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


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34As pointed out by Russell , “the Armenian Feast of the Transfiguration, Vardavar, celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Pentecost, is a holiday of the waters, and, as such, retains aspects of the cult of Nane and Anahit (74, p. 469), the latter, as we have seen, is preeminently the yazata of the waters in later Zoroastrianism. In Dersim until recent times, calves born with a half-moon or star on their foreheads (both, presumably, were regarded as symbols of Venus) were sacrificed on Vardavar, and offerings of flowers and branches were made to the Holy Mother of God”. K. Kekelidze and M. van Esbroeck associated the Georgian "Vardoba" (“Athenagenoba”) with the Armenian "Vardavar" and conjectured that the word came into Georgian practice in the period of religious unity of Armenians and Georgians. On the basis of the Georgian Polycephala, taking into the consideration the oldest Georgian and Armenian sources and Georgian ethnographic materials, T, Mgalobslishvili suggests that Georgian "Vardoba" and Armenian "Vardavar" have the same source - the great pagan feast of Asia Minor (54).

35 “Nane (Armenia, Babylonia, Sumer). also known as Anahita, Nanea, Nana” .

36 This event finds a striking parallel in the K’C’: Azo, a legendary ruler of Georgians immigrated “...one thousand houses of commoners (mdabioy) and ten noblemen (mtavari)) houses from his original homeland “Arian-Kartli” (identified with “Iranian Kartli”) and settled them and himself in Mtskheta where he set up two idols Gats and Gayim referred to in Georgian writings as the deities of the Georgians‘ ancestors. The precise location of “Arian-Kartli,” the date of its foundation, and the identity of its rulers cannot be determined by means of surviving documentary evidence. On the basis of Classical sources we may reasonably infer, however, that the ruler of Aryan Kartli owed his position to the Great King of Achaemenid Iran.

Herodotus mentions that the nineteenth satrapy included “the Moschi [cf. Mesxis], Tibareni [cf. Iberians], Macrones, Mossynoeci, and Mares.” Herodotus adds that “Gifts were also required of the Colchians and their neighbours as far as the Caucasian mountains (which is as far as the Persian rule reaches, the country north of the Caucasus paying no regard to the Persians) ... “. (Herodotus, III, 89-97). Arian Kartli, Kartli and the entire zone of eastern Georgia was integrated into the expansive Iranian Commonwealth under the Achaemenids, and then, in late antiquity, under the Sasanids. Although Colchis/Egrisi had close ties to the Mediterranean world of the Greeks and Romans, the influence of Zoroastrianism was also traceable there (49, pp. 241-275; 79, pp. 11-70; 80, pp. 115-124).



37 For this question see 73, pp. 45, 400, 415; 74, pp. 282, 439

38 I express my thanks to Dr. R. Papuashvili for giving me the opportunity to access to unpublished archaeological materials unearthed at this site.



39 In his study devoted to the bronzes from Samos, Jantzen argues that the bronze rider of Samos is the most interesting of all the Caucasian imports to Samos (38, n.10, 80-4, B 452).

40 I’m deeply indebted and thankful to Dr. M. Voyatzis for providing me with the referred to study.

41 The fusion of Rhea, Mother of the gods, with the Great Anatolian (i.e. Phrygian as well as Lydian) goddess Cybele, Mother of the gods, men, beasts and all of nature is known to be universally acknowledged. The time for the Greek colonization was probably the period when the Anatolian goddess Cybele was combined with the goddess Rhea, the Mother of the Gods, who represented the type of Great Goddesses, numerous in the Eastern Mediterranean. These goddesses possessed specific characteristics like giving and protecting all forms of life, domination over the nature and the wild beasts as potnia therōn and had their residence on the big mountains (60, p.23) A striking evidence is encountered in the study of G. Showerman The Great Mother of Gods about that Neanthes of Cyzicus (a disciple of Philiscus of Miletus, lived about 241 BC) attributed founding of the cult of Rhea (meaning the Phrygian Great Mother) in his city to the Argonauts (75, p. 230), who traveled to Colchis in pursuit of magical Golden Fleece. A further investigation of this issue perhaps will impart new strokes to the goddess attested in Georgian realm.

42 It is the generally accepted opinion, based on very strong evidence, that the Cretan Rhea and the Phrygian Cybele are

one and the same goddess of the earlier Anatolian populations, and we may believe that they were merely a double growth from the same root (20, vol.3, p.299).



43 V. Bardavelidze rightly recognizes her as the Great Goddess Nana. Although she offers this identification without entering into discussion and bringing forward any kind of proof, however, this is the only evidence through which we can understand that the Great Goddess Nana discussed in her studies is not imagined by the scholar as the product of local, Georgian religious thought.

It is interesting that the coin ascribed by Babelon to a king of Sophone or Commagene of the second century BC, represents on the reverse a goddess seated frontally above and between two winged, leonine creatures. The goddess is suggested to be a figure of Nanē (73, p. 242).



44 It is noteworthy that the statue in the Athenian Metroon which the Phasiane Theos resembled, and which Arrian called

Rhea, is elwhere called Magna Mater (Plin., NH, XXVI, 17) or Meter Theos (Paus., I, 3,5).



45 According to Strabo, “some assert that the Titans gave Rhea armed attendants, Corybantes, who came from Baxtriana, others say, from Colchis” (Strabo, Geo. X, 3,19).

46It has been suggested by scholars that a certain group of the structures discovered at the archaeological sites of Gumbati, Samadlo, tsikhia-Gora represent the Iberian (Kartlian) version of Zoroastrian fire temples.

47 Denoting “queen,” the Georgian word dedophali literary means “mother-mistress.” Although we should probably be careful with associating dedophali with lady (kalbatoni, “woman-mistress”), there is some evidence in favor of this point: instead of the “Lady” applied to Inanna, she sometimes is referred to as “Queen” Inanna (see p. 6), like as, it seems, in Armenia too, where “the great goddess, assuming national character among Armenians, was referred to as Queen Anahit” (4, p. 35).

48 The radiocarbon dating of this structure suggests a date between the second half of the third and the first half of the second centuries BC, although because of some technical moments I. Gagoshidze expresses reservation in dating it earlier the beginning of the second century BC.

49Being a subject of scholarly debate in past, recently this view has been supported by specialists.

50 I cannot judge the felicitousness of this assumption as it seems more plausible to connect the toponym Dedophali with the Goddess’ epithet I. Gagoshidze discusses about (see below), rather than associate a historical queen with the site’s name, which needs a further line of special investigation, but in general, such a view has its grounds: a parallelism between heavenly and earthly kingship can be seen on the palace reliefs in Persepolis and on a great number of Achaemenian seals on which the king, depicted usually in the ring, is shown, like the soaring figure of Ahura Mazdā above him, encircled by the world ring with his right hand stretched out in the gesture of omnipotence (44-A, p. 93, Fig. 65b; 29, p. 179.). In this double-picture we find an expression of the true Eastern conception of the relationship between heaven and earth, of the reflection of heavenly kingship in an earthly figure, but the question arising here is whether not kings, but queens might be associated with the goddesses.

51 This evidence strikingly corresponds to the tradition of the Kurdish tribesmen of Dersizm, who spoke of a Spring of Anahit whose water they called “mother’s milk” (73, p. 252)

52 It should be mentioned that the problem of “local astral divinities” is imbued with total obscurity.

53 At the foot of Mt Arnos in Vaspurakan in Armenia, is Nanenicc j or of "Valley of Nane-ankc” and it has been suggested that the valley was named after a temple of Nane which may once have stood there (73, p. 241).


54 We shall remind the reader the conception on the triad of divinities headed by the moon (male) god corroborated in Georgian scholarship which needs further revision and supplementation, as it seems as doubtful as the correlation of the Great Mother Goddess’ with the sun.

Although it is true that in the later period of Greek religious thought Artemis was regarded as a lunar divinity, and in the latest Graeco-Asiatic religious system she came to be closely associated with the Phrygian moon-god Men (21, p. 486) this evidence in no way supports I. Gagoshidze’s approach to the problem.



55 In the same respect should be mentioned the evidence submitted by J. Rosenfield in his study: discussing about the cult of Inanna-Ishtar-Astarte persisted into the Parthian epoch, he mentions that at Dura-Europos there was a vast temple-complex, its early phases dated roughly to the third and second centuries BC. “In inscriptions there, the deity was called both Nanaia and Artemis, as she was in classical literary sources...In the coins of Kanishka, the goddess was given two names...but instead of Artemis she was called Nanaia in the Western version and Nana in the Eastern one” (Ros. 85). It is striking that in Mingrelian (western Georgia, former Colchis) old folk songs “Nanaia Nana” occur together.

It is to be noted, that in the temple of Artemis-Nanaia, at Dura-Europos was discovered the bust of Nana depicted inside a lead patera which shows her with a bejewelled crown and encircled by a laurel wreat (6, p. 537, Fig.1)




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