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Research on Inscriptions of Sasanian Chief Priest Kartir Underway



 10 August 2005


Iranian expert Dariush Akbarzadeh said on Tuesday that he is compiling articles about and precise translations of the Pahlavi language inscriptions of Kartir, the chief Zoroastrian priest after the reign of Shapur I.


The inscriptions are written on the Naqsh-e Rustam, Sarmashhad, Naqsh-e Rajab, and Zoroaster’s Kaba monuments, which are located near Iran’s southern city of Shiraz in Fars Province.


“Due to the difficult language and literature of the inscriptions and the damage to the texts, no comprehensive study has been carried out on the inscriptions. I will publish precise translations and interpretations of the inscriptions by many of the world’s renowned linguists and archaeologists,” said Akbarzadeh, who is the curator of the inscriptions section of the National Museum of Iran.


The inscription on the Sarmashhad monument which is located near Sarmashhad, a village west of Jarreh and south of Kazerun, has 58 lines, but it has suffered serious damage. In it, Karter has spoken about his ascension to the Mainu world (heaven), thus its text has a complex philosophical language. In this inscription, Karter has used religious and philosophical words and expressions of the time, so the inscription is more difficult to understand than the other Sassanid era inscriptions.


Kartir, also spelled Karter, or Karder, was an influential high priest of Zoroastrianism whose aim was to purge Iran of all other religions, especially the eclectic Manichaeism founded by the 3rd-century self-proclaimed prophet Mani.


What little is known of Kartir comes from inscriptions on cliff faces, mostly dating from the reign of Shapur I (241–272). On more than 700 cliffs he proclaimed the fundamental doctrines of the religion of Zoroaster.


Beginning his career under King of Kings Ardashir I (ruled 224–241), Kartir restored the purity of the Mazdean religion (Zoroastrianism). Under Emperor Shapur I, he held the title of ehrpat (“master of learning”). Later, under another Hormizd, he was elevated to the rank of “ma ga put”, or chief, of the Magi of Hormizd, a title previously unknown to the Magi, the priestly caste of ancient Persia.


When Bahram I (ruled 273–276) assumed the throne, Kartir was at last afforded an opportunity to get rid of his archrival Mani, who had been protected by Shapur.


Bahram put Mani in prison, where he finally died. Kartir managed to reestablish orthodox Zoroastrianism and proceeded to persecute all other religions, especially the Zandiks (Zoroastrian heretics, perhaps Zurvanites), who insisted on interpreting the Avesta in the light of their own thinking.


After the death of Kartir, a degree of religious tolerance gradually reasserted itself, and the many titles created for Kartir or taken by him were recovered by other priests.





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