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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.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Arsacid (Արշակունի, اشکان) Armenia: A Glossary of words and titles

Recently I was researching about the Arshakuni era of Armenia. They ruled sporadically between 12 - 384 AD. The Romans would at times invade and either rule directly or place a king of their own choice on the throne, such as Julius Sohaemus in the reign of emperor Antoninus. The Arshakuni dynasty had also ruled Iran until being driven out by Ardashir Sassan in 226 AD.

The following is a list I have compiled of titles used in the kingdom of Armenia during their reign.
Almost all the titles are Iranian in origin.
The social order that existed during the Arshakuni dynasty of Armenia. However it more or less predated it and continued after its demise.


  • Ardar (Middle Persian- Arda)= Righteous.
  • Arg (Middle Persian)= Fort/Citadel of a city
  • Argbed (Middle Persian- Arga Pati)= The Master of the Fort
  • Anazat Ramik= Artisans and Merchants.
  • Arkayaduster= The daughter of the king. In ancient and medieval Armenia the princess had no right to succeed to the throne unlike in western monarchies.
  • Ashkara (Old Persian-Khshathra)= The Realm
  • Aspet (Middle Persian-Aspa Pati)= Commander of the cavalry. An inherited title in the Bagratuni family.
  • Avag= Title meaning "Senior".
  • Avag Sepuh= The heir apparent of each Nakharar. Also the Prince was known by this title.
  • Aznavur= A designation of a nobleman.
  • Azat= (Middle Persian-Azadhan)= Means "the free people" and this caste always composed the cavalry of the army.
  • Aznvakan= A later version of Azat.
  • Azg (Old Persian-Zantu)= The clan
  • Bakhtar Park= The Divine Fortune of the remains of a dead king, that would protect the kingdom.Elaborate tombs were contructed to containt the remains of the kings.When the Arshakuni ruled Iran Arbela was their tomb and Kamakh for Armenia. Both were located at the extreme west of those domains. The tomb at Arbela was destroyed by the Roman emperor Caracalla in 216 AD, at the begining of the reign of Artabanus IV (Vahan) who would later die in battle against the rebel Ardashir Sassan. When the the Persian Shah Shapur II invaded Armenia in 337 AD he destroyed the tomb at Kamakh and took the remains of the Arshakuni kings to Persia. Vasak Mamikonian is said to have defeated Shapur II in Iran and returned the remains of the dead kings to a new mausoleum built at Aghtsk.
Kamakh was the burial place of the Arshakuni kings of Armenia, their tombs are cut into the cliff face that overlooks the river Euphrates.Most of the walls of the citadel date from that era. There was also a Mithraic temple. The citadel was the original town.  
  • Banak (Middle Persian- Bana Kat - Base Town)= The army camp
  • Bardz (Middle Persian- Burzen - Exalted)= Name specifically for the pillow used by the Nahabed of the Nakharar when invited for an audience with the king, sat according to presidence.
  • Bdeshkh (Middle Persian-Bezashk)= Acted as an administrator of one of the four regions. These four regions of Armenia more or less matched the cardinal points. Technically he was a vassal of the King but in reality he ruled with his own army, treasury and laws. They were second only to the king. And like the Nahabed, the Bdeshkh was an inherited title.This had also been the system in Iran when it too was ruled by the Arshakuni, however when the Sassanian Persian dynasty came to power in 226 AD they revived the old Achaemenid "Satrapy" system, of many provinces under a "Iran Spahbed" (Master of Iran's Army). In the reign of Shah Khosrow I (531 - 579 AD) he restored the Bezashk system in Iran. The Kamasarakan family ruled the northern regions of Armenia for the king. They were of the Karin family, which ruled the south of Iran for the Sassanian kings. 
  • Berd (Middle Persian-Bord)= Castle or Fort
  • Catholicos (Greek- concerning the general)= Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The first few generations were fom the Suren family
  • Dasapet (Old Persian- Datha Pati)= Leader of a brigade of ten men.
  • Dastakert (Middle Persian-Dastgird-"stone built")=The estate of a prince, normally a palace.
  • Dpir (Middle Persian-Dbher)= Scribe, unlike in Iran they did not form a separate caste in the kingdom of Armenia.
  • Gah (Middle Persian- "Place" or "Time")= The throne of the Kings of Armenia.
  • Gah Namag (Middle Persian- Gah Nameh- Place/Time List)= List or book of presidence at the royal court for those Nakharar seated with the king.
  • Gaherets= An honorific title bestowed on a man of the kings choice, regardless of his seniority or backround. This was because the office of Gaherets was responsible for arranging the Gahnamag and he had to be trustworthy and not biased.
  • Gusan (Middle Persian-Gosan)=Minstrel. 
  • Gyughapet= Head of a village
  • Hargpet (Middle Persian- Harag Pati)= Treasurer, almost always a member of the Amatuni family held this position.
  • Hazarapet (Middle Persian- Hazara Pati)= Prime minister, it was a hereditary title of the Gnuni family.
  • Hrovartak (Middle Persian-Fravartak)=Royal charter.
  • Kartukharapet= Foreign minister.
  • Kond (Middle Persian-Gund)= Army camp
  • Kurm= Priestly caste predating Christianity. It might derive from the Sanskrit word Kurmi or be an abbreviation of aHURa Mazda. However, in Zoroastrian tradition, it was Ahriman who created evil beings, called "Kyrm", which also mean "worm".
  • Kusakal= A governor of a region and a non-hereditary title.
  • Maksapet= Governor of trade.
  • Malkhaz (Aramaic- Malak Aziz-"King Strong")= The Bodyguard of the king, an inherited title normally in the Khorkhoruni family. Aramaic was the official language of the Persian empire from 500 BC and this title seems to be a vestige from that time. It also reveals that the king would not choose someone of his own ethnicity to guard him.
  • Mard (Middle Persian- Mard)= Man
  • Mardpet (Middle Persian- Marza Pati)= The governor of the kings own lands, including the royal cities. An inherited title from which the family name Mardpetuni comes from.
  • Metsamets (Middle Persian- Mahista Mahist-"Great of Great")= An honorific title for the Nahapet and Tanuter.
  • Nahapet (Middle Persian-Nakha Pati)= Leader of the Nakharar and an inherited title, if there was no direct male heir then the nearest male relative would inherit. He answered to the Bdeshkh.
  • Nakharar (Middle Persian- Nakhvadar)= A land owning family, ruled by a Bdeshkh. They would marry within their extended family to keep their wealth. Each family had its own Kurm/Bishop
  • Park (Pahlavi-Farr)= Divine fortune bestowed by the God of Justice, Mihr, that the king would possess even after death.
  • Pasanik= Armed guard 
  • Pativ= The crest or coat of arms of a Bdeshkh and Nakharar.
  • Payl (Armenian-"shine")= Responsible for issuing the Zora Namag and also acted as Regent to Princes.
  • Seghanaped= Chamberlain of the royal court.
  • Sepuh (Middle Persian-Sepah)= Junior members of the Nakharar.
  • Shinakan= The masses, farmers, labourers and slaves.
  • Spanda (Middle Persian-Spenta)= To sacrifice.
  • Sparapet (Middle Persian- Spah Pati)= Commander of the kings army. This was a hereditary title of the Mamikonian family.
  • Spasalar (Middle Persian-Spah Salar)= An alternate name for Sparapet.
  • Tag (Old Persian- Takht- "throne" )= The word for Crown in Armenian.
  • Tagavor= King, in the pre-Christian Arshakuni era he was referred to as "Brother of the Sun"
  • Tanuter (Middle Persian- Tukhar)= The earlier name for the head of a land owning family, later the word Nahapet came into use.
  • Ter (Middle Persian- Tir, the god of rain and fertility)= Said to originally have been a title given to the head of the most senior family in the kingdom (Bdeshkh?). Since Tir was a god of fertility then granting the head of the most senior family this title must have implied they were the "fertility of the kingdom". It later came to be used by the Christian priesthood. Armenian surnames today that have the affix Ter have a priestly origin.
  • Tohm (Old Persian-Tauma)=House, also the name for the male lineage in a family.
  • Tohmapet= The head of the clan.
  • Tohmerg = Clan battle cry.
  • Vaspurakan (Middle Persian-Aspwaragan)= Heir to the throne, the Prince. This name was already used in the time of king Artashes (Artaxias 190-60 BC) and solely referred to the region of lake Van. It seems that at least in the time of the Hakamanish (Achaemenian) empire this region was a princely possession.
  • Vostan= The royal estate or land, directly owned by the crown unlike Bdeshkh or Nakharar lands. This included the royal cities as well such as Artashat and Dvin.
  • Vostikan (Middle Persian- Wistakhm)= The ruler of Armenia for the Caliph.
  • Zora Namag (Middle Persian-Zur e Nameh-"Names of strength")= A grand mobilisation notice. Apparently it was in the form of a tetrahedron, a segment being sent to each Bdeshkh to record the total number of military manpower available. Under each Bdeshkh were around 22 Nakharar. These families were recorded along with their military forces.There is a record of a grand total of 124,000 men. 84,000 were of the nakharar and 40,000 the King’s own regiments. The miltary ranking was also reflected in the Gahnamag.