top of page

Zahhak Enthroned with the Two Daughters of Jamshid

December 31, 1614
Mirza Firuz Shah
Jahangir 1605–1627

Zahhak Enthroned with the Two Daughters of Jamshid



In Firdowsi’s 10th century Shahnameh, Azi Dahaka or Zahhak - explicitly named as “Zahhak the Arab” (‘Zahhak-e Tazi’ - the Tazi or Tayy were a great Arab tribe used as a name for all Arabs in 10th c. Asia) - is the son of a king Merdas of Yemen, albeit implied to have been sired by an unknown lover on the king’s wife. He is firmly Arabic; in fact, Yemen is considered the original homeland of the Arabs as a people in traditional genealogy. Although Zahhak’s 1,000-year rule is placed in the mythical past, in the first era of world-rulers or Pishdadi kings, he is pretty obviously made a very negative symbol for Arab rule over Iran (which rule had ended well before Firdowsi’s time). He is shown murdering his own father, the king of Yemen - an act which the poet condemns as the worst of crimes - and then being misled by Iblis/Satan and put into his power, becoming a malefic sorcerer with ravenous serpent-heads springing from his shoulders. As the former world-ruler, the mighty Jamshid, who had formerly taught men metal-working, magic and medicine, had by then become hubristic and forgetful of God, Zahhak is permitted to dethrone him, marry his daughters and assume the universal kingship from his seat in Jerusalem. The typically dragon-like hungers of Zahhak’s serpent-heads are used to describe the excesses of Arab rule over Iran. He is stated to have eaten the fresh brains of a young man and woman every day, a handy allegory for foreigners devouring the country’s best and brightest. Those who escaped his hunger fled to the mountains and became the Kurds - a memory of the historical exacerbation of Iranic nomadism in the region in response to the mass expropriation of native properties and rise of feudal brigandage in ‘Abbasid times, when the Kurdish name and way of life seems to have become widespread. Firdowsi also gives an account of the historical Arab conquest, which is more positive by comparison - the post-Sassanid Arabs are shown as savage and uncivilized, but somehow noble and sure of their only property, the support of God. The poet’s basic account of both conquests (mythic and historical) seems to be founded on the belief that God removes his sanction from even the greatest rulers when they become impious and arrogant, letting tyranny take their place. But his opinion of Arab rule itself seems to have been plainly negative, a “punishment” for past sins (his opinion of Turkish rule is no better; and despite the existence of Zahhak, it is the Turks or sons of Afrasiyab who form the antithesis of the Persians and the chief antagonists of the better 2/3rds of the narrative). Although Firdowsi was himself unambiguously Moslem, he obviously saw no difficulty for the pre-Islamic Persians to commune with God through their Zoroastrian monotheism, seeing the two religions as essentially coterminous. Ferdowsi Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusi, also Firdawsi (Persian: ابوالقاسم فردوسی توسی‎; c. 940[1]–1019/1025), or just Ferdowsi (فردوسی ) was a Persian poet and the author of Shahnameh ("Book of Kings"), which is one of the world's longest epic poems created by a single poet, and the national epic of Greater Iran. Ferdowsi is celebrated as one of the most influential figures of Persian literature and one of the greatest in the history of literature. Ferdowsi was born into a family of Iranian landowners (dehqans) in 940 in the village of Paj, near the city of Tus, in the Khorasan region of the Samanid Empire, which is located in the present-day Khorasan Razavi Province of northeastern Iran. Little is known about Ferdowsi's early life. The poet had a wife, who was probably literate and came from the same dehqan class. He had a son, who died at the age of 37, and was mourned by the poet in an elegy which he inserted into the Shahnameh. Life as a Poet It is possible that Ferdowsi wrote some early poems which have not survived. He began work on the Shahnameh around 977, intending it as a continuation of the work of his fellow poet Daqiqi, who had been assassinated by his slave. Like Daqiqi, Ferdowsi employed the prose Shahnameh of ʿAbd-al-Razzāq as a source. He received generous patronage from the Samanid prince Mansur and completed the first version of the Shahnameh in 994. When the Turkic Ghaznavids overthrew the Samanids in the late 990s, Ferdowsi continued to work on the poem, rewriting sections to praise the Ghaznavid Sultan Mahmud. Mahmud's attitude to Ferdowsi and how well he rewarded the poet are matters which have long been subject to dispute and have formed the basis of legends about the poet and his patron (see below). The Turkic Mahmud may have been less interested in tales from Iranian history than the Samanids. The later sections of the Shahnameh have passages which reveal Ferdowsi's fluctuating moods: in some he complains about old age, poverty, illness and the death of his son; in others, he appears happier. Ferdowsi finally completed his epic on 8 March 1010. Virtually nothing is known with any certainty about the last decade of his life. Works Ferdowsi's Shahnameh is the most popular and influential national epic in Iran and other Persian-speaking nations. The Shahnameh is the only surviving work by Ferdowsi regarded as indisputably genuine. He may have written poems earlier in his life but they no longer exist. A narrative poem, Yūsof o Zolaykā (Joseph and Zuleika), was once attributed to him, but scholarly consensus now rejects the idea it is his. There has also been speculation about the satire Ferdowsi allegedly wrote about Mahmud of Ghazni after the sultan failed to reward him sufficiently. Nezami Aruzi, Ferdowsi's early biographer, claimed that all but six lines had been destroyed by a well-wisher who had paid Ferdowsi a thousand dirhams for the poem. Introductions to some manuscripts of the Shahnameh include verses purporting to be the satire. Some scholars have viewed them as fabricated; others are more inclined to believe in their authenticity.


Rate This BookDon’t love itNot greatGoodGreatLove itRate This Book

Your content has been submitted

Post Comment
Ratings & Review
Click To Close Comment Box
Click To Post Your Comment
Show Reviews

Ismail Mazari

average rating is null out of 5

Very good information.


The Mughal Images immediately took a much greater interest in realistic portraiture than was typical of Persian miniatures. Animals and plants were the main subject of many miniatures for albums and were more realistically depicted. To upload your images click here.

Mughal Library brings readers of our history and related subjects on one platform. our goal is to share knowledge between researchers and students in a friendly environment.


bottom of page