DAHYU (OIr. dahyu-), attested in Avestan daiiu-, daŋ́hu- “country” (often with reference to the people inhabiting it; cf. AirWb., cot. 706; Hoffmann, pp. 599­-600 n. 14; idem and Narten, pp. 54-55) and in Old Persian dahyu- “country, province” (pl. “nations”; Gershevitch, p. 160). The term is likely to be con­nected with Old Indian dásyu “enemy” (of the Ary­ans), which acquired the meaning of “demon, enemy of the gods” (Mayrhofer, Dictionary II, pp. 28-29). Because of the Indo-Iranian parallel, the word may be traced back to the root das-, from which a term denot­ing a large collectivity of men and women could have been derived. Such traces can be found in Iranian languages: for instance, in the ethnonym Dahae “men” (cf. Av. ethnic name [fem. adj.] dāhī, from ŋ́ha-; AirWb., col. 744; Gk. Dáai, etc.), in Old Persian dahā “the Daha people” (Brandenstein and Mayrhofer, pp. 113-14), and in Khotanese daha “man, male” (Bailey, Dictionary, p. 155).

In Avestan the term did not have the same technical meaning as in Old Persian. Avestan daiiu-, dańhu- ­refers to the largest unit in the vertical social organiza­tion. See, for example, Avestan xᵛaētu- (in the Gathas) “next of kin group” and nmāna- “house,” correspond­ing to Old Persian taumā- “family”; Avestan vīs- ­“village,” corresponding to Avestan vərəzə̄na- “clan”; Avestan zantu- “district”; and Avestan daiiu-, dańhu­- (Benveniste, 1932; idem, 1938, pp. 6, 13; Thieme, pp. 79ff.; Frye, p. 52; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, p. 13; Schwartz, p. 649; Gnoli, pp. 15ff.). The connection daiiu, dańhu- and arya- “Aryans” is very common to indicate the Aryan lands and peoples, in some in­stances in the plural: airiiå daŋ́hāuuō, airiianąm daiiunąm, airiiābiiō daŋ́hubiiō. In Yašt 13.125 and 13.127 five countries (daiiu-) are mentioned, though their identification is unknown or uncertain; in the same Yašt (13.143-44) the countries of other peoples are added to those of the Aryans: tūiriia, sairima, sāinu, dāha.

In Achaemenid inscriptions Old Persian dahyu- means “satrapy” (on the problems relative to the different lists of dahyāva [pl.], cf. Leuze; Junge; Walser, pp. 27ff.; Herzfeld, pp. 228-29; Herrenschmidt, pp. 53ff.; Calmeyer, 1982, pp. 105ff.; idem, 1983, pp. 141ff.) and “district” (e.g., Nisāya in Media; DB 1.58; Kent, Old Persian, p. 118). The technical connotation of Old Persian dahyu is certain and is confirmed—despite some doubts expressed by George Cameron but re­futed by Ilya Gershevitch—by the loanword da-a-ya­u-iš in Elamite. On the basis of the hypothetical reconstruction of twelve “districts” and twenty-nine “satrapies,” it has been suggested that the formal identification of the Old Persian numeral 41 with the ideogram DH, sometimes used for dahyu (Kent, Old Persian, pp. 18-19), can be explained by the fact that there were exactly forty-one dahyāva when the sign DH was created (Mancini).

From the meaning of Old Persian dahyu as “limited territory” come Middle Persian and Pahlavi deh “coun­try, land, village,” written with the ideogram MTA (Frahang ī Pahlawīg 2.3, p. 117; cf. Syr. mātā), and Manichean Middle Persian dyh (MacKenzie, p. 26). At times the Avestan use is reflected in Pahlavi deh, but already in Middle Persian the meaning “village” is well documented; it appears again in Persian deh.


E. Benveniste, “Les classes sociales dans la tradition avestique,” JA 221, 1932, pp. 117-­34.

Idem, Les Mages dans l’ancien Iran, Paris, 1938.

W. Brandenstein and M. Mayrhofer, Handbuch des Altpersischen, Wiesbaden, 1964.

P. Calmeyer, “Zur Genese altiranischer Motive. Die "Statistische Landcharte des Perserreiches,"” AMI 15, 1982, pp. 105-87; 16, 1983, pp. 141-222.

G. G. Cameron, “The Persian Satrapies and Related Matters,” JNES 32, 1973, pp. 47-56.

R. N. Frye, The Heritage of Persia, London, 1962.

I. Gershevitch, “The Alloglottography of Old Persian,” TPS, 1979, pp. 114-90.

G. Gnoli, The Idea of Iran. An Essay on Its Origin, Rome, 1989.

C. Herrenschmidt, “Désignation de l’empire et concepts politiques de Darius I d’après ses inscrip­tions en vieux perse,” Stud. Ir. 5, 1976, pp. 17-58.

E. Herzfeld, The Persian Empire. Studies in Geography and Ethnography of the Ancient Near East, ed. G. Walser, Wiesbaden, 1968.

K. Hoffmann, Aufsätze zur Indoiranistik II, Wiesbaden, 1976.

Idem and J. Narten, Der sasanidische Archetypus, Wiesbaden, 1989.

J. Junge, “Satrapie und Natio. Reichsverwaltung und Reichspolitik im Staate Dareios’ I,” Klio 34, 1941, pp. 1-55.

O. Leuze, Die Sat­rapieneinteilung in Syrien und im Zweistromlande von 520-320, Halle, 1935.

D. N. MacKenzie, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, Oxford, 1971.

M. Mancini, “Ant. pers. dahyu-, il segno "DH" e il problema degli ideogrammi nel cuneiforme achemenide,” Studi e Saggi Linguistici 24, 1984, pp. 241-70.

M. Schwartz, “The Old Eastern Iranian World View According to the Avesta,” Camb. Hist. Iran II, 1985, pp. 640-63.

P. Thieme, Mitra and Aryaman, New Haven, Conn., 1957.

G. Walser, Die Völkerschaften auf den Reliefs von Persepolis, Ber­lin, 1966.

(Gherardo Gnoli)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 11, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 6, p. 590