Category Archives: Articles

Descent and Inheritance in Zoroastrian and Shiʿite Law

A Zoroastrian family in Qajar Iran, circa 1910 © The National Geographic Magazine © The National Geographic Magazine

Macuch, Maria. 2017. Descent and Inheritance in Zoroastrian and Shiʿite Law: A Preliminary Study. Der Islam 94(2).

The Twelver Shiʿite law of inheritance constitutes one of the most distinctive features of the legal system in comparison with Sunni law. Although there are major and even irreconcilable divergences between the Sunnite law of succession according to all four legal schools on the one hand and Twelver Shiʿite law on the other, no convincing explanations for this striking development within Islamic law itself, leading to two fundamentally distinct systems, have hitherto been put forward. The aim of this preliminary study is to call attention to several remarkable correspondences between the complex Iranian (Zoroastrian) law of succession, conceived to support the specific needs of aristocratic descent groups in the Sasanian period, and Twelver Shiʿite regulations, reflecting a very similar underlying concept of family ties and descent groups as a whole. The question is, whether these congruencies are purely coincidental or based on age-old social and traditional norms, which continued to be practised in the regions of the former Sasanian empire after the Islamic conquest. As Sasanian norms remained operative in customary law (now documented by Pahlavi legal documents from 8th century Tabarestān) during the formative period of Islamic law and the Sunnite regulations, being based to a large extent on pre-Islamic tribal law in Arabia, contrast sharply with the Shiʿite concept, it would be consistent to assume that certain precepts in the pre-Islamic Iranian system had an important impact on the development of the Twelver Shiʿite law of inheritance.

Ancient Iranian Terminologies of Armour and Textile

Gaspa, Salvatore, Cécile Michel & Marie-Louise Nosch (eds.). 2017. Textile Terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD. Lincoln, Nebraska: Zea Books.
This volume is the fruit of a longstanding collaboration in the field of textile terminologies. Since 2005, Cécile Michel and Marie-Louise Nosch have collaborated on numerous academic activities – joint teaching, lectures at conferences, experimental workshops, co-publishing and co-editing. The second conference on textile terminology was held in June 2014 at the University of Copenhagen. Around 50 experts from the fields of Ancient History, Indo-European Studies, Semitic Philology, Assyriology, Classical Archaeology, and Terminology from twelve different countries came together at the Centre for Textile Research, to discuss textile terminology, semantic fields of clothing and technology, loan words, and developments of textile terms in Antiquity.
Three contributions in this volume are related to Iranian Studies, all available for free to read, download and share:

Trilingual Greek-Aramaic-Middle Persian Pharmaceutical Lexical List

Image from an 18th c. Syriac manuscript from Alqosh. Thomas touching the wounds of Jesus, with Simon Peter looking on. DFM 13, f. 60r. © hmmlorientalia

Müller-Kessler, Christa. 2017. A Trilingual Pharmaceutical Lexical List: Greek – Aramaic – Middle Persian. Le Muséon 130(1–2). 31–69.

This trilingual plant list in Greek, Aramaic, and Middle Persian (Pahlavi) is a late copy in the Aramaic square script from the Cairo Genizah of the ninth or tenth centuries with randomly applied Palestinian vocalisation (T-S K14.22). It is the second example of a trilingual lexical list, containing plant names after Barhebraeus’ plant list in the Menārath Kudhshē. The origin of the Vorlage speaks for Jundishapur as its place of completion, and Syriac used for the Aramaic glosses, since this fragment shows a number of Syriac calques, especially particles, which came in through the translation from one Aramaic dialect into another. This unique text source demonstrates again how closely interlinked Greek, Aramaic, and Middle Iranian were in Late Antiquity, despite the loss of most of the text material from this famous academy of medical studies. What this list makes also so valuable is the application of the grades of the plants’ effect that go back to Galen, as can be found in the remnant Syriac manuscript Mingana Syr. 661.
Christa Müller-Kessler is an scholar of Syriac and Aramaic Studies at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.

The Dynasty of Šahrwarāz in Egypt and Syria in the early 7th century

Sárközy, Miklós. 2017. “Šahrwarāz dinasztiája Szíriában és Egyiptomban a 7. század elején“, Világtörténet, 7. (39.) évfolyam, 2017. 2. 235-248.

The present paper discusses the foundation of the Syrian–Egyptian kingdom of Šahrwarāz. A well-known military leader of the Sasanian Empire who played a key-role in the Sasanian–Eastern Roman wars in the early decades of the 7th century AD, Šahrwarāz successfully conquered Syria and Egypt by 619 and became the military governor of these provinces. Being of obscure origin of the Northern Caucasus, Šahrwarāz started as a staunch supporter of Khusraw II but gradually distanced from his patron after some military failures and due to his own policy which soon resulted in a semi-independent Syrian-Egyptian kingdom ruled by Šahrwarāz by 626. His secret dealings with Eastern Roman forces in Syria soon led to his rising popularity in the eyes of emperor Heraclius who promised him the throne of Sasanian Iran. Eventually Šahrwarāz succeeded in usurping the Sasanian realm for a short period, therefore the vast resources at his disposal might have contributed to the spectacular downfall of the Sasanians.

A gold four-horse model chariot from the Oxus Treasure in the British Museum

Mongiatti, Anudu, Neegel Meeks & John Simpson. 2017. A gold four-horse model chariot from the Oxus Treasure in the British Museum, Bulletin of the National Museum of Tajikistan 2, 105-123.

The Oxus Treasure is one of the greatest collections of Achaemenid-period precious metal to survive. It was bequeathed to the British Museum by A. W. Franks in 1897 and been on almost continuous display at the Briti sh Museum since 1900/1901. It was catalogued by Dalton and the first edition published in 1905, and the collection contjnues to attract scholarly attention as well as public interest. In recent years a number of scientific analyses have been carried out on areas of this collection in order to better understand the composition and details of working on particular classes or individual objects. This paper outlines the results of the first scientific study of the outstanding gold model of a four-horse chariot, complete with its driver and passenger. Microscopic examination, X-radiography and scanning electron microscopy combined with energy dispersive X-ray analysis have revealed undocumented evidence for the skill of the Persian goldsmith in creating an intricate artefact produced using a variety of techniques, such as repoussé and chasing on gold sheets, granulation, wire twisting and hammering.

Lions in Ancient Iran

Curtis, John. 2017. “Lions in Ancient Iran“, in Parviz Tanavoli and the Lions of Iran, 158-224, Tehran: Nazar Art Publication.

This is a survey of lions in Iranian art from c. 3000 BC to the end of the Sasanian period (7th century AD). It appeared in a catalogue to accompany the exhibition ‘Parviz Tanavoli and the Lions of Iran’ that opened at Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran on 2nd July 2017.

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.