Iranian cosmopolitanism: World religions at the Sasanian court

Payne, Richard. 2016. Iranian cosmopolitanism: World religions at the Sasanian court, in Myles Lavan, Richard Payne & John Weisweiler (eds.), Cosmopolitanism and empire: Universal rulers, local elites, and cultural integration in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean, 209–230. Oxford University Press.

Payne examines how the Iranian empire developed cosmopolitan techniques through which to overcome the religious contradictions of its elite. The imperial elite of Iranians cohered through Zoroastrian institutions that provided its shared self-conception and normative framework, while the local elites they subordinated frequently practiced other religions- notably Christianity whose cosmologies were incompatible with the ruling religion. Imagining their mythical-historical lineage as the source of all human knowledge, however, the Iranians considered themselves capable of integrating-by means of subordination – even potentially contradictory cultures. The late Sasanian court adopted the cosmopolitan practice of the dialectical disputation from the Roman empire to manage difference, showcasing the banal commonalities of all religious and philosophical traditions without jeopardizing the superior position of Zoroastrianism. In acting as the authorities in intra-Christian disputations, the Iranians even became the arbiters for competing Christian claims to doctrinal truths. Iranian cosmopolitanism thus reveals the subordinating mode in action, as Christian sub-elites acknowledged their superiors as the source of their cultural legitimacy and authority as well as of imperial perquisites
and privileges.