DERAFŠ-E KĀVĪĀN, the legendary royal standard of the Sasanian kings.

In the Šāh-nāma (ed. Khaleghi-Motlagh, pp. 66-70, vv. 184 ff.) it is recorded that, when the blacksmith Kāva revolted against the tyrant Żaḥḥāk, he draped his leather apron from a wooden spear as a standard. As a result of the revolt, the throne passed to a prince of the ancient royal house, Ferēdūn, who adorned the apron with gold and brocade, gems, and tassels of red, yellow (or blue), and violet and called it derafš-e kāvīān,“the standard of the kay(s)” (i.e., kāvīs “kings”) or “of Kāva.” Each succeeding king added jewels until even at night it shone like the sun. In early Islamic sources this story was elaborated in various ways. According to the 10th-century historians Ṭabarī (I, pp. 2174–75) and Masʿūdī (Morūj, ed. Pellat, III, p. 51), the banner was made of panther skin and was 8 x 12 cubits, about 5 x 7.5 m; Ḵᵛārazmī cited sources to the effect that it was of bear or lion skin (p. 115; cf. Maqdesī, Badʾ III, p. 142: goat or lion skin). In the 14th century Ebn Ḵaldūn (III, pp. 168-69) reported that it “had a magic square of a hundred fields woven into it in gold,” reflecting the belief that an army carrying a banner with such a square would never be defeated in war. It was also sometimes called the “standard of Jamšēd,” the “standard of Ferēdūn” (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, I, p. 202 v. 1007; VI, p. 113 v.704), and the “royal standard” (derafš-e kayī; Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, I, p. 147 v. 939; cf. Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 38-30).

According to the Šāh-nāma, when the army was mustered five mowbeds (priests) would bring the standard forth from its storehouse, and it would be carried with the king or army commander on campaign; it was often mentioned with the adjectives “auspicious” or “blessed” (homāyūn, ḵojasta; I, p. 118 v. 656; V, p. 102 v. 294). In battle the standard served as a rallying point for the troops (Šāh-nāma, ed. Moscow, III, p. 42 v. 621; cf. III, p. 173 v. 2654; IV, pp. 97-98 vv. 1384 ff. and 1389, 140 v. 386, 147 vv. 498 ff.; V, pp. 207 v. 2094, 331 v. 1615, 398 v. 2758; VI, p. 100 vv. 517 ff.; Ṭabarī, I, p. 609; cf. Procopius, Persian Wars 1.15).

There is no direct mention of the Derafš-e Kāvīān in the Avesta or in Achaemenid or Parthian sources, but several scholars have argued that it is depicted in a damaged portion of the Alexander mosaic from Pompeii, the subject of which is the victory of Alexander the Great over Darius III at the battle of Issus (Levy, pp. 439-40; Grundriss II, pp. 486-87; Justi, Namenbuch, p. 160; Sarre, p. 348; Mann, pp. 3 ff.). Xenophon (Anabasis 1.10.12) mentioned, however, that the standard of the Achaemenid king was a golden eagle on a shield carried on a spear. Arthur Christensen (pp. 19-20; idem, Iran Sass., p. 502–04) accepted the Derafš-e Kāvīān as the royal standard of the Sasanians and argued that the myth of Kāva had its genesis in the Sasanian period, reflecting the fame of the house of Kārēn, which traced its lineage to Qārēn, son of Kāva. Stig Wikander (1942, pp. 170, 203; idem, 1946, pp. 97 ff.) agreed but argued that the standard was adopted not by the Kavis of the Gathas but by the eight Kavis of the Yašts, the mairyō (Mid.Ir. mērag, Ved. marya). He argued further that Derafš-e Kāvīān became the national banner of Iran in the Parthian period.

In the battle of Qādesīya (ca. 16/637), in which the invading Arabs defeated the Sasanian army, the standard fell into the hands of Żerār b. Ḵaṭṭāb. He received 30,000 dinars for it, though its real value was said to be 1.2 or even 2 million dinars (Ṭabarī, I, p. 2337; Ebn al-Aṯīr, II, p. 482). After the jewels were removed the caliph ʿOmar is said to have burned the Kāvīān standard (Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 148).



(For cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”) A. Christensen, Smeden Kāväh og det gamle persiske rigsbanner, Det Kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Historisk-filologiske Meddelelser 2/7, Copenhagen, 1919.

Ebn Ḵaldūn, al-Moqaddema, tr. F. Rosenthal as The Muqaddimah, 3 vols, Princeton, N.J., 1967.

Ebn Meskawayh, Tajāreb, facs. ed., ed. L. Caetani, I, London, 1909, p. 13; ed. A. Emāī, I, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987, p. 8. Ebn Rosta, p. 196.

J. Ḵālēqī-Moṭlāq (Dj. Khaleghi-Motlagh), “Taqaddos-e parčam,” Īrān-šenāsī 4, 1371 Š./1992, pp. 700-02.

Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895.

Lazard, Premiers poètes II, p. 154 v. 110.

M. A. Levy, “Beiträge zur aramäischen Münzkunde Erans und zur Kunde der älteren Pehlevi-Schrift,” ZDMG 21, 1867, pp. 421-65.

O. Mann, “Kāva wa Derafš-e Kāvīānī,” Kāva 1/1 (Berlin), 1334/1916; repr., Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Mas’ūdī, Morūj, ed. Pellat, III, p. 63.

Idem, Tanbīh, pp. 85-88.

Ḏ. Ṣafā, “Derafš-e Kāvīān,” Sāl-nāma-ye kešvar-e Īrān II, Tehran, 1326 Š./1947, pp. 18-22.

R. Šahmardān, “Derafš-e kāvīānī,” Barrasīhā-ye tārīḵī 10/1, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 253-72.

F. Sarre, “Die altorientalischen Feldzeichen,” Klio 3, 1903, pp. 333-71.

Tarjama-ye Tafsīr-e Ṭabarī, 2nd ed., ed. Ḥ. Yāḡmāʾī, V. Tehran 1353 Š./1974, pp. 1154 ff.

S. Wikander Vayu I, Lund, 1942.

Idem, Der arische Männerbund, Lund, 1946.

(Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

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Vol. VII, Fasc. 3, pp. 315-316