The word "Pehliva" is used several times in the third part of the Shahnameh (Helen Zimmern translation), particularly to refer to Sam/Saum, apparently a ruler in Seistan (which I thought might be Sistan, but that Wikipedia page says that Sistan is called Zabulistan in the Shahnameh - so I'm confused whether Seistan in the Shahnameh is a southern part of Iran or a separate kingdom lying to the south of Iran).

Seistan, which is to the south of Iran, was ruled by Sam, the Pehliva, girt with might and glory, and, but for the grief that he was childless, his days were happy.

"For thy father is Sam the hero, the Pehliva of the world, greatest among the great, and he is come hither to seek his son, and splendour awaiteth thee beside him."

"O Pehliva of the world, the Shah enjoineth you have a care of this noble youth, and guard him for the land of Iran."

What does "Pehliva" mean? At first I thought it might be a name for a ruler, like Shah - Sam is the Pehliva of Seistan? - but later they refer to him as "the Pehliva of the world". Searching Google for "pehliva" or "pehliva" iran gives results which are either not relevant or from this Shahnameh translation itself.


3 Answers 3


We, in Turkey, use the word 'Pehlivan' as a synonym of 'wrestlers' (we do not use 'Pehliva' but phonetically it must be the singular form of 'Pehlivan') and metaphorically for 'valiant', 'brave', 'gallant' men.

According to Etimoloji Türkçe, this word is based etymologically on 'pahlavān پهلوان ' (a Late-Persian word) which again means 'valiant', 'brave.'

However, it must have been evolved from the name 'pahlavīk' who was a member of the East Iranian tribe and invaded Iran in the 3rd century BC and ruled for 450 years.

Therefore, most probably, it means 'Ruler' in this context. Ruler - a valiant ruler - of the World.

  • Thank you for the answer! Could you link to your research that came up with "pahlavān" - e.g. is there a dictionary source for that? Also, as well as the meaning of the word in itself, I'm also interested in its meaning in the context of the Shahnameh: does Pehliva there mean a specific type of ruler (e.g. at a specific level, or of a specific region) or is it a generic word for ruler? why do they call him "Pehliva of the world" when he's not ruler of the whole/known world?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:58
  • Here is the link: etimolojiturkce.com/kelime/pehlivan In fact, the source here is in Turkish. It is a website about the etymological backround of the words in Turkish. If I'd known Persian I would look up to sources in Persian, but I'm sorry. If I say more about the issue It will be my personal interpretation and not scientific. However; from my personal point of view, in this context, I remark that rather than a ruler it must be about the emphasis on the strenght and valour of Sam since the word is used for men who are very strong, spirited and valiant wrestlers. Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 21:50

Looking at your second and third quote and persian text, I can only assume that it means, "Pahlevan" (پهلوان) in persian.

Pehliva -> Pahlevan the Pehliva of the world -> Jahan Pahlevan (جهان پهلوان) which is widely used in Ferdowsi's work.

But what "pahlevan" means? this answer is near. You can think of it as champion/commander-in-chief Sam was the knight of Sistan, but it was later when Rostam was born (Sam's grand child) Rostam became the Ruler of that area.


I am taking it to mean a sort of valiant knight who is protector of the kingdom, called upon by the shah to come to his aid in time of war. Which occurs often in the Shanamneh

  • 2
    "I am taking it to mean" - is this just a guess/opinion, or do you have some evidence to support this?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 16:08

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