ASWĀR (Middle Persian) “horseman,” Old Persian asabāra, Parthian (Nisa) ʾsbry, Persian savār and sovār. In Old Persian asabāra designated the horseman as opposed to the foot-soldier. Thus Darius says (DNb 44-45, Kent, Old Persian, pp. 139-40) “(as) a spearman I am a good spearman both on foot (pastiš) and on horseback (asabāra).” The same concept is expressed by “man and horse” (asp ud mard, heterographically Mid. Pers. GBRA W SWSYA, Parth. GBRYN W SWSYN) in the Sasanian inscriptions (Kirdēr at Sar Mašhad and on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt and Narseh at Paikuli), where the word aswār is not found. In the Zoroastrian Pahlavi books aswār also designates only the “horseman,” and it is not till in the later, Arabic sources that the term is said to have a more specialized meaning, cf. Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafāteḥ al-ʿolūm (ed. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895, p. 115): “al-asāwera, plural of al-oswār, i.e., horseman, because the Iranians give the name oswār only to a brave, heroic, famous man.” The terms aswārān or aswāragān (Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 265 n. 4) do not appear to be attested in the sense of the arabicized asāwīrāt “knights” (see Asāwera) in the Sasanian Middle Persian literature, where the warrior class is the artēštār(ān) (q.v.). Note that the reading andarzbed ī aswāragān in the Kār-nāmag, proposed by T. Nöldeke in his translation (Bezzenbergers Beiträge 4, 1878, p. 62 n. 3; cf. J. Darmesteter, Le Zend Avesta I, p. 31 n. 17; M. Boyce, The Letter of Tansar, Rome, 1968, p. 41 with n. 4 comparing Ar. moʾaddeb al-asāwera), is an emendation of the manuscript’s andarzbed ī wāspuhragān (see H. S. Nyberg, A Manual of Pahlavi, Wiesbaden, I, 1964, p. 11 l. 19 and II, 1974, p. 94).
In modern times the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ (ed. Moʿīn, I, p. 135) reports that the term asvār is used in the language of Gīlān to designate a group of soldiers of the lowest rank who carry axes and wooden clubs with which they strike each other on the heads. This kind of battle they call asvārī.
(P. O. Skjærvø)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 17, 2011
This article is available in print.
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