(The Provincial Capitals of Iran), the only major surviving Middle Persian text on geography.


ŠAHRESTĀNĪHĀ Ī ĒRĀNŠAHR (The Provincial Capitals of Iran), the only major surviving Middle Persian text on geography: it enumerates the cities, their builders, and their importance for Persian history. The text was put to final redaction in the Abbasid period (late eighth or early ninth centuries CE), as it mentions Abu Jaʿfar as the founder of Baghdad (sec. 60), referring to the Caliph al-Mansuˈr (754-775 CE). The picture of Ērānšahr given by the text suggests that it was also redacted at the time of Xusrō II in the seventh century CE, as it mentions such places as yaman “Yemen” (sec. 33), conquered by Xusrō I in the sixth century, and frīgā “Africa” (sec. 33), probably referring to Egypt and places further south which were conquered by the Sasanians between 619 and 628 CE (Altheim-Stiehl, 1992, p. 92). The Bundahišn mentions a book called Ayādgār ī Šahrīhā “Memoir of Cities” (Tafażżoli, 1997-98, p. 265), which may be the very same book on geography that Kawād I ordered to be written (Tavadia, 1956, p. 204).

The book divides Ērānšahr into four kusts “regions,” or “sides.” This division is known to have taken place during the reign of Xusrō I (Frye, 1983, p. 333; Brunner, 1985, p. 750; Daryaee, 2003, p. 195). The four kusts are presented in the following order: (1) Xwarāsān “northeast”; (2) Xwarwarān “southwest”; (3) Nēmrōz “southeast”; and (4) Ādurbādagān (see AZERBAIJAN i, iii) “northwest” (Cereti, 2001, p. 203). The usual Middle Persian term for the northern direction, abāxtar, is in this text replaced by the province name ādurbādagān, because the Zoroastrian association of the north with the abode of evil would be evoked by use of abāxtar (Tafażżoli, 1989-90, p. 333; 1997-98, p. 266; Cereti, 2001, p. 203). Another interesting point is that the kusts are mentioned in the text in a diagonal manner, beginning from northeast to southwest, and from southeast to northwest, which may be an old Persian tradition (Daryaee, 2000-01, pp. 796-801), as Darius I also recounts the borders of the Achaemenid Empire in such a fashion (Kent, 1953, pp. 136-37).

The content of the Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr is important in that it provides a mélange of historical and mythical information on people, and stories in the Iranian tradition, from the Avesta to the Persian epics. For example, for kust ī Xwarāsān old Iranian/Avestan traditions are emphasized, such as the mention of the story of Sīyāwaxš and Zoroaster’s appearance, and the battle with Frāsiyāk (see AFRĀSIĀB) and the Turānians. Such pieces of information are placed alongside historical information such as the mention of Turkic tribes and their leaders such as Sinjēbīk Xāgān, who was the contemporary of Xusrō I (Nyberg, 1974, p. 176), and Čōl Xāgān, who was killed by Wahrām Čōbīn (Harmatta and Litvinsky 1996, p. 368). Also the Arsacids and their city-building activities are emphasized, followed by Sasanian kings and their building activities.

For the kust īNēmrōz, Rustam and epic material such as the establishment of the Karkōy Fire (see ĀDUR) by Kay Xusrō is mentioned. This story finds a somewhat similar treatment in the Tāriḵ--e Sistān (pp. 35-37). For kust īĀdurbādagān it is mentioned that the city of Jey (q.v.; i.e., Isfahān) was a Jewish stronghold and that Āmol was where the zandīg ī purr-marg “the heretic who is full of death,” namely, Mazdak, was from, which finds echoes in the Tariḵ--e Tabarestān (p. 201). Also Zoroaster’s birthplace is located in this kust, but the name of the city—which was probably rāy “Ray,” based on the Middle Persian tradition—is omitted in the text.

There are some pieces of information in the Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr which, although mentioned in other Middle Persian texts, are here described differently. For example, the writing of the Avesta is described in the following manner (sec. 4): “Then Zoroaster brought the Religion. By the order of king Wištāsp 1,200 fragard (chapters) in the script of religious scripture were engraved on golden tablets and written and deposited in the treasury of that fire-(temple)” (pas zardušt dēn āwurd az framān (ī) wištāsp-šāh 1000 ud 200 fragard pad dēn dibīrīh pad taxtagīhā (ī) zarrēn kand ud nibišt ud pad ganj (ī) ān ātaxš nihād; Daryaee, 2002, p. 17). What is different here from parallel accounts is that it is reported that the Avesta is written on golden tablets, followed by the depositing of the Avesta in the treasury of the fire-temple. In other Middle Persian texts, the Avesta is said to have been written on gāw pōstīhā “cow hides” and written with ab ī zarr “gold water.” Furthermore, the Avesta was deposited in the ganj ī šāhīgān “royal treasury,” and a copy was kept in the diz ī nibišt “fortress of writing;” and lastly the Avesta was said to either have been burnt or taken to Rome by Alexander the Great (de Menasce, 1973, p. 379; Humbach, 1991, pp. 50-51).

A series of toponyms unique in Middle Persian is provided in the text, such as mūsel “Mosul” (sec. 31); gazīrag “Jazirah” (sec. 32); šām “Syria,” yaman “Yemen,” frīgā “Africa,” kufah “Kufa,” makkah “Mecca,” madīnag “Medina” (sec. 33). Another important piece of historical information is the mention of Sasanian troops (sec. 52) in Arabia, who were stationed at “the fort of the Arabs,” that is, Ḥira. The army groups were called dō-sar “two-headed” and *bor-gil (“gray troop”: discussion in Nyberg, 1974, pp. 65, 49); they are dausar and šahbāʾ “gray” in Arabic sources (Rothstein, 1899, pp. 134-38),

The structure and language of the Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr is formulaic and has the following construction: šahrestān x was built by y; šahrestān x and x were built by y; šahrestān x was built by y, and z completed it; and šahrestān x was built by y and šahrestān x by y (Daryaee, 2002, p. 11).

There have been several editions and translations of the Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr in various languages. These include E. Blochet in French (1897, pp. 165-76); J. J. Modi (1899) in Gujarati and English; J. Markwart (1931) posthumously in English; S. Yu. Kasumova in Russian (1994, pp. 45-124); Ṣ. Hedāyat (1944, pp. 412-33), providing the first Persian translation; followed by S. ʿOriān (1983, pp. 593-619) and A. Tafażżoli (1989-90, pp. 332-49), and T. Daryaee (2002), providing an English and Persian translation. S. H. Nyberg also published the text of Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr in his Pahlavi manual and provided important notes (1964, pp. 113-17, 203-4).

The Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr is based on the MK codex which was edited by J. M. Jamasp-Asana. The text was edited based on another manuscript known as JJ (Modi, 1913, pp. 18-24) as well, which now appears to have been lost. The MK codex was copied by a Persian Zoroastrian priest named Mehrabān Kay-Xusrō in the 14th century, who traveled from Iran to India to assist the Parsi priests in their religious tradition. The codex consisted of 163 folios, with Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr in fols. 19b, 1ine 5-fol. 26a, 1ine 6. The MK codex was copied from a manuscript written for a Parsi priest named Dēn-Panāh, son of Adūrbād who had written it for Šahzād ī Šādān-Farrox-Ohrmazd, who was at the fire-temple of Broach (Daryaee, 2002, p. 12).



R. Altheim-Stiehl, “The Sasanians in Egypt - Some Evidence of historical Interest,” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie Copte 31, 1992, pp. 87-96.

E. Blochet, “Liste géographique des villes de l’Iran,” Recueil de travaux relatifs à la philologie et à l’archéologie Égyptiennes et Assyriennes, Paris, 1897, pp. 165-76.

C. Brunner, “Geographical and Administrative Divisions and Economy,” The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. III/2, ed. E. Yarshater, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 747-77.

Carlo G. Cereti, La Letteratura pahlavi. Introduzione ai testi con riferimenti alla tradizione manoscritta, Milan, 2001.

T. Daryaee, “Čand nokta darbāre-ye matn-e pahlavi-ye šahrestānhā-ye irānšahr,” Irānšenāsi, 2000-01, no. 4, pp. 796-801. Idem, Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr, A Middle Persian Text on Late Antique Geography, Epic, and History, Costa Mesa, 2002.

Idem, “The Effect of the Arab Muslim Conquest on the Administrative Division of Sasanian Persis/Fars,” Iran 41, 2003, pp. 1-12.

Richard N. Frye, “The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians,” in Cambridge History of Iran III/2, ed. E. Yarshater, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 116-80.

Gherardo Gnoli, “The Quadripartition of the Sasanian Empire,” East and West 35/1-3, 1985, pp. 1-15.

J. Harmatta andB A. Litvinsky, “Tokharistan and Gandhara under Western Turk Rule (650-750 CE),” in History of the Civilizations of Central Asia III, ed.B A. Litvinsky et al., UNESCO, 1996, pp. 367-402.

Ṣ. Hedāyat, Šahrestānhā-yeIrān-šahr,” Mehr 7/1-3, 1941.

H. Humbach, The Gāthās of Zarathushtra and the Other Old Avestan Texts I, Heidelberg, 1991.

J. M. Jamasp-Asana, The Pahlavi Texts, Containing in the Codex MK Copied in 1322 A.C. by the Scribe Merh-Āwān Kāī-Khūsrū, vols. I and II, Bombay, 1913.

S. Yu. Kasumova,, “Goroda Irana. Transkriptsiya teksta, perevod so srednepersidskogo, vvedenie, kommentariĭ” (Cities of Iran: transcription of the text, translation from Middle Persian, introduction, commentary), in Srednepersidskaya èpigrafika Kavkazkoĭ Albanii, Derbent and Baku, 1994.

R. G. Kent, Old Persian Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, New Haven, 1953.

J. Markwart, A Catalogue of the Provincial Capitals of Ērānšahr, Pahlavi Text, Version and Commentary, ed. G. Messina, Rome, 1931.

Jean de Menasce, Le troisième livre du Dēnkart, Travaux de l’Institut d’Études Iraniennes de l’Université de Paris III, Paris, 1973.

J. J. Modi, “The Cities of Irān as Described in the Old Pahlavi Treatise of Shatrō-I-Irān,”

Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20, no. 54, 1898, pp. 129-63.

S. H. Nyberg, A Manual of Pahlavi, Part I: Texts, Wiesbaden, 1964; Part II: Glossary, Wiesbaden, 1974.

S. ʿOriān, “Šahrhā-ye Irān,” Tchissta [čistā] 5, January 1983, pp. 593-619.

G. Rothstein, Die Dynastie de Lahmiden in al-Ḥīra. Ein Persischen Geschichte zur Zeit

der Sasaniden, Berlin, 1899.

Aḥmad Tafazzoli, “Šahrestānhā-ye Iran,” in M. Y. Kiāni,ed., Šahrestānhā-ye Irān II, Tehran, 1989-90, pp. 333-48.

Idem, Tāriḵ--e adabiāt-e Irān pēš az Eslām, Tehran, 1993-94.

Tāriḵ--e Sistān, ed. M.-Š. Bahār, Tehran, 1935-36.

Tāriḵ--e Ṭabarestān, ed.B Dorn, Tehran, 1850; repr., 1984.

J. C. Tavadia, “Šahrestānīhā i ērānšahr,” Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, Leipzig, 1926, pp. 884-86.

Idem, Die mittelpersische Sprache und Literatur der Zarathustrier, Leipzig, 1956.

(Touraj Daryaee)

Originally Published: April 7, 2008

Last Updated: April 7, 2008