Sharon Turner: The Persian Origin of Anglo-Saxon Words

The article below was written in a letter Sharon Turner in 1827  and was first posted in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav.

Kindly note that the images and accompanying descriptions inserted below do not appear in the original article posting in CAIS.

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If more important communications be not, at the present moment, occupying the attention of the Royal Society of Literature, it may not perhaps be wholly uninteresting, if I submit to its consideration a few circumstances in regard to the Asiatic origin of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, which have lately occurred to me on examining the affinities of their ancient language.

It has been stated in the History of the Anglo-Saxons, that the most probable derivation of this people which had been suggested, was that which deduced them from the Sakai or Sacae, who, from, the Caspian, besides branching into Bactriana on the east, had also spread westward into the most fertile part of Armenia, which, from them, as we learn from Strabo, was called Sakasina.

Pliny terms the Sakai, who settled there, the Sacassani; which is so similar in sound to Saca-sunu, or the sons of the Sakai, that we are tempted to identify the two appellations. It was Goropius Becanus who first hinted this etymology: the celebrated Melanchthon adopted it; and though, as is usual on such subjects, others doubted and disputed, our Camden gave it the sanction of his decided preference.

Eastern Scythians or “Saka Tigrakhauda” (Pointed cap Saka) as depicted in Persepolis. The Scythians played an important role in the military machine of the Achaemenids. A branch of the Scythians or Saka, the Parthians, were to revive the Iranian kingdom after Alexander’s conquests and his Seleucid successors.

It appeared to me to be the most rational derivation which had been mentioned; and the fact that Ptolemy, writing in the second century after Strabo and Pliny, actually notices a Scythian people, who had sprung from the Sakai, by the very name of Saxones, seemed to verify the conjecture, that the appellative Saxones did originate from Saca-sunu, or the sons of the Sakai.

The Romans spelt the word with a c instead of a k, and we therefore call them Sacae, with the s sound of the c.But this is only our mispronunciation of the Roman c; for we find that Cicero’s name is written in the Greek authors who mention him, as Kikeroo.

The preceding derivation thus leads to the opinion, that the progenitors of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors came from Asia into Europe; and that before they made this emigration, they had dwelt in Armenia and in the regions about the Caspian.

The Honourable Mr. Keppell, in his late interesting travels, visited this country, and thus notices it. After crossing the river Arras – the Araxes of Plutarch – he says:

“Between this river and the Kur – the ancient Cyrus or Cyrnus – is the beautiful province of Karabaugh, formerly the country of the Sacae or Sacassani, a warlike tribe of Scythians, mentioned by Pliny and Strabo, and supposed to be the same people as our ancient ancestors the Saxons.”

After quitting Karabaugh, Mr. Keppell proceeded to Shirwan, the Albania of the ancients. The beautiful province of Karabaugh, between the Arras and the Kur – the ancient Araxes and Cyrnus – may therefore be considered as one of the Asiatic localisations of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. The Kur has been the late boundary of the Russian acquisitions in this district.

The late war between the Russians and the Persians has been chiefly carried on in or near the regions where the ancient Sakai or Sacassani were seated, and which appear to have begun from the south of the Kur. If the Russians make any further acquisitions in these parts, they will become possessed of the country of our Sakai ancestors.

Viking Helmet (Right; Picture Source: English Monarchs) and reconstruction of earlier Sassanian helmet at Taghe Bostan, Kermanshah, Iran (Left; Picture Source: Close up of Angus Mcbride painting of Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan, Wilcox, P. (1999). Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sasanid Persians. Osprey Publishing, p.47, Plate H1).

These circumstances, drawing the mind to this part of the world, led me to recollect that former antiquaries had observed a few words in the Persian language to resemble some in the Saxon. Camden mentions, that “the admirable scholar, Joseph Scaliger, has told us that fader, muder, brader, tuchter, band, and such like, are still used in the Persian language, in the same sense as we say father, mother, brother, daughter, and band.” (Camden’s Brit. Introd. cxxiii.)

Musing upon this intimation, it occurred to me, that if five words, so much alike as these, were found in the two languages, an attentive comparison of the Persian with the Anglo-Saxon might discover many more, if the allegation were really true, that the Saxons had come from these regions; and in that case, if any considerable number of similarities were really existing in the two languages, they would tend to confirm the belief, that the origin of our Saxon forefathers should be thus sought in Asia, and that their primeval ancestors had gradually moved from the Caspian Sea to the German Ocean.

Scythians on the steppes of the ancient Ukraine. Scholars are virtually unanimous that the Scythians were an Iranian people related to the Medes and Persians of ancient Iran or Persia (Painting by Angus McBride).

This view of the subject induced me to attempt a cursory examination, whether such resemblances could, by a general inspection, be perceived, as would satisfy the mind that the chorographical relationship was not an unfounded conjecture.

But it was obvious, that whatever the ancient identity between these languages may have been in their original state, no very great proportion of it could be expected to be visible now, because the Saxons have been separated from these regions at least 2000 years; and in their progress along the north of Asia, and through the whole breadth of the upper surface of Europe, and amid all the evils, sufferings, triumphs, and events, which must have befallen them before they reached the mouth of the Elbe; and from the new scenes and conflicts which accompanied their three centuries of depredations on the Roman empire and upon the ocean, and which afterwards, for four hundred years more, awaited them in Britain, before those works were written which display their language to us; – from all these causes, the Anglo-Saxons, in the days of Alfred, must have used a very different tongue, in the mass of its words, from that simpler and ruder one which their progenitors had conversed with in the beautiful province of Karabaugh, and on the Araxes, the Kur, and the Caspian.

So, during the same lapse of time, the Persian language has ceased to be what it was in the days of Cyrus or Darius. It has become, within the last 1,000 years, the most polished language of the Eastern world, and has been most exercised in clothing with select and ornate phrase the finest effusions of the Oriental genius.

Persian (Zoroastrian) inscription in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Modern Persian can, therefore, be scarcely less unlike the original language of those, in his war, against whom the self-confident Julian found an early grave, instead of the victorious triumph he expected, than our present English is to the Anglo-Saxon of the same period. Neither Persian nor Saxon are now what they were when the Sakai and the Persae confronted each other on their dividing rivers, and from their bordering mountains. Hence no such pervading identity could be expected as may yet be traced between the Welsh, the Bas Breton, the Irish, and the Gaelic, however originally similar.

The likeness would be also less, because the Saxons did not spring from the Persians. No one has alleged this parentage. The Sakai were the relatives only, not the children of the Persae. So far from any filial or paternal feelings existing between them, the most furious hostilities disparted the two tribes; and at one epoch, the Persians, by attacking the Sakai by surprise, nearly exterminated them.

This disaster disinclined our valuable antiquary, Sheringham, from adopting this derivation of our ancestors. But as it is manifest that no attack of surprise could annihilate at that time more than the forces which were surprised, the calamity is more likely to have been a reason for the rest of the Sakai, after this weakening catastrophe, to have moved hastily out of their pleasing settlements in those parts of the world, and to have migrated westward to a safer locality.

The main fire altar at the Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. 

This defeat may have forced them from Armenia to other districts nearer Europe; and the war of the Romans, or of Mithridates, or similar disturbing causes, may have afterwards impelled them to proceed onward to the Vistula, and at last to seek refuge on the islands and peninsula of the western extremities of the continent.

The probability is, that all the tribes which anciently inhabited the immediately conterminous countries were, for the most part, branches of the same main parental stem. The Persae, the Sakai, and their neighbours, may be therefore considered as ramifications of the great Scythian stock – part of the audax genus of Japetus, or Japhet; and as such, although the old Persians and the Sakai would not have spoken the same language in all its words and forms, yet their respective tongues would be dialects of their family original, and therefore would have many terms in common, as we still find between the ancient Franco-theotisc and the Saxon.

Of these assimilating terms, I expected that many fragments would be preserved, both in the Anglo-Saxon and in modern Persian, notwithstanding all the changing fortunes of the two nations; but that they would, from these mutations, exist and be perceptible now only as fragments.

Remains of the Temple of Mithra at Carrawburgh, England (Source: Britain Express). The culture 0f Mithras continues to endure among the Iranians (within Iran and the Kurds of the Near East beyond modern-day Iran. The Kurds speak West Iranian languages (i.e. Kurmnaji, Gowrani, etc.) that are akin to Persian and Luri.

Proceeding on this principle – that if the ancestors of the two nations did once live in vicinity to each other, although this was 2000 years ago, some indications of their neighbourhood would appear from subsisting similarities in their languages, and expecting to find these only as occasional fragments, I have compared the Anglo-Saxon with the modern Persian. The result has been, that, upon a general examination, I have found 162 Persian words which have a direct affinity with as many Anglo-Saxon terms of the same meaning; and these I beg leave to submit to the notice of the Society.

But before I attach the list of these, I will take the liberty also of mentioning, that I thought it right, after these similarities had been ascertained, to consider that two other languages, older than the modern Persian, had prevailed in that country. These were the Pehlvi and the Zend. The latter, the most ancient that we know of in those parts from actual specimens; the other, the Pehlvi, an intermediate one, in point of chronology, between the Zend and the Persian.

A detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans. For more see Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster-the First Universalist

Of both the Zend and the Pehlvi, M. Anquetil found some specimens among the ancient manuscripts which he consulted in exploring and translating the Zendavesta, or sacred book of the still subsisting worshippers of the sacred fire in those regions. Recollecting this fact, I have been led also to look into these specimens, and I have observed fifty-seven words in these fragments of the Zend language, which resemble as many in the Anglo-Saxon, and forty-three of accordant similarities between our old tongue and the Pehlvi.

These one hundred and sixty-two Persian words, fifty-seven Zend, and forty-three Pehlvi, present to us two hundred and sixty-two words in the three languages that have prevailed in Persia, which have sufficient affinity with as many in the Anglo-Saxon to confirm the deduction of our earliest progenitors from these regions of ancient Asia.

The Three Wise Men as depicted in Ravenna (Sant’Apollinare Nuovo), Italy (Source: Public Domain). Note the European depiction of Partho-Sassanian Iranian dress, caps and cloaks. 

That these affinities are too many to be ascribed to mere chance, there seems to be no difficulty in affirming. But on adverting to the positions suggested in my former papers, of a primeval oneness of language among mankind, and of the abruption of that into the diversities which now pervade the world, it is a reasonable question, whether these two hundred and sixty-two similarities are only remains of the primitive unity, or whether they be indications of specific subsequent relationship of two of the newer languages that were formed after the dispersion.

The Iranian Kandys cape and its legacy in Europe (click to enlarge). (A) Medo-Persian nobleman from Persepolis wearing the Iranian Kandys cape of the nobility 2500 years past (B) figure of Paul dressed in North Iranian/Germanic dress from a 5th century ivory plaque depicting the life of Saint-Paul (C) reconstruction by Daniel Peterson (The Roman Legions, published by Windrow & Greene in 1992, p.84) of a 4th-5th century Germanic warrior wearing Iranian style dress and the Kandys. The Iranian Persepolis styles of arts and architecture continued to exert a profound influence far beyond its borders for centuries after its destruction by Alexander (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Both the nature and the number of the analogies I have remarked satisfy my own mind that they are more truly referable to the latter than to the former cause, and therefore I will proceed to enumerate them, as corroborating testimony of our Sacassenian derivation, beginning with the Persian affinities, and then proceeding to those of the Zend and the Pehlvi.

PERSIAN, ANGLO-SAXON

am, I am.
aelan, to burn
alaw, a flame of fire
afora, a son
afa, the eldest son
andega, an appointed term
andan, a term
abidan, to abide
abadan, an abode
are, honour
aray, decoration
arian, to honour
arayidan, to adorn
ase, as
asay, like
andget, the intellect, sense
angar, reason.
andgashtan, to think
enge, trouble
anjam, grief.
andjugh, a sigh
angel, a hook
angulah, a button
ewe, water
aw, water
earmth, misery
urman, trouble
ende, the end
anjam, the end
berend, fruitful
bar, fruit
beeran, to carry
bar, a load
brother, a brother
bradar, a brother
barn, a barn
barn, a covered place
bearn, a son
barna, a youth
bedan, to offer
bedroz, a present
balew, depraved
bulad, a malefactor
beal, destruction
bulaghan, a calamity
bilewite, simple
biladah, foolish
beado, cruelty
bada, wickedness
barbacan, a front tower
burbik, a portico
bur, a chamber
barkh, an open room
blessian, to bless
balistan, to bless
blad, fruit, the blade
balidan, balandan, to grow
basing, a pallium, a chlamys
basuian, to be clothed in purple
baz, a habit, rich dress
bered, vexed
barat, disgusted tired
beard, a beard
barbar, a barber
breost, the breast
bistan, the breast
bysmor, infamy
bazat, a crime.
basaj, depravity
bysgu, business
bishing, business
bile, the beak, the bill
bull, the beak
bio, I exist
bud, existence
benn, a wound
bunawar, a sore
bil, a mattock
blowan, to flower
bilak, a flower
bidan, to expect, to await
bidar, watching.
bidari, vigilance
byld, firmness
bilah, firm
bend, a bond
band, a band, a chain
bendan, to bind
bandan, bandidan, to bind
bold, a town
balad, a city
bolt, a house
bulud, a dwelling
byan, to inhabit.
binland, cultivated land
bingha, a dwelling
beam, the sunbeam.
beamian, to beam
bam, the morning
sifer, pure, chaste
saf, pure
safa, purity
samod, together, in like manner
saehim, a partner, even
mirran, to hinder
maraw, go not.
marang, a bar
man, wickedness
mang, cheating, a thief
mona, the moon
mang, the moon
mxden, a maiden
madah, a female
moder, mother
madar, mother
mara, the night-mare
mar, sick
mal, pay, reward, tribute
malwar, rich
maldar, a rich man
mani, many
mali, many
morth, death
murda, dead
morther, murder
murdan, to die
mearc, a limit
marz, a limit
mus, a mouse
murz, a mouse
must, new wine
mustar, new wine
na, not
nah, not
naegl, a nail
nakhun, a nail
nafel, the navel
nal; the navel
nama, a name
nam, a name
iiameutha, illustrious
nami, illustrious
necca, the neck
nojat, the collar
neow, new
no, new
nu, now
nun, now
nigan, nine
nuh, nine
hol, health
hal, quiet, firmness
hare, hoary
harid, venerable
isa, ice
hasir, ice
eam, I am
hayam, I am
iuc, a yoke
yugh, a yoke
rad, a road
rah, a road
reste, quiet
rast, secure
duru, a door
dar, a door
deni, slaughter
dam, a groan, black blood
dim, obscure
damah, a cloud
gabban, to deride
ghab, a foolish bitter expression
gaf, loquacious
guftan, speech, to relate
cu, a cow
go, a cow
gers, grass
gryah, grass
gifr, greedy
guri, avarice
faeen, fraud
faj, a lie
sum, some
suman, a little
reel, prosperity
salaf, luxurious
steorra, a star
sitarah, a star
losewest, deception
losidan, to deceive
leogan, to tell a lie
lay, lying
hlogun, they laughed
lagh, a jest. lof, praise
laf, praise
lufa, love
laheb, love
lam, lame
lam, crooked
lang, lame
lippa, the lip
law, the lip
laf, the remainder
lab, remaining
less, the less
lash, small
lar, learning
lur, ability
lust, delight
lustan, to sport
lust, luxuriousness
lashan, nice, soft
blyd, tumult.
hlydan, to rage, to make a noise
lud, furious altercation
list, knowledge
listum, skilfully
lazir, clever
thu, thou
to, thou
thinan, to decline, to become thin
tanik, thin
tinterg, torment
tang, tight
tintregan, to torture
tangi, anguish
tawian, to cultivate
tan, an inhabitant
teman, to teem, to bring forth abundantly
toma, twins
wen, hope
awanidan, to hope
wenan, to expect
awanidan, to expect
ysel, a spark
azar, fire
raene, pride, glorying
awrang, power, glory
ae, a law
aym, a law
paeca, a deceiver
pak, vile
paecan, to deceive
pakh, ingratitude
paeth, a path, a footway
pay, pa, a footstep
pal, a stake
palar, a beam of wood
paell, colour
paludan, to besmear
pyndan, to shut up, impound
pynding, a fettering
paywand, a chain, a shackle
to, to
ta, to
taer, a tear
tar, moist
tarb, torture
taeran, to tear
tarakidan, to split
telan, to tell
talagh, a voice
teiss, affliction
tasah, grief
teisse, a stripe
tazyanah, a scourge
tir, a lord. tir, a chief
tir, glory
tur, a hero, bright
siofotha, bran
sapos, bran
seel, time
sal, a year
seepah, age
sul, a plough
suli, a plough
sac, discord, quarrel
sakht, violent, stubborn
sur, surig, sour
sirka, sirkah, vinegar
salh, a willow
salah, a wicker-basket
sorg, sorrow. sog, grief
sugwar, sorrowful
sol, solen, a shoe, a sandal
salu, a coarse shoe
supwah, a shoe
sole, the sole
sul , the sole
thunar, thunder
tundar, thunder
thunrian, to thunder
tundidan, to thunder
tan, a bud
tundar, the bud of a leaf

It is remarkable that all, or nearly all, of the Anglo-Saxon words spelt in the Lexicon with sc, which are now used in our English phrase, are at present pronounced by us as sh, and are written with this orthography. Thus the Anglo-Saxon sceap, scyp, sco, scine, and sceam, are spoken by us as sheep, ship, shoe, shine, and shame.

Whether the sh was the original sound of those words, which, by a sort of conventional orthography, were written as sc by our ancestors, to distinguish their sound of sh from the proximate one of s, or whether it became changed by one of those gradual alterations of pronunciation which occur in all languages from various causes, we cannot now decide; but the Persian has some analogous terms with the sh, instead of the sc, as

sea, excellent
shadbash, excellent
seama, shame, bashfulnes
sharm, shame, bashfulness
shama, naked
sceaming, confusion
shamidan, to be confounded
sceaphan, to shape, to put in order
shaplidan, to smooth
sceaft, a shaft, an arrow
shaftu, a quiver
sceaft, a point
shafar, the edge
sceawian, to see
shuwaz, the eye.

The other resemblances which I have remarked between these two languages are:

faegan, glad
farghan, gladness
faeran, to go
feridan, to walk
faroth, a journey
faraz, progress
fyr, fire
faroz, inflaming
ferhth, the mind
farzah, wisdom, knowledge
ferht, fear, fright
farasha, dread, trembling

The congruities which I have perceived in the few specimens that have been published of the Zend with the Anglo-Saxon are the following:

beran, to bear
bereete, to bear
ba, both
betim, the second
the, thee
te, thee
eahta, eight
aschte, eight
dochter, daughter
dogde, daughter
dohte, he did
daschte, he did
steorran, stars
staranm, stars
frend, a friend
frem, a friend
feder, a father
feder, a father
mid, with
mad, with
meder, mother
mediehe, mother
medo, mead
medo, wine
me, me
man, me
metan, to measure
meete, measure
med, a recompense
mejdem, a recompense
maest, chief
meze, meso, great
micle, much
mesche, much
mecg, a man
meschio, a man
mal more
mae, great
na, not
noued, not
nafel, the navel
nafo, the navel
we, an oak
hekhte, an acorn
hera, a lord.
heretoge, a chief
herete, a chief
paeth, a path
petho, a way
purl pure
peratche, pure
uppa, above.
upper, above
opero, above
threo, three
thre, three
thrydde, the third
thretim, the third
thu, thou
thvanin, thou
bane, a floor, a board
baenthro, a floor, a board
rot, splendid.
rof, illustrious
erode, illustrious
astandan, to subsist
asteouao, existence
beoth, they are
beouad, he is
beo, be it
boiad, be it
theof, a thief
teio, a great thief
dreori, dreary
drezre, a desert
daeth, death
dajed, he is no more
rewa, order
reso, he puts in order
reswian, to reason
razann, intelligent
froe, a lord
frethem, greatness
guast, the spirit
gueie, the soul
mxnde, he mentioned
manthre, words
midda, middle
meiao, middle
morth, death
mrete, mortal
merran, to mar
merekhsch, to destroy
gear, year
yare, year
earmth, poverty
armete, humility
starian, to look at
astriete, he sees
ba, both
bee, two
singan, to say
senghan, a word
scir, sheer, pure
srere, pure
snid, a cut
snees, he strikes
seon, to see
sodern, to see
gnad, he bruised
ghnad, he strikes
athe, easy
achiato, easy
scina, shina, brilliant
scheeto, brilliant.

I will now only trouble the Society with the few coincidences that I have found in looking over Mr. Anquetil’s short vocabulary of the Pehlvi, as he has printed it from his old manuscripts.

bonda, one bound
bandeh, a slave
nam-cutha, famous
nameh, famous
starian, to look at
astared, he sees
halig, holy
halae, pure
eahta, eight
ascht, eight
sare, troublesome
sareh, wicked
morth, death
marg, mortal
a-marg, immortal
thu, thou
tou, thou
sex, six
sese, six
bysmor, opprobrium
besche, wicked
suht, languor
satoun, weak
dom, legal judgment
din, law
reasan, to attach
resch, a wound
secgan, to say
sokhan, a word
gaf, loquacious
goft, he said
ofer, over, above
avvar, above
dem, slaughter
damma, blood
med, recompense
mozd, recompense
cneou, knee
djanouh, knee
steorran, stars
setaran, stars
setnian, to be in ambush
sater, war
sceacan, shakan, to shake, to pluck
schekest, he breaks
athe, easy
asaneh, easy
cu, cow
gao, ox or cow
ma, more
meh, great
bar, bare
barhene, naked
morth, death
mourd, he dies
mourdeh, mortal
meder, mother
amider, mother
nafel, the navel
naf, the navel
na, no
na, not
bog, a branch
barg, a leaf
purl, pure
partan, pure
agytan, to understand
agah, understanding
ac, an oak
akht, an acorn
brader, brother
berour, brother
bye, a habitation
bita, a house
secg, a little sword
saex, a knife
sakina, a knife
clypian, to call out
cald, called
kala, crying out
mare, greater
mar, great
necan, to kill
naksounan, I kill
band, a joining
banda, a band
raed, a road
raeh, a way
eortha, earth
arta, earth.

From what I have seen of the three languages of ancient and modern Persia which I have inspected, I think that by a more elaborate investigation of all their analogies with the Anglo-Saxon, a greater number of satisfactory congruities might be traced.

But the preceding specimens will perhaps be sufficient to support the probability of the geographical derivation of our ancestors from the vicinity of the Caspian and of Persia; and we are now too many centuries removed from the actual period of the migration, to have any stronger evidence upon it than that of warrantable inference and reasonable probability.

I have the honour to be,

SHARON TURNER
32, Red Lion Square
22nd March, 1827.

N.B. – Since this letter was written, I have found several affinities of Anglo-Saxon words with others in the Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Sanskrit, Japanese, Coptic, Laplandish, Georgian, Tongo, Malay, and Susov, which are printed in the fifth edition of the Anglo-Saxon History [The History of the Anglo-Saxons].

These present a range of similitude, amid general dissimilarity, which corroborates the principle formerly stated – of the original unity of the primeval language, and of its subsequent abruption on the compulsory dispersion of mankind.

But these affinities are not, in each language, near so numerous as the preceding collections from the Persian and its cognate dialects; and therefore do not lessen the weight of the argument, that so many Persian correspondences with the Anglo-Saxon, favour the derivation of the latter nation from the ancient Sakasani, who inhabited the regions near the Kur.

V. I. Abaev and H. W. Bailey: The Alans

This article on the Iranian speaking Alans by V. I. Abaev and H. W. Bailey first appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1984. The Alans were an ancient Iranian tribe of the northern (Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, Massagete) group, known to classical writers from the first centuries CE.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the Compareti article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا.
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Alansan ancient Iranian tribe of the northern (Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, Massagete) group, known to classical writers from the first centuries A.D. (see, e.g., Seneca, Thyestes 630; Annaeus Lucan, Pharsalia 8.223, 10.454; Lucian, Toxaris 51, 54, 55, 60; Ptolemy, Geographia 6.14.3, 9, 11; and other sources below).

Saka Paradraya[Click to Enlarge] The Scythians or Saka Paradraya in Eastern Europe before the arrival into the region by another Iranian people: the Sarmatian-Alans (circa 4th century BCE). As noted by Newark: “They [Scythians] were Indo-European in appearance and spoke an Iranian tongue that bought them more closely to the Medes and Persians” (Source: Newark, T. (Historian) & Mcbride, A. (Historical Artist) (1998). Barbarians. London: Concord Publications Company, p.6; Color Plate p. 7).

The name of the Alans appears in Greek as Alanoi, in Latin as Alani or Halani. The same tribes, or affiliated ones, are mentioned as the Asaioi (Ptolemy 5.9.16), Rhoxolanoi, Aorsoi, Sirakoi, and Iazyges (Strabo 2.5.7, 7.2.4; 11.2.1, 11.5.8; 7.2.4). In early times the main mass of the Alans was settled north of the Caspian and Black seas. Later they also occupied the Crimea and considerable territory in the northern Caucasus.

Alan-Warrior[Click to Enlarge] Iranian-speaking Alan warrior circa 5th century CE. The descendants of the Alans are found in Western and northern Iran as well as the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. Large numbers of Alans also assimilated with Europe’s Germanic tribes, notably the Ostrogoths (Painting by the late Angus McBride).As noted by Professor Abaev and bailey in this article “The name “Alan” is derived from Old Iranian *arya-, “Aryan,” and so is cognate with “Īrān” (from the gen. plur. *aryānām)“.

The history of the Alans can be divided into three periods: (1) from the beginning of the Christian era to the great migration of peoples; (2) from that period to the Mongol invasion; (3) subsequent to the Mongol invasion. During the first period, the Alans appear as a nomadic, warlike, pastoral people who were professional warriors and took service, at various times, with the Romans, Parthians, and Sasanians. Their cavalry was particularly renowned. They participated in Mithridates’ wars with Rome (chronicled by Lucan), as well as in Roman campaigns in Armenia, Media, and Parthia in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. (see Josephus, Jewish Wars 7.244-51,Antiquities 18.97; cf. accounts in Moses of Khoren, History of the Armenians [Langlois, Historiens II, pp. 105-06, 125] and the Georgian Chronicle [Kartlis tskhovreba, in M. F. Brosset and D. I. Chubinov, Histoire de la Georgie I, St. Petersburg, 1849]). Ammianus Marcellinus (31.2) describes the Alans’ nomadic economy and warlike customs.

Iranian Sword Worship-Excalibur Lenged[Click to Enlarge] (left) A reconstruction by Brzezinski and Mielczarek (2002 ) of Iranian-speaking Sarmatian warriors paying their respects to a fallen comrade in Europe (circa 1st century AD) – note the ritual of thrusting the fallen comrade’s sword  into the earth. At right is a screenshot of the Excalibur sword of King Arthur thrust into the stone (Movie “Excalibur“, 1981, John Boorman). This is one of many parallels between the Arthurian legends and the mythologies of the ancient Iranians  (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division).

The invasion of the Huns split the Alans into two parts, the European and the Caucasian. Some of the European Alans were drawn into the migration of peoples from eastern into western Europe. With the Germanic tribes of Visigoths and Vandals they passed into Gaul and Spain, some even reaching North Africa. The Alans fought on the side of the Romans in the battle of the Catalaunian Fields (A.D. 451), when Aetius defeated Attila, chief of the Huns. In 461 and 464 they made incursions into Italy. After Attila’s death they struggled, together with the Germanic tribes, to free themselves from Hun domination. Large Alan hordes settled along the middle course of the Loire in Gaul under King Sangiban and on the lower Danube with King Candac (the historian Jordanes sprang from the latter group). Another settlement is indicated by the name of the Spanish province Catalonia, which is but a slight deformation of Goth-Alania, “province of the Goths and Alans.” The French proper name “Alain” and English “Alan” are an inheritance from the tribe. The Alans also left an imprint on Celtic folk-poetry, e.g., the cycle of legends concerning King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table (see M. Hesse, “Iranisches Sagengut im Christlichen Epos,” Atlantis 1937, pp. 621-28; J. H. Grisward, “Le motif de l’épée jetée au lac: la mort d’Arthur et la mort de Batradz,” Romania 90, 1969, pp. 289-340). Part of the European Alans remained in the lands bordering the Black Sea, including the Crimea.

Alan at Orleans 451 AD[Click to Enlarge] Alan warrior in combat at Orleans (circa 451 CE). Many of these Iranian speakers settled in what is now modern France and assimilated into the local population. To this day their legacy resonates in Eastern Europe with names such as Alan, Alana, Irene, and Rita. The Alans are now believed to have introduced much of their folklore into the Arthurian legends of the British Isles. Painting by Angus McBride.

The Caucasian Alans occupied part of the Caucasian plain and the foothills of the main mountain chain from the headwaters of the Kuban river and its tributary, the Zelenchuk (in the west), to the Daryal gorge (in the east). They became sedentary and took to cattle-breeding and agriculture. Towns developed, elements of state organization appeared, and political and cultural ties were established with Byzantium, Georgia, Abkhazia [see Abḵāz], the Khazars, and Russia. Dynastic marriages were concluded with these countries. From the 5th century on, Christian propaganda was conducted, first by Byzantine, later also by Georgian, missionaries. The Alans adopted Christianity in the 10th century, and an Alan episcopal see was created.

In 244/857 Boḡā, a general of the caliph of Baghdad, invaded Transcaucasia and the northern Caucasus, devastating Georgia, Abkhazia, the Alan country, and the Khazar lands. The Alans soon recovered, however, and restored their state. They are often mentioned by medieval writers, both western (Procopius of Caesarea, Menander, Theophanes of Byzantium, Constantine Porphyrogenitus) and Arab and Persian. The latter use the name “Alān” or “Ās”; and in Russian chronicles and Hungarian sources the form “Yas” is found. In the 4th/10th century the Arab historian Masʿūdī indicates that the Alan kingdom stretched from Daghestan to Abkhazia. He describes its prosperity: “The Alan king (can) muster 30,000 horsemen. He is powerful, very strong and influential (among?) the kings. The kingdom consists of an uninterrupted series of settlements; when the cock crows (in one of them), the answer comes from the other parts of the kingdom, because the villages are intermingled and close together” (trans. V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darband, Cambridge, 1958, pp. 156-60). The anonymous Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (trans. Minorsky, pp. 83, 161, 318, 445) describes Alania as a vast country with 1,000 settlements; the people included both Christians and idol-worshipers, mountaineers and plain-dwellers. The text makes the important statement that, in the north, the Alans bordered on the Hungarians and the Bulgars (the ancestors of the Chuvash). In the east they gave their name to the Daryal gorge, called “Gate of the Alans” (Arabic Bāb al-Lān, Persian Dar-e Alān, hence Daryal).

Chester[Click to Enlarge] Sarmatian warrior clad in scale armor. Fluttering behind him is the distinctive Iranian battle standard, a dragon made like a windsock. Fragments of a funeral stele from the Roman camp at Chester, England. Chester Museum. Photo: Chester Archaeological Society. From The Sarmatians (New York, 1970), pl. 46.

The Mongol invasion of the 7th/13th century and Tamerlane’s wars in the 8th/14th proved fatal to the Alan state. Its organization was destroyed, and the population suffered heavy loss. Ebn al-Aṯīr reports: “The Tatars attacked the Alans; they massacred them, committed many outrages, plundered and seized prisoners, and marched on against the Qipchaqs” (XII, p. 252; for the events of 1221 A.D., seeCamb. Hist. Iran V, p. 311). The remnants of the Alans broke up into three groups. One retreated into the foothills and gorges of the central Caucasus and lives there up to the present [see Ossetes], numbering some 400,000. The people of their eastern branch call themselves “Ir”, those of the western branch “Digor.” The name “Alan” survives among them, in the form “Allon”, only in folklore. (Russian “Osetiny” is from Georgian Oseti, “Alania.” The Georgians had long called the Alans Os- or Ovs- and their country Oset-.) A second group of Alans migrated with the Qipchaqs (Comani) into Europe, settling in Hungary. The territory they occupied is to this day called Jászság, “province of the Yas;” and its capital is Jászberény. They preserved their language and ethnic identity until the 15th century, but gradually adopted the Hungarian language and became assimilated. The third group took service under the Mongol khans. According to the Chinese chronicle Yuan-shi, these “Asu” played an important role in further Mongol expansion. The Catholic missionary John de Marignolli, who spent five years in China, states that there were up to 30,000 Ās there (H. Yule, Cathay and the Way Thither III [Hakluyt Society, second ser., no. 37], London, 1914, pp. 180ff.). In the course of time they perished in warfare or were absorbed into the local population.

Osetia_woman_working[Click to Enlarge] A Russian photograph of Ossetian women of the northern Caucasus working with textiles in the late 19th century CE. Ossetians are the descendants of the Iranian speaking Alans who migrated to Eastern Europe, notably former Yugoslavia, and modern-day Rumania and Hungary (where their legacy remains in the Jasz region).

The name “Alan” is derived from Old Iranian *arya-, “Aryan,” and so is cognate with “Īrān” (from the gen. plur. *aryānām). The ancient Alan language may, to some extent, be reconstructed on the basis of modern Ossetic (after excluding the latter’s Turkic and Caucasian additions). The Alans created no writing, and no texts survive in their language except an inscription in Greek letters on a tombstone from the headwaters of the Kuban (Grund. Iran. Phil. I, Anhang, p. 31). A few sentences are recorded by the Byzantine author Tzetzēs (Gerhardt, “Alanen und Osseten,” pp. 37-51).

Modern-day Ossetian girls in traditional attire in Tskhinval (Source: Ossetians.com).

Various personal, ethnic, and place names are also known (see M. Vasmer, Die Iranier in Südrussland, Leipzig, 1923, pp. 25-29). This material at least indicates clearly the Iranian character of the Alan language.

Modern-day Ossetian boys in in Tskhinval attired in Kafkaz dress (Source: Ossetians.com). The Ossetians of the Caucasus speak an ancient Iranian language akin to modern Persian and Kurdish.

Bibliography 

Yu. Kulakovskiĭ, Alany po svedeniyam klassicheskikh i vizantiĭskikh pisateleĭ, Kiev, 1899.

Vs. Miller, Osetinskiye etudy III, Moscow, 1887, pp. 39-116.

W. Tomaschek, “Alani,” Pauly-Wissowa I/2 (1893), col. 1282-85.

E. Täubler, “Zur Geschichte der Alanen,” Klio 9, 1909, pp. 14-28.

Bleichsteiner, Das Volk der Alanen (Berichte des Instituts für Osten und Orient 2), Vienna, 1918.

G. Vernadsky, “Sur l’origine des Alains,” Byzantion 16, 1942-43, pp. 81-86.

Idem, “Der sarmatische Hintergrund der germanischen Völkerwanderung,” Saeculum 2, 1951, pp. 340-92.

V. I. Abaev, Osetinskiĭ yazyk i fol’klor I, Moscow and Leningrad, 1948, pp. 248-70.

D. Gerhardt, “Alanen und Osseten,” ZDMG 93, 1939, pp. 33-51.

Vaneyev, Srednevekovaya Alania, Stalinir, 1959.

Z. D. Gagloĭti, Alany i voprosy etnogeneza osetin, Tbilisi, 1966. V. Kuznetsov, Alania v X-XIII vv., Ordzhonikidze, 1971.

W. Barthold and V. Minorsky, “Alan,” EI2 I, p. 354.

B. S. Bachrach, The History of the Alans in the West, Minnesota, 1973.

Additional Notes

An inscription of A.D. 238-44 was set up in Ribchester, Lancashire, England, by the local Sarmatian veterans who had been sent to Britannia in 175 by Marcus Aurelius (161-80). He had defeated Sarmatians in 175, taken some of them into the Roman army, and adopted, as victor, the name Sarmaticus. The inscription reads “numerus equitum Sarmatarum Bremetennacensium Gordianus” (N. EQQ. SARM. BREMETENN. GIORDANI). It is published with a commentary by I. A. Richmond, “The Sarmatae, Bremetennacum veteranorum, and the Regio Bremetennacensis,”Journal of Roman Studies 1945, pp. 15-29. The road through Rheims was called the Via Sarmatarum. The Poles at one time meditated calling their country Sarmatia. T. Sulimirski published The Sarmatians in London in 1970. The earliest reference to the Sarmatians is in the Avesta, Sairima-, which is in the later epic Slm *Sarm and Salm.

Tamar (r. 1184-1212), queen of Georgia in its golden age, was daughter of King Georgi III and his consort Burduḵan, the daughter of the Ossetic prince Ḵuddan. Tamar’s consort, Soslan, was an Ossete.

Konstantinos VII Porphurogennetos entitled the ruler of Alania exousiokratōr(De administrando imperio 11.11, ed. Moravcsik and Jenkins, 1949), andexousiastēs (Book of Ceremonies 2.48).

The Gate of the Alans (not Albanians) is named in the inscription of Šāpūr I, Parthian 2 (the Persian and Greek are lacking) TROA ʾlʾnn, and in the Kartīr inscription BBA ʾlʾnʾn, that is Dar Alānān (with the two Aramaic words TROAand BBA “gate”).

The Archbishop of the Alans in the 13th century was named Theodoros (Kulakovskiĭ, Alany, p. 58).

Masʿūdī’s ʾrsyh *arsiyah is discussed by T. Lewicki, “Un peuple iranien peu connu: les *Arsīya ou *Orsīya,” Hungaro-Turcica, Studies in Honour of Julius Németh, Budapest, 1976. The Ās, Āṣ are cited by Minorsky, Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, pp. 445, 481. The modern Ossetes use Āsi, with the adjective āsiāg, of the neighboring Balkar (who speak Turkish). Similarly the Megrel (Mingrelians) call the Karačai, who speak Turkish, Alani. In Megrel also alani kʾoči is “heroic man” and alanuroba is “tournament.”

The Mongols used As, plural Asut, adjective Asutai, of the Ās of the Caucasus, of whom they took part to act as Qubilai Khan’s Imperial bodyguard in Khan-baliq, Ta-tu “Great City” (the later Peking). From there these As (Alans) wrote letters to Rome for Christian teachers (see A. C. Moule, Christians in China before the year 1550, London, 1930, pp. 196, 253-54, 260-63).

The Alans in the West are well documented by B. S. Bachrach, The History of the Alans in the West, Minnesota, 1973.

The name Ās was changed in Slavonic and Hungarian to Iās (Yās, Jász). The Iaskiy Torg “Iās Market” is the modern Jassy. In Hungary the Jász settled east of Budapest in the Jászsag district, with their chief city Jász-berény, and other places with the name Jász. A manuscript of A.D. 1422 contains a short vocabulary Jász-Latin in which the words are clearly near to modern Ossetic. There is a facsimile and full study by J. Nemeth, Eine Wortliste der Jassen, der ungarländischen Alanen, Berlin, 1959; see further R.-P. Ritter, Acta orientalia hungarica 30, 1976, pp. 245-50.

The Jász loan-words in Hungarian were treated by H. Sköld Die ossetischen Lehnwörter im Ungarischen, Lunds Unversitets Årsskrift 20, 1925.

The region Alaneṭʿi is briefly cited by the Prince Vakhušt, Geograpʿiuli aγcʾera, Description géographique, 1842, p. 413.

Iohannēs Tzetzēs (ca. 1110-1180) wrote of himself as of a pure Hellenic father and of an Abasgian mother. Among citations of foreign phrases he had one in Alanic. This reads tapanchas (glossed kalē hēmera sou), mesphili (authenta mou), chsina (archontissa), korthin . . . (pothen eisai), to pharnetzi kintzi (ouk aischinesai), mesphili (authentria mou), kaiterfoua(sm)ougg (not glossed). Earlier interpretations are in D. Gerhardt, ZDMG 93, 1939, pp. 33-51. It may be explained thus: dä bon xuarzmeʾfsinäi (vocative singular); äxsinäku . . . (not clear); du farnäd`in kindä äi “you have been made happy;” for the final unglossed phrase possibly: käi de ʾrfua *äm uingä “that your blessing is fully felt.”

A Survey and History of the Persian Population of the Caucasus

The article below “A Survey and History of the Persian population of the Caucasus” has been written by Farroukh Jorat. Kindly note that the images and accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original article by Jorat.

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Tats (variants of name: Caucasian Persians, Transcaucasian Persians) are the Iranian ethnos, presently living on the territory of Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation (mainly Southern Dagestan). Variants of self-designation (depending on the region) are Tati, Parsi, Daghli, Lohijon. Tats use Tati language, which together with Persian, Dari and Tajiki relates to the south-western Iranian languages. Azeri Turkic and the Russian language are also spread among Tats. Tats mainly are Shia Moslems, with a little number of Sunni Moslems.

History. Earliest mentioning about the presence of Persians in Transcaucasia relates to the martial expansion of Achaemenids (558-330 BC), during which they annexed Transcaucasia as the X, XI, XVIII and XIX satrapies of their empire [1]. This information has been verified by the archaeological investigations on the territory of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, during which ruins of Achaemenid architecture, pieces of jewelry and crockery have been discovered.

Achaemenid Palace at Qarajamirli

Excavation of the Achaemenid building at Qarajamirli. The researchers Babaev, Gagoshidze, Knauß and Florian in 2007 (An Achaemenid “Palace” at Qarajamirli (Azerbaijan) Preliminary Report on the Excavations in 2006. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2,, pp. 31-45(15)) discovered the remains of a monumental building as well as fragments of limestone column bases. This follows closely the plan of an Achaemenid palace featuring a symmetrical ground plan for the building as well as architectural sculpture. The pottery found on the floor closely follow Persian models from theAchaemenid era. Similar structures have been excavated from Sary Tepe (Republic of Azerbaijan) and Gumbati (Georgia). The Sary Tepe, Gumbati and Qarajamirli buildings can be interpreted as residences of Persian officials who left the region when Achaemenid Empire collapsed … for more on this topic see here

Nevertheless, there haven’t been more information about numerous and permanent Persian population in Transcaucasia since the Achaemenid period. It’s most likely to suppose that ancestors of modern Tats resettled to Transcaucasia in the time of the dynasty of Sassanids (III-VII CE), who built cities and founded military garrisons to strengthen their positions in this region [3].

Shah Khosrau I Anoushirvan (531-579) had presented a title of the regent of Shirvan (the region in the Eastern Transcaucasia) to a close relative of his, who later became a progenitor of the first Shirvanshah dynasty (about 510- 1538) [4].

Panoramic view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

After the region had been conquered by Arabs (VII-VIII) Islamization of the local population began. Since the XI century tribes of Oghuz, led by Seljuq dynasty started to penetrate into that region. A gradual formation of Azeri Turkic started. Apparently in this period an external name «Tat» or «Tati» was assigned to Transcaucasian dialect of the Persian language. This name came of Turkic term «tat», which designated settled farmers (mainly Persians) [5].

Mongols conquered Transcaucasia in the 30s of the XII century and the state of Ilkhanate was founded. Mongolian domination lasted till 60 – 70s of the XIV century, but that didn’t stop culture from developing – prominent poets and scientists lived and worked there during the XIII – XIV centuries.

In the end of the XIV century Transcaucasia was invaded by the army of Tamerlane. By the end the XIV-XV centuries the state of Shirvanshahs had obtained a considerable power, its diplomatic and economic ties had become stronger. By the middle of the XVI century the state of Shirvanshahs had been eliminated, Transcaucasia had been joined to the Safavidian Iran almost completely.

georgia_ii_f2

Map of the Caucasus region during the Safavid era (Source: Encyclopedia Iranica).

In the middle of the XVIII century Russia started to widen its influence over Transcaucasia. In the course of the Russian-Persian wars 1803-1828 Transcaucasian region became a part of the Russian Empire.

Since that time we can use data about quantity and settling of Tats, collected by tsarist authorities. When the city of Baku was occupied in the beginning of the XIX century, the whole population of the city (about 8000 of people) were Tats. This is an official result of the first census of the population of Baku, gained by Tsarist authorities.

According to the «Calendar of Caucasus» of the year 1894 there were 124693 of Tats in Transcaucasia [7]. But because of the gradual spreading of Azeri Turkic, Tati was passing out of use. During the Soviet period, after the official term «Azerbaijani» had been introduced into practice in the end of 1930s, the ethnic self-consciousness of Tats changed greatly. Many of them started to call themselves «azerbaijani», if in 1926 about 28443 of tats had been counted [8], in 1989 only 10239 of people recognized themselves as Tats [9].

In the year 2005 American researches, which carried out investigations in several villages of Guba, Devechi, Khizi, Siyazan, Ismailli and Shemakha districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, indicated 15553 of Tats in these villages.

Summing up we can draw a conclusion, that there is no precise information about the real number of people speaking Tati, but we can presume, that today there are about several thousand of native speakers of Tati living in some villages of Guba, Devechi, Khizi, Siyazan, Ismailli and Shemakha districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan and also in several villages of Southern Dagestan.

Local self-designation of groups of Tati population. Ethnonym «Tati» has Turkic origin; it has been used in Transcaucasia since Middle Ages for naming local Persian-speaking population. Later Persians of Transcaucasia have started to use this ethnonym for naming themselves. The majority of Tati population of Azerbaijan and Southern Dagestan uses the term «tati» or «tat» as a self-designation. Nevertheless today there are some other self-designations of local groups of «Tati» population in Azerbaijan, like- parsi, daghli, lohuj [11].

Parsi. The term «parsi» has been used by tats of Apsheron (Balakhani, Surakhani villages) till the present day as self-designation and also as an indication of tati language «zuhun parsi». This term relates to Middle Persian self-designation of Persians – pārsīk. It is interesting, that the same term also stood for the Middle Persian language itself; compare with – «pārsīk ut pahlavīk» – Persian and Parthian. During the New Iranian language period the final consonant naturally fell off and New Persian form of ethnonym was supposed to become pārsī. But this form wasn’t used in Iran and was replaced by Arabized (and artificial in certain respects) form – fārs.

An Iranian man of the Russian Empire photographed sometime in 1870-1886 (Source: Alex Q. Arbuckle in Mashable Website).

Most likely that Ethnonym «parsi» had been the original self-designation of Transcaucasian Persians, till it was replaced by Turkic name «tat». It is significant to mention that some groups of Persian-speaking population of Afghanistan together with Zoroastrians of India (so-called Parsi) use the term «Parsi» as a self-designation.

Nowruz-Baku

(LEFT) Talysh girls from the Republic of Azerbaijan (ancient Arran or Albania) engaged in the Nowruz celebrations of March 21. The Talysh speak an Iranian language akin to those that were spoken throughout Iranian Azarbaijan before the full onset of linguistic Turkification by the 16-17th century CE (RIGHT) Young girls in Baku celebrating the Nowruz.

Lohijon. Citizens of tati settlement Lahij of Ismailli district name themselves after their village «Lohuj» (plural «Lohijon»). Lahij is the most densely populated tati urban village (about 10 thousand citizens). It is situated in the region, which is rather difficult of access; this fact has prevented local population from contacts with outside world and has led to creation of their own isolated self-designation «Lohuj».

Daghli Tats of Khizi district and partly of Devechi and Siyazan districts use another term of Turkic origin – «daghli» («mountaineers») for naming themselves. Obviously, this term has later origin and initially was used by Turki plainsmen of that district for naming tati population living in mountains. In time as a result of spreading of Azeri Turkic, the term «daghli» has strongly come into use and tats of Khizi district started to use it as a self-designation themselves.

At present Tats are making attempts to return to the original self-designation «parsi» together with use of Persian language as a literary standard.

At the 14th of December 1990 during the board of the Ministry of justice of the Azerbaijan SSR the cultural and educational society «Azeri» for studying and development of Tati language, history and ethnography was founded. The primer and the textbook of Tati language together with literary and folklore pieces were published.

Farming Traditional occupations of the Tati population are ploughing agriculture, vegetable-growing, gardening and cattle-breeding. Main cultures are barley, rye, wheat, millet, sunflower, maize, potatoes and peas. Large vineyards and fruit gardens are widespread. Sheep, cows, horses, donkeys, buffalos and rarely camels are kept as domestic cattle.

Blank wall of traditional one- or two-story houses was facing the street. Houses are made of rectangular limestone blocks or river shingles. The roof is flat with an opening for the stone flue pipe of the fireplace. The upper store of the house was used for habitation; household quarters (like kitchen etc.) were situated on the ground floor. One of walls of the living room was provided with several niches for storing of clothes, bed linen and sometimes crockery. Rooms were illuminated by lamps or through the opening in the roof. House furniture consisted of low couches, carpets and mattresses. Fireplaces, braziers and ovens were used for heating.

The closed yard had a garden. There was a verandah (ayvan), a paved drain or a small basin (tendir), covered cattle-pan, stable and hen-house.

Religion Originally Persians, like the majority of other Iranian peoples, were Zoroastrians. After they had been enslaved by Arabian caliphate, Islam became widely spread. Today tats mainly are Shia Moslems, with a little number of Sunni Moslems.

Culture During a long period of time naturalize Persian settlers of Transcaucasia have interacted with surrounding ethnic groups sharing their culture and adopting some elements of other cultures simultaneously. Useful arts like carpet-making, hand-weaving, manufacture of metal fabrics, embossing and incrustation are highly developed. The arts of ornamental design and miniature are also very popular [12].

Spoken folk art of tats is very rich. Genres of national poetry like ruba’is, ghazals, beyts are highly developed. While studying works of Persian medieval poets of Transcaucasia – Khaqani Nezami – some distinctive features peculiar to the Tati language have been revealed.

Baku Fire Temple-UNESCO

The main fire altar at the Atashgah or Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. 

As a result of long historical co-existence of tats and Azerbaijani Turkis a lot of common features in the field of farming, housekeeping and culture have developed. Modern Azerbaijani folklore apparently has grown up from Iranian substratum [13].

Traditional women clothes: long shirt, wide trousers worn outside, slim line dress, outer unbuttoned dress, headscarf and morocco stockings, men clothes: Circassian coat, high fur-cap. Great number of Tats live in mountains, work for the industry, social group of intelligentsia has formed.

An elderly Iranian man from the Caucasus as photographed by George Kennan in 1871 (Source: Pinterest).

Tats, Mountain Jews and Armenians

The Tati language was widely spread in Eastern Transcaucasia. It is proved by the fact that down to the XX-th century it had been used by the non-Moslem groups of population: mountain Jews, part of Armenians and Udins [14]. This fact has led to a false idea, that Tats (Moslem), tati-speaking Mountain Jews and tati-speaking Armenians (Christians) are one nation, practicing three different religions.

Tats and Mountain Jews

Mountain Jews belong to the community of Persian-speaking Jews on the basis of the language and some other characteristics. Some groups of this community live in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia (Bukharian Jews). Jews of the Central Asia got the name «Mountain» only in the XIX century, when all Caucasian peoples were named «mountain» in official Russian documentation. Mountain Jews call themselves «Yeudi» («Jews») or «Juhuri» [15].

In the year 1888 A. Sh. Anisimov showing the closeness of languages of mountain Jews and Caucasian Persians (Tats) in his work «Caucasian Jews-Mountaineers» came to a conclusion, that mountain Jews were representatives of «Iranian family of Tats», which had adopted Judaism in Iran and later moved to Transcaucasia.

Ideas of Anisimov were supported during the Soviet period: the popularization of the idea of the mountain Jews «tati» origin started in 30-s. By efforts of several mountain Jews, closely connected with regime, the false idea of mountain Jews being non-jews at all, but «Judaismized» tats became widely spread. Some Mountain Jews started to register themselves as tats because of secret pressure from the direction of authorities.

2-Sergey-Prokudin-Gorsky

A Daghestani couple photographed in 1910 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Source: Reorientmag).

As a result of this situation words «tat» and «mountain Jew» became synonyms. The term «tat» was mistakenly used in the research literature as the second or even first naming for Mountain Jews.

This brought to the situation when the whole cultural heritage (literature, theatre, music), created by Mountain Jews during the Soviet period, was arrogated to Tats despite the fact that they had nothing in common with it.

Furthermore, comparing physic-anthropological characteristics of Tats and Mountain Jews together with the information about their languages, we can see that there are no signs of ethnic unity between these two nations.

Grammatical structure of Mountain Jews dialect is much older than the tati language itself. That creates a certain communication gap. [Generally speaking, archaic basis is typical for all «Jewish» languages: for Sephardis language (ladino), which is old-Spanish, for Ashkenazi language (Yiddish) – old-German and etc. At the same time all of these languages are satiated with words of old-Jewish origin.] Having turned to the Persian language, Jews nevertheless kept a layer of adoptions from Aramaic and Old-Jewish languages in their dialect, including those words, which were not connected with Judaic rituals (zoft«resin», nokumi «envy», ghuf «body», keton «linen» etc.) Some word combinations in the language of Mountain Jews have a structure typical for old-Jewish language.

Physic-anthropological types of Caucasian Persians (Tats) and Mountain Jews not only bear no similarities, they are almost opposite to each other.

4-Caucasian-Jews

Two residents of Derbent in the early 20th century (Source: Reorientmag).

In the year 1913 anthropologist K.M. Kurdov carried out measurements of a large group of Tati population of Lahij village and revealed fundamental difference (cephalic index average value is 79,21) of their physic-anthropological type from the type of mountain Jews. Measurements of Tats and Mountain Jews were also made by some other researches.  Cephalic index average value for the Tats of The Republic of Azerbaijan differs from 77,13 to 79,21, for Mountain Jews of Daghestan and The Republic of Azerbaijan  – form 86,1 до 87,433. Some measurements have also showed that, for Tats mesocephalia and dolichocephalia are typical, while extreme brachycephalia is typical for Mountain Jews, hence there are no facts proving that these two nations are related.

Moreover, dermatoglyphics characteristics (relief of the inside of the palm) of the Tats and Mountain Jews also exclude ethnic similarity.

It is evident, that speakers of Mountain-Jew dialect and Tati language are representatives of two different nations, each owing its own religion, ethnic consciousness, self-designation, way of life, material and mental values.

Tats and Armenians Some sources and publications of XVIII-XX indicate citizens of several Tati-speaking village of Transcaucasia as Armenian Tats, Armeno-Tats, Christian Tats and Gregorian Tats. Authors of these works offered a hypothesis that a part of Persians of Eastern Transcaucasia had adopted Armenian Apostolic Christianity, but they do not take into consideration the fact that those citizens identify themselves as Armenians.

However, the hypothesis that Tati-speaking Armenians are descended from Persians can’t be called reliable and well-founded for several reasons.

3-Baku-Fire-Temple

An illustration of Baku’s Zoroastrian fire temple (Persian: Atashgah) from John Usher’s 1865 travelogue, A Journey from London to Persepolis (Source: Reorientmag).

Within political situation existing in Transcaucasia in the time of Sassanids and later under Moslem dynasties, Christianity wasn’t a privileged religion. Zoroastrianism dominated in the time of Sassanids, later – Islam. Under such circumstances there were no stimuli for Persian population to reduce their high social status by adopting Christianity.

If Tati-speaking Armenians had been descendant to Persians, they should have used at least some Iranian terms connected with Christian way of life and rituals. But there no such words in their language, which they call themselves «Parseren», i.e. «Persian». All words related to Christianity are exceptionally Armenian: terter «priest» (instead of due Persian kešiš), zam «church» (instead of due Persian kilse), knunk‘ «christening» (instead of due Persian ghosl ta’mid), zatik «Easter» (instead of due Persian fesh),pas «Lent» (instead of due Persian ruze) and etc.

There are evident traces of phonological, lexical, grammatical and calque Armenian substratum in the dialect of Tati-speaking Armenians. Also there are Armenian affricates «ծ», «ց», «ձ» in words of Iranian origin, which do not exist in Tati language. This can only be explained by the influence Armenian substratum.

Regardless the fact that they have lost the language, the group of Armenians managed to preserve their national identity. Important aspect of it is distinct dichotomy «Us-They» with opposition of «Us» («hay») to Moslems («tajik»), Tats and Azeri together with conception of themselves as a suffering part and nation with tragic historical destiny.

Summing up all above-mentioned facts, we can say that «armenian-tats» have always been and now are Armenians, who managed to preserve their Christian religion, but had to accept the Tati language owing to its dominant position and the fact that they were isolated from the centers of Armenian culture.

The Anglo-Iranian War of 1856-1857

The article below by J. Calmard “The Anglo-Persian War of 1856-1857” was first published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1985 and last updated on August 5, 2011. This article is also available in print in the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. II, Fasc. 1, pp. 65-68).

Kindly note that the photos/illustrations and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.

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Following their defeat in the Russo-Persian wars of 1219-28/1804-13 and 1242-44/1826-28, the Qajars, tried to compensate for their losses by reasserting Persia’s control over western Afghanistan. Attempts to bring the principality of Herat under their rule in 1249/1833, 1253-55/1837-39, and 1268/1852 were strongly resisted by the British: If Herat were in Persian hands, the Russians—whose influence was paramount at the Persian court—would directly threaten India. In Afghanistan, Persian ambitions complicated internal struggles for the control of the “Khanates” of Kabul, Qandahār, and Herat. Since the 1820s, Kabul, and then Qandahār, had been ruled by the Bārakzī or Moḥammadzī, while Herat was held by the Sadōzī. In 1258/1842 Kāmrān Sadōzay was murdered by his vizier, Yār Moḥammad Khan. When the latter died in 1851, his son and successor, Ṣayd Moḥammad Khan, asked Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah Qāǰār for assistance against the Bārakzay amirs, in Kabul, and Kohandel Khan in Qandahār. In spite of warnings from the British minister in Tehran, Colonel Sheil, the Persians moved into Herat the next spring, but faced with British threats to break diplomatic relations and reoccupy Ḵārg island, the shah withdrew his troops (G. H. Hunt, Outram and Havelock’s Persian Campaign, London, 1858, pp. 149f.; P. P. Bushev, Gerat i anglo-iranskaya voĭna, Moscow, 1959, pp. 43f.), agreeing not to send them to Herat again unless it was threatened from the east and not to interfere in Herat’s internal affairs (engagement of 15 Rabīʿ II 1269/25 January 1853: see parts regarding ḵoṭba and coinage in C. U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Other Sanads Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries, Delhi, 1933, XIII, no. XVII, pp. 77f.; see also Hunt, Outram, pp. 155f.; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 44f.).

1-Sir Charles Augustus MurrayThe bumbling diplomat? An 1851 photo of a seated Charles Augustus Murray (1806-1895) prior to his diplomatic mission to Iran (Source: Public Domain). As soon as he arrived as British ambassador to Tehran in 1854, it became clear that he and Nasseredin Shah (r. 1848-1896), monarch of Qajar Iran, disliked each other. Murray’s inept diplomacy helped contribute to the rupture of Anglo-Iranian relations.

In 1853, Sheil was succeeded in Tehran by Charles Augustus Murray, who had no Indian experience and has been strongly criticized by both contemporaries and historians (e.g., Sir D. Wright, The English amongst the Persians, repr. London, 1977, p. 23); his troubles in Tehran were among the causes of the Anglo-Persian war. Before his arrival the shah knew him to be on friendly terms with his old enemies, the rulers of Egypt and Masqat, while an article published in the London Times predicted that he would soon force the shah to accept British policy regarding Herat. Moreover, he came “with neither an expected loan nor a draft defensive treaty nor presents,” to the disappointment of the court (ibid.). His lack of experience in Eastern diplomacy had disastrous results. Soon after his arrival, he became embroiled in a dispute with the ṣadr-e aʿẓam over the appointment of a former government official to the British Mission in Shiraz; the confrontation escalated to the point where the official’s wife, the sister of one of the shah’s wives, was imprisoned, and both Murray and his senior assistant were accused of improprieties with her. In a rescript to his ṣadr-e aʿẓam, Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī, (later annexed to the Treaty of Paris of 1857), the shah called Murray stupid, ignorant, and insane (ibid., p. 24); copies of the document were then sent to the foreign missions in Tehran, who were also informed by the ṣadr-e aʿẓam of the alleged offense. Murray was authorized by his government to break off relations with Persia; mediations by the Ottoman chargé d’affaires and the French minister were of no avail (Hunt, Outram, pp. 160f.; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 55f.). On 20 November 1855, Murray struck down his flag; he left Tehran for Tabrīz on 5 December and moved to Baghdad in May. The British consul, R. W. Stevens, remained in Tehran, where he was the only link with the Foreign Office and the India Board till September, 1856.

In Afghanistan, Persia’s threatening attitude caused Dōst Moḥammad to conclude a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship with Britain (30 March 1855; see Aitchison, A Collection, pp. 237f.). The ruler of Herat, Ṣayd Moḥammad, was deposed and killed, and in September-October, 1855, Moḥammad Yūsof Sadōzay, who was regarded as a Persian nominee, seized power there (Ḥ. Sarābī, Maḵzan al-waqāyeʿ, ed. K. Eṣfahānīān and Q. Rowšanī, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, introd., p. 23). Despite the engagement signed by the shah in 1853, a Persian army soon marched toward Herat. Afraid of being crushed between the shah and Dōst Moḥammad, who had taken Qandahār in August, Moḥammad Yūsof tried to temporize, but Ḥosam-al-salṭana Solṭān Morād Mīrzā, commander of the Persian force, was ordered to push forward with all speed. In desperation, Moḥammad Yūsof hoisted the British flag at Herat, only to be treacherously seized and sent as a prisoner to the Persian camp by his vizier, ʿĪsā Khan (M. J. Ḵormūǰī, Ḥāqāʾeq al-aḵbār-e Nāṣerī, ed. H. Ḵadīvǰam, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, pp. 176f.). The Persians began to capture forts and other sites around Herat as far as Farāh, but Persian troops who managed to invade Herat with the complicity of local Shiʿites were driven out by a bloody uprising (ibid., pp. 181f.). In renewed fighting ʿĪsā Khan hoisted the British flag and even offered Herat to the British crown in return for aid (J. F. Standish, “The Persian War of 1856-1857,” Middle Eastern Studies 3, 1966, pp. 28-29). Under threats from the shah, Solṭān Morād increased his pressure against Herat, which fell to the Persians at the end of October, 1856.

2-Citadel of Herat 1880sThe citadel of Herat in 1885 (Source: qdl.qa).

In the meantime, the diplomatic scene had changed since the end of the Crimean War in April, 1856: Russia could consider further progress toward India, and France was no longer Britain’s ally (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 30). In Istanbul, the Persian chargé d’affaires tried to settle diplomatic difficulties by negotiations with the British minister Lord Stratford de Redcliffe (interviews of January and April, 1856; see Hunt, Outram, pp. 167, 178-79). In July, the shah sent Farroḵ Khan Amīn-al-molk (later Amīn-al-dawla) Ḡaffārī on an extraordinary embassy to Paris. Meeting in Istanbul with Lord Stratford de Redcliffe at a time when the British were preparing a military action against Persia (Sarābī, Maḵzan, introd., pp. 34f., text, pp. 117f.), Farroḵ Khan was presented with an ultimatum insisting on the dismissal of the ṣadr-e aʿẓam; finally, he accepted the terms of another, more conciliatory, ultimatum sent by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to the Persian chargé d’affaires during the summer (Hunt, Outram, pp. 181-84, 189). With British authority divided between Britain and India and contradictory advice being given by men in the field (Stevens in Tehran, Edwardes in Peshawar), the Indian government was confused (Standish, “The Persian War,” pp. 26-27, 31-33). From Baghdad, Murray continued to send Foreign Secretary Clarendon proposals for a punitive expedition against Persia, yet overtures made to secure Dōst Moḥammad’s cooperation (Treaty of 26 January 1857 in Aitchison, A Collection, pp. 238f.) were of no avail (Sir P. Sykes, A History of Persia, 3rd ed., 1915, repr. London, 1969, II, p. 349). In both Persia and India, first-rank officials were opposed to war (Sarābī, Maḵzan, introd., p. 30; H. C. Wylly, “Our War with Persia in 1856-57,” United Service Magazine, London, March 1912, pp. 642f.).

After the capture of Herat, British agents were expelled from or left Persia; the last to go was Felix Jones, the political resident at Bushire, who left in November, 1856, only four days before the arrival there of three English warships (Fasāʾī, I, p. 313). To avoid public outcry against Palmerston’s government, the British declared war from Calcutta, on 1 Novernber 1856 (Wright, The English, p. 56). After considering direct action on Herat through Afghanistan or from Bandar ʿAbbās, they decided to operate in the Persian Gulf (Sykes, History II, pp. 349f.). A naval expedition under the command of Major-General Stalker occupied Ḵārg island on 4 December; on 10 December Bushire surrendered and was placed under British administration (Fasāʾī, pp. 313f.). On 27 January 1857, Sir James Outram landed at Bushire and took command.

Anglo-Persian War-KhorramshahrCaptured territory in the Khorramshahr area on the mouth of the Persian Gulf in 1857; note British flag (Source: Antiqua Print Gallery).

On the Persian side, ǰehād was proclaimed and changes made in the army leadership, but the Bushire campaign was ill prepared. Taking the initiative, Outram marched on the main body of Persian troops encamped at Borāzǰān, about 100 km northeast of Bushire. The British column occupied Borāzǰān on 5 February, bur the Persian army had already retreated to the north, leaving behind equipment and weapons. After destroying the Persian arsenal, the British marched back to Bushire but were met with a combined attack from the Persian regulars and the Qašqāʾī cavalry on the night of 7 February. At dawn, the British cavalry and artillery look the offensive and inflicted a massive defeat on the Persians (who lost 700 men to 16 on the British side; see Outram’s report in The Annual Register, 1857, p. 444; Sir J. Outram, Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram’s Persian Campaign in 1857, London, 1860, pp. 33-35; Wylly, “Our War,” p. 648; different figures given by Fasāʾī, I, p. 317; A. D. Hytier, ed., Les dépêches diplomatiques du Comte de Gobineau en Perse, Paris and Geneva, 1959, p.71, n. 95, et al.).

Despite Ottoman objections, the next operation was directed against Moḥammera (later Ḵorramšahr), which had been made over to Persia by the Treaty of Erzurum in 1847 and strongly fortified later on. In a purely naval battle fought on 26 March, Outram and Henry Havelock (who had arrived in reinforcement with his division) pounded the shore batteries with mortars. After some two hours’ fire, the shore batteries were silenced; troops were landed “only to find that the Persian force had fled, after exploding their chief magazine, but leaving everything behind them” (Wylly, “Our War,” p. 650; see also C. D. Barker, Letters from Persia and India 1857-1859, London, 1915, pp. 26f.). An armed flotilla sent up the Kārūn river reached Ahvāz on 1 April and returned to Moḥammera two days later. Military action at Moḥammera ended on 5 April when news was received that peace had been signed on 4 March.

Qajar Zanbourak unitA case of obsolescence: a Qajar Zanbourak (small cannon fitted on camel) military unit (Source: Persiawar.com). Iran’s military state by the 1850s was one of poor leadership, disorganization, low morale, poor training and substandard military equipment.

In fact, the Persian government had sued for peace directly after the capture of Bushire. Through the mediation of Napoleon III and his foreign minister, Count Walewski, Farroḵ Khan managed to start negotiations with Lord Cowley, British minister in Paris. This led to the signature of the Treaty of Paris on 4 March 1857, with ratifications exchanged at Baghdad on 2 May 1857. Persia was obliged to relinquish all claims over Herat and Afghanistan, while Britain was to serve as arbiter in any disputes between Persia and the Afghan states (article 6). British consular authorities, subjects, commerce, and trade were to be treated on a “most favored nation” basis (article 9). In a separate note to the treaty, the terms of Murray’s return to Tehran were set out in “humiliating detail” (Wright, The English, p. 24). Otherwise, no guarantees, no indemnities, and no concessions were exacted; there was no demand for the ṣadr-e aʿẓam’s dismissal (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 39), and the shah’s note of December 1855 insulting Murray was even annexed (see Aitchison, A Collection XIII, no. XVIII, pp. 81-86).

Although he was received in Tehran in July, 1857, with the agreed ceremonial, Murray was not to see the end of his troubles till the fall of the ṣadr-e aʿẓam Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī (20 Moḥarram 1275/30 August 1859). Count de Gobineau, the French chargé d’affaires in Tehran, who had taken charge of British interests, complained bitterly about the problems caused by the British protégés (Gobineau, Les dépêches, pp. 32f.). Murray complained in turn abort the lack of support these got from the French Legation (ibid., p. 93, n. 136 and Murray’s dispatches in FO/60/230 and 231). Both in 1855 and 1857, Murray complained about the eviction of the British Legation from the seats of honor it had formerly occupied on official ceremonies, including taʿzīa (passion play) performances (see J. Calmard, “Le mécénat des représentations de taʿziye, II,” Le Monde iranien et l’Islam 4, Paris, 1976-77, pp. 157f., and Moḥarram Ceremonies and Diplomacy, in Qajar Iran, Edinburgh, 1983, pp. 213-28. But the main troubles arose from the necessity of enforcing the terms of the treaty. Although the last British troops were not withdrawn from Ḵārg island till the spring of 1274/1858, the main body had left the Persian Gulf for India at the outbreak of the mutiny (May-June, 1857; see Outram, Persian Campaign, pp. 321f.). In Herat, the Persians were slow in evacuating the area of Lāš-Jovayn (see Murray’s dispatches in FO/60/230); there were problems connected with minorities (e.g., Herat Jews imprisoned at Mašhad) and the settling of the reciprocal atrocities and exactions between Sunnites and Shiʿites which had taken place during the war (on Colonel R. L. Taylor’s mission to Herat see FO/60/218, 219, 220; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 155f.).

Battle of KhosabThe Battle of Khushab (February 8, 1857) as depicted on a British postcard which reads “Lieutenants Malcolmson and Moore at Khushab” (Source: Persiawar.com). The postcard is making specific reference to Captain J.G. Malcolmson, and Lieutenant A.T. Moore who ere awarded Victoria Crosses by the British Empire for their battlefield exploits during the Anglo-Iranian War. The British and Iranian sides were evenly matched in numbers (4600 British versus 5000 Iranians) at Khoshab, but the British held the technical edge in terms of military equipment, a factor which significantly contributed to their victory at Khushab in Iran’s Bushehr province.

In Herat, ʿĪsā Khan had been put to death on 6 Rabīʿ II 1273/4 December 1856; Moḥammad Yūsof met a similar fate at the hands of Ṣayd Moḥammad’s relatives (Ḵormūǰī, Ḥaqāʾeq, pp. 191, 229f.; R. C. Watson, A History of Persia . . . to the Year 1858, London, 1866, pp. 463f.). Before they withdrew, the Persians installed Solṭān Aḥmad Khan, the nephew and son-in-law of Dōst Moḥammad, as Herat’s ruler. Effectively a vassal to the Persian crown (though this was never officially proclaimed), he enjoyed de facto British recognition as well. He was overthrown by Dōst Moḥammad in May, 1863; until then the Persian government managed to keep control over Herat while adhering to the Treaty of Paris (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 35).

The success of the British soldiers, more than a half of whom were Indian, was mainly due to technological superiority and new English rifles. Even so, British commanders faced the strain of barely sufficient means and lack of training. Three of them, Outram, Havelock, and John Jacob, were to become legendary Anglo-Indian figures, but the two service commanders committed suicide during the early stages of hostilities (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 35; see also Barker, Letters, pp. 23f.). Disorganization on the Persian side is illustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for the ǰehād against the British preached by the ʿolamāʾ and Mīrzā Āqā Khan (see H. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906, Berkeley, 1969, pp. 154f.). Connections between the Persian war and the Indian mutiny remain inconclusive (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 39). It should be also noted that repeated Persian claims of the necessity to pacify Khorasan from constant Turkman raids were considered by the British as a mere pretext for the seizure of Herat.

Early 19th century Map of IranMap of Iran in 1805 before her territorial losses in the Caucasus to Czarist Russia and the losses of Herat and Western Afghanistan due to British military actions. Just as the treaties of Golestan (1813) and Turkmenchai (1828) forced Iran to relinquish her territories in the Caucasus to Russia, so too did the Treaty of Paris (1857) force Iran to relinquish her territories in Afghanistan as per British objectives (Picture source: CAIS).

It has often been said that Britain’s relations with Persia improved after the war. Although from the British standpoint this may be partially true, there was a widespread tendency among the Persians to consider the British as the main source of their troubles, and Anglophobia was also felt elsewhere. Although allied with the British in the Crimean War (1854-56) and the second opium war in China (l856-61)), the French were alarmed by British expansionism in the Persian Gulf (E. Flandin, “La prise d’Hérat et 1’expédition anglaise dans le Golfe Persique,” Revue des deux mondes 7, 1857, pp. 690f.), and British diplomats also felt a lack of support from their colleagues in Iran. The Russians considered British action in Persia in this period as deliberate aggression, and concern over British expansionist plans was felt by Russian diplomats at all levels, as well as by local civil and military authorities in the Caucasus (Bushev, Gerat, pp. 23f.).

Cartoon of Persia 1911In a tight spot: British 1911 cartoon showing Iran (as the Persian cat) caught between the British lion and the Russian bear who sits on the (unfortunate) “Persian Cat” (Source: The Federalist). The social and geopolitical impact of Iran’s military defeats in the 19th century resonate to this day.

Bibliography

See also: 1. Unpublished official documents: Public Record Office (mainly FO/60 series); India Office Library and Records (mainly Factory Records for Persia and Board’s Drafts); National Record Office of Scotland (private papers of Hon. C. A. Murray, GD/261).

2. Published documents, other sources and studies: P. P. Bushev, “Angliĭskaya agressiya v Irane v 1855-1857,” Kratkie soobshcheniya Instituta vostokovedeniya, Akademiya nauk SSSR, Moscow, 8, 1953, pp. 21-26.

Idem, “Angliĭskaya voennaya ekspeditsiya v Akhvaz,” ibid., 29, 1956, pp. 65-71.

Correspondence Respecting Relations with Persia, London, 1857.

B. English, John Company’s Last War, London, 1971.

ʿA. Farrāšbandī, Ḥamāsa-ye marzdārān-e ǰonūbī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978.

Idem, Jang-e Engelīs o Īrān dar sāl-e 1273 h.q., Tehran, 1358 Š./1979.

Farroḵ Khan Amīn-al-dawla, Maǰmūʿa-ye asnād o madārek-e Farroḵ Ḵān Amīn-al-dawla, ed. K. Eṣfahānīān and Q. Rowšānī, I, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

A. Kasravī, “Jang-e Īrān o Engelīs dar Moḥammera,” Čand tārīḵa, Tehran, 1324 Š./1945, pp. 6-80.

Reżā-qolī Khan Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā-ye Nāṣerī X, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.

Moḥammad-Taqī Sepehr, Nāseḵ al-tawārīḵ, ed. J. Qāʾem-maqāmī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958, pp. 231f.

A. Ṭāherī, Tārīḵ-e rawābeṭ-e bāzargānī o sīāsī-e Īrān o Engelīs II, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Bahrām VI Chobin (Čōbīn)

The article below by the late Shapour Shahbazi’s regarding Bahrām VI Chobin (Čōbīn) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1988 and last updated: on August 24, 2011. This article is also available in print (Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 514-522). Kindly note that none of the images and accompanying descriptions inserted below appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica posting.

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Bahrām VI Čōbīn, chief commander under the Sasanian Hormozd IV and king of Iran in 590-91, was a son of Bahrāmgošnasp, of the family of Mehrān, one of the seven great houses of the Sasanian period (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 363 no. 23). First mentioned in Šāpūr’s Kaʿba-ye Zardošt inscription (“Arštāt, the Mehrān, from Ray,” see W. B. Henning, BSOAS 14, 1952, p. 510), the family remained the hereditary margraves of Ray and produced notable generals (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 139 n. 3). Bahrām was called Mehrbandak (Arm. Mehrevandak; Justi, loc. cit.), but his tall and slender physique earned him the nickname Čōbīn(a), var. Šōpēn “Javelin-like” (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, p. 377; cf. V. Minorsky, JRAS, 1933, p. 108). Bahrām started as margrave of Ray (Masʿūdī, Morūj II, p. 213), commanded a cavalry force which captured Dārā in 572 (Theophylactos Simocatta, 3.18.10f.), became Spahbaḏ of the North (i.e., satrap of Azerbaijan and Greater Media) under Hormozd IV, and fought a long but indecisive campaign against the Byzantines in northern Mesopotamia (Dīnavarī, p. 94; cf. Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, p. 388. For the campaign see M. J. Higgins, The Persian War of Emperor Maurice, Washington, 1939, pp. 35ff.). Late in 588, a horde of the Hephthalites, subjects of the Western Turks since 558, invaded eastern provinces of the Persian empire; and with the sanction and support of their overlords, reached Bādgīs and Herat. In a council of war, Bahrām was elected commander-in-chief of the Iranian army and satrap of Khorasan, furnished with a trained force, reportedly of 12,000 picked horsemen, and sent against the invaders whom Sasanian-based sources (as well as Theophylactos, 3.6) call Turks. Marching with remarkable speed, Bahrām first engaged and defeated the Western Turks and took the city of Balḵ. He then occupied the land of the Hephthalites, and crossing the Oxus won a resounding victory over the Eastern Turks, personally slaying their Great Ḵāqān (Ču-lo-hóu in Chinese records; J. Marquart, “Historische Glossen zu den alttürkischen Inschriften,” WZKM 12, 1898, pp. 189-90, and E. Chavannes, Documents sur les Toukiue [Turcs] occidentaux, St. Petersburg, 1903, pp. 242ff.; falsely called Šāwa/Sāva/Sāba in Sasanian-based sources, see under Bendōy and Bestām) with an arrowshot which became as proverbial as that of Āraš (q.v.). Finally, he advanced to the famous Dež-e Rōyēn “Brazen Hold,” at Baykand near Bukhara (Dīnavarī, pp. 81ff.; Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, pp. 1074ff.; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 331ff.; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 642ff.; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 268ff.; Nehāyat al-erab fī aḵbār al-Fors wa’l-ʿArab, apud E. G. Browne, JRAS, 1900, pp. 233ff. These Sasanian-based sources must be corrected by the account by [Pseudo-]Sebeos, tr. in Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 83, and elucidated by him in Wehrōt und Ārang, Leiden, 1938, pp. 137ff., and K. Czeglédy, “Bahrām Čōbīn and the Persian Apocalyptic Literature,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica 8, 1958, pp. 21ff.).

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Sassanian forces counterattack the invading Turco-Hephthalites in the Sassanian Empire’s northeast; the figures in the above plate (1-late Sassanian Savar-Framandar, 2-Kanarang, 3-Paygospan and 4-Turkic Gok warriors) are based on reconstructions from Sassanian archaeological data such as the grotto of the armored knight inside the vault or Iwan at Taghe Bostan, the (post-Sassanian) metalwork work plate of Pur-e Vahman as well as East Iranian sources (For more information consult: Plate C, pp.53-54, 60-61, Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-).

Meanwhile Hormozd had alienated the magnates by imprisoning and executing many renowned men, reducing the size of the cavalry force, and decreasing the army’s pay by 10 percent (Theophylactos, 3.13.16; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 264-68). Distrustful of Bahrām even before the eastern expedition (Yaʿqūbī, I, p. 188), Hormozd could not tolerate the popularity of his own general, and giving out that Bahrām’s reserving of a few choice items of the booty for himself was an indication of rebellion, he removed the victor from his posts, and sent him a chain and a spindle to show that he regarded him as a low slave “as ungrateful as a woman” (Dīnavarī, pp. 84ff.; see also Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 397-98; Theophylactos, 3.6-8, says that Bahrām was again sent to the Roman front and was defeated in Albania, whereupon Hormozd disgraced him; Nöldeke, op. cit., p. 272 n. 3, favored this version in 1879, but one of the best non-Iranian sources, discovered ten years later, Die von Guidi herausgegebene syrische Chronik, tr. Th. Nöldeke, Vienna, 1893, p. 5, confirms that Bahrām rose in arms while still in the east). Bahrām’s noble descent, his cultured manners and generosity, his military accomplishments and leadership skills, and his daring and shrewdness had earned him so elevated a position among his devoted troops and the public (A. Christensen, Romanen om Bahram Tschobin, et Rekonstruktionsforsøg, Copenhagen, 1907) that their rebellion against the ungrateful king followed naturally. Having settled his quarrel with the Turks, Bahrām appointed a satrap for Khorasan (Ṯaʿālebī, op. cit., p. 658; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 418f.), then marched on Ctesiphon via Ray, and was joined by many veterans from the western front (Theophylactos, 4.1). To forestall his supremacy, the nobles in the capital seized power, and led by Bendōy and Bestām (q.v.) and supported by Prince Ḵosrow, they slew Hormozd and put his son on the throne. On Bahrām’s approach, however, they fled toward Azerbaijan but were intercepted and defeated, many of their troops deserting to Bahrām. Ḵosrow succeeded, through the heroic self-sacrifice of Bendōy, in escaping into Byzantine territory (Syrische Chronik, pp. 5ff.; Theophylactos, 4.9; Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 272ff., 418-19, 434; Dīnavarī, pp. 89ff.; Baḷʿamī, op. cit., pp. 1079ff.; Nehāya, apud Browne, JRAS, 1900, pp. 237f.; Ṯaʿālebī, op. cit., pp. 657ff.; Yaʿqūbī, I, pp. 190f.; Ebn Balḵī, p. 100; [Ps.-]Sebeos, tr. M. K. Patkanian, Essai d’une histoire de la dynastie des Sasanides, Paris, 1866, pp. 87ff. [= JA, 1866, pp. 187ff.]).

Bahrām entered Ctesiphon and proclaimed himself king of kings (summer, 590), claiming that Ardašīr, the upstart son of Sāsān the shepherd, had usurped the throne of the Arsacids, and now he was reestablishing their right (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 29-32; Yaʿqūbī, I, p. 192; the humble origin of Ardašīr was already noted by Agathias, 2.27). He tried to support his cause with the following apocalyptic belief then current: The Sasanians had identified the Seleucid era (312 b.c.) with the era of Zoroaster (H. Lewy, JAOS 64, 1944, pp. 197ff.; S. H. Taqizadeh, JRAS, 1947, pp. 33ff.), thereby placing Ardašīr some 500 years after the prophet and leaving 500 years for the duration of their own dynasty (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VII, pp. 90-91). The close of Zoroaster’s millennium was to witness chaos and destructive wars with the Xyōns (Hephthalites/Huns) and Romans, followed by the appearance of a savior (details and references in Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 35ff.). And Bahrām had risen some 500 years after Ardašīr (so Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, p. 30), and had saved Iran from chaos, the Xyōns and the Romans; he therefore claimed to be and was hailed by many as the promised savior, Kay Bahrām Varjāvand (Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 36-39). He was to restore the Arsacid empire and commence a millennium of dynastic rule (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 60-62). He issued coins in his own name. They represent him as a majestic figure, bearded and wearing a crenellated crown adorned with two crescents of the moon; and they are dated to year 1 and 2 (R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics, Brunswick, 1971, p. 52).

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Coin attributed to Bahram VI Chobin (Source: Public Domain originally by Classical Numismatic Group).

Bahrām’s hopes were unfulfilled. Many nobles and priests preferred to side with the inexperienced and less imposing Ḵosrow, who, in return for territorial concessions, had obtained a Byzantine force of 40,000 (Chronicle of Seʿert, in Patrologia Orientalis XIII/4, p. 466), and was now marching toward Azerbaijan, where an army of over 12,000 Armenians under Mūšel (cf. Dīnavarī, p. 94) and 8,000 Iranians gathered and led by Bendōy and Bestām ([Ps.-]Sebeos, tr. Patkanian, op. cit., p. 93) awaited him. Hoping to prevent a union of those forces, Bahrām left Ctesiphon with a much smaller army, but arrived too late. The two sides fought for three days in a plain near Lake Urmia, and on the eve of the fourth, Bendōy won over Bahrām’s men by pledging, in the name of Ḵosrow, their pardon and safety. In spite of his bravery and superb generalship, Bahrām was defeated, and his camp, children, and wives were captured. He himself left the battlefield, accompanied by 4,000 men, and since Ḵosrow had in the meantime sent a force to Ctesiphon and had secured it, the only road open was eastward. Bahrām marched to Nīšāpūr, defeating a pursuing royalist force and an army of a local noble of the Kārēn family at Qūmeš. Ceaselessly troubled, Bahrām finally crossed the Oxus, and was received honorably by the Ḵāqān of the Turks, entered his service and achieved heroic feats against his adversaries. Ḵosrow could not feel secure as long as Bahrām lived, and he succeeded in having him assassinated. The remainder of his troops returned to northern Iran and joined the rebellion of Bestām (Syrische Chronik, pp. 5-7; Theophylactos, 4ff.; [Ps.-] Sebeos apud Patkanian, op. cit., pp. 92ff.; Yaʿqūbī, I, pp. 192ff.; Dīnavarī, pp. 90-105; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 275-89; Nehāya, pp. 238-42; Baḷʿamī, op. cit., pp. 1083ff.; Higgins, op. cit., chaps. II and III; L. N. Gumilev, “Bakhram Chubin,” in Problemy vostokovedeniya III, 1960, pp. 228-41).

Given time and opportunity to deal with internal problems, Bahrām would have probably achieved no less than Ardašīr I had done, but he was faced with too many odds. It was not Ḵosrow but his superior Byzantine mercenaries who defeated Bahrām (Theophylactos, loc. cit.). The betrayal by his own brother, Gordōy, and the capture of his family severely limited his maneuvering ability. He was handicapped by the lack of cooperation from the bureaucrats, and the animosity of nobles unwilling to serve one of their own equals (Dīnavarī, p. 99; Theophylactos, 4.12; Ṯaʿālebī, op. cit., pp. 660f.). His own chivalry in letting Ḵosrow’s supporters leave the realm unmolested (Dīnavarī, p. 94), and in ignoring the escape of the resolute Bendōy, turned against him by giving his enemies the possibility to unite. His religious tolerance (see G. Widengren, Iranica Antiqua 1, 1961, pp. 146-47) alienated the powerful clergy (Theophylactos, 4.12f.; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, p. 282). Even the apocalyptic belief he put to use was masterfully turned against him when Ḵosrow employed the following propaganda devices. He initially remitted one half of the annual poll-tax (Dīnavarī, p. 102), and bestowed riches on great fire temples (cf. Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 104f., 136). He then ordered his secretaries to publish an account of the events from the rise of Bahrām to the restoration of Ḵosrow (Bayhaqī, al-Maḥāsen wa’l-masāwī, ed. F. Schwally, Giessen, 1902, p. 481) wherein Bahrām was pictured as a soldier of fortune and an evil usurper. Finally, Ḵosrow circulated a modified version of the apocalyptic prophecy according to which the end of Zoroaster’s millennium was to witness the arrival with a vast army of a lowly false pretender from Khorasan, his usurpation of the throne, and his swift disappearance, followed by a short period of foreign rule over Iran and the restoration of peace and prosperity by a “victorious king” (aparvḕ xvatāy) who would even take many cities from the Romans; and since Ḵosrow had restored the kingdom and destroyed the lowly usurper Bahrām, he now claimed to be the true savior of Iran, and assumed the title Aparvēž, Parvēz (Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 32ff.).

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Court of Khosrow II and his queen Shirin – Smbat Bagratuini (Figure 4) was to replicate the spectacular successes of the Sassanian military against a renewed Turco-Hephthalite invasion of the Sassanian empire from the northeast in 618-619 CE (For more information on color plates and sources consult: Plate F, pp.53-54, 62, Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-).

However, Bahrām’s memory was immortalized in a masterfully composed Pahlavi romance, the Bahrām Čōbīn-nāma (Masʿūdī, Morūj II, p. 223; Fehrest, p. 305; Baḷʿamī, op. cit., p. 1081), which was translated by Jabala b. Sālem (Fehrest, loc. cit.), and found its way—intermingled with another account, favorable to Ḵosrow Parvēz—into the works of Dīnavarī (pp. 81-104), Ferdowsī (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 331-430 and IX, pp. 10-178), Baḷʿamī (op. cit., pp. 1073ff.), and the Nehāya (pp. 233ff.). The picture of Bahrām in the romance is that of an illustrious knight of kingly origins and noble disposition, a superb, highly educated and disciplinarian general, and a witty, just, and wise king. He is the best archer, and comes from the family of Mēlād (Mithridates/Mehrdād) the Arsacid, himself of the line of Kay Āraš (q.v.), son of Kay Qobād (who is here confused with the famous archer: J. Marquart, ZDMG 69, 1895, pp. 633-35). When Iran is simultaneously attacked by the Romans, the Ḵazars, the Arabs, and the Turks, he saves the empire by crushing the most dangerous enemy, the Turks; and he takes action against Hormazd who had unjustly disgraced him, only after his troops and an assembly of nobles urge him to do so. His accession to the throne is sanctioned by the nobles, and he fights for his right with gallantry and pluck. Above all, he is a man of his word, devoted to his men and his fatherland. The novel describes details of his life, thoughts and deeds with such vividness and moving affection that its reflection in the Šāh-nāma counts as one of the masterpieces of Persian literature (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 474-78). It clearly was published while Bahrām’s memory was still very much alive, and its form and main features have been restored by Arthur Christensen (op. cit.).

Bahrām is credited with the writing of a manual on archery (Fehrest, p. 304). He was survived by three sons: Šāpūr, who supported Bestām’s rebellion and was executed (Syrische Chronik, p. 9); Mehrān, whose own son, Sīāvoš, King of Ray, fell fighting the Arabs in 643 (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 300 no. 9); and Nōšrad, the ancestor of the Samanids (Bīrūnī, Chronology, p. 48). The popularity of Bahrām persisted in Iranian nationalist circles long after his death. Thus, Senbād could claim that Abū Moslem (q.v.) had not died but was staying with the Savior (Mahdī) in a “Brazen Hold” (i.e., Bahrām’s residence in Turkistan), and will soon return (Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 40-41 citing Neẓām al-molk, Sīar al-molūk [Sīāsat-nāma], ed. H. Darke, 1347 Š./ 1968, p. 280).