SCHMIDT, HANNS-PETER (b. Berlin, 1930; d. Dana Point, Calif., 31 July 2017; Figure 1), a German Indo-Iranist who mainly worked on the Vedas and the Gathas of Zoroaster, as well as Indian mythology and the Zoroastrian religion. In 1957, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg in the field of Indo-Iranian Studies. He worked as a research fellow at Deccan College, in Poona, from 1959 to 1961, and he taught at the University of Saugor (now Doctor Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya Sagar University), in India, between 1961 and 1964. He was an assistant professor at the University of Tübingen from 1965 to 1967 and was then offered a position as a professor of Indo-Iranian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he remained until his retirement in 2000. For two years (1974-76), he was also a visiting professor of Sanskrit and Old and Middle Iranian at the University of Leiden.

At the University of Hamburg, Schmidt studied under the direction of Ludwig Alsdorf (1904-78), a prominent Indologist, who had worked with serious figures in the field, such as Christian Bartholomae (1855-1925), Heinrich Zimmer (1890-1943), and Heinrich Lüders (1869-1943) (Bruhn et al., 1989, pp. 5-6). Schmidt also studied Middle Iranian with Olaf Hansen (1902-69) and took courses with Franz Altheim (1898-1976). The scholar who had the greatest influence on him, however, was his long-time friend and teacher, Wolfgang Lentz (1900-1986), a professor of Iranian at the University of Hamburg.

Schmidt’s dissertation, in which he systematically compared the Indo-Iranian term for “vow” in the Vedas and the Avesta, was published in 1958 under the title Vedish vratá und awestisch urvāta.

Schmidt’s main contribution to Iranian Studies was his research into the Gathas of Zoroaster, following Wolfgang Lentz’s work. In 1968, he published an important article on the composition of Yasna 49, where he and Lentz looked at the composition and the stylistics used by the poet to make his message resonate. This line of inquiry continued with his study of Yasna 47, written in honor of Wolfgang Lentz in 1974. In 1986, he, Lentz, and Stanley Insler published a monograph on the form and the meaning of Yasna 33, which followed the structural analysis traditionally used to study the Gathas. While Schmidt was at Leiden, his inaugural lecture was published as a monograph, Zarathustra’s Religion and His Pastoral Imagery (1975b). In this work, he brought forth a new way of thinking about Zoroaster, in which the cow in the Gathas stands as a metaphor for the daēna. This work was followed by a number of articles in Avestan studies, including a review of Gathic studies and the most important debates dividing scholars in the field (1979 and 2003).

Schmidt also made valuable contributions to the study of the animal world in both Zoroastrianism and the Indian tradition. Early in his career, he wrote two important articles; one on the cobra in the Rig Veda (1963b), and one on the Zoroastrian classification of animals (1980a; see MAMMALS iii.), in which he compared Iranian material with Greek and Indic evidence. Schmidt wrote several articles on the fabulous mythical bird, Simorḡ (1980c and 1980d), tracing its origins from the Indo-Iranian world through the Sasanian and the Perso-Islamic tradition. Another significant contribution made by Schmidt includes his study of the origins of ahimsa (1968c), which supports Alsdorf’s findings about non-violence to the animal world. Worthy of attention is also Schmidt’s work on Akūpāra, in which he discusses the meaning of the giant turtle supporting the world in the Indic tradition (1984).

Another field to which Schmidt made a great contribution is the study of the Indo-Iranian god Mithra, its function and its original meaning in the Indo-Iranian world and beyond (1977, 1978, 2006).

Schmidt’s new translation of the Yeŋhē hātąm prayer (1960) also added to the study of Zoroastrianism. This publication was followed by his study of the Sixteen Sanskrit Ślokas, the Zoroastrian tenets explained to the Indian ruler by the Parsis when they first arrived in India (1963; repr. in Williams 2009, pp. 229-38). He also studied the notion of the body after death (1994), the nature of the demon Ahriman (1996a), and the demon Āzi-/Āz in the Zoroastrian and Manichaean tradition (2000). Schmidt contributed to the field of Vedic studies as much as he did to the field of Iranian studies, as reflected in the selected works below.


Selected works by Hanns-Peter Schmidt (for a full bibliography of his publications up to 1978 see Bio-bibliographies de 134 savants, Acta Iranica [Répertoires I.] 20, Leiden, 1979, pp. 442-43; for publications up to 2000, see S. Adhami, ed., Paitimāna: Essays in Iranian, Indo-European, and Indian Studies in Honor of Hanns-Peter Schmidt, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2003).

“Awestische Wortstudien,” Indo-Iranian Journal 1, 1957, pp. 160-76.

Vedish vratá und awestisch urvata, Hamburg, 1958.

“On the Origin and Tradition of the Avestan Yeŋ́hē-Hātąm-Prayer,” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute 20, 1960, pp. 324-44.

“aghnya,” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen 78, 1963a, pp. 1-46; 305-306.

“Die Kobra im Ṛgveda,” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen 78, 1963b, pp. 296-304.

“The Sixteen Sanskrit Ślokas of Ākā Adhyāru,” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute 21, 1963c, pp. 157-96.

“Iranian Magi in India,” The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society 55, 1967, pp. 99-100.

Bṛhaspati und Indra: Untersuchungen zur vedischen Mythologie und Kulturgeschichte, Wiesbaden, 1968a.

“Die Komposition von Yasna 49,” in J.C. Heesterman, G.H. Schokker and V.I. Subramoniam, eds., Pratidānam: Indian, Iranian and Indo-European Studies Presented to Franciscus Bernardus Jacobus Kuiper on His Sixtieth Birthday, The Hague, 1968b, pp. 170-92.

“The Origin of Ahiṃsā,” in Mélanges d’Indianisme à la mémoire de Louis Renou, Paris, 1968c, pp. 625-55.

“Avestan unā and ūnā,” in K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Golden Jubilee Volume, Bombay, 1969, pp. 124-32.

“Vedic Pā́thas,” Indo-Iranian Journal 15, 1973, pp. 1-39.

“Associative Technique and Symmetrical Structure in the Composition of Yasna 47,” in R.N. Frye, ed., Neue Methodologie in der Iranistik, Wiesbaden, 1974, pp. 306-30.

“Is Vedic dhénā Related to Avestan daēnā-?” in Monumentum H.S. Nyberg II, Acta Iranica 5, Leiden and Tehran, 1975a, pp. 163-79.

Zarathustra’s Religion and His Pastoral Imagery, Leiden, 1975b.

“The Origin of the Vedic God Bṛhaspati,” in German Scholars on India: Contributions to Indian Studies II, Bombay, 1976, pp. 221-34.

“Mithras the Horseman and Revanta the Lord of Horses,” in S.K. Chatterji, R.N. Dandekar, V. Raghavan, H.P. Schmidt, et al., eds., Some Aspects of Indo-Iranian Literary and Cultural Traditions, Commemoration Volume of Dr. V. G. Paranjpe, Delhi, 1977, pp. 132-57.

“Indo-Iranian Mitra Studies: The State of the Central Problem,” in Études Mithraiques, Acta Iranica 17, Leiden, 1978, pp. 345-93.

“Ṛgvedic Madhyāyú and Madhyamaśí,” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Bombay, 1977-1978, pp. 309-17.

“Old and New Perspectives in the Study of the Gāthās of Zarathustra,” Indo-Iranian Journal 21, 1979, pp. 83-115.

“Ancient Iranian Animal Classification,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, Festschrift Paul Thieme, 5-6, 1980a, pp. 209-44.

“Notes on Ṛgveda 7, 18, 5-10,” Indica: Organ of the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture 17, 1980b, pp. 41-47.

“The Sēnmurw: Of Birds and Dogs and Bats,” Persica 9, 1980c, pp. 1-85.

“The Sīmurgh in Sasanian Art and Literature,” Journal of the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute 48, 1980d, pp. 161-78.

“The Avestan Root(s) van: Homonymy or Polysemy? Golden Jubilee Volume: Vaidika Samśodhana Mandala, Poona, 1981, pp. 260-72.

“Akūpāra,” Amṛtadhārā: R.N. Dandekar Felicitation Volume, Delhi, 1984, pp. 377-81.

Form and Meaning of Yasna 33; with Contributions by Wolfgang Lentz and Stanley Insler, New Haven, 1985.

“An Indo-European Etymological Kaleidoscope,” in G. Cardona and N. H. Zide, eds., Festschrift for Henry Hoenigswald: On the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, Tübingen, 1987, pp. 355-62.

Some Women’s Rites and Rights in the Veda, Poona, 1987.

“Turandot in Indien,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 13/14, 1987, pp. 203-17.

“Wolfgang Lentz (1900-1986),” ZDMG 139, 1989, pp. 1-20.

“Gathic magh and Vedic maghá,” K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Proceedings (5th to 8th January 1989), Bombay, 1991, pp. 220-39.

“The Place of Ṛgveda 4.42 in the Ancient Indian Royal Ritual,” in A. W. van den Hoek, et al., eds., Ritual, State and History in South Asia: Essays in Honour of J.C. Heesterman, Leiden, 1992, pp. 323-49.

Kleine Schriften. Teil III by Hermann Oldenberg, ed. Hanns-Peter Schmidt, Stuttgart, 1993.

“The Incorruptibility of the Sinner’s Corpse,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, Festschrift Georg Buddruss,19, 1994, pp. 247-68.

“The Non-existence of Ahreman and the Mixture (gumēzīšn) of Good and Evil,” K.R. Cama Oriental Institute Second International Congress Proceedings (5th to 8th January 1995), Bombay, 1996a, pp. 79-95.

“The Plight of Ghosā,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, Veda-vyākaraṇa-vyākhyana: Festschrift Paul Thieme zum 90. Geburtstag, 20, Reinbek, 1996b, pp. 389-405.

“Ahimsā and Rebirth,” in M. Witzel, ed., Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts: New Approaches to the Study of the Vedas, Harvard Oriental Series, Cambridge, MA, 1997, pp. 207-37.

“Vom awestische Dämon Āzi zur manichäischen Āz, der Mutter aller Dämonen,” in R. E. Emmerick, W. Zundermann, and P. Zieme, eds., Studia Manichaica: IV. Internationaler Kongress zum Manichäismus, Berlin, 2000, pp. 517-27.

“Simorḡ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2002.

“Zaraθuštra and his Patrons,” in C.G. Cereti, F. Vajifdar, and M. Soroushian, eds., Ātaš-e Dorun: The Fire Within. Jamshid Soroush Soroushian Commemorative Volume, n.p., 2003, pp. 357-76.

“Mithra i. Mitra in Old Indian and Mithra in Old Iranian,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2006.


K. Bruhn, “Obituary: Ludwig Alsdorf (1904-1978),” in K. Bruhn, M. Duckwitz, and A. Wezler, eds., Ludwig Alsdorf and Indian Studies, Delhi, 1989, pp. 5-14.

A. Williams, The Zoroastrian Myth of Migration from Iran and Settlement in the Indian Diaspora: Text, Translation and Analysis of the 16th Century Qeṣṣe-ye Sanjān ‘The Story of Sanjan,’ Leiden, 2009.

(Touraj Daryaee)

Originally Published: September 13, 2017

Last Updated: September 13, 2017

Cite this entry:

Touraj Daryaee, “SCHMIDT, HANNS-PETER,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017, available at (accessed on 16 August 2017).