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Haft Keshvar

part 1

HAFT KESHVAR (seven regions), the usual geographical division of the world in Iranian tradition. Ancient Iranians, who may have believed in a tripartite division of the earth (see IRAI), developed an orderly picture of the world, envisioned as vast and round and encircled by a high mountain.

According to this tradition, the world was divided into seven (circular) regions (karshvar < karsh- ‘to plough’; AirWb., cols. 458, 459, hence a tract of land bordered by a ploughed line, see Pur(-e) Dawud, 1974, p. 111; Pah. and New Pers. keshvar,var. keshkar; Manich. Parth. kishfar, see Mir. Man. III, p. 43). These were imagined as separated from one another by forests, mountains, or water, six flanking a central one called in Avesta Xvanira (MPers. Xwanirah, New Pers. oniras, Arabicized Honi-rat/ل¸´onaras, probably Xvanira- ‘self-made, not resting on anything else’, see Gershevitch, p. 176), which equaled in size all the rest combined and surpassed them in prosperity and fortune (Geiger, pp. 300-303; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 133-34; Pur(-e) Dawud, 1974, pp. 112-14). Originally only this continent was inhabited by man and the fabled home of the Aryans (Airyo.shayana-) was located there (Yt. 10. 13 with Bundahishn 14. 38, tr. Anklesaria, pp. 134-35), but the ؤŒihrdad nask (q.v.) had described how men propagated and scattered into other regions and formed different races and rites (Denkard 8.13.2-3 with Christensen, 1917, pp. 13, 119). Sovereignty over all the seven regions was claimed by Iranian hero-kings (Yt. 19. 26, 28, 31; Bahram son of Mardanshah, apud Hamza Esfahani, pp. 23-25: Tabari, I, pp. 17, 170, 175, 179; for Sasanian period see Nama-ye Tansar, p. 28; SHah-nama, ed. Moscow, VII, p. 164 v. 169, p. 172 v. 297, p. 180 v. 444). Hence, several expressions denoting ”king of the seven regions”‌ came to be used as synonyms for ”king of Iran”‌ (Bartholomae, pp. 19, 26; Widengren, p. 250; the notion permeates in Persian literature). The concept of the ”seven regions”‌ had Indo-Aryan roots (Geiger, pp. 302-3) and despite some claims (e.g., Herzfeld, pp. 684-85), was independent of Mesopotamian world view (Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, p. 134, n. 29), which pictured the earth as forming the middle level of the cosmos and consisting of a highly civilized core surrounded by four regions inhabited by savages with negative characteristics (Glassner, pp. 820-21).

The Iranian concept is alluded to in the Gaas of Zoroaster (Y. 32.3, tr. Insler, p. 45) and fully attested in the Avestan hymn to Mithra (Yt. 10.12-16, 67), which describes the god as surveying at dawn the ”whole Airyo.shayana-”‌ and flying ”over all regions (vispahu karshvohu),”‌ namely, Arzahi- (Pahl. Arzah ‘east’), Fra-daخ´afshu- (Pahl. Fradadafsh ‘southeast’), Vidafshu- (Pahl. Widadafsh ‘southwest’), Savahi- (Pahl. Sawah ‘west’), Vouru.barة™shti- (Pahl. Worbarsht ‘northwest’), Vouru.-arshti- (Pahl. Worإasht ‘northeast’), and the splendid region of Xvaniraخ¸a- (Xaniraخ¸a- bami-) in the center (Gershevitch, p. 81; for orientation see Henning, 1940, pp. 28-29 [repr. in idem, 1977, II, pp. 29-30]; contra Nyberg, pp. 400-401 and Schwartz, p. 643). The system influenced Zoroastrian eschatology (cf. Christensen, 1931, pp. 153-55). A spiritual leader watches over each region (Bundahishn. 29.1-4, tr. Anklesaria, p. 253), and the six comrades of Astvat.ta (q.v.) mentioned in Yt 19. 97, will, according to Dadestan i Denig (XXXV, 4-6) rise with him to fulfill his mission in the six regions surrounding the Xvaniraخ¸a-. Remarkably, they bear names symmetrically corresponding with those of the six keshvars (Darmesteter, pp. 206-8; Boyce, Zoroastriansm I, p. 284). According to the Mah i Fravardin roz i Hordad (ed. and tr. Markwart, pp. 742-55, esp. p. 747), the hero Sam will rise again, kill Azi Dahaka (see AZDAHA), and assume the rulership of the seven regions, but he will deliver it to Kay ل¸´osrow, who shall rule for fifty-seven years and then will turn the sovereignty to Vishtaspa.

Plate I. The world according to the Avesta.

The geographical knowledge of the Iranians greatly increased during the Achaemenid period, when the empire was divided administratively into twenty taxation districts (satrapies) and ethnically into some thirty nations (OPers. karas). Yet, the notion of the seven-fold divi-sion of the earth influenced Persian ideology (Shahbazi, 1983, pp. 242-46 with undue overestimation). Darius the Great (q.v.) was thought to have divided his empire into seven parts and given them to the loyal colleagues who helped him recover the Persian throne (Plato, Epistel III, tr. Bury, pp. 501, 503); and an Aramaic document from Egypt dated in the reign of Darius II designating a district governor as hpt’,from Iranian *haftaxapata ”protector of one-seventh,”‌ shows that the division of a region into sevendistricts was a normal practice patterned after the Iranian cosmology of dividing the earth into seven keshvars (Henning, 1968, pp. 138, 143-44 [repr. in idem, 1977, II, pp. 659, 664-65]; see also HAFTVAD).

The Parthian and Sasanian empires were also divided into provinces and principalities with no evident regard to the ”seven regions”‌ system. The later Sasanians had adopted the (Greek) division of the world into four quarters (see Nama-ye Tansar, p. 40, tr. p. 63; Ebn Faqih, p. 197) and administered Eranshahr in four geographical sections (kosts) of the north (abaxtar, identified as Adur-badagan), east (xwarasan), south (nemroz) and the west (xwarwaran). The application of the geographical directions likewise influenced the doctrine of the seven-fold division of the earth (for a detailed and well-documented discussion see Pur(-e) Dawud, 1952). Thus the Bunda-hishn, while admitting that ”there are 33 kinds of land”‌ (8.1), coordinates the seven regions with the four cardinal points, placing one in the east, one in the west and a pair in both north and south (8.2-7). The same is done by Hamza Esahani (pp. 4-5) and Tarikhe Sistan (p. 23).

Similarly, the prologue to the Shah-nama of Abu Mansur Mohammad b. Abd-al-Razzaq (q.v.) gives the following report (Qazvini, pp. 42-44), from a source datable to about 620, when Sasanian troops had conquered Egypt (Shahbazi, 1990, p. 214): ”the earth is divided into four directions from one end to the other, and (also) into seven parts (haft bahr), each part of which they called a keshvar. The first is Arzah, the second SHa-bah, the third Faradadafsh, the fourth Vidadafsh, the fifth Vurubarst, the sixth Vuruiarst, (and) the seventh, which is the center of the world, Joniras-e bami (splendid لoniras), and it is the one wherein we are, and the kings called it Eranshahr.”‌ The same text then enumerates the countries of the world, from China to the Byzantine Empire, in accordance with the four directions, and again comes to Eranshahr, claiming that it ”is from the river of Egypt [the Nile] to the Amuya”‌ and ”surpasses in every art the other keshvars surrounding it”‌ (Qazvini, pp. 44-49). Another elaborate ”Iranian”‌ scheme of the ”seven keshvars, similarly arranging known nations into six connectedcircles surrounding the central Eranshahr was given by Abu Rayhan Biruni, together with a sketch map, both reproduced by Yaqut (Boldan I, p. 27). The Ketabal-tafhim, attributed to Biruni, and the anonymous Moimal al-tawarikh (ed. Bahar, pp. 478-81) give a simpler version of the scheme.

Plate II. The Seven Regions according to late Sasanian and early Islamic scholastic views.

To be continued ...

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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