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Mani (in Persian: مانی, Syriac: , Latin: Manes) (c. 216–276 AD) was the founder of Manichaeism, an ancient gnostic religion that was once widespread but is now extinct. Mani was born of Iranian (Parthian) parentage in Assuristan, located in modern-day Iraqmarker, which was a part of the Persian Empire during Mani's life. Mani may have been of Persian parentage.

Mani's father, Fatik or Pattig, was from Hamadanmarker, in present day Iranmarker, and his mother, Maryam, was of the family of the Kamsaragan, who claimed kinship with the Parthian royal house, but the names of his father and mother are both Syriac.

Although Mani's original writings have been lost, portions were preserved in Egyptian Coptic and in later Chinese Manichaean writings.


Mani's native languages are thought to have been Middle Persian and Syriac. Mani was an exceptionally gifted child. Mani first encountered religion in his early youth while living with a Jewish Christian ascetic group known as the Elkasites.

According to biographical accounts by al-Biruni, preserved in the tenth century encyclopedia the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim, Mani received a revelation in his youth from a spirit whom he later called the Syzygos or Twin, who taught him the divine truths of the religion.

In his mid-twenties, Mani decided that salvation is possible through education, self-denial, vegetarianism, fasting and chastity. Mani claimed to be the Paraclete promised in the New Testament, the Last Prophet or Seal of the Prophets. The other prophets included Seth, Noah, Abraham, Shem, Nikotheos, Enoch, Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus.

Mani presented himself as a savior and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Mani wrote his seven holy books in Syriac, the main language spoken in the Near East before the Arab-Islamic conquest. Mani's most important book was called Arjang. Mani is thought to have been an extraordinary painter who illustrated Arjang with colorful objects.

During this period, the large existing religious groups, including Christianity and Zoroastrianism, were competing for political and social power. Manichaeism had fewer adherents than Zoroastrianism, but won the support of high ranking political figures.

With the aid of the Persian Empire, Mani would initiate several missionary excursions. Mani's earliest missionaries were active in Turkestan, Indiamarker, Mesopotamia, Persia, Palestine, Syria and Egypt.

Mani's first excursion was to the Kushan Empire in northwestern Indiamarker. Mani is believed to have lived and taught in India for some time, and several religious paintings in Bamiyanmarker are attributed to him.

Mani is said to have sailed to the Indus valley area of India in 240 or 241 AD, and to have converted a Buddhist King, the Turan Shah of India. On that occasion Manichaeism seems to have been influenced by Buddhism. After forty years of travel Mani returned with his retinue to Persia and converted Peroz, King Shapur's brother.

Mani failed to win the favor of the next generation. The disapproval of the Zoroastrian clergy resulted in Mani being sent to prison, where he is reported to have died after several months.

One notable disciple, possibly legendary, is Mar Ammo.


Until the later twentieth century, Mani's life was known largely from remarks by his detractors and from late works. In 1969 in Upper Egypt a Greek parchment codex of ca 400 AD was discovered. It is now designated Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis because it is conserved at the University of Colognemarker.

It combines a hagiographic account of Mani's career and spiritual development with information about Mani's religious teachings and contains fragments of his Living (or Great) Gospel and his Letter to Edessa.

Mani in fiction

Amin Maalouf's novel The Gardens of Light presents a fictionalized account of Mani's life and teaching.

See also


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