Azerbaijan Republic acknowledges Historical Legacy of Polo Game

One enduring legacy of the former Soviet Union is its school of falsifying history. That same school of historical falsification now continues to endure in one the former Soviet Union’s satellite regions, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918). Nazrin Mehdiyeva, a historian from the Republic of Azerbaijan, has noted that:

“…the myth [of a North versus South Azerbaijan] was invented under the Soviets for the purpose of breaking Azerbaijan’s historical links with Iran. To make this historical revisionism more acceptable, the Soviet authorities falsified documents and re-wrote history books. As a result, the myth became deeply ingrained in the population [of the Republic of Azerbaijan-known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918] … as part of the rhetoric” (Mehdiyeva, N.,2003, Azerbaijan and its foreign policy dilemma. Asian Affairs, 34, pp. 271-285, cited from p.280).

A post-Soviet era propaganda map produced in Baku. The above map promotes the false notion that a “Greater Azerbaijan” was divided in two by Russia and Iran in 1828 [Click above map to view the official Baku establishment narrative]. Historically false claims such as these were first promoted by the pan-Turkists of the early 20th century which were then propagated by the former Soviet Union and the Communists, notably Joseph Stalin and Mirjaafar Baguirov. Unfortunately the legacy of historical amnesia has continued to persist at the official level in the Caucasian state.

The Baku administration has based its falsification of history by appropriating the historical legacy of its neighbors, especially Iran as well as Armenia. In mid-September 2013 for example, the Baku establishment replaced the Persian-inscribed tiles at Nezami mausoleum – for more on this topic consult: Lornejad, S., & Doostzadeh, A. (2012). On the Modern Politicization of the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Yerevan Series for Oriental Studies (Volume I), Edited by Garnik S. Asatrian. Yerevan: Caucasian Center for Iranian Studies. (pdf) – NOTE: This is the Official Digitized Version by Victoria Arakelova; with errata fixed from the print edition. False Statue in RomeBaku Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov at Nizami Ganjavi monument at Rome’s Villa Borghese park in early February 2013. The Aliev Foundation  funded the installation of this statue as part of the initiative of falsifying Iranian historical icons (see Petition to correct the historical identity of the statue in Rome). Ganjavi composed his poetry in Persian and wrote extensively on the Iranian cultural realm.

The very name “Azerbaijan” had never been applied to the region of the modern-day Republic – this was first proposed by pan-Turkist elements of the Musavat movement on May, 28, 1918 – prior to that date, the only historical reference to Az/a/rbaijan was to the historical province located in northwest Iran. The succeeding Soviets who followed the Musavat regime in Baku retained that incorrect name for the region. As noted by Barthold:

The name “Azerbaijan” for the Republic of Azarbaijan (Soviet Azerbaijan) was selected on the assumption that the stationing of such a republic would lead to that entity and its Iranian counterpart to become one…this is the reason why the name “Az/a/rbaijan” was selected (for Arran)…anytime when it is necessary to select a name that refers to the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, we should/can select the name Arran …” (Quote from Bartold, Soviet academic, politician and foreign office official. See Bartold, V.V., Sochineniia, Tom II, Chast I, Izdatelstvo Vostochnoi Literary, p.217, 1963).

Ata Yurduتبلیغات ضد ایرانی در کتابهای درسی رژیم حاکم بر باکو!-[Anti-Iranian propaganda in school textbooks printed by the current regime of Baku]. History books are being re-written in Baku and exported to major Western libraries and universities in the effort to undermine Iranian history.

Most recently the Baku establishment had contacted UNESCO to consider the game of polo as an “Azerbaiiani” sport. For more see: Fars News (October 28, 2013): Iran urges UNESCO to reject Republic of Azerbaijan’s claim on ancient Polo game. Polo is the one of the world’s oldest known competitive team sports, in which players use mallets on horseback to shoot a ball through the opposing team’s goal post. The game continues to be intensely popular in modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In fact, as noted by Mehdi Hojjat (Deputy Director ICHHTO) Afghanistan, Pakistan and India who have claims to the legacy of Polo, have also objected against the Republic of Azerbaijan’s application to UNESCO. As noted by Hojjat:

 “We will tell UNESCO that the traditional game is a common element that should be not registered exclusively in the name of a single country.”

Polo_game_from_poem_Guy_u_ChawganA Persian miniature made in 1546, during the reign of the Safavid dynasty of Iran (1501-1722). This artwork is of the Persian poem Guy-o Chawgân (“Ball and Polo-mallet”) depicting Iranian nobles engaged in the game of polo, which has been played in Iran for thousands of years (Picture Source: Public Domain).

The efforts of Mehdi Hojjat have borne success and the truth of history has prevailed – see Tehran Times based report Payvand News Report (December 5, 2013): below:

Azerbaijan concedes chogan is not an Azeri game: Iranian official

Below is the full report provided by Payvand News – readers are encouraged to read further comments further below after the Payvand News report:

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An official of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) has said that Azerbaijan has officially accepted the fact that chogan (polo) is not an Azeri game.

ICHTHO’s Department for Registration of Natural, Historical and Intangible Heritage Director Farhad Nazari made the remarks on Tuesday after UNESCO registered chovqan (the Azeri word for chogan) as a traditional Karabakh horse-riding game for the Republic of Azerbaijan on its List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding during the 8th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The efforts made by the Iranian delegation at the meeting convinced Azerbaijan to officially acknowledge verbally and in writing the fact that chogan is not an Azeri game,” he said.

He added that the efforts also led to the modification of Azerbaijan’s file on chogan in the meeting.

In the file, Iran’s West Azarbaijan Province and East Azarbaijan Province had been referred to as “south Azerbaijan”, but this reference was removed when, during the meeting, it faced opposition from the Iranian delegation.

As a result, Iran also can to apply for registration of the Iranian chogan on the list. In addition, UNESCO experts in the meeting agreed that chogan would be registered as a multinational element on the UNESCO list,” Nazari stated.

ICHTHO Director Mohammad-Ali Najafi asked UNESCO in October to register chogan as a multinational element on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

ICHTHO Deputy Director Mehdi Hojjat previously said that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, along with Iran, have a claim on the game.

The 8th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage will continue in Baku until December 7.

The Paach ceremony, a corn-veneration ritual celebrated in San Pedro Sacatepequez in Guatemala was also on the List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

The Committee is also scheduled to review four other nominations for the list and 30 nominations for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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In summary, this has been a very positive development and shows once again that with reference to proper historical sources combined with an academic and objective approach, the truth of history is safeguarded.

So what about the origins of Polo? There certainly is diversity of opinion, however reputable mainstream academia simply does not place the origin and invention of polo in the southeastern Caucasian territory north of the Araxes River (known as “Azerbaijan” since 1918). There are suggestions that this was invented in Iran and/or by Iranian peoples in antiquity, examples being:

  • Goel and Goel (1988, p. 318) who attribute this to the Persians in 2000 BCE (Goel, R. G. & Goel, V., 1988. Encyclopaedia of Sports and Games. Vikas Publishing House).
  • Craig (2002, p.157) who attributes the origins of polo to the Medes in the 100s CE (Craig, S., 2002. Sports and Games of the Ancients. Greenwood Publishing Group)

Singh (2007, p. 10) however challenges the Iranian origin thesis by highlighting Polo’s possible origins in China and India for example (Singh, J., 2002. Polo in India. London: New Holland).

Meydan Naghshe Jahan-Isfahan-Iran[Click to Enlarge] The Safavid era Meydan e Nagshe Jahan in modern-day isfahan which was a major venue for the game of polo in Iran (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Polo is indeed an international sport, whose origins overlap several modern nations in Western and Central Asia. The Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the heirs to this tradition, especially given its long-standing cultural and historical ties to Iran until 1828.  The south Caucasus region such as Armenia and modern-day Azerbaijan Republic (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) were introduced to Polo and equestrian sports by  thousands of years of cultural interaction with the Iranian realms.

Polo is referred to as “Chovgun” in the Republic of Azarbaijan – this term is actually derived from the Persian word “Chowgan” which means polo stick. It is possible that the term “Chowgan“, may have entered Western lore as “Chicane” (French), “Choca” (Spanish and Portuguese), “Schaggun” (German) or “Chekan” (Russian). On the other hand, the name of “Polo” is believed to have been derived from the Tibetan word “Puulu” which means ball (Crego, 2003, p.23 – Crego, R., 2003, Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th centuries, Greenwood Publishing Group). Etymology however is  insufficient at academically “proving” a Tibetan, Iranian or other (Indian, Chinese, etc.) origin for Polo – but it certainly is suggestive of an east-west cultural dynamic.

Ardashir1[Click to Enlarge] The founder of the Sassanian dynasty (224-651 CE) Ardashir I (180-242 CE) depicted in a lance-joust scene at Firuzabad. Ardashir and the Sassanians in general, were greatly fond of Polo (Picture source: Photo taken by Farrokh in August 2001 and shown in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at The University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

While the questions of origins remained debated, it is generally agreed that Polo has been an integral aspect of the culture and history of Iran since pre-Islamic times. Below are some excerpts from the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

A game of Central Asian origin, polo was first played in Persia (Iran) at dates given from the 6th century bc to the 1st century ad. Polo was at first a training game for cavalry units, usually the king’s guard or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen, who played it with as many as 100 to a side, it was a miniature battle. In time polo became a Persian national sport played extensively by the nobility. Women as well as men played the game, as indicated by references to the queen and her ladies engaging King Khosrow II Parvīz and his courtiers in the 6th century ad. From Persia the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet (the English word polo is the Balti word meaning “ball”), to China, and to Japan. In China (910) the death of a favoured relative in a game prompted Emperor A-pao-chi to order the beheading of all surviving players. Polo was introduced into India by the Muslim conquerors in the 13th century…

Polo-Tang Dynasty[Click to Enlarge] Chinese Polo players of the 8th century CE during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) (Picture Source: AsiaSociety.org).

Despite the aforementioned official efforts with UNESCO and negotiations with the Republic of Azerbaijan by Iranian authorities, Dr. Mohammad Reza Said-Abadi (دکترمحمدرضا سعیدآبادی), the chair of Iran’s commission to UNESCO ( دبیرکل کمیسیون ملی یونسکو ) has contradicted his Iranian colleagues by stating:

مهم این نیست که قدمت و ریشه چوگان در کجای این منطقه است و توسط کجا به ثبت رسیده است بلکه مهم این نکته است که این بازی و مهارت در کجا فعال و به خطر افتاده است ،بنابراین اگر بخواهیم در چارچوب حقوقی صحبت کنیم با وجود اینکه قدمت چوگان در ایران است اما این اشتباه است که بگوییم آذربایجان نباید آن را به ثبت برساند و چوگان مال ماست! درباره اینکه ما زودتر باید این را به ثبت می‌رساندیم سؤال دیگری است

Dr Said-AbadiTranslation: It is not important which region of this locale is identified with the antiquity and roots of Chowgan [Polo] or who has registered this [with UNESCO] – what is important is where this game and its skills/expertise have been endangered, therefore if we wish to speak in legal terms even-though the antiquity of Chowgan [Polo] is in Iran, it is wrong to say that [Republic of Azerbaijan] should not register Chowgan [Polo], because Chowgan [Polo] belongs to us! As to whether we should have registered this sooner is another question…(Picture Source: UT.ac.ir)

First, as noted previously by Mehdi Hojjat (Deputy Director ICHHTO, Iran’s official position is not that Polo is exclusively Iranian. Instead Hojjat’s argument is that Polo is a shared heritage not exclusive to just one country. Second, Mr. Said-Reza appears to be stating that “it’s ok” to distort history and register this with UNESCO.   Perhaps it may be conjectured that Dr. Mohammad Reza Said-Abadi is speaking from an ideological standpoint  consistent with pan-Islamism which downplays the history and legacy of Iran in favor of the wider pan-Muslim dynamic. Much like the former “pan-internationalist” Communists of the Soviet Union, all forms of “national” history are dismissed as “bourgeois”.

Kaveh Farrokh Presentation at University of Yerevan November 2013

Kaveh Farrokh provided a presentation at (بخش ایران شناسی دانشگاه دولتی ایروان) the University of Yerevan Iranian Studies Department at the “Shirvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan: A Historical-Cultural Retrospective” conference (kindly click here for more information on all conference participants and their topics).

YSUFrontal view of the State University of Yerevan, host to theShirvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan: A Historical-Cultural Retrospective” conference  on Nov. 1-2, 2013. The university is host to an excellent Iranian Studies program, staffed by exemplary researchers such as Professor Garnik S. Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Dept., Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston) and Professor Victoria Arakelova (Associate Professor, Department of Iranian Studies, Yerevan State University; Associate Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden). The conference has been made possible through the works of Professors Asatrian and Arakelova.

YSU-Committee-2013-1Cover page, dedication and list of organizers of the conference. Kindly note that Kaveh Farrokh was one of the members of the organizing committee for the conference at Yerevan State University (Click to enlarge to see list of organizers). For more information on the conference kindly click here for more information on all conference participants and their topics.

Kaveh Farrokh’s presentation and abstract for the conference was as follows:

Cultural Links between Iran and Arran (Modern Republic of Azerbaijan) from Antiquity to the 1900s” (November 2, 2013)

This paper will provide an overview of the cultural and historical links between ancient Albania/Arran and Iran from antiquity to the early twentieth century. A comprehensive series of Classical and pre- Islamic Iranian sources as well as archaeological studies are referenced for the pre-Islamic (Medo-Achaemenid and Partho-Sassanian) era. Examples cited include discoveries of Achaemenid palaces in the region as well as the role of the Albanian knights in the Sassanian army (Spah). The post-Islamic era is discussed with respect to Islamic and European primary sources and cartography with references to languages, the Safavid and post-Safavid eras to the early 1900s.

Zoroastrians-BakuModern-day Zoroastrians from Iran at the Baku Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) being led in religious ceremonies by Mobed Kourosh Niknam (Source: Image by Farroukh Aliev with this first appearing in Fravahr.org).

تالار فردوسی - ایران شناسی- دانشگاه دولتی ایروانThe Hall of Firdowsi at (تالار فردوسی در بخش ایران شناسی دانشگاه دولتی ایروان)  the Iranian Studies department of Yerevan State University.

After the conference, Farrokh delivered an additional lecture on November 4, 2013 at the University of Yerevan entitled:

Cultural Links between Iran, Armenia and Georgia from Antiquity to the early 1800s 

This lecture will provide an overview of the cultural and historical links between ancient Iran, Armenia and Georgia,notably with respect to the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian eras. The role of Northern Iranian peoples in the Caucasus and their impact upon the Caucasus is also examined. Topics addressed the role of the Naxarar Armenian knights in the Sassanian Spah (Army) and the role of Armenia and Georgia in cultural contacts between the Iranian Plateau and Eastern Europe. The discussion will conclude with the promotion of Persian language and literature in the Caucasus during the post-Islamic era up to the early 1800s.

Surva-Zorvan-BulgariaThe Surva festival in Bulgaria. Local traditions ascribe this festival to the ancient Iranian cult of Zurvan (Master of Time); the Caucasus has long acted as a conduit between Eastern Europe and the Iranian plateau.

The “Shirvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan: A Historical-Cultural Retrospective” conference has been dedicated to the memory of the late Professor Enayatollah Reza.

Prof Enayatollah RezaThe late Professor Enayatollah Reza (1920-2010).

Books on Armies of Ancient Iran Translated into Persian

Yusef Amiri (يوسف اميري) has translated four English-language texts on the military history of Iran into Persian. Readers are encouraged to consult the following site: Asvaran (پژوهش‌های یوسف امیری درباره‌ی ارتش‌های ایران باستان -Yusef Amiri’s Research on the Armies of Ancient Iran).

Yusef AmiriYusef Amiri (يوسف اميري). For an overview of Yusef Amiri’s translation works see -ارتشهاي ايرانيان باستان-Armies of Ancient Iran (pdf – in Persian).

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1-Achaemenids-AmiriThe first book translated into Persian by Yusef Amiri (يوسف اميري) is Nicholas Sekunda’s (نيكولاس سكوندا) book “Ancient Persian Army: 560-330 BC” (Osprey Publishing, 1992) which discusses the Armies of the Achaemenids (book jacket at left):

-ارتش هخامنشيان-(Nicholas Sekunda) نگارش: نيكولاس سكوندا-(Color plates: Simon Chew) تصويرگر: سيمون چو

برگردان: يوسف اميري

-چاپ يكم: 1391 خ / 2012 م-شابك: 964-5599-88-1-

For more  on the Military and Armies of the Achaemenids click image below:

Achaemenid cavalry

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2-Partho-Sassanian-AmiriThe second book translated into Persian by Yusef Amiri (يوسف اميري) is Peter Wilcox’s (پيتر ويلكاكس) book “Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sassanid Persians” (Elite 42, Osprey Publishing, 1986) which discusses the armies of the Parthians and Sassanians (book jacket at left):

-اشكانيان و ساسانيان-(Peter Wilcox) نگارش: پيتر ويلكاكس-(Color plates by Angus McBride)تصويرگر: آنگس مك برايد –

-برگردان: يوسف اميري-

-چاپ يكم: 1391 خ / 2012 م-

For more  on the Military and Armies of the Parthians click image below:

                       Parth-Savar1

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The third  book translated into Persian by Yusef Amiri (يوسف اميري) is Kaveh Farrokh’s first book “Elite Sassanian Cavalry” (Elite 110, Osprey Publishing, 2005) which discusses the elite Savaran cavalry of the Sassanian army (click image panel below for more information):

4-EliteSassanianCavalry-Versions-1

For more  on the Military and Armies of the Sassanians click image below:

 Turkish-Hun wars-2

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3-Scythians-Persian-AmiriThe fourth  book translated into Persian by Yusef Amiri (يوسف اميري) is E.V. Cernenko’s (چرننكو) book “The Scythians: 700-300 BC” (Men at Arms 137, Osprey Publishing, 1983) which discusses the armies of the Parthians and Sassanians (book jacket at left) – (see also Blog-news release: Translation of “The Scythians” into Persian by Yusef Amiri):

-سكاهاي باختري-(E. V. Chernenko) نگارش: چرننكو-(Color plates by Angus McBride)تصويرگر: آنگس مك برايد –

-برگردان: يوسف اميري-

-شابك: 964-5599-90-3/چاپ يكم: 1391 خ / 2012 م-

For more  on the Military and Armies of the Scythians click image below:

Scythian

Professor Shapour Shahbazi: Origins of the Parthians

The article below on the origins of the Parthians is authored by the late Professor Shapur Shahbazi and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica). Readers are also referred to Professor Shahbazi’s article on the Parthian army (kindly click the picture below):

Parth-Savar1

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Our sources on the ancestry of the eponymous founder of the dynasty, Arsaces, vary irreconcilably. He is introduced as a bandit who seized Parthia by attacking and killing its satrap, Andragoras (Justin 41.4; Ammianus Marcellinus 23.6.2); as a Bactrian who found the rise of Diodotus unbearable, moved to Parthia, and securing the leadership of the province, rose against the Seleucids (Strabo 11.9.3); or as a Parni chief of the Dahae Sacians, who conquered Parthia shortly before Diodotus’ revolt (ibid., 11.9.2).

34-Map of Parthian Empire 44 BC to 138 AD

[Click to Enlarge] Map of the Parthian Empire in 44 BCE to 138 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 155, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا). 

A fourth account alleges that “the Persian” Andragoras whom Alexander left as satrap of Parthia was the ancestor of the subsequent kings of Parthia (Justin 12.4.12). A fifth version had been provided by Arrian in his Parthica, now lost, which was epitomized on this point by Photius (Bibliotheca 58) and the twelfth-century Syncellus (Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae XIII, ed. W. Dindorf, Bonn, 1829, p. 539). Photius’ epitome runs as follows: “Arsaces and Tiridates were brothers, descendants of Phriapites, the son of Arsaces [Syncellus: the brothers “were allegedly descendants of the Persian Artaxerxes”]. Pherecles [Syncellus: Agathocles], who had been made satrap of their country by Antiochus Theus, offered a gross insult to one of them, whereupon … they took five men into counsel, and with their aid slew the insolent one. They then induced their nation to revolt from the Macedonians and set up a government of their own.” Finally, the Iranian national history traced Arsaces’ lineage to Kay Qobād (Ferdowsī, Šāh-nāma VII, p. 116; Ṭabarī, I, p. 710), or to his son Kay Āraš (Ṯaʿālebī, p. 457), or to Dārā the son of Homāy (Ṭabarī, I, p. 704; Bīrūnī, The Chronology, p. 118), or even to the famous archer, Āraš (Šāh-nāma VII, p. 115; anonymous “authorities” apud Bīrūnī, op. cit., p. 119).

Parthian-1-Parthian Nobleman

A reconstruction of the face on the statue of a Parthian nobleman housed at Tehran’s Iran Bastan Museum (Picture Source: Parthian Empire).

These reports reflect developments in political ideologies. Humble origin and robbery are folkstories told also of Cyrus, Sāsān, and other dynastic heroes. The association with Āraš the archer was occasioned by similarity in names and the fact that Arsaces is figured on Parthian coins as a bowman (cf. A. v. Gutschmid in ZDMG 34, 1880, p. 743), although the bow was always regarded as a royal symbol. “The Persian Artaxerxes” in Syncellus has generally been taken to mean Artaxerxes II because Ctesias said (apud Plutarch, Artoxares 2) that he was called Arsaces prior to his coronation (A. v. Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans und seiner Nachbarländer, Tübingen, 1888, p. 30, and others). But this ignores the fact that Artaxerxes I also was called Aršak/Arsaces, Babylonian Aršu (A. Sachs, “Achaemenid Royal Names in Babylonian Astronomical Texts,” American Journal of Ancient History 4, 1979, pp. 131ff.).

1-Parthian-Horse Archer

Parthian Horse Archer (Picture Source: Civilization fanatics)

The tradition that Arsaces was a Parni chief is supported, as R. N. Frye has noticed (The History of Ancient Iran, Munich, 1983, p. 206), by a statement in Bundahišn (35.43f.) according to which Dastān (= Zāl), “Prince of the Sacas” and Aparnak, Lord of Aparšahr (later Nīšāpūr) were descendants of Sām: “Aparšahr is thus named because it is the land of the Aparnak” (corrected translation in Frye, loc. cit., with n. 3). By the middle of the third century B.C., the Parni appear to have been assimilated to the Iranian Parthians: They adopted the latter’s name, bore purely Iranian—even Zoroastrian—names (Lassen, Indische Altertumskunde II, Bonn, 1847, p. 285 n. 3, could connect the name of Arsaces’ father, Phriapites, with an Avestan *Friya pitā “father-lover” = Greek Philopatros). On his coins, Arsaces wears Sacian dress but sits on a stool (later ampholas) with a bow in hand, as Achaemenid satraps, such as Datames, had done before. He deliberately diverges from Seleucid coins to emphasize his nationalistic and royal aspirations, and he calls himself Kārny/Karny (Greek Autocratos), a title already borne by Achaemenid supreme generals, such as Cyrus the Younger (see for details M. T. Abgarians and D. G. Sellwood, “A Hoard of Early Parthian Drachms,” NC, 1971, pp. 103ff.).

32-Partho-Sassanian belt buckle 2nd or 3rd century CE

[Click to Enlarge] Partho-Sassanian belt buckle dated to the 2nd or 3rd century CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 143, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا). 

Later Parthian kings assumed Achaemenid descent, revived Achaemenid protocols (J. Neusner, “Parthian Political Ideology,” Iranica Antiqua 3, 1963, pp. 45ff.), and Artabanus III, who named one of his sons Darius (Dio Cassius 59.27), laid claim to Cyrus’ heritage (Tacitus, Annals 4.31). On the whole, then, onomastic, numismatic, and epigraphic considerations point to the conclusion that the Parthian dynasty was “local, Iranian by origin;” on this ground “the Zoroastrian character of all the names of the Parthian kings, and the fact that some of these names . . . belong to the “heroic background” of the Avesta,” afford logical explanation (G. V. Lukonin in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, 1983, p. 687).

Professor C. Toumanoff: The Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia

The article below on the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia is authored by Professor C. Toumanoff and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica). Kindly note that apart from the map and table of kings which have been posted on Encyclopedia Iranica and CAIS, all other pictures are unique to this posting.

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Third dynasty of Armenia (in Armenian, Aršakuni), from the first to the mid-fifth century. The preceding dynasty of the Artaxiads became extinct about A.D. 12, amid a secessionist chaos caused by the perennial struggle of Iran and Rome over Armenia—the second throne, after Media, in the Iranian scheme of vassal kingdoms. It was then that the ex great king of Iran, Vonones I became king of Armenia. After him, seven Arsacid princes from Parthia came at different times to occupy the Armenian throne, interchangeably with six others, candidates of Rome. A compromise was finally attempted in 63 (Treaty of Rhandeia).

Arsacid-Armenia

[Click to Enlarge] Map of Armenia under the Arsacid House (Picture Source: CAIS).

An Arsacid, Tiridates I, was recognized by both empires as king of Armenia. Roman “friendship” was imposed upon him—and in 66 he journeyed to Rome to be crowned by Nero—and, at the same time, as a Parthian prince, he was bound to accept the family ascendancy of the head of the Arsacids, the great king. The balance thus established between political and dynastic allegiance proved, however, precarious. Dynastic allegiance often became political as well, and Armenia continued to oscillate between the two rivals. None of the first eight Arsacids who reigned in Armenia founded a line of kings; it was left to the ninth, Vologases (Vałarš) II (180-191), to achieve this: his posterity of thirteen kings formed the Armenian Arsacid dynasty (see table below).

Armenia-Arsacid-kings

[Click to Enlarge] Arsacid Royal Lineage of Armenia (Picture Source: CAIS).

The Armenian historical tradition (found chiefly in Ps.-Movsês Xorenac’i) represented the earlier, national Artaxiads as also a branch of the Iranian Arsacids, and the Armenian Arsacids as their direct continuation, creating thus an imbroglio from the effects of which Armenian historiography has only recently succeeded in freeing itself.

Arsacid rule brought about an intensification of the political and cultural influence of Iran in Armenia. Whatever the sporadic suzerainty of Rome, the country was now a part-together with Iberia (East Georgia) and (Caucasian) Albania, where other Arsacid branched reigned-of a pan-Arsacid family federation. Culturally, the predominance of Hellenism, as under the Artaxiads, was now followed by a predominance of “Iranianism,” and, symptomatically, instead of Greek, as before, Parthian became the language of the educated. However. since the Iranian Arsacids themselves took pride in being philhellene, Armenian Hellenism was not destroyed.

Varazdat-Armenia

A portrait of Armenian King Varazdat (r. 374-378 CE) who was a descendant of the Parthian nobles of Armenia, known as the Arshakuni.

After a while, however, the Armeno-Iranian symbiosis came to an end. Early in the third century. the Arsacids of Iran were overthrown by the Sasanians; the family federation existed no longer; instead, a family feud separated the Armenian Arsacids from the “usurping” new rulers of Iran. Next, in 314, under King Tiridates (Trdat) the Great and through the apostolate of ‘St. Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia, nearly simultaneously with the Roman empire. officially accepted Christianity, a turning point in its history. An unbridgeable gulf between the militant Mazdaism of Sasanian Iran and Armenia’s no less uncompromising Christianity, now replaced the unity of the easy syncretistic paganism of the Armeno-Iranian symbiosis. Politically, religiously, and culturally, this was a victory of the Roman empire and Hellenism. But this, the “neo-Achaemenianism” of the Sasanians could not tolerate. So the struggle of empires went on, more intensely than before, until, finally, the Roman empire, occupied elsewhere, was obliged to come to terms with Iran and to agree to the partitioning between them of the apple of discord, especially as, quite conveniently, the latter had just itself effected its division.

Sassanian and Armenian Knights

 [CLICK TO ENLARGE] PHOTO INSERT & COMMENTARY BY Kaveh Farrokh: Sassanian metalwork at right depicting  Khosrow I Anoushiravan and four Sassanian knights (possibly the Sassanian empire’s primary generals). Note the stance of one of the knights from the plate highlighted for reference. Note the figure highlighted  on the Surp Neshan Basilica – the parallels of this form (despite the wear of weather over the centuries) with its Sassanian counterparts are virtually exact.

Parallel to the tension of imperial rivalries outside, there was also a tension at home, one between the crown and the great nobility. Armenia was a highly aristocratic society, its peculiar feature being the presence, above the lesser, azat nobility, of a group of dynastic princes, descendants and successors of prehistoric tribal chiefs, who regarded themselves as minor kings and the king of Armenia as a primus utter pares. The crown endeavored to enhance its ascendancy over the princes. In an attempt to replace the purely political subordination of sovereign princes to a more powerful sovereign, the king, feudalism was introduced, reaching its fullest development in the Arsacid period, with its fundamental conception of the derivation of all authority from the king. The princes, on their part, strove to preserve the older conception, their traditional dynastic position. Hence both conceptions coexisted, in a typically Armenian- and Caucasian- blend. Hence, also, the inner tension. So, while the crown was drawn towards the autocratic and bureaucratic empire. the princes, albeit Christians, gravitated towards the comparatively more aristocratic Iranian monarchy. During one of the internal crises, the kingdom was divided in 384 between the pro-Roman Arsaces (Arsak) III and the pro-Iranian Chosroes (Xosrov) IV. With this fait accompli before them, the Emperor Theodosius I and the Great King Shapur III hastened to ratify in 387 the existence of two Armenian kingdoms, one, western, a Roman, and the other, eastern and vastly larger, an Iranian vassal. Arsaces I11 died in 390 and the western kingdom became a part of the Roman empire; but the eastern kingdom (Persarmenia) continued to exist. The crown, however, was fatally weakened; and, finally, the princes, weary of all immediate authority over them, deposed with Iranian connivance the last king, Artaxias (Artâshês) IV in 428 and brought about the abolition of the monarchy. Thereafter Armenia was a part of the Iranian empire, with the princes as its sovereign oligarchs, vassals of the distant great king, whose suzerainty expressed itself in the presence of his viceroy (marzpan) and in the obligation of fealty and military aid imposed on them.

Armenia-Anahit

Armenian depiction of Goddess Anahit – Armenian equivalent of the Goddess Anahita (Picture Source: News.Am).

An event of importance in the Arsacid period was the invention on the threshold of the fifth century, of the Armenian alphabet by St. Mashtoc’ (Mesrop). With this Armenian became the language of the educated; it was introduced into the liturgy; and national literature was born (under Hellenistic and Syrian influences). Armenia’s identity and individuality were thus saved and an absorption by either Byzantine or Iranian civilization was precluded.