van de grafkamers geen tekeningen, inscripties of reliëf geven. De deur die naar de centrale kamer en de deuren van de rechter en linker kamers waren niet afgedicht of gesloten; geen spoor van enig materiaal (hout, ijzer of steen) blijft om aan te geven wat werd gebruikt voor het afdichten van de kamers.De kisten zijn volledig leeg, en hun deksels die afwezig zijn; zelfs een stuk bot aanwezig. De grafkamers en hun doodskisten werden geplunderd in de oudheid. Punt!

The Rock-Cut Graven van Qizqapan

De deuropening en toegang tot de rock cut graven van Ashkawt-i Qizqapan tot een centrale grafkamer. Laatstgenoemden, door eenzelfde vierkante doorgang (links), leidt tot een ander begrafeniskamer en doodskist. De kleine rechthoekige opening in de wand van de rechter grafkamer lijkt één van de deuropening / sluitsysteem zijn. Foto © Osama SM Amin.
Tenslotte werden de dode lichamen gelijktijdig of opeenvolgend begraven? Niemand weet het antwoord. De plaats van de graven en de decoratie van de gevel ongetwijfeld nodig hoogopgeleide werknemers om deze rotsgraven snijden voor een elite familie, wiens naam nog onbekend.
Rashid and Abdullah's opinion is that the tombs are Median and that would give a date of 600-550 BCE; this is consistent with the conclusions of Taha Baqir, Fouad Safar, and Tawfiq Wahbi. However, several other scholars (such as CJ Edmonds, Mary Boyce and Frantz Gerent, and Zainab Bahrani) have concluded that the iconography of the art is Achaemenid and that the tombs date back to the 6th (after 550 BCE) and 5th centuries BCE. A noteworthy point to highlight is that the mountain of the tombs and the area surrounding it have never undergone any excavation work.
This marvellous piece of art and architecture proudly occupies the cliff, spreading its scent of history, and embracing the eternal souls of some vanished human bones.

The Rock-Cut Tombs of Qizqapan (Replica)

A modern replica of the façade of the rock-cut tombs of Ashkawt-i Qizqapan. The replica was made in late 2002 CE and was placed at the main entrance into the halls of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraqi Kurdistan. The original structure dates to the Median-Achaemenid Period, 600-330 BCE. (The date of this photo is January 8, 2018 CE). Photo © Osama SM Amin.
A special gratitude goes to Mr Hashim Hama Abdullah (Director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum) and the Archive Department of the Sulaymaniyah Museum for their kind help and cooperation, and for the wonderful pictures of Qizqapan they have provided me with.
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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