Shahnameh(شاهنامه فردوسی ): Celebrating Persian Culture and Identity Through the Epic Poem of Ferdowsi

Shahnameh, also known as The Book of Kings, is a masterpiece of Persian literature and one of the greatest works of literature in world history. The epic poem was written by the Persian poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi in the 11th century and chronicles the mythical and historical past of Iran from the creation of the world up until the Islamic conquest of Iran in the 7th century. It is considered the longest epic poem ever written by a single author.

Ferdowsi was born in 940 CE in the city of Tus, in present-day Iran. He lived during a time of political turmoil, as the Islamic Caliphate was expanding its control over Iran, and the Persian identity and culture were under threat. Ferdowsi spent much of his life studying the Persian language and history, and he eventually decided to write an epic poem that would celebrate the Persian culture and history.

Shahnameh is divided into three main sections: the mythical, the heroic, and the historical. The first section, which covers the creation of the world and the stories of the Persian kings and heroes before the Islamic era, draws heavily from Persian mythology and Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Iran. The second section focuses on the stories of legendary heroes such as Rostam, Sohrab, and Esfandyar, and their battles against supernatural creatures and foreign invaders. The third section covers the historical period of Iran, including the Arab invasion and the Islamic conquest.

One of the most famous stories in Shahnameh is that of Rostam and Sohrab, which tells the tragic tale of a father unknowingly killing his own son in battle. The story has been interpreted in many ways, but it is often seen as a metaphor for the conflict between the older Persian culture and the newer Islamic religion.

By Photographer: Mohammad Hossein TaghiSculptor: Abolhassan Sadighi – This file has been extracted from another file, CC BY 4.0,

Another prominent story in Shahnameh is that of Alexander the Great, who is portrayed as a great conqueror but also a ruthless and immoral ruler. Ferdowsi’s portrayal of Alexander reflects the Persian ambivalence towards the Greek conqueror, who conquered the Persian Empire in the 4th century BCE.

Shahnameh is not only a literary masterpiece, but it is also an important historical document that provides insight into the political, social, and cultural history of Iran. The poem has been a source of inspiration for generations of Persians, who have used it to celebrate their national identity and culture. The stories and characters in Shahnameh have also influenced Persian art, music, and popular culture.

Ferdowsi spent over 30 years writing Shahnameh, and he completed the poem in 1010 CE. He died a few years later, in poverty and obscurity, but his epic poem lived on and has become an enduring symbol of Persian culture and identity. Ferdowsi’s legacy as a poet and a national hero is celebrated every year on May 15th, which is known as Ferdowsi Day in Iran.

The Florence Shahnameh is the oldest surviving manuscript of the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi. It dates from 614 AH (1217 CE, more than 800 years ago), 200 years after the final completion of the epic poem in 1010, and is unillustrated.It is a very important manuscript, because it contains old forms of many words. It was discovered in 1978 by Angelo Piemontese, the Italian scholar in the National Central Library of Florence.

Prior to the discovery of this manuscript, a London manuscript was considered the oldest surviving manuscript (675 AH, 1276–1277 CE). Djalal Khaleghi Motlagh used this manuscript in his edition of Shahnameh. Older editions of the Shahnameh like the Moscow Edition, did not use this manuscript, because it was not discovered yet at that time. This manuscript is incomplete and contains only half of the Shahnameh.( Source: Wikipedia)


Shahnameh is a masterpiece of world literature that tells the story of Iran’s rich history and culture. The epic poem has inspired generations of Persians and has played an important role in preserving and celebrating the Persian identity. Ferdowsi’s achievement in writing Shahnameh is a testament to the power of literature to shape and define a nation’s cultural identity.