a town of Achaemenid foundation in Azerbaijan. The name means “treasury” and is a Median form (against Pers. gazn-), adopted in Persian administrative use.


GANZAK (Ganja, Gk. Gazaca, Lat. Gaza, Ganzaga, Ar. Janza, Jaznaq), a town of Achaemenid foundation in Azerbaijan. The name means “treasury” and is a Median form (against Pers. gazn-), adopted in Persian administrative use (Hübchmann, pp. 231-32; Marquart, p. 160 n. 2; Henning, pp. 196-98). Like other towns similarly named, notably Ḡazna (q.v.) in Afghanistan, and Gazioura in Pontic Cappadocia (place of the treasury; Russell, pp. 28 n. 24, 73-74), Ganzak was presumably the satrap’s seat. Little is known of Achaemenid Azerbaijan (Kleiss, p. 218), but Iranian settlement was probably then mainly in the fertile lands around the south of Lake Urmia, where Ganzak stood. Its site has been identified with impressive ruin-mounds near Laylān in the Mīāndōāb plain (Minorsky, pp. 244 n. 2, 254). It was presumably the capital of Atropates (q.v.) and his descendants, under whom, it seems, the chief Median sacred fire Ādur Gušnasp (q.v.) was established on a hill nearby. Later developments show that the fire became closely associated with both Ganzak and Lake Urmia (identified by the Median magi with Av. Lake Čaēčasta, see Tafażżolī), all three being probably on a planned pilgrimage route (Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism, III, pp. 70-77); and this would have brought wealth and fame to Ganzak.

Thereafter Azerbaijan became a vassal kingdom of the Arsacids; and the first mention of Ganzak (Gazaca) is by Strabo (11.13.3), in connection with Mark Antony’s attack on Parthia in 36 B.C.E. (Schippmann, “Arsacids,” p. 528; on corruptions in the passage, see idem, Feuerheiligtümer, pp. 311-12). A reference in Ptolemy’s Geography (4.2) to “Zazaca” has been emended to “Gazaca” (Minorsky, pp. 261-62). Pliny (Natural History 6.42-43) names “Gaza” as a town in Atropatene, and Ammianus Marcellinus (23.6.39) calls “Gazaca” one of Media’s three greatest cities.

In the early 5th century C.E., it seems, Ādur Gušnasp was moved from near Ganzak to Taḵt-e Solaymān, where its priests maintained the connection with Čaēčasta by giving this name, in its evolved colloquial form of Šēz/Šīz (< Ùē± by dissimilation) to the little hilltop lake there (Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism III, pp. 77-78). A town grew up which was presumably called the “town of/by Šīz,” and then simply Šīz; and because of Ganzak’s centuries-old association with Ādur Gušnasp, some confusion occurred, with Ganzak being occasionally identified in written sources as Šīz. (All texts concerned with Ganzak and Šīz are brought together in translation by Schippmann, 1971, pp. 311-25. That by Abu’l- Fedāʾ, referring to “Janza,” is expressly said, however, to be to Janza (Ganza) in Arrān (Le Strange, Lands, p. 178). An occasional confused linking of Šīz with “al-Rān” has been shown to be due to a textual corruption, see Minorsky, p. 247).

Ganzak appears in the late Pahlavi text Šahrestānīhā ī Ērān (sec. 56) as one of Azerbaijan’s two cities (the other being then probably Ardabīl, Markwart, Provincial Capitals, pp. 22, 106). It figures also in two late episodes of Sasanian history. In 590 Ḵosrow II Parvēz finally defeated Bahrām Čōbīn (q.v.) in a battle nearby; and in 628 Ganzak itself was taken by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, who reported it to be a large town, with “about 3000 houses” (Minorsky, p. 251; Schippmann, 1971, p. 316). It survived into Islamic times, and is last mentioned by Yāqūt (III, pp. 353-55; Schippmann, Feuerheiligtümer, p. 323) as “a fairly flourishing small town in Azerbaijan, near Marāḡa, where are to be seen ruins of edifices built by the ancient kings of Persia, and a fire temple;” but whether this was the situation in Yāqūt’s own day, and when and by whom Ganzak was devastated, is not known. Mostawfī, writing in the 14th century, knew only its successor, the unremarkable Laylān/Nīlān, then inhabited by Mongols (Nozhat al-qolūb, ed. Le Strange, p. 87; Le Strange, Lands, p. 165).



W. B. Henning, “Coriander,” Asia Major, N.S. 10, 1963, pp. 195-99 (= his Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, Leiden, 1977, pp. 583-87).

H. Hübschmann, Persische Studien, Strassburg, 1895.

A. V. W. Jackson, Persia Past and Present, New York, 1906, pp. 124-44.

W. Kleiss, “Azerbaijan ii. Archeology” in EIr. III, pp. 215-21.

J. Marquart, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte von Eran I, Göttingen, 1896.

V. Minorsky, “Roman and Byzantine Campaigns in Atropatene,” BSO(A)S 11/2, 1944, pp. 243-65.

Nozhat al-qolūb, ed. Le Strange, p. 64.

H. Rawlinson, “Notes on a Journey to Takhti Soleïmán and on the Site of the Atropatenian Ecbatana,” JRGS 10, 1841, pp. 1-158 (erronously identifying the site as ancient Ecbatana).

J. R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, Harvard Iranian Series 5, Cambridge, Mass., 1987.

K. Schippmann, “Arsacids ii. The Arsacid Dynasty” in EIr. III, pp. 525-36.

Idem, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin, 1971.

A. Tafażżolī, “Čēčast” in EIr. V, pp. 107-8.

F. H. Weissbach, “Gazaca” in Pauly-Wissova, VII/1, cols. 896-97.

(Mary Boyce)

Originally Published: December 15, 2000

Last Updated: February 2, 2012

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