Iran (word)

See also name of Iran.

The modern Persian name of Iran (ایران) means "the land of Aryans". It derives immediately from the 3rd-century Sasanian Middle Persian ērān (Pahlavi spelling: 𐭠𐭩𐭫𐭠𐭭, ʼyrʼn), where it initially meant "of the Iranians", but soon also acquired a geographical connotation in the sense of "(lands inhabited by) Iranians". In both geographic and demonymic senses, ērān is distinguished from its antonymic anērān, meaning "non-Iran(ian)".

In the geographic sense, ērān was also distinguished from ērānšahr, the Sasanians' own name for their empire, and which also included territories that were not primarily inhabited by ethnic Iranians.


In pre-Islamic usage

The word ērān is first attested in the inscriptions that accompany the investiture relief of Ardashir I (r. 224–242) at Naqsh-e Rustam. In this bilingual inscription, the king calls himself "Ardashir, king of kings of the Iranians" (Middle Persian: ardašīr šāhān šāh ī ērān; Parthian: ardašīr šāhān šāh ī aryān). The Middle Iranian ērān/aryān are oblique plural forms of gentilic ēr- (Middle Persian) and ary- (Parthian), which in turn both derive from Old Iranian *arya-, meaning "'Aryan,' i.e., 'of the Iranians.'" This Old Iranian *arya- is attested as an ethnic designator in Achaemenid inscriptions as Old Persian ariya-, and in Zoroastrianism's Avesta tradition as Avestan airiia-/airya, etc. It is "very likely" that Ardashir I's use of Middle Iranian ērān/aryān still retained the same meaning as did in Old Iranian, i.e. denoting the people rather than the empire.

The expression "king of kings of the Iranians" found in Ardashir's inscription remained a stock epithet of all the Sasanian kings. Similarly, the inscription "the Mazda-worshipping (mazdēsn... more

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