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Pre-Christian Religions of Armenians

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Posted 13 February 2001 - 07:40 PM

Pre-Christian Religions

Posted Image The earliest Armenian pantheon was most likely similar to the pre-historic Indo-European pantheon; and, it probably included eponymous and other legendary heroes as well. It seems that the Armenians also had nature gods and, indeed, worshiped the elements. During the fifth century BC, the Armenians adopted the Iranian form of these divinities and domesticated them. Ahura-Mazda, who assumed the status of father of the gods, was worshipped as Aramazd.

Mithra, god of light and justice, was known as Mihr. Anahita, goddess of fertility and mother of all wisdom, became Anahit--the favorite goddess of the Armenians. . Posted Image Verethrangna, the god of war, was worshipped as Vahagn. Astghik was the goddess of love. Tir, the scribe of Aramazd, was the god of science and the recorder of man's deeds of good and evil. Barshamin and Nane, probably of Syrian origin, also formed part of the Armenian pantheon.

With the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), and the successor Seleucid Empire, Armenia entered the Hellenistic orbit and identified its gods (as did the Romans and others) with the Greek pantheon. Thus Aramazd became Zeus; Mihr became Hephaestus; Anahit became Artemis; Vahagn became Heracles; Astghik became Aphrodite; Tir became Apollo; and Nane became Athena; only Barshamin retained his original form.

This characteristic syncretism also appears in Persia, where Ahura-Mazda became Zeus; Mithra became Apollo; and Anahita became Athena.
Pagan Greek priests brought cult statues of the gods to Armenia and placed them in Hellenistic temples. Thus, an Irano-Greek form of paganism existed in Armenia, along with the worship of local spirits, up until the establishment of Christianity in the early fourth century. Some aspects of the old religion survived in folklore and customs for centuries thereafter.

The weakening of the Seleucids allowed the founding of the Armenian Artaxid dynasty (189 BC). Sometime later, the Artaxiad Tigranes II, the Great, (95-55 BC), Posted Image along with his ally Mithradates VI (Eupator) of Pontus established a short-lived Armenian-Hellenistic empire which stretched from the Caucasus to Lebanon, and from Mesopotamia to the Pontic Alps. By this time the great Armenian feudal nobility (the nakharars) were well established.

The empire of Tigranes was destroyed by the Romans, who were gradually expanding into the Middle East. Roman incursions were led in turn by Lucullus, Pompey, Crassus, Mark Antony (who captured Artavasdes II by ruse), and Caius Caesar (sent by his grandfather the Emperor Augustus). Western Armenia thus fell under Roman hegemony, while the eastern territories came to be dominated by the Parthians.

Trdat, the brother of the last important Parthian king, Vologases I (AD 51-77), was appointed by him as king of Armenia (AD 52). Trdat was also recognized by Rome (AD 66), and thus he became the founder of the Arsacid (Parthian) dynasty which ruled Armenia until AD 428.

With the rise of the second Persian empire (Sassanid, AD 226-651), eastern Armenia was drawn more deeply into the Iranian orbit, while western Armenia remained chiefly under Roman and then Byzantine influence. The two great empires, Rome and Persia, vied for centuries to establish dominance over Armenia, making Armenia the scene of almost constant warfare.

This struggle was carried on in ernest when the founder of the Persian Sassanid dynasty, Ardashir I, overthrew the Parthian kingdom in Iran (AD 226), invaded Armenia, overwhelmed the Armenian Arsacids, and attacked the Roman Empire. After over a century of warfare, peace was signed between the Eastern Roman Empire and Iran in AD 387, dividing Armenia into two vassal states--one controlled by Byzantium and the other by Iran. In Persian (eastern) Armenia, the Armenian Arsacids retained nominal supremacy until AD 428; but, after the natural extinction of the Armenian dynasty, the Iranians appointed a marzpan (margrave) to rule as governor.

#2 hagopn



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Posted 30 January 2014 - 12:28 AM

Yes, the Persian borrowed and incorporated foreign deities into their pantheon, among them the Armenian deities Anahit and Mihr/Mithra.  THis happened during the reign of Ardeshir/Artashes II while his court was in Babylon.  I would suggest you do not read pseudo-academics such as James Russell and instead try more competent experts such as Hovik Nersesian.

Edited by hagopn, 30 January 2014 - 12:28 AM.

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