Hail to Mithridates! The Pontic King Blessed by the Achaemenid Deity

Recorded: July 6, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 2
Citation: Mazhjoo, Nina. "Hail to Mithridates! The Pontic King Blessed by the Achaemenid Deity." Pourdavoud Institute: Achaemenid Workshop 2 (July 6, 2023).

by Nina Mazhjoo (University of Wrocław)

The use of the theonym “Miθra” as a component of theophoric names was prevalent among the nobles and royal families of the Achaemenid politico-cultural diaspora. About the mid-fourth century to mid-first century BCE, eleven kings of Pontus adopted Mithridates as their royal theophoric, while in Iran, it would begin to appear later during the time of the Parthians. The anthroponym Mithridates connotes a person given (blessed) by the Iranian yazata of oath and contract known as Miθra – a deity whose name first appeared on the royal inscriptions of Artaxerxes II, the Achaemenid king. The Greek historiography and related literature also reveal more than a passing acquaintance with the god and his theonym in the Hellenistic era. Accordingly, some scholars suggest that the widespread use of the theonym Miθra indicates an established cult dedicated to the yazata outside of the Zoroastrian pantheon under the Achaemenids. Others condemn this view, arguing it demonstrates little certainty of an independent Iranian cult inside and outside the deity’s homeland. This paper is an endeavor to examine the appropriation of the theophoric name Mithridates as an ongoing political strategy and a mode of Persianism in the Iranian cultural diaspora during the Hellenistic epoch. It proposes that the use of the anthroponym Mithridates was a deliberate political choice made by the Pontic kings to stress their self-identification as well as their perceived lineage back to the Achaemenids, which later imprinted the religiopolitical strategies of neighboring kingdoms such as Commagene.

About the Speaker

Nina Mazhjoo is a research associate in the NAWA project at Wrocław University and an affiliate assistant professor at Concordia University. She completed her Ph.D. in the History of Religion from Concordia University in 2019, researching the cultural transmission of Mithras from Iran to the Hellenistic and Roman world. Nina’s research interests include foreign cults of the Roman Empire (especially Mithraism), imperialism, and identity in the ancient world. She is currently working on her first monograph entitled “The Occidental Gaze of Roman Mithras,” which will be out in the Ancient Iran Series, a pre-reviewed book series published by Brill.