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.

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.

Photos of Resket Tower in Sari, Iran

The Resket Tower (Persian:برج رسکت), officially dated to the 11th century and described as having been originally built at the site of a meteor impact, is located in the city environs of Sari located in Mazandaran province in northern Iran.

A view of the Resket Tower whihc has been recently (partially) restored (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

The Resket Tower is a cylindrical tower built of bricks and is topped with an (somewhat elongated) conical dome.The tower is approximately 15 meters at its base and stands at 18 meters in height. The tower’s interior features a cylindrical chamber.

Close-up view of superimposed rows of V-shape brackets at Resket Tower (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

Interestingly this tower has both Sassanian (Middle Persian or Pahlavi) as well as early Kufic inscriptions. This would seem curious as the Sassanian empire had fallen by 651 CE, however northern Iran resisted the caliphates well into the 800s CE. The region (and the historical Azerbaijan in northwest Iran) retained strong cultural links with Iran’s pre-Islamic Sassanian past, even past the 800s CE which may explain the Pahlavi inscriptions on the tower.

A bottom-up view of the Resket Tower (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

The inscriptions on Resket Tower state that this is a tomb belonging to princes – and – of the local north Iranian Bavandid dynasty (651-1349). The Bavandids held sway in much northern Iran, known as Tabaristan at the time. As noted previously, much of Iran’s indigenous pre-Islamic identity was maintained, even as the Bavandids were reduced to vassal status.

A close-up view of the brickwork of Resket Tower (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

The observation below by Terry Graham sent to Kavehfarrokh.com on March 9, 2018 has been reprinted below for interested readers:

“So magnificent these inscriptions! Of course, the late conversion of the Caspian region is evidenced in this grand relic. It was in the following century that the Buyids poured out of neighboring Daylam, Gilan, to take over the caliphate and further Persianize it (given that the Abbasid caliphs themselves were Persian in every way but the language). Then farther west one had the Khurramiyya, who were a continuation of Mazdak’s movement, their very name reflecting both Mazdak’s and later Babak’s emphasis on ‘joy’ as an essential principle, expressed in the name of Mazdak’s wife, Khurram, as well. With her vigorously bold and eloquent defense of her martyred husband’s views, she was a model for Zaynab defending her brother in the time to come.

And of course, this was the era of the 9th-century Pahlavi books, representing an outpouring of work in that tongue far vaster than anything the Sassanians had written. The galvanizing of the non-literate Persians into the most massive writing activity in the world in both Pahlavi and Arabic (New Persian coming only a couple of centuries later) is one of the great wonders of world history in expressing the results of a revolution in Iran compared to which the Bolshevik one in Russia was no more than a tea party.”

Readers interested in reading more about this topic may consult:

  • Babaie, Sussan; Grigor, Talinn (2015). Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis. I.B.Tauris.
  • Pope, Arthur Upham, ed., Phyllis Ackerman, assist. ed. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present. Vol. 3, Architecture, Its Ornament, City Plans, Gardens, 3rd edited. Tehran: Soroush Press, 1977.
  • Uqabi, Muhammad Mahdi, ed. Dayirat al-ma arif-i binaha-yi tarikhi-i Iran dar dawrah-i Islami, 381. Tehran: Awzahi-i Hunari-i Sazmani-i Tablighat-i Islami, 1997.

Photos of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian Fire Temple) in Tbilisi, Georgia

The photos of the Zoroastrian fire temple or Atashgah of Tbilisi in Georgia were provided to kavehfarrokh.com in late 2017 by Dr. Nader Gohari of Durham University, who is an avid researcher and scholar of Iranian Studies.

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

Georgia, like ancient Albania (known as Republic of Azerbaijan since May 27, 1918) and Armenia have stood at the crossroads between Anatolia, the civilizations of ancient Persia or Iran and Eastern Europe.

[A, C] Views of the stairway of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi; [B] Plaque at wall to right of bottom stairway providing a short history of the Atashgah and its protected status as a heritage site by the Georgian government (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Alongside the impact of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the Caucasus continues to bear a strong ancient Iranian imprint as witnessed for example by the Kurdish Yezidis who live in both Georgia and Armenia to this day.

Concave structure at one of the top corners of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

As noted by the late British historian Mark Whittow (1957-2017) who taught as a professor at Oxford University:

The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia…many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world to its south and east than with the world to the west” [1996, pages 203-204; Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press].

Despite the conversion of Georgia to Christianity in the 4th century CE, Zoroastrianism continued to endure in local culture of the region. Officially, it was King Mirian (Persian: Mehran) who converted to Christianity in 337 CE. Despite this, the name “Ohrmazd” (Ahura Mazda) continued to be invoked by the local peasantry who referred to their deity as “Armazi”.

Platform providing access into the the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

The Locals of ancient Georgia are believed to have provided offerings to Aramzi or Ohrmazd in a locale in close proximity to what is identified as “Bridge of the Magi” (Lang, 1956, pages 22-23; “St. Nino and the Conversion of Georgia,” Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, translated by D.M. Lang (1956), London: Allen & Unwin).

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

The Mushtaid (Mojtahed) Garden in Tbilisi

The Mushtaid Garden in Tbilisi (see more about this garden/park in the Georgia About webpage) was established in the 1830’s by Mir-Fatah-Agha who was originally from Iran. By the 1830s Georgia had been fully incorporated into the Russian empire. This was made possible by forcing Qajar-ruled Iran to relinquish her Caucasian territories to the Czarist Russians.  Iran signed the Treaty of Gulistan (September 24, 1813) after her defeat in the first Russo-Iranian war (1804-1813) and the subsequent Treaty of Turkmenchai (February 21, 1828) after the second Russo-Iranian war (1826-1828). As a result of these defeats,  Qajar-ruled Iran was to permanently lose her territorial links to eastern Europe. For more on the Russian-Iranian wars of the early 19th century consult Kaveh Farrokh’s third text “Iran at War 1500-1988“.

Entrance gateway into the Mushtaid Garden in Tbilisi in the late 19th century (Source: Georgia About).

Mir-Fatah-Agha was a mujtahid (Persian: religious leader) – hence the name Mushtaid for the garden. After Nino (Mir-Fatah-Agha’s Georgian wife), passed away of an illness, Mir-Fatah-Agha buried her close to his house and had roses planted around her resting place. This became the foundation for the future Mushtaid (Mujtahid) park, which became an official public park by 1858.

Public restaurant in the Mushtaid Garden of Tbilisi in the late 19th century (Source: Georgia About).

A key question that arises is how (or why) did the Russians decide to grant this prime real estate in one of Eastern Europe’s most lush regions to an Iranian national? This would seem interesting given that the Russians had fought so hard to wrest the entire Caucasus from the Iranians in the early 19th century. The reason the Russians did this is because Mir-Fatah-Agha had greatly helped the Russian empire’s military campaign against his homeland. Mir-Fatah-Agha had been accused of spying during the Russian-Iranian wars and expelled from Iran in 1828, the same year the Treaty of Turkmenchai was signed between imperial Russia and Qajar-ruled Iran.

A view of the Mushtaid (Mujtahid) Garden as it appears today in Tbilisi. As noted in the Georgia About website: “The famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (Niko Pirosmanashvili) (Georgian: ნიკო ფიროსმანი) saw French dancer/actress Margarita perform in Mushtaid Garden in 1905. He was immediately besotted and it is said that he sold everything he owned to buy thousands of roses that were strewn in front of Margarita’s hotel.”

In appreciation of Mir-Fatah-Agha’s services to their empire, the Russians not only granted him asylum but also rewarded him with five hectares of land in Tbilisi (known as Tiflis in Persian and during the time of the Russian Empire).

Children’s railway in the Mushtaid garden or park of Tbilisi. As noted in the Georgia About website: “The first children’s railway in the world was opened in Mushtaid Garden on 24th July, 1935. Operating on a 1.2 km track, it was a narrow-gauge railway, complete with real wagons and locomotives.”

Nevertheless the case of Mir-Fatah-Agha should be considered in context. While more studies are needed in this topic, it would appear that the Qajar era (1789–1925) witnessed the rise of rampant self-interest among government officials and religious clergy (Mullahs and/or Mujtahids). The primary motivation in almost all of these cases was to acquire more wealth, property, recognition and influence. This was so transparent that British officials soon realized that they could easily buy off (often at a relatively low price) most Iranian government officials and clergy (Mullahs). This has been duly noted by Christopher Andrew in his book “Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community” (London, Penguin Books, 1987):

“The Long drawn-out ‘Great Game’ with Tsarist Russia…reached its peak in the later nineteenth century, gave rise to an equally long drawn-out series of intelligence operations…the Foreign office…particularly in Persia which acquired growing importance in British eyes…The Mullahs, who were the main authority within the country, proved vulnerable…to the ‘Cavalry of St George’. Sir Charles (later Baron) Hardinge, who became British Minster at Tehran in 1900, quickly concluded that there were few Persian clerics ‘whose religious zeal is proof against bribes’. The bribes to both Mullahs and civil officials sometimes took unusual forms: among them hyacinth bulbs, cigars, colored spectacles, silver clocks and – on one occasion – an artificial limb presented to a Persian brigand who had lost an arm in an attack on a caravan. The Marquess of Lansdowne, the foreign secretary … in Persia … acknowledged, he had ‘not hesitated to use secret service money’.” [Andrew, 1987, Pages 5-6]

In this context Mir-Fatah-Agha, a Mojtahed, was simply acting as many of his Qajar-era contemporaries would have acted: immediate self-interest even if it meant cooperation with a national adversary.