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Asparukh of Iberia
excerpt from: § 12. Iran, Armenia and Georgia - Cultural and religious contacts, in:
The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 3 (1), Part 4: Iran and her neighbours (Cambridge UP, 1983)
by David M. Lang, Professor of Caucasian Studies, University of London


Armenian personal names are very largely Iranian in origin, and predominantly Parthian. This will have become clear from the many names of kings and prominent personages cited earlier in this chapter. Frequently the names are compounds of names of Iranian gods the most common being of course Mithradates and Tiridates. (Tir was the Armenian counterpart of Mercury and Hermes.) The Armenian mother goddess, Anahit, also revered in Parthia, lives on today in the popular Armenian Christian name Anahit. Common Armenian names of Parthian origin include Tigran, Vahram, Suren, Babken, Khoren and Arshak. The Supreme Catholicos of All the Armenians since 1955, Vazken I, bears a name which goes back to Parthian times. It is also interesting to note that in 8th- and 9th-century Constantinople, when groups of ambitious Armenians were in the habit of seizing the throne for shorter or longer periods, they nearly always bore ancient Armenian names of the Parthian era: a Bardanes or Vardan was actually Emperor from 71 1 to 71 3, while other leading Byzantine generals and politicians included a Tiridates, several more Vardans, three individuals named Artavasdos, and even one Ardashr. [Charanis, The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire, p. 22; Cambridge Medieval History iv, pt. 1, pp. 21, 62, 75.]

With regard to proper names, the situation in Georgia is more complicated, partly as a result of the Greek and Roman settlements around the Black Sea coastline. As a result, Georgian personal names both in ancient and in modern times are a fascinating amalgam of local, indigenous ones, mingled with Classical, Biblical, Byzantine, Persian, and more recently, Russian, French and even English ones. During the period under review, a number of Parthian and Sasanian names feature in the annals of Georgia, such as Varaz-Bakur, Parnavaz, Mihran and Farsman (Farasmanes), also Mihrandukht and Bakurdukht. Alongside these we encounter other Iranian names like Artag, Ksefarnug and Asparukh, which have more in common with the Iranian steppe world of the Scythians and Alans, which extended down into North Caucasia. Asparukh was one of the prominent viceroys (pitiakhsh) of Iberia about A.D. 200: it is interesting to find this name cropping up later as that of a famous Sublime Khan of the Bulgars, who migrated from the North Caucasus in the 7th century and invaded the Balkans in the reign of the Emperor Constantine IV (A.D. 680-81). [Cambridge Medieval History iv, pt. 1, p. 484.]
 


Fig. 1. Intaglio sardonyx ring bezel of the pitakhsh (governor) Asparukh of Iberia, c. 200 A.D., 2 x 2 x 1.8 cm. From Armazi.


Unlike the Armenians, the Georgians later became very fond of Iranian romance and epic literature; translations of Firdaus's Shhnma and of Gurgn's Vs and Rmn make their appearance in later medieval times, while the Georgians were close neighbours of Nizm Ganjav (1140-1209). As a result, another wave of linguistic borrowings, including proper names, occurs during the Georgian Golden Age associated with the reign of Queen Tamar (1184-1213). The glories of the Sasanian era, and of Persian romantic literature, are conjured up in such popular Georgian names as Rostom, Kaikhosro and Vakhtang, also Leila and Nestan-Darejan.

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