Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
in Avesta and Ancient Iran
of the earliest lawmakers in the history of civilization is the Babylonian king,
Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.. A total of 282 laws known as the code of
Hammurabi have been recognized. (1) The code clearly illustrates its influence
in the Judaic and Islamic laws.
no: 218 states: “If a physician performed a major operation on a seignior with
bronze lancet and caused the seignior’s death, or he opened up the eye-socket
of a seignior and has destroyed the seignior’s eye, they shall cut off his
law demonstrates that how much the generations of medical professionals have
sacrificed to bring the science of medicine to our modern time. Physicians
have lost lives when the result of treatment has been less than satisfactory.
Even in the advanced societies physicians have lost court battles and good
reputation for a poor outcome, even though they had no control over the course
no: 218 and 194, 195, 205, 226, and 282 recommend amputation of a limb or an
organ as a punishment for various crimes, and they vividly indicate influence of
Babylonian legal texts on the Islamic code.
and medicine in the Gathas:
The teachings of Zarathushtra are general. He
neither comes forward with commands and taboos, nor does set up legal code.
Laws have to change according to the time and the needs of society.
Religious laws however are regarded as divine and immutable, consequently
although in the beginning they improve the society, but over the long period of
time can become a source of stagnation. In recent years some societies
have attempted to revive and practice the old religious code, but they have
faced a dilemma. On the one hand those statutes are divine and immutable
and on the other, they are not practical in modern times. It is worthwhile
mentioning that although Zarathushtra in the Gathas alludes to the law of Asha,
nevertheless this law is not a specific one, rather a general term implying
cause and effect, action and reaction: ”Happiness comes to the person who
radiates happiness to others…”Y43.1-51.8
the text of Gathas we learn that the prophet is in search of knowledge and
truth, and the means of approaching that is wisdom. The wise should spread
the knowledge (Y31.17); the wrongful should be guided and delivered in the hands
of righteousness (Y44.12); clean environment and health are the best for living
world (Y48.5)”Purity for man from birth is best”; consumption of substances
that cause drunkenness and loss of wisdom is prohibited (Y32.14, 48.10)
can conclude that Gathas emphasize acquiring science and knowledge; science
should be disseminated and not monopolized. Health and sanitation are
important and intoxicants and wisdom wasting substances ought to be avoided.
other aspect of the teachings of Zarathushtra is attainment of spiritual
perfection (Haorvatat) and immortality of the soul (Amretat). He
inculcates in his audience how to achieve serenity (Aramaiti). This final
goal can be fulfilled through the power of mind (Vohu Manah) and acquisition of
spiritual strength (Khshathra, to overcome vices), in order to discover the
Truth (Asha) and realize God. Zarathushtra in Y43.15 discovers that silent
meditation is the best for attainment of spiritual enlightenment at which point
one can envision the Light of God (Y43.4, 43.9). The prophet introduces
the concept of two mentalities, and freedom of choice to choose between good and
evil through the wisdom of good mind.
much as in other religions “heart” is considered to be the organ of
thinking, in the teachings of Zarathushtra “mind” is the center of thoughts.
Even heaven and hell are the two states of mind; heaven is equated with the
spiritual relief and hell indeed is the inner torment. Zarathushtra also
presents the terms: conscience (Daena), voice of conscience (Sraosha), soul (Urva)(Y51.13)
and bliss (Ushta or absolute happiness, spiritual relief, ecstasy). In the
Gathas, the mind sets the conscience and conscience guides the soul. The
separation of the souls (good or evil) poetically is called the sorting bridge (Chinovato
profound spiritual words, along with the extent of serenity that readers find in
the Gathas, may make them wonder ”aside from being a prophet and spiritual
leader, was Zarathushtra a soul healer or in contemporary term
psychotherapist?” Although Gathas teach that the followers of Asha (Ashavan)
should enjoy happiness in this world and improve the living world, nevertheless
the spiritual aspects of the book always prevail, as this goal is achievable by
attaining the spiritual excellence.
about the later Avestan Books?
In Vendidad fargard 20(1-14) all the herbal plants
that remove sickness have been praised. Various parts of the plants were
used: root, stem, scale, leaves, fruit and seeds. They were used in the
4- Oil extracted for rubbing on skin
5- Burned on fire for incense or inhalation therapy
6- Ground seeds in the form of granules or powder
to their beneficial effects, these plants were later consecrated and entered
plant or flower was assigned to Ahura Mazda and each of His divine attributes
and later to the thirty days of the month (2). To this day, seven plants
and flowers representing Ahura Mazda and Amesha Spenta decorate the Nouruz
‘haft chin’ (seven items from plants) table, which was later called the
‘haft seen’(seven items beginning with the letter seen, or ‘S’) table.
Ahura Mazda was assigned myrthous (Avesta: mourtah, Persian: mourd containing
Niaoluie); to Amretat, iris (containing aromatic oil); to Mithra or Mehr,
mandragore (Av: mithrogia, Per: mehrgiah, containing Belladona); to Dai-pa-din,
Fengreek ( Fengrec, Av: Shanbarid, Per: Shanbalilleh containing Fengene); to
Sraosha, Solace ( containing Atropine); to Ashtad, Opiace ( containing
Morphine); to Zamyad, Haoma or Ephedra Vulgaris.
plants are discussed hereunder:
(Ephedra Vulgaris, Soma in Hindu Rig Veda)- This plant is indigenous to the
Iranian plateau and its scientific name is EphedraVulgaris. Haoma
contains large dose of Ephedrine, which is effective in the treatment of
cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. It is a small plant with
yellow flowers. Conceivably due to various therapeutic effects, it was
consecrated and entered the rituals of the pre-Zoroastrian faith, and a
Yasht was composed and devoted to it. But Haoma was not used only in
herbal medicine and soon another effect was recognized. A juice made
of Haoma (prahum), was intoxicant and caused drunkenness. Some authors
maintain that Ephedra Vulgaris and the intoxicant Haoma are two different
plants (3). The text of the Gathas clearly indicates that in the
rituals of the pre-Zoroastrian faith it was consumed by the princes (Kavis)
and priests (Karapans), and caused them to behave irrationally.
Zarathushtra has derided and condemned the Haoma ritual by mentioning its
epithets as invincible (!), and wisdom wasting (Dura Osham)(Y32.14) and
of Garlic and Rue (Per: Seer and Sedab)-used in
Zoroastrian rituals. The therapeutic effects of garlic are well known;
it lowers cholesterol, reduces blood pressure and also is used to combat
heart disease and treat infections.
was known to the ancient world. In Talmud,
the ancient book of Hebrew, rue was considered such an important healing
agent that it declared no tith (tax) should be imposed on it. It is
mentioned once in the Bible (Luke11:42) as an herb to be taxed. The
Parthian king, Mithradates (132-62 BCE), in order to prevent suffering the
same fate of his competitors by poison, took daily quantities of opium,
aconite and other poisons to build up resistance. This is known as
Mithradates’ antitoxin therapy. He also used rue as the primary
ingredient of his antidote formulas.
was once popular remedy for earache; it was strewn about the house to deter
fleas. It was also an ingredient in the famous Four Thieves used to
thwart the plague during the middle ages. Rue was used to ease shaking
fits of agues or joint pain. Avicenna (980-1,037 CE) recommended a
mixture of frankincense and rue to be rubbed on the head for the treatment
of some types of headaches (4). In the contemporary herbal medicine it
is used to relieve gout, rheumatic pain, palpitation, stomach disorder,
dizziness, tension headache, cough and to regulate menstrual cycle and
eliminate intestinal worms.
( Avesta: bhangh, Sanskrit: bhanga, Persian: Bang, hashish)- It is extracted
from the seeds of Canabis Indica (hempseed or Per: shahdaneh)(5)(6) has
hallucinating effects. In ancient Iran it was mixed with wine to
(Per: Kondor, Av: Vohugaona, Pahlavi: Hugvan
containing benzoid)- used for inhalation therapy.
(Per: Ood, Av:Vohukaratah, Pah: Hukarat, containing camphor), useful for
cardiac disease and to treat irregular heartbeat(7).
is worth mentioning that antitoxin in Avesta is called Paiti and
indicates plants that can treat the effects of different toxins. The
following herbal plants recognized in ancient Iran still are prescribed: Borage
(Per: Gavzaban), Sweet Marjoram (Per: Marzangoosh), Fengreek
(Per: Shanbalilleh) and Chicory (Per: Kassni).
Urine in the book of Vendidad- Vendidad is
mainly an ancient scientific book and sanitary dispensation to prevent the
epidemics of infectious diseases. Composition of this book has been
initiated at the era of Xerxes (486-465 B.C.) Darius’ son, and completed
during the reign of Mithradates of Parthian dynasty (8)
urine due to high acidity has antibacterial effect. In ancient times it was
used as an antiseptic agent for the treatment of infection and for the
prevention of epidemics. Apparently due to its effectiveness in
preventing the dissemination of deadly contagious diseases, received a
peculiar attention. In Vendidad it has a prominent place in sanitation and
prevention of infections. Utilization of bull’s urine by different
Hindu tribes and camel’s urine by Moslems has been reported (9). In
Vendidad according to fargard 5 (54,56) bull’s urine and fresh water were
equally used for purification. Generally preservation of clean environment
or by contemporary term, ecology has been strongly emphasized. In
particular pollution of four elements of nature: water, soil, air and fire
are to be avoided. Based on this concept, Vendidad suggests that the
land where the corpse was laid on will be clean after one year, and the land
where the corpse was buried will be pure after fifty years, fargard
7(46,48). In the old times some lands were known to cause infection
(the cursed lands). People by walking or injuring there would develop
anthrax. After discovery of bacteria it was determined that these
lands were the old burial grounds of the corpses contaminated with the
of Proficiency or Medical license:
According to the Vendidad physicians for the proof of
proficiency had to cure three patients from the followers of Divyasnan and if
they failed they could not practice medicine. At the first glance this
recommendation may appear discriminative and based on human experimentation.
But some authors have construed that from the beginning physicians were taught
to remove the mental barrier and treat adversaries as well as friends (10) (11).
The next stanza, fargard 7 (40), exerts a positive balance toward their opinion
as it suggests: “afterwards at his wish he may give medicine to a Mazdayasnan
to restore to health, at his wish operate on a Mazdayasnan, at his wish operate
to cure”. An important observation is that nowhere Vendidad recommends
that physicians after proof of competency should exclusively treat patients who
were Mazdayasnan. In fact none of the Avestan scriptures make any
discriminative recommendation in regard to treatment of patients. In
general, science and medicine in Avesta transcend the barriers of class,
ethnicity, nationality, race, gender and religion. Vendidad further
recommends “If a stranger, friend, brother or coreligionist came to you for
education, receive him and teach whatever he asks” fargard 4 (44).
is interesting that physician’s fee for service is based on the patient’s
income and the fee for treating a priest is his pious blessing, fargard 7 (41).
Fargard 7 (44) even discusses meeting and consultation among the three groups of
physicians: those who operate (surgeons), those who treat by herbs (internists)
and the ones who cure by holy words (psychiatrists). This may indicate a
form of medical association of its time.
Yasht- In this Yasht the classification of physicians
is even more advanced:
(sanitary physician), who prevents dissemination of contagious
(herbal physician), or internist, who treats the patients by herbal
(knife-physician), or surgeon.
(law-physician), equivalent of a coroner or the one who practices forensic
(holy word-physician), who cures by holy words, equivalent of
psychiatrist. Manthra physician has a very prominent place among the
Section or Rostamian Operation?
Delivery of a newborn baby through abdominal operation
worldwide is called Caesarian Section. It is named after Julius
Caesar who is believed was born through the abdominal route. But this view
has been contested, because long after the Caesar’s era no woman survived the
operation. However there is evidence that his mother lived long
after giving birth to Julius. By another version the Lex Caesarus, the
ancient Roman Empire code of law required the surgical removal of a baby from
the abdomen of its dead mother, thus giving us the term, Caesarian Section (12).
before Julius Caesar, according to Shah Nameh, Rostam was delivered by abdominal
surgery. Ferdowsi skillfully explains how Rostam’s mother, Rudabeh
underwent the operation:
expert Mobed arrived
By the wine made the moon-faced (beautiful Rudabeh) drunken (anesthetized)
pain her side was cut open
He brought the boy’s head in view (delivered the head)
was done so harmlessly
That no one had seen such a marvel
Nameh and events of Rostam’s delivery indicate that Mobeds were also
suggests that delivery of an infant through the abdominal route should be
renamed “The Rostamian Operation”(13).
in Avesta and later era:
The 21 books of Avesta during the Achaemenians
encompassed 815 chapters, thus by volume it was three times larger than the
compiled books of Sassanian era. These books in effect were the
encyclopedia of science consisting of medicine, astronomy, law, social science,
philosophy, general knowledge, logic and biology.
(Chista) and Knowledge occupy a prominent place in the Zoroastrian doctrine.
Yasht 16, Dinyasht karda 1(1) is the best witness: “We revere the most
righteous, true knowledge created by Mazda, the holy, leading to righteous path,
quick progressing in the best manner, bringing righteous dedication, morally
good, purifying the self…” By these words only the sciences that promote the
living world toward perfection are revered, not the ones that annihilate man’s
civilization. In Yasht 16, karda 1(2) Zarathushtra’s love for science
and knowledge in a poetical elegance is declared: “Zarathushtra revered
science, rise from your seat, come forward from your abode, you most righteous
true knowledge, created by holy Mazda…If you are before me, there wait for me,
if you are behind me, there overtake me”. By studying Dinyasht and other
Avestan scriptures, one can conclude that based on the Zoroastrian tenets,
science and religion know no border, as they belong to humankind beyond the
class, nationality, race and creed. Dinyasht concludes with the following
words: “May the knowledge as extent and fame of commandments of the Mazdayasni
religion ever increase over the world, over all the seven regions”.
to the Avestan texts, men and women have an equal responsibility in
disseminating the knowledge: “Whatever a man or woman knows that is good and
right, not only should practice but inform others to perform accordingly…”
The same equality exists in regard to propagation of religion. In Yasna
68(12), an expression of good wish and support is made for all the women and
men, girls and boys who strive for good deeds and propagation of the Path of
physicians in Avesta and medical schools:
It is interesting that Farvardin Yasht, Karda 25 (97),
reveres the fravashi of Saena a knowledgeable physician with hundred
pupils that denote the existence of medical school. It is said that Saena
Poure Ahumstute was a student of Zarathushtra who founded the school of Ekbatan.
Plutarch (45-125 CE) writes that he personally studied in the university and
various topics of philosophy, astronomy, medicine and geography were taught and
hundred pupils educated there. Also Vendidad, fargard 20 (2) names Thrita
as the first man skillful in the art of healing wounds who was also acquainted
with how to prevent the sickness as well as to repel the disease and fever.
FarvardinYasht, K131, reveres the Fravashi of Thraetona (Thrita)(Freidoon) of
the Athwya (Abteen) house for offering resistance to itches, fever, ague,
treating snakebite… Also according to tradition, Yama was able to
isolate the patients suffering from skin, bone and dental diseases.
second Ekbatan university was founded in the early establishment of the Median
Empire (715 BCE) by a group of Mobed-physicians. For the first time the
graduates had to obtain license in order to practice medicine.
Achaemenid Medical School:
Considering the Zoroastrian teachings, it is not
surprising that the famous historically documented medical school was founded
and financed by Darius The Great (522-486 BCE) in Egypt. It was located
next to the temple of Neith and named Saiis. The graduates will scatter
all over the empire. The Egyptian director of the school, Ujahorus was a
scientist. On his statue that is maintained in Vatican the following words
have been inscribed: “Darius the great king ordered that I shall return to
Egypt and rebuild the Neith Temple…I provided books and educated the youth and
brought them instruments. King realized the value of medical science and
for every patient that I saved, he reveres and prays to God “ (14). It
is interesting that on a papyrus uncovered in Egypt, the following words are
written: “I have come out of the Saiis”, indicating the pride a
physician took in the university from which he graduated.
was regarded as one of the most important scientific centers of the ancient
world. The world’s famous physicians, pilosophers and scientists among
them the great Persian Mobed-mathematician, Ostanes were teaching there.
Other universities of Achaemenids are recorded as ”Borsipa, Arshoi and Militus”.
There has been another school for the training of bureaucrats. It is
noteworthy that simultaneously two academies of science were operating: first
the Academy of Hamadan (Hegmatana), that consisted of one hundred scientists who
were introduced or approved by the king, the second was the Academy of Ardeshir
(Arthakhshathra), in the city of Sardis (Asia Minor).
Era (247 BCE-224 CE):
Major inscriptions or monuments, records of arts, literature and generally
significant documents are, somehow, conspicuous by their absence. Yet
practical medical knowledge and expertise was carried through into Sassanian
This international university was founded in 250
CE, during the Sassanian era (224-641 CE) by Shahpour 1 in the southwest of
Iran, wherein medicine and other sciences were taught. The professors and
students came from different countries. During the reign of Khosrow
Anoushiravan (531-579 A.D.), seven Roman scientists who had been driven out of
their country by emperor Justinianos came to Iran (15) (16). They were
welcomed and well received by Khosrow and were assigned to the university posts.
This was the glorious era of the scientific center. Medical science,
anatomy, dentistry, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, military commandership,
architecture, craftsmanship, agriculture and irrigation were taught (17). The
scholars and the graduates were later appointed to important governmental
positions. For instance, the minister of health (Iran Dorostbod), was
usually chosen from the best physicians, and minister of education (Iran
Farhangbod), was a scholar of philosophy, logic, mathematics or psychology.
Physicians had to obtain license to practice medicine (18). To advance the
science of medicine, Khosrow dispatched the famous Iranian physician, Borzoya (Borzouyeh)
to India, who brought medical and scientific books, chess, herbal plants and
Indian doctors with him.
first world medical conference under the patronage of Anoushiravan was convened
at 550 CE in Cteciphon. Hundreds of physicians and Mobeds, and physicians
from other countries were in attendance in this congress. Ferdowsi has
versified this historical event in Shah Nameh(19). Because of the reputation of
Iranian physicians, during the reign of Khosrow-Parviz (590-628 A.D.), a
physician named Khordad-Barzin was invited to China and successfully treated the
daughter of queen who suffered from the rapid heart beat (tachycardia). At
this time the sciences of pharmacology and alchemy in Iran were considered
“the most advanced in the world”, and a total of five thousand students
educated in Gondishapour with five hundred scholars teaching in different
scientific fields. The library of the university consisted of eight
floors, 259 halls containing an estimated 400,000 books.
is worth mentioning that Anoushiravan himself had a profound interest in
philosophy and science. His questions and conversation with a Greek
scholar, Prissin have been recorded in a book titled: “Answers to the
challenges raised by Khosrow, the king of Iran to the Prissin’s philosophy”
names of other scientists are to be mentioned: Mobed Bakhtafarid, scholar of
Avesta and Pahlavi, Saroshiar Bavand, Jabrail Syriani, (a founder and professor
of the Gondishapour hospital), and Tribunos, the personal physician of
Anoushiravan who was a professor in Godishapour(21).
from hundreds of Iranian scientists only those names are available. The
oblivion is due to the destruction of documents by the Arab invaders.
The Iranian science was interrupted by the Arab
invasion (630 A.D.). Many schools, universities and libraries were
destroyed, books were burned and scholars killed. Due to the extent of
cultural calamity the Khwarezmians after one generation became illiterate (22).
Nevertheless, the Iranian scientists carried on and the science of Persia
resurfaced during the Islamic period. To save the books from the Arab carnage,
many Pahlavi writings were translated into the Arabic, and Iran produced
physicians and scientists as Avicenna, Rhasis and mathematicians as Al Kharazmi
first direct communication between the university of Gondishapour and the
Islamic Baghdad, took place during the second Abassid Caliph, Abu Jaafar Mansour
(136-154 Hijri, 755-774 A.D.). The director of university, Jirjis was
summoned to treat the Caliph. Many Gondishapour physicians exerted
important roles particularly in the development of Islamic medicine and
pharmaceutical science. Many of the herbal plants named in the Islamic
books of medicine are in fact the ones used in Gondishapour. In 190 Hijri
(810 A.D.), the Abassid Caliph, Haroon el Rashid ordered the construction of a
hospital in Baghdad to match the famous Gondishapour hospital, and physicians
from the latter center were brought to serve in the new hospital. From
then on, the Iranian university began to decline. The Iranian physicians even in
the Caliph’s court conversed in Pahlavi and they were undaunted by his
the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the new university of Gondishapour was
founded and it is operating today. It is interesting that even in our time
the herbal medicine is practiced in Iran. There are Iranian herbal
physicians who have their own books inherited from the generations back.
Regrettably they do not pass information to outsiders.
Ancient Near East (volume 1), edited by James B. Pritchard, Princeton
Printing 1973, p.138-167
Medicine in ancient Iran, Doctorate thesis, in Persian
Jafarey, Haoma, its original and later identity
The canon of medicine, Book3, part 1, p.65, translation to Persian by
History of medicine in Persian, p.235
Dictionary, 1981 p.529
University of Gondishapour in the cradle of history, p.153, in Persian
History Of Persian Empire, p.132
Philosophy Of Zartosht in Persian, p.138
History Of Medicine in Persian, p.233
Medical License And Profession In Ancient Iran, Borzouyeh, September 95,
The VBAC Decade, Medical Economics, Obstetrics/Gynecology, September 2001
The Trend Of Science During The Achaemenian Era, in Persian
Civilization And Culture Of Sassanians, in Persian
names of the Roman scientists are as follows: Damescios, Simplikios,
Eulampios, Perskianos, Isodoros, Hermias and Diogene.
And Culture Of Sassanians, in Persian
Aussar el Baghieh
Jahanian, M.D. is an obstetrician-gynecologist in the Kansas City
area, with degree from University of Tehran and Washington University, St.
Louis. He is a co-founder and president of the Fravahar Zoroastrian Youth
organization of Tehran. Darius served as trustee of the Rostam Guiv Trust
of California 1981-89, is a trustee and VP of the Rostam Guiv Foundation
of New York since 1990, and its president since 1992. He is a founder and
two-term president of the Zoroastrian Association of Kansas. A noted
author and lecturer on the Zoroastrian religion, Darius also teaches
religion classes for children.
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