previous next


Ζωροάστρης), or ZOROASTRES, the ZARATHUSTRA of the Zendavesta, and the ZERDUSHT of the Persians, was the founder of the Magian religion. The most opposite opinions have been held both by ancient and modern writers respecting the time in which he lived. In the Zendavesta itself, as well as in the writings of the Parsees. Zoroaster is said to have lived in the reign of Vitacpa (as he is called in the Zendavesta) or Gushtasp (as the Persians name him), whom most modern writers identify with Dareius Hystaspis. According to this view the system of Zoroaster was not promulgated till the time of the third Persian monarch, and he must therefore be looked upon as the reformer and not the founder of the Magian religion, which was of much higher antiquity. This opinion was maintained by Hyde and Prideaux, who also attempted to prove that Zoroaster was a pupil of Daniel, and learnt from the prophet all those parts of his system which resemble the tenets of the Sacred Writings. But although this opinion has been adopted by Anquetil du Perron, Kleuker, Malcolm, and many other modern writers, it will be found to possess no other evidence in its favour but the identitication of Gushtasp with Dareius Hystaspis; for the testimony of the later Greek and Roman writers, who place Zoroaster at this period, is of no vale in such an inquiry, and is counterbalanced by the statements of other classical writers who assign to him a much earlier date. Moreover, while this supposition has such a slender amount of evidence in its favour, it is open to the most serious objections. First, Zoroaster is universally represented as the founder of the Magian religion both by the Orientals and the Greeks, and it is unnecessary to prove that this religion was of greater antiquity than the commencement of the Persian empire, and that it had been previously the national religion of the Medes. The first Greek writer who mentions Zoroaster is Plato, who says that the Persian youths were taught the Mageia of Zoroaster, the son of Horomazes, which he interprets to mean the worship of the gods ( μὲν μαγείαν διδάσκει τὴν Ζωρούστρον τοῦ Ὡρομάζου -- ἔστι δὲ τοῦτο θεῶν θεραπεία, Plut. Aleib. p. 122a). Secondly, if Zoroaster had been the reformer of the Persian religion in the reign of Dareius Hystaspis, he would certainly have been mentioned by Herodotus. The silence of the historian is a conclusive argument to us against Zoroaster being a contemporary of Dareius. Thirdly, the king Gushtasp, under whom Zoroaster lived, is said in the Zendavesta to be the son of Auravatacpa, the Lohrasp of the modern Persians, while Hystaspes, the father of Dareius, was never king, and was the soil of Arskama or Arsames. It would therefore seem that the Gushtasp, the contemporary of Zoroaster, was an entirely different person from Dareius Hystaspis.

Other dates have likewise been assigned to Zoroaster by modern scholars; but sound criticism compels us to come to the conclusion that it is quite impossible to determine the time at which he lived. All we learn from the Zendavesta is that he was the subject of a king named Gushtasp, who belonged to the dynasty of the Kâvja, or as they are called in the modern Persian, the Kayanians. The history of the dynasty has come down to us in a mutilated form; but it would appear that the kings of this race reigned in eastern Iran, and more particularly Bactria, at a period anterior to that of the Median and Persian kings. The Bactrian origin of Zoroaster is alluded to by several of the Greek and Roman writers, who obtained their information from Oriental sources. Thus Ammianus Marcellinus (13.6.32) calls Zoroaster a Bactrian, and his testimony is of considerable importance because he must have received the information from the Persians themselves, when he attended the emperor Julian in his campaign against the Paithians. Ctesias likewise, who resided long at the court of Artaxerxes Mnemon, calls Zoroaster a king of Bactria (Ctesias, pp. 79, 91, ed. Lion, copied by Justin, 1.1); and the same statement occurs in Moses of Chorene (1.6). The tradition which represents Zoroaster of Median origin sprang up at a later time when the chief seat of his religion was in Media, and no longer in the further East. We may therefore conclude thai the religion of Zoroaster first appeared in Bactria, and from thence spread eastward; but further than this we cannot venture to go. As the founder of the Magian religion he must be placed in remote antiquity, and it may even be guestioned whether such a person ever existed. Niebuhr regards him as a purely mythical personage (Kleine Schrifton, vol. i. p. 200); but it is worthy of remark that we find no trace in the Zendavesta of the various wonders and miracles which are connected with his name in the Persian and Greek and Roman writers. It is unnecessary to repeat these stories, but we may mention as a specimen two tales related by Pliny. It is said that he laughed on the day of his birth, and that his brain palpitated so violently as to heave up the hand that was placed upon his head ; and that he lived in the desert for twenty years on cheese, in consequence of which he was preserved from feeling old age. (Plin. Nat. 7.16. s. 15, 11.42. s. 97.) It would be idle to attempt to make even an approximation to the date of Zoroaster from the statements of the Greek and Roman writers; for the most learned among them could not come to any agreement as to the time at which he lived, and many supposed that there were several persons of this name, who lived at widely different times and in very different countries. Thus we find him called not only a Bactrian, but a Median (Clem. Al. Strom. i. p. 399), a Chaldaean (Porphyr. Vit. Pythag. 12). a Persomedian (Suidas, s. v. Ζωροάστρης), Persian (Diog. Laert. Praof.), an Armenian (Arnob. 1.12), a Pamphylian (Arnob. i. c.), and even a native of Prsconnesus. (Plin. Nat. 30.1. s.) Many of these various statements probably arose from the circumstances that the Magian religion was introduced into these countries and places; and it is only in this way that we car explain the strall'ge account in Pliny that he was a native of Proconnesus. We find equal discrepancy in the Greek and Roman writers respecting the time at which he was said to have lived. Thus Aristotle and Eudoxus stated that he lived 6000 years before the death of Plato (Plin. Nat. 31.1. s. 2), and Hermippus that he lived 5000 years before the Trojan war (Plin. l.c. ; D. L. 1.2); while others assign to him a much later date, making him a contemporary of Cyrus (Arnob. 1.52) or Pythagoras (Clem. Al. Strom. i. p. 357; Appuleius, Florid. ii. p. 231). We only quote these statements as instances of the discrepancies in the Greek and Roman writers respecting the age and country of Zoroaster, and of showing the hopelessness of attempting to construct any theory from such contradictory accounts.


There were extant in the later Greek literature several works bearing the name of Zoroaster, and which are quoted under the titles of λόγια, ἱεροὶ λόγοι, ἀποκαλύψεις, βίβλοι ἀπόκρυφοι Ζωροάστρου, περὶ φύσεως, περὶ λίθων τιμίων, ἀστεροσκοπικὰ, ἀποτελεσματικὰ, &c. Some of these works were in existence as early as the time of Pliny, who relates that Hermippus wrote commentaries on two million lilies of Zoroaster. (Plin. l.c. ; Suidas, s. v. Ζωρ.) These writings however must not be regarded as translations from the Zenda vesta, to which they bore no resemblance, as is evident from the extracts preserved from them by Clemens Alexandrinus, Eusebius, and others. (Clem. Alex. Strom. 5.14, p. 710; Euseb. Praep. Ev. 1.10; Dion Chrysost. Or. 36.) They were, on the contrary, forgeries of a later age, and belong to the same class of writings as the works of Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, &c.


There is still extant a collection of oracles ascribed to Zoroaster.


These were published for the first time with the commentaries of Gemistus Pletho [GEMISTUS], under the title of Μαγικὰ λόγια τῶν ἀπὸ του Ζωροάστρου Μάγων, by Tiletanus, Paris, 1538, 4to. They have also been edited by Patricius in his Nova de Universis Philosophia, &c., Ferrariae, 1591, and Venet. 1593, foll.; by Morell, Paris, 1595, 4to., and also in Latin; by Obsopaeus, Paris, 1507, 8vo., and by others. It would be ridiculous in the present day to enter into any argument to prove the spuriousness of these oracles.

Further Information on the reputed works of Zoroaster

Every thing known respecting the reputed works of Zoroaster is collected by Fabricius (Bibl. Graec. vol. i. p. 304, foll.).

Religious System

An account of the religious system of Zoroaster does not fall within the scope of the present work ; but the reader will find abundant information on the subject in the works quoted below. Mr. Milman has given an excellent summary of the leading tenets of the Zoroastrian system.

Further Information

Hyde, Veterum Persurum et Magorum Religionis Historia, Oxford, 1700 and 1760; Prideaux, Connection of the History tory the Old and New Testament, Part i. vol. i. p. 299, foil.; Anquetil du Perron, Zendavesta ; Kleuker, Zendavesta ; Rhode, Die Heilige Sage des Zendvolks ; Heeren, Historiches &c. Asiatic Nations, vol. i. p. 367, foil.; Gibbon, Decline and Fall, vol. 1.100.8; Milman, History of Christianity vol. i. p. 65, foil.; Georgii, in Reat-Encyclopädie des classichen Alterthumswissenschaft, s. v. Magi ; Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, vol. i. p. 752, foll.

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 1.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 31.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.16
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30.1
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: