a cura di
Fabulous Creatures and Spirits
in Ancient Iranian Culture
Proceedings of a Workshop held on May 3rd 2016
at the Near Eastern Department, University of California Berkeley
piazza San Martino 9/C
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Redazione: Loris Di Bella, Camilla Vincenzi
Copyright © 2018 by Gruppo Persiani Editore Srls
TUTTI I DIRITTI RISERVATI – Printed in Italy
Bird-Men and Other Hybrids: Some Central Asian Representations
of Zoroastrian Yazatas ............................................................................
e senmurv and Other Mythical Creatures with Sasanian
Iconography in the Medieval Art of Armenia and Transcaucasia ....
Notes on the Iconography of the senmurv ............................................
Iranian in the Hekhalot .........................................................................
Ionas Renatus .........................................................................................
Images of the Gorgon in Persian Tradition
and Islamic Book Illustrations .............................................................
e senmurv and Other Mythical Creatures
with Sasanian Iconography in the Medieval Art
of Armenia and Transcaucasia
Yerevan State University
Cultural intercommunication between Armenia and Persia has a his-
tory of at least 2500 years, the Middle Ages constituting an important
part of it. Historical and linguistic ties between the Armenians and
Persians have been quite circumstantially studied, but as far as art
history is concerned, there is still much work to be done, especially
given the fact that a number of images, compositions and symbolic
elements found in Armenian art have Sasanian prototypes.1 Special
mention should be made of the mythological animals that were wide-
spread in the art of Ancient Iran. is article dwells on some of these
creatures, the earliest specimen of which – the senmurv – is found in
medieval Armenian art from the seventh century onwards.
Known from Iranian culture, the senmurv is a hybrid mytholog-
ical beast with a dog’s head and a bird’s – mostly peacock’s –2 tail
and wings, sometimes also with sh scales. Unlike a number of other
mythological creatures of the Ancient Orient, it is closely connect-
ed with Iranian mythology,3 its canonical iconography having been
1 M. Compareti, 2010, pp. 201-232; Mikayelyan, 2013b, pp. 112-122.
2 e Armenian equivalent of peacock is «սիրամարգ» [siramarg] («սինամարգ»
[sinamarg] in its primary form), which derives from the old and new Persian
forms sēn-i-murūk, sīnmurū and sīmurγ. See: Acharian, 1979, Vol. , p. 219.
3 Identication of this creature with the bird Saena of Avesta and senmurv of the
late Sasanian sources was rst made by K. Trever in the 30s of the last century
and predominated in the literature till recent times. According to her opinion,
formed in the late Sasanian art (from fth to seventh century) became
quite widespread in it4 (Fig. 1). According to the latest researches
the senmurv was viewed as a personication of the Zoroastrian gods
Verethragna5 and Khwarenah (Farr, Farn5) – the royal glory, fortune
and divine patronage.6 e depiction of this beast in Christian art
dates from the Sasanians’ times: now it acquired a new interpretation,
indeed, partly preserving its former symbolism.7 Like almost all other
mythological creatures, the senmurv was viewed in Christian art as
symbolising supernatural forces. It was also considered as a protector
and a mediator between the secular and heavenly worlds.
Remarkable specimens of the senmurv, as depicted in Sasanian
and early Islamic art, are preserved on expensive dishes, stucco and
textiles.8 In most of these examples, the animal has oral elements –
namely half palmettes or so-called Sasanian owers – on its body, for
the accentuation of the fact that it represented the deity of nature and
fertility.9 It should be noted that the images of mythical beasts which
were particularly widely used in decorative and applied arts during
the Islamic period penetrated into the cultures of the neighbouring
senmurv (and its famous images in art) embodied three elements and it was a
fertility deity, living on the “Tree of All Seeds” (Trever, 1938). However, this
hypothesis has been recently revised on the basis of new discoveries and re-
readings of sources. e traditional senmurv is now considered by most scholars
as the incarnation of Farn, whereas his literary prototype most likely represented
a huge bird similar to a peacock, eagle or phoenix, like Simorgh in the poem
Shahnameh (Compareti, 2006, pp. 185-200).
4 David Stronach sees the prototype of this gure in Achaemenid art, particularly
in the composition of the rhytons with long horns and animal (often grin)
foreparts. See the following article in this collection. Stronach, 2017.
5 Trever, Lukonin, 1987, p. 37; p. 56.
6 Shenkar, 2013, pp. 427-451; Compareti, 2013, pp. 20-21.
7 Trever, 1938, pp. 33-34; Grabar, 1971, pp. 679-707.
8 Orbeli, Trever, 1935, fig. 35, 40, 43, 48; Trever, Lukonin, 1987, fig. 21, 30;
Trever, 1938, g. 5, 8; Harper, 1978, g. 34, 50, 60.
9 Mikayelyan, 2016, pp. 171-173.
Christian peoples thanks to the rapid development of cities and trades.
e earliest representation of the senmurv in Armenia and through-
out Eastern Christian art has been recently revealed in the exterior
decoration of Ejmiacin Cathedral. According to the results of the
studies carried out by A. Kazaryan in 2005, most part of the drum of
the Cathedral, together with the pilasters and representations of the
apostles, dates from 620, when Catholicos Komitas (613-628) imple-
mented some reconstruction there. e senmurv in question is carved
on the capital of one of the northern half-columns of the drum (Fig.
3).10 It is quite large and depicted on the front of the capital. In ico-
nography, this senmurv is very similar to the Sasanian specimens dat-
ing from the same period, particularly to those depicted on Khusraw
Parvēz ’s (590-628) royal garment in the relief (late sixth century)
at Taq-i Bustan (Fig. 2).11
We think it is not by chance that the earliest representation of the
senmurv in Eastern Christian art is an Armenian one. In the Early
Middle Ages, Armenia was partitioned between two powerful em-
pires, Byzantium and Sasanian Iran, this implying active and direct
cultural intercourse with both of them.12 With this regard, particular-
ly important were the events marking the rst quarter of the seventh
century, when king Khusraw Parvēz , known for encouraging an-
ti-Byzantine moods in Armenia, convened the Council of Ctesiphon
(612/613), during which Komitas Aghtsetsy was elected Catholicos
of Armenia. e rebuilding of Ejmiacin Cathedral was a good oppor-
tunity for the Catholicos to have the Iranian creature – the senmurv
– in the monument.
Before the revelation of the relief of Ejmiacin, the earliest speci-
men of the senmurv in Eastern Christian and, particularly, Transcau-
10 Kazaryan, 2007, pp. 89-90, fig. 86.
11 Harper, 1978, pp. 120-125, g. 34a-b; Cheibi, 2006, g. 210.
12 Garsoïan, 1985; Garsoïan, 1997, pp. 9-33; Yuzbashian, 1996; Russell, 2004;
casian art was the one in Ateni Sion13 (Fig. 4). is church, dating
from the second half of the seventh century, is located in Georgia, but
it has a construction inscription in Armenian stating that it was built
on the order of an Armenian named Todosak.14 e monument is
richly adorned with reliefs some of which have iconographic similar-
ities with Iranian art: thus, in a scene of royal hunting decorating its
western façade, the archer is depicted in the position of the so-called
Parthian shot.15 It is beyond doubt that this relief is a contemporary
of the church as it is implemented right on its masonry stones. In
contrast to it, the relief of the senmurv, adorning the same façade,
diers in both the quality and colour of the stone, which suggests that
it was set into the church wall only later.
e senmurv’s relief in Ateni has certain peculiarities which make it
considerably dierent from the seventh century specimen of the same
creature found in Ejmiacin. In contrast to the latter’s feathered tail,
the former’s tail is stylised and has turned into a geometrical one16.
e novelty is that the senmurv of Ateni has a band which is attached
to its wing and descends down its tail. It is interesting to note that
the Sasanian specimens of the senmurv do not wear a band, but this
iconographic detail is seen on a tenth century Byzantine agstone of
marble (unclosed in Asia Minor) which is adorned with two senmur-
vs17 (Istanbul Archaeology Museum) (Fig. 5). With this regard, spe-
cial mention should be made of W. Djobadze’s statement, according
to which, dimples intended for incrustation are used in the relief of
the senmurv of Ateni. Similar dimples can also be seen in such Tran-
scaucasian monuments of the tenth century as the Mother Church of
Khakhu Monastery in Tayk and Sourb Khach (Holy Cross) Church
13 Aladashvili, 1977, pp. 229-233, g. 228.
14 Muradyan, 1985, pp. 93-112 (see this work for a tracing of the inscription and
special literature on the issue); Kazaryan, 2012-2013, Vol. , pp. 401-402.
15 Hakobyan, 2008, pp. 5-12.
16 Trever, 1938, pp. 51-52, g. 7; Aladashvili, 1977, p. 230, fig. 46.
17 Grabar, 1963, p. 107, pl. ; Firatli, 1990, g. 343-344.
of Aghtamar Island in Vaspurakan (both in modern Turkey).18 In the
tenth century, Ateni Sion underwent some overhaul, during which
the donors’ representations were undoubtedly made.19 We think that
the senmurv’s relief should be traced back to the same period.
Indeed, by re-tracing the senmurv of Ateni back to the tenth cen-
tury, we do not at all “tear” it away from Armenian environment,20
as the aforementioned donors’ representations, set onto the eastern
façade of the church in the tenth century, have Armenian inscrip-
tions.21 What is most important for our study, the heads of the princ-
es depicted in these images have ying bands22 which are identical to
the Sasanian kings’ llets of honour.23 us, both stages of the con-
struction activities carried out in Ateni Sion manifest Iranian icono-
graphic themes so that even this monument is enough to attest to the
long-lasting inuence of Persian culture in the region of Caucasia.
Beginning with the tenth century, a new stage of the use of Sasa-
nian iconographic themes is observed in Armenian and Transcauca-
sian art, one of the most remarkable manifestations of this period
being the sculptural decoration of Holy Cross Church (915-921) of
Aghtamar Island (Lake Van) with its mythological animals.24 Here
special mention should be made of a large composition on its south-
ern façade: it depicts the story of Jonah the Prophet (Jonah 1:1-16,
2:1-10) and shows the sea monster twice, one of which, with a sh
18 Djobadze, 1986, p. 90.
19 Abramishvili, 1972, pp. 32-55.
20 In the early tenth century, the lands in the neighborhood of Ateni (Uplistsikhe)
formed part of the domains of the Bagratids of Shirak. See Eghiazarh’an, 2011,
21 Muradyan, 1985, pp. 94-98, pp. 105-106; ierry, Donabédian, 1987, pp.
22 ierry, Donabédian, 1987, fig. 353-354.
23 Mikayelyan, 2013a, pp. 64-72.
24 Orbeli, 1968, pp. 81-204; Der-Nersesian, 1969; Mnatsakanyan, 1983;
Matevosyan, 2013, pp. 50-83.
body and a dog’s (bear’s?) head, is carved below the anchor, at the
moment of devouring Jonah. e other, placed to the right, shows
the same monster after vomiting Jonah onto the dry land. Here, sur-
prising as it is, the monster becomes identical to the senmurv, as it is
depicted with a dog’s head and paws, open jaws, bird’s wings and a
sh body with a scaly tail (Fig. 6). I. Orbeli was the rst scholar to
speak about the iconographic similarities between the sea monster of
Aghtamar and the senmurv.25 According to K. Trever, the senmurv was
sometimes depicted with scales and a sh tail, as a symbol of water,
one of the elements of nature.26 Medieval Armenian art has preserved
only very few specimens of the senmurv, but apparently, Armenian
masters were well aware of the iconography of this mythological crea-
ture. Perhaps, this may be attested by the representation of the ser-
pent27 in the Genesis Cycle pictured in a fresco adorning the drum of
the church of Aghtamar: here the snake has paws, wings, an oblong
snoot and ears, like a dragon-senmurv28 (Fig. 7).
e High Middle Ages were marked with increased representa-
tions of the senmurv and other mythological creatures in Transcauca-
sian monuments. e earliest specimens of such beasts were carved in
the church of the Holy Cross (Aghtamar) in the early tenth century.
ey became widespread between the late tenth and early eleventh
centuries, growing particularly abundant in the thirteenth century.
Iranian iconography is also reected in the art of the Bagratids of
Ani. Once the prosperous capital of a powerful kingdom, Ani boasted
rich cultural heritage most of which has not come down to our days.
Almost no frescoes have survived; only certain manuscripts and very
few specimens of sculpture are preserved, but even these meagre rem-
nants are enough to attest to rich and multilateral cultural ties and
inuence. us, two manuscripts, the Gospel of Moghni (Ms7736,
25 Orbeli, 1968, p. 91; p. 127, pl. -.
26 Trever, 1938, pp. 40-41, g. 2.
27 ierry, 1983, pp. 289-329.
28 Curatola, 1978, pp. 285-302; Compareti, 2009-2010, pp. 30-31.
second half of the eleventh century) and another Gospel, dating from
1053 (Ms3793) – both tracing back to the late period of the Bagrat-
ids’ reign (Matenadaran, Research Institute of Manuscripts after M.
Mashtots, Yerevan), are adorned with mythological creatures such as
the grin, winged lion and dog (wolf?), sphynx, siren, centaur and
dragon29 (Fig. 8). e iconography of these creatures shows the inu-
ence of Islamic art, which is also attested by the use of the Kuc script
in the decoration of one of the khorans – Canon Tables of the Gospel of
Moghni (fol. 7v).30
e other, so-called Georgian branch of the Bagratids who reigned
in Tayk31 had a period of cultural ourishing particularly in the days
of David Curopalate (960-1001). e western façade of the Cathe-
dral of Oshk (963-973), built on David Bagratid’s order, is adorned
with a number of mythical beasts, including the senmurv (Fig. 10).
As far as Georgian monuments are concerned, the image of the
senmurv embellishes: the eastern façade and cornice of the church of
Martvili (mid-tenth century) (Fig. 9); the eastern façade of the church
of Khtsisi (1002);32 the western façade of the Cathedral of Bagrat
(1003), and the drum of the church of Nikortsminda (1010-1014).33
Apart from the senmurv, the sculptural decoration of these Georgian
churches also comprises other hybrid creatures.
e senmurv is again seen in Armenian art in the thirteenth centu-
ry, which marked the second stage of the ourishing of the capital of
29 Izmailova, 1986, g. 16, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33.
30 Izmailova, 1986, g. 31.
31 Tayk, one of the 15 provinces of Armenia Maior, belonged to the Mamikonians’
princely family until the third quarter of the eighth century. In the post-Arabic
period, their estates were inherited by the younger branch of the Bagratids
called “Georgian” because of their adherence to the Chalcedonian faith.
ey remained connected with Armenian culture although their heritage also
contains certain Byzantine and Georgian elements. As a result of this, the
inuence of three cultural traditions is clearly seen in Tayk.
32 Shmerling, 1955, g. 13, pl. 48b.
33 Aladashvili, 1977, g. 155, 171, 174, 175, 177; Djobadze, 1986, pp. 90-92.
Ani. e animal is particularly seen in the Armenian Chalcedonian
frescoes of the church of St. Gregory (Tigran Honents, 1215): two
pairs of senmurvs within frames are depicted above the entrance of
the southern pastophory of the church (Fig. 11),34 this being a repro-
duction from some Oriental textile, according to N. Marr.35 And this
is true: the senmurvs of the church of St. Gregory retain a number of
details – the form of the dog’s head, the lavish bird tail, raised wings
and the enclosing within frames – coming from Sasanian and early
Indeed, the spread of Iranian themes in Christian art was not
conned to only the region of Transcaucasia. Mythological creatures
grew widespread throughout the Christian world, from Byzantium
to Western Europe. As far as Byzantine art is concerned, the rep-
resentation of the senmurv goes back to the period of iconoclasm (for
instance, the frescoes of the churches Agach Alti, Cappadocia (Fig.
12), and Al Oda, Isauria, when it was depicted within medallions.37
Of great interest is the senmurv carved on one of the towers of Con-
stantinople38 (Fig. 13) and attributed to the rst half of the ninth
century: probably, it was perceived as a symbol of protection. Byzan-
tine masters used the image of the senmurv in their works, examples
of which are the aforementioned agstone (tenth century),39 several
caskets of the Middle Byzantine Period40 as well as the fresco of the
church of Parigoritissa, Arta (Greece, thirteenth century).41 Likewise,
34 ierry, ierry, 1993, p. 111; p. 155.
35 Marr, 1907.
36 An abundance of animals and birds, both real and mythical (such as the sirens,
for instance), are also found in the exterior decorative band of St. Gregory
Church. See ierry, ierry, 1993, pp. 114-117.
37 ierry, ierry, 1963, p. 84, pl. 43a; ierry, 2002, p. 142, sch. 50.
38 Eyice, 1966, pp. 110-119.
39 See note 17.
40 Goldschmidt, Weitzmann 1930, pl. -107a, -108.
41 Eyice, 1966, p. 116.
the senmurv’s image is found in the culture of Ancient Russia, form-
ing one of the parts of the Byzantine cultural World: ancient Russians
had the cult of the simargl, a similar creature considered as a guardian
In the High Middle Ages, Iranian iconographic themes penetrated
into Byzantium and partly into Western Europe through Islamic art,
which in its turn, had formed under the great inuence of Sasanian
art.43 e best example is the sculptural decoration of the palace of
Mshatta (Umayyad period, mid-eighth century) comprising a great
number of birds and animals, including the grin, centaur and sen-
murv44 (Fig. 14). e senmurv is later frequently mentioned in epic
poems, fairy tales and mystic literature of the post-Sasanian period,
particularly in Shahnameh (tenth century) by Firdusi.45
Another mythical creature widespread in Armenian and Transcau-
casian art is the grin, the solar symbol in Ancient Orient culture.
e image of the grin became widespread in the art of Achaemenid
Iran, being particularly depicted on capitals in Persepolis and on the
foreparts of some silver rhytons. A remarkable specimen of the grin
– a horned one now in the British Museum – is found at the forepart
of a silver rhyton found in Yerznka (now in Turkey). Grin fore-
parts are also seen in the well-known Parthian rhytons of ivory from
Nisa.46 In Sasanian art, grin was the symbol of royalty and power,
as is evidenced by bronze furniture legs with the forepart of a grin
and lion’s paw of seventh to eighth centuries (Metropolitan Museum,
State Hermitage etc.).47 Some silver dishes of the Sasanian period are
also adorned with images of grins48 (Fig. 15). In 1907 three silver
42 Rybakov, 1967, pp. 91-116; Lelekov, 1978, pp. 24-26.
43 Ettinghausen, 1972; Grabar, 1973, pp. 197-200; Cutler, 2009.
44 Grabar, 1987, pp. 243-247.
45 Trever, 1938, p. 20; Schmidt, 2002.
46 See Stronach’s paper in this same volume.
47 Harper, 1978, pp. 97-100; Trever, Lukonin, 1987, g. 101, 123.
48 Kargar, 2008, g. 93; Trever, Lukonin, 1987, g. 101.
plates of the Sasanian era were unearthed in Gavar, Armenia, one of
them being adorned with a remarkable grin in canonical iconogra-
phy (Pergamon Museum, Berlin49) (Fig. 16).
e earliest representation of the grin in the early medieval art of
Armenia was found and described by B. Arakelian on a capital in the
chapel of the old cemetery of Yeghvard: this capital, dating from the
fth to seventh centuries (preserved only the picture).50
Other representations of the grin in medieval Armenian art
date from the tenth century. e earliest of them is the relief on the
southern façade of Aghtamar’s Holy Cross Church: the huge grin
has a lion’s body and paws, as well as an eagle’s head and wings, ful-
ly conforming to the canonical iconography of this hybrid creature
(Fig. 18). Its raised wings are adorned with a necklace-like band (its
dimples used to be encrusted),51 its tail is ended with a half palmette
which is also depicted on the other parts of the animal’s body. Such
artistic manner of decoration of the beast’s torso with half palmettes
and other plant elements were obviously originated from Sasanian
Another large representation of the grin can be seen on the
southern portal of the main church (late tenth century) of Khakhu
Monastery, Tayk (now in Turkey).53 e animal is depicted as sitting,
its body adorned with necklaces comprising similar frames and little
bells (Fig. 17). e iconography and decorative details of the grins
of both Khakhu and Aghtamar make them very similar to the Sasa-
49 Khurshudyan, 2003, pp. 248-290.
50 Ar'aqelyan, 1949, pp. 84-85, sch. 65.
51 In Sasanian art, animals were decorated with necklaces and bands in token
of their belonging to the royal paradise or symbolizing their divine essence.
Besides, according to Zoroastrian beliefs, the pheasant, with a necklace hanging
from its beak, symbolized benevolence. See: Lukonin, 1977, p. 197; p. 206;
Mikayelyan, 2013a, pp. 64-72.
52 Mikayelyan, 2016, pp. 171-173.
53 Aladashvili, 1977, p. 104.
nian specimens.54 In Tayk, representations of the grin can also be
seen in Oshk Monastery: on the western façade of its main church
(Fig. 18), on the cornice of its drum, and on the northern entrance
tympanum of the smaller monastic church.55
As far as Transcaucasian specimens of the grin are concerned,
mention should be made of the one decorating the eastern façade of
the church of Samtavisi (1030) (Fig. 19). It is a huge one, like that
of Aghtamar, and has canonical iconongraphy. Its tail similarly ends
in a stylised half palmette, its neck and arm being adorned with a
necklace. e grin is part of the decoration of the western façade
and eastern cornice of the church of Martvili; of the western portal of
the Cathedral of Bagrat as well as of the western façade and the drum
cornice of Nikortsminda.56
Half lion and half eagle, the grin was viewed within the context
of Christian art as a benevolent animal that guarded and protect-
ed against evil forces. At the same time, it symbolised nobility and
power:57 for this reason, in the reliefs of Aghtamar, it is carved side
by side with the Artsrunies’ sanctied ancestors, being also placed on
the right side of the entrance to the king’s gallery. In the church of
Khakhu, the grin is viewed as an apotropaios, being placed on the
left side of the principal entrance to the church (Fig. 17).
e construction history of the Transcaucasian churches enriched
with the senmurv and grin shows that all of them were built on the
order of the supreme authorities of the corresponding countries, be-
ing intended as cathedrals or bishop residences. us, the church of
Aghtamar was built by king of Vaspurakan Gagik Artsruny to serve
as the main church of the royalty. e church of Khakhu and Oshk
Cathedral were erected on the order of David Curopalate, the gov-
ernor of Tayk. e church of Martvili was founded by Abkhazian
54 Hakobyan, 2017, pp. 68-69.
55 Djobadze, 1986, pl. 13(1).
56 See note 33.
57 Vagner, 1962, pp. 82-86; Darkevich, 1975, p. 310, note 416.
king Giorgi , the Cathedral of Kutayis and Nikortsminda on the
order of King Bagrat , and Samtavisi was a bishop’s residence. e
rich sculptural decoration of all these churches accentuates the idea
of power, which is also expressed through mythological animals. It is
interesting to note that in some countries representing the Eastern
branch of Christianty (Ancient Russia and Serbia, for instance), the
churches with mythical animals (senmurv, grin, siren, centaur, etc.)
in their decoration were similarly built by kings or ruling princes:
the palace church of St. Dmitri in Vladimir, built in 1191 by Prince
Vsevolod; the church of Ravanica in Serbia built between 1375 and
1377 by Prince Lazar Hrebemenović, etc.58
Both in Aghtamar and in Khakhu, the grin is a hybrid, symbol-
ically comprising a bird which is like a pheasant in Khakhu, while
in Aghtamar its head is shaped like that of a ram (Fig. 20), namely
it is a fantastic creature. e ram-and-bird combination in a single
image, as seen in Aghtamar, is perhaps something rare so that there
is no term for it. As far as iconography is concerned, a parallel can be
found in Sasanian art:59 the gypsum slab with a ram’s head (fth cen-
tury) from the palace of Kish (Field Museum of National Heritage,
Iraq) (Fig. 21), the ram’s head being the most remarkable part of this
slab. e ram (or goat), often with a band, is known in Sasanian art
as the personication of Khwarenah,60 and most probably, it conveys
the same meaning on the façade of Aghtamar, as it accompanies the
images of the sanctied ancestors of the royal family, just like the
grin. e church of Aghtamar is a unique monument represent-
ing a harmonious intertwinement of Christian and ancient Oriental
iconographic elements.61 Indeed, the numerous real and mythological
images (including two sirens and a sphynx) depicted on the church
58 Vagner, 1969; Gladkaia, 2009; Maksimovich, 1971.
59 Compareti, 2009-2010, p. 30.
60 Rak, 1998, p. 467; Lukonin, 1977, p. 206.
61 Orbeli, 1968, pp. 168-204; Marshak, Raspopova, 1985, pp. 180-182; Jones,
2007, pp. 143-150.
symbolise the Heavenly World, this being conrmed by the Anony-
mous Continuator of chronicler Tovma Artsruny, who compares the
church of the Holy Cross with New Jerusalem and New Zion.62 What
is noteworthy, when some of these hybrid creatures (the siren, sphy-
nx, winged lion, etc.) are depicted on khachkars – cross-stones, they
are usually placed on its upper part, on the cornice, which symbolises
the Heavenly World (an example is the 1601 cross-stone of Jugha63).
Mythical animals as well as dierent birds64 can also be seen on the
preserved specimens of royal clothing. With this regard, special men-
tion should be made of a relief of Gagik Artsruny carved on the west-
ern façade of the church of Aghtamar and showing him in full royal
attire as standing before Christ and holding a model of the church
(Fig. 22). His mantle, made of expensive Oriental fabric, has a motif
of intertwining circles in which small ducks are depicted, like on the
textiles of Sasanian and Post-Sasanian period.65
e representation of David Curopalate, on the southern façade of
the church of Oshk Monastery, is another example of the depiction of
birds on expensive garments. e two Bagratid brothers, David and
Bagrat, who are portrayed on both sides of the Deisis, are dressed in
garments of expensive Oriental fabric which are enriched with oral
and geometrical motifs. As David was the reigning prince, his mantle
is adorned with birds (eagles?) within medallions, a heart-shaped or-
nament hanging from the beak of each of them (Fig. 23).
62 Tovma Artsruni, 2006, p. 328.
63 Petrosyan, 2008, pp. 274-277, g. 331.
64 According to Zoroastrian tradition, such birds as the pheasant, partridge and
duck were the benevolent and divinity symbols. Especially we have such an
example of the pheasant with nimbus on Sasanian silver vase of the seventh
century from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: Harper, 1978, pp. 63-65, g.
21; Lukonin, 1977, p. 197. e Avesta mentions a predator called Varagn (an
eagle or a hawk) which is presented as one of the incarnations of Verthragna, the
God of war and victory. It was also considered an embodiment of Khwarenah
symbolising divine grace. See: Rak 1998, p. 341; p. 467.
65 Harper, 1978, pp. 119-140.
Another example is the family portrait of King Gagik in the Gospel
of Kars (1064, e Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Ms 2556,
fol. 135v).66 e king’s attire is adorned with large medallions inside
which rams (goats?) are depicted as holding leaves in their mouths.
e queen’s garments are decorated with birds (peacocks, pheasants)
enclosed within circles, and the princess wears clothing featuring
large, heart-shaped leaves. Even the rug on which the royal family
is sitting is decorated with images of elephants and birds enclosed
e expensive Oriental fabrics were reproduced in manuscripts,
including Cilician ones. Special mention should be made of the rep-
resentations of Cilician king Levon in the Gospels illuminated by
Toros Roslin: they show the king as wearing clothing of expensive silk
embellished with animals within medallions (Fig. 25). In one of them
(Ms8321, fol. 15r, Matenadaran, Yerevan), we see lions, and in the
other, a Gospel of 1262 (Ms2660, e Armenian Patriarchate of Je-
rusalem), both real and mythical animals. A miniature adorning this
Gospel presents King Levon and the future queen, Keran (fol. 288),
as receiving blessing from Christ. Keran’s attire shows crown-bearing
sirens; Levon’s clothing is embellished with lions, his mantle featur-
ing sirens within medallions, although this time their iconography
is dierent and they have a man’s face, with eagles between them.67
ese creatures, depicted on the splendid clothing of the royal cou-
ple, symbolise their nobility and stress that they enjoy divine grace. It
is interesting to note that a duplicate of the fabric of Levon’s mantle,
with the same embellishment and iconography of the sirens (with
a man’s face), can be seen in another miniature by Roslin, in e
Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Ms W539, fol. 211r, Walters Art
Gallery, Baltimore) (Fig. 26). Here the covering of the Holy Altar is
66 Narkiss, Stone, 1979, pp. 32-33.
67 Der Nersessian, 1993, pp. 154-156, g. 640; Evans, 1996, pp. 485-507;
Chookaszian, 2000-2001, p. 74.
made of the same fabric (Fig. 26a and 25a),68 this showing that such
textiles were also used in the church ritual. at the expensive fabrics
with images of mythical animals were used for dierent purposes in
Sasanian culture is attested by P. Harper, who states that many ne
textiles were worn by nobles or used as hangings in the royal court.69
is is best proved by the frescoes (seventh to eighth centuries) of the
palace of Sogd (Panjakent, Afrasiyab), which contain numerous im-
ages of noblemen dressed in garments made of such fabrics.70
In the Middle Ages, the expensive Oriental textiles were in high
demand in the Byzantine court as well, but they rarely show gures
in purely Sasanian iconography. A luxurious lining of silk, with im-
ages of ducks within circles, is found in the mantle of Justinian the
Great in the mosaic of San Vitale (546-548, Ravenna). e frescoes of
Karabaş Kilise (1060-1061), in Cappadocia, show the donator of the
church, protospatharius Michael Skepidis, as richly dressed in gar-
ments adorned with birds within medallions which are embellished
with pearls (Fig. 24).71 And nally, a Byzantine miniature shows Em-
peror Alexei wearing garments which are adorned with a grin
within a circle and images of running animals (foxes?) (rst half of the
fourteenth century, e Annals of Niketas Choniates, National Library
of Vienna, Gr. 53, fol. 291v).72
All the aforementioned creatures, the senmurv, grin as well as
the mythical and real birds which were the fruits of ancient Orien-
tal beliefs and ideas were widely used in Sasanian culture through
which they penetrated into Christian and Islamic art, acquiring new
symbolical signicance and connotations. e penetration of certain
images, compositions and decorative elements from Sasanian culture
into Christian art was due to the multilateral cultural intercommuni-
68 Der Nersessian, 1973, g. 112.
69 Harper, 1961, p. 95.
70 Compareti, 2015, pp. 36-44, g. 5-6.
71 ierry, 2002, sch. 71.
72 Spatharakis, 1976, p. 152, g. 99.
cation among the nations of the Near East, Armenia playing an im-
portant role in this intercourse. is was rstly due to the geograph-
ical position of the country, being also conditioned by the political73
and historico-cultural situation of those times. Medieval Armenian
art contains the earliest reections of Iranian mythological images
which show a wide variety and have been preserved both in Armenian
and Transcaucasian monuments since times bygone.
73 In the ninth-tenth centuries, the reigning Armenian principalities, the
Bagratids of Shirak and the Artzrunies of Vaspurakan, entered into active
political intercourse with the Arab Caliphate. According to the chronicler
Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsy, in those times the international commercial
routes connecting Byzantium and the Caliphate passed through Armenia. See
Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi, 1996, p. 151.
Fig. 1. Sasanian silver plate, seventh–eighth cc., senmurv, State Hermitage
Museum, St. Petersburg (after I. Orbeli, K. Trever).
Fig. 2. Taq-i Bustan relief, late sixth c., senmurv, a detail of the royal garment
of Khusraw (after K. Trever).
Fig. 3. Ejmiacin Cathedral (reconstruction of around 620), senmurv on the
capital of one of the north half-columns of the drum (after A. Kazaryan).
Fig. 4. Ateni Sion (Cathedral), seventh-tenth cc, senmurv on the west façade
Fig. 5. Byzantine marble relief, tenth c., senmurv, Istanbul Archaeology
Museum (after A. Grabar).
Fig. 6. Church of Holy Cross on Agthamar, 915-921, Sea-beast or senmurv
on the south façade (photo: authors).
Fig. 7. Church of Holy Cross on Agthamar, 915-921, the drawing of the
serpent from the drum frescoes (after N. ierry).
Fig. 8. Gospel of Moghni (Ms7736), second half of the eleventh c., Nilotic
scene and fabulous creatures, the tympanum of the Canon Table (fol. 4v),
Matenadaran, Yerevan (after T. Izmailova).
Fig. 9. Martvili Cathedral, tenth c., senmurv on the frieze of the east façade
(photo: A. Asryan).
Fig. 10. Oshk Cathedral, 963-973, senmurv and Gryphon, the double-
archivolt of the central window of the west façade (photo: A. Asryan).
Fig. 11. Church of St. Gregory (Tigran Honents), Ani, 1215, senmurvs, the
fragment of the fresco over the entrance of the south pastophory (photo:
Research on Armenian Architecture).
Fig. 12. Agach Alti kilise, Cappadocia, eighth-ninth cc., senmurv, the
fragment of the frescoes (after N. ierry).
Fig. 13. e image of senmurv from a tower of Constantinople, the rst half
of the ninth c. (after S. Eyice).
Fig. 14. Mshatta, Umayyad palace, mid-eighth c., senmurv, a detail of the
façade decoration, Pergamon Museum, Berlin (photo: authors).
Fig. 15. Sasanian gilt silver vessel, sixth-seventh cc. Golestan Museum,
Tehran (photo: National Museum of Iran).
Fig. 16. Sasanian gilt silver plate, sixth-seventh cc. Pergamon Museum,
Berlin (after E. Khurshudyan).
Fig. 17. Khakhu Cathedral, tenth c., Gryphon, the relief of the south portal
(photo: Z. Sargsyan).
Fig. 18. Church of Holy Cross on Agthamar, 915-921, Gryphon, the relief
of the south façade (photo: authors).
Fig. 19. Samtavisi Cathedral, 1030, Gryphon, the relief of the east façade
Fig. 20. Church of Holy Cross on Agthamar, 915-921, Ram-bird, the relief
of the south façade (photo: authors).
Fig. 21. Kish palace, fth c., Ram’s head, stucco, Field Museum of National
Heritage, Iraq (after P. Harper).
Fig. 22. Church of Holy Cross on Agthamar, 915-921, king Gagik Artsruni,
drawing of the relief after P. Terlemezian, 1914.
Fig. 23. Oshk Cathedral, 963-973, kurapalates David Bagratid, drawing of
the relief (after W. Djobadze).
Fig. 24. Karabaş kilise, Cappadocia, 1060-1061, Michael Skepidis, drawing
from the frescoes (after N. ierry).
Fig. 25-25a. Cilician Gospel illustrated by Toros Roslin (Ms2660), 1262,
the royal portrait of King Levon and Queen Keran (fol. 288r), Armenian
Patriarchate of Jerusalem (after S. Der Nersesian).
Fig. 26-26a. Cilician Gospel illustrated by Toros Roslin (Ms W539),
thirteenth c., “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple” (fol. 211r ), Walters Art
Gallery, Baltimore (after S. Der Nersesian).
Fig. 11 Fig. 12
Fig. 13 Fig. 14
Fig. 15 Fig. 16
Fig. 23 Fig. 24
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