Religious reformer, founder of Zoroastrianism, or Parsiism (India); also known in Old Iranian as Zarathustra or Zarathushtra. b. 628 BC - Rhages (modern Tehran). d. 551, site unknown.

His sect flourished 250 years before Alexander the Great conquered Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenids, a dynasty that ruled Persia from 559 to 330 BC, in 330 BC. Zoroaster then converted Vishtaspa, king of Chorasmia (an area south of the Aral Sea in Central Asia) in 588 BC. Zoroaster (the Greek rendering of his name) was born into modest family of knights, the Spitama, in Rhages (now Rayy, a suburb of Tehran) where he later is assumed to have become a priest.

Rhages and its people led a life based around animal husbandry and pastoral occupations. As a result, nomads (who frequently raided) were viewed by Zoroaster as aggressive violators of order. He called them Followers of the Lie, even though his outrage later made him unpopular with many. Having received a vision from Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, who appointed him to preach the truth, Zoroaster was opposed by civil and religious authorities, largely because he forbade all sacrifices, since in the prevailing religious tradition, he found the practice of sacrificing cattle, combined with the consumption of intoxicating drinks (haoma), led to orgiastic excess.

Zoroaster's teachings centred on Ahura Mazda, creator of heaven and earth, the source of the alternation of light and darkness, the sovereign lawgiver, and the very centre of nature. It is not certain that Zoroaster was the first to proclaim Ahura Mazda. This deity appears as the great god of Darius I (522-486 BC), through it's not known if Darius heard of him independently or through Zoroaster's disciples . Monotheism was still a radical idea at this time, so even his teachings contain the seeds of dualism, in as much as the world is split sharply into the struggle of Good divinity against Evil demiurges. Much heresy and Gnosticism results from this early conception of the world. Zoroaster was supposed to have instructed Pythagoras in Babylon and to have inspired the Chaldean doctrines of astrological magic.

After Zoroaster's death his religion slowly spread southward, through what is now Afghanistan, and westward into the territory of the Medes and Persians. As it did so, it did not remain immune from contamination with the ancient religion, whose gods and goddesses were again worshipped. With the advent of a new and decidedly national Persian dynasty, the Sasanian, in AD 224, Zoroastrianism became the official religion. Here Herodotus describes their art as being in the hands of the Magi, a Median tribe with special customs such as exposing the dead, fighting evil animals and interpreting dreams, whose chief was referred to as the shahanshah ('king of kings'). Aristotle also mentions the spread of the dualism within Zoroaster's teachings long after his passing.
Sources:
  • The faiths of the world : a concise history of the great religious systems of the world. (New York : Scribner, 1882)
  • An explanatory commentary on Esther : with four appendices consisting of the second Targum translated from the Aramaic with notes : Mithra : the winged bulls of Persepolis : and Zoroaster by Paulus Cassel ; translated by Aaron Bernstein. (Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1888)
  • Media, Babylon and Persia, 606-490 B.C. : including a study of the Zend-Avesta or religion of Zoroaster : from the fall of Nineveh to the Persian War by Zénaïde A. Ragozin (London : T. Fisher Unwin, 1889)

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