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Mithra (Avestan : 𐬨𐬌𐬚𐬭𐬀Miθra, Old Persian : 𐎷𐎰𐎼Miça) is the Zoroastrian Divinity ( yazata ) of Covenant, Light, and Oath. In addition to being the divinity of contracts, Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing protector of Truth, and the guardian of cattle, the harvest, and of the Waters.

Zoroastrianism Iranian religion founded by Zoroaster

Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna is one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions. It is a heterodox yet orthopraxic faith centered in a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology predicting the ultimate conquest of evil with theological elements of henotheism, monotheism/monism, and polytheism. Ascribed to the teachings of the Iranian-speaking spiritual leader Zoroaster, it exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom, Ahura Mazda, as its supreme being. Major features of Zoroastrianism, such as messianism, judgment after death, heaven and hell, and free will may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including Second Temple Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Buddhism.

Divinity divine mythological character

In religion, divinity or Godhead is the state of things that are believed to come from a supernatural power or deity, such as God, the supreme being, creator deity, or spirits, and are therefore regarded as sacred and holy. Such things are regarded as divine due to their transcendental origins or because their attributes or qualities are superior or supreme relative to things of the Earth. Divine things are regarded as eternal and based in truth, while material things are regarded as ephemeral and based in illusion. Such things that may qualify as divine are apparitions, visions, prophecies, miracles, and in some views also the soul, or more general things like resurrection, immortality, grace, and salvation. Otherwise what is or is not divine may be loosely defined, as it is used by different belief systems.

<i>Yazata</i> Zoroastrian Divinities

Yazata is the Avestan language word for a Zoroastrian concept with a wide range of meanings but generally signifying a divinity. The term literally means "worthy of worship or veneration", and is thus, in this more general sense, also applied to certain healing plants, primordial creatures, the fravashis of the dead, and to certain prayers that are themselves considered holy. The yazatas collectively are "the good powers under Ahura Mazda", who is "the greatest of the yazatas".


The Romans attributed their Mithraic mysteries (the mystery religion known as Mithraism) to "Persian" (i.e. Zoroastrian) sources relating to Mithra. Since the early 1970s, the dominant scholarship has noted dissimilarities between the Persian and Roman traditions, making it, at most, the result of Roman perceptions of (Pseudo-)Zoroastrian ideas. [1]

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants ) and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.


Together with the Vedic common noun mitra , the Avestan common noun miθra derives from Proto-Indo-Iranian *mitrám , from the root *mi- "to bind", with the "tool suffix" -tra- "causing to". Thus, etymologically mitra/miθra means "that which causes binding", preserved in the Avestan word for "Covenant, Contract, Oath".[ citation needed ]

Mitra is a divinity of Indic culture, whose function changed with time. In the Mitanni inscription, Mitra is invoked as one of the protectors of treaties. In the Rigveda, Mitra appears primarily in the dvandva compound Mitra-Varuna, which has essentially the same attributes as Varuna alone, e.g. as the principal guardian of ṛtá "Truth, Order", breaches of which are punished. In the late Vedic texts and the Brahmanas, Mitra is increasingly associated with the light of dawn and the morning sun. In the post-Vedic texts – in which Mitra practically disappears – Mitra evolved into the patron divinity of friendship, and because he is "friend", abhors all violence, even when sacred.

Proto-Indo-Iranian language reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European

Proto-Indo-Iranian or Proto-Indo-Iranic is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian/Indo-Iranic branch of Indo-European. Its speakers, the hypothetical Proto-Indo-Iranians, are assumed to have lived in the late 3rd millennium BC, and are often connected with the Sintashta culture of the Eurasian Steppe and the early Andronovo archaeological horizon.

In Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian etc.), miθra became mihr, from which New Persian مهرmehr, Wanetsi and Wazirwola (Pashto) mērə/myer, and Armenian mihr/mehr ultimately derive.

Middle Persian or Pahlavi, also known as by its endonym Parsig or Parsik, is the Middle Iranian language or ethnolect of southwestern Iran that during the Sasanian Empire (224–654) became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions of the empire as well. Middle Persian is classified as a Western Iranian language. It descended from Old Persian, the language of Achaemenid Empire and it is the linguistic ancestor of Modern Persian.

The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlawānīg, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region of northeastern ancient Iran. Parthian was the language of state of the Arsacid Parthian Empire, as well as of its eponymous branches of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania.

Armenian language Indo-European language

The Armenian language is an Indo-European language that is the only language in the Armenian branch. It is the official language of Armenia as well as the de facto Republic of Artsakh. Historically being spoken throughout the Armenian Highlands, today, Armenian is widely spoken throughout the Armenian diaspora. Armenian is written in its own writing system, the Armenian alphabet, introduced in 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots.

In scripture

Like most other Divinities, Mithra is not mentioned by name in the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and traditionally attributed to Zoroaster himself, or by name in the Yasna Haptanghaiti , a seven-verse section of the Yasna liturgy that is linguistically as old as the Gathas. As a member of the Iranian ahuric triad, a feature that only Ahura Mazda and Ahura Berezaiti (Apam Napat) also have, Mithra is an exalted figure. Together with Rashnu "Justice" and Sraosha "Obedience", Mithra is one of the three judges at the Chinvat Bridge, the "Bridge of Separation" that all souls must cross. Unlike Sraosha, Mithra is not, however, a psychopomp, a guide of souls to the place of the dead. Should the Good Thoughts, Words and Deeds outweigh the Bad, Sraosha alone conveys the Soul across the Bridge.

Gathas Zoroastrian literature

The Gathas are 17 Avestan hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra (Zoroaster) himself. They form the core of the Zoroastrian liturgy. They are arranged in five different modes or metres.

Zoroaster Founder of Zoroastrianism

Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, Zarathushtra Spitama or Ashu Zarathushtra was an ancient Iranian-speaking spiritual leader who founded what is now known as Zoroastrianism. His teachings challenged the existing traditions of the Indo-Iranian religion and inaugurated a movement that eventually became the dominant religion in Ancient Persia. He was a native speaker of Old Avestan and lived in the eastern part of the Iranian Plateau, but his exact birthplace is uncertain.

Yasna Haptanghaiti

The Yasna Haptanghaiti, Avestan for "Worship in Seven Chapters," is a set of seven hymns within the greater Yasna collection, that is, within the primary liturgical texts of the Zoroastrian Avesta. Chapter and verse pointers are to Yasna 35-41. The name is from Yasna 42, a Younger Avestan text that follows the seven chapters.

As the Divinity of Contract, Mithra is undeceivable, infallible, eternally watchful, and never-resting. Mithra is additionally the protector of cattle, and his stock epithet is "of Wide Pastures." He is Guardian of the waters and ensures that those pastures receive enough of it.

Aban Zoroastrian concept of the waters

Apas is the Avestan language term for "the waters", which, in its innumerable aggregate states, is represented by the Apas, the hypostases of the waters.

The lack of Mithra's presence in the texts was once a cause of some consternation amongst Iranians. An often repeated speculation of the first half of the 20th century was that the lack of any mention (i.e., Zoroaster's silence) of Mithra in these texts implied that Zoroaster had rejected Mithra. This ex silentio speculation is no longer followed. Building on that speculation was another series of speculations, which postulated that the reason why Zoroaster did not mention Mithra was that the latter was the supreme god of a bloodthirsty group of daeva -worshipers that Zoroaster condemned. However, "no satisfactory evidence has yet been adduced to show that, before Zoroaster, the concept of a supreme god existed among the Iranians, or that among them Mithra – or any other divinity – ever enjoyed a separate cult of his or her own outside either their ancient or their Zoroastrian pantheons." [2]

The Avestan Hymn to Mithra (Yacht 10) is the longest, and one of the best preserved, of the Yasht s. Mithra is described in the Zoroastrian Avesta scriptures as "Mithra of Wide Pastures, of the Thousand Ears, and of the Myriad Eyes," (Yandasna 1:3), [3] "the Lofty, and the Everlasting... the Province Ruler,"(Yasna 1:11), [3] "the Yazad (Divinity) of the Spoken Name" (Yasna 3:5), [3] and "the Holy," (Yasna 3:13). [3] The Khorda Avesta (Book of Common Prayer) also refer to Mithra in the Litany to the Sun, "Homage to Mithra of Wide Cattle Pastures," (Khwarshed Niyayesh 5), [4] "Whose Word is True, who is of the Assembly, Who has a Thousand Ears, the Well-Shaped One, Who has Ten Thousand Eyes, the Exalted One, Who has Wide Knowledge, the Helpful One, Who Sleeps Not, the Ever Wakeful. We sacrifice to Mithra, The Lord of all countries, Whom Ahura Mazda created the most glorious, Of the Supernatural Yazads. So may there come to us for Aid, Both Mithra and Ahura, the Two Exalted Ones,"(Khwarshed Niyayesh 6-7), [4] "I shall sacrifice to his mace, well aimed against the Skulls of the Daevas," (Khwarshed Niyayesh 15). [4] Some recent theories have claimed Mithra represents the Sun itself, but the Khorda Avesta refers to the Sun as a separate entity – as it does with the Moon, with which the Sun has "the Best of Friendships," (Khwarshed Niyayesh 15). [4]

In inscriptions

Although there is no known Mithraic iconography in the Achaemenid period, [5] the deity is invoked in several royal Achaemenid inscriptions:

In Artaxerxes II's (r. 404 - 358 B.C.) trilingual (Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian) inscription at Susa (A2Sa) and Hamadan (A2Hc), which have the same text, the emperor appeals to "Ahuramazda, Anahita, and Mithra protect me against all evil", and in which he beseeches them to protect what he has built.

Although the Behistun inscription of Darius I (r. 522 - 486 B.C.) invokes Ahuramazda and "the Other Gods who are", this inscription of Artaxerxes II is remarkable as no Achaemenid king before him had invoked any but Ahura Mazda alone by name. Boyce suggests that the reason for this was that Artaxerxes had chosen Anahita and Mithra as his patron/protector Divinities.

Mithra has invoked again in the single known inscription of Artaxerxes III, A3Pa, found at Persepolis. In that inscription, that emperor to appeals to "Ahuramazda and the God Mithra preserve me, my country, and what has been built by me."

In tradition

Coin of Artabanus II of Parthia (ca. 128-124 BC). The Hellenistic depiction on the reverse shows the king kneeling before an Apollo-like god, which is thought to be Mithra. Artabanosiia.jpg
Coin of Artabanus II of Parthia (ca. 128-124 BC). The Hellenistic depiction on the reverse shows the king kneeling before an Apollo-like god, which is thought to be Mithra.
A marble relif of Mithra, II-III century AD A marble relif of the Indo-Iranian Sun god Mithra, II-III AD.jpg
A marble relif of Mithra, II-III century AD
Investiture of Sassanid emperor Ardashir II (3rd century CE bas-relief at Taq-e Bostan, Iran. On the left stands the yazata Mithra with raised barsom, sanctifying the investiture. Taq-e Bostan - High-relief of Ardeshir II investiture.jpg
Investiture of Sassanid emperor Ardashir II (3rd century CE bas-relief at Taq-e Bostan, Iran. On the left stands the yazata Mithra with raised barsom , sanctifying the investiture.

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the sixteenth day of the month and the seventh month of the year are dedicated to and are under the protection of Mithra. The Iranian civil calendar of 1925 adopted Zoroastrian month-names, and as such also has the seventh month of the year named "Mihr". The position of the sixteenth day and seventh month reflects Mithra's rank in the hierarchy of the Divinities; the sixteenth day and seventh month are respectively the first day of the second half of the month and the first month of the second half of the year. The day on which the day-name and month-name dedications intersect is (like all other such intersections) dedicated to the divinity of that day/month, and is celebrated with a Jashan (from Avestan Yasna, "Worship") in honor of that Divinity. In the case of Mithra, this was Jashan-e Mihragan, or just Mihragan for short.

In Zoroastrian scripture, Mithra is distinct from the divinity of the Sun, Hvare-khshaeta (literally "Radiant Sun", whence also Middle Persian Khorshed for the Sun). However, in Zoroastrian tradition, Mithra evolved from being an all-seeing figure (hence vaguely associated with the Sun) into a divinity co-identified with the Sun itself, effectively taking over Hvare-khshaeta's role. How or when or why this occurred is uncertain, but it is commonly attributed to conflation with Babylonian Shamash and/or Greek Apollo, with whom Mithra shares other characteristics (e.g. a judicial function). This characteristic is part of Mithra's Indo inheritance since the Indic Rigveda have solar divinities that are not distinct from Mithra/Mitra, and in the Atharvaveda, Mitra is associated with sunrise, Sun Salutation is a daily yogic activity worldwide even in current times and is preceded by chanting 'OM Mitraya Namaha' as 'Mitraya' [6] is one of the 108 Names for Lord Surya/Sun God.

Royal names incorporating Mithra's (e.g., "Mithradates") appear in the dynasties of Parthia, Armenia, and in Anatolia, in Pontus and Cappadocia.

The youthful Apollonian-type Mithra is found in images from other countries of Iranian culture in the Parthian period, such as Commagene in the Roman-Parthian border and the Kushan Empire on the Indo-Iranian border. [5]

In Manichaeism

Persian and Parthian-speaking Manichaeans used the name of Mithra current in their time (Mihryazd, q.e. Mithra-yazata) for two different Manichaean angels.

  1. The first, called Mihryazd by the Persians, was the "Living Spirit" (Aramaic rūḥā ḥayyā), a savior-figure who rescues the "First Man" from the demonic Darkness into which he had plunged.
  2. The second, known as Mihr or Mihr Yazd among the Parthians, is the "Messenger" (Aramaic īzgaddā), likewise a savior figure, but one concerned with setting up the structures to liberate the Light lost when the First Man had been defeated.

The second figure mentioned above, the Third Messenger, was the helper and redeemer of mankind, and identified with another Zoroastrian divinity, Narisaf (derived from Pahlavi Narsēh from Avestan Nairyō.saȵhō, meaning 'Potent Utterance', the name of a Yazata). [7] Citing Boyce, [8] Sundermann remarks, "It was among the Parthian Manicheans that Mithra as a Sun God surpassed the importance of Narisaf as the common Iranian image of the Third Messenger; among the Parthians the dominance of Mithra was such that his identification with the Third Messenger led to cultic emphasis on the Mithraic traits in the Manichaean God." [9]

Unrelated to these Mihrs are Parthian and Sogdian Mytr or Mytrg. Although sharing linguistic roots with the name Mithra, Werner Sundermann established that those names denote Manicheanisms equivalent of Maitreya.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Daeva Demon, ogre or giant from Persian mythology

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Asha Central and complex Zoroastrian theological concept

Asha is a Zoroastrian concept with a complex and highly nuanced range of meaning. It is commonly summarized in accord with its contextual implications of 'truth' and 'right(eousness)', 'order' and 'right working'. For other connotations, see meaning below. It is of cardinal importance to Zoroastrian theology and doctrine. In the moral sphere, aša/arta represents what has been called "the decisive confessional concept of Zoroastrianism". The opposite of Avestan aša is 𐬛𐬭𐬎𐬘 druj, "deceit, falsehood".


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Aeshma Zoroastrian Daeva of wrath

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Haurvatat Zoroastrian Amesha Spenta and hypostasis of wholeness/perfection

Haurvatat /ˈhəʊrvətət/ is the Avestan language word for the Zoroastrian concept of "wholeness" or "perfection." In post-Gathic Zoroastrianism, Haurvatat was the Amesha Spenta associated with water, prosperity, and health.


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Anahita Zoroastrian water divinity

Anahita is the Old Persian form of the name of an Iranian goddess and appears in complete and earlier form as Aredvi Sura Anahita, the Avestan name of an Indo-Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of "the Waters" (Aban) and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. Aredvi Sura Anahita is Ardwisur Anahid or Nahid in Middle and Modern Persian, and Anahit in Armenian. An iconic shrine cult of Aredvi Sura Anahita was – together with other shrine cults – "introduced apparently in the 4th century BCE and lasted until it was suppressed in the wake of an iconoclastic movement under the Sassanids."


  1. Beck, Roger (2002-07-20). "Mithraism". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
  2. Boyce 2001 , p. 243, n.18.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "AVESTA: YASNA (English): Chapters 0-8".
  4. 1 2 3 4 "AVESTA: KHORDA AVESTA: Niyayeshes (Litanies)".
  5. 1 2 3 4 Franz Grenet, “MITHRA ii. ICONOGRAPHY IN IRAN AND CENTRAL ASIA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 19 May 2016).
  7. Sundermann, Werner (1979), "The Five Sons of the Manichaean God Mithra", in Ugo Bianchi (ed.), Mysteria Mithrae: Proceedings of the International Seminar on the Religio-Historical Character of Roman Mithraism, Leiden: Brill
  8. Boyce, Mary. (1962) On Mithra in the Manichaean Pantheon. In Henning, Walter B. and Yarshater, Ehsan (eds.), A Locust's Leg: Studies in Honour of S. H. Taqizadeh, LondonCS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  9. Sundermann, Werner (2002), "Mithra in Manicheism", Encyclopaedia Iranica , Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub