The World of Alexander in Perspective

Rollinger, Robert & Julian Degen (eds.). 2022. The World of Alexander in Perspective: Contextualizing Arrian (Classica et Orientalia 30). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

This volume is a collection of papers that have been given at an international conference in December 2019 in Bregenz, Austria. They focus on Arrian of Nicomedia’s Anabasis Alexandrou which is our main source for the life and reign of Alexander the Great. So far, scholarship has paid only little attention to the Anabasis as literary cosmos of its own right. The various contributions critically evaluate the still extant general opinion, that Arrian deserves a distinguished status as the main source on the Macedonian conqueror since he allegedly closely followed his sources. But the first accounts of the participants in Alexander’s famous expedition have only survived as fragments and thus their literary production is more or less shrouded in mystery. Hence, the tension between Arrian’s literary creativity, propinquity to his sources, his relationship to his role-model Xenophon merits serious examination when assessing the value of his work as a historical source.

The volume is the first attempt to contextualize the work of Arrian against various backdrops. This includes the reign of Alexander, the Classical and contemporary literary trends, the Second Sophistic as intellectual framework, the until yet neglected idea of “empire” as well as echoes and stimuli from the Achaemenid and Hellenistic period. The various contributions create a more complex image of Arrian as an author, his literary production and his idea of the Macedonian conqueror that helps us to gain a better understanding of this complex text and Alexander the Great as its protagonist.


The End of Empires

Gehler, Michael, Robert Rollinger & Philipp Strobl (eds.). The End of Empires. Wiesbaden: Springer.

The articles of this comprehensive edited volume offer a multidisciplinary, global and comparative approach to the history of empires. They analyze their ends over a long spectrum of humankind’s history, ranging from Ancient History through Modern Times. As the main guiding question, every author of this volume scrutinizes the reasons for the decline, the erosion, and the implosion of individual empires.

All contributions locate and highlight different factors that triggered or at least supported the ending or the implosion of empires. This overall question makes all the contributions to this volume comparable and allows to detect similarities, differences as well as inconsistencies of historical processes.

Several contributions tackle with the problems of the end of ancient Iranian empires:


Looking at Persians

Stuttard, David (Ed.). 2023. Looking at Persians. London: Bloomsbury.

Aeschylus’ Persians is unique in being the only extant Greek tragedy on an historical subject: Greece’s victory in 480 BC over the great Persian King, Xerxes, eight years before the play was written and first performed in 472 BC. Looking at Persians examines how Aeschylus responded to such a turning point in Athenian history and how his audience may have reacted to his play. As well as considering the play’s relationship with earlier lost tragedies and discussing its central themes, including war, nature and the value of human life, the volume considers how Persians may have been staged in fifth-century Athens and how it has been performed today.

The twelve essays presented here are written by prominent international academics and offer insightful analyses of the play from the perspectives of performance, history and society. Intended for readers ranging from school students and undergraduates to teachers and those interested in drama (including practitioners), this volume also includes an accurate, accessible and performance-friendly English translation of Persians by David Stuttard.

Table of Contents

Introduction – Persians in Context (David Stuttard, Goodenough College, UK)

  1. Persians on Stage (Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge, UK)
  2. Athens and Persia, 472 BCE (Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Cardiff University, UK)
  3. Persians’ First Audience (Robert Garland, Colgate University, USA)
  4. Imperial Stirrings in Aeschylus’ Persians (Sophie Mills, University of North Carolina at Asheville, USA)
  5. Homeric Echoes on the Battlefield of Persians (Laura Swift, The Open University, UK)
  6. Individual and Collective in Persians (Michael Carroll, University of St Andrews, UK)
  7. Land, Sea and Freedom: The Force of Nature in Aeschylus’ Persians (Rush Rehm, Stanford University, USA)
  8. The Persians Love Their Children Too: Common Humanity in Persians (Alan Sommerstein, University of Nottingham, UK)
  9. Atossa (Hanna Roisman, Colby College, Maine, USA)
  10. Theatrical Ghosts in Persians and Elsewhere (Anna Uhlig, University of California, USA)
  11. Words and Pictures (Carmel McCallum-Barry, formerly of University College, Ireland)
  12. National Theatre Wales, The Persians (2010) (Mike Pearson, University of Aberystwyth, UK)

Aeschylus Persians, translated by David Stuttard (Goodenough College, UK)



The Kushnameh

Hemmat, Kaveh L. & Hee Soo Lee (eds.). 2022. The Kushnameh: The Persian Epic of Kush the Tusked. Oakland: University of California Press.

The first English translation of a strange and unusual Persian epic, this action-packed tale of an evil, monstrous king explores questions of nature and nurture and brings the global middle ages to life.

The great Persian epic known as the Kushnameh follows the entangled lives of Kush the Tusked––a monstrous antihero with tusks and ears like an elephant, descended from the evil emperor Zahhak––and Abtin, the exiled grandson of the last true Persian emperor. Abandoned at birth in the forests of China and raised by Abtin, Kush grows into a powerful and devious warrior. Kush and his foes scheme and wage war across a global stage reaching from Spain and Africa to China and Korea. Between epic battles and magnificent feasts are disturbing, sometimes realistic portrayals of abuse and oppression and philosophical speculation about nature and nurture and the origins of civilization.

A fantastical adventure story stretching across the known world and a literary classic of unparalleled richness, this important work of medieval Persian literature is a valuable source for understanding the history of racism and constructions of race and the flows of lore and legend from the Central Asian Silk Road and the Sahara to the sea routes of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. The Kushnameh is a treasure trove of Islamic and pre-Islamic Persian cultural history and a striking contemporary document of the “global middle ages,” now available to English-speaking readers for the first time.


Persia and Its Kings

Hämeen-Anttila, Jaakko (trans.). 2023. Al-Maqrīzī’s al-Ḫabar ʿan al-bašar Vol. V, Section 4: Persia and Its Kings, Part II (Bibliotheca Maqriziana, 9). Leiden: Brill.

Al-Maqrīzī’s (d. 845/1442) last work, al-Ḫabar ʿan al-bašar, was completed a year before his death. This volume, edited by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, covers the history of pre-Islamic Iran during the Sasanian period and the conquest. Al-Maqrīzī’s work shows how Arab historians integrated Iran into world history and how they harmonised various currents of historiography (Middle Persian historiography, Islamic sacred history, Greek and Latin historiography).

This part harmonises the versions of Miskawayh’s Tağārib, al-Ṭabarī’s Taʾrīḫ, and several other sources, producing a fluent narrative of Iran from the early 3rd century until 651. It also includes the complete text of ʿAhd Ardašīr, here translated for the first time into English.


The Silk Road and Cultural Exchanges between East and West

Rong, Xinjiang. 2023. The Silk Road and Cultural Exchanges between East and West (East and West, 14). Translated by Sally K. Church, et al. Edited by Sally K. Church and Imre Galambos. Leiden: Brill.

This first and only English translation of Rong Xinjiang’s The Silk Road and Cultural Exchanges Between East and West is a collection of 28 papers on the history of the Silk Road and the interactions among the peoples and cultures of East and Central Asia, including the so-called Western Regions in modern-day Xinjiang. Each paper is a masterly study that combines information obtained from historical records with excavated materials, such as manuscripts, inscriptions and artefacts. The new materials primarily come from north-western China, including sites in the regions of Dunhuang, Turfan, Kucha, and Khotan. The book contains a wealth of original insights into nearly every aspect of the complex history of this region.


A New Translation of al-Balādhurī’s Futūh al-Buldān

Kennedy, Hugh (ed.). 2022. History of the Arab Invasions: The Conquest of the Lands -A New Translation of al-Balādhurī’s Futūh al-Buldān. London: Bloomsbury.

Ahmad bin Yahuya al-Baladhuri’s History of the Arab Invasions is perhaps the most important single source for the history of the great Arab conquests of the Middle East in the sixth and early seventh centuries. The author, who died in 892, was a historian working at court of the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. He had access to a wide variety of earlier writings on the conquests and has preserved accounts that are not found anywhere else. But the book is much more than a series of accounts of battles. Baladhuri was very interested in the origins of the Islamic state and its institutions. His work contains a wealth of information about government, land-holding and economic developments. It is, in short, a key text for anyone interested in the formation of the Islamic world.

In this new modern translation, fully annotated with a scholarly apparatus and commentary on the places, events and individuals mentioned, a key source on the Arab conquests is made available in English. It will be essential reading for scholars and students of Islamic Studies and Middle East history.


Learn Persian

Alam, Mahmood. 2023. Learn Persian: Grammar and Workbook for Elementary and Intermediate Levels. London: Routledge.

Learn Persian has a step-by-step organized and structured framework of modern Persian words; grammar, short syntactical phrases and idiomatic expressions. Persian has a lot of common words and sounds from Arabic and Urdu; this work highlights vowels and consonants that are covered in the formation of words and sounds with apt precision. The special feature of this book is its simplicity, yet meaningful and comprehensiveness for the study of the language. This should be a good source book for new learners, as well as for those who want to explore the harmony and flair of Persian.

It would undoubtedly open doors to a Persian heritage as much as it slowly trains the eager learner in spoken Persian as well. Learn Persian will interest both learners and experts, and an excellent experience of coming across Persian as an interesting living language.


An Elamite Duck Weight

Wicks, Yasmina & Javier Álvarez-Mon. 2022. An Elamite Duck Weight in the Susa Museum: New evidence for the Behbahan Plain in the late seventh/early sixth century BCE. Arta 2022.004.

Arjan duck-shaped weight, Susa Museum. Photographs kindly provided by: [a, b, d] Ehsan Yaghmaie and [c, e, f] Loghman Ahmadzadeh, courtesy of the Susa World Heritage Base.

The importance of the Behbahan plain within the political framework of Elam was assured by its geographic position as a crossroads of routes connecting Susiana, Fars, and the Persian Gulf. However, the only archaeological cited for this view remains the elite late seventh/early sixth century BCE tomb unearthed near Arjan during the damming of the Marun river in 1982. Another find from the area that adds evidence for the role of the plain at this time is an inscribed limestone duck weight in the Susa Museum, recently published erroneously as coming from Susa. This paper corrects the provenience of the weight, clarifies its date, describes its iconography and manufacture, and contemplates its significance for evaluating the history of the Behbahan plain and the pre-Achaemenid Elamite administration.


The Parallel Lives of Ardashir I and Constantine the Great

O’Farrell, Matthew. 2023. Legendary Patterns in Late Antique Biography: The Parallel Lives of Ardashir I and Constantine the Great (Iran Studies, 23). Leiden: Brill.

A Memorial in the World offers a new appraisal of the reception and role of Constantine the Great and Ardashir I (the founder of the Sasanian Empire c.224-651), in their respective cultural spheres. Concentrating on marked parallels in the legendary material attached to both men it argues that the memories of both were reshaped by processes referencing the same deep literary heritage.

What is more, as “founders” of imperial systems that identified with a particular religious community, the literature that developed around these late antique figures applied these ancient tropes in a startlingly parallel direction. This parallel offers a new angle on the Kārnāmag tradition, an originally Middle Persian biographical tradition of Ardashir I.