The monumental rock relief excavated by the Hittites on Mount Sipylus more than 3,000 years ago

Manisa relief / photo Klaus-Peter Simon on Wikimedia Commons

When he speaks of Laconia in the third book of his Description of Greece Pausanias comments that the inhabitants of Acriae boasted of having the oldest temple of the Mother Goddess in the Peloponnese. But immediately afterwards he mentions that the oldest image of that goddess is elsewhere:

The people of Acriae say that this is the oldest sanctuary of this goddess in the Peloponnesus, although the Magnesians, who live to the north of Mount Sipylus, have on the rock Coddinus the most ancient of all the images of the Mother of the gods. The Magnesians say that it was made by Broteas the son of Tantalus

Pausanias, Description of Greece III–22.4
The relief in 1880 / photo public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

The magnesians to whom Pausanias refers were the citizens of Magnesia ad Sipylum, a foundation of the homonymous city in Thessaly. As a curiosity, these magnesians discovered that the stones found in the vicinity of one of their colonies were mysteriously attracted or repelled, which could be the origin of the term magnetism.

The site of Magnesia ad Sipylum (modern Manisa) is located about 65 kilometers inland from the coast, northeast of Smyrna (modern Izmir) in Turkey. And as its nickname indicates, it is at the foot of Mount Sipylus, about 6 kilometers to the east, as Pausanias said.

The relief in 2007 / photo rktanitim.com on Wikimedia Commons

There, excavated in the rocky wall of the mountain to 100 meters of height, is still today the colossal image. It is 8 metres high and 4.5 metres wide and represents a seated figure, very worn out by erosion and the passing of centuries. It was already there when the Greeks arrived, since it is of Hittite workmanship.

We said that Pausanias considered it a representation of the Mother Goddess, that is, of Cybele, and that was the most accepted theory until a few years ago. In this sense the figure was described as wearing a pointed headdress on its head, with the hands resting on the chest, while the feet would rest on a kind of stool.

The image at the end of the 19th century / photo public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Certainly the relief is so damaged that it is difficult to hardly distinguish the forms. However, the current consensus among researchers is that it is a male bearded figure, possibly representing the Hittite god of the mountain.

It is also generally accepted that the monument dates from the 14th-13th centuries BC. (Late Bronze Age), from the time of King Suppiluliuma I (king from 1375 to 1322 B.C.) or his younger son Mursili II (between 1321 and 1295 B.C.), and has a Hittite-luwian origin. This can be deduced from the two inscriptions on the relief, one on the left and the other on the right, written with hieroglyphs in the Luwian language.

Current state of the relief / photo Hitite Monuments

Helmuth Bossert, the archaeologist and anatolian hieroglyphs specialist who studied the image in the early 1950s, translated the inscription on the left as Prince Kuwalanamuwa, the same name that appears on other Hittite reliefs on the Anatolian peninsula, although it is not known whether they refer to the same person.

The inscription on the right is barely legible, as confirmed by the hittitologist Hans Gustav Güterbock, who examined it in 1978. According to the scholar John David Hawkins, the first part could be read as Zu(wa)-wai-ni (Eunuch).

One of the inscriptions / photo Hitite Monuments

The relief must have already been badly damaged during the Lydian period, around the 6th century BC. (i.e., about eight centuries after its creation), as they took it for a representation of the goddess Cybele and carried out ceremonies and offerings at the monument.

On the same mountain there is an ancient structure that can be an altar excavated in the rock, perhaps to accommodate a statue made of stone or wood. Pausanias called it the throne of Pelops (who later gave his name to the Peloponnese):

That Pelops and Tantalus once dwelt in my country there have remained signs right down to the present day. There is a lake called after Tantalus and a famous grave, and on a peak of Mount Sipylus there is a throne of Pelops beyond the sanctuary of Plastene the Mother

Pausanias, Description of Greece V–13.7

These lines also seem to indicate that Pausanias was born in the area, in Magnesia ad Sipylum itself.

The Throne of Pelops in 2009 / photo Mr.S.Solow-losttrails.com on Wikimedia Commons

Sources: Descripción de Grecia (Pausanias) / Hitite Monuments / Corpus Cultus Cybelae Attidisque (Maarten Jozef Vernasseren) / Wikipedia.