Armenian mythology

Armenian mythology originated in ancient Indo-European and Urartian traditions, gradually incorporating Mesopotamian, Iranian, and Greek ideas and deities.[1][2] There are signs that the ancient Armenians were initially nature worshipers and in time came to worship national gods, many adopted from neighboring cultures.

Formation of Armenian mythology

Garni Temple
Side view of the Garni Temple.

The pantheon of Armenian gods (ditsov) formed during the nucleation of the Proto-Armenian tribes which inherited the essential elements of paganism from the Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Armenian Plateau. Historians distinguish a significant body of Indo-European language used by Armenian pagans as sacred. The oldest cult worshiped an unfathomable higher power or intelligence called Ara, embodied as the sun (Arev); the ancient Armenians called themselves "children of the sun". Also among the most ancient types of Indo-European-derived worship are the cults of eagles and lions, and of the sky.[3]

Over time, new deities of Armenian and not Aryan origins appeared. Furthermore, the supreme god of the Armenian pantheon, Vanatur, was later replaced by Aramazd. Aramazd was the Parthian form of Ahura Mazda.[4] The latter, though, has appeared under the influence of Zoroastrianism (see Ahura Mazda), but with partially preserved traditional Armenian features. Similarly, the traditional Armenian goddess of fertility, Nar, was replaced by Anahit.

Zoroastrianism had a major influence on the Armenians and their mythology. Until the late Parthian period, the Armenian lands doubtless adhered predominantly to Zoroastrianism.[4]

In the Hellenistic age (3rd to 1st centuries BC), ancient Armenian deities identified with the ancient Greek deities: Aramazd with Zeus, Anahit with Artemis, Vahagn with Hercules, Astghik with Aphrodite, Nane with Athena, Mihr with Hephaestus, Tir with Apollo.

After the formal adoption of Christianity in Armenia, new mythological images and stories were born as ancient myths and beliefs transformed. Biblical characters took over the functions of the archaic gods and spirits. For example, John the Baptist inherited certain features of Vahagn and Tyre, and the archangel Gabriel that of Vahagn.

Basic information about Armenian pagan traditions were preserved in the works of ancient Greek authors such as Plato, Herodotus, Xenophon and Strabo, Byzantine scholar Procopius of Caesarea, as well as medieval Armenian writers such as Moses of Chorene, Agathangelos, Yeznik of Kolb, Sebeos and Anania Shirakatsi, not to mention oral folk traditions.


Modern depiction of Vahagn the dragon slayer.

The pantheon of pre-Christian Armenia changed over the centuries. Originally Urartian in nature, the pantheon was modified through Semitic, Iranian, then Greek influences.

Early stages

  • Ḫaldi or Khaldi - Chief of the pantheon in its earliest stages. Due to his name becoming a title akin to Baal (i.e. "the Khaldi/Baal of the city", "the Khaldi/Baal of storms"), the chief deity was eventually syncretized or replaced with Ahura Mazda, becoming Aramazd (see below). Formed a triad with his sons Ardinis and Teisheba.[1]
  • Teispas or Teisheba - Storm god, a son of Ḫaldi, with whom he formed the lead triad of the gods.[1]
  • Shivini or Artinis - Sun god, a son of Ḫaldi, with whom he formed the lead triad of the gods.[1]
  • Selardi - Consort of the Moon god.[1]
  • Saris - Probably a corruption of Ishtar.[1]

Persian influence

Zoroastrian influences penetrated Armenian culture during the Achaemenid Empire, though conversion was incomplete and syncretistic, and the Persians and Armenians never appeared to identify with each other as co-religionists[1] despite both referring to themselves as "Mazda worshipers."[2]

  • Aramazd - Cognate of the Iranian Ahura Mazda (or Ormazd). Head of the pantheon, identified with Zeus in the interpretatio graeca, with whom he shared many titles.[1][2] Sometimes worshiped under the title Vanatur ("Lord of the Van"), particularly during new year's celebrations. Along with Anahit and Vahagn formed a lead triad.[1] In time, the positive functions of Baal Shamin were absorbed by Aramazd.[2]
  • Anadatus - The Armenian form of the Zoroastrian Amesha Spenta Ameretat.[1]
  • Anahit - Cognate of the Iranian Anahita. The goddess of fertility and birth, and daughter or wife of Aramazd, Anahit is identified with Artemis and Aphrodite. Temples dedicated to Anahit were established in Armavir, Artashat, Ashtishat.
  • Mihr - Cognate with the Iranian Mithra. God of the sun and light, son of Aramazd, the brother of Anahit and Nane. Historically, despite his high place in the pantheon, worship of Mihr was eclipsed by Vahagn[1] (indeed, Mihr's worship appears to have been supplementary to Vahagn's[5]), and little is known about his worship aside from similarities to the Iranian Mithra and the absence of the Mithraic mysteries.[1] Mihr was identified with Hephaestus by Movses Khorenatsi and later authors.[2] His center of worship was located in Bagaharich,[1] and the temple of Garni was dedicated to him.
  • Omanos - The Armenian form of the Zoroastrian Vohu Manah.[1]
  • Spandaramet - Cognate of the Iranian Spenta Armaiti,[1][6] a daughter of Aramazd, and cthonic goddess of fertility, vineyards[1] and the underworld.[6] Spandaramet was chosen by translators of some Armenian Bibles to convey the meaning of Διόνυσος) in 2 Maccabees 6:7. Sometimes called Sandaramet[1] or Santamaret[6] denoting a connection to the underworld unique to Armenian theology, even in Christian writings.[1] Her kingdom is said to be inhabited by evil spirits called Santarametakans.[7]
  • Tir or Tiur - Cognate to either the Iranian Tir (or Tishtrya) or (via Armenian dpir "scribe") the Babylonian Nabu. In either case, the mercurial god of wisdom, written language, culture, and science; messenger of the gods[1][2][8] and psychopomp.[2][9] Identified with the Greek Apollo.[1] Tir's role as psychopomp may have been absorbed from the Luwian thunder god Tarhunda, whose name had been used to translate that of the Mesopotamian underworld god Nergal.[2] Tir's temple was located near Artashat.
  • Tsovinar - Fierce goddess of the sea and storms, consort of Vahagn.[10]
  • Vahagn - Cognate of the Iranian Verethragna (via Vahram -> Vram -> Vam + -agn). The storm god and dragon slayer, identified with the Greek Hercules, this identification going full circle when Armenian translators of the Bible used Vahagn to translate Ἡρακλῆς in 2 Maccabees 4:19.[1] Sometimes referred to by the title Dsovean, particularly in his role as a god of the seas.[10] Vahagn adopted some features of the Hurrian storm god Teshub, through the Urartian Teisheba and after. Christian folklore absorbed Vahang's role as a storm or weather god into the archangel Gabriel.[2] Derik housed the central temple to Vahagn.

Post-Alexandrian influences

  • Astghik - Cognate of the Semitic Ishtar, identified with Venus. A fertility goddess and consort of Vahagn, sharing a temple with him in the city of Yashtishat.[1] The holiday of Vardavar was originally in honor of Astghik.
  • Barsamin - God of sky and weather, derived from the Semitic god Baal Shamin.[1]
  • Nane - Cognate of the Elamitic Nanē, (via the Babylonian Nanâ),[1][11] also assimilating aspects of the Phrygian Cybele.[12] Daughter of Aramazd, war and motherhood goddess. Identified with Athena.[11] Her cult was related to Anahit, both of their temples located near each other in Gavar.

Monsters and spirits

Aralez on the battlefield.
  • Al - The Al is a dwarfish evil spirit that attacks pregnant women and steals newborn babies. Described as half-animal and half-man, its teeth are of iron and nails of brass or copper. It usually wears a pointed hat covered in bells, and can become invisible.[13][14]
  • Aralez - Aralezner - The oldest gods in the Armenian pantheon, Aralez are dog-like creatures with powers to resuscitate fallen warriors and resurrect the dead by licking wounds clean.
  • Devs - The Dev are air-composed spirit creatures originating from Zoroastrian mythology (the Daevas), and share many similarities to angels. They reside in stony places and ruins, and usually kept to themselves.[14]
  • Shahapet - The Shahapet (Սհահապետ), also called Khshathrapti, Shavod, Shoithrapaiti, Shvaz and Shvod, were usually friendly guardian spirits of Armenian, Slavic and Persian mythology, who typically appeared in the form of serpents. They inhabited houses, orchards, fields, forests and graveyards, among other places. The Shvaz type was more agriculturally oriented, while the Shvod was a guardian of the home. A Shvod who is well-treated may reward the home's inhabitants with gold, but if mistreated might cause strife and leave.[14]
  • Nhang - The Nhang (from the Persian word for "crocodile") was a river-dwelling serpent-monster with shape shifting powers, often connected to the more conventional Armenian dragons. The creature could change into a seal or lure a man by transforming into a woman, then drag in and drown the victim to drink its blood. The word "Nhang" is sometimes used as a generic term for a sea-monster in ancient Armenian literature.[14]
  • Piatek - The Piatek is a large mammalian creature similar to a wingless griffin.
  • Vishap - A dragon closely associated with water, similar to the Leviathan. It is usually depicted as a winged snake or with a combination of elements from different animals.

Heroes and legendary monarchs

Shamiram ara.jpeg
Shamiram stares at the corpse of Ara the Beautiful (painting by Vardges Sureniants, 1899).

These figures are mainly known through post-Christian sources, but may have belonged to the pre-Christian mythology.[12]

  • Ara the Beautiful - A handsome warrior slain in a war against Semiramis, in some versions brought back to life by her prayers.
  • Aram - Slayer of the giant Barsamin, possibly originally a war god known as Aremenius.[15]
  • Hayk or Haik - Legendary forefather of the Armenian people, who led a successful rebellion against a Babylonian king named Bel.[12][16] When Bel and his armies pursued Hayk and his people, Hayk fired an arrow across the battle field, killing Bel and scaring off his forces.[16]
  • Ervaz and Yervant - Mythical twins born from a woman of the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia, distinguished by enormous features and over-sensitivity.
  • Karapet - a pre-Christian Armenian mythological character identified with John the Baptist after the adoption of Christianity by the Armenians. Karapet is usually represented as a glittering long-haired thunder-god with a purple crown and a cross.
  • Nimrod - Great-grandson of Noah and the king of Shinar, Nimrod is depicted in the Bible as both a man of power in the earth and a mighty hunter.
  • Sanasar and Baghdasar - Two brothers founded the town of Sassoon, ushering in the eponymous state. Sanasar was considered the ancestor of several generations of heroes of Sassoon.
  • Sarkis - A hero, associated with pre-Christian myths, later identified with Christian saints who bore the same name. He is represented as a tall, slender, handsome knight mounted upon a white horse. Sarkis is able to raise the wind, storms and blizzards, and turn them against enemies.
  • Shamiram - The legendary Assyrian queen who waged war to get Ara.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "Armenia (Vannic)" by A.H. Sayce, p.793-4; "Armenia (Zoroastrian)", by M(ardiros). H. Ananikian, p.794-802; in Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, vol. 1, 1908
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Russell, James R. (15 December 1986). "ARMENIA AND IRAN iii. Armenian Religion". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  3. ^ Boettiger, Louis Angelo (1918). Armenian Legends and Festivals. University of Minnesota.
  4. ^ a b Mary Boyce. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices Psychology Press, 2001 ISBN 0415239028 p 84
  5. ^ "Mihr" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.671
  6. ^ a b c "Santamaret" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.861
  7. ^ Coulter, Charles Russell. Turner, Patricia. "Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities" McFarland & Co., Routledge, 2012; pg. 438.
  8. ^ Herouni, Paris (2004). Armenians and Old Armenia. Yerevan. p. 8, 133.
  9. ^ "Tiur (Tur)" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.959
  10. ^ a b "Vahagn" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.991
  11. ^ a b "Nane (Hanea)" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.703
  12. ^ a b c "Armenian Mythology" in The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, by David Leeming, Oxford University Press, 17 Nov 2005, p.29
  13. ^ A History of Armenia by Vahan M. Kurkjian
  14. ^ a b c d
  15. ^ "Aram" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.96
  16. ^ a b "Hayk" in Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition, by Anthony Mercanante and James Dow, Infobase, 2009. p.452

Anahit (Armenian: Անահիտ) was the goddess of fertility and healing, wisdom and water in Armenian mythology. In early periods she was the goddess of war. By the 5th century BC she was the main deity in Armenia along with Aramazd. The Armenian goddess Anahit is related to the similar Old Persian goddess Anahita. Anahit's worship, most likely borrowed from the Iranians during the Median invasion or the early Achaemenid period, was of paramount significance in Armenia. Unlike Iranians, Armenians incorporated idol-worship into the cult of Anahit. Artaxias I erected statues of Anahit, and promulgated orders to worship them.

Ara the Beautiful

Ara the Beautiful (also Ara the Handsome; Armenian: Արա Գեղեցիկ Ara Geghetsik) is a legendary Armenian hero. Ara is notable in Armenian literature for the popular legend in which he was so handsome that the Assyrian queen Semiramis waged war against Armenia to capture him and bring him back to her, alive.

Ara is sometimes associated with the legendary King of Armenia, known as Arame of Urartu, who ruled the Kingdom of Urartu Biainili during the 9th century BC.


Aramazd was the chief and creator god in pre-Christian Armenian mythology. The deity and his name were derived from the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda after the Median conquest of Armenia in the 6th century BCE.

Aramazd was regarded as a generous god of fertility, rain, and abundance, as well as the father of the other gods, including Anahit, Mihr, and Nane. Like Ahura Mazda, Aramazd was seen as the father of the other gods, rarely with a wife, though sometimes husband to Anahit or Spandaramet. Aramazd was the Parthian form of Ahura Mazda.

Armenian eternity sign

The Armenian eternity sign (Armenian: հավերժության նշան, haverzhut’yan nshan) or Arevakhach (Արևախաչ, "Sun Cross") is an ancient Armenian national symbol and a symbol of the national identity of the Armenian people. It is one of the most common symbols in Armenian architecture, carved on khachkars and on walls of churches.

Azhdahak (Armenian mythical being)

In Armenian mythology, Azhdahak (Armenian: Աժդահակ) was a man-vishap (man-dragon). Vishaps are believed to live in high mountains, in big lakes, in the sky, and in the clouds. They are believed to roar and sweep away everything in their path, especially when descending onto lakes. It is believed that a thousand-year-old vishap can absorb the whole world.

According to Movses Khorenatsi, Azhdhak was a king of the Marrs (also known as the Medes), and the grandfather of Cyrus; i.e., Astyages. Movses Khorenatsi wrote that Azhdhak was killed by Armenian king Tigran Orontid. Khorenatsi wrote: "Azhdahak means dragon in our language".

Dev (mythology)

In Armenian mythology and many various Armenian folk tales, the Dev (in Armenian: դև) appears both in a kind and specially in a malicious role, and has a semi-divine origin. Dev is a very large being with an immense head on his shoulders, and with eyes as large as earthen bowls. Some of them may have only one eye. Usually, there are Black and White Devs. However, both of them can either be malicious or kind.

The White Dev is present in Hovhannes Tumanyan's tale named 'Yedemakan Tzaghike' (Arm.: Եդեմական Ծաղիկը), translated to 'The Flower of Paradise'. In the tale, the Dev is the flower's guardian.

Jushkaparik, Vushkaparik, or Ass-Pairika is another chimerical being whose name indicates a half-demoniac and half-animal being, or a Pairika—a female Dev with amorous propensities—that appeared in the form of an arse and lived in ruins.


Giants (from Latin and Ancient Greek: gigas, cognate giga-) are beings of human appearance, but of prodigious size and strength common in the mythology and legends of many different cultures. The word giant, first attested in 1297, was derived from the Gigantes (Greek: Γίγαντες) of Greek mythology.

In various Indo-European mythologies, gigantic peoples are featured as primeval creatures associated with chaos and the wild nature, and they are frequently in conflict with the gods, be they Olympian, Celtic, Hindu or Norse. Giants also often play similar roles in the mythologies and folklore of other, non Indo-European peoples, such as in the Nartian traditions.

There are also accounts of giants in the Old Testament. Some of these are called Nephilim, a word often translated as giant although this translation is not universally accepted. They include Og King of Bashan, the Nephilim, the Anakim, and the giants of Egypt mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:23. The first mention of the Nephilim is found in Genesis 6:4; attributed to them are extraordinary strength and physical proportions.

Fairy tales such as "Jack the Giant Killer" have formed the modern perception of giants as stupid and violent monsters, sometimes said to eat humans, while other giants tend to eat the livestock. The antagonist in "Jack and the Beanstalk" is often described as a giant. In some more recent portrayals, like those of Jonathan Swift and Roald Dahl, some giants are both intelligent and friendly.


Hayk the Great (Armenian: Հայկ, Armenian pronunciation: [hajk]), or The Great Hayk, also known as Hayk Nahapet (Հայկ Նահապետ, Armenian pronunciation: [hajk nahapɛt], Hayk the "head of family" or patriarch), is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation. His story is told in the History of Armenia attributed to the Armenian historian Moses of Chorene (A.D.410 to 490).

Heinrich Gelzer

Not to be confused with the German classical scholar Matthias Gelzer, who wrote on Julius Caesar and the Late Roman Republic.Heinrich Gelzer (1 July 1847, in Berlin – 11 July 1906, in Jena) was a German classical scholar. He wrote also on Armenian mythology. He was the son of the Swiss historian Johann Heinrich Gelzer (1813–1889). He became Professor of classical philology and ancient history at the University of Jena, in 1878. He wrote a still-standard work on Sextus Julius Africanus. He worked out the chronology of Gyges of Lydia, from cuneiform evidence, in an 1875 article.

List of knowledge deities

A knowledge deity is a deity in mythology associated with knowledge, wisdom, or intelligence.

List of love and lust deities

A love deity is a deity in mythology associated with romance, sex, lust, or sexuality. Love deities are common in mythology and may be found in many polytheistic religions. Female sex goddesses are often associated with beauty and other traditionally feminine attributes.

List of war deities

A war god in mythology associated with war, combat, or bloodshed. They occur commonly in both monotheistic and polytheistic religions.

Unlike most gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions, monotheistic deities have traditionally been portrayed in their mythologies as commanding war in order to spread their religion. (The intimate connection between "holy war" and the "one true god" belief of monotheism has been noted by many scholars, including Jonathan Kirsch in his book God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism and Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God, Vol. 3: Occidental Mythology.) The following is a list of war deities.

List of water deities

A water deity is a deity in mythology associated with water or various bodies of water. Water deities are common in mythology and were usually more important among civilizations in which the sea or ocean, or a great river was more important. Another important focus of worship of water deities has been springs or holy wells.

As a form of animal worship, whales and snakes (hence dragons) have been regarded as godly deities throughout the world (other animals are such as turtles, fish, crabs, and sharks). In Asian lore, whales and dragons sometimes have connections. Serpents are also common as a symbol or as serpentine deities, sharing many similarities with dragons.

Middle Eastern mythology

Middle East mythology includes:

mythologies of the Ancient Near East

Mesopotamian mythology

Ancient Egyptian mythology

Hittite mythology

Abrahamic mythology

Islamic mythology

Jewish mythology

Christian mythology

mythologies of individual ethnicities of the Middle East

Arabian mythology

Armenian mythology

Persian mythology

Nane (goddess)

Nane (Armenian: Նանե, Nanė) was an Armenian mother goddess, as well as the goddess of war and wisdom.

Nane was depicted as a young beautiful woman in the clothing of a warrior, with spear and shield in hand,

like the Greek Athena, with whom she identified in the Hellenic period.

She has also been referred to as Hanea, Hanea, Babylonian Nana, Sumerian Nanai or Sumerian Nanai.


Portakar or navel stones (Armenian: պորտաքար) are traditional ritual stones in Armenia. They are bound up with cult of the fertility goddess, called in ancient Armenia, like the cult of the goddess Anahit.


In the Armenian mythology, Spandaramet, or Sandaramet, was the goddess of death, underworld and hell, and corresponded to the Greek god Hades.

The chief god of Armenia was Aramazd, called the Architect of the Universe, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Spandaramet was his wife. He was the father of the other gods, and had several daughters, among which Anahit, the most famous goddess of Armenia, which corresponded to the Greek goddess Artemis, and was the mother of Astghik, the goddess of beauty and the personification of the moon, corresponding to the Phoenician goddess Astarte, and the third Nane (nɑnɛ) or Noone, goddess of war.

Spandaramet was the guardian spirit of the land and the vines, the latter meaning, the Christian writers of the fifth century Armenians used to translate this name Dionysius. By associating Spandaramet with the Abyss, this word was used as a synonym for Hades, an idea that already appeared in other mythologies of Zoroastrianism.

Plus, Spand (Սպանդ) means assassination in Armenian.

Sources, oppositely to the information above, also indicate that:

Spandaramet was an Armenian earth goddess whose name comes from the Iranian spenta aemaita, the seven bounteous immortals of the Zoroastrian tradition. She represented both fertility (the fruit of the vine), and the resting place of the dead. She typified the fertility of the ground. Spandaramet was invisible, but her visible symbol was the earth itself. She thus corresponds to the Greek Demeter or Mother Earth. Because She was also seen as the goddess of the dead, with the coming of Christianity, the word Spandaramet took on the meaning of hell.

Spenta Armaiti

In Zoroastrianism, Spənta Ārmaiti (Avestan 𐬯𐬞𐬆𐬧𐬙𐬀 𐬁𐬭𐬨𐬀𐬌𐬙𐬌‎ for "creative Harmony" and later "holy devotion") is one of the Amesha Spentas, the six creative or divine manifestations of Wisdom and Ahura Mazda. Spenta suggests a creative and constructive quality or force while Armaiti means regulative thought originally alluding to the physical laws of nature (i.e. Physics). While older sources present the Amesha Spentas more as abstract entities in later sources, Spenta comes to denote holiness and sanctity and Spenta Armaiti is personified as a female divinity thus its association with the female virtue of devotion (to family, husband, and child). She is associated with earth and Mother Nature.

In the Armenian mythology, her name appears as Sandaramet (Armenian: Սանդարամետ).In the Zoroastrian calendar, she is associated with the twelfth month (Persian: سپندارمذ‎ Spendārmad) and the fifth day of the month. The fifth day of the twelfth month is hence her holy day, Sepandārmazgān. Sepandārmazgān is an ancient festival to celebrate eternal love. Iranian lovers give each other gifts on this day.


The Vishap is a dragon in Armenian mythology closely associated with water, similar to the Leviathan. It is usually depicted as a winged snake or with a combination of elements from different animals.Mount Ararat was the main home of the Vishap. The volcanic character of the Araratian peak and its earthquakes may have suggested its association with the Vishap. Sometimes with its children, the Vishap used to steal children or toddlers and put a small evil spirit of their own brood in their stead. According to ancient beliefs, the Vishap ascended to the sky or descended therefrom to earth, causing thunderous storms, whirlwinds, absorption of the sun (causing an eclipse). The dragon was worshipped in a number of Eastern countries, symbolising the element of water, fertility and wealth, and later became a frightful symbol of power. According to ancient legends, the dragon fought Vahagn the Dragon Slayer.

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Myth and ritual
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