The Political History of Ērān in the Sasanian Period

Ardaxšīr I was able to defeat Ardawān (Artabanus IV) at the plain of Hormozgān
in 224 CE and established the Sasanian Empire. From then on Ardaxšīr took the title of
šāhān šāh “King of Kings” and began the conquest of a territory which he called Ērān.1
But before this fateful battle between the last Parthian king and the institutor of the
Sasanian dynasty, much had happened internally and externally in order for this new
dynasty to come to power. To the west, the Roman Empire was going through one of its
worst centuries, an anxious period, when its future seemed unsure. Roman armies whose
allegiance lay with their generals, brought chaos to the empire and one “Barrack
Emperor” followed another, with some ruling for a very short time.

Middle Persian Papyri from the Sasanian Occupation of Egypt in the Seventh Century CE

For the second time in history the Persians reached North Africa and occupied it for over a decade. They not only conquered Egypt, but also Northern Libya (Libye) and to the south all the way to Thebaid, the border of the Nubian kingdom.2 The Sasanian Persian conquest of the Near East and North Africa during the rule of Xūsrō II (590-628CE), known as Aparwēz “Victorious” was the last great conquest of the Late Antique world before the coming of the Arab Muslims. Because of the chronological proximity of the Persian conquest to the Arab Muslim conquest, the impact of the former on the socio-political makeup of the region and its consequence for the latter Arab victories has been neglected.

Parthian, Sasanian and Early Islamic Pottery: Dating, Definition and Distribution

A specialist workshop at The British Museum
Organised by Seth Priestman & St John Simpson
Department of the Ancient Near East
The British Museum

The purpose of this workshop was to discuss current issues concerning the dating, definition and distribution of selected types of Parthian, Sasanian and Early Islamic pottery, particularly in the light of recent fieldwork or new research on old collections. Many of the speakers illustrated or showed actual examples of pottery, which could be compared to selected sherd material from the collections of The British Museum. We are also very grateful to Dr Venetia Porter for kindly facilitating the handling of Samarra pottery from the Department of Asia. This meeting was limited to a small number of specialists, including archaeologists and archaeological scientists, thus the presentations were focused on particular problems rather than describing the overall state of ceramic studies or material culture in general. The presentations themselves varied from formal presentations to “hands-on” discussions over objects, although time unfortunately did not always allow for questions. However a great deal of information was shared and it was felt that it would be useful to publish the presentations, or a summary of what was said, accompanied by selective transcripts of the discussion. In most cases we have not attempted to support statements with the usual referencing and data which would be provided with the formal presentation or publication of the material, although we have included a summary list of key references referred to by some of the speakers. It should also be born in mind that unless the speaker supplied a written text, the texts have been transcribed directly from the spoken word, with the minimum of alteration, and therefore the words and syntax chosen are not necessarily those the authors would have chosen to select for a written presentation. The structure of this web-publication is as follows:

  • Programme
  • List of speakers and discussants
  • Individual presentations with selected illustrations
  • List of references cited

Sasanian Bullae

Bullae (sig. bulla), are clay or bitumen impression of seals that are usually attached to documents or parcels (or the strings used to bound them) and show the identity of the author or witness of the document or the owner of the merchandise. The Middle Persian word for bulla, gil muhrag is known to us from an Iranian loanword in Aramaic Talmud (N. Frye). A number of clay bullae from the Sasanian era have been discovered at various Sasanian sites such as Takht-e Suleiman (D.Huff) and Qasr-e Abu Nasr (P. Harper). These have been of much importance in identifying these sites as Sasanian remains (D. Huff). Sasanian bullae have also been discovered from Transoxiana, bearing inscriptions in Sogdian (N. Frye). Bullae are important in Sasanian onomastics, assisting us in identifying personal names, government offices, and religious positions (R. Frye).

Middle Persian Papyri, Ostraca and Parchments

Middle Persian papyri, ostraca and parchments are important economic documents from the sixth and seventh centuries CE. They have mainly been found from the Sasanian Persian occupation of Egypt (609-619 CE) mainly from Fayoum (Hansen 1938; 9), during the rule of Xusrō II (590-628 CE). They contain list of food supply, personal names, ranks, military organizations, and dates. They are also instructive in understanding the manner in which letters were written and the way in which the dignitaries were addressed. Thanks to Guity Azarpay a collection of Middle Persian documents comprising 260 silk and leather manuscripts have been gathered and placed at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Bactrian Collection: an Important Source for Sasanian Economic History


The recently discovered and published Bactrian documents are a series of 150 land-sale contracts, legal judgments, deeds of manumission, sales receipts, tax-lists, and letters regarding commercial matters. These have been found, since 1990, in various markets in northern Pakistan and have found their way into the collections of antique dealers in Europe. The vast majority of the documents are now in possession of Dr. David Naser Khalili of London, with a few pieces in the collection of antique dealers in Europe and the Middle East. With the exception of a few, the documents are written on leather, both tanned and un-tanned.