Message from Persian Gulf Society Board to Dr. Golbahar

From: M Ala <>
Cc: Persian Gulf <>;
Sent: Thu, 5 Feb 2009 9:44 pm
Subject: Persian Gulf name must be used.

Dear Dr. Golbahar:

Dr. Hojbari has brought to our attention that you are holding a
conference at a University where the wrong term of Persian Gulf is

When this University came into being in Bahrain, I personally wrote to
its President, Vice Presidents and academic Deans.  I have not heard
anything from them up to now.

We created a website to educate non-Iranians about the use of correct
term of Persian Gulf.  Our community expects more from Iranians
especially those who teach or conduct research at academic
institutions.  We believe honesty and integrity are two important
elements of academia which we must honor.

On behalf of Persian Gulf Organization, I encourage you to promote the
correct name of Persian Gulf.  At this time, we do not wish to list
your University or you as an abuser of our historical heritage in our

Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

Dr. Mohammad Ala, Board Member and

Questioning the term ”chemical warfare” in reference to Ancient Iran


Recently reports were made with respect to the alleged use of “chemical warfare” by the Sassanian armies of Shapur I during his successful campaigns against Rome in the 3rd century AD.

Payvand News of Iran (February 4, 2009) has cited an interesting report questioning the validity of the term “chemical warfare” in reference to the siege of Dura Europus. The report cites Phd Candidate Reza Yeganehshakib (Depatment of History, University of California, Irvine) and history Professor Khodadad Rezakhani of UCLA who question the “slant” in recent reports regarding “chemical warfare“.

Yeganehshakib holds degrees in Chemical Engineering (BS) and Environmental Studies (MS). Simply put, Yeganehshakib commands a strong understanding of the scientific processes that may have taken place at Dura Europos. Yeganehshakib has observed in the aforementioned Payvand News report that :

The Roman soldiers that were found could have been killed because of the lack of oxygen due to the blockage of the mouth of the tunnel, or possibly because of the collapse of the earth and the blockage of the mouth of the tunnel behind them. The dimensions of the tunnel…must be precisely analyzed and compared to the material and texture of the soil and its mechanical properties to see if the Roman reinforcement and structures could resist the weight of the mass of the soil above it or not.

Roman and Persian miners would have needed some means of providing light in order to be able to see what they were doing. The sulphur crystal and bitumen, mentioned in the article, are among the chemicals that were commonly used in order to produce torch light at the time. The presence of these chemicals and burning them could surely produce hazardous gasses. Gasses like Carbon Monoxide (produced as a result of the lack of enough oxygen required for the complete combustion in the tunnel), sulphur oxides, and unburned Hydrocarbons are among the most lethal gasses produced by burning these chemicals to produce enough light. The accumulation of these gasses in either side of the tunnel was surely quite deadly. The accumulation of the harmful gasses could have been caused either by the physical blockage of the entrance or mouth of the tunnel or due to the air pressure difference between the inside of the tunnel and the outside air pressure particularly at the mouth of it. If the outside air pressure was higher than that of the inside, then the gases inside could not be released to the outside and would accumulate there. The elevation difference of the tunnel and its entrance is a crucial factor, as the air density and pressure in the higher altitudes is lower than that of lower altitude.

If the Persian tunnel, as shown at the first image, was built at a lower elevation and had an open entrance to enter the air, then a hole or any other open area could have unexpectedly connected the Roman and Persian tunnels together. the air and the harmful gases, either produced by those chemicals to produce light or intentionally to produce harmful gasses, would have suddenly rose up and gotten into the Roman tunnel due to the air pressure difference. Therefore almost all of the gasses that had lower densities than air would have rose up to the Roman tunnel. At the time if the Roman tunnel mouth was closed for any reason, even if the process of the gas transfer from Persian side to the Roman side was slowed, the gasses already existing in the Roman tunnel would have remained for awhile.

All the burning processes need enough oxygen, fuel, and temperature. The latter can be produced by the initial ignition that Sulphur Crystals might have cause; however, the gases produced as the result of combustion are proportionate to the amount of fuel and air. By finding evidence of the existence of the quantity and quality of the fuel (a very difficult task), we can determine the amount of the gas released by creating a mass-energy balance for the chemical reaction of this combustion to see if enough hazardous gases were produced in order to kill 21 soldiers (20 Romans and one Persian). We also need to see if there as enough oxygen or air to realize the combustion is another issue.

So, these scientific take on the news imply that although the intentional use of “chemical weapons” was possible, the case could also have been a simple case of accumulation of poisonous gasses as the result of the burning of the chemicals used for creating light in the tunnels. In the former case, one should celebrate that the Persians were indeed as “advanced” as the Romans in their knowledge of warfare tactics and technologies. If the latter, one would also wonder the wisdom of trampling the history of Iran/Persia in all other occasions only to give it credence when violence is involved.

Yeganehshakib and Rezakhani note of the possible political motives behind recent reports by stating:

Usually, when Iran/Persia gets mentioned, it is either in the form of nuclear “threat” currently providing fodder for news networks or in the shape of ghouls and monsters who get massacred in hundreds by a few brave and freedom loving Greeks, making puddles of blood in service of human rights and freedom. So, it was interesting to see that the only time the Persian history makes it to the main news is still in connection with violence, particularly “gruesome” tactics against the beloved, civilised, freedom loving Romans who just killed their enemies by boring them to death, apparently.

…the Sasanians had the definite upper hand in the war with the Romans. This is again interesting, since comments such as “the Sasanian Persians were as knowledgeable in siege warfare as the Romans” (quite common when there is talk of ancient history) somehow imply that the Romans were the Americans of the ancient world, the most civilised, knowledgeable, and technologically advanced of all ancient peoples to whose exalted positions all others needed to aspire, despite constant reminders from those such as the Chinese that this could not be farther from the truth.

The siege of Dura Europos is a field of study that will be examined for decades to come. Few serious scholars would suggest that the successes of Shapur I were due to “Chemical warfare”.  Shapur’s victories against his Roman opponents were primarily due the Savaran, the elite Sassanian cavalry. It was these who were to inflict upon Rome one of her most dramatic defeats in history.

The Controversy of the Achaemenid Tablets


The dangers to Iran’s ancient heritage are existent both inside and outside of Iran. A case of the latter can be seen with respect to the recent controversy on Achaemenid era artifacts in western museums today.

The most salient issue as reported in the History news Network is the case of the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Blanche Manning in the spring of 2006 that citizens who were injured in a 1997 bombing Israel have the right to seize 300 Achaemenid era clay tablets that have been loaned to the University of Chicago.


Achaemenid era tablet. A very large number of these tablets were discovered by the archaeologists of the University of Chicago during their excavations of Persepolis in 1933.

This is perhaps the first time in history where political grievances have been legally mobilized against archaeology and history. This sets a very dangerous legal precedent as it entitles any nationality or ethnic group with political grievances to appropriate historical and archaeological artifacts.

On May 23, 2007, Iranian officials reported that the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has assured them that the confiscation of the Achaemenid tablets would come to an end.

The issue however has not been resolved and as noted by the Payvand news of Iran, the danger of the seizures of the tablets for political purposes remains real.

In response to these politicized actions, The Societas Iranologica Europea (SIE) has released a petition to put a halt to the confiscation and sale of thousands of items from Persepolis as well as Achaemenid treasury clay tablets (written in Elamite) that remain on loan to Chicago University’s Oriental Institute.


Jennifer Gregory, graduate student at the University of Chicago’s oriental Institute, examines the Elamite tablets (Payvand News).

History and archaeology have traditionally been held aloof from the turbulent and ever-changing landscape of contemporary politics. The case of the Achaemenid tablets is a clear contest between political grievances and academic integrity.