SEMITIC deities were introduced into the Armenian pantheon comparatively late, notwithstanding the fact that the Armenians had always been in commercial intercourse with their southern neighbours. It was Tigranes the Great (94-54 B.C.) who brought these gods and goddesses back from his conquests along with their costly statues (1). It is not easy to say how much of politics can be seen in this procedure. As a semi-barbarian, who had acquired a taste for western things, he surely was pleased with the aesthetic show and splendor of the more highly civilized Syrian empire of the Seleucids and its religion. He must have seen also some underlying identity between the Syrian deities and their Armenian brothers. However, in Armenia itself no real fusion took place between the native and foreign gods. The extant records show that out of all the Syrian gods and goddesses who migrated north, only Astghik (Astarte-Aphrodite) obtained a wide popularity. On the contrary, the others became little more than local deities, and that not without at first having encountered fierce opposition. The early stage of things is clearly reflected in the relation of Ba'al Shamin to Vahagn and in the manner in which he figures in the hero stories of Armenia as one who is discomfited or slain in battle. It is becoming more and more certain that almost all of these Semitic gods were brought from Phoenicia. But they hardly can have come in organized, coherent groups like Ba'al Shamin-Astghik as Jensen thinks in his fantastic Hittiter und Armenier. 
The one genuine Armenian myth about him that has survived is that Vahagn stole straw from him in a cold winter night. The Milky Way was formed from the straw that dropped along as the heavenly thief hurried away (4). This may be a distinctly Armenian but fragmentary version of the Prometheus legend, and the straw may well have something to do with the birth of fire. (See chapter on Vahagn.) Needless to say that the myth which was current even in Christian Armenia was not meant as a compliment to the foreign deity. It was an Armenian god playing a trick on a Syrian intruder. If Astghik was the wife of Ba'al Shamin, Vahagn won another victory over him, by winning her love. 
Nane is undoubtedly the Nana of ancient Babylonia, originally a Sumerian goddess. In Erech (Uruk), a city of South Babylonia, she was the goddess of the evening star and mistress of heaven. In fact, she was simply the Ishtar of Erech, the heroine of the famous Gilgamesh epic, a goddess of the life and activity of nature, of sensual love, of war and of death. Her statue had been in olden times captured by the Elamites, and its return to Erech was celebrated as a great triumph. Her worship in later times had spread broadcast west and north. She was found in Phrygia and even as far as Southern Greece. According to the First Book of the Maccabees (Chap. vi, v. 2) her temple at Elam contained golden statues and great treasures.
She may have come to Armenia long before Tigranes enriched the pantheon with Syrian and Phoenician gods. It is difficult to explain how she came to be called the daughter of Aramazd, unless she had once occupied an important position.
We hear nothing about orgiastic rites at her Armenian temple in Thil (the Talia of Ptolemy). On the contrary, in Hellenizing times she was identified with Athene (5), which perhaps means that she had gradually come to be recognised as a wise, austere and war-like goddess.
In view of their essential identity it was natural that some confusion should arise between Astghik and Anahit. So Vanagan Vartabed says: "Astarte is the shame of the Sidonians, whom the Syrians called Kaukabhta, the Greeks Aphrodite, and the Armenians Anahit." Either this medieval author meant to say Astghik instead of Anahit, or for him Astghik's name was not associated with sacred prostitution in Armenia.
The custom of flying doves at the Rose-Sunday of the Armenians in Shirag (see Chapter VIII) suggests a possible relation of Astghik to this festival, the true character of which will be discussed later.
Her memory is still alive in Sassoun (ancient Tarauntis), where young men endeavor to catch a glimpse of the goddess at sunrise when she is bathing in the river. But Astghik, who knows their presence, modestly wraps herself up with the morning mist. Her main temple was at Ashtishat, but she had also other sanctuaries, among which was that at Mount Palat or Pashat. 
As twins they were represented by Ashera at the door of Phoenician temples. According to the above mentioned  Sanchoniatho fragments, Sydyk was in Phoenicia the father of the seven Kabirs (great gods) and of Eshmun (Asklepios) called the Eighth. In conformity with this in Persian and Greek times Sedeq was recognized among the Syrians as the angel (genius) of the planet Jupiter, an indication that he once was a chief deity. This god may have had also some relation to the Syrian hero-god Sandacos mentioned by Apollodorus of Athens (7), while on the other hand Sandakos may be identified also with the Sanda of Tarsus. At all events Sandakos went to Cilicia and founded (i.e. he was the god of) the city of Celenderis and became through two generations of heroes the father of Adonis. Zatik, as well as Sedeq, was probably a vegetation god, like Adonis, whose resurrection began at the winter solstice and was complete in the spring. The spring festival of such a god would furnish a suitable name both for the Jewish passover and the Christian Easter. The spring celebrations of the death and resurrection of Adonis were often adopted and identified by the Christian churches with the Death and Resurrection of Christ. However, no trace of a regular worship of Zatik is found among the Armenians in historical times, although their Easter celebrations contain a dramatic bewailing, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Unsatisfactory as this explanation is, it would seem to come nearer the truth than Sandalgian's (supported by Tiryakian and others) identification of Zatik with the Persian root zad, "to strike," from which is probably derived the Armenian word zenum, " to slaughter."
Page opens in a separate window.
Return to Ananikian Table of Contents