King Arthur [Part I]: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical evidence

The article below King Arthur: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical evidence” is written by Periklis Deligiannis and originally posted in the Delving into History website. The posting below is Deligiannis’ first part of the article to be followed later this year with his analysis of the North Iranian Sarmatian links to the king Arthur legend.

Kindly note that a number of images and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in Periklis Deligiannis’ original article.

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In 407 AD the Romans withdrew their last regular troops from the British provinces. The independent Romano-Britons had to fight hard against the Pict, Irish and Anglo-Saxon barbarians who were besieging their territory. Former Roman Britain was gradually divided into autonomous ‘principalities’ led by warlords. However they tried to keep united their “British kingdom” as they considered their common territory, and mainly to repel the invading Anglo-Saxons who had conquered the Southeast, advancing headlong. It seems that the Britons in order to maintain their unity, elected a military commander (Dux) as a senior politico-military leader, who led the operations against the invaders and took care on preventing infighting. A sequence of inspired Dukes (Voteporix, Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus) led the British resistance. Those who accept Arthur’s historicity usually consider him as one of these Dukes (a theory consider him Aurelianus’ son).

A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin (design), decorated with semi-gemstones. The Romano-Britons inherited this type together with the rest of the Roman weaponry and military organization (Periklis Deligiannis).

The Briton literary tradition and the archaeological evidence, mainly the Saxon burials, denote that the Anglo-Saxon invasion was halted on the verge of the 5th-6th centuries AD. Many scholars believe that the military action of the legendary king Arthur was the main ‘factor’ for the repulse of the newcomers. However, his historicity is strongly and justifiably disputed. In this series of articles I will deal with some additional literary, archaeological and historical evidence concerning his historicity.

The literary sources on Arthur

The first literary reference to Arthur appears in the Northern Briton epic “Y Goddodin” (“the Votadini” around AD 600) which recounts an attempt of the Votadini people (Celtic Goddodin) of the modern Scottish Lowlands and their allies, to check the advance of the Angles. Some scholars believe that the mention of Arthur in this epic was added later. The first ‘secure’ reference to the legendary commander comes from Nennius in his “History of the Britons” (“Historia Britonnum”, end of 8th century). Nennius’ work was based mostly on the local Briton tradition. Nennius describes the legendary figure as a warlord who repelled the barbarians around the 5th-6th centuries. This was followed shortly after by another reference of Arthur in the “Annales Cambriae” (9th c.). But the author, who developed most of all Arthur’s renowned image as a just and powerful warrior-king, was the Archdeacon of Oxford Geoffrey of Monmouth in his largely mythical “History of the Kings of Britain” (“Historia Regum Britanniae”, AD 1133). Geoffrey relied heavily on the two aforementioned works, and possibly on the local oral tradition. In France, the late medieval chronicler Chretien de Troyes holds an analogous contribution to the Arthurian legend. The later writers of the Arthurian epic circle are based on the works of the last two authors (mostly on Geoffrey’s work and less on Chretien’s) going on to the enrichment of the epic with elements belonging mainly to the Late Middle Ages, such as the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, etc.

In the 5th-6th centuries AD, the Anglo-Saxons brought to Britain many elements of the eastern Scandinavian Proto-Vendel and Vendel cultures, several of which are obvious on their arms and armor, i.e. on their helmets (Sutton Hoo burial, etc.), daggers, swords etc (reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon warlord wearing a Sutton Hoo-type helmet, by the Historical Association Wulfheodenas) (Periklis Deligiannis). Note: segmented helmets fitted with metallic facemasks were very common in the Sassanian army (Spah), a topic that was addressed in detail in: Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., & Kubic, A. (2016). An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets 2nd century BCE – 7th century CE (2016). THE THIRD COLLOQUIA BALTICA-IRANICA, Nov 25-26, Siedlce University.

Modern scholars who do not accept Arthur’s historicity, rely mainly on the fact that he is not mentioned in the main chronicle of the sixth century AD, the chronicle of the Briton churchman Gildas “The Disaster and Conquest of Britain” (“De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae”, mid-6th century) which deals with the events of the Saxon invasion. They believe that if Arthur really existed and halted the Saxons, his name should be referred by Gildas and not just once or twice. But Gildas does not mention him at all.

In fact this argument is not particularly strong, because during the same period a surprisingly large number of princes and nobles named “Arthur” are witnessed across Great Britain. The preference in this personal name appears suddenly, without any prior, and indicates that these aristocrats and warlords received honorary as infants the name of a politico-military personality who achieved great deeds just a little time before their birth. Concerning the fact that the contemporary Latin-speaking Continental writers do not mention Arthur (another argument of those who do not accept his historicity), this is explained by the fact that after AD 407 Britain is lost from their “vision” and interests. It is rater natural that there is no mention of Arthur in the Continental sources, although some scholars believe that the Briton commander is none other than the British king Riothamus of the “History of the Goths” (6th c.) Riothamus is analyzed to Rigo-tamos according to Fleuriot, meaning “Supreme Ruler” which is indeed the title of the Dux Britanniarum of this age. But for what reasons would Gildas have concealed the achievements of his almost contemporary Arthur?

The Lives of the Briton saints suggest in their texts that Arthur was using the money of the Briton Church to financially support his wars, and he was not distracting them with the consent of the Church. It seems in general that his contemporary Christians did not particularly like him and this may explain why Gildas is silent concerning his hypothetical decisive contribution to repulse the Anglo-Saxons. Geoffrey of Monmouth presented Arthur as a pious Christian king, as he had to be in the 12th century, but this presentation has very little significance. The references to the Christian faith of Arthur’s knights and soldiers are of the same small value. If Arthur was a real person, it is very doubtful that he and most of his men followed orthodox (official Roman) Christianity that had not many followers in Britain. Most British of this era rather remained faithful to the ancient Celtic cults or to the heresy of Pelagianism which was significantly removed from orthodox Christianity. It seems that the Britons who were almost permanently under arms, like Arthur and his men, followed mainly the traditional Celtic religion or the cult of Mithras, i.e. the renowned Iranian and later Roman ‘god of the soldiers’.

Location of Tintagel in red (Periklis Deligiannis).

Archaeological and Historical Evidence

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was born in the fortress of Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall. There lived Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall together with his beautiful wife Ygraine (or Igraine). Another Briton warlord, Uther Pendragon was in love with her. Ygraine responded to the feelings of Uther, who despairing of his love for the beautiful duchess asked the help of Merlin the magician. The latter agreed to help Uther on his sexual intercourse with Ygraine in exchange for the surrendering of the child to be born from their commingling. Uther agreed and Merlin gave to him the form of Ygraine’s husband. Gorlois had reduced his wife to their summer dwelling in Tintagel in order to protect her from Uther. The latter managed to make love to Ygraine, her husband was killed, and the child born in Tintagel, namely Arthur, was delivered to Merlin who later established him to the British throne.

Until recently, scholars did not generally consider Geoffrey’s reference on Arthur’s birth in Tintagel as a worthy one. The ruins at the top of the modern island Tintagel (a coastal cliff of Cornwall) belong to a late medieval fortress that was built a century after the writing of Geoffrey’s History. However, probably the archdeacon knew that Tintagel was a fort of the British Dark Ages and followed the local tradition that placed Arthur’s birth there. The archaeological findings reinforce this view. In the summer of 1983 a series of fires extended on Tintagel, where after burning the vegetation, revealed the foundations of strong fortifications. Excavations in the area revealed several findings of ceramics, based on which, the History of the island was divided into two periods. The first historical phase coincides with the Roman period. The fact that no other pottery was excavated in the region, shows that the Roman government was using Tintagel as a commercial post. This is reinforced by the discovery of a harbor on the island, which continued to be used during the 5th-6th centuries. These centuries are concerning Tintagel’s second period, contemporary with Arthur’s wars. The pottery of the 5th-6th century that was discovered on the island was made in the East Roman Empire, Gaul and North Africa, which denotes that the movement of goods by the Celts of Tintagel increased compared to the Roman period. But the large amounts of the excavated pottery, assume that a strong central government controlled the trade. Due to the historical period, this rather corresponded to a monarch. The discovery of a ditch on the island (which considering its use almost always surrounded walls made of tree trunks in Celtic strongholds) denotes that Tintagel was a fortified trading location. After all it would be dangerous for the local Britons to leave defenseless a natural fortress like Tintagel, because it could be captured by overseas enemies or invaders.

‘Tristan and Isolde’ in a classic artwork by Edmund Blair Leighton. Tristan appears in the Arthurian Circle as a worthy knight and a romantic figure as well, but in reality he was a powerful Pict warlord. Dunstan, being his real name, was an historic figure, the champion of the Cruthni (Picts) against the Scottish invaders in Pictavia (Periklis Deligiannis).

During excavations in 1998 an important finding was discovered: a plate (a culvert cover) with a Latin inscription of the 5th century. The name of Arthur was read in it. During the Early Middle Ages, very few could write and the literate usually lived in monasteries or palaces. Some decades ago it was believed that Tintagel was a monastery, but archeology has shown that it was the residence of a prince, judging by the fortifications and the broken utensils of the 5th-6th centuries. Most of the broken pieces came from expensive cups and jugs: such utensils were usually used by rich Celtic and Romano-Briton kings to drink Mediterranean wines. It is believed that the ruler of Tintagel was quite wealthy and powerful, and that his “palace” was in the fort. There are no ruins of it today, because the British “palaces” of the time were mainly made of wood. In conclusion, it seems that Tintagel was a Roman and then a Briton royal fortress that controlled the mouth of the adjacent Camel River. The kings of the 5th-6th century used it only a period of time, generally because the Briton rulers were “itinerant kings.” They did not maintain courtyards or permanent capitals but moved from one fort of their territory to another. Tintagel was possibly the summer residence of the local warlord-king.

The Arthurian legend indicates the existence of two “magical” swords.

Young Arthur was proclaimed king of the Britons when he pulled with ease Uther’s royal sword, which was spiked on a rock. The other pretenders of the throne failed when they tried to pull it. Several British archaeologists believe that the theme of the sword stuck on a rock, originates from the technical construction of the Bronze Age swords. The molten brass was poured into a stone mold, consisting of two parts which were connected tightly together by rivets. The mold was heated to the same temperature as the brass and then it was allowed to return to its natural temperature. Then the coppersmith removed the nails that held the two parts of the stone cast and pulled (using muscular effort) the sword that had been formed, as did Arthur with Uther’s sword. However, in my opinion this explanation is not convincing. The Sarmatian origin of the legend of the sword spiked on a rock is more likely (This will be discussed in later reports in September 2018, September 2019 and September 2020). The Sarmatians were an important North Iranian people of the Eurasian steppe, whose branches were scattered and settled in various regions of Europe, including Britain (members of the Iazygae and Alani tribes, as mercenaries of the Romans). It is significant that their main deity was worshiped in the form of a sword spiked on the ground or on  a rock.

Concerning the second magical sword, according to legend when King Arthur needed a new sword, the Lady of the Lake emerged from the water and handed him the sword Excalibur. The links between King Arthur, the Lady of the lake and ancient Iran’s Goddess Anahita are discussed in the following:

Arctic Mummy from Civilization with Links to Persia

The article below by Richard Grey entitled Riddle of the medieval ‘mummy’ discovered in Siberia: Child from unknown Arctic civilization found wrapped in birch barkoriginally appeared in the Daily Mail on July 6, 2015.

The article is of interest as it pertains to the remains of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries CE. The Body was discovered at the medieval site near Salekhard in Russia, near Arctic Circle.

Five other bodies found previously at the site were covered in copper plates.These are thought to have been part of a civilization with links to Persia.

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The remains of a medieval ‘mummy’ wrapped in a cocoon of birch bark has been discovered at the site of a village that belonged to a mysterious arctic civilization.

Archaeologists discovered the remains, which they believe may be a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th century, while excavating near the town of Salekhard in Tyumen Oblast, Russia.

The site, which is 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle, is thought to be a medieval necropolis where several bodies have been buried in ways unlike anything else found in the region.

The Zeleny Yar necropolis was found just outside Salekhard in Russia, just 18 miles from the Arctic Circle (Source: Daily Mail Online).

Experts say bodies found at the site appear to have been naturally mummified in the permafrost as a result of being buried with sheets of copper in their shrouds and frozen conditions.

Archaeologists have now removed the latest body to be discovered from the sandy soil, which is now only frozen for part of the year – it is the first human remains to be found since 2002.

The remains, which are being kept in a special freezer in the Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, are due to be examined next week.

The birth bark cocoon is around 1.3 metres (4 feet) long and 30cm (12 inches) wide and initial examination has revealed there is metal beneath the birch bark.

The human remains, which were found wrapped in a birch bark ‘cocoon’ shown above, are thought to have been mummified by a combination of copper buried with the body and the freezing permafrost (Photo source: Vesti Yamal, The Siberian Times). Archaeologists have removed the body in its wrappings from the sandy soil so it can be examined at in Salekhard, Russia.

Experts say it is likely the body inside has been mummified much like others found at the site.

Alexander Gusev, a fellow of the Research Centre for the Study of the Arctic in Russia who led the excavation, told the Siberian Times the birch bark cocoon appeared to have been wrapped around the body. He said:

“It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the ‘cocoon’ “.

The mummified remains are the first to be uncovered at the site since 2002 and were carefully removed so they could be preserved, as shown above. Scientists hope to open the bark cocoon soon (Photo source: Vesti Yamal, The Siberian Times).

The mummy was discovered at the site of a medieval necropolis called Zeleny Yar, which has baffled some archaeologists due to its closeness to the Arctic Circle.

These images captured by local television crews from broadcaster Vesti Yamal show archaeologists studying the bark wrapped remains before removing them so they can be preserved and examined in more detail (Photo source: Vesti Yamal, The Siberian Times).

Previously they found 34 shallow graves at the site and 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls.

Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper and elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among them was a female child whose face was masked by copper plates.

The bark cocoon (above) appears to have been wrapped around the body of a child or teenager. Experts also used metal detectors and found there is metal – possibly copper – inside covering the well preserved body (Photo source: Vesti Yamal, The Siberian Times).

Three male infants, also shrouded in copper masks, were also found nearby. They were also bound in four or five copper hoops.

A red-haired man, protected from chest to foot with copper plating and buried with an iron hatchet, furs and a bronze head buckle depicting a bear was also found at the site.

Five other mummified bodies have been found at the mysterious Zeleny Yar site, including the red headed man above who was found covered in copper plating and buried with an iron hatchet and covered in furs (Photo source: The Siberian Times).

Geneticists who have used DNA from the bodies recovered from the site recently revealed that their mitochondrial DNA appeared to match those of modern populations living in West Siberia.

Natalia Fyodorova, from the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said previously about the discoveries:

“Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.”

This copper facial mask was found on one of five other mummified bodies discovered at the Zeleny Yar site (Photo source: Natalya Fyodorova, The Siberian Times).

Artifacts found at the site, including bronze bowls, have led experts to conclude the people had links to Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west.

Yazidism: A Heterodox Kurdish Religion

The article below by Christine Allison was first published in the CAIS website. Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and accompanying captions written by Kavehfarrokh.com inserted in the article below do not appear in the original CAIS posting.

Introduction

Yazidis, a heterodox Kurdish religious minority living predominantly in northern Iraq, Syria and south-east Turkey, with well-established communities in the Caucasus and a growing European diaspora. Anecdotal evidence of the existence of Yazidi groups in North-Western Persia has not yet been proven. There are probably some 200,000-300,000 Yazidis worldwide. The Yazidis have long been the object of fascination among Orientalists, largely due to their erroneous description by outsiders as ‘devil-worshippers’ (see below). The literature devoted to their religion is disproportionately large, considering how few they are in number by comparison with the large majority of Kurdish Muslims. Their name for themselves is usually, Êzdi, Êzidi, or, in some areas, Dâsini (the last, strictly speaking a tribal name). Some scholars have derived the name Yazidi from Old Iranian yazata (divine being), though the current consensus among Western academics is a derivation from Yazid b. Mo‘âwiya, revered by the Yazidis as an incarnation of the divine figure Sultan Êzi. (Kreyenbroek, 1995, p. 3).

Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke Tawus

Metalwork representing the spiritual entity Malak Tawous (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Origins

The Yazidis’ cultural practices are observably Kurdish, and almost all speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish), with the exception of the villages of Ba’æiqa and Baházânê in Northern Iraq, where Arabic is spoken. Kurmanji is the language of almost all the orally transmitted religious traditions of the Yazidis. Religious origins are somewhat complex. The religion of the Yazidis is a highly syncretistic one: Sufi influence and imagery can be seen in their religious vocabulary, especially in the terminology of their esoteric literature, but much of the mythology is non-Islamic, and their cosmogonies apparently have many points in common with those of ancient Iranian religions. Early writers attempted to describe Yazidi origins, broadly speaking, in terms of ‘Islam’, or ‘Iranian,’ or sometimes even ‘pagan’ religions; however, publications since the 1990s have shown such an approach to be over-simplistic. The origin of the Yazidi religion is now usually seen by scholars as a complex process of syncretism, whereby the belief-system and practices of a local faith had a profound influence on the religiosity of adherents of the ‘Adawiyya sufi order living in the Kurdish mountains, and caused it to deviate from Islamic norms relatively soon after the death of its founder, Shaikh ‘Adi b. Mosâfer.

Yezidi Kurds-8-plan of lales

Detailed architectural plan of the Mausoleum at the Temple at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

History and Development

‘Adi b. Mosâfer, who was of Omayyad descent, was born c. 1075 CE in the Beka‚a valley. After studying in Baghdad under Abu’l-Khayr Hammâd al-Dabbâs and alongside ‘Abd-al-Qâdir al-Jilâni, he settled in the valley of Lâleæ (some thirty-six miles north-east of Mosul) in the early 12th century. Groups who venerated Yazid b. Mo’âwiya and the Omayyads–already known as Yazidis–had existed for some time in the area; beliefs and practices which were apparently part of an ancient Iranian religion were also retained by some of the local tribes. Shaikh ‘Adi himself, a figure of undoubted orthodoxy, enjoyed widespread influence; he died in 1162 and his tomb at Lâleæ is a focal point of Yazidi pilgrimage. His name, pronounced Âdi or even Hâdi, passed into Yazidi oral tradition, though full knowledge of his identity was lost within the community. Yazidism grew during the period of Atabeg and Mongol rule. Only two generations later, led by Hasan b. ‘Adi, the community had grown large and powerful enough to come into open conflict with the Atabeg of Mosul, who killed Hasan in 1246. At about the same point, it seems, the community began to incur the opprobrium of more orthodox Muslims for its excessive veneration of both Shaikh ‘Adi and Yazid b. Mo’âwiya. During the fourteenth century, important Kurdish tribes whose sphere of influence stretched well into what is now Turkey (including, for a period, the rulers of the principality of Jazira) are cited in historical sources as Yazidi. (Guest, p. 45) Muslim leaders clearly perceived Yazidis as a threat; a significant battle took place in 1414, during which Shaikh ‘Adi’s tomb was razed. After the battle of Ùâlderân (1514; q.v.), Yazidi influence at first remained considerable; a Yazidi was appointed ’emir of the Kurds’ by the Ottomans, and, in the 1530s, Yazidi emirs ruled the province of Sorân for a time. The current family of Yazidi mirs (emirs), claiming Omayyad origins, replaced the descendants of Shaikh Hasan in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. However, as time passed, conversions to Islam became increasingly common and Yazidi power declined. By the end of the Ottoman Empire many important tribes and confederations still had sizeable Yazidi sections, and the dynasty of Yazidi mirs remained dominant within a limited geographical area, but Yazidis had suffered enormously from religious persecution. Until 1849, when provision for their protection was made under Ottoman law, they had not had the status of ‘People of the Book’ (Guest, pp. 103-107; Edmonds, pp. 59-60). In the 19th century complex social and political changes, many related to the Tanzimat reforms, produced an environment of increasing religious intolerance culminating in large-scale massacres of the Christian minorities. The Yazidis, also targets of militant Sunnism, suffered at the hands of Kurdish tribal leaders such as Moháammed Beg of Rowanduz (1832) and Bedir Khan Beg (1840s), as well as Ottoman officials, such as ‘Omar Wahbi Pasha (1893; Guest, pp. 96-97, 134-9; Edmonds, p. 60). There was some co-operation between the minorities; Yazidis of Mount Senjâr sheltered Armenians during the massacres of 1915-16. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century many Yazidis fled to Georgia and Armenia. In the second half of the twentieth century, most of Turkey’s Yazidis, who still lived in fear of religious persecution, emigrated to Germany, and in the 1990s many of Iraq’s Yazidi intelligentsia arrived there, where they play an active role in diaspora affairs, maintaining contact with co-religionists in Iraq and the Caucasus (Guest, pp. 193-203, Ackermann, forthcoming).

Geographical Distribution and Identity

The Yazidi heartland is in Northern Iraq. A substantial community known for its conservatism lives on Mount Senjâr some 80km west of Mosul on the border with Syria. A collection of farming villages and small towns lies in the Šaikân area, in the foothills north-east of Mosul; this area is adjacent to the shrine of Lâleæ and contains the home of the mir and the settlements of Ba’æiqa and Baházânê, home of the qawwâls, reciters of sacred texts. In the 20th century both Šaikani and Senjâri communities struggled for religious dominance. In Syria there are also two main groupings, in the Jazira and the Kurd Dâg@ areas (the latter including the Sem’ân and ‘Afrin communities). However, these are much smaller, probably totaling only about 15,000. In Turkey some Yazidis still live in the villages of the Tur ‘Abdin, south-east of Diyarbakir, remnants of a much more widespread community. The Transcaucasian communities, which once numbered some 60,000, have also declined due to economic and political factors, though accurate statistics remain unavailable. During the 1990s the population in Georgia decreased from some 30,000 to under 5,000, though numbers in Armenia have apparently remained more constant. Diaspora communities have increased correspondingly; most importantly, some 40,000 Yazidis now live in Germany, mainly in the Western provinces of Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen. Most are from Turkey, with arrivals during the 1990s from Iraq including some influential figures. This profile may change as the situation in Iraq evolves following the fall of the Saddam regime. A much smaller community exists in the Netherlands. Other groups of Yazidis, in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and in the USA, Canada and Australia, are extremely small, and probably total well under 5,000.

Yezidi Kurds-2-Yezidi-khatun

Excellent depiction of a Khatoun at an ingress into the Temple in 1907 (Saradistribution.com). The term Khatoun in this cultural context designates a matriarch; ancient cults such as Mazdakism, Yazdanism, Yazdism as well as the ancient Zoroastrian faith, have often held men and women in equal regard, especially with regard to learning and leadership roles (for more see here).

Many attempts to define the Yazidis’ ethnic identity (notably the policies of the Ba’athist government in Iraq, which designated them as Arabs) have been politically motivated. Apart from a few Arabic-speaking clans, Yazidi communities speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) as their first language, and their cultural practices are Kurdish. Most Yazidis claim Kurdish identity; in Iraq, this view has had the support of the government in the Kurdish Autonomous Region since 1991. In the Caucasus however, particularly in Armenia, to be ‘Kurdish’ is often popularly associated with an Islamic (and thus pro-Azari) identity. Many Caucasian Yazidis, therefore, claim to belong to a separate ethnie, though the politicization of the Kurdish question in Turkey and the influence of the PKK have reportedly caused a number in Armenia to redefine themselves as Kurds. In the diaspora, the Yazidis’ status as Kurds is not debated so much as their religious origin. In nationalist discourse, the Yazidi religion is seen as the ‘original’ Kurdish faith, a view that distinguishes the Kurds from Arabs and Turks. It is sometimes inaccurately presented as a form of Zoroastrianism or, spuriously, as a ‘Cult of Angels.’ In the Caucasus, a hypothesis of Babylonian origins is favored. Such different interpretations of the Yazidis’ origins are closely interlinked with expressions of identity, and tend to be explicable in terms of the prevailing political climate.

Religious Belief and Practice

Contemporary Yazidism is a religion of orthopraxy. Practice, in terms of careful adherence to rules governing all aspects of life, is more important than the role of scriptural text, dogma and professions of personal belief. Two key and interrelated features of Yazidism are: a) a preoccupation with religious purity and b) a belief in metempsychosis. The first of these is expressed in the system of caste, the food laws, the traditional preferences for living in Yazidi communities, and the variety of taboos governing many aspects of life. The second is crucial; Yazidis traditionally believe that the Seven Holy Beings (see below) are periodically reincarnated in human form, called a kâss. Not only does this reinforce the caste system, as the members of the dominant religious castes are the descendants of the most recent manifestations of the Holy Beings in Shaikh ‘Adi and his companions, but it also provides a mechanism for syncretism, as figures from other traditions can be said to be earlier manifestations of the kâss. A belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yazidi souls also exists; like the Ahl-e Haqq (q.v.), the Yazidis use the metaphor of a change of garment to describe the process, which they call kirâs gehorrin, ‘changing the shirt.’ Alongside this, Yazidi mythology also includes descriptions of heaven and hell, and other traditions attempting to reconcile these ideas with the belief-system of reincarnation.

In the Yazidi worldview, God created the world, which is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as ‘Angels’ or haft serr (the Seven Mysteries.) Pre-eminent among these is Tâ’us-ê Malak or Malak Tâ’us, the Peacock Angel, who is equated with Satan by outsiders. Most Yazidis find this identification highly offensive; however, it is clear that Malak Tâ’us is an ambiguous figure. The Ketêbâ Jelwa ‘Book of Illumination” which claims to be the words of Malak Tâ’us, and which presumably represents Yazidi belief (see below), states that he allocates responsibilities, blessings and misfortunes as he sees fit and that it is not for the race of Adam to question him. The Yazidi taboo against the word Š, and on words containing æ and t/t that might (to their ears) recall it, may indicate some perceived connection between this figure and Malak Tâ’us. The reasons for the connection remain unclear. Although some Sufi traditions have presented Satan as a redeemed or holy figure, Shaikh ‘Adi b. Mosâfer was apparently orthodox on the matter. However, pre-Islamic Zoroastrian tradition indicates some link between Ahriman and the peacock, and this ambiguity may predate Islam. Yazidi accounts of creation, which have much in common with those of the Ahl-e Haqq (q.v.) state that the world created by God was at first ‘a pearl’. It remained in this very small and enclosed state for some time (often a magic number such as forty or forty thousand years) before being remade in its current state; during this period the Heptad were called into existence, God made a covenant with them and entrusted the world to them. It has been suggested, on the evidence of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian cosmogony and its similarity to Yazidi cosmogonies, that if the Yazidis’ ancestors venerated a benign demiurge who set the world (in its current state) in motion, the role of this figure may have become ambiguous when they came into contact with Zoroastrians, whose cosmogony was essentially similar, but whose demiurge was Ahriman, who polluted the world. Thus Yazidism would be, not a form of Zoroastrianism, but a religion possessing an Iranian belief-system akin to it.

Yezidi Kurds-5-lales-pira

Entrance portal to the Temple of the Yazdis or Yazidis at Lalesh (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Besides Malak Tâ’us, members of the Heptad (the Seven), who were called into existence by God at the beginning of all things, include Shaikh ‘Âdi, his companion Shaikh Hasan, and a group known as the ‘four Mysteries’, Šamsadin, Fakradin, Sajâdin and Nâsáerdin. These latter, according to oral tradition, were the sons of an Êzdinâ Mir, whom Shaikh ‘Âdi met at Lâleæ. All these figures are eponyms of clans of Âdâni shaikhs (see below); in Yazidi accounts of the cosmogony they tend to have other names, and they are also identified in other incarnations, such as Hasan al-Bâsári as an incarnation of Shaikh Hasan. Not all listings of the Seven are identical; sometimes, for instance, Shaikh ‘Âdi himself is identified with Malak Tâ’us, and Shaikh Obakr is added.

The kâss and other holy beings are the focus of frequent veneration. The Heptad, under the names of the families of Shaikh ‘Âdi and his companions, are objects of devotion, but so also are numerous lesser figures, also usually eponyms of clans of shaikhs or pirs (see below), who are requested for help on practical matters. Shaikh Mand, for instance, is believed to cure snakebites, and his descendants may handle snakes safely; the family of Pir Jarwân has power over scorpions. A female figure, Khâtuna Fakra, is associated with help in childbirth. Help from such beings may be sought by consultation with their descendants, or by veneration of a sacred site associated with them–occasionally a tomb, but more often a shrine consisting of a room with a spire, a small votive altar, a sacred tree, or a pool or cave. Many people who know little of the higher-status sacred texts make offerings at such places. Some of these cults appear to be very localized, but others are respected by members of other religions, and Yazidis also solicit help from local saints associated with other religions, especially Christianity (Kreyenbroek, 1995, pp. 91-123, 145-68; Drower, pp. 24-29, 51-60).

Pilgrimage

The holiest Yazidi site is the valley of Lâleæ, site of the tomb of Shaikh ‘Âdi. A sacred microcosm of the world, as it were, it contains not only many shrines dedicated to the kâss, but a number of other landmarks corresponding to other sites or symbols of significance in other faiths, including pirrâ selât (SerâtÂÂ Bridge) and a mountain called Mt. ‘Arafât. The two sacred springs are called Zamzam and Kâniyâ spi ‘The White Spring’. The former rises in a cave below the sanctuary of Shaikh ‘Âdi, the heart of the holy place. Water from the springs is mixed with earth from the holy valley to make barât, little molded balls that are taken away and treated with reverence; they play a part in some rites of passage such as marriage and funerary rites. If possible, Yazidis make at least one pilgrimage to Lâleæ during their lifetime, and those living in the region try to attend at least once a year for the autumn ‘Feast of the Assembly” (see below). As for Lâleæ, pilgrimages to lesser sites may also be undertaken, to seek intercession, in gratitude for prayers answered, or as a vow.

Prayer

Formalized prayer is largely a matter of personal preference and is not obligatory. The practice of praying facing the rising, noonday, and setting sun which is described by travelers seems not to have been universal and is now seen as an ideal rather than a norm. Such prayer should be accompanied by certain gestures, including kissing the rounded neck (gerivân) of the sacred shirt (kerâs). Those who wear the girdle–the black resta for certain dignitaries, the white æutik for other Yazidis–say a prayer when putting it on. Prayers have almost exclusively been transmitted orally; their texts have themes in common but vary in details.

Festivals

Apart from individual rites of passage, such as marriage, baptism, circumcision, and death, Yazidis observe a number of communal festivals, some more widespread than others. The Yazidi New Year falls in Spring (somewhat later than Nowruz). There is some lamentation by women in the cemeteries, to the accompaniment of the music of the qawwâls (see below), but the festival is generally characterized by joyous events: the music of dahol (drum) and zornâ (shawm), communal dancing and meals, the decorating of eggs. Similarly the village tÂewaf (Ar. tÂawâf), a festival held in the spring in honor of the patron of the local shrine, has secular music, dance and meals in addition to the performance of sacred music. Another important festival is the tâwusgerrân (circulation of the peacock) where qawwâls and other religious dignitaries visit Yazidi villages, bringing the senjâq, sacred images representing the peacock and associated with Malak Tâ’us. These are venerated, taxes are collected from the pious, sermons are preached, and holy water distributed. The greatest festival of the year for ordinary Yazidis is the Je‘nâ Jamâ’iya (Feast of the Assembly) at Lâleæ, a seven-day occasion. A focus of widespread pilgrimage, this is an important time for social contact and affirmation of identity. The religious center of the event is the belief in an annual gathering of the Heptad in the holy place at this time; rituals practiced include the sacrifice of a bull at the shrine of Shaikh Šams, the washing of the ‘bier of Shaikh ‘Âdi,’ the practice of samâ’ (see below). Other festivals are more likely to be kept by the few than the many. Religious leaders observe forty-day fasts in summer and winter; a three-day winter fast culminating in the celebration of the birth of the kâssÊzid is kept more widely. The Ùêlkân, a tribe originating in the border areas of Turkey and Syria, keep a winter festival called Bâtizmiya. For some Yazidis at least, the kâss have their feast-days. Counterparts to certain Islamic feasts, including , ‘Id al-fetâr, and Laylat al-barâ’a are also observed by some.

Yezidi Kurds-12-Youths 1950s

Yazdi or Yazidi youth in the 1950s in Lalesh (Saradistribution.com); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Purity and Taboos

The Yazidis’ concern with religious purity, and their reluctance to mix elements perceived to be incompatible, is shown not only in their caste system, but also in various taboos affecting everyday life. Some of these, such as those on exogamy or on insulting or offending men of religion, are widely respected. Others, such as the prohibition of eating lettuce or wearing the color blue, are often ignored when men of religion are not present. Others still are less widely known and may be localized. The purity of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, is protected by a number of taboos–against spitting on earth, water, or fire, for instance. These may reflect ancient Iranian preoccupations, as apparently do the taboos concerning bodily refuse, hair, and menstrual blood. Too much contact with non-Yazidis is also polluting; in the past Yazidis avoided military service which would have led them to live among Muslims, and were forbidden to share such items as cups or razors with outsiders. The mixing with others brought about by formal education may be a major reason behind the well-known Yazidi taboo on learning to read and write. In the past, only Shaikhs of the Âdâni lineage group had the right to do so. Certain words are the subject of taboos, such as those dealing with cursing or stoning, or those which are felt to sound like the name Š, whose utterance is an unforgivable insult to Malak Tâ’us, obliging any Yazidi who heard it (in the past at any rate) to slay the speaker. Auditory resemblance may lie behind the taboo against eating lettuce, whose name kâs resembles Kurdish pronunciations of kâss. The taboo against eating pork appears to be a custom which follows Islam rather than a specifically Yazidi edict. Prohibitions are also attested, in certain areas at least, against fish, cockerel, gazelle, and various vegetables including okra, cauliflower, and pumpkin.

A widespread myth about the Yazidis’ origin which gives them a distinctive ancestry expresses their feelings of difference from other races. Adam and Eve quarreled about which of them provided the creative element in the begetting of children. Each stored their seed in a jar which was then sealed. When Eve’s was opened it was full of insects and other unpleasant creatures, but inside Adam’s jar was a beautiful boy-child. This lovely child, known as Š (Šahed, son of Jar) grew up to marry a houri and became the ancestor of the Yazidis.

Social and religious groups

The Yazidis divide themselves into three endogamous major castes, with religious orders also playing an important role. Most Yazidis belong to the morid (layman; literally ‘disciple’]) group, which is endogamous, but, within the group, marriage is not restricted. Every morid must have a shaikh and a pir; the lineage of these is determined by the morid’s own heredity. The Shaikhs are divided into three endogamous lineage groups, the Šamsâni, Âdâni and Qâtâni, the latter of which also shares its ancestry with the family of the mir. The pirs are divided into four main groups, and forty clans, most of whom may intermarry. Both groups receive alms from their morids. Tithes paid to the Shaikh are more substantial; however, the difference between the two groups lies not in the nature of their religious tasks, but rather in ancestry (the shaikhs apparently associated with non-Kurdish companions or relations of Shaikh ‘Âdi, and the pirs with his Kurdish companions). At puberty, each morid should also choose a ‘brother’ or ‘sister of the Hereafter’, berâyê or k, normally a Shaikh, who performs certain important rituals at transitional points such as marriage and death.

The Qawwâls or reciters constitute a different class, and come from two clans, the Kurmanji-speaking Dimli and the Arabic-speaking Tazhi, settled in the villages of Ba’æiqa and Beházânê, in the Šaik an area. They specialize in the playing of religious music on sacred instruments, the daf (frame-drum) and æebâb (flute), and in the recital of the sacred hymns or qawls. They also carry out the tâwusgerrân; these were severely curtailed in the twentieth century when crossing international frontiers became more difficult; the Transcaucasian communities in particular were effectively cut off from the Yazidi religious centers.

Yezidi Kurds-18-Ceremony

The Yazidi faithful engaging in their “Festival of Eid al-Jamma” (photo taken on 7 October, 2010 & displayed the International Business Times); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

There are also religious ‘orders’ whose members may come from different castes. The Faqirs become members of their order by an initiation which was once open to all, but as time has passed have become in effect a hereditary group, with initiation undergone almost exclusively by members of faqir families. They are expected to lead a life of piety and abstinence, by fasting, refraining from drinking and smoking, avoiding any violent behavior. Their clothes, especially their black woolen k or tunic that recalls that of Shaikh ‘Âdi, are considered to be sacred, and their persons must not be harmed. Some are very learned in religious lore. The Kochaks are a small non-hereditary group charged with outdoor labor for Shaikh ‘Âdi, such as cutting wood and drawing water for the shrine. Some in the past have been clairvoyants, miracle workers and interpreters of dreams; a few have acquired political influence in this way, such as the nineteenth-century Kochak Mirzâ of Mount Senjâr, who predicted the fall of Islam.

There are a number of important offices in the Yazidi hierarchy. The Mir (prince) is both temporal and spiritual head of the community; his person is sacred, and in theory all Yazidis owe him spiritual allegiance. In practice the temporal influence of the family, based in Bâ’drê in Šaikân, has declined since the late 18th century, though it remains a substantial landowner, and is active in Kurdish politics. Members of this family are linked to the Qâtâni Shaikhs. The Prince, along with other dignitaries, is a member of the Yazidi Majlesi Roháâni ‘Religious Council’. The Bâbâ Shaikh (Father Shaikh), is the leader of the Shaikhs and must come from the Šamsâni branch. He must lead a pious life; regarded by many as the spiritual leader of the Yazidis, he supervises the Kochaks and many of the ceremonies at Lâleæ cannot take place without his presence. The functions of the Piæ-imâm (Foremost Imam) are less clear; a representative of the Âdâni Shaikhs, he leads certain rituals. The Bâbâ Ùâwuæ, (Father Guardian), guardian of the shrine at Lâleæ, leads a life of piety and celibacy. He lives there permanently and has authority over what happens there; he is assisted by the feqrayyât, (celibate ‘nuns’) who are unmarried or widowed and also care for the sanctuaries. These are very few in number. Successive families of faqirs living there on a temporary basis also look after the fabric of the shrine and take care of guests.

The institution of karâfat, whereby a relationship of sponsorship is created with a man on whose knees a boy is circumcised, exists among Yazidis as for other groups. This often creates close relationships with other communities; since the family of the child may not intermarry with that of the kariv for seven generations, the kariv himself is usually not a Yazidi, and the institution serves to make useful alliances with neighbors. Yazidis in Northern Iraq may also have a mirabbi (literally ‘teacher’), chosen from any caste by rules of heredity.

Yezidi Kurds-16-Kurdish dance

Local Yezidis engage in the traditional Kurdish dance outside the Lalesh temple (photo displayed theInternational Business Times); For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

Textual traditions

Most Yazidi religious texts have been passed on exclusively by oral tradition, and many features characteristic of oral literature can be seen in them. It is now generally accepted that the manuscripts of the Yazidi Sacred Books, the Masháafâ Reæ and Ketêbâ Jelwa, published in 1911 and 1913, were ‘forgeries’ in the sense that they were written by non-Yazidis in response to Western travelers’ and scholars’ interest in the Yazidi religion, amid a general environment of trading in ancient manuscripts. However, the material within these manuscripts is consistent with the contents of the Yazidi oral traditions, and to that extent they may be considered authentic. Nevertheless, it seems that written texts with the titles Masháefâ Reæ and Ketêbâ Jelwa were known among the Yazidis long before this date, though they have remained unseen even by the vast majority of the community. The latter title is a shortened form of the title of a work by Hasan b. ‘Adi, but it currently seems to denote manuscripts used for divination, which are still kept by certain Âdâni Shaikhs. Other written texts were known; meæur, kept by Pirs, giving accounts of lineages and attached morid families, and kaækul, which included prayers, religious history and some Qawls. These collections may also have included some of the Arabic odes (qasáidas) attributed to Shaikh ‘Âdi which are used in the community. However, there is no evidence that the large corpus of sacred texts once existed in the form of a book.

The core religious texts are the qawls, hymns in Kurmanji which are often dedicated to a kâssand which make frequent allusions to events and persons not explained in the texts. These have, for most of their history, been orally transmitted, though there is some evidence that not all were orally composed. Knowledge and recitation of the qawls has traditionally been the province of the Qawwâl, though their training school no longer exists in their home villages. Few members of the Qawwâl families now learn either sacred texts or sacred instruments and those with the widest knowledge of the Qawls and their interpretation are now from other classes. In 1979 two young Yazidi intellectuals published a number of the qawls, provoking considerable controversy within the community. (A few had been published in the Soviet Union the previous year, but were presented as part of a folklore anthology and largely ignored). By the beginning of the 21st century more had been published in Armenia and a research program in Germany was almost complete. With the assent of the community, this latter aimed to collect and transcribe the many unpublished qawls for use in academic research and the education of Yazidi children, especially in the diaspora. Yazidism is thus being transformed into a scriptural religion.

Yezidi Kurds-15-Ceremony

Yazidis lighting candles outside the Lalesh temple in celebration of the Yazidi New Year (photo taken on April 17, 2007 & displayed the International Business Times). The Yazidis celebrate the ingress of light into the world; For more see “The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds“…

The qawls, with their allusions and obscurities, are not easy to understand, and a tradition of interpretation has grown up. Each qawl has a ch or ‘story’ associated with it, which explains its context. Some of these chirôks show signs of having been developed long after the qawl. In general the qawls and the knowledge within them are the province of men of religion, but on certain occasions, a mosáháâbat is given. This is a sermon usually consisting of narrative interspersed with couplets from a qawl, which explains the sacred text, and is aimed at a general audience.

Other types of sacred text exist: the bayt which is difficult to distinguish from the qawl in formal terms, but unlike the secular Kurdish bayt (q.v.) is used to accompany religious events such as tâwusgerrân; the qasáida in Kurdish, often a praise-poem for a holy man which does not formally correspond to the Arabic or Persian qasáida; du’â and dirozâ, prayers for private and public use. There are seven forms of Yazidi samâ’, consisting of music and the singing of hymns, usually a combination of qawl and qasáida; a solemn procession is also often part of these.

Bibliography

A. Ackermann “A Double Minority: Notes on the emerging Yezidi Diaspora” in W. Kokot and Kh. Tölölyan, eds., Religion, Identity and Diaspora. London, forthcoming.

P. Anastase Marie, “La de‚couverte re‚cente des deux livres sacre‚s des Ye‚zîdis,” Anthropos 6, 1911, pp. 1-39.

W. F. Ainsworth, Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Armenia, London, 1841.

M. Bittner, Die Heiligen Bücher der Jeziden oder Teufelsanbeter (Kurdisch und Arabisch), Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Phil.-Hist., Klasse, Band 55, Vienna, 1913.

O. and C. Celil, “Qewl û Beytê ÊEzdiya” in Zargotina K’urda/Kurdskij Folklor, Moscow 1978, pp. 5ff.

S. al- Damlûj^, al-Yaz^diyya, Mosul 1949. E.S. Drower, Peacock Angel, London, 1941.

R.Y. Ebied and M. J. L. Young, “An account of the history and rituals of the Yaz^d^s of Mosul,” Le Muse‚on 85, 1972, pp. 481-522.

C.J. Edmonds, A Pilgrimage to Lalish, London, 1967.

R. H. W. Empson, The Cult of the Peacock Angel, London, 1928.

R. Frank, Scheich ‘Adî, der grosse Heilige der Jezîdîs, Berlin, 1911.

N. Fuccaro, The Other Kurds: Yazidis in Colonial Iraq, London,1999.

G. Furlani, Testi Religiosi dei Yezidi, Testi e Documenti per la Storia delle Religioni 3, Bologna, 1930.

J. S. Guest, The Yezidis: A Study in Survival, New York and London 1987, rev. ed. Survival Among the Kurds: A History of the Yezidis 1993.

M. Guidi, “Origine dei Yazidi e Storia Religiosa dell’Islam e del Dualismo,” RSO 12, 1932, pp. 266-300.

P. G. Kreyenbroek, “Mithra and Ahreman, Binyâm^n and Malak Tâwûs: Traces of an Ancient Myth in the cosmogonies of Two Modern Sects,” in Recurrent Patterns in Iranian Religion, ed. Ph. Gignoux, pp. 57-79, Stud.Ir., Cahier 11, Paris, 1992.

Idem, Yezidism–Its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition, Lampeter, Wales, 1995.

Idem, “On the study of some heterodox sects in Kurdistan,” in Islam des Kurdes, Les Annales de l’Autre Islam no. 5, Paris, 1998, pp. 163-84.

Idem, with Kh. Jindy Rashow, God and Sheykh Adi are Perfect: Sacred Hymns and Religious Narratives of the Yezidis, in the series Iranica, ed. M. Macuch, Berlin, forthcoming.

A. H. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, 2 vols, London, 1849.

R. Lescot, Enquête sur les Yezidis de Syrie et du Djebel Sindjar, Beirut, 1938.

J. Menant, Les Ye‚zidiz : Épisodes de l’Histoire des Adorateurs du Diable, Paris, 1892.

A. Mingana, “Devil-worshippers; their beliefs and their sacred books,” JRAS, 1916, pp. 505-26.

Idem, “Sacred books of the Yezidis,” in ibid., 1921, pp. 117-19.

F. Nau and J. Tfinkdji, “Receuil de textes et de documents sur les Ye‚zidis,” Revue de l’Orient Chre‚tien, 2nd series, vol. 20, 1915-17, pp. 142-200, 225-75.

N. Siouffi, “Notice sur la secte des Ye‚zidis,” JA, ser. 7, vol. 19, 1882 pp. 252-68.

Idem, “Notice sur le Che‚ikh ‘Adi et la Secte des Ye‚zidis,” JA, ser. 8, vol. 5,1885, pp. 78-100.

Kh. Silêman, and Kh. Jindy, Êezadiyatî liber Ronaya Hindek Têkstêd Aînê ÊEzdiyan, Baghdad, 1979, repr. 1995 in Latin script, n.p.

Photos of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian Fire Temple) in Tbilisi, Georgia

The photos of the Zoroastrian fire temple or Atashgah of Tbilisi in Georgia were provided to kavehfarrokh.com in late 2017 by Dr. Nader Gohari of Durham University, who is an avid researcher and scholar of Iranian Studies.

Panoramic view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Georgia, like ancient Albania (known as Republic of Azerbaijan since May 27, 1918) and Armenia have stood at the crossroads between Anatolia, the civilizations of ancient Persia or Iran and Eastern Europe.

[A, C] Views of the stairway of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi; [B] Plaque at wall to right of bottom stairway providing a short history of the Atashgah and its protected status as a heritage site by the Georgian government (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Alongside the impact of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the Caucasus continues to bear a strong ancient Iranian imprint as witnessed for example by the Kurdish Yezidis who live in both Georgia and Armenia to this day.

Concave structure at one of the top corners of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

As noted by the late British historian Mark Whittow (1957-2017) who taught as a professor at Oxford University:

The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia…many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world to its south and east than with the world to the west” [1996, pages 203-204; Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press].

Despite the conversion of Georgia to Christianity in the 4th century CE, Zoroastrianism continued to endure in local culture of the region. Officially, it was King Mirian (Persian: Mehran) who converted to Christianity in 337 CE. Despite this, the name “Ohrmazd” (Ahura Mazda) continued to be invoked by the local peasantry who referred to their deity as “Armazi”.

Platform providing access into the the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

The Locals of ancient Georgia are believed to have provided offerings to Aramzi or Ohrmazd in a locale in close proximity to what is identified as “Bridge of the Magi” (Lang, 1956, pages 22-23; “St. Nino and the Conversion of Georgia,” Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, translated by D.M. Lang (1956), London: Allen & Unwin).

Mock-up view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

The Ancient Civilization of Jiroft

The Cultural Organization of Iran has identified the remains of an ancient city buried close the modern city of Jiroft, located in Iran’s Kerman Province. Archaeologist Yusef Majidzadeh identifies the “Jiroft civilization” as having been a distinct culture during the early Bronze Age (late 3rd millennium BC). This civilization was located in modern-day Iran’s Sistan and Kerman Provinces.

Possible pieces of an ancient game at Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

Yusef Majidzadeh, the head of the archaeological team that has explored the Jiroft site, has proposed that the area and its artifacts represent a bronze age civilization that featured its own language, culture and architecture.

A seal plaque from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News), suggestive that this civilization had developed a sophisticated legal and/or business system(s). The figures appear to possibly represent some type of “Trinity” symbol, possibly a reflection of some type of theological or religious system.

The assertions of Majidzadeh however have been challenged by several scholars as documented in the Encyclopedia Iranica:

“A number of scholars have indeed countered these unanchored pronouncements and firmly challenge them. They argue on the basis of objectively derived data surfacing from excavations that in reality the “Jiroft” artifacts reflect a thriving culture of the 2nd half of the third millennium B.C.E., one that flourished centuries later than the genesis of Sumerian culture. Therefore the “Jiroft” culture was contemporary with a much later phase of Sumerian cultural history”

Falcon figure from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News). This type of depiction has proven surprisingly resilient in the cultures of ancient Iran, as seen for example with the falcon image on a Sassanian metalwork plate housed at the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg, Russia (Inv. S-217). 

The Jiroft civilization of eastern Iran appears to be related to modern-day western Afghanistan’s “Helmand culture”. These may have been contemporary with each other or even part of the same cultural zone at one time.

Possible Candle holder or incense burner from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

According to the Archaeology News Network:

“For centuries, Mesopotamia was thought to be the world’s oldest civilization. This was generally accepted by most people until a 5,000-year old temple was discovered in Jiroft Historical Site in Iran’s southern Kerman province, prompting archaeologists to identify the region as the world’s oldest cradle of human civilization”.

Jiroft Figure on horseback (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

According to the University of Pennsylvania Museum (Penn Museum):

“The new excavations [at Jiroft] have produced an extensive ceramic assemblage, and monumental, domestic, and craft production areas. Most interesting among the finds are more than 400 seal impressions of cylinder and stamp seals used in economic administration.”

Oil Lamps and/or Pots from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

The Jiroft zone is indicative of an advanced civilization, even as much work remains to be done by researchers, archaeologists and anthropologists. The area has certainly yielded a large range of artifacts of which many raise questions as to their purpose and function.

Tablet with local script from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

The above tablet is a significant find as it demonstrates that the script of the Jiroft region is independetn and/or unique with respect to cuneiform and hieroglyphs. nevertheless the above artifact and other inscription finds need to be examined in more detail and by expert scholars, as information on samples such as the above piece have yet to analyzed in rigorous fashion (see Encyclopedia Iranica on this …)

Small statue with close up of face of a man from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).