Featured Ahura Mazda - The Wise Lord

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Dec 18, 2020.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient Mythology!

    I have wanted to write an article on Ahura Mazda for a long time, but have always shied away from it because it seemed like too extensive an undertaking. Now, during my Corona time, I have decided to finally start. For this article, the subtitle of my mythology book applies especially: "Journey to a distant land"! I have 3 coins in my collection that refer to Ahura Mazda, and they are closely related, as we will see. The coin that is at the beginning of the article I have already presented once in an article about Hormisdas. But that was about the Sassanid Great King. The Sassanid Empire was the second Persian empire after the Achaemenid Empire and declined in the 7th century AD due to the expansion of the Islamic Arabs.

    Coin #1
    Sassanid Empire, Hormizd II, 309-309 AD.
    AR - Drachm, 3.48g, 27.2mm, 90°.
    Obv.: Legend in Pahlevi, abbreviated and corrupted:
        ly. .KLM n . KLM [ydzmrhw'] y gb n s d [y?]z m
      (= "The worshipper of Mazdah, the divine Hor-.
    mizd, the king of the kings of Iran, who descended from 
    the gods")
      Bearded bust n.r., crown with eagle r.,
    carrying a pearl in its beak, above Corymbos
       (Göbl crown type I)

    Rev.: garlanded fire altar, in the flames of the altar the bearded
        bust of Ahura Mazda l., on the left Hormizd with eagle crown and
    Korymbos r. and on the right a bearded priest with mural crown             
    standing l., both with harem pants and holding a sword in both              
    hands (Göbl reverse 1a); behind the figures in Pahlevi 'Fire of Hor-         
    mizd', on the base of the altar 3 globuli.
    Ref.: cf. Göbl 83; cf. Mitchener ACW 867; cf. Paruck 176 (all have only one globule)
    almost VF, thin flan break on rev.
    The Korymbos (not the globe!) was a typical hair dress of the Sassanid kings. It consisted of a spherical summary of the hair on the head, which was surrounded with a silk scarf. Each Sassanid king had his own crown, which is how you can tell them apart on coins. Thanks to T.K.Mallon (1956-2014) from grifterrec.com for translating the Pahlevi legend

    Coin #2:
    Nezak Huns, Napki Malka, 475-576
    AE 27 (drachm), 3.8g, 27.31mm, 90°
    Kapisa (todays Kabul), so-called Bull crown type
    Obv.: Bust with winged helmet and buffalo protome, draped
       and with earrings
     r. 'NPK MLK, l. A (all in Pahlevi)
    Rev.: altar of fire with one highly stylised servant right
       and left, above each a sun wheel
    Ref.: Göbl type 198; Mtchener 1510-12
    VF/F+, with pretty green patina, perfectly centred
    The Nezak Huns, not to be confused with the White Huns (Hephthalites), were the last of the 5 Hun peoples in the Hindu Kush and ousted the Alchon Huns from Kapisa, today's Kabul. After the defeat of the Sassanid king Peroz I against the Hephthalites in 474, they established an empire in northern Afghanistan until they themselves perished by the hands of the Islamic Arabs. They excelled in extensive coinage. This coin imitates the Sassanidian coins. Some think that Napki Malka, the legend on the obv, is not the name of a king but a title.

    Unlike the Sassanid coin, the bust of Ahura Mazda does not appear in the flames of the altar. Perhaps this was a difference to the survanist variant of Zorastrianism of the Sassanids?

    The next one is the oldest of the 3 coins. The Sassanids had extended their empire to the Indus. Bactria in what is now northern Afghanistan was also under their control. There they appointed governors, the Kushan Sassanids, who ruled the country for them. They too perished due to the expansion of Islam.

    Coin #3:
    Kushan-Sassanid, Hormizd I, "Kushanshah", ca. 265-295 AD,
    AE 16 (drachm)
    Obv.: Legend in Pahlevi
    Bearded bust with lion headdress r., above segmented globe;
    behind long ribbons flying from the hair
    Rev.: Legend in Pahlevi
    Garland-decorated altar, from which Ahura Mazda
    ascends, in left hand sceptre, in right hand wreath with long ribbons.
    Ref.: Mitchiner ACW 1280-87
    F/VF, dark green patina
    The figure rising from the altar is regularly called Ahura Mazda. rifterrec.com, however, calls her "Anahita(?)", an ancient Iranian goddess of water and fertility who later merged with the Semitic Ishtar.

    In the 8th century, the name Ahura first appeared in Media, related to the Vedic word "asura" for "Lord". Mazda is related to the Vedic word "medh" for "mind, wisdom". Both terms thus originate from Proto-Indo-Iranian. At first they were used separately, e.g. also under Zarathustra. Only under the Achaemenid Darius I (522-486 BC) were they united to Ahura Mazda, which then means "Wise Lord". This is evident from the Behistun inscription in a large rock relief near Kermanshah. This inscription played a similarly outstanding role for the decipherment of the cuneiform script as the Rosetta Stone did for the decipherment of the hieroglyphs). One can see here how closely etymology is also linked to political history.

    When the nomadic culture merged with the farming culture in connection with the settling down, a new religion was also formed. Zoroastrianism probably originated in Bactria (in what is now northern Afghanistan) and had close ties to ancient Indian ideas. Ahura Mazda itself is already known pre-Zoroastrian.

    It split into Mazdaism and Parsism, all of which existed side by side in the Achaemenid Empire. In the Sassanid Empire, a Survanist variant also developed. In this form it had a great influence on Judaism, which during the Babylonian captivity adopted from it, for example, the concept of the end times and hell, which was later also adopted by Christianity.

    (1) Zarathustra:
    Zarathustra (Greek: Zoroaster), 2nd-1st century B.C., was a philosopher and founder of religion in Northeast Iran. His teachings are written down in the Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, of which only copies still exist, and in commentaries, the Zend. These were written during the Sassanid period. The oldest parts, the Gathas, are said to have been written by Zarathustra himself. When Islam overran the Persian Empire, the Parsees fled to India with the holy books. In 1907, copies were acquired by Sir Aurel Stein and thus made accessible to Western scholarship.

    Under Darius I, the first ruler of the Achaemenids, Zoroastrianism became the state religion. The creator god Ahura Mazda (therefore often called Mazdaism) or Ormuzd, also the creator of the moral order, whose focus was on truth, was at the centre. Subordinate to him were the two dualistic spirit beings Spenta Manju (high-bringing god) and Angra Manju (evil spirit), called Ahriman in Middle Persian texts. Among the Sassanids, the variant of Survanism developed, in which Survan, the personification of time, was the father of the two. This gave rise to the dualistic idea of the eternal struggle of good against evil. This actually contradicted the doctrine of Ahura Mazda, which was monotheistic at its core. But under the Sassanids, all religious variants coexisted peacefully. According to the teachings of Mazdaism and Parsism, Ahura Mazda destroys Ahriman at the end of time. A world judgement takes place, the wicked are punished and the good are rewarded with eternal life in the realm of Ahura Mazda. Basically, this religion is not dualistic at the end, as is often claimed.

    (2) Mani
    Mani (216-276) was a Persian founder of religion under the Sassanids who invented the syncretic religion of Manichaeism as a religion of revelation. It was composed of oriental, Hellenistic and Christian elements, and in particular of gnosis. It was now completely focused on the eternal struggle of the 2 dualistic powers Ormuzd (of good) and Ahriman (of evil). Man has a share in both. He can only be redeemed by bringing his light parts into the kingdom of light, while the dark, material parts are abandoned to darkness. At the end of time, evil perishes by fire (ekpyrosis, which was already known to Heraclitus). Mani was opposed by the Zoroastrian priests, who succeeded in having him thrown into prison under Bahram I, where he died. Manichaeism was vehemently opposed by Christianity because of its duality, but also had great influence on it, e.g. on Augustine with his doctrine of the two kingdoms.

    Zoroastrianism today:
    There are still followers of Zoroastrianism today. 150,000 Zoroastrians live in India, Iran, the USA and Canada, of which 10,000 live in the Iranian desert city of Yazd alone, but they all differ considerably.

    Famous followers were the Achaemenid 'Xerxes I (519-465 BC) and the Sassanid Shapur I the Great (died around 270 BC). Zoroastrians in the present day were, for example, Feroze Gandhi, the husband of Indira Ganhi, and the rock musician Freddie Mercury of the Queens.

    History of Art:
    (1) Ahura Mazda was a spiritual entity rather than a physical god, unlike, for example, Mithras, Thus, according to Herodotus, there were no images of him in ancient Iran. His symbol was fire. Thus the well-known Faravahar does not represent Ahura Mazda either! He is a symbol for the 3 Zoroastrian principles of Good Thinking, Good Speaking and Good Doing. Because of its great significance, it became a national emblem in the Achaemenid Empire, carved into palaces and monuments. The picture shows the Faravahar relief in Persepolis.

    (2) After iconoclasm under the Parthians, Ahura Mazda was allowed to be depicted again under the Sassanids. The relief from Naqsh-e Rajab, 3rd century AD, shows Ahura Mazda presenting the ring of power (Cydaris) to Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty. However, this scene is also interpreted differently: Ardashir I, receives the ruling ring from the spirit of Darius I of the Achaemenid dynasty. Under Ardashir's horse lies Artabanus, the last Parthian king, and under Darius I's horse lies the magician Gautama, a usurper.

    (1) Regenbogen/Meyer, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, WBG 1998
    (2) Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra
    (3) Wikipedia
    (4) http://grifterrec.rasmir.com/coins.html

    Excursion: Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra

    Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" absolutely belongs in this context. This powerful work by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was unfortunately misused by the Nazis. And this shadow still hovers over Nietzsche, but especially over this work. But first it must be said that Nietzsche's Zarathustra has nothing in common with the historical Zarathustra from the previous article, apart from the name.

    After living as a hermit for 10 years, Zarathustra decides to preach his acquired wisdom to the people. In a village whose inhabitants are waiting for a tightrope walker to perform, he begins to preach about the "Übermench (Beyond-man)": "Man is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?"

    Rebuffed by the derisive laughter of the villagers, he decides to no longer speak to the people, but only to outstanding personalities. He continues his journey and begins a long series of sermons, chants and lyrical soliloquies with which he reveals his teachings to the reader. No area of life is left without criticism: church, state, science and the arts. His rhetoric is powerful, he uses all stylistic elements and means of expression. The eternal return of the same ends in nihilism. Only the will to power can overcome it. The decadent perish, only the truly strong accept their fate (amor fati). Thus, the strength of man can only be measured by his apostasy from the traditional and his love of existence.

    Zarathustra constantly vacillates between his desire for hermitism, which could give him the opportunity for fulfilling thought, and his sense of mission. But when he sees his disciples spreading his doctrine of the Übermensch, he retreats to his cave.

    In the end, he is haunted there by a final seduction. "Higher men", who know about the decadence of the world, ask him for pity, as they lack the strength to overcome it. Zarathustra, however, recognises their temptation in compassion, rejects it and thus takes the last step towards the perfection of the Übermensch. Zarsthustra's "great noon" has come. He leaves his cave "glowing and strong, like a morning sun coming out of dark mountains."
    Edward Munch, Friedrich Nietzsche, 1906

    Nietzsche and the Nazis
    "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" was laid down next to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and Rosenberg's "The Myth of the 20th Century" in the burial vault of the Tannenberg monument. Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in particular had an affinity with the Nazis. Hitler himself appeared at the funeral service at her burial. And of course the "Übermensch" was understood as the "Herrenmensch" in the Nazi sense. But even among the Nazis, opinion was not unanimous. In part, his philosophy was seen as incompatible with National Socialism. Thus Nietzsche had been an opponent of socialism, an opponent of nationalism and an opponent of racial thought. If he had abandoned these ideas, an article in one newspaper said, he might have become a good National Socialist. He was also reproached for his friendliness towards Jews and for never having had any understanding of the workers' question. So there was a clear contradiction between the Nazi institutions' veneration of Nietzsche and the individual reception of his philosophy.

    In today's research, it was especially Marxists and left-liberals who consider Nietzsche to be partly responsible for National Socialism. Some conservatives also hold this view. The Germans as a whole had a hard time with Nietzsche after 1945. In France and Italy, on the other hand, he was rehabilitated. Important philosophers, e.g. Deleuze or Montinari, made a strong case for him and saw a falsification by National Socialism (Wikipedia)

    Meanwhile, he is the philosopher on whom most works are published today. Current Nietzsche research in Germany now also assumes almost unanimously that Nietzsche was abused. An abuse that continues with today's right-wing extremists!

    (1) Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra
    (2) www.zeit.de
    (3) Wikipedia

    Best regards and a Merry Christmas
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Enrich the soldiers...ignore all others

    Interesting article and coins @Jochen1
  4. tartanhill

    tartanhill Well-Known Member

    VERY interesting! One question, though. Weren't the Parthians the second Persian empire after the Achaemenids from about 247BC to 224AD?
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    While they had an empire in Persia, they weren't ethnically Persian but instead a separate nomadic group that emerged from the steppes many centuries after the Persians did.

    Here's a drachm of Shapur II clearly showing Ahura Mazda in the flames on the reverse:
    Screen Shot 2020-12-18 at 9.56.16 AM.jpg
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  6. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @tartanhill In principle, yes.
    The 1st Persian Empire was the Achaemenid Empire since 550 BC, until it was conquered by Alexander in 330 BC.
    After the death of Alexander, it came under the rule of the Seleucids 305-129 BC, but they failed to achieve complete domination, especially in the east.
    Under them, the Parthians (Arsakids) became stronger and stronger. Their empire lasted from 240-224 and is considered the 2nd Persian Empire. It was replaced by the Sassanids in 224 BC until they were conquered by the Arabs in 651 AD.

    Best regards
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Awesome writeup and coins, @Jochen1. ...And yes, I'm leaning toward putting them in that order, merely because your writeup is that good. You can take all the time you like!
  8. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Very good article and nice introduction to the coinage @Jochen1 . Thank You
  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Are the green Napki Malka we see AE or billon? The unpatinated coins seem to have some silver but I am unclear on whether they were two seperate denominations or just varied in burial/cleaning.
    oo4860bb2484.jpg oo4930bb2485.jpg oo4935bb2921.jpg
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  10. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    So this coin is not White Huns, but Nezak Huns?

  11. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    I would say they were low grade billion coins Doug, I have seen this before with trachea, also low grade billion.
  12. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    As you already noted, the identification of the deity on the Kushanshah specimen is not so straightforward.
    There are two quite similar series, one with a male, the other with a female figure arising from the altar. The male is commonly known as "the exalted god" and is not fully equivalent to Ahura Mazda. The female figure is named on the coins as "the lady Anahita", she seems to have some parallels with the godess Nana.
    There is a good article on the Kushanshah coinage by Fabrizio Sinisi: "The deities on the Kushano-Sasanian coins", available on academia.edu

  13. tartanhill

    tartanhill Well-Known Member

    Didn't the Sassanid Empire begin in 224AD not BC?
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  14. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Excellent article, @Jochen1 ! I will probably end up citing it next time I write up a Sasanian or related coin.

    @tartanhill : As @Severus Alexander noted, the Parthians were originally a non-Persian group that originated in what is now Turkmenistan. Thus, although they ruled over Persian territory, the Parthians are not considered to be Persians, any more than the Seleucids who once ruled that territory.

    Here's another appearance of Ahura Mazda on a Sasanian coin, in this case an obol of Shahpur II (309-379 AD):
    Shahpur II obol.jpg
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  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    224 AD, not BC, for the Sassanids, I believe. Fascinating article!
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  16. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @DonnaML Sorry, of course 224 AD. My mistake!
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2020
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  17. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Just remember, there are two different things: spelling errors and typing errors. In a world stinking of false dichotomies, this Ain't one of 'em.
  18. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @+VGO.DVCKS It was not a spelling mistake, nor a typo, but inattention.
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  19. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Well, okay, but 'typos' can kind of subsume that.
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  20. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..i have no coins of, but have practiced the philosophy...good thoughts, good words, good deeds ain't a bad way to live i'd reckon..:)
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