IBEX, PERSIAN (Capra aegagrus; PLATE I), also called Persian Wild Goat, in Persian Pazan (pāzan). It is regarded as the ancestor of the domestic goat.

i. Natural history.

ii. In pre-Islamic art and archeology.


The Persian ibex is of stocky build with relatively short but strong and thick legs. In the adult male the color of the flanks and back in summer is a grayish-brown, becoming paler in winter; there is a dark-brown to black band along the spine and a similar band forming a collar in front of the shoulders. With increasing age, as the flanks and sides of old males become cream-colored, the color pattern becomes more and more distinctive and the contrast with the black bands more striking. The coloration of the female is similar, but the dorsal band is indistinct and the shoulder band absent.

The horns of the males are scimitar-shaped and greatly compressed laterally; the frontal edge is sharp and irregularly knobbed, while the back is rounded. The curvature is gentle at first but becomes more sharply rounded in the last third of its length, with the tips (in old males) turning down and either inward or outward. Except for the latter development, the curvature of the horns is in one plane. However, horn shapes tend to vary quite perceptibly among ibex from different localities. Horn lengths in excess of 140 cm have been recorded for the Persian ibex in Persia; and it is one of the coveted trophies among sportsmen. Males measure on average 90 cm in height at the shoulder, and weight may reach 80-100 kg in northern and western Persia, while those from desert ranges in the south and the east tend to be up to 30 percent smaller. The female ibex are much smaller and have short horns, rarely more than 20 cm long. Some authors recognize the form ranging in western and central Persia as Capra aegagrus aegagrus, while the eastern form is regarded as C. aegagrus blythi and called Pasang (pāsang) or Sind Wild Goat (Shackleton, 1997).

Steep, rocky slopes and sheer cliffs are the preferred habitat of the Persian ibex. They will, however, frequent gentle slopes, rolling hills, and adjacent plains in order to feed and obtain water, particularly when these include sections covered with shrubs and trees. However, they are always within safe distance of their refuge, rocky terrain and cliffs. The breeding season begins in mid- to late November in northern Persia and up to two months earlier in the south. This is the time when rival males engage in fights, some quite serious, over the possession of a harem. The kids are born from early to late May in the northern regions, and mid-February to early April in the more southern parts of their range. Twin kids are usually produced, but sometimes only one, and more rarely, three.

Until the revolution of 1979, the ibex was found in almost all of Persia’s mountainous areas with rugged cliffs—from forests to deserts, and within sight of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. They were very numerous, reaching range capacity in most of the highlands, and it is probable that they reached the highest densities ever seen in some of the national parks and refuges. At present qualified technical personnel of the Department of the Environment estimate that, countrywide, the decline in the population of the ibex since before the revolution is on the order of 85-90 percent. This is primarily due to the incursion of tens of thousands of domestic sheep and goats into their mountain habitats (including the various reserves), with no effort made to keep the numbers in some sort of rational balance with the range potential; but a near absence of effective control over indiscriminate hunting, particularly with automatic weapons and shotguns, has also been instrumental in wiping out large parts of their populations.

The historian and geographer Hamd-Allāh Mostawfi (q.v., 1281-1344) wrote of the ibex that “its flesh may be eaten in all religions and sects . . . It is an enemy of the snake and the crab” (Nozhat al-qolub, p. 12). In respect to its “properties,” he states: “A mithqal of the scrapings of its horns with syrup, taken fasting by an epileptic, will cure him . . . The smoke of its horns drives away snakes, scorpions and poisonous animals . . . Its liver, roasted and rubbed up, and used as an eye-salve, gives clearness of visioŋIts penis and testicles pounded up give sexual power” (ibid.).

Various preparations made from parts of the body of the ibex have been regarded as remedies against many diseases, such as epilepsy, corneal opacity, or leprosy; its bile was thought to be an antidote against poisons. From the Middle Ages on, the Persian ibex was known in Europe as the “bezoar goat” (e.g., mod. German Be-zoarziege); because the concretion occasionally found in the animal’s stomach or intestines, called bezoar stone (Pers. pādzahr), was believed by the Europeans too to be an effective antidote against poison.




E. Firouz, Ḥayāt-e vaḥš-e Irān/A Guide to the Fauna of Iran,Tehran, 2000.

Hamd-Allāh Mostawfi, Nozhat al-qolub, ed. and tr. by J. Stephenson as Nuzhatu-L-Qulub. In English and Persian, Oriental Translation Fund, London, 1928.

F. A. Harrington, Jr., A Guide to the Mammals of Iran. Tehran, 1977.

V. G. Heptner, A. A. Nasimovich, and A. G. Bannikov, Mammals of the Soviet Union I, Washington, D.C., 1988.

D. M. Lay. A Study of the Mammals of Iran, Chicago, 1967.

D. M. Shackleton, ed., and the IUCN [World Conservation Union] Species Survival Commission, Caprinae Specialist Group, Wild Sheep and Goats and their Relatives, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, 1997.

Ḥ. Żiāʾi. Rāhnemā-ye ṣaḥrāʾi-e pestāndārān-e Irān, Tehran, 1996.




In pre-Islamic Iran the ibex was a source of meat and secondary products such as horn and hide. In addition, it appears in the iconography of many different periods in a wide variety of media.

The ibex was hunted in Iran from the Middle Paleolithic period onwards. Ibex first appear in Iran in Middle Paleolithic contexts at Warwasi (Uerpmann, Table 25a) and Yāfte Cave (ca. 38,000-29,000 B.C.E.) in Luristan, where it was the dominant species represented (Smith, p. 27); and it is likely that the ibex continued to be hunted in the Zagros mountains during the millennia that followed. Unfortunately, most Epipaleolithic sites of the late Pleistocene era are known only from surface finds of stone tools. In places where we have excavated assemblages, such as the cave of ʿAli Tappe (near Behšahr on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea), occupied ca. 10,400-8800 B.C.E., it is notoriously difficult to distinguish the post-cranial skeletal remains of wild goat from wild sheep (McBurney, pp. 396-97; Hole, Flannery, and Neely, p. 267). Studies of horn cores from the early Neolithic sites of Tappe ʿAli Koš and Tappe Sabz (Ḵuze-stān), however, certainly indicate that ibex were being hunted in the late 8th and 7th millennia B.C.E., if not on the Dehlorān plain itself then in the nearby foothills of the Zagros mountains (Hole, Flannery, and Neely, pp. 266-67). Early Neolithic sites in Azerbaijan (Ḥāji Firuz) and Luristan (Sarāb, Āsiāb, Ganj Darre, and Tepe Gorān) contain abundant evidence of ibex consumption, as do Chalcolithic sites in the region, such as Siāhbed and Dehsavar in Kurdistan, which date to the 5th millennium B.C.E. (Bökönyi, pp. 16-22; Uerpmann, Table 25a; Hesse, pp. 403-14). Later Chalcolithic and Bronze Age sites of 4th-2nd millennium B.C.E. date on the central Iranian Plateau, such as Tappe Zāḡe, Tappe Qabrestān, and Tappe Sagzābād, also Tall-e Malyān on the Marv-dašt plain of Fārs, attest to the continued hunting of ibex through time (Mashkour, Fontugne, and Hatte, p. 70; Mashkour, 2002, Table 2). Farther east, the ibex is attested at the predominantly 3rd-millennium B.C.E. site of Šahr-e Soḵta in Iranian Sistān (Caloi, Compagnoni, and Tosi, p. 87; cf. Bökönyi and Bartosiewicz, 2000, p. 121). Ibex continue to occur in Azerbaijan in Iron Age contexts at Bastām (see BESṬĀM), Zendān-e Solaymān, and Nuš-e Jān and also in the Sasanian period at Taḵt-e Solaymān (Uerpmann, Table 25a).

The incorporation of the ibex into decorative friezes on painted pottery was widespread in pre-Islamic Iran. The ibex appears as a decorative motif on Chalcolithic pottery in Luristan at Čeḡā Sabz (Schmidt, van Loon, and Curvers, Pl. 69g-i), Se Gābi (Young and Levine, Figs. 11.25 and 29), and Tappe Giān (McCown, Fig. 7); in Ḵuzestān at numerous unexcavated sites among survey collections (Alizadeh, Figs. 8, 27D, 30I, 44D, 48G, 62K), and at Čoḡā Miš (in ancient Susiana; Delougaz and Kantor, Pls. 57-58). Several of the tall, Susa I (formerly Susa A) beakers from ca. 4000 B.C.E. show elegantly stylized ibex with long, curving horns and characteristic beard (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon, no. 1; cf. contemporary material from Tappe Jaʿfarābād; Dollfus, Fig. 19.6); and rows of ibex decorate contemporary pottery at sites in the Dehlorān plain, such as Tappe Sabz and Tappe Mu-siān (Neely and Wright, Fig. III.2d, g). The ibex is equally common on the painted pottery of Tall-e Bakun A in Fārs (Langsdorff and McCown, Pls. 69-73). Farther north, it appears on the Chalcolithic pottery of Ḥesār IB-C (Schmidt, Figs. 35A and 37; Pls. V, VII and X-XIII). At Šahr-e Soḵta in the mid-3rd millennium B.C.E., stylized ibex appear, framed between pairs of vertical and horizontal lines, on pear-shaped beakers (Biscione and Bulgarelli, p. 224 and Fig. 55). The ibex is even more common on the pottery at Bampur (late 3rd/early 2nd millennium B.C.E.) in Iranian Baluchistan (Stein, Pl. VII; de Cardi, Figs. 16, 28, 30, 32, 35, 37, 39, 43), although it must be admitted that it is not always clear whether the animal depicted with long, curving horns is an ibex or a wild sheep (cf. Valdez, Nadler, and Bunch, Fig. 2). Both species seem to be depicted on the carved soft-stone of late 3rd millennium B.C.E. date from the Jiroft basin in southeastern Iran (Majidzadeh, pp. 18-20, 24-31, 34-35, 49-50, 134).

Long-horned caprids, many of whom may be ibex, appear on pre-Islamic stamp and cylinder seals all over Iran. An ibex-headed figure—possibly a human wearing the horns of an ibex—appears in the guise of the “master of animals” on stamp seal impressions from Susa dating to ca. 4000 B.C.E. (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon, no. 18; Rashad, Abb. 15.811 and 17.1061). Late prehistoric stamp seals bearing ibex images are also known from Tappe Sialk (Amiet, 1985, Fig. 13.2), Tappe Giān (Rashad, Abb. 5.179, 6.189, 196, 227), and Tappe Jaʿfarābād (Rashad, Abb. 14.584). Cylinder seals from numerous sites, most notably Susa, depict ibex (distinguishable from mountain sheep by their beards), often flanking a tree of life (e.g., Harper, Aruz, and Tallon, nos. 39, 43, and 45)

Middle Elamite, Neo-Assyrian, provincial Neo-Assyrian, and Neo-Elamite cylinder seals from Čeḡā Sabz and Sorḵ Dom-e Lori in Luristan illustrate hunters with bow and arrow shooting leaping caprids, many of which appear more like ibex than wild sheep (Schmidt, van Loon, and Curvers, Pls. 233, 237, 242-243), and this interpretation is consistent with the faunal evidence (mentioned above) demonstrating the continued hunting of ibex in the Iron Age.

Vessels made of bitumen mastic from Susa (early 2nd millennium B.C.E.) employ ibex protomes as parts of the legs and feet (e.g., Connan and Deschesne, pp. 225, 242, 250, 254, 57). The ibex was frequently depicted in the metalwork of late Bronze Age and Iron Age Luristan (Schmidt, van Loon, and Curvers, Pls. 172g, 174i, 179e, 180d, 186-88, 212c-e, 260d, 262d; Seipel, no. 34). Some of the caprid representations on Sasanian stamp seals previously classified as antelopes may in fact represent ibex (e.g., Frye, D.288). The ibex is clearly represented on at least one Sasanian textile fragment (Harper, no. 55).

The symbolic and/or religious significance of the ibex in pre-Islamic Iran is unclear, although in Yasht 14 of the Avesta the god of victory, Vərəthragna, appears to Zarathushtra in various animal forms, including that of a male ibex (Yt. 14.25; von Gall, p. 445).



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(Eskandar Firouz, D. T. Potts)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 27, 2012

This article is available in print.
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