Ethnicity and Geography in the Eastern Mediterranean Area

Ponchia, Simonetta & Luisa Prandi (eds.). 2023. Shaping Boundaries. Ethnicity and Geography in the Eastern Mediterranean Area (Melammu Workshops and Monographs 8). Münster: Zaphon.

This conference volume assembles 16 contributions to “Ethnicity and Geography in the Eastern Mediterranean Area (First Millennium BC). In combination with the corresponding “Shaping Boundary” project of the University of Verona it aims to analyse a crucial period: the formation of Greek identity, the first one documented in the West, at the time of the contacts with the Near East during the first millennium BC. More in detail, the authors examined the interactions between the Syro-Mesopotamian, Levantine and Aegean worlds that took place along the coastal region extending from Bosporus to Syria and Lebanon. Special attention was paid to methodological issues and diverse approaches in the investigation of boundaries and borderlands. These can be interpreted as different kinds of geo-political, or socio-cultural lines of separation, but should also be interpreted by taking into account their fundamental functions of communication spaces, where new, mixed, or hybrid identities took shape over time. – Among other, Giovanni B. Lanfranchi examines the borders between Assyria and Northwestern Iran as Polities of Unequal Power from the 9th to the 7th century BCE. – Raija Mattila discusses Neo-Assyrian letters reporting from the border areas on guarding and protecting the border, on building and maintenance of fortresses, and on the movements on the other side of the border. – The Northwest boundaries of Achaemenid expansion (Anatolia and the North Aegean) is taken into account by Sarah P. Morris. – Luisa Prandi questions the conception of the Cimmerian Bosporus as a Boundary between Europe and Asia according to Aeschylus. – Silvia Gabrieli reconstructs the foundation myth of Tarsus between Assyrian propaganda and Hellenistic fascination.

Table of contents:

Simonetta Ponchia / Luisa Prandi: Introduction

Giovanni B. Lanfranchi: Border(s) between Polities of Unequal Power: Assyria and Northwestern Iran from the IXth to the VIIth century BCE

Raija Mattila: Reporting from the Border

Alvise Matessi: Identities in the Making: Cultural Frontiers in Central Anatolia in the 2nd Millennium BCE

Simonetta Ponchia: Boundary Definition in the Aramean Socio-political Context

Silvia Gabrieli: Tarsus Foundation Myth: Assyrian Propaganda and Hellenistic Fascination

Marco Iamoni: Pots and People again? Changing Boundaries in the Levant between the Canaanites and Phoenicians

Luigi Turri: Boundaries, Borders, and Interaction Points: Some Considerations from Cyprus.

Stéphanie Anthonioz: The Place and Frontiers of Judea in Judg 1 or How the Tribal System builds Greater Judea

Mary R. Bachvarova: The Seer Mopsos: Legendary Foundations in Archaic Anatolia before the Neileids

Madalina Dana: «Mobilités mythiques»: Récits de fondation, liens légendaires et traversée des frontières entre cités grecques de Troade et de Propontide

Fabrizio Gaetano: Civiltà a contatto in Asia Minore: Frigi, Lidi e Persiani

Omar Coloru: From the ends of the earth you are come: Greek Perceptions of the Boundaries of the Near Eastern Empires. A Brief Journey

Claudia Posani: Alcune considerazioni sull’iscrizione luvio-geroglifica TELL AHMAR 2 e sull’episodio erodoteo di Gige e Candaule: I verba videndi e le connotazioni etico-sociali della vergogna connessa alla nudità

Sarah P. Morris: “Yauna across the Sea?” Northwest Boundaries of Achaemenid Expansion (Anatolia and the North Aegean)

Ennio Biondi: I fiumi nell’impero achemenide: Frontiere naturali o mezzi di espansione imperiale?

Luisa Prandi: The Cimmerian Bosporus as a Boundary between Europe and Asia according to Aeschylus: An Invented Tradition?



Trust Matters

Vevaina, Leilah. 2023. Trust matters: Parsi endowments in Mumbai and the horoscope of a city. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Although numbering fewer than 60,000 in a city of more than 12 million people, Mumbai’s Parsi community is one of the largest private landowners in the city due to its network of public charitable trusts. In Trust Matters Leilah Vevaina explores the dynamics and consequences of this conjunction of religion and capital as well as the activities of giving, disputing, living, and dying it enables. As she shows, communal trusts are the legal infrastructure behind formal religious giving and ritual in urban India that influence communal life. Vevaina proposes the trusts as a horoscope of the city—a constellation of housing, temples, and other spaces providing possible futures. She explores the charitable trust as a technology of time, originating in the nineteenth century, one that structures intergenerational obligations for Mumbai’s Parsis, connecting past and present, the worldly and the sacred. By approaching Mumbai through the legal mechanism of the trust and the people who live within its bounds as well as those who challenge or support it, Vevaina offers a new pathway into exploring property, religion, and kinship in the urban global South.


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.


The Syriac Legend of Alexander’s Gate

Tesei, Tommaso. 2023. The Syriac legend of Alexander’s gate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This book is the first monographic study entirely consecrated to the Syriac text entitled Neṣḥānā d-Aleksandrōs (also known as the Syriac Alexander Legend), a seminal text for later Christian and Muslim apocalyptic traditions. While the scholarly consensus commonly dates the Neṣḥānā to the time of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641 CE), this study demonstrates that an earlier version of the text was produced during the reign of Justinian I (r. 527–565). This new historical contextualization of the text enables one to better delineate the development of politicized forms of apocalypticism during Late Antiquity, a process in which the Neṣḥānā played a decisive role. By analyzing the contents and the ideology of the text, the book explores the origins and developments of important literary motifs of medieval literature worldwide, including the characterization of Alexander as a pious prophet-king (in both Christianity and Islam alike), and the story of the gate that he erects to confine the eschatological nations of Gog and Magog. Moreover, the book sheds light on lesser-known aspects of political debates in the sixth-century Near East and offers historians a valuable insight into important aspects of Justinian’s reign, as seen by an author who was not on the emperor’s payroll.


The Central Asian world

Féaux de la Croix, Jeanne & Madeleine Reeves (eds.). 2023. The Central Asian world (The Routledge Worlds). London & New York: Routledge.

This landmark book provides a comprehensive anthropological introduction to contemporary Central Asia. Established and emerging scholars of the region critically interrogate the idea of a ‘Central Asian World’ at the intersection of post-Soviet, Persianate, East and South Asian worlds. Encompassing chapters on life between Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Xinjiang, this volume situates the social, political, economic, ecological and ritual diversity of Central Asia in historical context. The book ethnographically explores key areas such as the growth of Islamic finance, the remaking of urban and sacred spaces, as well as decolonising and queering approaches to Central Asia. The volume’s discussion of More-than-Human Worlds, Everyday Economies, Material Culture, Migration and Statehood engages core analytical concerns such as globalisation, inequality and postcolonialism. Far more than a survey of a ‘world region’, the volume illuminates how people in Central Asia make a life at the intersection of diverse cross-cutting currents and flows of knowledge. In so doing, it stakes out the contribution of an anthropology of and from Central Asia to broader debates within contemporary anthropology.


Der Manichäismus

Hutter, Manfred. 2023. Der Manichäismus. Vom Iran in den Mittelmeerraum und über die Seidenstraße nach Südchina. Anton Hiersemann Verlag.

Das erste umfassende deutschsprachige Handbuch der unterschiedlichen religionsgeschichtlichen Ausformungen des Manichäismus seit 1961.

Der in der Mitte des 3. Jahrhunderts u.Z. entstandene Manichäismus war die erste „weltweit“ verbreitete Religion. Mani (216-277) präsentierte seine aus biblisch-gnostischen und iranisch-zoroastrischen Vorstellungen schrittweise entwickelte Lehre als den älteren Religionen überlegen, um die Lehre Jesu im Westen, Zarathustras im Iran und Buddhas in Indien abzulösen. Dieser Überlegenheitsanspruch wurde jeweils lokal spezifiziert, was von christlichen Theologen, zoroastrischen Priestern und chinesischen buddhistischen Gelehrten nicht unkommentiert blieb. Dadurch lässt sich diese Religion durch religionsinterne Quellen sowie externe Fremdbeschreibungen facettenreich rekonstruieren.


Three Persian Martyr Acts

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook, Reyhan Durmaz, Michael L. Payne, Daniel Picus & Noah Tetenbaum. 2023. Three Persian martyr acts (Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac: Text and Translation 9). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

This volume brings together the texts and translations for three Syriac martyr acts, set in Sasanian Persia during the reign of Shapur II (309-379 CE). These texts offer compelling witness to the challenges of a community’s need to honor memory and experience, and evidence towards the formation and sustenance of Christian identity in the midst of Persian society and culture.


Babylonian Jews and Sasanian Imperialism

Gross, Simcha. 2024. Babylonian Jews and Sasanian imperialism in late antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The new publication date for this book is now February 2024.

From the image offered by the Babylonian Talmud, Jewish elites were deeply embedded within the Sasanian Empire (224-651 CE). The Talmud is replete with stories and discussions that feature Sasanian kings, Zoroastrian magi, fire temples, imperial administrators, Sasanian laws, Persian customs, and more quotidian details of Jewish life. Yet, in the scholarly literature on the Babylonian Talmud and the Jews of Babylonia , the Sasanian Empire has served as a backdrop to a decidedly parochial Jewish story, having little if any direct impact on Babylonian Jewish life and especially the rabbis. Babylonian Jews and Sasanian Imperialism in Late Antiquity advances a radically different understanding of Babylonian Jewish history and Sasanian rule. Building upon recent scholarship, Simcha Gross portrays a more immanent model of Sasanian rule, within and against which Jews invariably positioned and defined themselves. Babylonian Jews realized their traditions, teachings, and social position within the political, social, religious, and cultural conditions generated by Sasanian rule.


Images of power and identities of Christians under Khusro I

Jullien, Christelle. 2023. Les liens du sol: Images du pouvoir et identités des chrétiens sous Khusro Ier (Cahiers de Studia Iranica, 63). Leuven: Peeters.

The advent of Khusro I (531-579) heralded a brilliant period in the history of the Middle East, during which decisive directions were taken. Throughout his reign of almost fifty years, a period during which this king pursued an ambivalent religious policy, the different Christian communities of the Sasanian Empire developed between cultural conflicts and strategies. The study of this spatio-temporal microcosm reveals their dynamism and confirms their deep investment in Iranian society, that expressed an adaptation to administrative changes and external influences, but also, simultaneously, a capacity for internal reorganization and a powerful spiritual renewal. This development sometimes took place at the expense of identity. It was a half-century of Late Antiquity that decisively shaped the history of the mentalities of the Christian communities in Iranian territory.