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January 2007


Afrasiab (afrāsiyāb), Av. fraŋrasyan; MP. frāsiyāv, frāsiyāk and freangrāsyāk, was one of the Shahnameh’s mythical king and hero of Turan and archenemy of Iran. Also the name of old Persian city of Samarkand in Central Asia.  


The Mythical King and Hero

According to Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) by the Persian epic-poet Ferdowsi, Afrasiab was the mythical King and hero of Turan, the archenemy of Iran, in its legendry history. In Iranian tradition, Afrasiab, by far was considered as the most prominent of mythical Turanian kings, and a formidable warrior and skilful general; an agent of Ahriman, he is endowed with magical powers and deception to destroy the Iranian race.[1]


In Middle-Persian and Islamic sources he was decent of Tūr (Av. Tūriya-), one of three sons of Iranian mythical king Freydun. In Bundahishn he was named as the seventh grandson of Tūr. In Avestan tradition, where his common epithet mairya- deceitful, villainous[2] who take the sense of an evil man. He lived in subterranean fortress made of metal, called Hanakana.


According to Avestan sources, Afrasiab was killed by Haoma near the Čīčhast (possibly either referring to Urmia Lake in Azarbaijan Province, or Lake Hamun in Sistan). According to Shahnameh he met his death in a cave, became to known as the Hang of Afrâsiâb or the dying place of Afrasiab, on a mountaintop in Azarbaijan. The fugitive Afrâsiâb, having been repeatedly defeated by the armies of his adversary, the mythical kind of Iran, Key Khosrow, who happened to be his own grandson, from his daughter side, Farangis, wandered wretchedly and fearfully around, and eventually took refuge in that cave and dies.[3]



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  Ancient Afrasiab (Click to enlarge)


Archaeological Site

Afrasiab is the oldest part and the ruined site of ancient and medieval of the city of Samarkand in nowadays Uzbekistan. The term Qal’a-ye Afrasiab (Castle of Afrasiab) appeared in written sources only from the end of 17th century.


The name popularly connected with of the mythical king Afrasiab, but scholars see in it a distortion and corrupt form of Tajik Parsīāb (from Sogdian paršvāb), meaning "Above the black river", i.e. sīāhāb or sīāb, which bounds the site of the north.[4]


The area of Afrasiab covered 219 (by some accounts 222)[5] hectares, and the thickness of the archaeological strata reaches 8-12 meters. Archaeological excavations carried on in Afrasiab since the end of the 19th century, and very actively in the 1960-70s. The settling of the territories of Afrasiab began in the 7th-6th century BCE, as the centre of Sogdian culture.[6]


[1] Yarshater, E., Afrasiab, Encyclopaedia Iranica – Online Edition.

[2] Nyberg H. S., Die Religionen des Alten Iran, Berlin (1938). p257

[3] Shahbazi A. Sh., Hang-e Afrasiab; The Dying Place of Afrasiâb, (CAIS)

[4] Yarshater, E., Afrasiab, Encyclopaedia Iranica – Online Edition.

[5] Marshak B. I., Sogdian Archaeology, 2003, (CAIS)

[6] Darmesteter J., Hang-e Afrasiab, Études Iraniennes, Paris (1883), pp225-27.


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