Throughout the history of ancient Rome, a number of “mystery” cults and their deities of Near Eastern character became greatly popularized. The Roman expansion to the east caused contact between the Roman society with many Near and Middle Eastern religions, causing the Romans to worship some of them in their own fashion.
Mithras was probably the most famous Eastern deity who in Armenia was anciently known by the name of Mihr and Mher. During the Roman expansion into the Armenian Highlands, Roman officials often encountered Armenian religious practices and traditions. Being a Mithraic priest himself, Armenian King Tiridates (Trdat) is believed to have played a crucial role in the spread of the deity’s cult among Roman elite.
Encyclopedia Britannica reports:
“When Tiridates of Armenia acknowledged the Roman emperor Nero as his supreme lord, he performed a Mithraic ceremony, indicating that the god of contract and of friendship established good relations between the Armenians and the mighty Romans.”
Another famous mystery deity of the Roman Empire was Jupiter Dolichenus. This deity became highly popular during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD in Rome and Roman colonies, such as the British Isles and different parts of Germany. The “Dolichenus” (“of Doliche”) epithet was adopted from the city of Doliche, an ancient settlement in the Armenian Highlands near Gaziantep in modern Turkey. This territory has traces of very ancient Armenian presence, as well as imagery of Jupiter Dolichenus.
In the Roman mystery religion, Jupiter Dolichenus was considered a god of heavens and was also believed to control military success and safety. He was typically portrayed standing on a bull, carrying his special weapons, a double ax and thunderbolt.
Both Mithras and Jupiter Dolichenus were frequently depicted wearing eastern attire. The Romans associated this attire, including the Mithraic cap, with Armenians, which can be seen from the several Roman statues of Armenian kings.
The deity Jupiter Dolichenus derives from a local storm god known as Teshub to the Hurrians, Tarhun to Hittites, Taru to Hattians, and Teisheba/Theispas to Armenians of the Urartian period.
Encyclopedia Britannica says that Jupiter Dolichenus is a “god of a Roman mystery cult, originally a local Hittite-Hurrian god of fertility and thunder worshiped at Doliche (modern Dülük), in southeastern Turkey.”
The role of this particular deity has been a subject of speculations. Additionally, the connections between Teshub/Tarhun/Taru and the Norse thunder god Thor and its Celtic equivalent Taranis have been debated.
It is worth mentioning that Teshub’s son Sarruma was a mountain deity, whose name is translated as “the king of the mountains”. The name contains the Armenian word “sar”, meaning “mountain”. Besides, Teshub was later identified with Aramazd/Ahura Mazda. Some scholars even proposed a connection with the Orion constellation that seems to resemble the posture of the deity, although this remains just a speculation.
Lastly, maybe the most iconic symbol of Armenians for Romans was a specific type of headgear called the Armenian Tiara, which was worn by the Armenian monarchs of the time. Images of this tiara can be seen on Roman coins and statuettes symbolizing Armenia.
The plethora of images of Jupiter Dolichenus scattered throughout the Roman Empire are similar to the deity Teshub/Theispas/Tarhun from the Armenian Highlands.
Considering that Teshub/Theispas/Tarhun from the Armenian Highlands was worshipped by ancient Armenians, the Doliche city frequently was a part of the Armenian kingdom, and Armenian religious practitioners have been in contact with Rome, seeing depictions of Jupiter Dolichenus wearing an Armenian tiara or other attire of Armenian style is not surprising.
Clearly, the ancient Roman depiction of Jupiter Dolichenus had a distinctive Armenian character connecting it back to more ancient times when Teshub/Teisheba/Tarhun was worshiped by the civilization of the Armenian Highlands.