Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By: Prof. A. Shapur Shahbazi
geographical division of the world in Iranian tradition. Ancient Iranians,
who may have believed in a tripartite division of the earth (see IRAJ),
developed an orderly picture of the world, envisioned as vast and round
and encircled by a high mountain (harâ bə
Alboez). According to this tradition, the world was divided into seven
(circular) regions (karšvar < karš- 'to plough'; AirWb.,
cols. 458, 459, hence a tract of land bordered by a ploughed line, see Pur(-e)
Dâwud, 1974, p. 111; Pah. and New Pers. kešvar, var. keškar;
Manich. Parth. kišfar, see Mir. Man. III, p. 43). These
were imagined as separated from one another by forests, mountains, or
water, six flanking a central one called in Avesta Xvaniratha-
(MPers. Xwanirah, New Pers. Kh, Arabicized Honi-rat/Khonâras,
probably Xvaniratha- 'self-made, not resting on anything
else', see Gershevitch, p. 176), which equaled in size all the rest
combined and surpassed them in prosperity and fortune (Geiger, pp.
300-303; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 133-34; Pur(-e) Dâwud, 1974,
pp. 112-14). Originally only this continent was inhabited by man and the
fabled home of the Aryans (Airyô.šayana-) was located there (Yt.
10. 13 with Bundahišn 14. 38, tr. Anklesaria, pp. 134-35), but the
Ùihrdâd nask (q.v.) had described how men propagated and
scattered into other regions and formed different races and rites (Dênkard
8.13.2-3 with Christensen, 1917, pp. 13, 119). Sovereignty over all
the seven regions was claimed by Iranian hero-kings (Yt. 19. 26,
28, 31; Bahrâm son of Mardânšah, apud Hamza Esfahâni, pp. 23-25:
Tabari, I, pp. 17, 170, 175, 179; for Sasanian period see Nâma-ye
Tansar, p. 28; Šâh-nâma,
ed. Moscow, VII, p. 164 v. 169, p. 172 v. 297, p. 180 v. 444). Hence,
several expressions denoting "king of the seven regions" came to
be used as synonyms for "king of Iran" (Bartholomae, pp. 19, 26;
Widengren, p. 250; the notion permeates in Persian literature). The
concept of the "seven regions" had Indo-Aryan roots (Geiger, pp.
302-3) and despite some claims (e.g., Herzfeld, pp. 684-85), was
independent of Mesopotamian world view (Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, p.
134, n. 29), which pictured the earth as forming the middle level of the
cosmos and consisting of a highly civilized core surrounded by four
regions inhabited by savages with negative characteristics (Glassner, pp.
820-21). The Iranian concept is alluded to in the Gâthâs of
Zoroaster (Y. 32.3, tr. Insler, p. 45) and fully attested in the
Avestan hymn to Mithra (Yt. 10.12-16, 67), which describes the god
as surveying at dawn the "whole Airyô.šayana-" and
flying "over all regions (vîspâhu karšvôhu)," namely,
(Pahl. Arzah 'east'), Fra-da’afšu- (Pahl. Fradadafš
'southeast'), Vîda’afšu- (Pahl. Wîdadafš 'southwest'),
Savahî- (Pahl. Sawah 'west'), Vouru.barəštî- (Pahl.
Wôrûbaršt 'northwest'), Vouru.-èarəštî-
(Pahl. Wôrûèaršt 'northeast'), and the splendid region of Xvaniratha-
(Xaniratha- bâmî-) in the center (Gershevitch, p. 81; for
orientation see Henning, 1940, pp. 28-29 [repr. in idem, 1977, II, pp.
29-30]; contra Nyberg, pp. 400-401 and Schwartz, p. 643). The system
influenced Zoroastrian eschatology (cf. Christensen, 1931, pp. 153-55). A
spiritual leader watches over each region (Bundahišn. 29.1-4, tr.
Anklesaria, p. 253), and the six comrades of Astvat.ərəta (q.v.)
mentioned in Yt 19. 97, will, according to Dâdestân î Dênîg
(XXXV, 4-6) rise with him to fulfill his mission in the six regions
surrounding the Xvaniratha-. Remarkably, they bear names
symmetrically corresponding with those of the six kešvars (Darmesteter,
pp. 206-8; Boyce, Zoroastriansm I, p. 284). According to the Mâh
î Fravardîn rôz î Hordâd (ed. and tr. Markwart, pp. 742-55, esp.
p. 747), the hero Sâm will rise again, kill A‘i Dahâka (see AÛDAHÂ),
and assume the rulership of the seven regions, but he will deliver it to
Kay Khosrow, who shall rule for fifty-seven years and then will turn the
sovereignty to Vištâspa.
geographical knowledge of the Iranians greatly increased during the
Achaemenid period, when the empire was divided administratively into
twenty taxation districts (satrapies) and ethnically into some thirty
nations (OPers. kâras). Yet, the notion of the seven-fold
divi-sion of the earth influenced Persian ideology (Shahbazi, 1983, pp.
242-46 with undue overestimation). Darius the Great (q.v.) was thought to
have divided his empire into seven parts and given them to the loyal
colleagues who helped him recover the Persian throne (Plato, Epistel
III, tr. Bury, pp. 501, 503); and an Aramaic document from Egypt dated in
the reign of Darius II designating a district governor as hpth.pt',
from Iranian *haftaxv.apâta "protector of
one-seventh," shows that the division of a region into seven districts
was a normal practice patterned after the Iranian cosmology of dividing
the earth into seven kešvars (Henning, 1968, pp. 138, 143-44 [repr. in
idem, 1977, II, pp. 659, 664-65]; see also HAFTVÂD).
and Sasanian empires were also divided into provinces and principalities
with no evident regard to the "seven regions" system. The later
Sasanians had adopted the (Greek) division of the world into four quarters
(see Nâma-ye Tansar, p. 40, tr. p. 63; Ebn Faqih, p. 197) and
administered Êrânšahr in four geographical sections (kôsts) of
the north (abâxtar, identified as Âdur-bâdagân), east (xwarâsân),
south (nêmrôz) and the west (xwarwarân). The application
of the geographical directions likewise influenced the doctrine of the
seven-fold division of the earth (for a detailed and well-documented
discussion see Pur Dâwud, 1952). Thus the Bunda-hišn, while
admitting that "there are 33 kinds of land" (8.1), coordinates
the seven regions with the four cardinal points, placing one in the east,
one in the west and a pair in both north and south (8.2-7). The same is
done by Hamza Esfahâni (pp. 4-5) and Târikh-e Sistân (p. 23).
Similarly, the prologue to the Š of Abu Mansur Mohammad
b. 'Abd-al-Razzâq (q.v.) gives the following report (Qazvini, pp. 42-44),
from a source datable to about 620, when Sasanian troops had conquered
Egypt (Shahbazi, 1990, p. 214): "the earth is divided into four
directions (Ch) from one end to the other, and
(also) into seven parts (haft bahr), each part of which they called
a kešvar. The first is Arzah, the second Ša-bah, the third
Faradadafš, the fourth Vidadafš, the fifth Vurubarst, the sixth
Vurujarst, (and) the seventh, which is the center of the world, Khoniras-e
bâmi (splendid Khoniras), and it is the one wherein we are, and the kings
called it Êrânšahr." The same text then enumerates the countries
of the world, from China to the Byzantine Empire, in accordance with the
four directions, and again comes to Êrânšahr, claiming that it "is
from the river of Egypt [the Nile] to the Âmuya" and "surpasses
in every art the other kešvars surrounding it" (Qazvini, pp. 44-49).
Another elaborate "Iranian" scheme of the "seven kešvars,
similarly arranging known nations into six connected circles
surrounding the central Êrânšahr was given by Abu Rayhân Biruni,
together with a sketch map, both reproduced by Yâqut (Boldân I,
p. 27). The Ketâb al-tafhim, attributed to Biruni, and the
anonymous Mojmal al-tawârikh (ed. Bahâr, pp. 478-81) give a
simpler version of the scheme.
developments came as the result of familiarity with the Greek tradition of
dividing the terrestrial sphere into four quarters, two above and two
below the Equator, and holding that only the one covering the continents
of Asia, Africa and Europe, was habitable. This quarter contained various
nations living in a number of klimas, "climes" or regions
(24 according to Ptolemy but seven in Pliny, Natural History 6.34).
Muslim scholars adopted this scheme, and recorded quite accurate
geographical data and maps. Some (e.g., Ya'qûbi, the author of the H, Estakhri, Ebn
Hawqal, and Moqaddasi) rejected the
doctrine of the seven kešvars; others adapted the system of klimas (aqâlim,
sg. eqlim) to their factual descriptive geography of administrative
and political entities; and some (e.g., Tabari, I, p. 154; Mas'udi, Tanbih,
pp. 31-32) could not escape the influence of the traditions of Iran and
Mesopotamia (Miquel). Ebn Kordâdò-beh starts (p. 4) with a description
of the spherical earth divided into four quarters and then explains (p.
5): "We live in the northern quarter, and the southern quarter is
desolate because of heat; the other half, which is below (i.e., on the
other side of) us, is uninhabited. Each quarter, whether in the north or
south, is divided into seven eqlims. Ptolemy mentions in his book 4,200
towns which flourished at his time." Characteristically, Biruni
remarked that restricting the inhabited lands to one quarter was
unscientific and that one logically expected inhabited quarters on the
other side of the globe as well (India, ed. E. Sachau, pp. 133,
135, cited by Homâ`i, intro. to al-Tafhim, p. 132).
In due course
and under the influence of astronomers, the seven eqlims came to be
pictured as seven tracts of land above and parallel to the equator, each
belonging to a planet and associated with one or two signs of the zodiac (Miquel).
The specifically Iranian (as against the Roman) system is given by Yâqut
(Boldân I, pp. 25-32), Mas'ûdî (Muruj I, pp. 181-82) and
Ekhwân al-Safâ (Rasâ`el I, Beirut, 1376/1957, pp. 120-38) as
follows: The first eqlim belonged to Kayvân (Saturn) and associated with
Capricornius and Aquarius; the second eqlim belonged to Hormoz (Jupiter)
and associated with Sagitarius and Pisces; the third one belonged to Bahrâm
(Mars) and associated with Aries and Cancer; the fourth one belonged to Kharšâd
(kh 'sun') and associated with Leo; the fifth one
belonged to (A)Nâhid (Venus) and associated with Taurus and Libra; the
sixth eqlim belonged to Tir (Mercury) and associated with Gemini and
Virgo; and number seven belonged to Mâh (the moon) and associated with
Cancer. It is this scheme that Nezâmi Ganjavi elaborated in his Haft-peykar
(q.v.), describing how Bahrâm Gôr married seven princesses from seven
lands and built for them seven palaces painted in the colors of the seven
planets, who are also the lords of the seven days of the week.
Christian Bartholomae, Zur Kenntnis der mitteliranischen
Mundarten III, Heidelberg, 1920.
Abu Rayhân Biruni, Ketâb
al-tafhim le-awâ`el senâ-'at al-tanjim,
ed. Jalâl Homâ`i, Tehran, 1318 Š./1939.
Arthur Christensen, Les types du premier homme et premier roi
dans l'histoire lege‚ndaire des iraniens I, Stockholm,
Idem, Les Kayanides, Copenhagen, 1931.
James Darmesteter, E´tudes Iraniennes, 2 vols, Paris,
Ekhwân al-Safâ, Rasâ`el Ekhwân
al-Safâ wa Khollân al-wafâ`,
ed. Khayr-al-Din Zerekli, 4 vols., I, Cairo, 1341/1928.
Ilya Gershevich, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge,
Jean-Jacques Glassner, "The Use of Knowledge in Ancient
Mesopotamia," in Jack M. Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the
Ancient Near East, 4 vols., New York 1995, III, pp. 1815-23.
Walter Bruno Henning, "Ein persischer Titel im Altaramäischen,"
in Mathew Black and Georg Fohrer, eds., In Memoriam Paul
Kahle, Berlin, 1968, pp. 138-45;
repr.idem, Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, Tehran and
Lie‚ge, 1977, pp. 659-66.
Idem, Sogdica, London, 1940;
repr. in idem, Selected Papers II, Tehran and Lie‚ge, 1977,
Ernst Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World, 2 vols.,
S. Insler, The Gâthâs of Zarathustra, Act Iranica 8, Tehran
and Lie‚ge, 1975.
Josef Markwart, "Das Naurôz: Seine Geschichte und seine
Bedeutung," in Dr. Modi Memorial Volume: Papers on
Indo-Iranian and Other Subjects, Bombay, 1930, pp. 709-65.
B. A. Miquel, "Iklîm," in El2 II, pp. 1076-78. Nâma-ye
Tansar, ed. Mojtabâ Minavi, Tehran, 1311 Š./1932; tr. Mary Boyce
as The Letter of Tansar, Rome, 1968.
Henrick Samuel Nyberg, Die Religionen des Alten Iran, tr.
Hans Heinrich Schader, Leipzig, 1938.
Plato, The Works, ed. and tr. Robert Greg Bury, Loeb
Classical Library 7, rev. ed., Cambridge, Mass., and London,
Ebrâhim Pur(-e) Dâvud, "Ùâr-su," in Hormazd-nâma,
2 vols., Tehran, 1331 Š./1952, I, pp. 389-402.
Idem, "Haft kešvar," in idem, Visperad, ed. Bahrâm
Faravaši, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964, pp. 109-17.
Mirza Mohammad Qazvini, ed., "Moqaddema-ye qadim-e Š,"
in idem, Bist maqâla, ed. 'Abbâs Eqbâl Âštiâni, 2
vols., Tehran, 1313 Š./1934, II, pp. 5-90.
Martin Schwartz, "The Old Eastern Iranian World View According
to the Avesta," in Camb. Hist. Iran II, pp. 640-63.
A. Shapur Shahbazi, "Darius' Haft Kišvar," in Heidemarie
Koch and David N. MacKenzie, eds., Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte der
Achämenidenzeit und ihr Fortleben, AMI, Suppl. 10, Berlin, 1983,
Idem, "On the Xvadây-nâmag," in Iranica Varia:
Papers in Honor of Professor Ehsan Yarshater, Acta Iranica 30,
Leiden, 1990, pp. 208-29.
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