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Articles

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.

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Books

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.

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Books

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.

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Books

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.

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Books

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.

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Articles

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.
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Articles

‘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.

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Books

Sasanian and Islamic Settlement and Ceramics in Southern Iran

Priestman, Seth M. N. & Derek Kennet. 2023. Sasanian and Islamic settlement and ceramics in Southern Iran (4th to 17th century AD): The Williamson Collection Project (British Institute of Persian Studies Archaeological Monograph Series 8). Oxford: Oxbow Books.

This monograph comprises the final publication of a study supported by the British Institute of Persian Studies and undertaken by Seth Priestman and Derek Kennet at the University of Durham. The work presents and analyses an assemblage of just under 17,000 sherds of pottery and associated paper archives resulting from one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys ever undertaken on the historic archaeology of southern Iran. The survey was undertaken by Andrew George Williamson (1945–1975), a doctoral student at Oxford University between 1968 and 1971, at a time of great progress and rapid advance in the archaeological exploration of Iran.

The monograph provides new archaeological evidence on the long-term development of settlement in Southern Iran, in particular the coastal region, from the Sasanian period to around the 17th century. The work provides new insights into regional settlement patterns and changing ceramic distribution, trade and use. A large amount of primary data is presented covering an extensive area from Minab to Bushehr along the coast and inland as far as Sirjan. This includes information on a number of previously undocumented archaeological sites, as well as a detailed description and analysis of the ceramic finds, which underpin the settlement evidence and provide a wider source of reference.

By collecting carefully controlled archaeological evidence related to the size, distribution and period of occupation of urban and rural settlements distributed across southern Iran, Williamson aimed to reconstruct the broader historical development of the region. Due to his early death the work was never completed. The key aims of the authors of this volume were to do justice to Williamson’s remarkable vision and efforts on the one hand, and at the same time to bring this important new evidence to ongoing discussions about the development of southern Iran through the Sasanian and Islamic periods.

From the Oxbow website
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Articles

Fulayj: A Sasanian to Early Islamic Fort in the Sohar Hinterland

Priestman, Seth, Nasser Al-Jahwari, Eve MacDonald, Derek Kennet, Kawther Alzeidi, Mark Andrews, Vladimir Dabrowski, Vladimer Kenkadze, Rosalind MacDonald, Tatia Mamalashvili, Ibrahim Al-Maqbali, Davit Naskidashvili & Domiziana Rossi. 2023. Fulayj: A Sasanian to Early Islamic Fort in the Sohar Hinterland. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 52 (2023): 291–304.

Fulayj fort: an oblique aerial view looking across the structure to the north‑east (photograph by Davit Naskidashvili)

Fulayj fort is located on the fertile al-Bāṭinah plain of Oman, 12 km inland from Ṣaḥam and 32 km south-east of the key urban centre and major medieval port of Sohar (Ṣuḥār). The chance discovery of the site by Nasser Al-Jahwari in 2012 provided an important breakthrough in our potential understanding of the late pre-Islamic and initial Islamic period occupation in Oman. Finds collected during the first survey of the site were inspected by Derek Kennet and identified as likely to be of late Sasanian or very early Islamic date. Following further recording in 2014, a broad, multidisciplinary archaeological investigation was launched in 2015. Two seasons were completed by a joint British-Omani team in 2015 and 2016. Following a break in operations, a third season of fieldwork was completed in 2022.1 These investigations have confirmed the initial dating of the fort and substantially enhanced our understanding of all aspects of its planning, construction, history of occupation, internal organization, nature of use, etc. It is possible that Fulayj formed part of a wider defensive military cordon protecting the commercial and agricultural potential of the fertile coastal strip and urban centre of the Sohar hinterland. These wider aspects will be returned to again for further consideration below.

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Books

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