William M Warda
Mach 24, 06
In citing background information about
the Iranian New year Davood N. Rahni writes:
"The Norooz Festival is immortalized
in the Decree of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Achaemenid
Empire, granting national, cultural and religious freedoms to
the peoples of Babylon and beyond in 542 B.C.E." (1)
There is no mention of Norooz or Newrouz in any
of the inscriptions by Cyrus. The invasion of Babylon by the
Persians took place on October 4th 539 B.C., months before the
Spring equinox the first day of the later Persian new year. Cyrus
could not have granted the Babylonians any rights 3 years before
his invasion of the city. Historical evidences suggest that the
Persian Norooz was borrowed from the Babylonians after the conquest
of the city that was facilitated by the Priests of Marduk, and, perhaps also, by the
leaders of the exiled Jews.
Inscriptions by the Babylonian priests,
their king Nebunaid and Cyrus indicate that there was ongoing
conflict between the Priests of Marduk and their king who attempted
to elevate the Harranian deity Sin above Marduk. consequently.
causing the hatred of him by the general population. To make
matters worst Nabunaid left the country and lived in the oasis
of Tima in northwest Arabia for 17 years.
During his absence the New year was
not celebrated because king played an important role in the ceremonies.
Canceling of the New year was undoubtedly a great disappointment
for the Babylonians who considered its observance, not only as
a time for joy also, an important religious obligation.
Such despair is evident in one Babylonian
"On the eleventh year [of the Nabunaid's rule] ... 'The
King did not come to Babylon for the Ceremonies of the
month Nissanu, Nabu did not come to Babylon, Bel [Marduk] did
not go out in procession, the festival of the New Year was omitted.."(2)
After defeating Nabunaid's army in Opis
The Persian troops marched to Sippar and took it without opposition
and Cyrus entered Babylon without a battle. "On the third
day of Arahshamnu (October) Kurash (Cyrus) entered Babylon, green
twigs were spread in front of him - the state of "peace"
(shulmu) was imposed upon the city."(3)
Cyrus's kindness to the Babylonians and the Jews was clearly
a pay-back for the fact that he did not have to fight the population
of the city who had in fact helped him to conquer it. The involvement of the Priests of Marduk
in helping the Persian conquest of Babylon is implied in an inscription
by Cyrus. "Nabunaid was heretical; he changed the details of worship.
He was also an oppressor....But Bel-Marduk cast his eye over
all countries, seeking for a righteous ruler.. Then he called
by name cyrus, King of Anshan and pronounced him ruler of the
Since the city was captured without
bloodshed with the cooperation of the population it was natural
that Cyrus in contrast to Nabunaid would appeal to the Babylonian's
religious sensitivities which he seems to have had detail knowledge
of. In another inscription Cyrus declares that Marduk the great
lord was pleased with his deeds and sent friendly blessings to
'the King who worships him, and his son Cambyses ' .'(5)
The book of Isaiah implies that Jews
were also part of the effort to help Cyrus invasion of Babylon
which it would pave the way for their return to Israel.
"This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose
right hand I take to subdue nations before him and to strip kings
of their armor, to open before him so that gates will not
be shut."(Isaiah 45) Given the Jewish exiled hatered
of the Babylonians such posibility can not be dismissed. "Sit
in silence, go into darkness Daughter of the Babylonians; no
more you will be called Queen of Kingdoms.(Isaiah 47: 5) ....They
will come upon you in full measure, despite your many sorceries
and your potent spells." (Isaiah 47: 9)
It is important to note that the chapters 40-55 of the Biblical
book of Isaiah also knwon as 'Second Isaiah' or 'Deutero-Isaiah'
were added to the book by unknown Babylonian Jewish exile within
the period of 546 to 538 B.C.E..(6)
After the invasion, Persians adopted many of the Assyro-Babylonian
social, political and administrative innovations. Historians
believe that the Persian empire owed much to the Assyrian accomplishments.
"Assyrian art, science, literature and technology, integrated
from many sources and revealed by excavation" have influenced
the later nations including those in Europe.(7) It should not surprise us that Persians borrowed
their New year from the Babylonians. There are very few minor Persian inscriptions before the invasion of Babylon. in fact the Cyrus Cylinder, where he describes his conquest of Babylon was written in the Akkadean language of the Babylonians, and was found in the ruins of that ancient city.
"Darius I (550-486 BC) claims credit for the invention of Old Persian Cuneiform in an inscription on a cliff at Behistun in south-west Iran. The inscription dates from 520 BC and is in three languages - Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian."
A bas-relief found at Pasargadae shows a winged-figure thought to be Cyrus, depicted with four Assyrian wings, and wearing an Egyptian hemhem crown, and a Persian dress.
When In 538 B.C. Cambyses the son of Cyrus was installed as the king
of Babylon on the 4th day of Nissanu [March 24th of the western
calendar] he went through the historic New Year ritual of paying
homage to Bell [Marduk] and Nabu thereby he was appointed officially
the viceroy of Marduk in Babylon with headquarter in Sippar.(8) This is the
first mention of a Persian king participating in the celebration
of the New year festival which later became to be known as Nowruz.
When Cyrus was killed on the battlefield in 530 B.C. Cambyses
inherited the empire's throne. As king of Babylon he had presided
for eight previous years over the Babylonian New year celebrations
which by then had been gradually passed on to the Persians.
In the Persian capital Persepolis
or Pasargad founded by Cambyses and finished by Dariush engravings
show various nations of the empire bringing gifts to the King
during the New Year's celebration, There is no historical evidence
to show that either the Medes nor the Persians observed the Spring
Equinox as New Year before the conquest of Babylon.
The Assyro-babylonian new year originated
during the Sumerian period in mid third millennium B.C. was the
most important religious ceremony which was observed starting
on the spring equinox (March 20-21), the day of creation and
also of the rebirth of the nature, according to their religion.
During the New Year ceremonies the story of the Creation describing
the battle between Marduk and Tiamat leading to the creation
of the world, all the living things including mankind was recited
To the right the Babylonian New Year Procession
at the Ishtar's Gate
Assyrian Babylonian influence on Persian culure is also evident in the Shabe Cheleh /Yalda celebrations which is explained as follows on a Persian website: www.cultureofiran.com/yalda.php
"The Persians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest night of the year, [the winter solstice] when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. While the next day, the first day of the month ‘Day’ known as ‘khoram ruz’ or ‘khore ruz’ (the day of sun) belongs to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was celebrated in the festival of ‘Daygan’ dedicated to Ahura Mazda, on the first day of the month ‘Day’." http://www.farsinet.com/norooz/yalda.html
The battle of Ahura Mazda with the the forces of Ahriman clearly is reminiscent of Marduk's battle in Babylon and Ashur in Assyria against the monsters of chaos.
Though shab means night in the persian language Yalda is Aramaic Assyrian (Syriac) means birth, together they denote the "night of birth", which means somwhere slong the way this occasion was called "Lila d'yalda" in the Aramaic Assyrian.
The battle of Bel against Tiamat was engraved by the Assyrian king Sennecherib at the "Bet Akitu" on a pair of copper doors
at Assur. His inscription reads: "I engraved upon the gate
the gods who marched in front and the gods who marched behind
him [Assur], those who ride in chariots, and those who go on
foot [against] Tiamat and the creatures [that were] in her."
The above piture depicts such description.
Alexander the Great according to the
Greek historians participated in the Persian new year festivities
in 330 B.C. He was asked to go through a ritual ordeal which
consisted of fighting a "monstrous death demon" and
emerge victorious. This seems to have been a reenactment of Marduk's
battle with Tiamat as told in the assyrian -Babylonian creation
story. Alexander's Participation in this event renewed his rule
for another year as Ahura Mazda's vice regent on the earth.(10)
Bas-reliefs of that era show Sassanian
kings receiving their crown from the Mobed Modbedan i.e. the
Zoroastrian high priest. It is interesting to note that the Persian
emblem of Aura Mazda with minore differences seem to be identical
to that of the Assyrian god Assur.
|Assyrian and Babylonian
kings were considered viceroys of god on earth, every new year
the king had to go through a ritual which led to his dethroning
by the high priest in the presence of Marduk or Assur to confess
that he 'had not sinned against the land and had not neglected
the divinity' his crown was returned to him by the high priest
and his kingship was extended for another year.(11) This concept seems to have survived among the
Persians. The kings of the Sassanian dynasty were also considered
the regents of the Ahura Mazda and were known as "Bokh"
or "Minu Chehre Az Eazadon" i.e. 'related to god',
also 'Farah Eizadi' i.e 'guided by god".(12)
of battle between Assur
Evidence also suggests that the practice
of the Sacred Marriage of the Assyro-Babylonian new year intended
to insure the fertility of the land was also part of the Persian
New year celebrations."..the [Achaemenian] king spent the
first night of the New Year with a young woman. The offsprings
of such union would be sent to a temple and they would normally
end up as high-ranking religious officials."(13)
Another aspect of the Nowruz celebrations,
not practiced since the medieval times, was called 'Kosa Rishin'
which seems to have had Mesopotamian origin. It was a play acted
at the market place involving a temporary king or False Ameir
who was mocked and made fun of and ultimately driven away. We
know that during the Sumerian period one aspect of the Akitu
festival involved the mocking of a substitute king for a day
usually a criminal dressed in royal regalia. In one instance
when the real king unexpectedly died the false king Enlil-Bani
inherited his throne.(14) The concept of the substitute king was also
practiced by the Assyrians and Babylonians. When Alexander was
in Babylon one day he was surprised to find a young man clad
in the king's robes with a crown on his head sitting on his throne.
He asked him who he was or what he was doing, the man did not
answer. Later Alexander was informed that the young man was a prisoner
who was told to put king's robes on, sit on the throne and say
nothing. This was the "Mesopotamian ritual of the substitute
king enthroned when the omens foretold danger to the true king."(15)
After the conquest of Babylon in 539
BC, the Babylonian cyclic calendar became standard throughout
the Persian Empire. From the Indus to the Nile. Aramaic documents
from Persian Egypt, for instance, bear Babylonian dates besides
the Egyptian. The royal years as in Babylon began on Nissanu
1, which coincided with the vernal equinox. " It is probable,
however, that at the court itself the counting of regnal years
began with the accession day while the Seleucids and the Parthians
maintained the Babylonian calendar."(16)
From the 1st century BC on the fiscal
administration in northern Iran, used Zoroastrian month and day
names in the Pahlavi (the Iranian language of Sassanian Persia).
"The origin and history of the Zoroastrian calendar year
of 12 months of 30 days, plus five days (that is, 365 days),
remains unknown. It became official under the Sassanian dynasty,
from about AD 226 until the Arab conquest in 621. Arabs introduced
the Muslim lunar year, but the Persians continued to use the
Sassanian solar year, which in 1079 was made equal to the Julian
year by the introduction of the leap year.(17)
Assyrian limu system, was also adopted
by the Persians. 'It entailed casting the lot [Assyrian puru]
during the new year ceremonies to decide who among the top brass
would be chief minister for the year which would be known by
his name. A Pur, a small inscribed die dated about 840 B.C. ,
is now in the Yale Museum." A royal officer was appointed
each year to give his name to the year. He or
his official status during that period was called Umuy
and events or documents were dated by his name.
According to the Old Testament story
of Esther during the Xerexe'x rule "lot was cast on the
Persian New Year in Nissan and Haman's name came up to be Chancellor
for the year "from day to day, from month to month, until
the twelfth month, the month of Adar" (Esther 3:7). The
Chancellor's duty among other things was to collect the annual
revenues for the Empire, The Hebrew word "pur" which
appears in Esther 3:7, 9:24 and 26 is usually taken to mean 'lots'.
It is derived from the Assyrian puru meaning a pebble used
for casting lots. The Esther holiday celebrated by the Jews is
The above facts clearly show the process
by which the Assyro-Babylonian new year of the spring equinox
was transferred to the Persians which the Achaemenian kings embraced.
If the Persian Nowruz had a Zoroastrian origin, as some claim,
elements which were not of the Persian religion would not have
been part it. Ruling nations seldom adopt the traditions of their
subjects but in the Persian's case Cyrus and Cambyses were eager
to please the Babylonians by showing they respected their religious
practices. Since the New Year celebration was a very important
event for the Babylonians during which the legitimacy of the
ruler was acknowledged it was to the benefit of the early Persian
kings to accept this tradition as their own.
Kurdish writers in recent times for political expediency have
invented mythical origin for the Newroz or Noruz, New year, their
people celebrate on March 21st. They
claim it is the celebration of Kawa's victory over the Assyrian
One website describes the origin of
the Kurdish New year as follows:
"On March 21st in the year
612 B.C., Kawa killed the Assyrian tyrant Dehak and liberated
the Kurds and many other peoples in the Middle East. Dehak was
an evil king who represented cruelty, abuse, and the enslavement
of peoples. People used to pray every day for God to help them
to get rid of Dehak. On Newroz day, Kawa led a popular uprising
and surrounded Dehak's palace. Kawa then rushed passed the king's
guards and grabbed Dehak by the neck. Kawa then struck the evil
tyrant on the head with a hammer and dragged him off his throne.
With this heroic deed, Kawa set the people free and proclaimed
freedom throughout the land. A huge fire was light on the mountaintop
to send a message: firstly to thank God for helping them defeats
Dehak, and secondly to the people to tell them they were free.
This is where the tradition of the Newroz fire originates."(18)
The above claim is clearly fictitious
intended to serve Kurds' political agendas. The Kurdish nationalists
by using a convoluted version of the Persian myth of Zahak who
was not an Assyrian wish to inspire their people to rise against
the cruelty of the contemporary ruling governments. In doing so they portray
the ancient Assyrians as cruel, the enemies of the Kurds and
all other people thereby promoting hatred for the contemporary
To further add insult to the injury
they claim their celebration of this day began in 612 B.C. which
is the year when Ancient Assyrians were defeated by the combined
forces of the Medes, Babylonians and the Scythians. However as
we shall see Kurd's Newroz or Newruz has nothing to do with
the fall of Assyria or the Zahak's myth. In fact the New Year
they celebrate is in reality that of the ancient Assyrians and
Babylonians, originated in the third millennium B.C. long before
there was a mention of Kurds in history. Further more March 20-21
the first day of this event is vernal equinox and has nothing
to do with the fall of Nineveh which happened in August of 612
B.C.. It is unconscionable for the Kurds who until recently were
portraying themselves as an oppressed people to further their
political agendas at the expense of the Assyrians especially
since the latter have been subjected to repeated massacres by
the former during the last few centuries.
Evidently Kurds acquired their knowledge
of the Zahak's legend from the 11th century Persian poet Ferdosi's
Shahnameh (the Book of Kings) who identifies the tyrant king
as Arab and not Assyrian. Furthermore According to Ferdosi Zahak
lived in Jerusalem and was killed by Feraidoun and not Kawa (Persian
After crossing the river Tigris the forces of Feraidoun "turned
their faces towards the city which is now called Jerusalem, for
here stood the glorious house that Zahak had built. And when
they entered the city all the people rallied around Feraidoun,
for they hated Zahak and looked to Feraidoun to deliver them...
Feraidoun did as he was bidden, and led forth Zahak to the Mount
Demawend [north of today's Tehran]. And he bound him to the rock
with mighty chains and nails driven into his hands, and left
him to perish in agony. And the hot sun shone down upon the barren
cliffs, and there was neither tree nor shrub to shelter him,
and the chains entered into his flesh, and his tongue was consumed
with thirst. Thus after a while the earth was delivered of Zahak
the evil one, and Feraidoun reigned in his stead."(20)
The disparity between the real story of Zahak and the one advanced
by the Kurds is either due to lack of specific knowledge of the
myth or is a deliberate attempt to vilify the ancient Assyrians.
It is clear that Zahak's ruling center was not in Mesopotamia
and he did not die on March 21, 612 B.C. and and his myth has
nothing to do with the Kurds or Assyrians. There is always a
danger in defining historical event based on myths rather than
documented historical evidences because myths and legends can
be easily perverted to satisfy the prejudices and political ambitions
of the moment. The same legend can be told in different ways
to indirectly vilify this or that people without regard to the
truth as the Kurds have done in this case. While there is no documented
historical evidence for when and why the Kurds began to observe
their Newroz or Nowruz there is no doubt that they learned to
celebrate it from the Persians. The Persian new year, Nowruz in
addition to the Kurds is observed by the Afghan, Turks, and the
Persian speaking people of pakistan, India and Central Asia who
were once part of that empire.
Regardless of its origin Nowruz during
the last 2,500 years has evolved into a tradition which is uniquely
Persian and no longer resembles its ancient version.
For political reasons Kurds, in recent years, have invented fictitious
stories about why they celebrate their new year, in the process
they vilify the ancient Assryians and promote antagonism against
their descendance. While myths may have been enough for the primitive
societies to explain important events in their life in today's
world nothing less than documented facts will do. The Kurd's
explanation for the origin of their new Year or so-called "National
Day" contradicts all known historical facts. Assyrians who
in the past have been persecuted by their neighbors including
the Kurds primarily because of their faith should not be victimized
for the sake of Kurds' national ambitions. During the last few
decades Kurds have changed their predatory practices against
their Assyrian neighbors but falsely explaining their New Year
celebration as an anti Assyrian crusade transforms their Nowroz
into a day of hate mongering rather than celebrating the change of the year and renewal of nature
which historically have been the reasons for its observance. Rev. sep. 08
1 - http://www.payvand.com/news/06/mar/1209.html
2- James B. Pritchard edit. The ancient Near East, An Anthology
of Texts and Pictures, Princeton University Press 1958 p. 203.
3 - ibid p. 204.
4 - ibid pp. 206-8.
5 - ibid p.207.
6 - http://www.hope.edu/academic/religion/bandstra/RTOT/CH10/CH10_2.HTM
7 - J.E. Curtis and J. E. reade editors, Art and Empire, Treasures
form Assyria in the British Museum, the trustee of the British
Museum, 1995 p. 37A - http://www.omniglot.com/writing/opcuneiform.htm
8 - Burn, Andrew Robert "Persia and the Greeks, the Defense
of the West 546-478 B.C.", Stm Marin's Press, Inc. 1968
9 - Alexander Heidel, "The Babylonian Genesis, The Story
of Creation", The University of Chicago Press 1951 pp. 16-17.
10- Green, Peter "Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 N.C. A historical
biography" copyright 1991, p. 314.)
11 - Henri , Grankfort, "Kingship and the Gods, as Study
of the ancient Near Eastern religions", Chicago University
Press 1948 p.320.
12 - Nafissi, Saeid "Masseheyat Dar Iran", Noor Jahan
Tehran, Iran 1964 pp. 40-41.
13 - Massoume, "Iranian New Year Nowruz", @ http://persia.org/Culture/nowruz.html,
14 - Kids Discover 'Mesopotamia', Kids Discover 2000 p. 2 .
15 - Joan Oates, "Babylon"Thames and Hudson 1979 page
16 - http://ragz-international.com/mesopotamiancalander.htm
17 - ibid.
18 - Newroz @ http://homepages.tig.com.au/~simko/newroz.html
19 - Ferdosi, "Shah-Nameh", Moasseseh Chaap was Entesharrat
Ameir Kabeir, Tehran Iran, Chaape sevome 1344 pp.28-35.
20 - http://www.farhangsara.com/shanhnameh_shahsofold3.htm
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