The Notion of Harem and its Irrelevance to Women of the Persian Court

Lenfant, Dominique. 2020. The Notion of Harem and its Irrelevance to Women of the Persian Court. Ancient Society 50, 13-27.

It has become controversial to use the word ‘harem’ to designate the wives and concubines of the Great King of the Persian Empire, but differing attitudes may be observed among scholars, from rejecting this term to claiming it for use, most often without a detailed justification. Although it seems at first sight to be helpful, the present paper argues against using the word ‘harem’ by highlighting its major interpretative drawbacks: (1) its definition is unstable and unclear; (2) it creates confusion between the different categories of women who are distinguished in our evidence; (3) it is misleading, since it imposes on antiquity western representations mainly linked with Ottoman sultans; (4) it has strong modern connotations, and implies value judgments which are not suitable for a sound historical analysis; (5) it feeds a form of orientalism, since it fosters the idea that the Orient does exist, that it is the opposite of the Occident of the western speaker, and that it has not changed for more than two thousand years. It is lastly argued that this notion of a Persian ‘harem’ does not date back to the Greeks, who had neither a similar word nor similar representations and value judgments, nor the same feeling of otherness in respect to the Persians.


Iranian Diaspora and Persian Heritage in Asia Minor after the Achaemenids

Klingenberg, Andreas. 2021. Die ›Iranische Diaspora‹ in Kleinasien: Kontinuität und Wandel des persischen Erbes nach dem Ende der achaimenidischen Herrschaft (Asia Minor Studien 97). Bonn: Habelt.

Ancient Asia Minor was part of the Persian Empire for more than 200 years under the rule of the Achaimenid dynasty. It was only with the conquest of the Persian Empire by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great that Persian hegemony came to an end, and manifold political and cultural upheavals began in the former Persian territories. But what became of the numerous Persians and other Iranians who had come to Asia Minor in the course of establishing and consolidating their rule? What remained of two centuries of Persian rule? Researchers have long debated whether and in what form an ‘Iranian diaspora’ could survive beyond the fall of the Persian Empire. What previous research has had in common is the restriction to isolated testimonies or a limited selection of source documents. This book is the first comprehensive account of this topic that takes into account all available sources and, on this basis, arrives at a new assessment and reliable results: a notable ‘Iranian diaspora’ survived all the upheavals after the end of the Persian Empire, which in some places held on to its cultural traditions for many centuries afterwards and emerged as an independent group. In almost all parts of Asia Minor, traces of the former Persian presence can be discerned in personal and cultural continuities that prove a lasting, comprehensive “Achaimenid impact”. These traces are particularly evident in place and field names, in the spread of Iranian personal names, in the continued existence of Iranian sanctuaries and the worship of Iranian deities, as well as in the Iranian dynasties of the two kingdoms of Cappadocia and Pontos. An extensive section of material (registers) provides access to the scattered epigraphic findings on Iranian personal names and the religious elements dating back to the Persians, which have never been fully recorded.


From Sasanian Persia to the Tarim Basin

Compareti, Matteo. 2021. From Sasanian Persia to the Tarim Basin: Pre-islamic Iranian art and culture along the Silk-Road. WriteUp.

This volume collects a series of articles focusing on various aspects of the art of Persia and Central Asia in the pre-Islamic era that the author has published over the last fifteen years. The period examined goes from the reign of the Sasanian dynasty (224-651) to the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century, and the consequent (but not immediate) process of Islamization of the entire territory between the eastern borders of the Roman Empire and China. This vast territory – during the period examined in those articles – was mainly inhabited by peoples who spoke Iranian languages such as Persian, Bactrian, Chorasmian, Sogdian and Khotanese.


Deportations in the Persian Empire

Matarese, Chiara. 2021. Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit (Classica et Orientalia, 27). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Die Studie beleuchtet das Phänomen von Deportationen in Persien in der Zeit vor Alexander dem Großen. Das Sujet ist aus mehreren Gründen herausfordernd und anspruchsvoll und entbehrte deshalb lange der wissenschaftlichen Aufarbeitung. Zum einen ist die Quellenlage problematisch: Neben dem Mangel an indigenen Überlieferungen sind die zur Verfügung stehenden gräko-römischen Quellen von zahlreichen Klischees geprägt, die es zunächst auszuräumen gilt. Zum anderen muss das Phänomen der Deportation theoretisch erfasst und von anderen Migrationsprozessen unterschieden werden.

Chiara Matarese gelingt es durch eine detaillierte und kritische Analyse der Quellen, die Auslöser und die Ziele der persischen Deportationen deutlich zu machen und die Komplexität dieses vielfältigen Phänomens darzustellen. Die Autorin beantwortet zusätzlich entscheidende Fragen beispielsweise danach, ob die Deportierten zu Sklaven gemacht wurden, oder zu ihrem Identitätsverständnis nach der Umsiedlung. Dabei wird deutlich dass sich die Perser in Praxis und Herrschaftsauffassung in vielem als gelehrige Nachfolger der Herrscher des Neuassyrischen und des Neubabylonischen Reiches zeigten. Die Deportationspraxis stellte hier keine Ausnahme dar.


Études Avestiques et Mazdéennes, vols. 7 & 8

Kellens, Jean. 2021. Essai sur la Gâthâ spenta.mainiiu (Études Avestiques et Mazdéennes 7). Leuven: Peeters Press.

Redard, Céline. 2021. Videvdad 19. Le récit de la victoire de Zarathustra sur Anhra Maniiu (Études Avestiques et Mazdéennes 8). Leuven: Peeters Press.

This essay on the third Gāϑā persists in the methods and convictions Kellens’ previous writings in the Journal Asiatique of 2013 and 2014 on Gāϑā ahunauuaiti and in volume 6 of this series on Gāϑā ustauuaiti. The starting point is to accept the impregnability of certain difficulties and, instead of trying to solve them at all costs, to concentrate on the movement of words, no longer considered as lending their general meaning to various circumstances, but as referring in a continuous manner to a precise technical datum.

Redard’s book deals with Videvdad 19, a text narrating the victory of Zaraϑustra over the demons. The Avestan text, translated and commented, is completed by an introduction tracing the content of the chapter together with an Avestan-French glossary.


East and West (vol. 60)

East and West (New Series) resumes its publications, after almost a decade of silence, with this first issue of the 2020 volume. This is exactly seventy years after Giuseppe Tucci, in his quality of President of IsMEO, began, with his foreword contained in the first pages of the first issue of East and West 1 (1950), his dialogue between East and West.

Table of contents of No.1:

  • Foreword by Adriano V. Rossi
  • G. Gnoli: More on the “Traditional Date of Zoroaster:” the Arsacid Era and Other Topics
  • S. Ferdinandi: Mons Thabor: status questiones
  • G. Buffon: Mount Tabor and the Politics of Archaeology in the Holy Places (1858-1924). The Custody of the Holy Land’s Defence of Property Rights, Excavation Campaigns and Building Work on the Mount of Transfiguration
  • A. Taddei: The Skeuophylakion of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople: Events of the Fourth to Sixth Centuries CE
  • M. Baldi: From Meroe to Modern Sudan: the Kushite Building Techniques in the Present Vernacular Architecture in the Area of Begrawiya
  • F. Desset, M. Vidale, N. Eskandari, K. Caulfield: Distaffs and “Temple” in Early Bronze Age Iran
  • A. Askari Chaverdi, P. Callieri: Tol-e Ajori and Takht-e Jamshid: a Sequence of Imperial Projects in the Persepolis Area
  • A. Filigenzi: A Space of Mobility: the Interregional Dynamics of Buddhist Artistic Production as Reflected in Archaeological Evidence

Table of contents of No. 2:

  • S. Morra: Rethinking mālūf, Arab Andalusian Music in Tunisia
  • G. Banti: Some Further Remarks on the Old Harari Kitāb alfarāyid
  • N. Mahzounzadeh, E. Bortolini: Beyond Shape: a New Perspective on the Classification of Arrowheads from the Historical Pre-Islamic Period in Iran
  • B. Genito: The State/Imperial Political Formation of the Achaemenid Dynasty, an Archaeological Question
  • C.G. Cereti: MAIKI Activities on the Paikuli Monument and Its Surroundings
  • E. Matin: The Achaemenid Settlement of Dashtestan (Borazjan): A View from Persepolis
  • F. Sinisi: Iconography of the Elite in post-Greek Bactria and North-West India and Its Transmission from the Saka to the Yuezhi
  • O. Nalesini: Old Tibetan <ʼbrong>, Burmese and Old Mon
  • S. Vignato, Motherly Landscapes: Matrifocality, Marriage, Islam and the Change of Generation in Post-Conflict, Post-Tsunami Aceh


Iranica Antiqua, Volume 55

The table of contents of the latest issue (55) of the journal Iranica Antiqua:

  • ESKANDARI, N., DESSET, F., HESSARI, M., SHAHSAVARI, M., SHAFIEE, M., VIDALE, M.: A Late 4th to Early 3rd Millennium BC Grave in Hajjiabad-Varamin (Jiroft, South-Eastern Iran): Defining a New Period of the Halil Rud Archaeological Sequence
  • NIKZAD, Meisam, REZAIE, Iraj, KHALILI, Mehdi: Dog Burials in Ancient Iran
  • WICKS, Yasmina, DADFAR, Faezeh: An Axe to Grind? Another Look at the So-called ‘Atta-hushu’ Axes
  • BASAFA, Hassan, HEDAYATI, Zahra: The Iron Age in the Dargaz Plain (Northeast Khorasan): The Site of Kohne Ghale, a Case Study
  • DAN, Roberto: Tille Höyük Level X: A ‘Median’ or Achaemenid Period Citadel in the Euphrates Valley?
  • KHOSROWZADEH, Alireza, NOROUZI, Aliashgar, GYSELEN, Rika, HABIBI, Hossein: Administrative Bullae from Tappe Bardnakoon, a Newly Found Late Sasanian Administrative Centre
  • RASOULI, Arezoo, ABAI, Andia: Darius a-t-il dit la vérité à Behistun?
  • IRANNEJAD, A. Mani: Kavis in the Ancient National Iranian Tradition


Balatti, Silvia, Hilmar Klinkott, Josef Wiesehöfer (eds.). 2021. Paleopersepolis: Environment, Landscape and Society in Ancient Fars (Oriens et Occidens, 33). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Pārsa, approximately corresponding to the modern-day Iranian province of Fars, can reasonably be considered to occupy a prominent place in the history of Ancient Iran. Indeed, it was the heartland of the Persian empires of the Teispids, Achaemenids and Sasanians. The spectacular archaeological remains of Fars are well known – we need only think, for example, of the monumental remains of Persepolis. Much less is known about life outside of the royal palaces and about human-environment interactions in this region. In recent decades, a new interest in socio-environmental issues in the humanities, the use of innovative scientific methods in archaeology, and the rapid expansion of the field of paleoenvironmental studies have vastly increased the potential for investigating this topic from an interdisciplinary perspective. The contributions to this volume are the result of a scholarly effort to investigate the landscape and society of ancient Fars using an integrative approach, which benefits from the contributions from the humanities and the natural and technological sciences.


The Greco-Persian Wars

Jensen, Erik. 2021. The Greco-Persian Wars: A Short History with Documents. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.

Hackett’s Passages: Key Moments in History series titles include original-source documents in accessible editions, intended for the student-user or general audience. This edition, The Greco-Persian Wars, taps our knowledge of the Persian Empire and its interactions with the Greek world. The sources examined were created in different times and places, for different purposes, and with different intended audiences. Using these sources effectively requires recognizing their distinct characteristics. A general introduction about the Greco-Persian wars is included to provide historical background and an overview of the information contained in the original-source documents. Also included are a glossary of terms, a chronology, insightful headnotes to each document, and an index.


Semiramis: From Antiquity to the Modern Times

Droß-Krüpe, Kerstin. 2020. Semiramis, de qua innumerabilia narrantur: Rezeption und Verargumentierung der Königin von Babylon von der Antike bis in die opera seria des Barock (Classica et Orientalia, 25). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Semiramis, die legendäre Königin von Babylon, gehörte bis in das 20. Jahrhundert hinein zu den bekanntesten und am stärksten rezipierten Gestalten der antiken Welt. Als Frau, die von Babylon aus das Großreich der Assyrer regierte und erfolgreiche Eroberungskriege führte, wurde sie in einer Vielzahl antiker Quellentexte teils mit Bewunderung, teils mit tiefer Abscheu beschrieben. Schnell avancierte sie so zum Paradigma – einerseits für das weibliche Geschlecht, andererseits für die Ausübung von Macht, aber auch für den antiken ‚Orient‘ im Allgemeinen. Semiramis findet sich in der Folge in nahezu allen Literatur- und Kunstgattungen der Spätantike, des Mittelalters, der Renaissance und der Frühen Neuzeit und erhielt so einen festen Platz im kulturellen Gedächtnis der westlichen Welt. An ihr wurden über die Epochen hinweg Weiblichkeit und Herrschaft miteinander verknüpft, Transgressionen von weiblichen Handlungsräumen thematisiert, Geschlechterordnungen und Geschlechternormen verhandelt und Handlungsspielräume für das weibliche Geschlecht reflektiert.

Kerstin Droß-Krüpe folgt den Spuren der Semiramis durch die Jahrhunderte – von der griechischen Historiographie des 5. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. bis auf die Opernbühnen des Barock. Sie kombiniert so eine historisch-kritische Aufarbeitung des in den antiken Quellentexten präsentierten Semiramisbildes mit der späteren Wahrnehmung, Aneignung und Verargumentierung der Semiramis als Figur der Erinnerung.

For the table of contents, click here.