DAWĀNUS, the name of a man seen in the other world by Ardā Wirāz, as described in both the Middle Persian and the Zoroastrian Persian versions of the Ardā Wirāz-nāmag (Jamaspji Asa, pp. 63-64; ed. Vahman, pp. 204-5; ed. Kargar, pp. 54-55).  A slightly different version of the Dawānus story is recorded in a few other works as well.  In a more complete version quoted from the Spand nask, it is Zarathustra, not Ardā Wirāz, who visits Dawānus (Šāyest nē šāyest, 12.29; Saddar naṣr, 4.3-11).

Collating the various narratives found in the two versions of Ardā Wirāz-nāmag and those of the Spand nask and the Saddar naṣr presents the framework of an episode about Ardā Wirāz visiting a man whose entire body was in hell except for a single foot, which was not being bitten by reptiles (xrafaster). Soruš says to Ardā Wirāz: This is a man called Dawānus who had ruled over thirty-three countries for many years.  He had never done a good deed because he was so lazy.  He was a very cruel one.  However, it happened that one day, when he was going hunting, he saw a sheep/cow which was tied up, and he kicked some grass near to it with one foot.  Now, as the reward for that single good deed, that same foot is located outside of the Hell.

The name of Dawānus is also mentioned in Yasna 31, verse 10 and Dēnkard, the ninth book (Dēnkard II, p. 833).

There are some clues to the probable identification of Dawānus in historiographical works.  Abu’l-Ḥasan Masʿudi (d. 957 CE), in a chapter regarding the kings of Babylon, Nabataeans, and so forth (known as Chaldeans), relates: “Maʿusā (Majusā in Pellat ed.) ruled for one year, and that has been recorded even less.  Following him, Dāwnus (Dārius, in Pellat ed.) ruled for thirty-one years, and it has been said even more. After that, Kasrjus (Kasarḵus, in Pellat ed.) ruled for twenty years” (Masʿudi, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, I, p. 217; ed. Pellat, sec. 526).  It seems that the name Dāwnus changed to Dawānus by metathesis.

The earlier historian, Aḥmad b. Abi Yaʿqub (d. 904) wrote in a chapter on the kings of Babylon: “King Maʿusā ruled for seven months, King Dāriuš for thirty-one years, and King Kasrḥuš for twenty years” (Yaʿqubi, I, p. 69, tr., I, p. 101). 

Thus, it seems that the name of Dāriuš has been recorded in two distorted forms as Dawānus in the Middle Persian and Zoroastrian Persian texts of Ardā Wirāz-nāmag, and then as Dāwnus by Masʿudi, which sounds closer to Dāriuš.  It is possible that Masʿudi had extracted the name of Dāwnus from Greek sources, or even from the works that had mentioned the name according to its Greek form, Darius.  It is worth noting in this context that Masʿudi recorded Kasrjus (ed. Pellat: Kasarḵus) and Kasrḥuš and Yaʿqubi wrote Kasrḥuš as the name of the successor of King Dāryuš. Both these names seem to be the misread forms of Xerxes, the Greek rendering of Xšayāršan, the name of the son and successor of Darius I, in which case they appear to support the idea that Dawānus and Dāwnus are the distorted forms of Dāriuš (Kargar, pp. 211-13).

According to Spand nask and Saddar naṣr, Dawānus ruled over thirty-three countries, but the number of the countries under Darius and Xerxes varies between thirty-one in the Xerxes inscription (XPh 19-28) to twenty-three in the Bisotun inscription of Darius the Great (DBI 12-17; Briant, tr., pp. 172-73; see ACHAEMENID SATRAPIES).  The use of the number thirty-three in reference to Dawānus could be due to the fact that this number is considered a holy figure in Zoroastrian literature.  For instance, the number of the gods is thirty-three (Yasna 1.1-23), and there are thirty-three roads leading to paradise in (Saddar naṣr 79.6-9).

Darius ascended the Achaemenid throne after he and his associates killed the imposter Gaumāta the Magus (Smerdis in Herodotus), who had usurped the throne by pretending to be Bardiya, the son on Cyrus the Great (Herodotus 3.61-79; Diakonoff, pp. 391-400; Briant, tr., pp. 97-114).  Afterwards, Persians commemorated this event with great festivity every year, during which the Magi, fearing for their lives, did not leave their homes (Herodotus, 3.79; see MAGOPHONIA).  In view of this event, it can be supposed that the Dawānus story might have been composed and initiated by Magians, from whose viewpoint Dawānus/Dāriuš “has never done a good deed, but has committed much tyranny, injustice and cruelty” (Saddar naṣr 4.6).  There still remains the vague question of Dawānus’s single good deed, which defies reasonable significance:  is it a general symbol of a good deed or a point highlighting the insignificance of his only good deed in a life spent in committing tyranny and injustice? (Kargar, pp. 218-20).



Ardā Wirāz-nāmag, ed. and tr. Martin Haug and Edward William West, as The Book of Arda Viraf: The Pahlavi Text prepared by Destur Hoshangji Jamaspji Asa, Bombay and London, 1872, repr., Amsterdam, 1972; ed. and tr. Fereydun Vahman, as Ardā Wīrāz Nāmag: The Iranian ‘Divina Commedia,’ London, 1986; Zoroastrian Persian version, tr. with commentary Dariush Kargar, as Ardāy-Vīrāf-Nāma: Iranian Conception of the Other World, Uppsala, 2009.

Pierre Briant, Histoire de l’empire Perse: de Cyrus à Alexandre, Paris, 1996; tr. Peter D. Dniels, as From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Winona Lake, Indiana, 2002.

Darab Hormazyar, Dârâb Hormazyâr’s Rivâyat, ed., Rustamji Maneckji Unvala, Bombay, 1922.

Dēnkard, ed. Dhanjishan Meherjibhai Madan, 2 vols., Bombay, 1911.

Igor Mikhaïlovich D’yakonov (Diakonoff), Istoriya Midii (History of Media), Moscow and Leningrad, 1956; tr. Karim Kešāvarz, as Tāriḵ-e Mād, Tehran, 1966.

Martin Haug, Essays on the Sacred Language, Writings, and Religion of the Parsis, ed. Edward William West, London, 1878.

Herodotus, The Persian Wars, ed. and tr. Alfred Denis Godley, 4 vols., I, London, 1946; II, London, 1963.

Jamaspji Asa, see Ardā Wirāz-nāmag, ed. and tr. Martin Haug and Edward William West.

Dariush Kargar, “Davānūs,” see idem, tr. with commentary, Ardā Wirāz-nāmag, pp. 207-20. 

Firoze M. P. Kotwal, ed. and tr., The Supplementary Texts to the Šāyest nē-šāyest, Copenhagen, 1969.

Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli b, Ḥosayn Masʿudi, Moruj al-ḏahab wa maʿāden al-jawhar, ed. and tr. Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille, as Les prairies d’or, 9 vols., Paris, 1861-77, tr. revised by Charles Pellat, 3 vols., Paris, 1962-71; ed. Moḥammad Moḥy-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, 5 vols., n.p., 1964.

Saddar naṣr and Saddar Bundehesh, ed. Ervad Bamanji Nasarvanji Dhabhar, Bombay, 1909.

Šāyest nē-šāyest, see Kotwal.

Aḥmad b. Abi Yaʿqub Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ al-Yaʿqubi, ed. Moḥammad-Ṣādeq Baḥr-al-ʿOlum, 2 vols., Najaf, 1964; tr. Moḥammad-Ebrāhim Āyati, as Tāriḵ-e Yaʿqubi, 2 vols., 2nd ed., Tehran, 1968.

Yasna 31, see Martin Haug.

(Dariush Kargar)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: October 19, 2012