The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlawānīg, is an extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region situated in present-day northeastern Iran and Turkmenistan. Parthian was the language of state of the Arsacid Parthian Empire (248 BC – 224 AD), as well as of its eponymous branches of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania.
|Native to||Parthian Empire (incl. Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia and Arsacid Dynasty of Caucasian Albania)|
|Region||Parthia, ancient Iran|
|Era||State language 248 BC – 224 AD. Marginalized by Middle Persian from the 3rd century, though longer existent in the Caucasus due to several eponymous branches|
|Inscriptional Parthian, Manichaean alphabet|
This language had a significant impact on Armenian, a large part of whose vocabulary was formed primarily from borrowings from Parthian; its derivational morphology and syntax was also affected by language contact, but to a lesser extent. Many ancient Parthian words were preserved, and now only survive in Armenian. The Semnani or Komisenian languages may descend from Parthian directly, or be a Caspian language with Parthian influences, but this topic lacks sufficient research.
Parthian was a Western Middle Iranian language. Language contact made it share some features of the Eastern Iranian language group, the influence of which is attested primarily in loanwords. Some traces of Eastern influence survive in Parthian loanwords in Armenian. Parthian loanwords appear in everyday Armenian vocabulary; nouns, adjectives, adverbs, denominative verbs, and administrative and religious lexicons.
The Parthian language was rendered using the Pahlavi writing system, which had two essential characteristics. Firstly, its script derived from Aramaic, the script (and language) of the Achaemenid chancellery (Imperial Aramaic). Secondly, it had a high incidence of Aramaic words, which are rendered as ideograms or logograms; they were written Aramaic words but pronounced as Parthian ones (See Arsacid Pahlavi for details).
The Parthian language was the language of the old Satrapy of Parthia and was used in the Arsacids courts. The main sources for Parthian are the few remaining inscriptions from Nisa and Hecatompylos, Manichaean texts, Sasanian multilingual inscriptions and remains of Parthian literature in the succeeding Middle Persian. The later Manichaean texts, composed shortly after the demise of the Parthian power, play an important role for reconstructing the Parthian language. Those Manichaean manuscripts contain no ideograms.
Attestations of the Parthian language include:
- Some 3,000 ostraca (ca. 100–29 BC) found in Nisā in southern Turkmenistan.
- A first century AD parchment dealing with a land-sale from Awraman in Western Iran.
- The first century BC ostraca from Shahr-e Qumis in Eastern Iran.
- The poem Draxt i Asurig
- Inscription on the coins of Arsacid Kings in the first century AD.
- The bilingual inscription of Seleucia on the Tigris (150–151 AD).
- The inscription of Ardavan V found in Susa (215).
- Some third century documents discovered in Dura-Europos, On the Euphrates.
- The inscription at Kal-e Jangal, near Birjand in South Khorasan (first half of third century).
- The inscriptions of early Sassanian Kings and priests in Parthian including Ka'ba-ye Zartosht near Shiraz and Paikuli in Iraqi Kurdistan.
- The vast corpus of Manichaean Parthian which do not contain any ideograms.
- In North Pakistan, Indo-Parthian culture in Taxila with Gondophares 20 BC–10 BC and Abdagases, Bajaur, Bajaur, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and down in to Sistan, Balochistan.
This sample of Parthian literature is taken from a Manichaean text fragment:
|Āγad hēm Parwān-Šāh, u-m wāxt ku: Drōd abar tō až yazdān.
Šāh wāxt ku: Až ku ay? – Man wāxt ku: Bizišk hēm až Bābel
zamīg. [...] ud pad hamāg tanbār hō kanīžag društ būd. Pad
wuzurg šādīft ō man wāxt ku: Až ku ay tū, man baγ ud anžīwag?
|I came to the Parwan-Shah and said: "Benedictions ⟨be⟩ upon you from the gods (in honorific
Plural)!" The Shah said: "From where are you?" I said: "I am a physician from the land
of Babylon." [Fragment missing in which Mani seems to describe his miraculous
healing of the Shah's handmaiden] and in ⟨her⟩ whole body the handmaiden
became healthy ⟨again⟩. In great joy ⟨she⟩ said to me: "From where are you,
my lord and saviour?"
Differences from Middle PersianEdit
Although Parthian was quite similar to Middle Persian in many aspects, we can still observe clear differences in lexical, morphological and phonological forms. In the text above, the following forms can be noticed:
- ⟨āγad⟩, came, instead of Middle Persian ⟨āyad⟩.
- ⟨wāxt⟩, said, instead of ⟨gōft⟩. This form for the verb to say can still be found in many contemporary Northwestern Iranian languages, e.g. Mazandarani ⟨vātεn⟩, Zazaki ⟨vatış; vaten⟩ or Sorani (wotin). It is also common in Tati and Talysh, though not in Gilaki and Kurmanji.
- ⟨až⟩, from, instead of ⟨az⟩. Observe also in ⟨kanīžag⟩, handmaiden, instead of ⟨kanīzag⟩ and even in ⟨društ⟩, healthy, instead of ⟨drust⟩. The rendering of the Persian sound /z/ as /ʒ/, /tʃ/ or /dʒ/ is also very common in Northwestern Iranian languages of today.
- ⟨ay⟩, you are (Singular), instead of ⟨hē⟩.
- ⟨zamīg⟩, land, instead of ⟨zamīn⟩. The form ⟨zamīg⟩ can be found in Balochi. The form ⟨zamin⟩ can be found in Persian.
- ⟨hō⟩, that or the, instead of ⟨(h)ān⟩.
- The abstractive nominal suffix ⟨-īft⟩ instead of ⟨-īh⟩, as in ⟨šādīft⟩, joy, Middle Persian ⟨šādīh⟩.
Other prominent differences, not found in the text above, include the personal pronoun ⟨az⟩, I, instead of ⟨an⟩ and the present tense root of the verb ⟨kardan⟩, to do, ⟨kar-⟩ instead of Middle Persian ⟨kun-⟩. Also, the Middle Persian linking particle and relative pronoun ⟨ī(g)⟩ was not present in Parthian, but the relative pronoun ⟨čē⟩, what, was used in a similar manner.
- Lecoq, pg. 297
- Lecoq, Pierre (1983). "Aparna". Encyclopedia Iranica. Vol. 1. Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub.
- Livshits 2006, p. 79.
- "Iranian languages". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
- "Iran Chamber Society: History of Iran: Parthian History and Language". www.iranchamber.com. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
- "Iran Chamber Society: Iranian Scripts: Parthian Script". www.iranchamber.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "Parthian language". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
- Wiesehöfer, Josef (2001). Ancient Persia : from 550 BC to 650 AD. Translated by Azado, Azizeh. I.B. Tauris. p. 118. ISBN 1-86064-675-1.
- Tafazzoli, A.; Khromov, A. L. (1996). "Sasanian Iran: Intellectual Life". History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. 3. UNESCO. ISBN 92-3-103211-9.
- A. D. H. Bivar (1981). "The Second Parthian Ostracon from Qubmis (Qubmis Commentaries No. 3)". Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies. 19 (1): 81–84. doi:10.2307/4299707. JSTOR 4299707.
- "The Bilingual Inscription of Vologeses son of Mithridates" (PDF). rahamasha.net.
- Potter, D. S. (1991). "The Inscriptions on the Bronze Herakles from Mesene: Vologeses IV's War with Rome and the Date of Tacitus' Annales" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 88: 277–290. JSTOR 20187558.
- "Manichaean Reader, Part No. 4: A fragment from Maniʼs own account of his life".
- Sims-Williams, Nicholas (2004). Corpus Fontium Manichaerum: Dictionary of Manichaean Texts, Vol. III, Part 1: Dictionary of Manichaen Middle Persian and Parthian. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. p. 129. ISBN 2-503-51776-5.
- Lecoq, Pierre (1983). "Aparna". Encyclopedia Iranica. Vol. 1. Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 871. .
- Boyce, Mary; Ghirshman, R. (1979). "Reviewed work: L'Iran et la Migration des Indo-Aryens et des Iraniens, R. Ghirshman". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 99 (1): 119–120. doi:10.2307/598967. JSTOR 598967.
- Livshits, Vladimir (2006). "Armeno-Partho-Sogdica". Iran & the Caucasus. 10 (1): 77–86. doi:10.1163/157338406777979412.
- Meyer, Robin (2017). Iranian-Armenian Language Contact in and before the 5th Century CE (D.Phil. thesis). University of Oxford.
|For a list of words relating to Parthian language, see the Parthian language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Some valuable texts in Parthian including Boyce, Mary The Manichaean hymn-cycles in Parthian (London Oriental Series, Vol. 3). London: Oxford University Press, 1954.
- [ARMENIA AND IRAN iv. Iranian influences in Armenian Language Covers the massive lexical and vocabulary influences of Parthian on Armenian, (R. Schmitt, H. W. Bailey), originally published 1986.]