The Mystery of the Central Stone Slab in the Tripylon Gate of Persepolis

Razmjou, Shahrokh. 2015-2016. “The Mystery of the Central Stone Slab in the Tripylon Gate of Persepolis”, Journal of Archaeological Studies 7(2), 69-83.

It has been proposed that some structures at Persepolis served as calendrical or astronomical mechanisms. Despite a general lack of evidence of such functionality at the site, a stone slab in the Central Palace (the Tripylon Gate) has been claimed as evidence supporting this theory. The chiselled signs on this slab have been interpreted as symbols indicating the precise time of the spring equinox (March 21) marking the beginning of the new year. The suggestion that the Central Palace served as an ancient observatory, however, requires a closer inspection. To properly interpret the intended function of this stone and its mysterious signs, it must be studied in the context of archaeological and architectural investigations.

In original:
رزمجو، شاهرخ. 1394. «معمای سنگ میانی در کاخ مرکزی تخت جمشید»، مطالعات باستان‌شناسی، دورۀ 7، شمارۀ 2، صفحات 69-83.

Samarkand: The Center of the World

Compareti 2016Compareti, Matteo. 2016. Samarkand: The center of the world. Proposals for the identification of the Afrasyab paintings (Sasanika Series 5). Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers.

In antiquity Samarkand was the capital of the Persian province of Sogdiana. Its language, culture, and “Zoroastrian” religion closely approximated those of the Persians. Following its conquest by Alexander, its strategic position and fertile soil made Sogdiana a coveted prize for Late Antique invaders of Central Asia. Around 660 CE — at the dawn of Arab invasion — local king Varkhuman promoted the execution of a unique painted program in one of his private rooms. Each wall was dedicated to a specific population: the north wall, the Chinese; the west, the Sogdians themselves; the east, the Indians and possibly the Turks. The south wall is probably the continuation of the scene on the west wall. In Chinese written sources, some support for this concept of the “division of the world” can be found. Accidentally discovered during Soviet times, the room was named “Hall of the Ambassadors” due to the representations of different peoples. However, many aspects of its painted program remain obscure. This study offers new ideas for better identifications of the rituals celebrated by the people on the different walls during precise moments of the year.

Matteo Compareti (PhD 2005) is Guitty Azarpay Distinguished Visitor in the History of the Arts of Iran and Central Asia at the University of California, Berkeley. He studied at the University of Venice “Ca’ Foscari” in the faculty of oriental studies in 1999 and took hid PhD from the University of Naples “L‘Orientale,” working on the Silk Road in 2005. His interest is on the iconography of Mazdean divinities in Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia, especially Sasanian and Sogdian art.

Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire

Edelman, Diana, Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley &  Philippe Guillaume (eds.). 2016. Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire (Orientalische Religionen in der Antike 17). Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen.

The Achaemenid Persian imperial rulers have long been held to have exercised a policy of religious tolerance within their widespread provinces and among their dependencies. The fourteen articles in this volume explore aspects of the dynamic interaction between the imperial and the local levels that impacted primarily on local religious practices. Some of the articles deal with emerging forms of Judaism under Achaemenid hegemony, others with Achaemenid religion, royal ideology, and political policy toward religion. Others discuss aspects of Phoenician religion and changes to Egyptian religious practice while another addresses the presence of mixed religious practices in Phrygia, as indicated by seal imagery. Together, they indicate that tolerance was part of political expediency rather than a universal policy derived from religious conviction.

Continue reading Religion in the Achaemenid Persian Empire

The Christian Sogdian Gospel Lectionary

Barbati 2016Barbati, Chiara. 2016. The Christian Sogdian Gospel Lectionary E5 in Context (Veröffentlichungen Zur Iranistik 81). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

On the basis of a thorough philological-linguistic study, the book aims primarily at reintegrating the complex whole of the various phenomena that have contributed to creating what in modern scholarship runs under the name of Christian Sogdian Gospel Lectionary E5, a set of manuscript fragments preserved in the Turfan Collection in Berlin. The study applies a precise methodology that puts various disciplinary approaches on the same level in order to relate and interconnect textual, material and historical-cultural aspects. Specific codicological characteristics are considered in correlation with the broader manuscript tradition to which the fragments belong. The discussion of the Gospel lectionary leads to reflections on the transmission, reception and development of a specific body of religious knowledge, namely that of the Church of the East. The exploration of linguistic phenomena takes also into consideration the processes at work in the missionary history of the Church of the East in Central Asia between Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages in the Oasis of Turfan in present-day Xinjiang, China. The book therefore addresses Iranologists as well as students of Eastern Christianity and of manuscript cultures.

Chiara Barbati (PhD 2009) is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Iranian studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).  She specializes in Ancient and Middle Iranian languages. Her main fields of research are Sogdian language and literature with particular regard to the Christian Sogdian texts in relation to its Syriac sources, history of eastern Christianity through primary sources (Syriac) as well as secondary sources (Sogdian, Middle Persian, New Persian), paleography and codicology of pre-Islamic Iranian manuscripts and Iranian dialectology from an historical point of view.

Women in the Ancient Near East

Stol, Marten. 2016. Women in the Ancient Near East. De Gruyter.

Women in the Ancient Near East offers a lucid account of the daily life of women in Mesopotamia from the third millennium BCE until the beginning of the Hellenistic period. The book systematically presents the lives of women emerging from the available cuneiform material and discusses modern scholarly opinion. Stol’s book is the first full-scale treatment of the history of women in the Ancient Near East.

Marten Stol is a professor at the Free University, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

This is an open access publication. The volume is available from the above link.

Itineraries on the edges of Iran

Pellò, Stefano (ed.). 2016. Borders: Itineraries on the edges of Iran (Eurasiatica 5). Edizioni Ca’ Foscari.

This collection of essays, which is presented here as the fifth issue of a recently reborn project significantly called Eurasiatica, was first imagined as a Venetian safīna (or better safiné), proudly invoking the truly cosmopolitan world of connections of a faded Adriatic koine extending to the Bosphorus. It now stands as the first volume of this new Eurasiatica entirely devoted to the vast territories of Iranian culture, which we aim at understanding in the widest sense possible – extending without interruption over the layered spaces of Ērān ud Anērān, to play with a sometimes abused Middle Persian expression – and of course including what is now usually called in English the ‘Persianate’, in an open chronological perspective.

This fascinating volume is available as a PDF from the above link.

Priscian: Answers to King Khosroes of Persia

Huby, Pamela, Sten Ebbesen, David Langslow, Donald Russell, Carlos Steel & Malcolm Wilson (eds.). 2016. Priscian: Answers to King Khosroes of Persia (Ancient Commentators on Aristotle 1). London. Bloomsbury Academic.

Priscian of Lydia was one of the Athenian philosophers who took refuge in 531 AD with King Khosroes I of Persia, after the Christian Emperor Justinian stopped the teaching of the pagan Neoplatonist school in Athens. This was one of the earliest examples of the sixth-century diffusion of the philosophy of the commentators to other cultures.

Tantalisingly, Priscian fully recorded in Greek the answers provided by the Athenian philosophers to the king’s questions on philosophy and science. But these answers survive only in a later Latin translation which understood both the Greek and the subject matter very poorly. Our translators have often had to reconstruct from the Latin what the Greek would have been, in order to recover the original sense.

The answers start with subjects close to the Athenians’ hearts: the human soul, on which Priscian was an expert, and sleep and visions. But their interest may have diminished when the king sought their expertise on matters of physical science: the seasons, celestial zones, medical effects of heat and cold, the tides, displacement of the four elements, the effect of regions on living things, why only reptiles are poisonous, and winds. At any rate, in 532 AD, they moved on from the palace, but still under Khosroes’ protection. This is the first translation of the record they left into English or any modern language.

This English translation is accompanied by an introduction and comprehensive commentary notes, which clarify and discuss the meaning and implications of the original philosophy. Part of the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series, the edition makes this philosophical work accessible to a modern readership and includes additional scholarly apparatus such as a bibliography, glossary of translated terms and a subject index.


Images of Daēnā and Mithra on Two Seals

Shenkar, Michael. 2015. “Images of Daēnā and Mithra on Two Seals from the Indo-Iranian Borderlands“, Studia Iranica 44(1), 99-117.

The article discusses two seals from the recently published collection of Aman Ur Rahman that depict previously unrecognized images of Iranian deities. It is suggested that the first seal, of eastern Sasanian manufacture, depicts a unique image of the Daēnā accompanied by two dogs. The second seal shows a well-known motif of a chariot of Mithra. The inscription connects it with the Pārata kings and helps to date the seal to the third-fourth centuries CE.

The making of Turan

Payne, Richard. 2016. The making of Turan: The fall and transformation of the Iranian east in late antiquity. Journal of Late Antiquity 9(1). 4–41.

Contemporaneously with the fall and transformation of the Roman West, the Iranian Empire yielded its East to Hun—and later Turk—conquerors. This article traces the development of post-Iranian regimes through the dynamic interplay of nomadic and sedentary political institutions in the fourth through early seventh centuries. The conquerors adopted Iranian institutions, integrated the Iranian aristocracy, and presented themselves as the legitimate heirs of the kings of kings in a manner reminiscent of post-Roman rulers. At the same time, however, the Huns and the Turks retained the superior military resources of nomadic imperialism, included the Ira-nian East in trans-Eurasian networks, and distinguished themselves as rul-ing ethno-classes tied to the steppe. The resulting hybrid political culture came to be known as Turan.

The article is also available from the authors’s page here.

Parthian kingship

Edward Dąbrowa, “Kingship ii. Parthian Period,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 25 July 2016).

Parthian kingship started with the Arsacids monarchy and was an original form of Oriental kingship. The royal ideology was created by combining elements of different provenance; Greek elements were systematically removed or relegated to be replaced by Iranian traditions.

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