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Pagan Cults of Pre-Christian Georgia (Ainina-Danina, Zaden ) Mariam Gvelesiani


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1 Besides corrections and suggestions kindly offered by Prof. Lincoln I’m noting below, there are a number of remarks not discussed in this work, as they are made concerning my previous study related to the cult of Armazi.

2 One will find in this work an unusual quantity of references which is a natural result of multi-facedness of the problem.

3 The Georgians called their country Kartli after Kartlos, the mythical progenitor of the nation.

4 Apart from the pro-Iranian orientation with which “Life of P’arnavaz”, the fifth-sixth century Georgian writing is imbued, the Iranian theophoric names of the Georgian kings’ names: Pharnavaz, Mi(h)rvan, Pharnajom, Artag, Bartom, Artavaz, Artaban, Amazasp, Mi(h)rdat, Bagrat etc. containing Iranian religious notions Farn, Art, Bag etc., speak of the same tendency. Additionally, the name of the Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali is believed to have been originated from the Iranian god Verethragna:”Sag’dukht…gave birth to her son, and named him in Persian Varan-Khuasro-Tang called in Georgian Vakhtang” - relates the Georgian historian Juansher (40, p. 143).



5 Sometimes called in English Georgian Royal Annals.

6 Hereafter K’C’.

7 Saurmag bears a name based on a root from the O(v]si-Sarmatian-Alanic, i. e., "Northern lranic," languages (5, pp.130-131; 492-493).

8 The root of “Pharnajom”, like that of “Pharnavaz”, phar comes from the Pers. word farnah (“royal glory”, “splendor”), believed by the Iranians to mark a legitimate ruler.

9 As attested in Georgian special literature, in Georgian language a great number of religious notions are the Iranian loan-words, eg: zorva (sacrifice), jojokheti (hell), tadzari (temple), kerpi (idol), aeshma (devil, the Evil One) martali (righteous), tsru (liar, fibster), netari (beatific, blissful), peshkhveni (peshkhumi - chalice, vessel used in Christian Liturgical service), zuaraki (offering), bagini (altar), dzuari (cross) etc (5, p. 34). It is be noted that Prof. Lincoln is doubtful about derivation of some other loan-words from the Persian. I believe his arguments will contribute greatly to Georgian linguists in re-examination of this very important issue, but without claiming linguistic competence, I should like to submit for discussion the possibility that toponym Bagineti [the name of the mountain in Mtskheta on which stands Armazistsikhe (“Fortress of Armazi” referred to by Greek classical authors as Armastica or Harmozica of Strabo, Pliny, Ptolemy and Dio Cassius)] comes from the Iranian bag (“god”; “deity” by Lincoln) like as the sanctuary or altar in an Armenian temple was called bagin, interpreted as “place on the god” (74, p. 385). As pointed out by J. Russell, “…there are a number of toponyms from Iranian in Armenian with baga -“god”: Bagawan, Bagaran, Bagayarich, etc. The common pre-Christian name for an altar or shrine was Arm. bagin, a MIr. form with the base bag-god” (74, p.42). The toponymic suffix “eti” denotes in Georgian the locality, e.g. Khevsur-eti is a district (region) inhabited by Khevsurs, one of Georgian northern ethnic groups.



10 It is conceivable that local pre-Christian records did exist, perhaps written in Georgian but using another script or even in another language altogether (a local form of Aramaic called Armazic was used and some Greek-language inscriptions have also been unearthed) and were subsequently destroyed by zealous Christians (68, p. 19; 49, p.192, Note 1),

11 The same evidence is attested in another cultural sphere: Anat, one of the principal Ugaritic goddesses of the West Semitic realm, whose name probably reflects the Hanat known in Mari, was the daughter of the great god El (27, p. 79).

12 Although in neither Georgian textual sources nor other (ethnographic, folkloristic) materials have been known deities by these names.

13 Given such a location of the deity’s origin, “Ur” might well be associated with Ur of the Chaldeans from which Abraham went to Canaan .

14 To this listing should be added the Persian dialects in which “Nana” means “mother” like as in Sanskrit (77, p, 137).

15 F. Windischmann, Die persische Anahita oder Anaïtis. Ein Beitrag zur Mythengeschichte des Orients. Abh. der philos.-philol. Classe der Kön. bayer. Ak.d. Wisensch., VIII, 1858, pp. 87-128.

16 Such a treatment of the question seems reasonable if split the name Danana/Danina as Da-Nana/Da-Nina, for in Georgian “da” is for “and”, grammatical conjunction. The ancient manuscripts quite often contain misspellings and anachronistically inserted terms. Similar to N. Marr and M. Tsereteli’s view, S. Rapp supposes that the names Ainina and Danana is a confusion of one and the same idol (68, p. 281).


17 For instance, the Georgian story of “Tritino” which is suggested to have originated from the Iranian god θraētaona, and passed on by oral tradition; one of the most popular personages of the Georgian fairy-tales, Devi, the male giant of demonic force similarly comes from the Avestan Daēva, etc. (29, p. 181)


18From the account on funeral ceremony of Colchs left by Apollonius Rhodius in his Argonautica it can be surmised that in this respect they followed Mazdean tradition: never placing dead men into grave, Colchs used to wrap a corpse into the bull’s skin and hang it on a tree. Adherence to Mazdean funeral custom is also attested by cave sepulchers of the Post-Achaemenid and Hellenistic epochs recently revealed at Uplistsikhe, Kaspi, Khornabuj.

19 Like as, in spite of genetic and functional relations of Armazi with Aramazd, the spaces occupied by them in historical reality of Georgia and Armenia appear to be not quite similar, since these two divinities differ from each other in preconditions and formation of their cults as well as by their idolized images. Aramazd is described in the Armenian writings as “four Aramazd” or four-faced divinity suggestive, as J. Russell supposes, of the tetrad of Ahura Mazda, infinite Time, Endless Light and Wisdom (73 p. 161), while a great bronze image of Armazi is portrayed as a warrior wearing an armor and holding a sharpened, rotating sword. As it will be seen, the anthropomorphic figurines of female deities representing the mother goddesses worshipped supposedly under names Nanē in Armenia and Nana in Georgia together with commonalities, reveal certain differences in their iconography.



20 In the same respect, very contributive appeared the richest collection of the Near Eastern cultic female and male figurines housed in the Museum at Oriental Institute of Chicago which to great extent enlarged my understanding of common principles of their iconography and visual expression enabling me to collate some of them with Georgian archaeological records.


21 The same one-disciplinary-based research led scholars to misinterpretation of Armazi being identified erroneously with

Asia Minor moon god Arma through solely phonetic closeness of their names, the conception supplemented by the only argument of migration of the Mushk-Moskhs from Asia Minor into Kartli, the tribes recognized as the predecessors of the Georgians, who are suggested to have brought there their cultural-religious traditions, dispite the fact that neither textual nor archaeological records bear witness to such a connection at least by the time of foundation of the kingdom of Kartli.



22 Scholars have assumed there is just one archetypal Goddess, variously termed “Great Goddess”, “Mother Goddess” or “Earth Mother”.

23 The name by which the Great Mother became commonly known to the Romans and which is the usual modern designation, Cybele, occurs first on an altar near Prymnessus, inscribed Matar Kubil (75, p. 232)

24 As we shall see below, the same title was applied later in Zoroastrian an d Armenian texts to Anāhitā

25 In tablets found in the temple of Marduk at Babylon, Nana was described as: “Lady of Ladies, goddess of goddesses, directress of mankind, mistress of the spirits of heaven, possessor of sovereign power; the light of heaven and earth, daughter of the Moon God, ruler of weapons, arbitress of battles; goddess of love; the power over princes and over the scepter of kings” (71, p. 85).


26 Like as Hebat or Hebit, the chief goddess of in the Hurrian pantheon is shown standing on a panther or lioness in the Yazilikaya bas-reliefs in Anatolia (36, p.86). As mentioned by M. Vermaseren, a purely oriental form of the cult was never popular with the Athenians, but her associations with Deo, Rhea and Demeter facilitated her introduction (83, p. 32). A “Mistress of Animals,” the goddess flanked by two lions is shown on the seventh century BC Boeotian amphora (Fig.3 ), with dismembered bovine and birds in the background, testifying that this iconographic trait was likewise known in the pre-Hellenistic Greece (33, p. 264).

27 In a hymn of praise to Ishtar, composed for the King Ashurbanapal, the equality of the goddess with the great Assyrian god Ahshur is quaintly expressed by the phrase, “like Ashur, she wears a beard;” this is probably only a fantastic expression of the idea that Ishtar is the compeer in power of the god, and has much of the masculine temperament (20, p. 58).

28 As pointed out by T. Green, Al-‘Uzza, one of a triad of Arab goddesses, whose original functions cannot be clearly determined, was later identified with both Venus and Astarte [the Greek form of the name of a goddess as known from Northwestern Semitic regions, cognate in name, origin and functions with the goddess Ishtar in Mesopotamian texts (28, p. 90)]. The wide range of variants in the cult of the mother goddess most appropriately demonstrates a process of religious assimilation and articulation.


29 As pointed out by Vermaseren, the top of the entrance to the cella of a temple at Rhyzonia (Prinias) near Gortyns in Crete, dated 626-600BC, is decorated with the two figures of Cybele, represented symmetrically opposite each other. One is shown as accompanied by three panthers, the other by three deer (83, p. 71, Fig.26).

30 As it has been known, correlate to Nana the goddess Cybele's most solemn ritual was the Taurobolium, a sacrifice of a bull. Referring to F. Cumont’s study, Patterson suggests the Taurobolium must have existed in the temples of Anahita, in Cappadocia ( 64, p. 28).


31 For a review of the literature on this question, see J. Rosenfield, The dynastic arts of the Kushans, pp. 83-91.

32 As pointed out by Russell, the hypothesis has been advanced that the names of the principal goddess of the ancient Iranians and Armenians. arêdvî sûrā anānhitā, “Damp Powerful Unblemished” were at first cult epithets of the Avestan river goddess Harakhvaiti (attested as the name of a province, Gk. Arachosia), cognate to Skt. Sarasvati. In Western Iran and Anatolia, the goddess came to be known as Anahita or Anaitis (74, P.435).


33 The Greek writer Aeschylus (525 B.C. – 456 B.C.) in his “Persia” refers to Zeus instead of Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda was a supreme god, who could become the universal god of all peoples V. Lukonin, touching a problem of syncretization in the Seleucid and Parthian epochs, mentions: ‘Rulers of the Empire - both of the late Seleucids and Parthian try to receive their “heavenly reflection” through single divinities, and almost each of religious systems of the East in that time applies for a role of “world religion.” A common religious language arises already in the early Hellenistic time. The cult of a solar deity, called different names - the Semitic god Bel (in Elam), Aphlad (in Syria), the Iranian Ahura Mazda and Mithra appears to be spread all over the Parthian Empire...It is necessary to mention that some Iranian deities at this particular time receive anthropomorphic image....” [underline mine – M.G; (48, p. 88)] J. Russell implies the same phenomenon when writing: “It seems that the religious tolerance and political stability of the Achaemenian Empire, and the influence of the cult of a single, supreme god Ahura Mazda, encouraged the development in the northern Semitic world of a trans-national monotheism. The syncretistic philosophies of the Hellenistic period, in which the various gods of different nations were often regarded as the same divine personage possessing merely different names, can only have strengthened such a trend” (48, p. 171).

A Greek temple at Persepolis, that was used for the worship of the old gods after the conquests of Alexander, preserves votive inscriptions, which are written not in Old or Middle Persian, but in Greek, the gods' names are Zeus Megistos instead of Ohrmizd; Apolton and Helios for Mithra; Artemis and Q,ueen Athena for “Anahit whose name is Lady.”(35, p. 275)

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