An historiographical Study of Sasanian Iran

Jackson Bonner and Michael Richard
Jackson Bonner, Michael Richard, Al-Dinawari’s Kitab Al-Ahbar Al-Tiwal: An Historiographical Study of Sasanian Iran, Res Orientales, 23 (Bures-sur-Yvette: Peeters Press, 2015)
This book is a study of the pre-Islamic passages of Abu Hanifa Ahmad ibn Dawud ibn Wanand Dinawari’s Kitab al-Akhbar al-Tiwal. It is intended for scholars of Late Antiquity. Special emphasis is placed on Dinawari’s exposition of the rule of the Sasanian dynasty and questions relating to the mysterious Khudaynama tradition which are intimately connected with it. Beginning with a discussion of Dinawari and his work, the book moves into a discussion of indigenous Iranian historiography. Speculation on the sources of Kitab al-Akhbar al-Tiwal follows, and the historiographical investigation of the most substantial portion of Kitab al-Akhbar al-Tiwal‘s notices on the Sasanian dynasty comes next. The findings of the book are set out in a narrative of Sasanian history at the end.
This book was written with one main question in mind: what does Dinawari’s Kitab al-Akhbar al-Tiwal have to say about pre-Islamic Iranian history? A host of other questions arose immediately: who was Dinawari; when did he live; what did he do; how was his work perceived by others; where did Dinawari get his information and how did he present it; is Dinawari’s information reliable?
For more information, see the ToC of this volume.

Samarkand the Center of the World

Matteo Compareti

Compareti, Matteo. 2016. Samarkand the center of the world: proposals for the identification of the Afrasyab paintings. (Sasanika Series 5). Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers.

In antiquity Samarkand was the capital of the Persian province of Sogdiana. Its language, culture, and “Zoroastrian” religion closely approximated those of the Persians. Following its conquest by Alexander, its strategic position and fertile soil made Sogdiana a coveted prize for Late Antique invaders of Central Asia. Around 660 CE — at the dawn of Arab invasion — local king Varkhuman promoted the execution of a unique painted program in one of his private rooms. Each wall was dedicated to a specific population: the north wall, the Chinese; the west, the Sogdians themselves; the east, the Indians and possibly the Turks. The south wall is probably the continuation of the scene on the west wall. In Chinese written sources, some support for this concept of the “division of the world” can be found. Accidentally discovered during Soviet times, the room was named “Hall of the Ambassadors” due to the representations of different peoples. However, many aspects of its painted program remain obscure. This study offers new ideas for better identifications of the rituals celebrated by the people on the different walls during precise moments of the year.

Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām

Rahim M. Shayegan

Shayegan, M. Rahim. Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām. Hellenic Studies Series 52. Washington, D.C./Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Hellenic Studies – Harvard University Press, 2012.

The purpose of the study is twofold. In the first part, it examines the content of one the most important inscriptions of the Ancient Near East: the Bisotun inscription of the Achaemenid king Darius I (6th century BCE), which in essence reports on a suspicious fratricide and subsequent coup-d’état. The study shows how the inscription’s narrative would decisively influence the Iranian epic, epigraphic, and historiographical traditions well into the Sasanian and early Islamic periods. Intriguingly, the author’s assessment of the impact of the Bisotun narrative on later literary traditions—in particular, on the inscription of the Sasanian king Narseh at Paikuli (3rd–4th centuries CE)—relies on the reception of the oral rendition of the Bisotun story captured by Greek historians.

In the second part of the study, Shayegan investigates how this originally oral narrative, preserved by Herodotus and other Greek and Latin authors, could impact the “historiographical” writings and epic compositions of later Iranian empires, such as the Sasanians, over nine centuries later. Not only do Sasanian inscriptions, especially the inscription of king Narseh at Paikuli, make use of the same story pattern that one encounters in the accounts of Greek and Latin authors describing Bardiya’s murder, especially with regard to the theme of two evil usurpers (called here Warahrān and Wahnām), but also the epic tradition, as reflected in the “Book of the Kings” (Šāhnāme), and the medieval romances called the “Book of Darius” (Dārābnāme), and “Samak, the ʿayyār” (Samak-e ʿAyyār) shows that the story of Bardiya’s murder had penetrated epic composition and had become part of the epic canon.

Finally, the study seeks to demonstrate that in Ancient, Late Antique, and Medieval Iran the interaction between epic and historiographical practices were varied and intricate. “Historical records” could be generated in conformity with the ideals of epic, or composed by being cast into the mold of the oral epic tradition, thereby losing their individual “historical” tenor to conform to the normative frame of the epic. An example in case is the (Indo)-Iranian epic theme of the Twins that decisively shaped the oral composition of the murder story of Bardiya and Gaumāta. However, the prestige of the oral rendition of the Bisotun must have been such that the theme of the two evil brothers was projected back (under new guise) into the oral epic tradition and replaced the older Iranian theme of the Twins, thus re-juvenating the thematic inventory of the epic tradition.
This study in conjunction with Shayegan’s recently published Arsacids and Sasanians: Political ideology in Post-Hellenistic and Late Antique Persia (Cambridge University Press, 2011) form the Vorarbeiten for a new history of the Sasanian empire, on which Shayegan is presently working.

From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes

Kevin van Bladel
van Bladel, Kevin. 2017. From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes. Leiden: Brill.
This historical study argues that the Mandaean religion originated under Sasanid rule in the fifth century, not earlier as has been widely accepted. It analyzes primary sources in Syriac, Mandaic, and Arabic to clarify the early history of Mandaeism. This religion, along with several other, shorter-lived new faiths, such as Kentaeism, began in a period of state-sponsored persecution of Babylonian paganism. The Mandaeans would survive to become one of many groups known as Ṣābians by their Muslim neighbors. Rather than seeking to elucidate the history of Mandaeism in terms of other religions to which it can be related, this study approaches the religion through the history of its social contexts.
Table of Contents
1. Early Contacts between Arab Muslims and Aramaean Mandaeans and the Date of Zazay
2. Theodore bar Konay’s Account of Mandaean Origins (circa 792)
3. Three Sixth-Century References to Mandaeans by Name
4. On the Kentaeans and Their Relationship with the Mandaeans
5. The Account of al-Ḥasan ibn Bahlūl (Bar Bahlul), second half of tenth century
6. Identifying Abū ʿAlī
7. The Marshes of the Ṣābians
8. Other Reports on the Mandaeans after Abū ʿAlī
9. Back to the Question of Origins
10. Pre-Mandaean Nāṣoraeans
11. The Religious Environment of Sasanian Iraq
12. Mandaeism as a Changing Tradition
Appendix 1. Bar Konay on the Kentaeans, Dostaeans, and Nerigaeans, in English
Appendix 2. Ibn Waḥšīya on Aramaic Dialects
Kevin T. van Bladel (Ph.D. 2004, Yale University), is Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at The Ohio State University.

Sasasian Coinage and History: The Civic Numismatic Collection of Milan

Andrea Gariboldi
Gariboldi, Andrea. 2010. Sasanian coinage and history: the Civic Numismatic Collection of Milan. (Sasanika Series 3). Costa Mesa, Calif: Mazda Publishers.

The present monograph provides a survey of the Sasanian coin collection in /the Civico Gabinetto Numismatico/ of Milan. The collection consists of sixty-nine silver coins from the Sasanian period, stretching from the beginning of the reign of Ardair I (224-241 CE) to Xusraw II (590/591-628). Included in the collection are also two post-Sasanian coins attributed to the early period of Muslim domination in Iran, suggesting a strong Sasanian influence.

The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context

Shai Secunda

Although the Babylonian Talmud, or Bavli, has been a text central and vital to the Jewish canon since the Middle Ages, the context in which it was produced has been poorly understood. Delving deep into Sasanian material culture and literary remains, Shai Secunda pieces together the dynamic world of late antique Iran, providing an unprecedented and accessible overview of the world that shaped the Bavli.

Secunda unites the fields of Talmudic scholarship with Old Iranian studies to enable a fresh look at the heterogeneous religious and ethnic communities of pre-Islamic Iran. He analyzes the intercultural dynamics between the Jews and their Persian Zoroastrian neighbors, exploring the complex processes and modes of discourse through which these groups came into contact and considering the ways in which rabbis and Zoroastrian priests perceived one another. Placing the Bavli and examples of Middle Persian literature side by side, the Zoroastrian traces in the former and the discursive and Talmudic qualities of the latter become evident. The Iranian Talmud introduces a substantial and essential shift in the field, setting the stage for further Irano-Talmudic research.

Shai Secunda, The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context, 272 pages | 6 x 9, Cloth Nov 2013 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4570-7 | $55.00s | £36.00

Husraw i Kawadan and Redag

Samra Azarnouche
Azarnouche, Samra (ed.). 2013. Husraw ī Kawādān ud Rēdag-ē: Khosrow fils de Kawād et un page. (Studia Iranica 49). Paris: Association pour l’Avancement des Études Iraniennes.
Our knowledge about the education of the Sasanian nobility and their courtly manners is mainly provided by the Pahlavi text entitled Husraw i Kawadan ud Redag-e “Khosrow, son of Kawad, and a page”. In this volume, we present a new edition and commentary of the text, based on the manuscript MK, including for the first time a translation in French. This dialogical narrative tells the story of a young servant at the court of the Sasanian king Khosrow I (531-579 A.D.), who succeeded in regaining his hierarchic rank because of both his wisdom and his courage. This “manifesto” of aristocratic education appears in the form of numerous lexical lists, a form suitable for a detailed philological analysis.

The Sih-Rozag in Zoroastrianism: A Textual and Historico-Religious Analysis

Enrico Raffaelli

Focusing on the Avestan and Pahlavi versions of the Sih-rozag, a text worshipping Zoroastrian divine entities, this book explores the spiritual principles and physical realities associated with them.

Introducing the book is an overview of the structural, linguistic and historico-religious elements of the Avestan Sih-rozag. This overview, as well as reconstructing its approximate chronology, helps in understanding the original ritual function of the text and its relationship to the other Avestan texts.The book then studies the translation of the text in the Middle Persian language, Pahlavi, which was produced several centuries after its initial composition, when Avestan was no longer understood by the majority of the Zoroastrian community.

Addressing the lacuna in literature examining an erstwhile neglected Zoroastrian text, The Sih-Rozag in Zoroastrianism includes a detailed commentary and an English translation of both the Avestan and Pahlavi version of the Sih-rozag and will be of interest to researchers and scholars of Iranian Studies, Religion, and History.

Routledge – 2014 – 368 pages

Wrestling with the Demons of the Pahlavi Widevdad

Mahnaz Moazami

The Pahlavi Widevdad (Videvdad), The Law (Serving to Keep) Demons Away, a fifth-century Middle Persian commentary on the Avestan Videvdad, describes rules and regulations that serve to prevent pollution caused by dead matter, menstrual discharges, and other agents. It recognizes the perpetual presence of the demons, the forces of the Evil Spirit –forces that should be fought through law-abiding conduct.

In spite of its formidable textual problems, the commentary provides an invaluable quarry for the rules of the Zoroastrian community through its citation of regulations for the conduct of its members. Many topics are covered, from jurisprudence to penalties, procedures for dealing with pollution, purification, and arrangements for funerals. Viewed together, they provide the reader with an exquisite interlace of a community’s concerns.