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Books

The Last Great War of Antiquity

Howard-Johnston, James. 2021. The last great war of antiquity. Oxford University Press.

The last and longest war of classical antiquity was fought in the early seventh century. It was ideologically charged and fought along the full length of the Persian-Roman frontier, drawing in all the available resources and great powers of the steppe world. The conflict raged on an unprecedented scale, and its end brought the classical phase of history to a close. Despite all this, it has left a conspicuous gap in the history of warfare. This book aims to finally fill that gap.
The war opened in summer 603 when Persian armies launched co-ordinated attacks across the Roman frontier. Twenty-five years later the fighting stopped after the final, forlorn counteroffensive thrusts of the Emperor Heraclius into the Persians’ Mesopotamian heartland. James Howard-Johnston pieces together the scattered and fragmentary evidence of this period to form a coherent story of the dramatic events, as well as an introduction to key players-Turks, Arabs, and Avars, as well as Persians and Romans- and a tour of the vast lands over which the fighting took place. The decisions and actions of individuals-particularly Heraclius, a general of rare talent-and the various immaterial factors affecting morale take centre stage, yet due attention is also given to the underlying structures in both belligerent empires and to the Middle East under Persian occupation in the 620s. The result is a solidly founded, critical history of a conflict of immense significance in the final episode of classical history.

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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.

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Books

Simurgh and Pseudo-Simurgh in Iranian Arts

Compareti, Matteo. 2021. The elusive Persian Phoenix. Simurgh and Pseudo-Simurgh in Iranian arts (Studia Persica 3). Bologna: Paolo Emilio Persiani.

The reign of the Sasanian Dynasty (224–651 AD) received great attention in the works of Muslim authors who usually referred to this period as the “golden age” of pre-Islamic Persia. It is however worth noting that artifacts incontrovertibly attributable to the Sasanians are not very numerous. Among recent finds of dubious origin, some ongoing archeological excavations uncovered Sasanian coins and seals that in some cases showed fabulous creatures composed of parts of different animals. Starting from the ambiguity of these creatures, some scholars proposed to identify them according to ancient Persian mythology and literature. A composite winged creature with a dog’s head, lion’s paws, and a peacock’s tail that is considered to be typically Sasanian, was said to be the “Iranian phoenix” (Avestan saena marega, Middle Persian senmurv, Persian simurgh). As it can be observed on seventh century pre-Islamic Central Asian coins, this composite winged creature was quite explicitly associated with the Iranian concept of glory that was imported into Persia at the end of the Sasanian period from a region between modern Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Slightly later that creature started to appear in western arts too, going from the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphate to the whole of Europe until the early 13th century. Its exact meaning among Muslims is still a matter of debate although it was definitely considered by Christians as a very appropriate decoration for religious and secular purposes. Eighth-century Sogdian mural paintings from Penjikent and Mongol period Islamic book illustrations seem to support the identifications proposed in this study.

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Persia (552 BCE-758 CE). Primary Sources, Old and New

Gyselen, Rika (ed.). 2020. Persia (552 BCE-758 CE). Primary Sources, Old and New (Res Orientales 28). Bures-sur-Yvette: Groupe pour l’Étude de la Civilisation du Moyen-Orient (GECMO).

The articles in this volume present, comment on and interpret primary sources from different eras: Achaemenid, Sasanian and post-Sasanian. While most of these sources were discovered in the 21st century, a few were already known. Recent Iranian surveys and excavations have uncovered: (1) new Sasanian sites in the region of Sar Mashad in the Pars, (2) Sasanian administrative bullae on Tappe Barnakoon, west of Isfahan, (3) a clay sealing with the impression of a royal seal of Peroz in Taxt-e Soleiman. New data for Sasanian numismatics come from unpublished coins in the Johnson collection. Three documents from the “Tabarestan Archive”, published in recent years, have been re-read and interpreted in the context of Zoroastrian law. Also, sources known from much longer have been the subject of new “readings”. They highlight that the message these inscriptions and royal objects convey is strongly conditioned by the type of ‘public’ to which it is addressed.

Table of Contents

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Materials for a History of the Persian Narrative Tradition

Orsatti, Paola. 2019. Materials for a History of the Persian Narrative Tradition. Two Characters: Farhād and Turandot. Venezia: Ca’ Foscari.

This book gathers together two essays. The first deals with the origins of the character of Farhād, the unlucky lover of Shīrīn, who – in the Persian narrative tradition – digs a route through Mount Bīsutūn and accomplishes other admirable works. The essay suggests that Farhād, as we know him from long narrative poems, historical chronicles, and reports by geographers and travelers, is the issue of a conflation between the legendary character of the Master of Mount Bīsutūn and a historical personage, Farrahān, the general-in-chief of the Sasanid king Khusraw II Parvīz’s army (r. 590-628 EC), as this figure was re-elaborated in a number of later legends. 

The second essay identifies a character named ‘Būrān-dukht’ as the prototype from which Turandot, the heroine of the tale well-known in Europe from Puccini’s opera (1926), springs. Two historical personages, both called Būrān or Būrān-dukht, are relevant in this line of development: the first is the daughter of the Sasanid king Khusraw II Parvīz (r. 580-628 CE), who was queen of Persia for a short period (630-631 CE); the other is the daughter of Ḥasan b. Sahl, wife of Caliph al-Maʾmūn (813-833 CE).

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Memory and Identity in the Syriac Cave of Treasures: Rewriting the Bible in Sasanian Iran

Minov, Sergey. 2021. Memory and Identity in the Syriac Cave of Treasures: Rewriting the Bible in Sasanian Iran (Jerusalem Studies in Religion and Culture, 26). Leiden: Brill.

In Memory and Identity in the Syriac Cave of Treasures: Rewriting the Bible in Sasanian Iran Sergey Minov examines literary and socio-cultural aspects of the Syriac pseudepigraphic composition known as the Cave of Treasures, which offers a peculiar version of the Christian history of salvation. The book fills a lacuna in the history of Syriac Christian literary creativity by contextualising this unique work within the cultural and religious situation of Sasanian Mesopotamia towards the end of Late Antiquity. The author analyses the Cave’s content and message from the perspective of identity theory and memory studies, while discussing its author’s emphatically polemical stand vis-à-vis Judaism, the ambivalent way in which he deals with Iranian culture, and the promotion in this work of a distinctively Syriac-oriented vision of the biblical past.
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Books

The Zoroastrian Vision, Straight in the Eyes

Azarnouche, Samra & Olivia Ramble. 2020. La Vision zoroastrienne, les yeux dans les yeux Commentaire sur la Dēn selon Dēnkard III.225. Revue de l’his toire des reli gions 237(3). 331–395.

Sassanian Seal MOT 6.1, Collection M. I. Mochiri, after Gnoli 1993: 80.

In the Zoroastrian tradition, the Dēn (Avestan daēnā “vision”) is a polysemic notion that denotes either an auroral psychopompic deity, or the religious doctrine, or again the sacred word of the Avesta. Passage 225 of the Dēnkard III, commented here for the first time, combines these different concepts, thereby not only bringing direct proof for the continuity of the word’s original meaning—“vision”—between the Avestan textual layer and the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) exegetic layer, but also testifying to the development of metaphysical speculation (with a neo-platonic backdrop) concerning the transcendental vision acquired by the magi. Material sources (iconographic as well as epigraphic) also contribute to highlighting the notion that the Dēn is the divine entity that one looks at straight in the eyes.

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Jews and Syriac Christians

Butts, Aaron Michael & Simcha Gross (eds.). 2020. Jews and Syriac Christians: Intersections across the first millennium (Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 180). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Der vorliegende Band enthält sechzehn Studien, die ein breites Spektrum an Themen untersuchen – von Fragen zum
Ursprung bis zur Entwicklung kommunaler Grenzen, von zwischenmenschlichen Interaktionen bis zu gemeinsamen
historischen Bedingungen, die Juden und syrische Christen im ersten Jahrtausend n. Chr. betraf.

Mohr Siebeck

The publisher offers links to a flyer and a table of contents. ~AZ

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Books

Methods and models in ancient history

Mæhle, Ingvar, Per Bjarne Ravnå & Eivind Heldaas Seland (eds.). 2020. Methods and models in ancient history: Essays in honor of Jørgen Christian Meyer (Papers and Monographs from the Norwegian Institute at Athens 9). Athens: Norwegian Institute at Athens.

According to the institute, the publications of the Norwegian Institute at Athens are available on-line at the digital collection of the Bergen University Library. However, we have been unable to find a download link for the above volume. Please check the above website for updates.

Two papers of closer interest to scholars of Iranian Studies are available from the authors’ academia.edu pages:

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Articles

The Conceptual Image of the Planets in Ancient Iran and the Process of Their Demonization

Panaino, Antonio. 2020. The conceptual image of the planets in ancient Iran and the process of their demonization: Visual materials and models of inclusion and exclusion in Iranian history of knowledge. Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 28. 359–389.

The Moon God (Klimova plate, Perm region, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg S-43)

The present contribution offers an overview of the main problems concerning the representation of the planets in the pre-Islamic Iranian world, the origin of their denominations, their astral roles and the reasons behind their demonization in the Zoroastrian and Manichaean frameworks. This is a preliminary attempt to resume the planetary iconography and iconology in western and eastern Iranian sources, involving also external visual data, such as those coming from Dunhuang and the Chinese world. The article offers an intellectual journey into a net of mutual cultural and spiritual relations, focusing on the image of the heaven (and of its celestial beings), thereby proposing a new synthesis and highlighting a number of intercultural contaminations.