DĒNAG (< Mid. Pers. dēn, q.v.), name of several Sasanian queens; it was not feminine by derivation but was clearly reserved for feminine prosopography (Schmitt, p. 269). In the Middle Persian inscription ŠKZ (l. 25; Back, p. 339) the name designated the mother of King Bābak (Mid. Pers. Pābag) and grandmother of the founder of the Sasanian dynasty, Ardašīr I (q.v.; 224-40 C.E.).

Dēnag was also the name of one of Bābak’s daughters (ŠKZ, l. 29; Back, p. 350), born about 140 (Lukonin, 1969, p. 32); she was both Ardašīr’s sister and his wife, in conformity with the Zoroastrian law of consanguineous marriage so favored by the Sasanians. She was granted the title “queen of queens” (bānbišnān bānbišn; see BĀNBIŠN) and is believed to be represented on the far right of the investiture relief of Ardašīr at Naqš-e Rajab (Hinz, p. 126). This queen must also have been the mother of Šāpūr I (240-70) and would have lost her title “queen of queens” after the death of her husband (Henning, p. 44). The inscription on an oft-published amethyst seal in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (Borisov and Lukonin, no. 979) could refer to her (Henning, p. 44 n. 3), rather than to the wife of Yazdegerd II (438-57), as has often been claimed (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 84; Christensen, Iran. Sass., p. 289). It reads dynky ZY MLKTʾn MLKTʾ mḥysty PWN tny šʾpstn “Dēnag queen of queens, the principal (or oldest?) in the harem” (lit., “the body of eunuchs”; for a different reading, see de Blois, p. 36). Following W. B. Henning (“Mitteliranisch,” p. 45), most scholars (with the exception of Lukonin, 1960) have accepted attribution of this seal to the queen’s personal eunuch (cf. Shaked, p. 223; Khurshudyan, p. 98), but, as the representation on it is that of a woman (cf. Gignoux and Gyselen, 1989, p. 882) and as Dēnag is nowhere attested as a masculine name, this attribution seems unacceptable.

A third woman with the name Dēnag was queen of Mesene (ŠKZ, l. 30; Back, p. 355), probably the wife of Šāpūr, king of Mesene and a son of Šāpūr I. She was granted the title Dastgerd-Šābuhr (Gignoux, no. 309; see DASTGERD), doubtless by her husband, rather than by the Sasanian king of kings. She may have ruled Mesene after her husband’s death in about 260 (Lukonin, 1969, p. 42). She is believed to have had many children, of whom seven are known (Lukonin, 1969, p. 197 table), if in fact they were all born to her.

According to the 10th-century author Ṭabarī (II, p. 872; cf. Justi, Namenbuch, p. 84), the wife of Yazdagerd II was also called Dēnag; she reigned at Ctesiphon (q.v.) during the war between her two sons, Ohrmazd III (457-59) and Pērōz (459-84; cf. Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 289).

The name is also attested in Coptic Manichean in the form Dinak, the name of a probably female catechumen (Polotsky, p. 59).



(For cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”) M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège, 1978.

F. de Blois, “Middle-Persian Funerary Inscriptions from South-Western Iran,” in Medioiranica, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 48, Louvain, 1993, pp. 29-43.

A. Ya. Borisov and V. G. Lukonin, Sasanidskie gemmy (Sasanian gems), Leningrad, 1963.

M.-L. Chaumont, “À propos de quelques personnages féminins figurant dans l’inscription trilingue de Šāpuhr Ier à la Kaʿba de Zoroastre,” JNES 22, 1963, pp. 194-99.

R. N. Frye, The History of Ancient Iran, Munich, 1984.

Ph. Gignoux, Noms propres sassanides en moyen-perse épigraphique, Iranisches Personennamenbuch II/2, 1986.

Idem and R. Gyselen, Bulles et sceaux sassanides de diverses collections, Paris, 1987.

Idem, “Sceaux de femmes à l’époque sassanide,” Archaeologia Iranica et Orientalis 2, 1989, pp. 877-96.

W. B. Henning, “Notes on the Great Inscription of Šāpūr I,” in Prof. Jackson Memorial Volume. Papers on Iranian Subjects, Bombay, 1954, pp. 40-54.

W. Hinz, Altiranische Funde und Forschungen, Berlin, 1969.

E. S. Khurshudyan, “O dvukh sasanidskikh gemmakh” (On a pair of Sasanian gems), in Pis’mennye pamyatniki i problemy istorii kul’tury narodov vostoka (Essays on monuments and problems in the cultural history of the peoples of the east), Moscow, 1990, pp. 92-102.

V. G. Lukonin, “Reznoĭ ametist s iso-brazheniem tsaritsy tsarits Denak” (The engraved amethyst with the representation of the queen of queens Dēnag), in Issledovaniya po istorii kul’tury narodov vostoka (Inquiries on the cultural history of the peoples of the east), 1960, pp. 379-85.

Idem, Kul’tura sasanidskogo Irana (The culture of Sasanian Iran), Moscow, 1969.

H. J. Polotsky, Manichäische Handschriften der Sammlung A. Chester Beatty I. Manichäische Homilien, Stuttgart, 1934.

R. Schmitt, Review of P. Gignoux and R. Gyselen, Bulles et sceaux sassanides de diverses collections, Stud. Ir. 17, 1988, pp. 266-71.

S. Shaked, “Some Legal and Administrative Terms of the Sasanian Period,” Monumentum H. S. Nyberg II, Acta Iranica 2/5, Tehran and Liège, 1975, pp. 213-25.

(Philippe Gignoux)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

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