ĒRĀN, ĒRĀNŠAHR. The word ērān is first attested in the titles of Ardašīr I (q.v.), founder of the Sasanian dynasty. On his investiture relief at Naqš-e Rostam in Fārs, and subsequently on his coins, he is called ʾrtḥštr MLKʾn MLKʾ ʾyrʾn/Ardašīr šāhān šāh ērān, in Mid. Persian, MLKYN MLKʾ ʾryʾn/šāhān šāh aryān, in Parthian. His son Šāpūr I, while using the same style for his father, referred to himself as MLKʾn MLKʾ ʾyrʾn W ʾnyrʾn/šāhān šāh ērān ud anērān/, Parth. MLKYN MLKʾ ʾryʾn W ʾn(y)ʾryʾn/šāhān šāh aryān ud anaryān/. The same form was used by later kings, from Narseh down to Šāpūr III. The great trilingual inscription of Šāpūr I at the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt in Fārs, here preserved only in Parth. and Greek, but reconstructable with certainty also in Pers., contains for the first time the Pers. word ērānšahr (Parth. aryānšahr), the king declaring in Persian [*ʾNH . . . ylʾnštry ḥwtʾy ḤWHm]/an. . .ērānšahr xwadāy hēm/, Parth. ʾNH . . .ʾryʾnḥštr ḥwtwy ḤWYm/az. . .aryānšahr xwadāy ahēm/, Greek egō . . .tou Arianōn ethnous despotēs eimi “I am lord of the kingdom (Gk. nation) of the Aryans” (ŠKZ, Mid. Pers. [1], Parth. 1., Gk. 1.2; Back, p. 284-85). This formulation, following his title “king of kings of the Aryans,” makes it seem very likely that ērānšahr properly denoted the empire, while ērān was still understood, in agreement with its etymology (< OIr. *aryānām), as the (oblique) plural of the gentilic ēr (Parth. ary < Old Ir. arya-) “Aryan,” i.e., “of the Iranians.” The singular form is used by Šāpūr in referring to his son ʾyly mzdysn nrsḥy MLKʾ ḥndy skstn. . ./ēr māzdēsn Narseh, šāh Hind, Sagestān. . ./, Parth. ʾry mzdyzn nrysḥw/ary māzdēzn Narseh. . ./ “the Aryan, Mazda-worshipping Narseh, king of India, Sistan,” etc. Of other Sasanian rulers Bahrām II alone also prefixed it, on some of his coins, to the standard legend used from Ardašīr I onwards: (ʾyry) mzdysn bgy (wrḥrʾn) MRKʾn MRKʾ ʾyrʾn (W ʾnyrʾn) “the (Aryan) Mazda-worshipping god (Bahrām), king of kings of the Aryans (and the Non-Aryans).”

The combination *aryānām xšaθra- is nowhere found in the Old Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenians. In the later Yašts there is only mention of airiiå and anairiiå daiŋhāuuō “Aryan” and (unspecified) “Non-Aryan lands.” Thus the term Ērānšahr was evidently an invention of the Sasanians.

A list of the countries ruled by Šāpūr I is almost entirely destroyed in the Persian version, and only incompletely preserved in the Parthian and Greek versions of his trilingual inscription. It can, however, be restored with the help of a shorter list of the provinces of Ērānšahr proper in the Persian inscriptions at Naqš-e Rostam and Sar Mašhad, also badly weathered, of the high-priest under his successors, Kerdīr. This comprised Pārs Persis, Pahlaw Parthia, Xūzestān Susianē, Mēšān Mesēnē, Asūrestān Assyria, Nōdšīragān Adiabēnē, Ādurbāyagān Atropatēnē, Spāhān (Isfahan), *Ray Rhages, Kirmān Karmania, Sagestān Sakastanē, Gurgān Hyrkania, Marw Margianē, Harēw Areia, Abaršahr (Khorasan), Tūrestān Turēnē, Makurān (Makran), and Kūšānšahr tā frāz ō Paškabūr the Kushan country up to Peshawar. Šāpūr added the names of several countries, including *Māy Mēdia, Hind India, and “on that side of the sea” Mazūnšahr (Oman), and others, namely Arman Armenia, Wiruzān Iberia (Georgia), Alān Albania, and Balāsagān tā frāz ō Kāf kōf ud Alānān dar Balasagan up to the Caucasus and the Gate of the Alans, which Kerdīr specifically places in ʾnylʾnštry, ʾnyrʾnštry/anērānšahr/, denoting the “kingdom of the Non-Aryans,” the Roman empire to the west and the lands of the Caucasus.

Despite the usage of the royal titles, the empire was already referred to by the abbreviated form “ērān,” and the Roman west correspondingly “anērān,” very early. Both terms occur in a calendrical text from the pen of the prophet Mānī, probably first written during the reign of Ardašīr (M 7981 V I 30 f., II 24 f. ʿyrʾn, ʾnyrʾn), and in no other Manichaean Persian or Parthian has the term /ērānšahr/ been met. The same short form appears in the names given by Šāpūr I and his successors to several of the towns they founded, such as Ērān-xwarrah-Šābuhr “The glory of Ērān (of) Šāpūr,” Ērān-āsān-kard-Kawād “Kawād pacified Ērān” (qq.v.) It also features in the titles of several leading administrative officials and military commanders under the later Sasanians, e.g., Ērān-āmārgar “Accountant-General,” Ērān-dibīrbed “Chief Secretary,” Ērān-drustbed “Chief Medical Officer,” Ērān-hambāragbed “Commander of the Arsenal,” and Ērān-spāhbed “Commander-in-Chief.”

In the Pahlavi books of the 3rd/9th century the early Sasanian terminology is clearly preserved, e.g., in the Kār-nāmag, where Ērān is only used in the phrase šāh ī ērān and the title ērān-spāhbed (ed. Antia, 12.16, 15.9); otherwise the country is always called Ērānšahr (3.11, 19; 15.22, etc.). The same is true of the book of Ardā Wirāz, (ed. Gignoux, 1.4), where ērān dahibed “the ruler of the Aryans” alone appears beside the geographical name Ērānšahr. In the Dēnkard, 7, the same distinction is generally made (with anērān also designating the Non-Aryans). Here the phrase ēr deh, plural ērān dehān, from the Pahlavi translation of the Yašts, is also occasionally used for the “Aryan land(s).” Nevertheless, the fact that Ērān was also generally understood geographically is shown by the formation of the adjective ērānag “Iranian,” which is first attested in the Bundahišn and contemporary works.

In early New Persian works, especially those depending on Middle Persian sources, the form ērānšahr alternates with šahr-e ērān, (e.g., Tārīḵ-e Sīstān, pp. 6 -7). The poet Farroḵī Sīstānī (d. 429/1037-38), or possibly a later copyist of his poems, still uses it in contrast to tūrān “land of the Turanians” (pp. 99, 256, n. 8). The territory of Ērānšahr, however, came in time to be restricted to the western part of the former empire. In Tārīḵ-e Sīstān (tr. pp. 17 ff.) it is said that “The total area was divided into four parts: Khorāsān, Irān (Ḵāvarān), Nīmrūz, and Bāḵtar [not “Bactria”]. Whatever is located toward the northern boundary is called Bāḵtar; whatever is located toward the southern boundary is called Nīmrūz; and the area in between is divided into two: whatever lies toward the eastern boundary is called Ḵorāsān, while whatever lies to the west is called Īrānšahr.” In the Nozhat al-qolub, (tr. Le-Strange, p. 34) it is even reported (from Eṣṭaḵrī) that “Arabian ʿErāq used to be called the Heart of Īrān-Shahr” (del-e ērānšahr). The general designation for the land of the Iranians was, however, by this time ērān (also ērān zamīn, šahr-e ērān), and ērānī for its inhabitants.


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège 1978.

Christensen, Iran Sass., s.vv. Farroḵī Sīstānī, Dīvān-e Ḥakīm Farroḵī Sīstānī, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.

Ph. Gignoux, ed. and tr., Le livre d’Ardā Vīrāz, Paris, 1984.

G. Gnoli, “Ēr mazdēsn: Zum Begriff Iran und seiner Entstehung im 3. Jahrhundert,” in Transition Periods in Iranian History, Studia Iranica, Cahier 5, Leuven, 1987, pp. 83-100.

Idem, in Orientalia Iosephi Tucci memoriae dicata, Rome, 1987, pp. 509-32.

Idem, The Idea of Iran, Rome, 1989.

D. N. MacKenzie, “Kerdīr’s inscription,” in ed. G. Herrmann, The Sasanian Rock Reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam, Iranische Denkmäler 13, Berlin, 1989, pp. 35-72.

(D. N. MacKenzie)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: December 15, 2011

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