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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Slim pickin's. Horses grazing on the Daha grasslands in the dry season, 10 km north of Gonbad
Slim pickin's. Horses grazing on the Daha grasslands in the dry season, 10 km north of Gonbad. Image Credit: Saeid V at Panoramio

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Contents

Dahi, Dahistan

Page 1

Ancient Dahi and Medieval Dahistan

Ancient Dahi in Zoroastrian Texts

Seeking the Location of Ancient Dahi

Location in Zoroastrian Texts - the Avesta

Location of Turan

General Location of Ancient Dahi

Achaemenian Daha

Herodotus' Reference

Herding and Farming - Nomadic & Settled Aryans

Saka & Sycthian

Origins, Migration and Location of Dahae in Greek Histories

Dahi - Integral Part of the Iranian Family

Time of the Dahi Migration

Location of Ancient Dahi

References

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Dahi, Dahistan

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Dahi - Iranian Friend or Foe?

Nomadic Daha / Dahi

Settled Dahi

Dahistan

References

Related reading:

» Saka (Scythia)

» Parthava (Parthia)

» Khvarizem (Uzbekistan)


Ancient Dahi and Medieval Dahistan

We hear mention of a nation called Dahi in the Avesta, Daha in Achaemenian texts and Dahistan, the land of the Dahistan, in medieval Middle Eastern texts. In classical Greek texts the land and its people were known as the Daoi or Daai, Latinized as Dahae.

Medieval Dahistan was located in the southwest corner of today's Turkmenistan, just north of the Iranian province of Golestan that was traditionally known as Gorgan. Gorgan itself was called Varkana in Old Persian Achaemenian texts, Vehrkana in the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta and Hyrcania in European texts.

Ancient Dahi country was not located in the same land and medieval Dahistan. It was located some 1,500 km to the east, that is, in the east of today's Uzbekistan. Nevertheless they are connected, since the people of medieval Dahistan came from ancient Dahi. We will examine references to this migration and narrow down the possible location of ancient Dahi below.


Ancient Dahi in Zoroastrian Texts

The country of Dahi or Dahinam (-nam is a usual ending for many Avestan nouns) finds mention in the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta's Farvardin Yasht 13.144 where the fravashis (spiritual souls) of the Dahi's men and women are revered. The implication is that the Dahi, or some Dahi, were Zoroastrians - Zoroastrians worthy of perpetual veneration in each recitation of the scriptures. Contemporaneous with the life of Zarathushtra, Dahi, together with Airya (-nam), Tuirya (-nam), Sairima (-nam) and Saini (-nam), are the oldest in the Zoroastrian family of nations - nations that participated in the start of the Zoroastrian era.

Since the surviving texts of Zarathushtra's teachings, the hymns of the Gathas, are in one language, we can say it is reasonable to assume that the nations in which Zarathushtra spread his message were neighbours and spoke the same language and dialect as well. For his message (which reference pre-Zoroastrian beliefs) to have relevance, these peoples also likely shared the same, or variations of the same, pre-Zoroastrian religion. We may conclude this assumption by saying the five founding Zoroastrian nations likely shared the same culture and ethnicity. In terms of size, we are left with the impression that they can be compared to districts with a province today. The Gathas of Zarathushtra are placed in the Avestan book of Yasna. While their language is the same, the dialect of the other verses is different from that of the Gathas. They were either written by followers at a different point in time or in a neighbouring region that spoke a different dialect.

Other than Airyana Vaeja, none of the Farvardin Yasht's nations are mentioned in the Vendidad's list of Zoroastrian nations. The Vendidad is a book of the Zoroastrian scriptures. Even though the Vendidad list preceded the formation of Media and Persian making it over two thousand eight hundred years old, the nations are for the most part recognizable today and we may conclude that the Vendidad list is far more modern than the list of five nations of the Farvardin Yasht cited in the paragraph above. Those nations either changed their names or became parts of other nations. Dahi, for instance find mention only once in King Xerxes' list of countries that were part of the Persian empire. But in other lists and by the accounts of Greek writers such as Strabo, it was a part of the Saka nations, two of which find regular mention as part of the Persian Empire.


Seeking the Location of Ancient Dahi

Location in Zoroastrian Texts - the Avesta

As we have noted above, the country of Dahi is mentioned in the Avesta's Farvardin Yasht alongside four other nations, one of the being Airya(nam), the land of the Aryans and Zarathushtra's homeland. The manner of mention of the five nations alludes to the them being the area of Zarathushtra's ministry.

This would place Dahi within reasonable travelling distance, likely even walking distance of, and in the vicinity of, Airya and Tuirya.

If the common identification of Tuirya with the land of Tur i.e. Turan is correct, then we have some sense of the Avestan Dahi's location during Zarathushtra's lifetime in the distant past.


Map of Iranian-Aryan Nations of Central Asian, Dahi lands & migrations
Map of Iranian-Aryan Nations of Central Asian, Dahi lands & migrations. Base Image Credit: Microsoft Encarta. Notations © K. E. Eduljee

Location of Turan

The land of Tur was part of the first Aryan-Iranian empire under King Feridoon. As such, it was part of the Iranian federation of kingdoms. Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, the Book of Kings tells us that in the time of King Feridoon, the land of Tur was so named because he gave the rule (administration) of the empire's eastern lands to his son Tur. This author believes that the implication of the legend is that land of Tur was a part of the Iranian family in the same manner that Prince Tur was a member of the Iranian king's family - the closest possible family bond having been born of the same parent. In those ancient times, Iran's heartland was located east of today's Iran and the river Amu Darya (Oxus) formed the boundary between Iran (the Airan) and Turan. Later the river became the boundary between Iran and Sugd (Sogdiana) making Sugd the land that was once ancient Turan.

For a further discussion on locations and maps of the countries discussed above, please see our pages on Airyana Vaeja in scripture and a possible location.


General Location of Ancient Dahi

After studying the locations in the pages mentioned above, the reader will see that if the Avestan land of Dahi was a neighbour of, or was located in the vicinity of, Airya and Turan, that would place it somewhere in the swath of lands from the Fergana valley and Tashkent in the east, to the grasslands and deserts in the mid to upper Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers in the north, to Mouru (Merv) in the west and Bakhdhi (Balkh) in the south.


Achaemenian Daha

Xerxes Daeva Inscription
Xerxes Daeva Inscription.
Image Credit: Koorosh Nozad at Flickr

We hear of a nation called Daha in the so-called Daeva Inscription of Persian King Xerxes (486-466 BCE). Calling that inscription the Daeva i.e. Devil Inscription is unfortunate since given the propensity of some writers to read in too much, some write that all the nations listed had devil worshippers in them and that includes Daha. The list of nations in the inscription is the normal list seen in all the inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings with plus or minus some nations. The list does not give locations. Some writers make much of Daha being listed much before two the Saka (Scythian) lands. But nations on the list are not necessarily neighbours. For instance Harauvatish (Arachosia - southern Afghanistan, Kandahar) is at the opposite end of the empire to the nation listed next, Armina (Armenia).


Herodotus' Reference

Several authors state that the nomadic Dahae were allies of Cyrus the Great when he sought to 'revolt' i.e. oust the Median King Rishtivaiga (Astyages) from the position of Aryan king of kings and assume that position for himself. The authors cite Section 125, Book 1 of Herodotus' Histories. Herodotus states that one of the groups allied to him was the Daoi. In the literature on the Dahae, Herodotus' Daoi is universally taken to mean the Dahae. Herodotus does not mention the group again and as such this conclusion is tenuous.

Herodotus' text in Greek: 1.125:[3]ἔστι δὲ τάδε, ἐξ ὧν ὧλλοι πάντες ἀρτέαται Πέρσαι, Πασαργάδαι Μαράφιοι Μάσπιοι. τούτων Πασαργάδαι εἰσὶ ἄριστοι, ἐν τοῖσι καὶ Ἀχαιμενίδαι εἰσὶ φρήτρη, ἔνθεν οἱ βασιλέες οἱ Περσεῖδαι γεγόνασι. [4] ἄλλοι δὲ Πέρσαι εἰσὶ οἵδε, Πανθιαλαῖοι (Panthialaioi) Δηρουσιαῖοι (Dirousiaioi) Γερμάνιοι (Germanioi). οὗτοι μὲν πάντες ἀροτῆρες εἰσί, οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νομάδες, Δάοι (Daoi) Μάρδοι (Marda) Δροπικοὶ (Dropikoi) Σαγάρτιοι (Sagartioi)

Herodotus ends several names with 'ioi' or 'oi'. The word 'daoi' minus the 'oi' is da. The name Dahi starts with 'da' and we wonder if this is sufficient to state that it was the Dahae i.e. the Dahi of the Avesta and the Daha of Xerxes (see below) who were Cyrus' allies.

Strabo uses the word Daai (Δᾶαι) which is commonly translated as Dahae.

Three translations of Herodotus 1.125 read as follows:

Translation by Aubrey de Selincourt: "The Persian nation contains a number of tribes, and the ones which Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt were the Pasargadae, Maraphii, and Maspii, upon which all the other tribes are dependent. Of these, the Pasargadae are the most distinguished; they contain the clan of the Achaemenids from which spring the Perseid kings. Other tribes are the Panthialaei, Derusiaei, Jermanii, all of which are attached to the soil, the remainder - the Dai, Mardi, Dropici, Sagarti, being nomadic."

Translation by George Rawlinson: "Now the Persian nation is made up of many tribes. Those which Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes were the principal ones on which all the others are dependent. These are the Pasargadae, the Maraphians, and the Maspians, of whom the Pasargadae are the noblest. The Achaemenidae, from which spring all the Perseid kings, is one of their clans. The rest of the Persian tribes are the following: the Panthialaeans, the Derusiaeans, the Germanians, who are engaged in husbandry; the Daans, the Mardians, the Dropicans, and the Sagartians, who are nomads."

Translation by A. D. Godley: "Now there are many tribes in Persia: those of them that Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes were the Pasargadae, the Maraphii, and the Maspii. On these all the other Persians depend. The chief tribe is that of the Pasargadae; to them belongs the clan of the Achaemenidae, the royal house of Persia. The other Persian tribes are the Panthialaei, the Derusiaei, and the Germanii, all tillers of the soil, and the Dai, the Mardi, the Dropici, the Sagartii, all wandering herdsmen."


Herding and Farming - Nomadic & Settled Aryans

For Herodotus and other classical writers of his time, the international face of Iran was Persia, Iranshahr's dominant kingdom at that time (such as seeing England as the dominant kingdom of Britain). When Herodotus talks about Persian tribes, this could mean Iranian tribes. What this passage does convey generally is that the Iranians consisted of peoples whose society was based either on farming (one translator says husbandry) or wandering herdsman. We assume that trades-people and artisans could be found in either group though we might expect them to be found in greater numbers in settlements.

The corollary to this observation is that the Dahi themselves consisted of all these groups (as we shall see below), and that those groups dominated by wandering herds-people (nomads), a characteristic commonly applied to the Saka group of Iranian-Aryans, we as much a part of Iran-Shahr as the other groups.


Saka Aryans & Scythians

While several writers use the group names Saka and Scythian interchangeably, in his Histories, Herodotus differentiates between western and eastern 'Scythians', naming the eastern Scythians as Sacae (Saka). We feel using the term Scythians in place of Saka can lead to confusion about the origins of the Eastern Aryan Saka groups such as the Dahi.


Origins, Migration and Location of Dahae in Greek Histories

Referring to classical Greek histories, we are in a position to narrow down the possible location of ancient Dahi. English translations the Greek classical histories refer to Dahi, the land and its people as Dahae.

Strabo str (c 63 BCE-24 CE) gives us his understanding of the Dahae peoples location during his time and their origins in 11.8.2 of his Geography. Traveling west to east along the southern Caspian lands, Strabo states, "On the left hand (i.e. north) opposite to these parts are situated the Scythian and nomadic nations, occupying the whole of the northern side. Most of the Scythians, beginning from the Caspian Sea, are called Dahæ Scythæ, and those situated more towards the east Massagetæ and Sacæ; the rest have the common appellation of Scythians, but each separate tribe has its peculiar name. All, or the greatest part of them, are nomads."

[By Strabo's time, three hundred years after Alexander, the Dahi had moved from the around the river Syr Darya to the south-eastern shores of the Caspian Sea.]

Strabo 11.8.2 contd.: "The best known tribes (we presume he means family clans within the Dahae) are those who deprived the Greeks of Bactriana, the Asii, Pasiani, (Asiani?), Tochari, and Sacarauli, who came from the country on the other side (i.e east) of the Iaxartes (Jaxartes, Syr Darya), opposite the Sacæ and Sogdiani, and which country was also occupied by Sacæ. Some tribes of the Dahæ are surnamed Aparni, some Xanthii, others Pissuri [Aparni, Xanthii, and Pissuri, in this passage, seem to be the same as Parni, Xandii, and Parii.] The Aparni approach the nearest of any of these people to Hyrcania (i.e. Varkana, Gorgan), and to the Caspian Sea. The others extend as far as the country opposite to Aria."


Aghbend, 30 km North of Gonbad. Haunting landscape.
Aghbend, 30 km North of Gonbad. Haunting landscape.
Image Credit: Saeid V at Panoramio

In this section, Strabo provides us with the origins of the Dahi who were living beside the Caspian Sea during his time and the ancient Dahi living 1500 km east on the east bank of the Jaxartes river.

To recap Strabo's account, he appears to be saying that travelling west to east along the southern Caspian, one finds the Dahae beginning at the south-east of the Caspian sea extending northward. Immediately to the south of the Dahae lands, was Hyrcania (i.e. Achaemenian Varkana. Modern Gorgan) and in his travelogue he appears to be travelling through Hyrcania (Varkana, Gorgan). Then at the end of section 11.8.2 he says that it is the Dahae's Aparni (Parni) clan that live adjacent to Hyrcania (Varkana, Gorgan) and to the Caspian Sea. These two statements further equate the Aparni (Parni) with the Dahae, making the Aparni a family-based clan within the Dahae and northern neighbours of Varkana (Gorgan).

An article titled Dahae at the Encyclopaedia Iranica states, 'According to his biographers, Alexander (330-323 BCE) later also incorporated Dahae into his own cavalry (Arrian, Anabasis 5.12.2; cf. Curtius Rufus, 7.7.32). They were described as 'horse riding' bowmen (cf. Appian*, Syriaca 167) and were said to have lived in the wastes northeast of Bactria and east of Sogdiana.' [*Appian of Alexandria (c 95-165 CE)]. Bactria was located west and south of the Amu Darya (Oxus) river and Sogdiana was located between the Amu and Syr (Jaxartes) Darya rivers.

Further according to Arrian in Anabasis 3.28.8.10, and Quintus in Curtius 8.1.8, the Dahi's Parni clan lived in the territories between the Oxus (Amu Darya) and the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) at the time of Alexander of Macedon. This reference places the Dahi on the west bank of the Jaxartes as well.


Dahi - Integral Part of the Iranian Family

Strabo informs us that it is the Dahae tribes who revolted against Macedonia rule Alexander had left behind and liberated not just their lands, but that of Bactria as well. In other accounts we read that the Dahae (Dahi) further allied themselves with the Parthava (Parthians) in liberating all the eastern Aryan-Iranian lands from Macedonian rule. There can be little doubt that the Dahae (Dahi) of Strabo's time, although described as Scythians, were part of the Iranian-Aryan federation of nations.


Time of the Dahi Migration

Given that during Alexander's invasion c 330 BCE, the Dahi were found beside the Jaxartes, and that during Strabo's time c 0 BCE, they were found 1500 km to the west beside the Caspian Sea, the migration of the Dahae from the Syr Darya to the south-eastern shores of the Caspian Sea would have occurred either during Macedonian rule, during the time the Dahae fought to liberate the Aryan-Iranian lands, or just after - during Parthava (Parthian rule), i.e. sometime between 300 and 0 BCE.


Location of Ancient Dahi

In summary, the Dahi who came to live in the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea, lived in the the time of Zarathushtra along the upper reaches of Syr Darya (Jaxartes) river. The Dahi could very well have moved somewhat between Zarathushtra's and Alexander's time. If they did, our inclination is that during Zarathushtra's time they were further south along the Syr Darya, which means they were further north during Alexander's time - in the steppe lands around present-day Tashkent. They then moved 1,500 km westward to land between the Syr and Amu Darya rivers and finally to Dahistan, the land north of Varkana (Gorgan) beside the Caspian Sea.

This author concludes that a likely candidate of the region the ancient Dahi land is between today's Khujand in northern Tajikistan and Tashkent in eastern Uzbekistan.



References

Jus. Marcus Justinus (3rd cent. CE) in Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, translated by the Rev. John Selby Watson (London, 1853).

Isi. Parthian Stations (Mansiones Parthicae) was written sometime between 29 and 1 BCE. It lists all the supply stations, that is caravanserais maintained by the Parthavi (Parthian) Government for the convenience of merchants travelling along the caravan trail from Antioch, today a Mediterranean port in the southwest corner of Turkey, to the borders of India. With liberation from Macedonian rule, the Iranian-Aryans once again asserted control and facilitated trade along the Silk Roads.

Str. Strabo (ca. 63/64 BCE - 24 CE) Geography, translated by H. C. Hamilton, Esq. and W. Falconer, M.A.

Pol. Polybius (c 200-118 BCE) The Histories, was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period whose book covered history of the period of 220-146 BCE

Additional reading: » The Seven Great Monarchies, Vol. 6, Parthia by George Rawlinson


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