ANĀHITĀ . Along with Mithra and Ahura Mazdā, Anāhitā is one of the major divinities of ancient Iran. Her cult grew from the Achaemenid to the Parthian period and extended beyond Iran during the rule of the Sasanids. In Armenia and in Asia Minor it flourished near Persian communities and was spread through the syncretic and eclectic activities of the Magi. As the Iranian great goddess, Anāhitā has multivalent characteristics: she is the divinity of royalty, of war, and of fertility, with which she is especially associated (Dumézil, 1947).
As Herodotos testifies, Anāhitā was of foreign origin, Assyrian and Arab. This is confirmed by the fact that her cult was not aniconic: according to Berossus, Artaxerxes II (404–359 bce) proclaimed the cult of the goddess throughout the empire, erecting statues of her. The Mesopotamian Ishtar, the divinity of the planet Venus, and the Elamite Nanā certainly exerted a strong influence on her development.
Anāhitā is an amalgam of an Iranian or Indo-Iranian divinity, the spirit of the waters that run down from the mythical Mount Harā, and the great goddess of Near Eastern tradition. Perhaps originally named *Harahvatī ("rich in waters"), she is analogous to the Indian goddess Sarasvatī (Lommel, 1954). The Avesta mentions the yazata Aredvī Sūrā Anāhitā—a name comprising three designations that reflect her multivalent character: "moist, strong, immaculate"—to whom the important hymn "of the waters" (Yashts 5) is dedicated. Achaemenid inscriptions, beginning with Artaxerxes II, invoke Anāhitā along with Mithra and Ahura Mazdā. Classical sources, especially Strabo, document the importance of the goddess's cult in the Parthian period. She had many Greek interpretations: from Aphrodite Ourania to Hestia, from Artemis to Athena.
Anāhitā gained in importance with the accession of the Sasanids, linked by tradition to the goddess's sanctuary at Stakhr, in Fārs. According to various sources at our disposal (Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic), the warlike character and regal nature of the great goddess are prominent under Sasanid rule. She appeared at the sovereigns' investiture (Göbl, 1960) and played a major role, not inferior to that of Ōhrmazd himself, as royal divinity, the source and protector of sovereignty.
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Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris