CUPBEARER, Parthian tkrpty, loanword in Armenian takarāpet (cf. Pers. taḡār “trough,” Arm. takaṟ “barrel”; Hübschmann, Armenische Grammatik, p. 251 no. 639). The Parthian form is attested as the title of one *Zødkirt in the inscription of Narseh at Paikuli (ca. 293 c.e.), in a list of officials, following the scribe of accounts of the realm and preceding various lords and knights (Frye, p. 376; Humbach and Skjærvø, III/1, p. 128). In Achaemenid times, under Cambyses, the son of a high noble served as cupbearer; the cupbearer of Artaxerxes I (465-25 b.c.e.) was the Hebrew Nehemiah. He was a eunuch and possibly entertained the king, as well as serving him (cf. Ganymede, the Phrygian youth who served as cupbearer of Zeus), but it is unlikely that the earliest Achaemenid cupbearers were eunuchs, for Hellanicus claimed that the Persians learned castration from the Babylonians (see Cook, p. 136). In his first-person narrative Nehemiah reported (2:1ff.) that after he had heard of the ruined state of the walls of Jerusalem he served his lord wine with a sad countenance. The king observed that his cupbearer lacked his customary cheer and, upon being apprised of the reason, sent Nehemiah with letters and powers to restore Jerusalem and appointed him governor of Judah. The cupbearer appears thus to have enjoyed special access to the Achaemenid monarch, who usually feasted on the other side of a curtain from his company, and, if with them, then always still of different wine. The scope of the cupbearer’s influence appears to have been considerable in view of the fact that it was customary for the king to consider petitions when slightly inebriated, so that the verdict might be favorable; the Sasanians continued this practice (Cook, pp. 139, 141). The royal banquet (Mid. and NPers. and Arm. loanword bazm), moreover, was the focus of Persian and Armenian social and political life; precedence in seating was carefully regulated and minutely observed (Garsoïan, pp. 30ff.). The danger of abuse of such power is recounted in the Datastanagirkœ (1184 c.e.) of the Armenian Mxiṭʿar Gos: “If cupbearers associate with wizards, let them be tortured to death” (cited in Awetikʿean et al., II, p. 839).
In Arsacid Armenia the hereditary office of cupbearer (takarāpetuṭʿiwn) belonged to the house of Gnuni, who possessed ancestral holdings in Ayrarat and Vaspurakan. Their name was evidently derived from gini “wine”; a scion of this house, Gnēl, served as cupbearer to the king of Armenia (Moses of Khorene, 2.18). This dynastic house, which can be traced back to Orontid times, was of middling stature, contributing 500 horse to the royal armies (the least a noble house is recorded to have given is 100; the Mamikoneans, commanders-in-chief, contributed 1,000; see Toumanoff, pp. 205-06), yet it received also the office of hazarapet "chiliarch". Similarly, Pacorus, cupbearer to the Parthian king, commanded his forces in the campaign in Israel of 40 b.c.e. (see Avi-Yonah, p. 60). Arthur Christensen (Iran Sass., p. 394 and n. 4) suggested that the Sasanian taghārbadh was “something like a grand master of the court,” but this definition seems unnecessarily general. More likely the cupbearer performed largely his stated function, from thence exercising influence on other facets of court life or achieving advancement to additional posts.
See also sāqī.
M. Avi-Yonah, ed., “The Herodian Period,” in World History of the Jewish People I/7, New Brunswick, N.J., 1975.
G. Awetikʿean et al., Nor baṟgirkʿhaykazean lezui (New dictionary of the Armenian language), Venice, 1837, s.v. takarāpet.
J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire, London, 1983.
R. N. Frye, History of Ancient Iran, Munich, 1984.
N. G. Garsoïan, “Prolegomena to a Study of Iranian Aspects in Arsacid Armenia,” in N. Garsoïan, Armenia between Byzantium and the Sasanians, London, 1985, X, pp. 30-31.
H. Humbach and P. O. Skjærvø, The Sasanian Inscription of Paikuli, 3 vols., Wiesbaden, 1979-83.
C. Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, Washington, D.C., 1963.
(James R. Russel)
Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: November 2, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, p. 464