Avestan geography

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Avestan geography is the compilation of the geographical references in the Avesta (the primary collection of Zoroastrian religious texts) which are limited to the regions on the eastern Iranian Plateau up to Indo-Iranian border.[1] It was common among the Indo-Iranians to identify concepts or features of traditional cosmography—mountains, lakes, rivers, etc.—with their concrete historical and geographical situation as they migrated and settled in various places.

Vendidad references[edit]

The main Avestan text of geographical interest is the first chapter of the Vidēvdād. This consists of a list of sixteen districts (asah- and šōiθra-) created by Ahura Mazdā and threatened by a corresponding number of counter-creations that Angra Mainyu set up against them (paityāra-).

The list is as follows:

  1. Airyana Vaēǰah = the homeland of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism, near the provinces of Sogdiana, Margiana, Bactria, etc., listed immediately after it.[2] The historical location of Airyanem Vaejah is still uncertain, but according to the Harvard University scholar Michael Witzel, Airyanem Vaejah lies at the center of the sixteen lands.[3] Historians such as Walter Bruno Henning, Henrik Samuel Nyberg, Walther Hinz, and Mary Boyce believe this location is Chorasmia or northeast Iran around Aral sea and Oxus river. The fact that Airyana Vaēǰah is situated in a mountainous region explains its severe climate (Vd. 1.2.3) better than does its supposed location in Chorasmia[4][5][6] Although the Pahlavi and Sassanid book introduced Airyanem Vaejah in around Azerbaijan and Some historians also believe the location of Airyanem Vaejah is Azerbaijan, in around Caucasus such as : James Darmesteter, Ernst Herzfeld, Ebrahim Pourdavoud, Johannes Hertel[7] According to Skjærvø,[8] and Gnoli[9] it was situated between the Helmand River and the Hindu Kush Mountains;
  2. Gava = Sogdiana;
  3. Mōuru = Margiana;
  4. Bāxδī = Bactria;
  5. Nisāya = a district between Margiana and Bactria, most historians believe this location is Nisa modern day south of Turkmenistan.[10] some believe Neyshabur. perhaps Maimana;[11]
  6. Harōiva = Aria, Herat
  7. Vaēkərəta = Gandhāra;[12]
  8. Urvā = the exact location of Urva is unknown, some claim Ghazni;[13] Darmesteter believed it to be Urgench in modern day Uzbekistan. Edward Granville Browne believed it to be Tus in Khorasan Province of Iran. (Vandid, darmesteter Page 68)
  9. Xnənta = la region defined as vəhrkānō.šayana- ”the dwelling place of the Vəhrkāna,” where Marquart placed the Barkánioi of Ctesias,[14] an ethnicon analogous with that of Old Persian Varkāna, the inhabitants of Hyrcania, the present Gorgān or, less probably, Hyrcania;[15]
  10. Haraxᵛaitī = Arachosia
  11. Haētumant = the region of Helmand River roughly corresponding to the Achaemenian Drangiana (Zranka);[16]
  12. Raγa = or Raga, location is modern day in Rey in Tehran province, to be distinguished, given its position in the list[17] from Median Ragā and probably also from Raγa zaraθuštri- of Yashts 19.18;[18]
  13. Čaxra =locations is still uncertain, but darmesteter, dehkhoda, Hassan Pirnia believe the location is Shahrud[19] Čarx between Ghaznī and Kabul, in the valley of Lōgar,[20] not Māzandarān, as Christensen thought;
  14. Varəna = most of historian bilives location is Gilan.[21] also Bunēr,[22] the Varṇu of the Mahāmāyūrī, the ʿAornos of Alexander the Great, the homeland of FerΘraētaona/Frēdōn/Afrīḏūn;[23]
  15. Hapta Həndu = Sanskrit Sapta Sindhu, the area of Panjab.
  16. Raŋhā = Rasā in Vedic geography, at times mentioned together with Kubhā (Kabul) and Krumu (Kurram),[24] a river situated in a mountainous area, probably connected with the Indus River, not with the Jaxartes or with the Volga.[25]

One of the old, thorny problems in studies on Avestan geography is represented by Airyana Vaēǰah (Pahlavi: Ērānwēz), "the area of the Aryans" and first of the sixteen districts in Vd. 1, the original name of which was airyanəm vaēǰō vaŋhuyā dāityayā, "the Aryan extension of Vaŋuhī Dāityā", where Vaŋuhī Dāityā "the good Dāityā" is the name of a river connected with the religious "law" (dāta-). The concept of Airyana Vaēǰah is not equivalent to that of airyō.šayana- in Yt. 10.13, or to the group of airyā daiŋ́hāvā "the Aryan lands" which is recurrent in the yashts; this, in fact, refers to just one of the Aryan lands, as the first chapter of the Vidēvdād clearly shows. It does not designate "the traditional homeland" or "the ancient homeland" of the Iranians. These definitions perpetuate old interpretations of the Airyana Vaēǰah as "Urheimat des Awestavolkes", "Urland" of the Indo-Iranians (F. Spiegel, Die arische Periode und ihre Zustände, Leipzig, 1887, p. 123), "Wiege aller iranischen Arier" (J. von Prášek, Geschichte der Meder und Perser bis zur makedonischen Eroberung I, Gotha, 1906, p. 29), drawing from the texts more than the contents really warrant. Airyana Vaēǰah is only the homeland of Zoroaster and of Zoroastrianism. According to Zoroastrian tradition Ērānwēz is situated at the center of the world; on the shores of its river, Weh Dāitī (Av. Vaŋuhī Dāityā), there were created the gāw ī ēw-dād (Av. gav aēvō.dāta) "uniquely created bull" and Gayōmard (Av. Gayō.marətan) "mortal life," the first man; there rises the Chagād ī Dāidīg, the "lawful Summit," the Peak of Harā, in Avestan also called hukairya "of good activity"; the Chinvat Bridge is there, and there too, Yima and Zoroaster became famous. Taken all together, these data show that Zoroastrianism superimposed the concept of Airyana Vaēǰah onto the traditional one of a center of the world where the Peak of Harā rises. The fact that Airyana Vaēǰah is situated in a mountainous region explains its severe climate (Vd. 1.2.3) better than does its supposed location in Chorasmia (Markwart, Ērānshahr, p. 155). This is not surprising if we consider the analogy between the Iranian concept of the peak of Harā with the Indian one of Mount Meru or Sumeru. The Manicheans identified Aryān-waižan with the region at the foot of Mount Sumeru that Wishtāsp reigned over, and the Khotanese texts record the identification of Mount Sumeru in Buddhist mythology with the Peak of Harā (ttaira haraysä) in the Avestan tradition. All this leads us to suppose that the concept of Airyana Vaēǰah was an invention of Zoroastrianism which gave a new guise to a traditional idea of Indo-Iranian cosmography.

Yasht references[edit]

There is further geographical interest to be found in another passage from the Avesta Yasht 10.13–14, where the whole region inhabited by the Aryans (airyō.šayana-) is described. The description begins with Mount Harā, the peak of which is reached by Mithra as he precedes the immortal sun and looked at the Aryan homeland.

Like the Mihr Yasht, the Farvardīn Yasht also contains some passages of use in the reconstruction of Avestan geography, in particular Yt. 13.125 and Yt. 13.127, where some characters are mentioned because of their venerable fravashi.it should be born in mind that the character related to the land of Apaxshīrā, Parshaṱ.gav, may be connected with a Sīstāni tradition and that the passage in Yt. 13.125 is dedicated to the fravashi of members of the family of Saēna, the son of Ahūm.stūṱ, who also had connections with Sīstān.

The Zamyād Yasht, dedicated to Xᵛarənah, is of very great importance for Avestan geography as it provides a surprisingly well-detailed description of the hydrography of the Helmand region, in particular of Hāmūn-e Helmand. In Yt. 19.66–77 nine rivers an[clarification needed] mentioned: Xᵛāstrā, Hvaspā, Fradaθā, Xᵛarənahvaitī, Uštavaitī, Urvaδā, Ǝrəzī, Zurənumaitī, and Haētumant; six of these are known from the Tārīkh-e Sīstān. Other features of Sīstāni geography recur in the same yasht, like the Kąsaoya lake (Pahlavi Kayānsih) or Mount Uši.’ām (Kūh-e Khᵛāǰa), both closely bound up with Zoroastrian eschatology, so that with the help of comparisons with Pahlavi and classical sources, mainly Pliny and Ptolemy, we can conclude that the Zamyād Yasht describes Sīstān with great care and attention. In Avestan geography no other region has received such treatment. There is an echo of Sīstān’s importance in Avestan geography in the brief Pahlavi treatise Abdīh ud sahīgīh ī Sagastān.

Yet another reference to Sīstān is to be found it another passage of the great yashts, Yt. 5.108, in which Kavi Vīštāspa, prince and patron of Zoroaster, is represented in the act of making sacrifice to Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā near Frazdānu, the Frazdān of Pahlavi literature, that is, one of the wonders of Sīstān; it can probably be identified with Gowd-e Zera.


If we compare the first chapter of the Vidēvdād with the passages of geographical interest that we come across mainly in the great yashts, we can conclude that the geographical area of Avesta was dominated by the Hindu Kush range at the northeast, the western boundary being marked by the districts of Rey, possibly gilan = Varəna and Alborz mountains. The Margiana, Hyrcania, Areia, and Drangiana in central, the eastern one by the Indo-Iranian frontier regions such as Gandhāra, Bunēr, the land of the “Seven Rivers.” Sogdiana and, possibly, Chorasmia (which, however, is at the extreme limits) mark the boundary to the north, Sīstān and Baluchistan to the south.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ G. Gnoli, "AVESTAN GEOGRAPHY," Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  2. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica: ĒRĀN-WĒZ by D. N. MacKenzie: By late Sasanian times Ērān-wēz was taken to be in Western Iran: according to Great Bundahišn (29.12) it was "in the district (kustag) of Ādarbāygān." But from Vendidad 1 it is clear that it has to be sought originally in eastern Iran, near the provinces of Sogdiana, Margiana, Bactria, etc., listed immediately after it.
  3. ^ M. Witzel, "The Vīdẽvdaδ list obviously was composed or redacted by someone who regarded Afghanistan and the lands surrounding it as the home of all Aryans (airiia), that is of all (eastern) Iranians, with Airiianem Vaẽjah as their center." page 48, "The Home Of The Aryans", Festschrift J. Narten = Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, Beihefte NF 19, Dettelbach: J.H. Röll 2000, 283–338. Also published online, at Harvard University (LINK)
  4. ^ (Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 155)
  5. ^ Frahang ī Pahlavīg (H.S. Nyberg)
  6. ^ (Henning, Zoroaster, pp. 41ff)
  7. ^ (Vandid, darmesteter Page 26)
  8. ^ Skjærvø, P. O. The Avesta as a source for the early history of the Iranians. In: G. Erdosy (ed.), The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, (Indian Philology and South Asian Studies, IPSAS) 1, Berlin/New York: de Gruyter 1995, 166.
  9. ^ Gnoli, G., Zoroaster's Time and Homeland. A Study on the Origins of Mazdeism and Related Problems. Naples 1980, 227.
  10. ^ (Vandid, darmesteter Page 65)
  11. ^ W. Geiger, Ostiranische Kultur im Altertum, Erlangen, 1982, p. 31 n. 1
  12. ^ S. Levi, "Le catalogue géographique des Yakṣa dans la Mahāmāyūrī," JA 5, 1915, pp. 67ff.; Christensen, op. cit., p. 28; W. B. Henning, “Two Manichaean Magical Texts,” BSOAS 12, 1947, pp. 52f.
  13. ^ Gnoli, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, pp. 26–39
  14. ^ Photius, Bibliotheca, Cod. 72, 36b-37a
  15. ^ Gnoli, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland
  16. ^ G. Gnoli, Ricerche storiche sul Sīstān antico, Rome, 1967, p. 78 and n. 3
  17. ^ I. Gershevitch, “Zoroaster’s Own Contribution,” JNES 23, 1964, pp. 36f
  18. ^ Boyce, Zoroastrianism II, pp. 89 and cf. pp. 40, 42, 66, 254, 279; G. Gnoli, “Ragha la zoroastriana,” in Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, Leiden, 1985, I, pp. 226ff
  19. ^ Darmesteter, J. The Zend Avesta, Vol, Second Edition, London, 1895, pp. 253–8
  20. ^ Gnoli, Ricerche storiche sul Sīstān antico, pp. 72–74; idem, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, pp. 42–44
  21. ^ (Vandid, darmesteter Page 72)
  22. ^ S. Levi, art. cit., p. 38; Henning, art. cit., pp. 52f.; but cf. also Monchi-Zadeh, op. cit., pp. 127-30
  23. ^ Gnoli, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, pp. 47-50
  24. ^ Gnoli, Ricerche storiche sul Sīstān antico, pp. 76f.; idem, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, pp. 50–53; and cf. also H. Lommel, "Rasā," ZII 4, 1926, pp. 194–206
  25. ^ with the Volga (J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang, ed. H. H. Schaeder, Leiden, 1938, pp. 133ff.)


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