GORZ (or gorza; Av. vazra-, Mid. Pers. warz, Kurd. gurz “club, mace”), also referred to as gorz-e gāvsār/sar (ox-headed club/mace), a weapon often mentioned and variously described in Iranian myths and epic (Figure 1). The name gorz and its descriptions can be found in most texts dealing with mythical, religious, and epic topics. Gorz, besides its function as an instrument of war, is referred to in ancient Iranian literature as an implement used by both divine entities and terrestrial figures as a symbol of the victory of justice over oppression and order over chaos. Its use as described in classical Persian texts, particularly in Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, characterizes it as the decisive weapon of choice in fateful battles (e.g., used by Ferēdun against Zaḥḥāk/Aži Dahāk; by Sām/Garšāsp to defeat Kākuy, the grandson of Salm and Żaḥḥāk, and to kill the dragon of Kašafrud; by Gēv, q.v., in the expedition to Māzandarān; and by Rostam and Sohrāb in their encounter in combat; see Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 37, 224-25, 233, II, pp. 13, 171).
It is mentioned in Avesta as the special weapon of Mithra (Yt. 10.132) and Kərəsāspa-/Garšāsp (Y. 9.10). Kərəsāspa is portrayed as having long hair (gaēsuš) and wielding a club (gaδavarō; see Reichelt, p. 2), while Mithra’s club is described as being made of gold and bearing one hundred knobs and one hundred edges. It is also called the most solid and the most effective weapon in securing victory and as swift as imagination (Yt. 10.132).
The symbolic significance of club/mace can still be noticed among Zoroastrians of the present time, whose mōbads still carry ox-headed clubs, called Gorz-e Mehr and Gorz-e Ferēdun, as a symbol of their continuous battle against the forces of Evil. They believe that Mehr/Mithra swings his club three times each day over hell in order to prevent demons from tormenting the damned more severely than they deserve (Hinnells, p. 130; Boyce, 1968, p. 53).
The history and the descriptions of club/mace date from the time when Indo-Iranian tribes were still together. In Indian mythology, Indra owns a club/mace (vajra-) called the Thunderbolt of Indra and made of the bones of Riśi Daḏiči, a sacred figure in the Vedic literature. It has been also referred to by many other names and descriptions, including sky-borne, splitter, destructive (Dowson, pp. 332-33).
In Middle Persian club/mace is described as a weapon easy to wield (hu-waxm; Mir Faḵrāʾi, tr., pp. 66, 166). The majority of references to the use of mace and its descriptions in New Persian texts, are found in the Šāh-nāma, where it is mentioned more than 250 times as gorz, gorza, gorz/gorza-ye gāvsār/gāv-sar, gorz/gorza-ye gāv-čehr/gāvrang/gāv-ruy/gāv-miš, gorz-e gerān, gorz-e yak zaḵm (the latter epithet only for the gorz of Sām/Garšāsp; Wolff, Glossar, p. 699).
In the Šāh-nāma, prior to the reign of Ferēdun, the club/mace is mentioned only by its common designation, namely gorz or gorz-e gerān. It is only after the ascension of Ferēdun to the throne that, following his instructions, blacksmiths forged a gorz with the bull-shaped head made of iron; from then on the term gorz-e gāvsār etc. is used (Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, p. 71).
Gorz, as a symbol of chivalry, heroism, and dispensing justice is the heritage of great heroes in the Iranian national epic; it remains in the hero’s family to be used later by his son and grandson. Garšāsp/Sām’s single-blow mace (gorz-e yak zaḵm) was inherited by Zāl, and after him it became the choice weapon of Rostam in his fateful battles (Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, p. 347, II, p. 108).
The connection between gorz and the bull’s head may have its roots in the significance of the cow in the life of Ferēdun and his family (Meskub, pp. 12-46). It may also be attributed to the story of the Farr (q.v.) that left Jam-šēd and was received by Mithra, Garšāsp, and Ferēdun (Yt. 19.34-38).
There is a number of bull-headed maces/clubs among the extant ancient weapons. Careful examination of these ancient war relics easily reveals why Iranians considered the mace the most decisive instrument of war. Included among them are two bronze maces kept at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which are dated to the first millennium B.C.E., and another one, made of iron and bronze, kept in the Los Angeles Sub-province Museum of Art. Pictures of bull-headed clubs are also found on ancient bas-reliefs and coins.
Mary Boyce, “On the Sacred Fires of the Zoroastrians,” BSOAS 31, 1968.
Idem, “On the Mithra’s Part in Zoroastrianism,” BSOAS, 1969, p. 26.
John Dowson, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature, New Delhi, 1984.
Prudence Oliver Harper, “The Ox-Headed Mace in Pre-Islamic Iran,” Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, Acta Iranica 24, Leiden, 1985.
John R. Hinnells, Persian Mythology, London, 1973.
Šāhroḵ Meskub, “Fereydun-e Farroḵ,” Irān-nāma/Iran Nameh 5/1, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 12-46.
Pahlavi riwāyat, tr. Mahšid Mir-Faḵrāʾi as Rewāyat-e Pahlavi: Matn-i be zabān-e Fārsi-e miāna, Tehran, 1367 Š./1988.
Hans Reichelt, Avesta Reader, Strassburg, 1911.
Originally Published: December 15, 2002
Last Updated: February 17, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 2, pp. 165-166