Chapter 1 The Khwadāynāmag and Its Context

In: Khwadāynāmag The Middle Persian Book of Kings
Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila
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1.1 Preliminary Issues

This book revolves around two questions: What was the Khwadāynāmag and how did it influence Arabic and Classical Persian historiography and epic literature? Before delving any deeper into these questions, a few preliminary issues have to be discussed.1

1.1.1 The Title Khwadāynāmag

The title Khwadāynāmag is used in scholarly literature for a lost Middle Persian historical work that was translated, among others, by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ into Arabic. Strictly speaking, the title is a reconstruction, which is not found as such anywhere in Middle Persian literature. It is based on the title Khudāynāme used in a few Arabic sources, often in forms corrupted by later scribes.

Our earliest source for the Arabic title is al-Masʿūdī’s Tanbīh, p. 106//150 (Khudāynāmāh). Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī mentions the same book in his Ta⁠ʾrīkh, p. 16: “Mūsā ibn ʿĪsā al-Kisrawī has said in his book: I looked into the book called the Khudāynāme, which is the book that, when translated from Persian into Arabic, is called Ta⁠ʾrīkh mulūk al-Furs.” The same author also uses the title on pp. 22 and 50.

Likewise, Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 132/118//260, speaks about a Kitāb Khudāynāme fī l-siyar and in another passage, Fihrist, p. 305/245//589, mentions an Isḥāq ibn Yazīd, saying that “among what he translated was Sīrat al-Furs known as the *Khudāynāme”. Here the title has been variously distorted (ed. Tajaddud: ḤDʾD-nāme; ed. Flügel: Ikhtiyār-nāme;2 trans. Dodge follows Flügel), but the emendation is beyond doubt.3

These passages leave little doubt as to the Middle Persian title, and we find further support for this in early Classical Persian sources. Several versions of Persian national history in Classical Persian are titled Shāhnāmes. In the Islamic period, the word khudāy in the sense “lord; king” fell into disuse, with a few exceptions.4 Bearing this in mind, Shāhnāme seems an exact translation of the Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag. This, however, does not mean that any of the Shāhnāmes from the tenth century or later were a translation of this book as such (Chapters 3.1 and 3.2).

All in all, it seems safe to use the Middle Persian title Khwadāynāmag. Whether the work also had a more elaborate title remains an open question.

1.1.2 What was the Khwadāynāmag?

The Khwadāynāmag, a central part of Persian national history, seems originally to have been put down in writing in Middle Persian during the Sasanian period towards the end of the sixth century (Chapter 6.2).

Theodor Nöldeke’s (1879a: xiii–xxviii) brief comments on the Khwadāynāmag in the preface of his partial translation of al-Ṭabarī’s Ta⁠ʾrīkh have been hugely influential in later literature, and a short exposition of his views offers us a good starting point.

Nöldeke (1879a): xiv–xv, drew attention to the similarity of the material in Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme and the Arab historians and deduced that as Firdawsī did not, as it seemed to him, use Arabic sources, the similarity must derive from the use of a common source. This he took to be the old book, mentioned in the Bāysunqurī Preface.5 The latter is nowadays considered to be a late and unreliable source. Further, Nöldeke identified this with the Khwadāynāmag (“Dies Buch, das mit dem Chodhânâme zu identificieren wohl nicht zu kühn sein dürfte …”). As we shall later see, Nöldeke was, in fact, somewhat audacious in making this identification. Despite this, Nöldeke’s view has dominated to this day.

Nöldeke also compared various Arabic sources for pre-Islamic Persian history with each other and saw two basic story lines, one of which (represented by Ibn Qutayba, Eutychius, ms-Sprenger, and parts of al-Ṭabarī) he took to represent a direct line from Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s translation of the Khwadāynamag, thus making it possible, in broad lines, to reconstruct the content of this lost book.

Nöldeke assumed that the Khwadāynamag was originally composed during the reign of Khusraw Anōshagruwān (r. 531–579). This may be supported by the evidence provided by Agathias (d. 582) if we identify the Khwadāynāmag with Agathias’ Royal annals (Chapter 1.3.1). This is a reasonable assumption, as the literary culture flourished under this King’s long rule, but it should be emphasised that there is no direct evidence for this, and later sources were conscious of the general literary activity of Khusraw Anūshirwān and were prone to attribute any important work to his reign. The date will be discussed in Chapter 6.2.

Nöldeke also thought that the work had later been revised, and he derived the various different narratives concerning pre-Islamic Iran from this one source through its different (hypothetical) recensions. The sources themselves, referred to by Nöldeke, however, do not claim that their information derives from the Khwadāynāmag. As we shall see later (Chapters 1.2 and 2.2.1), there is absolutely no reason to assume that all the information on pre-Islamic Persia that came to the Arabs derived from just one source.

Although Nöldeke’s theories were highly hypothetical,6 they have become generally accepted and have provided the guidelines for later research, even though some scholars have recently, in one way or another, broken free from the sphere delineated by Nöldeke’s theory. As will be shown in this book, there is ample reason to update our understanding of what the Khwadāynamag was.

The Khwadāynāmag has later disppeared, but both Mediaeval sources and modern studies are unanimous in accepting that it contained materials on Persian national history in one way or another. This book aims at giving a more detailed account of its contents, and the results will be summarized in Chapter 6.2.

In the eighth century, the Khwadāynamag was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (Chapters 3.1 and 3.4), and other scholars either made new translations or new versions of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s translation (Chapters 3.2 and 3.3). In addition, a lot of historical material on Persian national history found its way into Arabic and Classical Persian texts through independent routes during the centuries after the Arab conquest of Iran, whether in oral or written form. Later, these materials kept circulating in Arabic and Persian historiographical literature, while no new translations of any Middle Persian historical texts seem to have been made in the second millennium.

Other Middle Persian translations of historical texts into Arabic are well documented (Chapter 2.2.1), even though most texts have undergone the same fate as the translation of the Khwadāynāmag and have been lost. We have no clear evidence that the Khwadāynāmag would have been directly translated from Middle Persian into Classical Persian. While the Khwadāynāmag was probably never translated as such into Classical Persian, it is possible – and here I am mainly thinking of the Prose Shāhnāme (Chapter 4.2) – that the Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag may have been used as a source for compiling longer versions of Persian national history.

There were other direct translations from Middle Persian into Classical Persian, but we tend to know very little about these. Often, as in the case of the Prose Shāhnāme, it has been taken for granted that if a text was translated into Classical Persian by a person carrying a Zoroastrian name, the original must have been in Middle Persian. In many cases this may well have been so, but we should not hasten to claim this without a proper study of the sources. The question will be studied in more detail in Chapter 4.2.

Learned Muslim Persian scholars from the tenth century and later were bilingual (Persian/Arabic) and accustomed to using Arabic sources, and there is no reason why these should not have been used by them. Thus, e.g., Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s translation of the Khwadāynāmag was an adequate source for Persian national history and while it was available in an easy language daily used by these scholars, there was no need to run back to a text in a complicated, outmoded script and language.

Beginning with the tenth century, much material on Persian national history was translated from Arabic “back” into Classical Persian, but there is no indication that the Arabic translation of the Khwadāynāmag by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ or others would have been translated into Classical Persian.

Beside this literary transmission from one language into another, and sometimes back, there runs a binary oral tradition. First of all, it is beyond doubt that the Persians, as a nation, did not suffer from amnesia after the Arab conquest: they carried on remembrances of times past and would have been able to draw on their memory either when composing works of their own or acting as informants for others. Indeed, one should not suppose that the history of the last centuries always needed to come either from a written or a fixed oral source. For some of these oral informants, see Chapter 3.2.11.

In addition, there was an oral tradition of fixed texts.7 We know that there was an Iranian oral tradition of historical stories from at least the Parthians onward (see Chapters 1.4 and 4.5) and when we come to the Islamic period, we see a series of texts first translated into Arabic (Chapters 2.2.1 and 4.7) and later compiled in Classical Persian which either derive their material from such oral compositions, epics (sung, recited, or narrated) in the case of national history, or are translations of texts that existed at the time, but have later completely disappeared. At least in some cases, the former possibility seems more probable, as we have little indication that some such texts ever existed in any written form of Middle Persian.8

However, both the Khwadāynāmag itself and its immediate descendants are irrevocably lost. The list of lost works is long: the original Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag from the sixth century; all Persian translations and versions, if there ever were such, before Firdawsī (d. 411/1019–20); Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s translation from the mid-eighth century; and all other Arabic translations and versions from the first millennium. It is only at the beginning of the second millennium that, fragments aside, we start having extant works to study, beginning with Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme on the Persian and al-Thaʿālibī’s Ghurar (written around 412/1022) on the Arabic side (Chapters 4.4 and 4.5).

The aim of this book is to delineate the transmission of the Khwadāynāmag and its translations and re-writings and, ultimately, to assess the contents of both the original Khwadāynāmag and its later main versions.

1.1.3 The Khwadāynāmag and Persian National History: Clarification of Terminology

Previous scholarship has often been seriously hampered not only by the fact that the most pertinent sources have been lost, but also by a certain confusion between two things, namely the Khwadāynāmag and Persian national history in general. The two are not interchangeable terms, and there is a lot of material in later Arabic and Persian literature concerning Persian national history that does not derive from the Khwadāynāmag.

In addition to the Khwadāynāmag, we know of many Middle Persian sources that contained material relevant for national history, and some of these are still extant (Chapter 1.2), while others are known to have been translated into Arabic (Chapter 2.2.1). All these sources are of interest in studying the Khwadāynāmag, but they should not be confused with the Khwadāynāmag itself. What is undeniable is the fact that the Arabs had various sources of information on pre-Islamic Iran.

Another frequent mistake is to confuse the Khwadāynāmag with the oral repertoire of storytellers when in fact the two have nothing to do with each other. It is possible that, e.g., Firdawsī used oral lays as additional material for his epic (Chapter 4.5), and it may even be that the Prose Shāhnāme (Chapter 4.2) had already done so. There is, however, no reason to suggest that any of this material would derive from, or have been taken into, the Khwadāynāmag, and the study of the remaining fragments of the early Arabic translations of the book does not support such an idea.

A third mistake is to measure the Khwadāynāmag against Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme. Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme is a great book and it is obviously part of the Persian tradition of national history. But it is a late source – some 400 years later than the Khwadāynāmag – and cannot be used to suggest what the Khwadāynāmag may have contained. If, as it seems, the Prose Shāhnāme was Firdawsī’s main source, then we have to admit that Firdawsī’s epic is based on a source that is a compilation from several different sources (Chapter 4.2), of which the Khwadāynāmag was, at most, one among many.

Was there a single Khwadāynāmag, or did the book exist in variant versions? Hasty conclusions have been drawn from the Arabic material, but, again, we should study the question before answering it. It seems that the main pieces of evidence for this come from misunderstood passages in Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī’s Ta⁠ʾrīkh (Chapter 6.1.), who is speaking of a large number of Arabic translations of the book and a number of manuscripts of the Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag. The passages cannot be read as referring to widely differing Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag recensions.

The confusion between the Khwadāynāmag, as a book authored in Sasanian times, and the various traditions about Persian national history may be seen in several recent and influential works.

An example may be taken from Cameron (1969–70): 107–108. Cameron mentions a variant version of Ardashīr’s origins and writes: “The Khwadhāynāmagh version, on the other hand, traced his descent to the Avestan saga-kings and the Achaemenid dynasty (cf. Ṭabarī, Nöldeke, 2, 3)”. Checking the reference, one merely finds Nöldeke’s German translation of al-Ṭabarī, Ta⁠ʾrīkh i: 813//v: 3 (Nöldeke 1879a: 2): “Nach einer andern Angabe ist aber sein Stammbaum …”. No mention is made of the Khwadāynāmag, nor any speculation by Nöldeke in the footnotes as to the identity of this other source. There is absolutely nothing to imply that this piece of information would come from the Khwadāynāmag. The train of thought seems to have been that as this piece belongs to Persian national history, it belongs to the Khwadāynāmag tradition and, thus, to the Khwadāynāmag.

Even Jackson Bonner in his otherwise well-written monograph (2011) adds to this confusion. He uses the term “Khudāy-Nāma tradition” “to refer to all Arabic and Persian texts dealing with Sasanian history in roughly the same way” (Jackson Bonner 2011: 20), as if these similarities all derived from the Khwadāynāmag and no other Middle Persian sources had been translated.9 A good example of this confusion comes on p. 36: “Wherever Firdawsī accords with the rest of the Khudāy-Nama tradition, we can be fairly certain that an official Sasanian source is responsible for the agreement.” In fact, we cannot be so certain. We can only be fairly sure that there is an earlier source, whether in Middle Persian or Arabic, whether official or not, that these later sources share. Nothing less and nothing more. Often we know that this source was not the Khwadāynāmag (Chapters 2.2.1 and 4.6).

In Jackson Bonner (2015): 22, the same author actually says as much: “Careful probing reveals that a great mass of documents of diverse genres and origins must lie behind the ḫudāynāme tradition. It is not a unitary tradition going back to a single text (…).” As the Khwadāynāmag, or Khudāynāme, is the title of a book and the idea of a “Khwadāynāmag tradition” is merely a concept invented by modern scholars, the use of the term only causes confusion.10

An even clearer case comes from Daryaee (2010): 11, where it is said about the Wizārishn (see Chapters 2.2.1 and 4.6) that: “[t]he appearance of this story in the early Arabic and Persian texts suggests that it was part of the Sasanian Xwadāy-nāmag (Book of Kings/Lords) tradition which was translated by Ibn al-Muqaf[f]aʿ and transmitted for posterity.” This would seem to claim that every single bit of this tradition was translated by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ. The text, however, has been transmitted independently in Pahlavi literature and there is no reason to assume that it found its way either into the Pahlavi Khwadāynāmag or its translation by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ.

The confusion created by Iranists has established incorrect notions of what the Khwadāynāmag was and has caused further confusion among scholars of the Late Antiquity. Howard-Johnston (2010): 341–353, is very much based on the studies of Zeev Rubin, taking any piece of Persian national history in Arabic or Persian to derive from the Khwadāynāmag and even going as far as speaking about “[t]he bards through whom the Khwadaynamag was disseminated” (p. 343). This confuses a specific book, Persian history in general, and orally transmitted epics that have nothing to do with the Khwadāynāmag and which fully found their way into Classical Persian and Arabic historical texts and epics no earlier than the tenth century.

But is the question of any importance in writing Parthian or Sasanian history? If the legends circulating in Iran and adjacent areas in the eighth century and later are ascribed to a royal history from pre-Islamic times, they receive an aura of historicity, which they often do not deserve: e.g., the later epics do not represent professional historiography, but instead have to be seen as literary productions.11 This is not to say that they are, by definition, worthless as historical sources. They are not. They are valuable aids for reconstructing history, but they are not part of any official historiographical tradition. Likewise, we cannot use this spurious evidence to note any tensions between royal and priestly points of view. Such there must have been, as the Zoroastrian “Church” was rich and influential in the Sasanian period, but the Khwadāynāmag was not, as far as we know, a tool for any such schisms there may have been (Chapter 6.1).

What is crucial is not to create confusion by speaking of “Khwadāynāmag tradition”, or worse still, of the Khwadāynāmag itself, when one speaks of the received corpus of texts on pre-Islamic Iran. Translating this into a “Book of Kings tradition” is not much better. When speaking of material relevant for Persian history for which we cannot show a link to the real Khwadāynāmag, we should avoid the term Khwadāynāmag altogether and speak more generally of Persian national history and its tradition. The Khwadāynāmag is merely a part of this. It would be equally wrong to call, e.g., all Arabic historical information the “Ṭabarian tradition” and then confuse al-Ṭabarī’s Ta’rīkh with this vague tradition, leading to an absurd situation where passages from any Arab historian such as Ibn Khaldūn would be attributed to al-Ṭabarī. Yet this is, mutatis mutandis, what is routinely done in Persian studies.

Hence, the terminology used in this book makes a strict difference between the following:

  1. “the Khwadāynāmag” is a Middle Persian work, written, as it would seem, in the sixth century and later lost without trace in the original language;

  2. Kitāb al-Siyar” (or Siyar al-mulūk or Siyar mulūk al-ʿajam; also other variant titles)12 or “the Arabic translation of the Khwadāynāmag” refers to the Arabic translation(s) and versions of this Middle Persian text;

  3. Shāhnāme” refers to a series of works written in early Classical Persian, of which only that by Firdawsī has been preserved. Of others, we only have fragments, if even that;

  4. “Persian national history” refers to the information concerning pre-Islamic Iran pre-modern authors writing in Middle Persian, Classical Persian, and Arabic provide us with;13

  5. “the Book of Kings tradition” is a general term that I use sparingly, to avoid confusion. It refers to the Middle Persian, Arabic, and Classical Persian works belonging to a), b), and c).

  6. “the Khwadāynāmag tradition” is a vague and confusing term to be avoided and will not be used in this book.

1.2 Middle Persian Historical Material

As already stated, there are no extant texts or fragments in Middle Persian that one would be justified in ascribing to a book called the Khwadāynāmag and, as far as I know, no scholar has claimed that any texts should be seen as being, or containing, vestiges of the Khwadāynāmag.

Still, we do possess several Middle Persian texts that contain historical material.14 The most important complete historical texts are Ayādgār ī Zarērān and Kārnāmag ī Ardashīr. These two texts will be briefly introduced in Chapters 1.2.1 and 1.2.2. They are nowhere indicated as being parts of the Khwadāynāmag and, as we shall later see, they have little in common with that book, as far as my analysis admits us to see. The relations of these and two other texts to Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme, al-Thaʿālibī’s Ghurar, and al-Ṭabarī’s Ta⁠ʾrīkh will be studied in Chapter 4.6.

Other works, too, contain historical material (Chapter 1.2.3), but, again, there is no indication that these would derive from the Khwadāynāmag.

We do know that already the first Sasanids of the third century had inscriptions written for them and on this basis many, e.g., Yarshater (1983): 392–393, assume that written historical records were kept very early, too. This is, however, speculation and we have no positive evidence for the existence of Middle Persian historical books before the sixth century and it seems that an overwhelming majority of all written Pahlavi texts were composed or written down no earlier than this.15

1.2.1 Ayādgār ī Zarērān

Ayādgār ī Zarērān is now generally thought to have been initially composed in Parthian, and in an oral form it probably dates back to the Parthian period.16 It contains vestiges of having been in verse, but the original text cannot be reconstructed in a metric form, except perhaps for individual passages. It was probably originally an epic tale in Parthian and has only during its transmission been “Pahlavized”, losing its metrical structure.

The metric origin of the text makes it highly probable that it was transmitted orally before being written down. Many features common to oral poetry, such as standing epithets and repetitions, still shine through and are probably reminiscences of the text’s origin. Whether the codification, prosification, and Pahlavization happened all at the same time, or separately, is not known, but whatever the first codification might have looked like, later scribes, not understanding the metrical structure and largely ignorant of Parthian, have further corrupted the text.

The text is relatively short (17 pages in the modern edition). It is clearly a complete text, beginning (§1) with the title of the text17 and narrating one episode from the beginning (Wishtāsp’s conversion to Zoroastrianism, §1) to its end, the final defeat of the Khyōnian army and the humiliation of Arjāsp, its King (§§113–114).

The text shows no relationship to the Sistanian cycle, none of whose heroes take part in the action.18 Otherwise, the characters are well known from Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme, showing the continuation of the tradition (Wishtāsp, Arjāsp, Bastwar = Nastūr, Wīdrafsh, Spandiyād = Isfandiyār, Isfandiyādh, etc.).

1.2.2 Kārnāmag ī Ardashīr

Kārnāmag ī Ardashīr ī Pābagān19 is a little monograph of less than 70 pages in a modern edition.20 It is usually called legendary, but in fact the major part of the text is written quite soberly.21 The establishing of towns, provinces, and Fires is mentioned in several chapters (v, ix, xi), resembling the style of historical sources and, most probably, the Khwadāynāmag, as does the throne speech of Ardashīr (pp. 76–78), which, though, seems to be an inserted passage and may not have been part of the original text.

The text is preserved in the Pahlavi manuscript mk, copied in 1322, and in its final form does not date back before the ninth century,22 but its material most probably goes back to the Sasanian period. In its final form, the Kārnāmag is, thus, younger than, e.g., Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s translation of the Khwadāynāmag, but older than the Prose Shāhnāme (Chapter 4.2).

The text has a clear beginning, where the title of the book is given, and a clear end, and it forms a concise narrative of Ardashīr’s story. The story has been tied up with Persian national history, briefly mentioning in the beginning (i: 1–2) the background (Alexander and the Petty Kings) and, later, tying Ardashīr and his dynasty up with Darius (Dārāy ī Dārāyān, i: 7, iii: 19).23 It shows a very strong concern with the legitimacy of the dynasty and the continuity of the Persian royal line also after Ardashīr (chapters xixiv). The importance of dynastic legitimacy is very clear in viii: 10, where it is mentioned that the gods finally destroyed the (foreign) oppressors Dahāg, Afrāsiyāb, and Alexander.

The text refers to several battles but without mentioning any heroes or giving epic descriptions, although in many passages there would be an excellent opportunity to do so (chapters v, vi, vii, ix).24 The only heroic feature that in any way resembles, e.g., Firdawsī’s descriptions, or those of Ayādgār ī Zarērān, is the short description of Ardashīr’s son’s, Shāpūr’s, abnormal strength when he is able to pull a large bucket of water from a well (xiii: 10). The scene reminds one of the many times Rustam singlehandedly lifts large boulders (e.g., Firdawsī, Shāhnāme iii: 380–381).

The Kārnāmag is strongly Zoroastrian in tenor and the seemingly monotheistic passages probably only reflect slight inaccuracies in theological terms. Especially viii: 11–12, shows Zoroastrian details, such as the grace (wāz) and āfrīnagān said by Ardashīr before a meal. Whereas the mention of, e.g., the establishing of Fires could well be a mere historical reminiscence, such small details of everyday life are far stronger evidence for the text being uncontaminated by Islamic influence. The Arabs are briefly mentioned in vii: 12 (tāzīgān) as enemies of Ardashīr, but this is the sole reference to them, which also speaks in favour of the text coming rather directly from the Sasanian period, despite the few late additions, and, thus, it is quite possible to date it well before the eighth century.

The Greek historian Agathias (Chapter 1.3.1) offers a version of the birth of Ardashīr (Artaxares) which, he says, the Persians had recorded in their royal archives (en tais basileiois diftherais, ii.27.5). The passage is too short to make it possible to say whether it might derive from the Kārnāmag or whether it is an independent version of a well-known story. Its clearly anti-Sasanian tenor shows that it has been modified by Agathias or his Christian informant, Sergius. There is nothing to imply that it would come from any written anti-Sasanian or anti-Zoroastrian source.

1.2.3 Other Books Containing Historical Material

Except for the Ayādgār and the Kārnāmag, no preserved Pahlavi book is focused on historical matters, but some relevant material may be found in a variety of books.25

The Shahrestānīhā ī Ērānshahr, only six and a half pages in the modern edition, is organized geographically, listing cities founded by various kings and a few other persons, together with some scattered information on other building activities, establishing of Fires, and a few historical notes. The usual structure of an item is: the city of X was built by Y, the son of Z. The text has little historical content, but what is noteworthy is that such brief accounts of building activities are very often also found in Arabic and Classical Persian historical sources and seem to stem from the conventions of Middle Persian historiography. The text’s final version is dated by the editor to the eighth century.26

Another small, six-page text, (Abar) Wizārishn ī chatrang ud nihishn ī nēw-Ardashīr, tells the story of the invention of chess and backgammon, set at the time of Khusraw Anōshagruwān (r. 531–579). The text is preserved in the ms mk (Chapter 1.2.2), but there does not seem to be any clear idea of its original date.27 Although not strictly speaking a historical text, its material later found its way into the Book of Kings tradition and will be discussed in Chapter 4.6.

The same goes for Husraw ud rēdag-ē, again a short, twelve-page text,28 which revolves around courtly manners and is set at the time of King Khusraw Anōshagruwān, who examines a promising young man as to his knowledge of things necessary for a courtier. The book is devoid of any historical material, but is resumed in al-Thaʿālibī’s Ghurar and will be discussed in Chapter 4.6.

These three short books are clearly linked to Persian national history as it was later presented in a number of Arabic and Persian sources.

Some religious Pahlavi texts occasionally contain historical information. Such books include the encyclopaedic Dēnkard; the story of the creation, the Bundahishn in its two versions; and the apocalyptic books Ayādgār ī Jāmaspīg and Zand ī Wahman Yasn. While not impossible that such books were known to, e.g., the compilers of the Prose Shāhnāme, it is not easy to find significant contact points between them and the Arabic and Classical Persian historical works belonging to the Book of Kings tradition.29

In addition to books that we can document, there are many references to Pahlavi books, either in the original languages or in translation, in Arabic and Persian sources. To pick but one example, in his Siyāsatnāme Niẓām al-Mulk mentions an anonymous booklet (kurrāse), which contained information on pre-Islamic Persian kings (p. 9), books on governance privately owned by the Barmakids (p. 219), and eighth-century books on eschatology (p. 259). Some such books may well be legendary, while others probably were really existing books. Several lost Pahlavi books that contained historical material and were translated into Arabic are discussed in Chapters 2.2 and 2.3.

1.3 Early Sources in Other Languages

Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Armenian texts, written before 651 or drawing on materials datable to before 651 and containing historical information on pre-Islamic Persia are rather numerous. Much of this material does not concern us, as many of these sources are based on contemporary information and there is no indication that they would have used written Middle Persian sources, whether the Khwadāynāmag or others. They do contain valuable historical material for reconstructing Parthian and Sasanian history, but as we are not concerned with history but with historiography and, more specifically, the study of one specific historical source, they are of little value to us here.

In the following chapter, I will study Agathias more closely, as the contents of his book may partly go back to the Khwadāynāmag. Some other sources are briefly noted in Chapter 1.3.2.

1.3.1 Agathias

Whereas other sources in Greek30 also contain much important historical material, Agathias’ (d. 582) Historiarum Libri Quinque is unique in claiming that it derives much of its Persian materials from an official source which may, or may not, have to be identified with the Khwadāynāmag. This source, basilikà apomnēmoneúmata (iv.30.3) was not directly seen by Agathias, but it was used by the Christian translator Sergius, whom Agathias had commissioned to provide him with information on the Sasanians.31

This source will be called in this book The Royal Annals.32 Agathias does mention this source on a general level, but he does not clearly specify which pieces of information derive from it, which from the other, mainly Greek sources he used,33 as well as from potential Syriac influence, presumably through Sergius, hear-say from contemporaries, and popular stories circulating in Persia, again probably passed through Sergius’ mediation. In addition, there may be sheer fiction. Agathias’ (negative) opinions on many Sasanian kings, including the founder of the dynasty Ardashīr and his successor Shāpūr, are clearly his own and do not derive from any Persian source.

At the end of the Fourth Book (iv.30.2–4), Agathias gives some information on the Royal Annals. He tells that “[w]hen Sergius the interpreter went there he asked the officials in charge of the Royal Annals to give him access to the records (for I had often urged him to do this).” The keepers obliged, and Sergius “extracted the names, the chronology, and the most important happenings in their time, and translated all this most skilfully into Greek (…). So it was to be expected that he made a very accurate translation (…).” Later, he brought his notes to Agathias, who used them for his book. It is not explicitly stated whether there was a number of documents from which Sergius compiled his notes or whether there was a single source from which he excerpted them.

This three-fold transmission (the original source(s) in Middle Persian → Sergius’ Greek notes → Agathias’ version) makes it difficult to assess the relation between Agathias’ text and the Royal Annals, especially as Agathias inserted other materials into his narrative without in any way marking them off as deriving from a different source. However, we must make an effort to describe what Persian material Agathias used for this part of his book, and then we can speculate on what the Royal Annals may have been like.

The book shows some general knowledge of Persian religion and customs, such as a note on Ahriman (Greek Areimanēs, i.7.5), Persian funeral habits (ii.23), the xvaetvadatha34 (ii.24.1–4), and Zarathustra as a religious innovator (ii.24.6–11).35 Such information Agathias could have received from any of his sources and there is no reason to assume that this information derives from the Royal Annals, as it does not contain historical material but explains habits and beliefs in a way that would have been superfluous to the Persians themselves. These parts are clearly composed with a Greek audience in mind.

The general description of Zoroastrian religion and Zarathustra leads Agathias to speak about Chaldaeans, Assyrians, Medes, Achaemenids (not mentioning the dynastic name, though), Alexander and his followers, and, finally, the Parthians (ii.25). This part is very brief, the names are given in their standard Greek forms, and there is no indication that these passages would derive from the Royal Annals. Instead, they follow the Greek tradition that had been established well before Agathias. The Sasanians had a strong feeling of continuity from the Achaemenids to their own dynasty, but the present passage cannot be used as proof for the Sasanians’ attitude towards the past of their Empire.

After this, Agathias turns to the originator of the Sasanian dynasty, Ardashīr (ii.26), and the stories start to have more historical information. In ii.26.2–3, he links Ardashīr to the Magians, and a Zoroastrian dependence would fit well with a Sasanian viewpoint, but the story about Ardashīr’s parents (ii.27.1–5) is far from flattering to the Sasanians – in general, Agathias is rather hostile towards them and particularly towards Khusraw Anūshirwān. It seems inevitable that, even though he explicitly claims that this information derives from the royal archives, Agathias, or Sergius, has here freely modified the Sasanian version to shame the ruling dynasty in the eyes of his Greek readers.36 It should be noted that Agathias refers to this source only indirectly (“This is the genealogy of Artaxares given by the Persians, and they say it is true since it is actually recorded in the Royal Annals” ii.27.5).

In ii.27.6, Agathias promises to give a list of the names of the ruling descendants of Ardashīr, together with the duration of each reign. This he does, but starting only in iv.24, even though iii.1.1 would seem to imply that the passage was written before he continued the story in the Third Book. In ii. 27.8, he indicates that he has got this information from “their own writings”, tacitly surpassing Sergius.

The rest of the Second Book (ii.28–32) is dedicated to denigrating Khusraw Anūshirwān, showing that instead of being a cultured patron of philosophy and something of a philosopher himself, he was, in fact, a gullible barbarian who believed in the fake Syrian philosopher Uranius.

It is only at the end of the Fourth Book that Agathias returns to material derived from the Royal Annals and gives the list he had promised in ii.27.6. He does not (iv.23.8) hide his antipathy towards the founders of the Sasanian Empire, Ardashīr and Shāpūr, who “were both wicked and abominable men.” The text, which is partly dependent on the Royal Annals, begins in iv.24 and continues until iv.30. The bulk, however, of even these pages derives from other sources.

The information given in the Fourth Book is mostly scanty and restricted to a few elements, with some exceptions. Agathias gives the name of the king, the detailed duration of his reign (down to months and days)37 and, in some cases, a brief account of an episode during his reign. Thus, he dedicates a few lines on the carnage of Shāpūr i’s campaigns, which could, with modifications, derive from the Royal Annals. It is not much differing in tone from inscriptional or epic descriptions of victorious campaigns, but the following piece of information concerning his defeat caused by Odenathos (iv.24.4–5) cannot come from any official Persian source, which would not have listed the defeats of the Sasanian kings in any detail.

Hormizd and Wahrām i are only allotted some dry chronological information giving the length of their respective reigns: “On Sapor’s death, his son Hormizd took over the throne, but held it for only a very short time. He enjoyed his good fortune for a year and ten days, without doing anything that has ever been recorded. The next king, Vararanes, who reigned for three years, was the same” (iv.24.5). Agathias mentions how Wahrām iii received the title of Saganshāh (iv.24.6) and goes on to explain how and why such titles were given, the latter hardly stemming from the Royal Annals, as the custom would have been familiar to the Persians themselves.

When coming to Shāpūr ii (iv. 25.2–8), the pace of the narrative slows down and the reader is offered more detailed information, starting with the famous episode of already crowning the child in his mother’s womb. The version of Agathias tells how the Magi were first able to predict the sex of an unborn foal and having thus shown their competence they predicted that the child would be a son, after which he was crowned still unborn by putting a diadem over his mother’s womb. The only other detail we are told is that he conquered Nisibis, to which is added a passage concerning the Byzantine side of the event, obviously deriving from Byzantine sources. Whether the story about the crowning of Shāpūr ii derives from the Royal Annals or from a popular source, cannot be known.

After this, the narrative once again becomes extremely concise (iv.26.1–2). iv.26.3–8 relates the reign of Yazdagird i, “who is much talked about by the Romans.” Indeed, iv.26.3–7 derives from Byzantine sources and it is only the brief paragraph iv.26.8 that may contain Persian material. The next longer narrative concerns Kawād (iv.27.6–iv.29.5) and relates to the episode of Mazdak, whose name, though, is not mentioned and whose negatively considered innovations are ascribed to Kawād himself. The main theme is the downfall of, and subsequent return to, the throne by Kawād. Here Agathias also refers to earlier (Greek) historians, who have adequately treated the two parts of his reign, and he merely adds one point, which is not derived from Persian sources. This awkward moment in Sasanian history is again something one might not expect to have been fully documented in official sources.

Finally, he returns to Khusraw Anūshirwān (iv.29.5–10), about whom he again tells from a Byzantine viewpoint.

Thus, the passages that probably derive from Persian sources are mostly brief and dry chronological notes, with the exception of Ardashīr’s story and the prenatal crowning of Shāpūr ii, both probably of a popular character.38 The indirect transmission, of course, makes it impossible to say how large and legendary the original source may have been, but there is nothing in Agathias to imply that it would have contained (m)any novelistic trends, as the more elaborate passages are far from flattering from the Sasanian point of view and, hence, do not derive from Sasanian sources. If there were longer narratives, either Sergius or Agathias decided against including them.

A second point of interest is that Agathias offers no Persian stories predating the Sasanian dynasty (except for the brief and inaccurate, un-Persian mention of Zarathustra, which may draw on Persian sources only in a general fashion). We have to bear in mind, though, that Agathias was writing on contemporary issues and even the intervention of these older Sasanids is a long deviation from the main narrative. Yet, as far as we can see, the Royal Annals contained information only on the Sasanids. As we shall later see (Chapters 3.1 and 6.2), the Khwadāynāmag seems to have told the story from the Creation onward, but there were other books that contained information only, or mainly, on the Sasanids.

The dry chronological structure resembles the information culled by Ḥamza from the Arabic translation(s) of the Khwadāynāmag (Chapter 3.1 and 3.6). It is often clear that Agathias is not content with quoting the Royal Annals, but adds his own speculations (especially on Pērōz, iv.27.4) and in many passages the anti-Persian opinions make it hard to claim that he was transmitting from any Persian source, not to speak of the Royal Annals. The Royal Annals seem to have been a dry catalogue, as aptly called by Cameron (1969–70): 112, cf. Agathias ii.27.8.

The hostility towards the Sasanids and some differences between Agathias and later Arabic and Persian sources have led scholars to doubt whether Agathias had, in fact, used the Royal Annals through Sergius’ translation, as he himself claims, or whether he used some intermediate Christian source. This has been put forward in an extreme form by Greenwood (2002): 331–332, who dismisses the Royal Annals, and claims that Agathias’ source was “an incomplete, hostile summary of Sasanian dynastic history, reflecting Christian and Roman sympathies.” Jackson Bonner (2011): 23–25, shares some of Greenwood’s doubts, referring to a passage in the Syriac Book of the Bee as a type of source that could have provided Agathias with such information (see Chapter 1.3.2).

However, these doubts are exaggerated. Agathias and his informant, Sergius, were Christians and certainly had their prejudices, and Agathias also had at hand Christian sources, whether oral or written, and these certainly influenced his reading of the Persian material. Nowhere does he claim that he was giving faithful translations from one source only and even a cursory look at the text proves that we are not dealing with an exact excerpt from any Persian (or other) source. More likely, he is resuming events and using several sources to create a concise narrative. Hence, the presence of anti-Sasanian attitudes does not mean that he could not have used a Persian source as one of his sources, laying over it, as it were, a layer of his own, or Sergius’, anti-Sasanian feelings.

A second problem arises from the usual confusion between the Khwadāynāmag and the “Khwadāynāmag tradition”. Jackson Bonner refers (2011: 23, n. 25)39 to the bad reputation of Yazdagird i and Balāsh “in other sources of the Khudāy-Nāma tradition”, whereas they are portrayed in positive terms in Agathias’ work, which he takes to mean that the positive attitude must come from another, Christian source. These rulers may well have been hated by the Zoroastrian clergy, whose attitudes may no doubt be represented by some later Arabic and Persian sources, but this is not to say that the Royal Annals or the Khwadāynāmag would have had such an antagonistic attitude towards them. Official sources tend to downplay internal disagreements and present a unified, harmonious picture. It would be hard to imagine that the Royal Annals contained much criticism against any of the legitimate members of the dynasty. Thus, a positive attitude is to be expected and there is no reason to speculate on sources of whose existence we have no indication at all.

Personal comments, a few popular stories, and some coloured transmissions aside, it is likely that what Sergius/Agathias did to the Royal Annals was mainly to abbreviate them.40

The question now is whether or not we can equate the Royal Annals with the Khwadāynāmag. In favour of the identification speaks the fact that the material excludes any embarrassing comments on the Sasanian kings; when there are such, they clearly derive from Agathias himself (or Sergius) or from Byzantine sources.41

Yet the answer is not simple: the Sasanids may well have kept historical records in their archives in addition to writing royal histories, but it does strike one that (cf. Chapter 6.2) the overall nature of what Agathias derives from the Royal Annals seems rather closely to coincide with what we know about the Khwadāynāmag from Arabic and Persian sources (once we forget the “Khwadāynāmag tradition” fallacy). It would seem a reasonable supposition to equate the two.42 On the other hand, there were also other historical books in Pahlavi that could come into question as possible sources for Sergius, Kitāb al-Ṣuwar among them (Chapter 2.2.1). The question has to remain unsolved.

1.3.2 Other Sources

In recent times, Jackson Bonner (2011): 24, and (2015): 55, has drawn attention to the Syriac Book of the Bee, attributed to Solomon of Basra and perhaps dating to the early thirteenth century, as containing a potential source of Agathias and an example of Syriac historical writing about the Sasanians. The book contains a list of Persian kings, which may itself date back to the early seventh century. The list is concise and would well agree with the similar conciseness of Agathias (and other witnesses for the Khwadāynāmag), but such a list could also have been compiled from other sources and it is merely the conciseness which is common to both. There are, in fact, no specific details which would give us reason to claim that the two are in any way linked with each other.

Jackson Bonner (2015) and Philip Wood (2016) have in general emphasized the Syriac influence on the material concerned with Persian national history that was transmitted to Islamic literature. While this history was probably partly coloured by Syriac Christian attitudes, we have to keep in mind that there are no Syriac works that would claim to be translations from Middle Persian historical texts. Wood (2016) is able to show that al-Ṭabarī’s version of Sasanid history is sometimes coloured by Syriac Christian attitudes on the events. It is, however, improbable that these would have made a detour through the Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag or its Arabic translation(s). Syriac texts going back to other Syriac texts written in the sixth century have nothing to do with the Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag, except that the earliest Syriac texts may have used it as one of their sources, but we have no documentation even for this. There is no reason to assume that these Syriac texts had any influence on the Middle Persian Khwadāynāmag or its Arabic translations.43

Jackson Bonner (2015): 67–72, draws attention to several cases in Persian national history, culled especially from al-Dīnawarī’s Akhbār, where pre-Islamic Persian characters are presented as Christians, mentioning the conversions of Ardashīr and Anūshzād as examples. While such stories certainly were not circulated by Zoroastrians, not to speak of including them into the Khwadāynāmag, it is not clear whether the Christian or the Islamic tradition is responsible for this. The Islamic tradition made Alexander perform a pilgrimage to Mecca (e.g., Nihāya, p. 128), changed the legendary kings of Iran into monotheists (Firdawsī, Shāhnāme, passim), and, in general, read pre-Islamic history through the lenses of the Islamic world history. Jackson Bonner himself, (2015): 68, notices the Islamization of the story of Ardashīr’s conversion in al-Dīnawarī’s Akhbār. Instead of positing an undocumented Syriac Christian text later Islamized it would be much easier to explain this as an Islamic retelling of history.44 When al-Dīnawari wrote his book, most Iranians had been Muslims for up to two centuries and they had every reason, like Firdawsī, to present their illustrious ancestors as monotheists. As these events took place before Islam, it was only natural either to refer them to some form of Ur-Monotheismus (the religion of the ḥanīfs) or to Christianity, God’s last but one dispensation on earth.

While it is unadvisable to speculate without evidence on non-existing Syriac sources that might have dealt extensively with Persian history it is, on the other hand, quite natural that Syriac Christians, especially those living in Iran, would have had some influence on the earliest Muslim historians, traditionists, and storytellers, as well as the other way round. Thus, there is no reason to deny that in some cases they may have influenced the way Muslims wrote on Persian history, but without tangible evidence we should not speculate on the existence of specific books that might have been dependent on the Khwadāynāmag or might have provided material to any recension of the Khwadāynāmag or its Arabic translations. Texts, such as the Chronicle of Seert and the Khūzistān Chronicle, contain information on Persian kings and some of this material may go back to written Middle Persian sources, while they may also depend on Syriac contemporary historical writing and oral tradition. That they should in any way be dependent on, or contribute to, the Khwadāynāmag remains to be shown.45

1.4 Oral Tradition

In pre-Islamic Iran, there were two kinds of oral literature. First of all, sacred texts were memorized verbatim, and the Avesta was put down in writing only in the sixth century ad, after a millennium of oral tradition, and even then the memorization continued as the main form of its transmission. Such an oral transmission of fixed texts seems to have concerned only religious texts. This category hardly contained any extensive historical narratives, merely, at most, short legendary or historical passages on the earliest periods of Zoroastrianism within religious texts.

Secondly, all cultures have secular oral literature: prose stories from jokes to lengthy tales, poems from ditties to songs and sometimes even to oral epics. In her groundbreaking article on the gōsāns, Parthian storytellers, Mary Boyce (1957) argued for the existence of a wider oral literature in pre-Islamic Iran. Her evidence is mainly lexical (the use of the word gōsān) and there is little to show whether in Sasanian times, in fact, these gōsāns sang their tales or just narrated them, or whether they sung lyrical songs or epic lays: in Mujmal, p. 56/69, translating Ḥamza, Ta⁠ʾrīkh, p. 43, the word gōsān (g/kūsān, for Ḥamza’s Arabic mulhīn “entertainers”, earlier referred to as mughannūn “singers”) is explained as khunyāgar, saying that Bahrām Gūr imported 12,000 male and female singers (muṭrib) from India, who, at the author’s time, were gypsies (lūriyān). The episode, both in Ḥamza’s Ta⁠ʾrīkh and the Mujmal, clearly speaks of entertainers in drinking sessions, in which lyric songs are at least equally probable as epic lays. That the author of the Mujmal translates Ḥamza’s mulhīn as kūsān only proves that the word, whatever its exact meaning in Parthian times, presumably in the sixth/twelfth century meant merely “singer; musician”, not to mention the fact that the lūriyān from India hardly sang Persian epics, if they sang at all in the first place and were not just musicians.46

As far as we know, in the Islamic period epic tales were first put down in prose and only later versified (Chapter 4.7). This does not, of course, prove that they could not have been sung in the oral tradition, but there is little concrete evidence that this was the case. There are occasional references in Arabic literature to Persian poems (often called ashʿār) or stories sung in courts. Ps.-al-Jāḥiẓ, Maḥāsin, p. 363, informs us that during the nawrūz ritual the king was sung “songs wherein there are mentioned the sons of mighty kings/heroes” (aghānī yudhkaru fīhā abnāʾu l-jabābira), and al-Masʿūdī, Murūj §479, tells how “this fortress (i.e., Bāb al-Lān) was built by an Ancient Persian king of old times, called Isbandiyār ibn Bistāsf (…). The Persians mention it in their poems (ashʿārihā).”47 Yet as far as the evidence goes, Firdawsī versified a prose Shāhnāme (Chapter 4.2) and Asadī did the same to a prose Kitāb-e Garshāsb.

While epic tales were obviously sung at some phase in pre-Islamic Iran, as also comparative Indo-European evidence would tend to show, the evidence for the Sasanian period and immediately after is scarce, and one should not take the widespread existence of such epics in Sasanian times for granted. Stories, whether in prose or verse, of especially the Sistanian cycle must have been told, as the cycle contains remarkably archaic features going back to Indo-Iranian times. However, how widely they penetrated the Sasanian courtly life is unknown, and one should not speak of “an era when the deeds of the magnate families were recorded by wandering minstrels”48 as an established fact.

Another possible piece of evidence for epic songs comes from Narshakhī, Tārīkh-e Bukhārā, p. 15, which mentions lamentations on Siyāwush, songs (surūd’hā) presented by Bukharan singers (muṭribān), who called them kīn-e Siyāwush “the revenge for Siyāwush”. The continuation, pp. 21–22, though, seems to imply that these should be seen as lamentations rather than epic songs, as they are here called “lamentations” (nawḥat’hā) and “the crying of the Magis” (girīstan-e mughān).49

Partly this oral tradition may have lived on without any contact point with the written tradition and does not concern us here. The epic tradition was mainly concerned with various characters of national history, especially the family of Rustam (the Sistanian cycle), but possibly others, too (Chapter 4.7). These hardly supplied materials for the Khwadāynāmag itself (on Rustam, see Chapter 5.1), but they may have done so for Arabic and Persian authors of the Islamic period, so that not all that derives from Persian sources need go back to any written Middle Persian text. We know that major parts of this material were written down at the latest in the mid-tenth century (Chapter 4). The language of the oldest documented epic narratives, Ayādgār ī Zarērān apart, is Classical Persian, not Middle Persian.


For earlier studies on the Khwadāynāmag and its transmission history, see, e.g., Rypka (1959): 152–164, Boyce (1968b): 57–60, Yarshater (1983): 359–480, Shahbazi (1991); Ṣafā (1374): 78–91, Cereti (2001): 191, 200, Rubin (2005), (2008a), and (2008b), Khāliqī-Muṭlaq (2007–08), Macuch (2009): 173–181, Jackson Bonner (2011) and (2015), and Daniel (2012). For Firdawsī, see also de Blois (1992–97): 112–159.


Ed. Fuʾād Sayyid ii: 151, reads Bakhtiyārnāme. Such a book does exist, but here the emendation is manifestly wrong. There are actually two separate Bakhtiyārnāmes. The one relevant here is the epic narrative on Bakhtiyār (see van Zutphen 2014: 80), a late member of the Sistanian heroic family. The other is a totally unrelated popular narrative, see Hanaway (1998).


Later attestations, Zakeri (2007a) i: 133, n. 88.


Mainly petrified compounds such as nākhudāy “captain”, kadkhudāy “master of a family”, khudākush “regicide”, Bukhārā-khudāh, Gūzgānān-khudāh (for the last two and a general discussion of the word, see Ṣafā 1374: 83–84). See also Shahbazi (1990): 208–209, and Shayegan (1998).


See Dabīr-Siyāqī (1383): 158–161 (= Shāhnāme, ed. Macan i: 11–13), discussed in Chapter 6.2, note 28.


As Jackson Bonner (2015): 48, notes, neither Ibn Qutayba in his Maʿārif nor al-Ṭabarī in his Ta⁠ʾrīkh even mentions Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ by name. (To be exact, al-Ṭabari does actually mention him, but only once, ii: 1979//xxvii: 88, and not in relation to Persian matters.).


The Oral Formulaic Theory has been much favoured in Arabic and Persian literary studies especially in the United States. There is no need to get involved in the discussion here: with “fixed”, I only mean a composition which has some kind of fixed form, instead of being freely transmitted oral lore.


Note that the mentions of Arabic stories about pre-Islamic Persian heroes need not always refer to translations but may well have been first composed in Arabic. When they were translations, the source may in some cases have been oral.


Jackson Bonner himself, though, is well aware that other works were also translated.


Incidentally, with only a slight change of words, I totally agree with Jackson Bonner. I would say: “Careful probing reveals that a great mass of documents of diverse genres and origins must lie behind the tradition of Persian national history. It is not a unitary tradition going back to a single text.” Jackson Bonner’s further conclusions concerning Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s translation and the textual history of the Khwadāynāmag essentially differ from mine. Later, p. 48, he admits the vagueness of the term, but still decides to use it.


Following Pourshariati (2008), Gazerani (2016) has strongly argued that the Sistanian epics (Chapter 4.7) should be seen as historiographical works and that they contain reminiscences of Parthian history, but this is based on insufficient evidence.


Unfortunately, in Arabic and Persian sources siyar al-mulūk does not always refer to the translation of the Khwadāynāmag, but may also be vaguely used as “stories, or even the way of life, of Persian kings”, in general. To add to the confusion, a number of other books, which have nothing to do with the Book of Kings tradition, were also titled Siyar al-mulūk, such as Niẓām al-Mulk’s Siyāsatnāme, where (p. 298) Kitāb Siyar al-mulūk is given as the original title of this book written in 485/1092 and only conventionally titled Siyāsatnāme.


The use of the word “nation(al)” is often restricted to the 19th century and later, but as the Iranians had a clear notion of themselves as something different from others (cf. Ērān ud Anērān “Iranians and non-Iranians”), I find it unnecessary to avoid the word.


There is a great deal of historical material in the Avesta, and the Old Persian inscriptions belong to the sphere of historical texts, but the Book of Kings tradition proper begins in Sasanian times. For the Avesta and Old and Middle Persian inscriptions and their historical material, see, e.g., Gershevitch (1968), Hintze (2009), and Huyse (2009).


Recently, in another context, van Bladel (2009): 23–63, has strongly, but not quite convincingly, argued for the fourth-century existence of Hermetic texts in Pahlavi. The dating of Middle Persian texts is notoriously difficult as the manuscripts are extremely late, usually no earlier than the 18th century, and the copyists, many of whom not properly understanding the language, have made it difficult to date the extant texts on stylistic and linguistic bases.


E.g., Cereti (2001): 184–187, 200–202, and Ṣafā (1374): 62–63.


A Classical Persian note at the end of the manuscript, Pahlavi Texts i: 170, refers to the tale as Shāhnāme-ye Gushtāsp, but this title does not go very much back in time and is a later copyist’s interpretation of the text in the context of the by then overwhelming influence of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme.


As will be noted in Chapter 5.1, the family of Sām is later represented as enemies of the new religion.


References are to Grenet’s edition.


Pahlavi Texts ii: 65–128. Grenet’s edition does not include the Pahlavi text, on which the count is based. See also Ṣafā (1374): 64–65.


Its fame as a book of legends may partly depend on the fact that the most legendary part, the escape of Ardashīr from Ardabān’s court, is perhaps its most vivid part and may have inclined scholars to see the whole text as equally legendary. That the text is written in a sober historical way does not, however, mean that its material was strictly historical.


Grenet (2003): 26.


The expression Ardashīr ī Kay also ties up with the lineage of the Kayānians. The mention of the khwarrah in iv: 17, 24 (here khwarrah ī Kayān), strengthens this continuity.


The Sistanians are not mentioned in the text, but this is quite natural, as they are situated earlier in history. They might have been mentioned in comparisons, though, which gives some vague evidence for the text’s view of national history as not having as yet been connected to the Sistanian cycle.


This chapter will not discuss the andarz literature, see Chapter 2.2.2 and Cereti (2001): 171–190, which is based on maxims, often attributed to various kings. Such material is widely found in Classical Arabic and Persian literature, and in some cases it is even possible to find clear correspondences between Pahlavi and Arabic or Classical Persian versions, but the maxims themselves are not concerned with history.


Daryaee (2002): 1.


Cereti (2001): 203–205, and Panaino (1999).


Pahlavi Texts i: 27–38.


For these texts, see Cereti (2001): 41–78 (the Dēnkard); 87–105 (the Bundahishn); 134–138 (Ayādgār ī Jāmaspīg); 127–134 (Zand ī Wahman Yasn).


Omidsalar’s (2011): 35–36, speculation on the basilikai diphtherai mentioned by Ctesias (FGrHist, 688, F5: tōn basilikōn diphtherōn) is without any ground and there is no reason to postulate the existence of either an Achaemenid book on Persian history or an early Achaemenid epic, rather than royal archives. Cf. Cameron (1969–70): 162.


Agathias has been edited by Rudolf Keydell, and the whole text is translated by Joseph D. Frendo; all translations of Agathias in this book derive from Cameron (1969–70), if not otherwise stated. The main study on Agathias’ Sasanian sources is still Cameron (1969–70), which also contains an edition, translation, and commentary on the relevant passages. Baumstark (1894) argued for the Royal Annals having been written in Syriac, but this is hardly tenable.


The term is also used by, e.g., Cameron (1969–70).


Although he was not very familiar with any Greek sources on Persia, cf. Cameron (1969–70): 94 and often, he obviously had some general ideas derived from the Greek tradition.


On consanguineous marriage, see, e.g., Boyce (2001), Index, s.v.


The last idea was, of course, very common in Greek literature, see, e.g., Cameron (1969–70): 93–94, 97.


Cf. also Cameron (1969–70): 109. We have no reason to assume a written Syriac version of the story. It is much more natural to assume that either Sergius or Agathias himself made these changes.


The chronology is discussed in Cameron (1969–70): 105–106, 116–117.


Cf. Cameron (1969–70): 140.


As does Cameron (1969–70): 113–114.


Cf. Cameron (1969–70): 112–116.


Cameron (1969–70): 150–151, identifies the Khwadāynāmag with the contents of the later Arab-Islamic historical material (i.e., the “Khwadāynāmag tradition”) and takes the lack of negative comments on the kings as cases where Agathias/Sergius has abbreviated the material (e.g., the assassinations of kings, the initial acceptance of Mani in the royal court, the sinfulness of Yazdagird i, etc.). Once we free ourselves from this misguided use of the term “Khwadāynāmag”, the situation changes: Sergius’ “abbreviations” are, in fact, additions in the later tradition.


There is also no reason to speculate on any intervening sources between the Royal Annals and the Khwadāynāmag as Cameron (1969–70): 112 does: “it is obvious that the Royal Annals formed the basis [my Italics, jha] of the lost Khvadhāynāmagh”. The problem in Cameron’s line of thinking is that she compares the Royal Annals with al-Ṭabarī and Firdawsī, which leads her to see the Royal Annals as the dry chronological core around which narratives were later added. As we will see, there is no reason to assume that the Khwadāynāmag contained any longer narratives.


Behind the confusion is, again, the unfortunate use of the vague term “Khwadāynāmag tradition”, which lumps together different historical traditions as long as they have a connection to Persian national history. This leads Wood to speak (2016: 414) about a hypothetical Syriac (!) source of al-Ṭabarī as “this version of the Xwadāy-Nāmag”. Wood also (2016: 410) calls Firdawsī’s Shāhnāme “the major New Persian recension of the Xwadāy-Nāmag” – which it definitely is not, see Chapter 4.2. Terminological confusion aside, Wood’s article is a valuable and solid contribution to the study of al-Ṭabarī’s sources.


The same goes for some lexical points Jackson Bonner makes. Thus, instead of seeing in the name of Shammās, one of Nūshzād’s generals, a Syriac word “deacon,” it might be well to remember that the word is of common usage in both Arabic and Persian. Moreover, as Jackson Bonner himself, p. 70, note 371, remarks, the episode contains several Christian clerical titles in “clearly Arabic forms” and, we might add, Muslim Arabic historical literature is full of characters given one of these clerical titles; for some early examples, see Hebbo (1970): 218–219. Jackson Bonner (2015): 72, also needs to claim that the conversion story of Ardashīr must come from an unlearned Syriac source, as Ardashīr is here dated to the time of Christ. Unlearned it may well have been, but knowing that Islamic popular narrative flourished at the time, it is quite understandable that such anachronistic stories might have been told by Muslim Persians of some of their great ancestors.


For other Syriac and Armenian sources, see Cameron (1969–70): 118–119. Arabic historiography started to have an influence on Syriac historiography in the mid-eighth century, which further complicates the situation.


The story itself is probably legendary. According to ps.-al-Jāḥiẓ, Kitāb al-Tāj, p. 35 (trans. Pellat 1954: 55–56; cf. also Wood 2016: 408, note 6), Bahrām Gūr made changes to the class system of entertainers which had been established by Ardashīr and was later re-established by Khusraw Anūshirwān.


See also Yamamoto (2003), Ṣafā (1378): 92–105, and the articles in Melville–van den Berg (2012). Olga Davidson’s studies, e.g., Davidson (2006), should be read with some care, as the author ignores all evidence contrary to her own theories.


Wood (2016): 408.


Cf. Barthold (1944): 143.

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