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Zarathustrian Calendar
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Avestan calendar
The forerunner of all modern Zoroastrian calendars is the system used to reckon dates in the Persian Empire. In 539 BCE, Persia's rulers conquered Babylon, and soon afterwards - at least by the 4th century BCE - adopted the Babylonian luni-solar calendar for civil purposes. This kept in step with the seasons, unlike the religious calendar which consisted of 12 months each containing 30 days, adjusted at that time by the addition of 5 epagomenal days at the end of the year to bring the total up to 365. The earliest Zoroastrian calendar (also misleadingly called "Avestan calendar" although it is younger than the Avesta proper) follows the Babylonian in relating the seventh and other days of the month to Ahura Mazda.
This "Avestan calendar" of 360 days required regular correction to keep it synchronised with the solar year; this was achieved by intercalating a 13th month roughly once every six years.
In the civil calendar, intercalations did not always follow a regular pattern, but during the reign of Artaxerxes II (circa 380 BCE) astronomers utilised a 19 year cycle which required the addition of a month called Addaru II in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14 and 19, and the month Ululu II in year 17 of the cycle. Older research suggests the first intercalation took place in 309 BCE. Fuller information on the naming of months in the Zoroastrian calendar will be found below, but it should be noted that the first month of the year was called Frawardin, and the first day of Frawardin was the 'New Year's Day' or Nawruz (also reckoned Now-Ruz, Nowruz, No Roz, No-Rooz, Norouz, or Navroz), from which all other religious observances were reckoned - this day being, in theory, the day of the northern vernal equinox, 21 March (Gregorian).
Following Alexander's conquest of Persia in 330 BCE, the Seleucids (312-248 BCE) instituted the Hellenic practice of counting years from the start of an 'era', as opposed to starting a new count at the beginning of the reign of each individual king. They therefore counted years of the era of Alexander (now referred to as the Seleucid era). This practice was not considered acceptable to the Zoroastrian priests, who consequently founded a new era, the era of Zoroaster - which incidentally led to the first serious attempt to establish a historical date for the prophet. The Parthians (150-224 CE), who succeeded the Seleucids, continued the Seleucid/Hellenic tradition.
Development of a 365 day calendar
A 365 day calendar, with months largely identical to the Egyptian calendar, was introduced shortly after the conquest of Egypt by the Achaemenid ruler Cambyses (c. 525 BCE). The five additional days were inserted after the twelfth month. These five days were named Gatha or Gah days, after the ancient Avesta hymns of the same name. In 224 CE, when the Babylonian calendar was replaced by the Zoroastrian, 1 Frawardin and the New Year celebration of Nawruz had drifted to 1 October. The older custom of counting regnal years from the monarch's coronation was reinstated. At this point the calendar was realigned with the seasons by delaying the epagemonai by eight months (so that they now preceded the start of the ninth month) and adjusting the dates of the gahanbar (farming festivals) accordingly.
This caused confusion, since the new year now fell five days earlier than before, and some people continued to observe the old date. After 46 years (226-272 CE), with 1 Frawardin now on 19 September, another calendar reform was implemented by Ardashir's grandson Hormazd I (272-273 CE). During the first years after implementation of the new Gatha days, the population had not universally adopted the new dates for religious festivals, resulting in "official" celebrations takings place five days earlier than popular celebrations. In later years the population had observed the Gatha days, but the original five day discrepancy persisted. Hormazd's reform was to link the popular and official observance dates to form continual six-day feasts. Nawruz was an exception: the first and the sixth days of the month were celebrated as different occasions. Lesser Nawruz was observed on 1 Frawardin. 6 Frawardin became Greater Nawruz, a day of special festivity. Around the 10th century CE, the Greater Nawruz was associated with the return of the legendary king, Jamsed; in contemporary practice it is kept as the symbolic observance of Zoroaster's birthday, or Khordad Sal.
Mary Boyce has argued that sometime between 399 CE and 518 CE the six-day festivals were compressed to five days. The major feasts, or gahambars, of contemporary Zoroastrian practice, are still kept as five-day observances today.
By the reign of Yazdegird III (632-651 CE), the religious celebrations were again somewhat adrift with respect to their proper seasons. The calendar had continued to slip against the Julian calendar since the previous reform at the rate of one day every four years. Therefore, in 632 AD, the new year was celebrated on 16 June. By the 9th century, the Zoroastrian theologian Zadspram had noted that the state of affairs was less than optimal, and estimated that at the time of Final Judgement the two systems would be out of sync by four years.
In 1006 CE, the month Frawardin had returned to the correct position so that 1 Frawardin coincided with the northern vernal equinox. The religious festivals were therefore returned to their traditional months, with Nawruz once again being celebrated on 1 Frawardin.
[ Wikipedia - Zoroastrian Calendar ]
Zoroastrian calendar
The first calendars based on Zoroastrian cosmology appeared in the later Achaemenid period (650 to 330 BCE). They evolved over the centuries, but month names changed little until now.
The unified Achaemenid Empire required a distinctive Iranian calendar, and one was devised in Egyptian tradition, with 12 months of 30 days, each dedicated to a yazata (Eyzad), and four divisions resembling the Semitic week. Four days per month were dedicated to Ahura Mazda and seven were named after the six Amesha Spentas. Thirteen days were named after Fire, Water, Sun, Moon, Tiri and Geush Urvan (the soul of all animals), Mithra, Sraosha (Soroush, yazata of prayer), Rashnu (the Judge), Fravashi, Bahram (yazata of victory), Raman (Ramesh meaning peace), and Vata, the divinity of the wind. Three were dedicated to the female divinities, Daena (yazata of religion and personified conscious), Ashi (yazata of fortune) and Arshtat (justice). The remaining four were dedicated to Asman (lord of sky or Heaven), Zam (earth), Manthra Spenta (the Bounteous Sacred Word) and Anaghra Raocha (the 'Endless Light' of paradise).
The month names and their modern versions are given in the following table.
Order Avestan name
of the Yazata
(in the genitive)
Approximate meaning of the name Pahlavi Middle Persian Modern Iranian Persian
Romanized English Romanized Native Script Romanized
1 Fravašinąm (Guardian spirits, souls of the righteous) Frawardīn فروردین Farvardīn
2 Ašahe Vahištahe "Best Truth" / "Best Righteousness" Ardwahišt اردیبهشت Ordībehešt
3 Haurvatātō "Wholeness" / "Perfection" Khordād خرداد Khordād
4 Tištryehe "Sirius" Tīr تیر Tīr
5 Amərətātō "Immortality" Amurdād امرداد A-Mordād
6 Xšaθrahe Vairyehe "Desirable Dominion" Shahrewar شهریور Shahrīvar
7 Miθrahe "Covenant" Mihr مهر Mehr
8 Apąm "Waters" Ābān آبان Ābān
9 Āθrō "Fire" Ādur آذر Āzar
10 Daθušō "The Creator" (i.e. Ahura Mazda) Day دی Dey
11 Vaŋhə̄uš Manaŋhō "Good Spirit" Wahman بهمن Bahman
12 Spəntayā̊ Ārmatōiš "Holy Devotion" Spandarmad اسپند|اسفند Espand / Esfand
The calendar had a significant impact on religious observance. It fixed the pantheon of major divinities, and also ensured that their names were uttered often, since at every Zoroastrian act of worship the yazatas of both day and month were invoked. It also clarified the pattern of festivities; for example, Mitrakanna or Mehregan was celebrated on Mithra day of Mithra month, and the Tiri festival (Tiragan) was celebrated on Tiri day of the Tiri month.
In 538 BC Cyrus the Great (uncertain if he was a Zoroastrian) conquered Babylon and the Babylonian luni-solar calendar came into use for civil purposes. Cambyses conquered Egypt in 525 BC. He was accompanied by Darius, a Zoroastrian who became ruler of the Persian empire in 517 BC. The Zoroastrians adopted the wandering Egyptian solar calendar of twelve months of thirty days plus five epagomenal days. As their year began in the spring (with the festival of norouz) the epagemonai were placed just before norouz.
In Egypt the star Sirius had significance since every 1460 years (the Sothic cycle) its heliacal rising (just before sunrise) marked the Egyptian new year and the inundation of the Nile. In Persia also the star had significance, since its heliacal rising there also coincided with the coming of the rain. The fourth Persian month was Tishtrya (Sirius, rain star). The vernal equinox at Greenwich fell on the first day of the first month from 487 to 483 BC (inclusive). Adopting S H Taqizadeh's date of 28 March 487 BC for the reform[4] the calendar for that year is as follows:
* denotes 1 Epagomene
Egyptian month First day Persian month First day
4 23 March 1 23*-28 March
5 22 April 2 27 April
6 22 May 3 27 May
7 21 June 4 26 June
8 21 July 5 26 July
9 20 August 6 25 August
10 19 September 7 24 September
11 19 October 8 24 October
12 18 November 9 23 November
1 18*-23 December 10 23 December
2 22 January 11 22 January
3 21 February 12 21 February
The fourth month includes 20 July, the date of the heliacal rising of Sirius. In the first year the people carried on using the old calendar, anticipating festival dates by five days. As each day is named after a god, it is important to observe the celebrations on the right day. Thus the fravasis festival, which in the old calendar was kept between sunset on 30 Spandarmad and sunrise on 1 Frawardin, was now observed throughout the epagemonai. In the second year of the reform, the old 30 Spandarmad was the new 25 Spandarmad, so from then on the festival covered eleven days, up to the new 1 Frawardin. Five days was considered enough for other festivals, however.
In all the lands where the Persian calendar was used the epagemonai were placed at the end of the year. To offset the difference between the agricultural year and the calendar year (the tax-gathering season began after the harvest) the start of the araji (land-tax) year was delayed by one month every 120 years. A Roman historian, Quintus Curtius Rufus, describing a ceremony in 333 BC, writes:

The magi were followed by three hundred and sixty-five young men clad in purple robes, equal in number to the days of a whole year; for the Persians also divided the year into that number of days.

After the conquests by Alexander of Macedon and his death, the Persian territories fell to one of his generals, Seleucus (312 BCE), starting the Seleucid dynasty of Iran. Based on the Greek tradition, Seleucids introduced the practice of dating by era rather than by the reign of individual kings. Their era became known as that of Alexander, or later the Seleucid era. Since the new rulers were not Zoroastrians, Zoroastrian priests lost their function at the royal courts, and so resented the Seleucids. Although they began dating by eras, they established their own era of Zoroaster.
That was the first serious attempt to determine the dates associated with the prophet Zoroaster's life. Priests had no Zoroastrian historical sources, and so turned to Babylonian archives famous in the ancient world. From these they learned that a great event in Persian history took place 228 years before the era of Alexander. In fact, this was the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE. But the priests misinterpreted this date to be the time the "true faith" was revealed to their prophet, and since Avestan literature indicates that revelation happened when Zoroaster was 30 years old, 568 BCE was taken as his year of birth. The date entered written records as the beginning of the era of Zoroaster, and indeed, the Persian Empire. This incorrect date is still mentioned in many current encyclopedias as Zoroaster's birth date.
Wikipedia - Iranian Calendars ]
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