Member of an ancient Persian clan specializing in cultic activities. The magi were a priestly caste during the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian dynasties, and parts of the Avesta are probably derived from them. Their priesthood is believed to have served several religions, including Zoroastrianism. From the 1st century AD onward, the word magus in its Syriac form (magusai) was applied to magicians and soothsayers, chiefly from Babylonia. As long as the Persian empire lasted there was a distinction between the Persian magi, credited with profound religious knowledge, and the Babylonian magi, often considered outright imposters. See also Magi.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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