GEIGER, WILHELM, German scholar of Iranian and Indian philology (b. Nuremberg 21 July 1856, d. Neubiberg 2 September 1943; Figure 1). He studied classical and Oriental languages at Bonn, Berlin, and finally at Erlangen, where he studied with Friedrich von Spiegel and received his doctoral degree in 1876. He taught at the classical secondary school in Neustadt an der Hardt from 1880 till 1884 and then in Munich until 1891, when he was appointed as full professor of Indo-European studies at the University of Erlangen. In 1920 he moved to Munich to replace his friend Ernst Kuhn as professor of Aryan philology. He taught there until his retirement in 1924.

Works. Geiger worked exclusively in the field of Iranian studies until 1895, when, following a trip to Ceylon in winter 1895-96, he became increasingly attracted to the Singhalese and Pali languages and Ceylon. His last contributions to Iranian studies were the chapters he wrote for the Grundriss, which he and Kuhn edited. He also compiled the index of the first volume. Since the chapters he wrote for the Grundriss were based on the material he had collected earlier, one can conclude that Geiger had left Iranian studies in 1894 to become one of the first and most productive scholars in the field of Buddhism, Pali and Sinhalese languages, and the history and culture of Ceylon.

Geiger’s first publication (1877) was an edited version and annotated translation of the Pahlavi version of the first chapter of the Vidēvdād, the first part of which was his doctoral thesis. Later in 1880 he published a translation with commentary of the third chapter. He also made a brilliant edition and translation of the Aogəmadaēčā (q.v.), a particularly difficult text (in Pazand with quotations from lost parts of the Avesta and Sanskrit translation) only known in poor manuscripts. It was the standard edition until 1982 when a new edition and translation by K. M. JamaspAsa on the basis of new manuscript material replaced it. Geiger, following his teacher Spiegel, maintained that Pahlavi was an “arbitrarily invented mixture of Iranian and Semitic elements, a kind of style (Stilgattung), which was never really spokeņ.Pazend is Pahlavi where the Semitic elements are eliminated” (Aogemadaêcâ, pp. v ff.). He was not aware that the Semitic elements, that is Aramaic ideograms, were only a matter of the script (pace Schaeder, p. 175, who says that Geiger, following Westergaard, took the correct view that Pahlavi was pure Iranian with Semitic ideograms).

Geiger was a philologist with no interest in pure linguistics. Language was for him the means to explore the religion, history, and civilization of a people. In 1879 he published Handbuch der Awestasprache, which was a purely descriptive text. Soon after, two other manuals appeared by Charles de Harlez (Manuel de la langue de l’Avesta, Paris, 1882) and Christian Bartholomae (Handbuch der altiranischen Dialekte, Leipzig, 1883); the latter included also Old Persian and proto-Old Iranian, which made it more attractive to students, who were mostly interested in Indo-European studies. Thus Geiger’s manual did not gain much recognition despite the fact that it was organized more clearly and was easier to use.

In 1890 Geiger published the manuscript and translation of the Pahlavi Ayādgār ī Zarērān, a pioneer work that laid the basis for the further study of this difficult text by Theodore Nöldeke, A. Pagliaro, Emile Benveniste, and Davoud Monchi-Zadeh (see AYĀDGĀR Ī ZARĒRĀN).

Geiger’s magnum opus in the Iranian field is his Ostiranische Kultur im Altertum, a clear, fascinating, and reliable survey of the “Avestan people” (Geiger’s term) based on the entire text of the Avesta supplemented by the information gained from classical Greek and Latin texts as well as from modern anthropological sources. He, however, did not deal here in detail with the problem of the home and the age of the Avesta. This became the subject of an article (“Vaterland…”), where he argued on the basis of information (especially toponyms) given in the text that the home of the “Avestan people” was in eastern Iran, but not in Bactria, as de Harlez maintained. As for the age of Avesta, he refers to it only as the great antiquity antecedent to the Median and Persian empires. The lively style and the wealth of information that this book contains make it unmatched even today.

In the years 1889-95 Geiger published five articles on Balūčī and three articles on Paṧtō, based on the materials published by other scholars. His last contributions to the Iranian studies were his articles in the Grundriss, where he describes and gives brief grammatical sketches of modern Iranian languages.

Geiger was also interested in anthropology and politics. He published a number of articles on the latter subject in newspapers and journals, especially on the Russian policy in Central Asia.



Works (only in the field of Iranian studies): Die Pehleviversion des Ersten Capitels des Vendidâd herausgegeben nebst dem Versuch einer ersten Übersetzung und Erklärung, Erlangen, 1877.

Aogemadaêcâ, ein Pârsentractat, Altbaktrisch und Sanskrit, herausgegeben, übersetzt, erklärt und mit Glossar versehen, Leipzig and Erlangen, 1878; repr. Hildesheim, 1971.

Handbuch der Awestasprache, Grammatik, Chrestomathie und Glossar, Erlangen, 1879. “Das dritte Capitel des Vendidâd,” ZDMG 34, 1880, pp. 415-27.

“Das Yātkār-i Zarēr und sein Verhältnis zum Šāh-nāme,” Sb Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, philos.-philol.-hist. Kl., 1890, pp. 43-84.

“Vaterland und Zeitalter des Avesta und seiner Kultur,” ibid., 1884, pp. 315-85; Eng. tr. appended to the tr. of the Ostiranische Kultur II, pp. 85-164; publ. separately as The Age of Avesta and Zoroaster, London, 1886.

Ostiranische Kultur im Alterum, Erlangen, 1882; repr. Aalen, 1972; tr. D. Dastur Peshotan Sanjana as Civilization of the Eastern Iranians in Ancient Times I: Ethnography and Social Life, London, 1885; II: The Old Iranian Polity and the Age of the Avesta, London, 1887.

Die Pamirgebiete: Eine geographische Monographie, Wien, 1887.

“Die Sprache der Afghānen” in Grundriss I/2, pp. 201-30.

“Die Sprache der Balūtschen,” ibid., pp. 231-48.

“Kleinere Dialekte und Dialektgruppen I. Die Pāmirdialekte,” ibid., pp. 288-344; II. “Die kaspischen Dialekte,” ibid., pp. 344-80; III. “Centrale Dialekte,” ibid., pp. 381-406.

“Bemerkungen über das Tādschikī,” ibid., pp. 407-08.

“Bemerkungen über das Judenpersisch,” ibid., pp. 408-12.

“Allgemeine Übersicht über die Dialekte und ihre Gruppierung,” ibid., pp. 412-23.

Among his obituaries may be mentioned: H. von Glasenapp, “Wilhelm Geiger als Indologe,” ZDMG 98, 1944, pp. 181-88.

W. Wüst in Sb. Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften,phil.-hist. Abt. 11, 1943, pp. 17-24.

Idem, “Geleitwort,” ZDMG 98, 1944, pp. 169-71.

See also H. Bechert in Neue Deutsche Biographie VI, Berlin, 1964, pp. 142-43.

Idem, ed., W. Geiger. Kleine Schriften, Wiesbaden, 1973 (only indological articles), pp. XI-XXXIII.

R. F. Merkel, “W. Geiger als Religionshistoriker,” in ed. W. Wüst, ed., Studia Indo-Iranica Ehrengabe für W. Geiger, Leipzig, 1931, pp. 324-27.

H. H. Schaeder, “Wilhelm Geiger als Iranist” ZDMG 98, 1944, pp. 171-80.

K. G. Zistl in Yoga 1, 1931, pp. 107-19.

(Bernfried Schlerath)

Originally Published: December 15, 2000

Last Updated: February 7, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. X, Fasc. 4, pp. 393-394