Pre-Islamic Literature


Oral traditions held a special significance in pre-Islamic Iran and religious and literary works were transmitted by word of mouth for centuries. For instance, the Avestā only came to be written down in the Sassanian period after centuries of oral transmission. Some of the main causes that prompted the Zoroastrians to put their religious books into writing during the Sassanian period were, first and foremost, to protect them against the rapid spread of Islam and, secondly, to respond to the criticism that the followers of other scriptural religions like the Christians leveled against them. Besides making reference to the oral literature of the Median and Sakan languages of yore, some written literary texts in the Avestan and Old Persian have also survived in the ancient sources. Substantial literary works belonging to the Middle period of the two groups of Western Iranian languages (comprising Parthian and Middle Persian languages) and the Eastern Iranian languages (comprising Soghdian, Khwārazmian, Sakan, and Bactrian) are available today. Unlike the Zoroastrians, Māni and his followers gave great importance to penning down their religious books and some of their works in the Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, and Soghdian) have also survived to date.

1-Ancient Period

1-1- Median Literature :No written works have been found in the Median language and it is not known as to whether this language had ever been written down. However, references have been made to the stories, tales, and poems of the Median period in the writings of Greek historians like Thucydides and Herodotus. For instance, reference can be made to the unsuccessful love-story between Stryangaious and Zarina, the Sakan queen, as well as the story of “Zariadres and Odatis” that can be found in numerous sources and according to Polybius were of Median origin that later on appeared in the form of the story of Gashtasp and Katāyun in Ferdowsi’s “Shāhnāmeh”. The other Median literary works to which reference can be made are the Median epics that resulted in the establishment of the Median Empire and have been narrated in the works of Thucydides.


1-2-Sakan Literature :No written works have survived from the Old Sakan language and it is not known as to whether this language had ever been written down. Stories of the “one-eyed Arimaspi” and the treasure-guarding griffins as well as legends of the origins of the Sakas have been narrated in the Sakan language. Herodotus has reported the Sakas as having drawn a simile between snowflakes and feathers, this being indicative of their subtle poetic inclination.
The remarkable literary heritage and the rich epic stories in the Āsi language that had been narrated and preserved through oral transmission indicate, in all probability, the depth of the oral ancient Sakan literature.


1-3-Ancient Persian Literature :The only written works in the Old Persian language that was spoken during the Achaemenian period (550-330 BC) in Persia are the inscriptions of some of the Achaemenian kings in the cuneiform system that have survived on rocks, gold and silver tablets, weights, stamps, and vessels. The only relic that may have been written in the Old Persian language after the Achaemenian period is an inscription in the Aramaic language found in Naqsh-e Rostam, of which only a few words have been deciphered thus far. The contents of this inscription are mainly of a political and administrative nature. However, notwithstanding the limited contents of these state-owned inscriptions and despite the fact that not all of them have been deciphered thus far, the literary greatness of Darius I is undeniable. It also needs to be mentioned that the owner of the words of these inscriptions has expressed himself in all honesty and has abstained from indulging in any amplification. The impeccability of expression, simplicity of wording, and brevity have compensated for the monotony of language that can be observed in the various parts of the inscriptions. Interestingly, all the texts that have been written in the name of Darius I have been planned appropriately and comprise an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. The stone inscriptions of the descendents of Darius I with the exception of the “Div” tablet of King Xerxes I are nothing but repetitions of King Darius’s words. It is noteworthy that the Ancient Persian cuneiform inscriptions are devoid of any imaginative literature and although they are considered as valuable documents from the historical and linguistic points of view, they do not hold any real literary value.

It can be deduced from what has been recorded by the Greek writers that in all probability the epic literature in ancient Iran was oral. In the view of Christiansen, it is quite likely that besides government documents, there had been a collection of oral epic narrations like the “Khodāynāmeh” and the “Shāhnāmeh” during the Achaemenid period that had been used by the Greek writers in their writings. For example, the legend of “Zupir”, the stories related to Cyrus that have been narrated by Herodotus, as well as the stories related to Bardiyā that have appeared in other Greek narrations belong to the said collection.

1-4-Avestan Literature :The Avestan language, which was spoken in Irānvij – a land situated in the eastern part of Iran – was the language that was principally used to write the Zoroastrian religious script, the Avestā. The oldest Avestan written texts probably dated back to the 10th-8th Centuries BC. No other Avestan texts, however, have survived except the Avesta.
By the 3rd Century AD, the Avestan language had been forgotten and was out of use and only the Zoroastrian mobeds used this language, that had been preserved orally, as the sacred language of the Zoroastrian religion in their hymns and religious supplications. During the Sassanian period (224-651 AD) and following the spread of Zoroastrianism as the official religion of the empire, the Avesta was for the first time put down in the written form in a script called the “Din Dabiri” (religious script) that had been especially invented for this purpose. The Avesta which is available today and which has been transcribed since 1278 AD merely comprises one-thirds of the Avesta of the Sassanian period.

The Avesta is not entirely in one particular language and this inconsistency is either due to the differences in the various dialects or owing to the fact that the various parts of this scripture were written in different periods of time. The Avestan texts can be divided into the two groups of Gāhāni Avesta and the Later Avesta on the basis of the antiquity of their language, their grammatical and linguistic characters and features, and from the viewpoints of their fundamental teachings and their religious contents. On the other hand, the existing Avesta has been divided into the five different parts viz. the Yasnās, the Visperād, the Vendidād, the Yashts, and the Khordeh Avestā.

1-4-1- The Gāhāni Avesta: The Gāhāni texts which comprise about one-sixths of the existing Avesta consist of the following sections:

1-4-1-1- The Gāhān (or the Gāthas): This part of the Avesta is the oldest existing Iranian literary work which most Iranologists believe was composed in the first Millennium BC. The term “Gāhān” is the plural of the word “gā”, meaning “song” and this is the oldest part of the Avesta and consists of seventeen hymns that are interspersed between the Yasnās (28-34 and 43-51, 53). The Gāhāni hymns which are believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself are the most difficult texts that have so far been written and even their translations into the Pahlavi language do not help much in understanding them very clearly because, owing to the time lapse, these texts were difficult and beyond the understanding of even the Zoroastrian mobeds during the Sassanian period.
The Gāhāni hymns are syllabic in nature and from the point of structure, they are similar to the Vedic hymns. Some linguists believe that in spite of a certain degree of phrasal and grammatical ambiguity as well as a complexity of language, the lofty beliefs of Zoroaster can be witnessed in these rich religious hymns that had been composed in order to express illuminative humane thoughts.
1-4-1-2- The Yasnā Haftās: This section which is also known as the “Seven-Chapter Yasnās” (Yasnā 35-41) is the second oldest part of the Avesta after the Gāhān and is in prose form.
1-4-1-3- The Supplications of Yasnā 27: This section comprises the texts of the famous Zoroastrian supplications like the “Ahu Navar”, the “Ashem Vohu”, and the “Yangahe Hātam”.

1-4-2- The Later Avesta: The Later Avesta comprises almost five-sixths of the entire Zoroastrian holy scriptures and represents the later Zoroastrian religion or, in other words, the religious beliefs in Iran before the advent of Islam. Even though the language of this part of the Avesta is less difficult than that of the Gāhān, one is nevertheless faced with difficulty in the understanding and comprehension of its matter that finds its roots in a combination between pre-Zoroastrian beliefs as well as the maxims of its prophet and the infiltrations of the beliefs of some other religions into these texts owing to the widespread dissemination of the Zoroastrian religion in the different parts of Iran. No categorical statement can be made as regards when these texts have been written and compiled. It is quite likely that the old Yashts, or the oldest section of the Later Avesta, belonged to the 8th and 9th Centuries BC.

The Later Avesta comprises the following sections from among which only the Yashts can be compared with the Gāhān in terms of their literary value:

1-4-2-1- The Yasnās: The Yasnās consist of seventy-two chapters. The Gāhān and the Yasnā Haftās are spread out among the Yasnās. Therefore, this section comprises forty-eight “hās” or chapters. The term “Yasnā” means “worship” and, as a whole, the contents of the Yasnās include the praise of the good spirits that were invoked to participate in the Yasnā ceremonies and for making offerings to them.
1-4-2-2- The Visperād: The “Visperād” (meaning “masters”) is comprised of twenty-four parts and most of its matter is derived from the Yasnās and is a supplement to them.

1-4-2-3- The Khordeh Avestā: This collection of supplications which is also referred to as the “smaller Avesta” comprises short supplications for the benefit of the common Zoroastrians as against the supplications belonging exclusively to the priests. The most important sections of the Khordeh Avestā comprise the “Niyāyesh”, the “Si-Ruzeh”, and the “Āferinegān” which are supplications for the different parts of the day and night, for the different months, and for the various ceremonies.

1-4-2-4- The Vendidād: This book in fact contains practical laws that have been presented in a question-answer form (the answers of Āhurā Mazdā to the questions put forward by Zoroaster) in twenty-two fargard (sections) while the term “Vendidād” (earlier referred to as “Vidivdād”) actually means “distancing oneself from the div (evil spirit)”. The queries of the Vendidād are mainly in connection with the laws of purification and the atonement of sins. Some mythical stories like the story of Jam (Fargard II) as well as a detailed geographical section on the various lands (Fargard I) comprise the other sections of the Vendidād. Some linguists consider the Vendidād to be the main source of reference for gaining more knowledge regarding the ancient life of eastern Iran and regard it as the most important section of the Avesta.

1-4-2-5- The Yashts: This section of the Later Avesta comprises twenty-one Yashts and each Yasht is sub-divided into several “kards”. Yasht means “worship” and from the etymological point of view it shares its roots with the ancient term “yasn” as well as terms like “jashn” and “Izad” from Modern Persian. The Yashts are hymns in praise of the good spirits. Every large Yasht (Yashts 5, 8, 10, 13, 17, and 19) generally comprises a description, adulation, glorification, and an invocation (beseeching help) of the particular spiritual being to which that Yasht is dedicated. Moreover, each of these Yashts also contain myths and accounts of historical events presented in a highly condensed, metaphorical, and vague style.

The names of the twenty-one Yashts of the Avesta are as follows: 1. The Hormuzd (Urmazd) Yasht; 2. The Haft-Tan (Amesha Spenta) Yasht; 3. The Ordibehesht Yasht; 4. The Khordād Yasht; 5. The Arduyi Sur (Āban Anāhid) Yasht; 6. The Khorshid Yasht; 7. The Māh Yasht; 8. The Tir Yasht; 9. The Gevesh Yasht; 10. The Mehr Yasht; 11. The Sorush Yasht; 12. The Rashn Yasht; 13. The Farvardin Yasht; 14. The Bahrām Yasht; 15. The Vayu (Rām) Yasht; 16. The Din (Chistā) Yasht; 17. The Ashi (Ard) Yasht; 18. The Ashtād Yasht; 19. The Khorrah (Kiyān, Zāmyād) Yasht; 20. The Hom Yasht; 21. The Vanand Yasht.

Not all the Yashts have been written at the same time. For instance, the Yashts 1-4 belong to a relatively later period. Interestingly, the names of some of the Yashts have no apparent relation with their actual contents. For instance, the Zāmyad Yasht (derived from the term “zam” meaning the “earth”) is in connection with “farr-e kiyāni” (lit. “royal splendor”).
The superiority of the Yashts over the other parts of the Avesta is owing to their dynamism and poetical value which are not congruent with the otherwise ethical and religious value of the other sections of the Avesta. The good spirits are believed to possess skills as well as outstanding, mythological features and have been praised in a poetic language. For instance, the Mehr Yasht which comprises thirty-five “kards” is a great and unique piece of work from among all the ancient Indo-European works from the angles of its expressiveness and imaginativeness and the use of poetic allegory. The employment of two different sets of nouns and verbs for the description of divine (Ormazdi) and evil (Ahrimani) beings and the usage of analogy in the narrations of mythological and epical stories like the battle between Tishtar and the “Apush” div (demon) in Yasht 8 is from among the other features of the Yashts. It can be concluded that parts of all the Yashts are metrical and while some Iranologists consider their poetic meter as syllabic, yet others believe them to be stress-based.

1-4-2-6- The Herbadestān and the Nirangistān: The Herbadestān comprises matter relating to the duties and obligations of the “Herbads” as well as their system of training and education. The Nirangistān, on the other hand, comprises detailed rules regarding religious ceremonies, the preparation of ceremonial offerings, and the special supplications related to them.

1-4-2-7- The Hādokht Nask: Three portions of this text written in the Avestan language are surviving today in which the fate of the soul after death and the importance of the “Ashem Vohu” supplication have been discussed.

1-4-2-8- The Avegmadicha: This text comprises twenty-nine sentences in the Avestan language mainly dealing with the subject of “death”. In all probability, the “Avegmadicha” meaning “we say/we express” was a supplication or āfarin that was recited in the memory of the deceased after the recitation of the “Āferinegān”.

- The Vaethā Nask: The Vaethā Nask, meaning “the nask of knowledge” comprises short texts in the Avestan language written and compiled in the later periods.

1-4-2-9- Āfrin Paygambar Zarthusht

1-4-2-10- Veshtāp (Gashtāsp) Yasht

The last two subjects that have appeared in some copies of the “Khordeh Avestā” as well as a number of Avestan words and sentences present in the Avim dictionary, the “Shayest Ne-Shayest” (Proper and Improper), the Porsishnihā, etc. form the final section of the Later Avesta.


2-Middle Period


2-1-1-Parthian Literature: During the Parthian period, non-religious myths and legends were transmitted by means of word of mouth through story-tellers and raconteurs. One group of them was known as the “gusān”. The gusāns were minstrels or wandering poets and musicians who had memorized the national legends of Iran and who would especially relate them in poetry form. Some of these stories were later on used in the compilation of the “Khodāynāmeye Pahlavi” and eventually found their way into Ferdowsi’s “Shāhnāmeh”. The story of “Vays va Rāmin” (Vays and Rāmin) is one of the Persian love stories which was in poetry form and was Parthian in origin and which contains interesting information on the lifestyle, customs, and traditions of the Parthians. It is quite likely that some of the stories from the “Shāhnāmeh” like the story of “Bizhan and Manizheh” are also of Parthian origin.

A number of written texts in the Parthian language (the official language of the Parthians) – also written in the Parthian script – have survived on stone, leather, ceramics, metal, coins, seals, etc. Some of the Parthian inscriptions belong to the Sassanian period and a number of them are bilingual and tri-lingual. Similarly, two treatises named the “Derakht-e Āsurig” (The Āsurig Tree) and the “Yādegār-e Zariran” (In Memory of Golden Iran) in the Middle Persian language are available to us today, a study of the language styles and the poetic contexts of which as well as the employment of Parthian words in them clearly reveal that they are tampered versions with originally Parthian roots.

2-1-2-Pahlavi or Middle Persian Literature :The term “Middle Persian” is used to indicate the language that stemmed from Old Persian and became the official language of Iran during the Sassanian period. The surviving literary works of this language are divided into the two categories of “religious” and “non-religious” texts.

Throughout the Sassanian period, the sacred books of the Zoroastrians and a number of second-grade religious works that contained material more or less connected with religion emerged in a written form while non-religious works, literary works, and occasionally works of amusement value (both, poetry and prose) failed to find their way in written texts owing to the importance given to oral traditions in pre-Islamic Iran and were instead only transmitted by word of mouth even in the post-Islamic times until they gradually went out of circulation. Even the written texts came to be lost owing to the replacement of the Pahlavi script with the Arabic one, the transformation of the Pahlavi language into Fārsi, or owing to certain other political or religious reasons. However, the Arabic and Persian translations of some of these works like the “Kalilah va Damna” (Kalilah and Dimnah) have managed to survive. Similarly, as a result of the transformation in language and the replacement of the syllabic meter with the prosodic one and with a drop in the popularity of music (since Pahlavi poetry was generally recited along with musical accompaniments), Pahlavi poetry, too, became extinct. Moreover, religious works which had also mainly been compiled in the 3rd and 4th Centuries AH at a time when Zoroastrianism was no more the official religion of Iran, gradually faced destruction owing to religious fanaticism, wars, conflicts, and especially the Mongol invasion of Iran.

Middle Persian literature shares its characteristics with oral literature in terms of the anonymity of the writers and the presence of various styles. Moreover, despite all the damage faced by the surviving works they are considered as invaluable sources for gaining information on ancient Iranian myths. The surviving works in the Pahlavi language comprise some inscriptions, written texts, the Pahlavi Zabur (psalms) as well as certain sporadic sentences and words found in the Arabic and Persian books.

2-1-2-1- Inscriptions: This category includes inscriptions on stone/rock, hides, ceramics, metals, papyrus, wood, coins, seals, precious stones, etc. Some of these inscriptions are bilingual (in Pahlavi and Parthian) while some others are trilingual (Pahlavi, Parthian, and Greek). The inscriptions were normally made as they were being composed and even though they do not hold much literary value, they are very important from the historical, social, religious, and linguistic points of view. The various inscribed works are split into the, two, “government” and “private” categories.
2-1-2-1-1- Government Works: These inscriptions in the inscriptional Pahlavi script or in the print form and were attributed to the Sassanian kings and courtiers, including the head priest (mobed-e mobedān) or the kardir.

2-1-2-1-2- Private Works: Most of the private inscriptions were in the joint script that was also the Pahlavi script used for books and belonged to the latter part of the Sassanian period and the early Islamic period. These works are divided into the two categories of commemorative inscriptions (used on waqf property or on visiting certain monuments) and tombstone inscriptions.
Other Pahlavi inscriptional works include writings on papyrus, hides, ceramics, metals, coins, seals, and other seal-like objects.

2-1-2-2- Written Texts: This group of Pahlavi works can be categorized as follows:
2-1-2-2-1- Translations and Exegeses of the Avesta into the Pahlavi Language (The Zand and the Pāzand): The Avestan language was considered extinct during the Parthian and Sassanian periods and only the mobeds were acquainted with it and, therefore, the translation of the Avesta into Pahlavi – the current language of those times – became inevitable. The translation and the exegeses of the Avesta into the Pahlavi language is generally referred to as the “Zand” or the “Zend” (lit. exegesis). Today, from among the translations and exegeses of the Avesta, only the Zand Yasnas (including the Gāhān), the Visperād, the Khordeh Avestā (including the Niyāyesh and the short Yashts), the Vendidād, the Herbadestān and the Nirangistān, and the Avegmadicha are available.

Following the 4th Century AH, it became more and more difficult or rather impossible to read Pahlavi texts since by then the Pahlavi language had been forgotten. It was for this reason, that some of the migrant Zoroastrian priests of India, transcribed the supplications and some of the Pahlavi texts into the Avestan script, which came to be known as the “Pāzand”. The most important Pāzand works include: The Shekandgomānik Vezār (the original Pahlavi version of which has been lost); the Bundahishn; the Minuye Kherad (The Paradise of Wisdom); the Vahman Yasan Zand; the Avegmadicha; the Ardāvirāfnāmeh; the Yādegāre Jāmāspi (a major part of which in the Pahlavi language has been lost); the Pos-e Dānshan Kāmag; the Khishkāri Ridgān; the Āfarins and the supplications; the Tobehnāmehs (Patit); the Nirangs (the liturgies); certain rivāyāt (narrations); the Sitāyesh-e Si-Ruzeh; the Dah va Panj; “The Importance of the Asurnān (the priests)”; and the 101 Names of God.

2-1-2-2-2-  The Texts Written on the Basis of the Zands: Many books and treatises were written in the Pahlavi language on the basis of the Avesta and its Pahlavi translation on different subjects, the latest of which date back to the 3rd and 4th Centuries AH. The most important of these texts are as follows:

2-1-2-2-2-1-  The Dinkard: This encyclopedic book comprises a collection of matters that were written on the basis of the earlier Zoroastrian texts. The names of two of its compilers have been identified as “Āzar Faranbagh Farrokhzādan” and “Āzarbād Omidān” both of whom lived in the 3rd Century AH. The term “dinkard” means “religious writings” or “religious deeds and works”. The Dinkard actually comprised nine books, the first and the second as well as parts of the third book of which have been lost.

2-1-2-2-2-2-  The Bundahishn: This book is also famous as the “Zand-e Āgāhi” or the knowledge that is based on the Zand teachings and it comprises thirty-six chapters. It was first compiled towards the end of the Sassanian period. However, the last compiler of this book in the 3rd Century AH was a person named “Farnbagh”. “Bundahishn” means the first or the basic creation. The subjects covered in this book include legends regarding creation, the actual and mythological history of the Iranians from the onset until the advent of the Arabs, cosmology and astronomy, as well as the names of rivers, mountains, and plants. Two versions of the Bundahishn are available today. One is a comprehensive version named the “Bundahishn-e Irāni” (The Iranian Bundahishn) or the “Bundahishn-e Bozorg” (The Great Bundahishn) while the other is a short or concise version known as the “Bundahishn-e Hendi” (The Indian Bundahishn).
2-1-2-2-2-3-   Selections from the Zadsparam: This book is a collection of thirty-five chapters on subjects such as creation, religion, man and his relation with the various faculties within his body as well as the duties of each of the parts of the body, resurrection, and the end of the world. This book was written by Zadsparam, the son of Goshn Jam (Jovān Jam) in the 3rd Century AH.
2-1-2-2-2-4-   Manuchehr’s Works: Manuchehr’s Works comprise a compilation of three letters in rejection of his (Manuchehr’s) brother Zadsparam’s religious heresies as well as a book entitled, the “Dādestān-e Dini” (A Collection of Religious Verdicts) comprising his answers to ninety-two questions put forward by Mehr Khorshid, the son of Āzarmāh, and some other behdinān (Zoroastrians).
2-1-2-2-2-5-   Pahlavi Rivāyāt (Narrations): This text appears in the manuscripts alongside the text of the “Dādestān-e Dini” but its compiler is unknown.

2-1-2-2-2-6-   The Porseshnihā (Inquiries): This text is a compilation of religious queries.
2-1-2-2-2-7-   The Vijākard Dini: This book comprises numerous Pahlavi texts and its name means “Religious Verdicts”.

2-1-2-2-3-   Philosophical and Theological (Kalām) Texts: The philosophical and theological texts surviving from the Sassanian period are the third, the fourth, and the fifth books of the Dinkard; the Shekandgomānig Vezār (lit. “the report that clears ambiguity”) which was compiled by Mardān Farrokh, the son of Urmazd Dād, the first part of which endorses Zoroastrian beliefs while the second part is in connection with the rejection of the beliefs of other faiths; the Pos-e Dānshan Kāmag (Cham Kostig) which is a short text related to the tying of the “kusti” (the sacred rope tied by the Zoroastrians around their waists); and the Gojastak Abālish which is a treatise describing the debate that took place between Abālish, a Zoroastrian who had adopted Islam, and Āzar Farnbagh Farrokhzādān in the presence of Ma’mun the Abbasid caliph.
2-1-2-2-4-   Spiritual Wayfaring and Prophesizing: From among these types of literature the following few works have survived: i) The Ardāvirāf Nāmeh (also known as the Ardāvirāz Nāmeh) which is a description of Virāf’s journey to the other world; ii) Zand Vahman Yasn (The exegesis of the Bahman Yasn), which is a prophecy of the future events of the world based on spiritual inspiration (mukāshefah); iii) The Prophecies of Jāmāsp – Gashtāsp’s minister and advisor – a section of which appears in the Jāmāsp Nāmeh and another part of which can be found in the Yādegār-e Jāmāspi; iv) Shāh Bahrām Varjāvand which was composed in the form of a short rhymed poem in fourteen verses after the advent of Islam, prophesizing the appearance of Shāh Bahrām.
2-1-2-2-5-   Ethics (Good Counsel and Wisdom): Ethical teachings comprise a major part of the Pahlavi literature, the most important feature of which is the collection of advises that are categorized into the two sections of “religious advises” and “practical wisdom”. The counsels fall under the category of oral literature and it is very difficult and at times even impossible to ascertain the identity of their authors and the dates of their origin; and they have generally been attributed to sages and great men and often to kings and priests. The most important books of counsel in the Pahlavi language are the “Andarzhāye Āzarbād Mahraspandān” (Māraspandān) that can be found in the Pahlavi texts, the Pahlavi narrations, and in the 3rd book of the Dinkard and in the book, the “Vāzheh-i Chand Az Mahraspandān” (A Few Words from Mahraspandān); the “Yādegār-e Bozorgmehr”; the “Andarz-e Ushnardānā”; the “Andarz-e Dānāyān be Mazdeyasnān” (The Good Counsel of the Learned Ones to the Mazdeyasnān); the “Andarz-e Khosrow Qobādān”, the “Andarz-e Puriyotakishān”, the “Dadestān-e Minuye Kherad”, and various other books of good counsel.

2-1-2-2-6-   Treatises on Administrative Affairs: These treatises that deal with the political practices of the government and the methods of administrating a country have been categorized under such titles as “Uhud” (treaties), “Vasāya” (wills), “Kārnāmaj” (records), “Nāmehā” (letters), “Khotbehā” (sermons), and “Toqi’āt” (commands) in the Arabic texts of the early Islamic period. The Pahlavi originals of none of these texts have survived but their Arabic and sometimes Persian translations are available. Some examples of such works are: “The Treaties and Wills of Ardashir and Anushirvān”; “The Records of Anushirvān”; “Political Letters” like the letter of Tansar (Tusar, to be more precise) pertaining to the reign of Ardashir; “The Letters of Anushirvān”; “The Sermons Delivered during the Coronations of the Sassanian Kings”; “The Commands of the Sassanian Kings” (in the form of socio-political advises); “Rules and Regulations”; and the “ “Tājnāmeh” that deal with the laws of administration and the traditions of the royal courts.
2-1-2-2-7-   Chistān (Riddles): Instances of this style of writing can be found in the Pahlavi work under the title, “The Treatise of Yosht Faryān and Okht”, reference to which has also been made in the Avesta.
2-1-2-2-8-   Debates and Self-Glorification: The literary work, the “Derakht-e Āsurig”, is an example of this kind of literature.

2-1-2-2-9-   History and Geography: The only historical work in the Pahlavi language is what is known as the “Kārnāmeye Ardashir Bābakān” (The Records of Ardashir Bābakāb). This work which is a combination of history and legend is about Ardashir and his ascension to power. On the subject of the historical geography of cities, there is only one short treatise containing a few pages that has managed to survive, which is known as the “Shahrestānhāye Irān” (Iranian Towns).
2-1-2-2-10-   Epics: The only surviving epical work in the Pahlavi language is known as the “Yādegāre Zarirān” (In Memory of Golden Iran). Most of the Pahlavi epical works that are connected with oral literature have either been lost or have been translated into Arabic and Persian. Like the “Khodāynāmeh”, the “Yādegāre Zarirān” deals with the wars between the Iranians and the Khiyunān.
2-1-2-2-11-   Jurisprudence and Rights: Besides the translation of the Vendidād which contains numerous jurisprudential matters, the following independent books on jurisprudence and rights are available in the Pahlavi language:

2-1-2-2-11-1-    Shāyest Ne-Shāyest (Proper and Improper): This book deals with subjects like sins and the atonement of sins, good deeds, and religious ceremonies and purification.
2-1-2-2-11-2-    The Rivāyat-i Hemit-i-Asawahistan: This treatise is a collection of forty-four answers to the problems of the Zoroastrians living in the Islamic society in the early Islamic centuries.
2-1-2-2-11-3-    The Rivāyat-i Aerpat Adur-Farnbagh, son of Farokhvzat: This work is a collection of one hundred and forty answers given by Adur-Farnbagh to the queries of the Zoroastrians as well as numerous other short rivāyāt like the “Rivāyāt-i Farnbagh Sorush” and the “Porsish-hāye Hirbad Esfandiyār Farrokh Barzin” (The Queries of Hirbad).
2-1-2-2-11-4-    Mādiyān Hezār Dādestān (A Collection of One Thousand Median Verdicts): This book comprises one thousand legal issues, especially those related with Median civil laws.
2-1-2-2-11-5-    Short Educational Treatises: The following short treatises in the Pahlavi language on various matters are available: “The Wonders and Marvels of Sistān”; “A Treatise on the Queries of Khosrow” (most probably referring to Khosrow Parviz) in connection with the questions put forward to a young lad named “Khosh Ārezu” concerning the best foods, perfumes, etc.; “A Report on the Games of Chess and Backgammon”; “The Farvardin Day of the Median Month of Khordād”; “Sur-e Sokhan”; and “The Formulation of Rules and Regulations”.


2-2-1-Sogdian Literature :The Sogdian language belonged to the people of Soghd, the capital of which was Samarqand, and whose most important city was Bokhārā (presently in Uzbekistan). Besides, the Sogdian language was also the administrative, commercial, and cultural language of other regions like the Vāhe Turfān (Turfan Depression) in Chinese Turkistan. Available works in this language belonging to the Middle Period can be classified subject-wise into “non-religious works” and “religious works”.

Non-Religious Works: Such works that have been written particularly in the Sogdian script include coins belonging to the 2nd Century AD; letters belonging to the 4th Century AD, popularly known as “Ancient Letters”; a number of stone/rock inscriptions; and seventy-four documents – including some official letters, financial documents, and one marriage certificate – excavated from the. Mogh Mountain region belonging to the archives of the last Sogdian ruler, Divāshtij (ruled 87-104 AH), written on leather, paper, and hides.

Religious Works: Such works that belong to the followers of Buddhism, Christianity, and Manichaeism comprise the most important part of the literature of the Middle-Eastern Iranian languages from the angles of volume and variety. They include:

Buddhist Works: Buddhist Sogdian literature which probably forms the largest part of Sogdian literature is a kind of translated literature replete with Buddhist philosophical and religious terms. These works have been translated into the Sogdian language from Sanskrit or Chinese and their contents are inspired by Mahāyānā Buddhism. Some of the most important of these works are the “Vessantārā Jatākā” and the “Cham Sutra” and the Padafara Kerdarha ??. Certain other treatises, too, have been printed in the Buddhist Sogdian language, the most important ones of which are the Sogdian texts preserved in the Paris National Library as well as the British Library. These works have been written in the Sogdian script which is one of the sub-branches of the Aramaic textual script.

Christian Works: Christian Sogdian literature comprises translations of parts of the Bible, accounts from the lives and works of Christian saints and martyrs, sermons and exegeses, the thoughts of great priests, short maxims, and moral sayings. These works have mainly been translated from the Syriac language – the religious language of the Nasturi Christians of Central Asia – and have been written in a particular style of the Syriac Estrangelo script and sometimes in the Sogdian script.

Manichaean Works: The Manichaean Sogdian texts comprise the translations of Manichaean hymns and religious texts from Middle Persian and Parthian languages as well as the works that were originally written in the Sogdian language and which are of great value from the linguistic point of view. The most important Manichaean Sogdian works include letters of repentance, stories and analogies, long and short hymns, the history of religion, a brief history of Manichaeism, indices of words and nations, and calendar tables, none of which can be found in a complete form today. Manichaean Sogdian literature is filled with beautiful metaphors and similes and it presents a clear and vivid picture of the structure and grammar of the Sogdian language to the benefit of researchers. The Manichaeans were, both, skilled writers and translators. The language used by them in the translations of foreign works into Sogdian is fine and fluent and quite distinct from the ambiguous, intricate, and flawed translations of the Sogdian-speaking Christian and Buddhist translators. Their works have been written in the Manichaean script and many of their stories have been translated into the Fārsi language.

2-2-2- Khwārazmian Literature:Khwārazmian was the old language of Khwārazm (today a part of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Turkmenistan). The works that have survived in this language can be divided into the following two main groups:

2-2-2-1- Middle Khwārazmian (Old Khwārazmian) Works and Documents: These works have been written in the Old Khwārazmian script that had been derived from Aramaic and include writings on the seals of the Khwārazmian rulers (3rd or 2nd Centuries BC), wood and leather inscriptions discovered from the Toprāq Qaleh region (probably belonging to the 2nd Century AD), inscriptions (about 100 pieces discovered from the Tuq Qaleh region) on the surfaces of astaudānhā (special urns to hold the bones of the dead) belonging to the 7th Century AD, and inscriptions on the silver and ceramic vessels discovered from the Khumbuz (or Humbuz) Tappeh region.

Later Khwārazmian Works and Documents: These works belong to the Islamic period and are in the Arabic language and include:

2-2-2-1-1-  Sentences in the Khwārazmian language that have appeared in the manuscripts of two Arabic books on jurisprudence by the names, “Yatimah al-Dahr” written by Muhammad bin Mahmud Tarjumāni Maliki Khwārazmi (645 AH), and “Qaniyyah al-Maniyyah” written by Najm al-Din Mukhtār bin Mahmud Zāhidi Ghazmini (658 AH).

2-2-2-1-2-  A short treatise named “Risālah al-Alfāz al-Khwārazmiyyah allati fi Qaniyyah al-Mabsut”, written by Kamāl al-Din Emādi Jorjāni (8th Century AH) which includes explanatory notes on the Khwarazmian words used in the book “Qaniyyah al-Maniyyah”.

2-2-2-1-3-  The Khwārazmian equivalents of Fārsi words and sentences found in a copy of Zemakhshari’s famous dictionary called the “Moqaddamah al-Adab” and the Khwārazmian equivalents of the Arabic words used in two other copies of this book.

As can be deduced from the titles and contents of these works, the surviving works in the Khwārazmian language are of little literary value and can, in fact, barely be referred to as works of literature even though they are important from the linguistic point of view.

2-2-3- Sakan Literature: The sexual instinct has the deepest roots in human nature. Unless it is properly catered for and regulated, it avenges itself. It responds to suppression by psychological explosions that can be volcanic in their effect if they take place simultaneously in large numbers of people. It might well be held that the disastrous breakdown of the family institution in the West is precisely such an explosive reaction against Christian attempts to suppress the sex instinct instead of sanctifying and subliminating it in its natural channels. Christians must ask themselves whether they have not committed the very sin of which their Lord and Master accused the Pharisees of His day that of “binding on men’s backs burdens too heavy to be borne.” Like caged beasts escaping from captivity; the people of the West dash forth from the bondage in which Christianity had tried to hold them, and in an equal and opposite reaction go much too far in the other direction.

2-2-4-Bactrian or Balkhi Literature :Balkhi or Bactrian was the language of the people of the Ancient Balkh region (presently in northern Afghanistan). The oldest available work in this language is a 25-lined inscription written in a script derived from the Greek one, that has been discovered from the entrance of a temple in Sorkh Kotal situated in the south-east of Baghlān. Surviving works in the Bactrian language belonging to the mid 2nd -mid 9th Centuries AD are coins minted by the Kushāni kings (in the Greco-Bactrian textual script), seals (approximately 40 nos. in the same script), rock inscriptions (comprising a few short ones in the Greek script discovered in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, besides the Sorkh Kotal inscription), and some hand-written works (comprising eight scrolls in the Greco-Bactrian script discovered in Chinese Turkistan probably with Sogdian Buddhist contents and written in the Manichaean script). These scrolls hold the same linguistic value as the texts of the Sorkh Kotal inscriptions.

2-3- Manichaean Literature: A number of works belonging to Māni and his followers in the Middle Persian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian) are available to us today. These works have been written in the Manichaean script (derived from the Tadmori script) belonging to the period between the 3rd and 9th Centuries AD and have been discovered in the forms of damaged pieces in the early twentieth century from the ruins of the Manichaean temples of Turfān in Chinese Turkistan. The contents of these works are mainly religious and comprise Semitic and Greco-Semitic elements. Manichaean literature includes the following:

2-3-1-  Māni’s Books: With the exception of the book, “Shāpurgān”, Māni had written all his works in his mother tongue (Eastern Aramaic) while his followers had translated them into various other languages. However, none of these works are available to us today. Māni’s works included the “Enjil-e Zendeh” (The Living Bible), the “Ganjineh-ye Zendegān” (The Treasure of the Living Ones), the “Farqmātiyā” (meaning “treatises”), the “Rāz-hā” (Secrets), the “Ghulān” (Demons), as well as some treatises and psalms. Some pieces of the “Enjil-e Zendeh”, the “Ghulān”, Māni’s letters as well as the Manichaean Psalms in the Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian languages are available to us today. Besides these seven works, Māni had written two other books, one of which was an illustrated book called the “Arzhang” while the other was called the “Shāpurgān”, both of which were written in the Middle Persian language.
2-3-2- The Prose Works of the Manichaeans: Māni’s followers had also produced some works in the Iranian languages of which we have access to the following today: Māni’s biography, analogical stories; letters; some pieces containing Manichaean beliefs; decrees and good counseling; supplications; letters of repentance; astronomical and calendar texts; and the “Manu Hamd Roshan” preachings.

2-3-3- Manichaean Poems: The Manichaean poetry works that have generally been composed for religious purposes constitute the major part of Manichaean literature. The Manichaean hymns have been composed in the Middle Persian and Parthian languages and are very eloquent and filled with imagination, similes, and metaphors and are of greater literary value as compared to Manichaean prose works that have also been written in these two languages. The Manichaean poems which were recited in religious ceremonies along with music are divided into the three categories of long rhymes, long religious eulogies, and short rhymes. According to some scholars, the poetic meter of the Manichaean poems is syllabic while others believe it to be rhythmic or ictal. As per the latest research, the poetic meter of the Parthian poems and in all probability even the Middle Persian poems varied between syllabic and ictal meters. The number of Manichaean poems in the Parthian language is far greater than the Middle Persian ones and they are also richer in value. The Manichaean works are composed in the praise of the gods, Māni himself, as well as some great religious personalities while some of them relate to the soul imprisoned in the confines of the human body.[1]


[1] Zarshenas , Zohre ” Iran Entry ” The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp. 557- 564