Apocalyptic Eschatology and Empire in Sasanian Iran

Canepa, Matthew P. 2024. Envisioning dualism and emplacing the Eschaton: Apocalyptic eschatology and empire in Sasanian Iran. In Jörg Rüpke, Michal Biran & Yuri Pines (eds.), Empires and Gods: The Role of Religions in Imperial History (Imperial Histories: Eurasian Empires Compared), vol. 1, 135–174. Berlin: De Gruyter.

The Sasanian Empire (224–642 CE) was the last great Iranian empire to rule overWestern Asia before the coming of Islam. The empire was founded when Ardaxšīr I (r. 224 – ca. 242), a local ruler of Pārs and vassal to the Parthian king of kings, revolted from his overlord, Ardawān IV, defeating and killing him in the Battleof Hormozgān. Ending five centuries of Arsacid rule, Ardaxšīr I quickly took control of the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, expanding the empire and soon bringing him into conflict with the Romans. His son and successor Šābuhr I (r. 242–272) expanded the empire eastward into Northern India at the expense of the Kushan Empire and westward into Roman territory, raiding several importantRoman cities and deporting their inhabitants, including those of Antioch. By the late-sixth century CE the Sasanians had forged a centralized empire from theParthian Empire’s heterogenous network of crown lands, client kingdoms, semi-autonomous city-states, and aristocratic estates. Despite setbacks, the new powerful empire succeeded in contending with and often defeating the economic and military might of the Roman Empire, while resisting the military pressures of the steppe, and harnessing the economic forces of Eurasian trade. With mercantile networks that extended from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the Empire of the Iranians exercised power over Mesopotamia, Iran, portions of the Caucasus,South and Central Asia, and briefly Egypt, Anatolia and even to the walls of Constantinople during the empire’s final apogee under Husraw II (r. 590–628). Over the course of late antiquity, Sasanian art, architecture, and court culture created a new dominant global aristocratic common culture in western Eurasia, beguiling theirRoman, South Asian, and Chinese contemporaries, and deeply imprinted the later Islamic world.

This chapter is available as an open access publication.

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.


Studia Iranica 51

Volume 51 of Studia Iranica, dated 2022, is now available with two issues.

Of particular interest to this blog is Olivia Ramble’s article on Kerdīr’s bun-xānag and Funding Foundations in Sasanian Iran.

Issue 1

  • The Caspian Language of Tonekābon; BORJIAN, Habib
  • Pashto Preverbs, I: Indo-Iranian *ā; DE CHIARA, Matteo
  • About ‘Paper’ in Russian, Pahl. pambag, Rus. bumaga; OGNIBENE, Paolo
  • Plague in Sistan, 1905-1906; FLOOR, Willem

Issue 2

  • Kerdīr’s bun-xānag and Funding Foundations in Sasanian Iran; RAMBLE, Olivia
  • Les mots français dans le premier Safarnāme de Nāṣer ad-din Shāh (1873); LENEPVEU-HOTZ, Agnès
  • Pashto Preverbs, II: Indo-Iranian Heritage; DE CHIARA, Matteo
  • From Hurmuz to Aleppo: Observations on the Journey of Alessandro Piccolomini, 1586; TRENTACOSTE, Davide
In memoriam
  • Christophe Balaÿ (1949-2022); HOURCADE, Bernard
  • Bert G. Fragner (1941-2021); SCHWARZ, Florian
  • Florence Hellot-Bellier (1943-2021); HOURCADE, Bernard

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.


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.


Graffiti in Middle Iranian

Cereti, Carlo G. 2023. Graffiti in Middle Iranian: Some Preliminary Notes. In Ondřej Škrabal, Leah Mascia, Ann Lauren Osthof & Malena Ratzke (eds.), Graffiti Scratched, Scrawled, Sprayed: Towards a Cross-Cultural Understanding (Studies in Manuscript Cultures 35), 327–354. De Gruyter.

Graffito from Kal Jangal (after Henning 1977, Plate XXVII)

This article aims to present a limited selection of Middle Iranian graffiti while proposing a definition of the term ‘graffito’ in the Iranian area. Middle Iranian languages were spoken over a vast region that stretches from Mesopotamia to Central Asia. Traditionally, scholars in our field consider the Middle Iranian period to cover the fourth century BCE to the end of the first millennium CE. The number of known written artefacts dating from this period has progressively increased and today we possess a sizeable epigraphic corpus, of which languages such as Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian take the lion’s share. Here the author presents a selection of written artefacts that, on material and linguistic grounds, seem to better fit the idea of ‘graffito’, and briefly focuses on a few drawings scratched into palace walls in ancient Persepolis. Furthermore, the article aims at contributing to the growing debate on graffiti across different traditions, while remaining well aware that the definition of ‘graffiti’ in the Iranian area is still an open question and requires further discussion to establish a shared classification.

The entire volume is available online as Open Access.


Three Persian Martyr Acts

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook, Reyhan Durmaz, Michael L. Payne, Daniel Picus & Noah Tetenbaum. 2023. Three Persian martyr acts (Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac: Text and Translation 9). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

This volume brings together the texts and translations for three Syriac martyr acts, set in Sasanian Persia during the reign of Shapur II (309-379 CE). These texts offer compelling witness to the challenges of a community’s need to honor memory and experience, and evidence towards the formation and sustenance of Christian identity in the midst of Persian society and culture.


Babylonian Jews and Sasanian Imperialism

Gross, Simcha. 2024. Babylonian Jews and Sasanian imperialism in late antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The new publication date for this book is now February 2024.

From the image offered by the Babylonian Talmud, Jewish elites were deeply embedded within the Sasanian Empire (224-651 CE). The Talmud is replete with stories and discussions that feature Sasanian kings, Zoroastrian magi, fire temples, imperial administrators, Sasanian laws, Persian customs, and more quotidian details of Jewish life. Yet, in the scholarly literature on the Babylonian Talmud and the Jews of Babylonia , the Sasanian Empire has served as a backdrop to a decidedly parochial Jewish story, having little if any direct impact on Babylonian Jewish life and especially the rabbis. Babylonian Jews and Sasanian Imperialism in Late Antiquity advances a radically different understanding of Babylonian Jewish history and Sasanian rule. Building upon recent scholarship, Simcha Gross portrays a more immanent model of Sasanian rule, within and against which Jews invariably positioned and defined themselves. Babylonian Jews realized their traditions, teachings, and social position within the political, social, religious, and cultural conditions generated by Sasanian rule.


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.