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The Iranian calendars (Persian: گاهشماری ایرانی Gâhshomâriye Irâni) are a succession of calendars invented or used for over two millennia in Iran (Persia). One of the longest chronological records in human history, the Iranian calendar has been modified time and again during its history to suit administrative, climatic, and religious purposes.
The modern Iranian calendar is now the official calendar in Iran. It begins at the midnight nearest to the instant of the vernal equinox as determined by astronomical calculations for the Iran Standard Time meridian (52.5°E or GMT+3.5h). It is, therefore, an observation-based calendar, unlike the Gregorian, which is rule-based.
The Iranian year usually begins within a day of 21 March of the Gregorian calendar. To find the corresponding year of the Gregorian calendar, add 621 or 622 (depending on the time of the year) to a solar hijri year. A short table of year correspondences between the Persian and Gregorian calendars is provided below.
Although the earliest evidence of Iranian calendrical traditions is from the second millennium BCE, predating the appearance of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, the first fully preserved calendar is that of the Achaemenids. Throughout recorded history, Persians have been keen on the idea and importance of having a calendar. They were among the first cultures to use a solar calendar and have long favoured a solar over lunar and lunisolar approaches. The sun has always been a symbol in Iranian culture and is closely related to the folklore regarding Cyrus the Great.
Old Persian inscriptions and tablets indicate that early Iranians used a 360-day calendar based on the solar observation directly and modified for their beliefs. Days were not named. The months had two or three divisions depending on the phase of the moon. Twelve months of 30 days were named for festivals or activities of the pastoral year. A 13th month was added every six years to keep the calendar synchronized with the seasons.
The following table lists the Old Persian months.
|Order||Corresponding Julian months||Old Persian||Elamite spelling||Meaning||Corresponding Babylonian month|
|2||April–May||Θūravāhara||Turmar||Possibly "(Month of) strong spring"||Ayyāru|
|7||September–October||Bāgayādiš||Bakeyatiš||"(Month) of the worship of baga (god, perhaps Mithra)"||Tašrītu|
|8||October–November||*Vrkazana||Markašanaš||"(Month) of wolf killing"||Arahsamna|
|9||November–December||Āçiyādiya||Hašiyatiš||"(Month) of the worship of the fire"||Kisilīmu|
|10||December–January||Anāmaka||Hanamakaš||"Month of the nameless god(?)"||Tebētu|
|11||January–February||*Θwayauvā||Samiyamaš||"The terrible one"||Šabāţu|
There were four farming festivals, symmetrical about maidyoshahem:
|Festival||Time from previous|
Two more festivals were later added, creating the six gahanbar:
|Festival||Time from previous|
|hamaspathmaidyem (end of retirement)||75 days|
|maidyozarem (spring)||45 days|
|maidyoshahem (mid-summer)||60 days|
|paitishahem (harvest)||75 days|
|ayathrem (end of the summer)||30 days|
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|
|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|
|6||Xšaθrahe Vairyehe||"Desirable Dominion"||Shahrewar||شهریور||Shahrīvar|
|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 the calendar for that year is as follows:
|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.
The Parthians (Arsacid dynasty) adopted the same calendar system with minor modifications, and dated their era from 248 BCE, the date they succeeded the Seleucids. Their names for the months and days are Parthian equivalents of the Avestan ones used previously, differing slightly from the Middle Persian names used by the Sassanians. For example, in Achaemenid times the modern Persian month 'Day' was called Dadvah (Creator), in Parthian it was Datush and the Sassanians named it Dadv/Dai (Dadar in Pahlavi).
When in April of AD 224 the Parthian dynasty fell and was replaced by the Sasanid, the new king, Ardashir I, abolished the official Babylonian calendar and replaced it with the Zoroastrian. This involved a correction to the places of the gahanbar, which had slipped back in the seasons since they were fixed. These were placed eight months later, as were the epagemonai, the 'Gatha' or 'Gah' days after the ancient Zoroastrian hymns of the same name. Other countries, such as the Armenians and Choresmians, did not accept the change. The new dates were:
|No.||Name||Achaemenid||Choresmian||Sasanian||Time since previous|
|1||maidyozarem||(11-) 15 ii (Ardawahisht)||15 v||(11-) 15 x (Day)||45 days|
|2||maidyoshahem||(11-) 15 iv (Tir)||15 vii||(11-) 15 xii (Spandarmad)||60 days|
|3||paitishahem||(26-) 30 vi (Shahrivar)||30 ix||(26-) 30 ii (Ardawahisht)||75 days|
|4||ayathrem||(26-) 30 vii (Mihr)||30 x||(26-)30 iii (Khordad)||30 days|
|5||maidyarem||(11-) 15 x (Day)||10 i||(11-) 15 vi (Shahrewar)||75 days|
|6||hamaspathmaidyem||(1-) 5 Epagomene||30 iii||(1-) 5 Epagomene||80 days|
In AD 224 the vernal equinox at Greenwich fell at noon on 21 March, which was 22 Shahrewar. Immediately after the reform 21 March corresponded to 27 Shahrewar. Here is the calendar for AD 225–6:
|1||26* September–1 October||4||26 September||1||26 September|
|2||31 October||5||26 October||2||26 October|
|3||30 November||6||25 November||3||25 November|
|4||30 December||7||25 December||4||25 December|
|5||29 January||8||24 January||5||24 January|
|6||28 February||9||23 February||6||23 February|
|7||30 March||10||25 March||7||25 March|
|8||29 April||11||24 April||8||24 April|
|9||29 May||12||24 May||9||24*–29 May|
|10||28 June||1||23*–28 June||10||28 June|
|11||28 July||2||28 July||11||28 July|
|12||27 August||3||27 August||12||27 August|
The change caused confusion and was immensely unpopular. The new epagemonai were referred to as "robber days". The people now observed the "Great" nowruz on 6 Frawardin, which was Zoroaster's birthday and corresponded to 1 Frawardin in the old calendar. The new 1 Frawardin was observed as the "lesser" nowruz. Hormizd I (AD 272–273) made the intervening days into festivals as well. In AD 273 the vernal equinox at Greenwich fell at 5 AM on 21 March.
Yazdegerd I reigned from AD 399–420. In AD 400 the equinox fell about 19 March, which was 9 Aban. According to al-Biruni, in that reign there was a double adjustment of the start of the araji year. The tenth-century astronomer Abu'l-asan Kusyar noted that during the reign of Osrow II (AD 589–628) the sun entered Aries in Adur. This happened throughout his reign. An araji era was introduced dating from AD 621, and the Yazdegerdi era dates from 16 June AD 632, so the Yazdegerdi era is eleven years behind the araji.
The Muslim rulers who took over from the middle of the seventh century used the Islamic calendar for administration, which caused hardship because the year was shorter – i.e. a tax which was formerly collected after the harvest would now have to be paid before the harvest. Traditionally the caliph Omar reintroduced the Persian calendar for tax collection purposes.
In AD 895 there was another double readjustment of the start of the araji year. It moved from 1 Frawardin (12 April) to 1 Khordad (11 June). By AD 1006 the vernal equinox, 15 March, was again coinciding with nowruz, 1 Frawardin. In that year, therefore, the epagemonai were delayed four months, moving from the end of Aban to their old position at the end of Spandarmad. This is the calendar for AD 1006/7:
|1||15*–20 March||4||15 March||1||10*–15 March|
|2||19 April||5||14 April||2||14 April|
|3||19 May||6||14 May||3||14 May|
|4||18 June||7||13 June||4||13 June|
|5||18 July||8||13 July||5||13 July|
|6||17 August||9||12 August||6||12 August|
|7||16 September||10||11 September||7||11 September|
|8||16 October||11||11 October||8||11 October|
|9||15 November||12||10 November||9||10 November|
|10||15 December||1||10*–15 December||10||10 December|
|11||14 January||2||14 January||11||9 January|
|12||13 February||3||13 February||12||8 February|
The gahanbar didn't move quite to their old places, because the fifth moved to 20 Day, which was the old 15 Day, thus increasing the interval between the fourth and fifth to eighty days and reducing the interval between the fifth and sixth to 75 days. The new dates were:
|No.||Name||Date||Time since previous|
|1||maidyozarem||(11-) 15 ii (Ardawahisht)||45 days|
|2||maidyoshahem||(11-) 15 iv (Tir)||60 days|
|3||paitishahem||(26-) 30 vi (Shahrivar)||75 days|
|4||ayathrem||(26-) 30 vii (Mihr)||30 days|
|5||maidyarem||(16-) 20 x (Day)||80 days|
|6||hamaspathmaidyem||(1-) 5 Epagomene||75 days|
From 15 March AD 1079, when the calendar had slipped a further eighteen days, the araji calendar was reformed by repeating the first eighteen days of Frawardin. Thus 14 March was 18 Frawardin qadimi (old) or farsi and 15 March was 1 Frawardin jalali or maleki. This new calendar was astronomically calculated so did not have epagemonai – the months began when the sun entered a new sign of the zodiac.
About 120 years after the reform of AD 1006, when the vernal equinox was starting to fall in Ardawahisht, Zoroastrians made it again coincide with nowruz by adding a second Spandarmad. This Shensai calendar was a month behind the qadimi still used in Persia, being used only by the Zoroastrians in India, the Parsees. On 6 June 1745 (Old Style) some Parsees re-adopted the qadimi calendar, and in 1906 some adopted the Fasli calendar in which 1 Frawardin was equated with 21 March, so that there was a sixth epagomenal day every four years. In 1911 the jalali calendar became the official national calendar of Persia. In 1925 this calendar was simplified and the names of the months were modernised. 1 Farvardin is the day whose midnight start is nearest to the instant of vernal equinox. The first six months have 31 days, the next five thirty, and the twelfth has 29 days and 30 in leap years. Some Zoroastrians in Persia now use the Fasli calendar, having begun changing to it in 1930.
Correspondence of Solar Hijri and Gregorian calendars (Solar Hijri leap years are marked *)
|Solar Hijri year||Gregorian year||Solar Hijri year||Gregorian year|
|1||1354*||21 March 1975 – 20 March 1976||1387*||20 March 2008 – 20 March 2009|
|2||1355||21 March 1976 – 20 March 1977||1388||21 March 2009 – 20 March 2010|
|3||1356||21 March 1977 – 20 March 1978||1389||21 March 2010 – 20 March 2011|
|4||1357||21 March 1978 – 20 March 1979||1390||21 March 2011 – 19 March 2012|
|5||1358*||21 March 1979 – 20 March 1980||1391*||20 March 2012 – 20 March 2013|
|6||1359||21 March 1980 – 20 March 1981||1392||21 March 2013 – 20 March 2014|
|7||1360||21 March 1981 – 20 March 1982||1393||21 March 2014 – 20 March 2015|
|8||1361||21 March 1982 – 20 March 1983||1394||21 March 2015 – 19 March 2016|
|9||1362*||21 March 1983 – 20 March 1984||1395*||20 March 2016 – 20 March 2017|
|10||1363||21 March 1984 – 20 March 1985||1396||21 March 2017 – 20 March 2018|
|11||1364||21 March 1985 – 20 March 1986||1397||21 March 2018 – 20 March 2019|
|12||1365||21 March 1986 – 20 March 1987||1398||21 March 2019 – 19 March 2020|
|13||1366*||21 March 1987 – 20 March 1988||1399*||20 March 2020 – 20 March 2021|
|14||1367||21 March 1988 – 20 March 1989||1400||21 March 2021 – 20 March 2022|
|15||1368||21 March 1989 – 20 March 1990||1401||21 March 2022 – 20 March 2023|
|16||1369||21 March 1990 – 20 March 1991||1402||21 March 2023 – 19 March 2024|
|17||1370*||21 March 1991 – 20 March 1992||1403*||20 March 2024 – 20 March 2025|
|18||1371||21 March 1992 – 20 March 1993||1404||21 March 2025 – 20 March 2026|
|19||1372||21 March 1993 – 20 March 1994||1405||21 March 2026 – 20 March 2027|
|20||1373||21 March 1994 – 20 March 1995||1406||21 March 2027 – 19 March 2028|
|21||1374||21 March 1995 – 19 March 1996||1407||20 March 2028 – 19 March 2029|
|22||1375*||20 March 1996 – 20 March 1997||1408*||20 March 2029 – 20 March 2030|
|23||1376||21 March 1997 – 20 March 1998||1409||21 March 2030 – 20 March 2031|
|24||1377||21 March 1998 – 20 March 1999||1410||21 March 2031 – 19 March 2032|
|25||1378||21 March 1999 – 19 March 2000||1411||20 March 2032 – 19 March 2033|
|26||1379*||20 March 2000 – 20 March 2001||1412*||20 March 2033 – 20 March 2034|
|27||1380||21 March 2001 – 20 March 2002||1413||21 March 2034 – 20 March 2035|
|28||1381||21 March 2002 – 20 March 2003||1414||21 March 2035 – 19 March 2036|
|29||1382||21 March 2003 – 19 March 2004||1415||20 March 2036 – 19 March 2037|
|30||1383*||20 March 2004 – 20 March 2005||1416*||20 March 2037 – 20 March 2038|
|31||1384||21 March 2005 – 20 March 2006||1417||21 March 2038 – 20 March 2039|
|32||1385||21 March 2006 – 20 March 2007||1418||21 March 2039 – 19 March 2040|
|33||1386||21 March 2007 – 19 March 2008||1419||20 March 2040 – 19 March 2041|