Iran the Land of Aryans


By: Prof. D. N. MacKenzie


The word êrân is first attested in the titles of Ardašîr I (q.v.), founder of the Sasanian dynasty. On his investiture relief at Naqš-e Rostam in Fârs, and subsequently on his coins, he is called `/Ardašîr šâhân šâh êrân, in Mid. Persian, MLKYN MLK` `ry`n/šâhân šâh aryân, in Parthian. His son Šâpûr I, while using the same style for his father, referred to himself as MLK`n MLK` `yr`n W `nyr`n/šâhân šâh êrân ud anêrân/, Parth. MLKYN MLK` `ry`n W `n(y)`ry`n/šâhân šâh aryân ud anaryân/. The same form was used by later kings, from Narseh down to Šâpûr III. The great trilingual inscription of Šâpûr I at the Ka´ba-ye Zardošt in Fârs, here preserved only in Parth. and Greek, but reconstructable with certainty also in Pers., contains for the first time the Pers. word êrânšahr (Parth. aryânšahr), the king declaring in Persian [*`NH . . . yl`nštry hwt`y HWHm]/an. . .êrânšahr xwadây hêm/, Parth. `NH . . .`ry`nhštr hwtwy HWYm/az. . .aryânšahr xwadây ahêm/, Greek egô . . .tou Arianôn ethnous despotês eimi "I am lord of the kingdom (Gk. nation) of the Aryans" (ŠKZ, Mid. Pers. [1], Parth. 1., Gk. 1.2; Back, p. 284-85). This formulation, following his title "king of kings of the Aryans," makes it seem very likely that êrânšahr properly denoted the empire, while êrân was still understood, in agreement with its etymology (< OIr. *aryânâm), as the (oblique) plural of the gentilic êr (Parth. ary < Old Ir. arya-) "Aryan," i.e., "of the Iranians." The singular form is used by Šâpûr in referring to his son `/êr mâzdêsn Narseh, šâh Hind, Sagestân. . ./, Parth. `/ary mâzdêzn Narseh. . ./ "the Aryan, Mazda-worshipping Narseh, king of India, Sistan," etc. Of other Sasanian rulers Bahrâm II alone also prefixed it, on some of his coins, to the standard legend used from Ardašîr I onwards: (`) mzdysn bgy (wrhr`n) MRK`n MRK` `yr`n (W `nyr`n) "the (Aryan) Mazda-worshipping god (Bahrâm), king of kings of the Aryans (and the Non-Aryans)."

The combination *aryânâm xšaθra- is nowhere found in the Old Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenians. In the later Yašts there is only mention of airiiå and anairiiå daiηhâuuô "Aryan" and (unspecified) "Non-Aryan lands." Thus the term Êrânšahr was evidently an invention of the Sasanians.

A list of the countries ruled by Šâpûr I is almost entirely destroyed in the Persian version, and only incompletely preserved in the Parthian and Greek versions of his trilingual inscription. It can, however, be restored with the help of a shorter list of the provinces of Êrânšahr proper in the Persian inscriptions at Naqš-e Rostam and Sar Mašhad, also badly weathered, of the high-priest under his successors, Kerdîr. This comprised Pârs Persis, Pahlaw Parthia, Xûzestân Susianê, Mêšân Mesênê, Asûrestân Assyria, Nôdšîragân Adiabênê, Âdurbâyagân Atropatênê, Spâhân (Isfahan), *Ray Rhages, Kirmân Karmania, Sagestân Sakastanê, Gurgân Hyrkania, Marw Margianê, Harêw Areia, Abaršahr (Khorasan), Tûrestân Turênê, Makurân (Makran), and Kûšânšahr tâ frâz ô Paškabûr the Kushan country up to Peshawar. Šâpûr added the names of several countries, including *Mây Mêdia, Hind India, and "on that side of the sea" Mazûnšahr (Oman), and others, namely Arman Armenia, Wiruzân Iberia (Georgia), Alân Albania, and Balâsagân tâ frâz ô Kâf kôf ud Alânân dar Balasagan up to the Caucasus and the Gate of the Alans, which Kerdîr specifically places in `nyl`nštry, `nyr`nštry/anêrânšahr/, denoting the "kingdom of the Non-Aryans," the Roman empire to the west and the lands of the Caucasus.

Despite the usage of the royal titles, the empire was already referred to by the abbreviated form "êrân," and the Roman west correspondingly "anêrân," very early. Both terms occur in a calendrical text from the pen of the prophet Mânî, probably first written during the reign of Ardašîr (M 7981 V I 30 f., II 24 f. ´yr`n, `nyr`n), and in no other Manichaean Persian or Parthian has the term /êrânšahr/ been met. The same short form appears in the names given by Šâpûr I and his successors to several of the towns they founded, such as Êrân-xwarrah-Šâbuhr "The glory of Êrân (of) Šâpûr," Êrân-âsân-kard-Kawâd "Kawâd pacified Êrân" (qq.v.) It also features in the titles of several leading administrative officials and military commanders under the later Sasanians, e.g., Êrân-âmârgar "Accountant-General," Êrân-dibîrbed "Chief Secretary," Êrân-drustbed "Chief Medical Officer," Êrân-hambâragbed "Commander of the Arsenal," and Êrân-spâhbed "Commander-in-Chief."

In the Pahlavi books of the 3rd/9th century the early Sasanian terminology is clearly preserved, e.g., in the Kâr-nâmag, where Êrân is only used in the phrase šâh î êrân and the title êrân-spâhbed (ed. Antia, 12.16, 15.9); otherwise the country is always called Êrânšahr (3.11, 19; 15.22, etc.). The same is true of the book of Ardâ Wirâz, (ed. Gignoux, 1.4), where êrân dahibed "the ruler of the Aryans" alone appears beside the geographical name Êrânšahr. In the Dênkard, 7, the same distinction is generally made (with anêrân also designating the Non-Aryans). Here the phrase êr deh, plural êrân dehân, from the Pahlavi translation of the Yašts, is also occasionally used for the "Aryan land(s)." Nevertheless, the fact that Êrân was also generally understood geographically is shown by the formation of the adjective êrânag "Iranian," which is first attested in the Bundahišn and contemporary works.

In early New Persian works, especially those depending on Middle Persian sources, the form êrânšahr alternates with šahr-e êrân, (e.g., Târîkh-e Sîstân, pp. 6 -7). The poet Farrokhî Sîstânî (d. 429/1037-38), or possibly a later copyist of his poems, still uses it in contrast to tûrân "land of the Turanians" (pp. 99, 256, n. 8). The territory of Êrânšahr, however, came in time to be restricted to the western part of the former empire. In Târîkh-e Sîstân (tr. pp. 17 ff.) it is said that "The total area was divided into four parts: Khorâsân, Irân (Khâvarân), Nîmrûz, and Bâkhtar [not "Bactria"]. Whatever is located toward the northern boundary is called Bâkhtar; whatever is located toward the southern boundary is called Nîmrûz; and the area in between is divided into two: whatever lies toward the eastern boundary is called Khorâsân, while whatever lies to the west is called Îrânšahr." In the Nozhat al-qolub, (tr. Le-Strange, p. 34) it is even reported (from EstÂakhrî) that "Arabian ´Erâq used to be called the Heart of Îrân-Shahr" (del-e êrânšahr). The general designation for the land of the Iranians was, however, by this time êrân (also êrân zamîn, šahr-e êrân), and êrânî for its inhabitants.



(for cited works not given in detail, see "Short References"):