Transversal Studies on the Reigns of Yazdgird I and Wahrām V

Jullien, Christelle (ed.). 2023. Discourse, power issues, and images. Transversal studies on the reigns of Yazdgird I and Wahrām V (Late Antique History and Religion). Leuven: Peeters.

What images of Yazdgird I (399-420) and Wahrām V (420-438) have been transmitted in the sources from and outside the Persian empire? Those nearly forty years saw a rich and complex relationship develop between Persia and its neighbours, paving the way for the Sasanians to extend their influence beyond the borders. At the beginning of the fifth century, while exchanges and relations of subordination were being reconfigured in the Middle East, the religious communities of the Sasanian empire (Babylonian Jewry, diverse Christian communities, Manichaeans, etc.) created the conditions for a new relationship with power. These two great sovereigns were emblematic and inspired contrasting portrayals – either controversial or idealised – that integrate narrative models sometimes borrowed from other cultures. A major aim of this book is to bring together the up-to-date knowledge about this topic through a comprehensive enquiry and comparison of contemporaneous and later materials.

Table of Contents

  • Geoffrey Greatrex and George Amanatidis-Saadé: “Les relations romano-perses sous Yazdgird Ier et Wahrām V”
  • Giusto Traina: “Yazdgird I, Wahrām V, and the End of Greater Armenia: A Note on the Armenian Sources”
  • Rika Gyselen: “Entre tradition et innovation : temoignages materiels de l’epoque de Yazdgird Ier et de Wahrām V”
  • Touraj Daryaee: “The Two Kings of Erānsahr: Yazdgird I ‘The Sinner’ and Wahrām V ‘The Onager’ in the Xwadāy-nāmag Tradition”
  • Geoffrey Herman: “Tue Jews of Babylonia during the Reigns of Kings Yazdgird I and Wahrām V”
  • Scott McDonough: “A Tale of Two Isaacs: Christians and the Crown in Fifth Century Erānsahr”
  • Christelle Jullien: “Les affaires de pyrees sous Yazdgird I. Motif hagiographique et modèles littéraires”
  • Marie-Joseph Pierre and Chiemi Nakano: “Le synode de 410, avant et apres”
  • Philip Wood: “Rewriting History: Yazdgird I, Wahrām V and the Chronicle of Seert

Architecture and Archaeology of the Achaemenid Empire

Dan, Roberto. 2024. Studies on the architecture and archaeology of the Achaemenid Empire. Dynamics of interaction and transmission between centre and periphery. Roma: ISMEO – The International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies.

The relations between the centre and periphery of the Achaemenid Empire have been, for several years, the focus of numerous in-depth studies. The characteristics of this World Empire, which was a new phenomenon in the ancient Near East, have stimulated this scholarly research, based on written sources, as well as archaeological and cultural evidence. Quite often, the goal of these studies was to assess the impact of the empire’s core? A concept whose cultural outline warrants precise definition?within the regions under its control. For several decades, the basic question on the matter put forward by Roger Moorey (Cemeteries of the First Millennium B.C. at Deve Höyük, 1980: 128), who challenged the significance of the material traces of Persian domination (considered too flimsy), was echoed by many historians, who indeed have asked whether there “ever was a Persian empire.” That question was raised by Amélie Kuhrt and Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg in the introduction of a book whose title was, relevantly, Centre and Periphery (Achaemenid History, IV, 1990).


Apocalyptic Eschatology and Empire in Sasanian Iran

Canepa, Matthew P. 2024. Envisioning dualism and emplacing the Eschaton: Apocalyptic eschatology and empire in Sasanian Iran. In Jörg Rüpke, Michal Biran & Yuri Pines (eds.), Empires and Gods: The Role of Religions in Imperial History (Imperial Histories: Eurasian Empires Compared), vol. 1, 135–174. Berlin: De Gruyter.

The Sasanian Empire (224–642 CE) was the last great Iranian empire to rule overWestern Asia before the coming of Islam. The empire was founded when Ardaxšīr I (r. 224 – ca. 242), a local ruler of Pārs and vassal to the Parthian king of kings, revolted from his overlord, Ardawān IV, defeating and killing him in the Battleof Hormozgān. Ending five centuries of Arsacid rule, Ardaxšīr I quickly took control of the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, expanding the empire and soon bringing him into conflict with the Romans. His son and successor Šābuhr I (r. 242–272) expanded the empire eastward into Northern India at the expense of the Kushan Empire and westward into Roman territory, raiding several importantRoman cities and deporting their inhabitants, including those of Antioch. By the late-sixth century CE the Sasanians had forged a centralized empire from theParthian Empire’s heterogenous network of crown lands, client kingdoms, semi-autonomous city-states, and aristocratic estates. Despite setbacks, the new powerful empire succeeded in contending with and often defeating the economic and military might of the Roman Empire, while resisting the military pressures of the steppe, and harnessing the economic forces of Eurasian trade. With mercantile networks that extended from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the Empire of the Iranians exercised power over Mesopotamia, Iran, portions of the Caucasus,South and Central Asia, and briefly Egypt, Anatolia and even to the walls of Constantinople during the empire’s final apogee under Husraw II (r. 590–628). Over the course of late antiquity, Sasanian art, architecture, and court culture created a new dominant global aristocratic common culture in western Eurasia, beguiling theirRoman, South Asian, and Chinese contemporaries, and deeply imprinted the later Islamic world.

This chapter is available as an open access publication.

Central Asia 300-850

La Vaissière, Etienne de. 2024. Asie centrale 300-850: des routes et des royaumes. Paris: Belles lettres.

Central Asia forms the heart of medieval Eurasian trade, what is known, not entirely incorrectly, as the “Silk Road”. Caravans and conquerors, monks and artists all passed through Samarcand, Dunhuang or Bactria on their way from China to Byzantium or from Iran and India to the steppes. This was the era of the first globalisation, a thousand years before European expansion. But this history is in tatters, and at the height of these contacts, from the Huns’ raid in the fourth century AD to the end of the Tibetan empire and Islamisation in the ninth century, no work in any language had ever attempted to follow all the threads and patiently reweave the patterns.

Nomadic migrations and Buddhist art, great trade and the organisation of the State, Chinese colonisation and the Arab conquest, the history of climate, irrigation and demography, the birth of Persian and archaic globalisation, and many other themes: this summary offers a wide range of themes which it crosses and weaves into a complex but clear fabric. Using a wealth of maps and illustrations, it reconstructs a huge missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of medieval Old World history. It is the product of twenty years of research, and draws on the most recent work, including scholarly studies of Arabic, Chinese, Iranian and Turkish texts, new discoveries of manuscripts and the results of the many archaeological excavations that have been carried out since the end of the USSR and the opening up of China’s economy. All the disciplines and tools of the historian are called upon to make this world intelligible and legible, while at the end, behind the scenes, another level of analysis is offered for those who, like the great merchants and pilgrim monks, would like to go further.


An Introduction to Young Avestan: A Manual for Teaching and Learning

Cantera, Alberto & Céline Redard. 2024. An introduction to Young Avestan: A manual for teaching and learning. (Trans.) Richard Tahmaseb Niroumand. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Avestan is the sacred language of the Zoroastrians in which they perform most of their rituals. It is known only from its use in the rituals of modern Zoroastrians and the manuscripts reproducing these rituals since the 13th century. Although sure dates cannot be provided, it is very likely that the creation of the liturgical corpus extended from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE until the end of the Achaemenid period (4th cent. BCE). This corpus includes texts in at least three linguistic layers (Old, Middle and Young Avestan). The present manual aims to provide a tool for facilitating the teaching of Young Avestan but keeps in mind also the possibility of self-learning since Avestan is not well-represented in the actual academic landscape. It includes a progressive presentation of the complex phonetic evolutions that are very characteristic of the Avestan language as a consequence of the evolution of the recitation until its fixation (6th cent. CE) and also of the Avestan grammar, complemented with exercises including samples of original texts of increasing difficulty. In each lesson, one text is reproduced in a manuscript, introducing the students to the direct work with manuscripts.


A Portrait of Slaves and Slaveholders of Fire Foundations in Sasanian Iran

Tamari, Nazanin. 2023. Zoroastrian Fire Foundations: A Portrait of Slaves and Slaveholders. Slavery & Abolition 44(4). 697–719.

Throughout the Sasanian era (224-650/1 CE), Zoroastrian Fire Foundations were some of the most significant landowners in Iran. The sources represented in this study reveal that Fire Foundations were among the most prominent organizations in late antique Iran, actively utilizing slaves and their labour in various social, economic and religious contexts. This article studies the religious, social, legal, and economic aspects of slaves in general, and slaves of Fire Foundations in particular throughout the Sasanian period. Drawing on Middle Persian legal and religious texts, the article examines three interrelated themes: the Fire Foundations characterized as slavers, and the function of priests in mobilizing their immense landed estates, income, and the utilization of slave labour; the relationship between free persons and slaves; and the link between the Fire Foundations and slaves. Analyzing these key questions and the considerable involvement of clerics in all these aspects enables us to discern the structural role of priests in Fire Foundations’ use of slavery and within the broader framework of the Sasanian economy. Through this analysis, the article highlights the close administrative and financial ties binding the priesthood and the monarchy during Sasanian Iran.


Early Zoroastrianism and Orality

Kreyenbroek, Philip G. 2023. Early Zoroastrianism and orality (Iranica, GOF III/NF 20). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Early Zoroastrianism was transmitted orally, as is now generally accepted by scholars. There is no consensus, however, regarding the implications of that insight. The few scholars who have referred to the question so far generally based their approach on the assumption that academic theories on orality are valid for all forms of oral transmission, which is demonstrably untrue. Moreover, whilst progress has been made on individual aspects of Avestan texts, the early history of Zoroastrianism as such has received scant attention in recent decades.
Philip G. Kreyenbroek has combined an almost life-long study of Zoroastrianism with empirical research on the oral traditions of two modern Iranian religious groups. In this book he applies his first-hand knowledge of the workings of oral transmission and his familiarity with early Zoroastrian priestly practices to extant Avestan texts in order to uncover their history in the light of their earlier oral transmission. Taking into account a number of recent discoveries by other scholars, the work arrives at new conclusions about the genesis and early development of the Zoroastrian tradition.

See the table of content here.


Graffiti in Middle Iranian

Cereti, Carlo G. 2023. Graffiti in Middle Iranian: Some Preliminary Notes. In Ondřej Škrabal, Leah Mascia, Ann Lauren Osthof & Malena Ratzke (eds.), Graffiti Scratched, Scrawled, Sprayed: Towards a Cross-Cultural Understanding (Studies in Manuscript Cultures 35), 327–354. De Gruyter.

Graffito from Kal Jangal (after Henning 1977, Plate XXVII)

This article aims to present a limited selection of Middle Iranian graffiti while proposing a definition of the term ‘graffito’ in the Iranian area. Middle Iranian languages were spoken over a vast region that stretches from Mesopotamia to Central Asia. Traditionally, scholars in our field consider the Middle Iranian period to cover the fourth century BCE to the end of the first millennium CE. The number of known written artefacts dating from this period has progressively increased and today we possess a sizeable epigraphic corpus, of which languages such as Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian take the lion’s share. Here the author presents a selection of written artefacts that, on material and linguistic grounds, seem to better fit the idea of ‘graffito’, and briefly focuses on a few drawings scratched into palace walls in ancient Persepolis. Furthermore, the article aims at contributing to the growing debate on graffiti across different traditions, while remaining well aware that the definition of ‘graffiti’ in the Iranian area is still an open question and requires further discussion to establish a shared classification.

The entire volume is available online as Open Access.

Articles Journal

Estudios Iranios y Turanios (Vol. 5)

Estudios Iranios y Turanios 2023, Vol. 5, has now been published. The whole issue is dedicated to the Avestan, Middle Persian (Pahlavi) and Ossetian Studies.

  • Alberto Cantera: The interpretatio iranica of Heterograms in Book Pahlavi: The Case of YTYBWN- “To Sit Down, to Dwell and to Set” and Some Related Problems
  • Götz König: Nicht-avestische Texte im Xorde Avesta: die Texte des Danksagens
  • Jaime Martínez Porro: Text and Context of the Yasna ī Rapiθβin
  • Paolo Ognibene: About Some Kabardian Loanwords in Ossetic
  • Éric Pirart: La vejez avéstica

Avestan-Middle Persian tense mismatches

Peschl, Benedikt. 2023. Avestan-Middle Persian tense mismatches in the Zand and the Middle Persian “performative preterite.” Indogermanische Forschungen 128(1). 9–64.

This article addresses the issue of Avestan (Av.)/Middle Persian (MP) tense mismatches that are occasionally found in the Zand, the MP translation with commentary of the Avesta. While most of these mismatches turn out to be aspectually insignificant or illusory once examined more closely, some of them appear to illustrate the use of the MP preterite as a temporally unspecified perfective category, contrasting with its usual perception as a simple past. In accordance with a pattern found also in non-translational MP literature, the perfective usage of the preterite is argued to be present in the translation of a series of Av. performative utterances in Visperad 3 (the “installation of the Av. priestly college”). Moreover, its use can be observed when the Zand depicts two punctual events as temporally coinciding within a timeless (gnomic) statement. Proceeding from these observations, I discuss the expression of performativity in MP on a more general level. The observations shared in this article support the view that, if considered diligently, the older Zand texts have the potential to contribute valuable data to the linguistic description of MP. Conversely, the article shows how paying close attention to the MP translators’ use of verbal forms may inform our interpretation of the Zand.