Etymology of Caviar & Other Caspian Fish Stories

Availability: Forthcoming
Published: 2024
Page #: xxviii + 120
Size: 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-1-56859398-2
plates, appendix, index, notes, references

Quick Overview

The word-origin of the term caviar has been a subject of Western scholarly curiosity as late as the mid-18th century. The lexical evidence of the term’s existence as hāvyār and khāviār in the Ottoman Turkish language dates back to the mid-17th century, if not much earlier. The attested proof of the term’s existence in the form of the Greek χαβιάρι (khaviari) dates back to Middle Ages. Yet, it is not until the 20th century that the term khāviār appears in the Persian lexicon, giving rise to the tantalizing thought that the term which applies to Iran’s once most-prized epicurean export may not be Persian. Etymological theories about the term abound, yet none of them offers a convincing proof of the term originating in Greek, Ossetic/Gypsy, Persian, Roman, Russian, Tatar or Turkish languages.


In this work, Guive Mirfendereski combines knowledge of history and geography, of ichthyology, and of the cultural and culinary influences of the lower tidelands of the Caspian Sea in order to suggest a unified field theory capable of fixing the likely origin of the term caviar in the term ashpal, the longstanding word  for fish eggs (roe) in the Gilaki and Tabari languages spoken on the Iranian littoral of the Caspian Sea. In so doing, the author pulls together detailed information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including recent Iranian scholarship, recast in a series of readable and instructive vignettes framed in the context of the broader piscine history of the Iranian coast.   


Guive Mirfendereski is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea (Palgrave 2001) and of entries about the Caspian Sea in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History and Encyclopædia Iranica.     


Guive Mirfendereski

Born in 1952 to an Iranian career diplomat, Guive Mirfendereski spent his childhood in The Netherlands, India and Turkey, and his adolescent years in Iran and Switzerland, with frequent prolonged visits to the USSR between 1967 and 1971. A graduate of Don Bosco College (Andisheh) in Tehran, Villa St. Jean (Fribourg, Switzerland), and Collège du Léman (Versoix, Switzerland), he began his university studies at Georgetown University in 1971 and graduated cum laude in 1975 with a bachelor of art degree in Government form the College of Arts and Sciences.

Mirfendereski attended The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, where he received an M.A. (1976) and M.A.L.D. (1978) and a Ph.D. (1985). Subsequently, he studied law at Boston College Law School, where he received his J.D. in 1988. His legal career as an associate in the corporate department of Gaston, Snow, Ely & Bartlett in Boston, Massachusetts (1988-1991), included representation of corporate clients in matters pertaining to customs and international trade and investment. Between 1992 and 1994, he served as legal consultant to the governments of Rwanda and

Sierra Leone on their World Bank-sponsored projects, before becoming general counsel to a biotech company in Watertown, Massachusetts.

As an adjunct professor, he developed and taught graduate-level courses at The Fletcher School and at The Lemberg Program at Brandeis University, as well as holding undergraduate teaching positions at Brandeis’s Legal Studies Program, while continuing in private practice of law in Newton, Massachusetts, where he resides. 

Mirfendereski’s major publications include: The Privileged American: The U.S. Capitulations in Iran, 1856-1979 (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 2014); A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea, Treaties, Diaries and Other Stories (New York & London: St. Martin’s Press/McMillan/ Palgrave, 2001); “Caspian Sea,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History (Oxford University Press, 2007); “Persian Gulf” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History (2007); “Abu Musa iii,” in Encyclopædia Iranica (New York: Columbia University Center for Iranian Studies) online edition at https://iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-musa-bu-musa (2006); “Tonb islands,” in Encyclopædia Iranica online edition at https://iranicaonline.org/articles/tonb (2005); “Caspian Sea ii. Diplomatic History in Modern Times,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica online edition at https://iranicaonline.org/articles/caspian-sea-ii-diplomatic-history-in-moderntimes (2004); “The Toponymy of the Tonb Islands,” in Iranian Studies, Vol. 29, Nos. 3- 4 (Summer/Fall, 1996); “The Status of Counterclaims under International Law, with Particular Reference to International Arbitration involving a Private Party and a Foreign State,” in 15 Denver Journal of International Law & Policy 11 (1986) (co-authored with Bradley Larschan); “An International Law of Weather Modification,” in Fletcher Forum: A Journal of Studies in International Affairs (Medford, Massachusetts: The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy), Vol. 2, No. 1 (January 1978).

Note on Transliteration & Sound Values
List of Illustrations
1. Olearius on Caspian Fisheries 2. The Sturgeon & Her Roe
3. Fishing Methods
4. Russian & Āzari Influences in Iran’s Sturgeon/Caviar Fishery
5. Before & After Khāviār: Forever Ashpal!
6. Ichthynyms of the Iranian Littoral
7. Traditional Persian Names for Sturgeon
8. Iranian Names of the Caspian Sturgeons
9. Other Explanations of the Term Tās-māhi
10. Muddled Origins of the Term Caviar
11. Muddled Origins of the Term Khāviār
12. A Toponymic Connection?
Pictorial Appendix:
Figure 1. Southern Caspian region.
Figure 2. Adam Olearius’ map.
Figure 3. Sturgeon Fishes of the Caspian Sea.
Figure 4. Figure 4. White sturgeon.
Figure 5. External features of the sturgeon.
Figure 6. Sturgeon’s scutes.
Figure 7. Sturgeon’s mouth and barbels.
Figure 8. Ashpal.
Figure 9. Beluga’s snout, mouth and barbels.
Figure 10. Beluga’s mouth.
Figure 11. Roe extraction – incision.
Figure 12. Exposing the roe-sacks.
Figure 13. Extracted roe-sacks.
Figure 14. Removal of a kolhām/shil (weir).
Figure 15. Long-lining (Reshteh-gollāb).
Figure 16. Gill-netting (Gush-gir).
Figure 17. Purse-seining (Tāseh).


Login or Create Account