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Artaxerxes, Ardasir, and Bahman.

Artaxerxes ([Greek text omitted]) is the Greek rendering of the throne name of three Achaemenid monarchs, Artaxsaca, corresponding to the Old Iranian [Greek text omitted] ("he who reigns through Truth/Right Order"). It became a personal name in Parthian times and took the Middle Persian form of Ardasir.(1) Of the three Achaemenids, Artaxerxes II (404-358 B.C.E.) ruled the longest. Mary Boyce (1982: 209-63) has stressed the importance of his long reign for the development of Iranian religion. Inasmuch as her insistence on the Zoroastrianism of the Achaemenids is not universally accepted, the religious policy of Artaxerxes II becomes crucial to her interpretation of the history of Zoroastrianism. Although her argument is inevitably highly inferential, we should accept her conclusion that the cumulative force of our scattered evidence on the religious significance of Artaxerxes II's reign "makes it probable that the later 'Ardasirs' of the Zoroastrian community were named in pious remembrance, following tradition, of this Achaemenian monarch, one of the most effective royal patrons . . . whom the faith has known" (Boyce 1982: 263).

I believe there is an important additional piece of evidence for the religious importance of Artaxerxes II and for his adherence to Zoroastrianism that has been overlooked by Boyce and other scholars. As far as I know, no scholar has attached any significance to Artaxerxes II's Greek epithet, Mnemon. Plutarch begins his life of Artaxerxes (Artaxerxes, 1) by saying that he was surnamed "the Mindful" ([Greek text omitted]). This epithet has never been satisfactorily explained. Dandamaev (1989: 274) suggests that "because of his exceptional memory, the Greeks called him Mnemon, 'the mindful one'." I shall argue that there is a better alternative. Mnemon can and should be taken as a Greek translation of the theophoric name, Vahuman (New Persian Barman), which he assumed as a sign of his devotion to Vohu Manah ("Good Thought"), the second of the Zoroastrian Amesha Spentas ("Holy Immortals").

"Bahman" appears in the epic tradition as the personal name of one of the later Kayanids, the son of Isfandiyar and the grandson of Zoroaster's patron-king, Vistasp. According to one version of the Zoroastrian theory of the ages of the world, the sovereign of the Silver Age was "Ardasir the Kay who will be called Vahman i Spandyadan [= Bahman son of Isfandiyar]" (Zand-i Wahman Yasn, 3.24 [p. 152]). Bahman, whom Gardizi (p. 54) calls "the best of Persian kings," is considered the posthumous father (through his daughter/queen Homily) of Dara (echo of Darius I) and the grandfather of Data, son of Dara (Darius III), the last Kayanid monarch. Both in the epic tradition and in the "ninth-century" Zoroastrian books, the king in question is called Ardasir-Bahman and Kay Ardasir. I believe the hitherto unexplained epithet Mnemon enables us to establish the basic identification of Ardasir-Bahman with Artaxerxes II. The mythical Bahman and the historical Artaxerxes II were fused into a single prototype in an imaginative reconstruction of history by Ardasir, the founder of the Sasanian empire.

Few would dispute the significance of the rise of the Sasanian empire under Ardasir. I have characterized it (forthcoming, ch. 6) as a revolution that unified, through a long and violent process and on the basis of an integrative ideology, the petty feudal kingdoms of Parthia into the empire of Iran (Eransahr). Central to the ideology of the Sasanian revolution was the invention, on Ardasir's behest, of a grandiose tradition that absorbed lingering memories of important Achaemenid kings into the Zoroastrian-Kayanid sacred history. The Sasanian Ardasir, posing as the restorer of the Zoroastrian religion, sought to identify with the Ardasir-Bahman of its sacred history, from whom he claimed descent as heir to the Kayanids, avenger and the reviver of their glory. The Bundahisn traces Ardasir's genealogy as follows: "Artaxsahr [MSS rt ystl, rthstl] son of Papak, whose mother (was) the daughter of Sasan son of Vehafrit (son of) Zarir son of Sasan son of *Artaxsahr [MSS rt l = rtystl for rthstl?], who is called Vahuman, son of Spenddat" (cf. Ankelsaria 1956: 297-98).(2) My hypothesis is that the "*Artaxsahr who is called Vahuman," and the spelling of whose name is curiously archaized, is the Artaxerxes II surnamed Mnemon (Vahuman). Through the mythical Bahman, Ardasir thus connected with the other historic patron-king of Zoroastrianism, his Achaemenid namesake, Artaxerxes II.

The Islamic sources leave little room for doubt that the identification of Ardasir with Bahman was a core element of the Sasanian integrative ideology. One of Ardasir's decrees, transcribed by al-Mas udi (Muruj, 1: 289) begins with the phrase, "From Ardasir-Bahman, King of Kings." The identification of the two figures is attested in the Letter of Tansar, Ardasir's chief ideologue and advisor on religious policy, to Gusnasp, the king of Tabaristan and one of the last of the petty kings to submit to Ardasir. Gusnasp had sought to impress the Zoroastrian herbad with the dignity of his royal rank by claiming descent from Bahman:

Then you declared: "I have kinship and blood-ties with the King of Kings through Ardasir son of Isfandiyar who is called Bahman." My answer to you is that for me this latter Ardasir [i.e., the Sasanian] is of far greater dignity than the Ardasir of old. (Ibn Isfandiyar, Tarikh, 38; tr. Boyce 1968: 66, slightly modified).

As the identification of Ardasir and Bahman plays no part in later Sasanian politics that could possibly account for a later fabrication or alteration, we must accept these incidental attestations by Mas udi and Ibn Isfandiyar as an authentic tradition. So successful was this identification in the Sasanian propaganda that the two figures of Ardasir and Bahman are fused in the historiography of the Islamic era. Al-Tabari reports two different traditions in which this fusion is evident. The first states that the epistles of Ardasir-Bahman b. Isfandiyar "were issued 'From Ardasir, worshipper of God' [presumably, mazdesn]."(3) According to the second tradition, Bahman was "the most distinguished and successful Persian king; his epistles and covenants excelled those of [the Sasanian] Ardasir" (al-Tabari, Ta rikh, 1: 687; English tr., 4: 82, modified). Ibn Khurdadhbih in the ninth century, and following him al-Tha alibi (ed. Zotenberg [1900: 378, 485]) in the tenth, attributes to the mythical Kayanid the Sasanian empire-builder's zeal for the Zoroastrian religion as well as the use of the title Kay Ardasir in official correspondence. Both figures are furthermore credited with the founding of the city of Bahman-Ardasir.(4)

Vohu Manah is the most important of the Amesha Spentas, ranking only after Ahura Mazda himself in the Zoroastrian divine heptad. As the [spirit of] Good Thought, he is the hypostasis of Ahura Mazda, and Zoroaster declares him Ahura Mazda's son (Yasna 45.4). He is named immediately after Ahura Mazda in the calendar, the second day of the month being devoted to him. There are traces from Hellenistic times that he was also worshipped in popular religion. We find evidence for the attachment of the eclectic Artaxerxes II to Vohu Manah in the spread of the worship of Omanus/Vohu Manah in Cappadocia and Pontus where, three centuries later, Strabo still saw wooden statues of Omanus ([Greek text omitted]) being carried in processions (Boyce and Grenet 1991: 270).

As Grenet points out (1983: 376), the epigraphic evidence from late fourth-century B.C.E. Ai Khanoum is important as the first unequivocal instance of a theophoric Zoroastrian personal name in Bactria. It is, however, possible that Artaxerxes II assumed the theophoric epithet Vahuman some half a century earlier. The epithet "Vahuman" as a theophoric shortened name, in its Greek form [Greek text omitted] (or [Greek text omitted]), is attested in the Ai Khanoum inscriptions from the end of the fourth century B.C.E. (Grenet 1983: 375-76), and thenceforth in other regions (Boyce and Grenet 1991: 181; 249; 264). As a shortened theophoric name, it could mean "created by or faithful to Vohu Manah," as suggested by Grenet (1983: 376). It is true that the later Bactrian instances are recorded onomatopoetically in the Greek form of Omanus. But this does not preclude an earlier rational translation of the epithet Vahuman ("of Good Thought") as Mnemon ("mindful one"). This term later appears in Arabic as dhu l-tadbir and mudabbir in Biruni and Bar Hebraeus, respectively (Yarshater 1976: 62). If my argument is correct, the assumption of the epithet "Vahuman" by Artaxerxes II adds considerably to the weight of evidence for his devotion to Zoroastrianism.(5)

The same theophoric epithet, Vahuman, became the New Persian Bahman, the epithet of the fictitious late Kayanid Ardasir-Bahman, who was made the archetype of Ardasir son of Papak in Sasanian ideology. Ardasir was not entirely original in claiming descent from Artaxerxes II in mythical disguise. The Arsacids, too, had done so before him, but without the mediation of the mythical Bahman.

The astounding loss, by the third century C.E., of the historical memory of the Achaemenids is well known and much discussed. Its best explanation is that the Sasanians based their historiography entirely on the Zoroastrian sacred history that had developed in northeastern Iran and for that reason incorporated only faint and confused echoes of the western Iranian tradition that contained the heritage of the Achaemenids. As Yarshater points out (1971: 518; 1976: 59), the memories of Cyrus and Artaxerxes I Longimanus are attached to the figure of the late Kayanid Bahman. I think this confusion was caused by the fact that Artaxerxes (Artaxsaca) was the throne name and Cyrus the original, personal name of Artaxerxes I (Schmitt 1982: 92). If my hypothesis is accepted, further confusion of Artaxerxes I (and through him of Cyrus the Great) with Artaxerxes II would not be difficult to explain. Esther, variously given as the mother both of Cyrus and Bahman (al-Tabari, Ta rikh, 1: 653, 688), is also considered Artaxerxes' Jewish wife in some sources (Yarshater 1976: 62). Furthermore, most sources put heavy emphasis on the Jewish exploits of Cyrus, who is confused with Bahman.

Artaxerxes If, the historical figure metamorphosed into Bahman by the Zoroastrian tradition, had already been chosen by the Parthians as the Achaemenid ancestor of the Arsacids some two centuries before the rise of Ardasir, presumably in their hostility toward Hellenistic cultural domination (Wolski 1974: 171-75). The genealogy of the Arsacids transmitted by the Muslim sources typically traces it back to Darius as the last of the Kayanids.(6) A tradition transmitted by the Greek sources, however, traces this alleged Kayanid descent further back, making Arsak and Tiridates, the two brothers who founded the dynasty, descendants of the Persian King Artaxerxes (see Wolski 1974: 171-72 for the parallel texts of the variants by Arrian and Syncellus). This tradition is corroborated in the Nisa documents, which mention a vineyard (artaxsahrakan), which, according to Diakonoff and Livshits (1960: 20), "was probably named in honor of the legendary ancestor of the Arsacids, Artaxerxes II." What is even more intriguing is the claim by the great king Antiochus I of Commagene (69-31 B.C.E.) to descend from Artaxerexes II through his daughter (see Boyce 1990: 24). This evidence is remarkable for establishing Artaxerxes II, who incidentally had one hundred and fifty sons and three hundred and sixty-six wives and concubines (Dandamaev 1989: 306-7), as the chosen ancestor of royal claimants to Achaemenid descent by the first century B.C.E. It is also intriguing for tracing royal descent through the daughter of Artaxerxes II, whom the Zoroastrian tradition in due course turned into the one and only legendary female Kayanid monarch, Homay. Note that the thirteenth-century epic, Darabnamah, refers to Bahman interchangeably as Ardasir,(7) especially when narrating an episode of dragon-slaying,(8) and identifies the legendary Homay as "Homay daughter of Ardasir" (Tartusi, Darabnamah 1: 8-10).

There is one last and deep-seated rationale behind the selection of Artaxerxes II, alias Bahman, in Ardasir's genealogical enterprise. The connection between the two across six centuries through a theophoric epithet is reinforced by another affinity: devotion to the cult of Anahita. Plutarch (Artaxerxes, 3) tells us that the reign of Artaxerxes II was inaugurated with a ceremony at "a sanctuary of a warlike goddess whom one might conjecture to be Athene." Boyce (1982: 201-3) identifies this warlike goddess, "the Persian Diana," as the western Iranian goddess Anahiti/Ishtar who, according to Boyce, was assimilated to the Avestan yazata *Harahvaiti, known by her cult-epithets, Aredvi Sura Anahita ("moist, mighty, pure"), as the goddess of the waters. Having been inaugurated in her temple, Artaxerxes II promoted the cult of Anahita. Royal inscriptions prove the investiture of Artaxerxes II by Anahita, alongside Ahura Mazda and Mithra. Furthermore, the wide spread of the cult of Anahita and adoption into it of her statues and effigies date from his reign (Boyce 1982: 217, citing the third-century B.C.E. Berossos).

It is reasonable to assume that the martial features of Anahita (Ishtar) assured her popularity in the subsequent centuries among the warrior classes of Parthian feudalism. Ardasir and his father, Papak, were the lords and priests of the fire temple of Anahita at Staxr. By this time (the beginning of the third century), Anahita's headgear (kolah) was worn as a mark of nobility (Mosig-Walburg 1982: 31-37). This suggests that she was the goddess of the feudal warrior estate; and Ardasir would send the heads of the petty kings he defeated for display at her temple (al-Tabari, Ta rikh, 1: 819).

Like his namesake, Ardasir was invested by Anahita, and celebrated his investiture by her as the King of Kings on his coins (Gobl 1971: 42 and table Ia; Mosig-Walburg 1982: 31). The divine patronage of Anahita, the goddess of the feudal estate, was essential to Ardasir's project of unification of Iran and to his (and his son's) imperial expansion beyond Iran. That he should have harked back to the Achaemenid Artaxerxes II, the namesake who had promoted Anahita and spread her cult, makes sense; but more so once we dispel enough of the haze surrounding the mythic figure of Ardasir Bahman to discern the pentimento of Artaxerxes Mnemon.


1 The linguistic derivation of Ardasir (rthstl in the Middle Persian inscriptions and rtsyl only in the Pahlavi books) from the Old Iranian *Rtaxsira, a two-stem hypocoristic name to the full name, [Greek text omitted], is demonstrated in Schmitt 1979.

2 I owe this emendation of Ankelsaria's published text to P. Oktor Skjaervo, from whose comments this article has benefited considerably.

3 "Mazda-worshipping," the epithet which appears for the first time in history on the coins of Ardasir I after his coronation (Gobl 1971: table XV).

4 The use of this name is attested in 544 C.E. Bahman-Ardasir was also called Furat Maysan, especially in the Islamic period (Morony 1989).

5 To these formal considerations, one can add that, substantively too, "Vahuman" as a personal name makes sense in view of the Gathic idea that each individual has a share of Vohu Manah, which underlies the defilement and cleansing of Vohu Manah in the ritual (Videvdat 19.20-23). In Manichaean texts (cited in Widengren 1945: 13), too, we find the term in the plural, as in the "vahmans of light" (vahmanan rosnan). For the Manichaeans, the microcosmic vahman, the individual mind/spirit (nous), battles sin and defilement and attains salvation by receiving gnosis or revelation from the Great Vahman (macrocosmic nous).

6 For other lines of Kayanid descent, see Yarshater 1971: 523 n. 41.

7 At least one manuscript explicitly gives Ardasir as the title of Bahman son of Isfandiyar: "Shah Bahman who was called Ardasir" (Tartusi, Darabnamah 1: 6).

8 The slaying of the dragon king, Kirm, occupies a conspicuous place in the legend of the Sasanian Ardasir (Karnamak, chs. 10-13).


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Title Annotation:ancient Persian King Artaxerxes II; founder of ancient Sasanian Empire; Kayanid King; three figures who influenced the development of the Zoroastrianism religion in Iran
Author:Arjomand, Said Amir
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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