Middle Persian

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

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.


This course may be taken in any year of a postgraduate degree programme.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • transliterate, transcribe and read texts written in the original Pahlavi script
  • identify Middle Persian words grammatically and lexically and comment on syntactical features of the Middle Persian language
  • translate Middle Persian language texts into English
  • comment on grammatical and interpretive features of Middle Persian words and phrases
  • critically assess divergent interpretations of words and phrases put forward by different scholars
  • demonstrate advanced 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.

Scope and syllabus

The course is based on the reading of texts, including texts in Manichaean Middle Persian and a short prose text, simple in style, ‘The Book of the Deeds of Ardaxšīr, son of Bābag’, the Kārnāmag ī Ardaxšīr ī Bābagān, which will be read in the original Pahlavi script. Some memorization of grammar and vocabulary will be required. Extensive handouts and reading materials will be supplied.

Method of assessment

  • There will be two end of term tests (each 10%)
  • one three-hour written examination at the end of the module in May/June (80%). The examination will include passages for translation from texts read in class (but not unseen texts) together with linguistic and general questions arising from them
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

  • M. Boyce, “Middle Persian Literature”. In: B. Spuler (ed.), Handbuch der Orientalistik, vol.4.2.1: Iranistik, Literatur. Leiden/Köln: Brill, 1968, pp.31-76.
  • M. Boyce, A Word-List of Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian. Tehran/Liège: Brill, 1977 (Acta Iranica 9a).
  • Ch.J. Brunner, A Syntax of Western Middle Iranian. Delmar 1977.
  • M.J. Dresden, “Middle Iranian”. In: Th. Sebeok (ed.), Current Trends in Linguistics vol.6, The Hague and Paris 1970, pp.26–63.
  • D. Durkin-Meisterernst, Grammatik des Westmitteliranischen (Parthisch und Mittelpersisch). Wien 2014.
  • M. Hale, “Pahlavi”. In: R.D. Woodard (ed.), The Ancient Languages of Asia and the Americas. Cambridge: CUP, 2008, 123–135.
  • W.B. Henning, “Mitteliranisch”. In: B. Spuler (ed.), Handbuch der Orientalistik, vol.4.2.1: Iranistik, Literatur. Leiden/Köln: Brill, 1968,
  • D.N. MacKenzie, “Iranian Languages”. In: Th. Sebeok (ed.), Current Trends in Linguistics vol.5, The Hague and Paris 1969, 450–477.
  • D.N. MacKenzie, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. London: OUP, 1971, repr. with corrections 1986.
  • H.S. Nyberg, A Manual of Pahlavi. 2 vols., Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964, 1974.
  • P.O. Skjærvø, Middle West Iranian. In: G. Windfuhr (ed.), The Iranian Languages. London and New York: Routledge, 2009, 196–278.


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