SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Middle Persian

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This course is an introduction to Middle Persian (or Pahlavi), the language of the Iranian state and Zoroastrian and Manichaean literature during the Sasanian period (224-651 CE). It requires no prior knowledge of the language and is designed to provide students with a clear understanding of Middle Persian in a way that enables them to translate simple texts and analyse their grammar. Students who complete the course successfully will be able to handle simple primary sources of the Zoroastrian and/or Manichaean religions in the original Middle Persian, and to assess critically translations made by various scholars.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • transliterate, transcribe and read text written in the Pahlavi script
  • identify Middle Persian words correctly following a standard pattern consistently
  • translate a simple Middle Persian text into English
  • comment on grammatical and interpretive features of Middle Persian words and phrases
  • use basic grammars and dictionaries of Middle Persian
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of Middle Persian literature


Two hours of classes per week over 22 weeks. Students are required to submit weekly written work for correction and prepare texts for reading in class.

Method of assessment

  • Two term tests (10% each)
  • One 3 hour written examination in May/June (80%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

  • Boyce, M.: "Middle Persian literature" pp. 31-79 in B. Spuler (ed.), Handbuch der Orientalistik 4.2.1 Iranistik, Literatur. Leiden and Cologne: Brill, 1968
  • Dresden, M. J. "Middle Iranian" pp. 26-63 in Current Trends in Linguistics 6, The Hague and Paris, 1970
  • MacKenzie, D. N.: "Iranian languages" pp. 450-77 in Current Trends in Linguistics 5, The Hague and Paris, 1969
  • MacKenzie, D. N.: A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. London: OUP, 1971, reprinted with corrections 1986
  • Nyberg, H. S.: A Manual of Pahlavi. 2 vols. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964, 1974


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules