Empire, authority, and autonomy

Dusinberre, Elspeth. 2013. Empire, authority, and autonomy in Achaemenid Anatolia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BCE) was a vast and complex sociopolitical structure that encompassed much of modern-day Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and included two dozen distinct peoples who spoke different languages, worshipped different deities, lived in different environments and had widely differing social customs. This book offers a radical new approach to understanding the Achaemenid Persian Empire and imperialism more generally. Through a wide array of textual, visual and archaeological material, Elspeth R. M. Dusinberre shows how the rulers of the empire constructed a system flexible enough to provide for the needs of different peoples within the confines of a single imperial authority and highlights the variability in response. This book examines the dynamic tensions between authority and autonomy across the empire, providing a valuable new way of considering imperial structure and development.

La terminologie normative

Azarnouche, Samra. 2013. La terminologie normative de l’enseignement zoroastrien. Studia Iranica 42(2). 163–194.

The abstract and the article are available here.

Since orality holds a prominent role in the religious culture of Zoroastrianism, we are not surprised to find direct allusions to this means of transmission within the textual corpus itself (liturgical and theological texts). Unfortunately not much is known about the teaching methods that teachers employed to train their disciples in priesthood. The sole exception lies in a few recurring expressions — around ten — that the Zoroastrian literature in Middle Persian/Pahlavi has handed down to us. Among this normative terminology that primarily relates to the mnemonic learning of sacred texts (hymns and prayers of the Avesta), four technical terms will be discussed here: ōšmurišn, dranjišn, warm kardan and xwastan. As this semantic analysis will show, these terms describe various stages of recalling the chapters of a prayer, recitation and memorization practices, and finally the achievement of a uniform recitation.

Procopius’ Persian tales

Procopius’ Persian Tales: entertainment, history or morality fable?

Geoffrey Greatrex (Ottawa) will consider the opening chapters of the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea’s Persian Wars, in which he introduces his theme, the wars fought between the Romans and Sasanian Persians in the sixth century A.D. He recounts a series of intriguing stories about the Persian court and Persian history in the fifth and early sixth centuries. The puzzle remains as to how seriously these tales should be taken…

Date & time: 25 April 2014; 17:30
Location: AIIT, Cambridge

Richard N. Frye

Richard Neslon Frye, the Aga Khan Professor of Iranian Studies Emeritus, who passed away on 27 March 2014, has unfortunately become the subject of a political row in Iran. It is good to remember him for what he was, a scholar with a unique and refreshing style and a sharp eye for methodology:

There is always the danger in Avestan studies of seizing upon a device or a theory as the key to the understanding of that enigmatic book to the exclusion of all contrary evidence (which is declared corrupt and untrustworthy), proclaiming that the true meaning of the Avesta lies in this key. Johannes Hertel is the shining example of a competent Indo-Iranian philologist who proposed his Feuerlehre as the key to the understanding of both the Avesta and the Vedas. His ubiquitous fire was not taken seriously by others but his linguistic skill in support of fire was impressive. Just as Th. Noeldeke said of Pahlavi, “In Pehlewi stumpfen wir alle”, so the Avesta may drive all who study it slightly mad.

Frye, Richard Nelson. 1960. Georges Dumézil and the translators of the Avesta. Numen 7(2). 161–171.

See here for an obituary at the HARVARDgazette and here for one by Burzine Waghmar.

The Sasanian Empire as a garden

The Sasanian empire as a garden: The walls and rivers of the Sasanian Empire

This lecture by Touraj Daryaee (UCI) looks at the physical and ideological boundaries which the Sasanians created for the idea of Iranshahr. In this late antique construct, inside the empire, protected by walls and rivers was imagined as a garden where order and beauty was in existence. Outside of the walls and the rivers it was seen as place of wilderness and disorder. This binary division was at the centre of Sasanian ideology which projected peace and power inside, while danger for its people lay outside of its boundaries.

Speaker: Touraj Daryaee (UCI)
Where: AIIT, Cambridge
When: 23 May 2014, 17:30.

Go east, young man!

Go east, young man! A personal journey

In this informal talk the Chair of the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Nicholas Sims-Williams, will describe his research on the Sogdian language and literature, in particular on the Christian texts from the Turfan oasis in Western China, and will try to answer a question which he is often asked: What led you to study such an obscure subject?

Speaker: Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS)
Where: AIIT, Cambridge
When: 16 May 2014

Markets for land

Rezakhani, Khodadad & Michael Morony. 2014. Markets for land, labour and capital in late antique Iraq, AD 200-700. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 57. 231–261.

Read the article here. Abstract:

Lack of direct evidence on the functioning of factor markets in Sasanian/Late Antique Iraq makes it difficult to present a clear picture of the production side of economy during this period. However, relying on the Talmudic evidence, as well as what is men-tioned in the Mādayān ī Hezār Dādestān (MHD), this article aims to provide an idea of factor markets during the Sasanian period, as well as demonstrating the areas where further evidence and research could render better results and allow us to understand the economy of this region in more depth.

Manuscripts of the Wīdēwdād

Andrés-Toledo, Miguel Ángel & Alberto Cantera. 2012. Manuscripts of the Wīdēwdād. In Alberto Cantera (ed.), The transmission of the Avesta (Iranica 20), 207–243. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Read the article here.

A few of our favourite things

The The International Dunhuang Project‘s (IDP) series of  A Few of Our Favourite Things is now complete. The 20 contributions cover a wide range of manuscripts found at Dunhuang, featuring among others objects discussed by Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst, Nicholas Sims-Williams and Prods Oktor Skjærvø.

Reading history anew

Dr Dieter Weber to speak on Reading history anew: Pahlavi documents from early-Islamic times at the School of History, University of St Andrews on Thursday 3 April 2014 at 5.15pm.

For Dr Weber’s list of publications, see here.

A predominantly bibliographic blog for Iranian Studies