EDUCATION UNDER THE PARTHIAN
& SASANIAN DYNASTIES
By: Ahmad Tafazzoli
No concrete evidence on education in Parthian times has survived. It may be postulated, however, that it was similar to education in the Sasanian period. Information about the latter period is confined mainly to education of princes, the nobility, the clergy, and administrative secretaries (dabîrs, q.v.). Most peasants were illiterate, but most urban merchants were probably acquainted at least with writing and calculation (Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 416).
The required education for a child of a noble or an upper-class family is described in the Pahlavi treatise Xusraw ud Rêdag (Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jâmâsp-Asana, pp. 27-38): writing, religious instruction, physical education, and training in courtly arts. A noble child would begin attending school (fra-hangestân) at the "proper age," between five and seven years (Wizîrkard, p. 177; cf. Tabarî, I, pp. 815, 855: Ardašîr at seven years, Bahrâm V at five years) and would have completed general training and religious studies by the age of fifteen years (Andarz î Pôryôtkêšân, par. 1; Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, p. 41). At school he would learn to write and would memorize the yašts, Hâdôxt, Bayân Yasn, and Vidêvdâd, the same training provided for a future hêrbed (religious teacher). In addition, he would listen to the Zand, the Pahlavi translation of the Avesta. Astrology was also part of the curriculum (Xusraw ud Rêdag, pars. 8-10, 14). The education of a certain Mihrâm-Gušnasp, son of a noble Sasanian family who later converted to Christianity and was martyred, was similar. He was said to have been initiated into Middle Persian literature and the Zoroastrian religion at an early age. He could recite the yašts and hold the barsom (q.v.) at the age of seven years (Hoffmann, p. 94; Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 413-14). According to Abû Mansûr Tha´âlebî (Gh, p. 712), Šîrôya (later Kavad II, r. 628 C.E.) read Kalîla wa Demna at school.
The account of the education of Dârâb (q.v.) given in the Šâh-nâma (Moscow, VI, pp. 359-60, vv. 93-103; cf. Tha´âlebî, Gh, p. 394; cf. Xusraw ud Rêdag, pars. 11-12) probably reflects Sasanian norms: He first learned the Avesta and Zand and was then trained in riding, archery, polo, and the military arts. It was customary to entrust the education of a prince, especially a crown prince, to a tutor, in some instances far from the court. For example, at the end of the Arsacid period Bâbak (q.v.) sent Ardašîr (q.v.; 224-40) at the age of seven years to the argbed (q.v.) Tîrî, who was probably commander of the fortress of Dârâbgerd, to be educated (Tabarî, I, p. 815; Bal´amî, ed. Bahâr, p. 876). Writing (dibîrîh), riding (aswârîh), and other skills were parts of his education (Kâr-nâmag, ed. Antia, chap. II, p. 5 par. 4). Ardašîr himself, while at the court of the last Arsacid king, Ardavân, had trained princes in horsemanship and hunting (Tha´âlebî, Gh, p. 475). Bahrâm V (Bahrâm Gôr, q.v.; 421-39), whose education was said to have been entrusted to Mondher, Sasanian vessel ruler of Hîra in khvârvarân province, was instructed by various tutors (mo`addeb) in writing, archery, riding, and law. His general education is reported to have finished at the age of twelve years, after which he continued training in archery and riding until he attained mastery (Tabarî, I, pp. 855-57; Meskawayh, pp. 78-79; Dînavarî, ed. Guirgass, p. 53; Tha´âlebî, Gh, p. 541; Š, Moscow, VII, pp. 270-71; Bal´amî, ed. Bahâr, pp. 929-30).
A noble education also involved learning to play musical instruments and sing, games like chess and backgammon, and general information about wines, flowers, women, and riding animals (Xusraw ud Rêdag, pars. 13, 15, 57-58, 62-63, 66, 69-93, 96, 99-100). When Ardašîr was relegated by Ardavân to service in the royal stable, he reportedly amused himself by playing the lute (tanbûr) and singing (srôd-wâzîg; Kâr-nâmag, ed. Antia, chap. 3, p. 11 par. 2; cf. Š, ed. Khaleghi, II, p. 30, VI, p. 178, about Rostam and Esfandîâr respectively).
The Great Ferdowsî's description of the education of Prince Sîâvaš by Rostam in Zâbol provides a model of princely education in Sasanian and probably Parthian times as well. The prince was not only trained in horsemanship, archery, hunting, and the arts of war but also learned social etiquette, ceremonial rites, conduct on festive occasions, and delivery of orations. The results of his education were later apparent in the skills in archery, polo, and hunting that he exhibited when he lived at the court of Afrâsîâb (q.v.; Šâh-nâma, ed. Khaleghi, II, pp. 207, 289-94).
There is some evidence that in the Sasanian period women attended school, at least for general religious studies, though probably in relatively small numbers (Kotwal and Kreyenbroek, pp. 18, 38, 43); the main part of their training, however, consisted of domestic skills learned at home (Dênkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 935; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 418). There is one piece of evidence suggesting that some women were well versed in Sasanian civil law (Bartholomae, p. 35; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 418).
Three terms for "school" are attested in Pahlavi books: frahangestân, lit., "place of education" (Xusraw ud Rêdag, par. 8; Kâr-nâmag, ed. Antia, chap. 2, p. 8 par. 21); dibîrestân, probably a school for training scribes and secretaries (Andarz î Âdurbâd, pars. 58, 129, in Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, pp. 63, 69; Xwêškârîh î Rêdagân, pars. 1, 3, 5, 23, in Junker, pp. 15, 16, 20; Sad dar nathr, chap. 51, p. 37); and hêrbedestân, evidently a school for religious studies (Andarz î Pôryôtkêšân, par. 8, in Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, p. 43; Andarz ô kôdakân, par. 25, in Junker, p. 20). The general term for "teacher" was hammôzgâr, for "religious teacher" hêrbed, and for "instructor" frahangbed (Dênkard, ed. Madan, pp. 274, 757; cf. Tabarî, I, p. 1063: mo`addeb al-asâwera "instructor of horsemen").
The sources provide scanty information on educational methods. In two Pahlavi treatises (Xwêškârîh î Rêdagân and Andarz ô kôdakân) that have survived in Pâzand, the duties of boys at school, at home, and on the way from home to school are described (Junker, pp. 15-21). Physical punishment was administered at school (cf. Zâdspram, chap. 27, p. 97 par. 8; Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, p. 130, par. 9, where beating with a very long stick is mentioned).
(For cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see "Short References.")
C. Bartholomae, Zum sassanidischen Recht IV, Sb. der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften 13, Heidelberg, 1922/5.
G. Hoffmann, Auszüge aus syrischen Akten persischer Märtyrer, Leipzig, 1880.
H. F. J. Junker, ed., Ein mittelpersisches Schulgespräch, Sb. der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften 3/15, Heidelberg, 1912.
F. M. Kotwal and P. Kreyen-broek, The Hêrbedestân and Nêrangestân I, Paris, 1992.
Meskawayh, Tajâreb al-omam I, ed.
A. Emâmî, Tehran, 1366 Š/1987. S
ad dar nathr, ed. B. N. Dhabhar, Bombay, 1909. Wizîrkard î dênîg, ed. P. Sanjana, Bombay, 1848.