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Persian Cultures of Power

Canepa, Matthew P. (ed.). 2024. Persian cultures of power and the entanglement of the Afro-Eurasian world. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute.

A cutting-edge analysis of 2,500 years of Persian visual, architectural, and material cultures of power and their role in connecting the world.

With the rise of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE), Persian institutions of kingship became the model for legitimacy, authority, and prestige across three continents. Despite enormous upheavals, Iranian visual and political cultures connected an ever-wider swath of Afro-Eurasia over the next two millennia, exerting influence at key historical junctures. This book provides the first critical exploration of the role Persian cultures played in articulating the myriad ways power was expressed across Afro-Eurasia between the sixth century BCE and the nineteenth century CE.

Exploring topics such as royal cosmologies, fashion, banqueting, manuscript cultures, sacred landscapes, and inscriptions, the volume’s essays analyze the intellectual and political exchanges of art, architecture, ritual, and luxury material within and beyond the Persian world. They show how Perso-Iranian cultures offered neighbors and competitors raw material with which to formulate their own imperial aspirations. Unique among studies of Persia and Iran, this volume explores issues of change, renovation, and interconnectivity in these cultures over the longue durée.

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Personal Names in Cuneiform Texts from Babylonia

Waerzeggers, Caroline & Melanie M. Groß (eds.). 2024. Personal names in cuneiform texts from Babylonia. An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Personal names provide fascinating testimony to Babylonia’s multi-ethnic society. This volume offers a practical introduction to the repertoire of personal names recorded in cuneiform texts from Babylonia in the first millennium BCE. In this period, individuals moved freely as well as involuntarily across the ancient Middle East, leaving traces of their presence in the archives of institutions and private persons in southern Mesopotamia. The multilingual nature of this name material poses challenges for students and researchers who want to access these data as part of their exploration of the social history of the region in the period. This volume offers guidelines and tools that will help readers navigate this difficult material. The title is also available Open Access on Cambridge Core.

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The making of Syriac Jerusalem & Soul and body diseases

Two books that have been published in 2023 and will be of interest to the readers of our site:

Popa, Catalin-Stefan. 2023. The making of Syriac Jerusalem: Representations of the Holy City in Syriac literature of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Routledge Studies in the Early Christian World). London and New York: Routledge.

This book discusses hagiographic, historiographical, hymnological, and theological sources that contributed to the formation of the sacred picture of the physical as well as metaphysical Jerusalem in the literature of two Eastern Christian denominations, East and West Syrians.

Popa, Catalin-Stefan (ed.). 2023. Soul and body diseases, remedies and healing in Middle Eastern religious cultures and traditions (Studies on the Children of Abraham 10) Leiden: Brill.

Aiming to develop a less studied literary genre, this book provides a well-rounded picture of spiritual and physical diseases and their remedies as they were ingrained in the imagination and practices of Middle Eastern Abrahamic cultures, with a special emphasis of Christian communities (Greeks/Byzantines, Syrians, Armenians, Georgians, Ethiopians). The volume traces traditions dealing with the onset of a disease in the body and soul, the search for remedy, the maintenance of healing, and the engagement of these processes with faith—either through their affirmation in the public sphere or remaining within the personal framework, as in monastic traditions. A recurring presence in religious literature and the history of the intellectual world, the confrontation between disease and healing may well still be current for our modern understanding of the paths to seeking and maintaining the health of one’s body and soul, without excluding the factor of faith as a core principle.

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Dining with the Sultan

Komaroff, Linda (ed.). 2023. Dining with the Sultan: The fine art of feasting. Los Angeles: DelMonico Books.

Dining with the Sultan offers a pan-Islamic reach, spanning the 8th through 19th centuries and including some 200 works of art representing a rich variety of mediums. Across its 400 pages, and through an abundance of color plates and new scholarship, the publication introduces audiences to Islamic art and culture with objects of undisputed quality and appeal. Viewed through the universal lens of fine dining, this transformative selection of materials emphasizes our shared humanity rather than our singular histories.

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The Torah in the Persian Period

Achenbach, Reinhard. 2023. Tora in der Perserzeit: Gesammelte Studien zu Theologie und Rechtsgeschichte Judas (Forschungen zum Alten Testament 173). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Reinhard Achenbach offers a collection of studies on the redactional composition of the Pentateuch, the history of institutions, on concepts of international law, and the rights of foreigners in the scribal tradition of Judah during the Second Temple Period in the Persian Empire (539–333 B.C.E.). He examines the changes in theological ideas, priestly institutions, sacral rules, and purity law in the tension between the pursuit for religious autonomy in the community and Jewish monotheism’s claim of universal significance.

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Indo-Sasanian Trade

Kumar, Ashish. 2023. Beyond Borders: Indo-Sasanian Trade and Its Central Indian Connections (Circa CE 300–700). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

This book examines the economic history of ancient South Asia by situating the Malwa region of Central India within Afro-Eurasian trade networks to illuminate the role of traders in the political, religious and economic processes connected with the Indo-Sasanian trade in the period of five centuries, circa CE 300-700. The book challenges the long-held centrality of the Roman factor in the South Asian economy by locating the Indo-Sasanian interactions in long distance economic networks with trade as a central feature. It considers the role and influence of traders as an understudied group affecting the contribution of the Indian economy to the world system. Amidst rapidly changing political landscapes, traders of Indian and Sasanian origins are studied as conscious political beings, who formed ties with varieties of polities and religious communities to secure their commercial interests. In addition, their commercial interactions with their Sogdian (Central Asia) and Aksumite (East Africa) counterparts are analyzed. The book also considers the nature of trade routes and the specific connections between mercantile and religious networks, including patterns of construction of religious shrines and temples along trade routes. Integrating epigraphic, numismatic, literary and archaeological evidence, this book moves away from a marginal treatment of the Indo-Sasanian trade in Indian history, and demonstrates how regional economic history must address a plurality of causes, actors, and processes in its assessment of the regional economy. The book will be of interest to students and academics of Indian economic history, as well as the ancient economies of South Asia more broadly.

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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.

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Socioeconomic Transformation in the Sasanian Empire

Habibi, Hossein. 2023. Socioeconomic transformation in the Sasanian Empire: Late antique central Zagros (Edinburgh Studies in Ancient Persia). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Recent studies have demonstrated the diverse character of the socioeconomic dynamics behind the socio-political transformations and infrastructural developments in different territories of the Sasanian and Roman Empires. Notwithstanding its distinct environmental and socio-cultural settings, the cultural landscapes in the Sasanian realm are much less studied than those of the neighbouring empire to the west. Based on an inter-disciplinary approach, this monograph bridges this gap and highlights such diversity on a regional scale in the Central Zagros. Socioeconomic Transformation in the Sasanian Empire provides for a deeper understanding of the actual historical events and long-term cultural processes in the Central Zagros by disclosing the roles of various inter-related cultural and natural factors and the demographic and economic transitions that caused them. Ultimately, this work contributes to debates about the reconstruction of sociopolitical transitions in the late antique world.

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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.

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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.