No one knows when and where Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) lived. Most scholars, however, believe that he was born in Central Asia sometime between 2000 BC to 1000 BC. This makes him one of the first religious leaders. It is said that when Zarathushtra was thirty, he saw a vision and decided to guide the people to Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord. But the priests of the old religion didn't like his ideas. They tried to kill the Prophet and his family. So Zarathushtra had to flee his village. Eventually he found protection under King Vishtaspa, an early Iranian king, who accepted Zarathushtra's religion and let him spread his ideas.
The Aryan tribes came to Iran from Central Asia sometime around 1000 BC. These newcomers spoke a language related to the European languages and were nomads and warriors with many horses and chariots. Soon they settled in the valleys of the Zagros Mountains in the western Iran. They called their new land Iran or "land of Aryans."
This bronze pin from 1000 BC shows the "master of animals," killing a monster with his two hands. Some believe that the pin represents Sraosha, an ancient Persian god of the afterlife whose symbol was the rooster.
Around 600 BC, the Magi (the ancient Zoroastrian priests) helped the spread of Zoroastrianism in Western Iran. This golden plaque from the 5th century BC shows a man who may have been a magus (a Zoroastrian priest). The barsom in his hands are the twigs used in religious rituals.
Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, was a Zoroastrian. Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC and established the first World Empire. Cyrus the Great was a kind and tolerant king who freed the captive Jews from Babylon. He respected the subject peoples' gods and never destroyed their temples. This picture shows Cyrus's Cylinder in which he grants peace and freedom to subject people. Liberty and freedom are two very important concepts in the Zoroastrian religion.
In 330 BC, Alexander III, a young Macedonian king, invaded Iran and overthrew the Achaemenid dynasty. It is said that when Alexander burned the palace and its library at Persepolis, he destroyed a complete copy of the Avesta written in gold on twelve thousands goatskins.
Shortly after his victories, however, Alexander became ill and died in Babylon. His vast empire then was divided among his generals. One, Seleucus, became the ruler of Iran and found the Seleucid dynasty. Seleucid rulers were not Zoroastrians. They worshipped Greek gods and goddesses.
The Parthians were an Iranian tribe from Central Asia. They defeated the Greek Seleucids and established the Parthian Empire in 141 BC. The Parthians were Zoroastrians, but they were very tolerant of other religions. So, Iran became home to many Christians, Jews, and Buddhists. Some Parthians worshipped the Greek gods. The above statue from 148 BC shows Heracles, the Greek god of war, who was popular among the Parthians.
According to the Christian story, three Magi (the ancient Zoroastrian priests) foresaw the coming of Christ and followed a star to Bethlehem to find him.
This 15th century painting by Sano di Pietro shows the three Magi offering gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold to baby Jesus.
Before Christianity, most Armenians were Zoroastrian. Some scholars believe that some Armenians remained Zoroastrian until 1920’s!
Tiridates I was an Armenian King and a Zoroastrian priest who made a journey to Rome in 66 AD.
His journey helped the spread of the religion of Mithraism into Roman army and across Europe. In Armenia, Tiridates helped the spread of Zoroastrianism and Iranian customs.
An Shigao was a Parthian prince and a Zoroastrian who was born in Ctesiphon in today’s Iraq.
An Shigao traveled to Luoyang in China and became a Buddhist monk. An Shigao is the first person who translated the Indian Buddhist text into Chinese. His translation helps the spread of Buddhist religion in the East Asia.
Mani was born in 216 AD in Babylon (in today's Iraq). When he was twenty, he saw a vision and declared himself a prophet. He then traveled all over Persia talking about his ideas, which were a mixture of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism.
Soon he found many followers. Even the Sasanian king, Hormazd I (272-273) supported Mani. But after the King's death, his successor, Bahram I, was alarmed by Mani's popularity. So, he ordered the execution of Mani and his followers. Many of his followers fled to Europe, spreading Mani's ideas in Sicily and Spain.
The religion founded by Mani was called "Manicheanism." One of Mani's followers was St. Augustine of Hippo, a famous theologian (someone who studies religion). St. Augustine (below) later became Christian and wrote many important books on Christianity.
The Sasanians defeated the Parthians in 224 and established the Sasanian Empire. The Sasanians made Zoroastrianism the official state religion. They gathered the Avesta (the Zoroastrian scripture) and invented the Avestan script. They also built many fire temples. The Zoroastrian priests became very powerful during this period.
This sculpture may be a protrait of Shapur II (309-379) who was the longest ruling Sasanian king. Shapur was a devout Zoroastrian who made Zoroastrianism the state religion and supported the priests. In the beginning of his reign, he persecuted the Christians, but later he recognized their rights and respected their religion.
Kartir was a powerful, wealthy high priest who served five Sasanian Kings. Several large and small inscriptions and reliefs have been attributed to him.
The inscription in Naqshe Rostam in Pars is the most famous one. Kartir was a fanatic Zoroastrian who encouraged the persecution of Christians, Jews, Manichaeans and Buddhists and their forced conversion to the Zoroastrian religion.
In his relief, Kartir is always depicted with no beard. He has a high hat, a large pearl necklace and shears like insignia raising his finger in respect.
Din Dabireh is the Avestan alphabet that was invented probably during King Shapur II (309-379)’s reign. Din Dabireh made it easy to write down the Avesta and other Zoroastrian texts.
Din Dabireh is based on the Pahlavi alphabet but it is more complex.
It has 37 consonants and 16 vowels, and like Pahlavi it is written from right to left. Din Dabireh was replaced with Arabic alphabet after the Arab invasion of Iran in the 7th century.
Mazdak was a Zoroastrian priest who in 494 AD rose up against Sasanian wealth and corruption. Mazdak advocated justice and equality. He believed that the rich should share their wealth with the poor.
The Sasanian king, Kavad I (below), joined Mazdak's movement. But the Zoroastrian priests and the nobility, who were afraid to lose their wealth and power, imprisoned the king and put his brother on the throne.
Eventually, King Kavad managed to escape and reclaimed his throne. But he had to give up Mazdakism. In 524 AD, the Crown Prince Khosrow Anushiravan ordered Mazdak's execution. Many of his followers were also put to death.
Mazdak's movement, however, remained very popular in Central Asia for many centuries.
The Arab armies invaded Iran and overthrew the Sasanians in 640. Afterwards, many fire temples were destroyed and priests were killed. Within a few centuries, most Iranians converted to Islam and those who remained Zoroastrian had to pay jaziye (a special tax for non-Muslims).
This picture shows the site of Takht-e Suleiman. One of the holiest Zoroastrian sites was located at Takht-e Suleiman where a famous fire temple known as Adur Gushasp attracted hundreds of pilgrims each year. After the Arab invasion, the fire temple was destroyed and the place lost its importance. Today only the ruins of the temple remain.
Behafarid was a Zoroastrian who started a peasant revolt against the Arabs blending Zoroastrian ideas with Islam. He was defeated by the famous Persian General, Abu Muslim Khorasani (below), and was later hanged.
Ustad Sis or Master of Sis (Sistan) was a Zoroastrian rebel from Khorasan. Most of his followers came from Behafarid’s movement.
Ustad Sis captured Herat (in today's Afghanistan) and Sistan. But eventually Caliph al Mahdi, whose Dirham is shown below defeated him and captured his 70,000 followers. Ustad Sis was later executed in Baghdad. Some of his followers, however, were later pardoned by the Caliph.
Sinbad was a Zoroastrian priest from a village near Nishapur (below) in Khorasan. After the murder of his close friend and famous General, Abu Muslim, Sinbad started a rebellion against the Abbasid rule.
Sinbad claimed that Abu Muslim never died but flew away as a white dove before his execution. Sinbad’s movement which was known as Khorram Dinan (those of joyous religion), gained support among many Zoroastrians and his uprising spread to Rayy (near Tehran) and Herat. However, eventually, Sinbad was captured and executed.
Ruzbeh pur-e Daduya was a Zoroastrian author and translator from the ancient city of Gur (Firuzabad). Ruzbeh later became Muslim. His Arabic name is Ibn Muqaffa. Ruzbeh translated the Indian animal fables, Kalila ve Dimna , from Middle Persian to Arabic. His translation is considered a masterpiece of Arabic literature.This 15th century Persian painting of Kalila ve Dimna from Herat shows jackal tricking the lion.
In 756, the Abbasid* Caliph al-Mansur accused Ruzbeh of heresy and ordered his execution. It was thought that Ruzbeh wanted to bring Zoroastrian ideas into Islam.
Naubakht was a famous Zoroastrian astrologer and architect who worked at the Court of the Abbasid Caliph al Mansur. In 762 AD, he designed the city of Baghdad, which means "gift of God" in Persian. Naubakht designed the city as a circle. So, Baghdad was known as the "Round City."
Naubakht's design was based on the Sassanian city of Gur which was later known as Firuzabad. This picture shows the aerial view of the ancient Gur.
Babak Khorramdin was an anti-Arab rebel from a Zoroastrian family. Babak (below) was born near Ardabil in Azarbayjan. When his father died, he was given responsibility of the family at a Zoroastrian ceremony in a fire temple.
Later he joined the Khorram Dinan (those of joyful religion) Movement. The Khorram Dinan was a religious political group with roots in Zoroastrianism. They wore red clothing so sometimes they are known as Sorkh Jamegan (red dress wearers).
In 816, Babak became the leader of the Khorram Dinan Movement and led many attacks against the Abbasid rule in Iran defeating them each time. He gathered 100,000 followers from Armenia to Balkh in Central Asia to Basra in Iraq.
However, in 835, Caliph al Mu’tasim who was afraid of Babak’s popularity asked his Persian General, Afshin Kheydar, to attack Babak’s forces. Afshin eventually captured Babak’s castle (below) in Azarbayjan.
Babak had to flee to Armenian. But the king of Armenia, who was bribed, refused to give him refuge. Instead, he handed Babak to Afshin, who took him to Bagdad. In 838, the Caliph executed Babak and many of his followers.
Despite Babak's death, his movement lasted in Iran until the Safavid rule in sixteenth century. Some scholars believe that the Ghizilbash ( Red Head) Movement which helped establish the Safavid rule were in fact the descendants of the Khorram Dinan.
Fadl ibn Naubakht was the son of Naubakht Ahvazi, the famous Zoroastrian who designed the city of Baghdad. Fadl converted to Islam and worked as a Chief Librarian to Caliph Harun al Rashid at his House of Wisdom. The House of Wisdom was based on Sassanian libraries. Many important Greek and Persian works were translated into Arabic there.
This 13th century drawing by Yahya Ibn Vaseti shows a group of scholars studying in an academic library similar to the House of Wisdom. One of the scholars who worked at the House of Wisdom was Khawrazmi, the great Persian mathematician, who is known as the father of algebra.
Maziar was a Zoroastrian ruler of Tabaristan (today’s Mazandaran). He had come from the House of Karen, a noble Parthian clan. This famous clan claimed to be descendants of the mythical hero, Kaveh the blacksmith (below).
In 839, Maziar started a rebellion against the Arab rulers and took an oath to return Iran to the Sassanian rule. He defeated the Arab armies many times. His resistance against the Arabs made him a great hero in Iran.
Maziar, however, was betrayed by his brother, Kuhyar, and was arrested and taken to Baghdad. While waiting for his trial in Baghdad, Maziar drank poison and killed himself rather than being humiliated by the Arabs.
Mardavij (Mardaviz) was a Zoroastrian commander probably from Tabaristan (today’s Mazandaran) who founded the Zyarid dynasty. In 931, Mardavij defeated the Abbasid Caliph and captured the city of Isfahan. He then made Isfahan his capital and declared himself the king of Iran.
Mardavij was very interested in bringing back Zoroastrianism and the Sassanian culture. In 932, he ordered the celebration of Sadeh in his Court. After three centuries, Isfahan and the rest of Iran celebrated this Zoroastrian Festival.
Four years later in 935, Mardavij was killed by his Turkish slave who fled to Baghdad. Afterwards, the family of Buyids who were at Mardavij’s service took over his reign in Isfahan. While Mardavij’s brother, Vushmgir, succeeded him in Tabaristan.
This brick tower was build for Vushmgir's son, Kavus. The tower which is called Gonbad e Kavus is 160 ft (49 m) high, and it is the tallest brick tower in the world. Gonbad e Kavus is located in Gorgan where Zyarids once ruled.
n 936, a group of Zoroastrians immigrated to Gujarat in India to escape the Muslim prosecution. Today, these Zoroastrians are known as Parsees. In the 17th century, Parsees moved to Bombay, a port city in Western India.
There they took part in shipbuilding, textile industry as well as trade and eventually prospered. The Parsees, both men and women, contributed a great deal to well being of the Indian community. They built hospitals, orphanages, schools, factories, and fire temples.
One famous Parsee was Jehangir R.D. Tata (below) who established India's first air service, Tata Aviation, which later became Air India.
The other was Sir Ness Wadia who established the first wireless service connecting India and Britain. He was the first Indian Knighted by the British.
Zoroastrianism was spread to India and China from fifth century onward with the help of Sogdian merchants. Sogdians were ancient Iranian people who lived in the present day Samarkand and Bukhara and they traded regularly with the Chinese.
Sogdian and Persian Zoroastrians built fire temples as far east as in Xian and Luoyang and converted many Chinese to the Zoroastrian religion. Even some members of nobility became Zoroastrian. One was Princess Jun Zhezhe of Guangzhou, a city in the south of China.
A tenth century letter from Princess Jun Zhezhe to her friend Madame Sikong, mistress of the North House shows that she was Zoroastrian.
The letter says:
Winter is coming. I hope you are doing well. … I hope that we can light
the fire in the Zoroastrian temple, which will bring us good luck.
I hope that you will ask your husband to send soldiers to protect the priests, and I will ask my husband to treat them with good hospitality and the best wine. I will not be with them, but I will send my best wishes.
The Mongol ruler Timur Lenk invades Iran. He kills thousands of Zoroastrians. Many Zoroastrians have to take refuge in desert cities of Kerman and Yazd.
Shah Abbas II, the Safavid ruler, issues a decree forcing the Zoroastrians to convert to Islam. Those who refuse are executed in Isfahan.
The Afghan invaders massacre thousands of Zoroastrians in the desert city of Kerman.
Zoroastre is the name of an opera by Jean-Phiippe Rameau first performed in Paris in 1749. The second, slightly different version, performed in 1756 was a great sucess.
Zoroastre is the first opera whose subject was not based on Classical myths but Persian religion.
In 1756, Hirji Jivanji Readymoney was the first Parsi merchant to set sail for China and established a trading firm in Canton. Later on more Parsis came to Hong Kong and established trade there.
In 1864, two Parsis, Pallonjee Framjee and Rustomjee Dhunjeeshaw, became founding directors of Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. Many Parsis played an important role in the history of Hong Kong. They set up Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Hong Kong University and established trading centers.
Abraham Anquetil-Duperron (1731-1805) was a French scholar who traveled to India to learn Eastern languages. There the Parsees taught him Persian as well as Avestan language. In 1771, he translated the Avesta into French introducing Zoroastrianism to Europeans for the first time.
Martin Haug (below) was the first person who translated the Gathas to a European language. He was born in Germany in 1827. Later he became interested in Sanskrit and Oriental languages.
In 1859, Martin Haug traveled to India and became professor of Sanskrit in the city of Poona. There he studied the Avesta and discovered the 17 Songs composed by Zarathushtra. He understood that these Songs were much older than the rest of the Yasna.
Martin Haug then decided to translate these Songs to German. He published his translation in 1860. His translation made it possible for Europeans to read the actual Words of Zarathushtra for the first time. He went on to publish more than 10 books on the Avesta and Zoroastrianism.
Charles Poston built the first fire temple in the United States in 1878. He was born in 1825 in Kentucky and practiced law in Tennessee. Later he moved to Arizona and successfully convinced President Lincoln to make Arizona a US territory. This led to admission of Arizona as 48th state of the union in 1912. For this reason, Charles Poston is known as the "father of Arizona." Afterwards, Poston became one of the first Arizona delegates to Congress.
After the loss of his wife and daughter, Charles Poston decided to make a trip to Asia. On his travels in India, he became familiar with Zoroastrianism and became a Zoroastrian after his return to the United States.
He then built a pyramid shape fire temple in Florence, Arizona. He named his fire temple the "Parsee Hill." But after a few months, the flames died out. People then mocked the temple calling it "Poston's Folly." Today, however, the fire temple is known as "Poston's Butte." In 1925, some 23 years after Charles Poston's death, he was buried at the summit of his beloved "Poston's Butte," which is still stands today.
Jaziye (a kind of tax for non-Muslims) is abolished in Iran.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, poet and writer who had a great influence on Western philosophy. In 1869 he became the youngest professor to teach philosophy at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
Nietzsche has written many books on history, philosophy, culture and religion but his most famous book is entitled Also Sprach Zarathushtra (Thus spoke Zarathushtra). Nietzsche had a great affection for the ancient Persian sage and named his book after him.
His book is an imaginary account of Zarathushtra’s travel and thoughts. Nietzsche died in 1900 after a long illness.
Dadabhai Naoroji was a Parsee (a Zoroastrian from India). He became the first Asian member of the British Parliament in 1892. At the Parliament, Naoroji advocated political reform and justice for India. Naoroji was one of the first leaders of the Indian nationalist movement who supported independence for India.
He played an important role in establishing the Indian National Congress in 1865. Gandhi in 1894 wrote to Naoroji that "The Indians look up to you as children to the father. Such is really the feeling here."
Reza Shah Pahlavi comes to power. Zoroastrians gain more freedom. They gradually move to Tehran.
Dr. Farhang Mehr was a Zoroastrian from Iran who had an important role in the Prime Minister Hoveyda’s government in 1970’s. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, he immigrated to the United States and taught International Relations at the Boston University.
Dr. Mehr was a devout Zoroastrian who devoted his life to promoting Zarathushtra’s Message. He traveled to Canada, Europe and Soviet Union to give lectures on Zoroastrianism. Dr. Mehr has written many books on the Zoroastrian religion including The Zoroastrian Tradition: An Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom of Zarathushtra.
Dr. Mehr passed away in LA on March 8, 2018 at the age of 95.
Lee Lawrie (1877-1963) is one of the most famous American sculptors who has made more than 300 statues including the Statue of Atlas in Rockfeller Center in New York.
Ulric Ellerhusen is a German-American sculptor who collaborated with Lee Lawrie in building the March of Religion.
March of Religion, which was made in late 1920’s, is the line of fifteen figures including Zoroaster, Christ, and Abraham. It is located at the main entrance of Rockfeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago.
The figure below shows Prophet Zoroaster. The Statue of Zoroaster stands
between Plato and Isaiah and they all represent the “goodly fellowship of the prophets.”
In 1931, Ellerhusen built a panel (see below) for the entrance to the Oriental Institute
of the University of Chicago. On the center of the panel there is
an Egyptian figure representing the East. Behind him stands famous historical
figures from the East including Darius the Great,
Ashurbanipal the Assyrian King and Khosrow Parviz the famous Sasanian King.
Edward C Potter (1857-1923) was an American sculptor whose best work is the pair of marble lions known as the Fortitude Lions in front of the New York Public Library (below).
One of his works is the life size marble statue of Zoroaster (below). This statue is now on the cornice of New York Appellate Court Building in Madison Square Park. Zoroaster’s statue was put there some time in 1950's to represent the Persian Law.
The First World Zoroastrian Congress is held in Tehran. Zoroastrians from Iran, India, Pakistan, and Europe gather to discuss the establishment of a World Zoroastrian Association and to celebrate 2500th anniversary of the foundation of the Achaemenid dynasty by Cyrus the Great.
Mehr Baba or Marwan Shahriar Irani was a spiritual leader born in India in 1894 to Iranian Zoroastrian parents.
Mehr Baba claimed that he was an Avatar( god in human form) and for many years he refused to talk at all. Mehr Baba taught his followers to love God and refrain from taking drugs like Marijuana.
Many Western celebrities follow Mehr Baba. One is Bobby McFerrin whose Grammy Award winning song “Don’t worry, Be Happy” is based on Baba’s popular quote.
Islamic Republic of Iran is established. Religious freedom is granted to the Zoroastrians. Many, however, immigrate to Europe and the United States.
Zubin Mehta was born into a Parsi family in Mumbai, India in 1936. Zubin Mehta became Musical Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 1960. He was later appointed the Musical Director for Life of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. He currently conducts the opera house in Valencia, Spain.
Zubin Mehta has received many awards including Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award of the United Nations and the Padma Vibhusha, India’s second highest civilian award. He has also received a prize from Israeli government for his devotion to Israel and he is the honorary citizen of Tel Aviv and Florence.
The Zarathushtrian Assembly is established in LA by Dr. Ali Jafarey, a Zoroastrian scholar. This non-profit organization is actively spreading Asho Zarathushtra's Divine Message worldwide and it accepts those who would like to convert to the Good Religion.
Ferddie Mercury was born into a Parsi family in Zanzibar in 1946. His real name was Farrokh Bulsara. He grew up in India and then went to live in England when he was 17 years old. In 1970, Freddie established a band called Queen. Freddie performed more than 700 concerts including one in Budapest in 1986.
Freddie died of AIDS in 1991. His Zoroastrian funeral was conducted in London where 35 of his close friends including Elton John attended. Since his death, his popularity has increased.
Time Asia magazine has named him as one of the most influential Asian heroes of the last 60 years. The Rolling Stones magazine has put him #18 of its top 100 singers of all time.
As a tribute to Freddie, a statue of him (below)has been made by the Czech sculptor Irena Sedlecka. It stands overlooking the Geneva Lake.
Alexander Bard is a Swedish musician and philosopher. He was born in 1961 in Medevi, Sweden.
His musical career started in 1982 with the establishment of a band called Army of Lovers. Later, he went on to establish a band called BWO.
Their debut album had 20 hit songs in Scandinavia and Europe. In 1997, after much research and study, Alexander decided to covert to Zoroastrianism. His Sadreh-pushi was performed in Swedish city of Gothenburg.
In 2011, 8 Iranian Zoroastrian women became mobedyar. For the first time in history, these educated women will be allowed to lead the Zoroastrian community and teach Zoroastrianism to fellow Zoroastrians.
Although women have never had been officially chosen as mobeds, however, they have always played an important role in spreading and preserving the Zoroastrian religion.
Rohinton Mistry is an award winning writer. He was born in a Parsi family in Bombay, India and lives in Canada with his wife and children. He has written many books including Such a Long Journey which has been adapted to a film.
His book Family Matters won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction in 1996 and then it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in 2001. Mistry’s books deal with Parsi life and Zoroastrian religion and customs.