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The images created by humankind on the surface of stones and pottery can be considered as the first efforts at writing, the oldest examples of which are the patterned ceramics from the western regions of Iran. Perhaps since ancient times, it has been a dream of people to record and leave behind their collective memories for later generations or perhaps drawing and writing simply possessed a magical role and use. Today, some researchers consider many ancient created images and paintings to have magical qualities. However, that which can be considered as script and writing, is in the form of signs and symbols used in inscriptions, steles and papyri discovered by archaeologists.
New findings in Iran, especially excavations taking place in the region of the Jiroft Civilization, include two royal inscriptions from Konar Sandal which attest to the fact that this civilization entered history in the 3rd millennium BC and had its own unique script and method of writing. Although not yet completely revealed, but the discovered script in Jiroft, according to Youssef Majidzadeh, head of the archaeological excavation team in Jiroft, dates to a period between 2500 to 2200 BC and thus push back the history of script in Iran. Until now the oldest examples of script were associated to Kutir Inshushinak in Susa dating to 1200 BC. Without a doubt the findings at Konar Sandal and the region of the Jiroft Civilization will alter many historical and archaeological timelines. However, alongside the findings of archaeologists and the search for the history of script from inscriptions, we have another history in hand; history as told by myths and stories.
Mythology, even if unacceptable as historical reference, it can be considered as a mirror reflecting the dreams, ideals and historic past of a race; an oral history, wrapped in mystery and secrecy employing an enigmatic rhetoric filled with signs and symbols. The history of script and writing in Iran has another version based on its mythology in which no god has been designated for script and writing, for that which is holy and heavenly, are spoken words and not those in writing. In ancient Avesta, manthras are holy and spiritual words and the god Manthra Spand is one of the greatest of the ancient divinities appointed as the god of holy words and speech. In Farvardin Yasht, the hymn to the guardian angels, it is said that manthras are the bright, glorious and fair soul of Ahura Mazda and uttering his name shall bestow peace and health. This example or many other such cases indicate the importance of holy words in the religious traditions of ancient Iran uttered in speech and not in writing. It is with holy words and prayers of Ahunawar that Ahura Mazda renders Ahriman unconscious and it is also with this prayer that he puts Gayomarth to sleep in order to deliver him from the pain and suffering caused by Ahriman. Or in Dinkard and other Pahlavi texts, reference has been made to mobeds or Zoroastrian priests whom could recite by heart the entire Avesta and had no need of reading from texts. Or in Dinkard 5, Adarfarnbag, son of Farroxdad, in response to a question as to why the Avesta has been delivered from Ahura Mazda orally and not as text, says that perfection is in lively recitation of words rather than their mere preservation in writing.
Script in Iranian mythology has been attributed to Tahmureth who becomes king after Gayomarth and Hushang. Many other inventions have been attributed to him. His title in the Shahnameh is divband meaning the binder of the div for he defeats Ahriman with spells and rides him like a horse and then goes to battle with the divs and binds them:
There were the roar of flame and reek of divs,
Here were the warriors of the lord of earth,
Who ranked his troops and speedily prevailed,
For of the foe he bound the most by spells
And quelled the others with his massive mace.
The captives bound and stricken begged their lives.
The divs ask for mercy and in exchange, offer to teach the king script and writing:
"Destroy us not," they said, "and we will teach thee
A new and fruitful art."
He gave them quarter
To learn their secret. When they were released
They had to serve him, lit his mind with knowledge
And taught him how to write some thirty scripts
Such as the Ruman, Persian, Arabic,
Sughdi, Chini, and Pahlavi, and thus
Pahlavi texts and most Islamic era sources maintain this account. However, in the Avesta, the story of Tahmureth turning Ahriman into his ride and his victory over the divs makes no reference to the secrets of writing being revealed to him. In Mainyo-i-Khrad it is said:
ud az tahmōrub ī hurust sūd ēn būd kū+š gizistag gannāg mēnōg ī druwand sīh sāl pad bārag dāšt ud haft ēwēnag nibēg (ī dibīrīh) ī ōy druwand pad nigān dāšt be ō paydāgīh āwurd.
And the advantage from Tahmureth, the well-grown, was that Gana (Ahriman) the accursed evil one, the wicked, was kept by him thirty years as a charger. And the writing of penmanship of seven kinds, which that wicked one kept in concealment, he brought out to publicity.
In Maino-i-Khrad the version of Ahriman’s thirty years of slavery and learning seven scripts exists. In Aogemadaēcā, the story is told in the same manner:
ayāo tahmūraf būd zīnavaňd-i vīvaghānā ke dēv-dēvātem ganāmainiyō pa bār dāšt haft niwē diwīrī ezh ōi bē āward.
Thus there was Tahmureth, the well-armed, the son of Vīvaghān, who made the Demon of demons, Gana Maino (Ahriman), his steed, and extorted from him the seven kinds of writing.
In the Dadestan-i Denig (Religious Decisions), as in the Avesta, the enslavement of the divs is spoken of without any reference to the discovery of script and also in the Denkard version it solely indicates that Gana Maino, was transformed into a horse and became Tahmureth’s ride for thirty years.
In all cases, except for the Shahnameh, the number of scripts is seven and Ahriman’s years of enslavement are thirty. The connection between the number seven and its sacred tradition in Iran seems logical and noteworthy.
Ibn an-Nadim writes in Al-Fihrist “I have read what was written in the handwriting of Abu Abdollah Muhuammad ibn Abdus al-Jahshbazi in Kitâb al-Wuzara' wa'l-Kuttab (Book of the Viziers and Secretaries), where he wrote, that ‘There was little writing before the reign of Goshtasb. When Goshtasb ascended the throne, writing expanded and Zoroaster, founder of zoroastrianism, by divulging his wonderful book increased the number of people who wanted to learn writing."
According to Ibn Muqaffa, “There are seven types of handwriting in Persia and one of them is the form of writing for religion called Din Dafireh with which the Avesta is written. Another form of writing is called Veys Dabireh, which has three hundred and sixty-five letters. They use it to write about physiognomy, divination, gurgling of water, ringing of the ears, beckoning of the eyes, nodding, winking, and the like. This script has not been handed down to anyone, so that none of the sons of Persia write with it today. When I asked Ama-mobad about it, he said, ‘Yes, this script is a riddle just like those we have in Arabic script.’ He also says, ‘Iranians have another form of writing called the Kushnaj, which has twenty-four letters. With it they write contracts, inheritance assignments, and land transactions. The dirham coins of the Persians are inscribed with this script and also they have another form of writing called the Nim-Kushnaj, which has twenty-eight letters and is used for medicine and philosophy. Another form of writing is called the Shah Dabireh, with which the Persian kings and not the people, used to correspond in and it was forbidden for the people to learn it. Another form of writing is called Raz Sehriyeh, with which the kings correspond about confidential matters with whatsoever nations they wish and it has forty letters and vocal sounds and another script called Rasi Sehriyeh, used for logic and philosophy, with twenty-four dots....”.
However, the arguable and noteworthy point that is in this myth is the connection between the script and the divs and that the teaching and appearance of scripts in this version of the myth has been attributed to the divs. Div or daēva in the Avesta and dēw in Pahlavi are proud to be pre-Zoroastrian gods which after the appearance of the new religion and in the theological study of the new religion (Zoroastrianism) first are turned into alien gods and then into evil creatures.
Can one by attributing the appearance of script to the divs find traces of ancient pre-Zoroastrian gods? Perhaps from the heart of this myth one can reach this truth that after the settlement of the newly arrived Aryan races in Iran, they learned script from the indigenous residents over whom they had dominated. The immigration of the Aryans from the cold northlands, the steppes to the south of Russia and north of the Mazandaran Sea (Caspian Sea), and the Black Sea to the southern territories and the Iranian Plateau takes place in the period between 5000 and 2000 BC. The immigration of these migratory tribes was usually accompanied with violence and the ultimate defeat of their hosts. The confrontation between their verbal and oral traditions and the written traditions of the indigenous, non-migratory tribes led to discovery and comparison of the heart of the myth. Perhaps these divs were the same gods of the indigenous people of Iran who offered script to their unexpected guests – gods who in confrontation with the new gods, gave their place in mythology to the divs.
1. Learn more about Jiroft and the Chlorite artifacts