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By: Gherardo Gnoli


(Inscr. Mid. Pers. êr [´yly], plur. êrân [`yl´n]), an ethnonym, like Aryan (Old Persian) ariya- and Avestan airya-, meaning "Aryan" or "Iranian."


There are no sufficient reasons to distinguish sing. êr semantically from plur. êrân, the ethnic reference of which is indisputable. The translation of Middle Persian inscription êr as "noble" is therefore untenable (Gignoux, 1972, p. 18; Gnoli, 1986; Gignoux, 1990, p. 46). Middle Persian êr may derive from an Old Iranian epenthetic form, such as Av. airya-; in the lexicon of the religious and political propaganda of the Sasanians other cases occur, possibly due to the influence of the Avestan tradition (Gnoli, 1989, pp. 148 ff.).


Êr appears in Šâpûr's inscription at the Ka´ba-ye Zardošt (ŠKZ, Mid. Pers. l. 24; Back, p. 334). In the Parthian text ` and ` are the forms corresponding to the Middle Persian ones. In the Greek text, besides the gen. plur. Arianôn, there is the sing. form Arian, which seems to represent, without translating it, an Iranian term (ŠKZ, Gk. l. 42; Back, p. 334), as it is the case with ethnonyms and titles: likewise, in Sasanian inscriptions, Greek Arianôn e‚thnos corresponds to Middle Persian `yr`nštr and to Parthian `ry`nhštr "land of Eran."


In this inscription and on some coins of Bahrâm II (Lukonin, 1969, pp. 104, 177; 1979, pp. 39, 92 n. 4, 116), Middle Persian êr precedes mazdêsn (mzdysn) or mâzdêsn "Mazdean" (cf. Man. Mid. Pers. m`zdys, Pahl. m`zdysn, and Av. mâzdayasna-/ni- [adj.] "belonging to the Mazda-worshipers," and Av. mazdayasna- "Mazda-worshipers"; AirWb. 1160 and 1169), according to a formulaic use of Sasanian propaganda, which connected "Iranian" and "Mazdean" almost as if they were royal titles (the prince Narseh in Šâpûr's inscription and the sovereign Bahrâm II on his coins). On Sasanian coins, however, êr rarely occurs; the most common formula, in fact, omits ` in front of mzdysn, because its normal reference to the Erân (and Anêrân) sovereigns made it unnecessary (Gnoli, 1989, p. 144).


The similarity of Pahlavi êr (`) to Pahlavi êr (`) "down, below; low; under" (MacKenzie, 1971, p. 30), made possible by the lexical collisions caused by Pahlavi writing, suggested a false etymology giving the ethnic name a moral signification, "humble," well suited to those who were subjects of the legitimate sovereigns, as we read in the Letter of Tansar (Boyce, 1968, p. 52; Gnoli, 1985, p. 331).




M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Lieàge,1978. 

E. Benveniste, Le vocabulaire des institutions indoeurope‚ennes, 2 vols., Paris, 1969. 

M. Boyce, The Letter of Tansar, Rome, 1968. Ph. Gignoux, Glossaire des inscriptions pehlevies et parthes, London, 1972. 

Idem, review of Gnoli, 1989, Abstracta Iranica 13, 1990, p. 46 no. 184. 

G. Gnoli, "Ibn al-Muqaffa´, Ibn Isfandiyâr e il nome dell' Iran nella 'Lettera di Tansar,'" Studi arabo-islamici in onore di Roberto Rubinacci, Napoli, 1985 [1988], pp. 327-34. 

Idem, "Mittelpersisch êr 'Iranier,'" in R. Schmitt and P. O. Skjœrvø, eds., Studia Grammatica Iranica: Festschrift für Helmut Humbach, München, 1986, pp. 115-24. 

Idem, "Ê: Zum Begriff Iran und seiner Entstehung im 3. Jahrhundert," in Transition Periods in Iranian History, Studia Iranica, Cahier 5, Paris, 1987, pp. 83-100. 

Idem, The Idea of Iran: An Essay on its Origin, Rome, 1989. 

V. G. Lukonin, Kul'tura sasanidskogo Irana, Moscow, 1969. 

Idem, Iran v III veke, Moscow, 1979. D. N. MacKenzie, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, Oxford, 1971.




Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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