AḴŠONVĀR, The imperfect recording in Arabic (Ṭabarī, I, p. 874ff.) of an eastern Middle Iranian term for “king;” it is used as a proper name. The underlying word occurs in Sogdian as ʾxšʾwnδʾr, əxšāwan’ār (literally, “holding power;” see W. B. Henning, Ein Manichäisches Bet- und Beichtbuch, APAW 1936, pp. 95-96; idem, ZDMG 90, 1936, p. 17, n. 2; I. Gershevitch, A grammar of Manichean Sogdian, Oxford, 1954, par. 1135). This title, among others, was adopted by the Hephthalite tribes which occupied Transoxania and Ṭoḵārestān in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. and underwent the influence of Iranian culture. This Hephthalite use was transmitted by the Middle Persian Xwadāynāmag, ultimately to the Muslim historians. In Persian, besides being treated as a proper name, the term was subjected to popular etymology. It takes the form “Ḵᵛošnavāz” by analogy with such compounds (found in the Šāh-nāma) as Ḵᵛošāvāz, etc.; and this form of the word is more common. For example, Masʿūdī writes of “Aḵošnavāz, king of the Hephthalites” and similarly of “Ḵāqān, king of the Turks” (Les Prairies d’Or II, pp. 200-03).

The principal Aḵšonvār ruled at Balḵ; he succeeded the king (named Faḡānīš in the Šāh-nāma [Moscow] VIII, p. 8) who had supported Pērōz’s struggle for the Sasanian throne in 457. Ca. 480 Pērōz warred against Aḵšonvār and the Hephthalites, chiefly “regarding boundaries” (Procopius, Wars 1.3-4; on the eastern Sasanian boundary, see J. Markwart, Ērānšahr, pp. 52-53). Much of the Iranian army was lost through attrition; Pērōz sued for peace and was allowed to return home. In violation of his pledge, he prepared a second campaign in 484, which led to the army’s destruction by the Hephthalites and his own death. The Muslim historians and Procopius agree in representing Aḵšonvār as honorable and moderate in behavior, in contrast to the arrogant and dishonorable Pērōz. The Šāh-nāma also briefly reflects this point of view but abandons it for a pro-Sasanian stance. Zoroastrian writings provide only a brief notice: “Then Xušnawāz, lord of the Hēvtāls, came and killed Pērōz. Kawād and his sister presented a Fire to the Hēvtāls as a pledge” (Bundahišn, p. 215.7-9; see A. Christensen, Les Kayanides, Copenhagen, 1932, pp. 61-65). As a result of negotiations, with or without battle, Aḵšonvār later returned his captives and the booty from the Iranian camp. According to the Šāh-nāma ([Moscow] VIII, p. 39), he had been succeeded by another king by 488, when Kavād fled to the Hephthalites for aid. The Šāh-nāma refers to two later rulers contemporary with Ḵosrow I—Ḡātfar and a second Faḡānīš; it is unclear whether either was “of the lineage of Ḵᵛošnavāz” (VIII, p. 160). Masʿūdī attests the continued use of the title. He asserts that Ḵosrow, before his joint victory with the Turks in 557, had previously campaigned as far to the northeast as Ḵottalān and had killed Aḵošnavāz, king of the Hephthalites (II, p. 203).

See also Hephthalites.


See also Ṯaʿālebī, Histoire des Rois des Perses, pp. 578-83.

Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch, p. 13.

A. Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sassanides, pp. 293-94.

G. Widengren, “Xosrau Anošurvān, les Hephthalites et les peuples turcs,” Or. Suec. 1, 1952, pp. 69-74.

(C. J. Brunner)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, pp. 729-730

Cite this entry:

C. J. Brunner, “AḴŠONVĀR,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/7, pp. 729-730; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/aksonvar-the-imperfect-recording-in-arabic-tabari-i-p (accessed on 13 May 2014).