385 PARTHIA.-- PEOPLE AND ARTS.
now under consideration were most active in the development of such a belief and in its
dissemination. Zoroaster was the abstract and chronicle of the religious opinions of the
peoples among whom he appeared. The Parthians took his system and entertained it during
their period of ascendancy. In nearly all respects they became the representatives of the
Persians who had preceded them.
But in the hands of the Parthians, as in the hands of the Persians, the Zoroastrian system
suffered deterioration. It went at length into the form of Magism and idolatry. It is
difficult to say to how great an extent the idolatrous aspect of the Magian cult was the
result of the revival of the ancient polytheistic instincts of the race. Perhaps a part of
the degeneration may be attributed to this cause, and part to the rise of a priesthood.
Here the history of Parthia could but repeat the common story of the mischief always done,
the havoc always wrought with a national religion when it falls into the hands of a
priesthood. Then it is that superstition, selfishness, folly, the pride of caste, and the
ambition of power begin to take the place of the religious fervor which marks the earlier
stages of development. Henceforth the history of religion becomes a history of forms which
by their growth and inflection quench the glow that dwelt in the spirits of the primitive
The Parthians fell under the dominion of these influences. The Magi soon became a powerful
caste in the State. Fire, as the emblem of the sun, and perhaps the emblem of life, became
the object of superstitious adoration. The elements of nature were held in sacred awe.
Rivers were worshiped, as were many other parts of the material world. The superstitions
which we have noted in the case of the Persians revived among the Parthians. The dead
might not be buried, but must rather be exposed on high in the tops of towers, where the
bodies might be devoured by the birds of the air. After the lapse of a long time the bones
might be gathered and deposited in tombs. The sacred fire must be kept burning by the
priests. In short, the whole ritual of Magism must be performed-the ceremonies of the
"faith perpetuated by the people. Under such conditions, the Magi at one time became
especially powerful. They were members of the National Council, under the Parthian kings,
and were as haughty, arrogant, and arbitrary as they and their class have always been in
their despotism over society.
At length, however, Magism fell into a decline. The high priests lost their hold upon the
government. It would appear that a sort of original paganism revived, which may well
remind one in its manifestation of the beliefs and practices prevalent on the banks of the
Tiber and in the German woods. The sun became the principal object of Parthian worship.
After him the moon was adored as the divinity of night. We might almost transfer and adapt
in this connection the celebrated chapter of the Sixth Book of the Caesarian Commentaries,
wherein Julius describes the religion of the Teutonic nations. The prevailing principle
was that those objects of nature only were fit to be worshiped by the aid of which men
were manifestly benefited. The system was thus virtually devoid of speculation. The sun
did good 'to men. Therefore the sun might well be worshiped. On a lower plane we find the
common beliefs of the Aryan nations in minor divinities and spirits by whom the smaller
affairs of life were controlled and guided. There were genii of the day-time, genii of the
night, genii of the hearthstone, the spirits of the fathers, and the larvae of the earth.
The system in its last estate was not essentially different from that of the Pagan nations
The men of Alexander took with them into the East the religious beliefs of the Hellenic
Aryans. The name of the Olympian Zeus was heard in Babylon, in Seleucia, in Ctesiphon, in
Ecbatana, in Persepolis, in Hatra, and in Bactria. Wherever Greek cities were planted,
there the mythology of the West, with its ample inflections, was founded. This invasion of
Zoroastrianism and Magism the Parthians seem not to have resented. As a general fact the
Aryan religions have been tolerant; those of Shem have refused to know other than
themselves. The same principle was illustrated when the Romans became the conquerors of
the East. They