Iranian Studies (vol. 53, issue 3–4)

Vol. 53 (2020), issues 3–4, of Iranian Studies dedicated to the memory of Ehsan Yarshater and entitled Endangered Iranian Languages: Language Contact and Language Islands in Iran has now been published with Saloumeh Gholami as guest editor.

The Table of Content is too extensive to be posted here. Please consult the journal website by following the link above.

The Limits of Empire in Ancient Afghanistan

Payne, Richard E. & Rhyne King (eds.). 2020. The Limits of Empire in Ancient Afghanistan: Rule and Resistance in the Hindu Kush, circa 600 BCE–600 CE (Classica et Orientalia 24). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

The territory of modern Afghanistan provided a center – and sometimes the center – for a succession of empires, from the Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BCE until the Sasanian Iranians in the 7th century CE. And yet these regions most frequently appear as comprising a “crossroads” in accounts of their premodern history.

This volume explores how successive imperial regimes established enduring forms of domination spanning the highlands of the Hindu Kush, essentially ungovernable territories in the absence of the technologies of the modern state. The modern term “Afghanistan” likely has its origins in an ancient word for highland regions and peoples resistant to outside rule. The volume’s contributors approach the challenge of explaining the success of imperial projects within a highland political ecology from a variety of disciplinary perspectives with their respective evidentiary corpora, notably history, anthropology, archaeology, numismatics, and philology. The Limits of Empire models the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration necessary to produce persuasive accounts of an ancient Afghanistan whose surviving material and literary evidence remains comparatively limited. It shows how Afghan-centered imperial projects co-opted local elites, communicated in the idioms of local cultures, and created administrative archipelagoes rather than continuous territories. Above all, the volume makes plain the interest and utility in placing Afghanistan at the center, rather than the periphery, of the history of ancient empires in West Asia.

Table of contents:

  • Richard E. Payne and Rhyne King: The Limits of Empire in Ancient Afghanistan: An Introduction
  • Thomas Barfield: Afghan Political Ecologies: Templates Past and Present from the Eastern Iranian World
  • Pierre Briant: Bactria in the Achaemenid Empire: The Achaemenid Central State in Bactria (again)
  • Matthew P. Canepa: ‘Afghanistan’ as a Cradle and Pivot of Empires: Reshaping Eastern Iran’s Topography of Power under the Achaemenids, Seleucids, Greco-Bactrians and Kushans
  • Laurianne Martinez-Sève: Greek Power in Hellenistic Bactria: Control and Resistance
  • Robert Bracey: The Limits of Kushan Power and the Limits of Evidence
  • Christopher I. Beckwith: Vihāras in the Kushan Empire:
  • Tasha Vorderstrasse: The Limits of the Kushan Empire in the Tarim Basin
  • Nikolaus Schindel: When Did the Kushano-Sasanian Coinage Commence?
  • Nicholas Sims-Williams: The Bactrian Documents as a Historical Source
  • Rhyne King: Local Powerbrokers in Iranian and Post-Iranian Bactria (ca. 300–800 CE): Aristocrats, Dependents, and Imperial Regimes

Iranian Cosmographical World

Panaino, Antonio. 2020. A Walk through the Iranian Heavens: For a History of an Unpredictable Dialogue between Nonspherical and Spherical Models (Ancient Iran Series 9). Irvine, CA: Jordan Center for Persian Studies, University of California, Irvine.

This book by Antonio Panaino discusses the development of the Iranian cosmographical world and its interaction with the Greek, Mesopotamian and Indic civilizations. By undertaking such a study, the author places the Iranian intellectual tradition in perspective vis-à-vis other ancient civilizations and demonstrates the depth and importance of the Mazdean tradition, which was able to absorb and systematize foreign knowledge. Panaino shows the presence of both Aristotelian and Neo-Platonist traditions in the Iranian intellectual scene, though somewhat changed and acculturated to the Mazdean ideas and world-view. Hence, the book is a lively and interesting study of the juxtapositioning of various scientific and philosophical ideas at play in the Mediterranean, Iranian and Indic worlds.

The Borazjan Monuments

Zehbari, Zohreh. 2020. The Borazjan monuments: A synthesis of past and recent works. Arta 2020.002.

Since the 1970s, three Achaemenid monuments have been excavated at the sites of Charkhab, Bardak-e Siah and Sang-e Siah in the area of Borazjan, the capital city of Dashtestan, the largest county of Bushehr province in southern Iran. In this paper, the architecture of these monumental structures and other finds at the three sites are examined, with particular attention to chronology

The Bundahišn: a new translation

Agostini, Domenico & Samuel Thrope (eds.). 2020. The Bundahišn: The Zoroastrian Book of Creation. A new translation. New York: Oxford University Press.

The Bundahisn, meaning primal or foundational creation, is the central Zoroastrian account of creation, cosmology, and eschatology. Compiled sometime in the ninth century CE, it is one of the most important surviving testaments to Zoroastrian literature in the Middle Persian language and to pre-Islamic Iranian culture. Despite having been composed some two millennia after the Prophet Zoroaster’s revelation, it is nonetheless a concise compendium of ancient Zoroastrian knowledge that draws on and reshapes earlier layers of the tradition.

Well known in the field of Iranian Studies as an essential primary source for scholars of ancient Iran’s history, religions, literatures, and languages, the Bundahisn is also a great work of literature in and of itself, ranking alongside the creation myths of other ancient traditions. The book’s thirty-six diverse chapters, which touch on astronomy, eschatology, zoology, medicine, and more, are composed in a variety of styles, registers, and genres, from spare lists and concise commentaries to philosophical discourses and poetic eschatological visions. This new translation, the first in English in nearly a century, highlights the aesthetic quality, literary style, and complexity and raises the profile of pre-Islamic Zoroastrian literature.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Shaul Shaked
1: On Material Creation
2: On the Creation of the Lights
3: On Why Creation Chose to Fight
4: On How the Adversary Attacked Creation
5: On the Opposition of the Two Spirits
6: On the Stages of the Battle of the Material Creation against the Evil Spirit
7: On the Likenesses of the Creatures
8: On the Nature of the Lands
9: On the Nature of the Mountains
10: On the Nature of the Seas
11: On the Nature of the Rivers
12: On the Nature of Lakes
13: On the Nature of the Five Forms of Animals
14: On the Nature of Mankind
15: On the Nature of the Birth of All Species
16: On the Nature of Plants
17: On the Mastery of Men, Animals, and Everything
18: On the Nature of Fire
19: On Sleep
20: On Songs
21: On the Nature of Wind, Clouds and Rain
22: On Vermin
23: On the Nature of the Wolf Species
24: On Various Things: How they were Created, and how their Adversaries Came
25: On the Religious Year
26: On the Great Deeds of the Spiritual Deities
27: On Ahriman and the Demons’ Evil Deeds
28: On the Human Body as the Measure of the Material World
29: On the Mastery of the Continents
30: On the Cinwad Bridge and the Souls of the Departed
31: On the Celebrated Lands of Iran, and the Kayanid House
32: On the Glorious Kayanid Palaces, which they call Wonders and Marvels
33: On the Calamities that have Befallen Iran, Millenium by Millenium
34: On Resurrection and the Final Body
35: On the Family and Lineage of Kayanids and on the Lineage of Porusasp
36: On the Chronology of the Arabs of Twelve Thousand Years
Afterword by Guy G. Stroumsa

Turkic-Iranian relationships: Uighur newcomers of the Qočo kingdom

Piras, Andrea. 2019. Khan uiguri del regno di Qočo (850-1250) nelle fonti di Turfan. In Giorgio Comai, Carlo Frappi, Giovanni Pedrini & Elena Rova (eds.), Armenia, Caucaso e Asia Centrale (Eurasiatica 12), 145–161. Venice: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari.

This article firstly deals with a general survey of the Turkic-Iranian relationships, from the VI century onwards, by the point of view of epigraphic evidences and sparse linguistic references within the Indo-Iranian borderlands and Central Asia. Secondly, it focuses on Turkic words (onomastic, epithets, titles) recorded in Middle Persian texts of the Manichean religion, in order to highlight the cultural contacts between the Uighur newcomers of the Qočo kingdom and the local population, both sharing common religious beliefs such as Manichaeism and Buddhism. Given the Manichaean faith of the Uighur élites, the Middle Persian Manichaean texts show an appreciation of the Turkic rulership, attested by the panegyrical tone of many compositions dedicated to the khans and their entourages.

The Art of Empire in Achaemenid Persia

Dusinberre Elspeth R.M., Mark B. Garrison & Wouter Henkelman (eds.). 2020. The Art of empire in Achaemenid Persia: Studies in honour of Margaret Cool Root (Achaemenid History 16). Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten & Leuven: Peeters.

This volume in honour of Margaret Cool Root gathers seventeen contributions on Achaemenid Persian art, ranging from the European re-discovery of Persepolis, via Achaemenid glyphic art, evidence of polychrome sculpture, and Achaemenid impact in the satrapies, to possible reflections of Persepolitan art in Classical Greece. The contributors are colleagues and, in a number of cases, former students of Margaret Root. As a whole, the volume reflects the wide range of Root’s interests and her impact on the field of Achaemenid studies.

Continue reading The Art of Empire in Achaemenid Persia

The Neo-Aramaic Verbal Root GŠQ ‘to Look’ and its Middle Iranian Origin

Mutzafi, Hezy. 2020. The Neo-Aramaic verbal root GŠQ ‘to Look’ and its Middle Iranian origin. Le Muséon 133 (1-2), 1-12.

The Neo-Aramaic verbal root gšq ‘to look’, known since the 19th century to occur in the Christian NENA (North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic) dialects of Urmi and Salmas in Iranian Azerbaijan, has thus far remained without an established, or at least plausible, etymology. The etymology proposed in this paper considers gšq to be inherited from an earlier NENA layer, in which it was a denominative derivative of a noun akin to Mandaic gušqa ‘spy’, a Middle Iranian loanword. This etymology is buttressed by parallel cases in Neo-Aramaic and other languages of the world as regards semantic changes and affinities between the meanings ‘to spy’ and ‘to look’, as well as similar processes of word-formation in NENA, namely denominative verbs derived from borrowed nouns and inflected in the neo-pa”el verbal pattern.

Rethinking the Life of Mani

Gardner, Iain. 2020. The founder of Manichaeism: Rethinking the life of Mani. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mani, a third-century preacher, healer and public sage from Sasanian Mesopotamia, lived at a pivotal time and place in the development of the major religions. He frequented the courts of the Persian Empire, debating with rivals from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, philosophers and gnostics, Zoroastrians from Iran and Buddhists from India. The community he founded spread from north Africa to south China and lasted for over a thousand years. Yet the genuine biography of its founder, his life and thought, was in good part lost until a series of spectacular discoveries have begun to transform our knowledge of Mani’s crucial role in the spread of religious ideas and practices along the trade-routes of Eurasia. This book utilises the latest historical and textual research to examine how Mani was remembered by his followers, caricatured by his opponents, and has been invented and re-invented according to the vagaries of scholarly fashion.


  • Foreword by Jason BeDuhn
  • Introduction to the Many Lives of Mani: Inter-Religious
    Polemic and Scholarly Controversy
  • Mani’s Background and Early Life: Who Was He and
    What Did He Think He Was Doing?
  • Mani’s Career as the ‘Apostle of Jesus Christ’: His Missions
    and the Community He Founded
  • Mani’s Death: Inter-Religious Conflict in Early Sasanian
    Iran and the Memory of the Apostle
  • Appendix A The Dualistic Basis of Mani’s Thought
  • Appendix B The Community in Late-Antique Egypt and the
    Village of Kellis
  • Appendix C Some Comments on the Manichaean Kephalaia and
    the ‘Jesus-Book’ in the Chester Beatty Codex

Artifact, Text, Context

Tang, Li & Dietmar W. Winkler (eds.). 2020. Artifact, text, context: Studies on Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia (orientalia – patristica – oecumenica 17). LIT Verlag.

This volume is a collection of papers highlighting recent researches on Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia. The topics range from artifacts to texts and their historical contexts, covering the period from the 7th to the 18th century. As the studies on Syriac Christianity in China and Central advance, focus has shifted from a general historical survey and textual translation to a more micro and meticulous study of specific concepts and terms and particular names of persons and places.

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