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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

prophets.

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

of Europe.

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