Avestan /əˈvɛstən/,[2] also known historically as Zend, refers to two languages: Old Avestan (spoken in the 2nd millennium BCE) and Younger Avestan (spoken in the 1st millennium BCE). The languages are known only from their use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture (the Avesta), from which they derive their name. Both are early Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages within the Indo-European family. Its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Iranian language, a sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian. As such, Old Avestan is quite close in grammar and lexicon with Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language.

The Avestan text corpus was composed in ancient Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, and Margiana,[3] corresponding to the entirety of present-day Afghanistan, and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Yaz culture[4] of Bactria-Margiana has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of the early "Eastern Iranian" culture described in the Avesta.

Avestan's status as a sacred language has ensured its continuing use for new compositions long after the language ceased to be a living language.[5]

RegionEastern Iranian Plateau
EraIron Age, Late Bronze Age
No native script
Avestan alphabet (Pahlavi script; independent ad-hoc development)
Gujarati script (used by the Indian Zoroastrians)
Language codes
ISO 639-1ae
ISO 639-2ave
ISO 639-3ave
Bodleian J2 fol 175 Y 28 1
Yasna 28.1, Ahunavaiti Gatha (Bodleian MS J2)


"Avestan, which is associated with northeastern Iran, and Old Persian, which belongs to the southwest, together constitute what is called Old Iranian."[6][f 1] The Old Iranian language group is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language group. Scholars traditionally classify Iranian languages as "eastern" or "western", and within this framework Avestan is classified as eastern. But this distinction is of limited meaning for Avestan, as the linguistic developments that later distinguish Eastern from Western Iranian had not yet occurred. Avestan does not display some typical (South-)Western Iranian innovations already visible in Old Persian, and so in this sense, "eastern" only means "non-western".[8]

Old Avestan is closely related to Old Persian and agrees largely morphologically with Vedic Sanskrit.[9] The old ancestor dialect of Pashto was close to the language of the Gathas.[10]

Forms and stages of development

The Avestan language is attested in roughly two forms, known as "Old Avestan" (or "Gathic Avestan") and "Younger Avestan". Younger Avestan did not evolve from Old Avestan; the two differ not only in time, but are also different dialects. Every Avestan text, regardless of whether originally composed in Old or Younger Avestan, underwent several transformations. Karl Hoffmann traced the following stages for Avestan as found in the extant texts. In roughly chronological order:

  • The natural language of the composers of the Gathas, the Yasna Haptanghaiti, the four sacred prayers (Y. 27 and 54).
  • Changes precipitated by slow chanting
  • Changes to Old Avestan due to transmission by native speakers of Younger Avestan
  • The natural language of the scribes who wrote grammatically correct Younger Avestan texts
  • Deliberate changes introduced through "standardization"
  • Changes introduced by transfer to regions where Avestan was not spoken
  • Adaptions/translations of portions of texts from other regions
  • Composition of ungrammatical late Avestan texts
  • Phonetic notation of the Avestan texts in the Sasanian archetype
  • Post-Sasanian deterioration of the written transmission due to incorrect pronunciation
  • Errors and corruptions introduced during copying

Many phonetic features cannot be ascribed with certainty to a particular stage since there may be more than one possibility. Every phonetic form that can be ascribed to the Sasanian archetype on the basis of critical assessment of the manuscript evidence must have gone through the stages mentioned above so that "Old Avestan" and "Young Avestan" really mean no more than "Old Avestan and Young Avestan of the Sasanian period."[6]


The script used for writing Avestan developed during the 3rd or 4th century AD. By then the language had been extinct for many centuries, and remained in use only as a liturgical language of the Avesta canon. As is still the case today, the liturgies were memorized by the priesthood and recited by rote.

The script devised to render Avestan was natively known as Din dabireh "religion writing". It has 53 distinct characters and is written right-to-left. Among the 53 characters are about 30 letters that are – through the addition of various loops and flourishes – variations of the 13 graphemes of the cursive Pahlavi script (i.e. "Book" Pahlavi) that is known from the post-Sassanian texts of Zoroastrian tradition. These symbols, like those of all the Pahlavi scripts, are in turn based on Aramaic script symbols. Avestan also incorporates several letters from other writing systems, most notably the vowels, which are mostly derived from Greek minuscules. A few letters were free inventions, as were also the symbols used for punctuation. Also, the Avestan alphabet has one letter that has no corresponding sound in the Avestan language; the character for /l/ (a sound that Avestan does not have) was added to write Pazend texts.

Avestan script is alphabetic, and the large number of letters suggests that its design was due to the need to render the orally recited texts with high phonetic precision. The correct enunciation of the liturgies was (and still is) considered necessary for the prayers to be effective.

The Zoroastrians of India, who represent one of the largest surviving Zoroastrian communities worldwide, also transcribe Avestan in Brahmi-based scripts. This is a relatively recent development first seen in the ca. 12th century texts of Neryosang Dhaval and other Parsi Sanskritist theologians of that era, and which are roughly contemporary with the oldest surviving manuscripts in Avestan script. Today, Avestan is most commonly typeset in Gujarati script (Gujarati being the traditional language of the Indian Zoroastrians). Some Avestan letters with no corresponding symbol are synthesized with additional diacritical marks, for example, the /z/ in zaraϑuštra is written with j with a dot below.


Avestan has retained voiced sibilants, and has fricative rather than aspirate series. There are various conventions for transliteration of Dīn Dabireh, the one adopted for this article being:


a ā ə ə̄ e ē o ō å ą i ī u ū


k g γ x xʷ č ǰ t d δ ϑ t̰ p b β f
ŋ ŋʷ ṇ ń n m y w r s z š ṣ̌ ž h

The glides y and w are often transcribed as ii and uu, imitating Dīn Dabireh orthography. The letter transcribed indicates an allophone of /t/ with no audible release at the end of a word and before certain obstruents.[11]


Type Labial Dental Alveolar Post-alveolar
or palatal
Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Nasal m /m/ n /n/ ń [ɲ] ŋ /ŋ/ ŋʷ /ŋʷ/
Plosive p /p/ b /b/ t /t/ d /d/ č /tʃ/ ǰ /dʒ/ k /k/ g /ɡ/
Fricative f /ɸ/ β /β/ ϑ /θ/ δ /ð/ s /s/ z /z/ š /ʃ/ ž /ʒ/ x /x/ γ /ɣ/ /xʷ/ h /h/
Approximant y /j/ w /w/
Trill r /r/

According to Beekes, [ð] and [ɣ] are allophones of /θ/ and /x/ respectively (in Old Avestan).


Type Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i /i/ ī /iː/   u /u/ ū /uː/
Mid e /e/ ē /eː/ ə /ə/ ə̄ /əː/ o /o/ ō /oː/
Open   a /a/
ā /aː/ å /ɒː/
Nasal   ą /ã/  



Case "normal" endings a-stems: (masc. neut.)
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -s -ō (-as), -ā -ō (yasn-ō) -a (vīr-a) -a (-yasna)
Vocative -ō (-as), -ā -a (ahur-a) -a (vīr-a) -a (yasn-a), -ånghō
Accusative -əm -ō (-as, -ns), -ā -əm (ahur-əm) -a (vīr-a) -ą (haom-ą)
Instrumental -byā -bīš -a (ahur-a) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -āiš (yasn-āiš)
Dative -byā -byō (-byas) -āi (ahur-āi) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -aēibyō (yasn-aēibyō)
Ablative -at -byā -byō -āt (yasn-āt) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -aēibyō (yasn-aēibyō)
Genitive -ō (-as) -ąm -ahe (ahur-ahe) -ayå (vīr-ayå) -anąm (yasn-anąm)
Locative -i -ō, -yō -su, -hu, -šva -e (yesn-e) -ayō (zast-ayō) -aēšu (vīr-aēšu), -aēšva


Primary active endings
Person Singular Dual Plural
1st -mi -vahi -mahi
2nd -hi -tha -tha
3rd -ti -tō, -thō -ṇti

Sample text

Latin alphabet
Avestan alphabet
Gujarati script approximation
ahiiā. yāsā. nəmaŋhā. ustānazastō.1 rafəδrahiiā.maniiə̄uš.2 mazdā.3 pouruuīm.4 spəṇtahiiā. aṣ̌ā. vīspə̄ṇg.5 š́iiaoϑanā.6vaŋhə̄uš. xratūm.7 manaŋhō. yā. xṣ̌nəuuīṣ̌ā.8 gə̄ušcā. uruuānəm.9:: (du. bār)::ahiiā. yāsā. nəmaŋhā. ustānazastō. rafəδrahiiā.maniiə̄uš. mazdā. pouruuīm. spəṇtahiiā. aṣ̌ā. vīspə̄ṇg. š́iiaoϑanā.vaŋhə̄uš. xratūm. manaŋhō. yā. xṣ̌nəuuīṣ̌ā. gə̄ušcā. uruuānəm.::
Bodleian J2 fol 175 Y 28 1

અહીઆ। યાસા। નામંગહા। ઉસ્તાનજ઼સ્તો।૧ રફ઼ાધરહીઆ।મનીઆઉસ્̌।૨ મજ઼્દા।૩ પોઉરુઉઈમ્।૪ સ્પાણ્તહીઆ। અષ્̌આ। વીસ્પાણ્ગ્।૫ સ્̌́ઇઇઅઓથઅના।૬વંગહાઉસ્̌। ક્સરતૂમ્।૭ મનંગહો। યા। ક્સષ્̌નાઉઉઈષ્̌આ।૮ ગાઉસ્̌ચા। ઉરુઉઆનામ્।૯:: (દુ। બાર્)::અહીઆ। યાસા। નામંગહા। ઉસ્તાનજ઼સ્તો। રફ઼ાધરહીઆ।મનીઆઉસ્̌। મજ઼્દા। પોઉરુઉઈમ્। સ્પાણ્તહીઆ। અષ્̌આ। વીસ્પાણ્ગ્। સ્̌́ઇઇઅઓથઅના।વવંગહાઉસ્̌। ક્સરતૂમ્। મનંગહો। યા। ક્સષ્̌નાઉઉઈષ્̌આ। ગાઉસ્̌ચા। ઉરુઉઆનામ્।::

Example phrases

The following phrases were phonetically transcribed from Avestan:[12]

Avestan English Comment
tapaiti It's hot Can also mean "he is hot" or "she is hot" (in temperature)
šiiauuaθa You(p) move
vō vatāmi I understand you(p)
mā vātaiiaθa You(p) teach me Literally: "You let me understand"
dim naiiehi You lead him/her
dim vō nāiiaiieiti He/she lets you(p) lead him/her Present tense
mā barahi You carry me
nō baraiti He/she carries us
θβā dim bāraiiāmahi We let him/her carry you Present tense
drauuāmahi We run
dīš drāuuaiiāmahi We let them run Present tense
θβā hacāmi I follow you
dīš hācaiieinti They accompany them Literally: "They let them follow"
ramaiti He rests
θβā rāmaiiemi I calm you Literally: "I let you rest"

Note: "you" is singular unless marked with a (p) for plural.

See also


  1. ^ "It is impossible to attribute a precise geographical location to the language of the Avesta... With the exception of an important study by P. Tedesco (1921 [...]), who advances the theory of an 'Avestan homeland' in northwestern Iran, Iranian scholars of the twentieth century have looked increasingly to eastern Iran for the origins of the Avestan language and today there is general agreement that the area in question was in eastern Iran—a fact that emerges clearly from every passage in the Avesta that sheds any light on its historical and geographical background."[7]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Avestan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Wells, John C. (1990), Longman pronunciation dictionary, Harlow, England: Longman, p. 53, ISBN 0-582-05383-8 entry "Avestan"
  3. ^ Witzel, Michael. "THE HOME OF THE ARYANS" (PDF). Harvard University. p. 10. Retrieved 8 May 2015. Since the evidence of Young Avestan place names so clearly points to a more eastern location, the Avesta is again understood, nowadays, as an East Iranian text, whose area of composition comprised -- at least -- Sīstån/Arachosia, Herat, Merw and Bactria.
  4. ^ Mallory, J P (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. page 653. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5. entry "Yazd culture".
  5. ^ Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Mary Boyce (pg. 18)
  6. ^ a b Hoffmann, Karl (1989), "Avestan language", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 47–52.
  7. ^ Gnoli, Gherardo (1989), "Avestan geography", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 44–47.
  8. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica: EASTERN IRANIAN LANGUAGES. By Nicholas Sims-Williams
  9. ^ Hoffmann, K. Encyclopaedia Iranica. AVESTAN LANGUAGE. III. The grammar of Avestan.: "The morphology of Avestan nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs is, like that of the closely related Old Persian, inherited from Proto-Indo-European via Proto-Indo-Iranian (Proto-Aryan), and agrees largely with that of Vedic, the oldest known form of Indo-Aryan. The interpretation of the transmitted Avestan texts presents in many cases considerable difficulty for various reasons, both with respect to their contexts and their grammar. Accordingly, systematic comparison with Vedic is of much assistance in determining and explaining Avestan grammatical forms."
  10. ^ Morgenstierne, G. Encyclopaedia Iranica: AFGHANISTAN vi. Paṧto "it seems that the Old Iranic ancestor dialect of Paṧtō must have been close to that of the Gathas."
  11. ^ Hale, Mark (2004). "Avestan". In Roger D. Woodard. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56256-2.
  12. ^ Lubotsky, Alexander (2010). Van Sanskriet tot Spijkerschrift: Breinbrekers uit alle talen [From Sanskrit to Cuneiform: Brain teasers from all languages] (in Dutch). Amsterdam University Press. pp. 18, 69–71. ISBN 9089641793. Retrieved 30 April 2016.


  • Beekes, Robert S. P. (1988), A Grammar of Gatha-Avestan, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 90-04-08332-4.
  • Hoffmann, Karl; Forssman, Bernhard (1996), Avestische Laut- und Flexionslehre, Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 84, Institut fur Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck, ISBN 3-85124-652-7.
  • Kellens, Jean (1990), "Avestan syntax", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3/sup, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul
  • Skjærvø, Prod Oktor (2006), Old Avestan, fas.harvard.edu.
  • Skjærvø, Prod Oktor (2006), Introduction to Young Avestan, fas.harvard.edu.
  • Vaan, Michiel (2014), Introduction to Avestan (Brill Introductions to Indo-European Languages, Band 1), Brill, ISBN 90-04-25809-4.

Further reading


Afrasiab (Persian: افراسياب‬‎ afrāsiyāb; Avestan: Fraŋrasyan; Middle-Persian: Frāsiyāv, Frāsiyāk, and Freangrāsyāk) is the name of the mythical king and hero of Turan. He is the main antagonist of the Persian epic Shahnameh, written by Ferdowsi.


For the fictional character in the Marvel Universe series, see Ahura (comics); for the river, see Akhurian River.Ahura (Avestan: 𐬀𐬵𐬎𐬭𐬀) is an Avestan language designation for a particular class of Zoroastrian angelic divinities.


Asha (; also arta ; Avestan:𐬀𐬴𐬀‎‎ aṣ̌a/arta) is a Zoroastrian concept with a complex and highly nuanced range of meaning. It is commonly summarized in accord with its contextual implications of 'truth' and 'right(eousness)', 'order' and 'right working'. For other connotations, see meaning below. It is of cardinal importance to Zoroastrian theology and doctrine. In the moral sphere, aša/arta represents what has been called "the decisive confessional concept of Zoroastrianism". The opposite of Avestan aša is 𐬛𐬭𐬎𐬘‎ druj, "deceit, falsehood".

Its Old Persian equivalent is arta-. In Middle Iranian languages the term appears as ard-.The word is also the proper name of the divinity Asha, the Amesha Spenta that is the hypostasis or "genius" of "Truth" or "Righteousness". In the Younger Avesta, this figure is more commonly referred to as Asha Vahishta (Aša Vahišta, Arta Vahišta), "Best Truth". The Middle Persian descendant is Ashawahist or Ardwahisht; New Persian Ardibehesht or Ordibehesht. In the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by the prophet himself, it is seldom possible to distinguish between moral principle and the divinity. Later texts consistently use the 'Best' epithet when speaking of the Amesha Spenta, only once in the Gathas is 'best' an adjective of aša/arta.


The Avesta is the primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the otherwise unrecorded Avestan language.The Avesta texts fall into several different categories, arranged either by dialect, or by usage. The principal text in the liturgical group is the Yasna, which takes its name from the Yasna ceremony, Zoroastrianism's primary act of worship, and at which the Yasna text is recited. The most important portion of the Yasna texts are the five Gathas, consisting of seventeen hymns attributed to Zoroaster himself. These hymns, together with five other short Old Avestan texts that are also part of the Yasna, are in the Old (or 'Gathic') Avestan language. The remainder of the Yasna's texts are in Younger Avestan, which is not only from a later stage of the language, but also from a different geographic region.

Extensions to the Yasna ceremony include the texts of the Vendidad and the Visperad. The Visperad extensions consist mainly of additional invocations of the divinities (yazatas), while the Vendidad is a mixed collection of prose texts mostly dealing with purity laws. Even today, the Vendidad is the only liturgical text that is not recited entirely from memory. Some of the materials of the extended Yasna are from the Yashts, which are hymns to the individual yazatas. Unlike the Yasna, Visperad and Vendidad, the Yashts and the other lesser texts of the Avesta are no longer used liturgically in high rituals. Aside from the Yashts, these other lesser texts include the Nyayesh texts, the Gah texts, the Siroza, and various other fragments. Together, these lesser texts are conventionally called Khordeh Avesta or "Little Avesta" texts. When the first Khordeh Avesta editions were printed in the 19th century, these texts (together with some non-Avestan language prayers) became a book of common prayer for lay people.The term Avesta is from the 9th/10th-century works of Zoroastrian tradition in which the word appears as Zoroastrian Middle Persian abestāg, Book Pahlavi ʾp(y)stʾkʼ. In that context, abestāg texts are portrayed as received knowledge, and are distinguished from the exegetical commentaries (the zand) thereof. The literal meaning of the word abestāg is uncertain; it is generally acknowledged to be a learned borrowing from Avestan, but none of the suggested etymologies have been universally accepted. The widely repeated derivation from *upa-stavaka is from Christian Bartholomae (Altiranisches Wörterbuch, 1904), who interpreted abestāg as a contraction of a hypothetical reconstructed Old Iranian word for "praise-song" (Bartholomae: Lobgesang); that word is not actually attested in any text.

Avestan alphabet

The Avestan alphabet is a writing system developed during Iran's Sassanid era (226–651 CE) to render the Avestan language.

As a side effect of its development, the script was also used for Pazend, a method of writing Middle Persian that was used primarily for the Zend commentaries on the texts of the Avesta. In the texts of Zoroastrian tradition, the alphabet is referred to as din dabireh or din dabiri, Middle Persian for "the religion's script".

Avestan phonology

This article deals with the phonology of Avestan. Avestan is one of the Iranian languages and retained archaic voiced alveolar fricatives. It also has fricatives rather than the aspirated series seen in the closely related Indo-Aryan languages.


Daeva (Avestan: 𐬛𐬀𐬉𐬎𐬎𐬀 daēuua) is an Avestan language term for a particular sort of supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics. In the Gathas, the oldest texts of the Zoroastrian canon, the daevas are "gods that are (to be) rejected". This meaning is – subject to interpretation – perhaps also evident in the Old Persian "daiva inscription" of the 5th century BCE. In the Younger Avesta, the daevas are divinities that promote chaos and disorder. In later tradition and folklore, the dēws (Zoroastrian Middle Persian; New Persian divs) are personifications of every imaginable evil.

Daeva, the Iranian language term, should not be confused with the devas of Indian religions. While the word for the Vedic spirits and the word for the Zoroastrian entities are etymologically related, their function and thematic development is altogether different. The once-widespread notion that the radically different functions of Iranian daeva and Indic deva (and ahura versus asura) represented a prehistoric inversion of roles is no longer followed in 21st century academic discourse (see In comparison with Vedic usage for details).Equivalents for Avestan daeva in Iranian languages include Pashto, Balochi, Kurdish dêw, Persian dīv/deev, all of which apply to demons, monsters, and other villainous creatures. The Iranian word was borrowed into Old Armenian as dew, Georgian as devi, and Urdu as deo, with the same negative associations in those languages. In English, the word appears as daeva, div, deev, and in the 18th century fantasy novels of William Thomas Beckford as dive.

It has been speculated that the concept of the daevas as a malevolent force may have been inspired from the Scythian gods.


The Gathas () are 17 Avestan hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra (Zoroaster) himself. They form the core of the Zoroastrian liturgy (the Yasna). They are arranged in five different modes or metres.

The Avestan term gāθā (𐬔𐬁𐬚𐬁 "hymn", but also "mode, metre") is cognate with Sanskrit gāthā́ (गाथा), both from the Proto-Indo-Iranian word *gaHtʰáH, from the root *gaH- "to sing".


Indo-Iranian peoples, also known as Indo-Iranic peoples by scholars, and sometimes as Arya or Aryans from their self-designation, were an ethno-linguistic group who brought the Indo-Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, to major parts of Eurasia.


Mithra (Avestan: 𐬀𐬭𐬚𐬌𐬨 Miθra, Old Persian: 𐎷𐎰𐎼 Miça) is the Zoroastrian angelic Divinity (yazata) of Covenant, Light, and Oath. In addition to being the divinity of contracts, Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing protector of Truth, and the guardian of cattle, the harvest, and of the Waters.

The Romans attributed their Mithraic mysteries (the mystery religion known as Mithraism) to "Persian" (i.e. Zoroastrian) sources relating to Mithra. Since the early 1970s, the dominant scholarship has noted dissimilarities between the Persian and Roman traditions, making it, at most, the result of Roman perceptions of (Pseudo-)Zoroastrian ideas.


Mitra (Proto-Indo-Iranian: *mitrás) is the name of an Indo-Iranian divinity from which the names and some characteristics of Rigvedic Mitrá and Avestan Mithra derive.

The names (and occasionally also some characteristics) of these two older figures were subsequently also adopted for other figures:

A vrddhi-derived form of Sanskrit mitra gives Maitreya, the name of a bodhisattva in Buddhist tradition.

In Hellenistic-era Asia Minor, Avestan Mithra was conflated with various local and Greek figures leading to several different variants of Apollo-Helios-Mithras-Hermes-Stilbon.

Via Greek and some Anatolian intermediate, the Avestan theonym also gave rise to Latin Mithras, the principal figure of the first century Roman Mysteries of Mithras (also known as 'Mithraism').

In Middle Iranian, the Avestan theonym evolved (among other Middle Iranian forms) into Sogdian Miši, Middle Persian and Parthian Mihr, and Bactrian Miuro (/mihru/). Aside from Avestan Mithra, these derivative names were also used for:

Greco-Bactrian Mithro, Miiro, Mioro and Miuro,

by the Manichaeans for one of their own deities.

Additionally, the Manichaeans also adopted 'Maitreya' as the name of their "first messenger".

Persian mythology

Persian mythology are traditional tales and stories of ancient origin, all involving extraordinary or supernatural beings. Drawn from the legendary past of Iran, they reflect the attitudes of the society to which they first belonged - attitudes towards the confrontation of good and evil, the actions of the gods, yazats (lesser gods), and the exploits of heroes and fabulous creatures. Myths play a crucial part in Iranian culture and our understanding of them is increased when we consider them within the context of Iranian history.

For this purpose we must ignore modern political boundaries and look at historical developments in the Greater Iran, a vast area covering the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Central Asia, beyond the frontiers of present-day Iran. The geography of this region, with its high mountain ranges, plays a significant role in many of the mythological stories. The second millennium BC is usually regarded as the age of migration because of the emergence in western Iran of a new form of Iranian pottery, similar to earlier wares of north-eastern Iran, suggesting the arrival of the Ancient Iranian peoples. This pottery, light grey to black in colour, appeared around 1400 BC. It is called Early Grey Ware or Iron I, the latter name indicating the beginning of the Iron Age in this area.

Proto-Indo-Iranian language

Proto-Indo-Iranian or Proto-Indo-Iranic is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian/Indo-Iranic branch of Indo-European. Its speakers, the hypothetical Proto-Indo-Iranians, are assumed to have lived in the late 3rd millennium BC, and are often connected with the Sintashta culture of the Eurasian Steppe and the early Andronovo archaeological horizon.

Proto-Indo-Iranian was a satem language, likely removed less than a millennium from the late Proto-Indo-European language, its ancestor, and in turn removed less than a millennium from the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda, its descendant. It is the ancestor of the Indo-Aryan languages, the Iranian languages, and the Nuristani languages.

Soma (drink)

In Vedic tradition, soma (Sanskrit: सोम) or haoma (Avestan) is a ritual drink of importance among the early Indians. The Rigveda mentions it, particularly in the Soma Mandala. In the Avestan literature, the entire Yasht 20 and Yasna 9–11 treat of haoma.

The texts describe the preparation of soma by means of extracting the juice from a plant, the identity of which is now unknown and debated among scholars. In both the ancient religions of Historical Vedic religion and Zoroastrianism, the name of the drink and the plant are the same.There has been much speculation about the most likely identity of the original plant. Traditional accounts with unbroken continuity in India, from Ayurveda and Siddha medicine practitioners and Somayajna ritualists undoubtedly use "Somalata" (Sarcostemma acidum).

Non-Indian researchers have proposed candidates including Amanita muscaria, Psilocybe cubensis, Peganum harmala and Ephedra sinica. According to recent philological and archaeological studies, and in addition, direct preparation instructions confirm in the Rig Vedic Hymns (Vedic period) Ancient Soma most likely consisted of Poppy, Phaedra/Ephedra (plant) and Cannabis.

Vedic Sanskrit

Vedic Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, more specifically one branch of the Indo-Iranian group. It is the ancient language of the Vedas of Hinduism, texts compiled over the period of the mid-2nd to mid-1st millennium BCE. It was orally preserved, predating the advent of Brahmi script by several centuries. Vedic Sanskrit is an archaic language, whose consensus translation has been challenging.Extensive ancient literature in the Vedic Sanskrit language has survived into the modern era, and this has been a major source of information for reconstructing Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-Iranian history. Quite early in the pre-historic era, Sanskrit separated from the Avestan language, an Eastern Iranian language. The exact century of separation is unknown, but this separation of Sanskrit and Avestan occurred certainly before 1800 BCE. The Avestan language developed in ancient Persia, was the language of Zoroastrianism, but was a dead language in the Sasanian period. Vedic Sanskrit developed independently in ancient India, evolved into classical Sanskrit after the grammar and linguistic treatise of Pāṇini, and later into many related Indian subcontinent languages in which are found the voluminous ancient and medieval literature of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.


The Yashts (Yašt) are a collection of twenty-one hymns in the Younger Avestan language. Each of these hymns invokes a specific Zoroastrian divinity or concept. Yasht chapter and verse pointers are traditionally abbreviated as Yt.


Yasna (; Avestan: 𐬫𐬀𐬯𐬥𐬀) is the Avestan name of Zoroastrianism's principal act of worship. It is also the name of the primary liturgical collection of Avesta texts, recited during that yasna ceremony.


Zoroaster (, UK also ; Greek: Ζωροάστρης Zōroastrēs), (Persian: زرتشت pronounced as Zartusht) also known as Zarathustra (, UK also ; Avestan: 𐬰𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬚𐬎𐬱𐬙𐬭𐬀 Zaraθuštra), Zarathushtra Spitama, or Ashu Zarathushtra, was an ancient Iranian prophet, spiritual leader and ethical philosopher who taught a spiritual philosophy of self-realization and realization of the Divine. His teachings challenged the existing traditions of the Indo-Iranian religion and later developed into the religion of Mazdayasna or Zoroastrianism. He inaugurated a movement that eventually became the dominant religion in Ancient Iran. He was a native speaker of Old Avestan and lived in the eastern part of the Iranian Plateau, but his exact birthplace is uncertain.There is no scholarly consensus on when he lived. However, approximating using linguistic and socio-cultural evidence allows for dating to somewhere in the second millennium BCE. This is done by estimating the period in which the Old Avestan language (as well as the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Iranian languages and the related Vedic Sanskrit) were spoken, the period in which the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion was practiced, and correlation between the burial practice described in the Gathas with the archeological Yaz culture. However, other scholars still date him in the 7th and 6th century BCE as a near-contemporary of Cyrus the Great and Darius I. Zoroastrianism eventually became the official religion of Ancient Persia and its distant subdivisions from the 6th century BCE to the 7th century CE. Zoroaster is credited with authorship of the Gathas as well as the Yasna Haptanghaiti, hymns composed in his native dialect, Old Avestan, and which comprise the core of Zoroastrian thinking. Most of his life is known from these texts. By any modern standard of historiography, no evidence can place him into a fixed period, and the historicization surrounding him may be a part of a trend from before the 10th century that historicizes legends and myths.


Ə ə, also called schwa or inverted e, is an additional letter of the Latin alphabet, used in the Azerbaijani language, in Gottscheerish, and in the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ dialect of Halkomelem. Both the majuscule and minuscule forms of this letter are based on the form of an upside down e, while the Pan-Nigerian alphabet pairs the same lowercase letter with Ǝ.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), minuscule ə is used to represent the mid central vowel or a schwa. A superscript minuscule ᵊ is used to modify the preceding consonant to have a mid central vowel release.

The letter was used in the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, for example in Janalif for the Tatar language in the 1920s–1930s. In the Latin Azerbaijani and Chechen alphabets, Ə represents the near-open front unrounded vowel, /æ/. Also, in a romanization of Pashto, the letter Ə is used to represent [ə]. When some Roman orthographies in the Soviet Union were converted to use the Cyrillic script in the 1930s and 1940s, this letter has been adopted verbatim.

In the Latin transliteration of Avestan, the corresponding long vowel is written as schwa-macron, Ə̄/ə̄.

An r-colored vowel can be represented using ɚ.

A schwa with a retroflex hook (ᶕ) is used in phonetic transcription.

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