The Sword God

swordgod170 kilometers east of the Turkish capital of Ankara sits an incredible site of ancient pagan worship and mystery. Now known by its colloquial name of Yazılıkaya, or ‘written rock,’ this natural shrine and spring sanctuary has been held sacred by local peoples since at least 3000 BC, first by the Hatti culture who built their capital city nearby and then the Hittites who subsumed them.

Archaeological finds date its usage to the early Bronze age and before, but the site acquired its current form around 1300 BC, when Hittite priests and master sculptors shaped its natural stone features into an awe-inspiring temple of the gods.

Outcrops and boulders form an open air gallery within a tunneled enclave. Everywhere you turn are stunning reliefs and dedications to ancient kings and the pantheon that legitimized their rule. Shadows move through the space like specters, revealing and obscuring hidden wonders. The primary relief becomes most visible at high noon, but the most mysterious and evocative of the site’s supernatural depictions is this image of a deity that is half biological, half weapon — Nergal, the Sword God and lord of the underworld. Who was this strange being and why is he/it so physically and conceptually distinct from all the other anthropomorphized immortals of this era? Was he a local creation or imported from abroad? At least one “independent scholar” has suggested a connection to the Anglo Saxon myths of the Sword in the Stone, but such conflations should be approached with skepticism. The truth is we may never know what attributes and functions this unique deity carried, but his ability to strike wonder and curiosity in the hearts of humans lives on.