Persia

After the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, writing appears in the "Proto-Elamite" period (~3200 to 2800 b.c.). The Elamites developed in the western area of Persia, modern Iran, between Luristan in the southwest to Fars in the south-central region. Among the important sites that have been excavated are Susa, an ancient trading center on the route between Mesopotamia and Baluchistan (in present-day Afghanistan) and perhaps India. Persia was a source of raw material for the artisans of the Middle East, and locally mined and crafted steatite (chlorite) vases and seals were shipped, for example, to India. Copper smelting, and the trading of gold, silver, tin, lead, lapis lazuli, carnelian, building stone, and wood were other activities. Around 2200 b.c., the Akkadians under Sargon occupied Susa, and later the kings of Ur claimed the area, but Elamite kings attacked Mesopotamia and brought the last king of Ur to their eastern city of Anshan in 1932 b.c. (see §7.1.3.1). In the middle Elamite period (13th-12th centuries b.c.), Elam was the preeminent power. The Medes and Persians slowly encroached from the north and east and severed the old trade routes, eroding the Elamite dominance. In 639 b.c., the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal devastated the western part of the kingdom.

The best-preserved monument from the Elamite period is a four-sided, broadly stepped, pyramid at Chogha Zanbil, which is aligned so that its corners faced the cardinal directions (Ferrier 1989, p. 13). Assyrian records of 639 b.c. indicate that a similar ziggurat once existed in Susa with a blue-glazed temple with bronze horns at the top.

Following Elam, the area that is now Iran came under the domination of the Achaemenian Empire (550-330 b.c.), which was established by Cyrus following a power struggle with a faction of the Zoroastrian priesthood. The prophet Zoroaster (a Greek corruption of the Persian Zarathustra) thus predates the empire, but the section on Zoroaster's life in the religion's sacred book, the Avesta, is lost and exact dates are not known. Attributions place him between 630 and the 10th century b.c. (Smart 1989/1992, p. 215). The creator god in Zoroastrianism, which became the state religion in Cyrus's empire, was Ohrmozd or Ahura Mazda (the Wise Lord). He fathered the twin spirits Spenta Mainyu (Beneficent Spirit) and Angra Mainyu (Hostile Spirit), which lead to later dualistic developments in the religion. Later, the protagonists become the all-knowing, eternal Ahura Mazda (still the creator of all things good) and the ultimately defeated, evil Angra Mainyu or Ahriman. The cosmological time-line in Zoroastrianism involves an interval of 12,000 years, divided into four intervals of 3,000 years:

(3) 3000 years of the mixing of good and evil

(4) Defeat of the evil spirit, Ahriman

The last interval is divided into four segments, each associated with a specified metal. This obviously late construction is thought to have started with the birth of Zoroaster, whose life constitutes the first of the last periods:

(1) Gold for the time of revelation of the Good Religion to Zoroaster

(2) Silver for the time period when Zoroaster's patron accepted the religion

(3) Steel for the time of the Sasanids

(4) Iron for the present age of decline and dissolution

The end is marked by an unparalleled onslaught by evil forces led by Ahriman: The Sun's light is weakened, as is that of the Moon; the Earth will shake similar to a paroxysm that occured when the Earth was created, when the evil spirit caused mountains to form (Persia is surrounded by a triangle of very rugged mountains). There will then be droughts, famine, and war. A shower of stars will mark the birth of the first of three savior figures, all conceived through the miraculously preserved seed of Zoroaster and born of Virgins. Ahriman will be sealed up and possibly destroyed through the release of a sea of molten metal. The world will then be renewed, and the good creation restored. There is an optimism about the end times that is not found in a later form of the religion known as Zurvanism, sometimes called a Zoroastrian heresy, in which Zurvan, the ultimate creator deity, is the unfeeling, impartial abstraction, time.

There are sufficient similarities to gods in India to suppose that the Aryan and Elamite gods were ancient Indo-Iranian deities. There are many gods in Zoroastrianism, and some of them can take several forms, because the belief was widespread that spiritual beings can take any material form (Hinnells 1973/1985, p. 29). Herodotus (131, Rawlinson tr. 1942, 131, pp. 73-74) mentions that the Persians offered sacrifices to a god that "represents the whole circuit of the firmament" [Ahura Mazda], to the Sun, Moon, the Earth, fire, water, and the winds, and that the Persians, unlike the Greeks, do not imagine the gods to have the same nature as men. Ahura Mazda is the creator god. In his inscriptions, Darius I [521-486 b.c.] states,

Darius the King says: By the will of Ahuramazda I am king. Ahu-ramazda delivered the kingship to me.23

In the small, Hellenized kingdom of Commagene on the west bank of the Euphrates (see §15.2.1), in the 1st century b.c., Ahura Mazda or Oromasdes is equated to Zeus (Jupiter), manifesting the planetary association.

The second of the Persian gods to Ahura Mazda is Mithra, whose Indian counterpart was Mitra, "Friendship" or "Contract." In India, Mitra was linked with Varum, "True Speech," and together they mount a chariot and ride before the Sun. In Persia, Mithra was accompanied by Rashnu, "judge." In an ancient Yasht (hymn), he is "the first supernatural god to rise across the Hara [range], in front of the

(1) 3000 years of the initial creation

(2) 3000 years according to the will of Ohrmazd

swift-horsed Sun,"24 "goes along after sunset,"25 and is "the swiftest of the gods."26 He is also acompanied by Rashnu. According to Malandra (1983, pp. 9, 58), varieties of the name mean "the Sun," and Mitra has been interpreted as a more abstract "first light" of dawn, although in the above hymn, Mitra appears to be connected to the planet Mercury.27 The yashts clearly describe Mithra as a warrior god; so it is not too surprising that Roman soldiers would worship such a god (their version of this god, Mithras, was carried to and worshipped in the most remote parts of the Roman empire). At Commagene, Mithra is equated with Stilbon (Hermes, Mercury), but more precisely with "Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes," from the Nomos inscription of Antiochos at Nemrud Dag. Apollo was equated with the Sun and with Mercury in Greece. The Commagene inscription shows the close association with Hermes and Helios, which evidently paralleled the ambiguity in Mithra, considered the Persian equivalent.

Another such warrior god is Verethragna, "Victory," who may take the form of strong wind, bull (with golden horns and yellow ears), white horse, bad-tempered camel, vicious boar, teenaged youth, swift bird (raven?), wild ram, fighting buck, or a man with golden sword (Hinnells 1973/1985, p. 29). At Commagene, he was associated with Heracles and with Ares (Mars) [see §15.2.1].

The god, Atar, Fire, the equivalent of Agni in India, is a mediator between Earth and sky and between humans and gods. The phenomenon fire is one of the seven bounteous creations and is referred to as "the son of god" (Hinnells 1985, p. 32). Fire is naturally associated with the Sun and therefore with Mithra (Malandra 1983, p. 59).

The goddess Ardvi Sura Anahita, "strong undefiled waters," is said to be the source of all of Earth's bodies of water and the source of the "cosmic oscean" (Hinnells 1985, pp. 27-29). She was a fertility goddess, who purified seed, wombs, and milk. She is depicted wearing a golden crown with "eight rays and a hundred stars" (Hinnells 1985, p. 28), drives a chariot pulled by the horses "wind," "cloud," "rain," and "sleet" and is described as "strong and bright" and beautiful (Hinnells 1985, p. 28). She is associated with the restoration of life. Parallels with the Mesopotamian Ishtar, the Caananite goddess Anat, and the Semitic god Athar,28 are substantial. Neither Gray (1969/1982) nor Hinnells (1985) mention a planetary manifestation for Anahita, but the explicit associations of Ishtar and Athar (Gray 1969/1982, p. 24) with the planet Venus are suggestive.

Vayu, Wind, is depicted as a strong warrior, carrying a spear and weapons of gold. He is both a worker for good

27 The ambiguity is visible in two hymns: According to Yasht 10.142 (Malandra 1983, p. 75), "Mithra . . . , the well-created, greatest god, who in the morning (re)creates the many forms, the creatures of Spenta Mainyu, as he illuminates himself, like the Moon, with his own light"; but in Yasht 10.145, "We worship the exalted righteous who (ensure) freedom from danger, Ahura and Mithra, as well as the Stars, the Moon, and the Sun."

28 The Arabic word athara means "to irrigate."

and a destroyer and is said to hurl thunderbolts; he rules in the intermediate void between the Light (ruled by Ahura Mazda) and Darkness (the domain of Angra Mainyu) and has aspects of both good and evil (Hinnells 1985, pp. 24-25). There is no explicit planetary association for this god, despite his martial attributes.

Tishtrya, god of rains, has battles with the Demon of Drought, Apaosha. Tishtrya is generally identified with the star Sirius, an association evocative of Egypt (cf. §8), but regarded as ill suited in Persia because the heliacal rising of Sirius occurs at the height of the dry season (Malandra 1983, pp. 9, 142). Malandra thinks a possible solution may lie in the identification (or opposition) of Tishtrya and the god Tir, who is sometimes identified with Sirius, sometimes with the planet Mercury, in the Pahlavi books. Forssman (1968, cited in Malandra 1983, pp. 142-143) argues for an identification of the Vedic astral god Tisya, and an etymology indicating that the name relates to "Three Stars," which, it is argued, are Orion's Belt. Forssman provides Indic evidence as well as a Persian hymn (Yasht 8.6,29 Malandra 1983, p. 144) to show an association of these gods with archery.

The kings of the Achaemenian dynasty are familiar to western readers through Herodotus's The Persian Wars: Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes. Darius I built a new capital at Persepolis; the columns of the royal palace are aligned so that the shadows of each row of columns strikes the next row at the summer solstice (Plate 2, see color insert). Stone reliefs frequently show the god Ahura Mazda as a winged disk, often hovering over depictions of the king. As is known from Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, the Achaemenian Empire was eclectic and incorporated many features of other cultures, and its arts and monuments were constructed by artisans from many regions. The Achaemen-ian Empire was defeated and overthrown by Alexander the Great.

The Achaemenians were succeeded by the Seleucid dynasty established by Alexander's general, Seleucus. Already in the late Achaemenian dynasty, the ideas of Zur-vanism (from a preeminent god, Zurvan (Time) were evolving. The Subordinate dualism was symbolized by the new twins Ohrmazd (Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (Angra Mainyu).

Alexander had founded new cities and populated them with Greeks, but there is little information about the extent to which the underlying culture was hellenized. In ~250 b.c., the Greeks in Bactria and Sogdiana broke away from the Seleucid empire, and were eventually conquered by nomadic groups from eastern Asia. The Parthian kingdom was founded by Arsaces in 248 b.c., but was continually attacked by the Seleucid empire and by Bactria, until Mithridates I (r. 170-138 b.c.) gained control of most of Eastern Iran, and with his son, Phraates II (r. 138-127 b.c.) extended the empire to the Euphrates. Mesopotamia was under Parthian influence by 88 b.c. Parthian kings claimed the title of Phil-Hellen on their coinage from the time of

29 "We worship the opulent, glorious star Tishtrya who flies as swiftly to the Wouru.kasha sea as the supernatural arrow which the archer . .. shot from Mount Airyo.xshutha to Mount Xwanwant."

Artabanus I (r. ~128-123 b.c.). But although a strong degree of Hellenism was evident at court, and among the wealthier classes, the effect on the population as a whole is doubted. Were the priestly classes Hellenized? Did they practise Hellenistic astrology, for example? The Avesta is completely silent about astrology. The Magi of the Star of Bethlehem (§15.2.2) are traditionally assumed to come from the Medes of Western Persia.

The Semitic sun god Shamash is depicted on the main temple in Hatra (in an Arab kingdom of western Parthia) as a human face enclosed by a leaf-shaped beard, in the hair of which appears to be a coiled serpent (Ferrier 1989, p. 58). Artabanus V, the last Parthian king, was defeated by Ardashir ~227 a.d., and the Sasanian Empire was established in this region. Although the Parthians had moved their capital to Seleucia, which they had captured in 141 b.c., and came under heavy Greco-Roman influence, the Sasani-ans claimed descent from the Achaemenians and were centered in Persia. Ahura Mazda was again worshiped, as inscriptions indicate on reliefs cut into rock cliffs to celebrate Adashir's triumph. Pingree (1963, p. 240) states that "virtually nothing" was known of astronomy in Iran prior to the Sasanian empire (~227—651), but notes that a Greek astrological text was attributed to the religious leader Zoroaster, even though it contains mostly Babylonian material.

Petri (1967) notes a parallel between the Kalacakra (see §9.4) and the worship of Time (zrvan) as the supreme deity in Persia. The four yugas of Indian astronomy are found here also, with equal lengths of 5400 years (not in the proportions of 4:3:2:1, and lasting 4,320,000 years to complete; both usages were found in India). Petri (1967) suggests that the cycle length of 21,600 years (4 x 5400) may represent an approximation to the precession cycle.

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