AXTAR (Middle and New Persian) “star” or “constellation.” This word, which first appears in Pahlavi, is an early back-formation from Middle Persian apāxtar (abāxtar) (planet) produced by artificial dropping of the first component (false deglutination). This was made possible by a notion that apāxtar meant “off-star” or “unstar” (nē-axtar), whereas in reality apāxtar can be traced through the Old Iranian *apāxtara (backward-turning, retrograde) to Aryan *apāk- or *apānk- “backward.” The planets were regarded as abnormal stars because their courses appear to be in the opposite direction to the general eastward motion of the firmament.

Also derived from apāxtar is the New Persian word bāḵtar, which means “west” in the context of an eastward orientation and “north” in that of a southward orientation. If the speaker means “west,” he turns his back on the rising sun; if north, on the noon sun.

These matters were first elucidated by W. Eilers in “Stern—Planet—Regenbogen—Ein Beitrag zur vorderasiatischen Himmelskunde,” in Der Orient in der Forschung. Festschrift für Otto Spies, Wiesbaden, 1967, pp. 112ff.; also in Abhandlungen der Göttinger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil-hist. Kl. 3, 98, 1976, pp. 115ff., and more fully in Sinn und Herkunft der Planetennamen, Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Kl. 5, 1975, pp. 8ff.

Compounds of axtar with verbal stems indicating “count” or “know” mean “astrologer;” e.g. axtar-(ā)mār (q.v.), NPers. aḵtaršenās. The occasional (NPers.) reading aḵtar-e āmār or aḵtar-e mār with a senseless eżāfa is of course incorrect.

(W. Eilers)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 2, p. 123

Cite this entry:

W. Eilers, “AXTAR,” Encyclopædia Iranica, III/2, p. 123, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).