“Two Centuries of Silence” is an English translation of “Do Qarn Sokut,” Dr. Zarrinkub’s celebrated work on the history of Iran in the lead-up to and after the Arab conquest in the mid 7th century. The author begins with a question that puzzles many: How was a world civilization with all of its achievements in art and architecture, religion and law, agriculture and engineering, and civil and military organization, overthrown by a nomadic people with limited literacy and few accomplishments? The title refers to the two-hundred-year period when Persian virtually went mute, when almost all traces of Iran’s rich literary heritage were erased, and when Zoroastrianism gave way to Islam. Zarrinkub’s history is not an unmitigated tale of draconian cultural change, however. He speaks of how Iranian identity went underground, occasionally surfacing in open rebellion against Arab and Muslim supremacy. Drawing on a variety of original sources, Zarrinkub looks into the “savage darkness” of nearly two hundred years and detects glimmers of Persian resurgence in various parts of Iran and Muslim Central Asia. In fits and starts forms of the indigenous language broke their long silence, and Iranians began to speak about and for themselves.
Although written almost sixty years ago, “Two Centuries of Silence” is oddly topical. In delving into the long history of Arab domination it contextualizes attitudes commonly held today. Readers will understand, for example, why being called “Arab” can infuriate many Iranians. The book traces the deep roots of the current fashion of proclaiming Persian nationality with Zoroastrian imagery. Zarrinkub’s study tells the ways Iranians of the 8th and 9th centuries resisted the imposition of a “pure” Islam on every aspect of their lives. The parallels between the defiance of the sweeping cultural change and the imposed religious conformity of that era and the reactions to the return to Islam demanded by the Iranian Revolutionaries of today are striking. At the same time, Zarrinkub’s secular treatment of the sanctities of Islam—the belief in the oneness of God, the sacrosanct nature of Muhammad and the divine origin of his message, etc.—makes the book controversial today. Although “Do Qarn Sokut” gained a certificate of publication in 1999, the Iranian publisher (Sokhan) found it necessary to include in a preface excerpts from a book that refutes Zarrinkub (Khadamat-e Motaqabel-e Iran va Islam, “The Reciprocal Services of Islam and Iran”). The author of the refutation, the noted religious scholar Morteza Motahhari, asks: How could Zarrinkub call the period silent? After all, hadn’t the Persians had gained a new language, full of poetry, the medium of the clear and simple message God gave His Prophet? Rather than an age of silence it was a time of awakening to the sound of God’s very voice. Thus did Do Qarn-e Sokut become embroiled in the on-going dispute between those wishing to restore Islam in Iran and secularists who want to lessen the authority and power of the clergy.
This book translates the sections on pre-Islamic Persia in three Muslim Arabic chronicles, those of Ahmad al-Ya‘qubi (d. ca. 910), ‘Ali al-Mas‘udi (d. ca. 960) and Hamza al-Isfahani (d. ca. 960s). Their accounts, like those of many other Muslim historians on this topic, draw on texts that were composed in the period 750-850 bearing the title ‘The History of the Kings of the Persians’. These works served a growing audience of well-to-do Muslim bureaucrats and scholars of Persian ancestry, who were interested in their heritage and wished to make it part of the historical outlook of the new civilization that was emerging in the Middle East, namely Islamic civilization. This book explores the question of how knowledge about ancient Iran was transmitted to Muslim historians, in what forms it circulated and how it was shaped and refashioned for the new Perso-Muslim elite that served the early Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad, a city that was built only a short distance away from the old Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.
October 18–20, 2017, Mainz/Germany
Cultural exchanges between Christianity and Islam, especially between Byzantium and its Islamic Neighbours, but also in the Caucasian region, have been an attractive topic for historians, art historians and archaeologists in recent years. Scholarly interest focuses on diplomatic gift exchange, trade, the mobility of artists and the common motifs in both Christian and Islamic objects. The stage extends from Spain to Afghanistan and justifies the necessity of this debate. Yet, unfortunately, the role of one of the important protagonists of this exchange, namely the Persian Sasanians, is less well researched, although many important artistic and cultural phenomena in Byzantium, Armenia, and Georgia as well as in the Islamic countries can only be understood when this culture is included.
The Sasanian Empire (224-651 A.D.) extended over a large territory. In Late Antiquity and the early Medieval Era, it ruled the whole area of modern Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Caucasian region was exposed to its political influence. Until the middle of the 7th century, Sasanians were the major rival of the Late Roman and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and exported art and culture into these civilizations through various means and on different levels. The cultural connections ended after the fall of the Sasanian Empire, which was replaced mainly by Arab Muslims, and a new era began: the new owners of the territory then adapted Sasanian elements into their own culture.
From the10th century onwards, the Turkish dynasties such as the Ghaznawids (963-1186) or the Great Seljuks (1019-1157 / de facto until the 13th century) settled in Persia and styled themselves as the successors of the Sasanians as well as as Turks; hence, they were called “Persians” in Byzantine sources. The Sasanian artistic and architectural tradition continued to exist in these cultures. The same phenomenon also applies to the Turkish Rum-Seljuks, who founded their empire in Anatolia: Persian was the court language, the sultans were named after Sassanian heroes from the Shahname (Keykubad, Keyhusrev, Keykavus), and despite the religious prohibition, drinking scenes were depicted in the artworks and wine played an important role at the ceremonies and celebrations according to the Sasanian model.
As can be clearly seen, the Sasanian Empire had not only ‘transfused’ its art and culture to its neighbourhood during its prime time, but also influenced the successor states after its decline. Just as Ancient Greek and Roman culture played an important role in the formation of Western Europe, the Sasanian Empire bequeathed, a remarkably rich cultural heritage to the Christian and Islamic East.
The conference “Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture” succeeds “Der Doppeladler. Byzanz und die Seldschuken in Anatolien vom späten 11. bis zum 13. Jahrhundert”, which was held at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz in October 2010. The first event dealt with the cultural relations between Islam, particularly Turkish Islam, Byzantium and the Caucasus. At the forthcoming conference, we aim to discuss the role of the Sasanian Empire in the process of cultural exchange before and after its decline.
See here the Conference Programme
- Khodadad Rezakhani: “The Roman Caesar and the Phrom Kesar: Hrōm, Eranshahr and Kushanshar in Interaction and Competition”
- Johannes Preiser-Kapeller: “From one edge of the (post)Sasanian world to the other. Mobility and migration between the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean in the 4th to 9th centuries CE”
- Rustam Shukurov: “The Image of Byzantium in Persian Epics: from Firdawsi to Nizami”
- Matteo Compareti: “The Representation of Composite Creatures in Sasanian Art. From Early Coinage to Late Rock Reliefs”
- Neslihan Asutay-Effenberger: “Senmurv – Beschützer von Konstantinopel?”
- Thomas Dittelbach: “Kalīla wa-Dimna – Der Löwe als symbolische Form”
- Rainer Warland: “Das Eigene und das Fremde. Hellenistische Selbstvergewisserung, sassanidische Konfrontation und apokalyptische Endzeit als Lesarten der frühbyzantinischen Kunst (500–630 n. Chr.)”
- Arne Effenberger: “Sassanidischer Baudekor in Byzanz: der Fall der Polyeuktoskirche in Konstantinopel”
- Nikolaus Schindel: “Sassanidische Münzprägung im Kaukasus”
- Nina Iamanidze: “Georgian Reception of Sasanian Art”
- Armen Azaryan: “Architectural Decorations of the Armenian Churches of the 7th and the 10th–11th Centuries, and their Presumably Sasanian Sources”
- Shervin Farridnejad: “Continued Existence of the Imagery Repertoire of Sasanian Court Ceremonies and Rituals in the Islamic Art”
- Markus Ritter: “Umayyadische Rezeption sasanidischer Architektur”
- Osman Eravşar: “Sasanid Influence on Seljuk Art and Architecture”
Arabs and Iranians in the Islamic Conquest Narrative analyzes how early Muslim historians merged the pre-Islamic histories of the Arab and Iranian peoples into a didactic narrative culminating with the Arab conquest of Iran.
This book provides an in-depth examination of Islamic historical accounts of the encounters between representatives of these two peoples that took place in the centuries prior to the coming of Islam. By doing this, it uncovers anachronistic projections of dynamic identity and political discourses within the contemporaneous Islamic world. It shows how the formulaic placement of such embellishment within the context of the narrative served to justify the Arabs’ rise to power, whilst also explaining the fall of the Iranian Sasanian empire. The objective of this book is not simply to mine Islamic historical chronicles for the factual data they contain about the pre-Islamic period, but rather to understand how the authors of these works thought about this era.
By investigating the intersection between early Islamic memory, identity construction, and power discourses, this book will benefit researchers and students of Islamic history and literature and Middle Eastern Studies.
Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Shifting Patterns of Identity and Early Islamic Historiography in Context
- 3. The Opening of the Drama: Shāpūr and the Sheikh
- 4. Bahrām V Gūr, the Lakhmids, and the Hephthalite Disaster
- 5. The Twilight of Sasanian Power: Khusraw I Anūshirvān and the Saga of Ḥimyar
- 6. The Buildup to the Confrontation: Khusraw II Parvīz and the Rise of the Arabs
- 7. The Climax: The Islamic Victory over the Sasanians
- 8. Conclusion
Scott Savran obtained his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 2011. His research focuses on identity-based discourses in early Islamic historiography.