Graduate Papers

Irrigation Management in Ancient Iran: A Survey of Sasanian Water Politics

Sophia Montakab, Department of History, University of California, Irvine

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?