Category Archives: Articles

Iranian Mithra vs. Roman Mithras

Mithra, detail from the investiture-relief of Šābuhr II, Tāq-e Bostān, Kermānšāh, Iran

Lahe, Jaan. 2017. Zu möglichen Verbindungen zwischen römischem Mithras und iranischem Mithra. Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft 25(2). 233–262.

From the end of 19th century, when the Roman Mithras cult was first studied, a discussion about the cult’s links to the Mithra cult in the Iranian religion has been on-going. Positions regarding the links between the Mithras cult and the Mithra cult can be divided into three groups: 1 the Roman Mithras cult is identical to the Iranian Mithra cult and thus the Mithras cult is an import from the Iranian cultural space; 2 the Roman Mithras cult is new and developed during the time of the Roman Empire and also integrated certain elements of Iranian religious heritage; 3 radical standpoint that views the Mithras cult as a cult that developed during the era of the new empire, but denies any associations between the Mithras cult and the Iranian Mithra cult, except the name of the god. The author of this article is convinced that both the first and third positions have weak justifications. The author thus demonstrates, by relying on sources from Iranian and Roman culture, that the personality of Mithras in the Roman cult is very strongly associated with the personality of Mithra in Iranian religious heritage, which allows one to draw the conclusion that the Iranian Mithra served as the main prototype for the Roman Mithras.

Dadabhai Naoroji and Orientalist scholarship on Zoroastrianism

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917)
NPG x128698, Dadabhai Naoroji

Patel, Dinyar. 2017. Our own religion in ancient Persia: Dadabhai Naoroji and Orientalist scholarship on Zoroastrianism. Global Intellectual History. 1–18.

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825–1917) is today best known as an economic thinker and an early leader in the Indian nationalist movement. Between the 1860s and 1890s, however, he was also recognized as a scholar of Zoroastrianism, sharing his ideas on Parsi religious reform and ‘authentic’ Zoroastrian belief and practice. Aside from corresponding with some of the leading European Orientalists of his day, Naoroji authored papers on Parsi religious belief and religious reform that were widely distributed and cited in Europe and North America. Over time, he began to function as an interlocutor between European Orientalists and the Parsis in India, disseminating European scholarship amongst his co-religionists while also facilitating scholars’ patronage of the wealthy Parsi community. Naoroji’s correspondence with the Oxford philologist Lawrence H. Mills, in particular, demonstrates this dynamic at work. These activities point to the oftentimes complex and collaborative relationships that existed between non-Europeans and European Orientalists, illustrating the degree to which European scholars could be dependent on the intellectual, financial, and logistical assistance of their objects of study.
Dinyar Patel is a scholar of Modern Indian history and the Indian nationalist movement at the Department of History, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA.

Displaying Royal Tribute Animals in Ancient Persia and the Near East

Persepolis: The Audience Hall of Darius and Xerxes

Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd. 2017. Keeping and Displaying Royal Tribute Animals in Ancient Persia and the Near East. In Thorsten Fögen & Edmund Thomas (eds.), Interactions between Animals and Humans in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

The Achaemenid dynasty (559-331 B.C.) ruled the biggest empire the ancient world had ever seen. Commanding lands from India to Ethiopia and Libya to Afghanistan, the Great Kings of Persia demanded loyalty and tribute from the conquered peoples who made up their vast realm, and the walls of their ceremonial capital at Persepolis in the heart of Iran abound with images of foreign delegations carrying tribute to their monarch. Amidst the gold, silver, textiles and precious stones brought to the ruler is a rich abundance of exotic wildlife: Asiatic lions, Bactrian camels, zebu, wild asses, and Arabian horses. Textual evidence alerts us to the presence of parrots, peacocks, and wild jungle fowl at the Iranian court as well as the probability that the Achaemenid Persians were familiar with rhinoceroses, tigers, and even okapi. The exotic fauna were living offerings from the four quarters of the empire, breathing symbols of the Great King’s power and his control of his vast dominions. By examining a variety of Near Eastern and Greek sources, this paper explores the rich variety of exotic species imported into Persia to satisfy the monarch’s pleasure and his public image; it explores evidence for royal menageries in the Near East, as well as offering some cross-temporal comparisons with the Chinese Ming Dynasty, in order to question how the ancient Iranians interacted with exotic animals and to question how they were displayed and treated by their human captors and owners.
Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones is a professor in Ancient History at the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University.

A Review of Christian Arab sources for the Sasanian Period

Amiri Bavandpour, Sajad. 2017. “A Review of Christian Arab sources for the Sasanian Period“, e-Sasanika 19.

This article in Persian reviews all the important Christian Arab sources for the study of Sasanian history. The author studies each of the Syriac and Arabic texts produced by the Christians from the third to the thirteenth century CE which provide important information on the Sasanian Empire.

Apostasy and Repentance in Early Medieval Zoroastrianism

8th cent. Tang dynasty Chinese clay figurine of a Sogdian © Museum of Oriental Art (Turin)

Kiel, Yishai & Prods Oktor Skjærvø. 2017. Apostasy and Repentance in Early Medieval Zoroastrianism. Journal of the American Oriental Society 137(2). 221–243.

The Middle Persian (Pahlavi) literature from the early Islamic centuries frequently deals with practical theological issues faced by the Zoroastrian communities under foreign domination. Here, we present a number of questions regarding a Zoroas- trian’s conversion to Islam and his subsequent repentance and desire to return to Zoroastrianism and answers given by ninth- and tenth-century Zoroastrian priestly authorities. It is shown how the priests cite ancient traditions found in the Pahlavi versions of Avestan texts to justify their answers, and then apply them to the contemporary social reality.

The wolf in ancient Iran

Azarnouche, Samra. 2016. “Le loup dans l’Iran ancien. Entre mythe, réalité et exégèse zoroastrienne”Anthropology of the Middle East 11(1): 1–19.

How did ancient Iranian religion represent the wolf? Between the mythological data, the realities of the agro-pastoral world, and the symbolism of exegetical tradition, Late Antique Zoroastrianism considered the wolf as primarily a species to kill. In reality, much more than the Canis lupus hides behind the word ‘wolf ’ (Middle Persian gurg), including most nocturnal predators but also devastating illnesses, a monster whom the Savior will destroy at the end of time, and finally heretics who renounce or deform the Good Religion. However, this negative image is nuanced by the recognition of the strong ties between the she-wolf and wolf cubs, both in texts where the protective qualities of this large predator are evoked, and in iconography, namely magic seals, where one finds the image of the nourishing she-wolf, perhaps connected to perinatal magic.

Territorializing Iran in Late Antiquity

Payne, Richard. 2017. “Territorializing Iran in Late Antiquity“, In Ando, Cifford and Seth Richardson (eds.), Ancient States and Infrastructural: Europe, Asia, and America, 179-217, Power Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

In late antiquity,the architects of the Iranian Empire superimposed a mythical gepgraphy on the Near East that gave away, over the four centuries of its existence, to partially terriotorialized, infrastructural powers that far surpassed those of their ancient Near Eastern predecessors. More frequently known as the Sasanian Empire after its ruling dynasty, replacing the adjective “Sasanian” with “Iranian” foregrounds the centrality of a mythical conception of time and space to its organization of the empire, and also gives preference to the self-designation of its elites over scholary convention.

Cross-Cultural Communication in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, and Western and South Asia

Canepa, Matthew P. 2017. “Cross-Cultural Communication in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, and Western and South Asia,” In Richard J. A. Talbert & Fred S. Naiden (eds.), Mercury’s Wings: Exploring Modes of Communication in the Ancient World, 249-272, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This chapter explores the dynamics of cross-cultural communication, primarily among the kingdoms and empires of Western and South Asia after Alexander the Great. This period witnessed the rise, conflict, coexistence and fall of a succession of cross-continental empires, including that of the Seleucids (312-64 BCE) and Mauryas (321-185), as well as powerful regional powers with larger ambitions such as the Ptolemies of Egypt, the Diodotids and Euthymids of Bactria (ca. 25o–ca. 145), Sungas (185-73), and a variety of Indo-Greek kingdoms (ca. 185 BCE–ca. 10 CE). Several new Iranian-speaking elites, including the Parni, Saka, and Yuezhi, descended from the Central Asian steppes and eventually formed the Arsacid, Indo-Scythian, and Kusana empires, respectively. These Macedonian, Indian, and Iranian powers engendered an intensive period of diplomatic interaction and cultural exchange. While this chapter focuses first on peer-polity diplomatic communication, it also explores the relationship between direct, intentional communicative acts and the wider contexts of cross-cultural interaction in which they took place and to which they often contributed.

The Monarchy of Teispid-Achaemenid Great Kings

Rollinger, Robert. 2017. “Monarchische Herrschaft am Beispiel des teispidisch-achaimenidischen Großreichs“, In S. Rebenich (Hg.), Monarchische Herrschaft im Altertum (Schriften des Historischen Kollegs 94), 189-215, Berlin:  De Gruyter.

Review of Semiramis’ Legacy

Safaee, Yazdan. 2017. “[review of] Semiramis’ Legacy: The History of Persia According to Diodorus of Sicily“, Iranian Studies 50:5, 752-754.

This is the most recent work on Diodorus of Sicily, a famous ancient historian who dealt with the history of ancient Iran, translated by an eminent scholar who has previously also translated Ctesias’ Persica. The book under review offers an English translation of the text together with a valuable introduction to Diodorus, his method, his views, and the structure of the Bibliotheca historica, and is also followed by a rich investigation of the extant manuscripts and of some editions of Diodorus’ Bibliotheca.