Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Artaxerxes, Ardasir, and Bahman

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Artaxerxes, Ardasir, and Bahman

Article excerpt

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? …

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