I. M. Diakonoff


(Possible New Approches to the Problem)

Summary of the Article

Source: History of the Iranian State and Culture (to the 2500th Anniversary of the Iranian State), Moscow, 1971, pp. 337-339.


Examined in the article are problems of the origin and earliest distribution of Iranian tribes in what now is Soviet Central Asia, Afghanistan and Eastern Iran as well as their history in the pre-Achaemenian period in the context of the Avestan tradition and in the light of available archaeological material. The author believes that the Indo Iranian tribes separated from the Indo-European unity (which took shape in Central and Eastern Europe) about the middle of the 3rd millennium Â. Ń. The Aryan tribes which were essentially cow-herds but also engaged in auxiliary crop-farming on a considerable scale, migrated slowly and gradually; it was not a military invasion. The penetration of Aryan tribes to the south in the direction of Iran and the Indian subcontinent might have occurred along the western shore of the Caspian — but there are no substantial data to support this view, besides this route leads to mountain massifs not very easy to pass. The other conceivable route is from Central Asia via the valley of the Tejen-Herirud and thence to Kandahar towards India or to Mashhad and Nishapur towards Iran. That this route was the one taken by the Indo-Iranian tribes seems to be borne out by various circumstancial evidence.

Common features characteristic of a developed economic and social system which transpire from a collation of Vedic and Avestan data could have emerged in the course of close contacts between the ancestors of the Vedic Indo-Aryans and that part of the Iranian tribes whose society is reflected in the Avesta. This process must have taken place in conditions of a sufficiently developed civilisation, such as can be traced archaeologically in the South-West of Central Asia and in the contiguous regions of Iran and Afghanistan. The bearers of these cultures were presumably Indo-Iranians, and later, Iranians — probably at least since the 17th century B. C. (beginning of the Namazgha VI period). The ancestors of the Indo-Aryans left these territories for the Indian subcontinent not later than in the second quarter of the 2nd millennium B. C. After that, the above-named territories were probably inhabited mainly or exclusively by Iranian-speaking tribes.

To judge from the latest available archaeologiacal data, the pre-Avestan, and Avestan cultures of the pre-Achaemenian period should be located in Parthia, Haria, Margiana, Bactria, Drangiana, or Arachosia of the first half of the 1st millennium B. C. The scanty information of Greek authors seems to indicate the existence in the pre-Achaemenian period of a regional confederation headed by Bactria (however, there is evidence that Bactria could not be the home of the Avesta and the field of the activities of Zarathustra and Kavi Vistaspa), as well as of another confederation which included Chorasima, Drangiana and other territories (cf. Herodotus, III, 117) and which, according to archaeological data and by inference from some literary data, apparently ceased to exist before the time of the rise of the Achaemenian state. It is this latter confederation which probably is mentioned by the Avesta (cf. especially Yasht 10).

Vistaspa’s kingdom, or its centre, lay probably in Drangiana; certainly tne dynasty of the Kavians hailed from there. Zarathustra must have preached at the court of Vistaspa not later than in the 7th century B. C. Not only the Gathas but also the rest of the Yasna, the Yashts and the core of the Videvdat must have been compiled in the pre-Achaemenian period or in any case before the 5th century B. C., i. e. before Eastern Iran began to be fully controlled by the Achaemenian administration.

The proof of this is, that no traces of Achaemenian terminology, widely borrowed into all languages of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Near and the Middle East, can be traced in the Avesta. The home of the Avesta lies in the valleys of the Hilmend and the Tejen-Herirud.

The above conclusions, as well as Herodotus’ data concerning the hegemony of the Chorasmians in the western part of Central Asia and Afghanistan, the data on the pre-Achaemenian Bactrian kingdom, and the later tradition about the rule of Vistaspa in Bactria may be hypothetically harmonised in the following way. The typical early polity of settled populations is not an empire but a «city-state», or a state comprising a comparatively small region. The first large political confederations in the above-mentioned regions must therefore have arisen as a result of a conquest of such polities by nomads. Such a conquest of Drangiana and the other agricultural areas by the nomad tribes centered around Chorasmia (which country did not rise to the level of «urban» civilisation earlier than in the 4th century B. C.) may have been reflected in the legend of the Tura (Saka) Frangrasyan. Later, the power in this confederation was re-assumed by representatives of the Kavians — the original rulers of agricultural Drangiana (Kavi Haosrava of the Avestan epic tradition). Kavi Vistaspa apparently no longer held all the lands of this confederation, and soon after his time (and after Zarathustra) his kingdom was subjugated by the Bactrian confederation — which, too, was initially headed by nomads (the Hyaona and their leader Arjataspa in the Avestan tradition). The latter confederation which existed approximately from 650 to 540 Â. Ń., was the more stable of the two; and since it included also the region of the Avesta, in the later tradition Vishtaspa was regarded as a Bactrian king.

It must be stressed that this is no more than a hypothesis suggesting a possible interpretation of traditional and of existing archaeological data.