Category Archives: Books

Empires of the sea

Wijk, Roy van. 2019. Contested hegemonies: Thebes, Athens and Persia in the Aegean of the 360s. In Rolf Strootman, Floris van den Eijnde & Roy van Wijk (eds.), Empires of the sea: Maritime power networks in world history (Cultural Interactions in the Mediterranean 4), 81–112. Leiden: Brill.

Empires of the Sea brings together studies of maritime empires from the Bronze Age to the Eighteenth Century. The volume aims to establish maritime empires as a category for the (comparative) study of premodern empires, and from a partly ‘non-western’ perspective. The book includes contributions on Mycenaean sea power, Classical Athens, the ancient Thebans, Ptolemaic Egypt, The Genoese Empire, power networks of the Vikings, the medieval Danish Empire, the Baltic empire of Ancien Régime Sweden, the early modern Indian Ocean, the Melaka Empire, the (non-European aspects of the) Portuguese Empire and Dutch East India Company, and the Pirates of Caribbean.

Source: Empires of the sea | Brill

The Archaeology of Afghanistan

Allchin, Raymond, Warwick Ball & Norman Hammond (eds.). 2019. The archaeology of Afghanistan from earliest times to the Timurid period. Edinburgh University Press.

Afghanistan is at the cultural crossroads of Asia, where the great civilisations of Mesopotamia and Iran, South Asia and Central Asia overlapped and sometimes conflicted. Its landscape embraces environments from the high mountains of the Hindu Kush to the Oxus basin and the great deserts of Sistan; trade routes from China to the Mediterranean, and from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea cross the country. It has seen the development of early agriculture, the spread of Bronze Age civilisation of Central Asia, the conquests of the Persians and of Alexander of Macedon, the spread of Buddhism and then Islam, and the empires of the Kushans, Ghaznavids, Ghurids and Timurids centred there, with ramifications across southern Asia. All of which has resulted in some of the most important, diverse and spectacular historical remains in Asia.

First published in 1978, this was the first book in English to provide a complete survey of the immensely rich archaeological remains of Afghanistan. The contributors, all acknowledged scholars in their field, have worked in the country, on projects ranging from prehistoric surveys to the study of Islamic architecture. It has now been thoroughly revised and brought up to date to incorporate the latest discoveries and research.

Continue reading The Archaeology of Afghanistan

Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture

Asutay-Effenberger, Neslihan & Falko Daim (eds.). 2019. Sasanidische Spuren in der byzantinischen, kaukasischen und islamischen Kunst und Kultur | Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture (Römisch Germanisches Zentralmuseum 15). Bonn: Verlag Schnell & Steiner.

The Sasanian Empire (224-651 AD) spreads over areas of today’s Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Caucasus regions were also under its political influence. Many elements of Sasanian art and culture can be found in neighboring countries and cultures, such as Byzantium or the Christian Caucasus, and continued to live after the Sasanian fall in the Islamic dominions that developed on their former territory. To examine the continuing role and the survival of Sasanian art after the fall of the last Persian Empire, an international conference was held in September 2017 at the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz. The contributions of scholars from different disciplines are published in this volume.

Art of Sogdian immigrants

Xu, Jin. 2019. The funerary couch of An Jia and the art of Sogdian immigrants in sixth-century China. Burlington Magazine, No. 1399 – Vol 161. 820–829.

Detail of decorative screen of the funerary couch of An Jia, Detail of decorative screen of the funerary couch of An Jia showing the portrait of a couple on the left side panel. © Burlington Magazine

The tomb of An Jia, leader of a Sogdian immigrant community in sixth-century Xi’an, northern China, contained a remarkable stone couch. Its form is Chinese but its decoration imitates gilt silverware imported by Sogdian merchants from Sasanian Persia, reflecting An Jia’s dual cultural identity.

Sasanian Persia and the Tabarestan Archive

Gyselen, Rika (ed.). 2019. Sasanian Persia and the Tabarestan Archive (Res Orientales 27). Bures sur Yvette: Groupe d’Etude de la Civilisation du Moyen-Orient.

  • James Howard-Johnston: «World War in Eurasia at the End of Antiquity»
  • Nils Purwins: «The Noble Ones of Eranshahr: Rank Titles and a Comparison with the Imperium Romanum».

The Tabarestan Archive (8th century)

  • Dieter Weber: «Pahlavi Legal Documents from Tabarestan. Two Claims and a Re-evaluation of Crop Yields: A Philological Study of Tab. 21, 22 and 24»
  • Maria Macuch: «Pahlavi Legal Documents from Tabarestan. Two Claims and a Re-evaluation of Crop Yields: The Juristic Context of Tab. 21, 22 and 24»
  • Rika Gyselen: «Les bulles de l’Archive du Tabarestan: quelques aspects matériels des scellements».

Taxing Achaemenid Arachosia: Evidence from Persepolis

King, Rhyne. 2019. Taxing Achaemenid Arachosia: Evidence from Persepolis. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 78(2): 185-199.

Silk Roads

Whitfield, Susan (ed.). 2019. Silk roads: Peoples, cultures, landscapes. California: University of California Press.

The Silk Roads continue to capture the imagination of the public, and, in 2014, a section of the land routes was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Yet there was no single “Silk Road.” Instead, a complex network of trade routes spanned Afro-Eurasia’s mountains, plains, deserts, and seas. From silk to spices, religion to dance, traffic in goods and ideas was crucial to the development of civilizations through rich cultural interactions and economic activity.
Centered around the dramatic landscapes of the Silk Roads, this beautiful volume honors the great diversity of medieval Afro-Eurasian cultures. Each section—from steppe to desert to ocean—includes maps, a historical and archaeological overview and thematic essays by leading historians worldwide, as well as sidebars showcasing objects that exemplify the art, archaeology and architecture of the Silk Roads.


Source: Silk Roads by Susan Whitfield – Hardcover – University of California Press

The author of numerous books and articles on the Silk Roads and China, including Life Along the Silk Road and Silk, Slaves, and Stupas, Susan Whitfield is a scholar, curator, writer, lecturer, and traveler of the Silk Roads.

Arab-Sasanian Numismatics and History during the Early Islamic Period in Iran and Iraq

Malek, Hodge Mehdi. 2019. Arab-Sasanian Numismatics and History during the Early Islamic Period in Iran and Iraq: The Johnson Collection of Arab-Sasanian Coins (Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 55). 2 vols. London: Royal Numismatic Society.

This is the first major work to attempt a comprehensive survey of the Arab-Sasanian silver coinage since Walker’s 1941 Catalogue of the British Museum collection. It includes the latest research on the subject, both historical (chapters 1 to 4) and numismatic (chapter 5 to 15). All the coins (over 1,600), both silver drachms and copperfulus, in the Johnson collection are illustrated on the excellent plates. Where thJohnson collection does not have a specimen of an important coin an example is illustrated from another source, making this a truly important work

The extensive chapters on the persons named on the coins, the mints, and the Pahlavi, Arabic and Sogdian legends, make this an invaluable historical source. Other chapters discuss the copper issues with theirvaried designs, the eras and dates used, metrology, coins struck in the east in Sīstān and further north by the Hephthalites, and counter marks, as well as the designs found on the silver drachms. All Pahlavi and Arabic legends (mints, persons named, religious and other marginal legends, dates) are written out as theyappear on the coins in extensive tables. This makes it possible for a beginner in the series to read thesesometimes difficult legends.

See here the Table of Contents of the two volumes.

The Deccan Sultanates

Flatt, Emma. 2019. The courts of the Deccan Sultanates: Living well in the Persian cosmopolis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, courtliness was crucial to the political and cultural life of the Deccan. Divided between six states competing for territory, resources and skills, the medieval and early modern Deccan was a region of striking ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. People used multifaceted trans-regional networks – mercantile, kinship, friendship and intellectual – to move across the Persian-speaking world and to find employment at the Deccan courts. This movement, Emma J. Flatt argues, was facilitated by the existence of a shared courtly disposition. Engagement in courtly skills such as letter-writing, perfume-making, astrological divination, performing magic, sword-fighting and wrestling thus became a route to both worldly success and ethical refinement. Using a diverse range of treatises, chronicles, poetry and letters, Flatt unpicks the ways this challenged networks of acceptable behaviour and knowledge in the Indo-Islamicate courtly world – and challenges the idea of perpetual hostility between Islam and Hinduism in Indian history.

Source: The Courts of the Deccan Sultanates | Cambridge University Press

Emma J. Flatt is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The Scythians

Cunliffe, Barry. 2019. The Scythians: Nomad warriors of the steppe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brilliant horsemen and great fighters, the Scythians were nomadic horsemen who ranged wide across the grasslands of the Asian steppe from the Altai mountains in the east to the Great Hungarian Plain in the first millennium BC. Their steppe homeland bordered on a number of sedentary states to the south – the Chinese, the Persians and the Greeks – and there were, inevitably, numerous interactions between the nomads and their neighbours. The Scythians fought the Persians on a number of occasions, in one battle killing their king and on another occasion driving the invading army of Darius the Great from the steppe.
Relations with the Greeks around the shores of the Black Sea were rather different – both communities benefiting from trading with each other. This led to the development of a brilliant art style, often depicting scenes from Scythian mythology and everyday life. It is from the writings of Greeks like the historian Herodotus that we learn of Scythian life: their beliefs, their burial practices, their love of fighting, and their ambivalent attitudes to gender. It is a world that is also brilliantly illuminated by the rich material culture recovered from Scythian burials, from the graves of kings on the Pontic steppe, with their elaborate gold work and vividly coloured fabrics, to the frozen tombs of the Altai mountains, where all the organic material – wooden carvings, carpets, saddles and even tattooed human bodies – is amazingly well preserved.

Source: The Scythians – Barry Cunliffe – Oxford University Press

Barry Cunliffe is Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford.