i. Forerunners.

ii. History.



Although the Institute was founded only in 1961, it has a long prehistory, since it is the natural culmination of about 200 years of Iranian studies in the Kingdom of Denmark. This scholarly activity arose from theological and linguistic interests. The most prominent names and contributions are the following, in chronological order:

Friedrich Münter (1761-1830), professor and bishop, in his 1802 publication (see EPIGRAPHY i.) established the historical setting of the Old Persian inscriptions

Jens Lassen Rasmussen, Professor of Oriental Languages 1815-26, pupil of the illustrious Silvestre de Sacy in Paris, published valuable interpretations of Hāfez.

Rasmus Rask (1787-1832), one of the major early Indo-European philologists, wrote his Om Zendsprogets og Zendavestas AElde og AEgthed (On the antiquity and authenticity of the Zend language and Zend Avesta) in 1821, although it was not published until 1826. This work marks a turning point in the history of Avestan philology; it proves that the Avestan language was a language in its own right with its own historical development. In the same work he determined the reading of the Old Persian word xšāyaθiyānām “of kings” and thus deciphered the characters na and ma. The Avestan and Pahlavi manuscripts collected by Rask in India form the main stock of the famous collection of Iranian manuscripts in the Royal Library of Copenhagen.

N. L. Westergaard, Professor of Indian Philology from 1850, used Rask’s manuscripts for his edition of the Avesta (Zend-Avesta or the Religious Books of the Zoroastrians, Vol. I. The Zend Texts, København, 1852-54), a model edition, to which K. F. Geldner (q.v.) could add little. Already in 1851 Westergaard had published an edition of a Pahlavi text, the first edition in Europe, viz. the Bundahišn (q.v.), together with copies of the Hajiābād (q.v.) inscriptions (used by H. S. Nyberg in his edition in Øst og Vest. Festskrift for Arthur Christensen, København, 1945). Like Rask, Westergaard had acquired manuscripts in the Near East. One of them was the original Pahlavi text—previously considered lost—of the Mēnōg ī xrad, which was published by F. C. Andreas (q.v.) in 1882.

Edvard Lehmann, Docent of the History of Religions, 1900-10, then professor in Berlin and Lund (Sweden), Dr.phil., 1896, with his thesis Om forholdet mellem religion og kultur I Avesta (On the Relationship between Religion and Culture in the Avesta). His principal work was Zarathushtra. En bog om persernes gamle tro (Zarathushtra. A Book on the Ancient Beliefs of the Persians, vol. I, København, 1899; II, København 1902). He was one of the teachers of Arthur Christensen (q.v.).

Christensen in 1919 became the first Professor of Iranian Philology in Denmark. (For a complete list of his works, see Proceedings of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, June 1945-May 1946, pp. 83-101.) He died on 31 March 1945, which was his last day in office; in his will he presented the University of Copenhagen with his private library, an almost complete collection of Iranica up to 1945. However, it only became possible to create a worthy setting for this sizeable library in the more prosperous financial conditions around 1960. Since the founding of the Institute, the library of Christensen has been supplemented with all kinds of Iranica published since 1945. It also holds Christensen’s handwritten notes and drafts, Kaj Barr’s Bundahišn vocabulary on cards, and a few manuscripts (Judeo-Persian mss. of works of Šāhīn Šīrāzī and ʿEmrānī; mss. of Sādeq Hedāyat, a personal friend of Christensen).

See also DENMARK and individual entries for the above.



For a general overview of the university, see Svend Erik Stybe, Copenhagen University. 500 Years of Science and Scholarship, Copenhagen, 1979.



After its foundation in 1961, the Institut for Iransk Filologi was an independent institution until 1981. Professor Kaj Barr (q.v.) was the first head of the institute (1961-67) and was succeeded by Professor Jes P. Asmussen (1968-81). From 1981 to 1983 the Institute of Iranian Philology was administratively united with Det Centralasiatiske Institut (the Institute of Central Asian Studies), Institut for Indisk Filologi (the Institute of Indian Philology), and Institut for Semitisk Filologi (the Institute of Semitic Philology). In 1983 these four institutes were gathered in one new institute, Institut for Orientalsk Filologi (the Institute of Oriental Philology), which existed until the academic year 1991-92. Professor Jes P. Asmussen was the head of the institute during 1989-90. In 1992 the Institute of Oriental Philology merged with Carsten Niebuhr Instituttet, which before 1992 consisted of the departments of Assyriology, Egyptology, and Near Eastern Archeology; the new name of the institute became Carsten Niebuhr Instituttet for nœrorientalske studier (The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies). In 2003 and 2004 a new, much bigger institute will be created in which the Carsten Niebuhr Institute will merge with Asian Studies, the Institute of Eskimology, the East European Institute, and the Institute of the History of Religion.

As can be seen from the above, Iranian Philology ceased to be an independent institute in 1983 and thereafter was a department. From 1968 to 1998 there were two positions within the field of Iranian studies, a professor (Jes P. Asmussen 1967-98) and an associate professor (Dr. Fereydun Vahman 1968-2001). When Professor Asmussen retired, the positions were reduced to one (the associate professorship), which was filled by Dr. Claus V. Pedersen in 2004, after he had served as assistant professor from 2000 to 2003.

In the last 40 years Iranian Studies at the University of Copenhagen has witnessed a change in focus from pre-Islamic philological studies to studies of modern Persian language and literature; and because of the mergers between institutes there has been an increase in interdisciplinary research and teaching, especially among the departments of Arabic, Hebrew, Iranian, and Turkish studies (this last reopened in 1997) in the fields of modern language and literature. For examples of these developments, see the list of selected monographs in the bibliography; these were published under the aegis of the institutes of which Iranian studies has been a part.



Jes P. Asmussen, “Iransk filologi” (Iranian philology), in Københavns Universitet 1479-1979, Vol. VIII, Copenhagen, 1992, pp. 675-94.

Also see the university yearbooks: Københavns Universitet-Årbog 1983, pp. 559-60; Københavns Universitet-Årbog 1989, pp. 317-19; Københavns Universitet-Årbog 1992, pp. 401-5.

Publications. J. P. Asmussen, Historiske tekster fra Achœmenidetiden (Historical texts from the Achaemenid period), Copenhagen, 1960.

Idem, Xuâstvânîft-Studies in Manichaeism, Copenhagen, 1965.

Idem, Studies in Judeo-Persian Literature, Leiden, 1973.

Claus V. Pedersen, World View in Pre-Revolutionary Iran—Literary Analysis of Five Iranian Authors in the Context of the History of Ideas, Wiesbaden, 2002.

Idem, ed., Ørkenrosen (The desert rose), Danish translations of modern Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish short stories, Copenhagen, 2003.

Fereydun Vahman, Ardâ Wirâz Nâmag—The Iranian ‘Divina Commedia’, London and Malmo, 1986.

Fereydun Vahman and G. S. Asatrian, West Iranian Dialect Materials—From the Collection of D. L. Lorimer, Vol. I, Copenhagen, 1987.

Fereydun Vahman and Claus V. Pedersen, Persisk-Dansk Ordbog (Persian-Danish Dictionary), Copenhagen, 1998.


(Claus V. Pedersen)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 29, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 2, pp. 163-164