GABAE (Gk. Gábai), the name of two places in Persia and Sogdiana.

1. A town in Persis with the name Gábai, which apparently is derived from an unattested stem, OPers. *Gaba- (for an etymological hypothesis see Henning), is mentioned by Strabo (15.3.3) as being situated “somewhere in the upper (i.e., inland) parts of Persis” and being the site of a royal palace of the Achaemenid kings. Ptolemy (Geography 6.4.7) listed Gábai among the towns in Persis, although the coordinates given by him would lead one to suppose instead a location south-east of Persepolis. According to Polybius (31.9.3), Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in Gábai in 164 B.C.E., if the obviously rather ancient manuscript reading en Tábais has been rightly corrected into Gábais by Friedrich Carl Andreas (which interpretation has been rejected, however, by Altheim and Stiehl, p. 567). The same mistake (T- vs. G-) seems to have also occurred in Curtius Rufus (5.13.2), who mentions Tabae as a town in extreme Paraetacene (i.e., in the Median-Persian border zone), to which Alexander came when pursuing Darius III.

The province of Gabēnē´ is mentioned by Diodorus (19.26.1, 5; 34.7; cf. Polyaenus 4.6.13) and Plutarch (Eumenes 15.4, where the ethnic name Gabēnoí is found) in connection with the power struggle between Eumenes and Antigonus I in 317 B.C.E. Ptolemy (Geography 6.4.3) enumerated the Gabaeans (Gabaîoi) as living above the Uzaeans (i.e., the people of Ḵūzestān or the Elamites), and Strabo (16.1.18), drawing from another source, has Gabianḗ as a province of Elymais.

Since Andreas (apud Hoffmann, p. 132 n. 1130) had identified Gábai with Ar. Jay (see Schwarz, Iran, p. 586 n. 1), the ancient name of Isfahan (more exactly perhaps of the capital of the province Isfahan) in the works of early Muslim geographers like Yāqūt, Yaʿqūbī, Ṭabarī, etc., that location has become customary, even if the campaigns of the year 317 B.C.E. might not be supposed to have taken place so far in the north. Later also the Middle Persian name of Sasanian Isfahan, i.e., Gay, was found in the Šahrestānīhā ī Ērān (sec. 53; see Markwart, Provincial Capitals, p. 104).

The definitive proof of this identification at last was provided by the trilingual evidence of Šāpūr’s inscription at Kaʿba-ye Zardošt (cf. first Henning; now Back, p. 213), which once mentions Wārzin, the satrap of Gay (Pers. wʾlcn ZY gdy štrp, l. 33; Parth. wʾrzn gʾb ḥštrp, l. 27; Gk. Gouarzin Gē satrápou, l. 63). This provides, as it were, the missing link between Gk. Gábai and the late Sasanian forms.

2. The same name (Gk.) Gabaí (accented this way, however) is attested for a stronghold in the no man’s land between Sogdiana and the land of the Massagetian Scythians, where, in 328 B.C.E., the Bactrian nobleman and commander Spitamenes and his followers persuaded about 3000 Scythian horsemen to join them in attacking Sogdiana (Arrian, Anabasis 4.17.4, where the variant reading Bagaí must be given up). That town is not known elsewhere and can not be located precisely. It seems quite probable that its name is identical with Av. Gauua- (a region near Sogdiana in Yt. 10.14) and Gā/ăuua-,acc. Gāum (described as “inhabited by Sogdians” in Vd. 1.4) and thus is homophonous only in Greek with the Persian toponym (see Humbach, p. 32).



F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Geschichte Mittelasiens im Altertum, Berlin, 1970.

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

W.B. Henning, “Gabae: Additional Note,” Asia Major, N.S. 2, 1951, p. 144; repr. in idem, Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, Leiden, 1977, p. 357.

G. Hoffmann, Auszüge aus syrischen Akten persischer Märtyrer, AKM 7/3, Leipzig, 1880.

H. Humbach, ed. and tr., The Gāthās of Zarathushtra and the Other Old Avestan Texts, collab. by J. Elfenbein and P. O. Skjærvø, I, Heidelberg, 1991.

Marquart, Ērānšahr, pp. 28 f. Idem (Markwart), Provincial Capitals, pp. 21, 104.

Idem, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte von Eran II, Leipzig, 1905, p. 32.

Schwarz, Iran, pp. 585 f. [F.] Weissbach, “Gábai,” in Pauly-Wissowa, VII/1, col. 411.

(Rüdiger Schmitt)

Originally Published: December 15, 2000

Last Updated: February 2, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. X, Fasc. 3, p. 235