Once there was a poor physician of Baghdad named Asad ibn Gani who never had enough patients to make a living, even during an epidemic, because he lacked the three qualifications everyone sought: he was neither Syrian nor Christian and he was not from Jundishapur:
‘First of all,’ he answered, ‘to the patients, I am a Muslim; it was known before I was a doctor and even before my birth that Muslims do not succeed in medicine. In addition, I am named Asad instead of Salib, Gabra’il, Yuhanna or Bira. My honorific is Abu l-Harit, while it should be Abu Isa, Abu Zakariya or Abu Ibrahim. I wear a garment of white cotton although I should wear black silk. I speak Arabic instead of expressing myself in the language of the people of Jundi-Shapur.’
Kārnāmag ī Ardaxšīr ī Pābagān, “The Book of the Deeds of Ardaxšīr son of Pābag,” is a Middle Persian epic text on the lineage, life and kingship of the founder of the Sasanian dynasty, Ardaxšīr I. Composed sometime between the mid sixth to early seventh century, this epic text attempts to tell a story almost 300 to 400 years after its original time period. Consequently, it is essentially a mixture of history and fiction, full of mythical and legendary tales with no discernable historical accuracy. While the basic structure and the main focus of the epic is on the person and naturally the time period of Ardaxšīr I, all of its aspects are very much influenced by the ideals and customs of the time of its composition. Epic of Kārnamag and the Late Sasanian Period
The Dēnkard is a compendium of Zoroastrian knowledge compiled in the ninth century CE. The Dēnkard was written in what was the Sasanian Empire, an empire whose government constructed a primordial Zoroastrian past based on the Avesta and the mythical Aryan homeland, written in this paper as Ērānšahr to properly reflect the Middle Persian, two hundred years after the early Islamic conquests and Roman-Sasanian War of the Seventh Century CE. Because of the time in which the Dēnkard was produced, a number of interesting things occur in the text that demonstrate an attempt by the compilers of this text to erect strong borders around Zoroastrians who did not convert when in a time when most Zoroastrians were converting to Islam, the religion of the Arab conquerors of Ērānšahr.
Although a fairly unknown dynasty, the Sasanian dynasty of Iran established itself as a period for creativity and high-art. A contemporary to Christian Rome and the Byzantine Empire, Sasanian Iran managed to influence much in science and art. Of interest is their trade in textile, of which examples are practically non-existent due to unfavorable environment and rapid decay. Bitter enemies of the Romans and immersed in all sorts of rivalries, this dynasty stands fundamentally unique from others, while very little remains of their heritage, as an art historian I have tried to highlight their unique understanding of motifs and designs, as well as how the rest of the ancient world gained access to them.
“ὁ κρατῶν Περσοκράτης ὁ πυρσολάτρης ἐζοφώθη Χοσρόης.”: The Portrayal of Chosroes II in George Pisides’ Herakleias
As the two greatest powers in the region, Sasanian Persia and Byzantium were often at odds with each other. In 528, after much fighting and loss, a peace was negotiated, but was soon broken on three separate occasions: between Chosroes I and Justinian; Chosroes I and Justin II; and finally, Chosroes II and Herakleios. This last war, enduring nearly 26 years, decimated both empires irreparably. Prior to this, however, a standing alliance was established between Emperor Maurice and Chosroes II, after the former restored the latter to the Sasanian throne. Once Phokas usurped Maurice’s throne and killed him and his family, Chosroes II revived the hostility between the two empires, using the murder of Maurice and the restoration of his fugitive son to the throne as justification for invasion. Chosroes II took advantage of the brewing civil war in Byzantium, and advanced in Syria and Cappadocia, as Herakleios entered Constantinople to take the throne from Phokas.
The guiding motive and expected outcome of Julian’s fatal campaign against the Sasanian Empire have long been difficult issues for studies in the emperor’s reign. Head (1976: 158-159) questions, “Did he imagine that he might in fact conquer Persia? Or did he anticipate that the campaign would be similar to raids across the Rhine, designed to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy but not to result in permanent occupation of territory?” Head favors the latter explanation, noting that the avid historian emperor was too familiar with the centuries of war between the Roman and Persian empires and knew of the many Roman defeats that had been suffered as the result of overly ambitious campaigns. On the other hand, for an emperor renowned for his appreciation of earlier Pagan antiquity, the desire to emulate or at least follow in the tradition of previous emperors and generals that had fought successfully in the East could not have been far from his mind. As Gardner (1978: 315) points out, “The thought of Alexander was ever with him, and many ages seemed to witness his deeds … At the same time, he did not neglect the less encouraging memories – those of Caesar, the younger Gordian, and Valerian.”
Due to the arid climate of the Iranian plateau, water has traditionally played an integral role in securing political power. Indeed, the Iranologist, Richard Nelson Frye, has referred to water as the “life blood of Iran.” Considering the environment, it is not surprising that the Iranians developed the earliest, most sophisticated form of irrigation in the world, the qanat system. Archaeologists and Iran scholars are currently researching the role of the government in managing these irrigation systems. At the “Ancient Iranian Water Systems Seminar” at Durham University in 2011, international Iran scholars concluded that early irrigation systems were built and managed on a local basis, but by the Sasanian period, this management was co-opted by the Sasanian bureaucracy. My research seeks to investigate this trend to centralize water management under the Sasanians. My project will be driven by such questions as: What incentivized the Sasanian bureaucracy to centralize irrigation? How does water management effect efficient governing? Which Sasanian kings focus the most on irrigation projects? What role did water play in the Sasanian understanding of Zoroastrianism? Do religion, politics, and economics overlap in a common emphasis on water management in ancient Iran?