Presentation at PIASt in Warsaw (May 23, 2019) on the Find of a Sassanian Town at Ramavand

Dr. Gholamreza Karamian provided a presentation on his excavation of a Partho-Sassanian site at Ramavand, Lorestan in Western Iran at the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies (PIAST) in Warsaw on May 23, 2019:

Dr Karamian has already published his findings in the HISTORIA I ŚWIAT  journal with Kaveh Farrokh as co-author in 2017.

Karamian, Gh., & Farrokh, K. (2017). Sassanian stucco decorations from the Ramavand (Barz Qawaleh) excavations in the Lorestan Province of Iran. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, No.6, pp. 69-88.

Dr. Karamian’s research is of special interest to persons interested in Parthian and Sassanian arts and architecture. The below initial report by Dr. Karamian published in on May 1, 2014 provides an overview of his research and findings (especially rare and valuable photographs).


I. Introduction

Partho-Sassanian town called Ramavand is located 130 km far from the Khorramabad center of Lorestan province in Iran. The excavation which carried out by author on December 2013 revealed new cultural materials and gives new information regarding the application of the huge building that discovered in the last season (2011). Discovering an underground tomb in new season which is just located adjacent of the main arch of the previous building, give new idea regarding the application of the Ramavand complex as religious place. Ramavand historical monuments in previous excavation use to consider as a royal Sassanian palace.

Woman of RamavandThe “woman” of Ramavand discovered by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian, possibly Anahita? (Photo: Dr. Gholamreza Karamian).

II.Background of the study

The site was discovered in 2007 during the archaeological survey conducted by S. R. Seyedin Boroujani of the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research. Proper archaeological investigations were initiated in 2008 by G. Karamian, A. Mansouri and M. Mohamadi.

Building of RamavandBuilding excavated by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian at Ramavand in 2013 (Photo: Dr. Gholamreza Karamian).

Further field research directed by G. Karamian and K. Abdi, also served the function of rescue excavations. They were conducted in the autumn of 2010, just before the planned opening of the dam on Seymareh river. The excavations, although limited in extent and time, provided important information on architecture and art of the late Sassanian period. Unfortunately, some portions of the site had been looted by robbers before the arrival of archaeologists, and fragments of stucco decoration scattered by the looters were collected by M. Mansouri and transferred to the Cultural Heritage Organization of Lorestan.

Aim of the study III.

The main of this study is better understanding of the chronology of the site in the area of the study.

Tomb excavated at Ramavand by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian in 2013 (Photo: Dr. Gholamreza Karamian).

IV. Expected result

Expected results from research can be divided into two categories as follows:

Stucco decoration discovered by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian at Ramavand (Photo: Dr. Gholamreza Karamian).

1. Sample stucco motifs from Ramavand (Barz Qawaleh) are similar to those stucco motifs found in other Partho-Sassanian sites (sites like Hajiabad in Fars, Tepe Hissar in Damghan, Ctesiphon , Kish and Parthian palace of Assure in Mesopotamia ). Based upon evidence of similarity with other Partho- Sassanian sites, the Ramavand (Barz Qawaleh) stuccos can also be linked to the Partho- Sassanian period. The variety of stuccos from the site makes it one of the finest informational resources for the study of Partho-Sassanian art and a useful site for the study of Iranian historical geography.

DSC03913“The Hand”  discovered by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian at Ramavand (Photo: Dr. Gholamreza Karamian).

2. The tomb architectural designs hint that structures at the site were a significant place of habitation. On the other hand, the motif of what may be a sacred goddesses also suggests that Ramavand (Barz Q) may have functioned as a religious monument.

Inside the structure of Ramavand in 2013 (Photo: Dr. Gholamreza Karamian).

Selected References :

AZARNOUSH, M. 1987. Sassanian Art in Eastern Fars: The excavation of a manor house at Hajiabad, Darab, Iran, Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1987.

ANDRAE. W and H. LENZEN, 1933. Die Partherstadt Assur, Berlin.

A.U. POPE, 1938-1939. A survey of Persian art, p. 177.

BALDWIN.CARL R, 1970. Sassanian Ducks in a Western Manuscript Gesta, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 3-10.

BALTRUSAITIS. J. 1938-39. Sasanian Stucco. A. Ornamental, A. U. Pope and Ph. Ackerman, A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, Oxford, pp. 601-30.

BIVAR. A. D. H, 1954. Fire-Altars of the Sassanian Period at Balkh, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 17, No. 1/2 pp. 182-183.

BLYTHE G. M , A,1981. Glossary of Robert Adam’s Neo-Classical Ornament ,Architectural History, Vol. 24, pp. 59-82.

BRUNNER..J C, 1979.Sasanian Seals in the Moore Collection: Motive and Meaning in Some popular Subjects Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 14, , pp. 33-50

DIMAND M.S, 1933. Parthian and Sasanian Art The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 4, Part 1 Apr, pp. 79-81

——————– , 1937. Studies in Islamic Ornament: I. Some Aspects of Omaiyad and Early ‘Abbāsid Ornament Ars Islamica, Vol. 4, pp. 293-337

DMITRIEV. V, 1994. Ram’s Horns and Falcon’s Wings: Religious Symbolism in Sasanian Kings’ Crowns (in Russian) Journal of historical, philological,and cultural studies. No1 (35) pp.144-152.

FELTHAM.H, 2010. Lions,silks and silver: The Influence of Sassanian Persia, Sino-Paltonic,University of New South Wales.

FINCH. M , 1991. The Cantharus and Pigna at Old St. Peter’s, Gesta, Vol. 30, No. 1 (), pp. 16-26.

GELFER J. M., 1986. “Medieval Islamic symbolism and the paintings in the Cefalù Cathedral, E.J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands.

GHRISHMAN R., 1962. Iran: Parthians and Sassanians, Thames and Hudson, London .

HOFFMAN. E. R, 2007. Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World, Blackwell.

KROGER J. 1982. Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz.

TREVER K.V. and LUKONIN V.G, 1987. Sasanidskoe serebro. Khudozhestvennaia kul’tura Irana III-VIII vekov. Sobranie Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha ,Moscow: Iskusstvo.

LOSH. S, 2001. Architect, Romantic, Mythologist J. B. Bullen The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 143, No. 1184 Nov, pp. 676-684.

ROSE J., 2010. Zoroastrianism: An Introduction I.B.Tauric publication, London.

SCHMIDT E., 1937. Tepe Hissar Excavations University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Achaemenid style Persian (or Persian-influenced) Ivory comb

The information below on the Persian (or Persian-influenced) ivory comb was passed to by Professor Yuri Stoyanov. The below image and caption is from a text from the Biblical Archaeological Review: “Ashkelon Discovered“, L. Stager, 1991, page 30. As noted by Professor Stoyanov:

The text…naturally downplays the Achaemenid cultural impact on the “Holy Land“.

Professor Stoyanov is currently engaged in research on the Fatemid period at Ashkelon. Note that his works on the exhibition of Persian manuscripts in Bulgaria have been of major importance in Iranian Studies.




Mani: Forgotten Prophet of Ancient Persia

Mani was born in 216 CE near Ctesiphon (capital of the Sassanian Empire) either in the town of Abrumya or Mardinu in the Babylonian district of Nahr Kutha.  He was of Iranian Parthian origin, with his father Patik (Babak?) hailing originally from Hamedan before moving to the Mesopotamian plains. Mani’s mother Mariam may have been of the Kamsakaran Parthian clan of Armenia (see for example the Chinese Compendium, Henning, 1943, p.52; reprinted 1977, II, p.115).

Mani-PortraitA portrait of the prophet Mani (216-274 or 277 CE) (Source: Great Thoughts Treasury). Mani viewed himself as the final seal of the prophets, completing the previous religious messages of Zoroaster, Christ and the Buddha. His theological views, especially with respect to evil and its relation to material existence incurred the wrath of not only the Zoroastrian Magi of his Persian homeland but also that of the later Christians and Emperors of China.

Mani’s parents are believed to have been members of the Elcesaites (Jewish-Christian) sect (at least as reported in the Cologne Mani-Codex). Mani claimed to have received revelations by a “Twin Spirit” when he was first 12 years of age and then twelve years later at the age of 24. He was then inspired to travel and spread his Messianic vision throughout the world. It is believed that he traveled for four decades.

Kaveh Farrokh (کاوه فرخ) was interviewed on Monday April 14, 2014 along with Touraj Daryaee (تورج دریایی) and Zia Sadrolashrafi (ضیا صدرالاشرافی) in the Voice of America Persian Service – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur –”Mani: The Painter Prophet or the Last prophet?”: صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-مانی- پیامبر نگارگر، پیامبر آخر؟-  (April 14, 2014).

The spread of Manichaeism was paralleled by the rise of the influence of Zoroastrianism and Christianity. Mani did win some support among the upper class nobles of the Sassanian nobles (Wuzurgan), but ultimately failed to win over Bahram I (r. 217-274 CE) who had the prophet enchained and imprisoned. Mani is believed to have died sometime in 274 or 277 CE. Undoubtedly the “orthodox” Magi, notably Grand Magus Kartir, were displeased with the theology of Mani’s messages.

Bahram ICoin depicting Sassanian king Bahram I (r. 271-274 CE) (Source: Public Domain). Reversing his late father Shapur I’s (r. 240-270 CE) tolerance toward Mani and his religion, Bahram shackled and imprisoned the prophet after he “lost” a theological debate with the Zoroastrian Magi in the royal court. Mani is believed to have passed away in 274 or later in 277.

What was the basis of Mani’s message? More precisely, what was in his message that inspired such repression in not only Persia, but also in Rome, China and later in the Balkans and France where Manichean ideas spread?

First, Mani was in a sense, the bringer of an international religion, one that was meant not just for Persia, but for all of humanity. He believed that the original teachings of Zoroaster, Buddha and Christ were incomplete (see Coyle, J.K. (2009). Manichaeism and Its Legacy, Brill, p. 13). Mani viewed his creed as the “Religion of Light” for the entire world (Coyle, 2009, p.13). He also claimed that the original teachings of Judeo-Christian religions (esp. Jesus Christ), Zoroaster and the Buddha had been corrupted.

Mani and Bahram GurSixteenth century painting by Ali Shir-Navai of Mani the painter presenting one of his drawings to Bahram Gur (Source: Voice of America).

The second theological aspect of Mani was in his dissection of the origin of evil. Mani denied the Omnipotence of God; he viewed two equal but opposing powers locked in conflict. The notion of opposing powers is reminiscent of the “Good versus Evil” dualism of  Zoroastrianism. In this dynamic, each individual is a battleground between good and evil. But Mani’s version of evil diverges widely from Zoroastrianism, which views the good as superior to evil. Mani, also in contrast to Zoroastrianism, believed that the world had been created by a Satanic demiurge. Therefore, all material existence is seen as evil, such that salvation entails one’s complete liberation from material existence. This is not the case with Zoroastrianism where creation and material existence are not seen as “evil“. Mani, however believed that “particles of light” from the “Kingdom of Light” had been trapped in material form. Thus, in Mani’s view, even marriage and the birth of children was considered “evil“. Mani explained the birth of children as the process in which “particles of light” were bought down into “evil” material existence as the result of the union between men and women. Mani’s views of marriage and children were of course anathema to the doctrines of the Christian Church and Zoroastrianism.

Manicheans in Rome

Manichaism reached Rome by 280 CE through Mani’s Apostle Psattiq. The movement had already made inroads in Roman-ruled Egypt four decades earlier (in the 240s CE), and by the 290s CE, the Fayumm region of Egypt was heavily influenced by Manicheans. Manichean monasteries were in existence in Rome by the early 4th century CE, during the time of the Christian Pope Miltiades. Emperor Diolectian (284-305 CE) had already issued an edict, stating that the Manicheans be “condemned to the fire with their abominable scriptures”.

Saint_Augustine_Portrait“St. Augustine of Hippo in his Study” as portrayed in 1480 by Sandro Botticelli  (Source: Public Domain). Interestingly, St. Augustine had been a Manichean for 9 years until his conversion to Christianity in the aftermath of Emperor Diolectian’s edict (284-305 CE) condemning the Manicheans. Despite his conversion, it is believed that St. Augustine’s Manichean past influenced his later Christian writings.

Apparently, Diolectian did not succeed in stamping out the Manicheans. Over eight decades after Diolectian, Rome’s Christian community demanded that Emperor Theodosius I (379-395 CE) strip the Manichaeans of all their civil liberties. Theodosius obliged by going further: he issued a decree for the death of Manichaean monks (382 CE). Interestingly, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) converted to Christianity from Manichaeism shortly after Theodosius’ declaration. In the same declaration, Theodosius had made the “official” proclamation that Christianity was the only legitimate religion of the Roman Empire.

DiolectianEmperor Theodosius I (379-395 CE) (Source: Annoyzview) issued a harsh edict ordering Manichean monks to be put to death. Despite such stern measures, Rome’s Christian religion failed to completely stamp out the followers of Mani who apparently gave rise to a number of “heresies”, one of these having been the later Cathars of southern France. 

Creeds influenced by Manicheaism maintained a sporadic existence in Northern Italy, Spain, France, the Balkans, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, Western China, Tibet, India and North Africa, centuries after the death of Mani in Persia.

Map of ManicheaismMap detailing the spread of Manicheaism (Source: Voice of America).

Manicheans in China

It is believed that the Manichean creed had arrived in China by the late 600s CE, however recent archaeological discoveries indicate that Mani’s followers had already arrived by the 550s CE (La Vaissière, Etienne de, “Mani en Chine au VIe siècle.” Journal Asiatique, 293–1, 2005, p. 357–378). Manichaeism adapted to Chinese Buddhism to win over converts. For example the Aramaic Karia (the “call” from world of light to world of darkness to those needing rescue) was equated to the Chinese Guan Yin and Buddhism’s Sanskrit term Avalokitesvara (watching/recognizing worldly wounds).

Mnai-ChinaA depiction of Mani in the Duhuang caves of China; note the “Buddha-like” appearance of this statue (Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at The University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006). Mani’s followers often adapted to the local beliefs and traditions of the regions they traveled to in order to win over converts to their religion.

Emperor Xuanzong (712-756) of the Tang dynasty banned local conversions to Manicheanism in 732 CE , but this apparently failed to stem the spread of the creed. Over one century later for example, the Ta-yun Kuang-ming Su region of the metropolis of Chang’An featured a Manichean church as late as the 850s CE. This would helped explain Emperor Wuzong’s (840-846 CE) harsh official edict to slay all Manichean priests (it is is believed that over half of these were killed).

Tang_XianZongTang Chinese Emperor Xuanzong (712-756) (Source: Public Domain) issued a decree banning conversions to Manicheanism, but this did little to curb the spread of the religion in China.  This resulted in much harsher measures after Xuanzong, but elements of the movements resurfaced in later Medieval times, notably the Red Turban rebellion in 1351-1368.

Manicheans in Central Asia: Soghdians and Uighur Turks

As the Manicheans spread into Central Asia, they soon adapted to the ideas of the region’s local Iranian-speakers. Manichean deities now morphed into the distinctly Zoroastrian Yazatas such as Pid e Wuzurgih. The spread of Manicheaism in Central Asia was thus also facilitated by numbers of local (Iranian-speaking) Soghdians who had adopted the faith. These most likely played a key role in spreading Manichaeism among Central Asia’s Turkic peoples.

Uighur-ManicheansA Kocho manuscript (Source: Voice of America) showing Uighur Manichean priests engaged in writing.

Manicheaism made major inroads among the Uighur Turks. The Uighur ruler, Khagan Boku Tekin (759–780 CE), commissioned a three-day discussion with Manichean preachers in 763 CE. This resulted in the Khagan’s conversion to Manicheaism. Shortly thereafter, high ranking priests were dispatched from the Babylonian headquarters to the Uighur Empire. Manichaeism remained as the Uighur state religion for nearly a century before the collapse of the empire in 840 CE.

The Cathars of Southern France

Manicheaism is believed to have had strong links to the Cathar movement of southern France. The Cathars are known from their presence in the 12-13th centuries CE, however the creed of Mani had arrived into Southern France centuries earlier. Hilary of Poitiers wrote in 354 CE (during Roman rule) that the Manichaean faith had already become a powerful force in Southern Gaul. True or not, the Christian Church would often accuse the Cathars of ”Manichean heresies”. While the Cathars denied charges of Manicheanism, their beliefs indicated otherwise.

Mani-CatharsMedieval depiction of a dispute between Saint Dominic and the Cathars, also known as the Albigensians (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at The University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division). Interestingly, the Cathars denied charges of being Manicheans, yet their belief systems were wholly consistent with Mani’s teachings.

Like Mani, the Cathars Believed that the world had been created by a Satanic demiurge. The Cathars also viewed material existence as evil therefore one must strive to liberate oneself from it to achieve salvation. They also believed in re-incarnation and were vegetarian. The Cathars also believed in the equality of men and women. However (again like Mani) the Cathars rejected the notion of producing children and thus shunned the institution of marriage and family in favor of “living together”.  Cathar Church organization also appears to have had Manichean influence. Persecutions of the Cathars began from 1184, and shortly after they were condemned as heretics by Pope Innocent III (papacy: 1198-1216). The Cathars were completely crushed by the 1260s.

The Paulicians of Armenia

Another sect believed to have had Manichean influence were the Paulicians. This began as a Christian breakaway sect in Armenia and the eastern parts of Byzantine Empire (650-844 CE). The movement was founded by an Armenian named Constantine, who hailed from Paytakaran. The movement was named after a Bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata. The first official Paulician church sprung in Kibossa, Armenia in 660 CE.

Constantine’s studies of the Gospels and the Epistles, resulted in him combining dualistic and Christian beliefs. He believed that the contemporary Church misled the people. Constantine’s solution was to have the Christians return to the “original” Church of Paul. Interestingly, Constantine adopted the name “Silvanus“.

Persecution_of_PauliciansPaulicians being subjected to massacres, as depicted in the Madrid Skylitzes (Source: Public Domain). Armenian Paulicians were transferred in the hundreds of thousands to Eastern Europe by the Byzantines, a factor which appears to have contributed to the rise of the Bogomils in Bulgaria.

Despite persecutions by the Byzantines and breaking into sectarian rivalry, the Paulicians actually succeeded in establishing an independent state in Tephrike (modern Sivas province, Turkey) by 844 CE. Byzantine Emperor Michael III (r. 842-867 CE) persecuted the Paulicians and killed their leader Karbeas in 863 CE. Persistent Byzantine persecutions of the Paulicians resulted in the latter often siding with the Caliphates. Paulicians for example appear to have fought alongside the Arabs against the Byzantines in the Battle of Lalakon (863 CE). The Byzantine Emperor Constantine V (741–775) finally transferred large numbers of Paulicians to Thrace. Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867–886) abolished the Paulician state of Tephrike in 871 CE, forcing its survivors to flee to Syria and Armenia. The Byzantine transfer of Armenians into Europe continued. Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes (969-976 CE) settled 200,000 Armenian Paulicians in Philipopolis, Thrace (970 CE).

Paulicians who remained in Anatolia were to experience Ottoman persecution in the late 1600s, forcing its survivors to flee into Europe and even across the Danube. Pockets of Paulician communities survived in Eastern Europe as late as the 1870s, notably in Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. After Russia conquered the Caucasus from Iran (finalized by the Treat of Turkmenchai 1828), Russian troops entering Armenia discovered numbers of Paulicians still practicing their faith in the region.

The Bogomils of Eastern Europe

Another movement believed to be linked to the Manicheans were the Bogomils of the Balkans. As noted previously, Byzantine Emperors Constantine V (741–775) and John I Tzimiskes (969-976 CE) had transferred large numbers of Paulicians to Thrace (recall 200,000 Armenian Paulicians settled in Philipopolis, Thrace in 970 CE). These became Bulgarian speaking, and were known by the Bulgars as the Pavlikiani. It is possible that these same Paulicians became one of the roots of the ensuing Bogomil movement.

The Bogomil movement is generally traced to the time of Peter I of Bulgaria (927-969). The Bogomils themselves are generally described as a Gnostic movement which arose as a reaction against the state-clerical repression of the Byzantine Church. Slavonic sources however claim Bogomil doctrines as Manichean.

SvsimeonThe famous fresco of Saint Simeon, same as Serbian Prince Stephan Nemanja (r. 1166-1196) at King’s Church in the Studenica monastery (Source: Public Domain).

Bogomilism was essentially (like the creed of Mani) a dualistic doctrine in which the world is seen as divided by God (Good) and Satan (Evil). God is seen as ruling the Spiritual world with Satan ruling the material world. Like Manicheaism, every material being and manifestation is seen as the work of Satan. The Bogomils were also, in a sense, “anarchists” in that they opposed established government and church, making them somewhat like modern-day anarchists.

The Bogomil movement gained momentum in Eastern Europe by the 1220s, but the creed had already been introduced into the Kievan Rus in 1004, just 25 years after Christianity had been introduced into the region. There are citations of a certain Bishop “Adrian” (1004) followed by Bishop “Dmitri” preaching about the Bogomils (1125). Both the Kiev Rus and Bulgarian churches attempted to repress the Bogomils, but pockets of these may have survived as late as the 16th Century.

PlocakulinabanaKulin Ban’s plate discovered in Biskupići, near Visoko (Source: Public Domain). Kulin Ban welcomed the Bogomils into Bosnia.

The Bogomils also spread westward from Bulgaria into Serbia, especially in 12th century, where they became known as the Babuni. Serbian prince Stephan Nemanja and the Serbian council were quick to declare declare the Babuni as heretics, and expelled them from Serbia in the 12th century.

Surva-Bulgaria-5The celebration of “Surva” in modern-day Bulgaria. Local lore traces this festival to the Iranian God Zurvan. This folklore system appears to be linked to the Bogomil movement. Interestingly, much of the Surva theology bears parallels with elements of Zurvanism and Zoroastrianism (Picture Source:

The Serbian expulsions however did little to stem the westward spread of the Bogomils. These arrived from Serbia (from where they had been recently expelled) into Bosnia and Dalmatia, where they became known as the Pataranes. The Bosnian King Kulin Ban (1180-1204) welcomed the Pataranes, incurring deep suspicions from the Catholic Church.  Pope Innocent III (papacy: 1198-1216) was especially wary of these Balkan developments from at least 1199. More “converts” into Bogomilism continued, notably the Prince of Herzegovina and the Roman Bishop of Bosnia. Altars and crosses were removed with distinctions between the clergy and Congregation becoming negligible. Alms were also set aside by the followers to support the evangelistic cause of the Bogomils. The successes of the Bogomils in the Balkans may be partly attributed to the local populations’ reaction to the excesses of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Kaveh Farrokh Interviews: Persian Heritage Magazine and Voice of America

Kaveh Farrokh has been interviewed by the Persian Heritage Magazine (published March 31, 2014) and Voice of America (published April 1, 2014) regarding the 300 sequel and Noah (starring Russell Crowe).

Persian HeritagePersian Heritage Magazine (Volume 19, Number 73, Spring 2014, pp.32-34) – download edition in pdf. Note that the text/interview is in Persian. The above picture of Farrokh is from the WAALM event in London where he received the “Best History Book of 2008″ award for “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War (see also BBC-Persian report). The book has been translated into Persian by two separate publishing houses in Iran (Qoqonoos publishing-see Mehr News & Press TV report and Taghe Bostan Publishers of Kermanshah Azad University) and Russian (consult Russian EXMO Publishers website). Farrokh’s  book was also nominated as one of three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award in 2008. The book has also been reviewed in peer-reviewed academic journals such as the Iranshenasi Journal (2010) and the Quarderni Asiatici Journal of Italy (2011). In addition to teaching history at the University of British Columbia, Farrokh also serves as استاد سنتها و تاریخ فرهنگی ازدانشکده دیپلماسی فرهنگی وآلم ـ انگلستان-Chair of the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy in London, England (see also

Kaveh Farrokh was also interviewed with other participants in the Voice of American Persian program entitled [صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح] “Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah“:

صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح-Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah. Note that Farrokh had already published an extensive retort against the first “300” movie (2007) entitled: The 300 Movie: separating fact from Fiction.

The program produced a lively discussion, but unfortunately the shortage of time prevented the full exploration of a number of points, namely whether (1) the movie is political in nature and (2) Zoroastrianism and the Achaemenids. Five more topics also need to be discussed in two more follow-up postings, but for now, topics (1) and (2) are discussed below:

(1) The proposal that the new “300” movie does not serve any particular political and especially anti-Iranian agenda

It was suggested (not by Kaveh Farrokh) that the movie is entertainment cinematography and not intended to be an anti-Iranian picture. This notion is challenged by a number of prominent Western professors and journalists. Professor John Trikeriotis (himself of Greek ancestry) has begun a petition entitled: Adding a disclaimer or explanatory message to “300: Rise of an Empire”. Readers are strongly encouraged to sign the petition and support Professor Trikeriortis’ initiative.

John TrikeriotisProfessor John Trikeriotis strongly opposes the false historical messages in the movie “300 Rise of an Empire”. He has initiated a petition against the movie (click here…)

Akbar Montaser, one of the regular readers of noted the following on April 7, 2013: “I still believe there is a tendency to demean Iran. This is done “cleverly”, not intelligently. If one does not see the Truth, the same disasters will be repeated based on history“.  It is in this light that readers are introduced to the excellent article by Jehanzeb Dar in Racialicious: intersection of racism and Pop Culture:”Frank Miller’s “300′′ and the persistence of accepted Racism“. Below are some quotes from Jehanzeb Dar’s article:

I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians”…“300”…represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. …“300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office…suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views…”

The late Samuel Huntington’s Eurocentric (if not racist) formula is unhelpful as it diverts the discussion away from the real causes of contemporary military conflicts, which are for the main part based on economics and geopolitical factors.

Samuel P. Huntington - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2008The late Professor Samuel Huntington (1927-2008) who proposed the idea that wars are the result of the “Clash of Civilizations”. Huntington’s thesis has helped re-invigorate Eurocentric views of “race” and how these “explain” the so-called “East vs. West” paradigm. The “300” movies represent the revival of Eurocentricism in entertainment, the media in general and increasingly in academia, even within Iranian Studies: see for example a conference in Washington DC (March 9, 2013) and the petition of Professor Yarshater against the appointment of unqualified persons in Iranian Studies programs (December, 3, 2013).

Revisiting the notion of “300” being “harmless entertainment”, let us return to Jehanzeb Dar’s article cited earlier. The movie clearly attempts a Eurocentric-style “East = backwardness and oppression” versus “West=Freedom and Democracy“. This is again overly simplistic, as Demos (People) Kratus (rule) or Democracy in Athens did not apply to the entirety of society, especially to women. This is exemplified by Greek philosophers such as Socrates (d. 399 BCE) who stated in his Book 8 that “…one sign of democracy’s moral failure is the sexual equality it promotes” (563b; consult Nickolas Pappas, 2003, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic, New York: Routledge). The topic of women’s rights in ancient Achaemenid Persia, and the views of women by contemporary Greek philosophers shall be addressed in ensuing postings.

cyrus-cylinder-NewThe Cyrus Cylinder (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney – see her article here…). Just as Greece was evolving with the concept of Democracy, so too had the Achaemenids  proclaimed the freedom of peoples to practice their cultures and religions, as exemplified by the cylinder proclamation of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE). The history of Cyrus’ proclamation has been challenged by what some would regard as Eurocentric views (see Human Rights Petition…

There is in fact strong coordination between Hollywood Heads and Studios and US foreign affairs departments. Consult reports below by highly reputable media outlets:

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (established in the 1940s) was tasked to promote inter-American cooperation during the 1940s in the distribution of news, films and advertising, to counter the propaganda of World War Two fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs was later renamed as the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) with slightly changed powers as per Executive order 9532 on March 23, 1945.

Readers are also invited to consult the article Re-Birth of a Nation“, penned by Osagie K. Obasogie and posted in Genetics and Society on September 19th, 2007 with respect to the first 300 movie. Below are some excerpts of the Obasogie article:

“…300 is arguably the most racially charged movie since D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. In true post-9/11 form, Zack Snyder’s film turns Brown into the new Black; Persians are depicted as bloodthirsty savages thwarted … by a small contingent of freedom fighters – with noticeably paler skin – looking to preserve democracy at all costs. This eerily resembles Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic celebrating the Ku Klux Klan’s rise … to defend Southern whites’ dignity and honor against what were then seen as recently liberated Black insurgents. Like Griffith’s film, this mixture of race, racism, sex… racialized depiction of freedom, nation, and democracy becomes central to 300’s … message. But closer inspection reveals a subtler, yet similarly troubling idea that has gone largely unnoticed: 300’s unapologetic glorification of eugenics.”

Whether one chooses to agree or not with Osagie K. Obasogie or Jehanzeb Dar, serious questions may be raised as to the picture’s true intentions. By the same token, profound political and ideological divisiveness has prevented the Iranian community (diaspora and inside Iran) from coalescing towards a concerted approach. There is for example no real “Iranian anti-defamation League” to protest against Hollywood producers and international cultural venues in general for presenting Iranians as propaganda targets.

The WAALM School of Cultural Diplomacy however, has worked towards the establishment of cultural dialogue at the international level with success, and has in fact been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 (see also original report: Nobel Peace Prize 2011: World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media (WAALM) Nominated | Persianesque: Iranian Magazine). For more on WAALM’s initiative in international diplomacy click on the image below:


(2) The Achaemenids and Zoroastrianism

Towards the end of the program one of the participants asserted that there is “no absolute proof that Achaemenids were  Zoroastrian“. Farrokh only had a few minutes to respond adequacy and in full, which is why this complex topic, which is why it needs to be re-addressed. In principle, yes, the Achaemenids were not Zoroastrian in the sense of an institutionalized religious system during the Sassanian era (like Papacy of Rome), however the notion that they (Achaemenids) were “not Zoroastrian” is highly misleading.

First, the doctrine of Zoroastrianism versus the religious institution of Zoroastrianism cannot be so simplistically equated. The Achaemenids did know of Zoroaster’s teachings, however these were yet be  institutionalized into a complex state religious system, as occurred (in its finalized form) during the Sassanian era (224-651 CE).

There is clear proof that Zoroaster and his teachings were known in the ancient world. Xanthus of Lydia for example, who was a contemporary of Herodotus (5th century BCE), is the first westerner to mention Zoroaster by name (Yamauchi, 1990, p.400). Herodotus (like Plutarch later in the 2nd century CE) does not mention Zoroaster by name, but his descriptions of the tribe of the Magi priesthood and Persian customs clearly point to Zoroastrian beliefs (in Chapter XIII of Herodotus’ The Histories, Penguin Classics, London: England, 1972). Similar classical descriptions are found in Strabo (63 BCE-19 CE) where references are made to the Magus, worship practices and the god Mithras (passage 15.3.13-14 of Strabo, Geography, translated by H. L. Jones (ed.), Perseus project, Tufts University, 2000). For more on this subject, a list of readings are provided at the conclusion of this section.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.

If Greco-Roman sources are so clear about Zoroaster’s doctrines, then how can the Achaemenids not have known of Zoroaster, or respected his teachings?

Much like later Christianity, when the early doctrines of Christ predated the religious institution of Christinaity, so too did the doctrines of Zoroaster precede the religious institution of Sassanian Zoroastrianism.  A (broadly-speaking) similar process occurred with respect to Christ’s early teachings when Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 CE) declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The question is how were Zoroastrian doctrines practiced during the Achaemenid era as ancient Iranian theology was invariably complex (as attested to in Zoroastrian documents). Zoroaster was, in a sense, a reformer of the more ancient Iranian cults, perhaps he was at first one of the followers of the cult of Mithras, but direct evidence is certainly lacking for this suggestion. What is clear is that there is solid proof of Achaemenid respect for Zoroaster’s teachings, as seen with the Zoroastrian Fravahar symbol depicted at Persepolis:

Fravahar-PersepolisDepiction of the Zoroastrian Fravahar at Persepolis (Photo source: Mani Moradi, 2012). This indicates that the doctrines of Zoroaster were known by the Achaemenids, and they clearly respected these, as indicated by the depiction of this symbol at their regal locale of imperial power.

To further consult this topic, readers are referred to:

  • Nigosian, S.A. (1993). The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research. Montreal & Kingston: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Yamauchi, E.M. (1990). Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House; see especially chapters 12 (Zoroastrianism), 13 (The Magi) and 14 (Mithraism).
  • Boyce, M. (2001; first published in 1979). Zoroastrians: Their Religious beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge Taylor & Frances Group.
  • Kriwaczek, P. (2003). In Search of Zarathustra: The First prophet and the Ideas that Changed the World. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Future postings will further discuss topics related to the “300” sequel movie discussed in the Voice of America interview:

  • The real reason for war: commerce and economics
  • Military falsifications of the 300 movie
  • The historical Themistocles
  • Women of ancient Iran
  • “Nordification” of ancient Greeks

Photos of Old Tehran: 1920s-1940s (Part I)

This posting is a continuation of a previous posting entitled “Maps and Photos of Old Tehran” (click Image below for details):


Below are photos of Old Tehran in the time span of the 1920s to the 1940s.


Commercial Areas

tehran-drugstoreTehran drugstore, circa early 1920s.

Sepahsalar Mosque

sepahsalar-mosque-ealry-1920sSepahsalar Mosque, circa early 1920s.

Sports Stadiums

amjadiyeh-sports-stadium-circa-1936Soccer match at Amjadiyeh Sports Stadium, circa 1935-1936.

Laleh-Zar Street

cafe-pars-lalelhzar-1920sCafe Pars Laleh-Zar, 1920s.

laleh-zar-1circa-1940sLaleh-Zar street circa 1930s.

laleh-zar-street-circa-1940sLaleh-Zar street circa 1940s.

laleh-zar-19471Another view of Laleh-Zar street circa 1940s.

lalehzar Avenue 1946Laleh-Zar street in 1946.

Other Tehran Locales

south-end-of-naderi-intersection-at-south-end-of-british-embassySouth end of Naderi intersection and south end of the British embassy, circa late 1930s.

Shahabad 1949Shahabad in 1949.

old-tajrishTajrish as it appeared in Tehran circa 1940s.

Cafe naderi 1947The Cafe Naderi in 1946, famous for its deserts, coffee, teas, etc. and its jovial atmosphere.