Horses in early Iran

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Tue May 19 03:27:31 UTC 1998

Some time ago, N Ganesan asked about the evidence for the horse in early
Iran. I am sorry that I was unable to respond to his post then. Perhaps
this brief note will be of use.

The importance of the horse is clearly evident from Avestan onomastics. One
finds the term aspa- [= Skt. azva] for example in the following names:

auruuaTaspa     ["having swift horses"]
pouruSAspa      ["having gray horses"]
yuxtAspa        ["having yoked horses"]
hitAspa         ["having a team of horses"]
jAmAspa         ["having ?? horses"]

The same preoccupation with swift steeds and victory in races that we find
in Vedic imagery is found in Avestan [Yasht 5.50, Yasht 19.77].

Not only is horse sacrifice known, but something like the same canonical
hierarchy of victims that we see in Vedic [the paJcapazu doctrine] appears
in Avestan: In Yasht 5 [to the goddess anAhitA] reference is made several
times to the sacrifice of 100 stallions, 1,000 cows, and 10,000 sheep.
Clearly, within Avestan ritual currency, a horse was equal to 10 cows or
100 sheep.

The familiar association of the horse and the sun is attested in Yasht 10.13:

am^Sahe hU auruuaT.aspahe ["of the immortal swift-horsed sun"; a word for
word translation into Skt. = *amRtasya svar arvatazvasya*]

The Greeks were aware of horse sacrifice among the Persians. I think that
Herodotos and Philostratos mention it, but I haven't had the chance to look
up exact refs.

There is much more relevant material, but perhaps the point is already made.

Best wishes,

George Thompson


I hope to be able to forward a post soon responding to the interesting
question of Yaroslav Vassilkov concerning Iranians in Ancient India. But
not tonight.

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