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.

Sasanian Persia

Eberhard Sauer
Sauer, Eberhard W., ed. Sasanian Persia. Between Rome and the Steppes of Eurasia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

The Sasanian Empire (3rd–7th centuries) was one of the largest empires of antiquity, stretching from Mesopotamia to modern Pakistan and from Central Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. This mega-empire withstood powerful opponents in the steppe and expanded further in Late Antiquity, whilst the Roman world shrunk in size. Recent research has revealed the reasons for this success: notably population growth in some key territories, economic prosperity, and urban development, made possible through investment in agriculture and military infrastructure on a scale unparalleled in the late antique world.

Our volume explores the empire’s relations with its neighbours and key phenomena which contributed to its wealth and power, from the empire’s armed forces to agriculture, trade and treatment of minorities. The latest discoveries, notably major urban foundations, fortifications and irrigations systems, feature prominently. An empire whose military might and culture rivalled Rome and foreshadowed the caliphate will be of interest to scholars of the Roman and Islamic world.

  • Challenges our Eurocentric world view by presenting a Near-Eastern empire whose urban culture and military apparatus rivalled that of Rome
  • Covers the latest discoveries on foundations, fortifications and irrigation systems
  • Includes case studies on Sasanian frontier walls and urban culture in the Sasanian Empire

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
Eberhard W. Sauer
2. Sasanian cities: archaeological perspectives on the urban economy and built environment of an empire
St John Simpson
3. Palaeoecological insights into agri-horti-cultural and pastoral practices before, during and after the Sasanian Empire
Lyudmila Shumilovskikh, Morteza Djamali, Valérie Andrieu-Ponel, Philippe Ponel, Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu, Abdolmajid Naderi-Beni and Eberhard W. Saue
4. Animal exploitation and subsistence on the borders of the Sasanian Empire: from the Gorgan Wall (Iran) to the Gates of the Alans (Georgia)
Marjan Mashkour, Roya Khazaeli, Homa Fathi, Sarieh Amiri, Delphine Decruyenaere, Azadeh Mohaseb, Hossein Davoudi, Shiva Sheikhi and Eberhard W. Sauer
5. The Northern and Western Borderlands of the Sasanian Empire: Contextualizing the Roman/Byzantine and Sasanian Frontier
Dan Lawrence and Tony J. Wilkinson
6. Connectivity on a Sasanian frontier: Route systems in the Gorgan Plain of north-east Iran
Kristen Hopper
7. The Sasanian Empire and the East: A summary of the evidence and its implications for Rome
Warwick Ball
8. Minority Religions in the Sasanian Empire: Suppression, Integration, and Relations with Rome
Lee E. Patterson
9. A Contested Jurisdiction: Armenia in Late Antiquity
Tim Greenwood
10. Cultural contacts between Rome and Persia at the time of Ardashir I (AD 224-240)
Pierfrancesco Callieri
11. Innovation and Stagnation: Military Infrastructure and the Shifting Balance of Power between Rome and Persia
Eberhard W. Sauer, Jebrael Nokandeh, Konstantin Pitskhelauri and Hamid Omrani Rekavandi
12. The Arabian Frontier: A Keystone of the Sasanian Empire
Craig Morley
13. The India Trade in Late Antiquity
James Howard-Johnston

Eberhard Sauer is Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, having previously taught at the Universities of Leicester and Oxford.

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.

Sasanian Rock Reliefs I

Milad Vandaee

This book is a survey of all of the known Sasanian rock reliefs in the Persian language. The author has personally traveled and photographed the reliefs and has captured details, comparing them to the previous sketches and pictures. Vandaee also places into context the tradition of rock reliefs and the use of image as propaganda in the Near East.

Milad Vandaee, Sasanian Rock Reliefs I, Iran Free University Press, 1392/2014.