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The Significance of Avestan “čiθra”, Old-Persian “čiça”, Pahlavi “čihr”, and Modern-Persian “čehr”, for the Iranian Cosmogony of Light [1] ©


By: Abolala Soudavar

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. New Persian Context

3. Middle Persian Context

4. The Avestan Context

5. Old Persian Context

6. The Coinage of Queen Burān

7. Conclusion





1. Introduction


In trying to explain the relevancy of the ubiquitous Sāsānian “ke čihr az yazadān” idiom in Iranian kingship theories, and to refute the claim of divine status for Sāsānian kings, I had previously relied on the “common” knowledge that in Middle Persian, čihr had two sets of meanings (1- face and appearance, 2 - seed and origin), and the choice of the second set for čihr, over the first, was dictated by Greek translations.[2] While my suggestion there—that the legend rather implied that the king’s  radiance (in power and glory) reflected those of the gods—has already raised many eyebrows, further research on the etymology of the word čihr and the evolution of its meaning over time, now prompts me to espouse an even more radical position, and to question the very validity of this second set of meaning, not only in Middle Persian, but also in Avestic, Old Persian and New Persian. It is most unfortunate that in all of these, in addition to the wellfounded meaning of “appearance/brilliance,” other meanings such as seed, origin, and nature, have been gradually adopted with rather dire consequences for our comprehension of historical documents—textual as well as visual.


To be sure, the task of refuting the validity of these additional meanings is not an easy one, since a number of unfortunate circumstances:

from Bailey, Bartholomae, and Pisani’s tentative attempts to find a second etymology for the Avestan čiθra,[3]

to the Bundahišn imagery that seems to provide a justification for translating čiθra as seed (of the bull) in the Avestan qualification of the moon as gao-čiθra,

to the “ariya čiça” of Achaemenid royal inscriptions that seems to easily translate into: “of Aryan origin,”

to some Greek and Syriac translations of “ke čihr az yazadān” that insinuate divine descent for Sāsānian kings, and thus validate the “seed/origin” meaning for čihr,

to an inscription on the coinage of the Sāsānian queen Burān (r. 629-31), thought to justify the claim of divinity for Sāsānian kings,

to the Persian dictionary Borhān-e Qāte`, which mentions a second meaning for NP čehr as “nature,”


have all contributed to the acceptability of meanings beyond those derived from the Proto-Indo-European root cit (to appear/ to shine), which constitutes the basis for a primary set of meanings for čiθra and its progenies.[4] And, the mere number of—mostly independent—support cases for a second set of meanings, seems to vouch against any effort to negate it. Yet, the ultimate arbiter for the acceptance of any meaning should be its contextual relevancy. If in every encountered situation one can prove that the second set leads to a non-sense, or provides a weaker meaning than that provided by the first set, said set looses its relevancy and should be discarded. And that is what we shall try to achieve in this study.


Philologists may be surprised to see an almost total absence of philological considerations in my approach.[5] It is however hoped that the contextual argument, complemented by parallel historical considerations, will bring to light such a coherent use of the word čehr and its antecedents that it will ultimately overshadow all other concerns. Moreover, it is hoped that my conclusions about the similarity in the Sasanians’ and Achaemenids’ formulation of kingly power—that will emerge at the end of this study— will further justify my efforts for unifying the disparate meanings of this family of words.



2. New Persian context


My belief in a single set of meaning for NP čehr and its antecedents was fostered by the fact that nowadays, čehr only evokes one set of meanings. Indeed, every single example cited for čehr in the comprehensive Dehxodā dictionary, pertains to the first set, and projects a meaning of appearance and radiance, for instance:[6]

šāh-e xoršid-čehr: a king with a sun-face or radiant like the sun

kiān-čehr, manučehr-čehr: with Kiānid/Manučehr radiance and glory

tārik-čehr: dark-face, a face that has no glow

rošan šodi zu šab-e tireh-čehr: he caused the dark-faced night to brighten up

Of all the citations squeezed into the two and half pages of small script of that dictionary, none convey a meaning of seed or origin. At the very end of the relevant entry however, we find a reference to a meaning of “nature” proposed by the Borhān-e Qāte` (the problem of which I shall address further below),[7] and a meaning of “seed” and “origin” adopted by Pourdavoud in his Avestan endeavors. Neither of the two assertions rests on an example, nor on a citation.[8] They simply repeat oft quoted meanings for earlier stages in the evolution of čehr, namely, the Middle Persian čihr and the Avestan čiθra.


The obvious question then is: if čihr and čiθra, each in their own context, really conveyed a meaning of seed or origin, how can it be that there is no trace of it in Persian literature? For after all, the use of the “ke čihr az yazadān” legend was not confined to rural inscriptions alone, but prominently figured on coins of mass-circulation, and the Avesta was not only an omnipresent feature of Iranian culture in the pre-Islamic period, but remained as one of its points of reference for centuries after the Arab conquest. If a meaning of seed/origin did really exist in the Avestan context or for the legends on coins of mass-circulation, surely some trace of it was to be found in Persian literature. Its very absence today, invites closer scrutiny for earlier periods.




3. PAHLAVI (Middle Persian) context

One can never claim to have addressed every possible situation, but the examples below cover most, if not all, variations in meaning of the Middle Persian čihr:


3.1. The radiance of čihr

A passage of the Dēnkard is most interesting for the purpose of this study, since it provides a definition of the word čihr, and an insight into its function as a source of energy. I shall rely on the latest edition of this passage by Taffazoli and Amouzegar, which provides an excellent transcription of its text but needs rectification in regards to its translation:[9]

“(24.29) ud tan-iz ud griw wirāyišn pad ān čihr ī nē rōz rōz abāg paristārih ōwōn wardišnig būd sazāgihā bē brēh ī wehīh ud xwarrah ī xwēškārih ud hu-xradih ī sūdōmand ud dānišn ī frārōn ud xwāstag ī wēš frayādišnig ud abārīg-iz nēkih ī pahlom mehmānīh pad yazdānparistagān”


« (24.29) il est convenable de s’adapter, corps et âme, à la nature qui, elle, ne change pas tellement chaque jour selon le service (qu’on lui demande) ; mais le destin de la bonté, la gloire – à savoir la fonction – la bonne sagesse profitable, la bonne connaissance, les biens qui sont très secourable et d’autres excellentes qualités résident ainsi davantage chez les adorateurs des dieux. »


The above translation has been rendered meaningless, by the adoption of “nature” for the meaning of čihr, which in turn, has caused the wrong translation of the word rōz, as “day” rather than “luminosity.”[10] Furthermore, in order to squeeze some meaning out of this double-error, the translators saw in the two successive “rōz”s, an indication of a continuous and recurring phenomenon (something akin to “day by day”).[11] It is obvious however, that the “ezāfeh” ī after čīhr cannot stick to the negative article alone, but relates to a nē-rōz combination that acts as a qualifying adjective for čīhr.


By considering the original meaning of čihr as appearance/radiance, it immediately follows that čihr ī nē-rōz refers to a radiance that has lost its luminosity, and that the second rōz sits at the beginning of a new sentence which explains how to restore that lost luminosity. Such an interpretation is fully supported by what follows in that section: the lost rōz can be restored by the sparkle (brāh/brēh) of goodness, and the aura (“xwarrah”)[12] that is associated with a number of qualities that God-worshippers should normally have.


Moreover, the above passage comes in response to one of the challenging questions that the Christian Bōxt-Mārē puts before Ādur-Farrobay in the Dēnkard:

Question: “And why is it that in the body and soul of God-worshippers, the sparkle, and aura, and wisdom, and learning, and richness, and other kinds of goodness are not more manifest than among the demonworshippers?”[13]


By structuring the question in this order, its author recognizes “sparkle” and “aura” as the two most important qualities that the soul and body of a believer should have. It is therefore quite natural that in response, Ādur-Farrobay would address the case of those who have lost their radiance, and would propose a remedy for it. The answer should therefore read:

Answer: And [in the matter of] the body and soul adorned with a radiance that has lost its luminosity, [said] luminosity can be suitably restored by the sparkle [generated by] goodness, the aura [generated by] being dutiful [in religious tasks], and the beneficial good wisdom, and the straightforward learning, and the desire (xwāstag) to help more others (wēš frayādišnig), and other excellent blessings that are best suited to reside with God-worshippers.


Even though the text of the Dēnkard was written in the 9th century, its spirit is rooted in the Avesta; particularly in the Farvardin Yašt where Ahura-Mazdā repeatedly attributes his creative powers to the “rayi and glory (xvarnah)” of the fravašis of the Righteous people (ašāvans).[14] Most scholars consider the word rayi therein as a derivative of the root raē- (wealth), and in order to fit it into that context, translate it as “brightness/splendor,” presumably equating wealth with glittering jewelry. Malandra however, translates it as “insight” and considers it to be derived from a homonym, rāy-[15] the one that has given us NP rāy.[16] The latter is often described by adjectives such as bright or obscure, and even likened to bright stars such as Jupiter at night.[17] Such descriptions rest on the ancient belief that vision was made possible by the inner light of the eye. To this day, a loss of vision is equated with a loss of “light,” and the eye is qualified as kam-su (low-light) and a dear one is called nur-e čašm (the light of my eye). A more appropriate meaning for rayi would therefore be “point of view,” or more simply “viewing capacity.”[18]


The Malandra interpretation, not only leads us to a better justification for recognizing rayi as radiance and light, but functionally, brings it into harmony with the xvarnah that is coupled with it. Indeed, an important characteristic of the xvarnah is its variability: it can be strong, weak or non-existent.[19] Unlike the wealth-related raē-combination that must necessarily be translated by a word that defines a continuously exalted—therefore non-variable—state, the “radiance” translation for rayi gives it the same variable characteristic as xvarnah. If “brightness” or “splendor” can also be used for its translation, it’s only because the strength of the rayi that Ahura-Mazdā relies upon for creation (or other feats) is due, in the Farvardin Yašt, to its emanation from the ašavans. Without such an association, the rayi may not necessarily be bright.


In either case, whether derived from raē- or a homonym, rayi seems to be light in substance, and together with the xvarnah, which is often projected in a radiating form,[20] becomes a source of energy that the fravašis of the Righteous people carried and that Ahura-Mazdā could exploit. Similarly, the čihr that Ādur-Farrobay saw as a necessary attribute of God-worshippers (i.e., righteous people), must be considered as a radiance that acted as a source of power and energy.


3.2. The apparent nature of čihr

Since one’s appearance is very much tied to one’s nature, it is not surprising that dictionaries such as the Borhān-e Qāte`, translate čehr as nature.[21] But the following example from the previously mentioned edition of the Dēnkard, clearly shows that even when “nature” provides an adequate translation, “apparent nature” better describes that situation:

“(22a) ud čim ī ān yōjdahgarīh nē zan bē mard kardan ēk wēš amāwandīh ī nar ī ahlaw ud wēš-samīhā sijdīh ī dēwān aziš ud nārīgān ōy-iz petyārag ī sarādag ō čīhr abyoxt ēstēd narrīh-iz ī awēšān drūzān rāy az mādagān kam tarsēd ud pad-iz abārīg kār ī nē ōwōn mādagig mard az zan weh šāyēd …”


«(22a) une des raisons pour laquelle la purification n’est pas exécutée par une femme, mais par un homme, c’est qu’un homme juste possède plus de force (qu’une femme) et que les démons le fuient avec plus de peur. Cet antagoniste de l’espèce des femmes s’est attaché lui aussi à leur nature. Et parce que ces druzs sont mâles, ils ont peu peur des femmes ; et même dans d’autres affaires qui ne sont pas aussi essentielles (que celle-ci), les hommes sont plus aptes (à le faire) que les femmes …»[22]


From the first sentence of the above passage, it is clear that the purifier’s job is not to get entangled with demons, nor to physically fight them, but to function as a scare-crow, and make them run away at sight. And since demons are male creatures and know that they are stronger than women, should a woman stand as a purifier, her inherent weakness will be divulged by her appearance (i.e. pronounced breasts, hairless face, etc…), and thus, the demons will not be scared away. The underlined sentence is therefore better translated as:

…and any antagonistic posture of women is undermined by their [physical] appearance



3.3. The force of čihr

A heading from the Middle Persian text Dādestān ī Dēnīg, which reads as:

“hu-dēnān ī ēd pursīdārān: az stāyišnīg nērōg ī čihr ud zōr ī gōhr ud daxšag ī xrad ud nišān ī hunar …”


has recently been translated as:

“To those of Good Religion, who are asking these things about the praiseworthy strength of nature, and the power of nature, and the signs of wisdom and proof of ability …”[23]


By translating čihr as “nature,” we face a redundancy in title that even 19th century Qājār literary figures, who so cherished repetition, would have avoided. The title obviously enumerates varied questions that people had, and therefore, since nērōg and zōr are equivalent and both mean strength and power, čihr must represent something other than gōhr (NP gohar, Ar. jowhar, meaning “substance/nature”). This deduction is further strengthened by a passage that enumerates the faculties that the Creator endows man with, among which we have čihr ī xwad bizešk translated as “self-healing nature”: 

“2.13 For when the most beneficent and perfect Creator achieved the creation of the Lord in the wholly wonderful way, with the attack of the Evil Spirit, (he changed) the static existence into a dynamic spiritual +world. As a conspicuous example, (he changed) the invisible (and) unmingled spirit into a visible one. He placed the growing spirit of the +soul as a virtuous lord in the body so that it may move in the material world. He announced and adorned the +animating life and the preserving frawahr, and +acquisitive memory and the protective intelligence, and the discerning wisdom, and the +self-healing nature [čihr ī xwad bizešk], (and) the organizing power, (he announced and adorned) the eye to see the ear to hear, the nose to smell, the mouth to recognize flavors, the body to +feel a +touch, the +heart to think the tongue to speak, the hand to practice, the foot to walk. These (faculties) which cause the improvement of the soul and +increase of the flow of the blood (?), these which are elated to the body…”[24]


Except for the supposed “self-healing nature” description, every other enumerated faculty in this passage is describing a certain aspect of man’s nature. It does seem odd therefore, to have the nature of man qualified—as a whole—within a list enumerating only particular aspects of it. Moreover, if the nature of man was really self-healing, Ahriman and the Druj (the Lie) could never harm it. For, whatever went wrong, man’s nature had the capacity to rectify it. The “xwad bizešk” faculty, rather than “self-healing,” should be understood as one that acts as a man’s own doctor (bizešk), i.e., one that could see and understand man’s own illnesses but, like any other physician, was not necessarily able to cure them. Since čihr essentially sheds light on one’s problem, it is better described as a source of light rather than “nature.”


In any event, by alluding to the power (nērog) of čihr, the initial title provides a further justification for my conclusion in section 3.1: that čihr was a source of power, similar to the xvarnah.



3.4. Čihr as visage and appearance

The Manichaean text, Šāpuragān, brings out yet another meaning of čihr: It states that in the final phase of the world and on the Day of Judgment, the Great Fire ascends to the heavens in the čihr of Ohrmazd-bagh (the Primordial Man).[25] This of course provides the closest meaning to NP čehr, and is synonymous with NP čehreh, i.e., visage and appearance.



3.5. The input from iconography

As already mentioned, I had concluded in a previous study that, in respect to Sāsānian stone-reliefs, the “ke čihr az yazadān” idiom indicated that gods and kings were meant to reflect each other in appearance and Glory. Consequently, I was able to describe the stone-reliefs of Barm-e Delak, Tāq-e Bostān and Naqš-e Rostam, as a coherent expression of kingly power sanctioned by deities such as Ahura-Mazdā, Anāhitā, Apām-Napāt and Miθra.[26]


Conversely, the very fact that the intriguing composition of these stone-eliefs could not be otherwise explained, gives credence to my interpretation of said idiom. Unless a more plausible explanation is presented—and there are none to my knowledge that, for instance, can adequately explain that: if the male figures of the Investiture of Narseh at Naqš-e Rostam (fig. 1) are non-deities, then why is it that they so accurately reflect the king, especially in the parallelism of their limbs, rippled trousers, and multitude of flying ribbon, rather than depicting a subordinate in a position of respect? And who is the boy?—the čihr of this Sāsānian idiom should be understood as referring to a similarity in appearance and glory.



3.6. Čihr in translation

The major support for čihr’s second set of meanings has always been the contemporary translations, particularly the one carved next to the investiture scene of Šāpur I at Naqš-e Rajab, which qualifies the king and his father to belong to “the family (γενουσ) of gods” and suggests a meaning of “seed/origin” for čihr.[27]


I had previously raised two major objections for this interpretation:

Redundancy: if Ardašir I (r. 224-241) was truly from the seeds of gods, his son would have been as well. There would be no need to emphasize it twice (i.e., for both father and son).[28]

Not all Greek translations deified the king, and letters from Xosrow II (r. 590-628) to Heraclius, and from Xosrow I (r. 531-72) to Justinian, rather support the contention that kings and gods were meant to reflect each other in glory and power.[29]


Translators did not always adhere to the principle of strict equivalence,[30] and in the Greco-Roman context, in which, even the lover-boy of Hadrian (r. 117-38) was deified, it made sense for a translator to elevate the rank of the Iranian king to that of the Romans. This purpose was facilitated by the use of the epithet baγ for Sāsānian kings in regal inscriptions. In Achaemenid times, the word baγa unequivocally meant god, but followed the path of degeneracy to become later on an honorific epithet. The question then is: what did it mean in Sāsānian times?


Fortunately, the Sāsānian era is included in a time-bracket for which one can demonstrate that baγ was used as a regal title at both ends. On the late end, we have the passage of baγ into Turkic languages as bنg/beyg, clearly a title with no divine or religious connotations.[31] Since bنg first appears in the Orkhon inscriptions of the 8th century, we are at least assured that by the end of the Sāsānian era, its antecedent baγ, had gained full temporal status.


On the early end, we have the coinage of Ardašir I’s brother and predecessor, Šāpur, with his effigy on the obverse and his father on the reverse, with the following legends respectively: bgy šhpwry MLK’, BRH bgy p’pky MLK’ (baγ Šāpur Šāh, son of baγ Pāpak Šāh) (fig. 2). According to Tabari, when Pāpak killed the local ruler of Estaxr, he requested from the Parthian Ardavān IV (r. 216-224), the crown of Estaxr for his son Šāpur. When Ardavān refused, Pāpak proceeded without permission and placed Šāpur on the throne of Estaxr.[32] Clearly, even after defying the authority of their Parthian overlord, Pāpak and his son were in no position to claim divine status. Deities simply do not ask permission.


Thus, like the English word “lord” and the French “seigneur,” by Sāsānian times, baγ had acquired a temporal meaning. As a regal epithet, it meant “lord, majesty” with no divine connotations whatsoever.[33] In Iranian literature, no king ever claimed divine power, except Jamšid. And when the latter did that, he immediately lost his kingship![34] But to further complicate the issue, instead of the normal Pahlavi spelling, occasionally, baγ was written as an ideogram (“ALHA”).[35] For a Syriac translator dealing with a Semitic language (as opposed to Greek), this spelling naturally evoked “god,” and suggested divine claim. It was thus used—in a negative way—by the author of an account on Christian martyrdom under Šāpur II, who clearly had an ideological incentive to deride the Sāsānian king, and accuse him of blasphemy.[36]


In sum, the translation argument is not as solid as it seems.



3.6. Precedents

Two possible precedents may reinforce the interpretation of our Sāsānian idiom as an indicator of god-sanctioned authority for the king (rather than divine origin). The first is the inscription on coins from Persis under the generic formula: [king’s name] prtrk' zy 'lhy' ([king’s name] prataraka of gods), that is datable to the beginning of the Arsacid era.[37] Prataraka has hitherto not been defined in the Iranian context, but “in the official Aramaic documents it seems to mean something like prefect, superintendent or foreman.”[38] Thus, following the departure of the Seleucids, the kings of Persis (present day Fārs and home of the later Sāsānians) altered the divine connotations of the Greek regal slogans by introducing a word that should probably be translated here as “deputy.” The king of Persis is then characterized as “deputy of god on earth,” similar to the Islamic formula: zill-ollāh (shadow of god on earth), and very much in line with the ancient notion of a king reflecting the gods’ power and authority.[39]


A second possibility is offered by a passage in the Tir Yašt in which the star Tištrya is said to have received his čiθra from Apām-Napāt.[40] Structurally, it provides a close parallel to the Sāsānian idiom, for here again one entity derives its čiθra/čihr from another. Since we shall argue in the following section that čiθra can only mean “brilliance” in this passage, we can conclude here that čihr—as a progeny of čiθra —was used to indicate reflective radiance, and that such a concept was ingrained in ancient Iranian cosmogony, and that the radiance of čihr was indeed a source of power and energy from which kings and rulers derived their authority (or more precisely, through which they projected authority).



4. The Avestan context

A summary look at the Avesta had suggested to me that the translation of čiθra as “seed” in many passages didn’t seem right. Fortunately, Jean Kellens not only confirmed this suspicion, but also expressed his belief that in the whole of the Avesta, čiθra only meant “appearance” or “brilliance,” and that gao-čiθra, as a description of the moon, should simply be understood as the same term would be in New Persian: i.e., that “it appears as a bull.”[41]


4.1. Gao-čiθra

The latter remark ties well with my own conclusion that the bull of the Achaemenid lion-bull icon (fig. 3), stood for the moon, in an emblem that represented day-night perpetuity as well as the xvarnah bestowed by the lords of the day and the night, i.e., the ahuras Miθra and Apām-Napāt.[42] This conclusion is now further strengthened by the recent publication of a seal from Sardis which depicts the lion and bull engaging battle, with a sun and a moon carved above them (fig. 4).[43]


This point of view obviously offers a much simpler explanation than the conventional—but incongruent—conception that the “moon carries the seed of the bull;”[44] a conception that is mostly based on the Bundahišn imagery. In the Bundahišn however, the seed/semen of the bull is taken to the moon for purification only. There is absolutely no indication that the semen remained there. To the contrary, the purification was immediately followed by the creation of species, explained in the following terms: “first a pair of bovines—a cow and a bull—then, from every other specie, a pair on earth, in Erānvēj.”[45]

The sequence leaves no room for the semen to reside on the moon. Moreover, according to Biruni, the sixteenth of the month of Dey was celebrated by Iranians as the day that young Fereydun rode a bull, and on that night, each year the image of a bull appears in the sky with golden horns and silver hoofs, which pulls the cart of the moon. For the same night, Biruni also reports another popular belief according to which a bull appears in the sky and augurs a year of abundance or drought, according to


the number of sounds it utters.[46] Thus the idea of a bull appearing in the sky, and associated with the moon, was rather widespread. In what follows, I shall test Kellens’ theory for the instances in which the second set of meaning has enticed many other scholars to adopt it.



4.2. Afš-čiθra

Tištrya’s description as afš-čiθra (Yt 8:4), is generally translated as “containing the seed of water,”[47] presumably on the account of its similarity with gao-čiθra, and the fact that Tištrya is somehow involved in the movement of water on earth. His involvement though, is not for bringing water to earth but to make the water of lake Vouru.kaša surge and flow (Yt 8:8, 30). In none of his avatars is he said to carry water to earth, nor make use of his presumed seeds of water. His source of water is lake Vouru.kaša and therefore on earth.

More importantly, in the Yašts, afš-čiθra is not an exclusive quality of Tištrya but seems to apply to all stars (Yt 12:39); and in the Vendidad, in an invocation addressed to the “afš-čiθra” stars, they are requested to shed light on earth (21.13). It makes a lot more sense to request bright stars to produce light, than stars which “contain the seeds of water” or “are of watery nature.”[48] The context favors a meaning of brilliance, i.e., one of the two original meanings of čiθra. Stars are therefore characterized with an afš brilliance quality. The question then is: what does exactly afš mean in this combination?


Afš is a derivative of ap (water). It has also provided the NP verb afšāndan (to spray), which is primarily used for water, perfume and other liquids, and by extension for granules such as gold.[49] We may thus surmise that afš implied water in a raindrop form. Afš-čiθra would then mean “glittery as raindrops,” a very appropriate term for stars which often scintillate in the sky.[50]


In Yt 8:4, Tištrya is described as opulent, glorious, afš-čiθra (glittery), and with a series of other qualities followed by the sentences:

“yahmāt hača berezāt haosravanghem apām nafəδrat hača čiθrəm”

Malandra translates the above as:

“the exalted one from whom (comes) renown—from Apām-Napāt (comes

his?) lineage.”[51]


The translation seems confusing and ill-defined. However, with two corrections we may obtain a more intelligible result. The first is to acknowledge that Apām-Napāt’s name should have been repeated at the end of the stanza but is not, because of the traditional Avestic pattern of repetition avoidance. He was thus the source of both renown and čiθra for Tištrya (the star Sirius).[52] The second is to translate čiθra as brilliance, because the main qualities of that star are all of luminous nature (Yt 8:2: white, shining, seen afar, … piercing from afar with its shining undefiled rays), and befit Sirius, the brightest star in the sky at nighttime. As the Lord of the night and seas, Apām-Napāt was the appropriate ahurā to have bestowed Tištrya with the qualities that so distinguished him at nighttime. To talk about lineage here is to confuse the Iranian pantheon with the Greek one, where deities were actively procreating.[53]



4.3. Raēva.čiθra

In the Ābān Yašt, Anāhitā approaches a certain boatman, in disguise: “64. Arədvi Sūrā Anāhitā  lowed up to (him) in the form of a beautiful, very strong maiden, well built, high girdled, erect, noble in respect to (her) illustrious lineage, in shoes worn to the ankle with bright golden laces.”[54]


To pass as a maiden, all that mattered was her look. It did not matter whether the jewelry that she wore was inherited or recently acquired, whether she was an aristocrat or a nouveau-riche. Lineage is not necessarily an apparent trait. Along with the rest of the description, “raēvat.čiθrəm āzātayه(which has been translated by the underlined sentence above) should describe what was visible at first sight. Since the first word is generally understood as “wealthy” and the last means “noble,” a more appropriate translation would be: “with the rich look of the nobles,” i.e., she appeared nobly splendid. One again, the primary meaning of čiθra better fits the context.



4.4. Aša-čiθra

In his translation of Yt 19:12, Malandra has opted to translate čiθra as family:

“ …The Lie shall retreat to wherever it was whence it came in order to destroy the righteous man, him and (his) family and his being.”[55]


In the case of the Sāsānian idiom though, we saw that despite a Greek translation as “family,” only “seed” or “origin” were adopted to define čihr. Malandra’s choice here is, in fact, symptomatic of the difficulties caused by the introduction of the second set of meaning in general. He had to extrapolate it one step further, into “family,” in order to get a somehow more meaningful sentence. The shorter extrapolation, i.e., “lineage,” would have resulted in a non-sense, because the rest of the family would have still been alive and able to continue the lineage.


Moreover, righteousness is not hereditary. The progenies of an ašāvan do not become automatically ašāvans, and the Lie certainly nurtured hopes of converting every newborn to his cause. Therefore, he had no incentive to destroy potential recruits for his own army.


What the passage in fact recounts is that the Lie had come to destroy the righteous man, the ašāvan, and that destruction is explained as one involving both his čiθra and his being. The concept that I alluded to in 3.1 is relevant here, for we saw that even when the ašāvan was dead, his “lights” (i.e., his rayi and glory) remained, and acted as a source of energy for Ahura-Mazdā, and that the čiθra of the righteous man was very much the same. His annihilation therefore, involved not only the destruction of his “being” but also of his čiθra, i.e., his radiance.


By the same token, we can assume that for the term aša-čiθra, a translation such as “of just appearance” or “he who radiates justice” is more appropriate than the incongruous description:


“containing the seed or principle of Aša.”


Finally, there is a further consideration for the choice involving the two meanings. A religious text, like a political slogan, seeks maximum effect through relevancy and actuality. “Seed” implies a future potential; radiance and appearance evoke immediacy. The latter is therefore more relevant, more dramatic, and therefore more potent.



4.5. Arya-čiθra

In Yt 13.87, čiθra again has been understood as seed:

“We worship the Frawaši of righteous Gaya Maretan, who first listened to the thoughts and teachings of Ahura Mazdā, from whom (Mazdā) fashioned forth families of the Aryan people, the seed of Aryan peoples.”[56]


There are two inherent problems to this interpretation. If Ahura-Mazdā fashioned the “seed” of the Aryan people, he obviously fashioned that nation as a whole in that seed, including Aryan families. “Family” adds no precision to the information conveyed by “seed.” Moreover, if “seed” was the correct translation, logically, the order of the two entities should have been reversed: seed obviously must come before any offshoot.


Here again we are in the presence of the same concept as the one discussed in the previous section: similar to the čiθra of the ašavans, there was a light or radiance attributed to the Aryans that provided victory and success to its members. My analysis further below of a similar concept, enunciated in similar terms, in royal Achaemenid inscriptions (5.1),[57] shall provide added support for my suggestion here.



4.6. A new trend

In his recent analysis of Y 32 and its relevance to the Daēvas and their followers, Antonio Panaino clearly senses that the traditional translation of čiθra as “seed” is inadequate and opts instead for “manifestation” to define the čiθra of Bad Thought. Nevertheless, he pays a lip-service to the traditional interpretation by including “seed” in a parenthesis and presenting it as another possibility.[58] It is perhaps time to follow the lead of Kellens and abandon “seed” and “origin” all together.



5. Old Persian context

Čiθra’s Old Persian counterpart is čiça. It appears in royal Achaemenid inscriptions in two capacities: as qualifier of the word “Aryan,” and as part of a name (e.g., Čiçāntaxma). In both capacities, it has been translated as origin and lineage. Having argued that in Avestic, Middle Persian and New Persian, the čiθra-family of words did not evoke lineage, it would seem rather odd to have the contrary in Old Persian.



5.1. Aryan čiça

In three Achaemenid inscriptions, čiça appears within sentences that define the king’s affiliations. Darius (r. 521-485BC) declares to be:


(1) Vištāspahyā puça, Haxāmanišiya, (2) Pārsa, Pārsahyā puça, (3) Ariya, Ariya čiça i.e., (1) son of Vištāspa, an Achaemenid, (2) Pārsa, son of Pārsa, (3) Aryan, and with Aryan čiça; as for Xerxes (r. 485-465BC), he declares to be the son of Darius and then repeats 1, 2 and 3 verbatim.[59] Although all three inscriptions are trilingual, the corresponding Babylonian versions of 1, 2 and 3 are missing, and the Elamite versions read as the OP versions.[60] We are therefore left to rely solely on context for deciphering the meaning of čiça.


The three-partite inscriptions were meant to define the king’s affiliations from the smallest relevant social entity to the largest. The second clauses of parts 2 and 3 obviously don’t define new groupings, but provide additional information for their first clause. There is a tangible difference between the groups defined in 1 and 2: the name of the latter group is repeated while the name of the first group is not. One pertains to an inheritable trait, and the other to a transient state. If Darius’s father is an Achaemenid, so is he. That is why Xerxes who qualifies his own father as Achaemenid, does not repeat it for himself, nor does Darius repeat it for himself in his own inscription.[61] Therefore, if Pārsa is repeated for father and son, it must indicate a non-permanent and a nonhereditary state.[62]


The analogy with 15th century Turkaman practices is quite revealing. Uzun Hasan (r. 1453-78), the Aq-qoyunlu ruler of western Iran, took pride in being a member of the Bāyandor clan, named after his ancestor, Bāyandor Khān. Like the “Achaemenid” affiliation, Bāyandor clanship was a permanent trait and thus hereditary. The Aq-qoyunlu affiliation however, was not. It indicated membership in a confederacy that could change in time. A Turkaman could join the Aq-qoyunlus, or the rival Qara-qoyunlu confederacy, and move in and out. A Turkaman could settle near Mosul and become a Mosul-lu, or settle near Šām (Damascus) and become a Šām-lu.[63] By the same token, we may surmise that Pārsā represented a confederacy, or a location-related affiliation similar to say Mosul-lu, or a mixture of both. Whatever it was, it did not represent a permanent characteristic.[64]


More relevant to our study however, is the Turkaman affiliation, which was permanent. Once a Turkaman, always a Turkaman, and for generations to come. The term defined a nation in the ethnic sense of it. Similarly, the term “Aryan” defined a nation, i.e., an ethnic characteristic that embraced one generation after another. We thus see that the classical translation of the third part of the above-mentioned inscriptions has an inherent problem: its second clause is redundant and adds nothing to the meaning of the first clause (“Aryan”) that it didn’t already have. To be an Aryan meant to be of Aryan lineage, and to be a Turkaman meant to be of Turkaman stock. To repeat it in a royal lapidary inscription would have looked ridiculous to any member of those congregations.


The better alternative to “lineage” is once again the primary meaning of čiθra, i.e., brilliance; a brilliance that could loose its luminosity and become nē-rōz as in 3.1, or be all powerful. Within a cosmogony in which power was derived from light, the legitimacy of Darius necessitated for him to possess the strongest light among the Aryans. As I shall argue here bellow, by claiming to have the Aryan čiça, Darius was in fact claiming to possess the Aryan xvarnah.


5.2. Tribal good fortune

The key to the understanding of the Achaemenid concept of dynastic legitimacy is to acknowledge that similar to the Aq-qoyunlus, their mode of thinking was still very much rooted in a tribal framework. After all, the Aq-qoyunlu nomad-to-emperor timeframe was not much different than the Achaemenid one.[65]


Among the nomadic tribes of the central Asian steppes, divine interventions notwithstanding, the most potent force to project authority was a good fortune tied to a group or class of people (as opposed to that of a leader). Thus, in a stately edict of Uzun-Hasan, which—despite the renowned religious orthodoxy of the Aq-qoyunlu regime—combines Islamic concepts with tribal ones, we can see that in addition to the powers of God, the “Good Fortune of the Bāyandor Clan (dowlat-ol-Bāyandoriyyeh)” is invoked.[66]


The Il-Xān Ġāzān (r. 1295-1304), on the other hand, relied on a group larger than a clan, and would begin his edicts with the invocatio: “by the might of God and the auspiciousness of the Mohammedan nation (mellat-e Mohammadiyyeh).”[67] It is however, in a Uyġur edict of the Il-Xān Abu-Sa`id (r. 1317-1335) that we can see this tribal concept given full reign. After invoking the power of the Mongol sky-god Tengri, the edict invokes the power of: “the nation of the Apostle Mohammad (Muqamad baiγambar-un omat-dur).”[68] Less hampered by Islamic orthodoxy in a Uyġur context, Abu-Sa`id transformed what was known as the ommat-e mosalmān (the Moslem community) into a clan/tribe grouping led by a successful leader, the apostle Mohammad. In all three examples we see reliance on a group-related auspicious power, next to godsanctioned authority.


Because the Avesta refers to the Aryan xvarnah, it is undeniable that the Iranians who also came from the central Asian steppes, believed in a group-related auspiciousness similar to the Mongols and the Turkamans. The question then is: was this ever reflected in Iranian kingly ideology or iconography? The answer is yes, at the very least in Sāsānian times.



5.3. The dastār as symbol of the Aryan xvarnah

In my previous study, I had argued that the omnipresent flying ribbons of the Sāsānian regal paraphernalia was a symbol of xvarnah (MP xarrah, NP farr), and was probably named dastār to emphasize its function as conveyor of victory (dast).[69] Two additional arguments, unknown to me then, may reinforce those conclusions:

the writing of “xarrah” and “dast” are the same in Pahlavi:[70]

in describing the signets of Xosrow II, Mas`udi supposedly mentions that one of them bore the sign of “xarrah and xorram.”[71] Since it’s very hard to represent the second term (which means “cheerful” or “lush scenery”) on a tiny signet, and because it has no affinity with the first term, I suggest that Mas`udi, or a later scribe, mistook xorram for ġorm.[72] The latter is the term that Ferdowsi uses in reference to the ram that chased Ardašir as a symbol of his xarrah, when about to defeat the last of the Parthians, Ardavān.[73] Moreover, a ram with a dastār tied around his neck and a pair of wings—also a symbol of the xarrah— was frequently used as an auspicious symbol (fig. 5).[74] The xarrah of Mas`udi therefore most probably referred to a dastār tied around the neck of the ram on the signet.


  (Click to enlarge)

In depicting the Parthians as Ahrimanic,[75] Ardašir had to change the main symbol of their sovereignty, namely the Greek-type diadem called dēdēm (NP dayhim), which was tied to the head.[76] Thus, the cord-like dēdēm was replaced by the thicker and more amplified dastār, and was interpreted as a symbol of xarrah. But besides changes in dimensions, the dastār had one additional feature (mostly after Šāpur I, r. 241-272): rather than having hanging tails, it was depicted almost horizontally and with ripples, in order to produce a windblown effect. The latter characteristic identified the dastār as the symbol of not any xvarnah, but of the Aryan xvarnah. Indeed, the stanzas Yt 18:2-5 depict the Aryan xvarnah as a most powerful force that “vanquishes the non-Aryan nations” and is accompanied by “the Strong Wind made by Mazdā” as well as the “glorious star Tištrya.” It is followed by Yt 18:7 where all three are praised together:

“Hail to the bright and glorious star Tištrya. Hail to the Strong Wind, made by Mazdā! Hail to the Glory of the Aryas!”[77]


The victories of Šāpur I over the Romans seem to have caused the addition of the windblown effect onto the dastār, in order to emphasize the vanquishing of a “non-Aryan nation.”


We can then surmise that the star which appears on late Sāsānian coinage is Tištrya who is auspicious on two accounts. Firstly, as seen above, it is a companion of the Aryan xvarnah and its presence therefore vouches for the presence of the latter as well. Secondly, when paired with the moon (as in fig. 6), the two represent the brightest celestial bodies of nighttime. In a cosmogony where light is a primordial source of power, the king had to benefit from both daytime and nighttime radiance. On coins, the dotted rings represented solar radiance,[78] and the star and crescent symbolized the Tištrya-Moon radiance.[79]


5.4. Aryan xvarnah or Aryan čiça?

So far we have established that: central Asian nomads who founded new empires clung to a concept of clan or tribal auspiciousness, that Iranians were no exception since they believed in the Aryan xvarnah, and that the Sāsānians invoked it in their regal iconography. Logic dictates that the Persian Achaemenids who were closer to their nomadic past than the Sāsānians should have done it as well. Since we saw that čiça meant brilliance, and we know that the primary symbolism of xvarnah is solar radiance, we can surmise that “Aryan čiça” was very much equivalent to “Aryan xvarnah,” and was used in the same capacity.


The question then is: why didn’t Darius use the more familiar term of the Avesta which was certainly known to him, one way or another? We must first observe that in the Avestan context, there are two parallel sources of energy, the rayi and xvarnah. Even though derived from a tribal concept of good fortune, the xvarnah acquired a solar symbolism through punning and phonetic similarity with xvar (sun).[80] The rayi on the other hand, was light in essence and manifested itself through a brilliance that was referred to as čiθra. Since they both acted as sources of energy and could be symbolized by light, they had the potential to become interchangeable.


As I have previously argued, while Achaemenid imagery was replete with xvarnah symbolism, the royal inscriptions systematically avoided mentioning that word.[81] Indeed, since the xvarnah had Miθraic connotations, it clashed with the image of an all powerful Ahura-Mazdā that Darius wished to promote.[82] On the other hand, Cyrus II (r. 550- 530BC) and Cambyses’ (r. 530-521BC) victories over the non-Aryan nations had certainly given them an aura of glory, namely the Aryan xvarnah, which Darius needed to reclaim for himself if he were to be accepted as their legitimate successor. By promoting čiça in lieu of xvarnah, Darius was wrapping a popular ideology with a shining new garb that perhaps, aspired to be more universal than a strictly Aryan concept.


In the religious context, as Elfenbein has noted, xvarnah “resurfaced with a vengeance” (in the Younger Avesta).[83] Same is true for royal iconography. In kingly phraseology however, the example of the Sāsānians show that the Achaemenid precedence of using čiça instead of xvarnah became standard practice, and lead to the incorporation of the word čihr instead of xarrah in regal slogans.



5.4. Čiçāntaxma

Among the rebels that Darius mentions to have vanquished in his Bisotun inscriptions, is one Čiçāntaxma, whose name has been translated: “brave by descent” or “of brave lineage.”[84] I am not sure if this translation has any parallels in the Persian context. The usual structure to convey lineage is through a “son of” or “born of” qualification; and if lineage had to be conveyed beyond father and son relationship, the clan name would be mentioned.


The taxma of this name is akin to the first part of Rostam’s nickname, tahm-tan (strongbody). Čiçāntaxma seems to be better translated as one who “radiates strength,” or is “of strong appearance.”



6. The coinage of Queen Burān



Since a major tenet of my arguments is that Iranian kingly ideology never allowed for a king to claim divine powers, a counterexample in this respect would make a serious dent in my overall thesis. If recent readings of the legends on the coins of Burān, daughter of Xosrow II, are to be trusted then such a counter-example exists. The fact though is that the readings are incorrect and they do not provide a valid counter-example.



6.1. Past interpretations of the legends

The problematic legend occurs on the reverse of the coin of Burān (fig. 7); its reading has been the subject of many controversies all summarized by T. Daryaee in a recent article to which he added his own interpretation:[85]

a)      Kuntz and Warden: …GDH new bwlt’l (“Good bearer of glory”)

b)      R. Gِbl: gyh’n MN GDH new klt’l (“she who makes the earth strong with her (royal) splendor”)

c)      V. Curtis and H.M. Malek: Gyh’nt GDH new bwlt’l (“your world (is the) bringer of brave glory”)

d)      M.I. Mochiri: bwl’n tlwyn ZY yzd’n twhmk W gwhrt’l (« Bōrān victorieuse, de race divine et resplendissante »)

e)      T. Daryaee: bwl’n ZY yzd’n twhm wyn’lt’l (“Bōrān, restorer of the race of Gods”)


For (a), (b), (c) and (e) the left-side reads as bwl’n TLYN (Burān, two), i.e., it reiterates the name of the queen already struck on the obverse, plus the regnal year “two.” In terms of approach, the main difference between them is that (a), (b), and (c) consider the righthand side inscription as separate from the opposite side, while (d) and (e) consider the two sections as part of a continuous legend; Daryaee however, sets aside the number two and includes the other half of the left-side, that which contains the name of “Burān.”


The diversity in reading clearly points out to the difficulty in deciphering unfamiliar legends written in the usually corrupted Pahlavi script of coins. The acceptance of any reading must therefore rest on external factors; and since the yazdān toxmag (from the seeds of gods) part of (d) and (e) concurs with the Greek translation of the “ke čihr az yazadān” idiom of earlier Sāsānian coinage, these two readings have gained favor. At the same time, they provide added comfort to those who fervently believe in the validity of the Greek translations.


The assumption of the continuity of the two texts, adopted by (d) and (e) however, is contrary to standard epigraphic rules that if separated sections are part of the same legend, there should be some indication to that effect: e.g., they are written in a circular form (as in the coinage of Asdashir), or if a motif must intrude into the legend, the two sections on each side should butt against that motif. Most importantly, there must be some uniformity in style and character. Here, one can readily see that the characters of the left inscription are larger than those from the right, and there is no indication to suggest connectivity. We therefore have two separate legends. It means that the one on the right cannot start with the “ezafé” ZY (=i), and whatever the starting letter is, it must be incorporated into the next word. There is simply no yazdān in the legend.


At this point I can rest my case since Burān’s coin no more constitutes a valid counterexample. If one deconstructs a previously accepted interpretation however, one has the duty to offer a more plausible one in its stead.



6.2. New interpretation

Traditionally, the reverse of the coin is where the information about regnal year and mint was struck (usually on opposite sides of the same circle). It was such an important tradition, that no new designer dared to completely abandon it, especially in uncertain times. Therefore, if the word TLYN=2 appears on one side, the mint name must somehow be incorporated on the opposite side of the standing figure. Trying to conform to this tradition, and also include additional slogans in order to enhance the legitimacy of a ruler whose reign was not unanimously accepted,[86] the designer devised a new layout: he divided the reverse of the coin into four quadrants created by an imaginary cross (fig. 7).


This four-partite division is suggested by the fact that the horizontal axis goes through on the one hand, right between the two words bwl’n and TALYN in quadrants 1 and 2, and on the other, because the size of the letters changes from quadrant 3 to 4 (those in 4 are slightly larger than those in 3).


As there is a quasi unanimous agreement on the reading of quadrants 1 and 2, I shall concentrate on 3 and 4 alone. The following possibilities are suggested:


Quadrant 3

  1. whšytk GDE (waxšitag[87]  xarrah = blazing aura). Mochiri has suggested that the name Burān must have meant “abundant red-hair (bur).”[88] For a person of Byzantine descent, this was indeed a possible feature. In addition, it would justify my reading, since the “abundant red-hair” could well be equated with a blazing aura. Moreover, in his listing of Sāsānian rulers, Biruni adds the qualification sa`ida (the auspicious) for Burān,[89] derived from the same term sa`āda (auspiciousness) that Mas`udi had used for xarrah in describing the signets of Xosrow II.[90] This qualification obviously concords with a person whose coinage described her as the one with a blazing xarrah.

  2. gwhl’n twhmk (gohrān toxmag = of multiple noble lineage). It emphasizes noble birth, and befits a ruler who claimed descent from the kings of both Iran and Byzantium.[91] Furthermore, Ferdowsi mentions that she received many gohars upon her ascent to the throne.[92] He uses the term in the sense of jewelry, but one wanders if it was not related to a possible mention of gohrān on her coinage.


In addition, there is a distinct possibility that our clever designer intended to get a doublemeaning from the same inscription. Puns and wordplays were very much a trade-tool of the scribes and functionaries who designed official inscriptions. The number “two” which is stated after Burān’s name on the left-side may be in fact an indicator that the rest of the legend is doubly layered.


Quadrant 4

As already mentioned, the mint name was traditionally placed opposite the regal year. In the instant case therefore, it should be in the fourth quadrant. In addition, there is a curious gap between the second and third letter from the end, which needs to be justified.


  1. nywkklt[]’l (nēk-kard[]ār, good-doer). It’s a legend that serves a double purpose. On the one hand, it conforms to the description provided by the Fārsnāma that she suspended various levies and had a sirat-e neku (good-demeanor);[93] and on the other, the incorporated gap [] serves to isolate the two last letters in order to post the mint name as AR (probably Armenia). Politically it made sense to emphasize that Armenia was still part of Iran at a time when the Holy Cross was returned, or about to be retuned and the truce with Byzantium was finalized. The ending pattern here may have been inspired by the legend on late issues of Xosrow II, read as erān abebim kard-ar.[94] It should be noted that the same expression, without the ending two letters, appears in the Bundahišn in regards to the deeds of Xursow I (but the context and the numismatic evidence vouch for the remark to pertain to Xusrow II).[95] The sentence is certainly more meaningful without the last two letters (ar). Their addition to the coinage of Xosrow II, was most probably to indicate the mint name as well.



7. Conclusion

At the very least, the above discussion shows that many of the accepted interpretations for the use of čiθra and its progenies need to be revised. But if one can find comfort in the present analysis, and accept only one set of meanings for this series of words, a more interesting conclusion would be its relevance to a pervasive light symbolism that continuously shaped Iranian religious and political ideology.


Through their radiance, various sources of power and energy were often invoked by mortals as well as deities. The xvarnah for instance, had a pivotal role in the concept of kingly authority. It was an individual—as well as a tribal—source of power that acquired a solar symbolism, partially through wordplay. Otherwise, it mainly manifested itself through rams, falcons, feathers,[96] etc… Another source of energy, the rayi, was only light in essence and manifested itself through its luminosity and brilliance, its čiθra. The former had its roots in the primitive tribal beliefs of the central Asian steppes, the latter may have been conceived as part of a new Zoroastrian cosmogony.


The parallel utilization of the two concepts probably caused each to adopt the attributes of the other. The most important factor in the rapprochement between the two concepts however, is Darius’ decision to claim the Aryan xvarnah that his predecessors had acquired through their conquests of non-Aryan nations, while minimizing its connection to the deities that they had venerated. The supremacy of Ahura-Mazdā for Darius, entailed tailoring old concepts in a new garb. The brilliance of čiça thus came to supplant the glory of xvarnah in the Achaemenid royal inscriptions. Centuries later, religious orthodoxy may have pushed the Sasanians to do as the Achaemenids once did: they used čihr in their inscriptions, but used the symbols of xarrah in their iconography.


Abolala Soudavar – Houston, TX






ALRAM, M., 1999. The Beginning of Sasanian Coinage, Bulletin of Asia Institute 13, Bloomfield Hills (MI), 1999, pp. 67-76, 30 figs.

AVESTA, 1381. Tr. J. Doustxāh, Tehran, 1381 (6th ed.).

BAILEY, H.W., 1979. Dictionary of Khotan Saka, Cambridge, 1979.

BARTHOLOMAE, C., 1961. Altiranisches Woterbuch, Berlin, 1904 (repr. 1961).

BAZIN, L., 1960. “Beg” in Encyclopédie de l’Islam, Leiden, 1960.

BOYCE, M., 1954. The Manichaean Hymn Cycles in Parthian (London Oriental Series 3), Oxford, 1954.

BIRUNI, Abu-rayhān, 1377. Āthār-ol-bāqiyya, tr. A. Dānā-serešt, Tehran, 1377.

BULLIET, R.W., 1974. Numismatic Evidence for the Relationship between Toghril Beg and Chaghri Beg, Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, ed. D. Kouymjian, Beirut, 1974, pp. 289-96.

CLEAVES, F.W., 1953. The Mongol Documents in the Musée de Téhéran, (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 16), 106 pages, 2pls., 1953.


[1] As a result of earlier studies in kingship theory, I have been—unwittingly— pushed into a restricted domain, reserved to the practitioners of the high-art of philology. For lack of knowledge in this domain, I had to solicit the help of many scholars who, despite their many engagements, patiently replied my numerous e-mails, phone calls, and letters. In particular, I am indebted to Touraj Daryaee, Jean Kellens, Pierre Lecoq, Malek-Iraj Mochiri, Shaul Shaked, Chlodwig Werba, and Nicholas Sims-Williams, who gave me relevant information and useful advice. Most importantly, I am forever indebted to Xavier Tremblay who provided me—in writing—a long dissertation on the Avestan and Old Persian use of čiθra and čiça and pointed out the pitfalls of past approaches. It goes without saying that errors in judgment, and weaknesses in arguments, are all mine and cannot be imputed to the aforementioned scholars who accepted to help me but did not necessarily agree with my point of view.

[2] SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 41-48.

[3] Bailey proposes an etymology based on *kei (to go, to move forward) leading to *ki-trَ-m; BAILEY

1979, p. 102. Bartholomae simply admits the existence of the two aforementioned sets of meaning; Bailey proposes an etymology based on *kei (to go, to move forward) leading to *ki-trَ-m; BAILEY

1979, p. 102. Bartholomae simply admits the existence of the two aforementioned sets of meaning;

BARTHOLOMAE 1961, pp. 586-57. Pisani proposes a combination či-tra similar to Sanscrit ku-tra (who

are you?) that would define lineage; PISANI 1933, p. 86.

[4] MONIER-WILLIAMS 1988, pp. 395b-396a; WERBA 1997, p. 184.

[5] As the constructed etymologies by Bailey and others are all tentative and inconclusive (because none has

prevailed, see note 2 supra), they can only gain acceptance if they can yield a meaning in context. Since I

cannot find any, I do not see the necessity in discussing non-justifiable reconstructions.

[6] DEHXODĀ 1994, V:7351.

[7] Same is adopted in FARAVASHI 1381, p. 120; and MACKENZIE 1971, p. 22.

[8] DEHXODĀ 1994, V:7351

[9] DĒNKARD, p. 102.

[10] As I had previously argued in the case of the NP ruz-afzun combination, the primary meaning of ruz in

there is “light and luminosity”; see SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 16-19.

[11] This new version of text is clearly more meaningful than the one edited by Pešotan Dastur Behramjee

Sanjana in 1900, and in which, the two successive “rōz”s are similarly understood as “day by day”; see


[12] For the xvarnah’s solar symbols, see for instance SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 7-9, 16-19, 37-40.

[13] DĒNKARD, pp. 76-77; (30.32).

[14] MALANDRA 1983, pp. 105-17.

[15] MALANDRA 1983, p. 103; as signaled to me by Xavier Tremblay, Malandra’s interpretation seems to

have been based on arguments previously developed by LENTZ 1962, p. 134, and GROPP 1968, p. 38.

[16] NP rāy is described to be derived from MP rāy/rāδ; NYBERG 1974, p. 164; FARAVASHI 1381, p. 473.

[17] DEHXODĀ 1994, VII:10424-25

[18] Despite philological difficulties, one suspects that this radiance (rāδ) may be an offspring of the same

Indo-European root that provided “ray” and “radiance” in English.

[19] SOUDAVAR 2003, p. 14.

[20] See for instance SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 146, 149, and 153.

[21] TABRIZI 1362, II:674. One should note that since the Borhān has also given us hundreds of spurious

words known as the Dasātiris, its reliability is not beyond doubt.

[22] DENKARD 200, p. 96.

[23] DĀDESTĀN Ī DENĪG 1998, p. 30.

[24] DĀDESTĀN Ī DENĪG 1998, pp. 44-45.

[25] ŠĀPURAGĀN, p. 40; also SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 44-45.

[26] SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 49-72.

[27] See, for instance, MACKENZIE 1981, p. 17.

[28] SOUDAVAR 2003, 43.

[29] KELLENS 1994, p. 81; and SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 42-45, where a letter of Arsaces (originally in Armenian) is also mentioned in favor of the reflective image thesis.

[30] See, for instance, LECOQ 1995, pp. 183-86, SIMS-WILLIAMS 2001, p. 62.

[31] BAZIN 1960, I:1193.

[32] Tabari suggests that Šāpur was crowned in lieu of his father; TABARI 1375, II:580-82.

[33] Alram uses the translation “divine” for baγ (ALRAM 1999, p. 67), supposedly on a hint by Skjaervo, even though the latter translates it as “Lord” elsewhere; see, for instance, SKJAERVO 1985, p. 594. In a recent publication, Skjaervo is again ambivalent about baγ: he translates it as “the divine” on coins, but at the same time, points out that in the Paikuli inscriptions it appeared as “Your Majesty”; SKJAERVO 2002, p. 49. One should also note that in the Bondaheš, it is said that after the Arab invasions, and after the raids of the Turkic tribes, a certain Kay-Bahrām who was “from the lineage of the baγs,” came to save Erānšahr. The “baγs” in there obviously refer to the Sāsānians; DĀDAGI 1369, p. 141.

[34] This account appears in certain versions of the Šāhnāmeh; see FERDOWSI 1988, I:45, note 9.

[35] For “ALHA” in ŠKZ see, for instance, SKJAERVO 1985, p. 594; for same in the inscriptions of Šāpur

III, see FUKAI et al., 1984, appendix I.

[36] The sentence “men zar`a d-alāhē” (from the seed of gods), which is said to describe Shāpur II in that

text, has been taken at face value by Sundermann, and accepted as proof of a claim of divinity;

SUNDERMANN 1988, pp. 338-40 (I am indebted to N. Sims-Williams for sending me a copy of this


[37] SELLWOOD 1985, pp. 300-302, 317. One should note that since 'lhy' appears here at the end of the

sentence, it cannot be considered as a royal epithet similar to the one mentioned in the previous section, and

really meant “god” in this context.

[38] Personal communication by Shaul Shaked.

[39] SIMS-WILLIAMS 2001, pp. 61-62.

[40] Yt 8:4, WWW.AVESTA.ORG.

[41] Private conversation. Kellens’ view on gao-čiθra is also expressed in KELLENS 1996, p. 86.

[42] SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 114-18.

[43] Seal 4523 of the Istanbul Archeological Museum (DUSINBERRE 2002, p. 278).

[44] See Yt 7:0-7, for instance in Avesta, I:325-27.

[45] DĀDAGI 1369, p. 98.

[46] BIRUNI 1377, p. 346.

[47] See for instance, MALANDRA 1983, p. 143.

[48] Oddly, Malandra uses both expressions to explain afš-čiθra; MALANDRA 1983, pp. 141 and 143.

[49] DEHXODĀ 1994, II:2633-35.

[50] In Yt 12:30-31, in addition to the moon that is qualified as gao-čiθra and Tištriya as afš-čiθra, other stars

are qualified as zemas-čiθra (earth-čiθra) and urvanō-čiθra (plant-čiθra). The non-applicability of seed to the former two, eliminates a major argument for translating the latter two as “seed.” Describing a star to be “of earthly appearance/radiance” is certainly a valid characterization, and to describe a star (or a constellation of stars) as a plant is no more far fetched than to believe the moon appears as a bull. In either case, it is certainly less incongruent than the “contains the seed of” translation.

[51] MALANDRA 1983, p. 143.

[52] The second correction is independent from the first one.

[53] Even though Kellens muses that “Ahura-Mazdā ne se débrouille pas mal sexuellement” (Kellens, “Le pantheon,” 81), and quotes Y47.2 and 3, in which Ahura-Mazdā is addressed as “father” of Aša and Spenta

Ārmaiti, one cannot take the “father” therein at face value, for it is used in the sense of “creator,” as one would say in English, so and so is the “father” of an invention. In Yt 17:16, Aši is said to have Ahura-Mazdā as father, Spenta Ārmaiti as mother, and the Mazdean Religion as her sister (!).

[54] MALANDRA 1983, p. 125; Chlodwig Werba translates it as “(her) lineage (being) rich/wealthy,”

(private communication).

[55] Ibid. p. 89.

[56] MALANDRA 1983, p. 114.

[57] I am indebted to Xavier Tremblay to have pointed out this analogy to me.

[58] PANAINO 2001, p. 102.

[59] DNa, DSe, XPh in SHARP 1971, pp. 82, 90, 116 and 130; LECOQ 1997, pp. 219, 232, 257.

[60] Idem, and confirmed by Ch. Werba (personal communication).

[61] Similarly, in A2Hc, Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358BC) gives his lineage as son of Darius II, son of Artaxerxes

I, son of Xerxes, son of Darius, son of Vištaspa, and only qualifies the latter as “Achaemenid”; LECOQ 1997, p. 270.

[62] The pre-dynastic coins of the Sāsānians (such as the coin in fig. 2) which bear the name and effigy of Šāpur and Pāpak, according to a “baγa X son of baγa Y” formula, may be in fact a reflection of the “Pārsa

son of Pārsa” concept of the Achaemenid inscriptions.

[63] For information on the Aq-qoyunlus, see WOODS 1999.

[64] Unlike Lecoq who relies on a clan-tribe-people classification (LECOQ 1997, p. 170), I believe that in lieu of “tribe,” “confederacy” may better explain the situation at hand.

[65] Both fit in a 2-3 century timeframe.

[66] SOUDAVAR (forthcoming); WOODS 1999, pp. 104, 259.

[67] RAŠID-OD-DIN 1957, III:430.

[68] See SOUDAVAR (forthcoming) in which the readings of Pelliot and Cleaves have been rectified;

CLEAVES 1953, pp. 27-33; PELLIOT 1936, pp. 37-44.

[69] SOUDAVAR 2003, 13-16.

[70] MACKENZIE 1971, 202.

[71] MAS`UDI 1962, I:243. The corrupted text in Mas`udi reads: ةدﺎﻌﺳ و ﺔﺠﻬﺑ يا ،مﺰﺣ و ﻩﺮﺣ ﻪﺸﻘﻧ and is

repeated in GARDIZI 1989, p. 98.

[72] As evident from the preceding note, both xarrah and xorram were tentative reconstructions. The writing of ġorm and xorram are very similar in Persian: ّﺮﺧ م / مﺮﻏ . The latter should generally be written with a tašdid sign on the “r”, but does not seem to have been in the manuscripts.

[73] SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 20, 22.

[74] SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 20-22.

[75] SOUDAVAR 2003, p. 33.

[76] See BOYCE 1954 (p. 102) where it is repeatedly mentioned that the Parthian diadem (dēdēm) is tied to the head (I am indebted to Judith Josephson for this reference).


[78] SOUDAVAR 2003, 17.

[79] I had previously argued that a star/sunburst without a circle around it, represented a star and not the sun, and in combination with the moon, it was referred to as axtar-mah (star-moon); SOUDAVAR 2003, 61-62. The combination first appears on the reverse of the coins of Kavad I who lost his throne once and regained it with the help of Hephtalites.

[80] ELFENBEIN 2001, p. 492; SOUDAVAR 2003, p. 123. Even though it has been recently suggested that xvarnah comes from Scythian farnah-, corresponding to Sanskrit parṇa (feather) (See PARPOLA 2002, pp. 309-10, quoting Lubotsky), the wordplay between xvarnah and xvar that Elfenbein has suggested remains valid, despite the fact that he believes xvarnah to derive from a Indo-European root *(s)p(h)el-. For further ties between feathers and xvarnah symbolism, see SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 19-26. The latter connection, in combination with the notion of a tribal “good fortune,” certainly vouches for a tribal origin of the xvarnah.

[81] SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 104-106. I had also given the example of the Saljuqs whose written legends differed from the iconography of their coinage, but had unfortunately cited a wrong reference in print. Footnote 259 therein must be corrected to: BULLIET 1074, p. 295.

[82] Names such as OP ciça-farnah (Gr.Tissaphernes: with radiant glory) may have facilitated the switch from xvarnah to čiça.

[83] ELFENBEIN 2001, p. 492.

[84] LECOQ 1997, p. 292.

[85] DARYAEE 1999, pp. 77-81.

[86] Dinavari, for instance, scornfully remarks in his Al-axbār -ot-tawāl, that Iranians had no man left to rule (quoted in MALĀYERI 1379, I:298).

[87] In some dictionaries, this word is spelled as waxšendag, but since it derives from the verb waxšitan (whšytn’),

my spelling seems to be justified as well.

[88] Personal communication.

[89] BIRUNI 1377, p. 165.

[90] See note 70 supra.

[91] Even though Byzantine chronicles do not acknowledge that Maryam, the mother of Burān, was a daughter of the emperor Maurice (GARSOدAN 1985, p. 579), what matters here is that the official Iranian version recognized her as such; BIRUNI 1377, p, 165; EBN-E BALXI 1968, pp. 25, 107.

[92] FERDOWSI 1370, p. 2268.

[93] EBN-E BALXI 1968, p. 25. One senses that the choice of words in Persian texts is not fortuitous but was

somehow related to legends that had circulated for instance on coins, and was preserved in historical

accounts and even folkloric tails.

[94] GOBL 1971, pl. 14, nos. 220, 221.

[95] I am grateful to T. Daryaee, to have pointed out this to me, as well as a related reference in KLIMA

1970, p. 141.

[96] See SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 19-26; and note 80 supra. See SOUDAVAR 2003, pp. 19-26; and note 80 supra.




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