Borj-e Lājīm: A Post-Sasanian Tomb Tower with Pahlavi and Arabic Inscriptions

On August 2008 Iraj Afshar, Manouchehr Sotudeh, Khodadad Rezakhani and myself traveled to the provinces of Mazandaran and Khurasan in search of medieval towers. The function of towers in Iran varies, depending on their location and the region and time period. Some may be landmarks so that travelers find their way and others are simply tombs of a notables and local rulers. For the province of Mazandaran where Borj-e Lājīm was located we drove from Tehran into the lush mountain area towards the northeast where it rained constantly, until we arrived at the village of Lājīm.

Borj-e Lājīm is a tomb tower from time of Ziyarid rule, from the eleventh century CE, dated exactly to 389 Yazdgerdi / 413 Hijri.  What is of interest is the bilingual (Pahlavi–Arabic) inscription just below the dome of Lājīm. The Arabic inscription states that this is the tomb or resting place (ghabr) of Shahriyār ibn Abbas, while the Pahlavi inscription mentions the dome (gumbad) Shahriyār. This difference in views is of course interesting and noteworthy for the issue of function, terminology, Perso-Arabic translation in the Iranian and Islamic tradition.

André Godard was the first person to study the Pahlavi inscription and publish his work with very useful sketches (A. Godard, “Les tours de Ladjim et de Resget (Māzandarān),” Athār-é Irān, I, 1936, pp. 109-121), but more recently the excellent Persian philologist, Hassan Rezaei Baghbidi in his article in Persian has completed and corrected Godard’s work:

(حسن رضاﺋﯽ باغ بیدی “کتیبه پهلوی-کوفی برج لاجیم” نامه ایران باستان٬ شماره ۷ تابستان ۱۳۸۳  صص ۹-۲۱).

According to Ernst Herzfeld the Arabic inscription below the Pahlavi inscription reads:

بسمله { الرحمن الرحیم} هذا قبر القبه {القیم؟} الكیا الجلیل ابوالفوراس شهریار بن العباس بن شهریار مولی امیرالمؤمنین رحمه الله امر بینائه اﻠﺴﺘﺔ الکریمه چهرازاذ بنت سلیاخور فی ﺴﻨﺘﺔ ثلث عشر و اربع ماﺌﺔ عمل الحسین بن علی

(see E. Herzfeld, “Arabische Inschriften aus Iran und Syrien,” Archäoligische Mitteilungen aus Iran, Band VIII, 1937, p. 79; the variation in the brackets are mine).

As for the Pahlavi inscription Baghbidi reads:

ēn gumbad šāh tuwānmand šahryār ī abbās ī šahryār mowlī amīr-ō-mōminīn framūd kardan duxt ī rād ī sīspuhr čihrzād mādar ī ōy sāl tirēst haštād noh ādur māh spandarmad rōz

This dome was ordered built by the powerful king, Shahryār, the son of Abbas, the son of Shahryār, lord of the Commander of the Faithful, the daughter of chief Sīspuhr Čihrzād (Shahrzād), his mother, in the year three hundred eighty nine, in the month of Ādur, day of Spandarmad.

Noteworthy is that the Pahlavi inscription is above the Arabic one. Was this a conscious decision? Nowadays both inscriptions are in a dilapidated state and so we have to turn to the sketches from the early twentieth century. Since there were scaffoldings around the tomb it appears that a restoration project is under way and I hope the restoration is based on the latest readings and done correctly.