Arimanius (also Areimanios) is the name of an obscure figure, perhaps a deity. The name is found in a few Greek literary texts and five Latin inscriptions. The Greek texts seem in the main to use various forms of the name to refer to the Persian Evil Spirit Ahriman, in the context of Zoroastrianism (as understood by the Greeks and Romans).1 There are no Latin texts, but the Latin inscriptions occur in the context of Mithras and seem to refer to a different and non-evil deity.2

1. The origins of the name itself

The 6th-century Agathias gives the name as Ἀριμάνης. 5th-century Hesychius gives the name as Ἀρειμανής. These both seem to render some Middle Iranian derivative of Avestan 'Angra Mainyu', perhaps Middle Persian "Ahriman" as attested in the 9th/10th-century works of Zoroastrian tradition. The older Greek authors give the name instead as Ἀρειμανιος, the -yu form of which either renders some other older unattested derivative of the Avestan name, but could also have emerged naturally if the Greek translators were attracted by the corresponding Greek word for "warlike".3 The few Latin instances of the name presumably derive from the Greek versions.

2. In Greek literature

The most extended passage in classical literature on Arimanius is found in the treatise Isis and Osiris (46-47) by Plutarch, who presents him as the dark or evil side in a dualistic opposition with Oromazes (for Ohrmuzd or Ahura Mazda).4 He is also mentioned in other texts as an evil daimon, "the worst spirit," or even equated with Satan as the adversary.5

According to Plutarch,6 Zoroaster named Areimanios as one of the two rivals who were the artificers of good and evil. In terms of sense perception, Oromazes was to be compared with light, and Areimanios to darkness and ignorance; between these was Mithras the Mediator. Areimanios received offerings that pertained to apotropaism and mourning.

In describing a ritual to Areimanios, Plutarch says the god was invoked as Hades7 ("The Hidden One") and Darkness. (In Greek religion, Hades was the ruler of the dead or shades, and not a god of evil, except in the sense that death might be considered kakon, a bad thing.) The ritual required a plant that Plutarch calls omomi, which was to be pounded in a mortar and mixed with the blood of a sacrificed wolf. The substance was then carried to a place "where the sun never shines," and cast therein. He adds that "water-rats" belong to this god, and therefore proficient rat-killers are fortunate men.

Plutarch then gives a cosmogonical myth:

Oromazes, born from the purest light, and Areimanius, born from darkness, are constantly at war with each other; and Oromazes created six gods, the first of Good Thought, the second of Truth, the third of Order, and, of the rest, one of Wisdom, one of Wealth, and one the Artificer of Pleasure in what is Honourable. But Areimanius created rivals, as it were, equal to these in number. Then Oromazes enlarged himself to thrice his former size, and removed himself as far distant from the Sun as the Sun is distant from the Earth, and adorned the heavens with stars. One star he set there before all others as a guardian and watchman, the Dog-star. Twenty-four other gods he created and placed in an egg. But those created by Areimanius, who were equal in number to the others, pierced through the egg and made their way inside; hence evils are now combined with good. But a destined time shall come when it is decreed that Areimanius, engaged in bringing on pestilence and famine, shall by these be utterly annihilated and shall disappear; and then shall the earth become a level plain, and there shall be one manner of life and one form of government for a blessed people who shall all speak one tongue.8

Mary Boyce asserted that the passage shows a "fairly accurate" knowledge of basic Zoroastrianism.9

In his Life of Themistocles, Plutarch has the Persian king invoke Areimanios by name, asking the god to cause the king's enemies to behave in such a way as to drive away their own best men. It has been doubted10 that a Persian king would pray to the god of evil, particularly in public. According to Plutarch, the king then made a sacrifice and got drunk, a virtual motif of how Persian kings act in Plutarch, and thus dubious evidence for actual behavior.11

3. In Latin inscriptions

Several altars to Mithras are inscribed "Deo Areimanio" (to the God Areimanius) and a statue of the 'lion-headed personage' in the museum at York (CIMRM 833) seems to have the name of Areimanius on it (but see below).12 The altars were published by Franz Cumont.13 The first of these is a dedication to the god in fulfilment of a vow, but does not refer to Mithras by name.14 The second is two altar bases, one to Mithras and one to Areimanius.15

Richard Gordon states that there are five high-quality dedications to Arimanius found in the Roman Empire.16

Reinhold Merkelbach gives the following list of inscriptions which give the name of (deus) Arimanius:17

  1. V 222(Ostia) = Dessau / ILS 4265 ... Petronius Felix Marsus signum Arimanium do(no) de(dit) d(edicavit).
  2. V 834 (Eboracum) = Collingwood-Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain 641; see U. Bianchi, Mithraic Studies II, 457-462. The text is probably to be read: Vol(usius) Ire[naeus] do(no) [de(dit)] Arimaniu[m]. Photo of the statue with inscription in Mithraic Studies II, pl. 7b, and in E. and J. R. Harris, "The oriental cults in Roman Britain", plate 11, (with p.43).
  3. V 1773 = Dessau 4264 (Aquincum) Deo Arimanio Libella (a man) leo fratribus voto dicavit.
  4. V 1775 (Aquincum) Deo Arimanio.
  5. V 369 (Rome) = Dessau 4263 Deo Arimanio Agrestius vir clarissimus defensor magister et pater patrum voti compos dat. (End of the 4th century A.D., see Herz, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 49 (1982) p.221.18

No evidence of a location for the omomi cult described by Plutarch has been found in a mithraeum, and the association of Mithras and an evil god has been dismissed by some scholars as inherently implausible.19

Cumont believed that the word Areimanius was a Romanised version of the Zoroastrian Ahriman, the evil principle in dualism, and used this as evidence that Mithraism was of Persian origin. He therefore identified the leontocephaline god in Mithraeums with Ahriman. But Turcan states that "hardly anyone now subscribes to Cumont's idea that Graeco-Roman Mithraism inherited certain beliefs of ancient Mazdaism" and suggests instead that the lion-headed image represents the divine fire, not a Pluto-like deity as given in Plutarch De Iside.20 R. L. Gordon says that the meaning of these inscriptions and dedications is not actually known and "the real point is surely that we know nothing of any importance about Western Areimanius."21

4. Roman Britain

A mutilated statue at York, CIMRM 833, has a fragmentary dedicatory inscription that has been read as containing the name Arimanius. The figure seems to be entwined with a serpent, and at one time it was conjectured that it represented the lion-headed god of Mithraism22 or a form of the Mithraic Aion. But since Arimanius can also be a personal name, it is uncertain whether it refers in the inscription to the god represented by the statue, or to the person who made the votive dedication. No other Mithraic objects were uncovered near the statue, and any leonine features are subject to fancy.23

5. Other examples

1Roger Beck, "Mithraism since Franz Cumont," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.17.4 (1984), p. 2034.
2R. Gordon, in Mithraic Studies, p.226: "But it is one thing to perform sacrifices which ritually reproduce the separation of the cosmos, and of the world (because Plutarch's Areimanios was a creator god too), into ethically inverted camps, and quite another to set up dedications to an evil god inside a Mithraeum, dedications which in four out of five cases were statues (though of whom we can say in only one case)-in other words, lavish dedications."
3Jong, p.312-313.
4For Bill Thayer's edition of the Loeb Classical Library text and translation at LacusCurtius, see Plutarch, ''Isis and Osiris'' 46-47. The text may be found here.
5Albert de Jong, ''Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature'' (Brill, 1997), pp. 313-314. He lists the sources: "Ahreman occurs almost exclusively in discussions of Persian dualism. Thus he is mentioned, in the company of his adversary Ahura Mazda, in Plutarch, De Iside 46-47 (Hades); Diogenes Laertius 1.8; Damascius, Dubitationes et Solutiones 125 bis; Agathias, Historiae 2.25; Theodore of Mopsuestia (in Photius, Bibliotheca 72, 81). In all these passages, he is presented as the opponent of Ahura Mazda, leader of the lesser evil beings and cause of evil. The occurrence of the name Arimanios in Plutarch's Life of Themistocles is puzzling ... In the Life of Alexander 30, Plutarch refers to Ahreman with the appellation "the evil god of the Persians" (ton ponhron dai/mona Persw~n)."
6Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 46.
7Salomon Reinach, Orpheus: A General History of Religions, translated by Florence Simmonds (London: Heinemann, 1909), p. 68, gives the identification as Pluto, the name of the Greek ruler of the underworld used most commonly in texts and inscriptions pertaining to the mystery religions and in Greek dramatists and philosophers of Athens in the Classical period. Robert Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire, (Blackwell, 1992, 2001 printing, originally published 1989 in French), p. 232, notes that Plutarch makes of Areimanios "a sort of tenebrous Pluto." Plutarch, however, names the Greek god as Hades, not Pluto.
8Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 47, as translated by Frank Cole Babbitt for the Loeb Classical Library (1936).
9Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet, A History of Zoroastrianism: Zoroastrianism under Macedonian and Roman Rule (Brill, 1991), pp. 458-459.
10De Jong, Traditions of the Magi, p. 313.
11De Jong, Traditions of the Magi, p. 314.
12A. D. H. Bivar, "Mithra and Mesopotamia", in Mithraic Studies: proceedings of the first international conference, p.278: "... several Mithraic altars are inscribed with a Latin dedication 'to the god Ahriman' (Deo Areimanio), 6 ... It is true that these particular Latin dedications give no indication of the iconographic form attributed to that god, but they do confirm that a deity of this name was indeed reverenced by the Roman Mithraists, in itself a sufficiently remarkable fact. Even more conclusive, however, is the circumstance that a figure of the 'Lion-headed personage' in the museum at York (see plate 7b) acrually seems to bear an inscription containing the name of Areimanius 7. Admittedly, this inscription contains some rather cryptic abbreviations, but the proposition is fairly well-established.""
13F. Cumont, Textes et Monuments, vol. 2, pp. 98, 141.
14F. Cumont, Textes et Monuments, vol. 2, pp. 98. The complete entry reads: "27. CIL, VI, 47. Invent. anno 1655 ad radices Esquiliarum. "Ara triangularis marmorea qua basis rotunda sustinetur." Sur cette base, aujourd'hui dans la Galerie Lapidaire du Vatican, on voit les traces d'attache d'une statue. D(eo) Arimanio | Agrestius v(ir) c(larissimus), | defensor, | magister et | pater patrum | voti c(ompos) d(at)."
15F. Cumont, Textes et Monuments, vol. 2, pp. 141. The complete entry is: "324-5. - CIL, III, 3415. Deux autels trouvés en 1855 à Vieux-Bude en face du bâtiment dit "Kaserne". Deo Arima|nio Libel|la leo | fratribus | voto | dic(avit). - CIL, III, 3480. Deo invicto | Mithrae C(aius) | Iul(ius)Casti|nus leg(atus) Aug(ustorum) | pr(o) pr(aetore). An image of this inscription is printed in Bartel Leendert Waerden, Science awakening II: the birth of astronomy, p.132, reprinted from CIMRM II, fig. 461. "Inscription from a sanctuary of Mithras at Altofen near Budapest."
16R. Gordon, in Mithraic Studies, p.226: "Because there are five Western dedications to Areimanius, he supposed that this reflected the inverted omomi cult which Plutarch in "De Iside et Osiride" 46 says the Persians offered to Hades-Areimanios.41 But it is one thing to perform sacrifices which ritually reproduce the separation of the cosmos, and of the world (because Plutarch's Areimanios was a creator god too), into ethically inverted camps, and quite another to set up dedications to an evil god inside a Mithraeum, dedications which in four out of five cases were statues (though of whom we can say in only one case) - in other words, lavish dedications.42" Gordon lists the five dedications as CIMRM 222 (Ostia); 369 (Rome); 833 (York); 1773; 1775 (Carnutum), and adds: "Only 1773 is merely an altar. 322 records the dedication of a signum arimanium. 833, as noted above, is a statue of the leontocephaline god. The other two inscriptions are on statue bases." Note that a typographic error means Gordon refers to CIMRM 322 instead of CIMRM 222.
17R. Merkelbach, Mithras, 1994, p.104, n.16. Preview here.
19Gordon, "Cumont and the Doctrine of Mithraism," p. 227.
20Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire, p.232; R.L. Gordon, "Cumont and the Doctrine of Mithraism," in Mithraic Studies (Manchester University Press, 1975), pp. 217ff.
21Gordon, "Cumont and the Doctrine of Mithraism," pp. 226-227.
22Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire, p. 232.
23Beck, "Mithraism since Franz Cumont," pp. 2034-2035.

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