EṢṬAḴR (ESTAḴR, STAḴR), city and district in ancient Persia (Fārs).

i. History and Archaeology.

ii. As a Zoroastrian Religious Center.


Eṣṭaḵr is situated in the narrow valley of the Polvār River, between the north flank of the Kūh-e Raḥmat and the cliffs of Naqš-e Rostam. It stands near the point where the valley opens into the broad plain of Marvdašt (q.v.), extending before the Persepolis platform. In origin, Eṣṭaḵr was presumably a suburb of the urban settlement once surrounding the Achaemenid royal residences, but of which few traces now survive. After the death of Seleucus I (280 B.C.), when the province began to re-assert its independence, its center seems to have developed at Eṣṭaḵr, better protected than the old capital by the surrounding hills, and astride the critical “winter road” from Fārs to Isfahan via Pasargadae and Ābāda. The name, Pahl. stxl (e.g., Markwart, Provincial Capitals, p. 19), believed to mean “strong(hold),” was presumably transferred to the new site from the Persepolis platform, according to Ernst Herzfeld in the OP form *Parsa-staxra “stronghold of Pārs.” He interprets certain Aramaic characters, PR BR, appearing on coins of the so-called “Fratadara” Kings of Persis (q.v.), as an abbreviation of Aram. prsʾ byrtʾ “the Fortress of Pārsa.” This could be the Aramaic equivalent of the preceding Old Persian words, denoting Eṣṭaḵr as the mint of such issues.

The nucleus of the subsequent city thus lay on the south and east side of the Polvār River, within city walls traceable in air photographs and on the ground (Plate I). Masonry remains and columns at the point where the Isfahan road from Persepolis rounds the end of the Kūh-e Raḥmat and enters the Polvār valley apparently represent an Achaemenian gate and check-point controlling travel on this route. On the rising city-mound east of this point stands a nineteenth-century mud-brick enclosure known as Taḵt-e Tāwūs, and a number of Achaemenid columns, re-used in a medieval mosque. Excavations by Erich Schmidt in 1932 and 1934 included several sondages in this area, and also near the center, and towards the western edge of the urban site, but failed to locate Achaemenid deposits. No doubt the town flourished from 265 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., under the Persis kings, whose capital is believed to have been here; and, from A.D. 208, under the Sasanians, when it was the principal city and religious center of the province, but not normally a royal residence.

Closely associated with Eṣṭaḵr was the religious precinct of Naqš-e Rostam (q.v.) on the far side of the valley (Plate II). This was the location of the Achaemenid royal tombs, of important Sasanian rock-sculptures, and of funeral installations (daḵmas). Beyond this spot, on the open Marvdašt Plain, stand three prominent bluffs known as Seh Gonbadān “The Three Domes.” That nearest to Eṣṭaḵr was heavily fortified, and in Islamic times as no doubt earlier regularly served as the inviolable treasury of the rulers of Eṣṭaḵr, designated Qalʿa-ye Eṣṭaḵr, “The Castle of Eṣṭaḵr,” or Eṣṭaḵr-Yār, “The Friend of Eṣṭaḵr.” The cold climate at its crest produced accumulations of snow, which melted into a cistern contained by a powerful dam, built by ʿAżod-al-Dawla to retain water for the garrison. According to Ebn al-Zobayr (pp. 78-79), the Buyid Abū Kālījār (see below) ascended the castle accompanied by his son and a valuer, finding a tank eighty cubits long, wide and deep, piled high with silver, and chambers full of priceless gems.

The last appearance of Eṣṭaḵr in numismatics was upon the unique dinar issued in 455/1063 by an obscure Saljuq prince of Fārs, Rasūltegīn, where it indicates the castle rather than the city. It seems likely that the treasures of Qalʿa-ye Eṣṭaḵr included the legacies of earlier dynasties, to judge by the statement of Ebn al-Aṯīr (X, 36), that when Alp Arslān (q.v.) captured the castle in 459/1066-67, its governor handed over to him a turquoise cup inscribed with the name of the mythical king Jamšīd. The two further bluffs were those of Qalʿa-ye Šekasta, used as the textile store, and Qalʿa-ye Oškonvān, for the armory. These fortresses, now seemingly distant from the urban area, were in medieval times and earlier regarded as within the greater city of Eṣṭaḵr. The city reached its heyday in the Sasanian period, and its mint-abbreviation, ST, for Staxr (Staḥr), is frequent throughout the Sasanian coinage from the reign of Bahrām V (A.D. 420-438), until the end of the dynasty. These mint operations were of course evidence of substantial economic activity.

With the Arab conquest of Fārs, the invaders at first made their headquarters at Bayżā on the Marvdašt plain. In 28/648-49 under ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿĀmer (q.v.), Eṣṭaḵr was taken by capitulation. After a further rising it had to be retaken by force in the following year, with heavy loss of life to the population. The city long remained a stronghold of Zoroastrianism. As a mint it is well represented in the Arab-Sasanian and Reformed Umayyad coinage, apparently without further involvement in major events: Arab-Sassanian: 31 H; for Zīād b. Abī Sofyān, 51 H, 54 H; for ʿObayd-Allāh b. Zīād 52 (?) , 59 (AE), 60 61 ; for ʿAbd-Allāh b. al-Zobayr 63 or 66; for ʿOmar b. ʿObayd-Allāh 69-71(?); for Mohallab 78 , 79 (or 69?). Reformed coinage: 79-102; ʿAbbasids 135-67. During the ʿAbbasid period, the economic and political center of Fārs gradually shifted to Shiraz, but Eṣṭaḵr still figures in accounts of the wars between the Saffarids and the caliphal governors in Fārs. Here ʿAmr b. Layṯ defeated the forces of Musā Mofleḥī on 16 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 276/11 April 890 (Tārīḵ-e Sīstān, p. 247; tr. Gold p. 196). The last coin attributed to Eṣṭaḵr (cf. von Zambaur, p. 49) is a supposedly Dolafid issue of 282/895-96. There is, however, uncertainty about the coin-issues with the mint-name Fārs, continuous between 202 and 299 and attributed by Eduard von Zambaur to Shiraz, yet overlapping issues of Shiraz in the years 272, 273, 277, 279, 280, 283, 291, 292, 299, 312, 331, and 384. Some or all of these may, in fact, represent unrecognized issues of Eṣṭaḵr. According to his inscriptions in the Tačara, the Buyid ʿAżod-al-Dawla visited Persepolis in 344/955-56. The celebrated, if disputed, gold medal, dated Fārs 359/969-70, and illustrating this amir in a Sasanian type crown, could also represent an issue of Eṣṭaḵr, whether from the city or the castle. According to Ebn al-Balḵī (p. 127), breaches of their covenant (including that of 28/648-49 noticed above) had led to several massacres of the population at Eṣṭaḵr. Finally, in the closing years of Abū Kālījār (i.e. ʿEmād-al-Dīn Marzobān, 415-40/1024-48; not, as sometimes said, Ṣamṣām-al-Dawla) the enmity of a vizier towards a landowner caused him to send against the town troops under the amir Qotlomeš, who demolished and pillaged the remaining buildings, leaving the city a mere village with no more than a hundred inhabitants, and bringing its history to an end.

Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail or found in this bibliography, see “Short References”): M. Bahrami, “A Gold Medal in the Freer Gallery of Art,” in G. C. Miles, ed., Archaeologica Orientalia in Memoriam Ernst Herzfeld, New York, 1952, pp. 17-18 and Pl. I, 02a-b. L. Bier, “A Sculpted Building Block from Istakhr,” AMI 16, 1983, pp. 307-16. E. Herzfeld, Archaeological history of Iran, London, 1935, pp. 45-48. Ebn-al-Balḵī, p. 32, 127. Aḥmad b. al-Rašīd Ebn Zobayr, Ketāb al-ḏakāʾer wa’l-toḥaf, ed. M. Ḥamīd-Allāh, Kuwait, 1959. Le Strange, Lands, pp. 275-76 (with minor misunderstandings). N. M. Lowick, “A Gold Coin of Rasūltegīn, Seljuk Ruler in Fārs,” Numismatic Chronicle, 1968, pp. 225-30. G. C. Miles, Excavation Coins from the Persepolis Region, New York, 1959, pp. 2-8, 1984. E. F. Schmidt, The Treasury of Persepolis and Other Discoveries in the Homeland of the Achaemenians, Chicago, 1939, pp. 105-21. Idem, Flights over ancient cities of Iran, Chicago, 1940, pp. 12-16 and pl. 8-12. D. Whitcomb, “The City of Istakhr and the Marv Dasht Plain,” in Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, München, 7-10 September 1976, Berlin, 1979, pp. 363-70. E. von Zambaur, Die Münzprägungen des Islams, Wiesbaden, 1968, s.v. Iṣṭakhr, Shirāz and Fārs.

(A. D. H. Bivar)


The religious importance of Eṣṭaḵr was marked in the 4th century B.C.E. by the setting up at Persepolis by Artaxerxes II (q.v.) of one of his statues to Anaitis (Berossus 3.65; see ANĀHĪD). Other instances show that “at” in this context need mean no more than “near” (Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism, p. 203), and that these statues were regularly placed within temples. Artaxerxes’ foundation may, therefore, reasonably be identified with the temple whose imposing ruins, “about one parasang from the town of Eṣṭaḵr” were visited by Masʿūdī in the 10th century C. E. It stood, he recorded, at the foot of a mountain, where the imprisoned wind made a noise like thunder, night and day, and where he saw, still standing, “pillars, made from blocks of astonishing size, surmounted by curious figures in stone representing horses and other animals, of gigantic shapes and proportions.” Around these remains was “a vast empty space enclosed by a strong stone wall, covered with bas-reliefs very elegantly and gracefully wrought” (Morūj, ed. Pellat, sec. 1403). This ruined temple was probably the original Achaemenid building, which had doubtless been pillaged by Macedonians and been subsequently restored and further embellished under the Sasanians. Masʿūdī records the tradition that it had originally been an “idol-temple,” converted into one of fire by Homāy, the legendary predecessor of the Achaemenid dynasty. In fact it was presumably at the beginning of the Sasanian period, or a little earlier, that the Zoroastrian iconoclastic movement (Boyce, 1975; Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism, p. 66, n. 71) caused the cult-image of Anāhīd to be replaced by a sacred fire, which Masʿūdī characterized as “one of the most venerated of Zoroastrian fires.” The association with Anāhīd persisted, however, and Ṭabarī (I, p. 814) says that the sanctuary was known as “the house of Anāhīd’s fire” (bayt nār Anāhīḏ).

The wardenship of this temple was evidently a prestigious office, which according to tradition was held at one time by Sāsān, eponymous ancestor of the Sasanian dynasty (Ṭabarī, p. 814). He is said to have married into the family of the Bāzrangīs (q.v.), vassals of the Arsacids, who were ruling at Eṣṭaḵr in the early 3rd century. Subsequently Ardašīr I is reputed to have sent to “the house of Anāhīd’s fire” the heads of enemies slain in his early campaigns, and in 340 Šābuhr II had the heads of Christians suspended there (Ṭabarī, I, p. 819; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 166, n. 4). Among the honors conferred on the great Sasanian high priest, Kirdēr, by Bahrām II (276-93) were the offices of master of ceremonies (ēwēnbed, q.v.) and warden (pādixšāy) of “fire(s) at Staḵr of Anāhīd-Ardašīr and Anāhīd the Lady,” ādur ī anāhīd ardaxšīr ud anāhīd ī bānūg (Kirdēr, KZ, l. 8). Considering how great were the other privileges and powers enjoyed by Kirdēr, these appointments, proudly recorded by him, attest the immense regard in which these sacred fires of Eṣṭaḵr were held. Since Bānū (Lady) is a cult-epithet of Anāhīd (see EIr. I, p. 1005), the second fire named was evidently that of the Achaemenid foundation. The first, whose name lacks satisfactory explanation, was probably that of “the fire-house which is called that of Ardašīr,” where the nobles of EsÂṭaḵr had Yazdegerd III crowned in 632 (Ṭabarī, I, p. 1067); and it is likely to be this same temple, described as having round pillars with bull capitals, which was subsequently converted into the chief mosque of Muslim Eṣṭaḵr, standing in the town’s bāzār (Moqaddasī, p. 436). Masʿūdī (Morūj, ed. Pellat, sec. 1403) says that, before Anāhīd’s temple was ruined, its fire was taken away, and it has been argued that this was one of the two exalted fires which were eventually carried to safe obscurity in Šarīfābād near Yazd, where it burns to this day (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 2-3).

In Sasanian times the royal treasury (ganj ī šāhīgān; Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems, 2nd ed., pp. xlii-xliii, 230-31; Shaki, p. 115, n. 2; Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism, p. 78, n. 59) appears to have been in Eṣṭaḵr. It is frequently mentioned in the Dēnkard and Mādayān ī hazār dādestān, for among its contents were books, sacred and profane. In the later Sasanian period these would undoubtedly have included one of the rare copies of the Great Avesta, possibly that from which the whole existing Avestan manuscript tradition derives (EIr. III, p. 36). In 303/915-16, Masʿūdī (Tanbīh, p. 106) saw in the house of a great Persian noble at Eṣṭaḵr the large and very fine manuscript of a work copied in 113/731 from documents in the royal treasury, including, according to his description, the Tāj-nāma (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 67-69.).

In spite of its religious importance, Eṣṭaḵr is rarely mentioned by name in the Zoroastrian writings.


Bibliography (for works not cited in detail see “Short References”):

M. Boyce, “Iconoclasm among the Zoroastrians,” Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty, ed. J. Neusner, Leiden, 1975, IV, pp. 93-111.

Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 4, 17, 397.

K. Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin and New York, 1971, pp. 200-203.

M. Shaki, “The Dēnkard Account of the History of the Zoroastrian Scriptures,” Archív Orientálni, 1981, pp. 114-25.

Plate I. Aerial view of Eṣṭaḵr. Oriental Institute aerial survey of Iran field negative AE-57. Courtesy of The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago.

Plate II. Aerial view of Naqš-e Rostam. Oriental Institute aerial survey of Iran field negative AE-278. Courtesy of The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago.

(A. D. H. Bivar, Mary Boyce)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 19, 2012

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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 643-646