About the Names Sis, Masis and Ararat of Sacred Armenian Mountain

The highest two- peak mountain (5.165 m) of Armenian Highland was called Sis and Masis by Armenians. Masis is also known as Ararat. Like many questions of Armenian History and ancient names, the names Masis and Ararat of sacred Armenian mountain also interested the researchers and brought forward many questions.

And the questions are many: why this sacred mountain has two names — Masis and Ararat, which one is more ancient, what do the names Sis, Masis and Ararat mean, why and when the mountain was called Ararat? Let’s consider each of these questions and try to explain them. The names Sis and Masis are the most ancient names of the mountain.

It can be noted that the other mountain peaks of Armenian Highland also have names close to the name Masis. So, the mountain to the North from Lake Van was called Nekh-Masiq (Sipan). The mountain in Armenia Mesopotamia in the south-west of Armenian Highland, in ancient Greek (Strabon, The Geography, XI, 14/2/) and Armenian (S. Eremyan, Armenia According to Armenian Geography /«Աշխարհացույց»/) sources is called Masios or Masion (now – Tur-Abdin).

Assurian written sources use the name Qashiari mountains for these mountains. From the Shumer-accadian epos ”Gilgamesh” a two-peak mountain with name Masu or Mashu is known, behind which the sun rises and sets, and on which Utnapishti’s (Noah’s prototype) Ark stopped. Masu-Mashu is often identified with the Masios-Masion mountains.

There are many explanations and point of views about the origin of the names Sis and Masis. The most ancient is M. Khorenaci’s explanation: in his work “Armenian History” he wrote, that the name Masis came from Hayk’s great-grandson Amasia’s name (Hayk, Aramanyak, Aramayis, Amasia). According to one of the point of views the names Masis, Masu-Mashu have the meaning “twins”, “pair of mountains”, “twin mountains”.

By an other widespread viewpoint the name “Masis” is originated form Armenian word “mas” (part), because the mountain consists of two parts. However, the majestic view of the mountain suggests something else. Sis and Masis by their view (lonely, two-peak) leave such an impression like they directly grew from Mother Earth, from the land and are firmly connected to the ground. In other cases, the high peaks are not lonely and are not directly connected to mother earth. They are high peaks of mountain chains.

The look of the mountain Masis (Sis, Ma-Sis) suggests that the name Sis can be connected to the meaning of word “Sis” “The Relics of Feeding Mother” («կաթնաբեր մասունք մարց»), (Leхicon of the Armenian language, Նոր բառգիրք Հայկազյան լեզվի, p. 746). In the range of many Indo-European languages can be found words with similar meaning and pronounciation to word “Sis” (H. Acharyan, Armenian Radical Dictionary, 2, 1973, p. 471-472, /in Armenian/. В. Даль, Толковый словарь, М., 1956, с. 188 /in Russian/ ).

“Ma” from the word Masis have the meaning “spawn” in Armenian language, which means mother. Therefore it can be said, that Masis has the meaning Mother Sis.

The Armenians, by calling Sis and Masis the two-peak mountain, located nearly in the center of Armenian Highland, viewed it as the Mother Country, an earth nourishing relics, which with their high peaks receive cosmic life-giving stream and energy and nourish Mother Earth and country – Armenia, directly connected to them.

It is known that Shumerians came down to the Lower Mesopotamia from the southern parts of Armenian Highland taking with them many cultural values, including religious and mythological ones created in their motherland. Certainly they knew about the two-peak sacred mountain of Armenian Highland with the names Sis and Masis, and in the new homeland while talking about the Flood, they called the two-peak mountain Masu-Mashu of the Arc.

By the way, the peak on which Utnapishti’s Ark stopped was called Nisir, which has а far similarity with the name Masis. The two-peak Masu-Mashu mountain from where according to “Gilgamesh” the sun rises and sets, are also illustrated on Acadian stamps, moreover the mountains are illustrated so, as they are seen from Mesopotamia – Masis on the left, and Sis on the right.

Armenians consider Masis as a holy, divine mountain, on the peak of which the mortal’s feet shouldn’t step. In Armenian believes the mountain is kept by devils and vishapazuns (dragon’s descendants). Let’s recall M. Khorenati’s mentioning, when Armenian king Artashes cursed his son Artavazd, saying:

If you get on a horse, go to hunt
Up to the free, to Masis,
Let the devils capture you and take away
Up to the free, to Masis.

These devils and vishapazuns that keep the mountain Masis remined of men-scorpions from epos “Gilgamesh”, which keep the gates of Masu-Mashu Mountains and open them only for gods. In 1255, when French travaler U. Rubruq wanted to climb up to the top of Ararat, an Armenian old man convinced him not to climb, saying “no one… should climb up to Masis, she is the mother of the Earth” (Hovh. Hakobyan, Notes /in Armenian/, vol.1, Yerevan, 1932, p. 18).

For Armenians even the snow of Masis was considered sacred. When in 1829 Armenian writer Kh. Abovyan with German scientist F. Parrot climbed up to the top of Masis, he brought with him a bottle filled with snow, which he kept as sacred relics.

Thus, it can be said that for the names Nekh-Masiq, Masios-Masion, also Masu-Mashu which are located in other places of Armenian Highland, the ancient name Masis of Armenian sakred Mountain was used as a basis.

For the sacred mountain Masis the name Ararat is also used, which is the most ancient name given to Armenia. The name Ararat (Arar-at) with its meaning and explanation goes back to the times of creation and has a meaning of “place of creation” (A. Teryan, Armenia: Cradle of Creation and Civilization, 2002, p. 18-19 /in Armenian/).

The name Ararat was spread in the world through Bible. According to the Old Testament, during the Flood Noah’s Ark stopped on the “Ararat’s mountains” (In Genesis, 4,5). The Hebrew original of the Bible uses the name Ararat kingdom (Urartu) for Armenia, and the mountain of Noah’s Ark is called Ararat’s mountains (mountain).

Later, in early medieval times, the Christian interpreters of the Bible identified the mountain of Noah’s Ark, located in Ararat country (mountains) with the mountain called Masis by Armenians and Ararat-Masis was considered the mountain of Noah’s Ark by name Ararat.

Thus, the name Masis of the sacred mountain, located nearly in the center of Armenian Highland is the oldest name, given to the mountain by Armenians and has the meaning Mother-Nourishing (Ma-Sis), and the name Ararat was given later – as a mountain located in the center of Ararat-Urartu country, where during the Flood Noah’s descendants found a shelter and were saved. And after the Flood around the mountain Ararat-Masis was given birth to a new human civilization.

The article was printed in the book Angela Teryan, “Armenia and History”, Yerevan, 2007

By Anjela Teryan

Anjela Teryan Graduated from the Faculty of History of the Yerevan State University, senior initial employee of the State Museum of the History of Yerevan. She is engaged in research in the field of the ancient history of Armenia, the author of scientific articles and the book “The Cult of the God Ar in Armenia” (1995), on which Teryan worked for 5 years.

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