The Iranic or Persian races form a branch of the Aryan or Indo-European family. They inhabit a territory in the immediate vicinity and west of the Indic races or Aryans proper. The first traces of the Iranic branch are found north of the Hindoo Koosh, near the elevated plateau of Pamir, and at the sources of the Oxus. In historic times the Iranians appear on the shores of the Oxus and of the rivers of upper Sogdiana, and spreading southwest through Badakhshan and Balkh, they people the entire country of the vast plateau known in a limited sense as Iran or Persia, excepting the S. E. corner, inhabited by the Brahooees, a Deccanese or Dra-vidian race. The Afghans have an Iranic language strongly interwoven with Sanskritic elements, for which reason some class them among the Indic races. Beyond the Persian district the Iranic branch extends over the mountainous region of Armenia into Asia Minor. It is probable that in the flourishing period of the Persian empire the Iranic races were spread also over the plateau on the Kur as far N. as the Caucasus; it is less probable that, as some suppose, they were scattered over the regions beyond the Caucasus, and mingled with the Slavs. Colonies of Iranians, however, were to be found as far as the Crimea, and mingled with the Thracians. It is thus established that the Iranians were in ancient times the connecting link between the Indo-Europeans of Asia and of Europe. At an early period the Iranians and Indians probably formed but a single group of races.
The Arya of the Indic was the Airya of the Iranic race, and apparently they had the same religion. In what period their separation took place is unknown. - The first Iranic race that appears in history is that of the Medes. Their earliest territory is not clearly defined, but it probably comprised very nearly the same regions as their strictly historical habitat, reaching in the east as far as the Caspian gates, and in the north not quite as far as the mountains N. of Atropatene. The southern boundary was Susiana, and in the west the territory was separated from that of the Assyrians and Babylonians by the Zagros. According to Berosus, the Medes were an important race as early as 2400 B. C. at which time, he says, there was a Median dynasty in Babylonia. Syncellus calls Zoroaster the founder of this dynasty; but though this name may have been furnished by Berosus himself, as Eusebius intimates, it does not follow that this Zoroaster was identical with the founder of the Iranian religion. More important than this single statement by Berosus are the contents of the Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions, which do not speak of the Medes as the conquerors, but as the subjects of the Assyrian empire.
The oldest notice is probably one found in the inscription of the elder Tiglath-pileser, about 1100 B. C, in which a country named Amadana is spoken of in connection with Elam as a conquered territory. The Medes are mentioned again on the black obelisks of the 9th century, and more frequently in the inscriptions of Sargon toward the close of the 8th century. He and his successors Sennacherib and Esarhaddon speak of Media as if it were a distant country, and the Assyrians evidently did not consider it as important to conquer as Asia Minor and Egypt. It is therefore probable that the Semitic race was spread at that time much further over the mountainous districts of the Zagros than they were in more recent historical times. The Assyrian inscriptions agree with the statement of Herodotus that the Medes were at an early period subjects of Assyria. He adds that they were the first people to cast off the yoke after 520 years, and with this period of the revolt of the Medes he begins the history of the foundation of the Median empire. (See Media.) - The oldest sources we possess for the history of the Iranians represent them as divided into several races. Those most frequently mentioned are the races of the western territory.
Herodotus distinguishes among the Medes the Busae, the Paretaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, and the Magi. The Persians he divides into Pasargadae, Maraphians, Maspians, Pan-thialaeans, Derusiaaans, and the Germanians, all of whom were engaged in husbandry, and four nomadic tribes, the Daans, Mardians, Dropi-cans, and Sagartians. The special territories occupied by these tribes are not known. The remark of Herodotus that the Pasargadae were the principal tribe, and that the Achaemenides were one of its clans, shows that each of these tribes consisted of several subdivisions. The Iranic races are also to this day subdivided into numerous tribes. The Indus is now the eastern boundary of these races. Near this river dwell the Belooches and Afghans. In the da-maun or borderland of India are several Afghan tribes which are sometimes collectively designated as Lohani, and others further west, on the Solyman mountains, forming together the transition from the Indie to the Iranic race. A very few of them are still nomadic; the others are husbandmen and traders.
Still further west are the Afghans proper, and S. of them the Belooches, the latter not of purely Iranic origin. (See Afghanistan, and Beloochis-tan.) The Afghans are a well built people, with an elongated head, horizontal eyes, and a dark velvet-like skin. The Tajiks are also of Iranian blood and speech. Khanikoff has completely disproved the tradition hitherto accepted by many scholars, that the Tajiks are a Semitic people from Babylonia. They are met with among the Afghans and Belooches, but are found in largest number in Bokhara and Badakhshan, and many have settled in Khokan, Khiva, and Chinese Tartary. They are of good middle height and powerful frame, but have a broader head than the Afghans, and a thicker cheek and nose. In Bokhara and Khiva they form the literary class. They compose the largest part of the population of Cabool, Can-dahar, Ghuzni, Herat, and Balkh. Their superstitious practices clearly show that fire worship was their ancient form of religion; they are now Sunnis. The Barekis and the Per-mulis are considered branches of the Tajiks. - Further west, mainly on the borderland of Afghanistan, Khiva, and Persia, live the Aimags, whose language is of a very ancient type and but little mixed with Arabic. They consist of four peoples, the Timuri, Timeni, Ferozkohi, and Jamshidi. Among the Iranic populations of Persia, the Bakhtiaris and Feilis of Luristan deserve special mention.
The Persians are considerably fairer than the Afghans, and their features are more regular, their physiognomy having been much improved by admixtures of Georgian and Circassian blood. (See Persia.) - Modern research has established that the Kurds also belong to the Iranian race. They are found in Khorasan, and inhabit the northern slopes and valleys of the Elburz, but the bulk of the eastern Kurds live on the Zagros mountains. The western Kurds have inhabited for a long period a portion of the Armenian mountain ranges on the northern limit of the Mesopotamian desert. (See Kurdistan.) Khanikoff praises the beautiful heads and prepossessing features of the Kurds. The Yezids, who dwell in the Sinjar mountains, N. of Mosul, are also classed with the Kurds as Iranians. Among the Kurds live an agricultural people, called Gurans, whose dialect is more closely related to Persian than the Kurdish. - N. of the Kurds the principal Iranic populations are the Armenians (see Armenia), the inhabitants of the southern shores of the Caspian sea, the Tats, who live in Baku, and the Ossetes, on both sides of the Caucasus, near the Dariel pass. These generally surpass the Persians in complexion.
The large black eyes of the Armenians are admired. - Languages. The recovery of the ancient languages of Persia is mainly an accomplishment of this century, and is principally due to the knowledge of Sanskrit. The two oldest phases of Iranic speech lay buried in the sacred books of the Parsees and in the cuneiform characters. Subsequent to the destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great, the documents of the religion of Ormuzd, founded by Zoroaster, were neglected under the reign of the foreign princes. The new Persian dynasty of the Sassanides (226-651) reestablished the ancient religion in its former dignity, and the extant fragments of the holy books were carefully gathered. The conquest by the Arabs dethroned the native religion again, and almost wiped, it out of existence. A few succeeded in retaining the ancient worship in Persia, as in Yezd and Ker-man, and others introduced it into India. The remains of the holy books extant at the time of the Arab conquest are still preserved, partly in the original language, but mostly in an ancient translation.
The oldest Iranic form of speech known to us was probably an eastern language, and Spiegel has given it the name of Old Bactrian. Others designate it as Zend, which was originally intended to be applied to the translation, but was subsequently used by mistake for the language of the text. The language of the translation is Huzvaresh, which is the literary form of the Pehlevi. Anquetil-Du-perron published in 1771 a French translation of the text under the title Zend-Avesta. (See Zend-Avesta.) The hints which he gave of the language were sufficient to prove its San-skritic character, and Sir William Jones was the first to identify it as such (1789); but a whole generation passed before any real progress in the recovery of the language was noticeable. When the labors of Bopp and Schlegel had given a solid foundation to Sanskrit philology, the Iranian languages soon gained a similar basis through the labors of Olshausen, Bur-nouf, Hermann Brockhaus, Spiegel, Wester-gaard, Haug, Justi, Lagarde, and Lassen. The first attempt at a grammar of the Old Bactrian or Zend language was made by Haug in his " Essays on the Sacred Language, Writing, and Religion of the Parsees " (Bombay, 1862). In 1867 appeared Spiegel's Grammatik der Alt-baktrischen Sprache, containing also an appendix on the dialect of the Gathas. Justi published in 1864 a Handbuch der Zendsprache, in which he furnished a lexicon of Old Bactrian, to which Paul de Lagarde has made valuable additions in his Beitrage zur baktrischen Lexi-kographie (1868). (See Zend Language.) For the old Persian language of the time of the Achaemenides, as found on the monuments of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, see Cuneiform Inscriptions. Benfey, Mordtmann, and others are of opinion that the second column of the trilingual cuneiform inscriptions contains the language of the ancient Medes. - The language called Pehlevi, Pahlavi, or Huzvaresh, is Iranic, but it is not positively known where and when it was spoken.
Spiegel assigns it to the western portion of the empire of the Sassanides, and considers its Semitic elements of Naba-thaean origin. It was probably used as a literary language from about the 3d century to the downfall of the Sassanian empire, and continued in use for religious documents. It is known through the translation of the Avesta, and through a few other religious works, as the Bundehesh, and through inscriptions, coins, and gems. It is not always the same, but differs in these various remains principally in a smaller or larger infusion of Semitic elements. Muller, Haug, Windisehmann, Dorn, Mordtmann, Olshausen, De Sacy, and Levy are probably the most eminent scholars of Pehlevi. The language called Parsee or Pazend resembles Pehlevi in grammar, but its vocabulary has few words of Semitic origin, and is purely Iranic. It was probably in use at the same time as the Pehlevi, the literary language of the Sassanian empire, and finally became its successor. It maintained itself as such until the development of the modern Persian. When used in explanation of ancient religious texts, the Parsee language is styled Pazend. Spiegel published in 1851 a grammar of this language. - The modern Persian is purely Iranic in its older documents, but since the adoption of Islam the vocabulary has been full of Arabic words, though the grammar has remained essentially Iranic. (See Persia, Language and Literature of.) East of the territory of modern Persian are the Iranic dialects of the Afghans and Belooches, and west those of the Ossetes, Kurds, 'and Armenians, noticed in the articles relating to them. - See *F. Spiegel, Eranische Alterthums-kunde (2 vols., Leipsic, 1871-'3).