Sabazios

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Bronze hand used in the worship of Sabazios in the British Museum. Roman 1st-2nd century AD. Hands decorarated with religious symbols were designed to stand in sanctaries or, like this one, were attached to poles for processional use.
Sabazios is the nomadic horseman sky and father god of the Phrygians and Thracians. In Indo-European languages, such as Phrygian, the '-zios' element in his name goes back to Dyeus, the common precursor of 'deus' (god) and Zeus. Though the Greeks associated Phrygian Sabazios with both Zeus and Dionysus, representations of him, even into Roman times, show him always on horseback, as a nomadic horseman god, wielding his characteristic staff of power.

Thracian/Phrygian Sabazios

It seems likely that the migrating Phrygians brought Sabazios with them when they settled in Anatolia (ca. 1200 BCE?) and that the god's origins are to be looked for in Macedonia and western Thrace. The Macedonians were noted horsemen, horse-breeders and horse-worshippers up to the time of Philip II.

Early conflict between Sabazios and his followers and the indigenous Mother Goddess of Phrygia (Cybele) is reflected in Homer's brief reference to the youthful feats of Priam, who aided the Phrygians in their battles with Amazons. An aspect of the compromise religious settlement, similar to the other such mythic adjustments throughout Aegean culture, can be read in the later Phrygian King Gordias' adoption 'with Cybele' of Midas. Later Greek mythographers reduced Cybele's role to 'wife,' but initially Gordias ruled in the Goddess's name as her visible representative.

One of the Mother Goddess's creatures was the Lunar Bull. Sabazios' relations with the goddess may be surmised in the way that his horse places a hoof on the head of the bull, in a Roman marble relief at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Though Roman in date, the iconic image appears to be much earlier.

The god on horseback

More "rider god" steles are at the Burdur Museum, in Turkey. Under the Roman Emperor Gordian III the god on horseback appears on coins minted at Tlos, in neighboring Lycia, and at Istrus, in the province of Lower Moesia, between Thrace and the Danube. It is generally thought that the young emperor's grandfather came from an Anatolian family, because of his unusual cognomen, Gordianus. The iconic image of the god or hero on horseback battling the chthonic serpent, on which his horse tramples, appears on Celtic votive columns, and with the coming of Christianity it was easily transformed into the image of Saint George and the dragon.

Small votive hands, typically made of copper or bronze, are often associated with the cult of Sabazios. Many of these hands have a small perforation at the base which suggests they may have been attached to wooden poles and carried in processions. The symbolism of these objects is not well known.

Transformation to Sabazius

The naturally syncretic approach of Greek religion blurred distinctions. Later Greek writers, like Strabo, 1st century AD, linked Sabazios with Zagreos, among Phrygian ministers and attendants of the sacred rites of Rhea and Dionysos. (Strabo, 10.3.15). Strabo's Sicilian contemporary, Diodorus Siculus, conflates Sabazios with the secret 'second' Dionysus, born of Zeus and Persephone (Diodorus Siculus, 4.4.1). The Clement of Alexandria had been informed that the secret mysteries of Sabazius, as practiced among the Romans, involved a serpent, a chthonic creature unconnected with the mounted skygod of Phrygia: "‘God in the bosom’ is a countersign of the mysteries of Sabazius to the adepts, " Clement reports (Protrepticus, 1, 2, 16). "This is a snake, passed through the bosom of the initiates”.

Much later, the Greek encyclopedia, Sudas (10th century?), flatly states "Sabazios... is the same as Dionysos. He acquired this form of address from the rite pertaining to him; for the barbarians call the bacchic cry 'sabazein'. Hence some of the Greeks too follow suit and call the cry 'sabasmos'; thereby Dionysos [becomes] Sabazios. They also used to call 'saboi' those places that had been dedicated to him and his Bacchantes... Demosthenes [in the speech] 'On Behalf of Ktesiphon' [mentions them]. Some say that Saboi is the term for those who are dedicated to Sabazios, that is to Dionysos, just as those [dedicated] to Bakkhos [are] Bakkhoi. They say that Sabazios and Dionysos are the same. Thus some also say that the Greeks call the Bakkhoi Saboi." (Suidas, under 'Sabazios,' 'saboi') 'Barbarian' is instructive here: a non-Greek-speaking Phrygian was considered a barbarian, but no Greek ever referred to a Cretan as a 'barbarian'.

The Jewish connection

The first Jews who settled in Rome were expelled by virtue of a law which proscribed the propagation of the cult of "Jupiter Sabazius," according to Valerius Maximus (i. 3, 2). It is conjectured that the Romans identified the Jewish Yahveh Sabaoth ("of the Hosts") as Sabazius:
"Cnaeus Cornelius Hispalus, praetor peregrinus in the year of the consulate of Marcus Popilius Laenas and Lucius Calpurnius, ordered the astrologers by an edict to leave Rome and Italy within ten days, since by a fallacious interpretation of the stars they perturbed fickle and silly minds, thereby making profit out of their lies. The same praetor compelled the Jews, who attempted to infect the Roman custom with the cult of Jupiter Sabazius, to return to their homes."
:— Valerius Maximus, Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings i.3, 2
The date corresponds to 139 BCE.

This mistaken connection of Sabazios and Sabaoth has often been repeated. In a similar vein, Plutarch (Symposiacs. iv. 6) naively maintained that the Jews worshipped Dionysus, and that the day of Sabbath was a festival of Sabazius. No modern reader would confuse Yahweh with Dionysus or Sabazius. Plutarch also discusses the identification of the Jewish god with the "Egyptian" (actually archaic Greek) Typhon, an identification which he later rejects, however.

In modern literature

In the best-selling novel Pompeii by Robert Harris, a sybil is mentioned as being active in the city of Pompeii before its destruction, who "sacrifices snakes to Sabazius, skins them for their meaning, and utters prophecies".
In antiquity, Phrygia (Greek: Φρυγία) was a kingdom in the west central part of the Anatolia. The Phrygian people settled in the area from c. 1200 BC, and established a kingdom in the 8th century BC.
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Thracians were a group of ancient Indo-European tribes who spoke the Thracian language - a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family. Those peoples inhabited the Eastern, Central and Southern part of the Balkan peninsula, as well as the adjacent parts of Eastern
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Indo-European languages comprise a family of several hundred related languages and dialects [1], including most of the major languages of Europe, the northern Indian subcontinent (South Asia), the Iranian plateau (Southwest Asia), and much of Central Asia.
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Phrygian language was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, a people of the central Asia Minor.

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Phrygian is attested by two corpora, one from around 800 BC and later (Paleo-Phrygian), and then after a period of several centuries from around the
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*Dyēus is the reconstructed chief god of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon. He was the god of the daylight sky, and his position may have mirrored the position of patriarch or king in society.
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Zeus (in Greek: nominative: Ζεύς Zeús, genitive: Διός Diós
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Zeus (in Greek: nominative: Ζεύς Zeús, genitive: Διός Diós
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Dionysus with panther, satyr and grapes on a vine. In the Palazzo Altemps (Rome, Italy)]] Dionysus or Dionysos (Ancient Greek: Διόνυσος or Διώνυσος; associated with Roman Liber), the Greek
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Gordias (or Gordius) was a royal name in the mythic prehistory of Phrygia. In the mythological age, kings of Phrygia were alternately names Gordias and Midas.

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