342 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
the beliefs of the Medes, mention has been made of the spirits of good and evil-the ahuras
and the devas of Iranic mythology. On one of the old pillars at Pasargadae^ thought to
have been erected by Cyrus the Great, is a colossal figure representing the Good Genius of
the Persian faith, the great angel Sraosha, one of the most benign conceptions found in
the records of paganism. The figure is that of a man with four wings outspread at the
shoulders, his hands lifted before a calm, pure face, as if in the act of conferring
blessings from the treasury of heaven.1 Upon his head rise the two spreading horns of
power, and between these on either side stands a small misshapen figure of a human being.
In the center of the outspread horns is a complex triple ornament, evidently symbolical,
but the sense not easily perceived. In many of the sculptures quaint diabolical figures
are seen representing the devas or mischievous imps whose business it was to torment human
life with vexations and spleen.
The belief in one supreme God and the detestation of the practices of idolatry were the
elements in the Persian faith upon which the strong religious sympathy heretofore referred
to as existing between the subjects of the Achaemenians and the Jews was founded. In these
respects the two peoples ran in the same channels of thought and practice, and the favor
shown the Jewish nation by Cyrus and Darius was evidently traceable to community of
By and by, in the latter days of the monarchy, when vice and luxury had sapped the heroic
virtues of the first age of Persian greatness, corruptions came in, and defiled the
primitive faith of the people. It was the story of Median apostasy repeated. The old
Scythic tribes inhabiting the country before the conquest by the Persians had been
Magians. This system had prevailed among the barbarous tribes of the Great Plateau before
the days of Zoroaster, so that the doctrines introduced by that reformer were superimposed
on a basis of
1 See Book Fourth, p. 219.
belief that was ever ready to rise up from the beds of human nature and reassert its
supremacy. Perhaps this sub-stratum of religious belief, combined with the general social
degeneration in the times of the later monarchy, made the purer doctrines of
Zoroastrianism fall an easy prey to the more showy but less substantial system of the
Magians. This change in faith, however, was rather a union or amalgamation of the two
systems than a conquest of one by the other. Henceforth, till the coming of Alexander, the
leading doctrines and practices of both Zoroastrianism and Magism were retained in the
agglomerated faith of the Persians.
One of the features of this religious degeneration was the introduction of the worship of
Mithra, the god of the sun, and his elevation to a rank equal, if not superior, to that of
Ahura-Mazdao himself. This innovation took place in the reign of Artaxerxes Mnemon, and
from that date forth the Persians may be said to have been worshipers of the sun. The
change in the national faith was marked, as already said, by the presence of the sun-
symbol along with that of Ahura-Mazdao in the sculptures of Persepolis.
The general effect of the modifications here mentioned was to cause an approximation of
Zoroastrianism to the other forms of religious faith prevailing in Western Asia. The
ceremonials of Media and Persia were no longer distinct in method or purpose. The
essential integrity and elevation of the primitive belief were allowed to fall into
desuetude, and the religion of show took the place of the spiritual doctrines inculcated
by him of Bactria. Until this date Persia had been a land without temples. Now building -
in honor of the gods began to be a passion, but before time enough had elapsed for the
country to be covered with great temples like those of Egypt and Babylonia, the Macedonian
conqueror stood at the door and knocked. Before the day of Arbela, the simple faith of the
ancient people had been replaced with a system of vainglorious idolatry.