Tag Archives: Sasanian

ReOrienting the Sasanians

Rezakhani, Khodadad. 2017. ReOrienting the Sasanians: East Iran in late antiquity (Edinburgh Studies in Ancient Persia). Edinburgh University Press.

Central Asia is commonly imagined as the marginal land on the periphery of Chinese and Middle Eastern civilisations. At best, it is understood as a series of disconnected areas that served as stop-overs along the Silk Road.

However, in the mediaeval period, this region rose to prominence and importance as one of the centres of Persian-Islamic culture, from the Seljuks to the Mongols and Timur.

Khodadad Rezakhani tells the back story of this rise to prominence, the story of the famed Kushans and mysterious ‘Asian Huns’, and their role in shaping both the Sasanian Empire and the rest of the Middle East.

Source: ReOrienting the Sasanians – Edinburgh University Press

From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes

van Bladel, Kevin. 2017. From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes. Leiden: Brill.
This historical study argues that the Mandaean religion originated under Sasanid rule in the fifth century, not earlier as has been widely accepted. It analyzes primary sources in Syriac, Mandaic, and Arabic to clarify the early history of Mandaeism. This religion, along with several other, shorter-lived new faiths, such as Kentaeism, began in a period of state-sponsored persecution of Babylonian paganism. The Mandaeans would survive to become one of many groups known as Ṣābians by their Muslim neighbors. Rather than seeking to elucidate the history of Mandaeism in terms of other religions to which it can be related, this study approaches the religion through the history of its social contexts.
Table of Contents
Preface
Introduction
1. Early Contacts between Arab Muslims and Aramaean Mandaeans and the Date of Zazay
2. Theodore bar Konay’s Account of Mandaean Origins (circa 792)
3. Three Sixth-Century References to Mandaeans by Name
4. On the Kentaeans and Their Relationship with the Mandaeans
5. The Account of al-Ḥasan ibn Bahlūl (Bar Bahlul), second half of tenth century
6. Identifying Abū ʿAlī
7. The Marshes of the Ṣābians
8. Other Reports on the Mandaeans after Abū ʿAlī
9. Back to the Question of Origins
10. Pre-Mandaean Nāṣoraeans
11. The Religious Environment of Sasanian Iraq
12. Mandaeism as a Changing Tradition
Appendix 1. Bar Konay on the Kentaeans, Dostaeans, and Nerigaeans, in English
Appendix 2. Ibn Waḥšīya on Aramaic Dialects
Bibliography
Kevin T. van Bladel (Ph.D. 2004, Yale University), is Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at The Ohio State University.

Syriac Polemics Against Zoroastrianism and Christian Controversies under the Sasanians

es-xiii-couv4eRuani, Flavia (ed.). 2016. Les controverses religieuses en syriaque. (Études Syriaques 13). Paris: Geuthner.
The latest volume of the series Études Syriaques, edited by Flavia Ruani is dedicated to the subject of the religious controversies in the “Syriac world”. The volume contents thirteen articles, originally presented at the 13th. symposium of the Society of Syria Studies at the l’Institut protestant de théologie in Paris in 2015. The articles (Table of Contents PDF) aim to give an overview of the debates and relations that the Syriac Christians have maintained over the centuries with other communities, among others Pagans, Jews, Manicheans, Muslims, Zoroastrians, etc. in the areas where they evolved, in order to trace the interreligious relations in the Syriac world. Two contribution from this volume address some aspects of a particular controversy and polemics between Christians in Sasanian Milieu as well as the Syriac polemics against Zoroastrianism in their Sasanian religious, cultural and political contexts:
  • Florence Jullien: “Les controverses entre chrétiens en milieu sassanide: un enjeu identitaire” [Polemics between Christians in Sasanian Milieu: an Identity Issue]
In Sasanian milieu, controversies among Christians have a strong identity dimension which explains the important involvement of Syriac communities in theological debates as a means of positioning strategy. The most significant disputes were organized in public at the court of Seleucia- Ctesiphon, in the sixth and early seventh centuries. These controversies were considered as a royal entertainment; but for the Christians, they involved a very real political issue, especially for the East-Syrians and the Syro-Orthodox, with regard to the consequences for the existence of their Churches. Heresiographical representation, using humour and derision, is part of the polemical discourse so as to deconstruct the image of the opponent. In the Syriac world, controversy was above all an affair of the cultural elite, trained in the ecclesiastical milieu to deal with confrontation—and monasticism played an important role in many respects.
  • Richard Payne: “Les polémiques syro-orientales contre le zoroastrisme et leurs contextes politiques” [East Syriac Polemics Against Zoroastrianism and Their Political Contexts]
The paper provides an account of the evolution of East Syrian polemics against Zoroastrianism from their fitful origins in late fourth- and early fifth-century hagiography to the more complex works of the late Sasanian era. It argues that the chronological correspondence between the beginning of polemical production and the institutionalization of the Church of the East in the Iranian Empire is not accidental. The shift away from Judaism to Zoroastrianism as the primary polemical concern of ecclesiastical leaders took place just as they were becoming dependent on a Zoroastrian court for patronage. With the rise of the Church of the East, East Syrian secular elites and ecclesiastical leaders could participate in the institutions of a Zoroastrian Empire qua Christians, and polemical texts aimed to define relations between Christians and Zoroastrians in the overarching political context of increasing interreligious collaboration. The early East Syrian representation of Zoroastrianism as a peculiarly Iranian form of Greco- Roman polytheism gave way, by circa 500, to more nuanced accounts of Zoroastrian ritual and cosmology—notably in the Martyrdom of Pethion, Adurohrmazd, and Anahid and the History of Mar Qardagh—that outlined political space, practices, and identities that Christians and Zoroastrians could share. At the same time, the catholicos-patriarch Mar Aba attacked Christians for adopting Zoroastrian practices necessary for the political participation of would-be aristocrats and, in so doing, distinguished ascetic ecclesiastical leaders from secular elites through their wholesale rejection of the Good Religion. Polemics emerge from this paper as instruments for the creation of the boundaries required for workable cooperation between Christians and Zoroastrians, and their development provides an index of Christian assimilation and acculturation from the fourth through early seventh centuries.
About the Editor:
Flavia Ruani (PhD) is a a scholar of Syriac Christianity and the hagiography of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. She is curently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Literary Studies at the University of Geneva.

Persian Martyr Acts under King Yazdgird I

herman-2016Herman, Geoffrey (ed.). 2016. Persian Martyr Acts under King Yazdgird I. (Persian martyr acts in Syriac: text and translation 5). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

This volume presents five vivid tales of Persian Christian martyrs from the fifth century. They provide important historical information on Christian society at this time, revealing its geographical and social divisions. Narseh is an itinerant monk from Bēth Raziqāyē who damages a fire temple that had formerly been a church. Tātāq is a high ranking courtier from Bēth Ḥadyab who abandons his position to become an ascetic. Mār ‘Abdā is a compliant bishop from Ḥuzestān drawn into conflict with the king by his confrontational and defiant priest, Hasho. Set in the Sasanian Empire in the reign of Yazdgird I (399-420 CE), these texts thematize the struggle between the martyrs’ identity as Persian subjects loyal to the king, often in the face of hostility by the Zoroastrian priesthood, and their devotion to their Christian faith.

About the Author:

Geoffrey Herman is a researcher at the Mandel Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in the Humanities and Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published extensively on the history of religious life in the Sasanian era.

The Legacy of the Ancient Kings

The Legacy of the Ancient Kings. Ctesiphon and the Persian Sources of Islamic Art

15.11.2016 to 02.04.2017
Pergamonmuseum

How did Islamic cultures and Islamic art arise? Where do their roots lie? Like the Islamic religion itself, Islamic art also built on its predecessors in the Middle East. Focussing on Ctesiphon, a vast landscape of ruins south of Baghdad, this exhibition is devoted to the Persian legacy inherited by Islam.

Dominated by the monumental vaulted hall of the royal palace, the Taq-e Kesra, the city today is an emblem of the grandeur and downfall of the mighty Sassanid empire, a great power in ancient Persia about which little is known today. For centuries it competed with Rome and Byzantium. In the 7th century CE, however, the conquests by the Arab armies fundamentally changed the political balance of power. Culturally, too, a transformation took place – “Islamic art” was born. But had everything really changed?

Continue reading The Legacy of the Ancient Kings

Symposium: The Limits of Empire in Afghanistan

The Oriental Institute and the Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago, announce a conference to be held October 5-7, 2016.

The Limits of Empire in Afghanistan: Rule and Resistance in the Hindu Kush, circa 600 BCE-650 CE

In the first millennia BCE and CE, successive empires sought to incorporate the archipelago of territories in and around the Hindu Kush and to install their structures of rule. The Achaemenians, Seleucids, and Sasanians endeavored — and sometimes pretended — to rule regions of Afghanistan from their courts located in the Near Eastern core, upward of 2500 km distant. The Kushans, for their part, made Bactra and Begram the bases of an empire that extended far beyond into India and Central Asia. Apart from distance, these empires confronted a political geography in the Hindu Kush that was — like the Caucasus — uniquely unfavorable to imperial governance, as well as populations with disparate cultures, social structures, and political traditions. Afghanistan thus provides a test of the capacities of ancient imperial regimes to overcome distance, verticality, and difference to integrate territories into their trans-regional and trans-cultural orders. As even a passing familiarity with the history of the region suggests, efforts at empire failed at least as often as they succeeded in a geographical and cultural landscape highly conducive what James Scott calls the “art[s] of not being governed.” The conference aims to focus on the limits of empire in Afghanistan, as a means of better comprehending the workings of the regimes that laid claim to its territories and the responses of its populations.

The conference convenes archaeologists, art historians, historians, philologists, and numismatists to debate current research in the context of ongoing theoretical debates concerning the formation, endurance, and limits of imperial systems within a highland political ecology.

For a detailed programme and abstracts, see Symposium: The Limits of Empire in Afghanistan | The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Cosmopolitanism and empire

Lavan, Myles, Richard Payne & John Weisweiler (eds.). 2016. Cosmopolitanism and empire: Universal rulers, local elites, and cultural integration in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean. Oxford University Press.

The empires of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean invented cosmopolitan politics. In the first millennia BCE and CE, a succession of territorially extensive states incorporated populations of unprecedented cultural diversity. Cosmopolitanism and Empire traces the development of cultural techniques through which empires managed difference in order to establish effective, enduring regimes of domination. It focuses on the relations of imperial elites with culturally distinct local elites, offering a comparative perspective on the varying depth and modalities of elite integration in five empires of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. If cosmopolitanism has normally been studied apart from the imperial context, the essays gathered here show that theories and practices that enabled ruling elites to transcend cultural particularities were indispensable for the establishment and maintenance of trans-regional and trans-cultural political orders. As the first cosmopolitans, imperial elites regarded ruling over culturally disparate populations as their vocation, and their capacity to establish normative frameworks across cultural boundaries played a vital role in the consolidation of their power. Together with an introductory chapter which offers a theory and history of the relationship between empire and cosmopolitanism, the volume includes case studies of Assyrian, Seleukid, Ptolemaic, Roman, and Iranian empires that analyze encounters between ruling classes and their subordinates in the domains of language and literature, religion, and the social imaginary. The contributions combine to illustrate the dilemmas of difference that imperial elites confronted as well as their strategies for resolving the cultural contradictions that their regimes precipitated.

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.

 

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 academia.edu page here.