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.


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.


Sasanian Studies 2

Farridnejad, Shervin & Touraj Daryaee (eds.). 2023. Sasanian studies: Late antique Iranian world | Sasanidische Studien: Spätantike iranische Welt. Vol. 2. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Sasanian Studies: Late Antique Iranian World is a refereed journal that publishes papers on any aspect of the Sasanian Empire and ist neighboring late antiquity civilizations. The journal welcomes essays on archaeology, art history, epigraphy, history, numismatics, religion and any other disciplines which focuse on the Sasanian world. This annual publication focuses especially on recent discoveries in the field, historiographical studies, as well as editions and translations of texts and inscriptions. We aim to facilitate dialogue and contact among scholars of Sasanian Studies around the world. The journal will publish papers mainly in English, but also in German, French, Italian and may also consider Persian and Arabic.

From the contents:
  • Nima Asefi, Āzādmard in the Pahlavi Archive of Hastijan
  • Iris Colditz, Landesrecht vs. lokales Recht? Fragen an das sasanidische Rechtsbuch Hazār dādestān
  • Götz König, Zur Bedeutung der Sternenlehre in den Rezensionen des Bundahišn und für deren historische Beurteilung
  • Katarzyna Maksymiuk, The Titles of the (h)argbed, the artēštārān sālār and the spāhbed in the Iranian and Non-Iranian Sources
  • Daniel T. Potts, A Contribution to the Location of the Late Antique Settlements Known as Rēw-Ardašīr or Rēšahr
  • Robert Rollinger & Josef Wiesehöfer, Emperor Valerian and Ilu-bi’dī of Hamath. Persian Cruelty, and the Persistence of Ancient Near Eastern Traditions
  • Dieter Weber, Cooking in 7th Century Iran

The full table of contents is available from the website.


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.


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.


A Portrait of Slaves and Slaveholders of Fire Foundations in Sasanian Iran

Tamari, Nazanin. 2023. Zoroastrian Fire Foundations: A Portrait of Slaves and Slaveholders. Slavery & Abolition 44(4). 697–719.

Throughout the Sasanian era (224-650/1 CE), Zoroastrian Fire Foundations were some of the most significant landowners in Iran. The sources represented in this study reveal that Fire Foundations were among the most prominent organizations in late antique Iran, actively utilizing slaves and their labour in various social, economic and religious contexts. This article studies the religious, social, legal, and economic aspects of slaves in general, and slaves of Fire Foundations in particular throughout the Sasanian period. Drawing on Middle Persian legal and religious texts, the article examines three interrelated themes: the Fire Foundations characterized as slavers, and the function of priests in mobilizing their immense landed estates, income, and the utilization of slave labour; the relationship between free persons and slaves; and the link between the Fire Foundations and slaves. Analyzing these key questions and the considerable involvement of clerics in all these aspects enables us to discern the structural role of priests in Fire Foundations’ use of slavery and within the broader framework of the Sasanian economy. Through this analysis, the article highlights the close administrative and financial ties binding the priesthood and the monarchy during Sasanian Iran.


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.


Staging the Body of the Lord of the Sevenfold World

Canepa, Matthew P. 2023. Staging the Body of the Lord of the Sevenfold World. Methectic Spaces and Chiasmatic Viewing in Sasanian Iran. In Michele Bacci, Gohar Grigoryan & Manuela Studer-Karlen (eds.), Staging the Ruler’s Body in Medieval Cultures: A Comparative Perspective, 25–51. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

This chapter explores the visibility and materiality of the body of the sovereign as a technology of power in Sasanian Iran. Through analysis of a broad array of objects, structures, and landscapes that the royal image inflected, including the living king himself, it approaches the king’s body as both a perceptible and conceptual phenomenon that manifested not only corporeally but also through a continuum of visual, material, spatial, and environmental contexts. These range from the interior spaces of palaces to the very landscape of the Iranian Plateau. The Sasanian king’s audience halls and thrones were legendary in the late antique world, and their memory lingered in medieval European and Islamic ecumenes long after the fall of the empire. Appropriately, the theatrical staging of the king’s body in audience halls and on thrones will be an important focus, as will the attendant architectural, ceremonial, and technological supports, which were deployed to shape and augment the experience of the sovereign’s sacred presence. Moreover, we will consider the role of portable objects – such as textiles, precious-metal vessels, as well as mass media like seals and coinage – in bringing the image of the king before the eyes of his power bases and his populace. Our goal, therefore, is not simply to re-examine the evidence of such phenomena but to reconstruct a broader visuality of power centred on the king’s image.

This is an open access publication and is available for free download on the publisher's website.

‘The Coals Which Were His Guardians…’:

Vevaina, Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw. 2022. ‘The coals which were his guardians…’: The hermeneutics of Heraclius’ Persian campaign and a faint trace of the ‘Last Great War’ in Zoroastrian literature. In Phil Booth & Mary Whitby (eds.), Mélanges: James Howard-Johnston (Travaux et mémoires 26), 467–490. Paris: Association des Amis du centre d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance.

We had previously announced the volume. This article is now available from the author’s academia page.


Das frühe Sasanidenreich und Rom

Mosig-Walburg, Karin. 2023. Das frühe Sasanidenreich und Rom: Eine Forschungskritik. Gutenberg: COMPUTUS Druck Satz & Verlag.

Bis in die jüngste Zeit werden von der Forschung zahlreiche Fragen zu den Beziehungen zwischen dem frühen Sasanidenreich und seinem römischen Nachbarn kontrovers diskutiert. Auch zur innenpolitischen Entwicklung des Sasanidenreiches unter den Nachfolgern Šāpūrs I. bis in das frühe 4. Jahrhundert finden sich unterschiedliche Rekonstruktionen und Bewertungen. Im Rahmen der hier vorgelegten Untersuchungen wird das facettenreiche und teilweise aufgrund zahlreicher Divergenzen schillernde Bild der wechselseitigen Politik der beiden Großmächte und ihrer nicht-militärischen Interaktion (bis zum Jahr 363 n. Chr.), wie auch der innenpolitischen Entwicklung des Sasanidenreiches unter den Nachfolgern Šāpūrs I. vorgestellt und analysiert. Was präsentiert wird, ist im Wesentlichen Forschungs- und Quellenkritik. Anhand von Beispielen aus der Forschungsliteratur wird ausführlich dargelegt, in welcher Weise zugunsten einer These argumentiert wird und ob bzw. inwieweit die jeweiligen Vorstellungen auf verlässlicher Überlieferung beruhen.

From the publisher’s website