MASʿUDI, ABU’l-ḤASAN ʿALI b. Ḥosaynb. ʿAli b. ʿAbd-Allāh Hoḏali, a tenth-century geographer and historian and an important source of information on pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran. Reportedly a descendant of the Prophet’s companion ʿAbd-Allāh b. Masʿud (d. 32/652-53?), he was born in Baghdad, probably around 275/890. In addition to the so-called Arab sciences of the Koran, the Hadith, Arabic grammar and poetry, tribal genealogy, history, jurisprudence, and theology, he studied the “ancient sciences” of philosophy, astronomy, geography, medicine, and music. He also traveled extensively. His first recorded journey (303/915-16) took him to Khuzestan, Fars, Kerman, Sejestān, and parts of Khorasan. From there he crossed the Indus valley to the Punjab and Sind (the northeastern and southern provinces of what is today Pakistan) and traveled down the western coast of India. Later voyages took him to Oman, Yemen, the Hejaz, the eastern Mediterranean coast, northern Syria, and northern Iraq. After exploring the Caspian Sea region and the Caucasus, he settled in Egypt. He appears to have lived and worked in the capital, Fosṭāṭ, from approximately 330/942 to his death in 345/956 (Shboul, pp. 1-29; Miquel, I, pp. 202-12).

Masʿudi is credited with up to forty-six works, on Muslim creeds and sects, natural philosophy, history, and other subjects (Moruj I, secs. 2-18; Shboul, pp. 55-77; Khalidi, pp. 154-64; Pellat, p. 784). Only two undoubtedly authentic items have survived:  Moruj al-ḏahab wa maʿāden al-jawhar, whose manuscripts are based on a draft dated to 332/943-44 (Tanbih, p. 97); and al-Tanbih wa al-ešrāf, which he completed shortly before his death. These two books are among several that he wrote to supplement his now-lost magnum opus, Aḵbār al-zamān (Moruj I, secs. 1-2), and its successors, all of which surveyed: (1) the regions and peoples of the earth, and (2) the history of the Muslim community from its origins to the mid-tenth century. As supplements, the Moruj and the Tanbih consist largely of material omitted from their predecessors. Between them, nevertheless, the two contain information on an impressively wide range of topics. Thanks to Masʿudi’s curiosity about matters usually ignored by other authors, his works remain indispensable sources for the cultural history of Southwest Asia.

Although Masʿudi’s surviving works contain no declarations of creed, his treatment of early Islamic history, especially the caliphate of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb  and the titles of certain now-lost works (e.g., al-Bayān fi asmāʾ al-aʾemma; Moruj III, secs. 1612-757, IV, sec. 2798) leave little doubt that he was an Imami Shiʿite. Like some contemporary Shiʿite scholars, he seems to have preferred the Ẓāheri (literalist) approach to feqh, though he is known to have studied with at least one Shafiʿite jurist (Tanbih, pp. 4-5; Stewart). Like many Shiʿites, too, he favored the rationalist epistemology of the Moʿtazilites, whose doctrines he explains in the Moruj al-ḏahab (IV, secs. 2254-61). He proposed naturalistic explanations of such matters as demonic apparitions (MorujII, secs. 1207, 1344), hinting that only religious tradition prevents him from dismissing them altogether (II, sec. 1003). He also preferred direct observation over uncritical citation of sources, insisting that “one who has spent his days roaming the earth” makes a far better authority than “one who huddles by the censer at home” (MorujI, sec. 7). Moreover, he believed that systematic inquiry was cumulative and progressive:  “As one thinker after another discovers what his predecessors did not, knowledge grows and expands” in a process that “appears to be infinite and to have no predetermined end” (Tanbih, p. 76). These convictions are not merely rhetorical; rather, they shape both the form and the content of his surviving works.

According to Masʿudi, every nation has a history, which it transmits from one generation to the next to preserve the memory of great events. To prevent the loss of such memories, history must be written down. For this reason, Alexander the Great ordered his people to make a written record of his career. His example inspired the Sasanian Ardašir b. Bābak (ARDAŠIR I), who, after he had overthrown the Parthian Empire (moluk al-ṭawāʾef), “undertook the recording of his career, his counsels, and his battles.”  Extended to his successors, this project resulted in a careful record of events from his time to that of the last Sasanian monarch, Yazdegerd III. Unfortunately, Ardašir wanted to consign his predecessors to oblivion, and so few records remain of the dynasties that preceded his (Tanbih, pp. 196-97). Since then, presumably as a result of the Muslim conquest, even more has been lost: “[The Persians’] history has been effaced, their achievements have been forgotten, and their traditions have lapsed, all because of the passage of time and the rush of events.”  What little is known is nevertheless worth reporting, for the Persians “were a people of lofty glory and splendid nobility (al-ʿezz al-šāmeḵ wa’l-šaraf al-bāḏeḵ), able leaders and rulers, doughty on the field of battle and tough in combat; the nations paid them tribute and obeyed them for fear of their might and the great number of their troops” (Tanbih, p. 105).

Masʿudi’s treatment of non-Muslim societies is dispassionate and non-polemical.  His account of pre-Islamic history suggests that human beings can grasp essential truths about nature and society without help from divine revelation. In the Moruj (I, secs. 152-86), he begins his survey of ancient civilizations with India, the first nation to establish a social order based on philosophical teachings. In the Tanbih, he begins with the Persians, who attained the highest form of political organization possible before Islam: “Their territory was vast, their history long, their dynastic succession unbroken, their administration efficient, their lands prosperous, and their subjects well cared for” (Tanbih, p. 6). Only when they neglected religion (of whatever form) and the administration of justice did the ancient empires collapse. In his own day, the Muslim community, despite its receipt of revelation through the Prophet and the Imams, is falling apart for the same reason (Tanbih, p. 400; Khalidi, pp. 102-6).

Within this broad vision of human history, the Moruj and the Tanbih devote considerable attention to Iranian history, religion, folklore, and related matters. In the Tanbih, Masʿudi lists the topics related to the Persians covered in the Moruj. These include accounts of their kings, their religion, their seven alphabets, their festivals, the sacred girdles (kasātij; MP kostīg) that they wear around their waists, their views on kingship, and the signs that foretold their defeat by the Arabs; their food, drink, clothing, laws, cities, canals, monuments, fire temples, and beliefs about light; their religious and royal officials, banners, genealogies, noble families, and geographical differences; and their belief that royal power will one day return to them (Tanbih, pp. 107-8). Since many of these topics are mentioned only briefly, or not discussed at all, in the Moruj, it is clear that the now-lost final version contained a good deal more on Iranian topics than the surviving draft. Also among Masʿudi’s now-lost works is one devoted entirely to Persian history, titled Maqātel forsān al-ʿajam, which related the adventures of Šahrabrāz and “other Persian knights and brave warriors,” in chronological order (Tanbih, p. 102).

The following sections list Masʿudi’s sources on Iran and summarize—using his names and terms, not those of modern Iranology—the accounts he composed on the basis of them. The transliteration of the names generally follows the voweling of the Pellat edition of the Moruj and the de Goeje edition of the Tanbih.


Masʿudi considers the Persians to be the best sources for their own history and declares that he has based himself on “those books that they consider correct and well-known” (al-kotob al-ṣaḥīḥa al-mašhura ʿendahom; Tanbih, pp. 105, 110). In the preface of the Moruj, he lists many of the books he used (Moruj I, secs. 8-15). But his sources for pre-Islamic Persian history are much broader than these bibliographies suggest. They include A) the Avesta and its commentaries; B) historical and administrative texts translated into Arabic from Middle Persian; C) speeches and letters cited in Arabic without reference to sources; D) Arabic works by named authors; E) informants; and F) visits to sites.

A. The Avesta and its commentaries. Masʿudi describes the Avesta (al-Bastāh, in the Moruj I, sec. 542,; al-Abastā, in the Tanbih, pp. 91-92) as a book dictated, according to the Magians, by the Lord (al-Rabb) to the prophet Zoroaster (Zarādošt b. Esbitamān). It consisted of 21 chapters of 200 pages each and filled 12,000 bull hides (jeld ṯawr). It was written in gold in a script consisting of sixty characters invented by Zoroaster, called din dabira “the writing of religion” (ketābat al-din). The work contained descriptions of the afterlife, “commands and prohibitions, and other laws and rituals.”  The Persians no longer understand the ancient language (al-fāresiya al-ulā or al-fahlawiya) of the text and so “some of the chapters have been translated for them into this Persian” (hāḏih al-fāresiya, meaning the contemporary language). The Persians recite those parts, which include the Aštāḏ, the Jetarašt (which describes the beginning and end of the world), the Bānyast, and the Hāduḵt (which contains admonitions and exhortations; cf. HĀDŌXT NASK), in their prayers (Tanbih, pp. 91-92).

The Avesta was translated into Arabic with the title al-Abastāq, although the common people call it al-zamzama, “muttering” (on the history of the text see, II.A., below). The commentaries on the Avesta include the Zand, written by Zoroaster himself; the Bāzand/Pāzand, a commentary on the Zand, also by Zoroaster; and a commentary on the Pāzand, called the Yārda, written by the scholars. Masʿudi does not quote from any of these works in the Moruj or the Tanbih, but claims to have discussed Zoroastrian beliefs and practices in detail in his other books (Moruj I, secs. 547-49; Tanbih,  pp. 91-93).

B. Historical and administrative texts translated into Arabic from Middle Persian. Masʿudi refers to these works as “books of royal biography, from the Persians” (kotob siar al-moluk men al-aʿājem; Moruj IV, sec. 2339).

1. Ketāb al-baykār, translated by Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ, translator of Kalila wa Demna, containing the deeds of Esfandiār, including his construction of a fortress in the Caucasus (Moruj I, secs. 163, 480). Masʿudi translates baykār as “exertion” (ejhād), explaining that it refers to the wars between the Persian and Turkish kings (Tanbih, p. 94).

2. Ketāb al-Sakisarān, also translated by Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ, containing the stories of Siāvaḵs (Siāvaḵš), Esfandiār, Rostam, Bahman, “and other wonders and events related of the ancient Persians” (men ʿajā’eb al-fors al-ulā wa aḵbārehā). He adds: “The Persians revere this book, because it contains reports of their ancestors and accounts of their kings” (men ḵabar aslāfehem wa siar molukehem; Moruj I, sec. 541; cf. sec. 543).

3. Ketāb al-kārnāmaj, (i.e., Kār-nāmag i Ardašir) credited to the Sasanian Ardašir I, “containing reports about him, the wars he fought, his travels, and his conduct” (Moruj I, sec. 586).

4. A work devoted to the career of Bahrām Jubin (Čōbin), the chief Sasanian army commander, including “the strategems he employed in the land of the Turks after he traveled there, as well as his rescue of the daughter of the Turkish king from the Semʿ, an animal resembling a large goat, which had carried her off” (Moruj I, sec. 644).

5. The Arabic translation of a book from the archives of the Persian kings, translated from Persian for the Omayyad caliph Hešām b. ʿAbd-al-Malek in 113/731 and preserved by “a Persian of noble family” who showed it to Masʿudi during the latter’s visit to Eṣṭaḵr in 303/915-16. It contained information about “the kings, the monuments, and the statecraft” of the Sasanians “not found in any other book of the Persians” as well as portraits of the rulers (Tanbih, pp. 106-7; see also below, VI.D).

6. Ḵodāy-nāmāh. This work, well known from other sources as a history of the ancient Persians, is mentioned once by Masʿudi, who remarks that the book translated for Hešām contained information not to be found in the Ḵodāy-nāma  (Tanbih, p. 106).

7. The Āʾin-nāmāh, whose title Masʿudi translates as the book of protocol (Ketāb al-rosum). It contains “thousands of pages” and “can hardly be found in its entirety except among the mobaḏs and other leaders” (Tanbih, p. 104). It includes:

7a. The Kah-nāmāh or Keh-nāmāh, a book “containing the ranks or grades (marāteb) of the Persian kingdom, which are 600 in number” (Tanbih, p. 104).

C. Speeches and letters cited in Arabic without reference to sources. Masʿudi claims to have had access to the biographies, correspondence, memoranda, accession speeches, and testamentary dispostions of all the Sasanian kings (Moruj I, sec. 661), but only the following are cited or mentioned by name in his surviving works. These items may have circulated as individual works, or as citations in the items listed in I.B. above or I.D. below.

1. A speech by Kayumarṯ (Gayōmart; Moruj I, sec. 532).

2. The speeches of Ardašir son of Bābak (Moruj I, secs. 577, 579-80).

3. Ardašir’s testamentary disposition to his son Sābur (Šāpur; Moruj I, secs. 584, 586).

4. A letter from Ardašir to his scribes (kottāb), men of religion (foqahāʾ), cavalrymen (asāwera), and farmers (harraṯun; Moruj I, sec. 587).

5. Letters from Ardašir to one of his governors (ʿommāl; Moruj I, secs. 588,591).

6. A letter by Tansar, “the mobaḏ of Ardašir, and a propagandist for him” (Tanbih, pp. 99, where the name appears as Tanšar). Masʿudi mentions other letters by Tansar “on royal and religious policy,” defending certain innovations introduced by Ardašir, but not citing them (Tanbih, p. 100). This letter is preserved in a Persian translation.

7. A letter from the Roman emperor to Sābur (Šāpur), the son of Ardašir, and the latter’s reply (Moruj I, sec.590).

8. A letter from Šāpur to one of his governors (Moruj I, sec. 591).

9. Šāpur’s testamentary disposition to his son Hormoz (Moruj I, sec.592).

10. A letter from Hormoz, son of Šāpur, to one of his governors (Moruj I, sec.593).

11. A fable about Bahrām b. Bahrām and a mobad who claims to understand the language of owls (Moruj I, secs. 596-99).

12. A dialogue between Yazdegerd b. Bahrām and a sage (Moruj I, sec.616).

13. Letters from the kings of China, India, and Tibet to Anušervān, son of Qobāḏ (Moruj I, secs. 622-24).

14. Sayings attributed to Anušervān (Moruj I, secs. 629-31).

15. Speeches by Bozorjmehr (Bozorgmehr.; Moruj I, secs. 628, 630, 645;indirect citation in IV, sec. 2848).

16. A speech by Abarviz (Ḵosrow II Parviz; Moruj I, sec. 652).

17. An anecdote about a courtier who paid Širawayh (Šērōya), son of Ḵosrow Parviz, such rapt attention that he fell off his mount into a river (Moruj IV, sec. 2339).

D. Arabic works by named authors. These works doubtless contained much translated material, but were compiled by named authors who lived during the Islamic period.

1. Extant works. In the bibliographic introduction to the Moruj, Masʿudi refers to the works of Yaʿqubi, Balāḏori, Dinavari, Ebn Qotaybah, and Ṭabari, which are still extant, and from all of which he may have taken material on the Persians. His bibliography of works on geography includes Ebn Ḵorradāḏbeh’s al-Masalek wa’l-mamālek (Tanbih, p. 74). His discussion of Persian music (Moruj V, secs. 3213-26) derives from the same author’s now partially preserved al-Lahw wa’l-malāhi.

2. Lost works by known authors.

a. “A large work on history” by Ebn Ḵorradāḏbeh (d. between 272/885 and 300/912) containing “accounts of the Iranian and other nations (al-aʿājem wa-ḡayrehā men al-omam), and their kings” (Moruj I, sec. 9).

b. Statements by Hešām b. Moḥammad Kalbi (d. 204/819) on Persian genealogies (Moruj I, secs. 558, 563).

c. “A history of the Persians, describing the generations of their kings, ancient and modern; reports about them, their orations, and the filiation of their genealogies; descriptions of the cities they built, the regions they settled, and the canals they dug; the noble families among them and the prominent local notables (šahāreja) associated with each of them” (Moruj I, sec. 560), composed by the philologist and genealogist Abu ʿObayda Maʿmar b. Moṯannā (d. 209/824) on the basis of information supplied by one ʿOmar, “a man so famous for his knowledge of Fārs and its kings that he was given the nickname ʿOmar Kesrā,” (the ʿOmar of Chosroes; Moruj I, sec. 536). Of this ʿOmar Kesrā nothing further is known (Shboul, p. 104).

d. A work on geography by Aḥmad b. Ṭayyeb Saraḵsi (d. 286/899), mentioned in connection with the geography of Iran (Tanbih, p. 75).

e. al-Nawāḥi wa’l-āfāq, a work on geography by Moḥmmad b. Aḥmad b. Najm b. Abi ʿAwn (9th cen.), mentioned in connection with the geography of Iran (Tanbih, p. 75).

f. The Aḵbār Baḡdād of Ebn Abi Ṭāher Ṭayfur (d. 280/893), of which only a portion survives; Masʿudi cites a now-lost section on the Persian origin of the name Baghdad (Tanbih, p. 360).

3. Lost works by otherwise unknown authors.

a. A work on pre-Islamic and Islamic history by one Ebn Oḵt ʿIsā b. Farroḵān-šāh, from which he may have taken material on the Persians (Moruj I, sec. 10).

b. A work by Dāwud b. Jarrāḥ “containing many accounts of the Persians and other nations” (Moruj I, sec. 10).

c. A work on geography by Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Jayhāni, mentioned in connection with the geography of Iran (Tanbih, p. 75).

E. Informants. In addition to written sources, Masʿudi often alludes to testimony by living informants. He reports that the Persians memorize their genealogies, by which he means not only names but also stories “from one generation to another, the young [learning] from the old,” adding that informants from different regions disagree with one another (Moruj I, sec. 530). Discussing the chronology of the “factional kings” (moluk al-ṭawāʾef), that is, the successors of Alexander, he declares that, although the written sources disagree, he has obtained a reliable account from Persian scholars (ʿolamāʾ al-fors). These scholars pay particular attention to such matters because chronology (tawāriḵ) for the Persians is not merely a matter of words (qawl), as it is for others, but rather the basis of their practice (ʿamal; Moruj I, sec. 562; the meaning of this passage is obscure). To learn how many years really elapsed between Alexander and Ardašir I, a figure deliberately misrepresented in the chronicles, Masʿudi questioned “mowbaḏs, herbaḏs, and other learned and knowledgeable persons … in Fars, Kerman, and elsewhere in the Iranian territories” (Tanbih, p. 97). At the conclusion of his account of Sasanian history, he reports that the descendants of the Persian kings and nobles are still to be found in Iraq, “studying their genealogies and memorizing the accounts of [their ancestors’] deeds, as the Arabs do with Qaḥṭān and Nezār,” and that his account is the one generally accepted by experts in the field (Moruj I, sec.662). On several other occasions he prefaces an observation with the phrase “the Persians say,” implying that his information comes from living tradents (e.g., Tanbih, p. 106, where the Persians say that the ancient kings of Babylon ruled on behalf of the kings of Iran). His descriptions of the festivities during Mahragān (Moruj I, sec.1287) and Āḏār-māh (Moruj II, secs.1298-99) are evidently based on firsthand observation.

F. Travel. Whenever possible, Masʿudi attempted to visit the places he wrote about and to connect historical reports with sites on the ground. In Fars, he visited a site near Eṣṭakhr; he calls it a fire temple, but it is evidently Persepolis (Moruj II, sec. 1403 and VI. C.3.d. below). He also visited a fire temple in Gōr (the present-day Firuzābād; Moruj II, sec.1404 and VI.C.3.f. below). In Azarbaijan, he saw the remains of buildings built by the Parthians (Ašḡāniyun), along with paintings depicting the heavens and the earth (Tanbih, p. 95; see further II.C. below). In Qarmāsin (Kermānšāh, q.v.), a town in the region of Dinavar, he saw rock carvings (al-ṣowar al-ʿajiba al-manquša fi’l-ṣaḵr) of Ḵosrow II Parviz and his famous horse, Šabdāz (Šabdiz), a sight he describes as “one of the wonders of the world” (Moruj I, sec. 635). In Iraq, he visited Babylon (Bābel), reportedly the capital (dār mamlaka) of Afridun (Ferēdun). There he saw “great ruins composed of rubble, debris, and buildings collapsed into shapes like hills.”  In Ṣanʿāʾ, a city in Yemen, he visited the ruins of Ḡomdān, a castle reportedly built by Żaḥḥāk (Moruj I, sec. 538, II,sec. 1376).


The Persians are a nation (omma) whose territory includes Azerbaijan to the borders of Armenia; Arrān and Baylaqān as far as Darband in the Caucasus; Ṭabarestān, Masqaṭ, Šābarān, and Jorjān; Khorasan, including Abaršahr (Nišāpur), Herat, and Marv; and Sejestān, Kerman, Fars, and Ahvāz. All of these territories once belonged to a single kingdom. That kingdom used a unified written language whose spoken forms later came to diverge. The languages used by the Persians include Pahlavi, Dari, and Azeri. Despite claims that their ancestor was Shem, or Joseph, or Lot, the Persians believe themselves to be the descendants of Iraj (or Irān), the son of Afridun. Some believe that Iraj was born to the seventh in a line of female virgins, but this claim is “irrational” and “contrary to observed phenomena.”  The northern Arabs identified either Iraj or Manušehr (Manučehr) with Isaac, the son of Abraham, and boasted of the association in their poetry. Conversely, notable Persians, including the grandfather of the first Sasanian king, used to visit the Kaʿba to honor its builder, Abraham, whom they regarded as their ancestor. In Masʿudi’s time, some Persians had taken up the claim to descent from Isaac (Esḥāq) and used it to cudgel the Arabs, who are descended from Ismail, son of Abraham’s concubine Hagar (Hājar). The ancient Mesopotamian peoples (Kaldāniyun, Suryāniyun, Nabaṭ) were assimilated to the Persians (daḵalu fi jomlat al-Fors) after the latter conquered them (Moruj I, secs. 563-75; Tanbih, pp. 7, 38, 77-78, 108-9, 182).

The history of the Persians before Islam falls into three eras. The first is the era of the first or earliest kings (moluk ... al-fors al-ulā, or the Akyān; Moruj I, sec. 558). This era is subdivided into three dynastic periods. The second era is that of the factional kings (moluk al-ṭawāʾef). The third era is that of the Sasanians or second dynasty of Persian kings (moluk al-fors al-ṯānia). The duration of the three eras together is 4471 years and five and a half months (Tanbih, p. 85; Moruj I, secs. 656-57, where other figures are given; see also Moruj I,sec.660, where another regnal subdivision is proposed).

Originally, the Persians dated events from the reign of their first king, Kaiumarṯ (Gayōmart). Later, they began to date events from the death of Dāryus (Dārius III) at the hands of Alexander. When Ardašir b. Bābak restored the empire, a new calendar was established, dating events from his accession. The last regnal calendar, and the one used in Masʿudi’s time, began with the fall of Yazdegerd III, the last Sasanian king. Masʿudi attempts a correlation of the dates given for the major events in ancient history based on the fact that the Greek and Aramean calendars, like the Persian, refer to Alexander (Tanbih, pp. 197-99).

A. The era of the first kings. The first Persian king was Jayumart (Kayumarṯ) Kelšāh “Clay King” (Gelšāh, apparently a misreading of garšāh “king of the mountain”), who was the first man, or the eldest son of Adam, or a descendant of Noah. The Persian tradition has nothing to say about Noah’s flood. Kayumarṯ’s son Mašya and his daughter Mašiāna (Tanbih: Mišāh or M•h•lā and Mišāni) are the parents of humankind, or of the Persians. Kayumarṯ was appointed king when the people of his time realized that, just as the body cannot function without a directing intelligence, so the human community must also have a leader in order to thrive. A just ruler, he was the first to wear a crown, and also to command silence at meals, a practice intended to ensure that nourishment was properly distributed through the body. He was succeeded by Ušhanj (Hōšang) and then by Ṭahmuraṯ. During the latter’s reign, there appeared Budāsf (see BODHISATTVA), an Indian, who claimed to be a messenger of God and an intermediary between God and his creation. He taught renunciation of the world in favor of the “higher worlds,” from which the soul originates and to which it returns. Using tricks and sophistry, he persuaded people to return to the worship of idols. The next king, Jam (Jamšid), who claimed to be a god, introduced the veneration of fire (awwal man ʿaẓẓama al-nār), arguing that it resembles light, which is better than darkness. He also divided light into classes (jaʿala le’l-nur marāteb). He established the New Year festival and invented various crafts and artisanal techniques. After his death, his followers split into different groups, “each venerating whatever objects they thought it best to venerate, hoping thereby to approach God” (Moruj I, secs. 530-36, II, secs. 1371-72, 1399-40; Tanbih, pp. 85-86, 93).

Jam’s successor, Bivarasb, is the famous tyrant known as Dahhāk (Dahāka arabicized as al-Żaḥḥāk, lit. “the laughing one”). The Persians tell marvelous stories about him, saying that he was a sorceror with serpents growing from his shoulders. He was overthrown by an Isfahani shoemaker named Kābi (Kāva), who made a banner out of leather and rallied the people behind Jam’s grandson, Afridun. The latter defeated Dahhāk and established the festival of Mehragān to commemorate the event. According to legend, the defeated sorceror still lives, held in chains on Mt. Donbāvand (Damāvand). As for Kābi’s leather banner, it remained in the hands of the Persian kings, who decorated it with gemstones and used it as a standard during their most desperate battles (see DERAFŠ-e KĀVIĀN).  After the defeat of the Sasanian general Rostam at the Qādesiya battle, it fell into the hands of the Arabs (Moruj I, secs. 537-38, III, secs. 1531, 1556; Tanbih,pp. 85-88).

The kings from Kayumarṯ to Afridun are called the Ḵodāhān, meaning “lords” (arbāb). Some accounts credit Afridun with introducing the veneration of fire, which he did when a certain group of fire worshippers explained to him that fire is an intermediary (wāseṭa) between God and creation. Fire, they said, belongs to the genus of luminary gods (min jens al-āleha al-nuriya). Light itself is divided into classes (marāteb). The power of light is evident from the fact that animals are drawn to it, moths fly into lamps, and fish leap out of the water toward lamps lit at night. Light is good (ṣalāḥ) and is opposed by darkness; fire is opposed by water, which is the source of all life. Persuaded by their words, Afridun took some of their fire and established fire-temples in Ṭus and Bukhara (Moruj I, sec. 659, II, secs. 1399-400; see further below, VI.C.).

Afridun divided the earth among his three sons, giving Rome and the West to Salam (Salm), the lands of the Turks to Ṭuj (Tur), and Iraq and Fars to Iraj. Iraj ennobled (šarrafa) certain families (abyāt), making them notables (šahāreja) in Iraq. Kesrā (Anušeravān or Abarviz?) later conferred further honors upon three of these families, whose descendants were known in Masʿudi’s time. Below them in prestige (al-ṭabaqa al-ṯānia) were the dehqāns, the descendants of Vahkart, the great great grandson of Kayumarṯ. There were five classes of dehqāns, each with its distinctive dress. Although Iraj was killed before he could succeed to the throne, he gave his name to Iran, the kingdom he was to have ruled. Afridun was later assassinated by his brothers, but they were in turn defeated by Manušehr or Manušahr (Manučehr), whose rule coincides with the age of Moses (Moruj I, secs. 537-39, 662; Tanbih, p. 88; cf. pp. 37-38 for different derivations of Iran).

With Manušehr begins “the second dynasty of the first Persian kings,” called the Balān or “lofty ones.”  Manušehr is reportedly the ancestor of the Persians and the Kurds, though the Kurds themselves offer various accounts of their ancestry (Tanbih, pp. 88-89). He was succeeded by Sahm and then by Farāsiyāb (or Farāsiāt; see AFRĀSIĀB). The latter was overthrown by Zav(v), whose battles against the Turks are described in a famous book called Sakisarān. There are divergent accounts of the succession after Manušehr, including reports that one of his successors, Koršāsf (or Karšāsb), dug three major canals to irrigate Iraq (Moruj I, secs. 540-41, 554; Tanbih, pp. 89-90).

The third dynasty of the “first kings” is that of the Kāyān or Kayāniyun (Kayanids, q.v.), “the mighty ones.”  It begins with Kay Qobāḏ (Kay Qobād) and his successor Kay Qāvus (Kay Kāvus). The latter ruled in Iraq, where he rebelled against God by building a tower to Heaven. He invaded the Yemen and married Soʿdā, the daughter of the Yemeni king Šammer Yarʿaš. He also moved the Persian capital from Iraq to Balkh. He was succeeded by Kay Ḵosrow, who built cities in India and China. Kay Ḵosrow was succeeded by Kay Lohrāsf or Lohrāsb, who was famous for his just rule, his building up of Balkh, and his battles against the Turks. Boḵt Naṣr (Nebuchadnezzar), who carried the Children of Israel into captivity, may have been a margrave (marzobān) of Lohrāsb. The Children of Israel eventually returned to their homeland thanks to the intervention of Dināzād, a captive who became the wife of Nebuchadnezzar (Moruj I, secs. 542-45, 555, 659, cf. I, sec. 551; Tanbih,  p. 90).

The reign of the next king, Bostāsf, Yostāsaf, or Kay Beštāsb (Goštāsp), witnessed the coming of Zoroaster (Zarādašt or Zaradošt) “the prophet of the Magians.”  Zoroaster performed miracles and predicted the future. His revelation took the form of a book called Bastāh or Abastāh (Avesta; see further above, I.A.), whichcommon people refer to as al-Zamzama. In addition to the script used to write the revelation, he invented another script, called k*š*n dabira “the writing of everything” (ketābat al-koll), which can represent “all languages and the cries of animals and birds,” using 160 characters. The Persians have an additional five scripts, some of which include Aramaic (nabaṭiya). The Persian kings, who had theretofore been adherents of primitive monotheism (al-ḥanifiya al-ulā) or of the astral religion (al-ṣābeʿa) brought by Budasf, adopted the Bastāh as a guide to conduct. Thus it remained until the campaigns of Alexander, who burned some portions of it. After the period of the “factional kings” ([moluk] al-ṭawāʾef) the first Sasanian emperor, Ardašir, restored the Magian tradition on the basis of a chapter of the Bastāh called the Vendidād. “To this day, the Persians and the Magians read nothing else.”  Because they are unable to memorize all of it, they assign different portions to different scholars. Reportedly, a man in Sejestān active after 300/912-13 had memorized it all. The tradition of the Magian priesthood began with Jāmāsb, the first mobad (Moruj I, sec. 547-50, II, sec. 1373; Tanbih,pp. 90-94).

Under the next king, Bahman, the Children of Israel, who had been living in exile in Babylon, returned to Jerusalem under the auspices of Kuroš (Cyrus II The Great), who was either Bahman’s viceroy in Iraq or his successor as king. When the Messiah was born, Kuroš sent three men with gifts, as described in the Gospels. Christians and Zoroastrians tell many stories about this event, including one about Mary and her reciprocal gift of saffron. One of Jesus’s disciples later died in Ḵurāṣn and had a tomb-shrine there. The end of the Babylonian exile coincides with the appearance of Daniel, who used the motions of the heavenly bodies to predict the events of human history until the end of the world. Masʿudi identifies Bahman with Arṭaḵšast (Artaxerxes), a Persian king mentioned by Galen, who writes that Hippocrates refused to treat the king, because he was an enemy of the Greeks (Moruj I, secs. 551-52, II, sec. 1405; Tanbih, pp. 131-132, 200-1).

Bahman’s successor (in one account at least) was his daughter Ḥomāya or Ḵomāni, who ruled justly and fought against the Greeks. She moved the capital from Balkh to Ctesiphon, where it remained. She was succeeded by her brother Dārā (12 years), who was in turn succeeded by his son, also named Dārā. This second Dārā, also called Darius (Dāriuš), was defeated and killed by Alexander of Macedon, who took over his kingdom and married his daughter. Thus ended the first era of Persian history. When Alexander died, his widow, Rōšank (Roxane), the daughter of Dārā, reproached the members of his funeral party for gloating over him (Moruj II, secs. 673, 676; Tanbih, pp. 94, 106).

B. The factional kings. On the advice of his vizier Aristotle, Alexander distributed power among his subordinates to prevent them from uniting against him. Upon his death, they assumed control of their respective regions. These factional kings included Persians, Arabs, and Nabateans; collectively, they reigned for a total of 513 (or 517) years. Masʿudi reports that this figure is a “religious and political secret of the Persians” (serr diāni wa moluki men asrār al-Fors). Zoroaster, he says, had predicted that the Persian state would collapse in three hundred years; seven hundred years after that, the religion would disappear as well. The first part of the prediction came true when the empire fell to Alexander. But then, some 500 years later, the empire was restored, and Ardašir, the founder of the Sasanian dynasty, decided to buy time before the millenium by proclaiming that his own accession had taken place only 260 years after Alexander. As a result, the offical Persian chronology differs from those kept by other nations. Masʿudi claims to have learned the true figure from the Zoroastrian scholars he consulted in Fars and Kerman (Tanbih, pp. 97-99).

The most prominent line of “factional kings” was that of the Ašḡāniyun (Aškāniān, i.e., Parthians), who were reportedly descended from Kay Qāvus. They spent the winter in Iraq and the summer in Azarbaijan, where the remains of their buildings, along with “marvelous paintings of the celestial spheres, the stars, the earth, including lands and seas, built-up areas, plants, animals, and other wonders,” may still be seen. They built a fire-temple called Āḏarḵoš, a name that Masʿudi translates as “good fire.” Whenever a king succeeded to the throne, he would approach the temple on foot, make vows, and offer gifts (Tanbih, p. 95).

The first of the Ašḡāniyun was Ašk, who was succeeded by Sābur, during whose reign Jesus appeared in Jerusalem.  Sābur was followed by Judarz and then by Niḏar (or Bizan, in Tanbih, p. 6), during whose reign Jerusalem fell to the Roman emperor Titus. The next kings were Judarz II, Narsi, Hormoz, Ardavān, Kesrā (Ḵosrow), Balās (or Balāš), and finally Ardavān II, who was killed in single combat by Ardašir son of Bābak, the founder of the Sasanian dynasty. There were other kings too, but the disorder of the period makes it impossible to establish a full and exact chronology. In this respect, Persian history resembles Roman history, in which only recent rulers can be dated with certainty (Moruj I, secs. 557-61; Tanbih, pp. 95-99, 137).

C. The Sasanians (moluk al-sāsāniya) or second series of Persian kings. They are also called the fourth dynasty, meaning that they came after the three dynasties into which the archaic period is divided.

The founder was Ardašir b. Bābak, who spent twelve years fighting the factional kings. He was a descendant of Manušehr. His great-grandmother was a Jewish captive (Moruj I, sec, 585). His royal title was Šāhān Šāh (king of kings). In his accession speech, he praised God and promised to treat all his subjects with justice (ʿadl). He established ranks or degrees for his courtiers (tartib ṭabaqāt al-nodamāʾ), as follows (Moruj I, secs. 576-78):

1. Cavalrymen (asāwera) and princes (abnāʾ al-moluk). They stood at a distance of ten cubits from the throne, on the king’s right side.

2. Governors (marāzeba), local kings (moluk al-kowar), and the eṣbahbadiya, “who had governance of the provinces during his reign” (memman kānat laho mamlakat al-kowar fi ayyāmeh). These stood at a distance of ten paces from the first group.

3. Jesters, buffoons, and clowns (al-możḥekun wa ahl al-beṭāla wa ahl al-hazl), excluding giants, dwarves, persons with deformities, or sons of low tradesmen such as weavers and cuppers. These stood at a distance of ten paces from the second group.

According to a different report, he established the positions of vizier and mobaḏān mobaḏ or chief judge (qażi’l-qożāt). He appointed four eṣbahbadiya or regional governors:  one for Khorasan, one for the west, one for the south, and one for the north. Each was assisted by a marzobān. He also established ranks for singers and musicians. These ranks changed under Bahrām Jur (Gōr), who “kept the ranks of nobles, princes, custodians of fire temples, ascetics, renunciants, religious scholars, and the various philosophical professions (anwāʿ al-mehan al-falsafiya) as they were, but changed the grades assigned to singers.”  Under Anušervān, the old system was restored (Moruj I, secs. 581-82).

Another account explains that there were five ranks of officials who served as intermediaries between the king and the people. The highest was that of mobaḏ, “keeper of religion” (ḥāfeẓ al-din), from mo “religion” and baḏ “keeper.”  The chief mobaḏ was revered almost as a prophet. This rank included the herbaḏs, who were subordinate to the mobaḏs. The second rank was that of vizier or bozorgfaramaḏār “the greatest official” (akbar maʾmur). The third was that of eṣbahband “keeper of the army” (ḥāfeẓ al-jayš). The fourth was that of dabirbaḏ “keeper of the book” (ḥāfeẓ al-ketāb). The fifth was that of hutoḵša “keeper of all who labor with their hands,” including craftsmen, farmers, and merchants. Among the other officials were the marzobān “master of the frontier” (ṣāḥeb al-ṯaḡr), of whom there were four, one for each portion of the realm. Masʿudi adds that the mobaḏ in his own day, that is, in 345/956, was An*māḏ b. Aš*r*h*št. His predecessor was Esfandiār b. Aḏarbād, who was killed by the Caliph al-Rāżi in Baghdad (r. 322-29/934-40; Tanbih, pp. 104-6).

Ardašir established the royal custom of sitting behind a screen (setāra), a custom later adopted by the first ʿAbbasid caliph, al-Saffāḥ (r. 749-54).  Access was controlled by an official called ḵorrambāš, a title that means “Be joyous!”  Audiences with the king began with a warning to all attendees to speak carefully in the presence of the king. When music was to be played, the ḵorrambāš would specify the piece and the style (Moruj I, sec. 580, IV, sec. 2334).

Ardašir used to say that kings should surround themselves with noble and learned men, because the company of the ignoble exerts a corrupting influence; that justice is the foundation of kingship; and that the king’s companions must display a balance of virtues. Among his associates was Tansar, an ascetic disciple of Socrates and Plato who wrote “beautiful letters on royal and religious statecraft, in which he speaks of Ardašir and his career and attempts to justify on his behalf certain unprecedented innovations he introduced in the realms of government and religion” (Tanbih, pp. 99, 100; Moruj I, sec. 585; see also I.C.6. above). In a letter addressed to scribes, men of religion, cavalrymen, and farmers (see also I.C.4. above), Ardašir canceled a tax (etāwa) and counseled his subjects to avoid profiteering and holding grudges, to offer shelter to travelers, to marry relatives, and to shun the transient attractions of this world. In a letter to a governor (I.C.5. above), he warned him against being too lenient, commanding him instead to strike a balance between harshness and mercy.

Some fourteen or fifteen years into his reign, Ardašir abdicated in favor of his son Sābur, renounced the world, and devoted himself to worshipping at fire temples. His deeds are preserved in a work called the Kārnāmaj (Kārnāmag i Ardašir, q.v.;  see I.B.3. above). His testamentary disposition to his son contains a reminder that kingship and religion are mutually dependent (Moruj I, secs. 576-88, IV, sec. 2334; Tanbih, pp. 104-5).

Sābur I, whom the Arabs call “Sābur of the Armies” (Sābur al-jonud) reigned for 31 (or 33) years. He followed his father’s policy of building cities and naming them after himself (see BIŠĀPUR). He besieged Constantinople and forced the Byzantines to build a fire temple on the Sea of Marmara. He also laid siege to the famous citadel called Hażr, near Mosul, finally capturing it when Nażira, the daughter of Żayzan, the Arab king, fell in love with him and showed him how to enter the stronghold. Sābur married her as agreed, but was surprised to find her so delicate that a single myrtle leaf trapped in her mattress so irritated her that she could not sleep. When she reported that her father had fed her on cream, egg whites, snow, honey, and fine wine, Sābur ordered her drawn and quartered for betraying a parent who had pampered her so (Moruj, I, sec. 589, II, secs. 1406-11).

At the prompting of Māni, who professed dualism (qawl be’l-eṯnayn), belief in light (al-qawl be’l-nur), and renunciation of darkness (al-barāʾa men al-ẓolma), Sābur temporarily abandoned Zoroastrianism. Masʿudi cites a letter of his on statecraft addressed to the Byzantine emperor, another to a governor on the treatment of subordinates, and a passage from his testamentary disposition to his son Hormoz. Masʿudi claims to have discussed Māni and the doctrines of his fellow dualists, such as Daiṣān and Marcion, in a now-lost work (Moruj, I, secs. 589-93; Tanbih, p. 101).

Hormoz I, who reigned for only one or two years, was called “the hero” (baṭal) and built the city of Rām Hormoz in Ahvāz (Khuzistan). He is credited with a letter describing the character traits necessary for generalship and good government. Under his successor, Bahrām (3 years), Māni b. Fātak (evidently the same Māni who appeared under Sābur, but here described as “the disciple of Qārdun”) again summoned the king to adopt dualism (al-ṯanawiya). Bahrām pretended to accept the new doctrine, but after Māni had recalled his missionaries, executed all its major representatives. The Persian term for “dualist” was zandi, a term that meant “someone who introduces into the law anything contrary to the revealed Avesta and turns [instead] to its interpretation, the Zand.”  When the Arabs came to Iran, they adopted the word (pronouncing it as zendiq) and applied it not only to dualists but also to believers in the eternity of the world (Moruj, I, secs. 593-94).

The next king, Bahrām II, was a dissipated monarch who took estates away from their owners and distributed them among his cronies. The new owners failed to pay taxes and care for the land, and many estates fell into ruin. The king mended his ways after the chief mobaḏ translated for his benefit a conversation between two owls to the effect that they would soon have a great many more deserted spaces to live in. The mobaḏ was thus able to impart the lesson that “the law depends on the king, who depends on men, who depend on wealth; but there is no wealth without cultivation, and no cultivation without justice.”  Bahrām II was succeeded by Bahrām III (4 years), Narsi (7 years), and Hormoz II (7 years), the last Sasanian king to have his residence in the city of Jundaysābur (Gondēšāpur). In Islamic times, Yaʿqub b. Layṯ Ṣaffār (see VI below) settled there in emulation of them (Moruj I, secs 595-600).

During the minority of the next king, Sābur II, known as Sābur Ḏu’l-aktāf, the Arab tribe of Eyād overran Iraq. When he turned sixteen, Sābur II marched against the Eyādis and defeated them. One of the king’s men, Laqiṭ, composed poems in Arabic warning the raiders of their impending doom. Sābur II pursued his campaign as far as Bahrain, where an ancient chief of the Banu Tamim persuaded him to show mercy to the Arabs, who, according to a prophecy known to the king, would one day reign over the Persians. Sābur II then turned north, and entered Byzantine territory in disguise to learn about their history and way of life. He was in Constantinople on a day when the emperor had joined the citizens on the occaion of a festival   He was caught when a member of the emperor’s entourage recognized him from the image graven on a drinking cup. He was taken along on the emperor’s campaign against Junaysābur, but he managed to escape and turn the tables on the Byzantines. He settled his Greek captives in Ahvāz, where they established a silk industry still active in Masʿudi’s time. He also built the city of Nisābur (Nišāpur) and the palace, near al-Madāʾen, known as Iwān Kesrā (Ayvān-e Kesrā). In Islamic times, the caliph Hārun al-Rašid (r. 170-93/786-809) tried to demolish Iwān Kesrā. When his vizier Yaḥyā b. Ḵāled b. Barmak advised him against the plan, the caliph suspected him of harboring Zoroastrian sympathies (al-majusiya wa’l-ḥonow ʿalayhā; Moruj I, secs 601-11, II, sec. 745; Tanbih, pp. 204-6).

According to the Tanbih (p. 100), Sābur II was succeeded by Ardašir II (4 years), who was succeeded by Sabur III (5 years). According, however, to the narrative account (but not the king-list) in the Moruj, Sābur II was succeeded directly by Bahrām IV (10 or 11 years), Yazdajerd “the Reprehensible” (aṯim, 21 or 22 years), and Bahrām Jur (20 years). Bahrām Jur was raised among Arabs in Ḥira and composed poetry in Arabic. He gained fame by seizing the royal insignia after they had been placed between two lions. He was much admired for his justice and his concern for his subjects. He visited India in disguise, fought for a king named Šabramah, and married his daughter. He later defeated the king of the Turks, who had invaded Sogdia. He is credited with innovations in archery, including the construction of a bow based on the principle of the four natures that make up the human body (Tanbih, p. 101; Moruj I, secs. 612-614, 660). His custom of rewarding musicians on the spot was adopted by the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Saffāḥ (Moruj IV, sec. 2334).

One or both of the next two kings, Yazdejerd II (18 or 19 years) and Hormoz III, are omitted in some king lists. The first reportedly built a defensive wall in the Caucasus; and, in a dialogue with a sage, he received advice on kingship and the prevention of civil strife. His heir was overthrown by Firuz (27 years), who was in turn defeated by the king of the Hephthalites (hayāṭela). The succeeding kings were Balāš (4 years) and Qobāḏ (Kawād; 43 years). The latter changed the basis of taxation in the Sawād (for the borders of the Sawād, see ibid, 38-9) from moqāsama (taking a percentage or share of the crops) to misāḥa (taking a fixed sum per unit of land). The rate was two dirhams per jarib, but the crops failed before the date set for the assessment (Moruj I, secs. 615-16; Tanbih, pp. 39, 101-2).

The reign of Qobāḏ also witnessed the rise of Mazdak, a mubaḏ who offered an esoteric interpretation (taʾwil) of the Avesta that disagreed with its exoteric meaning (bāṭen be-ḵelāf żāhereh). He “introduced the common people to new laws and legal contrivances” (mā aḥdaṯah fi’l-ʿāmma men al-nawāmis wa’l-ḥial). He deposed Qobāḏ, replacing him with his brother, Jāmāsb (2 years; ibid, p. 101; Masʿudi, 1965-1974, I, pp. 304-305 = Tanbih, p. 101; Moruj I, secs. 615-18, 660; Jāmāsb is not mentioned in Tanbih and Moruj I, sec 660).

Legitimate rule was restored by Anušervān, assisted by Zarmehr, son of Suḵrā. Assending the royal throne, Anušervān, which means “new in kingship” (jadid al-molk), executed Mazdak and 80,000 of his followers and established Zoroastrianism as the common religion and forbade sectarian disputation (jamaʿa ahl mamakateh ʿalā din al-majusiya wa-manaʿahom al-naẓar wa’l-ḵelāf wa’l-ḥejāj fi’l-melal). In his first year, he levied taxes on the basis established by his predecessor, collecting 150,000,000 dirhams. He later revised the tax system, levying the following rates: 5/6 of a dirham per jarib of rice; seven dirhams on fresh dates (roṭaba); eight dirhams per grapevine (or vineyard, karm); and one dirham for every jarib of wheat and barley, every four “Persian palm trees” (naḵalāt fāresiya), every six daqal palm trees, and every six olive trees. In the Caucasus, he constructed a defense against seaborne attacks by building a wall on inflated skins and letting the skins sink to the bottom of the sea. In Transoxania, he defeated the Hephthalites. In the northwest, he fortified the Roman frontier and marched into Syria, capturing Aleppo, Qennasrin, Ḥoms, Fāmia, and Antioch, and compelling the Romans to pay tribute. From Syria, he brought back marble and mosaic tiles, which he used to build a city near Ctesiphon called Rumiya. He was known as “the emperor of abundance” (kesrā al-ḵayr) and praised in Arabic poetry by ʿAdi b. Zayd. He received letters and precious gifts from the kings of China, India, and Tibet.  The items sent him from India include chess, a colorfast black dye, and the book Kalila and Demna. He and his vizier Bozorgmehr are credited with numerous aphorisms and definitions of good statecraft (Moruj I, secs. 618-31, IV, sec 2848; Tanbih, pp. 39, 101-2). 

Anušervān was also known for supporting the Jewish claimants Sayf b. Ḏi Yazan and his son Maʿdikareb against the Ethiopian-backed Christian kings of Yemen. He dispatched Wahrez, the eṣbahbaḏ of Daylam, at the head of an army composed of freed prisoners, to Yemen. After arriving on the South Arabian coast, Wahrez burned his ships to show his men that there would be no turning back. His army routed the forces of the Yemeni king Masruq b. Abraha. On Anušervān’s orders, Wahrez crowned Maʿdikareb king of Yemen and left a contingent of Persian troops to settle there. These events are commemorated in several Arabic poems. When Maʿdikareb was assassinated by his Ethopian guards, Anušervān sent Wahrez back to Yemen, where he exterminated the Ethiopians and established a line of Persian viceroys: first himself, then Nušajān, Sobḥān, Ḵorrazāḏ, Ebn Sobḥān, Marvazān, Ḵorraḵosrow, and finally Bāḏān, son of Sāsān (Moruj II, secs. 1015-22, 1030-31; Tanbih, p. 260).

Anušervān’s successor, Hormoz IV (12 years), “took the side of the common people against the elite” (kāna motaḥāmelan ʿalā ḵawāṣṣ al-nās māʾelan elā ʿawāmmehem), of whom he reportedly had 13,000 killed. The state collapsed and the Turks, the Khazar, the Romans, and the Arabs attacked the country. Against the Turks Hormoz IV sent Bahrām Jubin (Čōbin), who defeated them, thus arousing the jealousy of the king’s vizier. Bahrām Jubin responded by sowing discord between the king and his son Abarviz (Parviz). Eventually, Hormoz II was deposed and blinded, and Abarviz became king, only to be defeated in battle by Bahrām Jubin. Fleeing on a famous horse belonging to the Arab Ḥassān b. Ḥanẓala, he took refuge with the Byzantine emperor Muriqios (Maurice), who supplied him with troops but forced him to cede Syria and Egypt. Again he met Bahrām Jubin in battle, this time defeating his rival, who fled to the Turks and was later assassinated (Moruj I, secs. 632-43, II, sec. 754).

Abarviz ruled for thirthy-eight years. Thirteen years into his reign, he imprisoned the sage Bozorjmehr, whom he suspected of being a zendiq, and later had him executed, along with another vizier, B*ḵbarāris, for rebuking him. Thereafter, he ruled as a despot. When his protector, the emperor Maurice, was overthrown by Phocas, he launched a war against the Byzantines, eventually capturing and sacking Jerusalem. He also made off with a fleetload of Byzantine treasure that had been blown ashore near Antioch, and called it “the windfall treasure” (ḵazāʾen al-riḥ). When his governor in the west, Šahrbarāz, turned against him, he lost territory to Heraclius, who crossed the Caspian and raided as far as Iraq. These events are those referred to in Koran 30:2-5. In the eighteenth year of his reign, Abarviz collected 420 million meṯqāls of gold in tax revenues for the Sawād and “the lands of the Persians,” without collecting any tax from the lands north of Hit, which were in the hands of the Byzantines. Among his possessions were nine signet rings: one for letters (rasāʾel) and records (sejjellāt); one for memoranda (taḏkerāt); one for items sent by courier (ajwebat al-barid); one for letters of amnesty (barāwāt); one to seal his treasuries (ḵazāʾen al-jawāher, bayt al-māl); one to seal letters to kings (kotob al-moluk); one to mark foods, medicines, and perfumes; one to mark condemned prisoners and letters of execution; and one to be worn in the bathhouse and washroom. Each had its own stone and inscription. Two of the inscriptions are given in Persian:  ḵorrah va-ḵorram, which Masʿudi translates as “splendor and good fortune” (bahja wa saʿāda); and Ḵorāsān khorrah, which he leaves untranslated. Abarviz’s stables contained 50,000 riding beasts, as well as 1000 elephants, which would kneel before him during processions (Moruj I, secs. 645-52; Tanbih, pp. 39-40, 143, 157).

In Hira, the Persians had established the descendants of Naṣr b. Laḵm as kings “in order to ward off the Bedouin Arabs.”  To communicate in Arabic, Abarviz employed the poet ʿAdi b. Zayd, who “wrote for [him] in Arabic, and interpreted for him during visits by Arab delegations.”  When ʿAdi was killed by Noʿmān, the Arab king of Ḥirah, his son Zayd succeeded him as Arabic scribe and interpreter. Zayd avenged himself on his father’s killer by encouraging Abarviz to ask for the hand of Noʿmān’s daughter in marriage. When the Arab king refused, Zayd translated the refusal as rudely as possible, provoking Abarviz to execute Noʿmān (Moruj II, secs. 1065-70; Tanbih, p. 186).

During the reign of Abarviz, omens of Moḥammad’s prophecy began to appear to the Persians, who were defeated by the Arabs for the first time in the battle of Ḏu Qār. Before his death, Noʿmān had left his property with Hāni’ b. Qabiṣa of the tribe of Bakr b. Wāʾel, who refused to turn it over to a Persian force commanded by Hāmarz. The men of Bakr b. Wāʾel routed the Persians and killed their commander. Later, Abarviz himself was deposed, blinded, and executed by his son Qobaḏ, known as Širawayh (Šērōya). During Širawayh’s six-year reign, a plague broke out in Iraq; according to some estimates, half the population succumbed to it. Širawayh was succeeded by his seven-year-old son, Ardašir III, who was deposed and killed by Šahrbarāz, the governor of the east. The usurper, whose adventures Masʿudi described in detail in his now-lost Maqātel forsān al-ʿajam, was in turn assassinated by Abarviz’s daughter Āzarmidoḵt. Kesrā, a son of Qobaḏ, or of Abarviz, left the land of the Turks to claim the throne, but was killed. Burān, another of Abarviz’s daughters, then ruled for a year and a half. Of her the Prophet Moḥammad said that no people ruled by a woman will thrive. Her successor, Firuz Ḵošnanda or Jošnasbanda, ruled for two months; and his successor, Āzarmidoḵt, for sixteen. Āzarmidoḵt ordered the killing of Ḵorrhormoz, the eṣbahaḏ of Khorasan, and was in turn assassinated by his son Rostam, who soon afterwards fought the Arabs at Qadesiyah.  Her successor, the child Farroḵzād, ruled for one year. The next king, and the last of the Sasanian line, was Yazdajerd III, who ruled for twenty years, until his death in Marv in 31/631 (Moruj I, secs. 649, 653-55; Tanbih, pp. 102-3, 241-43).


When the caliph Omar declared that God had promised Persia to the Muslims, Abu ʿObayd b. Masʿud volunteered to lead the attack. After defeating a small force led by one Jālinus, he crossed the Euphrates on a floating bridge built for him by dahāqin. Against the advice of his fellow commanders, he cut the lines holding the bridge to the shore. When the Persians appeared with their elephants, the Arabs fled back to the Tigris, where many drowned. The Muslims then counterattacked, holding off the Persians long enough to reconnect the bridge and flee across it. The Persian commander was Jāḏawayh; some 6,000 of his troops were killed (Moruj III, secs. 1529-31).

A force commanded by Jarir b. ʿAbd-Allāh Bajali advanced to Maḏār, where the marzobān, with a force of 10,000 cavalrymen, awaited him on the far side of the Tigris. Having learned from the Battle of the Bridge, Jarir waited for the Persians to cross first. When they did, he fell upon them and routed them, killing the marzobān. He then joined forces with Moṯannā b. Ḥāreṯa Sahibāni at Noḵayla, where they defeated a Persian force led by Mehrān. They then retreated at the approach of a Persian army led by Rostam (Moruj III, secs. 1535-37).

At Qādesiya, the main Arab force of 38,000 men, led by Saʿd b. Abi Waqqāṣ, met Rostam’s army of 60,000. The battle began with single combat between champions. Among those who fought for the Persians was a crowned Caucasian king named Hormoz. The Arabs captured a splendidly attired servant who turned out to be a pastry cook. The Persians charged with their armored elephants, causing many casualties. On the second day of the battle, Arab reinforcements arrived from Syria. Qaʿqāʿ b. ʿAmr defeated the Persian champions Bahman b. Jāḏawayh and Bozorjmehr. The battle continued into the night, with Abu Meḥjan Ṯaqafi fighting bravely for the Arab side. On the third day, the Arabs buried their dead and tended the wounded. On the fourth day, battle was again joined and two Persian commanders, Hormozān and Birzān, were the first to retreat. According to one report, Rostam was killed by Helāl b. ʿOllafa while trying to retrieve a sunshade which the wind had blown into the river. Disheartened, the Persians were routed. Thirty (or thirty thousand) of them lashed theselves together with ropes and chains, “swearing by light and fire temple to hold their ground until they prevailed or were killed.”  They were killed, and the banner of Kāviān was captured. The chroniclers disagree about whether the battle at Qādesiya took place in 14/635-36, 15/636-37, or 16/637-38 (Moruj III, secs. 1538-57; see also ARAB ii).

Asked how the Muslims should proceed with the conquest of Iran, Hormozān, a former Persian military leader living in captivity in Medina, replied that they should attack Isfahan. ʿOmar appointed Noʿmān b. Moqarren to command the Muslim forces. Noʿmān in turn sent Moḡira b. Šoʿba to meet with the Persian king, called “the winged one” (Ḏu’l-janāḥayn). The king received the messenger seated on his throne and wearing a crown, with princes dressed in silk and gold sitting on carpets before him. Unimpressed, Moḡira slashed at the carpets to provoke the Persians. When the king, speaking through an interpreter, offered to supply the Arabs with food, Moḡira replied that his people had indeed been wretched and starving, but now had a prophet who had promised them that they would conquer what lay before them. On a sudden impulse, he leaped up onto the king’s throne, trying to unseat him, and was rebuffed. The Muslims then launched their attack against the Persians, who chained themselves together in groups of five to seven men. The Muslims crossed the river at Nehāvand and began to suffer losses from Persian projectiles. Following the practice of the prophet, Noʿmān waited until sunset to charge. During the attack, the Persian king fell off his mule and was killed, and his forces were routed (Moruj III, secs. 1564-66).


The governor of Madāʾen under ʿOmar was the ascetic Salmān Fāresi, who wore wool and ate barley bread. On his deathbed, he expressed his fear that he would be punished for owning too much, even though his house contained nothing but a few utensils (Moruj III, sec. 1527).

‘Omar forbade non-Arabs (‘ajam) to enter Medina, but made an exception for Abu Loʾloʾa, a Zoroastrian carpenter, painter, and blacksmith from Nehāvand recommended by Moḡira b. Šoʿba. Abu Loʾloʾa asked ʿOmar to reduce his tax assessment (ḵarāj) of two dirhams a day, but the caliph refused. Infuriated, Abu Loʾloʾa stabbed him to death and then killed himself (Moruj III, secs. 1559-60).

During the struggle between ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb and Moʿāwia, three Ḵāreji dissidents swore to execute the two contenders, along with ʿAmr b. ʿĀṣ, governor of Egypt. According to one account, the assassin sent against ʿAmr was Zādawayh, a mawlā of the Banu ʿAnbar. He killed Ḵāreja, judge of Egypt, mistaking him for ʿAmr, and was executed (Moruj III, secs. 1730, 1740).

The Barmaki family of viziers was descended from a custodian of the fire-temple in Balkh (see BARMAKIDS). The family had some connection with the king of the Turks, and with the Umayyad caliph Hešām. Yaḥyā b. Ḵāledb. Barmak and his sons Jaʿfar and Fażl managed the government under Rashid. Yaḥyā convened scholars and sectarians to discuss such matters as “latency and manifestation, eternity and createdness, negation and affirmation, motion and rest, contiguity and separation, existence and non-existence, particles and the ṭafra (the “leap” postulated to solve Zeno’s paradox), bodies and accidents, the confirmation and denial of reliability (of transmitters), denial and affirmation of (divine) attributes, capacity to act and responsibility for actions, essence, quantity, quiddity, attribution, generation and corruption, whether the imamate is conferred by decree or by election, and all the rest of the topics covered in dialectical theology” (Moruj IV, sec. 2564). In 187/803, Rašid deposed the Barmakis, executing Jaʿfar and imprisoning Yaḥyā and Fażl. One account has it that they denied him access to money, another that they secretly released an Alid prisoner, and yet another that Jaʿfar consummated his marriage to Rašid’s sister ʿAbbāsa against the caliph’s orders (Moruj IV, secs. 2559-618).

Two ʿAbbasid caliphs were born to slave mothers identified as coming from regions associated with Iran: al-Maʾmun (r. 198-218/813-33), born to Marājel, from Bādḡis; and al-Motawakkel (r. 232-47/847-61) born to Šojāʿ, from Ṭoḵārestān (Masʿudi, 1894, pp. 349, 361). Other caliphal mothers may have been Iranian but are not identified as such.

Several Persian physicians were active at the caliphal court. Jebril b. Boḵtišuʿ, physician to al-Rašid, conducted an experiment to demonstrate the effect of eating a certain fish along with wine and cold water (Moruj IV, sec. 2511). A “Persian practitioner” (motaṭabbeb fāresi) from Ṭus predicted Rašid’s death on the basis of a urine sample (Moruj IV, sec. 2554). Ebn Māsawayh or Māsuya attended al-Maʾmun on his deathbed and advised al-Mo‘taṣem on a sauce for fish (Moruj IV, secs. 2783, 2789-90). The physicians Boḵtišuʿ, Ebn Māsawayh, and Miḵāʾil participated in a discussion with the caliph al-Wāṯeq on “how medical knowledge is attained and its principles acquired, whether by sense perception, inference, first principles, or tradition” (Moruj IV, secs 2857-869).

In a jocular speech, the buffoon ʿAli b. Jonayd Eskāfi compared caliphal protocol with “the conditions set by Jassās Šāši and Ḵalawayh the Mimic” (Moruj IV, secs. 2791-92).


During the caliphate of Walid I (r. 86-96/705-15), the governor of Iraq, Ḥajjāj b. Yusof, appointed one of his rustic bedouin uncles to the governorship of Isfahan, where taxes were two years in arrears. When the Isfahanis complained that previous governors had oppressed them, the bedouin agreed to give them eight months to collect the money. When they failed to pay on time, he began to execute the guarantors they had named. Seeing this, the Isfahanis paid their taxes (Moruj III, secs. 2146-47).

In late 125/742-43 or early 126/743-44, during the reign of Walid b. Yazid (r. 125-26/743-44), the Alid Yaḥyā b. Zayd led an uprising in Khorasan, where the people “resented the oppression and mistreatment that had afflicted everyone.”  Yaḥyā was defeated and killed in Arḡuna and his body displayed in Juzajān. Every boy born in Khorasan that year was named either Yaḥyā or Zayd. The corpse remained in place until taken down by Abu Moslem, the leader of the ʿAbbasid revolution (Moruj IV, sec 2237).

The ʿAbbasid revolution began in Khorasan, where Abu Moslem worked to undermine the authority of the Umayyad governor, Naṣr b. Sayyār, who warned the caliph Marwān of the threat to “the Arabs and to Islam.”  The pro-ʿAbbasid party was called the Rāwandiya. Its adherents believed that the prophet’s uncle ʿAbbās had inherited the imamate, though some sectarians believed that Abu Moslem himself was the true imam. The first town to adopt the black standards of the Abbasids was Nishapur. The movement spread through Khorasan and from there to Fars. Naṣr fled to Ray and then to Sāva, near Hamadan, where he died (Moruj IV, secs. 2279, 2284, 2286, 2291).

After the second ʿAbbasid caliph, al-Manṣur (r. 136-58/754-75), executed Abu Moslem, the believers in his imamate rose in Khorasan under the leadership of a man named Sonfād (Sonbād). These sectarians, called Ḵorramiya, Moslemiya, or Baṭeniya, believed either that Abu Moslem was alive and would return, or that the imamate had passed to his daughter Faṭema. Sonfād captured Ray and Qumes before being defeated in battle by the caliph’s forces between Ray and Hamadan. Bābak Ḵhorrami, who would later rise against the caliph al-Maʾmun, belonged to the sect. In Masʿudi’s time, adherents were still to be found in Khorasan, Ray, Isfahan, Azerbaijan, and several other places (Moruj IV, secs. 2398-400).

In 145/762, al-Manṣur founded a new capital at Baghdad. The name derives from bāg “garden” referring to a monastery garden on the site, or from the name of a pre-Zoroastrian idol worshipped on the site (Tanbih, p. 360).

When the caliph al-Amin (r. 19398/809-13) decided to remove his brother Maʾmun from the succession, he sent an army commanded by ʿAli b. ‘Isā b. Māhān toward Khorasan. Maʾmun’s Khorasani forces, commanded by Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn, routed the caliph’s army at Ray after a valiant charge by the cavalrymen of Ḵvārazm (Chorasmia). Ṭāher’s horsemen are described as equipped with spears or lances, Tibetan shields, coats of mail, lamellar armor (jawāvšen), vambraces (to protect the forearms), and horse-armor. Ṭāher and his allies advanced to Baghdad. After a long and destructive siege, the Khorasanis prevailed. The caliph al-Amin was captured and later killed by a group of non-Arabs (qawm men al-ʿajam), one of whom cried out in Persian (ṣāḥ bi al-fāresiya) during the fight (Moruj IV, secs. 2626-27, 2657, 2676).

In 200/815, the caliph al-Maʾmun announced that he had examined all the eligible members of the Alid and ʿAbbasid families and found no one worthier of the caliphate than the Alid ʿAli b. Musā al-Reżā. He ordered Reżā brought to Marv and proclaimed heir apparent. He also married his daughter to Reżā’s son, struck coins in his name, and substituted green for black in court dresses and banners. When the scandalized ʿAbbasids of Baghdad nominated a counter-caliph, al-Maʾmun left Marv for Iraq. In Saraḵs, the vizier Fażl b. Sahl was murdered, possibly at the caliph’s behest; and in Ṭus, the heir apparent Reżā died, either from a surfeit of grapes or by poison (Moruj IV, secs. 2695-96, 2746-47).

Maʾmun reportedly ordered the arrest of “ten zendiqs from Basra who followed the teachings of Māni and the creed of light and darkness.”  With them was a party-crasher (ṭofayli) who had joined the group believing that they were going to a banquet. The Manicheans explained that they would be asked to renounce their creed by spitting on an image of Māni and slaughtering a pheasant (tadroj). When the party reached Baghdad, the Manicheans refused to accept Islam and were executed (Moruj IV, secs. 2705-707).

In 204/819-20, the district of Baḏḏ(ayn) in Azarbaijan came under the leadership of Bābak Ḵorrami, who took over the followers of Jāviḏān b. Šahrak (Moruj IV, sec. 2749). After causing great destruction and defeating the armies sent against them, Bābak’s forces were eventually routed by the caliph’s commander Afšin. Bābak, who considered himself a king, behaved haughtily toward an Armenian patricius (beṭriq), Sahl b. Sonbāṭ, at whose estate he had taken refuge. Sahl then turned him over to Afšin. Bābak and his brother were conveyed to Samarra (Sāmarrāʾ) with great pomp and splendor, then tortured and executed (Moruj IV, secs. 2806-14).

In 219/834, the Kufan Alid Moḥammad b. Qāsem, threatened by the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem, fled to Khorasan. Marv, Saraḵs, Ṭālaqān, and Nasā rallied around his claim to the imamate. He was eventually captured and imprisoned in Samarra. Some claim he was poisoned there, while others say that a group of his followers disguised themselves as gardeners and smuggled him out of prison. Sectarians in Kufa, Ṭabarestān, Daylam, and parts of Khorasan regarded him as the last imam and the mahdi (Moruj IV, secs. 2799-800).

In 225/839-40, Māzyār b. Qāren b. Bandār Hormos (Bondār Hormoz), who had rebelled in the mountains of Ṭabarestān, was captured and sent to Samarra. There he blamed the commander Afšin for leading him astray with “a dualist, Magian creed they had agreed upon between them.”  This allegation was confirmed by a scribe named Sābur. Māzyār was flogged to death and his corpse exposed on a cross next to that of Bābak. Afšin died in prison and a number of “idols” found in his possession were burned (Moruj IV, secs. 2819-22).

In 262/876, Yaʿqub b. Layṯ invaded Iraq but was routed by the caliph al-Moʿtamed. Masʿudi’s now-lost Aḵbār al-zamān contained an account of his early career. He was a coppersmith (ṣaffār) from Sejestān, who joined the army of Derham b. Naṣr and then led his own forces into Zābolestān, Herat, Balkh, Nishapur, and Ṭabarestān. The account resumes in the Moruj, which describes the Ṣaffārid army’s unusually high standards of discipline and obedience.  When ordered to break camp, his troops would rush to obey, to the point that one soldier even pulled the fodder from his camel’s mouth, saying to the beast in Persian: “The Caliph commands all beasts to stop grazing” (Amir al-moʾmenin dawāb-rā az tar boridand.)  Yaʿqub himself spent most of the time either training boys to fight or sitting alone in his tent, which contained nothing but a haircloth mat, a shield to recline on, and a banner he used as a pillow. He died in Jondišābur and was succeeded by his brother ʿAmr (Moruj V, secs. 3158-76; Tanbih, pp. 367-368).

In 317/929, Ḥasan b. Qāsem Ḥasani Dāʿi, with the help of the Daylami warrior Mākān b. Kāki, seized control of Ray, Qazvin, Zanjān, Qom, and Abhar. The revolt was put down by Asfār b. Širuya, a pagan or possibly an apostate, who “wanted to put a crown on his head and set up a throne of gold for himself in Ray.” After defeating an army sent by the caliph al-Moqtader, he seized the fortress of Qazvin (originally Kašvin), which had been built by the Persians as a defense against the Daylamis. Many of the Daylamis and Jilis had converted to Islam at the hands of the Alid ʿAli Oṭruš, but most now reverted to paganism. Asfār was eventually overthrown by one of his commanders, Mardāvij, who sacked the towns of Hamadan and Dinavar and massacred their inhabitants. Mardāvij settled in Isfahan, where, according to some members of his entourage, a new kingdom and a new religion would be founded. After “inquiring about the crowns and accoutrements of the Persians and having models of them constructed for him” (sec. 3600), he chose a crown similar to that of Anušervān. In 323/935, he was assassinated by members of his Turkish guard (Moruj V, secs. 3577-601).


A. Cosmology and geography. Plato, Themistius, and the Stoics believed that the celestial spheres were composed of fire or of some combination of fire, water, and air, without earth; but Aristotle and certain Persian, Indian, and Chaldean thinkers (ḥokamāʾ) believed that they were composed of a unique fifth element (Tanbih, p. 7). A celestial sphere (falak) was called esbehr in ancient Persian and ḥāydān in modern Persian (Tanbih, pp. 33-34).

On ancient Iranian doctrines of light, darkness, and fire, see II.A. above. Masʿudi refers the reader to a discussion, in works now lost, of the concept of “the five originary (principles)’ (al-ḵamsa al-qodamāʾ): Ormazd “God” (Allāh), Ahreman “the evil satan,” Kāh “time,” Jāy “place,” and Hum, “good thing (to eat or smell) and anything brewed or leavened” (al-ṭayyeba wa’l-ḵamir). Muslim heresiographers falsely accuse the Zoroastrians of believing that God produced evil by his own thoughts (tafakkara fa-ḥadaṯa men fekreheh šarr) and then allowed it to exist, in the form of Satan (Šayṭān), for a predetermined time. Masʿudi suggests that some ordinary believers may hold this view, which has been erroneously attributed to all Zoroastrians. He also reports that his other (now lost) works covered what the Zoroastrians believe regarding “the return of kingship to them and to other ancient nations, the beginning and end of the world, those who believe that it will last forever, and those who believe that it has no beginning or end” (ibid, Tanbih, pp. 93-94; Moruj II, sec. 1437; on the return of kingship, see further Tanbih, pp. 108, 110).

The Persians and Nabateans or Syrians divided the inhabited world into regions. The east was called Khorasan, “place where the sun rises,” derived from ḵor “sun.”  The west was called Ḳorbarān“place where the sun sets.”  The north was called Bāḵtar and the south Nimruz (Tanbih, p. 31). The Greek geographers divided the earth into climes corresponding to the planets, for which Masʿudi gives the Persian names:  Kayvān “Jupiter,” Urmazd “Saturn,” Bahrām “Mars,” Ḵoršād or Āftāb “the sun,” Anāhid “Venus,” Tir “Mercury,” and Māh “the moon.”  In Persian, a clime (eqlim) is called kešvar (Tanbih, pp. 33-34).

The fourth clime is called Bābel, which some Persians and Nabateans believe is derived from Bil or Bail “Saturn” in their ancient language. It is the best of all climes. It includes Irānšahr, the region ruled by the Persian kings, who would spend the summer in the mountains and the winters in Iraq. The name Irānšahr is derived from that of Iraj (see II.A. above) or from ir, which in ancient Persian is “a term that means both goodness and virtue” (esm jāmeʿ le’l-ḵayr wa’l-fażl) and appears also in the word irbaḏ, “leader of good men” (raʾis al-ḵiār), which the Arabs pronounce as herbed (see HĒRBED). According to the Nabateans, the Persians inhabited only Fars, Māhāt, and “other Pahlavi regions” (ḡairehā men belād al-Fahlawiyin); the region was eventually named after them, but its original name was Aryānšahr “land of lions” from aryā “lion” in Aramaic (nabaṭiya), because of their strength and courage (Tanbih, pp. 35-38).

The Sawād (central Iraq) was once divided into 12 estāns or districts (kuras) and sixty subdistricts (ṭassuj). As the Tigris changed course and southern Mesopotamia turned into swampland, this division broke down. The Persians call Iraq and Syria Surestān, “land of the Syrians,” that is, the Chaldeans, who in Arabic are called the Nabaṭ (Tanbih, pp. 40, 176-77).

B. Calendar and festivals. The Persian calendar consists of twelve months of thirty days each. Masʿudi lists the names of the months, which appear to differ only slightly, or not at all, from those used today. Each day of the month also has a name; Masʿudi lists them all. He also cites a poem suggesting that Arabic speakers considered Rām, the twenty-first day of the month, a good day to drink wine (Masʿudi, 1894, Moruj II, secs. 1281, 1298-300; Tanbih, pp. 215). Masʿudi occasionally dates events by the Persian calendar (e.g., Tanbih, pp. 48-49, 401).

The sixteenth day of the seventh month (Mehr) is the festival of Mehragān (Moruj II, sec. 1298). The Persians explain that the festival commemorates the death of an oppressive king called Mehr; the name Mehr jān means “the spirit of Mehr is gone.”  Masʿudi, who appears to accept this folk etymology at face value, cites the phrase as evidence that the Pahlavi language (al-Fahlawiyah, wa hya al-fāresiya al-ula), unlike Arabic, places the subject before the verb. People of standing (ahl al-morowwāt) in Iraq celebrate the holiday by replacing their old furniture and buying new clothes (Moruj II, sec. 1287).

A tutor of the caliph al-Rāżi (r. 322-29/934-40) describes the celebration of Mehrajān along the banks of the Tigris as a day of “uproariousness, music, games, joy, and delight, unlike anything I had ever seen before.” To distract the caliph, who had political worries on his mind, the tutor regaled him with tales of the caliphs and the Persian kings. He eventually persuaded him to drink by citing a poem by the caliph al-Maʾmun in praise of drinking wine on Mehragān (Moruj V, secs. 2502-503).

The eighth month (Ābān) brings the festival of Ābānruz or Ābāngāh. At the end of the month come the five days required to complete the year. Each of these days has a name in Persian and Arabic. Every 120 years, the Persians would intercalate an entire month. They could have achieved the same result by inserting one day every four years, but chose not to because doing so would cause auspicious and inauspicious days to change places, or because the days were named after their angels (malāʾeka) and they did not want to add days that did not belong. When their empire collapsed, the intercalation was neglected, with the result that their festivals began to move around the calendar. In 282/895-86, the caliph al-Mo‘tamed moved Nowruz back two months to June 11, to correct the problem for tax purposes (Moruj II, secs. 1298-301; Tanbih, pp. 215-16).

In Iraq and Fars, the first day of the ninth month (Āḏar) brings festivities intended to ward off the cold. A buffoon (kawsaj) rides out on a mule and eats walnuts, garlic, fatty meats, and other foods and drinks classified as hot. Thus fortified, he submits to having cold water poured over him and professes to feel no discomfort. He cries out garmā garmā “heat, heat” (ḥarr). This is a time of great joy (sorur) and excitement (ṭarab). Similar festivals occur at other times of the year (Moruj II, secs. 1298-99; see also CALENDARS, FESTIVALS).

C. Temples.

1. Astral temples. The world contains seven great temples originally dedicated to one of the heavenly bodies. Four of these temples are associated with Iran:

a. Mārbin, on a mountain near Isfahan, originally a pagan sanctuary but consecrated to fire by Bostāsaf or Yostāsaf. It was still being used in Masʿudi’s time.

b. Nowbahār, built in Balkh byManušahr, originally dedicated to the moon. Its guardians, who were persons of great power, were called Barmaks; the Barmaki family of viziers was descended from one of them. The building was famous for its solid construction. It reportedly bore an inscription in Persian:  “Said Budasf: ‘[Entering] the gates of kings requires self-restraint, patience, and money’” (ʿaql o ṣabr o māl).

c. Kāvusān, in Farḡāna, built by Kāvus in honor of the sun, and destroyed by the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem (r. 218-27/833-42).

d. Ḡomdān, at Ṣanʿāʾ in Yemen, reportedly built by Żaḥḥāk to honor Venus. It was razed by Oṯmān b. ʿAffān (Moruj II, secs. 1370-81, IV, sec. 2618).

2. Pre-Zoroastrian fire temples (boyut al-nirān).

a. One in Ṭus, built by Afridun (see II.C. above).

b. Barazesavaza, in Bukhara, also built by Afridun (see II.C. above).

c. Karkukān, in Sejestān, built by Bahman b. Esfandiār.

d. A temple in “the land of al-Šiz wa’l-Rān.” According to one report it was originally built for idols but appropriated by Anušervān. Another report claims that Anušervān found fire already there.

e. K*ws*ja or K*visah, built by Kay Ḵosrow.

f. J*riš, in Qumes, left unmolested by Alexander.

g. Kanjara, built by Siāvaḵš.

h. A temple in Arrajān built by Bostāsf or Qobāḏ.

i. The Palace of Candles in Fostat (Meṣr al-qadima), built by Lohrāsf, now a mosque.

j. A temple in Fars, built by Lohrāsf (Moruj II, secs. 1400-401).

3. Zoroastrian fire temples. There are fire temples in Iraq, Fars, Kerman, Sejestān, Khorasan, Ṭabarestān, Jebāl, Azerbaijan, Rān, Sind, India, and China. The most famous are:

a. A temple in Nisābur founded by Zoroaster.

b. A temple in Nasā wa’l-Bayżāʾ, also founded by Zoroaster.

c. A temple in Dārābjerd, in Fars, containing a particularly precious flame brought from Ḵvārazm (Chorasmia) by Yustasf at the behest of Zoroaster. In Masʿudi’s time the sanctuary was called Āḏorjuy “River Fire.”  It is apparently the same as the temple in Kāriān reportedly founded by Anušervān. When Islam appeared, the Zoroastrians, fearing that the invaders would extinguish the flame, used it to kindle a new one in Nasā wa’l-Bayżāʾ (see VI.C.3.b. above).

d. A temple one parsang from Eṣṭaḵr. Originally a sanctuary for idols, it was dedicated as a fire temple by Ḥomāy, who later removed the fire and let the building fall into ruin. Masʿudi visited the site, seeing there “a great structure, with stone columns topped with unusual stone figures of horses and other animals, of enormous proportions; surrounded by a vast enclosure and a protective wall of stone, on which were skillful depictions of figures.”  The site, which is evidently Persepolis, was called the mosque of Solomon, who is said to have imprisoned the wind there.

e. A temple in Madinat Sābur (Bišāpur), in Fars, built by Dārā b. Dārā.

f. A temple one hour outside Jur (present-dy Firuzābād), a town in Fars famous for its rose water. It was built by Ardašir over a spring. It is a place for excursions and has a festival. The town of itself contains Ṭerbāl, a great building venerated by the Persians but razed by the Muslims. There are many tales about the region, which includes Shiraz, the capital of Fars; these tales have been written down by the Persians (qad dawwanathā al-Fors; Moruj II, secs. 1402-404).

g. Bārnavā, built by Ardašir two days after his accession.

h. A temple built on the Sea of Marmara by the Byzantines at the request of Sābur I.

i. A temple in Astiniyā, near Baghdad, built by Burān, the daughter of Abarviz (Moruj II, secs. 1402-406, 1412).

D. Reliefs and paintings. Masʿudi was impressed by the reliefs at Persepolis (Moruj II, sec. 1403; see VI. B.3.d., above), and by the representations of the heavens, the earth, plants, animals, and the like left by the Ašḡāniyun (Parthians) in their summer residences in Azarbaijan (Tanbih, p. 95; see II.B. above).

In Eṣṭaḵr, he was shown a book (see I.B.5. above) containing the history of the Sasanian dynasty containing vividly colored portraits of the dynasty’s twenty-five emperors and two empresses. Each had been painted on the day the sovereign died and stored in the treasury “so the living would not forget the image of the dead.”  Ardaṣir I was depicted “standing with a spear in his hand, dressed in a red tabby (modannar) mantle, sky-blue trousers, and a green and gold crown.”  Yazdajerd III was depicted “in a figured green mantle, figured sky-blue trousers, and a crimson crown, holding a lance and leaning on a sword.”  The colors used in the paintings included solutions of gold, silver, and copper, all of a kind no longer extant in Masʿudi’s time. The sheets were of a violet (ferfiri) hue, and so expertly crafted that he could not tell if they were paper or parchment (Tanbih, pp. 106-7).

E. Literature. Masʿudi mentions tales about the Isfahan region put into writing by the Persians (Moruj II, secs. 1402-404) and Persian poems about Zaranrud (Zāyandarud), the river of Isfahan (Tanbih, p. 74). He also provides evidence for the written and oral transmission of Persian historical narratives in Arabic. He reports that the caliph al-Hešām (r. 105-25/724-43) had a work of Sasanian history translated for him into Arabic (Tanbih, pp. 106-7; see also above, I.B.5. and below, VI.D.). The caliph al-Marwān II (r. 127-32/744-50) was an avid reader of royal biographies from the Persian and other traditions (Moruj IV, sec. 2288). The boon companion Abu Bakr Hoḏali described Anušervān’s campaigns in the east for the caliph al-Saffāḥ (Moruj IV, sec. 2335).

In addition to religious and historical works (see I.A., B., and C. above), Masʿudi knew of tales and fables translated from Persian and other languages. In a discussion of the history of Damascus, he compares the legends invented by storytellers to “the stories transmitted to us, or translated, from Persian, Sanskrit, and Byzantine Greek.” These include Hazār afsāna, which means “A thousand tales” (alf ḵorāfa), also known as “A thousand and one nights” (Alf layla wa layla) which is the story of “the king, the vizier, his daughter, and her maidservant, these last being Širāzād and Dināzād.”  There are also Ketāb Farza wa Simās (The Book of Farza and Simas), which contains tales about the kings and viziers of India; Ketāb al-Sendbād; and “other books of this kind” (Moruj II, secs. 1415-16).

F. Music. In a discussion of music held at the behest of the caliph al-Moʿtamed (r. 256-79/870-92), Ebn Khorradāḏbeh declared that the Persians were the first to pair the nāy (a rim-blown flute or a double-reed woodwind) with the lute (ʿud); the zonāmi (a reed-pipe of uncertain type) with the pandore (ṭonbur); the shawm (sornāi) with the drum (ṭabl); and the mostaj (the Chinese sheng, a mouth-blown free reed instrument) with the harp (ṣanj). The people of Fars accompanied song (ḡenāʾ) with lutes (ʿidān) and harps (or cymbals, ṣonuj), which they invented (wa hia lahom). The people of Ray, Ṭabarestān, and Daylam also favored the pandore, while the people of Khorasan and the surrounding regions sang to the accompaniment of the wanaj or zanaj, a seven-stringed lyre. Iranian kings (moluk al-aʿājem) insisted on being sung to sleep (3213-5; 130 = Moruj V, secs. 3213-15, 3222).

Persian music has distinctive nagham (melodies?), iqā‘āt (rhythms), maqaṭeʿ (sections?), and ṭoruq moloukiya (royal modes?). Masʿudi’s report, which has clearly been garbled in transmission, here diverges from the account that Ebn Khorradāḏbeh himself gives in al-Lahw wa al-malāhi, where eight modes are listed; Masʿudi’s report says there are seven modes but lists only six. Morever, the names of the modes do not coincide. Those given by Masʿudi alone are s*kāf; ’*m*r*s*h; dārus*nān; sāy*kād, sāy*kāh, or sāb*kād; šis*m; and jub*ʿ*rān, ḥub*rān, or juyʿrān (Moruj V, sec. 3214). A more complete recension of Ebn Khorradāḏbeh’s brief comments on each mode except for the first may be found in the published edition of his al-Lahw wa al-malāhi (Ebn Khorradāḏbeh, pp. 15-19). His further remarks on musicianship, audition, rhythm, melody, and related technical matters (Moruj V, secs. 3223-26) mention a style called māḵuri, the ‘bordello’ style, associated with Ebrāhim b. Maymun Mawṣeli (q.v.), identified as a Persian (men abnāʾ Fāres).

G. Food and drink. A well-known wit named Šorāʿa b. Zandabuḏ advised the caliph al-Walid II (r. 125-26/743-44) to drink wine made of grapes rather than dates or raisins. On one occasion, al-Walid II exclaimed la-aṣṭabeḥanna haft hafta, a mix of Arabic and Persian meaning ‘I will drink every morning for seven weeks’ (Moruj IV, secs. 2240, 2247).

A courtier advised the caliph al-Wāṯeq (r. 227-32/842-47) to eat ḵošknānj mosayyar, perhaps a snack prepared from dry bread, as an accompaniment to wine (Moruj IV, sec.2854).

The caliph al-Mostakfi (r. 333-34/944-46) once asked his companions to recite poems describing various dishes. Among the items described are several with Persian names or otherwise associated with Iran. These include:

1. bāḏenjān Burān: “Buran’s eggplant,” a dish named after the wife of the caliph al-Maʾmun (Firuzābādi, s.v. bur).

2. dastija: unknown; described only as being cooked.

3. harisa, which according to the anonymous poet was a Sasanian invention and a particular favorite of Anušervān. It contains poultry, lamb, sheep’s tail, white wheat [?], bitter vetch, almonds, and galingale.

4. jardaqa: a loaf of bread; used in the preparation of wasaṭ or wasṭ (see below).

5. juḏābā:  a dish of rice, saffron, sugar, and meat or fat. Poets describe it as yellow, reddish, or orange in color, and as jiggling or forming circles when blown on (because it is gelatinous). A version made with chicken is used in wasaṭ or wasṭ (see below).

6. lowzinaj or lowzinaja (also described in verse in Moruj V, sec. 3389):  a sweet containing almonds, sugar, and syrup.

7. marzanjuš: marjoram, used as the basis of a condiment (kāmeḵ).

8. saljam: turnips, eaten pickled.

9. sanbusaj, for which Esḥāq b. Ebrāhim Mawṣeli gives a recipe in verse. A mixture of meat, onions, cabbage, rue, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, ginger, pepper, cumin, salt, and morri (a fermented condiment) is pounded together, boiled until dry, wrapped in a thin flat loaf, fried, and served with spicy mustard.

10. sakārej:  plates, in this case for serving condiments (kawāmeḵ).

11. ṭayhuj:  see-see (a bird of the pheasant family), eaten fried or stewed.

12. wasaṭ or wasṭ, for which Ebn al-Rumi (d. 283/896?) gives a hard-to-follow recipe in verse, involving two loaves (jardaqa) of semolina bread, portions of two chicken juḏābas (see above), almonds, walnuts, cheese, olives, mint, tarragon, boiled eggs, and salt (Moruj V, secs. 3553-66).

H. Games. Ardašir was reportedly the first to play backgammon (nard). He set the number of points (boyut) at twelve, corresponding to the months, and the number of checkers (kelāb) at 30, corresponding to the days in each month. The dice symbolize the arbitrary character of prosperity and the abrupt reversal of fortune. Masʿudi notes that although different styles of play have developed, the number of points has remained constant. He adds that although the action of the dice is arbitrary, there is nevertheless room for skill and strategy. He cites three Arabic poems about backgammon and cites a claim that chess must have been invented by a believer in free will and backgammon by a determinist (Moruj I, sec. 161, V, secs. 3477-81).


Masʿudi’s major work on history was called Aḵbār al-zamān. A work under this title has been published, but it is far too abbreviated and far too divergent in style from the Moruj and the Tanbih to be considered authentic. Its author may nevertheless have had access to now-lost works by Masʿudi. The brief section on the Persians repeats the usual claims about their origin and mentions the major dynasties and kings. It makes a now-garbled reference to “the kings of Khorasan, such as the Sogdians, and others defeated by the Ašrusaniya and the B*rjān [?], namely the people of Daylam, Jabāl, L*d, the Kurds, the Š*mās, and Transoxania,” saying that most of these peoples were ruled by patricii (baṭāreqa), that they worshipped fire, and that they became Magians (majus). The Magian religion began when a demon appeared to Ardašir and promised to teach him useful knowledge if he would marry his own mother, which he did. Persians also allow sibling marriage, which dates back to Adam. In fire temples, kings would scatter sulphur and orpiment (zarniḵ) to cause spontaneous combustion. Worshippers would sit on a chair while holding a pestle (dastaj) and a stone mortar (hāwan) filled with water; they would churn the water violently, “as if punishing it,” to show their fealty to the fire. Despite making these odd claims, the complier of the pseudo-Aḵbār al-zamān declares that people everywhere concede the superiority of the Persians in “statecraft, hegemony, the arts of war, fine cuisine (or subtle colors, daqiq al-alwān; see VI.D. above) and the composition of dishes, medicine, clothing, public works, savoir-vivre (ważʿ al-ašyāʾ mawāżahā), chanting (tartil), oratory (ḵeṭābh, intelligence, perfect cleanliness and appearance, and royal gravitas, in all of which the precedence is theirs” (pseudo-Aḵbār al-zamān, pp. 100-102).



Ebn Ḵorradāḏbeh, Moḵtār men ketāb al-Lahw wa’l-malāhi, ed. Eḡnāṭius ʿAbdoh Ḵalifa, Beirut, 1961.

Moḥammad b. Yaʿqub Firuzābādi, al-Qāmus al-moḥiṭ, 4 vols., Beirut, 1970-79.

Tarif Khalidi, Islamic Historiography: The Histories of Masʿūdī, Albany, 1975.

Masʿudi, Moruj al-ḏahab wa maʿāden al-jawhar, ed. and tr. Barbier de Menard et Pavet de Courteille as Les prairies d’or, 9 vols., Paris, 1861-77, tr. revised by Charles Pellat, 3 vols., Paris, 1962-71; ed. Moḥammad Moḥyi-al-Din ʿAbdal-Ḥamid, 4 vols, Cairo, 1938, repr. Beirut, 1973; ed. Yusof Asʿad Dāḡer, Beirut, 1965-1996; ed. Charles Pellat, 7 vols, Beirut, 1965-74, secs. 530-663, 1298–301, 1370-75 (references in the texts are all to this edition); tr. Abu’l-Qāsem Pāyanda, 2 vols., Tehran, 1965-68. Also ed. Bulāq, 1867.

Idem, Ketāb al-tanbih wa al-ešrāf, ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1894, repr., Frankfurt, 1992, pp. 77-78, 85-111;  ed. ‘Abd Allāh al-Ṣāwi, Cairo, 1938; repr., Baghdad, 1967; Beirut, 1968; ed. Qāsim Wahb, Damascus, 2000.

André Miquel, La Géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du 11e siècle, 2 vols, Paris, 1967-75.

Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, “Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism in Maçoudi’s ‘Kitab-i Muruj al-Zahab va Maʿadan al-Jauhar’,” Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute 25, 1933, pp. 148-58.

Idem, “Masʿūdī’s Accountof the Pesdadian Kings,” Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute 27, 1933, pp. 6-35.

M. Mo‘in, “Mas‘ūdī on Zaraoustra,” in Al-Mas‘ūdī Millenary Commemoration Volume, ed. Ahmad S. Maqbul and A. Rahman, Calcutta, 1960, pp. 60-68.

G. Morrison, “The Sassanian Genealogy in Mas‘ūdī,” in Al-Mas‘ūdī Millenary Commemoration Volume, ed. Ahmad S. Maqbul and A. Rahman, Calcutta, 1960, pp. 42-44.

Ch. Pellat, “al-Masʿūdī, Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn,” in EI2 VI, pp. 784-89. Pseudo-Mas‘ūdī, Aḵbār al-zamān, Cairo, 1938; reprinted Beirut, 1966 and 1980, pp. 100-102.

Ahmad M. H. Shboul, Al-Masʿūdī and His World: A Muslim Humanist and His Interest in non-Muslims, London, 1979.

Devin Stewart, “Al-Masʿūdī’s Lost Manual of Legal Theory,” paper delivered at Text and Context: Recent Research in Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies Conference, Emory University, 15-16 February 2004.

(Michael Cooperson)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: September 13, 2011