Italian AGON Journal article: Ties of Greco-Roman civilization with ancient Iran

The AGON academic Journal of Italy (Università degli Studi di Messina; chief editors: Professor Massimo Lagana & Professor Salvatore Albanese) has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh which examines historical ties between Greco-Roman civilization and ancient Iran. The article can be downloaded in full from below:

Farrokh, K. (2016). An Overview of the Artistic, Architectural, Engineering and Culinary exchanges between Ancient Iran and the Greco-Roman World. AGON: Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali, Linguistici e Letterari, No.7, pp.64-124.

The article in AGON (Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali) begins as thus:

Apharban, the Persian ambassador representing Sassanian king Narses (r. 293-302 CE) during negotiations with the Roman general Galerius1 in the aftermath of his victory over Sassanian forces in 291-293 CE stated the following to his Roman hosts:

It is clear to all mankind that the Roman and Persian empires are like two lights, and like (two) eyes, the brilliance of one should make the other more beautiful and not continuously rage for their mutual destruction” [Peter the Patrician, fragment 13; translation made by Canepa (2010, p. 133)].

The article examines the process and history of the long-standing relations between the Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations, notably during the during the Achaemenid (559 BCE-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian dynasties (224-651 CE). Works of researchers such as Professor Nik Spatari, whose works examining East-West ties in the context of ancient Calabria in southern Italy are also cited:


Professor Nik Sparati (Left) and his book “L’ enigma delle arti Asittite della Calabria Ultra-Mediterranea” (Published by: MuSaBa: Santa Barbera Art Foundation & Iiriti Editore, 2002). Note that the book jacket features the superimposed images of Darius the Great and Persephone (also known as Kore), the Mediterranean Goddess: Spatari has discovered Achaemenid-Persian artistic influences upon the Persephone (Kore) image. Among other ancient Iran-Italy ties, Spatari and his team have also discovered strong parallels between Sassanian architecture and the Basilica di Massenzio.

Architecture is one of the areas examined in detail from the time of the Achaemenids to the end of the Sassanian era. As noted by Professors Curatola and Scarcia a common theory postulates that:

“…domed spaces in Christian buildings in Europe derive from the Armenian model, which, in turn, comes from Sassanian Persia: This can be attributed to geographic proximity and also to the fact that for long periods Armenia was contained within Eranshahr. “ (Curatola & Scarcia, 2007, p. 92).


The Sarvistan palace built in the 300s AD [1], floor plan of Sarvistan by Nik Spatari [2] reconstruction of Sarvistan by Oscar Reuther, “Sasanian Architecture,” in Survey of Persian Art, Figure 152). [3] the Basilica di S. Marco in Veneziana built in the time period of 1100-1300 AD [4] and floor plan of the Basilica di S. Marco (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.

Sassanian Iran was to leave a profound legacy on Romano-Byzantine architecture during its tenure in 224-651 CE. As noted in the paper however, architectural influences from ancient Iran can be traced back to the earlier Parthian and Achaemenid eras.

Farrokh Lecture-UBC-Tirgan-YSU

A lecture slide used in instruction for Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division (this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) (Slide is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). The above slide discusses the parallels discovered by Professor Nik Spatari with respect to the “tri-chamber” design at Firuzabad and the Basilica di Massenzio. The floor plan of Ardashir’s palace and the “tri-chamber” (note yellow arrows) have been outlined by the Calabria research teams who noted of the parallels with the Basilica in Rome.

The ties of the Greco-Romans and ancient Iran are examined in a variety of other contexts besides architecture, notably the arts (Darius-Persephone motif, silverware, motifs such the Senmurv, etc.) and technology (communications, Qanat aqueducts, windmills, etc.).


An example of technology exchanges: an old water wheel in Tehran (Image: Farda News) [at Left]; reconstructed water wheel based on the ancient Persian model from Cordoba, Spain (Image: Graham Beards in Public Domain). The Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations often engaged in the exchange of technologies in antiquity. The Persian water wheel spread from ancient Iran to Rome (which introduced this technology into Europe) as well as China in antiquity (Kurz, 1985, p.563)

The culinary arts (transmission of cooking styles, exchange of nuts, fruits, etc. ) are also examined. The pistachio plant for example, was first located in the Khorasan and Soghd regions; these were first cultivated in West Khorasan and were unknown by other peoples until the Achaemenid era.


The Achaemenids were the first to commercially grow the pistachio in ancient Iran and export this to neighboring countries more than 2500 years ago (Image: Public Domain). By the Sassanian Era the pistachio was considered a delicatessen (mostly used in baking and in cookies). Pahlavi texts dating to the Sassanian era mention the Gorgani pistachio as especially famous at the time. The Roman world not only adopted the pistachio (already known by Greco-Iranian contacts) and spread this to the European peoples.

Mehrdad Shokoohy: Persian Influence on Kashmiri Art

The article below by Mehrdad Shokoohy on the Persian Influence on Kashmiri Art was originally Published on the Encyclopedia Iranica on May 1, 2012 and last updated on May 15, 2012; this article is also available in print (Vol. XVI, Fasc. 1, p. 61-64).

Kindly note that excepting two figures and accompanying captions, all other pictures/illustrations and accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica posting.


The Iranian influence on the art and architecture of Kashmir is indirect, appearing in ancient times via Hellenistic and Kushan culture and later through Muslim India. Spread over the western Himalaya, the once relatively inaccessible region’s architecture still reflects Himalayan traditions in its extensive use of timber and the pitched and tiered roofs. Even as late as the 17th century, its people lived in rudimentary huts and tents; only palaces, mansions of the wealthy, and temples were constructed of timber, still a perishable and combustible material. As a result, little is preserved of the ancient monuments except in the ruins of a very few stone temples, which, to a great extent, reflect the style of the timber structures.

1-Kanishka the Great-1st Century CEStatue of King Kanishka I (c. AD 127–163) of the Kushan Empire (c. 30-375 CE)  (housed in the Mathura Government Museum, Source: Public Domain). The large broadsword was a powerful cultural symbol in the martial cultures of the Iranian kingdoms as exemplified by the “broadsword” of Khosrow II seen at the top panel inside the Iwan at Taghe Bostan near Kermanshah in Western Iran. Note also the “French” Fleur-de-lis symbols at the bottom end of Kanishka’s shorter sword. The origins of the Fleur-de-lis are in the ancient Iranian realms and had a powerful imprint on the Caucasus, notably Georgia and Armenia.

The earliest Iranian influence can be seen in a fragment of a 2nd-century statue of a Kushan ruler, carved in the Parthian style, found in the ancient site of Huvishkapura (modern Ushkar), and preserved in the Sri Partap Singh Museum at Srinagar. Huvishkapura, founded by Emperor Huvishka (see huviška) in the 2nd century CE, is one of the many towns built by the Kushan kings in Kashmir. Little survives of the town today, except for the remains of Huvishka’s stupa, which was reconstructed in the 8th century and later became a Vaishnavite Hindu site (Kak, 1933, p. 152).

Extensive Iranian influence impacted Kashmir after the disintegration of the Parthian empire in 227, when numerous artisans and stonemasons seem to have left the eastern borders of the empire for Kashmir and northwest India. As the Sasanian conquest of Kushan did not extend as far as Kashmir, the Parthian style continued to flourish in the Buddhist sites of the region, as presented in the stupas and monastery at Harwan, which preserve numerous figures in Parthian costume carved in the Parthian style (see figure below).

2-kashmir_5_fig1-Encyclopedia IranicaTerracotta bas relief with a horseman in Parthian posture and costume, with quiver and fluttering scarves in the Iranian style. At the base of the plaque are incised the Kharoshthi numerals 1, 4 and 10. Sri Partap Singh Museum, Srinagar (after R. C. Kak, 1933, pl. 23) (Source: Description and Picture from Encyclopedia Iranica).

Parthian traditions seem to have remained prevalent, as wherever Indians in Indian costumes are represented they are carved in a non-Indian manner. Nevertheless, the images show that Indians were indeed in the region, and when their art is reflected, it is in typically Gupta floral motifs. By the end of the 4th century, the Iranian influence started to decline, and Indian culture began to dominate. Later Buddhism, along with its arts, much related to Gandharan and Partho-Hellenistic culture, was replaced by Hinduism, and the Iranian influence would not be seen in Kashmir until the introduction of Islam into the region in the mid-14th century. But in the 9th-century temples of the Utpala dynasty at Avantipura, decorative motifs of Sasanian style are prevalent in the surface decoration, while the design principles relate to North India. It seems that, with the collapse of the Sasanian empire after the Muslim conquest, once again Iranian craftsmen together with others from the Near East moved to the relative safety of the mountains of Kashmir (Goetz, 1952, p. 81).

Kashmir was never conquered by a Muslim army, but Islam was introduced to the region by one Šāh Mirzā or Šāh Mir, a Muslim adventurer who entered the court of the local raja in 715/ 1315-16; subsequently, in 747/ 1346-47, he married the last Hindu ruler, Queen Kutāh Div (Kotā Devi), but killed her a day after their marriage (Ferešta, II, p. 338; Neẓām-al-Din Aḥmad Heravi, Ṭabaqāt-e akbari III, p. 425). The spread of Islam was slow but firm, and the sixth Šāh-Miri sultan, Sekandar b. Hindal, known as Botšekan “Idol-breaker” (r. ca. 796-819/ 1393-1417), converted the entire population. This was after the coming of the Kobrawi Sufi, Sayyed ʿAli Hamadāni, who resided in Srinagar and was instrumental in the spread of Islam in Kashmir. Among his many followers was the Kashmir Sultan Qoṭb-al-Din Ṭāher (ca. 772-88/1370-86; Aḏkāʾi, pp. 51-53). Sekandar expelled those who did not convert, although his son, the enlightened Sultan Zaynal- ʿĀbedin (r. 826-77/1422-73), allowed some Hindus to return.

5-zarrin-qalamA Double-sided Persian calligraphy manuscript on paper by Zarin Qalam, signed by Faqir-i Kashmiri, India, Mughal, circa 1590-1600 (Source: Pinterest).

Sekandar earned his epithet by destroying whatever temples were left from earlier eras. Little remains of his own edifices, but the buildings of the time of Zaynal- ʿĀbedin leave the impression that the early mosques and tombs would either be built over the remains of the sanctum of an earlier temple or be erected on a square plan following the traditional style. They were often made entirely in timber or with brick or stone walls and Islamic arches, but with a timber pitched roof surmounted by a square canopy with an elongated pitched roof—similar in form to the pinnacle (chattrāvali) of a Himalayan stupa— used as a minaret for the call to prayer. The style appears in many buildings, such as the shrine of Madani or Mādin Šāh at Zadibal and the mosque of Šāh Ḥamdān (the local name for Sayyed ʿAli Hamadāni) in Srinagar, both originally founded at the time of Sultan Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin but many times rebuilt.

The exception is the tomb of Zayn-al- ʿAbedin’s mother, which is a brick structure consisting of an octagonal, double-shelled domed chamber with four smaller double-shelled domes over three square chambers and the entrances at the cardinal points. The building, and particularly its domes, seems to have been inspired by the grand monuments of Samarqand, but executed on a modest scale (see below).

3-kashmirfig2-Encyclopedia IranicaSrinagar, the tomb of Sultan Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin’s mother with Central-Asian style domes (after Tadgel, 1990, p. 182, pl. 208) (Source: Description and Picture from Encyclopedia Iranica).

An example representing all aspects of traditional Kashmiri architecture is the mosque at Avantipura, erected near the ruins of the ancient site, but, unlike the earlier mosques and shrines, not incorporating spoil of ancient monuments. The most outstanding monument of the sultanate of Kashmir, however, is the Jāmeʿ Mosque of Srinagar, which has an Iranian and Central Asian four-ayvān plan built with brick walls and grand arches for the ayvāns, but with wooden columns supporting a traditional, Kashmiri-style timber superstructure. In his memoirs, the Mughal emperor Nur-al-Din Moḥammad Jahāngir (p. 338) describes this mosque:

In the town there is an extremely elegant mosque of the edifices of Sultan Sekandar, which was founded in 795 [1392-93] but after some time it burnt, and Sultan Ḥasan reconstructed it; but before its completion the mansion of his life collapsed on its foundations and in 909 [1503] Ebrāhim Bākari, the vizier of Sultan Moḥammad completed the mosque with auspicious ending. . . . It has four ayvāns and the surfaces of the ayvāns and columns are covered with paintings executed with elegant motifs. Truly, no monument better than this has survived from the time of the rulers of Kashmir.”

Elsewhere (p. 340) he notes that the roofs of the mosque, as with those of other buildings, were covered with soil and planted with tulips (also see Lāhuri, I/2, p. 23). The mosque was, however, rebuilt at the end of the reign of Jahāngir (r. 1605-27) and was completed in 1637 at the time of Šāh-Jahān (r. 1628-57), apparently without much alteration to its original layout and appearance, but the tradition of planting tulips on the roof has long been abandoned.

4-Jamia Masjid Kashmir Srinagar-Pic-Bilal-BahadurThe Grand Mosque of Kashmir (known locally as “Jamia Masjid”) of the city of Srinagar, bears strong Persian architectural influences (Source: Photograph by Bilal Bahadur in

Kashmir was taken by the army of the Mughal emperor Akbar in 994/ 1585-86 (ʿAllāmi, III, p. 474; Jahāngir, p. 338), who himself visited the region three years later  (ʿAllāmi, III, pp. 542-52), constructed a fort in Srinagar, and established a garden known as Bāḡ-e Nurafzā (Jahāngir, p. 343). The garden may be the same as what is now known as Nasim Bāḡ, a sizeable but dilapidated garden on a Persian čahārbāḡ layout, the avenues of which are lined with lofty plane trees and said to date from the time of Akbar (r. 1556-1605). Whether or not the two gardens are the same, there is little doubt that Akbar’s gardens would have been on a čahārbāḡ layout, as the form was introduced to India by Bābor in his garden at Agra, and subsequent Mughal gardens were laid out on similar principles. Akbar also introduced a number of fruit trees native to Khorasan and Badakhshan, including sweet cherries and an early fruiting morrello cherry called aškan (Jahāngir, p. 348). Akbar’s fort, completed by Jahāngir, has, however, survived and, as with other Mughal monuments of the period, the Persian influence is apparent in the profile of the arches, which follow closely the style of late Timurid and Safavid four-centered arches.

Persian Gardens in Kashmir

Although only a few of the many Mughal gardens in and around Srinagar have survived, the remaining ones are the main attraction of the town. Two such gardens established by Jahāngir in 1029/ 1619-20 are Šālimār (called Šālmāl by Jahāngir, pp. 343-44, and Šālmār by Kanbō, II, p. 28), a rectangular čahārbāḡ by the Dal Lake in Srinagar, laid out on three ascending platforms, each with stylish pavilions, and the Vērnāg garden (Jahāngir, p. 356) with a large, octagonal pool at the source of the river Jhelam, which was favored particularly by Nur Jahān, Jahāngir’s influential Persian queen. On her order a mosque called Patthar Masjid was built of stone in Srinagar, following the traditional Indian plan but with a wooden pitched roof. In the vicinity of Srinagar Jahāngir established other gardens, including one in Achhabal (Jahāngir, p. 355).

6-Shalimar Persian gardenThe Shalimar Bagh (Garden) of Srinagar, Kashmir constructed in the Mughal-era Persian architectural style featuring fountains, canals, pools, patterned flower works, grasses, trees, etc. (Source: Tripadikberadik).

Jahāngir also notes the shawls of Kashmir (pp. 341- 42):

Kashmir’s shawls . . . are so famous that they need no words of admiration; another type is therma which is thicker than shawl and is a twill weave (mowjdār) and soft . . . The wool of the shawl is from a type of goat, which is specific to Tibet.

Whatever the patterns of the pre-Mughal shawls might have been, the motifs of surviving Mughal and later examples are closely comparable to traditional Islamic and Iranian designs. A fashionable article in 19th-century Europe, Kashmir shawls became a victim of their own success when machine-made imitations from centers such as Paisley in Scotland gradually took over their market in the 1870s. The Mughals also introduced carpet weaving with traditional Persian knots and patterns, and even today some of the best carpets of India are produced in Kashmir.

Šāh-Jahān also spent many summers in Kashmir, where he established new gardens, improved the older ones, and at Vērnāg garden added an arcade around the pool (Lāhuri, I/2, pp. 23-29, 47; Kanbō, II, pp. 28-31, 276). His daughter, Jahān Ārā Begom, built a stone mosque with a grand arched portal for her spiritual leader, Mollā Šāh Badaḵši, in Srinagar; and near Šālimār his minister, Āṣaf Khan, a brother of Nur Jahān, established Nešāt Bāḡ (Lāhuri, I/2, p. 47; Kanbō, II, p. 355), a grand garden, again on several platforms. Some suggest (Agrawal, p. 181) that the platform arrangement seen in the gardens of Kashmir follows the concept of palaces and houses with a forecourt at the lower platform, leading to a middle platform as the public area (biruni) with the highest platform acting as the private quarters (andaruni), but the more likely reason for terracing is to bring out the potential of the sloping terrain while resolving its problems in a pragmatic way. The last of the Mughal gardens of Kashmir is the Pari Maḥal or Pir-e Maḥal, built by Dārā Šokuh in 1644 as his residence on the side of the steep hill with a commanding view over Srinagar and the Dal Lake. The terraces and structures of the garden have survived, but little remains of the garden and its trees. Most of the gardens of Kashmir have been restored in recent years and have been replanted with flowering shrubs and ornamental trees, but the many varieties of fruit trees, a prime feature of these gardens described by Jahāngir in detail, are missing.

Bibliography: Primary sources

Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmi, Akbar-nāma, ed. Āqā Aḥmad-ʿAli and Mawlawi ʿAbd-al- Raḥim, Bibliotheca Indica 79, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1878-86, III, pp. 542-52; tr. H. Beveridge as The Akbarnāma . . . , 3 vols., Calcutta, 1897-1921.

Moḥammad- Qāsem b. Hendušāh Estarābādi Ferešta, Golšan-e ebrāhimi, known as Tāriḵ-e Ferešta, 2 vols (with addenda), Lucknow, 1864, I, pp. 266-67; II, pp. 333-73; tr. John Briggs as History of the Rise of the Mohamedan Power in India till the Year A.D. 1612, 4 vols., Calcutta, 1966.

Nur-al-din Moḥammad Jahāngir Gurkāni, Jahāngir-nāma: Tuzoke Jahāngiri, ed. Moḥammad Hāšem, Tehran, 1980; tr. Alexander Rogers as The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri: Memoirs of Jahangir, ed. Henry Beveridge, Delhi, 1968.

Moḥammad- Ṣāleḥ Kanbō, ʿAmal-e Ṣāleḥ, al-mawsum be Šāhjahān- nāma, ed. Ḡolām Yazdāni and Waḥid Qorayši, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1923-39; repr., Lahore, 1960-67.

ʿAbdal- Ḥamid Lāhuri, Bādšāh-nāma, ed. Mawlawi Kabiral- Din Aḥmad and ʿAbd-al-Raḥim, Bibliotheca Indica 56, 2 vols. in 3, Calcutta, 1867-68.

Ḵᵛāja Neẓām-al-Din Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Moqim Heravi, Ṭabaqāt-e akbari, ed. Brajendranath De and Hedayat Husain, Bibliotheca Indica 223, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1927-35, II, pp. 407-10; III, pp. 424-500; tr. Brajendranath De as The Tabaqat-i- Akbari  . . . : A History of India from the Early Musalman Invasions to the Thirty-sixth Year of the Reign of Akbar, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1927-39.

Bibliography: Studies

Ramesh C. Agrawal, Kashmir and Its Monumental Glory, New Delhi, 1998.

Parviz Aḏkāʾi, “Sargoẕašt-nāma-ye ʿAli Hamadāni,” Farhang-e Irān zamin 28, 1988, pp. 9-69.

Afshan Bukhari, “The “Light” of the Timuria: Jahan Ara Begum’s Patronage, Piety and Poetry in the Seventeenth Century Mughal India,” Marg 60/1, 2008, pp. 52-61.

Percy Brown, Indian Architecture (Islamic Period), Bombay 1942; rev. ed., 7th repr. with additional illustrations, Bombay, 1981, Chap. 15, “Kashmir,” pp. 80-83.

W. G. Cowie, “Notes on Some of the Temples of Kashmir,” JRASB 35, 1866, pp. 91-122.

Hermann Goetz; “The Beginnings of Mediaeval Art in Kashmir,” Journal of the University of Bombay 21/2, 1952, pp. 63-106.

Idem, “The Sun Temple of Mārtānd and the Art of Lalitāditya-Muktāpida,” Indian Art and Letters 27, 1953, pp. 1-11.

Idem, “Mediaeval Sculpture of Kasmir,” Marg 8/2, 1955, pp. 67-74.

Ram Chandra Kak, Antiquities of Bhimbar and Rajauri, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India 14, Calcutta, 1923, pp. 9-11, pl. 11.

Idem, Ancient Monuments of Kashmir, London, 1933.

John Marshall, “The Monuments of Muslim India,” in Wolseley Haig, ed., The Cambridge History of India III: Turks and Afghans, Cambridge, 1928, pp. 568–663, esp. pp. 637-39, pls. 50–51.

W. H. Nicholls, Report of the Mughal Gardens at Srinagar, Shalimar Bagh, Atthibal and Chashma Shahi, Allahabad, 1906.

Idem, “Muhammadan Architecture in Kashmir,” Archaeological Survey of India: Annual Reports, 1906-07, pp. 161-70.

Sunil Chandra Ray, Early History and Culture of Kashmir, Calcutta, 1958, pp. 190-205.

Shyam L. Sadhu, ed., Mediaeval Kashmir, New Delhi, 1993, a reprint of Kings of Kashmira III, Jogesh Chandra Dutt’s tr. of the Rājataraṅgiṇīs of Jonaraja, Shrivara, and Shuka, Calcutta, 1898.

D. R. Sahni, “Excavations at Avantipur,” Archaeological Survey of India: Annual Reports, 1913-14, pp. 40-62.

Idem, “Pre-Muhammadan Monuments of Kashmir,” Archaeological Survey of India: Annual Reports, 1915- 16, pp. 49-78.

Christopher Tadgel, The History of Architecture in India, London, 1990.

Constance M. Villiers Stuart, Gardens of the Great Mughals, London, 1913.

James L. Wescoat, Jr. and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, eds., Mughal Gardens: Sources, Places, Representations, and Prospects, Washington, D.C., 1996.

The “Wings of Ahura Mazda” perpetuated in the design of the Armenian Khatchkar and other East Christian Crosses

The article below on the “Wings of Ahura Mazda” perpetuated in the design of the Armenian Khatchkar and other East Christian Crosses was written by Masis Panos and originally posted on March 8, 2015 in Understanding of Our Past.



Back in 2010 I had the opportunity to visit the Republic of Armenia. One of the places I visited was the Church of Surp Nshan (Holy Seal) in the town of Aparan in the Aragatsotn province. The Basilica, imbued with the piety of the worshippers that I saw on the Sunday I visited (21/11/10) had some very old stone sculptures in the vicinity. One of the sculptures that caught my eye had a Cross within a circle, with two figures to either side. I wrote about this in 2011. As mentioned in that article, it seemed in style to resemble the Sasanian Drafsh.

Aside from that example, I visited other sites in the Republic of Armenia that year (one of which was Dsegh mentioned in part 1) and in 2011 and encountered other examples of Crosses of a “Drafsh style” and further, were upon Wings.

What is the significance of Wings on such an emblem?

Its significance was clear to me from having read the book published by Osprey, “Rome’s Enemies (3) Parthians and Sassanid Persians” by Peter Wilcox with superb illustrations by the late Angus McBride.
Both on its cover and inside is shown a Plate by Angus with a Sasanian cavalryman carrying a Drafsh. It has Wings on it, said to represent Ahura Mazda, and is surmounted with a Sun upon a Crescent.
The Standard (Drafsh) is said to be of Fars, the heartland of the Sasanian dynasty.

Since my teenage years I had been aware of the Khatchkar and its own significance in Armenian culture, how even after the Armenian community would have gone, these edifices would somehow survive to testify of the culture that made it. Of course such edifices cannot resist well planned destruction as was meted out to the remaining Armenian Khatchkars of Julfa, now part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, by its own soldiery.

Seeing such early depictions of a Cross and ones with Wings, I began to realise that the “stereotypical” Khatchkar we Armenians think of, with its rich interlacing framing an ornate Cross with what to me looked like “flourishes” under the Cross, had evolved from these early depictions I had seen. The “flourishes” on the early examples were depicted as Wings.

Part 1

In August of 2010 I went with my cousin and his friends on a very quick, unplanned, tour around the Aragatsotn province, stopping at a site for ten minutes on average.

One of the places we visited the Church of Mughni.

Due to the tour being spur-of-the moment I only had my Mobile Phone to take photos with.

Below is a photo I took on my phone showing a section of a Pillar, outside the Church of Mughni.
Also a sketch I made of the Pillar, with the basic shape shown in grey with the Cross/Drafsh shown in black. Itself is upon a Pedestal which also has a Cross/Drafsh on it. Both are hewn from a dark coloured Tufa.


2-Mughni SteleLater that year, in November, I visited the Lori province.

One of the places visited was Dsegh.

In this remote region we walked for a while and then came across an very old cemetery with a few ancient monuments still standing.

This one, according to the Armenian Ministry of Culture‘s website as well as the SOSCulture website, is dated to between the 5th – 7th centuries yet it has an inscription on its southern side dated to the 13th century in the name of an unchronicled “Vahram Mamikonian“. A Khatchkar nearby, dated to the 13th century, is said in both websites to have been sculpted by a “master Vahram”. Very confusing. There was a “Prince Mamikonian” who ruled the area in the 13th century. The reference both in the Armenian Ministry of Culture and SOSCulture websites to a “master Vahram” for the 13th century Khatchkar may be that it is dedicated to the Prince and what is insribed on the 5th – 7th monument may be attempting to link it to his family. Suffice to say, the monument that interests us is officially dated to between the 5th – 7th centuries.

3-Dsegh Vartan monument 3The Dsegh Vartan monument (Source: Masis Panos)

4-Dsegh Vartan monument 2Another view of the Dsegh Vartan monument (Source: Masis Panos)

This is a close up of the Cross of the base. Note how like the Pillar at Mugni, this Cross/Drafsh is on a three-stepped base and also has a “Latin” type Cross like the Pedestal of the Mughni monument.

5-Dsegh Vartan monumentClose up of the Dsegh Vartan monument (Source: Masis Panos).

6-Dsegh CrossDrawing of the Dsegh Cross (Source: Masis Panos).

In 2011 I again visited the Republic of Armenia.

One of the places I visited was Talin and its ancient Cathedral. There was also a small Chapel, dedicated to the “Mother of God” and was built either in 639 or 689 AD by Prince Nerseh Kamsarakan. Outside the Chapel there a monument, made from a dark Tufa, with the base restored, one of the sides depicts Mary with Jesus, surrounded by Angels.

7-Nerseh Chapel 4The Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

8-Nerseh Chapel 3Another view of the Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

This may be a tomb as well as a monument, perhaps to Nerseh. On one side of the pillar is depicted a man, wearing a Kaftan or Chokha. His costume and manner is similar to the depiction of King Cyaxares at his tomb in Qizqapan (Surdash, Dukan district, As Sulaymaniyah province, Autonomous Kurdish Region, Iraq).

9-CyaxaresDepiction of King Cyaxares at his tomb in Qizqapan (Surdash, Dukan district, As Sulaymaniyah province, Autonomous Kurdish Region, Iraq) Source: Masis Panos).

Hardly likely a fluke that they are depicted in a similar way, even if 1,200 years seperated them.
The Kamsarakan were of Parthian origin. An Iranian people. Cyaxares was king of the Medes, an Iranian people. What we see is Nerseh, proud of his roots and a wish to be depicted in a traditional manner.

There is more depicted on this monument outside the Chapel.

10-Talin Nerseh ChapelTalin Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

11-Nerseh Chapel 2-1Close-up of the base of monument at Talin Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

Here we again see a Cross with two Wings under it, very like the example on the 5th- 7th century Dsegh Cemetery monument.
Part 2
What is the significance of two Wings and why under the Cross? We saw in”Rome’s Enemies (3) Parthians and Sassanid Persians” by Peter Wilcox and Angus McBride the “Standard of Fars” on the cover, being carried by a Sasanian cavalryman.
Khusro II wore a crown that bore two Wings with a Star upon a Crescent, obviously the “Standard of Fars”, seen on all his coins.
12-Khusro II
Sketch of the crown of Khosrow II (Source: Masis Panos).
Below is a Stucco decoration with the name of a Sasanian King upon a Crescent on two Wings. The name, in Sasanian Pahlavi, is Shapur. There were four Kings with that name (Shapur I, II, III and IV). However, since Shapur II reigned the longest (309-379) it is likely from his reign.

Below is a Stucco decoration with the name of a Sasanian King upon a Crescent on two Wings. The name, in Sasanian Pahlavi, is Shapur. There were four Kings with that name (Shapur I, II, III and IV). However, since Shapur II reigned the longest (309-379) it is likely from his reign.

13-Sass StuccoStucco decoration with the name of a Sasanian King upon a Crescent on two Wings (Source: CAIS).

A stucco roundel of a Ram, from the Sasanian era found in the ancient city of Kish in Iraq. The Ram was associated with the god of Victory, Verethragna.

13a-Sassanian StuccoSassanian stucco roundel of a Ram, from the Sasanian era found in the ancient city of Kish in Iraq (Source: Pinterest).

Below is a drawing I made of a Drafsh shown in a fragment of a Wall Hanging depicting figures in Persian Dress, dated to the late 6th–early 7th centuries AD. Made in the Eastern Mediterranean. Now housed in the Benaki Museum, Athens.

13b-Sass fragmentDrafsh depicted in a fragment of a Wall Hanging with figures attired in Persian Dress, late 6th–early 7th centuries AD (Source: Met Museum).

14-Detail from textileDrawing of the Drafsh  in the fragment housed in the Benaki Museum, Athens (Source: Masis Panos).

So the Wings represent Ahura Mazda, the “Standard of Fars” was totemic of the Sasanian dynasty and their firm adherence to the worship of Ahura Mazda above any other deity.

To try and make some dative sense of these examples:
The example of the “Stucco of Shapur“, above, dates either from:
240-272 (Shapur I) or 309-379 (Shapur II) or 383-388 (Shapur III) or 420 (Shapur IV)

Khusro II was the first Sasanian king to wear the “Standard of Fars” on his coinage.
His reign was from 590 – 628 AD.
The Drafsh shown in the textile from the Benaki museum, dated to between 580 – 620 AD (late 6th–early 7th centuries) and likely to be from the reign of Khusro II and may be a variation of the “Standard of Fars”.
The fragment of a pillar outside the Church of Saint George in Mughni, is likely older than the Church (dated to the 14th Century) from its archaic style. It may or may not have come from its vicinity. The Wings look like Wings, with little stylisation.
The Dsegh Cemetery monument (or tomb) is offically dated to between the 5th- 7th centuries. 
The Wings still look like Wings, with some slight stylisation.
The monument (or tomb) dedicated by Prince Nerseh Kamsarakan is dated to either 639 or 689 AD.
The Wings have taken on some stylisation, they have a “flourish” to them.
Why are these ancient Crosses in the Republic of Armenia using Sasanian emblemology?
Part 3
The said Christianisation of Armenia is given as the year 301 AD, and this would post-date the fall of the Arsacids in Iran to the Sasanians in 224 AD. Therefore all the Crosses that are depicted with Wings would date from the Sasanian era.
The two Wings would become very stylised in the Khatchkar designs of subsequent centuries, with their meaning perhaps being lost in the process.
Some examples:
A Khatchkar from the vicinity of the Church of Saint Gayane. The Church was founded in 630 AD. However in comparison to the Khatchkar of Nerseh Kamsarakan (639 – 689 AD) the Wings on this Khatchkar are stylised.

15-Saint Gayane EtchmiadzinKhatchkar in vicinity of Church of Saint Gayane (Source: Masis Panos).

A Khatchkar from inside the Cathedral of Aruch, dated to between 661-682 AD. Note the similarity of the “Ribbons” under the Wings to the those on the Stucco Ram in Part 2.

16-Aruchavank Khatchkar from inside the Cathedral of Aruch (Source: Masis Panos).

A Khatchkar from the Dadivank Monastery Complex. Said to have been founded by Saint Thaddeus in the 1st century, the actual complex was built between the 9th and 13th centuries. Note how the Wings have become stylised.

17-Dadivank KhtachkarKhatchkar from the Dadivank Monastery Complex (Source: Masis Panos).

Three Khatchkars from the Noratus cemetry complex. Though it dates at least to the 10th century most of the Khatchkars date from the 16th century when the region was under the control of the Safavid Persian Empire. Note the elaborate designs, the Wings have become plant like.

18-NoratusKhatchkars from the Noratus cemetry complex (Source: Masis Panos).

What these examples show is a gradual stylisation of the Wings through the centuries as the original meaning of them is forgotten.

The East Syriac and Nestorian Churches also have examples of Crosses with “Wings” under them.
It is worth noting that these Churches had been for the most part developed and spread in the Sasanian Empire.

19-Kottakkavu_Sliva_founded_by_Mar_Sabor_and_Mar_ProthThe Persian Cross in the Mar Thoma Church of North Paravur in Kerala (Source: Masis Panos).

Above is what is known as a “Persian Cross” that is said to have been carved by Mar (Saint) Sabor and Mar Proth, two East Syriac Monks who arrived, by invitation, in the southern Indian Kingdom of Quilon in 825 AD. More can be read about them by clicking the link to the Wikipedia page to save digressing. This style, in a circle, is similar to the Cross outside the Basilica of Surp Nshan mentioned in the introduction and also on the Pillar in the vicinity of Mughni Church. An example is shown below of a similar Cross, this is from what is known as the “Main Church” of the ancient city of Petra.

20-Petra churchCross at the Church from Petra (Source: Nabataea).

Whilst the Aramaic was the language of Petra, the city, in its time under Christianity, was ruled by the Roman Empire. In the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin in the Republic of Armenia is a very early Christian sculpture, with Greek verses, showing the Chi-Rho within a circle.

21-Etchmiadzin_Cathedral_cross_relief_with_Greek_inscriptionsThe cross relief with Greek inscriptions at Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Source: Masis Panos).

Until the year 405 AD, when it got its own Alphabet, the Kingdom of Armenia used either Aramaic or Greek for its inscriptions. So this relic in Etchmiadzin might date no later than 405 AD.
The circle is likely a stylised Wreath. An example below shows a Roman Ivory carving, circa 350 AD with the Chi-Rho within a Wreath. In pre-Christian Greece and Rome the Wreath signified Victory. (Note also the two Doves to either side in both the Etchmiadzin and Ivory carving examples.)

22-Anastasis_Pio_Christiano_Inv31525Roman Ivory carving, circa 350 AD with the Chi-Rho within a Wreath (Source: Masis Panos).

In the same region of India where the “Persian Cross” is to be found, the Cross that is known as the Saint Thomas Cross is very common.

23-Mar_Thoma_SlivaSaint Thomas Cross (Source: Public Domain).

he Wings have become two Lotus Flowers in “a nod” to the dominant Vedic religion of the region as well as Buddhism. Also the Ribbon seen on the Stucco Ram and Cross of Aruch has become stylised.
Note also how it is upon a three stepped base, as seen in the Cross/Drafsh of Mughni and Dsegh in the Republic of Armenia in Part 1.
Though this Christian activity in Kerala seems to date from the 9th century it seems that the East Syriac Monks who would have come from Iraq, during the Abbasid Caliphate, took with them a style of Cross that had an long heritage in the region. Though it seems that after two hundred years after the fall of the Sasanian dynasty the meaning of the Wings had been forgotten.
As has been already mentioned, the East Syriac Church historically had been for the most part under the rule of the Sasanian Empire until the invasion by the Arab Caliphate. The Nestorian Church also found refuge in the Sasanian Empire and flourished within it, even spreading beyond it to the east.

Below are some examples of East Syriac Crosses found by the excavation work carried out by the St. Louis Community College. This is a fragmented Stucco panel found in 1995 by Hadar Selou, 100 cm deep, at the site of Tell Tuneinir, near al-Hasakah in Syria.

24-crossHadarsPhotoFragmented Stucco panel discovered at the site of Tell Tuneinir, near al-Hasakah in Syria (Source:

The Cross is described “resembles a Medieval Khatchkar, Armenian stone cross” but from what is being demonstrated here, there is a reason for this similarity, this style likely originates from the region, during the Sasanian Empire, than been brought exclusively from Armenia.

Al-Hasakah is by the Khabur river, a tributary of the Euphrates. This would have been a border region between the Roman and Sasanian Empires from the 4th-7th centuries.

Another relic found in the excavations at Tell Tuneinir, found at the site of the monastery of Beth Kadeshy in 2001 by the St. Louis Community College.

25-TNRArea9CrossRelic found in the excavations at Tell Tuneinir (Source:

Below is the description given:

Broken fragments of a molded stucco footstone associated with the burial of a bishop or abbot in the center of the main entrance of the monastery.”

Professor Michael Fuller interprets the image on the footstone as the Cross of Christ with a piece of fabric blown around its base. This would apply to the story of the resurrection of Christ and the empty burial shroud left behind in His tomb. The imagery is of the cross and resurrection.”

However, we see the precedents of this style of Cross. What is thought of as a shroud could be stylised Wings. Another find from the excavations:

26-redCrossRightwaysThe above is described as: “Painted cross fragment from Square 16, locus 02 (stone registry number 1162); discovered by James Walker during the 1999 field season. The surviving fragment measures 14.5 cm in length, 9.2 cm in width, and 1.1 cm thick. It weighs 284.4 grams.” (Source:

Further afield, in modern China, is a monument created by the Nestorian community in 781 AD during the Tang Dynasty, known simply as the “Nestorian Stele”. Atop of the edifice is a Cross.

27-Nestorian CrossSketch of the Nestorian Cross in China (Source: Masis Panos). Here is how it is described in “By Foot To China” by John M. L. Young, 1984: “The Cross sculptured on the famous Nestorian Monument-at Hsi-an-fu. It stands in the middle of a dense cloud which is symbolic of Muhammadanism, and upon a lotus, which symbolises Buddhism; its position indicates the triumph of the Luminous Religion of Christ over the religions of Muhammad and the Buddha. The sprays of flowers, one on each side, are said to indicate rebirth and joy.” Again, seeing the precedent of the “Standard of Fars” of the Sasanian era, the “dense cloud” could be stylized Wings.

Below is a sketch of a stucco Cross found during the excavations at Failaka, a small island near Kuwait in 1989. The find site is known as “the southern Chapel”.

28-SketchSketch of a stucco Cross found during the excavations at Failaka (Source: pazhayathu.blogspot).

Some of the Christian communities, such as in Qatar, ended by the late 7th century but in the region of Kuwait it is thought to have survived into the 9th century. In the above example we can see how the Wings on this Cross have become stylized.


The type of Cross within a stylised Wreath may derive from the missionary activity from the Roman Empire. That Cross derives from the Chi-Rho monogram.

The use of the Ahura Mazda Wings on Cross emblems stems from those regions being under the rule of the Sasanian Empire. (It is more likely this type of emblemology was used to show loyalty to the Sasanian Empire than to show rebellion.). These two types, surviving examples to be found in the modern Republic of Armenia, to me demonstrates the political and military “tug of war” that took place over the Kingdom of Armenia from the 3rd to 7th centuries by Rome and Persia.

It is not exclusive to the Armenian region, as examples show this style of Winged Cross in the East Syriac communities of Iraq and their own activities into India and China.

So how could the “Wings of Ahura Mazda” be used on the Cross, associated with Jesus Christ?
Ultimately it may have been about showing the Magi and the Sasanian rulers that Jesus was about Goodness and was compatible with the Zoroastrian state religion.

Christians in the Sasanian Empire had to prove that they were not a “fifth column” for the Christian Roman Empire and so a use of a Zoroastrian emblem in depicting the Cross may have been a way of showing this loyalty. The part of Armenia that had come under Sasanian rule and also the numerous Christian communities of Iraq would have (and did) create such a “hybrid” motif as has been shown in this article.

After the fall of the Sasanian Empire, in the mid 7th century, these Christian communities would continue to make stone Crosses and use the Wings but gradually the meaning of the Wings was lost and their depiction became ever more stylised to the extent that modern research puzzles over their meaning, such as “Lotus Flowers” for the St. Thomas Cross or on the Nestorian Stele, or a “Shroud” in the Cross excavated at Tell Tuneinir in Syria.

Certainly in the case with the famous Armenian Khatchkar, stylisation went far indeed, as shown in a final photo below. This is a row of Khatchkars of various styles from the Kecharis Monastery in the Republic of Armenia.

The Monastery was founded by the Pahlavuni family in the 11th century. Note the Khatchkar on the left where the Wings have turned into arms, hands at the end hold Crosses.

29-Kecharis Row of Khatchkars of various styles from the Kecharis Monastery in the Republic of Armenia (Source: Masis Panos).

This finding should not imply that the Wings of Ahura Mazda do not belong on a Christian edifice but that Armenians and East Syriac Christians can take pride in the rich heritage of their Christian culture and that the Sasanian Empire was not as anti-Christian as is often made out in the Christian propaganda that I have read, as an Armenian of the Armenian Apostolic Church (as for example in the legend of St. Sarkis).
Rather they were capable of coexistence.

A lesson indeed for the modern world.