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The ‘Traditional date of Zoroaster’ explained1

  • A. Shapur Shahbazi

Despite countless discussions, the date of Zoroaster remains a controversial problem. This is due to the fact that the testimony of the available sources is meagre, conflicting, and often ambiguous, for these are based on traditions which were put into writing long after the prophet is supposed to have lived, and contain both fictitious elements and the rationalizations of ancient savants. Of these traditions, the one now most widely accepted in the West is that which counts ‘258 years from Zoroaster till Alexander’. Formerly a number of distinguished scholars—among them Windischmann, Tiele, Geiger, Oldenberg, Bartholomae, Meyer, and Christensen—questioned the credibility of this tradition, arguing with cogent reasons that Zoroaster must be placed much earlier, probably at about 1000 b.c. In the second quarter of the present century, however, the late date gained credence, mainly on the ground that a precise figure transmitted by a people well known for their veracity must be based on historical facts. For a time this view almost came to prevail, primarily because outstanding authorities—such as Herzfeld, Taqizadeh, and Henning—gave it their support. But more recently, arguments in favour of an earlier date have again been advanced by a number of scholars. Yet the main difficulty remains, which is to explain, in the words of T. Burrow, ‘how this precise figure (i.e. 258) came to be adopted’. The purpose of the present article is to offer a solution to that problem, and to trace an older Iranian tradition that Zoroaster lived before 1000 b.c.

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2 See Kuiper, F. B. J., IIJ, v, 1, 1961, 43, who cites Barr, K., in Festkrift til L. L. Hammerich, København, 1952, 27, Avesta, København, 1954, 38f.; D'yakonov, I. M., Istoriya Midii, Moscow, Leningrad, 1956, 391 (also 48, 52 f., 389 ff.), and Oranskiy, I. M., Vvedeniye v iranskuyu filologiyu, Moscow, 1960, 92. See also Davoud, E. Ponre, Ānāhitā, Tehran, 1343/1964, 288–90, and most secently, Burrow, T., ‘The Proto-Indoaryans’, JRAS, 1973, 2, pp. 122–40 esp. 136–7; Boyce, M., 4 history of Zoroastrianism, 1 (Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abt. I, Bd. VIII, Abschn. 1, Lief. 2, It. 2A), Leiden, 1975, eh. i, vii, x.

The desire to accept the Zoroastrian tradition, despite the evident unsoundness of the late late it affords, has sometimes given rise to remarkable interpretations. O. Klima, for example, dentified Dārā, the son of Humāy, whose accession is put by the Bundahišn at (90 + 112 + 30 = )232 years after the coming of the Religion, with Darius the Great, who ascended the hrone in 522 b.c., thereby obtaining (522 + 232 + 30 = )784 b.c. for the date of the birth of Loroaster; see Archiv Orientální, XXVII, 4, 1959, 564.

3 JRAS, 1973, 2, p. 137.

4 Slightly different versions of this tradition are known from various sources, cf., e.g., al-Bīrūnī, , The chronology of ancient nations, tr. Sachau, E., London, 1879, 17; for a general discussion see Christensen, A., L'Iran sous les Sassanides, second ed., Copenhague, 1944, 147 ff.

5 e.g. in the Indian Bundahišn, xxxi, 29, 30.

6 Anklesaria, B. T. (tr.), Zand-ākāaīh, Bombay, 1956, p. 240, 1. 5.

7 Firdausī, , Shāhnāma, Barūkhīm, ed., Tehran, 19331935, VII, 1922–3, found the same sum (sālī duvīst ‘some 200 years’) in a recension of the official Sasanian chronicle, the ‘Book of kings’ (his Nāma-i khusrawān) which he used to give a short account of the Arsacid period. This source was not the Shāhnāma of Abū Manṣūrī—Firdausī's main direct source—for the latter assigned to the Parthians a period of 266 years (al-Bīrūnī, , op. cit., 119).

8 An explanation of this second figure is offered below, p. 30.

9 A ninth-century Zoroastrian scholar, Bahrām son of Mardānšāh, the mōbad of Šāpūr in Fārs, whose ‘History of the Sasanian kings’ (now lost) was based on over 20 recensions and translations of the official Sasanian chronicle, the Xwadāy nāmag (see Ḥamza, , Kitāb al-tārīkh-i ṣini mulūk al arḍ wa 'l anbiyā, Berlin, 1923, 19), assigned to the Sasanians a period of 456 years plus 1 month and 22 days (i.e. 457 official years); see Ḥamza, , op. cit., 21, 22. This makes it likely that the ‘460’ of the Bundahišn is merely a round figure replacing a precise one. Now, the Sasanians' rule lasted for 427 years, but the tradition which extended it to 457 counted as a part of Ardašir's reign the 30-year period which he spent campaigning against local rulers (mulūk al ṭawā'if) before the overthrow of the Arsacids (so Bahrām, apud Ḥamza, , op. cit., 21; Bal'amī, , Tārīkh, ed. Zotenberg, H., Paris, 18671874, II, 74; al-Balkhī, Ibn, Fārsnāma, ed. Strange, Le and Nicolson, , 1921, 19; Mustawfī, Ḥamd-al Allāh, Tārīkh-i Guzīda, ed. Navā'ī, A., Tehran, 1336/1957, 105).

10 Greater Bundahišn, xxxiii, 29, 32.

11 Cited and discussed by Jackson, A. V. W., Zoroaster the prophet of ancient Iran, New York, 1899, repr. 1965, 162.

12 Chronology, 17.

13 Dēnkard, vii, 5, 1; Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram, XXIII, 5, 7.

14 ‘The traditional date of Zoroaster’, in Pavry, J. D. C. (ed.), Oriental studies in honour of C. E. Pavry, London, 1933, 132–6.

15 ibid., 135.

16 But see Herzfeld, , Zoroaster and his world, Princeton, 1947, 1, 26 f.

17 ‘The genesis of the faulty Persian chronology’, JAOS, LXIV, 4, 1944, 197 ff.

18 Taqizadeh, S. H., ‘The “Era of Zoroaster”’, JRAS, 1947, 12, pp. 3340; Henning, W. B., Zoroaster: politician or witch-doctor?, Oxford, 1951, 37 ff.; see also Bickerman, E. J., Archiv Orientální, XXXV, 2, 1967, p. 206, n. 43.

19 The slight alteration of the already established precise figure 457 to a round one, 460, extended the Sasanian period by 3 years (see above, p. 26, n. 9). This extension was effected, it would appear, at the expense of the Parthians, who were held to have ruled for ‘200 and odd years’, with the result that the ‘odd years’ were omitted and only the round sum, 200, was retained, as in the source used by Firdausī (hence his sālī duvīst). Similarly, when an official Sasanian chronology reduced the Parthian period to 266 years, some authorities allowed a slight alteration—again at the expense of the Arsacids—and gave the round figure 260, see al-Mas'ūdī, , Kitāb al-tanbīh, ed. de Goeje, , Leyden, 1894, 98, and Bal'amī, , Tārīkh, ed. Bahār, M. T., Tehran, 1340/1961, 1, 731. Therefore the number of extra ‘odd years’ of the Parthian period can be inferred to have been three. These, however, do not affect the calculation presented above, for the total years of the Parthians and Sasanians amount to 660, whether one adds 200 to 460 or 203 to 467.

20 Indian Bundahišn, xxxiv, 7 with Dēnkard, vii, 3, 51 f.

21 Al-Tafhīm li-awā'il, ṣinā'at al-tanjīm ‘The book of instruction in the elements of the art of astrology’, ed. Homā'ī, J., second ed., Tehran, 1353/1974, 237: tārīkh-i ahl-i kitāb tārīkh-i Yūnāniyān ast az avval-i ān sāl ke Sūlūqūs bi mulk-i Anṭākiya tanhā binshast har chand ki īn tārīkh bi Iskandar ma'rūf shude ast.

22 See also Gardīzī, , Zayn-al akhbār, ed. Ḥabībī, ‘Abd-al Ḥay, Tehran, 1347/1968, 207.

23 See Millás, J. M. in Ency. Islam, second ed., I, 139–40.

24 Quoted with disapproval by Taqizadeh, , BSOS, x, 1, 1939, 129.

25 See Jackson, , Zoroaster, 157ff.

26 See e.g., Taqizadeh, , JRAS, 1947, 1–2, pp. 33 ff.

27 But as Herzfeld, (Zoroaster, I, 10) pointed out, the Zoroastrian tradition knows nothing of Persepolis, and the exact date of the destruction of the city is not mentioned in Greek sources.

28 See Dēnkard, iii, 35; iv, 23–4; Greater Bundahišn, xxxiii, 14; Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr, viii, 10; Ardāy Vīrāz nāmag, i, 16; The letter of Tansar, tr. Boyce, M., Rome, 1968, 37, 65; see also Henning, W. B., JRAS, 1944, 3–4, pp. 133 ff. and Eddy, S. K., The king is dead, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1961, 9ff.; 343 ff.

29 For the Seleucid Era, see Taqizadeh, , BSOS, x, 1939, 125 ff.; Tarn, W. W., The Greeks in Bactria and India, second ed., Cambridge, 1951, 64f.

30 Tarn, , op. cit., 65; Lewy, H., JAOS, LXIV, 4, 1944, 202 f.

31 See al-Bīrūnī, , Chronology, 121, 190.

32 Contra Taqizadeh, , BSOS, x, 1, 1939, 127.

33 Agathias, , iv, 30, 25 (tr. J. D. Frendo, Berlin, 1975, 133–4). For Sasanian annals see Agathias, , ii, 27; iv, 27–30; Theophilactus, , iii, 18.

34 Al-Bīrūnī, , Chronology, 121; Lewy, H., ‘Le calendrier perse’, Orientalia, NS, x, 1–2, 1941, 46f.

35 Patrologia Syriaca, I, cols. 723–4, 942, 1042; II, col. 150, cited by Taqizadeh, , BSOS, x, 1, 1939, p. 129, n. 1.

36 For Aphraates see Burkitt, F. C., Early Eastern Christianity, London, 1904, 8195.

37 Alexander married two Persian princesses: Roxana, daughter of Oxyartes, satrap of Bactria, and Barsine (or Statira), a daughter of Darius III. The founder of the Seleucid empire, Seleucus I, also married a Persian princess, who was named Apama, daughter of the Sogdian satrap, Spitamenes; she bore him a son, Antiochus I. To legitimate their right to Alexander's heritage, the Seleucids published, as early as the middle of the third century b.c., a claim according to which the conqueror had had a daughter named Apama by his marriage to Roxana, who was herself identified as the child of Darius III, and her daughter as the Apama whom Seleucus I had taken to wife. For discussion and references see Tarn, W. W., Classical Quarterly, XXIII, 3–4, 1929, 136, and The Greeks in Bactria and India, second ed., 446–51.

38 See Taqizadeh, , JBAS, 1947, 12, p. 35.

39 Cited by Taqizadeh, , BSOS, IX, 1, 1937, 133f.

40 Taqizadeh, ibid., 135, and, differently, 139; contra Herzfeld, , Zoroaster, I, 14 f.

41 Lewy, , JAOS, LXIV, 4, 1944, 198 ff.; Taqizadeh, , JRAS, 1947, 12, pp. 35 ff.

42 See Taqizadeh, , BSOS, IX, 1, 1937, 134: the zīj-i šahriyārān ‘was the main authority for the famous astronomer Abu Ma'shar of Balkh’.

43 In Pavry, J. D. C. (ed.), Oriental studies in honour of C. E. Pavry, 136.

44 ibid. 133 ff.; Zoroaster, I, ch. i.

45 After his Lydian conquest (Herodotus, , I, 153) but before his Babylonian expedition (ibid., I, 177–80).

46 Kent, R. G., Old Persian, second ed., 1953, 123 (for the Old Persian version); King, L. W. and Thomson, R. C., The sculptures and inscription of Darius the Great on the rock of Behistun in Persia, London, 1907, 186–7 (for the Babylonian).

47 See Plutarch, , Morali, 173B, 488D–F.

48 For Bactria under the Achaemenids, see Shahbazi, A. Sh., BSOAS, XXXV, 3, 1972, 612.

49 Taqizadeh, , JRAS, 1947, 12, p. 36 f.; Herzfeld, , Zoroaster, I, 9.

50 Lewy, , JAOS, LXIV, 4, 1944, 197 ff.; Taqizadeh, , JBAS, 1947, 12, pp. 36 ff.; they showed that, when identifying the beginning of Zoroaster's millennium with the Seleucid Era, the Sasanians found the figures 14 and 258 already well established and immutable.

51 In Pavry, J. D. C. (ed.), Oriental studies in honour of C. E. Pavry, 136.

52 This despite the fact that his tomb was guarded and sacrifice to his soul was regularly offered there by Magi till the very end of the Achaemenid period, of Arrian, , Anabasis, VI, 29, 78.

53 On these identifications, see West, E. W., SBE, v, p. 150, n., p. 198, n.; Jackson, , Zoroaster, 160.

54 Olmstead, A. T., History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948, 49ff.

55 ibid., 111 ff.

56 ibid., 236 f.

57 Ochus (later Darius II) and Arsites were the sons of Artaxerxes I by a Babylonian concubine named Cosmartydene (Justi, F., Iranisches Namenbuch, Marburg, 1895, 165); a third son, Sogdianus, was by another Babylonian concubine, named Alogune (ibid., 13); yet another Babylonian, Andia by name, was the mother of Bagapaios and Parysatis (ibid., 16). Parysatis married Darius II, and became his chosen guide and counsellor, and as the Queen-mother of Artaxerxes II, she ‘acted as if she was the real sovereign of the country’, Rawlinson, O., The five great monarchies of the ancient Eastern world, London, 1871, III, 507.

58 See above, p. 31, n. 50.

59 As Herzfeld, , Zoroaster, I, 9, seems to have assumed.

60 Nöldeke, T., Beiträge zur Geschichte des Alexanderromans, Wien, 1890.

61 Parker, R. A. and Dubberstein, W. H., Babylonian chronology: 626 b.c.a.d. 75, Providence, R.I., 1956, 36.

62 For the ‘accession year’ of Cyrus, of. Dubberstein, W. H., AJSL, LV, 4, 1938, 417 f.

63 See p. 32, n. 57, above.

64 Tarn, , The Greeks in Bactria and India, second ed., 65, and Lewy, H., JAOS, LXIV, 4, 1944, 202 ff.

65 So West, , SBE, v, p. 150, n. 10.

66 Yašt, IX, 31.

67 Greater Bundahišn, xxix, 12.

68 Chronology, 40–1.

69 Siyāvūš was succeeded by Kai Xosrow, who was followed by Kai Luhrāsp, father of Kai Vištāsp, the patron of Zoroaster.

70 Marquart, J., Ērānšahr, 155; Benveniste, E., BSOS, VII, 2, 1934, 271, and others.

71 See, e.g., Henning, , Zoroaster, 44 f., and Livshits, , ‘The Khwarezmian calendar and eras of ancient Chorasmia’, Acta Antiqua Acad. Scient. Hungarica, XVI, 1–4, 1968, 433–46.

72 See Hans Herter, in Pauly-Wissowa, (ed.), RE, IX, 2, 1353–74.

73 Cited by Laertius, Diogenes, Prooem, 2.

74 Müller-Didot, , Fragmenta historicorum graecorum, I, 44, and most recently, Herter, art. cit., 1372.

75 ZDMG, XIX, 1865, 25f.

76 For discussion and references see Jackson, , Zoroaster, 151ff.

77 Benveniste, E., The Persian religion according to the chief Greek texts, Paris, 1929, 20, and Herzfeld, , Zoroaster, I, 22.

78 For details see Clemen, C., Die griechischen und lateinischen Nachrichten über der persischen Seligion, Berlin, 1920, 23 f.; Messina, G., Der Ursprung der Magier, Rome, 1930, 26 f., 40 f.

79 Among the Achaemenids themselves, Darius in his inscriptions traces his forbears back only 5 generations (see Behistun I.9–11, Kent, , Old Persian, second ed., 117–19), presumably because there was no one of distinction in the family before Achaemenes. Artaxerxes III (Persepolis A, 8–21, see ibid., 156) records 7 generations. Of. also Herodotus, VII.11, with Xerxes' naming 9 forbears.

1 This article is dedicated to my teacher, Professor M. Boyce, as a token debt of gratitude for her encouragement, constructive criticism, and valuable help.

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