A Pagan Temple in Christian Armenia
How did a Greco-Roman architectural masterpiece end up in Armenia, and what was its purpose?
Roman-Iranian conflict in and over Armenia was resolved with the agreement that Tiridates (Khosrov I), brother of Vologases, the Shah of Iran, be crowned king of Armenia by the Roman emperor, Nero. So Trinidates went to Rome, attended by his wife, sons, the sons of his brothers, and 3000 Iranian horsemen. His journey cost the treasury 800,000 sestertii daily.
Tiridates’ coronation marked him as a client king. The form of address which he used to Nero derived from the ceremonies where the Shah of Iran received the allegiance of vassal kings. And although the grandeur which Rome accorded Tiridates was exceptional, in other respects he was being treated just like other client kings.
So, after he was crowned by Emperor Nero, Tiridates was sent back to Armenia with a cadre of Roman craftsman and a generous sum of money to build the fortified city of Garni and its central temple, a shrine to the ancient Armenian sun god Mihr (Iranian Mehr).
Today Garni Temple receives more than 136,000 visitors each year, and a handful of those are Armenian Neopagans, who call the site their spiritual capital. Armenian Neopaganism is a relatively new grassroots religious movement that aims to reclaim the pre-Christian Armenian faith.
The movement officially began with the first celebration of the birth of Vahagn, the ancient Armenian god of fire, at Garni Temple in 1991.