The Hidden Everlasting Queen of the Sassanian Empire


Claudine Gauthier


March 8, 2024


According to a living Zoroastrian tradition in Iran, Yazdgird III’s wife, along with the couple’s daughters, their maid, and their youngest son, succeeded in escaping Arab invaders, finding refuge inside a rock in the mountains of the Yazd province where they are still hidden. This founding story is shared by some of the most important Zoroastrian holy shrines in Iran, such as Pir-e sabz. Behind the unicity of the narrative structure of these single stories-confounding in the end its heroine with the natural elements- dwells the demultiplication of the same and only character who acquired from that time not only immortality but also the ability to influence the fate of Zoroastrians around the pilgrimage to her shrine.

The mythological roots of the story have already been documented as well as its historical flaws. But the various anthropological meanings of the story in a Zoroastrian context have not been cleared up yet. This presentation intends to do just that, on the basis of scriptural and ethnographic evidence, and by drawing up an anthropological analysis of the historical shaping of this story as well as of its contemporary investments. Notably, we will ask if, after the fall of the last Sassanian king, and in the face of the failed hopes of the Zoroastrian community to see Yazdgird III’s sons come back and restore in Iran the politico-religious power of the fallen empire, some of these hopes might have been symbolically shifted on feminine figures closely associated to the dead king. In fact, according to the Zoroastrian tradition, within the last regal family only women are said to have all at once escaped from the invaders, from death, and are still anchored in Iranian soil This archetypal feminine figure of the story appears also as the last and eternally efficient regal figure of the fallen empire who constantly keeps on providing assistance to her people.


Dr. Claudine Gauthier is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Bordeaux (France) and a researcher with the “Laboratoire d’anthropologie Politique” of the EHESS in Paris. She is also Vice-President of the 20th section of the French National Council of Universities. She specializes in historical anthropology and in the anthropology of religious phenomena.