A king Asvagen `s seal. Murtazaly Hadjiyev

    1. In 1975, F.Gignoux published a collection of Sasanid intaglios of Mr. M.A.Piruzan. the collection included a unique king`s (shah`s) gem with a monogram (neshan) in the centre and a circular middle Persian inscription. The author interpred the reading of the inscription, performed in a traditional dossier and lapidary style as follows: `hyphyny ZY `Ld`n MLK` «A……, roi de Alains«. In doing so, Gignoux noted that «le nom du roi ne se laisse pas facilient identifier, mais sa titulature me parait certaine«(1).

It was S.Y.Kasumova who later justly pointed out that «we deal with the first gem with name and title of the king of Albans, and under the word `ld`n we mean not «Alans« but «Albania«. She suggested to read «Axipxin (?), roi d`Albanie« as noting that this name finds no etymology on the basis of the middle Persian language and is, perhaps, of «Caucasian« (Lezghin — Daghestanian) origin (2).

However, the said variant of the reading of the name of the Albanian king cannot be admitted as correct. It has to be kept in mind that such a name has not been referred to in written sourses. Either, it is not found in the list of Albanian kings by Movses Kalankatvatsy (I, 15) who ruled later 3-earlier 6 centuries (dynasty of Albanian Archakids) and earlier 7- earlier 8 centuries (dynasty of Mihranids). We have no grounds to believe that Kalankatvatsy omitted a name of the ruler in his list. Meanwhile, over the period from earlier 6 century — earlier 7 century no king`s power ruled in Albania, so the country was administered by Sasanid governor-generals. It`d be appropriate to believe that an inscription in the gem mentioned one of the well-known Albanian kings whose name was misread by researchers as a consequence of coincidence between differently shaped letters typical for middle Persian script.

  It should be noted that a third mark in the name of the king may definitely be interpreted as «s« (sade), not as «y« (yob). Note that the letter has the said spelling in offprints of bulls discovered during the excavations of Taht-i Suleyman (3) archives: for example, in the names Rozvaran, Peroz, Muzdak, Perozgusnasp, Aturbozid. The same form of graphema is typical for ligature spelling in the inscriptions of the mentioned bull collection, particularly, in the names Burzen — Mah, Burzaturgusnasp. It is also indicated on Sasanid coins: independently in sigils HWC, GNCKR and in ligatures — sigils HRC, NYHC, RAC, WRC (4).

  A fourth mark in the name of the king on the said gem may be interpreted as «W« (WAW), not as «p« (pe). Such a denotion of the letter «WAW« is widely spread in middle Persian orphography. It has an identical form in the inscription on gem offprints of the same bull collection of Taht-i Suleyman and, in particular, in the names Aturan, Vehdat, Aturbozid, Aturohrmazd (5).

Proceeding from the said definitions of these alphabitical marks, we offer the reading of the gem inscription as follows:

` ncwhyny ZY `ld`n MLK`

Ahzwahen i, Ardan sah

«Asvagen, king of Albania«.

A legible spelling of the name `hcwhyny «Ahzwahen« is corroborated by the fact that the given name is consistent with the ones found in written sources. The king of Albania appears in the works of his contenporaries — Korun  (17) Movses Khorenatsy (III, 54), as well as in the works of later authors — Movses Kalankatvatsy (I, 15, I, 23, II, 3), Stepannes Orbelyan (15). In the manuscripts this name is available as Arsval, Arsvalen, Esvalen, Eswalen. Note that the variations in the inscriptions are accounted for by the adaptation of this (Eastern Caucasian) name to another language, by its non- native written transformation. The spelling in the old Armenian language is in keeping with its middle Persian form as shown in the said gem.

Noteworthy is the fact that the identification of the name of the Albanian king on the gem inscription with the name of Albanian king Arsvagen // Esvagen is not advervse to the paleography of the inscription. To all appearances, (ligature`n, isafet`s spelling, outline of marks), it is ascribed to a group of gems with paleographic features typical for gems of the 4-5 centuries (6).

2. According to written sources (Korun, Khorenatsi, Kalankatvatsi), king Asvagen ruled later 4 — earlier 5 centuries. According to Orbelyan, he was a son of shahanshah Shapur`s III sister (383-388). In considering dynastic relations between Sasanids and Albanian Arshakids, marriage of Albanian king Urnair to a sister of shahanshaah Shapur II (309-379), father of Shapur III, it is quite evident that one of the previous Albanian kings — Asai or Sato was Asvagen`s father. According to Orbelyan, Asvagen`s father was a husband of the sister of Shapur III, i.e. daughter of Shapur II, and possible a son of king Urnair. The above — stated is accounted for by traditional marriages between Albanian kings and Sasanid princesses.

  In all probability, Asvagen himself was a husband of the daughter of Yezdigerd II, for it is known (according to Yegishe) that the next Albanian king Vache II was a son of the Albanian king (perhaps, Asvagen) and the sister of shahanshahs Ormizd (457-459) and Peroz (459-484) — sons of Yezdigerd II (439-457). According to Kalankatvatsy (I, 19), another son of Asvagen — extra-marital Khochkorik — during the reign of Albanian king Vachagan III the Pious (c. 485-510) was a governor — general of Tsri,  «town — fortress«,  «Albanians large town« in the country of Chilbs,  identified by us with Tsakhur later« principal town of Lakzan country« (Z.Kazavini).

  Note that Korun, Khorenatsi and Kalankatvatsi basicly refer to king Asvagen due to the important cultural-historical and social — political events in the history of Albania: with the permission of king Asvagen and Albanian archbishop Heremy early in the 5 century, outstanding Armenian enlightener and religious figure Mesrop Mashtots with the assistance of priest and «gifted translator« Benjamen, Albanian by origin, created the original Albanian written language [Mesrop Mashtots’ role in the invention of  alphabet for Albanians and Georgians has grossly been exaggerated. As far back as Armenian scientist, doctor of historical sciences A.Perikhanyan stressed unfounded character of the assumption, impossibility of such an invention. Moreover, prominent Africanist, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR Olderroghi found out that the prototype of the Armenian script, allegedly invented by Mesrop Mashtots, was the ancient Ethiopian script. In the light of the latest discoveries of the Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia it became quite obvious that the Albanian script had existed back in the 4 century; ancient sources report that Albanian kings maintained correspondence with the Greek world through their own script. It is no mere coincidence that Movses Kalankatuyskiy touches upon the improvement of the Albanian script — Comments by F.Mamedova].

3. Of particular interest is a symbol-neshan shown in the centre of gem which may be

interpreted as an Asvagen`s king badge and, perhaps, other Arshakid (to be exact, Arshakid — Sasanid) rulers of Albania. This badge, conventionally defined as «Halbmond uber gesturztem Wagen«(7), «Mondwagenwappen« (8) or «crescent on two-legged pedestal« (9), is found on gems and coins. Thus, it may be found on two offorints (№659, №662) of gems on bulls VI-ia of the 7 century, Taht-i Sukeyman archive (10). In considering Asvagen`s gem, Christian identification of Albanian kings, administrative and political ties between Albania and shahre Adurbadagan, it is possible to admit that one of these gems (№659) with a depiction of two «Nestorian« («Greek«) crosses on each side of the central neshan, was owned by a representative of Albanian king`s palace (cf. gem of Catholicos of Albania and Balasakana with a depiction in the centre of the cross, and on each side — Zoroastrian symbols — stars and crescent).

  The same symbol is reproduced in two gems of the 4 centure from the collection of  the    British    Museum (11).     One    of    them    depicts   a   standing   female figure with a flower in her right hand and a neshan to the left. A.D.Bivar believed the gem depicted goddess Anahita who, as is known, acted as «lady« of Sasanid dynasty and was particularly revered in Albania as far back as in the earliest centuries A.D. (Strabo. Geogr., XI, 4, 7). Another gem depicted a griffin to the right, a neshan before it, a crescent behind it and a circular middle Persian inscription (12) and, finally, there is one more gem with the same symbol, one neshan and two scorpions (13).

Note that the said mark is found on coins as well. First of all, these are some Kushan-Sasanid bronze coins (type d/2 according to V.G.Lukonin) with a Bactrian legend HOPOZOO (Hormizd) and bosom portayal of the ruler in an individual crown — kulakh with a lion`s head in averse (14). In reverse (fire altar with a bust of deity in the flame) of some of them there is depicted not a king`s badge or a symbol of heir on a column of the altar but the so called «Ephtalite badge« (15), i.e. the symbol in question — «cresent on a pedestal — carriage«(16). Resently, G.A.Koshelenko (17) on the basis of newly discovered Rabatak inscription of Kanishaka I (18) and some observations over Kushan-Sasanid coins,  put  forvard  his version  of the ruling date and the issue of coins,   including d/2, of Kushanshah Hormizd between 293-309.

The said symbol is a typical indication of Hionite (Ephtalite) coins-imitations to the coins of Shapur II with an inscription, conventionally read as? OXON (name of king, dynasty or family) (19). This neshan is shown in averse, as a rule, before the face of the ruler, rarely-behind it. The symbol is shown on Hionite coins with a depiction of a horseman (20). Among Hionite imitations to the coins of Shapur II, there are the ones with the same reverse type, as shown on the said coins of Hormizd — altar with a deity in the flame (21). This circumstance makes it possible to synchronize the given groups of coins and decline from a greater span of time between their issue (cf. Views of Cobl R., Lukonin V.G., Weinberg B.I., Stavinskiy B.Y. et al.).

4. Presence of this badge on Ephtalite (hionite) coins gave grounds to define it as le symbole des Ephtalites, Hephtalitentamga, das Tamga der Alxon (R.Gobl), a tamga of a group (tribe) of Hionites who headed the kingdom (dynasty)? OXON (A.I. Weinberg), «ancestrial symbol — tamga« of the king, dynasty or family of Hionites ? OXON (A.Y. Staviskiy). It`d be conventional to define the symbol as «Ephtalite« (or «Heonite«) (cf. V.G. Lukonin`s view (22). A form of the badge, its elements being central in Sasanid emblem are indicative of its Sasanid origin. H.Yanikhen regards this badge («moon carriage«) with its numerous variations as a religious symbol, king`s badge and state amblem (cf. V.G. Lukonin, G.A.Pugachenkova views) (23).

  The presence of the given badge on the gem of king Asvagen, on coins of Kushanshah Hormizd and Hionites, as well as on genetically related marks on the kulah of a dignitary (shah Kerman Varahran?) on a plate from Red Glade (24) and on the hat of  shah Kerman Varahran, on carved amethyst from the collection of the British Musiem (25) enables to assume that it was of not only religious-ideological nature (see neshan on the gem of Bafarak, magupat of Meshan (26)), but of state and political signifucance as well. Noteworthy is the fact that these emblems belonged to the supreme (king`s) nobility — Ardanshah (= Aranshah), Kushanshah, Kermanshah, Hionite ruler (Alhon? Alhonshah?). The above-mentioned data are supportive, to a certain degree, to G.A. Pugachenkova view on this group of badges: «Evidently, belonging to either branch of Sasanid home accounted for various variants in outlining the basic tamga…« (27). It may be supposed that the said neshan underscored a dynastic relation with Sasanids. With badges underlining a dynastic status od either representative of Sasanid home («symbol of ferver« — king`s badge; «symbol of calf « — heir`s badge) being widely used in Sasanid Iran, it is quite admissable to use a badge, indicative of the relations with Sasanids, additional line of Sasanids. Note that this badge is available on the gem of shah Asvagen, coins of Sasanid — Kushan and Hionite rulers, i.e. attributes of state formations in the north and the east of Iranshahr who occupied important militaty political positions, played a part of buffer border political structures maintaining vassal — allied relations with Sasanids.

  I`d be appropriate to quote Marcellius who narrating about the siege of Amida by Shapur II army in 359, reports as follows: «Next to him (Shapur II — M.G.)« from the left side there rode Grumbat, new king of Hionites, a man of average age, wrinkled, a roler of brilliant intellect and famous for numerous victories. From the right side, there rode king of Albans (Urnair — M.G.), equal  to  the  first  by  his  position and honour italicized by M.G), behind — various commanders notable for their authority and power…« (Amm. Marc. Hist., XVIII, 6).

  As is known, the Sasanid court was guided by strictly regulated hierarchial principles. A place (gah) and honour, as referred to by Marsillinius and pretended by a person close to Shahanshah, as well as «pillow« (barj)`e «bandage« (patiw) depended on ordinal number and rank of either dignitary according to «Rating charter« (Gahnamak). We are unavare of whether Albania and Hionites entered Iranshahr, Urnair and Grumbat included in the «rank list« of Shapur II. It`d be appropriate to recall about the 3 century tradition to include vassal rolers and allied  sovereigns in the list of the court of Sasanid monarchs (28). It is thought that Marcellinius`s words underlined a high status of the kings of Albanians and Hionites in the Sasanid «rank list«.

  Urnair`s top position under Shapur, as referred to by Marcellinius, was, undoubdetly, due to their close relations (Urnair was married Shapur`s sister). In considering the above-stated, availability of identical emblems on the gem of Asvagen and coins od Hionites ? OXON, it may well be assumed that an identical marrige union, possibly supplement to the Sasanid-Hionite «allied theaty« of 358 (Amm. Marc. His. , XVII, 5), was concluded with the king of Hionites Grumbat, equal to equal  to  Urnair by  his  position and honour«.

As we see it, the cited arguments make it possible to regard the badge of «moon carriage«, fixed on the gemma of the king of Albania Asvagen, Sasanid — Kushan coins of Hormizd and coins of Ephtalites (Hionites) ?OXON as a symbol of collateral line of Sasanis dynasty, belonging to this poweful, «god — originating« king family.



1 Gignoux Ph. Intailles sasanides de la collection Pirousan Monumentum H.S. Nyberg III. Teheran — Liege, 1975, p.17, pl. I, fig. 22

2 Kasumova S.Yu. Le sceau du Catolicos d`Albanie et du Balasagan Studia Iranica. T. 20, fasc. 1, 1992, p.31-32

3 Gobl R. Die Topbullen vom Tacht-e Suleiman. Ein Beitrag zur spatsasanidischen Sphragistik. Berlin, 1976.

4 Gobl R. Sasanidische Numismatik. Brauschweig, 1968

5 Gobl R. Die Tonbullen…, Taf. 54 Tab. XVI.

6 Gobl Die Topbullen…, Taf.54

7 Gobl. R.Die Tonbullen… S.146-147. №659, 662

8Jonichen H. Bildzeichen der Kyniglichen Hoheit bei den Iranischen Vulkern. Bonn, 1956. S.22, 29. Taf. 23, 48, 24, I; 2, 28, I

9Stavickiy B.Y. Kushanskaya Baktriya: problemy istorii i kultury

10 Gobl. Die Tonbullen… S.146-147, taf. 46, 659, 662; 49, 659, 662

11Bivar A.D.H. Cataloque of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum. Stamp Seals, II. The sasanid Dynasty. London, 1969, p.64, 79, 129

12Bivar A.D.H. Catalogue…,p.79; horn P.Sasanidische Gimmen ausdem British Museum // ZDMG. 1890. Bd. 44. Tab. II b; Borisov A.Y., Lukonin V.G. Sasanidskiye gemmy. L., 1963. S.41

13 Horn P., Steindorf G. Sasanidische Seigelstein. Berlin, 1891. № 1508; Gobl R. Die Sassanidische Siegelkanon. Taf.10, 20c

14Paruck F.D.Y. Sasanian Coins. Bombay, 1924. PE. IX. №190, 193; Bivar A.D.H. The Kushano-Sasanian Coins Series // The Journal of the Numsmatic Society of India. 18. 1956. P.33, №27; A. CarterA numismatic reconstruction of Kushano-Sasanian history // Museum notes the American Numismatic Society. 30, 1985, P.244. PE. 47. №12

15Lulonin V.G. Kushano-Sasanidskiye monety // EV. Vyp. XVIII. L., 1967 S. 20; Lukonin V.G. Kultura Sasanidskoho Irana. Iran III-V vv. Otcherki po istorii kultury. M., 1969. S.134

16Jonichen H.Bildzeichen… Taf. 24, I (Hormazd II. Als Kusanshan)

17Koshdenko G.A. Kushano-Sasanidy v istorii Merva // ПИФK. Vyp VIII. M. — Magnitogorsk, 2000. C. 344-363

18Sims-Williams N., Cribb J.A. A New Bactrian inscription of Kanishka the Great // Silk Road Art and Archaelogy. Vol. IV. 1995/96. P.75-142; Sims-Williams. Noviye bakriyskiye dokumenty // BDN. 1997, №3, S.3-10

19Wilson H.H. Antiquities and Coins of Afghanistan. Ariana Antiqua. Delhi, 1971 (Reprint). Pipeline. XVI, 8-10; Specht E. Le dechiffrement des monnaies sindo-ephtalites // J.A. 1901. T.XVIII. P.499-501. № 6, 7; Paruck F.D.Y. Sasanian Coins. Pipeline. XI, №244; Jonichen H.Bildzeichen… Taf. 28, I; Gobl R.Dokumente zur Geschichte der Iranischen Hunnen in Baktries und Indien. Wiesbaden, 1967, Bd. IV. Taf. 14, I; Lukonin V.G. Kushano-sasanidskiye monety. S.20, Lukonin V.G. Kultura sasanidskogo rana.S.134; Staviskiy B.J. Kushanskaya Baktriya: problemy istorii i kultury. M., 1977. S.139

20 Specht E. Le dechifferement des monnaies sindo-ephtalites. P.499, № 5

21Ibid, P. 507, 3 7

22 Lukonin V.G. Kushano-sasanidskiye monety. S. 20; Lukonin V.G. Kultura Sasanidskogo Irana. S.134

23 Jonichen H.Bildzeichen… S.22. Taf. 23

24 Lukonin V.G. Iran v epokhy pevvikh Sasanidov.Ocherki po istorii kultury. L., 1961. C. 55-59; Trever K.V., Lukonin V.G. Sasanidskoye serebro. Sobranie Gosudarstvennogo Ermitaja. M., 1987. C. 49-50. Ris. 5, 6.

25 Lukonin V.G. Iran v epokhy pevvikh Sasanidov. S.42, 50. Tabl. X, 18

26 Horn P., Steindorf G. Sasanidische Seigelstein. № 2507; Gobl R. Der Sassanidische Siegelkanon. Taf. 5, 7a

27 Pugachenko G.A. Materiali po vostochnoy gliptike // Tr. SAGU. Vip. CXI. Tashkent, 1957. C.148

28 Lukonin V.G. Zavoevaniya Sasanidov na vostoke i problema kushanskoy absolutnoy khronologii // VDI. 1969. № 2. S.25.

Hadjiyev Murtazaly Serazhutdinovich, doctor of historical sciences, senior researcher of the Institute of History, Archaelogy and Ethnography of the Daghestan scientific centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences.