Magi, the ancient Zoroastrian hereditary Priesthood, and Haplogroups I M170, I P215, and Haplogroup T1a2

The legend of the three “Wise Men or Kings” from the East who supposedly visited the savior child is very popular, and widely accepted in the Christian literature. The three “Wise Men or Kings” were actually Magi, or “hereditary Zoroastrian Priests” during the Parthian era. Parthia in the East (the second great, ancient Iranian Empire,) along with Germania in the north, posed the gravest danger to the once mighty Roman Empire.

Magi (Avestan magá, Old Persian magûs) were the designated terms for the ancient Zoroastrian hereditary priesthood. According to Herodotus (1.101), Magi were one of six Median tribes and formed the priestly clan of the Zoroastrians. He adds that Magi were scholars, tutors, skilled dream interpreters, and gave very accurate prophecies of the future events. An integral part of the wisdom of the Magi was connected with heavenly lights/stars, and white magic (hence the Greek term mageía “magic”; see Rose, p. 22.)

Classical authors such as Herodotus, Strabo, Pompeius Trogus, Apuleius, and Ammianus Marcellinus have provided significant information on the ancient Magi. According to them, the Magi were disciples and followers of seer/prophet of the ancient Aryans, Zarathustra.

According to the classic Greek authors, the Magi served ancient Aryan Gods (the supreme god, Ahûrá Mazdá, and his Brilliant Immortals), were outstanding memorizers (*framazdá, Greek mnemon,) held sacred twigs in hand when chanting the hymns of the Immortals, tended to the fires of ancestral hearth and altars, were of a very tall stature, dressed always in pure white, wore pointed hats or Phrygian-like caps, covered their mouth with white masks while tending to the sacred fires or offering pure libations to the Gods, and used the elixir of Immortality or haômá wine for ritual purposes.

Herodotus adds that no offerings could be made by the ancient Persians without the presence of a Magus who performed the appropriate rites and chanted hymns of the virtues/powers of the gods (gathas of Zarathustra.) Herodotus also narrates that the Magi did not bury their dead but left them on mountaintops to be torn by birds of prey (vultures) or wild canines, (1.140.)

In his Histories Herodotus also states that Xerxes (the third Achaemenid ruler) did not undertake any important decisions without advice of the Magi. The Magi interpreted his dreams, and gave him prophecies; they also accompanied the Persian army on campaigns with the sacred fire (see, e.g., Hdt., 7.19, 37).  Upon orders of Xerxes, the Magi performed libations to the sea/waters in the Hellespont.

Xenophon, in his Cyropaedia (Education of Cyrus) writes that Magi were ancient priests. Both nobility and laity followed their instructions in spiritual/religious matters.  Besides, the Magi were not only expert performers of worship rites but also scholars, tutors and teachers of sciences.

It is also known from Curtius Rufus that ancient Persian soldiers carried the sacred, victorious flame on silver altars in front of their troops, and the Magi proceeded behind them singing sacred hymns, (Historiae 3.3.9.)

Images of the Magi are attested on seal impressions on several clay tablets from Persepolis, the ancient, majestic capital of the Achaemenids.  These seals show usually two priests, under the sun-wheel/disk, holding a mortar and pestle before a fire altar (Schmidt, p. 55 and pl. 7, seal no. 20).

Émile Benveniste believed that Avestan term magá– signified a priestly or shamanic-warrior clan among the ancient Aryans/Iranians, renowned for their “wisdom, abilities, and skills,” (Benveniste, 1938, pp. 13, 18-20.) The term according to Benveniste preserved such a meaning also in the Avesta according to whom the Magi became the hereditary priestly class in Zoroastrianism.

The preserved portions of the Old Avesta/gathas of Zarathustra contain indisputable references to the Magi, as the closest disciples/inner fellowship of Zarathustra. Prophet Zarathustra, in his poetic gathas/songs calls his fellowship airyá “noble, honorable, Aryan,” or magá of “mightily powers and abilities.

Avestan magá suggest “great powers and abilities,” and goes back to the reconstructed Proto Indo European *magh-“to be able,” Old Norse mega “be able”, Old High German magan Old English magan, Gothic magan, German mögen, modern English may “enable, make possible.”

In the Younger Avesta, the designated term for priests is āθra.van- “keeper of the (hearth) fire/flame,” a term that most likely referred to the Western Magi of Media and Caucasus.

The Magi or the Magá fellowship of the gathas/songs of Zarathustra referred however to the ancient Zoroastrian Priesthood of Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC,) dated to c. 2300–1700 BCE. The BMAC site also known as the “Oxus Civilization” was located in present-day northern Afghanistan, north- eastern Iran, and former Central Asian Soviet republics. These sites were discovered and named by the former Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (1976.) BMAC along the neighboring Yaz Culture has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of early Zoroastrianism as described in the Avesta.

With its farming citadels, steppe-derived metallurgy, amazing water canals dug from the mountain glaciers to fertile oases, and most intricate art & ceramics; Raphael Pumpelly hypothesized that “the fundamentals of European civilization—organized village life, agriculture, domestication of animals, weaving, etc.—were originated on the oases of Oxus Culture long before the time of Babylon.”

The connection of BMAC and Eastern Magi to the pagan European Civilizations appears Not to be only cultural, and linguistic, but also GENETIC.

The most frequent Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup among the Iranian Zoroastrian Priesthood seem to be I M170, and I P215, or the original I and I2 haplogroups. (My personal lineage is I M170.)

Today, Haplogroup I is the most common halpogroup in the Dinaric Alps and Scandinavia, and it is believed to have arisen in Europe, and not outside Europe. Yet, the Paleolithic continuity of Haplogroup I in Europe does NOT really make sense, based on the very young age estimate for haplogroup I. Furthermore, living examples of the precursor Haplogroup IJ* have been found only in northeastern Iran and Turkmenistan. This highly suggests that both the original haplogroup I, and its ancestor haplogroup IJ originated in BMAC. In that case, I2a-Din was brought to the Dinaric Alps by the early Indo-European migrations, and was part of the original collection of Y-DNA of early Indo Europeans.

Along Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups I M170, and I P215, the third most common haplogroup among the Iranian Zoroastrian Priesthood is T1a2.

While the original I haplogroups appear to go back to the Magis of Zarathustra and BMAC culture, the latter T1a2 haplogroup must hail back to the Median Magi from the West. T1a2 or (T L131) has been found as far East as the Volga-Ural region of Russia and Xinjiang in north-west China. T1a2 penetrated into the Pontic-Caspian Steppe of Eurasia during the Neolithic, and became integrated to the indigenous R1a peoples (Proto Indo Iranians) before their expansion to Central Asia during the Bronze Age.

During the Copper and Bronze Ages haplogroup T would have been an important lineage among ancient peoples such as Sumerians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians.

The Parsi Zoroastrian Priests of India on the other hand, overwhelmingly belong to Y DNA haplogroup R1a1a, sharing many close similarities to the Corded Ware Culture of Mesolithic Northeastern Europe. Interestingly, the genetic results of ancient Corded ware Culture of Northeastern Europe is closest to the Sintashta genomes. The Sintashta culture of northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia dated to the period 2100–1800 BCE is believed to be the urheimat of the ancient Indo Iranians.

In conclusion, I shall add that the line of ancient Zoroastrianism goes back to the very beginning of early Indo-European people. It is the noble fellowship of ancient shaman warriors of Eurasia who saw themselves as kin to the Gods. It CANNOT be understood without its deep roots and its line to the very beginning. It is a faith that is in soul and blood. It is passed down through the honorable generations of very ancient people. Zoroastrian faith is not only a bridge to the Immortal Gods, but also a pact to all the noble ones, those who have gone before, and all those who will come thereafter.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Magi, the ancient Zoroastrian hereditary Priesthood, and Haplogroups I M170, I P215, and Haplogroup T1a2

  1. zaneta garratt says:

    a very good read, full of interesting historical information

  2. Zord says:

    Zoroastrian Mobeds belong to T1a1a1a1a1a1a1a1a-CTS6507

    • Yes, about 20% to 25% percent Of Iranian mobeds or “Zoroastrian priests” belong to T1a. But the great majority 75%-80% belong to I* to I2*. That is Haplogroups I M170 and I P215 respectively. The closest population group to Iranian Zoroastrians are the Bakhtiaris. The Bakhtiaris likewise show a high percentage of Haplgroups G, T1a as well as I M170. Both group show a unique fusion between pre historic Iranian agriculturists and ancient Aryan steppe people. While G was the main marker of the Caucasus hunter gatherers, T1a appears to have been the ancient maker of Iranian agriculturists of the Zagros mountains. The T1a branch developed during the late glacial period, between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago, possibly in the vicinity of the Zagros mountains in the Iranian Plateau. Ancient DNA tests have revealed that the majority of Early Neolithic farmers who colonized Europe belonged to Y-haplogroup G2a, Haplogroup T has only been identified in remains from the Linear Pottery (LBK) culture in Germany. Furthermore, within Europe the frequency of T1a is most common in the mountainous parts of the southern Balkans, the central and southern Apennines in Italy, Sicily, the Massif Central in France (Auvergne), and south-western Iberia. All these regions like Zagros mountains would have been better suited for goat and sheep herding than for cereal cultivation in the Neolithic period. Mountainous regions allow herders to practice the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. A tradition that is still alive among the Bakhtiaris. A recent study from the mountainous chahr mahal region has shown that the frequency of haplogroup I M170 reaches extremely high proportion of up to 80% among the Bakhtiaris of that region.

  3. Very interesting, I didn’t know there was such a difference genetically between the Iranian and Parsi priests.

    However, haplogroup I could not have been brought to Europe with the Indo-Europeans, as I2a-Din has been found from the remains of Mesolithic Swedes, and I2 in general is well represented in Stone Age Europe.

    While it is clear that haplogroup I originated in Iran, men carrying it must have made their way to Europe by themselves long before the Indo-Europeans arrived, although it has been argued that the prevalence of I2a-Din in the Balkans specifically is the result of an Indo-European expansion.

    • Sebastian says:

      I2a has for sure been in europe for a long time, while I1 appeared at a much later date, and could very well been brought by the indo migrations. Funny thing is that i belong to I1a from Sweden and i was surprised when my autosomal dna showed around 5% indo iranian (Bakhtiari and kalash) Dna.

  4. William Bell says:

    Interesting article. I tested with FTDNA at Y111 and my results were I-M253, I-P215. My family is from Scotland and most of my DNA matches are in Scotland, N. Ireland and northern England. I also have many matches in Sweden and Finland. I have a few in Norway and Denmark.

  5. Pingback: Salvation in Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Monotheism. | Musings of Lady Anna Kasper

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s