Bookmark and Share

Marriage in Ancient Iran

3/7/01 Mohamad Karimi Zanjani Asl
Source: Chista, Literary Review

Marriage, Meaning and Types

Lack of documented sources and evidences makes it difficult to offer a well-documented survey, far from any presuppositions and pre-judgments, on the subject of identification and distinction of different forms of marriage in Ancient Iran. Therefore, in order to avoid any baseless and unjustifiable speculations, we have to look at the problem from the perspective of the few remaining Pahlavi texts and also those relevant texts written during Islamic era of Iranian civilization.

We know that in Sassanian era, families played the most important role on the scene of the social life of Iranians, in a way that an Iranian young man, practically enjoyed no well-defined distinct identification before marriage and adoption of the role of the head of the family (doudeh salar). It seems that the main reason for this state of affairs should be sought in the configuration of social layers on one hand, and in the special concern and emphasis of Zoroastrian religion on the importance of marriage on the other hand.

According to the existing documents and also from the point of view of later Zoroastrian religion, marriage is considered as a religious task and a necessary contract for the salvation and redemption of the soul. In the Zoroastrian society of ancient Iran, the social importance of marriage was sought in regulation of the public life of the individual through his private life. In this society, according to the legal laws based on Avesta (the holy book of Zoroastrians), civilian rights belonged first of all to a married man or the head of the family or nmanopaitis (doudehsalar). In fact, only he could become the zantupaitis (zandsalar) and dainhupaitis (dehsalar, keshvarsalar), meaning the head of the community.

In this way, in the Zoroastrian society of those times, citizenship depended on the marriage of the man and the formation of family; and in the Iranian society, it was only the married man that was recognized as a member of the society with a definite identification. According to Avesta, a boy and a girl were not allowed to marry before the age of fifteen when the ritual of sadreh poushi and wearing kosti (the sacred belt) was held for them (Yasna, 9; Vandidad, fargard 14, 9). This does not mean that marriage at this age was recommended, but the fiancées and those wishing to marry were advised to wait for a couple of years after puberty, particularly as according to the existing commentaries Zoraster married at the age of twenty when he had discussed the matter decently and affectionately with his parents (Denkart, Book, VII, chapter, 20).

According to Zoroastrian discipline, marriage is forbidden with the following people, atheists and those suffering from physical and mental disorders. Also marriage with the following individuals is implicitly prohibited: poor, infertile, capricious, voluptuous and... (Vandidad, fargard 2, 37). In addition to possessing physical and mental health and similar social position, the most important characteristic recommended for women according to Avesta and other Pahlavi sources was proper, righteous upbringing (for example, see, Khosrow Ghobadan and Ridki, paragraphs 95-96). For men important traits included wit, education and proper mannerism and proficiency in regard to his vocation as it is said in Ram Yasht (paragraph 40) on behalf of single women:

'Help us to find young competent husbands who would treat us well throughout our marital life and help us to have wise, clever and well-spoken children.'

In Sassanian era, 'marriage' meant the woman's departure from the field of sovereignty of her father or brother and her entrance into the field of sovereignty of her husband or his father. Here the most important factors in determining the type of marriage included: 1) the way woman would leave her family and join the new family, 2) the role of the head of the family in this respect, 3) whether the woman is marrying for the first or second time, 4) whether the marriage is real or symbolic due to its importance in veneration of forefathers maintaining their name through their heirs.

Sassainian Iranians regarded monogamy as the main principle of marriage, although this does not totally deny the presence of polygamy in the form of having two principal wives (padesha zan) (see, Matikan Hezar Datstan, p.1) as there are also references to temporary marriages and the maidens giving birth to children; this latter form of marriage was called niruzd marriage that will be explained later.

Common forms of marriage during Sassanian era include: 1)padesha zan; 2) chakar zan; 3) ayuk zan; 4) satar zan; 5) xodsar zan (see, Soroushian, p.215).

Padesha Zani, the Supreme Form of Marriage

Padesha zani as the commonest form of marriage among Zoroastrian from Sassanian era until today is based on the following bases: 1) the girl is marrying for the first time and is not 'satar' or 'ayukin' of anybody else; 2) at the time of marriage, there should be a brother or a sister in her family to sustain the family name; 3) the girl's consent is a necessary condition; 4) after the consent of the head of the family (doudeh salar), the contract is finalized between him and the bridegroom and the agreement of the head of the family is announced in three stages; 5) the bride accepts to stay obedient, faithful and also behdin (religious) and Iranian; staying Iranian means not to depart the prevalent manner of life of her era; 6) the bridegroom accepts to venerate his wife as 'kadbanou' (the head of the household) and 'zan' (wife) and while providing her with sufficient food and clothing, accepts her children as 'padesha farzandi' (main children) (see, Matikan Hezar Datstan, p.36; Peyman Kadkhodaii, paragraphs 6-7).

In the existing Pahlavi texts, padesha zani, is considered 'ashudad' or 'virtuous act', an eternal, farashkardi (heavenly) and noble (see, Peyman Kadkhodaii, paragraph 3). It should be mentioned that there were special religious and legal laws for this type of marriage. According to these decrees and laws, the bridegroom turns the bride into his partner (= padesha) and offers her half of his wealth. He promises to offer half of his future income in an undivided form to his wife and if demanded by her or her lawyer, he would bestow her share without any excuse (see, Peyman Kadkhodaii, paragraph 3). In this way, in padesha zani woman is indeed the man's partner.

In this form of marriage the man and woman promise to accompany each other in work and life (Saddar Bundehesh, chapter 39) and if the woman does not repent and the husband finds the proper opportunity (Ravayat Pahlavi, chapter 53), they would stay together in Heaven too (Shayest and Nashayest, chapter 12, paragraph 3); otherwise when woman is being punished in the other world, she can ask her husband as to why he did not direct her toward goodness and righteousness (Ardiraf Nameh, chapter68) and the fruit of this question would be that the husband can not go to Heaven either (ibid).

In Padesha zani, the wife was allowed to interfere with and seize the wealth of her husband and to bestow his possessions, although if she exaggerated in this respect, she would have then needed her husband's permission (Matikan Hezar Datstan, p.33; Ravayat Pahlavi, chapter 39). The woman's share in her husbands inheritance was as much as pesar padeshaii (main son) and her dower had to be repaid from that and if the couple had no children, the wife received all the inheritance (Matikan Hezar Datstan, p. 88; Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, p.187-88). However, in case of disobedience of woman, if proved by witnesses, she was deprived of his inheritance (Matikan Hezar Datstan, p.6-7, on the subject of obedience, see for example, Shayest and Nashayest, chapter 15, paragraph 22; Saddar Nasr, chapter 59). But if she was obedient, she would receive her share of inheritance even if the husband would prohibit it in his will (Ravayat Emid Ashavahishtan, question 7). Due to her role in maintaining the name of family by giving birth to children, she had an active role in the affairs of the family and the children had to obey and respect her (see, Andarz Koudakan, p.490). Also it was the wife who determined who should be the head of the family at her deathbed (Matikan Hezar Datstan, p.12-15). After the death of the husband she acted as the head of the family unless she married again, in that case she chose another person as the new head of the family.

In padesha zani, divorce without the agreement and gratification of the wife was not religiously legal, even when it clearly stated in the husband's will (ibid). In reality the conditions of divorce in this form of marriage included, 1) infidelity of the wife if proved; 2) concealment of the time of her menstruation from her husband; 3) application of magic; 4) sterility of woman (see, Saddar Bundehesh, chapter 34). However, in the last case, when the woman would accept to separate by the reason of ruwan-dostih (compassion and holiness), according to prevalent legal laws of Sassanian era, her sterility was just an excuse and she would attain salvation, both earthly and heavenly. But in cases that she would not surrender, despite the heavenly and earthly rewards of such an act, the husband had to give up divorce and instead adopt a child in order to sustain the name of the family. At the same time, in case a wife would agree to leave her husband through the mediation of a third person and marriage with another man, if discovered, the third person (mediator) and her second spouse would be called 'margrazan' and they were considered as worthy of death and the woman was regarded as worthy of damnation (Denkart Madan, pp.717. 805; Ravayat Pahlavi, chapter 41, Saddar Bundehesh, chapter 37). Such people were described by the term mihr-druj (false compassion).

Chakar zani, a temporary marriage with an earthly function

In Sassanian era, chakar zani was used to describe the marriage of a widowed or married woman. The second spouse of chakar zan was not considered as her true husband, for she was still in the service of her first husband and according to the existing beliefs, she belonged to him in the other world too (Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, p.180). The main reason for this form of marriage was the death of the first husband or his sterility (Soroushian, p.215). For this reason, chakar zani was not considered as a true permanent form of marriage, but a formal temporary one due to its profane aspect and the fact that the wife still belonged to the family of her first husband (Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, p. 186) and therefore there was no need for the consent of the head of the family (doudeh salar) in this form of marriage.

Here the man was known as 'shouy chakar' (the husband of this kind of wife) and the children as 'pesar (son) or dokhtar (daughter) chakar.' From the legal point of view the children that chakar zan gave birth to, belonged to the first wife and were put under her name. Chakar zan had no rights over the possessions of her second husband unless there was a previous contract in this regard (Ravayat Emid Ashuhisshtan, questions 7, 23). In addition, due to the superiority of padesha zani, chakar zan was deprived of the right of 'kadbanoui' (head of household) in her second house.

However, in contrast to Sassanian era, in later periods and following the transformation of the structure of Zoroastrian family in Islamic era of Iranian civilization, the important function of this form of marriage was changed and it was applied only when the first husband of the wife would die and she would marry in order to enjoy familial comfort and security. Now the first husband of the wife would no longer let her marry another man in order to have a child (see, Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, pp.182, 186). It should also be added that chakar zani was not always used for married widowed women and sometimes the death of the fiancée of a girl before marriage changed her into a chakar zan (ibid, p.186).

This form of marriage, chakar zani was not limited to Sassanian era. During the rule of Achaemenides, children born to chakar zan were considered illegitimate and were deprived of inheritance (Clemen, p.113). For example, the only legitimate child of Ardeshir I, was Khashayarsha (or Xerxes) II, and it was only when he was killed that the sons of chakar zans of Ardeshir seized the throne (Omsted, pp. 481-4). But in Sassanian era, due to changes of legal laws particularly in the post-Mazdakian period, the children of chakar zan started to enjoy some rights too, and later in Pahlavi texts they could share in the inheritance as much as 'pesar padesha' (main sons) (Ravayat Pahlavi, chapter 53).

During Sassanian era, the second marriage of the woman if the first husband still lived was called niruzd; a term derived from Avestian word niuruzda meaning poor, hungry people. In niruzd marriage, the husband was known as 'mirak and the wife as zhianak. This form of marriage was in fact a kind of temporary marriage through guardianship with a religious/ritual basis (see, Vandidad, fargard 4, paragraph 44) and it was prevalent among the monogamous members of the society. According to the existing evidence, niruzd marriage took place with the death of the wife of a member of the society and his financial incompetence in taking a new wife to bring up his children; he would then request the hand of the wife of a benevolent man who had extra free time to help him with his children. In this form of marriage, zhianak (wife) took no trousseau to the house of mirak and had no rights of dowry and she only looked after the children of mirak for the specified period of time. It is clear that this form of marriage was reserved for sterile women or those women whose children had already been grown up and they thus no longer needed her as much. According to the marriage document of niruzad, the tasks of zhianak was known as sturih and the mirak had the right of leadership over zhianak and he had to help her and provide her with necessary comfort, but he could not use zhianak's wealth (Clemen, p.128-129). Also due to the fact that any child born to zhianak belonged to the main (first) husband, this marriage could help the first husband to have an heir and sustain the name of the family and there was no need for the woman to become chakar zan after the death of her husband. The legal discussion on the subject of chakar zani and nirzud is found in nearly all legal texts of Sassanian era.

Ayuk Zani and Satar Zani, an attempt to maintain the survival of the family

In ayuk zani, a single girl or one of the girls of the family played the role of padesha zani for her father or brother until she gave birth to a son by marrying a man outside the family. The child carried the family name of the woman's farther or brother to guarantee the survival of the name of the family. That is why the trousseau of ayuk girl was much more than that of shah dokhtar, and her husband acted as the guardian and supervisor of the wealth and the property of his deceased father- in- law for a specific period of time. However if ayuk zan gave birth to two sons, one son replaced her father and the other her husband, and she was then changed into padesha zan and the consequences of such a case were anticipated in the marriage document (for further information on the legal laws of ayuk zani, see Ravayat Emid Ashavahishtan, questions 1, 44; Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, p.184). It should be mentioned that in Sassanian era, young girls welcomed ayuk zani as it could bring them a better economic state and position.

Satar zani took place when a fifteen years old young man would die before marrying and having an heir. In this case on the morning of the fourth day after his death they would choose a satar zan or an adopted child for him to sustain his name and help his soul to cross the bridge of chinvad (the bridge where the soul would meant the result of his earthly life and it would thus be determined whether he would go to heaven or hell) (Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, p.182). Therefore, satar was the bridge of the individual to have a child and it helped his soul to cross the bridge of chinvad. After accepting to become satar zan and marrying the dead man symbolically, the woman was considered as his padesha zan until she married another man as chakar zan of her deceased husband. Her first son then carried the name of the deceased husband to sustain his name. According to the prevalent legal laws, padesha zan of the dead man was his natural satar although chakar zan could also play this role too. However, in contrast to men, no woman could assume the role of satar more than once. It would have been better if satar belonged to the family of the deceased (Letter of Tansar, p.68)

In reality satar zani was a form of marriage with spirits. In this form of marriage the husband of satar was allowed to spend only the profit of his wife's wealth on charity without being allowed to interfere with or confiscate it; that is he could spend it for the well being of their children, his tasks and his people (see Mazaheri, p.96). When an adult man acted as satar, he was also considered as doudeh salar (the head of the family), but when a woman was satar, naturally a salar (head) was selected for doudeh (family). In this case if there were a small son in the family, the man would be appointed as the head for a specific period of time and when the boy reached the age of fifteen he then acted as the head of the family. In case of the absence of a boy, the girl or the woman who was acting as satar had to give birth to a boy who could then become the head of the family at fifteen (on the legal regulations of satar zani, see Parikhanian, p.353-57; Matikan Hezar Datstan, pp.20-22. 26, 50).

Satar zani lost its primal importance due to the transformation of the structure of Iranian family after the conquest of Islam and the name of the family was sustained by the new cult of 'bridging' (polgozari) meaning that instead of taking a satar zan, a son was adopted by the sterile family (Soroushian, p.218). The other reason for the emergence of the new cult should be sought in the misunderstanding of conquering Arabs when they were faced with the legal regulations and consequences of satar zani, for when they saw that the son of a satar zan had the same family name as the father or the brother of satar zan, they thought that she had married her father or brother (ibid). It seems that the cause of attributing incest to Zoroastrians after the victory of Islam, is lack of understanding and complete ignorance of Arabs in relation to the legal laws prevalent in Iran of that time.

Xodsar (khodsar) zani, a legal, but unofficial affair

Xodsar zani is the term describing a form of marriage when the official permission of the head of the family was not required for the marriage of girls having fifteen years of age or more. However, this form of marriage was not considered as an agreeable and farashkardi (divine) act due to the very same reason. Further financial support of the girl by his family depended on the reason for her marriage in this way. If the girl found a husband for herself due to her father's negligence, the father had to support her financially (Matikan Hezar Datstan, p.33), otherwise, despite the legitimacy of the marriage of such a girl, she was deprived of inheritance and it was possible that she could not become padesha zan exactly for the same reasons (Ravayat Darab Hormozdyar, p.180), unless she apologized and prepared the grounds for reconciliation and consent of her father or when her son reached the age of fifteen, she sought his consent (Ravayat Emid Ashavahishtan, question 43); although this son could not be adopted by any other family (ibid).

It should be mentioned that there were legal regulations for illegitimate relations and accordingly the child of such relationship was cared for and supervised by the man and his family and in case of their absence, the mother and her family were responsible for the care of the child. A young man living in Sassanian era searched for his future wife in his own class and vocation. However, that does not imply the presence of a caste system as solid and inflexible as that found in India. In case of marriages taking place outside the man's class and vocation if he belonged to a higher class, he was just deprived of his right to inheritance and lowered his social class and in contrast to Indian castes he was not abandoned by his own family. But if the man were of a lower class, he faced a more serious padafrah (punishment) such as margarzani (worthy of death) (see, Mazaheri, pp.48-49).

In a more general classification, padesha zani was the most perfect and prevalent form of marriage in Sassanian era and chakar zani, ayuk zani, satar zani and finally xodsar zani were successively of lesser importance and prevalence. On the whole, the first marriage was always regarded as a farashkardi (divine) act that would continue in the world after too.

-- Translated for by Roya Monajem,

© Copyright 2001 (All Rights Reserved)