DABĪRE, DABĪRĪ (Mid. Pers. dibīrīh “script”; Man. Mid. Pers. Pahlawānīg dibīrī ud izwān “the Parthian script and language”; cf. Boyce, Reader, p. 40; dabīrī and variants in Islamic sources [see below]; for the exceptional development of the suffix Mid. Pers. -īh into classical Pers. -ih, later -e, beside regular -ī, see Ṣādeqī, 1990), a term designating the “seven scripts” supposedly used in the Sasanian period (Mēnōg ī xrad, ed. Anklesaria, 27.23; Aogəmadaēčā, par. 92; Ebn Moqaffaʿ apud Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, pp. 15-16; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, p. 64). The names of these scripts are all known from the Islamic sources, but in Middle Persian only one of them, dēn-dibīrīh, is attested; the rest are wiš/*wis(p)-dibīrīh, gaštag[-dibīrīh], *nēm-gaštag[-dibīrīh], *rāz-dibīrīh, *nā-ma[g]-dibīrīh/frawarda[g]-dibīrīh, and *hām/ram-dibīrīh (cf. Henning, Mitteliranisch, p. 72 n. 1; Bahār, Sabk­-šenāsī I, pp. 77-79).

The Middle Persian term dēn-dibīrīh (Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, p. 91: dīn dabīrih; Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 15: dīn dafīrīh, Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, p. 64: dīn dafīrih; ʿAskarī, pp. 181-82: dīn dawīrī), literally “religious script” (Markwart, Ērānšahr, par. 4; idem, Provincial Capitals, par. 4), was the script in which the Avesta was written (Ebn al-Nadīm, tr. Dodge, I, p. 24, where the word westāq “Avesta” is incorrectly translated “religious devotees”; cf. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, p. 64; ʿAskarī, pp. 181-82); it is called “Avestan script” by modern scholars. In the Zoroastrian tradition the invention of this script was attributed to Zoroaster himself (Markwart, Ērānšahr, par. 4; cf. Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, pp. 91-92), but it has now been firmly established that it evolved from the Pahlavi script in the Sasanian period (see avesta). According to Masʿūdī (Tanbīh, p. 91; Morūj, ed. Pellat, I, p. 270), there were sixty symbols for vowels and consonants, and some of these letters were “repeated,” by which he may have meant to imply that there were similarities between the Avestan script and the various Pahlavi scripts. The same author (Tanbīh, p. 91) added that some letters had become obsolete, perhaps a hint of variants or allographs of the Avestan characters. The Avestan script that survives includes fifty-three characters, but variants raise the number to fifty-eight (cf. avestan language i, table 2), close to the figure mentioned by Masʿūdī.

The second type was called in Islamic sources wīš dabīrīh (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 15), wīsf-­dabīrih (Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, p. 65), or *kuš(f) dabīrih (for *guš(p) dabīrih, written ksn/kšt; Masʿūdī, Tanbīh p. 92), derived from Middle Persian *wisp-dibīrīh “comprehensive script” (cf. Mid. Pers. wisp “all, ev­ery”). The nature of this script is unknown; the descriptions in the Islamic sources are vague and often imaginative. For example, according to Ebn al-Nadīm, it comprised 365 characters, in which works relating to physiognomy, divination, gurgling of water, ringing of the ears, beckoning of the eyes, nodding, wrinkling, and so on were written; he added, however, that it did not exist in his time and that no Persian was acquainted with it. Masʿūdī described it as a script with 160 characters, in which the languages of the other nations (cf. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, p. 64) and the sounds made by cattle, birds, and the like were ren­dered. It is improbable that a script with so many characters existed; it may have been a collection of signs used for certain notions.

The script probably known as *gašta(j)-dibīrīh (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 15, Ebn al-Faqīh, p. 243: kaštaj; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, pp. 64-65: kašta-dafīrih; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, apud Yāqūt, Boldān II, p. 887 s.v. Rēšahr: jastaq; Ebn Esfandīār, I, p. 72; ḵaṭṭ-e kastaj; Awlīāʾ-Allāh, p. 73: gastaj) had twenty-eight letters. It was used for recording contracts, registers(?), and land transactions. Seal inscriptions and inscriptions on garments, carpets, and coins were also written in these characters. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī translated the name of this script as moḡayyara “changed” but did not describe it; Yāqūt cited his report that in Rēšahr (Rēw-Ardašīr), in the district of Arrajān, books on medicine and astronomy were written in this script (cf. *nēm­-gaštag, below) and that scribes who used it were called kašta-dafīrān (Pahl. *gaštag-dibīrān). Ebn al-Faqīh mentioned three rock inscriptions in the gaštag script at Hamadān, each containing twenty lines. Ebn Esfandīār and Awlīāʾ-Allāh also mentioned a yellow copper tablet inscribed in gastaj, which was found in a green earthenware jar at the gate of Gorgān in the time of Māzyār (9th century c.e.). In the light of these various descriptions, it may be concluded that gaštag was used for inscriptions; it was almost certainly the cursive Pahlavi script used in official documents, in­cluding ostraca, papyri, seals, coins, and inscriptions of the late Sasanian and post-Sasanian periods, rather than the unconnected lapidary script used in early Sasanian documents. The Islamic authors were more acquainted with the former script, which continued in use during the early Islamic centuries.

*Nēm-gaštag-dibīrīh (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 16: nīm kaštaj; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, pp. 64-65: nīm kašta-dafīrih), literally “half- *gaštag-dibīrīh,” was probably a variant of the preceding type. According to Ebn al-Nadīm, it also had twenty-eight characters, and books on medicine and philosophy were written in it. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī translated the name as al-moḡayyar neṣfohā “half moḡayyar script.”

*Rāz-dibīrīh (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 16: rāz s-h-rīh; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, pp. 64-65: rāz dafīrih), literally “script for secrets,” consisted, according to Ebn al-Nadīm, of forty characters representing vowels and consonants. It was the script for secret correspon­dence among kings. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, too, defined it as a script used by kings for writing their secrets and for writing translations (tarjama). Ebn al-Nadīm men­tioned another script called rāz s-h-rīya (i.e., rāz s-h­-rīh), consisting of twenty-four characters, in which works on logic and philosophy were written (cf. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī’s statement apud Yāqūt, Boldān II, p. 887 s.v. Rēšahr); he also described another secret script for kings, al-šāh (sic) dabīrīh “royal script,” of which no example had been preserved in his time. As Ebn al-­Nadīm considered the scripts of the Persians to be seven but gave nine names, al-šāh dabīrīh was prob­ably only another name or a variant of rāz dabīrīh and rāz s-h-rīh in a corrupt form of the latter.

*Nāmag-dibīrīh/*frawardag-dibīrīh (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 16: nāma dabīrih; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, pp. 64-65: farwarda-dafīrih) “script for letters” was used in correspondence i., according to Ḥamza Eṣfahānī. It seems to have been a variant of the cursive script, specimens of which may be seen in letters written on parchment or papyrus.

*Hām-dibīrīh (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 16: hām dabīrīh; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, pp. 64-65: ram-dafīrih), “script of all” (or *ram-dibīrīh “script of the people”), was a general script for use among all classes of people in the country. It seems to have been identical with the well-known Pahlavi script. Ḥamza Eṣfahānī added that this script had twenty-eight variants, each with a particular name, but he mentioned only seven. The same seven names were also given by Ḵᵛārazmī (p. 117-18; cf. Unvala, pp. 16-17): dād-dafīrih “script used for judicial decisions and cases,” šahr-hamār-­dafīrih “script used for the accounts of the country” (cf. the inscription of Narseh at Paikuli: Mid. Pers. l. 16 [pad] šahr-āmār dibīr; Parth. l. 14 pa’ šahr-ahmār dibīr “scribe of the accounts of the country”; Humbach and Skjærvø, III/1, pp. 42-43, III/2, p. 45), kada­hamār-dafīrih “script for the accounts of the royal court,” ganj-hamār-dafīrih “script for the accounts of the treasury“ (cf. Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems, p. 230), āhor-hamār-dafīrih “script for the accounts of the royal stables” (cf. Mid. Pers. āxwarr, NPers. āḵor “stable”), ātaš-hamār-dafīrih “script for the accounts of the fire temples,” and ruwānagān(-hamār)-dafīrih “script for the accounts of pious foundations” (cf. Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 135).

Of the seven scripts discussed above dēn-dabīrīh is to be identified with the Avestan script and *hām/ram-­dabīrīh with Book Pahlavi. The others were probably only variants of the cursive Pahlavi script, each with a particular name according to its usage.

See also DABĪR i.



Abū Helāl Ḥasan ʿAskarī, Ketāb al-­forūq al-loḡawīya, ed. Ḥ. Qodsī, I, Cairo, 1353/1934.

Awlīāʾ-Allāh Āmolī, Tārīḵ-e Rūyān, ed. M. Sotūda, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, al-Tanbīh ʿalā ḥodūṯ al-taṣḥīf, ed. M.-Ḥ. Āl Yāsīn, Baghdad, 1387/1967.

H. Humbach and P. O. Skjærvø, The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli I-III/2, Wiesbaden, 1978-83.

K. M. JamaspAsa, Aogəmadaēčā. A Zoro­astrian Liturgy, Sb. der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 397, Vienna, 1982.

Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895.

M.-Ṣ. Kīā, “Gašta-­dabīra,” Irānkūda 5/1, Tehran, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 5­7.

M.-J. Maškūr, “Ḵaṭṭhā wa zabānhā-ye Īrān-e bāstān,” Soḵan 19/3, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 299-305.

ʿA.-A. Ṣādeqī, “Dar bāra-ye ḵoṭūṭ-e Īrānīān-e bāstān,” Soḵan 19/10, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 1037-47; 20/2, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 140-42.

Idem, “Taḥawwol-e pasvand­-e ḥāṣel-e maṣdar az pahlavī be fārsī,” Zabān-šenāsī 7/1, 1369 Š./1990, pp. 81-88.

J. Unvala, “The Trans­lation of an Extract from Mafātīḥ al ʿulūm of al­-Khwārazmī,” Journal of the Cama Oriental Institute 11, 1928, pp. 1-30.

(Aḥmad Tafażżolī)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 10, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, pp. 540-541