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IRANIAN calendar

DATES & DATING in Old & Middle-Iranian


By Professor D. N. Mackenzie**




The only dating formulas preserved in an Old Iranian language are those found in Old Persian in the Bîsotûn inscriptions of Darius I the Great (qq.v.). They have a ponderous air, suggesting a chronicle addressed to posterity, rather than a system meant for everyday use. No year is mentioned in them, and, though the months are named (see EIr. IV, p. 659 table 20), the days are generally indicated only by numerals. For example, "on the ninth of Garmapada" is written garmapadahyâ mâhyâ IX rauchabiš ƒakatâ âha avaƒâ . . ., that is, "in the month (locative) of Garmapada (genitive) 9 days (instrumental plural as general, here nominative plural) were gone past (nominative plural feminine), then. . . ." Only the thirtieth and last day of a month is referred to as such, for example, θûravâharahyâ mâhyâ jiyamnam patiy "in the month of Thuravahara, at the end" (see Kent, Old Persian, pp. 203, s.v. mâha-, 205, s.v. raucah-, for references only). By contrast, the formulas used in the translation of the inscriptions into Aramaic, the language of administrative correspondence in the Achaemenid empire, are simple, as in b 27 ltÂbt "on the 27(th) in Tebeth" (Greenfield and Porten, pp. 24 ff.).

By the time of the earliest dated Middle Iranian documents, the Parthian ostraca from Nisa of the 1st century B.C.E., the Zoroastrian (so-called Avestan) calendar was in use (see EIr. IV, pp. 660-61 tables 21-23). On most of these ostraca no more than a year (of the Arsacid era) is indicated, for example, Š "year 159" (i.e., 89 B.C.E.). On the other hand, some have month and day but no year, and a very few are dated in full, for example, Š "year 176 (i.e., 72 B.C.E.), (first) month Frawardîn, (seventeenth) day Srôš" (see D'yakonov and Livshits, p. 147, Nov. 100 + Nov. 91). The same form is found in a Parthian parchment sale contract from Avroman (q.v.): Š "year 300, (third) month (H)arwatât" (i.e., January-February 53 C.E.; Henning, "Mitteliranisch," p. 29). In the only surviving dated Parthian inscription, actually of the Sasanian period, the month appears before the year, as in the accompanying Middle Persian version: YRH´ (Pers. BYRH) prwrtyn ŠNT XX XX X IIIIIIII "(first) month Frawardîn, year 58" (i.e., 266 C.E.; see Back, p. 378, ŠVŠ 1). The same is true of the later Middle Persian inscriptions at Persepolis, for example, BYRH tyr QDM ŠNT X IIIIIIII YWM ´whrmzdy "(fourth) month Tîr in year 18 (of Šâpûr II, i.e., 327 C.E.), (first) day Ohrmazd" (Back, p. 495, ŠPs II), and of several inscriptions from the walls of the synagogue at Dura- Europos, like BYRH prwrtyn QDM ŠNT 15 WYWM lšnw "(first) month Frawardîn in year 15, and (eighteenth) day Rašn" (see Geiger, pp. 300 ff.). Similar formulas are found in late Middle Persian documents, particularly ostraca of the 6th century from Persia and papyri from Egypt, the latter datable to the short Sasanian occupation from 618 to 629 C.E. On most only a day is mentioned, as in YWM tyl, YWM gwš "(thirteenth) day Tîr," "(fourteenth) day Gôš," and the like, or month and day, as in BYRH spndrmt YWM ´lt\ "(twelfth) month Spandarmad, (twenty-fifth) day Ard" (Papyrus Heidelberg Pahl., unpublished). The same pattern was followed in Book Pahlavi texts of the Islamic period, the colophons of manuscripts being dated according to the Yazdegerdî era, as in BYN YWM Y ´whrmzd MN BYRH spndrmt ŠNT Y IIII IIII C XX XX XX pnc ´HL MN ŠNT Y XX (Y) L(H) bg yzhdkrt MLK´´n MLK´ Y štr\yd´l´n "on the (first) day Ohrmazd of the (twelfth) month Spandarmad, year 865 after the year 20 of his late majesty Yazdegerd, king of kings, son of Šahrîâr" (Dênkard 949.10-11).

In literary texts of Manichean origin, in both Parthian and Middle Persian, a more elaborate expression of dates is found; it is reminiscent of the Old Persian style, owing to the use of the word saxt "passed" (corresponding to Old Pers. θakata-). Various forms occur. For example, the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, with the name of the month "translated" from the Syriac Nisan, is given in Parthian as pd myhr m´h pd sxt cf´rds "in the (seventh) month Mihr, on the fourteen(th day) passed" (Mir. Man. III, p. 882 p 20-21). The time of Mani's death appears as pd sxt cwhrm m´h šhryywr pd dwšmbt ´wd jm´n ywnds "on the fourth (day) passed, (sixth) month Šahrewar, on Monday and (at) the hour eleven" (Mir. Man. III, p. 864 d 57-58) and as pd cf´r sxt šhryywr m´h šhrywr rwc dwšmbt ´wd ywnds jm´n "on the four(th day) passed, month Šahrewar, day Šahrewar, Monday and the hour eleven" (Mir. Man. III, p. 861c 23 ff.). In one Middle Persian text the festival of Greater Tîragân is referred to both as pd h´n rwc y ch´rdh sxt "on that day fourteen passed" and as pd ch´rdh rwc y tyrm´ "on day fourteen of Tîr month" (M 16; Boyce, Reader, pp. 183-84 dn 2).

Documents from Topraq-qala in Khúârazm from the 2nd or 3rd century C.E. (the era is still uncertain) and later ossuary inscriptions from Toq-qala, probably of the 8th century, are dated similarly to the earliest Parthian examples. Only the Aramaic ideograms differ slightly, for example, BŠNT VII C VI YRH´ ßrwrtn BYWM ßrwrtn "year 706, (first) month Frawardîn, (nineteenth) day Frawardîn" (Toq-qala, no. 25; Henning, 1965; Livshits, 1968).

From the earliest records in Sogdian (beginning of the 4th century C.E.) to the latest (10th century C.E.) a form of the word *sa©t appears in dating formulas. In the Ancient Letters krt ZNH ’ykh k’ X-myk m´xw k’ X IIIII sxth "made this letter when (it was) the 10th month, when the 15(th day) passed" (AL IV) and np´xšt ZNH ’ykh pr ´t’rtyk YRH´ pr X s©th "written this letter in the third month, on the 10(th day) passed" (AL III) occur (see Reichelt, "Glossar," p. 53, s.v. s©t-). One Buddhist text is dated according to the Central Asian twelve-year animal cycle (EIr. IV, p. 667 table 33) pr myw sr’ wxwšw-my m´xy pnc’s s©tyh "in the tiger year, in the sixth month, on the fifteen(th day) passed" (Benveniste, p. 113 P8.166). This locative form of the word is spelled phonetically in a Manichean text (S 40), 1 s©ty´ . . . 15 s©ty´ "on the 1(st day) passed . . . on the 15(th)" and so on (Henning, 1937, p. 134, s.v. s©ty´), as in a Christian text (C 2) *xwšmyq s©ty´ knwn ´hry m´xy "on the sixth (day) passed in the month Latter Kanon," but also xwšmyqy s©dy´ cn m´x nw´ nysn m´xy "on the sixth (day) passed from the new moon in the month Nisan." It also occurs as accusative singular feminine qw knwn ´hry m´x *pwn, nwmyq s©t´ "until the month Latter Kanon, the ninth (day) passed" (Sims-Williams, p. 225, s.v. s©t-). The latest form of the word occurs as m´kr sr’ wxšmyk m´xy XX s©’´ "year of the monkey, the sixth month, the 20(th day) passed" (Pelliot Chinois 2782; Sims-Williams and Hamilton, p. 39). When dating by the regnal years of local rulers the Sogdians used another style, however. For example, one Buddhist text is dated ´wyn ß©y ß©p´wr x´y ´nkwyn X III III-myk sr’y ´´z pr n´k sr’y ´prtmy m´xyh "it was in the 16th year of the lord the Son of Heaven Kai-ngywan (=728 C.E.), in the year of the dragon, in the first month" (MacKenzie, I, p. 10, Intox. 34-35). Similar formulations are found in several of the documents from Mount Mug, in which the Sogdian names of the months and days are also used (EIr. IV, p. 665 tables 27-28), as in trxwn MLK´ X sr’ ´´z m´xy msßw©ycy my’ ´sm´n rwc "it was the year 10 of King Tarkhun, in the (tenth) month Masvoghich, (twenty-seventh) day Asman-roch" (i.e., 25 March 710 C.E.; Livshits, 1962, pp. 21-22 Nov. 3- 4, R 1). The word ´´z, understood as "was," may originally have been part of an expression *sar’-âz for "year" (Gershevitch, pp. 200 ff.).

In Khotanese Saka dates are generally expressed in numerals, though the months are often named (EIr. IV, p. 667 table 32). With cardinal numbers, as in salî (?) mâs‚t[ä] 8 hadâ 27 "year ?, month 8, day 27" (Or. 9268, 1 b 1; Bailey, II, p. 13) or salî 21 mâs‚ta rarûya hadâ-t-û jsa 18 "year 21, month Raruya (second summer month), day 18 from them" (Hedin 4.1; Bailey, IV, pp. 23, 74-75). A day expressed by an ordinal appears in the genitive-dative singular, as in skarihveri mâs‚ti didye hadai "in the month Skarhvâra on the third day" (Hedin 6.18; Bailey, IV, pp. 25, 80). The word hadâa- "day" originally meant, in all likelihood, "passed" (see Bailey, Dictionary, p. 447), a striking parallel to the idiom found in the other languages mentioned above.



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

H. W. Bailey, Khotanese Texts I-III, Cambridge, 1945-56, repr. in 1 vol., Cambridge, 1969; IV, Cambridge, 1961, repr. Cambridge, 1979; V, Cambridge, 1963, repr. Cambridge, 1980; VI, Cambridge, 1967. 

E. Benveniste, Textes sogdiens, Paris, 1940. 

I. M. D'yakonov and V. A. Livshits, "Novye nakhodki dokumentov v staroy Nise" (New discoveries of documents at ancient Nisa), Peredneaziatskiy sbornik (Inner Asian collection) II, Moscow, 1966, pp. 133-57, 169-73. 

B. Geiger, "The Middle Iranian Texts," in The Excavations at Doura-Europos, Final Report 8/1, New Haven, Conn., 1956. 

I. Gershevitch, "Sogdians on a Frogplain," Me‚langes linguistiques offerts a Émile Benveniste, Paris, 1975, pp. 195-211. 

J. C. Greenfield and B. Porten, The Bisitun inscription of Darius the Great. Aramaic Version, London, 1982. 

W. B. Henning, Ein manichäisches Bet- und Beichtbuch, Berlin, 1937. 

Idem, "The Choresmian Documents," Asia Minor, N.S. 11, 1965, pp. 166-79. 

V. A. Livshits, Sogdiyskie dokumenty s gory Mug (Sogdian documents from Mount Mug) II, Moscow, 1962, pls. II-XVIa. 

Idem, "The Khwarezmian Calendar and the Eras of Ancient Chorasmia," AAASH 16, 1968, pp. 433-46. 

D. N. MacKenzie, ed., The Buddhist Sogdian Texts of the British Library, Acta Iranica 10, Tehran and Lieàge, 1976. 

H. Reichelt, Die soghdischen Handschriftenreste des Britischen Museums II, Heidelberg, 1931. 

N. Sims-Williams, The Christian Sogdian Manuscript C 2, Berliner Turfantexte 12, Berlin, 1985. 

Idem and J. Hamilton, Documents turco-sogdiens du IXe-Xe sieàcle de Touen-houang, London, 1990


 ** Prof Mackenzie was Lecturer in Kurdish, SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London), 1955-61; Lecturer then Reader in Iranian Languages, SOAS, 1961-75; Professor, Göttingen University 1975-94.





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