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.

The Sarmatian Connection: Stories of the Arthurian Cycle and Legends and Miracles of Ladislas, King and Saint

The article “The Sarmatian Connection: Stories of the Arthurian Cycle and Legends and Miracles of Ladislas, King and Saint” reproduced below is by János Makkay of the [Department of Archaeology, University of Pecs, in Hungary] (1996). This originally appeared in:

The New Hungarian Quarterly, Volume 37, no. 144, Winter 1996, pp. 113-125.

Note that the article below has printed the major portions of the article and not its entirity. Interested readers are referred to the New Hungarian Quarterly for more information.

Kindly note that none of the images and accompanying descriptions have appeared in the original article and/or any other previous postings of this article.


Under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) the Roman Army campaigned for eight years in Pannonia Barbarica (i.e., in the central and northern parts of the Carpathian Basin, north and east of the Roman limes along the Danube) against the Quadi, a German tribe, and Sarmatians and Alans, Iranian speaking barbarians who came from east of the Carpathians, from the south Russian steppe and from the Lower Danube Plains near the Black Sea. After hard but victorious battles, 5,500 Sarmatian/Alanian heavy cavalry (called cataphractarii, i.e. clothed fully in scale armour) consisting of prisoners taken in war were posted to Britain in 175. Marcus Aurelius sent these warriors to Britannia not only to keep them out of trouble in Pannonia Barbarica but also to deploy them beyond Hadrian’s Wall.2 These Sarmatians are known to have been stationed in permanent camps outside the Roman forts at Ribchester in Lancashire, Chester, and elsewhere. The Sarmatian enclaves – especially the one at Ribchester, a Lancashire site known in ancient times as Bremetennacum veteranorum – survived until the end of the Roman era in the late 4th century A.D.

Fig. 1. Roman tombstone from Chester (housed at Grosvenor Museum, item #: 8394907246), UK depicting Sarmatian horseman attired like other kindred Iranian  peoples such as the Parthians and Sassanians  (Source: Carole Raddato, uploaded by Marcus Cyron in Public Domain).

The tombstone fragments of a Sarmatian/Alanian standard bearer were found at Chester (Deva) in 1890. This is unique evidence of the presence of heavily armoured Sarmatian cavalry from the earliest third century A.D. The two fragments of the tombstone (now in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester) show a horseman wearing a cloak and turning to the right. He holds aloft, with both hands, a dragon standard of the Sarmatian/Alanian type, and his conical helmet, with a vertical metal frame, is of the same pattern. A sword hangs at his right. Both man and horse are shown clad in tightly fitting scale armour. This attire for man and mount was characteristic of Sarmatian/Alanian heavy cavalry.

Fig. 2. Russian reconstruction of King Arthur and his Sarmatian cavalry (Source: Our Russia); note Iranian dragon standards of the cavalrymen also seen in the armies of the parthians and Sassanians.

he original dragon standard shown on the tombstone had a metal head and a cloth body designed like a windsock so that the animal appeared to come alive in the wind. It has been suggested that these standards may have indicated the position of the given Iranian troops and their command posts during the battle and also the wind direction for the Sarmatian/Alanian archers. The best description of this characteristic Iranian tactic and symbolism is in the Tactica of Arrian of Bithynia (2nd century A.D.) who defeated the Alanian invasion of 134. He must have had exact knowledge of how the Iranian peoples conducted themselves in war.3 We know that the military symbol of the kings of the Parthians (as for instance of Mithridates I. in 139 B.C.) was a dragon standard made of textile or leather.4 There is no indication, however of the use of similar standards in Achaemenid times.

The closed society of Sarmatian cataphractarii in Britain was able to maintain its ethnic features during the Late Roman period and afterwards. One reason is that their troops, called cuneus Sarmatorum, equitum Sarmatorum Bremetennacensium Gordianorum were not part of any military organization in active service. Consequently, after the withdrawal of the Roman army, they continued to live on their accustomed sites (Chester, Ribchester, etc.). They were still called Sarmatians after 250 years. A semihistoric Arthur lived about A.D. 500. He was very probably a descendant of those Alan horsemen, a battle leader of the Romanized Celts and Britons against the Anglo-Saxons, who invaded Britain after the Roman army had withdrawn. Arthur and his military leaders could therefore manage to train the natives as armoured horseman after Iranian patterns against the attacks of Angles and Saxons fighting on feet until their victory at Badon Hill.

Fig. 3. Parthian standard bearer with Draco standard (Source: Farrokh, page 130, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا– this drawing originally appeared by Zoka in the 2,500 Year Celebrations of the Persian Empire in 1971).

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae contains detailed accounts of the traditional Roman military tactics used by the army of Arthur in his legendary wars against the Romans.5 He also mentions the dragon standard of the Arthurian army which was set up at a suitable and easily defensible place to show exhausted and wounded warriors where they could find drinking water and have their wounds dressed.6 His own golden helmet was decorated with a dragon, probably the same dragon which appeared to him in a dream while crossing the Channel. Sir Thomas Malory recounted the story as follows:

And as the kyng laye in his caban in the shyp, he fyll in a slomerynge and dremed a merueyllous dreme. Hym semed that a dredeful dragon dyd drowne moche of his peple, and he cam fleynge oute of the West, and his hede was enameled with asure, and his sholders shone as gold, his bely lyke maylles of a merueyllous hewe, his taylle ful of tatters, his feet ful of fyne sable, and his clawes lyke fine gold, and an hydous flamme of fyre flewe oute of his mouthe, lyke as the londe and water had flammed all of fyre.7
What Geoffrey of Monmouth and Malory describe is the peculiar features and use of the military dragon standard by the Iranian peoples and, later, by the Roman army. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, on the triumphal procession of Constantius II in Rome in 357 the Emperor sat alone upon a golden chariot “… and was surrounded by dragons, woven out of purple thread and bound to the golden and jewelled tops of spears, with wide mouths open to the breeze and hence hissing as if roused by anger, and leaving their tails winding in the wind.”8

The dragon standard on the Chester tombstone (a metal head and a cloth body) closely corresponds to two unique archaeological finds, both made of metal and representing the heads of dragon standards. One of them is of bronze and was found in the canabae area of the Roman castellum at Niederbieber, Nordrhein-Westfalen. It dates from the first part of the 3rd century A.D. It has a length of 30 cm, is gilded on its upper part while the lower part is silvered (see the description in Malory). It shows an open-mouthed dragon head with sharp teeth and has a widening rim at its back end with perforations for fastening textile stripes, while a wide vertical perforation across the body served to fit the head to the top of a spear, lance or simple pole.

A depiction of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d”Arthur. Note the windsock carried by the horseman (Farrokh, page 171, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا) – this item was bought from the wider Iranian realm (Persia, Sarmatians, etc.) into Europe by the Iranian-speaking Alans. The inset depicts a reconstruction of a 3rd century AD Partho-Sassanian banner by Peter Wilcox (1986).

The other piece is in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. It is made of silver and comes from the Government of Perm in Russia. This Sassanian piece of the 7th century A.D. shows a dragon-like head of hybrid (dog- or wolf-shaped) character with an open mouth and chased embossé decoration. It also has a vertical perforation for a pole.9

These two pieces in fact have a third parallel. It is a gold dragon standard head found in the Sargetia valley, Transylvania, around 1543, which once belonged to the royal treasures of the Dacian king Decebalus and was hidden in the early autumn of 106 A.D., at the end of Trajan’s second Dacian war.10 Descriptions of the circumstances under which the discovery was made by Trajan in A.D. 106 and then in 1543 of these large treasure troves reveal many details of a belief in a dragon-guardian – as the Beowulf calls it: hordweard.

Recently, in a series of publications, Helmut Nickel and C. Scott Littleton argued that the roots of the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as those concerned with the Holy Grail, are not to be found in the indigenous Celtic traditions of the British Isles, as most Arthurian scholars hold, but rather in a “Scythian tradition”12 that seems to have originated from the religious beliefs of Iranian Sarmatians/Alans of the Hungarian Plain of the 2nd century A.D.

Fig. 5. Sarmatian armour discovered near Hadrian’s Wall in England (Source: Periklisdeligiannis); this most likely belonged to an Iranian-speaking Alan or related Ia-zyges cavalrymen serving as mercenaries in the Roman army in Britain. 

These beliefs centre around the divine sword, the sacred cup of heavenly splendour, the dragon standard as military symbol, and early literary traditions connected with them. The resemblances are not limited to mythology. In some cases artefacts (as for example scale armour and standards) or representations, strongly related to mythological-religious matters were also similar. Now, our whole story starts with such one material connection, with the golden serpentine dragon symbol of the Dacians.

The most intriguing parallel of the triple combination of dragon standards, heavy Iranian cavalry and scale armour appears in recently excavated finds in Uzbekistan. In the cemetery of Orlat two bone plates were discovered in kurgan grave 2, measuring 13,5 x 10,5 cms.13 They are decorated with finely engraved motifs, and one of them represents eight heavily armed men in individual combat. Five are horsemen while three are fighting on foot. Their weapons are swords, long spears, bows and in one case, a battle axe. All of them wear scale armour. One of the horsemen with a very long spear holds a dragon standard which closely resembles the lower (textile) part of the above discussed standards in every detail (see Fig. 6). The plate dates from between the 2nd century B.C. and the end of the 1st century A.D., and the warriors can be identified as Central Asian Alans.

Fig. 6. Sassanian court of Khosrow II and his queen Shirin (Source: Farrokh, Plate F, p.62, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005); note the monarch who sits with his ceremonial broadsword. The Sarmatians shared the culture and martial traditions of their Iranian kin, the Parthians and the Sassanians.

A gold plaque of Iranian character from the Siberian collection of Peter the Great dated around 300 B.C. (See Fig. 8.)27 shows a woman seated under a tree, holding a

sleeping man’s head in her lap, and a pair of horses, held by a groom, standing by. The weapons of the warrior, bow and quiver, hang in the branches of a tree. It is not difficult to recognize the scene of Walther’s sleep before the fight in the representation on the plaque.

Fig. 7. Scythians on the steppes of the ancient Ukraine. Scholars are virtually unanimous that the Scythians were an Iranian people related to the Medes and Persians of ancient Iran or Persia (Painting by Angus McBride).

The same scene of repose, however, is well-known from early medieval Hungarian wall paintings centering around Ladislas, King and Saint of the House of Árpád (1077-1095). As Gyula László has shown in a masterful book, the story goes back to eastern, Iranian (or Iranized Turkic) elements, before the Hungarians were christianized after 1000 A.D. onward.28 His research, and that of others, also showed that this motif from the 13=14th century is central in the still extant Hungarian folk ballads Molnár Anna and Kerekes Izsák from Transylvania. In the Saint Ladislas legend a Hungarian princess is abducted by a warrior of the Turkish Kumans. As represented on the wall paintings of the Bántornya medieval church, while they are resting under a shady tree, the warrior asks the princess to take his head in her lap. When he falls asleep, the pursuing knightly saint catches up with them and after a heavy fight will the abductor he liberates the princess.

Another and more common variant of the story is when the king kills the Cumanian raider with the help of the girl after a heavy duel and becomes himself wounded .29

We have an interesting complex of additional elements connecting these and further details of the Arthurian story, the Nibelungen cycle, the Saint Ladislas Legend and Hungarian folk ballads: the nine branches of the tree, the escape of the lady into a cleft (or in a cavity of a tree), murder (usually beheading) of the girl with a sword, hanging of the head in the tree, hanging of the weapons and helmet of the warrior in the branches of a tree, the gentle fondling of the warrior’s hair by the girl, and finally, when Hildegund dresses the wounds of Walther and Hagen, and offers them a drink in a golden bowl.

Fig. 8. Gold plaque housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg depicting a panther, most likely used to decorate breast-plate or shield, dated to the late 7th-century BCE (Source: Sailko in Public Domain).

The original story of the sleeping maiden-abductor (or occasionally of the escorting knight) under a tree seems to have originated in Central Asia and has ancient Middle Iranian sources. The scene was probably a central part of a myth from a by now forgotten Central Asian heroic epic. Nobody has tried to show so far that this Hungarian legend may be a result of Iranian influence on early Hungarian folklore and related somehow to a local “Sarmatian tradition” surviving in the Carpathian Basin. The surviving Sarmatian/Alan population of the Great Hungarian Plain (from the fifth century A.D. to the coming of the Magyars) would be the medium. These Iranian (Sarmatian/Alan) tribes of the great Hungarian Plain were to be linguistically absorbed by the Magyars. The above motifs in Hungarian legends and folklore have their parallels in the Arthurian legends and the Nibelungen cycle and – in this view – go back to the same source, namely the influence of Iranian Alans. First to those 5,500 warriors who were sent to Britain by Marcus Aurelius, and later, in the second half of the fourth century A.D. when Alan tribes fled from the invading Huns and established themselves in Italy, in Gallia Transalpina and in the Rhine valley. A great many Sarmatian and Alan warriors also served in the Roman army in the fourth century A.D. The Sarmatian/Alan connection as traced in Hungarian medieval legends appears further to confirm what was suggested about the Eastern, Iranian, connections and origin of the Arthurian legends and its related details including the motiv of the Holy Grail.


2 * I. A. Richmond: “The Sarmatae, Bremetennacum Veteranorum, and the Regio Bremetennacensis”. Journal of Roman Studies 35, 1945, pp. 16=29. I express my thanks for help and advice to Tom Strickland, Chester.

3 * Arriani Nicomediensis: Tacticá, 35, 1=5. For other ancient sources see Vegetius: Epitoma rei militaris, ii, 13.; Sidonius Apollinaris: Panegyricus Maioriani, Carmina v, 402.; Nemesianus: Cynegetica, 82. – Trebellius Pollio in Historia Augusta, Gallienus, 8.; Codex Iustinianus, 1, 27.; Lucianus Sophista: Quomodo historia conscribenda sit, 29. – [Flavius Vopiscus Syracusius]: Historia Augusta, Divus Aurelianus, xxxi.; Ammianus Marcellinus, xvi, 12, 38=39 and also xv. 5, 16.

4 * János Harmatta in Antik Tanulmányok (Studies in Antiquity) 28, 1981, pp. 111 and 129=131.

5 * Book IX, 1, 3, 4, 11, X, 3, 6, 9, 11, esp. Book X, l, and also XI, 2.

6 * Book X, 6. The dead body of Sir Bedivere was also brought to the same place: Book X, 9.

7 * Caxton’s Malory. A new Edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, ed. by James W. Spisak, (referred as Morte Darthur). Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1983, p. 124, i2recto, 4, Book v. 4. – Historia Regum Britanniae, Book X, 2.

8 * Ammianus Marcellinus xvi, 10, 6=7. Loeb Classical Library.

9 * K.V. Trever: Un étendard Sassanide. Musée de l’Ermitage, Travaux du Département Oriental, tome III, Léningrad, 1940, pp. 167=78, Pls. I-II.

10 * For a detailed account see János Makkay: “Decebál kincsei – The Treasures of Decebalus”. Századok, 129, 1995, pp. 967=1032, and by the same author: “The Treasures of Decebalus.” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 14:3, 1995, pp. 333=43, with further literature.


12 * C.Scott Littleton – A.C. Thomas: “The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends.” Journal of American Folklore 91, 1978, pp. 512=27.; C.Scott Littleton: “The Holy Grail, the Cauldron of Annwn, and the Nartyamonga. A Further Note on the Sarmatian Connection”. Journal of American Folklore 92: 365, 1979, pp. 326=33. C. Scott Littleton: The New Comparative Mythology. Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1982.; C. Scott Littleton: “From Swords in the Earth to the Sword in the Stone: A Possible Reflection of an Alano-Sarmatian Rite of Passage in the Arthurian Tradition” In Homage to G. Dumézil. Washington, 1983, pp. 53=67.; C. Scott Littleton – Linda A. Malcor: From Scythia to Camelot. A Radical Reassesment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail. New York-London, 1994; Helmut Nickel: “Wer waren König Artus’ Ritter? Über die geschichtliche Grundlage der Artussagen.” Waffen- und Kostümkunde 17: 1, 1975, pp. 1=28.; Also by the same author: “About the Sword of the Huns and the Urepos of the Steppes.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 7, 1963, pp. 131-42.

13 * G.A. Pugatsenkova: Iz khudozestvennoi sokrovishnitsy Srednevo Vostoka. (Ancient art treasures of Central Asia).


27 * Nickel, op. cit. 1975. pp. 4=5, and Fig. 3.

28 * Gyula László: A Szent László-legenda középkori falképei (The Legend of Saint Ladislas and its Representations on Mediaeval Wall Paintings). Budapest, 1993, pp. 24=56 with many figures, pictures and earlier literature.

29 * The well-known story told by our medieval chronicles is connected with the victory of the king – then a royal prince – against the Cumans at Kerlés, Transylvania, in 1068.


The Windmill and the Contribution of Persia

The article below is based on an excerpt from Kaveh Farrokh’s second text “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War” (2007, Chapter 19: The Legacy of Persia after the Islamic Conquests, pages 280-281). For more on these topics, readers may consult the following link: Learning, Science, Knowledge, technology and Medicine


The first water pumps and grain mills powered by wind-sails originated in modern northwest Iran in (circa) 6th -7th centuries CE during the late Sassanian era.

Model of an Iranian windmill housed in the German Museum in Munich (Source: Saupreiß in

The origins of the first wind-powered machine concept is attributed to Heron (10-70 CE), a Greek inventor who first built this device in his workshop in Roman-ruled Egypt. Heron’s design of the shaft and rotating blades were placed at the horizontal position.

Portrait of Heron as he appears in a 1688 German book translation of Heron’s “Pneumatics” (Source: Public Domain).

The Heron machine however never advanced beyond the prototype he had designed, as the Romans never exploited this for generating power or for agriculture. The Iranians however knew of this technology, thanks in part to the Sassanian Empire’s efforts to protect and preserve Greek scholarship and knowledge (see Jundishapur University)

Short video of an ancient windmill in Iran that remains operational to this day (Source: Youtube).

By the late Sassanian era the first true windmill had appeared in the northeastern regions of the Sassanian Empire (modern Khorasan and west Afghanistan). Modern scholarship is in agreement that Iranian engineers had completely re-designed Heron’s original machine for applied purposes. They had achieved this by inverting the shaft that held the blades, toward an upright position. The re-designed shaft and rotating blades were installed inside a mud-brick encased tower. This structure in turn had “air ducts” allowing for the air to enter and rotate the blades housed inside of it. The “sails” or “blades” were built of a very strong fabric – there were up to twelve of these inside each of these “towers” or structures. This new technology had been initially designed as a corn-mill.

Drawing of a Chinese windmill based on technology imported from Persia (Source: Carl von Canstein in

The Arabian conquests of the Sassanian Empire soon led the Caliphates to adopt the new windmill technology from the Iranians. By the 9th century CE, this technology had spread throughout the Caliphate’s realms and also eastwards into India, reaching China by the 13th century CE.

The Bidston windmill in Great Britain (Source: Fractal Angel in

The Iranian windmill design appears to have reached Arab-ruled Spain as well, and later the British Isles by 1137 CE. It was the British (not the Dutch as is conventionally assumed), who effected significant changes to the original Iranian design. The British genius was in their combination of both the Greek (Heron) and Iranian (late Sassanian) technologies. The British post-mill had two axes of rotation:

(1) A vertical shaft for horizontal rotation allowing for the entire structure to be now rotated for harnessing the wind

(2) A horizontal shaft for vertical rotation of the sails (based on Heron’s original concept)

A Dutch windmill overlooking tulips (Source:

The British adaptation of the Iranian windmill soon spread across continental Europe all the way to Greece and the Aegean Sea. Europeans made other designs such as the smock mill and tower mill. The famous modern-day Dutch windmill can trace its ancestry to English, Iranian and Greek origins.

Sheda Vasseqhi PhD Study: Positioning of Iran And Iranians In Origins Of Western Civilization

Sheda Vasseghi has completed her PhD Dissertation at the University of New England entitled:

Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In Origins of Western Civilization. PhD Dissertation, University of New England (download this at …)

Sheda Vasseqhi

Vasseghi’s PhD academic advising team were composed of the following members: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh.

Her study explored a number of widely taught college-level history textbooks in order to examine how these positioned Iran and Iranian peoples in the origins of Western Civilization. As noted by Vasseghi in her abstract:

“Western Civilization history marginalizes, misrepresents, misappropriates, and/or omits Iran’s positioning. Further, the mainstream approach to teaching Western Civilization history includes the Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman narrative.”

Vasseghi used a multi-faceted theoretical approach—decolonization, critical pedagogy, and Western Civilization History dilemma—since her study transcended historical revisionism. This collective case study involved eleven Western Civilization history textbooks that, according to the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), are most popular among American college faculty. Vasseghi reviewed and collected expert opinion on the following five themes:

(1) terminology and definition of Iran, Iranians, and Iranian languages

(2) roots and origins of Iranian peoples

(3) which Iranian peoples are noted in general

(4) which Iranian peoples in ancient Europe are specifically noted

(5) Iranians in connection with six unique Western Civilization attributes.

Vasseghi selected experts specializing in Iranian, Western Civilization, and Indo-European studies in formulating a consensus on each theme. She then compared expert opinion to content in surveyed textbooks. Vasseghi discovered that the surveyed textbooks in her study overwhelmingly omitted, ill-defined, misrepresented, or marginalized Iran and Iranians in the origins of Western Civilization.

Readers are encouraged to visit Kaveh Farrokh’s profile cited in the introduction of this post to download Sheda Vasseghi’s Dissertation. Here is one of the quotes from her study:

“The researcher recommends that textbook authors and publishers engage experts in the field of Iranian studies in formulating content. A caveat for engaging those in the field of Iranian studies when writing Western Civilization history textbooks involves making a distinction between a native Iran and post-Islamic invasion and colonization of Iran in early Middle Ages (7th century onwards). That is, in the Age of Antiquity, Iran was under an Iranian governance and ancestral beliefs such as Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.”

This is an important observation given Western Media and academic outlets using sweeping (if not simplistic) terms such as “Middle East”, “Muslims”, etc. without acknowledging the context of Iran’s unique background, ancient history and language(s). Put simply, terms such as “Middle East” are not scientific but geopolitical in origin. The term “Muslim Civilization” for example serves to dilute (or even blur) the critical role of Iranian and Indian scholars in the preservation and promotion of learning, sciences and medicine. Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) who in his Muqaddimah (translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91) has acknowledged the role of the Iranians in the promotion of scholarship:

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.”

[For more see: Farrokh, K. (2015). Pan-Arabism and Iran. In “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism” (Immanuel Ness & Zak Cope, Eds.), Palgrave-Macmillan, pp.915-923.]

Sources such as Ibn Khaldun are now rarely mentioned in many modern-day “Islamic Studies” in Western history textbooks which may explain in part the numerous errors uncovered in Vasseghi’s study. She further avers:

“Critical pedagogy is important in transformational leadership in education. Educators are obligated to point out errors or problems in content and mainstream narratives. In regards to teaching history of Western Civilization, one should recall the warnings of its looming demotion by Ricketts et al. (2011) because unfortunately teaching it “had come to be seen as a form of apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism, and colonialism” (p. 14). It appears that in perceiving that something is missing from or fragmented in Western Civilization history content, educational institutions are now marginalizing and omitting it from their curriculum in America, a Western nation. Therefore, the significance of this study is the need for authors and educators to shift the currently flawed narrative on the history of the West. Iran’s positioning is a key component in the study of Western Civilization. The researcher argues that Iran and Iranians not only influenced the making of the West; they are part of the West. By placing Iran and Iranians where they belong, historians may also address concerns about teaching the history of the West (Ricketts et al., 2011).”

In her final PhD defense session with her research committee (Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh) on Monday, March 20, 2017, Vasseghi noted that she plans to author books tailored to Western audiences to help educate with respect to the role of Iranians in the formation of European civilization. Vasseghi’s books would also be geared towards a lay (non-academic) audience.

Chaharshanbeh Soori ceremony of ancient Persia: Links with Spain?

As reported by the Persian-language Topnaz outlet, every year towards the end of winter approaching the spring season, a festival takes place between March 15-19 in Valencia, Spain.  What makes the Valencia celebrations remarkable are their striking similarity to the rituals of the ancient Chaharshanbeh Soori celebrations practiced in Iran: citizens celebrate by jumping over bonfires in the last Wednesday before the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21. Similar rituals are seen among the Kurds of Iraq, Syria and Turkey and other Persianate countries such as the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran until 1918) as the Nowruz approaches. Like the Chaharshanbeh ceremonies, the Valencia celebrations build bonfires and jump over these  …


Jumping over bonfires in Valencia, Spain during celebrations spanning March 15-19 (Source: Note the proximity of these dates to the actual Nowruz celebrated on March 21 …

In this regard, these traditions are identical to these of the Chaharshanbeh celebrations…


 Youths celebrating the Chaharshanbeh-Souri in Tehran in 2010; for more see here …

Valencia riders on horseback also partake in jumping over (or riding through) the bonfires…


Valencia citizens on horseback jumping over bonfires during celebrations on March 15-19 for the impending spring season (Source: Note the proximity of these dates to the actual Nowruz celebrated on March 21 …

Firecrackers and other celebratory incendiary devices are used to highlight the festivities, again in striking similarity to those of the Chaharshanbehsoori…


Pyroworks display on a caricature image – the Valencia citizens also design caricature images of people (often contemporary  famous persons like politicians, etc.) (Source:

The Valencia celebrations, like the Chaharshanbehsoori, witness the participation of citizens of all ages, with one distinguishing feature being the wearing of traditional local dress:


Valencia women and young girls celebrate the festivities with local traditional dresses (Source: