Sabazius, Sabazios, the Sky Father God of the Phrygians and Thracians

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Sabazius (Sabazios, also known as Σαβάζιος in Ancient Greek), an origin deity from Thracia or Anatolia, gained popularity in the Roman Empire and was linked to both Jupiter and Dionysos. He is commonly depicted as a horseman and sky father god. The hands that were decorated with religious symbols were created to be placed in sanctuaries, or, as in this case, to be attached to poles for the purpose of being carried in processions.

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The Greeks associated Sabazios with both Zeus and Dionysus, but in Phrygian and Thracian artwork, he is always portrayed riding a horse and holding a staff, considered as a symbol of his power. It is believed that the Phrygians, who migrated to Anatolia in the early first millennium BCE, brought their belief in Sabazios with them. The origins of this deity can be traced back to Macedonia and Thrace. The Roman world came to know Sabazios through the influence of Pergamum.

Votive Arm and Hand of Zeus Sabazios, Roman, 1st-2nd Century (source)

The syncretic nature of Greek religion often resulted in blending of distinctions between different deities. Greek writers such as Strabo, in the first century CE, linked Sabazios with Zagreus, who was considered as a minister and attendant of the sacred rites of Rhea and Dionysos among Phrygians. Diodorus Siculus, a Sicilian contemporary of Strabo, equated Sabazios with a secret version of Dionysus, said to be born from Zeus and Persephone, although this connection is not supported by surviving inscriptions that solely refer to Zeus Sabazios. Clement of Alexandria, a Christian, wrote that the secret rituals of Sabazius practiced among the Romans involved a serpent, which was considered as a chthonic creature not related to the mounted sky god of Phrygia. He stated that “God in the bosom” was a secret sign of the Sabazius mysteries to the adepts. According to Clement, the initiates passed a snake through their bosoms during these rituals.

Hand of Sabazius, Bronze hand used in the worship of Sabazios, Roman, first–second century AD (British Museum) (source)

Featured image: wikimedia

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