The Jasz of Hungary: an Iranian Connection

The Jaszbereny of Hungary are named after the Jasz which is derived from a northern Iranian Alano-Sarmatian tribe known as the Jazygians (also: Iazygians), who migrated to Hungary from around the Caspian Sea in the mid 1200s. It is believed that these arrivals were the result of the devastating Mongol attack into Hungary in 1242 (Kiev in the Ukraine had already fallen just two years previous). Mongol local rulers were eager to recruit excellent horse archers around the late 1240s or early 1250s, and this is when the Iranian-speaking Jasz arrived. These were then allotted land in the Heves county of the region which were to be known as Jaszsag.

Jaszbereny ChurchExcellent view of the Jaszbereny Church (Source: Wojsyl in Public Domain).

Nevertheless, the first arrivals of Iranian-speaking Alanic peoples into ancient Pannonia (the name of Hungary before the arrival of the Huns) had occurred by the 4th century CE or perhaps earlier. Note that the Huns were dominating the Germanic Ostrogoths and Alans in Eastern Europe at the time. The land of Hungary is named after the original Hunnic Magyar settlers who arrived in Pannonia.

Over the centuries many of the Alans had been either destroyed or absorbed by various Turco-Hun tribal confederations (notably the Khazars of the northern Caucasus who had converted to Judaism by the 8th century CE).

Jaszbereny is now a Hungarian town, situated approximately 50km east of Budapest. A number of other towns and villages in the region bear the Jasz– prefix, yet there is nothing except the name itself to set apart the Jasz today. For more on this topic consult for example:

  • Engel (2005). Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary. IB Taurus, pages 103-105.
  • Turp (2007). Hungary. Penguin Books, pages 254-255.
  • Hebbert, Longley & Richardson (2002). Hungary, page 372.
  • Bedford & Dunford (2009). Hungary, page 251.

With the passage of time, a number of other towns emerged as well, resulting in a regional Hungarian culture bearing Iranian roots.

Osetia_woman_workingA Russian photograph of Ossetian women of the northern Caucasus working with textiles in the late 19th century (Source: CAIS). Ossetians are the descendants of Iranian speaking Alans who migrated to Eastern Europe, notably modern-day Yugoslavia and Hungary, where their legacy remains in the Jasz region.

The Jasz continued to speak their Iranian language well into the 15th century as seen by their lexical influences on Hungarian; on this topic consult for example:

  • Andras, Rona-Tas, Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, Central European University, 1991 & 2001, page 104.

The descendants of the Alans are known today as Ossetes or Ossetians, but the Ossetians  refer to themselves as Ir-on. Only two dialects of Alan remain in the Caucasus today: Ir-on and Digor.

A Short Overview of Iranian Languages and Influences on Turkic and Hun Languages

There are in general two general categorizations for Iranian Languages:

  • Middle Persian or Pahlavi – generally Parthian and Sassanian Pahlavi
  • East (or Northeast) Middle Iranian languages such as Khotanese-Saka, Bactrian, Soghdian, Khwarazmian and Alanic.

According to Abaev and Bailey in the Encyclopedia Iranica article on the Alans:

“The name “Alan” is derived from Old Iranian *arya-, “Aryan,” and so is cognate with “Īrān” (from the gen. plur. *aryānām).”

Alan-WarriorIranian-speaking Alan warrior circa 5th century CE. The descendants of the Alans are found in Western and northern Iran as well as the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Large numbers of Alans also assimilated with Europe’s Germanic tribes, notably the Ostrogoths (Painting by the late Angus McBride).

Iranian language terms have entered Old Turkic-Hun languages from eastern Central Asia and/or the Western Mongolia region for centuries (see for example: Khotanese Texts Volume 7, (edited by Harold Walter Bailey), Cambridge University Press, 1985, pages 105-106). Examples include:

  • Oxs into Turkic Oksu.
  • Avestan Thavana, Khotan-Saka Thauna (cloth, silk) Ossetian Tuna (Ir-on: Tyn) into Turkic Ton (dress)
  • Old Iranian Avestan Vara (IE: Var) [or surrounding or enclosing of walls protecting a city or settlement] in Middle Persian or Pahlavi is: Gurtih (enclosed place) note that the Hungarian term Var – Varos (city) is derived from the Jasz people.

r1achartjan31[Click to Enlarge] Interesting diagram outlining common genetic markers between peoples of Europe, the Near East and the Tatars (Source: Zeta Board).

Other examples of Ossetian type loan words into Hungarian (see also Cheung’s article in the Encyclopedia Iranica titled “Ossetic loan words into Hungarian”):

  • Gazdag “rich, wealthy” ~ qæznyg, qæzdyg/ǧæzdug “rich” (< *gazna– + -yg/-ug)
  • Méreg “poison” ~ marg “poison” (< *marka-)

The Mithraic Mysteries

The original draft of article below, The Mithraic Mysteries, was originally written by the late Franz Cumont (1868-1947), with the version below edited and updated by Shapour Suren-Pahlav, host of the CAIS website.

Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and accompanying descriptions of these do not appear in the original posting of Suren-Pahlav’s article in CAIS.

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Most of the research into Mithraism, a religion with many parallels to Christianity, comes from two writers, Cumont and Ulansey with a variety of other writers input.  Some Similarities Between Mithraism and Christianity are:

  • Virgin birth
  • Twelve followers
  • Killing and resurrection
  • Miracles
  • Birthdate on December 25
  • Morality
  • Mankind’s savior
  • Known as the Light of the world

Have you ever wondered why December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ?   If the accounts in the Bible are correct, the time of Jesus birth would have been closer to mid-summer, for this is when shepherds would have been “tending their flocks in the field” and the new lambs were born. Strange enough there is an ancient pagan religion, Mithraism, which dates back over 2,800 years that also celebrated the birth of their “savior” on that date.   Many elements in the story of Jesus’ life and birth are either coincidental or borrowings from earlier and contemporary pagan religions. The most obviously similar of these is Mithraism.  Roman Mithraism was a mystery religion with sacrifice and initiation. Like other mystery cults, there’s little recorded literary evidence.

-Mithraeum Rome San Clemente

The Mithraeum located under Rome’s Basilica of San Clemente (Source: Public Domain).

What we know comes mainly from Christian detractors and archaeological evidence from Mithraic temples, inscriptions, and artistic representations of the god and other aspects of the cult.  In an EAWC (Exploring Ancient World Cultures) essay entitled Mithraism, Alison Griffith explains Cumont’s theory of a Zoroastrian origin for the Roman Mithraist religion.  While this theory is disputed, there was a Mitra in the Hindu pantheon and a minor deity named Mithra among the Persians as well.   Cumont came to believe the religion spread westward from Eastern Roman provinces. However, as Griffith explains, there is little evidence of a Zoroastrian Mithra cult and most evidence for Mithraic worship comes from the western portion of the empire from which Cumont correctly deduced that:

Mithraism was most popular among legionaries (of all ranks), and the members of the more marginal social groups who were not Roman citizens: freedmen, slaves, and merchants from various provinces….”

No women were allowed.

The Dawning of the Age of Aries

Ulansey says the main problem with basing Mithraism on a Zoroastrian cult is that there is no evidence that the Zoroastrians’ Mithra practiced bull killing, the central aspect of Roman Mithraic iconography. An image of Mithras killing the bull holds pride of place in each mithraeum (cave-like temple for the worship of Mithras).  Ulansey believes the images of Mithras slaying the bull are actually astronomical star maps. In support of this he points out that all the figures represented in the iconography have a place in the constellations (Taurus, Canis Minor, Hydra, Corvus, and Scorpio). He says that the other iconography and even the initiation ceremonies are consistently astronomical. Mithras’ place as bull-slayer has cosmological significance because, if Ulansey is right, Mithraists attribute to their god the ability to shift the equinox from the constellation of Taurus to Aries: His killing of the bull symbolizes his supreme power: namely, the power to move the entire universe, which he had demonstrated by shifting the cosmic sphere in such a way that the spring equinox had moved out of Taurus the Bull.

-Column with Bull Motif at Persepolis

Column from Persepolis, capital of the Achaemenid Empire, with Double-Bull motif (Source: Based on photo by Luis Argerich for Public Domain).

For more research see:

  • Professor Roger Beck: Mithraism
  • Hinnells, John R., Studies in Mithraism: Papers associated with the Mithraic Panel organized on the occasion of the XVIth Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions.
  • Hinnells, John R., Persian Mythology, Hamlyn, 1988.
  • Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider Reviewed by Helen F. North. Twenty papers from the fourth international Mithraic congress held in Rome in 1990.
  • Mithraism:  A Historical Introduction

For over three hundred years the rulers of the Roman Empire worshipped the god Mithras. Known throughout Europe and Asia by the names Mithra, Mitra, Meitros, Mihr, Mehr, and Meher, the veneration of this god began around 3000 BCE in Persia, which was moved west and became imbedded with Babylonian doctrines. There is mention of Mithra or Mitra (et al) before 2800 BCE, but only as a minor diety and without much information. It appears to be after 2800 BCE when  Mithra is transformed and starts to play a major role among the gods.  The faith spread east through India to China, and reached west throughout the entire length of the Roman frontier; from Scotland to the Sahara Desert, and from Spain to the Black Sea. Sites of Mithraic worship have been found in Britain, Italy, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Persia, Armenia, Syria, Israel, and North Africa.    In Rome, more than a hundred inscriptions dedicated to Mithra have been found, in addition to 75 sculpture fragments, and a series of Mithraic temples situated in all parts of the city. One of the largest Mithraic temples built in Italy now lies under the present site of the Church of St. Clemente, near the Colosseum in Rome.   The widespread popularity and appeal of Mithraism as the final and most refined form of pre-Christian paganism was discussed by the Greek historian Herodotus, the Greek biographer Plutarch, the neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, the Gnostic heretic Origen, and St. Jerome the church Father. Mithraism was quite often noted by many historians for its many astonishing similarities to Christianity.   The faithful referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World”, symbol of truth, justice, and loyalty.  He was mediator between heaven and earth and was a member of a Holy Trinity.  According to Persian mythology, Mithras was born of a virgin given the title ‘Mother of God’.

Entrance to the Temple of Hatra in Iraq, possibly dedicated to Mithras (Source: Public Domain).

The god remained celibate throughout his life, and valued self-control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality among his worshippers.  Mithras represented a system of ethics in which brotherhood was encouraged in order to unify against the forces of evil.   The worshippers of Mithras held strong beliefs in a celestial heaven and an infernal hell. They believed that the benevolent powers of the god would sympathize with their suffering and grant them the final justice of immortality and eternal salvation in the world to come. They looked forward to a final day of Judgment in which the dead would resurrect, and to a final conflict that would destroy the existing order of all things to bring about the triumph of light over darkness.

Purification through a ritualistic baptism was required of the faithful, who also took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread to symbolize the body and blood of the god. Sundays were held sacred, and the birth of the god was celebrated annually on December the 25th. After the earthly mission of this god had been accomplished, he took part in a Last Supper with his companions before ascending to heaven, to forever protect the faithful from above.

However, it would be a vast oversimplification to suggest that Mithraism was the single forerunner of early Christianity.  Aside from Christ and Mithras, there were plenty of other deities (such as Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Balder, Attis, and Dionysus) said to have died and resurrected.   Many classical heroic figures, such as Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus, were said to have been born through the union of a virgin mother and divine father. Virtually every pagan religious practice and festivity that couldn’t be suppressed or driven underground was eventually incorporated into the rites of Christianity as it spread across Europe and throughout the world.

The Persian Origins of Mithraism

In order to fully understand the religion of Mithraism it is necessary to look to its foundation in Persia, where originally a multitude of gods were worshipped. Amongst them were Ahura-Mazda, god of the skies, and Ahriman, god of darkness. In the seventeen or eighteen century B.C.E., a vast reformation of the Persian pantheon was undertaken by Zarathustra (known in Greek as Zoroaster), a prophet from the East of Iranian World, probably Bactria.  The stature of Ahura-Mazda was elevated to that of supreme god of goodness, whereas the god Ahriman became the ultimate embodiment of evil.   In the same way that Ahkenaton, Heliogabalus, and Mohammed later initiated henotheistic cults from the worship of their respective deities, Zarathustra created a henotheistic dualism with the gods Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman.

kurd-engaged-in-worship-of-mithras

Kurdish man engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary which acts as a Mithraic temple (Source: Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day.

As a result of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews (597 B.C.E.) and their later emancipation by Cyrus the Great of Persia (538 B.C.E.), Zoroastrian dualism was to influence the Jewish belief in the existence of Ha-Shatan, the  Adversary of the god YHVH, and later permit the evolution of the Christian Satan-Jehovah dichotomy. Persian religious dualism became the foundation of an ethical system that has lasted until this day.  The reformation of Zarathustra retained the hundreds of Persian deities, assembling them into a complex hierarchical system of ‘Immortals’ and  ‘Adored Ones’ under the rule of either Ahura- Mazda or Ahriman.   Within this vast pantheon, Mithras gained the title of ‘Judger of Souls’. He became the divine representative of Ahura-Mazda on earth, and was directed to protect the righteous from the demonic forces of Ahriman.   Mithras was called omniscient, undeceivable, infallible, eternally watchful, and never-resting. In the Avesta, the holy book of the religion of Zarathustra, Ahura-Mazda was said to have created Mithras in order to guarantee the authority of contracts and the keeping of promises. The name Mithras was, in fact, the Persian word for ‘contract’. The divine duty of Mithras was to ensure general prosperity through good contractual relations between men. It was believed that misfortune would befall the entire land if a contract was ever broken.

Magi

Zoroastrian magi from Kerman during the Jashne Sadeh ceremonies (Source: Heritage Institute).

Ahura-Mazda was said to have created Mithras to be as great and worthy as himself.  He would fight the spirits of evil to protect the creations of Ahura-Mazda and cause even Ahriman to tremble. Mithras was seen as the protector of just souls from demons seeking to drag them down to Hell, and the guide of these souls to Paradise.  As Lord of the Sky, he took the role of psychopomp, conducting the souls of the righteous dead to paradise.   According to Persian traditions, the god Mithras was actually incarnated into the human form of the Saviour expected by Zarathustra. Mithras was born of Anahita, an immaculate virgin mother once worshipped as a fertility goddess before the hierarchical reformation. Anahita was said to have conceived the Saviour from the seed of Zarathustra preserved in the waters of Lake Hamun in the Persian province of Sistan. Mithra’s ascension to heaven was said to have occurred in 208 B.C.E., 64 years after his birth. Parthian coins and documents bear a double date with this 64 year interval.

Mithras was ‘The Great King’ highly revered by the nobility and monarchs, who looked upon him as their special protector. A great number of the nobility took theophorous (god-bearing) names compounded with Mithras. The title of the god Mithras was used in the dynasties of Pontus, Parthia, Cappadocia, Armenia and Commagene by emperors with the name Mithradates. Mithradates VI, king of Pontus (northern what is known as Turkey) in 120-63 B.C.E. became famous for being the first monarch to practice immunization by taking poisons in gradually increased doses.

Mithradates as Magus

An interesting relief at the ruins of Arsameia, the capital of the kingdom of Commagene in 1st century BC. King Mithradates I Kallinikos of Commagene (100–70 BC) dressed as the Zoroastrian Magi (left) shakes hands with the Greek god Hercules (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at The University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division; Photo originally by Mani Moradi). Note that Hercules in Commagene also represented the Persian god Artagnes. Commagene like the Pontus was a small post-Achaemenid Iranian kingdom in Anatolia situated squeezed between Parthia to its east and the expanding Roman Empire to its west. Various versions of Mithradates’ crown continue to appear among various mystical sects of Western Iran, notably Kurdistan.

The terms mithridatism and mithridate (a pharmacological elixir) were named after him.  The Parthian princes of Armenia were all priests of Mithras, and an entire district of this land was dedicated to the Virgin Mother Anahita.   Many Mithraeums, or Mithraic temples, were built in Armenia, which remained one of the laststrongholds of Mithraism.   The largest near-eastern Mithraeum was built in western Persia at Kangavar, dedicated to ‘Anahita, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithras’. Other Mithraic temples were built in Khuzestan and in Central Iran near present-day Mahallat, where at the temple of Khorheh a few tall columns still stand.   Excavations in Nisa, later renamed Mithradatkirt, have uncovered Mithraic mausoleums and shrines.   Mithraic sanctuaries and mausoleums were built in the city of Hatra in upper Mesopotamia. West of Hatra at Dura Europos, Mithraeums were found with figures of Mithras on horseback.   Persian Mithraism was more a collection of traditions and rites than a body of doctrines. However, once the Babylonians took the Mithraic rituals and mythology from the Persians, they thoroughly refined its theology. The Babylonian clergy assimilated Ahura-Mazda to the god Baal, Anahita to the goddess Ishtar, and Mithras to Shamash, their god of justice, victory and protection (and the sun god from whom King Hammurabi received his code of laws in the 18th century B.C.E.) As a result of the solar and astronomical associations of the Babylonians, Mithras later was referred to by Roman worshippers as ‘Sol invictus’, or the invincible sun.

Mithras-Legacy

Mithras’ Enduring Legacy? (Left) Mithras at Taghe Bostan, Western Iran; (Middle) Deo Sol Invictus, Italy; (Right) The Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, New York.

The sun itself was considered to be “the eye of Mithras”.    The Persian crown, from which all present day crowns are derived, was designed to represent the golden sun-disc sacred to Mithras.   As a deity connected with the sun and its life-giving powers, Mithras was known as ‘The Lord of the Wide Pastures’ who was believed to cause the plants to spring forth from the ground.  In the time of Cyrus and Darius the Great, the rulers of Persia received the first fruits of the fall harvest at the festival of Mehragan.  At this time they wore their most brilliant clothing and drank wine.  In the Persian calendar, the seventh month and the sixteenth day of each month were also dedicated to Mithras.    The Babylonians also incorporated their belief in destiny into the Mithraic worship of Zurvan, the Persian god of infinite time and father of the gods Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman. They superimposed astrology, the use of the zodiac, and the deification of the four seasons onto the Persian rites of Mithraism.

Astrology, of which these postulates were the dogmas, certainly owes some share of its success to the Mithraic propaganda, and Mithraism is therefore partly responsible for the triumph in the West of this pseudo-science with its long train of errors and terrors.”  (Franz Cumont, French Mithraic researcher  Les Mystères de Mithra, p.125).

1-Taq-Bostan

Investiture of Ardashir II (r. 379-383) (center) by the supreme God Ahuramazda (right) with Mithra (left) standing upon a lotus (Ghirshman, 1962 & Herrmann, 1977). Trampled beneath the feet of Ahura-Mazda and Ardashir II is an unidentified defeated enemy (possibly Roman Emperor Julian). Of interest are the emanating “Sun Rays”  from the head of Mithras.  Note the object being held by Mithras, which appears to be a barsum, or perhaps some sort of diadem or even a ceremonial broadsword, as Mithras appears to be engaged in some sort of “knighting” of Ardashir II as he receives the “Farr” (Divine Glory) diadem from Ahura-Mazda (Picture source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

The Persians called Mithras ‘The Mediator’ since he was believed to stand between the light of  Ahura-Mazda and the darkness of Ahriman.   He was  said to have 1000 eyes, expressing the conviction that no man could conceal his wrongdoing from the god. Mithras was known as the God of Truth, and Lord of Heavenly Light, and said to have stated:

I am a star which goes with thee and shines out of the depths”.

Mithras was associated with Verethraghna, the Persian god of victory. He would fight against the forces of evil, and destroy the wicked. It was believed that offering sacrifices to Mithras would provide strength and glory in life and in battle. In the Avesta, Yasht 10, it reads that Mithras:

spies out his enemies; armed in his fullest panoply he swoops down upon them, scatters and slaughters them. He desolates and lays waste the homes of the wicked, he annihilates the tribes and the nations that are hostile to him. He assures victory unto them that fit instruction in the Good, that honour him and offer him the sacrificial libations.”

Mithras was worshipped as guardian of arms, and patron of soldiers and armies. The handshake was developed by those who worshipped him as a token of friendship and as a gesture to show that you were unarmed.   When Mithras later became the Roman god of contracts, the handshake gesture was imported throughout the Mediterranean and Europe by Roman soldiers.

Nik Spatari-Mithras

[Click to Enlarge] Nik Spatari’s drawing of the site of Eski Kale in Turkey (dated to circa 300 BCE) showing  Mithras at left in Iranian attire shaking hands with the Hellenic God Zeus at right. This may be one of the first artistic depictions of the  handshake symbolizing the “Payman” (pact).

In Armenian tradition, Mithras was believed to shut himself up in a cave from which he emerged once a year, born anew.  The Persians introduced initiates to the mysteries in natural caves, according to Porphyry, the third century neoplatonic philosopher. These cave temples were created in the image of the World Cave that Mithras had created, according to the Persian creation myth.   As ‘God of Truth and Integrity’, Mithras was invoked in solemn oaths to pledge the fulfillment of contracts and punish liars. He was believed to maintain peace, wisdom, honour, prosperity, and cause harmony to reign among all his worshippers.

Garni Temple-Armenia

[Click to Enlarge] The Temple of Garni in Armenia. An example of Classical Armenian architecture of Hellenic inspiration, this Temple was first ordered to be built in dedication to Mithras by Tiridates I in approximately 66 CE. The god Mithras in time became merged with the Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) of the Roman Empire (Picture Source: Skyscraper City).

According to the Avesta, Mithras could decide when different periods of world history were completed. He would judge mortal souls at death and brandish his mace over hell three times each day so that demons would not inflict greater punishment on sinners than they deserved. Sacrificial offerings of cattle and birds were made to Mithras, along with libations of Haoma, a hallucinogenic drink used by Zoroastrian and Hindu priests, equated with the infamous hallucinogen ‘Soma’ described in the Vedic scriptures. Before daring to approach the altar to make an offering to Mithras, Persian worshippers were obliged to purge themselves by repeating purification rituals and flagellating themselves. These customs were continued in the initiation ceremonies of the Roman neophytes.

Expansion of the Faith

With the rapid expansion of the Persian Empire, the worship of Mithras spread eastward through northern India into the western provinces of China. In Chinese mythology, Mithras came to be known as ‘The Friend’.   To this day, Mithras is represented as a military General in Chinese statues, and is considered to be the friend of man in this life and his protector against evil in the next. In India, Mithras was recognized as ‘God of Heavenly Light’ and an ally of Indra, King of Heaven. Mithras was often prayed to and invoked along with Varuna, the Hindu god of moral law and true speech. Jointly known as ‘Mitra-Varuna’, it was believed that together they would uphold order in the world while travelling in a shining chariot and living in a golden mansion with a thousand pillars and a thousands doors. Mithras was also praised in the Vedic hymns. Just as in the Zoroastrian Avesta, the Hindu scriptures recognized Mithras as ‘God of Light’, ‘Protector of Truth’, and ‘Enemy of Falsehood’. The worship of Mithras also extended westward through what is now Turkey to the borders of the Aegean Sea.  A bilingual dedication to Mithras, written in Greek and Aramaic, was found engraved upon a rock in a wild pass near Farasha in the Turkish province of Cappadocia. Mithras was also the only Iranian god whose name was known in ancient Greece.   A grotto located near the Greek town of Tetapezus was dedicated to Mithras, before it was transformed into a church. However, Mithraism never made many converts in Greece or in the Hellenized countries.   That country never extended the hand of hospitality to the god of its ancient enemies.   According to the Greek historian Plutarch (46-125 C.E.) Mithras was first introduced into Italy by pirates from Cilicia (Sout-East Turkey) who initiated the Romans into the secrets of the religion. These pirates performed strange sacrifices on Mount Olympus and practiced Mithraic rituals, which according to Plutarch “exist to the present day and were first taught by them”. However, there were many foreign cults in Italy at that time, and these early Mithraists did not attract much attention.

-mithraeum

The Mithraeum of Seven Gates, Ostia (Source: Philip Coppens). As noted by Philip Coppens: “The Cult of Mithras, rather than Christianity, almost became the religion that dominated Western Europe. It failed, but intriguingly, we now hardly know anything about it”.

It is one of the great of ironies of history that Romans ended up worshipping the god of their chief political enemy, the Persians. The Roman historian Quintus Rufus recorded in his book History of Alexander that before going into battle against the ‘anti-Mithraean country’ of Rome, the Persian soldiers would pray to Mithras for victory. However, after the two enemy civilizations had been in contact for more than a thousand years, the worship of Mithras finally spread from the Persians through the Phrygians of Turkey to the Romans.   The Romans viewed Persia as a land of wisdom and mystery, and Persian religious teachings appealed to those Romans who found the established state religion uninspiring – just as during the Cold War era of the 1960′s many American university students rejected western religious values and sought enlightenment in the established spirituality of Communist east-Asian “enemy countries”.

Mithras in the Roman Empire

“Let us suppose that in modern Europe the faithful had deserted the Christian churches to worship Allah or Brahma,  to follow the precepts of Confucius or Buddha, or to adopt  the maxims of the Shinto;  let us imagine a great confusion of all the races of the world in which Arabian mullahs, Chinese scholars, Japanese bonzes, Tibetan lamas and Hindu pundits should all be preaching fatalism and predestination, ancestor-worship and devotion to a deified sovereign, pessimism and deliverance through annihilation – a confusion in which all those priests should erect temples of exotic architecture in our cities and celebrate their disparate rites therein.   Such a dream, which the future may perhaps realize, would offer a pretty accurate picture of the religious chaos in which the ancient world was struggling before the reign of Constantine.”    Among the Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, At a time when Christianity was only one of several dozen foreign Eastern cults struggling for recognition in Rome, the religious dualism and dogmatic moral teaching of Mithraism set it apart from other sects, creating a stability previously unknown in Roman paganism.   Early Roman worshippers imagined themselves to be keepers of ancient wisdom from the far east, and invincible heroes of the faith, ceaselessly fighting the powers of corruption.   Mithraism quickly gained prominence and remained the most important pagan religion until the end of the fourth century, spreading Zoroastrian dualism throughout every province of  the empire for three hundred years.

-Mithraism-Map

Map of Mithraism in the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 1st to early 4th centuries CE (Source: Hinnells, 1988, p.77).

In those days, it was imperial policy to remove troops as far as possible from their country of origin in order to prevent local uprisings. A Roman soldier who, after several years of service in his native country had been promoted to the rank of centurion, was transferred to a foreign station where he was later assigned to a new garrison. This way, the entire body of centurions of any one legion constituted a microcosm of the empire. The vast extent of the Roman colonies formed links between Persia and the Mediterranean and caused the diffusion of the Mithraic religion into the Roman world. Mithraism became a military religion under the Romans. The many  dangers to which the Roman soldiers were exposed caused them to seek the protection of the  gods of their foreign comrades in order to obtain success in battle or a happier life through death. The soldiers adopted the Mithraic faith for its emphasis on victory, strength, and security in the next world. Temples and shrines were dedicated to Mithras across the empire.

In 67 B.C., the first congregation of Mithras-worshipping soldiers existed in Rome under the command of General Pompey. From 67 to 70 C.E., the legio XV Apollinaris, or Fifteenth Apollonian Legion, took part in suppressing the uprising of the Jews in Palestine. After sacking and burning the Second Temple in Jerusalem and capturing the infamous Ark of the Covenant, this legion accompanied Emperor Titus to Alexandria, where they were joined by new recruits from Cappadocia (Turkey) to replace casualties suffered in their victorious campaigns.

Julian's failed invasion of Persia in 363 AD

An irony? Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 CE. Above is a recreation of  Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, and combat elephants as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. Note the  rider in Mithraic attire bearing an unknown Sassanian 3-pronged symbol  (Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005). It is possible that numbers of the Roman troops in Julian’s army also worshiped the Iranian god, Mithras!

After their transportation to the Danube with the veteran legionnaires,  they offered sacrifices to Mithras in a semicircular  grotto that they consecrated to him on the banks of the river. Soon, this first temple was no longer adequate and a second one was built adjoining a temple of Jupiter.   As a municipality developed alongside the camp and the conversions to Mithraism continued to multiply, a third and much larger Mithraeum was erected towards the beginning of the second century.  This temple was later enlarged by Diocletian, Emperor from 284-305 C.E. Diocletian  rededicated this sanctuary to Mithras, giving him the title  “The Protector of the Empire”. Five Mithraeums were found in Great Britain, where only three Roman legions were stationed. Remains were discovered in London near St.  Paul’s Cathedral, in Segontium in  Wales, and three were found along Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England.   Mithraism also reached Northern Africa by Roman military recruits from abroad. By the second century, the worship of Mithras had spread throughout Germany due to the powerful army that defended this territory.  The greatest number of Mithraeums in the western world were discovered in Germany. An inscription has been found of a centurion’s dedication to Mithras dating back to the year 148 C.E. One of the most famous Mithraic bas-reliefs, showing twelve scenes from the life of the god,  was discovered in Neuenheim, Germany in 1838. When Commodus (Emperor from 180-192 C.E.) was initiated into the  Mithraic religion, there began an era of strong support of Mithraism that included emperors such as Aurelian, Diocletian, and Julian the Apostate, who called Mithras “the guide of the souls”. All of these emperors took the Mithraic titles of ‘Pius’, ‘Felix’, and ‘Invictus’  (devout, blessed, and invincible). From this point on, Roman authority legitimized their rule by divine right, as opposed to heredity or vote of the Senate. The Babylonian astrological influence within Mithraism established a solar henotheism as the leading religion at Rome.     In 218 C.E.  the Roman Emperor Heliogabalus (placed upon the throne at age 14) attempted to elevate his god, the Baal of Emesa to the rank of supreme divinity of the empire by subordinating the entire ancient pantheon.  Heliogabalus was soon assassinated for his aspiration of a solar henotheism, but half a century later his attempt inspired emperor Aurelian to initiate the  worship of the Sol invictus. Worshipped in an elaborate temple, magnificent plays were held in honour of this deity every fourth year.   Sol invictus was also elevated to the  supreme rank in the divine hierarchy, and became the special protector of the emperors and the empire. Many Mithraic  reliefs showed scenes of Mithras and Sol sharing a banquet over a table draped with the skin of the bull. Soon after, the title of Sol invictus was transferred to Mithras. The Roman emperors formally announced their alliance with the sun and emphasized their likeness to Mithras, god of its divine light. Mithras was, also, unified with the sun-god Helios, and became known as ‘The Great God Helios-Mithras’. Emperor Nero adopted the radiating crown as the symbol of his sovereignty to exemplify the splendour of the rays of the sun, and to show that he was an incarnation of Mithras. He was initiated into the Mithraic religion by the Persian Magi brought to Rome by the King of Armenia. Emperors from that time onwards proclaimed themselves destined to the throne by virtue of having been born with the divine ruling power of the sun.

The Rites of Mithraic Initiation

Upon enlistment, the first act of a Roman soldier was to pledge obedience and devotion to the emperor. Absolute  loyalty to authority and to fellow soldiers was the cardinal  virtue, and the Mithraic religion became the ultimate vehicle  for this fraternal obedience. The Mithras worshippers  compared the practice of their religion to their military service.   All of the initiates considered themselves sons of the same father owing to one another a brother’s affection.   Mithras was a chaste god, and his worshippers were taught reverence for celibacy (a convenient trait for soldiers to maintain). The spirit of camaraderie (and celibacy) was to be continued in the Roman Empire by the Christian belief in neighborly love and universal charity.    However, the worshippers of Mithras did not lose themselves in a contemplative mysticism like the followers of other near-eastern sects.   Their morality particularly encouraged action, and during a period of war and confusion, they found stimulation, comfort and support in its tenets. In their eyes of the Roman soldiers, resistance to evil deeds and immoral actions became just as valued as victory in glorious military exploits.   They  would fight the powers of evil in accordance with the ideals of Zoroastrian dualism, in which life was conceived as a struggle against evil spirits. By supplying a new conception of the world, Mithraism gave new meaning to life by determining the worshipper’s beliefs concerning life after death. The struggle between good and evil was extended into the afterworld,  where Mithras ensured the protection of his followers from the powers of darkness. It was believed that Mithras would judge the souls of the dead and lead the righteous into the heavenly regions where Ahura-Mazda reigned in eternal light.    Mithraism brought the assurance that reverence would be rewarded with immortality.

Mithra temple-Carrawburgh

Remains of the Temple of Mithra at Carrawburgh, England (Source: Britain Express). The culture 0f Mithras continues to endure among the Iranians (within Iran and the Kurds of the Near East beyonf modern-day Iran. The Kurds speak West Iranian languages (i.e. Kurmnaji, Gowrani, etc.) that are akin to Persian and Luri.

Mithraism was an archetypal mystery cult and secret society. Like the rites of Demeter, Orpheus, and Dionysus, the Mithraic rituals admitted candidates by secret ceremonies, the meaning of which was known only to the initiated. Like all other institutionalized initiation rites of the past and present, this mystery cult allowed the initiates to be controlled and put under the command of their leaders. Preceding initiation into the Mithraic fold, the neophyte had to prove his courage and devotion by swimming across a rough river, descending a sharp cliff, or jumping through flames with his hands bound and eyes blindfolded.    The initiate was also taught the secret Mithraic password, which he was to use to identify himself to other members, and which he was to repeat to himself frequently as a personal mantra.   Mithraic worshippers believed that the human soul descended into the world at birth. The goal of their religious quest was to achieve the soul’s ascent out of the world again by gaining passage through seven heavenly gates, corresponding to seven grades of initiation. Therefore, being promoted to a higher rank in the religion was believed to correspond to a heavenly journey of the soul. Promotion was obtained through submission to religious authority (kneeling), casting off the old life (nakedness), and liberation from bondage through the mysteries.

Bible_museum_-_Mithrasheiligtum

A reconstruction of a Mithraeum (Darb-e Mehr) depicting the stages of ascension on the floor as alluded to in the previous photo this posting (Source: Wolfgang Sauber for Public Domain). Note the placing of grapes (right side); grapes continue to signify vitality and renewal in Iran, Italy, Anatolia and the Caucasus.

The process of Mithraic initiation required the symbolic climbing of a ceremonial ladder with seven rungs, each made of a different metal to symbolize the seven known celestial bodies. By symbolically ascending this ceremonial ladder through successive initiations, the neophyte could proceed through the seven levels of heaven. The seven grades of Mithraism, were: Corax (Raven),  Nymphus (Male Bride), Miles (Soldier),  Leo (Lion), Peres (Persian), Heliodromus (Sun-Runner), and Pater (Father);  each respective grade protected by Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, the Moon, the Sun, and Saturn.    The lowest degree of initiation into the grade of Corax symbolized the death of a new member, from which he would arise reborn as a new man.    This represented the end of his life as an unbeliever, and cancelled previous allegiances to the other unacceptable beliefs. The title Corax (Raven) originated with the Zoroastrian custom of exposing the dead on funeral towers to be eaten by carrion birds, a custom continued today by the Parsis of India, the descendants of the Persian followers of Zarathustra.   Further initiation involved the clashing of cymbals, beating of drums, and the unveiling of a statue of Mithras. The initiate drank wine from the cymbal to recognize it as the source of ritual ecstasy.   Next, he ate a small morsel of bread placed on a drum, to signify his acceptance of Mithras as the source of his food. This bread had been exposed to the rays of the sun, so by eating the bread the worshipper was partaking of the divine essence of the sun itself.   The initiate would also offer a loaf of bread and cup of water to the statue of Mithras.    When a neophyte reached the degree of Miles (soldier), he was offered a crown, which he had to reject with the saying:

Only Mithras is my crown”.

The indelible mark of a cross, symbol of the sun, was then  branded on his forehead with a hot iron to symbolize his ownership by the deity, and he would renounce the social custom of wearing a wreath. From then on, the neophyte belonged to the sacred militia of ‘The Invincible God Mithras’. All family ties were severed and only fellow initiates were to be considered brothers.

Mithraism-Rome

[Click to Enlarge] The stages of Roman Mithraism: Stage 1: Cerax (Raven); – Stage 2-Nymphos (Bride); Stage 3-Miles (Soldier); Stage 4-Leo (Lion); Stage 5-Perses (Persian); Stage 6- Heliodrommus (Sun-Runner); Stage 7-Pater (Father) (Picture sources: Hinnels, 1988). Note that term “Bride” often used to denote “Nymphos” for the second stage is simplistic at best. The Latin term should actually be in the feminine “Nymphe” and not the masculine “Nymphos” or a male bride which possibly may suggest something of a mystical male-female fusion. The reasons for this are not as yet clear, but it seems consistent with Roman or Western (as opposed to the original Iranian) Mithraism which is believed to have excluded women from its rituals and membership. Note that in the final grade (Stage VII-Father) there is a distinct Persian cap symbolizing the cap of Mithras (Picture sources: Cerax, Nymphos, Miles from Hinnels, 1985; Leo, Persian, and Heliodrommus, and Pater in Public Domain).

Worshippers used caves and grottos as temples wherever possible, or at least gave temples the internal appearance of caves or of being subterranean by building steps leading down to the entrance. They took part in masquerading as animals, such as ravens and lions, and inserted passages into their ritual chants that were devoid of any literal meaning.

All of these rites that characterized Roman Mithraism  originated in ancient prehistoric ceremonies.

During the rituals, the evolution of the universe and the destiny of mankind was explained. The service consisted chiefly of contemplating the Mithraic symbolism, praying while knelt before benches, and chanting hymns to the accompaniment of flutes. Hymns were sung describing the voyage of Mithras’ horse-drawn chariot across the sky.

Invokers and worshippers of Mithras prayed:

 “Abide with  me in my soul. Leave me not [so] that I may be initiated and that the Holy Spirit may breathe within me.”

Animal sacrifices, mostly of birds, were also conducted in the Mithraeums. The Mithraic clergy’s duty was to maintain  the perpetual holy fire on the altar, invoke the planet of  the day, offer the sacrifices for the disciples, and preside at initiations. The Mithraic priests were known as Patres Sacrorum, or Fathers of the Sacred Mysteries.

They were mystically designated with the titles Leo and Hierocorax, and presided over the priestly festivals of Leontica (the festival of lions), Coracica (the festival of ravens), and Hierocoracica (the festival of sacred ravens). The great festival of the Mithraic calendar was held on December the 25th, and the 16th of every month was kept holy to Mithras. The first day of the week was dedicated to the sun, to whom prayers were recited in the morning, noon, and evening.

Reconstruction of Mithra ceremony

An interesting reconstruction of a Mithraic ceremony in at the Mithraic temple of Osterburken, Germany (Mithraeum.eu).

Services were held on Sundays, in which bells were sounded and praises were offered to Mithras. On great occasions, the ‘soldiers of Mithras’ took part in the sacrament of bread and wine as sacred bulls were sacrificed.

The Taurobolium

While Mithras was worshipped almost exclusively by men, most of the wives and daughters of the Mithraists took part in the worship of Magna Mater, Ma-Bellona, Anahita, Cybele, and Artemis. These goddess religions practiced a regeneration ritual known as the Taurobolium, or bull sacrifice, in which the blood of the slaughtered animal was allowed to fall down upon the  initiate, who would be lying, completely drenched in a pit below. As a result of their association with practitioners of this rite, Mithraists soon adopted the Taurobolium ritual as their own. This baptism of blood became a renewal of the human soul, as opposed to mere physical strength.

"Tauroctony" - Mithras slaying a bull

[Click to Enlarge] Another depiction of Mithras with Persian dress slaying the sacred bull at the Vatican Museum in Rome (Source: Tertullian.org). Note the dog and serpent heading towards the gushing blood pouring down from the bull’s neck as the the scorpion heads towards the dying bull’s testicles.

Mithraic baptism wiped out moral faults; the purity aimed at had become spiritual. The descent into the pit was regarded as symbolic burial, from which the initiate would emerge reborn, purified of all his crimes and regarded as the equal of a god. Those who made it through the Taurobolium were revered by their brethren, and accepted in the fold of Mithraism.

The taurobolium had become a means of obtaining a new and eternal life; the ritualistic ablutions were no longer external and material acts, but were supposed to cleanse the soul of its  impurities and to restore its original innocence; the sacred repasts imparted an intimate virtue to the soul and furnished sustenance to the spiritual life” (Franz Cumont Les Mystères de Mithra).

The bull has been exalted throughout the ancient world for its strength and vigour. Greek myths told of the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull monster who lived in the Labyrinth beneath Crete, and took an annual sacrifice of  six young men and six maidens before being slain by the hero Theseus. Minoan artwork depicted nimble acrobats leaping bravely over the backs of bulls. The altar in front of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was adorned with bull horns believed to be endowed with magical powers. The bull was also one of the four tetramorphs, the symbols later associated with the four gospels.  The mystique of this powerful animal still survives today in the ritualistic bull-fighting of Spain and Mexico, and in the rodeo bull-riding of the U.S. The bull was an obvious representation of masculinity by nature of its size, strength, and sexual power. At the same time, the bull symbolized lunar forces by virtue of its horns and earthly forces by virtue of its powerful root to the ground.

Santa_Maria_Capua_Vetere_Mithraeum_Tauroctony

[Click to Enlarge] Depiction of Mithras with Persian dress of the (Parthian and Early-Mid Sassanian era type) slaying the sacred bull at the Santa Maria Capua Vetere (Source: Dom De Felice for Public Domain). Note the dog and serpent.

The ritual sacrifice of the bull symbolized the penetration of the feminine principle by the masculine. The slaying of  the bull represented the victory of man’s spiritual nature over his animality; parallel to the symbolic images of Marduk slaying Tiamut, Gilgamesh killing Humbaba, Michael subduing Satan, St. George slaying the dragon, the Centurion piercing Christ’s side, Lewis Carroll’s “beamish boy” slaying the Jabberwocky, and Sigourney Weaver slaying the Alien.

According to the archetypal hero myth recited in Roman Mithraic rituals, the infant Mithras formed an alliance with the sun and set off to kill the bull, the first living creature ever created. While the bull was grazing in a pasture,  Mithras seized it by the horns and dragged it into a cave. The bull soon escaped, but was recaptured when Mithras  was given the command by the raven, messenger of the sun, to slay the bull. With the help of his dog, Mithras succeeded in overtaking the bull and dragging it again in the cave.    Then, seizing it by the nostrils, he plunged deep into its flank with his knife.  As the bull died, the world came into being and time was born. From the body of the slain beast sprang forth all the herbs and plants that cover the earth.

mithras-the-bringer-of-light

A Roman version of the statue of Mithras “Bringer of Light” in a Mithraic temple in Ostia, Italy (Consult, Hinnells, 1988, p.83). Note the opening on the ceiling just above Mithras, allowing the sun rays to “illuminate” the god. Mithras in Iranian mythology is the bringer of light and justice as well as a manifestation of the eternal sun.

From the spinal cord of the animal sprang wheat to produce bread, and from the blood came the vine to produce wine. The shedding of the sacrificial blood brought great blessings to the world, which Ahriman tried to prevent. The struggle between good and evil, which at that moment it first began, was to continue until the end of time.

This ingenious fable carries us back to the very beginnings of civilization. It could never have risen save among a people of shepherds and hunters with whom cattle, the source of all wealth, had become an object of religious veneration”.

Mithraic sculpture depicted the Taurobolium with invariable consistency. Mithras was often depicted in the cave kneeling on the back of the bull, dagger in hand, wearing a flowing cape and Phrygian cap (the rounded, conical hats currently en vogue amongst rap-music fans). He was shown pulling back the bull’s head by its nostrils and stabbing it with the dagger, back foot extended over the bull’s right leg. A dog and a snake were shown leaping into bull’s wound, representing the dualistic conflict of good and evil at the moment of creation. A scorpion was shown at the bull’s genitals, depicting evil seeking to destroy life at its source. Ears of corn sprung from the tail of the bull representing victory of good over evil.     During the celebration of the vernal equinox, the Phrygian priests of the Great Mother attributed the blood shed in the Taurobolium to the redemptive power of the blood of the Divine Lamb shed on the Christian Easter. It was maintained that the dramatic Taurobolium purification ritual was more effective than baptism.   The food that was taken during the mystic feasts was likened to the bread and wine of the communion; the Mother of the Gods (Magna Mater) received greater worship than the Mother of God (Mary), whose son also had risen again.  An inscription in the Mithraeum under the  Church of Santa Prisca in Rome referred to Mithras saving men by shedding the eternal blood of the bull. On the very spot on which the last Taurobolium took place at the end of the fourth century, in the Phrygianum, today stands the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica.

-Tauroctony_Heddernheim

Relief of Mithras and the Tauroctony from the “Heidenfeld” Mithraeum of Heddernheim, Germany, presently located in Wiesbaden (Source: Dierk Schaefer for Public Domain).

The Evolution

As the religious history of the empire is studied more closely, the triumph of the church will, in our opinion, appear more and more as the culmination of a long evolution of beliefs. We can understand the Christianity of the fifth century with its greatness and weaknesses, its spiritual exaltation and its puerile superstitions, if we know the moral antecedents of the world in which it developed” (Franz Cumont).

As the final pagan religion of the Roman Empire, Mithraism paved a smooth path for Christianity by transferring the better elements of paganism to this new religion.  After Constantine, Emperor from 306-337 C.E., converted on the eve of a battle in 312 C.E., Christianity was made the state religion. All emperors following Constantine were openly hostile towards Mithraism.  The religion was persecuted on the grounds that it was the religion of Persians, the arch-enemies of the Romans. The absurdity with which Christianity enveloped Roman paganism was characterized by the early Church writer Tertullian (160-220 C.E.), who noticed that the pagan religion utilized baptism as well as bread and wine consecrated by priests. He wrote that Mithraism was inspired by the devil, who wished to mock the Christian sacraments in order to lead faithful Christians to hell. Nonetheless, Mithraism survived up to the fifth century in remote regions of the Alps amongst tribes such as the Anauni, and has managed to survive in the near-east until this day.

Mithras is still venerated today by the Parsis, the descendants of the Persian Zoroastrians now living mainly in India. Their temples to Mithras are now called ‘dar-i Mihr’ (The Court of Mithras). A scholar living among Parsis in Karachi, Pakistan reported that a Parsi mother, finding one of her grandchildren fighting with a younger child, told him to remember that Mithras was watching and would know the truth. Upon initiation, Parsi priests are given a ‘Gurz’, the symbolic Mace of Mithras, to represent the priestly duty to make war on evil.  The priests continue to conduct their most sacred rituals under Mithra’s protection.

In Iran, up until 1979, traditional Mithraic holidays and customs still continued to be officially practiced, however the celebrations have continued despite the current Iranian establishment’s pan-Islamic outlook .  The Iranian New Year celebration called ‘Now-Ruz’ takes place during the spring and continues for thirteen days.  During this time Mehr (Mithras) is extolled as ancient god of the sun. The ‘Mihragan’ festival in honor of Mithras, Judge of Iran, also runs for a period of 5 days with great rejoicing and in a spirit of deep devotion.

MegreganShooshtarNiknam3

Zoroastrians engage in the celebration of Mehregan or festival of Mithras in Shushtar, Iran (Picture source: Kouroush Niknam). For more see article by Massoume Price entitled “Mehregan”

Manicheans and Later Heresies

Back in early medieval Europe, a form of Mithraism had managed to survive for centuries beyond the edicts of Constantine. Even when it had been dethroned by Christianity, the Mithraic faith lived on in dignified opposition by mutating into a Christian heresy known as Manichaeism, which was to become a source of strife and bloodshed right down to the Middle Ages. The Persian dualism of Zarathustra introduced such strong principles into Europe that they continued to exert an influence long after the fall of the Roman Empire.  The Manichean faith succeeded as an heir to Mithraism, spreading within decades throughout the territories once covered by Mithraism in Asia and throughout the Mediterranean, eventually encompassing regions from China to North Africa, Spain, and Southern France.

Mani-Portrait

A portrait of the prophet Mani (216-274 or 277 CE) (Source: Great Thoughts Treasury). Mani viewed himself as the final seal of the prophets, completing the previous religious messages of Zoroaster, Christ and the Buddha. His theological views, especially with respect to evil and its relation to material existence incurred the wrath of not only the Zoroastrian Magi of his Persian homeland but also that of the later Christians and Emperors of China.

Mani was born in 216 C.E. nearly 500 years after the incarnation of Mithras, and given the title ‘The Seal of the Prophets’ (a title since given to Mohammed by Islam).   He was also called the Bagh, or the Lord to succeed Mithras. Mani preached a dualistic theological system emphasizing the purity of the spirit and the impurity of the body.   He believed that the universe was controlled by the opposing powers of good and evil which had become temporarily intertwined, but at a future time would be separated and return to their own realms. Manichaean ethics focused on freeing the soul from the body and opposing material and physical pleasures.Mani’s followers attempted to assist this separation by leading ascetic lives, preaching renunciation of the world, and discouraging marriage and procreation.

Map of Manicheaism

Map detailing the spread of Manicheaism (Source: Trans Cultural Studies).

Ironically, Manichaeism was denounced in the west by the Papacy as a dangerous heresy considered detrimental to social life and common human institutions.    It was also condemned in Persia for similar reasons. Mani was persecuted and finally put to death in 276 C.E, as were many of his followers. Regardless, Manichaeism spread  widely and was a major religion in the East until the 14th century. It died out in the West by the 6th century, but later led to the creation of several early Christian heresies, such as the those of the Cathars and the Albigenses.

Mani-Cathars

Medieval depiction of a dispute between Saint Dominic and the Cathars, also known as the Albigensians (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at The University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division). Interestingly, the Cathars denied charges of being Manicheans, yet their belief systems were wholly consistent with Mani’s teachings.

The Albigenses were a heretical Christian sect whose influence became widespread in Southern France around the year 1200 C.E. Its theology was based entirely upon Manichean dualism.    The Dominican Order was  founded in 1205 in order to combat this heresy. Following the assassination of the papal legate in the year 1208, Pope Innocent III  declared a crusade against the Albigenses. This developed into a political conflict with civil war between the north and south of France lasting until 1229.     The Knights Templar, a religious military order founded by Crusaders in  Jerusalem in 1118, came into contact with Manichean heretics who despised the Cross, regarding it as the instrument of Christ’s torture.   This tenet was believed to have been adopted by the Templars, who were suppressed and charged with blasphemy in 1312 for committing homosexual acts, worshipping the demon Baphomet, and ritually spitting upon crucifixes.   To this day, the Knights Templar have been emulated by dozens of mystical sects and secret societies, including the Freemasons, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the notorious Ordo Templi Orientallis reformulated by Alistair Crowley.

Conclusion

If Christianity had been checked in its growth by some deadly disease, the world would have become Mithraic” [Joseph Renan, French religious historian and critic Marc-Aurèle et la fin du monde antique]

The Mithraic legacy resulted in customs still carried out today, including the handshake and the wearing of the crown by the monarchy. Worshippers of Mithras were the first in the western world to preach the doctrine of divine right of kings. It was the worship of the sun, combined with the theological dualism of Zarathustra, that disseminated the ideas upon which the Sun-King Louis XIV (1638-1715) and other deified sovereigns of the West maintained their monarchial absolutism. Of all the Roman pagan religions, none was so severe as Mithraism. None attained an equal moral elevation, and none could have had so strong a hold on mind and heart as the worship of this sun god and saviour.   The major competitor with Christianity during the second and third centuries C. E., not even during the Moslem invasions had Europe come closer to adopting an Eastern religion than when Diocletian officially recognized Mithras as the protector of the Roman Empire. But in the end,  Christianity finally became the champion of the inevitable conflict with the Zoroastrian faith for the dominion of the known world.

In theory, a proper coup-d’etat by the Mithras-worshipping Roman centurions could have prevented the Emperor Constantine from establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Mithraism could quite possibly have survived through the following centuries with the theological assistance of the Manichean Heresy and its various offshoots, assuming that the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth had somehow have been simultaneously quashed (possibly through an increased number of crucifixions).   With the absence of Christianity due to the continuation of Mithraism in the west, the rise of Islam may similarly have been prevented in the seventh century, and the violence of the crusades need not have occurred. Assuming that Islam had not enveloped Persia, the worship of Mithras could have continued within the pantheon of Zarathustra.

Consequently, Mithraism would have made an even stronger indentation upon the pantheons of India and China, and possibly spread beyond to other far-eastern countries. Columbus set sail during the Inquisition, another savage event representing the culmination of over a thousand years of European Christianity. Had Mithraism survived the millennium until the year 1492,  the Indigenous people of the Americas would have been exposed to Mithraic worshippers instead of Catholic missionaries. Quite possibly, the Taurobolium would have been transposed upon the buffalo hunt rituals of the Plains Indians and the sacrificial ceremonies of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec, and these great empires would not have been annihilated by the brutal European conquerors who plundered in the name of King and Christ.

Let us play quantum physics through manipulating causality and further extending this ‘What If?’ scenario (and selectively ignoring countless variables) it is possible to reconstruct our current North American society with Mithraism in place of Christianity as the predominant religion and cultural driving force. After all, best selling author Mary Stewart used the concept of the local revival of Mithraism in medieval Britain for her novel Merlin of the Crystal Cave.

The great Mithraic researcher Franz Cumont also commented extensively on the possibility that Mithraism had survived beyond Constantine:

The morals of the human race would have been but little changed, a little more virile perhaps, a little less charitable, but only a shade different.    The erudite theology taught by the mysteries would obviously have shown a laudable respect for science, but as its dogmas were based upon a false physics it would apparently have insure the persistence of an infinity of errors.     Astronomy would not be lacking, but astrology would have been unassailable, while the heavens would still be revolving around the earth to accord with its doctrines. The greatest danger,  would have been that the Caesars would have established a theocratic absolutism supported by the Oriental ideas of the divinity of kings.  The union of throne and altar would have been inseparable, and Europe would never have known the invigorating struggle between church and state. But on the other hand the discipline of Mithraism, so productive of individual energy, and the democratic organization of its societies in which senators and slaves rubbed elbows, contain a germ of liberty.  While these contrasting possibilities may be interesting,  it is hard to find a mental pastime less profitable than the attempt to remake history and to conjecture on what might have been had events proved otherwise.”

Bibliography

Beny, Roloff. Iran: Elements of Destiny. McClelland and Stewart Ltd.  London, 1978.

Cumont, Franz. Les Mystères de Mithra. Dover Publications, Inc.,New York, 1956.

Cumont, Franz. The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism. Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1956.

Eliade, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion. The World Publishing Company. Cleveland, 1958.

Hinnells, John R. Persian Mythology. Peter Bedrick Books. New York, 1985.

Perowne, Stewart. Roman Mythology. Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. London, 1969.

Darius I Stele Discovered in Southern Russia

The report below (originally released by Russia’s TASS News agency) was provided by the Russia beyond the Headlines (RBTH) news outlet on August 5, 2016 originally titled “Darius I stele found in southern Russia may become world sensation. Kindly note that a number of images and their accompanying captions do not appear in the original report.

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Archeologists doing excavations in the area of the antique town of Phanagoria in the Temryuk district of Russia’s southern Krasnodar Territory have discovered fragments of a marble stele carrying an inscription of the ancient Persian King Darius I, the press service of the Volnoye Delo foundation said in a press release on Aug. 5.

1-Darius stele in Southern Russia

The stele of Darius I being excavated by Russian archealogists in southern Russia (Image Source: RBTH & Press Photo).

The find has good chances of becoming a world sensation, said the foundation, which is run by businessman Oleg Deripaska. According to the press release:

The decoded inscriptions state someone made them in the name of the Persian King Darius I … The stele has an inscription in the ancient Persian language. The approximate assessment dates the find to the first half of the 5th century B.C.

Apart from the stele, the archeologists have found in the acropolis the remainders of ancient fortress walls, which in itself is an important even in classical archeology, the foundation said.

4- Darius-Parsa

The relief of Darius the Great (reigned 522-486 BCE) at Persepolis (Source: درفش کاویانی in Public Domain).

The stele was found in the seams that can be attributed to the 5th century B.C. The text contains a word unregistered before and roughly interpreted as the place name Miletus, one of the biggest cities in Ionia, a region known as Asia Minor now. As noted in the press release:

Miletus stood at the head of the so-called Ionian uprising of Greek city states against Darius I … It was suppressed in 494 B.C. Researchers believe the king put up a marble stele in the city after his victory over the Greeks. The monument had a text on it – for instance, reporting on the king’s triumph.”

Later on, a fragment of the overturned and broken stele got to Phanagoria – quite possibly, as ballast on a ship that called into the Phanagoria port, since there is no natural stone of the kind on the Taman peninsula.

At present, the stele is undergoing scrutiny at the restoration laboratory of the Phanagoria Research and Cultural Center.

4-Khayyam-Astrakhan-Russia-Tass

Modern Russia (and much of Eastern Europe) often acknowledge the cultural legacy of ancient  Iran – above is the first monument in Russia dedicated to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), unveiled in Astrakhan (Source: RBTH & Dmitry Rogulin/TASS); for more information consult RBTH report “Russia’s first statue of Persian poet Omar Khayyam unveiled in Astrakhan“.

Darius I (b. 550, d. 486 B.C.), a Persian ruler from the Achaemenian dynasty considerably expanded the territory of his country with the aid of wars against the Getae, Thrace, Lemnos, Imbros, and Macedonia. He was buried in the mausoleum built on the cliffs at Naqsh-e Rustam near Persepolis on his order and decorated with sculptures.

5-Tomb of darius-Naqshe Rustam

Darius the Great’s tomb at Nagshe Rustam in southwest Iran (Source: درفش کاویانی  in Public Domain).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spatari-Assitite

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

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

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

Sarvistan-S-Paolo

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

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

Farrokh Lecture-UBC-Tirgan-YSU

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

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

Slide1

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

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

Pistachio_macro_whitebackground_NS

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

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

What is the significance of Wings on such an emblem?

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

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

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

Part 1

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

One of the places we visited the Church of Mughni.

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

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

1-Mughni

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

One of the places visited was Dsegh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2011 I again visited the Republic of Armenia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is more depicted on this monument outside the Chapel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25-TNRArea9CrossRelic found in the excavations at Tell Tuneinir (Source: stlcc.edu).

Below is the description given:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson indeed for the modern world.