Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām

  Shayegan, M. Rahim. 2012. Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām. Hellenic Studies Series 52. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 2. On the Historical Personae Bardiya and Gaumāta

Therefore, scholars have hitherto assumed that the main sources of Herodotus and Trogus had harmonized different traditions in which the magus’ name and titles were variously recorded and had incorrectly interpreted Gaumāta’s political and religious appellations as designations of a second protagonist, as illustrated here below.


Further, the assassination of an imperial prince would not and could not have remained unknown to the people. At the very least, the prince’s absence from the imperial campaign would have been noticed, for the highest representatives of the royal family were required to participate in the war effort. Unless a raison d’état were to keep prince Bardiya from fulfilling his royal duties and excuse his absence from the battlefield, Bardiya could not have remained in Persis during an imperial campaign to be conveniently murdered and replaced in a manner hidden from the kāra-, the people in arms. Thus, the only excuse for Bardiya’s absence in Egypt must have been the burden of the regency. Aside from this, only Bardiya’s death could have exempted him from the Egyptian campaign, but this possibility must be rejected, for it would have meant that the prince’s death was well known within the empire, and that consequently Gaumāta could not have claimed the throne by assuming his identity.

Finally, the Bardiya’s substitution by Gaumāta could not have been kept secret, even though our classical sources go to great lengths to recount an artifice or subterfuge permitting to explain this secrecy.

The evidence in Pompeius Trogus’/Justin’s account does not permit this conclusion. “Cometes” designates Gaumāta, and “Oropastes” < *Ahura-upasta- undoubtedly represents a religious title belonging to the magus. Therefore, were we to apply to the names communicated by Trogus—the procedure that allowed us, in Herodotus’ account, to identify the transmitted names as referring to a single protagonist (namely, Bardiya)—we would obtain not the personage of Bardiya, but that of Gaumāta. Pompeius Trogus or his Gewährsmann may have committed the same error as Herodotus, but this time in reference to the magus’ name and title; Trogus did not realize that Oropastes < *ahura-upasta- was indeed the religious epithet of Gaumāta and forged therefore a second protagonist. This is illustrated in the following:



 This clear distinction between their respective functions makes it unlikely that the “usurper’s” duplication was caused only by the false interpretation of names. While it seems certain that the “names” Patizeithēs and Oropastes represented the respective titles and epithets of Bardiya and Gaumāta and were therefore not appellations of secondary protagonists, the bifurcation of functions within each couple prevents the reduction of two personae into one. The testimonies of Herodotus and Pompeius Trogus, ascribing to two protagonists the “usurpation” of Cambyses’ throne, may be a reflection of Bardiya’s and Gaumāta’s historicity—a historicity suggested both by the extraction of two different personages from Herodotus’ and Pompeius Trogus’ records, and by the duality of functions within each couple.

It is therefore probable that in Herodotus’ time, the memory of two “usurpers” still persisted, as attested in his work by the duality of the magi’s functions. However, he collected the name and the title of only one of the “usurpers,” namely Bardiya and his political title *pati-xšāyaθiya-. His sole mistake would have then consisted in the erroneous attribution of Bardiya’s political designation to the second protagonist, whose existence can be inferred from the presence of a distinct function. Pompeius Trogus’ sources must also have kept the memory of two “usurpers” as well. But, instead of Bardiya’s name and title, Pompeius Trogus’ Vorlage collected only Gaumāta’s name and religious title, Cometes and Oropastes < *ahura-upasta-. He then incorrectly ascribed Gaumāta’s epithet to the second protagonist.

The following chart summarizes the above. Despite the errors of transmission, the functions and the name of each of the two usurpers, who must be regarded as historical personae, can be gleaned from our sources.



[ back ] 1. See Marquart 1905:145–146; Wiesehöfer 1978:49–50: “Richtig ist, daß sowohl Herodot als auch Trogus-Justin dem Irrtum erlagen, von den Persern als Titel bzw. Beinamen vestandene Worte als Eigennamen aufzufassen und ungeschichtliche, selbständige handelnde Personen daraus zu machen. In Wirklichkeit gab es nur einen Führer der Erhebung: Gaumāta”; more recently, Pirart 2002:144–145, 147

[ back ] 2. Already Marquart (1905:145) considered the name Πατιζείθης to be the Greek rendering of an Old Persian title, namely, an unruly *pati-xšayah-viθa-, which he, however, attributed to Gaumāta himself: “Zum Majordomus bestellte Kambyses vor seinem Aufbruche für die Zeit seiner Abwesenheit einen Magier Gaumāta. Sein persischer Titel lautete *pati-chšajah-viθ-a– … wovon uns bei Herodot … die genaue griechische Übersetzung μελεδωνός oder ἐπίτροπος τῶν οἰκίων vorlieget. Herodot had hier drei Quellen verarbeitet, von denen eine (Dionysios von Milet) den Magier mit seinem Titel Πατιζείθης, eine zweite mit seinem usurpierten Namen Μέρδις, ionisiert Σμέρδις nannte … dies hat denn der Vater der Geschichte in der Weise auszugleichen gesucht, dass er zwei Magier annimmt, von denen der eine, der eigentliche Träger der geraubten Krone, namens Σμέρδις, nur der Strohmann des Majordomus ist.” See also Hinz 1973:186–187. More recently, Werba (2010 [2011]:265–278), in an extensive study, has argued that the name Πατιζείθης ought to represent Iranian *pāti-xšayaθa-, with *pāti- “protector” being a verbal noun derived from “protect,” plus the verbal noun *xšayaθa- “wielding of power; rulership”; the entire construct would then represent a terpsimbrotos compound signifying “protector of the realm”; see Werba 2010 [2011]:274–275, whose position has been endorsed by Schmitt (2011a:298–299). For other possible examples of the terpsimbrotos-type compound in Iranian onomastica, see Schmitt 1997:166–167, who also induces the form *dāti-farnah- “bestowing splendour” for Dataphérnēs, rather than the traditional *dāta-farnah-. One of the reasons for favoring *pāti-xšayaθa- as the Iranian Vorlage for Patizeithēs is the assumption that Iranian -āi̯a- (as in °xšāya-θiya-) ought to be rendered in Greek with -a-/-ā-, hence, Werba prefers an unattested *xšaya-θa- “realm,” whose -ai̯a would correspond to the diphthong -ei- attested in the Greek form Patizeithēs. For the realization of Iranian ai̯a in –ei– in Greek onomastica, see Schmitt 2011a:299; Schmitt 2006:132; and Schmitt 2002:49. Among matters with which one might take issue is Werba’s postulating the form *xšayaθa- “wielding of power; rulership.” Admittedly, it has been commonly assumed that xšāyaθiya- “king” is a vr̥ddhi derivative in -iya- of a presumed *xšay-aθa- , which is, however, not otherwise attested. More recently, Kellens (2002:440–442) has suggested—following in this Szemerényi 1975:313–323—that xšāyaθiya-, rather than being derived from *xšayaθa- , may simply be a derivative (in -iya- plus vr̥ddhi) of a present participle in the weak grade *xšai̯-n̥t- , thus, *xšāin̥t-i̯a- , and that there was no need to assume a verbal noun *xšay-aθa- from xšay , a conjectured concurrent form of the root xšā “govern”: “Szemerényi avait proposé de substituer à *xšayaθa- , comme base de dérivation, le participe present xšayant -. Cette hypothèse ne se heurte à aucune difficulté phonétique réelle: elle exige seulement que le participe présent d’une formation thématique puisse présenter la forme réduite en -n̥t- , inhabituelle en Iranien ancien, mais néanmoins attestée en avestique et, justement, par le gén. Sing. xšaiiatō (Yt. 13.63, 78) de xšaiian̥t- … [u]n fait décisif impose *xšāi̯n̥ti̯a- comme la seule explication plausible de xšāyaθiya-: la racine qui produit le présent kṣāya- : xšaya est une pure racine en ā kṣā : xšā … et aucun dérivé nominal, à l’exception de *xšayaθa- restitué pour rendre compte de xšāyaθiya-, ne fait apparaître une forme concurrente en i kṣay : xṣay.” Despite valid criticism raised by Werba (2010 [2011]:268–272) regarding Kellens’ suggestions, it may still be more economical to assume a form *pati-xšāyaθiya- (< *pati-xšāi ̯n̥ t-i̯a-?) for Patizeithēs, despite a less than ideal rendering in Greek, for several reasons. A verbal form pati-xšaya- “rule over ( plus genitive/dative)” is well attested in Old Persian— vašnā Ahuramazdāha imā dahạyāva tayā adam agạrbāyam apataram hacā Pārsā adamšām patiyaxšayaiy manā bājim abaraha tayašim hacāma aθahạya ava akunava dātam taya manā avadiš adāraya “by the greatness of Ahuramzdā, these are the lands that I seized beyond Persis; I ruled over them, they bore me tribute, what I told them they did, my law held them” (DNa 15–22)—which makes a derivation from * pati-xšāyaθiya -, rather than *pāti-xšayaθa- , more probable. Also important are the Middle Iranian forms; in Parthian, we have the doublet padixšāh- “to rule,” next to pādixšāh- (on the two forms, see Durkin-Meisterernst 2004:258, 273), which could suggest that the lengthening of the first syllable might have been secondary (and particular to Middle Iranian?), and that consequently Patizeithēs may have derived from a form with initial pati- , rather than * pā-ti-. Compare also Pirart 2002:144–145, proposing *pati-ciθra- with the meaning “sosie” and “substitut” for Patizeithēs.

[ back ] 3. On Bạrdiya-, see Schmitt 1967:121–122; Schmitt 1997:163; and Schmitt 2006:97; Schmitt 2011a:330–336, no. 303; and Tavernier 2007b:14, no. 1.2.10. For the related name Σμερδομένης, possibly from *Br̥di-maniš-/-manah- “high-minded?,” see Schmitt 1967:130,and Hinz 1973:67; and Schmitt 2011a:336–337, no. 304.

[ back ] 4. On names ending in °upasta- in Iranian onomastica, such as *Miθra-upasta- “who has the support of Miθra,” see Schmitt 2000:103, 114; more recently Stolper 2006:250; and Tavernier 2007b:252, no. 4.2.1121. Compare also Pirart 2002:144n115, who—based upon an unexpected derivation of Oropastes from *ahura-pasti- “pion ou fantassin du roi,” that is, “composé de *ahura- ‘roi’ … et de vieux-perse pasti- ‘fantassin’ ”—assumes that Gaumāta ought to have been Cambyses’ loyal henchman.

[ back ] 5. Herodotus reports that on the eve of Darius’ expeditions against Egypt and Greece, Darius, under pressure from his sons, had to decide on his succession as it was customary among Persians; Herodutus 7.2: στελλομένου δὲ Δαρείου ἐπ᾽ Αἴγυπτον καὶ Ἀθήνας, τῶν παίδων αὐτοῦ στάσις ἐγένετο μεγάλη περὶ τῆς ἡγεμονίης ὡς δεῖ μιν ἀποδέξαντα βασιλέα κατὰ τὸν Περσέων νόμον οὕτω στρατεύεσθαι, “while Darius was preparing to set out against Egypt and Athens, great discord emerged among his children as to supreme power, for according to Persian law he might not undertake a campaign until he had designated one of them to be king.” See Briant 2002:519–520 for his cautionary remarks, as well as discussion of other cases.

[ back ] 6. Compare Jacobs (2011:657), who does not exclude precisely this possibility.

[ back ] 7. See Balcer 1987:104, arguing in this vein: “The original tradition may have been that Bardiya had been the ‘Keeper of the Palace’ and his name had been glossed in Old Persian, a gloss that quickly became in the minds of the Greeks a second brother.” Beginning from a different premise—namely, that Patizeithēs was to be derived from *pati-ciθra- “substitute”—Pirart (2002:145) nonetheless comes to the same conclusion: “Cela tenderait à montrer que Patizéithès et l’homonyme de Smerdis, dans un premier temps, ne constituaient qu’un seul personage. Lorsque le mage est double, c’est donc comme le fruit de la mécompréhension d’une épithète iranienne, dont on fait alors un anthroponyme. On serait passé du ‘sosie de 1Smerdis’ à ‘Sosie et 2Smerdis.’”

[ back ] 8. See also Balcer 1987:104, hinting at this possibility: “It may have been possible that Cambyses’ real brother Bardiya was assisted by an unnamed Keeper of the Palace, yet the confusion of the ‘two brothers’ remains.’”

[ back ] 9. Compare Marquart 1905:145–146: “Auch der Gewährsmann des Pompeius Trogus hat mehrere Quellen herangezogen, darunter eine sehr alte, welche noch den wahren Namen des Magiers, Gometes = Gaumāta, kennt—schon Dionysios von Milet wusste ihn nicht mehr—, während eine andere, ohne Zweifel bedeutend jüngere, für denselben einen neuen Namen Oropastes = ap. *Ahura-upastāh “den Ahura zum Beistand habend” erfand, der in der That für einen Magier vorzüglich passte. Trogus Gewährsmann hat diese beiden Versionen nach dem Vorbilde Herodots gleichfalls in der Weise auszugleichen gesucht, dass er den Oropastes, der dem ermordeten Mergis überaus ähnlich war, von seinem Bruder Gometes, einem der Freunde des Kambyses, welcher die Ermordung des Mergis ausgeführt hatte … auf den Thron erhoben werden lässt.”