1902 Encyclopedia > Zoroaster

Persian prophet
(c. 630 - c. 553 B.C.)

ZOROASTER, one of the great teachers of the East, the founder of what was the national religion of the Perso-Iranian people from the time of the Achsemenid to the close of the Sasanian period. The name (Zoipodarprji) is the Greek form of the old Iranian Zarathushtra and the new Persian Zardusht; it seems to mean " possessor of old camels."

Zoroaster was already famous in classical antiquity as the founder of the widely renowned wisdom of the Magi. The later Greek writers place him with almost one consent in the east of Iran, and more particularly in Bactria. The name is not mentioned by Herodotus in his sketch of the Medo-Persian religion (i. 131 sq.), but it occurs in a fragment (29) of the earlier writer Xanthus. Plato calls Zoroaster the founder of the doctrine of the Magi and a son of Oromazes. According to Hermodorus, one of Plato's disciples, he was a Persian, the first Magian; according to Hermippus, a Bactrian; according to Trogus Pompeius, even king of the Bactrians and founder of the Magian art and knowledge of the stars; according to Diodorus, an Arian, that is, a native of east Iran. A few details as to his life are also given. Thus, according to Pliny, he laughed on the very day of his birth—a statement found also in the Zardusht-Ndma—and for thirty years he lived in the wilderness upon cheese. Plutarch speaks of his intercourse with the deity and compares him with Lycurgus and Numa. Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch's contemporary, declares that neither Homer nor Hesiod sang of the chariot and horses of Zeus so worthily as Zoroaster, of whom the Persians tell that out of love to wisdom and righteousness he withdrew himself from men and lived in solitude upon a mountain. The mountain was burnt up, but Zoroaster escaped uninjured and spoke to the multitude. His struggle with Semiramis seems to be an invention of Ctesias. Plutarch, drawing partly on Theopompus, speaks of his religion in his Isis and Osiris (cc. 46 and 47).

Ancient writers differ greatly as to Zoroaster's date. Ctesias, as we have seen, makes him a contemporary of Semiramis. Hermippus of Smyrna places him 5000 years before the Trojan War, Xanthus 6000 years before Xerxes. Aristotle assigned him a similar antiquity. Agathias remarks (ii. 24) with perfect truth that it is no longer possible to determine with any certainty when he lived and legislated. "The Persians," he adds, "say that Zoroaster lived under Hystaspes, but do not make it clear whether by this name they mean the father of Darius or another Hystaspes. But, whatever may have been his date, he was their teacher and instructor in the Magian religion." All classical antiquity, however, without a dissentient voice speaks of Zoroaster as an historical person.

He is nowhere mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaimenidae, although Darius and his successors were without doubt devoted adherents of Zoroastrianism. Very little value can be attached to the fabulous narratives concerning him in the later Persian and Parsee literature, the Shdh-Ndma and the Zardusht-Ndma (13th century); and the information of the Pahlavi books is very scanty. The Zend-Avesta alone gives abundant details, which, in part at least, may be regarded as authentic.

Before proceeding to compile from these a brief sketch of the life and doctrine of Zoroaster it will be well that we should first look at the question whether we are entitled to regard him as an historical character at all. For Zoroaster too, like his great fellow-teacher Buddha, has fallen under the ban of modern scepticism. According to Darmesteter and Eduard Meyer, the Parsee saint is a mere myth, a divinity invested with human attributes, an incarnation of the storm-god, who with his divine word, the thunder, comes down from heaven and smites the demons. Darmesteter, however, has failed to realize sufficiently the distinction between the Zoroaster of the later Avesta and the Zoroaster of the Gathas. It cannot be denied that in the later Avesta, and still more in writings of more recent date, he is presented in a supernatural light and invested with superhuman powers. At his appearing all nature rejoices ( Yasht 13, 93) ; he enters into conflict with the demons and rids the earth of their presence (Yasht 17, 19) ; Satan approaches him as tempter to make him renounce his faith (Vd., 19, 6). The Zar-dusht-Ndma is full of miracles and miraculous deliverances wrought by Zoroaster. But it is quite otherwise in the Gathas.

The Gathas alone within the Avesta make any claim to be the ipsissima verba of the prophet; in the rest of that work they are put into Zoroaster's own mouth (Yasna, 9, 1) and are expressly called "the Gathas of the holy Zoroaster" (Yasna, 57, 8). The litanies of the Yasna, and the Yashts, refer to him as a personage belonging to a remote antiquity. The Vendidad also merely gives accounts of the dialogues between Ormuzd and Zoroaster. The Gathas alone claim to be authentic utterances of Zoroaster, his genuine expressions in presence of the assembled church.

The person too of the Zoroaster whom we meet with in these hymns differs toto calo from the Zoroaster of the younger Avesta. He is the exact opposite of the miraculous personage of later legend, —a mere man, standing always on the solid ground of reality, whose only arms are trust in his God and the protection of his powerful allies. And at times his position is precarious enough. He whom we hear in the Gathas has had to face, not merely all forms of outward opposition and the unbelief and lukewarmness of adherents, but also the inward misgivings of his own heart as to the truth and final victory of his cause. At one time hope, at another despondency, now assured confidence, now doubt and despair, here a firm faith in the speedy coming of the kingdom of heaven, there the thought of taking refuge by flight,—such is the range of the emotions which find their immediate expression in these hymns. And the whole breathes such a genuine originality, all is psychologically so accurate and just, the earliest beginnings of the new religious movement, the childhood of a new community of faith, are reflected so naturally in them all, that it is impossible for a moment to think of a later period of composition by a priesthood whom we know to have been devoid of any historical sense, and incapable of reconstructing for themselves the spiritual conditions under which Zoroaster lived. As soon as the position has been fully mastered—that in the Gáthás we have firm historical ground on which Zoroaster and his surroundings may rest, that here we have the beginnings of the Zoroastrian religion—then it becomes impossible to answer otherwise than affirmatively every general question as to the historical character of Zoroaster. On the other hand, we must not expect too much from the Gáthás in the way of definite detail. They give no historical account of the life and teaching of their prophet, but rather are, so to say, versus memoriales, which recapitulate the main points of interest, often again in an allusive way. It must be remembered too that their extent is but limited.

As to tlie birthplace of Zoroaster the Avesta is silent. In later tradition two places contended for this honour: the older and more widely spread story made him a native of Rai (Rhagae) in Media, another of Shiz, the capital of Atropatene, also in Media. It is hard to decide whether both traditions rest merely upon priestly pretensions of a later date or whether one of them is not perhaps authentic. According to Yasna, 19, 18, the " zarathushtrotema" or supreme head of the Zoroastrian priesthood had at a later (Median or Sasanian t) time his residence in Rhagae. But there is a passage in even the Gáthás (Y., 53, 9) which seems to contain a lurking allusion to Rhagae; unfortunately, however, both text and meaning are uncertain. However this may be, the activity of Zoroaster as a teacher is certainly to be placed in the east of Iran. On this point also the Gáthás say nothing. The later Avesta names, as the locality of his advent, "Airyanem vaéjó," a quite fabulous country, which, according to Vol., 1, 3 and 7, was not identified with Bactria. He taught under the reign of a ruler named Víshtáspa (later Gushtásp, the Greek Hystaspes), with whom and with whose court he stood in close and friendly relations. This Víshtáspa must be carefully distinguished from Hystaspes the father of Darius. According to the epic legend, Víshtáspa was king of Bactria. Already in the later Avesta he has become a half mythical figure, the last in the series of heroes of east Iranian legend, in the arrangement of which series priestly influence is unmistakably evident. He stands at the meeting-point between the old world and the new era which begins with Zoroaster. In the Gáthás he appears as a quite historical personage; it is essentially to his power and good example that the prophet is indebted for his success. In Yasna, 53, 2, he is spoken of as a pioneer of the doctrine revealed by Ormuzd. In the relation between Zoroaster and Víshtáspa already lies the germ of the state church which afterwards became so completely subservient to the interests of the dynasty and sought its protection from it.

Among the grandees of the court of Víshtáspa mention is made of two brothers Frashaoshtra and Jámáspa; the latter, according to the later legend, was the minister of Víshtáspa. Zoroaster was nearly related to both ; his wife Hvóvi seems to have been their sister, and the husband of her daughter, Pourucista, was a son of Jámáspa. Apart from this connexion, the new prophet relies especially upon his own kindred (hvaétush) and their followers (airy-aman). His first disciple, Maidhyóimáongha, was a relation ; his father was, according to the later Avesta, Pourushaspa, his great-grandfather Haécataspa, and the ancestor of the whole family Spitama, for which reason Zarathushtra usually bears this surname. His sons and daughters are repeatedly spoken of. His death is, for reasons easily intelligible, nowhere mentioned in the Avesta ; in the Shdh-Kdma he is said to have been murdered at the altar by the Turanians in the storming of Balkh.

We are quite in the dark as to the date of Zoroaster; King Víshtáspa has no place in any historical chronology, and the Gáthás give no hint on the subject. But at any rate he must have lived long before Cyrus, by whose time the new religion had already become established in western Iran (Nic. Damasc, fr. 66). Duncker places him about the year 1000 B.C. Merely conjectural also is the opinion once orally expressed by Gutschmid that Zoroaster may have been a contemporary of Moses, thus belonging, according to Gutschmid's view, to about the 14th century B.C.,—a period of great religious activity throughout western Asia.

It was a new religion that Zoroaster taught. This must not, however, be taken as meaning that everything he taught came, so to say, out of his own head. His doctrine was s product of the time, and had its roots in the nature and history of the people to which he belonged. Usually he is spoken of as a reformer of the old Iranian faith. But in order to be sure of this it would be necessary first to know something about the nature of that faith as it existed before he arose. Was it still essentially the same as that of the nearly-allied ancient Hindus, as found in the Rig-Veda ? To this question no distinct answer is forthcoming ; we are ignorant as to how far the way had been prepared for Zoroastrianism or how far it was wholly new. But still there is room for conjecture as to what it was that gave the prophet the first impulse and occasion for his work.

The most striking difference between Zoroaster's doctrine of God and the old religion of India lies in this, that, while in the Avesta the evil spirits are called daeva (Modern Persian div), the Aryans of India, on the other hand, in common with the Italians, Celts, and Letts, gave the name of deva to their good spirits, the spirits of light. An alternative designation for deity in the Rig-Veda is asura. In the more recent hymns of the Rig-Veda and in later India, on the other hand, only evil spirits are understood by asards, while in Iran the corresponding word ahura was, and ever has continued to be, the designation of God the Lord, especially of the supreme God, with the epithet of Mazddo (the Wise). Thus ahura-daeva, deva-asura in Zoroastrian and in later Brahman theology are in their meanings exactly opposed. This difference no one has as yet satisfactorily accounted for, and yet it supplies the key to the doctrine of Zoroaster.

The difference proceeded from an old distinction between the ideas deva and asura. An original ideal difference, a different conception of god associated with the two words, grew in the two lands into a sharp antithesis, a formal conflict, but in opposite senses. In India the development still admits of being traced. In the older Rig-Veda the difference is latent. Here a god is spoken of as deva, but not every deva is an asura. Asura is something which is attributed only to certain particular gods as a special attribute, notably to Varuna, though also to others, such as Indra, but only by the so-called " katheno-theism " of the Vedic religion. On the other hand, it is expressly stated that in the case of Indra the dignity of an asura was only a conferred one (Rig-V., 6, 10, 2). In Rig-Veda, 4, 42 Varuna claims as against Indra the priority in the asura dignity. This hymn, like 10, 124, is of importance for the whole question. The contrast there implied between Varuna and Indra, the rivalry between them as to which is the greater, comes to light sometimes more strongly, sometimes less so, throughout the entire Rig-Veda. The contrast is really in other terms the old contrast between asura and deva, between a more spiritualistic and a more materialistic conception of deity. Asura is ethically the higher conception, deva the lower: deva is the vulgar notion of God, asura is theosophic. The super-sensuous figure of Varuna is the type of an asura, the sensuous figure of Indra the type of a deva. In the Rig-Veda, Varuna, the old king of the gods, is going down, while Indra, the popular national god, is in the ascendant. Along with Varuna, but in a still higher degree, the very conception of asura goes down; it becomes unmodern, obsolete, and acquires an undesirable flavour. The asuras thus come to form a distinct group of celestial beings mentioned along with the devas (A.-V., 10, 10, 26): they become in rank inferior to the devas (A.-V., 6, 86, 3) and receive the designation of asura adevds—asuras that are no devas; and from this it is but a short step to the " asuras that are opposed to the gods."

The old contrast between asura and deva was wrought out and accentuated quite differently on Iranian soil. While in India the entire revolution took place in a bloodless manner wholly within the realm of ideas, the old antithesis led to an open quarrel among the Aryans of Iran. In the background of the picture of Zoroaster's times set before us in the Gathas we see the people divided between two opposing and hostile cults, the watchwords of which are ahura on the one hand and daeva on the other. How it is that matters had come to this pass remains Dbscure, for we have no source of information to take us further back. The opposing parties are not separated by distance in space or by differing nationality, but occur side by side. " Hard by the believer in ahura dwells the worshipper of the daevas,'' complains Zoroaster. The entire people seems broken up by the religious difference.

It is difficult to focus the scattered references in the G&thas so as to obtain a clear picture of the time. Only this much is clear, that in Zoroaster's day not two cults only but two stages of culture are struggling for the mastery. The ahura worshippers represent the higher phase; they are breeders of cattle, and the care of the cow is to them a sacred duty. The worshippers of the daevas maltreat the animal and slaughter it in their sacrifices. We perceive that the higher ethical tendency of the old asura faith is producing its effects in the higher degree of culture of the believers in Ahura, while the worshippers of the daevas stand on a lower grade.

It is to this period of religious ferment that Zoroaster's appearance on the scene belongs. It is not he who has evoked this religious conflict of parties, as the common assumption is, and just as little is it he who in Ahura with the epithet of Mazdao offers a new god to his people. He strikes decisively into the existing struggle, mounts to the position of spiritual leader of the ahura party and makes the battle a victory. As zaotd (Indian hotd), for so he calls himself, the first in rank of the old Aryan priests, he had all the greater opportunity to make his views known in matters of religion. Mankind had been brought face to face with a critical choice, that of electing between two radically opposed confessions of faith, without having any clearness as to the lasting consequences of the momentous step. He determines to save them, to lead them to a right choice, for he sees further than they, and believes himself to be initiated into the secrets of the godhead and of the life to come. What the other party worship as gods under the name of daeva are in reality powers by whom unwitting mankind are led to their destruction,—evil powers, false gods, devils. Such is the position from which all his teaching starts; and thus the change in the conception of daeva was a natural development. From the daevas proceeds all the evil in the world. But his speculation does not stop here. The daevas themselves anon become manifest to him as being but the instruments of a higher principle, called by him for the most part Druj (falsehood, deception), and more rarely Angrb Mainyush, that is the spirit enemy, Ahriman. This Ahriman or evil principle is the most characteristic product of Zoroastrian speculation. From the schism or religious dualism of his time he derived the idea of that dualistic scheme of the universe which has impressed its character upon the whole of the religion called by his name.


The fundamental idea of the Zoroastrian creed is dualistic. At the beginning of things there existed two spirits—Ahuro Mazdao (Ormuzd) and Angrd Mainyush (Ahriman)—who represented good and evil (Yasna, 30, 3). The existence of evil in the world is thus presupposed from all eternity. Both spirits possess creative power, which manifests itself in the one positively and in the other negatively. Ormuzd is light and life and all that is pure and good,— in the ethical world law, order, and truth ; his antithesis is darkness, filth, death, all that is evil in the world, lawlessness, and lies. When the two are spoken of as yima ("a pair"), this is not to be interpreted as meaning that they are twins : it simply denotes a duality, an opposed couple, a dvandva. The two spirits had until then counterbalanced one another. The ultimate triumph of the good spirit is an ethical demand of the religious consciousness and the quintessence of Zoroaster's revelation.

The evil spirit with his wicked hosts appears in the Gathas much less endowed with the attributes of personality than does Ahura Mazda. Within the world of the good Ormuzd is Lord and Goil alone. In this sense Zoroastrianism is often referred to as the faith of Ormuzd or as Mazdaism. Ormuzd in his exalted majesty is the ideal figure of an Oriental king. Of other gods beside him the doctrine of the Gathas knows nothing. The natural and symbolical gods of the popular belief have no place in it. Yet Ormuzd is not alone in his doings and conflicts, but has in conjunction with himself a number of genii—for the most part personifications of ethical ideas. These are his creatures, his instruments, servants, and assistants, like the ministers of an autocratic sovereign. They are comprehended under the general name of ameshd spentd ("immortal holy ones") and are the prototypes of the seven amshaspands of a later date. These are—(1) Ashem, afterwards Ashem Vahishtem (Plutarch's dA?)0eia), corresponding to all that is true, good, and right,—ideas practically identical for Zoroaster, and the embodiment of all that is true, good, and right, upright law and rule ; (2) Vohu ManO (euWa), good sense, i.e., the good principle, the idea of the good, the principle that works in man inclining him to what is good ; (3) Khshathrem, afterwards Khshathrem Vairim (evyouia), the power and kingdom of Ormuzd, which have subsisted from the first but not in integral completeness, the evil having crept in like the tares among the wheat: the time is yet to come when it shall be fully manifested in all its unclouded majesty ; (4) Armaiti (aodyla), or the spirit of docility and obedience, spoken of as daughter of Ormuzd and regarded as having her abode upon the earth ; (o) Haurvatat (TTXOVTOS), perfection; (6) Ameretatat, immortality. Other ministering angels are Geush Tashan ("the creator of the cow "), Geush Urvan ('" the genius and defender of animals"), and the holy spirit of Ormuzd, often thought of as having personal existence. Of the elements fire alone (" the son of Ahura Mazda") receives personification and figures as his ally.

As soon as the two at first absolutely separate spirits (comp. Buudahish, 1, 4) encounter one another, their creative activity and at the same time their permanent conflict begin. The history of this conflict is the history of the world. A great cleft runs right through the world: all creation divides itself into that which is Ahura's and that which is Ahriman's. Not that the two spirits carry on the struggle in person ; they leave it to be fought out by their respective creations and creatures which they send into the field. The field of battle is the present world.

In the centre of battle is man ; his soul is the object of the war. Man is a creation of Ormuzd, who therefore has the right to call him to account. But Ormuzd created him free in his determinations and in his actions, wherefore he is accessible to the influences of the evil powers. This freedom of the will is cleaily expressed in Yasna, 31,11: " Since thou, 0 Mazda, didst at the first create our being and our souls in accordance with thy mind, and didst create our understanding and our life together with the body, and works and words in which man according to his own will can frame his confession, the liar and the truth-speaker alike lay hold of the word, the knowing and the ignorant each after his own heart and understanding. Armaiti searches, following thy spirit, where errors are found." Man takes part in this conflict by all his life and activity in the world. By a true confession of faith, by every good deed, by continually keeping pure his body and his soul, he impairs the power of Satan and strengthens the might of goodness, and establishes a claim for reward upon Ormuzd ; by a false confession, by every evil deed and defilement, he increases the evil and renders service to Satan.

The life of man falls into two parts,—its earthly portion and that which is lived beyond the grave. The lot assigned to him, after death is the result and consequence of his life upon earth. No religion has so clearly grasped the ideas of guilt and of merit. On the works of men here below a strict reckoning will be held in heaven (according to later representations by Rashnu and Mithra). All thoughts, words, and deeds of each are entered in the book as separate items (dáthra, Y., 31, 14 ; Vend., 19, 27), all the evil works as debts (ishudo). Wicked actions cannot be undone, but in the heavenly account can be counterbalanced by a surplus of good works. It is only in this sense that an evil deed can be atoned for by a good one. Of a remission of sins the doctrine of Zoroaster knows nothing. After death the soul arrives at the cinvato peretush or accountant's bridge over which lies the way to heaven. Here the statement of his life account is made out. If he has a balance of good works in his favour, he passes forthwith into paradise (Garó demána) and the blessed life. If his evil works outweigh 'his good he falls finally under the power of Satan, and the pains of hell are his portion for ever. Should the evil and the good be equally balanced, the soul passes into an intermediate stage of existence (the Haméstakdns of the Pahlavi books) and his final lot is not decided until the last judgment. This court of reckoning, the judicium particulare, is called dka. The course of inexorable law cannot be turned aside by any sacrifice or offering, nor yet even by the free grace of God.

But man has been smitten with blindness and ignorance : he knows neither the eternal law nor the things which await him after death. He allows himself only too easily to be ensnared by the craft of the evil powers who seek to ruin his future existence. He worships and serves false gods, being unable to distinguish between truth and lies. Therefore it is that Ormuzd in his grace determined to open the eyes of mankind by sending a prophet to lead them by the right way, the way of salvation. According to later legend (Vd., 2, 1), Ormuzd at first wished to entrust this task to Yima (Jemshid), the ideal of an Iranian king. But Yima, the secular man, felt himself unfitted for it and declined it. He contented himself therefore with establishing in his paradise (vara) a heavenly kingdom' in miniature, to serve at the same time as a pattern for the heavenly kingdom that was to come. Zoroaster at last, as being a spiritual man, was found fit for the mission. Zoroaster experienced within himself the inward call to seek the amelioration of mankind and their deliverance from everlasting ruin, and regarded this inward impulse, intensified as it was by means of dreams and visions, as being the call addressed to him by God Himself. Like Mohammed after him he often speaks of his conversations with God. He calls himself most frequently manthran (" prophet"), ratu (" spiritual authority "), and saoshyant (meaning "he who will deliver," that is to say, when men come to be judged according to their deeds).

The full contents of his dogmatic and ethical teaching we cannot gather from the Gathas. He speaks for the most part only in general references of the divine commands and of good and evil works. Among the former those most inculcated are renunciation of Satan, adoration of Ormuzd, purity of soul and body, and care of the cow. We learn little otherwise regarding the practices connected with his doctrines. A ceremonial worship is hardly mentioned. He speaks more in the character of prophet than in that of lawgiver. The contents of the Gathas are essentially eschatological. Revelations concerning the last things and the future lot, whether bliss or woe, of human souls, promises for true believers, threatenings for misbelievers, his firm confidence as to the future triumph of the good—such are the themes continually dwelt on with endless variations.

It was not without special reason, Zoroaster believed, that the calling of a prophet should have taken place precisely when it did. It was, he held, the final appeal of Ormuzd to mankind at large. Like John the Baptist and the Apostles of Jesus, Zoroaster also believed that the fulness of time was near, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Through the whole of the Gathas runs the pious hope that the end of the present world is not far off. He himself hopes along with his followers to live to see the decisive turn of things, the dawn of the new and better aeon. Ormuzd will summon together all his powers for a final decisive struggle and break the power of evil for ever; by his help the faithful will achieve the victory over their detested enemies, the daéva worshippers, and render them powerless. Thereupon Ormuzd will hold a judicium universale (vtdditi) upon all mankind and judge strictly according to justice, punish the wicked, and assign to the good the hoped-for reward. Satan will be cast, along with all those who have been delivered over to him to suffer the pains of hell, into the abyss, wdiere he will thenceforward lie powerless. Forthwith begins the one undivided kingdom of God in heaven and on earth. This is called, sometimes the good kingdom, sometimes simply the kingdom. Here the sun will for ever shine, and all the pious and faithful will live a happy life, that no evil power can disturb, in the fellowship of Ormuzd and his angels for ever.

Zoroaster's teachings show him to have been a man of a highly speculative turn, faithful, however, with all his originality, to the Iranian national character. With zeal for the faith, and boldness and energy, he combined diplomatic skill in his dealings with his exalted protectors. His thinking is consecutive, self-restrained, practical, devoid on the whole of all that might be called fantastic and excessive. His form of expression is tangible and concrete. His system is constructed on a clearly conceived plan.

History and Later Development of Zoroastrianism. —For the great mass of the people Zoroaster's doctrine was too abstract and spiritualistic. Popular faith instinctively and naturally turns to concrete plastic forms of godhead borrowed from surrounding nature, and thus it came to pass that a number of the old Aryan divinities, whom the new teaching had driven into the background, were again restored to their former rank,—especially Mithra, the sun-god. Besides him, in the younger Avesta, Anáhita (Anáitis), the goddess of the waters, Tishtrya (Sirius), and other heavenly bodies are invoked with special preference. The Gathás know nothing of a new belief which afterwards arose in the fravashi, or guardian angels of the faithful. Fravashi properly means " confession of faith," and when personified conies to be regarded as a protecting spirit. Unbelievers have no fravashi.

On the basis of the new teaching arose a widely spread priesthood: (dthravand) who systematized the doctrines, organized and carried on the worship, and laid down the minutely elaborated laws for the purifying and keeping pure of soul and body which are met with in the Vendidad. To the last-named belong in particular the numerous ablutions, bodily chastisements, love of truth, agriculture, protection of useful animals, as dogs and cattle, the destruction of noxious animals, and the prohibition either to burn or to bury the dead. In the worship the drink prepared from the haoma (Indian soma) plant had a prominent place. The last things and the end of the world are relegated to the close of a long period of time (3000 years after Zoroaster), when a new Saoshyant is to be born of the seed of Zoroaster, the dead are to come to life, and a new incorruptible world to begin.

The religion of Zoroaster, broadly speaking, never spread beyond the limits of Iran, although some isolated Turanian stems can be reckoned among those who profess it. From the East it doubtless passed in the first instance into Media and thence into Persia proper (romp. PERSIA, vol. xviii. p. 564). In the Persians of Herodotus's time we still see the new proselytes wdio have indeed accepted the creed, but not yet without reserve all the religious usages whirh accompany it, and least of all those which run completely counter to sacred and immemorial traditions of their time-honoured customs. According to Herodotus (i. 140), they still refrained from exposing, at least from openly exposing, their dead to dogs and vultures, but continued to bury them. This was practised by the Magi only, that is, by the priesthood, in conformity with the priestly laws. The Persians, however, made so far a concession to their adopted religion that they enveloped their dead bodies in w7ax, so that the earth might not be defiled.

After the fall of the Achsemenidai (331 B.C.) Zoroastrianism lost greatly in power and dignity. It was subsequently rehabilitated, however, by the Sasanians, under whom it reached its highest prosperity. Protected by this dynasty, the priesthood developed into a completely organized state church, which was able to employ the powrer of the state in enforcing strict compliance with the religious law-book hitherto enjoined by their unaided efforts only. The formation of sects was at this period not infrequent (comp. MANICHAEISM). The Mohammedan invasion (636), with the terrible persecutions of the following centuries, was the death-blow of Zoroastrianism. In Persia itself only a few followers of Zoroaster are now found (in Kirman and Yazd). The PARSEES (q.v.) in and around Bombay hold by Zoroaster as their prophet and by the ancient religious usages, but their doctrine has reached the stage of a pure monotheism.

Literature. — See under ZEND-AVESTA; also Windischmann, Zoroastrische Studien, Berlin, 1863. (K. G.)

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-16 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries