The “Panjagan” of the Sassanian Army: A Chinese Connection?

The article further below “The Panjagan” is by Masis Reuben Panos. Kindly note that a number of images and captions printed below do not appear in Panos’ original article. The article has also been significantly edited from its original version.

Before reading the article, readers are advised that there is an entire chapter dedicated to the discussion of Sassanian archery, including a detailed discussion of various forms of propelled hand-held ballistae and archery-related equipment in Kaveh Farrokh’s upcoming textbook on the Sassanian army (to be released in mid-Nov. 2017). Kaveh Farrokh provided a presentation at the 10th annual ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) conference (October 19-21, 2017)  in Washington, D.C., in panel 21 [“Strategies and Armies of Sasanian Persia and Rome“] entitled:

A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units

The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians (2017; Pen & Sword Publications)

The presentation at ASMEA discussed the following topics with respect to the Sassanian army (Spah) of 224-651 CE:

  • Organization, Titles, Numerical Factors, and Military Reforms
  • The Savaran or Aswaran (elite Sassanian cavalry forces) as well as select prestige units (e.g. Jyanavspar, Pustighban, Javidan, etc.)
  • Sassanian infantry or Paighan
  • Sassanian military equipment (helmets, swords, archery equipment, etc.)
  • Elephant corps
  • Auxiliary units (e.g slingers, javeliners, light cavalry, etc.)

The Library of Social Science (LSS) Book Exhibits was also  present during the ASMEA Conference in order to present the latest academic textbooks for the purpose of promoting these to academic researchers and experts as well as for university coursework, diplomatic delegations, etc.

Upcoming textbook on the Sassanian Army on display (upright at right) by the LSS at the ASMEA Conference on October 19-21, 2017. To the right of the Sassanians text is Dr. Ilkka Syanne’s new textbook, Military History of Late Rome (284-361). Dr. Syvanne (Affiliated Professor of the University of Haifa; Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies) was the discussant in ASMEA’s panel 21 [“Strategies and Armies of Sasanian Persia and Rome”] who also presented the topic “Nation and Empire Building the Iranian Way: The Case of the Sasanian Empire in the Third Century“. Another critical presentation was made by Dr. Conor Whately (Department of Classics, University of Winnipeg, Canada) entitled “Procopius, Soldiers, and Strategy on the Southeastern Frontier in the Age of Justinian“.


The Panjagan (Panj [Middle Persian] = Five) is generally described as a weapon capable of firing five arrows simultaneously.

This was used to devastating effect by the Spah (Sasanian army) against the Gok (Celestial/Blue) Turks and their Hephthalite vassals in 619 CE. Thinking how a regular bow could fire 5 arrows simultaneously to any effect is baffling. The technology of this weapon is fully discussed in Kaveh Farrokh’s text on the Sassanian Army, but to summarize, current scholars on the topic believe that this was some type of “multiple crossbow” or arbalist type weapon.

Centuries earlier a repeating crossbow had already been invented in China around the year 200 CE. The inventor of this weapon was  Zhuge Liang (181-234), a chancellor of the Shu Han dynasty. The Chinese had already built earlier versions of this weapon, however it was Zhuge who improved the weapon’s design and (rapid) rate of fire.

[Left] Portrait of Zhuge Liang in the Sancai Tuhui (a Ming imprint of 1609) (Source: Public Domain); [Right] Chinese movie portrayal of Zhuge Liang (Source: Cfensi), a Chinese chancellor who was also a master military strategist. Liang’s design of the repeating cross-bow may have been bought by Chinese immigrants into Sassanian Persia.

So what about the Panjagan of the Sassanians? This may have been derived from the weapon Zhuge had originally designed. But how did Chinese end up in Persia? In 263 CE The Shu Han lost to the Wei dynasty and many citizens of all classes fled the capital city Chengdu and other regions towards the west, along the old Silk Route, to reach Sassanian Persia.

The Chinese repeating cross-bow (Source: Understanding Our Past). Chinese migrants may have bought prototypes and/or designs of this type of weapon with them to Sassanian Persia.

The Chinese arrivals were welcomed by the Sassanians, who themselves were a new dynasty, having overthrown the previous Parthian dynasty just 39 years before. The Sassanians, locked in war with the powerful Roman Empire, found the new immigrants from the sophisticated civilization of China of great value: they were highly educated, and especially knowledgeable in the latest military technologies.

The Sassanians however were not just facing the Romans (later Romano-Byzantines) on their western frontiers. To the northeast they faced the dangerous warriors of Central Asia. The Hephthalites had already become a menace by the early 480s CE, to be eventually superseded and dominated by the Gok (Celestial/Blue) Turks in the 6th century CE.

The Savaran counterattack against the Turco-Hephthalite invasion of 618-619 CE (Source: Farrokh, Plate C -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005); note that the fully armored knight in the middle is deploying a Panjagan (conjectural reconstruction) seen firing five arrows.

The Panjagan, and no doubt the well drilled Savaran cavalry of the Sassanian army (Spah), kept the Turkic invaders at bay until the fall of the Sasanian Empire in 651 CE.

Cyrus the Great and the Founding Fathers of the United States

The Founding fathers of the United States, especially Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), John Adams (1735-1826) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) were strongly influenced by Cyrus the Great’s (approx. 600-530 BCE) legacy of governance.

John Trumbull’s 1819 painting of the Declaration of Independence (Public Domain with original painting in the Capitol Building of Washington DC). This depicts the Committee of Five presenting their document to Congress on June 28, 1776. Less known is the fact that the Founding fathers of the United States  admired and consulted Cyrus’ legacy of governance as described in the Cyropaedia (Greek: Kúrou Paideía = The Education of Cyrus).

Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, entered the city of Babylon on October 29, 543 CE, a full 17 days after his ally Babylonian General Gubaru had arrived at the Metropolis. According to the Nabonidus Chronicle (III, 12-22), Cyrus was welcomed as a liberator by the local citizenry:

In the month of Arahsamah, the third day, Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs, doubtless reeds or rushes to smooth out the path of his chariot … The state of peace was imposed on all the city. Cyrus sent messages of greetings to all of Babylon

A depiction of Cyrus the Great in his (ceremonial?) chariot as he enters Babylon City with his retinue on October 29, 543 CE (Source: El Palacia De Las Nueve Lunas). The Nabonidus Chronicle states that as Cyrus entered the city, twigs and reeds were laid by local citizens along the path of his chariot.

Cyrus’ conduct in Babylon is later corroborated by Greek historian and soldier Xenophon (c.430-354 CE) in his “Education of Cyrus” or Cyropaedia (VII, 5, 20-26).

Xenophon (431-355 BC) wrote a compendium of Cyrus, known as the Cyropaedia. The Cyropaedia has been consulted as a standard reference of statesmanship by a number of prominent leaders in world history. Readers can access the Cyropaedia translated by H.G. Dakyns by clicking here …

One example of Cyrus’ statesmanship was his respect for the diversity of theology, languages and cultures. Upon his arrival into Babylon, Cyrus proclaimed his humility and respect for the Babylonian God Marduk. As noted in the Cyrus Cylinder (discovered in March 1879 by excavation work for by the British Museum):

Marduk, the great lord, bestowed on me as my destiny the great magnanimity of one who loves Babylon, and I every day sought him out in awe.” [Translation of Cyrus Cylinder, British Museum, 2009]

The Cyrus Cylinder (The British Museum)

For more articles on Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder see here:

کوروش بزرگ -Cyrus the Great & the Cyrus Cylinder

Perhaps most remarkable is how little is known today of the influence of Cyrus’ legacy upon the Founding Fathers of the United States. This is because Cyrus was well known to Greco-Roman civilization, thanks to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. The Roman statesman Scipio Africanus (236-183 BCE) had a copy of the Cyropaedia.

Scipio Africanus of Rome as depicted in a mid 1st century BCE Roman bust of bronze, currently housed at the Naples National Archaeological Museum (Inv. No. 5634) (Source: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta in Public Domain). Scipio Afriocanus regularly consulted his copy of the Cyropaedia.

Scipio like many Classical and Western statesmen to come after him, knew well of Cyrus and his adaptive policies of governance by way of the Cyropaedia. Looking further into Cyrus’ policies upon his arrival in Babylon, as inscribed upon the Cyrus Cylinder:

My vast army marched into Babylon in peace; I did not permit anyone to frighten the people of [Sumer] /and\ Akkad. …relieved their wariness and freed them from their service. Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced over [my good] deeds.

Note that Cyrus cited Marduk, the god of Babylon, and not the supreme Zoroastrian deity Ahura-Mazda.

A Snake-Dragon image-symbol of Marduk, the patron God of Babylon (Panel of glazed earthenware bricks, Ishtar Gate, c. 604-562 BCE) (Source: Detroit Institute of Arts). Instead of plunder and destruction, like the former kings of the preceding Near Eastern empires, Cyrus paid homage to the local Babylonian god Marduk and ensured that no looting, plunder or destruction took place in that ancient city. More recently, a tribute to Marduk was found at Persepolis (see here …)

Cyrus also showed concern for the day to day living circumstances of local citizenry by ordering the restoration of Babylon-City’s Derelict quarters – as cited on the Cylinder:

“…bought relief to their dilapidated housing [in Babylon-City] putting an end to their complaints…”

In essence, this was an order for a slum clearance program. Among Cyrus’ other policies of note were:

  • Restoration of gods to their enclosures in Babylon
  • Re-institution of the New Year Festival
  • Policy of racial and religious equality & acceptance
  • Deported peoples allowed to return home
  • Destroyed Temples ordered to be restored

While several top historians have examined Cyrus the Great and his legacies, perhaps one of the most enduring observations remain that of late Professor William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981):

The first principle of his [Cyrus the Great] policy was that the various peoples of his empires would be left free in their religious worship and beliefs…Instead of sacking cities and wrecking temples he showed a courteous respect for the deities of the conquered, and contributed to maintain their shrines…Like Napoleon he accepted indifferently all religions, and-with much better grace-honored all the gods.” [Durant, 1942, page 353; Durant, Will (1942) The Story of Civilization:(Part One): Our Oriental Heritage. New York: Simon & Shuster]

An ingress route to the Temple of Amon in Egypt (Source: Khan Academy). Achaemenid kings such as Cambyses and Darius the Great  consistently provided funds and support for the reconstruction and repair of Egypt’s temples.

With respect to Achaemenid rule in general, Young notes:

Because of the religious, ethnic and social tolerance with which the Achaemenids chose to rule, one cannot speak of an imperial social structure. Earlier attempts at empire in ancient West Asia had been anything but tolerant. Why therefore were the Achaemenids so different?” [Young, T.C., The Achaemenids (559-330 BC), pp.160, in Cotterell, A. (Editor) (1993). Classical Civilizations. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books].

This is a question that scholars have been examining for decades. The legacy of Cyrus’ policies are corroborated by independent Greek and Biblical sources independent of each other and further documented by archaeological finds in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), Egypt and Western Anatolia (in Modern Turkey).

As noted by the late Max Von Mallowan (1904-1978) in the Cambridge History of Iran:

Religious toleration was a remarkable feature of Persian rule and there is no question that Cyrus himself was a liberal-minded promoter of this humane and intelligent policy.” [Max Von Mallowan. Cyrus the Great. In Cambridge History of Iran (Volume 2: The Median and Achaemenean Periods), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.392-419.]

Biblical sources provide a very comprehensive perspective on Cyrus’ system of rule. The Old testament describes Cyrus (cited as Koresh) as a Messiah, or more specifically as Yahweh’s anointed (Book of Ezra, Chapter 1). Viewed as a savior of Jews, Cyrus is described as follows in Isaiah:

He [Cyrus] is my Shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose” (Isaiah, 44.28; 45.1; see also 35, 40-55).

The West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. President Truman in his support for the Jews in the twentieth century, evoked the name of Cyrus.

It is believed that up to 40,000 Jewish exiles in Babylon were allowed to return to Israel. Using funds from the imperial treasury, Cyrus financially supported the Jews in rebuilding their Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra III: 7). Cyrus also ordered that sacred Hebrew utensils confiscated by Babylonian king Nebudchadnezzar (reign approx: 605–562 BC) now be restored to their rightful Jewish owners (Ezra I: 7-8).

Gustave Dore’s painting of Cyrus the Great restoring the sacred vessels of the temple to the Jews (Posted in the KingFoska Files website). When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he  ordered the sacred religious objects of the Jerusalem Temple to be restored to their rightful owners, the Jews.

Cyrus’ policies did not simply end after the passing of Cyrus. Under Darius I, the Achaemenid Empire continued these policies. Note that by Darius’ time in the 4th century BCE, the Achaemenid Empire now contained approximately 42 million citizens, or roughly 27% of the world’s populace. Darius’ rule resulted in the creation of remarkable wealth and prosperity for the citizenry, in large part due to the understanding that a policy of inclusion, tolerance and openness to peoples, creeds, languages and ideas helps to propel the rise of a powerful and robust economy.

Such policies may again explain why one of history’s most important statesmen, Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) also read the Cyropaedia. This is noteworthy as not only does this dispel the false narrative of the so-called historicity of the “Clash of Civilizations” but serves to highlight Cyrus’ legacy (through the Cyropaedia) in the system of Roman rule. Put simply, like the Achaemenids, Rome was an imperial power, however (like the Achaemenids) it was also highly cosmopolitan and tolerant of different cultures and creeds.

Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) (Source: ForWallpaper).

The Romans were well versed in the literature of the Greeks notably Plato who presented Cyrus as having attained the ideal harmony in governance. Xenophon’s aforementioned Cyropaedia presented Cyrus as a leader who extolled the ideals of balance and tolerance in government. As noted by Sheda Vasseghi in her PhD Dissertation published in 2017 entitled Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In Origins Of Western Civilization” (University of New England, Academic advising Team: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi, Kaveh Farrokh):

Later rulers such as Alexander the Great, Hellenistic kingdoms, Roman and Byzantine emperors, and Muslim caliphs will adopt the idea of Persian absolute kingship, Persian imperial model such as the satrapal system and institutions, or wish to emulate Cyrus the Great’s policies (Cole & Symes, 2017; King, 2000; Noble et al., 2011). Sherman and Salisbury (2014) stated in the story of the West, “the Persian Empire marks a culmination of the first stirrings of Western civilization in the ancient Middle East” followed by the Greeks (p. 36).”

It is perhaps thus remarkable that 23 centuries after the passing of the Achaemenid Empire, the Founding Fathers of the United States knew full well of Cyrus and his legacy of governance. Note that the Founding Fathers (who laid the Foundation for the American Republic) and Cyrus (who established the monarchy of ancient Iran) had three characteristics in common:

  1. Tolerance of diverse creeds, languages, religions, etc.
  2. The rule of law (justice)
  3. Equality of all citizens

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the primary author of America’s Declaration of Independence from England, had two of his own copies of the Cyropaedia (bilingual Greek & Latin version published in Europe, 1767, currently held at the Library of Congress). Jefferson frequently read his Cyropaedia and expressed his affinity for the separation of Church and State alongside the freedom of worship (religion). Interestingly, Jefferson wrote a letter to a friend in 1787 inquiring if he had an Italian edition of the Cyropaedia. The reason for this request as stated by Jefferson was that even-though he had already read the original Cyropaeda, he was seeking further elaboration/clarification on a number of points. It is clear that Jefferson regularly studied this text and wanted to attain full knowledge of its contents and purpose.

President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) of the United States of America.

Jefferson wanted to know more of ancient Persian civilization and especially its system of rule. He is also known for having made note no. 852 in his Commonplace Book as he read Voltaire’s Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations (Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations):

Then that ancient religion of the Magi fell, that the conqueror Darius had respected, as he never disturbed the religion of conquered peoples. The Magi regarded their religion as the most ancient and the most pure. The knowledge that they had of mathematics, astronomy and of history augmented their enmity toward the conquerors the Arabs, who were so ignorant. They [the Magi] could not abandon their religion, consecrated for so many centuries. Then most of them retreated to the extremities of Persia and India. It is there that they live today, under the name Gaurs or Guebres“ [Thomas Jefferson, The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Gilbert Chinard,1926, p.334‐35; passage translated by R.N. Frye]

Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Cyropaedia (Source: Angelina Perri Birney). Like many of the Founding Fathers and those who wrote the US Constitution, President Jefferson regularly consulted the Cyropaedia – an encyclopedia written by the ancient Greeks about Cyrus the Great. The two personal copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Cyropaedia are in the US Library of Congress in Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson’s initials “TJ” are seen clearly engraved at the bottom of each page.

Just six years before his passing, in a letter penned by him in October 6, 1820, Thomas Jefferson had advised his grandson to study the Cyropaedia among other recommended classical works.

Founding Father and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), was like Jefferson, in possession of a copy of the Cyropaedia. This is because Franklin also had a deep appreciation for the statecraft of Cyrus.

Benjamin Franklin portrayed at the age of 79 (Painting by Joseph Duplessis, housed at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC). A prodigy of his time, Franklin was as multifaceted as he was progressive – he was a scientist, inventor, author, publisher and a statesman who knew of the governance of Cyrus.

Like Franklin and Jefferson, John Adams (1735-1826) also had a copy of the Cyropaedia. Interestingly, John Adams had mentioned to Thomas Jefferson that he had read British Ambassador Sir John Malcolm’s 2-Volume textbook History of Persia. One of his main objectives for reading that text was to obtain more information on Cyrus and his legacy. John Adams persuaded his son, John Quincy Adams, to become president and requested that he read the Cyropaedia.

John Adams is also the founder of the University of Virginia. The prerequisite for students entering that university was to read (in the original Greek and/or Latin) Xenophon (author of the Cyropaedia) and other classical writers. John Adams also authored a treatise on the failings of past forms of government but interestingly he exempted ancient Persia from that treatise.

John Adams (1735-1826) one of the Founding Fathers of the United States (Source: Adams was cognizant of the governance of Cyrus and had a copy of the Cyropaedia.

The principle of governance penned by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution of the United States is perhaps one of the most significant developments in the history of mankind. As a defender of the Union and the Constitution, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) delivered the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), ending the institution of slavery in the United States.

A water-color painting in c. 1863 of an African-American citizen avidly reading by candlelight, a newspaper bearing the headline: “Presidential Proclamation, Slavery” (Source: Public Domain & Library Congress). This was in reference to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation delivered in Jan. 1863.

In a sense, Lincoln’s emancipation declaration and Cyrus’ cylinder bear parallels:

  • Lincoln proclaimed the rights of African-Americans as free citizens entitled to full rights and freedoms under the Constitution of the United States
  • Cyrus proclaimed the rights and freedoms of all diverse peoples for religion, creed, etc.

Cyrus, ancient Iran and the modern United States are linked together through the Founding Fathers, even if such links have yet to be fully acknowledged.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) (Source: Public Domain & Mead Art Museum).

Angelina Perri Birney and Lawrence Birney have noted the following with respect to Cyrus’ legacy in the United Nations:

In addition to the influence of the Cyropaedia on the US founding fathers, its core principles resonate with those of the United Nations. The high-minded concepts fathered by Cyrus in Persia thousands of years ago have found expression in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Brought to life by John Peters Humphrey and the UN Commission on Human Rights chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) consults the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Source: Angelina Perri Birney). As noted by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Disregard and contempt for Human Rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people… All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (UDHR-Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney).

Just months after he left office of President of the US in November 1953, President Harry Truman (1884-1972) made a remarkable statement to a number of Jewish dignitaries in New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary. Truman’s long-time associate, Eddie Jacobson, introduced Truman to the Jewish dignitaries stating “This is the man who helped create the State of Israel” . Truman then exclaimed: “What do you mean, helped to create? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus”.

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) who as President of the United States in 1945-1953 acknowledged the legacy of Cyrus the Great in liberating the Jews from their Babylonian captivity; For more Click here…

Finally, readers are advised to reflect on how (and why) this information is known by so few and why this is hardly ever mentioned in the media, entertainment industry, and academia. To the contrary, elements in entertainment, media and political outlets (and increasingly in academia) appear intent at rewriting (or inverting) history by ignoring the fact that ancient Iran or “Persia” was in fact a civilization partner in history and not some mysterious, hostile and distant “Other”.

The Founding Fathers of the United States are testament to the fact that ancient Iran was in fact placed on an equivalent platform with Greece, Rome and other great civilizations, each of whom which has made invaluable contributions to the evolution of law and governance.

When history supplants petty politics: Koresh or Cyrus street in Jerusalem. There is currently no street named Cyrus or Koroush in Tehran, the capital of Iran today. There is also an “Iran” street in Israel.

The Tenth Annual ASMEA Conference October 19-21

ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) held its Tenth Annual Conference entitled “The Middle East and Africa: Assessing the Regions Ten Years On” on October 19-21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel… for more information see here … or click on icon below …

Official flyer from the 10th ASMEA Conference of 2017 (see pdf version here …)

The Library of Social Science (LSS) Book Exhibits was also  present during the ASMEA Conference. The LSS presented the latest academic textbooks for the purpose of promoting these to academic researchers and experts as well as for university coursework, diplomatic delegations, etc.

Photo of the Library of Social Sciences Book Exhibit during the 9th ASMEA Conference in 2016 (Photo: Mei Ha Chan, Associate Director, Library of Social Science Book Exhibits).

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, delivered the keynote address at the Tenth Annual ASMEA Conference … for more information see here…

For a full list of the academics and experts at this conference see here … or click on icon below …

Kaveh Farrokh’s presentation at the Conference was: A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units which will be within the panel of “Strategies and Armies of Sasanian Persia and Rome“, with Dr. Ilkka Syvanne (Affiliated Professor of the University of Haifa; Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies) as the Discussant. Kaveh Farrokh’s article provided an overview of the organizational structure and military units of the Sassanian army (Spah) of 224-651 CE.

The  Library of Social Sciences Book Exhibit displayed Kaveh Farrokh’s latest comprehensive textbook on the Sassanian army (Spah) to be released on November 14, 2017, during the Tenth Annual ASMEA Conference in October 2017.

Brief Notes on Zoroastrianism, Women and Education

The Avesta of the Zoroastrian faith makes clear that women are equal to men in receiving education, notably with respect to:

  1. The worship of frauuaṣ̌is (choices) of aēθrapaitinąm aēθriianąm narąm nāirinąm (teachers, of students—male [and] female) (Y. 26.7)
  2. Appointing a nāirikā (woman) who is huš.hąm.sāsta (bears sagacity/well educated) (Vr. 3.4 (and Gāh 4.9; see also Hintze, 2007, p. 199)

An artistic interpretation of the ancient Iranian Goddess of knowledge and science, Cheesta (Source:Mojarradat). The Avesta makes clear that women are equal to men in receiving education: there is a reference for example to the worship of frauuaṣ̌is (choices) of aēθrapaitinąm aēθriianąm narąm nāirinąm (teachers, of students—male [and] female) (Y. 26.7).

Interestingly with respect to the question of who is eligible to receive education for the task of aθauruna (priestly service), we have the following information:

  1. The Herbedestan provides assurance that either lady (nāirikā) or lord of household (nmānō.paiti) qualify for this post
  2. Selection is based on solely merit or aṣ̌āi bərəjiiąstəmō (highest esteem for truth) (H. 1.2; see also Hintze, 2009, p. 188)

A reconstruction by Cernenko and Gorelik of the north-Iranian Saka or Scythians in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F). The ancient Iranians (those in ancient Persia and the ones in ancient Eastern Europe) often had women warriors and chieftains, a practice not unlike those of the contemporary ancient Celts in ancient Central and Western Europe.

This strongly suggests that women’s education in Avesta period of the Iranians went beyond “housewife role” (cited from Gould, p. 150,  Sanjana, pp. 17-19).  In addition to education, women and men were expected to spread the Zoroastrian doctrines (Y. 35.6).

Note the contrast of the aforementioned sources with respect to the judgmental statements made about women by Roman poet Juvenal (active late 1st – 2nd century CE, died 130 CE; Image source: The Famous People): “Really annoying is the woman who, as soon as she takes her place on the dining couch, praises Virgil [greatest Roman epic poet] excuses Dido’s suicide, compares and ranks in critical order the various poets and weighs Virgil and Homer [greatest Hellenic epic poet] on a pair of scales.  Grammar teachers surrender, professors of rhetoric are defeated, the entire group of guests is silent…So loud and shrill are her words that you might think pots were being banged together and bells were being rung…Don’t marry a woman who speaks like an orator or knows every history book.  There should be some things in books which she doesn’t understand.  I hate a woman who reads and re-reads Palaemon’s treatise on grammar, who always obeys all the laws and rules of correct speech…Let her correct the grammar of her stupid girlfriend…” (Satires 6.434-456).

The contrast between the elevated status of women in ancient Persia versus the role of women in ancient Greece and Rome was outlined in a lecture by Kaveh Farrokh in Portland State University in April 20, 2013 entitled “Women in Ancient Iran” …

For more on the role of women in ancient and post-Islamic Iran see here …

Iranian women from Malayer (near Hamedan in the northwest) engaged in target practice in the Malayer city limits in the late 1950s.  The association between weapons and women is nothing new in Iran; Roman references for example note of Iranian women armed as regular troops in the armies of the Sassanians (224-651 CE). Western media and Eurocentrist academics have worked hard to block such images from appearing in mainstream Western culture.

Anahita: The Deity of Water, Fertility, Healing and Wisdom

The article below by Shapour Suren-Pahlav titled “Anahita: The Deity of Water, Fertility, Healing and Wisdom” was posted originally in the London-based  CAIS website.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006; Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-) as well as venues such as the Civilization Fanatics Center and


Anahita is the name of a popular Zoroastrian yazatā and an ancient Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the female guardian angel of waters (Ābān), associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. Her name is (Avestan) Ardәwī Sūrā Anāhitā, (Old-Persian) Anāhitā, (Middle-Persian) Ardwīsūr Anāhīd (New-Persian) Nāhīd. In Armenia she is called Anāhit and Greeco-Roman historians refer to her either as Anāitis or identified her with one of the divinities from their own pantheons.

An iconic shrine cult of Aredvi Sura Anahita was – together with other shrine cults- “introduced apparently in the 4th century BCE and lasted until suppressed [in the wake of] an iconoclastic movement by the Sasanian dynasty” (Boyce 1975b, p. 454.)

Anahita-TextNew Book: Anahita-Ancient Persian Goddess & Zoroastrian Yazata (edited by Payam Nabarz) – for more click here…


Only Arədvī is specific to the divinity (Boyce 1983, p. 1003), and for etymological reasons – could originally have meant ‘moist’. The words sūra and anāhīta are generic Avestan adjectives (Boyce 1982, p. 29) and respectively mean ‘mighty’ and ‘pure’ (Lommel 1927, p. 29; Boyce 1982, p. 202) or ‘immaculate’ (Boyce 1983, p. 1003). Both adjectives also appear as epithets of other divinities or divine concepts such as Haoma (Boyce 1926, p. 99) and the Fravashis (Boyce 1926, p. 133). Both adjectives are also attested in Vedic Sanskrit (cf. Monier-Williams 1898).

As a divinity of ‘the waters’, the yazata is of Indo-Iranian origin, according to Lommel related to Sanskrit Saraswatī that, like its proto-Iranian equivalent *Harahvatī, derives from Indo-Iranian *Sarasvatī (Lommel 1954, pp. 405-413; Boyce 1975a, p. 71; Boyce 1983, p. 1003). In its old Iranian form *Harahvatī, “her name was given to the region, rich in rivers, whose modern capital is Kandahar (Avestan Haraxvaitī, Old Persian Hara(h)uvati-, Greek Arachosia)”(Boyce 1983, p. 1003). “Like the Indian Saraswati, [Aredvi Sura Anahita] nurtures crops and herds; and is hailed both as a divinity and the mythical river that she personifies, ‘as great in bigness as all these waters which flow forth upon the earth’.”

In the Middle-Persian texts of the Sasanian and later eras, Arədvī Sūra Anāhīta appears as Ardwisur Anāhīd (Boyce 1983, p. 1003). No part of the name is attested in old Western Iranian languages (e.g. Old Persian) or even Elamite (Boyce 1982, p. 29; Boyce 1983, p. 1006).

Anahita Silver-Gilt Vessel-300-500 CE-Sassanian[Click to Enlarge] Silver-Gilt Sassanian vessel depicting the Goddess Anahita dated to the 4th-6th centuries CE (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Historical Development

As the divinity of purifying waters, Aredvi Sura Anahita is associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. At some point prior to the 4th century BCE, this yazata was conflated with (an analogue of) Semitic Ishtar-Inanna (Boyce 1982, p. 202), likewise a divinity of “maiden” fertility and from whom Aredvi Sura Anahita then inherited additional features of a divinity of war and of the planet Venus. It was moreover the association with the planet Venus, “it seems, which led Herodotus to record that the Persis[1] learnt ‘to sacrifice to “the heavenly goddess”‘ from the Assyrians and Arabians” (Boyce 1982, p. 29 Cit; Herodotus, Histories i.131; Widengren 1965, p. 121; Nyberg 1938, p. 370).

However, Mary Boyce (1982:29-31) proposed that there was once a Perso-Elamite divinity named *Anahiti (Boyce 1982, p. 29) that was an analogue of Semitic Ishtar-Inanna – and that it is this divinity with which Aredvi Sura Anahita was conflated (Boyce 1982, p. 29). Boyce concludes that “the Achaemenids’ devotion to this goddess evidently survived their conversion to Zoroastrianism, and they appear to have used royal influence to have her adopted into the Zoroastrian pantheon” (Boyce 1983, pp. 1003-1004). Boyce’s theory, “the problem of how to offer veneration to a divinity unknown to the Avesta was solved by assimilating *Anāhiti to *Harahvaitī Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā, whose third epithet was very close to the western divinity’s proper name, and indeed may already in late Old Persian have become identical with it, through the dropping of the final vowel in ordinary speech” (Boyce 1983, pp. 1003-1004).

In antiquity, “to invoke a deity correctly, it was essential to know his proper name” and when people “worshipped gods other than their own, they invoked them by their original names” (Bikerman 1938, p. 187). “That the concept [of *Anahiti] owes much to that of Ishtar was first suggested by H. Gressman (Archiv f. Religionswissenschaft XX, 1920, 35ff., 323ff; Boyce 1982, p. 29,n.93). An inheritance from Ishtar is also supported by Cumont (Cumont 1926, pp. 474ff) and Lommel (Lommel 1927, pp. 26-32). For a rejection of some of the numerous other identifications (Atargatis, Anat, etc.) as historically distinct (see Meyer 1886, pp. 330-334).

achaemenid-plaqueKing Artaxerxes II (at left) facing the goddess Anahita who sits atop a lion (Picture Source: OwnerlessMind). In the background to Anahita can be seen the clear display of the sun which is a representation of the ancient Iranic god Mithras. Note that the sun emanates 21 rays, the same symbol which is used by varous ancient Iranic cults among the Kurds of Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The 21 rays may be related to the festival date of Mehregan (Festival of the Sun-god Mithra) which takes place from the 16th to the 21st of Mehr of the Iranian calendar.

Ishtar also “apparently” also gave Aredvi Sura Anahita the epithet Banu (Persian) Bānū, ‘the Lady’, a typically Mesopotamian construct (Boyce 1983, p. 1006) that is not attested as an epithet for a divinity in Iran before the common era. It is completely unknown in the texts of the Avesta (Boyce 1983, p. 1006) but evident in Sasanian-middle-Persian inscriptions and in a middle Persian Zend translation of Yasna 68.13 (Darmesteter 1892, p. 419). Also in Zoroastrian texts from the post-conquest epoch (651 CE onwards), the divinity is referred to as ‘Anāhid the Lady’, ‘Ardwisur the Lady’ and ‘Ardwisur the Lady of the waters’ (Boyce 1967, p. 37).

Because the divinity is unattested in any old Western Iranian language (Boyce 1982, p. 29), establishing characteristics prior to the introduction of Zoroastrianism in Western Iran (c. 5th century BCE) is very much in the realm of speculation.

However, to an alternate theory, Anahita was perhaps “a daeva of the early and pure Zoroastrian faith, incorporated into the Zoroastrian religion and its revised canon” during the reign of “Artaxerxes I, the Constantine of that faith” (Taqizadeh 1938, p. 35). Although Taqizadeh’s hypothesis is not supportable in light of the archaic nature of the Gathic nucleus of Yasht 5, it is worth noting that Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 BCE) moved his capital from Susa to Babylon, where it would remain until Artaxerxes II moved it back in 395 BCE. Darius II was half-Babylonian and died in Babylon. Darius’s son and successor, Artaxerxes II mother, Parysatis, who was immensely influential on both Darius and her sons (the other being Cyrus the Younger).

Widengren has a similar hypothesis, but places it in the Proto-Avestan period. In this opinion (Widengren 1965, p. 18), Anahita is Nahaithya, the Avestan daeva(s) that Widengren also suggests might be cognate with the Nasatyas.

Anahita as a Cosmological Entity

The cosmological qualities of the world river are alluded to in Yasht 5, but properly developed only in the Bundahishn, a Zoroastrian account of creation finished in the 11th or 12th century CE. In both texts, Aredvi Sura Anahita is not only a divinity, but also the source of the world river and the (name of the) world river itself. In the Bundahishn, the two halves of the name “Ardwisur Anahid” are occasionally treated independently of one another, that is, with Ardwisur as the representative of waters, and Anahid identified with the planet Venus: The water of the all lakes and seas have their origin with Ardwisur (10.2, 10.5), and in contrast, in a section dealing with the creation of the stars and planets (5.4), the Bundahishn speaks of Anahid i Abaxtari, that is, the planet Venus (Boyce 1983, p. 1004). In yet other chapters, the text equates the two, as in “Ardwisur who is Anahid, the father and mother of the Waters” (3.17).

 Anahita_Dish,_400-600_AD,_Sasanian,_Iran,_silver_and_gilt_-_Cleveland_Museum_of_Art_-_DSC08123[Click to Enlarge] Sassanian dish dated to the 5th-7th centuries CE depicting the Goddess Anahita (Picture Source: Public Domain).

This legend of the river that descends from Mount Hara appears to have remained a part of living observance for many generations. A Greek inscription from Roman times found in Asia Minor reads ‘the great goddess Anaïtis of high Hara’ (Boyce 1975a, p. 74). On Greek coins of the imperial epoch, she is spoken of as ‘Anaïtis of the sacred water’ (Boyce 1983, p. 1004).

In the Avesta

Aredvi Sura Anahita is principally addressed in Yasht 5 (Yasna 65) , also known as the Aban Yasht, a hymn to the waters in Avestan and one of the longer and better preserved of the devotional hymns. Yasna 65 is the third of the hymns recited at the Ab-Zohr, the “offering to the waters” that accompanies the culminating rites of the Yasna service. Verses from Yasht 5 also form the greater part of the Aban Nyashes, the liturgy to the waters that are a part of the Khordeh Avesta.

According to Nyberg (Nyberg 1938, p. 260,291,438) and supported by Lommel (Lommel 1954, p. 406) and Widengren (Widengren 1955, p. 48), the older portions of the Aban Yasht were originally composed at a very early date, perhaps not long after the Gathas themselves. Boyce agrees: “Linguistically, Aredvi Sura’s hymn appears older than [the Gathic hymn of] Asi’s”(Boyce 1983, p. 1003). It “was presumably after [Artaxerxes II] that verses [that] describe a temple statue” were incorporated in Yasht 5 (Boyce 1983, p. 1004). Yasna 38, which is dedicated “to the earth and the sacred waters” and is part of seven-chapter Yasna Haptanghāiti, is linguistically as old as the Gathas.

In the Aban Yasht, the river yazata is described as “the great spring Ardvi Sura Anahita is the life-increasing, the herd-increasing, the fold-increasing who makes prosperity for all countries” (5.1). She is “wide flowing and healing”, “efficacious against the daevas”, “devoted to Ahura’s lore” (5.1). She is associated with fertility, purifying the seed of men (5.1), purifying the wombs of women (5.1), encouraging the flow of milk for newborns (5.2). As a river divinity, she is responsible for the fertility of the soil and for the growth of crops that nurture both man and beast (5.3). She is a beautiful, strong maiden, wearing beaver skins (5.3,7,20,129).

Anahita Statue-Maragheh-IranStatue of Anahita in Maragheh, in Iran’s east Azarbaijan province (Picture Source: Public Domain).

The association between water and wisdom that is common to many ancient cultures is also evident in the Aban Yasht, for here Aredvi Sura is the divinity to whom priests and pupils should pray for insight and knowledge (5.86). In verse 5.120 she is seen to ride a chariot drawn by four horses named ‘wind’, ‘rain’, ‘clouds’ and ‘sleet’. In newer passages she is described as standing in ‘statuesque stillness’, ‘ever observed’, royally attired with a golden embroidered robe, wearing a golden crown, necklace and earrings, golden breast-ornament, and gold-laced ankle-boots (5.123, 5.126-8). Aredvi Sura Anahita is bountiful to those who please her, stern to those who do not, and she resides in ‘stately places’ (5.101).

The concept of Aredvi Sura Anahita is to a degree blurred with that of Ashi, the Gathic figure of Good Fortune, and many of the verses of the Aban Yasht also appear in Yasht 17 (Ard Yasht), which is dedicated to Ashi. So also a description of the weapons bestowed upon worshippers (5.130), and the superiority in battle (5.34 et al). These functions appears out of place in a hymn to the waters (Boyce 1983, p. 1003), and may have originally been from Yasht 17.

Other verses in Yasht 5 have masculine instead of feminine pronouns, and thus again appear to be verses that were originally dedicated to other divinities (Boyce 1975a, p. 73). Boyce also suggests that the new compound divinity of waters with martial characteristics gradually usurped the position of Apam Napat, the great warlike water divinity of the Ahuric triad, finally causing the latter’s place to be lost and his veneration to become limited to the obligatory verses recited at the Ab-Zohr.

The Cult of Anahita

The earliest dateable and unambiguous reference to the iconic cult of Anahita is from the Babylonian scholar-priest Berosus, who – although writing over 70 years after the reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon (a Greek epithet, roughly translatable as ‘the mindful one’, but is itself a mistranslation of Vohu Manah, the Amesha Spenta of ‘Good Mind’ or ‘Good Purpose’ “Arjomand 1998, pp. 246-247”) – records that the emperor had been the first to make cult statues of ‘Aphrodite Anaitis’ and placed them in temples in many of the major cities of the empire, including Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis, Damascus and Sardis (Berosus, III.65). Also according to Berosus, the Persians knew of no images of gods until Artaxerxes II erected those images (Berosus, III.65). (See also Müller’s Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, 16) This is substantiated by Herodotus, for in his mid-5th century BCE general remarks on ‘the usages of the Perses’, Herodotus notes that “it is not their custom to make and set up statues and images and altars, and those that make such they deem foolish, as I suppose, because they never believed the gods, as do the Greeks, to be the likeness of men” (Herodotus, Histories i.131; Boyce 1975b, p. 456; Boyce 1982, p. 179).

 anahita-ardashir-Shapur[Click to Enlarge] An image of Ardashir I or Bahram II (middle) and prince Shapur I or Bahram III “Sakan Shah [King of the Sakas]” (at right) and what appears to be Goddess Anahita (or a Sassanian Queen) (Picture Source: Atefeh Ashrafian, 2009).

The extraordinary innovation of the shrine cults can thus be dated to the late 5th century BCE (or very early 4th century BCE), even if this evidence is “not of the most satisfactory kind” (Boyce 1982, p. 202). Nonetheless, by 330 BCE and under Achaemenid royal patronage, these cults had been disseminated throughout Asia Minor and the Levant, and from there to Armenia (Boyce 1983, p. 1004). This was not a purely selfless act, for the temples also served as an important source of income. From the Babylonian kings, the Achaemenids had taken over the concept of a mandatory temple tax, a one-tenth tithe which all inhabitants paid to the temple nearest to their land or other source of income (Dandamaev & Lukonin 1989, pp. 361-362). A share of this income called the quppu ša šarri, “kings chest” – an ingenious institution originally introduced by Nabonidus – was then turned over to the ruler.

Nonetheless, Artaxerxes’ close connection with the Anahita temples is “almost certainly the chief cause of this king’s long-lasting fame among Zoroastrians, a fame which made it useful propaganda for the succeeding Arsacids to claim him (quite spuriously) for their ancestor” (Boyce 1982, p. 221; Arjomand 1998, p. 247).

Anahita as a Goddess in Pars, Elam and Media

Artaxerxes II’s devotion to Anahita is most apparent in his inscriptions, where her name appears directly after that of Ahura Mazda and before that of Mithra. Artaxerxes’ inscription at Susa reads: “By the will of Ahura Mazda, Anahita, and Mithra I built this palace. May Ahura Mazda, Anahita, and Mithra protect me from all evil” (A²Hc 15-10). This is a remarkable break with tradition; no Achaemenid king before him had invoked any but Ahura Mazda alone.

The temple of Anahita at Ecbatana[2] (Hamadan) in Media must have once been the most glorious sanctuaries in the known world (Isidore of Charax, Parthian Stations 6). The temple with its vast palace, four-fifths of a mile in circumference, built of cedar or cypress. In all of it, not a single plank or column stood but was covered by plates of silver or gold. Every tile of the floors was made of silver, and the whole building was apparently faced with bricks of silver and gold. The temple was plundered by Alexander of Macedon and stripped by the following Seleucid rulers during the reigns of Antigonus (r. 325-301 BCE) and Seleucus Nicator (r. 312-280 BCE) (Polybius, Histories 10.27.11); – when Antiochus III raided Ecbatana in 209 BCE, the temple “had the columns round it still gilded and a number of silver tiles were piled up in it, while a few gold bricks and a considerable quantity of silver ones remained” (Polybius, Histories 10.27.12).

Izad BanuDepiction of Izad-Banu in the 4th millennium in modern-day Fars province (Photo Source: CAIS).

Polybius’ reference to Alexander is supported by Arrian, who in 324 BCE wrote of a temple in Ecbatana dedicated to ‘Asclepius’ (by inference presumed to be Anahita, likewise a divinity of healing), destroyed by Alexander because she had allowed his male lover and companion Hephaestion to die (Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander 7.14). The massive stone lion on the hill there perhaps a sepulchral monument to his lover Hephaestion is today a symbol that visitors touch in hope of fertility.

Plutarch records that Artaxerxes II had his concubine Aspasia consecrated as priestess at the temple “to Diana of Ecbatana, whom they name Anaitis, that she might spend the remainder of her days in strict chastity” (Plutarch[3], Artaxerxes 27). This does not however necessarily imply that chastity was a requirement of Anaitis priestesses. “It is impossible (in the absence of contemporary Iranian evidence) to know the limits of what is implied here – whether, that is, all priestesses of Anahita were required at this epoch to be chaste for life, or only certain among them. Celibacy is not in general a state respected by Zoroastrians, or regarded by them as meritorious” (Boyce 1982, p. 220).

3-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] Investiture scene above the late Sassanian armored knight at the vault at Tagh-e Bostan. To the left stands Goddess Anahita with her right hand raised, holding a diadem of glory or “Farr” towards Khosrow II at center who receives a diadem with his right hand from Ahura-Mazda or the chief Magus. Anahita was a revered goddess of war among Sassanian warriors (Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

Isidore of Charax, in addition to a reference to the temple at Ecbatana (“a temple, sacred to Anaitis, they sacrifice there always” (Isidore of Charax, Parthian Stations 6) also notes a “temple of Artemis” at Konkobar today Kangavar (an Avestan derivative of Kanha-vara, ‘enclosure of Kanha’).

Remains of a Parthian edifice built in c. 200 BCE (Boyce 1983, p. 1007) are still visible today. “Artemis was one of the Greek identifications of Anahid” (Boyce 1983, p. 1004). Isidore of Charax (Mansiones Parthicae 1) also speaks of “the city of Besechana” (Piruz-sabur, Parthian Msyk, or Massice by Pliny) “in which is a temple of Atargatis”, which Boyce, citing Chaumont, states is a temple of Anahita at Beonan (Boyce 1983, p. 1007). Atargatis is however a Levantine goddess and, although also associated with water and the planet Venus, had a cult that is historically distinct from that of Anahita (Meyer 1886, pp. 330-334).

Isidore also records another “royal place, a temple of Artemis, founded by Darius” at Basileia (Apadana), on the royal highway along the left bank of the Euphrates (Isidore of Charax, Parthian Stations 1; Boyce 1983, p. 1007).

During the Parthian dynastic era, Susa had its ‘Dianae templum augustissimum’ (Pliny Natural History 6.35) far from Elymais where another temple, known to Strabo as the “Ta Azara”, was dedicated to Athena/Artemis (Strabo, ‘Geographica’ 16.1.18) and where tame lions roamed the grounds. This may be a reference to the temple above the Tang-a Sarvak ravine in present-day Khuzestan Province. Other than this, no evidence of the cult in Western Iran from the Parthian period survives, but “it is reasonable to assume that the martial features of Anāhita (Ishtar) assured her popularity in the subsequent centuries among the warrior classes of Parthian feudalism” (Arjomand 1998, p. 248)

Anahita and Bahram Chobin[Click to Enlarge] Recreation of the facade of a Sassanian palace and Bahram Chobin receiving a diadem (possibly representing the Farr  or “Divine Glory”) from a priestess of the Anahita temple (Source: Kaveh Farrokh, Elite Sassanian Cavalry, 2005 –اسواران ساسانی).

In the 2nd century CE, the centre of the cult in Parsa (Persia proper) was at Staxr (Istakhr). There, Anahita continued to be venerated in her martial role and it was at Istakhr that Sassan, after whom the Sasanian dynasty is named, served as high priest. Sassan’s son, Papak, likewise a priest of that temple, overthrew the King of Istakhr, a vassal of the Arsacids, and had himself crowned in his stead. “By this the beginning of the 3rd century, Anāhita’s headgear was worn as a mark of nobility,” which in turn “suggests that she was goddess of the feudal warrior estate” (Arjomand 1998, p. 248) – Ardashir (r. 226-241 CE) “would send the heads of the petty kings he defeated for display at her temple” (Arjomand 1998, p. 248 Cit Tabari, Annals 1:819).

During the reign of Bahram I (r. 272-273 CE), in the wake of an iconoclastic movement that had begun at about the same time as the shrine cult movement, the sanctuaries dedicated to a specific divinity were – by law – disassociated from that divinity by removal of the statuary and then either abandoned or converted into fire altars (Boyce 1975b, p. 462). So also the popular shrines to Mehr/Mithra which retained the name Darb-e Mehr – Mithra’s Gate – that is today one of the Zoroastrian technical terms for a fire temple. The temple at Istakhr was likewise converted and, according to the Kartir inscription, henceforth known as the “Fire of Anahid the Lady” (Boyce 1967, p. 36). Sasanian iconoclasm, though administratively from the reign of Bahram I, may already have been supported by Bahram’s father, Shapur I (r. 241-272 CE). In an inscription in Middle Persian, Parthian and Greek at Ka’ba of Zoroaster, the “Mazdean lord, …, king of kings, …, grandson of lord Papak” (ShKZ 1, Naqsh-e Rustam) records that he instituted fires for his daughter and three of his sons. His daughter’s name: Anahid. The name of that fire: Adur-Anahid.

Sasanian Bowl-Anahita sit atop Lion[Click to Enlarge] A 4th century Sassanian silver bowl featuring a high-relief decoration of the Goddess Anahita. She sits atop a lion and in her right hand is the sun (Photo Source: CAIS).

Notwithstanding the dissolution of the temple cults, the triad Ahura Mazda, Anahita, and Mithra (as Artaxerxes II had invoked them) would continue to be prominent throughout the Sasanian dynastic age, “and were indeed (with Tiri and Verethragna) to remain the most popular of all divine beings in Western Iran” (Boyce 1982, p. 210) Moreover, the iconoclasm of Bahram I and later kings apparently did not extend to images where they themselves are represented. At an investiture scene at Naqsh-e Rustam, Narseh (r. 293-302 CE) is seen receiving his crown from a female divinity identified as Anahita. Narseh, like Artaxerxes II, was apparently also very devoted to Anahita, for in the investure inscription at Paikuli (near Khaniqin, in present-day Iraq), Narseh invokes “Ormuzd and all the yazatas, and Anahid who is called the Lady” (Boyce 1967, p. 36).

Anahita has also been identified as a figure in the investiture scene of Khusrow Parvez (r. 590-628 CE) at Taq-e Bostan, but in this case not quite as convincingly as for the one of Narseh (Boyce 1983, p. 1008). But, aside from the two rock carvings at Naqsh-e Rustam and Taq-e Bostan, “few figures unquestionably representing the goddess are known” (Boyce 1983, p. 1008). The figure of a female on an Achaemenid cylinder seal has been identified as that of Anahita, as have a few reliefs from the Parthian era (250 BCE-226 CE), two of which are from ossuaries (Girshman 1962, fig. 120, 313).

In addition, Sasanian silverware depictions of nude or scantily dressed women seen holding a flower or fruit or bird or child are identified as images of Anahita (Boyce 1983, p. 1008, cit. Trever, À propos, plates XXVII-XXIX). Additionally, “it has been suggested that the colonnaded or serrated crowns [depicted] on Sasanian coins belong to Anahid” (Boyce 1983, p. 1008).

In Asia Minor and the Levant

The cult flourished in Lydia even as late as end of the Parthian epoch (Boyce 1983, p. 1006). The Lydians had temples to the divinity at Sardis, Philadelphia, Hierocæsarea, Hypaipa, Maeonia and elsewhere (Boyce 1983, p. 1006); the temple at Hierocæsarea reportedly (Tacitus, Annals 3.62) having been founded by “Cyrus” (presumably Cyrus the Younger, brother of Artaxerxes II, who was satrap of Lydia between 407 and 401 BCE “Boyce 1982, pp. 201-202”). In the second century CE, the geographer Pausanias reports having personally witnessed (apparently Mazdean) ceremonies at Hypaipa and Hierocaesarea (Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.27.5). According to Strabo, Anahita was revered together with Omanos at Zela in Pontus (Strabo Geographica 11.8.4; Strabo Geographica 12.3.37). At Castabala, she is referred to as ‘Artemis Perasia’ (Strabo Geographica 12.2.7). Anahita and Omanos had common altars in Cappadocia (Strabo Geographica XI 8.4, XV 3.15).

In Armenia and the Caucasus

“Hellenic influence [gave] a new impetus to the cult of images [and] positive evidence for this comes from Armenia, then a Zoroastrian land” (Boyce 1983, p. 1004). According to Strabo, the “Armenians shared in the religion of the Perses and the Medes and particularly honoured Anaitis” (Strabo Geographica 11.14.16). The kings of Armenia were “steadfast supporters of the cult” (Boyce 1983, p. 1007) and Tiridates III, before his conversion to Christianity, “prayed officially to the triad Aramazd-Anahit-Vahagn but is said to have shown a special devotion to ‘the great lady Anahit, … the benefactress of the whole human race, mother of all knowledge, daughter of the great Aramazd'” (Boyce 1983, p. 1007 Cit. Agathangelos 22). According to Agathangelos, tradition required the Kings of Armenia to travel once a year to the temple at Eriza (Erez) in Acilisene in order to celebrate the festival of the divinity; Tiridates made this journey in the first year of his reign where he offered sacrifice and wreaths and boughs (Agathangelos 21). The temple at Eriza appears to have been particularly famous, “the wealthiest and most venerable in Armenia” (Cicero, Pro Lege Manilia 9.23), staffed with priests and priestesses, the latter from eminent families who would serve at the temple before marrying (Strabo Geographica 11.14.16). This practice may again reveal Semitic syncretic influences, (Boyce 1983, p. 1007) and is not otherwise attested in other areas. Pliny reports that Mark Antony’s soldiers smashed an enormous statue of the divinity made of solid gold and then divided the pieces amongst themselves (Pliny Natural History 33.82-83). Also according to Pliny, supported by Dio Cassius, Acilisene eventually came to be known as Anaetica (Pliny Natural History 5.83; Dio Cassius, 36.48.1). Dio Cassius also mentions that another region along the Cyrus River, on the borders of Albania and Iberia, was also called “the land of Anaitis” (Dio Cassius, 36.53.5). “like Acilisene, it was doubtless the territory of a temple dedicated to Anahita but otherwise unknown” (Boyce 1983, p. 1007).

Anahit-Armenian[Click to Enlarge] Armenian depiction of Goddess Anahit – Armenian equivalent of the Goddess Anahita (Picture Source: PeopleOfAr).

Anahit was also venerated at Artashat (Artaxata), the capital of the Armenian Kingdom, where her temple was close to that of Tiur, the divinity of oracles. According to Boyce, Tiur is Mesopotamian Nabu-*Tiri conflated with Avestan Tishtrya (Boyce 1982, pp. 32-33). In Hellenic (Seleucid and Parthian) times Tiur was associated with Pythian Apollo, patron of Delphi.

At Astishat, centre of the cult of Vahagn, she was revered as oskimyr, the ‘golden mother’ (Agathangelos, 141). In 69 BCE, the soldiers of Lucullus saw cows consecrated to ‘Persian Artemis’ roaming freely at Tomisa in Sophene (on the Euphrates in South-West Armenia), where the animals bore the brand of a torch on their heads (Plutarch, Lucullus 24.6). Following Tiridates’ conversion to Christianity, the cult of Anahit was condemned and iconic representations of the divinity were destroyed (Boyce 1983, p. 1007).

Attempts have been made to identify Anahita as one of the prime three divinities in Albania, but these are questionable. However, in the territories of the Moschi in Colchis, Strabo mentions (Strabo Geographica 11.2.17) a cult of Leucothea, which Wesendonck and others have identified as an analogue of Anahita (Boyce 1983, p. 1007).


As a divinity Aredvi Sura Anahita is of enormous significance to the Zoroastrian religion, for as a representative of Aban (‘the waters’), she is in effect the divinity towards whom the Yasna service – the primary act of worship – is directed. “To this day reverence for water is deeply ingrained in Zoroastrians, and in orthodox communities offerings are regularly made to the household well or nearby stream” (Boyce 1975, p. 155). It is “very probable” (Boyce 1967, p. 37) that the shrine of Bibi Shahrbanu at royal Ray (Rhagae, central Media) was once dedicated to Anahita (Boyce 1967, p. 37). Similarly, one of the “most beloved mountain shrines of the Zoroastrians of Yazd, set beside a living spring and a great confluence of water-courses, is devoted to Banu-Pars, ‘the Lady of Persia'” (Boyce 1967, p. 38; Boyce 1983, p. 1005). In 1948, Persian scholar Abd al-Husayn Nava’i addressed the Shahrbanu legend and suggested that there must have been a Zoroastrian shrine at Ray whose sanctity attracted the legend (Boyce 1967, pp. 36-37). The shrine, which legend attributes to the eldest daughter of Yazdegerd III, continues to be a pilgrimage site (by women only, through a concession by male descendants of Mohammed) even in Islamic times (Boyce 1967, pp. 36-37). Boyce suggests that the shrine may be even older than the Sasanian dynastic period, dating perhaps to the Parthian dynastic era (Boyce 1983, p. 1004).

However, and notwithstanding the widespread popularity of Anahita, “it is doubtful whether the current tendency is justified whereby almost every isolated figure in Sasanian art, whether sitting, standing, dancing, clothed, or semi-naked, is hailed as her representation” (Boyce 1983, p. 1005; Jacobs 2006, p. 1).


Arjomand, Saïd Amir (1998), “Artaxerxes, Ardašīr, and Bahman”, JSTOR 118(2): pp.245-248

Bikerman, E. (1938), “Anonymous Gods”, Journal of the Warburg Institute 1(3): pp. 187-196

Boyce, Mary (1968), “Bībī Shahrbānū and the Lady of Pārs”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 30(1): pp. 30-44

Boyce, Mary (1975a), A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I, Leiden/Köln: Brill

Boyce, Mary (1975b), “On the Zoroastrian Temple Cult of Fire”, JSTOR 95(3): pp. 454-465

Boyce, Mary (1982), A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. II, Leiden/Köln: Brill.

Boyce, Mary (1983), “Āban”, Encyclopaedia Iranica, New York: Mazda Pub.

Boyce, Mary (1983), M. L. Chaumont, & C. Bier, “Anāhīd”, Encyclopaedia Iranica, New York: Mazda Pub.

Cumont, Franz (1926), “Anahita”, in Hastings, James, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. I, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Dandamaev, Muhammad A & Vladimir G Lukonin (1989), The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran, New York: Cambridge.

Darmesteter, James (1892), “Le Zend-Avesta, I”, Annales du Musée Guimet 21.

Darrow, William R (1988), “Keeping the Waters Dry: The Semiotics of Fire and Water in the Zoroastrian ‘Yasna'”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 56(3): pp. 417-442.

Girshman, Roman (1962), Persian art, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties, London: Golden Press.

Gray, Louis H (1926), “A List of the Divine and Demonic Epithets in the Avesta”, JSTOR 46: 97-153.

Jacobs, Bruno (2006), “Anahita”, Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East (Electronic Pre-Publication), Leiden: U Zürich/Brill.

Lommel, Herman (1927), Die Yašts des Awesta, Göttingen-Leipzig: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/JC Hinrichs.

Lommel, Herman (1954), “Anahita-Sarasvati”, in Schubert, Johannes & Schneider, Ulrich, Asiatica: Festschrift Friedrich Weller Zum 65. Geburtstag, Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz.

MacKenzie, David Neil (1964), “Zoroastrian Astrology in the ‘Bundahišn'”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 27(3): pp. 511-529.

Meyer, Eduard (1886), “Anaitis”, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, vol. I, Leipzig: WH Roscher.

Monier-Williams, Monier (1898), A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, New York: OUP Nöldecke, Theodor (ed.) (1879), Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden, Leiden: Brill (repr. 1973).

Nyberg, Henrik Samuel (1938), Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig: JC Hinrichs.

Taqizadeh, Sayyid Hasan (1938), “Old Iranian Calendars”, Prize Publication Fund, Vol. 16, London: Royal Asiatic Society, Electronic Publication CAIS.

Widengren, Geo (1955), “Stand und Aufgaben der iranischen Religionsgeschichte: II. Geschichte der iranischen Religionen und ihre Nachwirkung”, Numen 2(1/2): pp. 47-134

Widengren, Geo (1965), “Die Religionen Irans“, Die Religion der Menschheit, Vol. 14), Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.