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Sunday, 25 September 2011

When Vartan ruled in India

After watching a documentary about the Tang Chinese Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, and his journey to India in 634 AD, I learned that he had reached a reknowned University called Nalanda. This school of Buddhism became a "prize" that was battled over by two kings of India in 640 AD, one of them was called Harsha Vardhana.
Harsha was the son of Prabhakara, who ruled the city of Thanesar on the river Gaggar. He was descended from Pushyabhuti, a general in the army of king Chastana in around 130 AD. After the death of Prabhakara and his two elder sons, Harsha became king of Thanesar in 606 AD at the age of 16 and ruled northern India for forty years.
Coin of the reign of king Harsha Vardhanna, following the style of the earlier Gupta dynasty.
Now, the origins of Harsha's ancestry is interesting.
He was descended from a "Pushyabhuti" who served under king Chastana. I know one thing regarding the name "Pushyabhuti", in Middle Persian "Pati"= Master, such as "Aspa Pati"= Horse Master. Pushyabhuti may just be the military title the man had, and the title tells of the ethnic origin of him and his king.
Chastana was of the Saka tribe, which had taken control of the Indus valley from around 30 BC onwards until the rise of the Kushan kingdom in about 130 AD. The Saka were ethnically related to the Parthians (Pahlavi or Pahlavuni in Armenia) who ruled Iran and Armenia at the same period. The city of Thanesar is to the east of the Indus valley. Harsha's father's name, Prabhakara, is similar to the names some of the Parthian kings had, Bakur (Pacorus in Roman sources). Harsha's name seems to derive from a name used by some of the Parthian kings, Valarsh (Vagharsh in Armenian). Roman sources had the name as "Vologases". Vardhana is also similar to the name some of the Parthian kings had, Vardan. This name continued to be popular in Armenia (Vartan) long after the overthrow of the Parthian kings in 428 AD and still is a popular name in Armenia.
Yet of course this dynasty in India, by the 7th century, would have been intermarried into the native peoples over many generations, comparable to the later Moghul rulers of the 16th century.

Hrasha's court poet, Banabhatta (Banbad) recorded that the king had followed the religion of his father, sun worship (Mithraism), then followed the worship of Shiva (Shaivism) before becoming a Mahayana Buddhist. The god Mithra, or Mihr, was a diety revered by the Parthian dynasties of Iran and Armenia.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Paulicians: A timeline & map

Ten years ago I read about the Paulician sect, I decided the read about them again and draw a timeline of their "rise and fall" and also to make a map that will help understand where they were based and their activity.
Below is the timeline of events.

  • 555- Council of Dvin, Catholicos Nerses II says Paulicians living on the Armenian borderlands (Byzantium/Persia).
  • 645- Council of Dvin prohibits use of monasteries as hotels for aristocracy, accompaied with singers and dancing girls.
  • 650- Armenia under Muslim control.
  • 655- Council of Dvin mention against Paulicians.
  • 658 Constantine-Silvanus, their second leader, establishes congregation at Kibossa.
  • 660-Anania teaches at Dvin, finds pupils to be lazy, arrogant and passing themselves of as tutors whilst their own studies were unfinished, bringing disrepute to Anania.
  • 668- Emperor Constans II murdered by Count Mzhezh, who proclaims himself Emperor.
  • 670- Paulicians reject Baptism for babies, only allowing adults over the age of 30 to be fully baptised by immersion.
  • 673- Muslims capture Rhodes and Cilicia.
  • 685- Constantine-Silvanus stoned to death, by order of the Byzantine emperor. The Byzantine officer, Simeon, joins the Paulicians and adopts the name of Titus.
  • 688/717- Paulicians mentioned as "Troublemakers" by the Armenian Apostolic Church
  • 690- Simeon-Titus is burned to death by order of the Bishop of Colonia, near Kibossa.
  • 691- Paul, the new leader, makes leadership of Paulicians hereditary. He establishes a new congregation at Eupatoria.
  • 715- Paul dies, his eldest son, Gegnasius, named successor. His younger son Theodore rebels but is unsuccessful. Gegnasius arrested and taken to Constantinople to be interrogated on Heresy but is aquited, establishes new congreation at Mananali as Eupatoria is no longer safe for him.
  • 720- Council of Dvin convened to curb bad behaviour of the clergy.
  • 745- Gegnasius-Timothy dies in Mananali. Two men, Zacharias and Joseph establish their own groups. Joseph adopts name of Epaphroditus, and has the most followers.
  • 747- Gregory Mamikonian rebels against the Muslim Ostikan of al-Arminya with the aid of the Paulicians.
  • 750- Paulicians of Samosata all executed by the Emir for trying to leave the town.
  • 751- Meletia captured by Byzantium, Armenians deported by Emperor Constantine V to Philippopolis, Thrace.
  • 756- Paulicians of Karin deported by Emperor Constantine V to Philippopolis, Thrace.
  • 768- Council of Dvin prohibits marriage of Armenian Apostolic Christians to muslims.
  • 775- Joseph-Epaphroditus dies at Mananali, succeeded by Baanies who adopts the name of Zachary, however division remains. Sergius is leader of the reform group and is an active evangelist. He boasted he had sent missionaries "from East to West, from North to South". The following decades sees the two groups fight, the Baanite group is almost destroyed.
  • 787- The end of the first period of Iconoclasm in Byzantium.
  • 790- Alexius Mushel governor of Armeniakon, supports the Iconoclast Emperor Constantine VI until 791, then becomes Emperor himself until 793.
  • 801- Death of Baanies-Zachary. Sergius is now officially leader of all Paulicians and he adopts the name of Tychicus.
  • 802- Paulician army assists Nicephorus to become emperor.
  • 805- Due to perseuctions of the Empress Irene, Sergius-Tychicus, who would be most active for the next 34 years, leaves Byzantium for the emirate of Meletya with 5,000 followers, is given control of borderlands and founds the towns of Argaum/Arguvan and Amara (Amran Köyü).
  • 835- Death of Sergius-Tychicus, many leaders take control of Paulician sect.
  • 838- The city of Amorium sacked by the Caliph's armies.
  • 843- Empress Theodora starts persecution of Paulicians
  • 855- Huge military expedition against Paulicians, around 100,000 killed. Some escape to the emirate of Meletia. Emir Umar al-Adta allows Karbeus to establish new base for Paulicians at fort of Tephrike. The old Armenian marriage practise of Consanguinity continues in the Paulician elect, next Paulician leader Chrysocher is both nephew and son-in-law of Karbeus.
  • 859- Emperor Michael III invades the Djazirya region.
  • 863- Joint Muslim and Paulician invasion of Anatolia, sacks town of Amisos, but wiped out at the battle of Lalakaon in Paphalgonia, possibly near Kastamonu. Emir and Karbeus both die.
  • 863- November. Ali ibn-Yahya 'the Armenian' and Ostikan of al-Arminya and Azerbaijan, killed by emperor Michael III at Mayafaraqin.
  • 867- Chyrsocher, leader of Paulician-Muslim army invades Anatolia, sacks Ephesos then moves north and attacks city of Nicea. Many Clergy taken captive.
  • 868- Emperor Basil I sends Petrus Siculus to Tephrike to arrange exchange of hostages, while he is there he writes his "History of the empty and vain heresy of the Manichæans, otherwise called Paulicians". Peace talks fail.
  • 872- Emperor Basil I captures and destroys the city of Tephrhike, the Paulician leader Chrysocher is also executed, his head taken back in triumph to Constantinople. Survivors flee to the remote regions of Armenia, mostly in Taron and gain support of the Bagratuni prince, who is supposed to have written 'The Key of Truth' in homage to them.
  • 882-Samosata falls to the Roman (Byzantine) army.
  • 971- Many remaining Paulicians in Anatolia are rounded up by order of Emperor John I and deported to Philippopolis, Thrace and the re-established eastern-Danube frontier zone. They prolythetise to the Bulgars and assist their Tsar, Boris, who adopts their teaching.
  • 1096- The first crusade passes through Philippopolis and meet the Paulicians.
  • 1097- The 'Gesta Francorum' records Paulicians serving in the Turkish armies that fought the Crusaders near the city of Dorylaeum.
  • 1118- Anna Commnena who wrote in 1118AD, said Philippopolis was 'a meeting place, so to speak, of all polluted waters'.
  • Resurfaces at the town of T'ondrak, from which the sect is known afterwards as the "Tondrakians", sect continues until 1800's.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The "Drafsh" Emblem.

When I was in Armenia, I went to see the 4th century AD Basilica Church of "Surp Nshan" (Holy Seal) near Abaran.
Photo taken in November 2010, at the Surp Nshan Basilica, Republic of Armenia.
Outside in the courtyard are some ruins, one of which caught my eye. It had a Cross inside a circle, and itself looked like a banner used in battle as it was upon a pole. At either side was a person, eroded away, yet still visible.

This looked like a battle standard, most likely used either by the Arshakuni kings of the 4th century or the Bdeshk families such as the Kamsarakan or Mamikonian.

Back in London I began to read about the Achaemenid empire, and came across a rendition of a motif from the tunic worn by King Darius I at Persepolis.
I also saw two coins minted by the Satrapy of Caria around 395 BC and 344 BC, and drew the motifs on their Reverse sides..
I then learned about the "Pazyryk" carpet from a tomb in the Altai mountains, that is dated to around 400 BC, originating from Achaemenid Iran. It bears many examples of the "Drafsh" motif.
I also began to read about the Sassanian era, and the "Drafsh" of Kaveh, perfectly depicted on the reverse of this coin from around 100 BC of the ruler of Persis, Artaxerxes.
Obverse: Artaxerxes, king of Persis. Reverse: Artaxerxes offering prayers to a temple, the Drafsh of Kaveh is at the right hand side.
The Star motif was also used by the dynasty that ruled Pontus from 302 - 37 BC, among whom were king Mithridates VI. His ally and son-in-law was king Tigran II of Armenia, and below is my illustration of the motif used on his crown.

A Tetradrachm of king Tigran II. His crown bears the star motif.

 Reading Dr. Kaveh Farrokh's book "Shadows In The Desert" I saw a photo of what is called the "Cup of Khosrow" and I noticed the "Drafsh" motifs which decorated it.

I drew an example of one of them.
 On further reading of "Shadows In The Desert" I saw a photo of a fresco from the palace of an Ummayad Caliph, near ancient Palmyra. Called the "Qasr Al-Heir El Gharbi" the paintings have a border of "Drafsh" running around them.

Below is my drawing of one of them.
On further reading I learnt that the "winged emblem of Zoroaster" had been in use before by the Assyrians.
Below is my drawing of a star motif on a stele from the reign of king Ashurbanipal II, circa 850 BC.

This Star motif went back further, I saw a photo of a boundary stone from the reign of king Meli-Shipak II of Babylon, circa 1186 BC which had the star on it.

My drawing of the star upon the boundary stone.

What can be surmised is that this star motif had a deep meaning in the successive dynasties of Mesopotamia, what it's exact representation is though, is another question.

The Fire Temples from the Sassanian Occupation of Egypt and Cappadocia

I couple of years ago I chanced to come across an image of what is described as a "mosque" in the city of Kayseri, Turkey.
Kayseri was originally called Caesarea, it was the capital of region of Cappadocia and by the 4th century AD it was the main centre of Christianity in all of Anatolia.

In 615 AD General Shahin invaded Anatolia for the Shah of Persia, Khosrow II.

This "mosque" look nothing like a conventional mosque, it has no mineret, the area for prayer is not at ground level but on the 1st floor. The structure is cube shaped and has 4 doorways, 1 on each side.
General Shahrbaraz invaded Egypt in 616 AD for the Shah of Persia, Khosrow II.

In 868 AD General Ahmad Ibn Tulun invaded Egypt for the Abbassid Caliph of Islam. He soon made himself independent of the Caliph, and created a city called Al-Qatta'i.
He also had a mosque built, in the centre of which is called an "ablution fountain". The structure is cube shaped and has 4 doorways, 1 on each side.

Compare with my drawing of the Fire Temple at Firuzabad in Fars province, Iran, that dates back to around 224 AD.
It is my belief that when Cappadocia and Egypt came under Persian control in 615 AD and 616 AD respectively, Fire Temples, along with a religious complex or military barracks were built either in their capitals, such as Caesarea or near the military base of "Fort Babylon" in Egypt, which later became Fustat.

When Cappadocia, and its city Caesarea, were recaptured in 624 AD by Emperor Heraclius and the reoccupation of Egypt by 628 AD these Persian structures would have been pulled down. The ruins of which could have been rebuilt later on by new conquerors, such as the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia and the Turkish dynasty of Ahmad Ibn Tulun. Persian culture was very influencial on successive Turkish dynasties, did they knowingly seek out these ruins from Persia's glorious past or was it mere coincedence?

The Artaxiad Dynasty: Artaxias I

Artaxias I (Old Persian: Artakhshathra, Greek: Αρταξιας, Armenian: Արտաշէս) was the founder of the Artaxiad Dynasty that would rule Armenia for the next two centuries.
Coin ascribed to Arsames II 230 BC. It is possible this is a coin of Artaxias. The Reverse legend might by "APTAK.." and the two mountain peaks, those of mount Masis (Ararat) the stars may be the "Farna" the Divine Glory. From his new city, Artaxata, mount Masis could be clearly seen.

Strabo relates in his Geographia, written 200 years after the said events, that king Antiochus III sent general Artaxias and another general called Zariadres to overthrow the kingdom of Sophene and Armenia and rule as Satraps for Antiochus.

He then explains that following king Antiochus III's defeat by the Romans at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, Artaxias and Zariadres revolted and with Roman consent, after the Treaty of Apamea, began to reign as kings, Artaxias over Armenia and Zariadres over Sophene.

Movses Khorenatsi (Moses of Khoren) wrote in the 5th century AD that King Orontes IV was defeated and killed by King Artaxias.

It may have been that Artaxias was bribed by king Antiochus to rebel against King Orontes IV.

*Modern historians such as Richard G. Hovannisian believe that Zariadres was the father of Artaxias.
He cites two Aramaic inscriptions found in Zangezur and near Lake Sevan which state "Artashes, the son of Zareh" and "Artashes, the Eruand king, the Good, the son of Zareh"
My sketch, done in September 2011, of a stele in Aramaic, a proclamation of king Artaxias in 161 BC, found in Teghut, Dilijan, Republic of Armenia. Stele housed in the National Museum Of Armenia, Yerevan.

Until the reign of Artaxias, the region of Armenia had been inhabited by tribes who spoke different languages. Strabo relates that it was Artaxias who unified the realm making Armenian the common language of all, this was in the process of his conquests, which implies that the territory of Armenia had shrunk until his reign. It was probable that tribes such as the Alans invading from the north had occupied eastern regions of Armenia. Strabo relates that "Baspropeda" was annexed by Artaxias, this has been taken to mean Vaspurakan.

Artaxias is said to have failed to annex Sophene, obviously actions against it meant that he was free from Seleucid rule and that Zareh was dead but it was under occupation by the Seleucids.

When Artaxias had a war with the Alans who were raiding across the Caucasus, he is said to have captured their princess Satenik.
According to Movses Khorenatsi this is how it happened:
“King Artashes mounted his handsome black horse, And taking out a red leather rope studded with golden rings, And crossing the river like a sharp-winged eagle, And throwing his red leather rope studded with golden rings, Cast it upon the waist of the Alanian maiden, And this hurt the delicate maiden's waist, Quickly taking her back to his camp.” 
The lasso  is also a battle technique the Scythians used and later Steppe warriors used.
Artaxias married Satenik, they had five sons: Ardamazda (Artavasdes), Vruyr (This is an alternate version of Paruyr, and is a name first heard of with “Paruyr Skayordi” who was the son of the Scythian king Protothyes (Bartatua in Babylonian). Paruyr Skayordi = Son of the Scythian, Paruyr.), Mazhan, Zareh and Tigran.

Artaxias founded a new capital, Artaxata (Artashata) on the Araks River. According to Movses Khorenatsi,  Hannibal found refuge with Artaxias and designed the new city for the king.
Artaxias was taken captive by king Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he attacked Armenia in 165 BC, but soon gained his liberty.
After the death of king Antiochus IV in 163 BC, the ruler of Armenia rebelled again.

At Artaxias' funeral many people are said to have killed themselves. This maybe an exaggeration and more likely they lacerated themselves, which is a Scythian tradition.

The Artaxiad Dynasty: Zareh

Coin ascribed to Abdissares, son of Xerxes. I think Abdissares and Dsariadris are one and the same king.

Zareh (Greek: Δσαριαδρις = Dsariadris) was a Satrap and later a King of Sophene.

Strabo cites Sophene and Armenia being taken over by two "generals" of king Antiochus III  by 188 BC, called Zariadres and Artaxias.
Following the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, Zariadres and Artaxias revolted and with Roman consent began to reign as kings; Zariadres over Sophene and Artaxias over Armenia.

It is possible that Zareh's name was a corruption of Bagdassar.
Greek sources have him as "ΔΣΑΡΙ ΑΝΙΣΑΔΩ" or Zareh son of Anisades.
Anisades may be a Greek corruption of a name such as "Anahita Zade" = Born of Anahit.

Richard G. Hovannisian believe Artaxias was the son of Zariadres, citing Aramaic inscriptions found in the Republic of Armenia that testify to him being the son of Zareh: "Artashes, the son of Zareh" and "Artashes, the Eruand king, the Good, the son of Zareh".

It is interesting also that these inscriptions refer to "Eruand" or Orontes. Baring in mind that Orontes (Aurand) meant "brave" and might not imply a direct familial connection but a title.
It is also strange why as the senior, he did not rule Armenia but the small region of Sophene, whilst his son Artaxias ruled Armenia.

The Orontid Dynasty: Mithrenes II

Mithrenes is also mentioned by Professor David Marshall Lang (in the article "Iran, Armenia and Georgia: Political Contacts", Cambridge History of Iran Journal, Volume 3) as Mithras, High Priest of the temple to the Sun and Moon at Armavir. Whether he ever ruled as a King is not known, although later kings such as Tigran II were both High Priest and King.

The Orontid Dynasty: Orontes IV

Coin ascribed to a "Arsames II" who is supposed to have ruled in 230 BC, with the words on the reverse "Basileus Arsamou". However there are no records of such a king. The name "Orontid" seems to have been a title that went with a name. Orontes IV may be the same person as Arsames II.
Orontes IV was the son of King Arsames and is recorded as ruling Armenia from inscriptions found at the historic city of the Orontid dynasty, Armavir.
In his reign the religious site of Bagaran was founded.
Large bronze statues in the Hellenistic style of the gods, Zeus (Aramazda), Artemis (Anahit) and Herakles (Vahagn) were brought there and set up in temples dedicated to them.
He is also said to have founded a shrine at Armavir dedicated to Apollo (Mithra), a golden statue of four horses pulling a chariot with Apollo as god of the Sun. This was later destroyed by the Sassanid Persian army in the 4th century AD.

King Antiochus III instigated a revolt against King Orontes IV in about 200 BC.
Strabo, who wrote about this over 200 years later, stated that it was "general Artaxias" who overthrew King Orontes IV.
However Aramaic inscriptions found at Armavir state that King Orontes IV died at the hands of his own army, in other words by betrayal. This was most likely bribery by King Antiochus III of the Armenian army.
They also testify that Artaxias was the son of Zareh and an Orontid king.

Artaxias took over as Satrap soon afterwards, according to Strabo.

The Orontid Kings: Xerxes

'''Xerxes''' (Ancient Greek: Ξέρξης - Xerxes, Old Persian: Ḫšayāršā, Armenian: Šavarš).

He succeeded his father Arsames I to rule both Sophene and Commagene in 228 BC, whilst his brother Orontes IV ruled Armenia.

The Satraps of Upper Media, Lower Media and Persis rebelled against king Antiochus III in 223 BC.
Also in 223 BC Achaeus, the Satrap of Asia Minor, rebelled.
By 220 BC Antiochus put down most of the rebellions, though Achaeus was not defeated until 213 BC.

All of these rebellions helps to understand the context, and motives for the subsequent actions of Antiochus on king Xerxes.
By 212 BC Antiochus III had invaded the domain of Xerxes and defeated him after laying siege to the city of Arsamosata. Shortly afterwards Antiochus arranged for Xerxes to marry his sister, Antiochis.
This move seems to show the power or influence Xerxes had in the region, as is attributed by his numerous coins.
However within the same year his new wife arranged to have him assassinated, thinking that Antiochus would be able to take control of Sophene. Whether Xerxes had still ruled Commagene by the time of his assassination is not known.

Xerxes is supposed to have had a son called Abdissares, this name sounds similar to "Dsariadres" which is an alternative Greek version of Zareh, the supposed General sent by king Antiochus III to overthrow Sophene in 200 BC. Aramaic inscriptions found near Lake Sevan and Zangezur in the Republic of Armenia testify that king Artaxias was not only the son of Zareh, but also an Orontid.
Coin ascribed to king Xerxes. The profile of the king on the coins of Abdissares are very similar. However they have his name on them, whilst this one just has ".....OY"

The Orontid Dynasty: Arsames

Arsames I (Old Persian: Arshama), according to the chronology, seems to have taken control of Commagene, Sophene and Armenia in the year 260 BC after the death of his father Sames.

Ziaelas, son of king Nicomedes I of Bithynia, found refuge at the court of king Arsames, and upon the death of Nicomedes, Ziaelas returned to take the kingdom in 254 BC.

Arsames also supported Antiochus Hierax against his brother, Seleucus II Callinicus, who was defeated at a battle near Ankara in 235 BC, after which Seleucus lost control of any lands he had across the Taurus mountains. This was to the benefit of Arsames and other Persian satraps such as Mithradates II of Pontus.

Arsames then founded the cities of Arsamosata in Sophene and Arsameia (known today as Eski Kale) in Commagene in 235 BC.

After his death his eldest son Xerxes, became king of Commagene, Sophene and Armenia. His other son Orontes IV seems to have succeeded Xerxes whilst another son known as "Mithras" (or Mithrenes II) is recorded by Professor David Marshall Lang (Iran, Armenia and Georgia: Political Contacts. In the Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3) as being the High Priest of the temple to the Sun and Moon at Armavir.

Coin with the name Arsamou (Arsames). The physiology is very like that on coins ascribed to Xerxes.

The Orontid Kings: Sames

Sames (Old Persian: Shama, Greek: Σαμωσ, Armenian: Շամ) was the Satrap of Commagene.

War between the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Kingdom seems to have allowed Sames an opportunity of independence.
What side he took in the Syrian Wars is unknown as most of the records of that era have been lost, though it would make sense that he would have supported the Ptolemaic Kingdom against his large and powerful neighbour, the Seleucid Empire.

Most sources give Orontes III as his father.
After Orontes III died in 260 BC, there is no record for when Sames began his rule, only his year of death, in 260 BC as well.

It may be that he began his rule in 272 BC.
In that year king Antiochus I conquered Sophene and forced its ruler to pay a tribute of 300 silver talents and 1,000 horses and mules. Then the ruler was murdered. Who that ruler was is not stated, though it could not have been Sames, who is said to have died in 260 BC. The only recorded person in that time ruling that region was Orontes III.

It may well be that Orontes was murdered by order of king Antiochus I in 272 BC and his son was left in control of Sophene whilst a Seleucid Satrap was put in control of Armenia.

Commagene was outside the boundary of historic Armenia, yet the Persian Satraps remained in occupation of many regions of Anatolia, such as Cappadocia and Pontus. It may have been that the son and heir to the Armenian kingdom would rule another region, just as the son or heir to the Achaemenid Empire had always ruled an outlying region, such as Bactria or Hyrkania.
Viewing it from this perspective it would make sense, as his father Orontes III was of the Achaemenian family.

Sames founded the city of Samosata, in Commagene. This has been submerged by the Ataturk Dam since 1989.
  • Shamash was a Babylonian god, equivalent to Mithra, it was a dramatic break from a seemingly continous tradition of Satraps with Persian names. The neighbouring region of Osroene had a majority Aramaic population that the Persian and Greek occupiers never replaced. Although Sames had a very Babylonian (Aramaic) name, his name might have been "Mihrdat" which many of his successors had, but replaced it with the Babylonian equivalent for cultural reasons on taking control of Commagene. however his son was called Arsames (Arshama) and this was the name of king Darius I grandfather.

He was succeeded by his son, Arsames I.


The Orontid Dynasty: Orontes III

Orontes III was King of Armenia, the year of his accension is not known as his father, Mithrenes I, retook control of Armenia from 321 BC.

In the reign of Orontes III the royal capital was moved from Armavir to Yervandashat in 302 BC.

He struggled for control of the region of Sophene with king Antiochus I until being defeated in 272 BC and was forced to pay a large tribute which included 300 talents of silver and 1,000 horses and mules.

Orontes III was subsequently murdered in the same year, whether at the instigation of king Antiochus I is not recorded.
His son, Sames (Old Persian: Sham), continued to rule in Sophene, obviously as a Satrap for king Antiochus.


The Orontid Dynasty: Mithrenes I

Mithrenes (Old Persian: Mihran, Greek: Mιθρένης or Mιθρίνης) was the commander of the Persian force which garrisoned the citadel of Sardis he may have been the satrap of Lydia.
After the battle of the Granicus, Mithrines surrendered voluntarily to Alexander the Great and is said to have been treated by him with distinction.
He fought for Alexander at Gaugamela, ironically he was fighting against an army that included his father Orontes II.

After this battle, Alexander appointed him Satrap of Armenia, as his father had been.
It's not clear, however, whether Mithrenes actually managed to take control of his satrapy.

According to Curtius, in his speech given at Hecatompylos in 330 BC Alexander the Great listed Armenia among lands conquered by Macedonians, implying that Mithrenes succeeded in conquering it; on the other hand, Justin reproduced Pompeius Trogus' rendition of a speech attributed to Mithridates VI of Pontus, which mentioned that Alexander didn't conquer Armenia.
It can be surmised that Mithrenes ruled on behalf of the new Macedonian regime. However after the death of Alexander III, Neoptolemus was made Satrap of Armenia from 323 - 321 BC.
After the death of Neoptolemus, and the struggles going on with the Diadochi it seems Mithrenes not only returned to his ancestral seat but declared himself king.

The Orontid Dynasty: Orontes II

Orontes II was the satrap of Armenia from 336 - 331 BC.
He is supposed to be the son of Orontes I.
After Codomannus ascended the throne of Persia as king Darius III in 336 BC Orontes was given the Satrapy of Armenia to rule.

At the Battle of Gaugamela he fought on the right flank for king Darius III, with 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry under his command. He died there.
Ironically his son, Mithrenes, Satrap of Lydia, had joined king Alexander III after being defeated at Sardis in 334 BC. He then fought at the Battle of Gaugamela on the side of Alexander. After the battle he was made Satrap of Armenia by Alexander.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Orontid Dynasty: Artasyrus, father of Orontes

Artasyrus is recorded as being the Satrap of Bactria during the reign of king Artaxerxes II.
For this, his son Orontes I was sometimes called "a Bactrian".
However his son was the Satrap of Sophene and Matiene (around lake Urmia) during the reign of the same king, so it appears there is confusion in the historical records, which is understandable in that western sources about the Achaemenid Empire derive from ancient Greek sources which mostly recorded events in Greece or western Asia Minor.
The satraps of Bactria would have been recorded in the royal archives held in cities such as Persepolis, Susa and Ecbatana. After the Macedonian invasion led by king Alexander III most archives were lost. It is interesting to note that Bactria during the Achaemenid era was ruled by the designated heir to the empire, this implies that Artasyrus was at the very least a part of the Achaemenian family.

The name Artasyrus is another Greek corruption of the name "Artakhshathra" (Artaxerxes). That Bactria was ruled by the heir to the throne and his name is actually another Greek version of Artaxerexes, he might have been the same person as king Artaxerxes I and Orontes may have been one of his illigimate sons by his numerous concubines.

The Orontid Dynasty: Orontes I

After researching the real rulers of Armenia from the 7th century BC to the 5th century AD I had made Wikipedia pages for them, alas Wikipedia also allows anyone to edit what is posted and add nonsense.
So I will post here my findings.
Some of the sources I read for this were J. M. Cook's "The Persian Empire" and Richard G. Hovannisian's "The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times".

This is about Orontes I, who is cited as an Armenian king in Armenian history, but was actually an Achaemenid Persian, and a Satrap for the Achaemenid Persian empire.

This is a gold Drachm minted in Ionia, western Asia Minor, around 363 BC. It depicts Orontes, who at that time had occupied Ionia in rebellion against king Artaxerxes III. Note the Scythian hat he wears.

The name Orontes is a Greek corruption of the original Persian name '''Auruand''' which meant "Great Warrior" in the Avestan language.
It is likely this was a special title given by the Persian king to a chosen man of the Achaemenid family, though this seems to have become a hereditary name in that family. 

According to the Greek sources (Herodotus, Strabo) Orontes was made Satrap of Sophene and Matiene, these comprised western and eastern Urartu. He was given these Satrapies after the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC for supporting Artaxerxes II against Cyrus the Younger

Xenophon in his "Anabasis" mentions Orontes and that he had a son called Tigran. Movses Khorenatsi confused this Tigran with king Tigran II.

It is likely Orontes ruled from Armavir as the previous Satrap of Armenia, Hydarnes, had ruled from there.
He also married Rodogoune, the daughter of king Artaxerxes II by one of his concubines.

He is next recorded in 381 BC for the campaign to recapture Cyprus from its rebel leader, King Evagoras, commanding the army, whilst the navy was under the command of Tiribazus. They managed to lay siege to the city of Salamis, however Orontes then impeached Tiribazus to king Artaxerxes II. Before three Persian noble judges, Orontes was found guilty.

In 362 BC a great rebellion occurred in Anatolia, led by Datames, Satrap of Cappadocia. Some sources say that it was Orontes who was chosen by the rebels as their leader. However Orontes stayed loyal to king Artaxerxes II and aided in the collapse of the rebellion.
Apparently he wanted to rule Anatolia and Armenia alone. 

In 355 BC he rebelled against the new king of the Achaemenid Empire, Artaxerxes III.
The Satrapy of Ionia was captured by him, including the city of Pergamon and he sent bribe money to Athens, where a decree records his name for an alliance. 
He had enough funds to plot such things as he is recorded to have had a personal fortune of 3,000 talents of silver. He also minted his own coins, such as the one displayed here from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
He still had possession of parts of western Anatolia when he fought a battle against the satrap of Daskyleion. After being defeated he handed back Pergamon to the king's men and subsequently died.

The next Satrap of Armenia is known as "Orontes II" though if he really was the son of Orontes is not definitively proven.
The kings of  Commagene claimed descent from Orontes with Darius I of Persia as their ancestor, by his marriage to Rodogoune, daughter of Artaxerxes II who had a family descent from king Darius I.

Some ancient Greek sources called Orontes a "Bactrian", though it was because his father, Artasyrus (Artaxerxes), had been the Satrap of Bactria in the reign of king Artaxerxes II. It is interesting that during the Achaemenid Empire Bactria was ruled by the heir to the throne. It is possible that Artasyrus is the same person as king Artaxerxes II.
This king had seven known children and eleven children whose names are not known in western historical records.

A quote about king Orontes I from "The Mythology of All Races: Volume VII;  Armenian Mythology: The World of Spirits and Monsters. XI, by Mardiros H. Ananikian, New York, 1925....
"King Erwand also, whose name, according to Father Ghevont Alishan, means serpent, was held captive by the dragons in rivers and mist. He must have been a changeling, or rather born of a serpent-father. For he was a worshipper of Devs and, according to Moses of Khoren, the son of a royal princess from an unknown father. He was proverbially ugly and wicked and possessed an evil eye under the gaze of which rocks crumbled to pieces.
According to Djvanshir, a historian of the Iberians of Transcaucasia, the wicked King Erwand built a temple to the Kaches (Brave Ones) at Dsung, near Akhalkaghak in Iberia (Georgia)"

This all reflects the rapacious character of Orontes I.

Cowardly Codomannus?

King Darius III (380 - 330 BC) is known to history as the Persian king who twice ran away from king Alexander III (356 - 323 BC). First at the Battle of Issus and then finally at the Battle of Gaugamela.
The impression we get from the Greek historians is of a cowardly king.
A Roman depiction of Darius fleeing from Alexander at the battle of Issus. From a mosaic at Pompeii.

However, before becoming king of the Persian empire, Darius' original name was Codomannus and gained reknown for ending a long rebellion of the Cadusii in 358 BC by defeating their champion in single combat.

Okay, by the time of Gaugamela, Darius was about 49 years old, yet what he may have lacked in strength he would have to have had in intelligence in order to have become king in the first place.
Quite why he would have thought it sensible to run away makes no sense, especially as his army outnumbered Alexander's at Gaugamela and the right wing of his army was actually defeating the left wing of Alexander's.

All that can be said for certain is that the Greek historians of Alexander's day would have written for Alexander only and if they chose to differ they would have had a short life indeed.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Medes

In a region in north-west of Iran there was once a people known to the Greeks as the "Medes". It is supposed that this name is a mispronounciation of the word Mada.

It had been theorised that the name Media came from the old Iranian word "Mediya" which meant "middle". Such a supposition might make some sense, supposing that there were other tribes speaking a similar language to assosciate with, being "upper" and "lower". The only Iranian speaking tribes, that lived either to the north or south, historically recorded as contempories with the Medes, were the Saka (Scyths) of the Caucasus and the tribes living in Anshan, later known as Persis.

Media might derive from the name "Mittani" who inhabited north Iraq and the south of lake Urmia. They spoke and Indo-Iranian language and their kingdom lasted until around 1250 BC by which it was occupied by the Assyrians.

The Medes appear in Assyrian records around 850 BC, occupying a region bounded by the Zagros to its west, the Arax river to the north, the desert of Dast-e-Kavir to the east and the land of Elam to the south.

According to Herodotus the Medes were originally known only as "Aryan". In modern Armenian the word "Aryun" means blood. It must derive from the word "Aryan". As late as the Sassanid dynasty only the "Aryans" were permitted into the ruling class. This implies a long tradition of a ruiling minority in that region.
The name "Iran" is from "Ayran", a variant of the word "Aryan"

Herodotus listed 6 clans of Medes: 
  1. Magi, who dressed in white, they killed most animals with their own hands but revered the dog. They are recorded as sacrificing horses to Cyrus at his tomb. 
  2. Paratokeni (Partakka/Patishuwarish) who inhabited the region between the western mountains and the salt desert. 
  3. Boudi who are described as farmers 
  4. Stroukhates who are described as nomads 
  5. Bousai who are described as the natives 
  6. Arizanti

Median kings: 

Phraortes (Frwartish)

Deiokes (Daiaukku) Ruled 700-647 BC He founded Hamgmadana (Hamadan)

Phraortes II Ruled 647-625 BC Subjected Pars, died in battle against the Assyrians

Kyaxares (Kashtariti/Kyshar, possibly same person as Phraortes II) Ruled 625-585 BC. The nomadic Iranian Saka tribe made war against Media,  led by Protothyes (Bartatua/Paruyr Skayordi)
Paruyr Skayordi (Paruyr the son of the Saka) is recorded in Armenian history as a ruler of Urartu who later allied with Kyaxares to destroy Nineveh.
Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC. 
Then the Medes made war against Lydia in 590 BC.
My drawing of the sculpture of king Kyaxares. He wears a "Kandys" coat which is of north Iranian origin. This is in a tomb at Surdash, Dukan district, As Sulaymaniyah province in the Autonomous Kurdish Region, Iraq. At the tomb there is a figure on the right hand side, it is of the Lydian king Alyattes. This commemorates the two kings making an oath, after the Battle of the Halys.
Peace brokered by the rulers of Cilicia and Baylon. Aryenis, the daughter of the Lydian king Alyattes, marries Kyaxares' son Astyges. 

Astyges (Azhdahak/Zahak) Ruled 585-550 BC. According to Herodotus his daughter married Cambyses, father of Cyrus, his counsellor Harpagos later betrayed him to Cyrus. 
There are many legends about the overthrow of king Astyges by Cyrus.
Historically Astyges was overthrown later when Cyrus was ruling Anshan.
In Middle Persian "Azhdaha" meant a Dragon.

During the reign of the Persian empire (known also as the Achaemenid) a Satrapy was established in what was the eastern part of the kingdom of Urartu. Although it took the name of a region to the east of lake Urmia, that region was known to the Greeks as "Matiene" and may well be a variant of the name "Mediya" or "Mada"

The Medes remained the dominant military force in the early decades of the Persian empire, which was referred to as Median by the likes of Herodotus who described the military and civil dress of the Persian empire as Median. The Parthians who later ruled Iran adopted the common "Median" style of dress.

In the reign of Darius I (522-486 BC) Frwartish rebelled in Media, he clamed descent from Kyshar. This seems to have been an attempt by the Medes to regain power. Frwartish was defeated in May 521 BC. Out of that campaign 30,000 men were killed and 18,000 were captured.
After this the Medes presence decreased at the Persian court, though they are listed as gold smiths for Darius' new palace at Susa.
Darius had stud farms set up in Media (as well as Armenia) were the famed "Nisean horses" were raised and then sent to the king on the Mithra festival held on 21 September.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

"Yazidism/Yezidism", origin of the Yezidis

Yazidism is also known as Sharfadin
(from Sharaf ad-Din ibn al-Hasan, sixth leader of the Adawiyya Sufi order).

The first leader, Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir Al-Hakkari was born in the 1070’s.
He grew up in the village of Bait Far in the Bekka valley.
It is likely he was ethnically an Arab, but that is only going from the fact that he and his family had Islamic Arab names.
As a young man he went to study in Baghdad and later Mosul.
He became a Sufi and moved to the Sinjara mountains for spiritual contemplation and the creation of his Sufi order, called the Adawiyya.
He died here in 1162. His tomb, Lalesh, is now the center of Yazadi worship.
There were seven leaders of this Sufi order.

From the 1070’s – 1220’s the Middle East came under the rule of the Seljuk Turks.
Though ostensibly Sunni Muslims, they actually had a heterodox idea of Islam.
In the art of that era can be seen Buddhist mandalas, dragons, peacocks and lions. Even the sun had a place in the art of that time. The father of Alp Arslan, the first Seljuk Sultan, was Jewish by religion, his name was Mikhael. They had originally lived in the Khazar Khanate. Even in the Seljuk army there must have been many Nestorian Christian Turks from the Ferghana region.

Seeing the people and history behind the establishment of the Adawiyya order helps to understand why it was so heterodox, how it could have come to exist and why the descendants of this order, the Yazadi, have this heterodox religion today.

Sheik Adi claimed descent from the Ummayad Caliph Marwan (623-85 AD).
The order had the calamity, as the world did, to suffer from Mongol attacks.
  • In 1221 the Mongols executed the second leader of the order, Sheikh Adi ibn Shakr.
  • In 1254 Sheik Hasan was executed along with 200 followrs, by the Atabeg of Mosul. Lalesh was pillaged, the remains of Sheikh Adi were thrown out and burned.
  • In 1258 Sheik Sharaf ad-Din died fighting the Mongols.
  • In 1275 Sheik Fakhr ad-Din had to fight for leadership of the Adawiyya with his brother, Shams ad-Din. Fakhr defeated Shams in battle. Shams escaped to Syria.
  • Fakhr left the Sinjara region, and went to Egypt in 1276. At that time Egypt was rising in power under the Mamluks whilst Iraq had been destroyed by the Mongols.

Even after the loss of their spiritual leader it seems the Adawiyya followers remained in the Sinjara region. They were a heterogeneous society, already comprising of Islamic Arab influences, Kurdish influences and as we will read further on, Aramaic Christian influences…

There are five castes in their society; Pir (clergy), Sheikh, Kawal, Murabi, and Murid (layity).
The “Mir” (Emirs) is the secular leader of the Yazadis, he claims descent from the Ummayad Caliphs. The “Sheik” is the religious leader.
Also there are three classes of within the Pir: Kochaks, Fakirs, and Farashes.
None of them are permitted to intermarry.

Marriage to outsiders has been shown to be punishable by death.

Although we assume the caste system is something from India, it was also strictly followed in pre-Islamic Iran.
All Yazadi are given spiritual guidance by the Sheikh and Pir families. More esoterically they are also given a “brother” or a “sister of the after-world”.
This is similar to Manichean ideology. Mani's teachings are revealed to him through his spiritual companion and celestial twin (his syzygos).

Yazidis, like the Buddhists and Druze, believe in reincarnation.

The name Yazadi is said to derive from the Ummayad Caliph Yazid.
They say that a “Sultan Ezdi” preceded the Caliph, who was a reincarnation of “Ezki”.
The only historical person who bore a name such as “Ezdi” before the era of the Caliphs was the Persian Shah, Yazdigerd III. He was the last Zoroastrian king of Persia.
Also the year Yazdigerd was crowned, 632 AD, marks the base year of the modern Zoroastrian calendar.

Yazdi meant Godly in middle Persian.
Even today the Parsees of India, who are Zoroastrian by religion, call themselves “Yazdi”.

Yazadis, like Zoroastrians are both forbidden from desecrating fire even to speak rudely in front of it. Extinguishing fire by water is not allowed in any circumstance as this destroys two elements, water and fire, at the same time.
Sun worship is ancient, even in Iraq where the center of Yazidism is located.
The ancient temple of Hatra, south-east from Mosul, was dedicated to Shamash god of the Sun.

They main Yazadi tribe in north Iraq is called “Dasani”. There was once a Christian diocese called Dasaniyat in that area.
It is supposed that this name is a legacy of the Nestorian Christians who joined the Adawiyya Sufi order, either escaping persecution from the Sunni Muslims or joining by free choice.
The Bishop of Arbel (Erbil) lamented the loss of his flock to Sheik Adi:
“Great misfortunes have fallen upon us; a formidable enemy came to torment us. He was a descendant of Hagar (mother of the Arabs), the slave of our mother (Sarah, mother of the Hebrews). This enemy who made our life unfortunate was a Muslim, called Adi. He deceived us by vile tricks, and has finished by taking possession of our riches and our convent, which he consecrated to things that are illicit. An innumerable multitude of Muslims have also attached themselves to him and vow submission.”
In the Sinjara region many Yazadi villages still have Syraic Christian names.

Baptism and the Eucharist, both Christian practices, are part of the Yazadi religion.
Being baptized with water, when children, the priest holding their head.
Children can also be circumcised, though it is not mandatory.
Also in the Sinjara area, when a Yazadi man and woman marry, they will go to a Nestorian Christian church and partake in the Eucharist, drinking from the cup of wine which they call “Isa” (Jesus).
A newly married Bride is expected to visit all temples and churches on her way to the Grooms home, but not a mosque.

The Yazadi also share similar beliefs as the pre-Islamic Arabs had, such as the reverence of stones, wells, springs and trees.
These are also Mithraic beliefs.
Sacred trees have ribbons of cloth tied to their branches in offer of prayer.
It was believed if someone untied these, the person would be cursed.
Also the site of Lalesh seems to be based on Mecca.
(The “Haj” to the Kabba was already a part the tradition of Mecca before Islam.)
At Lalesh there is a spring called “Zamzam” and the pilgrims must walk up the nearby mountain as part of theis Haj, just as in Mecca pilgrims must walk up mount Arafat.

The Yazadi have five daily prayers; dawn, sunrise, noon, afternoon and sunset. Yet most pray only at sunrise and sunset.

There was an Armenian sect in the time of the first crusade, 1099 AD, called the “Arevordik”.
They worshipped the Sun.

Just as the number 5 is special to them, so is the number seven. There are seven Angels (Izrafael, Jibrael, Michael, Nordael, Dardael, Shamnael, and Azazael), in the Sinjara area there are seven temples with eternal flames. Above the tomb of Sheikh Adi at Lalesh is engraved a seven branced candelabra. The number seven was revered by the Sabeans who are mentioned in the Koran as “people of the book”.

The first Wednesday of April marks their new year. Of note is the custom of painting eggs.

There is also the great seven day festival (23 September-1 October) for Sheik Adi called “Cejna Cemaya” or Feast of the Assembly, in which the seven Angels are believed to visit Lalesh. A bull is also sacrificed, which seems to hark back to Mithra/Mir, the pagan Iranian god of the Sun. The festival of Mithras was celebrated on September 21 in pre-Islamic Iran.

The famous “whirling Dervish” dance is also performed there at this festival.

Melek Taus (King Peacock) was made the Archangel by God to rule over earth.
This was his reward for NOT BOWING DOWN to Adam.
Adam was created by God from Earth, Water, Air and Fire. After which God ordered all seven Angels to bow to Adam.
Melek Taus said to God "why should I bow to something that is imperfect, I only bow to you who is perfect".
This “perfectness” meant that God was beyond the worship of man, and so Melek Taus would act as the intercessor and it is he who receives the prayers of Yazadi. 
In Avestan theology, the Ahuras were beyond the prayers of men, but the Dev would act as intercessors.
In Yazidism it is forbidden to use the word “Satan” in reference to Melek Taus.

According to them both good and evil exists in man and he has the choice of which direction to go in life.

The Armenian writer, Yeznik of Goghb/Kolb wrote around 445 AD of the Zurvanist sect that they indulged in a triennial worship of the devil on the ground that he is evil by will not by nature, and that he may do good or even be converted.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The "Panjagan"

The Panjagan is described as a weapon that could fire 5 arrows at once.
Panj (Middle Persian)=Five.
This was used to devastating effect by the Sasanian Persian army against the Gok Turks in 619 AD.

Thinking how a regular bow could fire 5 arrows at once to any effect is baffling.

However in China a repeating crossbow was invented around the year 200 AD by the chancellor of the Shu Han dynasty, Zhuge Liang. Although similar crossbows are said to have existed before, Zhuge improved the design and fire rate of this weapon.

So what about the Panjagan? Well it might have derived from the weapon Zhuge created.
How did Chinese end up in Persia?

In 263 AD The Shu Han lost to the Wei dynasty and many people of all classes fled the capital city Chengdu and other regions westwards, along the old Silk Route, to Persia.
At that time Persia would have been glad for such reinforcements as it too had a new dynasty, the Sasanian which, by then, had been in power for 39 years with almost continous war with Rome.
If the Persian armies were not fighting Romans they were fighting off the Turks who began raiding the eastern regions of Persia from 483 AD.

This weapon, and no doubt the well drilled Savaran cavalry, kept the Turks out of Iran until the fall of the Sasanian empire in 651 AD.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The legends of king Azhdahak of Media

Having worked on a webpage on Mount Azhdahak in the Geghama mountains and reading the Movses Khorenatsi legend behind the name I was surprised to read later two other accounts of king Azhdahak of Media. I post below all three sources about him and will draw some conclusions from it all.

Places and peoples mentioned in the texts
  • "History of Armenia", Told by Movses Khorenatsi (410-90 AD) at the instance of Sahak Bagratuni.
  • Account of Kaveh and Zahak in the "Shahname" by Ferdowsi (940-1020 AD) that was a legend from the Sassanian era.
  • Account from Herodotus (490-30 BC) on the life of Cyrus the great.
"Zahak was the son of Mardas an Arab ruler in Iran." -I think Ferdowsi had an Arab origin for Zahak as to appeal to the Iranian Sammanid dynasty for whom the story was written. Mardas is from the Iranian word “Mard”= Man. It might also have been the actual name of the Medes, a name being an Ionic Greek corruption of the name Madas.
Astyges was a historical king recorded by Herodotus. Reigning from 585-550 BC.
“The alliance of Cyrus and Tigran was of a great danger for the King of Media, Azhdahak”.
"Stories have it that Zahak killed Jamshid his father in order to gain the kingdom. It was believed that Zahak had a special relationship with the satan and that he had kissed Zahak's shoulders and from each shoulder had grown a snake.
Cylinder seal from Gonur, Turkmenistan, from around 2500 BC
Zahak wanted rid of them. This time satan appears to Zahak as a doctor and advised him to drink the blood of young Iranians in order to satisfy the needs of the bloodthirsty snakes." -Ferdowsi in associating Zahak with the Arabs now associates them as draining the life of Iran.
"One night Zahak dreams that three men came to his palace and killed him."
-In the account of the dream of king Azdhahak by Movses Khorenatsi three men also appeared. Worth noting that this Armenian legend preserved the real name of the Median king, Azhdahak.
“Today I was in an unknown land near to a mountain that rose high from the earth and which peak appeared enveloped in a thick ice. One would have said that it was in the land of the Hikedes. As I gazed for a long time at the mountain, a woman dressed in purple and wrapped in a veil the color of the sky appeared sitting at the summit of that great height. Her eyes were beautiful, her stature tall, her cheeks red, and she was seized with the pains of childbirth. I was looking amazed for a long time at this performance the woman suddenly gave birth to three heroes, fully formed in stature and form. The first was mounted on a lion and flew to the west; the second on a leopard looked to the north; but the third rode a monstrous dragon and launched an attack on our empire. In the midst of such confused visions it seemed to me that I was standing on the roof of my palace, and I saw the surface of this pavilion adorned with beautiful and many-colored awnings; the gods who crowned me were present in a wonderful spectacle and I was honouring them with sacrifices and incense. Suddenly I looked up and saw the man who was riding the dragon flying with eagle’s wings and bearing down to me. He was already close by, intending to destroy the gods. But I, Azhdahak, interposing myself, received this attack and came to grips with the wonderful hero. First we both hacked each other’s bodies with lances, causing streams of blood to flow making the surface of the palace shine like the sun by our blood. For the end of the fight was destruction, and I did not seem to be alive. The course of these visions indicates nothing else save that king Tigran of the Hikede is about to come upon us in a violent assault." - Khorenatsi has Azdhahak plot against king Tigran. He arranged to marry Tigran’s sister Tigranuhi to get at Tigran. Unknowing of Azhdahak’s designs Tigran accepts the marriage. However by her beauty she had some control over Azdhahak and nothing was done in the kingdom against her will.
"He wakes up in terror and calls upon the dream interpreter whom in turn tells him that a man with a name of Fereydun will come and take his kingdom away. Hence Zahak sends for soldiers to find all men with the name Fereydun and to have them killed. Fereydun's mother, Faranak, hears this news and takes Fereydun to a village in Mazandaran." -Fereydun and Faranak both have the old Persian word “Far” in them, which means Glory. The village in Mazandaran is likely the one near Larijan that gets mentioned a lot in this Ferdowsi story.
Herodotus said Astyges had 2 premonitions. 1) That his sister Mandane (also known as Amytis) would have a son who would overthrow him, so he married her to Cambyses (Kambujiya) the Persian (son of Cyrus I). 2) After another premonition he had her returned with her young son to the palace. The baby boy (Cyrus II) was given to Harpagos with orders that he should kill the baby. Apparently a dead baby was substituted and the baby boy was given to a shepherd family to raise in the Median mountains. -It is an illogical story. If the king knew she would have a son who would overthrow him, why did he not kill her? The real Amytis married the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II.
Nicholas of Damascus wrote that Cyrus was a son of a bandit, Atradates, and got the job of a servant to the palace groundsman (Harpagos?). He then rose to become cup bearer to king Astyges. He got his father the job of governor of Persis (Anshan). Much of this is said be based on the legend of king Sargon. The Ferdowsi legend of Kaveh coming from a simple back round seems to echo it.
“The shrewd-minded beauty, however, having perceived the plot by the Median, responded with the words of love to Azdhahak yet informed her brother urgently of his treachery using her faithful people. And once such baseness had been revealed there was thenceforth no excuse or deceit that could veil such wickedness, but then war broke out openly.” -Compared to the two other stories, no son is sent away into hiding but a woman notifies her brother of the designs of her husband, which results in war.
"Fereydun was left with a farmer in Larijan and fed by a cow which had hairs of many colours. Zahak soon heared of this unusual cow and wanted to go to Larijan. Faranak hears of this and takes Fereydun to an old man who wondered in the mountains to take care of him." -A multi-coloured cow? Surely that a man with the name Fereydun had survived would be the reason to go to Larijan? Faranak seemed to be very close to Zahak to always get word of his plans and seemed to prefer the Mazandaran as a refuge for her son and nowhere else.
"Zahak kills the cow. Once Fereydun reaches the age of sixteen he leaves in search of his mother. When he finds her she tells him all that had happened. When Fereydun learns all about his origin he plots to take revenge on Zahak." -Killing the cow seems to have had no effect on the welfare of Fereydun and he grew to be 16 before he met his mother again..
When the boy was ten years old his fame came to the notice of Astyges who recognized him and had him sent back to live with his real parents. However Astyges had Harpagos own son killed, butchered and served at dinner to him for tricking him. Harpagos rebelled and joined with Cyrus to overthrow Astyges. -Again it is contradictory, if he knew Cyrus was a danger why did he not kill him? Instead killing Harpagos’ son.
As Fereydun gets closer to exacting his revenge he met Kaveh at a gathering. Kaveh was a blacksmith with nothing more than a brave heart and the support of his people. He decided to end this vicious cycle of tyranny by killing king Zahak.” Kaveh is an Avestan word that means King.
With bravery he approached king Zahak and demanded freedom for the people. He took off his leather apron and puts it on top of a spear to make a flag out of it. This flag was called the Darafsh. It symbolised freedom.” - Either the hide of the multi-coloured cow became Kaveh's apron or Zahak had no use for the multi-coloured cow! So this is the legend of the Darafsh. However this flag was real, it measured 7 metres by 4.9 metres. It might well have begun with a humble origin, but the final flag was very elaborate. Each king of Iran had added a jewel to it. Gold and silver thread was interwoven into the silk tapestry. When not used as a battle standard it was a grand carpet in front of the king’s throne at Ctesiphon. It was cut into pieces when the Arab Muslims captured the palace in 637 AD.
“It is written that Kaveh, Fereydun and his two brothers Kiyanush and Shadkam, united the people and went to a war with Zahak.” In Avestan Kaveh is also known as Kayan or Kay. This is taken from the Avestan legend that has king Haosravah (Kay Khusru/Khaveh), Zarthushtra (Zoroaster) and Jamasp. King Haosravah in Avestan legend was the one who united the tribes into one Iranian nation. Clearly Ferdowsi blended older legends into the legend of king Azhdahak.
“The Armenian king gathered troops from the confines of Cappadocia, the total elite of Iberia and Albania, and selected warriors of Greater and Lesser Armenia and marched with whole his host to the land of Media. When the battle was joined, with his lance Tigran split Azhdahak’s iron armor like water; the point of the lance ran right through him, and as he drew it back again he brought out with his weapon half of Azhdahak’s lungs. The combat was magnificent, for heroes were facing heroes, and not straightway did they turn their backs to each other. Therefore the struggle was drawn out over many hours. But the death of Azhdahak brought it to an end. And this feat, added to his good fortune, increased Tigran’s glory.” Armenia was only divied into a “Greater” and “Lesser” region during the Achaemenid empire, not during the Median empire.
"Feraydun and his army did battle against Zahak and defeated him. Zahak fled to India and Fereydun went to find him, and when he did, Fereydoon took Zahak to Mazandaran and imprisoned him on mount Damavand." - Ferdowsi seems to use the Zoroastrian symbolism of Ahura Mazda defeating Ariman. Historically king Darius III fled east to Bactria after escaping from the plain of Gaugamela during battle against Alexander III in north Iraq. Alexander then went out to pursue him. Darius was assassinated by his relative, Bessos. It also mirrors the later historical event when king Yazdigerd III fled to Bactria after being defeated by the Arab armies. Yazdigerd was assassinated by the governor of Merv.
Herodotus said the Median empire stretched to India but this must have meant Bactria (todays Afghanistan). Herodotus did not state that Astyges was killed, only overthrown.
“But Anush, Azhdahak’s first wife, Tigran settled safe at the edge of the great mountain’s chasm. The chasm is rumored to have been formed by a terrible earthquake; it had been narrated by the people dispatched by Ptolemy to measure the inhabited land in stadia, as well as part of the sea and the uninhabited land starting from the hot belt (Geghama mountains) up until Kimuron (Akkadian~Gimmiri, the Caucasus). He gave servants to Anush from among the same Medes who dwelt at the foot of the mountain. Tigran took the rest of the house of Azhdahak into captivity, married Anush, mother of vishaps (dragons), and with the help and approval of Cyrus he seized the land of the Massagetae (Sakashen) and the Medians ." - In the legend it is strange why Anush would be settled separately from the court of Tigran unless her life would have been in danger. Anush may be the same as Mandane in the Herodotus story. It is implied that she was Median. Compare how Anush is described as a mother of dragons whilst in Ferdowsi’s legend Zahak worshipped serpents and had a serpent on each shoulder. Reading the Khorenatsi legend it seems Medes lived in the Geghama region and that Tigran was fighting a dynastic war with Azhdahak in alliance with Cyrus. And in the Khorenatsi legend Cyrus seems to be only added to add prestige to Tigran yet has no other role. Historically Armenia did not gain liberty from the Medes. The Medes were defeated by king Cyrus and Armenia was annexed as well by him.
It is also strange why Mazandaran occurs many times in Ferdowsi’s story as a place of exile or imprisonment. Even after Caliph conquered the region in 652 AD the remoteness of Mazandaran allowed Iranian traditions to survive. However it was also a nearby region, Media, that Herodotus had the baby Cyrus grow up in.

Historically Astyges was overthrown later when Cyrus was ruling Anshan (Persis). 

Ferdowsi seems to have used a lot of Zoroastrian allegory in this legend. 
Fereydun, son of Faranak, is the "Far" or royal glory. Kaveh is the real King that the Glory had sough out. Zahak represents Ahriman, the manifestation of Evil.
If there is any historical substance to draw from all of these legends it seems that Cyrus II "The Great" took advantage of a civil war in the Median empire and came out the winner.