Studies in Iranian Philology

Barbera, Gerardo, Matteo De Chiara, Alessandro Del Tomba, Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā, Federico Dragoni & Paola Orsatti (eds.). 2024. Siddham. Studies in Iranian philology in honour of Mauro Maggi. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag.

This volume is a tribute to Mauro Maggi, celebrating his distinguished career and significant contributions in the fields of Iranian, Indo-Aryan, and Central Asian philology and linguistics. It features a diverse collection of papers presented by colleagues, former students, and friends, reflecting the broad spectrum of Mauro Maggi’s research interests. This collection not only honours Mauro Maggi’s extensive scholarly contributions but also serves as a valuable resource for researchers in Iranian, Indo-Aryan, and Central Asian studies. It will be of interest and value to scholars of Iranian philology and linguistics, as well as those in Indo-European linguistics, Central Asian philology, and Buddhist literature. Through this comprehensive tribute, the volume underscores the lasting impact of Mauro Maggi’s work and his enduring legacy in the field.


Graffiti in Middle Iranian

Cereti, Carlo G. 2023. Graffiti in Middle Iranian: Some Preliminary Notes. In Ondřej Škrabal, Leah Mascia, Ann Lauren Osthof & Malena Ratzke (eds.), Graffiti Scratched, Scrawled, Sprayed: Towards a Cross-Cultural Understanding (Studies in Manuscript Cultures 35), 327–354. De Gruyter.

Graffito from Kal Jangal (after Henning 1977, Plate XXVII)

This article aims to present a limited selection of Middle Iranian graffiti while proposing a definition of the term ‘graffito’ in the Iranian area. Middle Iranian languages were spoken over a vast region that stretches from Mesopotamia to Central Asia. Traditionally, scholars in our field consider the Middle Iranian period to cover the fourth century BCE to the end of the first millennium CE. The number of known written artefacts dating from this period has progressively increased and today we possess a sizeable epigraphic corpus, of which languages such as Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian take the lion’s share. Here the author presents a selection of written artefacts that, on material and linguistic grounds, seem to better fit the idea of ‘graffito’, and briefly focuses on a few drawings scratched into palace walls in ancient Persepolis. Furthermore, the article aims at contributing to the growing debate on graffiti across different traditions, while remaining well aware that the definition of ‘graffiti’ in the Iranian area is still an open question and requires further discussion to establish a shared classification.

The entire volume is available online as Open Access.


The Syriac Script at Turfan

Galatello, Martina. 2023. The Syriac Script at Turfan. First Soundings (Veröffentlichungen zur Iranistik 90). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

This is the first book-length palaeographic study of about a thousand fragments in Syriac and Sogdian languages discovered between 1902 and 1914 in the Turfan area on the ancient Northern Silk Roads. This manuscript material, probably dating between the late 8th and 13th /14th centuries, is of utmost relevance for the history of an area that represents a crossroads region of various communities, languages and religions, not least the East Syriac Christian community. Palaeographic factors such as form, modulus, ductus, contrast, spaces between letters and ligatures have been examined. Particularly significant is a peculiar ligature of the letters ṣādē and nūn. One important observation that emerges from this research is the almost total absence of monumental script in favour of mostly cursive forms, most of them East Syriac cursive forms. These represent a valuable source for the study of the history of the East Syriac script due to the paucity of earlier and contemporary East Syriac manuscript evidence from the Middle East, at least before the twelfth century. Moreover, this research sheds light on scribal habits that are highly relevant for a better comprehension of the Sogdian and Syriac-speaking Christian communities, for the history of writing between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and for a greater understanding of the social context in which these and other communities in the same area read, wrote, and shared handwritten texts. This study is part of the FWF stand-alone project “Scribal Habits. A case study from Christian Medieval Central Asia” (PI Chiara Barbati) at the Institute of Iranian Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

  • The book is available for free through open access, and you can download it directly from the publisher’s website.

The Book of Zambasta

Sims-Williams, Nicholas. 2022. The Book of Zambasta. Metre and stress in Old Khotanese (Beiträge Zur Iranistik Band 49). Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag.

Khotanese, a language belonging to the Iranian branch of Indo-European, which was spoken in the first millennium CE, has a rich literature including the Book of Zambasta, a poetic exposition of Mahāyāna Buddhism in 24 chapters. This poem makes use of three metres, whose nature has been a matter of controversy for more than a century. While its first editor, Ernst Leumann (1859–1931), regarded Khotanese metre as essentially quantitative (moraic) and derived it from a Proto-Indo-European metrical system supposedly reflected also in the Greek hexameter and the Middle High German Nibelungenlied, other scholars have understood it in very different ways: as a purely stress-based metre related to that of poetry in some other Iranian languages; as an adaptation of Indian metrics; or as representing a transitional stage from a quantitative to a stress-based system. The present work offers a closely-argued new analysis, demonstrating that the metre is indeed based on the quantitative (moraic) principle, but with an obligatory ictus in the cadences which leads to the systematic lightening of certain unstressed syllables. The results shed light on the equally controversial issue of Khotanese accentuation and many other aspects of the language and its history. The book includes the complete text of the poem with interlinear scansion. Additional fully searchable text-files available online make it possible for any reader to check the arguments and results.

Table of Contents (ToC)


A Manichaean Prayer and Confession Book

Sims-Williams, Nicholas, John S. Sheldon & Zsuzsanna Gulácsi. 2022. A Manichaean prayer and confession book. (Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum: Series Iranica 1). Turnhout: Brepols.

The Manichaean Prayer and Confession Book is the best-preserved Manichaean book found in the Turfan area and the only one which survives in the form of a bound codex. It constitutes a precious treasure-trove of information on its three Iranian languages, on the Manichaean religion itself, and on Manichaean codicology and book-art. The surviving parts of this beautifully decorated miniature paper codex include Middle Persian and Parthian hymns and readings for the Bema festival, the high-point of the Manichaean liturgical calendar, followed by an elaborate confessional formula for the Elect in the Sogdian language. Until now this manuscript has been accessible for scholarship only from its 1937 edition in German by W. B. Henning, titled ‘Ein manichäisches Bet- und Beichtbuch’ (BBB). This new edition provides the first English translation by Nicholas Sims-Williams, the first codicological study by Zsuzsanna Gulacsi and an introduction by John S. Sheldon. It also includes the supplementary Sogdian texts which Henning added to his ‘BBB’. It incorporates magnificent colour photos, codicological diagrams, and digital reconstructions never seen before. This beautifully-produced volume appropriately inaugurates the Series Iranica of the Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum.

Journal Online resources

Berkeley Working Papers in Middle Iranian Philology

Berkeley Working Papers in Middle Iranian Philology is a new open access e-journal hosted by UC Berkeley’s Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and edited by Adam Benkato and Arash Zeini. It publishes short and longer articles or research reports on the philology and epigraphy of Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, Bactrian, Sogdian, Chorasmian, Khotanese). Submitted papers will be reviewed by the editors and published on an ongoing basis. The journal promotes a simple and quick publishing process with collective annual volumes published at the end of each year.

The editors encourage scholars working on Middle Persian documents in particular to submit their work.


The Neo-Aramaic Verbal Root GŠQ ‘to Look’ and its Middle Iranian Origin

Mutzafi, Hezy. 2020. The Neo-Aramaic verbal root GŠQ ‘to Look’ and its Middle Iranian origin. Le Muséon 133 (1-2), 1-12.

The Neo-Aramaic verbal root gšq ‘to look’, known since the 19th century to occur in the Christian NENA (North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic) dialects of Urmi and Salmas in Iranian Azerbaijan, has thus far remained without an established, or at least plausible, etymology. The etymology proposed in this paper considers gšq to be inherited from an earlier NENA layer, in which it was a denominative derivative of a noun akin to Mandaic gušqa ‘spy’, a Middle Iranian loanword. This etymology is buttressed by parallel cases in Neo-Aramaic and other languages of the world as regards semantic changes and affinities between the meanings ‘to spy’ and ‘to look’, as well as similar processes of word-formation in NENA, namely denominative verbs derived from borrowed nouns and inflected in the neo-pa”el verbal pattern.


Manichaean Sogdian Cosmogonical Texts

Morano, Enrico. 2019. Manichaean Sogdian cosmogonical texts in Manichaean script. In Chen Hao (ed.), Competing narratives between nomadic people and their sedentary neighbours (Studia Uralo-Altaica 53). Szeged.

The present paper gives a survey of the Sogdian fragments in Manichaean script of the Berlin Turfan Collection which deal with cosmogony.



The first issue of Studia Iranica 48 (2019) has been published. For a table of contents and access to individual articles, see below or visit this page.

  • Alisher BEGMATOV: Commodity Terms in the Languages of Central Eurasia. New Interpretations from Mugh Document A-1
  • Mihaela TIMUŞ: Pōryōtkēšān versus Kēšdārān. L’autorité religieuse contre les tenants d’autres doctrines
  • Nikolaus OVERTOOM: Considering the Failures of the Parthians against the Invasions of the Central Asian Tribal Confederations in the 120s BC
  • Étienne DE LA VAISSIÈRE: Al-Mu’taṣim et l’Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg
  • Jean-Pierre DIGARD: Un pan méconnu de la civilisation iranienne. Son «système domesticatoire»
  • Comptes rendus

A Sogdian Fragment from Niya

Sims-Williams, Nicholas & Bi Bo. 2018. A Sogdian fragment from Niya. In Huaiyu Chen & Xinjiang Rong (eds.), Great journeys across the Pamir mountains (Brill’s Inner Asian Library 37), 83–104. Leiden: Brill.

In 1994, the Sino-Japanese Niya Expedition Team excavated an artifact (93A27F1:3) at Niya. It is a small brown package or pouch made from a piece of paper (originally mistaken for parchment) fastened by a woolen string. Traces of writing were visible, so the artifact was provisionally referred to as “A Kharoṣṭhī text written on parchment” in the preliminary report of its discovery. In 2007, when the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology’s research group on Niya was editing the third volume of the Report on the Sino-Japanese Joint Expedition in Niya, they carefully examined this “parchment text.” After the string was untied, it was found that the paper had been used to wrap up a powder of vegetable origin, perhaps spices or medicine. When the powder was removed, a text written in black ink in a clear script was visible. Noting that the writing appeared to be the same as that of the Sogdian “Ancient Letters” found near Dunhuang, which were written in the early fourth century, and other Sogdian fragments of similar date found at Loulan, the local archaeologists were able to determine that this new fragment was also written in early Sogdian script.