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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Languages of the Near & Middle East at SOAS: Avestan

Avestan is the language of the Avesta, the sacred texts of the perhaps oldest living religion. Zoroastrianism, the religion of pre-Islamic Iran, probably started in the mid-second century BC and spread all over the Near and Middle East at the time of the Iranian empires of the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sasanians until it succumbed to Islam in the mid-seventh century of the Christian era. As a result,  Zoroastrianism is today one of the smallest minority religions with about 120,000 followers living in Iran, India and the global diaspora. However, Zoroastrian ideas influenced  Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the community continues to produce notable men and women, including the first Asian MP at Westminster, Dadabhai Naoroji, industrialists such the Tatas and Godrejs, the rock star Freddie Mercury and the conductor Zubin Mehta. Even contemporary Zoroastrians still pray in the language of the founder of their religion, Zarathushtra, who is believed to have received the revelation of the religion from his god Ahura Mazdā, the ‘Lord Wisdom’. Their sacred texts dating back to the 2nd millennium BCE,  Avestan is also one of the earliest attested Indo-European languages alongside Hittite and Vedic Sanskrit. Avestan texts provide fascinating insights into the beliefs and religious practices of the Zoroastrians, many of which persist to the present day.

If you would like to learn Avestan and its script, contact Professor Almut Hintze (ah69@soas.ac.uk) Department of the Study of Religions).

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