Keith Hitchins: History of Iranian-Georgian Relations

The below article on the History of Iranian-Georgian relations first appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica in December 15, 2001 and was updated in that encyclopedia in February 7, 2012.

Kindly note that excepting one map, the version printed below has embedded photographs and captions used in 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department); there are also pictures from Burusi website of Georgia.


Between the Achaemenid era and the beginning of the 19th century, Persia played a significant and at times decisive role in the history of the Georgian people. The Persian presence helped to shape political institutions, modified social structure and land holding, and enriched literature and culture. Persians also acted as a counterweight to other powerful forces in the region, notably the Romans (and Byzantines), the Ottoman Turks, and the Russians. (See map, Figure 2). But the Persian-Georgian relationship was by no means one-sided, for the Georgians contributed substantially to Persia’s military and administrative successes and even affected its social structure, especially under the Safavids.

 PharnavazA Georgian portrayal of the legendary King Pharnavaz of Georgia who was the king of Karli in the 3rd century BCE. Kartli was identified as Iberia by the Classical sources (Source: Burusi). According to the Georgian Chronicles (royal annals, page of edition 25, line of edition 4): “…Pharnavaz made all and everything alike the Kingdom of the Persians” (as cited by ). It has been suggested that Pharnavaz based his adminstration upon an Iranian system (see Rapp, Stephen H., Studies In Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts. Peeters Bvba, 2003, p.275).

Information about relations between the Achaemenids and the inhabitants of present-day Georgia is fragmentary. During the Achaemenid domination of eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia (546-331 B.C.E.) proto-Georgian tribes were, according to Herodotus (3.94), included in the 18th and 19th satrapies (T. Kaukhchishvili, ed., pp. 10-11). Although the territory of present-day southern Georgia fell within the Achaemenid state, the Achaemenids apparently never brought those tribes living further to the north under their control. When they tried to do so their aggressiveness led to the formation of large associations of northern proto-Georgian tribes (Melikishvili, pp. 235, 273). Xenophon was aware of the changed conditions in 401-400 B.C.E. when he noted in the Anabasis that these tribes, including those of Colchis (q.v.), had ceased to be under Achaemenid rule (Mikeladze, ed., pp. 13-14). By this time proto-Georgians were moving into the Kura valley, where, merging with indigenous tribes, they eventually formed the Georgian people (Lang, 1966, pp. 57, 75-76; on political formations in eastern Georgia, see Melikishvili, ed., pp. 422-44).

georgian-achaemeneanAncient Georgian Column Capital discovered in Tsikha Gora (Courtesy of Gagoshidze and Kipiani). Note the striking resemblance to the column capital from Persepolis below (Picture and caption from 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

Alexander the Great’s victory over Darius III in 331 B.C.E. gave impetus to the formation and consolidation of an independent Georgian monarchy in the following two centuries (on political and ethnic questions between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C.E., see Melikishvili, ed., pp. 445-67). The first king of Iberia, the ancient name for the territory of present-day Kartli (Kārtīl) and Kakheti (Kāḵet), or eastern Georgia, was the half-legendary Parnavaz (S. Kaukhchishvili, ed., I, pp. 4-10, 26), who took Persian institutions as models in organizing his realm. The example set by the Persian state system in eastern Georgia was undoubtedly a consequence of the earlier influence exercised by tribal formations in southern Georgia. Long controlled by the Achaemenids, they extended Persian influence northward, as their aristocracies expanded their own power base.

Between the 3rd and 7th centuries C.E. Iberia maintained a precarious existence between the two great rivals for control of the Caucasus, namely Persia and Rome (later Byzantium). Georgian kings successfully played one off against the other and thereby preserved their freedom of action. But as they came to rely on Rome to uphold strong monarchical institutions, they became estranged from the great nobles, who sought support from Persia to thwart the centralizing ambitions of their kings.

achaemenid-achaemenean-persepolis-georgianThe double-bull motif column capital typical of Achaemenid-era architecture in sites such as Persepolis and Susa. Note the vivid parallels in style, construction and motifs to its Georgian counterpart shown further above. Architecture is only one of the many facets in which the ancient Caucasus and Persia have enjoyed mutual influences (Picture and caption from 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

Decisive for the evolution of the Georgian state was the foundation of the Sasanian Empire in 224. By replacing the weak Parthian realm with a strong, centralized state, it changed the political orientation of Iberia away from Rome. Iberia apparently became a part of the Sasanian state during the reign of Šāpūr I (240-70), who in his famous inscription at Kaʿba-ye Zardošt (l.3) listed Iberia (Wiržān) as one of the lands that paid him tribute (Melikishvili, pp. 391-92). Relations between the two countries seem to have been friendly at first, as Iberia cooperated in Persian campaigns against Rome, and the Iberian ruler was a high dignitary of the Sasanian realm, not a vassal who had been subdued by force of arms (S. Kaukhchishvili, ed., I, p. 57). But the aggressive tendencies of the Sasanians were evident in their propagation of Zoroastrianism, which was probably established in Iberia between the 260s and 290s (Lukonin, p. 32).

In the contest for supremacy in the Caucasus, the advantage lay with Rome, whose armies defeated the Persians in a series of battles toward the end of the 3rd century. The Treaty of Nisibis in 298 assured Roman control of eastern Georgia (Kartli) for the next sixty years (Frye, pp. 130-31). Roman predominance proved crucial, since the Georgian king and leading nobles were converted to Christianity, probably in 330. By making Christianity the state religion, they erected what became an insurmountable barrier to Persian influence in the region.

In the 4th century the position of Iberia worsened, as its powerful neighbors became increasingly aggressive. Iberian kings chose Rome (Byzantium) as the least dangerous to their independence, but Persia became predominant after the defeat of the Roman armies before Ctesiphon in 363 (Frye, pp. 137-38). Rome ceded control of Kartli to Persia, and the king of Kartli, Varaz-Bakur II (363-65), became a Persian vassal, an outcome confirmed by the Peace of Acilisene in 387. Although a later ruler of Kartli, Pharsman IV (406-9), preserved his country’s autonomy and ceased to pay tribute to Persia (S. Kaukhchishvili, ed., I, p. 133), Persia prevailed, and Sasanian kings began to appoint a viceroy (pitiaxš/bidaxš) to keep watch on their vassal. They eventually made the office hereditary in the ruling house of Lower Kartli, thus inaugurating the Kartli pitiaxšat, which brought an extensive territory under its control. Although it remained a part of the kingdom of Kartli, its viceroys turned their domain into a center of Persian influence (Berdzenishvili et al, I, p. 109).

Tbilisi Ategsha (Fire Temple)Remains of an “Atash-kade” (Zoroastrian fire-temple) undergoing repairs in Georgia. The cultural ties between Iran and Georgia stretch back for thousands of years (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

Sasanian rulers put the Christianity of the Georgians to a severe test. They promoted the teachings of Zoroaster, and by the middle of the 5th century Mazdaism had become a second official religion in eastern Georgia alongside Christianity. Yazdegerd II (438-57), convinced that a single religion would enhance the unity of his realm, issued a decree formally admonishing the peoples of the Caucasus to renounce Christianity and embrace Mazdaism and dispatched Zoroastrian magi to Kartli to take charge of conversion (Trever, pp. 203-5). The majority of Georgian nobles submitted, but their commitment to the new faith proved shallow. Efforts to convert the common people were even less successful, since Christianity appears to have struck deep roots among them.

In seeking to weaken Christianity, Persian rulers involved themselves in the internal affairs of the Christian churches in the Caucasus. They tried to take advantage of disputes among Christians by offering protection to the Monophysites, who were opposed to the Chalcedonian doctrines patronized by the Byzantine emperors, and they promoted unity among the Armenian, Albanian, and Georgian churches in order to extend their control more easily over them. Under Persian pressure the three churches adopted the Monophysite doctrines at Dvin in 506 (Berdzenishvili et al., I, p. 136), but when Persian vigilance slackened, the Chalcedonians rose again, and by the end of the 6th century Monophysitism in Georgia had all but disappeared.

Religious controversy was intertwined with political struggle in the 5th century. The leading champion of Georgian independence was King Vakhtang I (447-522; Toumanoff, 1990, p. 378), who was called Gorgasar “wolf-headed” (Gorgasa in Georgian) by the Persians, because of the shape of the helmet he wore. Married to a Persian princess, he guarded the northern passes through Kartli and participated in Persian campaigns against Byzantium between 455 and 458 and in India, probably in Pērōz’s wars against the Hephthalites in 474-76 (Dzhuansheriani, pp. 84-89). But loyalty had its limits. Vakhtang resented Persian encroachments on his independence and reinforced his position by supporting autocephalous status for the Georgian Church and by uniting western Georgia with Kartli (Muskhelishvili, p. 211). In 482 he led a general uprising against his suzerain and declared war on “Persian Christianity,” that is, Monophysitism. But he was defeated, and his country was ravaged by Persian punitive expeditions in 483 and 484 (Toumanoff, 1963, p. 365). After a short exile he made peace with the great king Balāš (q.v.) in 485 and returned to Kartli, but when Kavād I (488-96, 498-531) summoned him as a vassal to join in a new campaign against Byzantium, he refused. Their dispute may be related in part to Kavād’s efforts to force Mazdaism upon the Georgians. When Kavād attacked Kartli in 517-18, Vakhtang appealed to Justin I for help, but the Byzantines provided none, and he fled to Lazika, where he probably died in 522 (Frye, p. 152).

Vakhtang IA Georgian portrayal of King Vakhtang I Gotgasar-Gorgasa (Source: Burusi).

Byzantium and Persia continued their contest for supremacy in the Caucasus. War broke out in 526 and ended with the cession of Iberia to Persia in 532. But Ḵosrow I Anōšīravān (532-79) was eager to reach the Black Sea and in 542 moved through Iberia at the head of a large army toward Lazika and Colchis (Berdzenishvili et al., I, p. 120). The Byzantines countered by invading Persia and forcing Ḵosrow to make peace in 546. Once again it was merely a truce.

The Byzantine-Persian rivalry had baleful consequences for Iberia. In 580 Hormozd IV (579-90) abolished the monarchy after the death of King Bakur (Dzhuansheriani, p. 97), and Iberia became a Persian province. Hormozd at first had the support of the great nobles, but rather than receiving the enhanced privileges promised them, they were subjected to heavy taxation and a restrictive administration headed by a Persian-appointed governor (marzbān). When, therefore, the Byzantine emperor Maurice attacked Persia in 582 many Georgian nobles urged him to revive the kingdom of Iberia, but in 591 Maurice and Khusrau II Parvēz (590, 591-628) agreed to divide Iberia between them, with Tbilisi to be in Persian hands and Mtskheta, the old capital, to be under Byzantine control (Dzhuansheriani, pp. 98-99).

At the beginning of the 7th century the truce between Byzantium and Persia collapsed. Stepanoz I, Prince of Iberia (ca. 590-627), decided in 607 to join forces with Persia in order to reunite all the territories of Iberia, a goal he seems to have accomplished. But Emperor Heraclius’s offensive between 622 and 628 brought victory over the Georgians and Persians and ensured Byzantine predominance in western and eastern Georgia until the invasion of the Caucasus by the Arabs.

The Arabs reached Iberia about 645 and forced its prince, Stepanoz II (637-c. 650) to abandon his allegiance to Byzantium and recognize the caliph as his suzerain. Iberia thus became a tributary state, and an Arab amir was installed in Tbilisi about 653 (Balāḏorī, Fotūhá, pp. 201-2; Ṭabarī, I, p. 2674).

Between the Arabs’ consolidation of their position in eastern Georgia in the 730s and the emergence of the Safavid dynasty in Persia at the beginning of the 16th century the Georgian kingdom was revived, experienced a period of glory, and then declined in the face of powerful new enemies. At the beginning of the 9th century, Ashot I (813-30) of the new Bagratid dynasty (see BAGRATIDS), from his base in southwestern Georgia, took advantage of the weakness of the Byzantine emperor and the Arab caliph to establish himself as hereditary prince of Iberia. A successor, Bagrat III (1008-14), brought the various principalities together to form a united Georgian state, and David II “the Builder” (1089-1125), laid the foundations for Georgia’s golden age during the reign of Queen Tamara (1184-1213). Georgia’s decline began with the Mongol invasions of the 1220s, and, despite brief revivals, it proved inexorable. The rise of the Ottoman Turks and their capture of Constantinople in 1453 raised up a powerful new military threat to Georgia at a time when, at the end of the 15th century, the country had been fragmented into three kingdoms (Kartli, Kakheti, and Imereti) and the duchy of Samtskhe-Saatbago.

At the beginning of the 16th century Georgia once again lay in the precarious middle ground between two powerful enemies, the Ottoman Turks to the west and the Persian Safavids to the east. The two powers were themselves constantly at war (1514-55, 1578-90, 1602-18, 1623-39), with control of Georgia one of their objectives. Mainly under the leadership of the kings of Kartli the Georgians carried on a valiant, but unequal struggle to maintain their independence (for an overview of Georgia’s economic and political situation between Persia and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th–17th centuries, see Dumbadze, ed., pp. 85-186).


georgia_ii_f2Map of the Caucasus region during the Safavid era(Source: Encyclopedia Iranica).

At first, the initiative lay with the Safavids. Shah Esmāʿīl I (907-30/1501-24), the founder of the dynasty, sent raiding expeditions into Georgia, notably in 1518, but he was too preoccupied with consolidating his hold on power at home to pursue more ambitious undertakings in the Caucasus (Możṭar, ed., pp. 109, 542-45, 555, 557; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, pp. 218-19, 225; Brosset, II/1, p. 446). Shah Ṭahmāsb I (930-84/1524-76), who launched four campaigns against Georgia between 1540 and 1554, inaugurated the systematic extension of his dynasty’s control over Georgia. All four expeditions were costly for the Georgians. In the first, 947/1540-41, Persians captured Tbilisi and plundered it and the surrounding region. They repeated these practices during subsequent expeditions in 953/1546-47, 958/1551, and 961/1553-54. Much booty was taken, especially from Georgian churches, and Ṭahmāsb claimed as his rightful share the wives, daughters, and sons of the nobility, instead of the usual one-fifth of the treasure (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 84-90, tr. Savory, I, pp. 140-44, 146; Ḥasan Rūmlū. ed. Navāʾī, pp. 383-85; Brosset, II/1, pp. 445-53, based on Eskandar Beg’s account with notes and commentary; on the importance of Eskandar Beg’s work for the history of Georgia, see Puturidze). The death, probably in 1558, of King Luarsab I (1534-57; Lovārṣāb in Eskandar Beg) brought a temporary end to the hostilities.

During these campaigns Ṭahmāsb brought to Persia large numbers of Georgians, whose subsequent role in the army and civil administration led to significant changes in the character of Safavid society. The new ethnic element became a “third force” which interposed itself between the two “founding elements,” the Persians and the Turkmen. Indeed, by the end of the 16th century the Georgians were threatening to replace the latter, the qezelbāš, as the military aristocracy of the realm.

The competition between the Ottomans and the Safavids for control of the Caucasus was temporarily interrupted by the Treaty of Amasya (962/1555, q.v.). In Georgia it established a rough balance between the two rivals, as Kartli, Kakheti, and eastern Samtskhe (Masq) fell into the Persian sphere of influence, and Imereti and western Samtskhe into the Ottoman.

Shah Ṭahmāsb used the opportunity to tighten Persian predominance in eastern Georgia by imposing Persian social and political institutions and by placing converts to Islam on the thrones of Kartli and Kakheti. One of these was David/Dāwūd Khan II (1569-78), whose reign marked the beginning of almost two and a half centuries of Persian political dominance over eastern Georgia, with only occasional interruptions, until the advent of the Russians at the end of the 18th century. To hasten the integration of eastern Georgia into his realm Ṭahmāsb used bilingual Georgian-Persian firmans to make Persian the official administrative language of the country (Tabatadze, pp. 262-63).

The Ottomans, eager to extend their control over Kartli and Kakheti, attacked Persian positions in eastern Georgia in 1578. Despite spirited resistance led by King Simon of Kartli (1557-69, 1578-99; Brosset, II/1, pp. 36-42), the Ottomans prevailed, and in 1590 the Persians recognized all of Georgia as an Ottoman possession (Uzunçarşili, pp. 57-63).

Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1587-1629) was determined to restore Persian predominance in the Caucasus. Although he inflicted enormous devastation on the Georgian kingdoms and appointed and dismissed their rulers almost at will, he never succeeded fully in stamping out resistance to his rule. When he resumed war with the Ottoman Empire in 1602 he forced Giorgi X of Kartli (1599-1605) and Aleksandre II of Kakheti (1574-1605) to join the campaign. But resistance to ʿAbbās was fierce among the nobles. In 1605 they revolted and placed Teimuraz/Ṭahmūraṯ I (1605-63) on the throne, who for sixty years served as a rallying point for opposition to the Safavids. ʿAbbās acquiesced and confirmed Teimuraz as king in 1606. He also recognized Luarsab II (1605-14) as King of Kartli, but when Luarsab refused to become a Muslim and encouraged the nobles to reject a Muslim replacement for him, ʿAbbās exiled him to Isfahan and in 1622 had him strangled (Dumbadze, IV, p. 276).

ʿAbbās undertook another campaign in 1614 against Kartli and Kakheti, replacing their kings with Muslims. When nobles of Kakheti rose in revolt in 1615, his troops ravaged the country, a punishment from which it never fully recovered (Eskandar Beg, pp. 896-901, tr. Savory, II, pp. 1081-83; Brosset, II/1, pp. 484-87). Perhaps as many as 70,000 people were killed and over 100,00 deported to Persia. ʿAbbās appointed a loyalist, Simon II/Semāyūn Khan (1619-29), as wālī, or viceroy, but he kept a tight grip on Kakheti, administering it through an appointed governor (on the functions of the wālī and the role of other Persian officials appointed to supervise Georgian affairs in the 17th century, see Gabashvili, pp. 366-411). ʿAbbās regarded these arrangements as temporary and apparently planned to deal a drastic blow to the rebellious Georgians: the Kakhetians were to be wiped out or deported and their country settled by qezelbāš and other Turkmen tribes, while the nobles of Kartli were to be resettled in Persia (Berdzenishvili et al., I, p. 358).

TeimurazKing Teimuraz/Ṭahmūraṯ I (r. 1603-63) of Georgia portrayed with his wife and Queen, Khorashan. Teimuraz was born in Iran and was fluent in Persian – he was highly appreciative of Persian poetry and literature. Teimuraz’s sons, his mother Queen Katevan (Georgian for Katayoun) and himself were to all to pass away in Iran (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

In subduing the two Georgian kingdoms, ʿAbbās had counted on a leading noble, Giorgi Saakadze (known to the Persians as Mūrāv Beg). A Muslim, he was admired in Persia for his military exploits and was regularly consulted on Georgian affairs (Eskandar Beg, pp. 1020-21, tr. Savory, pp. 1242-43). ʿAbbās had appointed him advisor to Simon II of Kartli and in 1620 entrusted both with the suppression of anti-Persian opposition. For reasons that are unclear Saakadze turned against ʿAbbās and led a rebellion of nobles in 1623. He invited the exiled Teimuraz/Ṭahmūraṯ to return home and proclaimed him king of Kartli and Kakheti. But in 1624, ʿAbbās won a decisive victory against the rebels on Marabda Field near Tbilisi (Eskandar Beg, pp. 1024-28, tr. Savory, pp. 1245-49; Dumbadze, IV, pp. 255-87). He also used the rivalry between Saakadze and Teimuraz to divide the Georgians and drive the former into exile in Istanbul, where in 1629 he was executed (Dumbadze, IV, pp. 1284-85).

ʿAbbās’s measures in Kartli and Kakheti represented a continuation of his predecessors’ efforts to integrate eastern Georgia fully into the Safavid empire. Besides war, he institutionalized the practice begun by Ṭahmāsb of employing Georgians as qūllar or ḡolāmān-e ḵāṣṣa-ye šarīfa in the Persian army and civil administration. They were obliged to become Muslims, but the majority of such conversions were entered into without conviction. After a period of training they were assigned either to the special regiments of the army or to a branch of the royal household administration. Estimates vary as to the size of the military forces composed of Georgian “slaves.” One source indicates that in 1588 ʿAbbās had formed his bodyguard from 12,000 of them taken into his service. Another source in 1608 puts the number of Georgian cavalry guards at 25,000 (Lang, 1952, p. 525). In any case, the Georgians were renowned throughout Persia as fierce warriors. Both Ṭahmāsb and ʿAbbās were pursuing a policy to strengthen the “third force” in Safavid society and thus diminish the power of the qezelbāš, whose loyalty had become suspect.

The contributions which the ḡolāmsmade to the Safavids were substantial. Many of ʿAbbās’s ḡolāms were the descendants of those Georgians who had been brought to Persia by Ṭahmāsb. Still other Georgians, nobles and princes among them, entered Persian service voluntarily, and a significant number achieved high office. Two outstanding examples were Allāhverdī Khan (d. 1022/1613), who rose to be governor of Fārs province and commander-in-chief of all Persian forces (sepahsālār-e Īrān), and his son, Emāmqolī Khan (qq.v.). Other Georgians became prefects (dārūḡa) of Isfahan. But the majority of the Georgians were settled in widely scattered parts of Persia and became cultivators of the soil. The most important of these Georgian colonies was in Farīdan (q.v.) in Isfahan province, where their descendants still speak Georgian and retain their Christian faith (Oberling, pp. 128-33; Sharashenidze).

meshkheti-lion-rightPreliminary photo of the golden Winged-Lion of Meskheti (Copyright of Georgian Academy of Sciences and Manuscripts, Tbilisi, Georgia). Georgian Iranologists and the Georgian Academy of Sciences have determined that the origin of this lion is from Iran. The reports of the study were published by Kaveh Farrokh in “Scientific Paradigms: Studies in Honour of Professor Natela Vachnadze. St. Andrew the First-Called Georgian University of the Patriarchy of Georgia in 2009” (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

During the remaining century of Safavid predominance in Georgia after the death of ʿAbbās in 1629 Persian influence was unprecedented. The kingdom of Kartli was transformed into a province of Persia and regularly paid tribute and sent gifts (pīškeš) to the shah in the form of boys and girls, horses, and wines (Berdzenishvili, ed., 1973, pp. 252-54). The Georgian economy was also closely linked to that of Persia, and Georgian literature was enriched by translations of Persian classics and adaptations of Persian genres.

Nonetheless, in contrast to the calamities of Shah ʿAbbās’s reign, eastern Georgia experienced a period of relative peace and prosperity under an enlightened and able viceroy, Ḵosrow Mīrzā, the son of Dāwūd Khan and a Muslim. As a reward for aiding Sām Mīrzā gain the throne as Shah Ṣafī (1038-52/1629-42) the shah granted him the title Rostam Khan and in 1632 appointed him wālī of Kartli, a post he held until 1658 (Bagrationi, pp. 63-68). His willingness to cooperate with his suzerains won for Kartli a large measure of autonomy, but Kakheti, the center of unyielding resistance to the Safavids, was brought directly under Persian rule.

Kakheti knew little of peace and prosperity during this period, as nobles and the populace rallied around the exiled Teimuraz in the hope of ending their subjection to Muslims. Teimuraz himself was intent upon uniting all of eastern Georgia under his rule and sought help from the Ottomans and the Russians. But when he contested Rostam Khan’s administration in Kartli in 1634, neither of his presumed allies moved to support him. At the behest of Shah ʿAbbās II (1642-66) Rostam invaded Kakheti in 1648 and, driving Teimuraz into exile again, was named ruler of Kakheti (1648-56; Berdzenishvili et al., I,pp. 368-69). In order to end resistance in Kakheti once and for all, the shah revived ʿAbbās I’s plan to populate the country with Turkmen nomads, a measure that incited a general uprising of nobles in 1659. Although they halted the settlement of Turkmens, they failed to shake Persian control of their country (Berdzenishvili et al., I, pp. 369-72).

Georgian nobles now grudgingly recognized the need for an accommodation with the Persians. Even Teimuraz concluded that the prospects for Georgian independence were nil and submitted to Persia. But when his grandson Erekle/Ereglī Khan rejected Teimuraz’s understanding with the shah, both men were imprisoned. Teimuraz died in captivity in 1663.

The Persian-appointed kings of Kartli never completely abandoned the idea of independence. Vakhtang V (1659-75), Šāhnavāz II to the Persians, tried to reestablish a united kingdom in eastern Georgia by placing his son, Archil II, on the throne of Kakheti (Brosset, II/1, pp. 74-78; Asatiani, pp. 115-26). Although Archil converted to Islam and assumed the title Šāhnaẓar Khan (1664-75), factions at the Persian court thwarted Vakhtang’s master plan (Bagrationi, p. 159).

Giorgi XI (1678-88) tried to achieve the unity his father, Vakhtang, had sought, but the shah discovered his plans and forced him into exile (for Georgian-Iranian relations between 1675 and 1725, see Tabagua, pp. 12-41). But Giorgi/Gorgīn Khan, too, eventually reconciled himself to Persian suzerainty and in 1696 agreed to terms with the new shah, Solṭān Ḥosayn (1105-35/1694-1722). It was the beginning of an illustrious but, ultimately, tragic career in the service of the Safavids. The shah entrusted him with restoring order along the eastern frontiers of the empire. As beglarbegī of Kermān, Giorgi, aided by his brother Levan, by 1700 had reestablished the shah’s fiat in the region. As a reward the shah made Levan dīvānbegī (q.v.) of Persia and his son, Kaikhosro/Ḵosrow Khan, dārūḡa of Isfahan. The shah appointed Giorgi commander-in-chief (sepahsālār) of his armies and dispatched him to the east once again, this time to relieve the garrison at Qandahār, which was under siege by Afghan rebels. The shah also designated him wālī of Kartli, but, while he was in the field, he entrusted the administration of the country to a nephew, the future Vakhtang VI. Giorgi was victorious at Qandahār in 1704, but the leaders of the anti-Georgian faction at the shah’s court had him assassinated in 1709. A punitive expedition to the Afghan border led by Kaikhosro in 1711 ended disastrously with his death and the destruction of nearly his entire force of 30,000 (Lang, 1952, pp. 530-34; for a contemporary account of the Georgian-led campaigns between 1700 and 1711, see the chronicle of Sekhnia Chkheidze in Brosset, II/2, pp. 16-31).

For much of the 18th century Persia generally maintained its position in Georgian affairs, but the viceroys asserted their independence whenever the opportunity arose. They looked for support to Russia, which now supplanted the Ottomans as Persia’s chief rival in the Caucasus.

Vakhtang VI, wālī of Kartli (1711-14, 1719-23), at first opposed Persian predominance and was forced to give up his throne. But in 1716, convinced that no foreign aid would be forthcoming, he accepted Islam. After serving the shah as sepahsālār of Persia and beglarbegī of Azerbaijan, he became wālī of Kartli again in 1719. But his true allegiance was to Georgia, and he made no secret of his pro-Russian and pro-Christian sentiments to Russian envoys in Persia (Butkov, pp. 16, 51). When Persia was attacked by the Afghans in 1722 and the Ottomans in 1723, he sided with the Russians (Paichadze, 1970, pp. 35-59). He hoped that Peter the Great would not only seek gains for Russia, but would also protect Georgia from both Persians and Turks (Paichadze, 1965, pp. 26-35). But the tsar cut short his Caucasus campaign, and Vakhtang had to flee to Russia, where he died in 1737.

Vakhtang_VI_(European_clothes)King Vakhtang VI  (r. 1711-14, 1719-23) of Georgia. Despite the “European appearance” with his attire, Vakhtang VI did much to foster the literary contacts between Persia and Georgia (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from 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, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

Under the vigorous Nāder Shah Afšār (1148-60/1736-47), Persia reasserted itself in the Caucasus. In 1734 and 1735 he drove the Ottomans out of eastern Georgia, confirmed Teimuraz II (1729-44) as wālī of Kakheti, and appointed a Persian as governor of Kartli. His forces pillaged the country and deported thousands of villagers to Persia (Brossert, II/2, pp. 49-50). When the Georgian nobles revolted, Teimuraz and his son Erekle, who had fought with Nāder Shah’s armies in India in 1737-40, aided the Persians in defeating the rebels. For services rendered, Nāder Shah awarded Kartli to Teimuraz (1744-62) and Kakheti to his son, Erekle II (1744-62; Bagrationi, pp. 177-82). Yet, Nāder Shah continued his despotic ways, relentlessly draining both countries of their resources (Brosset, II/2, pp. 114-19).

Nāder Shah’s assassination in 1747 promised a measure of relief. The new ruler, ʿĀdel Shah (1160-61 /1747-48, q.v.), who had married one of Teimuraz’s daughters, sought Georgian help in consolidating his rule over all of Persia (Brosset, pp. 118-25). Both Teimuraz and Erekle used the opportunity to assert their independence. When Teimuraz died in 1762 Erekle succeeded him, thus uniting eastern Georgia as a single state for the first time in nearly three centuries.

Under Erekle II (1762-98) the independence of Kartli-Kakheti remained precarious, and he reluctantly decided to seek Russian protection. His policy coincided with Catherine II’s renewed interest in Georgia, and in 1783 the two monarchs signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, which made Kartli-Kakheti a Russian protectorate (Tsagareli, pp. iii-x, 32-36; Paichadze, 1983, pp. 91-137). It also marked the beginning of the end of Persia’s pretensions to political dominance over Georgia.

The founder of the Qajar dynasty, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan (1193-1212/1779-97, q.v.) was determined to recover those provinces that had once formed part of the Safavid empire. Georgia was the special object of his ambitions. Erekle (Ereglī Khan) refused to become a mere wālī of Kartli-Kakheti and reaffirmed his attachment to Russia. Āḡā Moḥammad responded by attacking the country, capturing Tbilisi in September 1795 and deporting some 15,000 of its inhabitants to Persia as slaves (Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā IX, pp. 269-71; Tsagareli, II/2, pp. 107-24; Hambly, pp. 126-30). His assassination in 1797 ended plans for a second expedition into Georgia.

Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1212-50/1797-1834), Āḡā Muḥammad’s successor, pursued a similar policy toward Georgia. In 1798 he demanded the unconditional submission of Erekle’s son and successor, Giorgi XII (1798-1800; Tsagareli, II/2, pp. 181-82). Giorgi refused, and Russia’s firm support caused Persian armies to remain in place (Dubrovina, pp. 116-21).

The end of Georgian independence, nonetheless, was at hand. When Giorgi died in December 1800, Tsar Paul took advantage of the interregnum to proclaim the incorporation of Kartli and Kakheti into the Russian Empire in January 1801. War with Persia, which broke out in 1804, ended in 1813 with the Treaty of Golestān. Under its terms Persia gave up all claims to Kartli and Kakheti in favor of Russia, thereby effectively ending her centuries-long involvement in Georgian political affairs.

Although Russia and Persia were at peace, Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah had not given up hope of reclaiming Georgia. War between the two countries broke out again in 1826, and Russia’s success on the battlefield and the Treaty of Torkamānčāy in 1828 confirmed her control of Georgia (Shengelia, pp. 55-72). The treaty also set the tone of Russo-Iranian relations down to World War I and made manifest Persia’s inability to challenge Russia’s supremacy in Georgia and the Caucasus.

Persian drugstore in TbilisiA unique photo of a 19th century Persian pharmacy and apothecary in old Tbilisi, Georgia. Despite the imperial Russian conquests of the early 19th century and subsequent Czarist (and later Communist) efforts to “de-Persianize” the Caucasus, modern-day Georgians do acknowledge an Iranian legacy in their country (see Nowruz in Georgia and the Georgian Legacy in Iran) (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia).


W. E. D. Allen, A History of the Georgian People, London, 1932.

N. Asatiani, “Kakheti Archil II-is mepobis dros (1664-1675 ts. ts.)” (Kakheti during the reign of Archil II), in Sakartvelo da Agmosavleti (Georgia and the East), Tbilisi, 1984.

J.-L. Bacqué-Grammont and C. Adle, “Notes sur les Safavides et la Géorgie, 1521-1524,” Stud. Ir. 9/2, 1980, pp. 211-31.

Vakhushti Bagrationi, Istoriya tsarstva gruzinskogo (History of the Georgian kingdom), ed. N. T. Nakashidze, Tbilisi, 1976.

N. Berdzenishvili, I. Dzhavakhishvili, and S. Dzhanishia, Istoriya Gruzii (History of Georgia) I, Tbilisi, 1946.

Idem, ed., Sakartvelos istoriis sakitkhebi (Questions of Georgian history) VI, Tbilisi, 1973.

M. Brosset, Histoire de la Géorgie, 2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1849-57.

P. P. Bushev, Istoriya posolʿstv i diplomaticheskikh otnoshenii russkogo i iranskogo gosudarstv v 1613-1621 (History of embassies and diplomatic relations of the Russian and Persian states, 1613-1621), Moscow, 1987.

P. G. Butkov, Materialy dlia novoi istorii Kavkaza, s 1722 po 1803 god (Materials for a modern history of the Caucasus, from 1722 to 1803) II, St. Petersburg, 1869.

N. Dubrovina, Georgii XII, poslednii tsarʿ Gruzii i prisoedinenie eia k Rossii (Giorgi XII, the last king of Georgia, and its annexation to Russia), St. Petersburg, 1897.

M. Dumbadze, ed., Sakartvelos istoriis narkvevebi (Studies on the history of Georgia) IV, Tbilisi, 1973. Dzh. Dzhuansheriani, Zhiznʿ Vakhtanga Gorgasala, ed. G. V. Tsulaia, Tbilisi, 1986.

R. N. Frye, “The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians” in Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 116-80.

V. Gabashvili, Kartuli peodaluri tskhobileba XVI-XVII saukuneebshi (The Georgian feudal regime in the 16th and 17th centuries), Tbilisi, 1958.

G. R. G. Hambly, “Āghā Muḥammad Khān and the Establishment of the Qājār Dynasty,” in Camb. Hist. Iran VII, pp. 104-43.

S. Kaukhchishvili, ed., Kartlis tskhovreba (The chronicles of Georgia), 2 vols., Tbilisi, 1955-59.

T. Kaukhchishvili, ed., Herodotes tsnobebi Sakartvelos shesakheb (Information concerning Georgia in Herodotus), Tbilisi, 1960.

D. M. Lang, “Georgia and the Fall of the Safavī Dynasty,” BSO(A)S 14, 1952, pp. 523-39.

Idem, The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy, 1658-1832, New York, 1957.

Idem, The Georgians, New York, 1966, pp. 57, 75-76.

Idem, “Iran, Armenia, and Georgia,” in Camb. Hist. Iran III/1, pp. 505-36.

V. G. Lukonin, “Zavoevaniya Sasanidov na vostoke i problema kushanskoi absoliutnoi khronologii” (The conquests of the Sasanians in the east and the problem of the precise Kushan chronology), Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1969.

G. Melikishvili, K istorii drevnei Gruzii (On the history of ancient Georgia), Tbilisi, 1959.

Idem, ed., Sakartvelos istoriis narkvevebi (Studies on the history of Georgia) I, Tbilisi, 1970.

T. Mikeladze, ed., Ksenopontis ʿAnabasisiʿ. Tsnobebi kartveli tomebis shesakheb (Xenophon’s Anabasis. Information concerning Georgian tribes), Tbilisi, 1967.

D. L. Muskhelishvili, Osnovnye voprosy istoricheskoi geografii Gruzii (The fundamental questions of the historical geography of Georgia), Tbilisi, 1977.

A. D. Możtar, ed., Jahāngošā-ye Ḵāqān, Islamabad, 1350 Š./1971.

P. Oberling, “Georgians and Circassians in Iran,” Studia Caucasica 1, 1963, pp. 128-33.

G. G. Paichadze, Russko-gruzinskie otnosheniya v 1725-1735 gg. (Russo-Georgian relations, 1725-1735), Tbilisi, 1965.

Idem, Russko-gruzinskie otnosheniia vpervoi polovine XVIII veka (Russo-Georgian relations in the first half of the 18th century), Tbilisi, 1970.

Idem, Georgievskii traktat (The Treaty of of Georgiev), Tbilisi, 1983.

V. Puturidze, ed., Iskander Munshis tsnobebi Sakartvelos shesakheb (Information about Georgia in Iskander Munshi’s work), Tbilisi, 1969.

Z. Sharashenidze, Akhali masalebi pereidneli kartvelebis shesakheb (New material concerning the Georgians of Fereydan), Tbilisi, 1969.

L. Shengelia, Amierkavkasia da iran-rusetis urtiertoba XIX saukunis pirvel mesamedshi (Transcaucasia and Iranian-Russian relations in the first third of the 19th century), Tbilisi, 1979.

R. G. Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation, 2nd ed., Bloomington, 1994.

I. Tabagua, Masalebi XVIII saukunis pirveli meotkhedis Sakartvelos istoriisatvis (Materials for the history of Georgia in the first quarter of the 18th century), Tbilisi, 1982.

G. Tabatadze, “Voprosy istochnikovedcheskoi kharakteristiki dvuiazycnykh gruzino-persidskikh istoricheskikh dokumentov” (Questions concerning the character of bilingual Georgian-Persian historical documents as sources), in R. K. Kiknadze, ed., Istochnikovedcheskie razyskaniya 1985 (Researches in history), Tbilisi, 1988.

E. W. Thomson, Rewriting Caucasian History: The Medieval ArmenianAdaptation of the Georgian Chronicles, Oxford, 1996.

C. Toumanoff, “Christian Caucasia between Byzantium and Iran. New Light from Old Sources,” Traditio 10, 1954, pp. 109-89.

Idem, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, Washington, D. C., 1963.

Idem, Les dynasties de la Caucasie chrétienne de l’Antiquité jusqu’au XIXe siècle, Rome, 1990.

K. Trever, Ocherki po istorii i kulʿture kavkazskoi Albanii (Studies on the history and culture of Caucasian Albania), Moscow, 1959.

A. A. Tsagareli, Gramoty i drugie istoricheskie dokumenty XVIII stoletiya, otnosyashchietsia do Gruzii (Official documents and other historical documents of the 18th century relating to Georgia) II/2, St. Petersburg, 1902.

I. H. Uzunçarşili, Osmanli tarihi III/1, 2nd ed., Ankara, 1973.

Professor Jacob Neusner: Persian Elements in Talmud

The below article by Jacob Neusner was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on July 20, 2005. As demonstrated by Professor Neusner, the Persian influence on Judaism through the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) is by no means negligible. The Bavli, as seen in his article below, is full of Iranian words and motifs.

Readers are also referred to the following text for further reference:


Author: Shai Secunda

Title: The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (2013)

Order: University of Pennsylvania Press, Amazon.







While the Jews of the Parthian and Sasanian empires spoke (eastern) Aramaic, not Middle Persian, Persian influence on Judaism through the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) is by no means negligible. The Bavli is full of Iranian words and motifs, such as the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment, that are familiar in Zoroastrianism. The laws of purity set forth in the Pentateuch (Leviticus mainly) and in the Mishnah, the 2nd-century CE law code of Judaism, exhibit remarkable affinities with the Zoroastrian counterparts. The Mishnah and counterpart Zoroastrian law codes exhibit striking, formal correspondences, but there is no counterpart in Iranian law codes to the commentary of the Talmud to the Mishnah (Neusner, 1993). However, Iranian language, law, and culture made its impact on the Jews and on Judaism.

Iranian Jews 2011Iranian Jews praying during Hanukkah celebrations on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran (Source: Wodu).

For nine centuries Babylonian Jews lived under Iranian rulers, Parthian, then Sasanian, from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 7th century CE. Other Jews lived in Mesopotamia (Dura Europos) and Nippur (whence the Jewish magical bowls), in Armenia, in Characene (see CHARACENE AND CHARAX), in Khuzestan, and in Iran proper. But the Bavli represents principally Babylonian conditions, though making reference to Khuzestan. Babylonia had a diverse population, not made up mainly of an Iranian majority and a Jewish minority. In Babylonia lived various sorts of Semites—Tai Arabs, Mandaeans, Syrians, Babylonians—who spoke different dialects of Aramaic as well as Greek. There also were Armenians, Indians, Romans, and Chinese, in small numbers, in the commercial life of the Iranian-administered provinces, particularly in the imperial capital, Ctesiphon and its commercial neighbors, Selecta and Vologasia. The Jews were mostly farmers and artisans living in villages. Thus, Babylonia was a mosaic of peoples and cultures.

Ravsida-TalmudMaggie Anton‘s novel “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” (Published by Plume 2012 – order at Amazon). Anton’s novel narrates the story of the daughter of a Talmudic figure who lived in ancient Persia (Picture Source: The Unmasked Persona’s Review).

Being a military aristocracy, the Parthians made slight effort to Iranize the low country of present-day Iraq. The Sasanians, however, made a systematic effort to settle the rich lowlands between the two rivers, improving the standing of Zoroastrianism. From time to time they made an effort to impose Zoroastrianism on the territories; in Armenia these efforts went on for centuries.

The Babylonian Talmud is full of Iranian words. Rabbis could understand spoken Persian, we do not know what dialect, but could not read the written language. The original language of the passage that follows is Aramaic:

II. 11A. When to Rabbi Pappa would come a document written in Persian deriving from gentile archives, he would give it to two gentiles to read, not in the presence of one another, not telling them the purpose, and if their readings concurred, he would issue an order on the strength of the document to recover a debt even from property mortgaged after contracting the debt to a third party.

II. 12A. Said Rabbi Ashi, “Said to me Rabbi Huna bar Nathan, ‘This is what Amemar said: “As to a document in Persian on which Israelite witnesses signed, we collect on the strength of it even from mortgaged property.”

B. But lo, the Israelites can’t read it.

C. It’s a case of those who can read Persian [Pahlavi].

D. But it has to involve writing that can’t be forged without leaving some sort of evidence, and in the case of Pahlavi documents, that consideration is not enforced!

E. It is one that has been treated with gall nuts.

F. Lo, we require that the final line of the document contain the gist of the contents of the document, and the Persian courts don’t impose that requirement!

(Bavli Gittin 19b)

Pappa could not read the language but could understand when it was read to him. There is no reason to suppose that the rabbis could read the Iranians’ holy books. But they did record disputations with Magi, although the following story does not yield profound knowledge of Zoroastrianism:

V. 16A. Said a magus to Amemar, “The part of you from the middle and above belongs to Hormiz, and the part of you from the middle and downward belongs to Ahormiz.”

He said to him, “If so, how can Ahormiz let Hormiz piss on the ground.”

(Bavli Sanhedrin 39a)

The Wall of JerusalemThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel (Photo source – see Blog).

Reference is made to Iranian festivals, two of them being days on which taxes were paid:

V. 4A. These are all Roman festivals. What about the Persian ones?

B. They are Mutardi, Turyaskai, Muharnekai, Muharin.

C. These are the festivals of the Romans and the Persians. What about the Babylonian ones?

D. They are Muharnekai, Aknayata, Bahnani, and the tenth of Adar.

(Bavli Abodah Zarah 11b)

Mutardi refers to Nawsard; Turyaski, to Tiragān (13th of the 4th month); Muharnekai, to Mihragān; Muharin, to Nawruz (see Taqizadeh, pp. 632-39).

5-Tomb of EstherThe tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, northwest Iran. External view (left) and the interior of the tomb (right).

Some Jews adopted Iranian names and mastered Iranian military arts and wore Iranian garments:

I. 7A .Rabbi Ahi b. Rabbi Josiah had a silver cup in Nehardea. [14B] He said to Rabbi Dosetai b. Rabbi Yannai and to Rabbi Yosé bar Kippar, “When you come back from there, would you bring it with you?”

B. Then went and got it. They said to them, “Effect transfer of title” [so that you are responsible for the cup from this point forward, and we are not].

C. They said to them, “No.”

D. ”Then give it back to us.”

E. Rabbi Dosetai b. Rabbi Yannai said to them, “Yes,” but Rabbi Yosé b. Kippar said to them, “No.”

F. They were abusing him. He said to him, “Look, sir, what they are doing!”

G. He said to him, “Hit him again, hit him again, harder, harder.”

H. So when they got back to him, he said to him, “Look, sir, it wasn’t enough that he didn’t help us, but he even said to them, ‘Hit him again, hit him again, harder, harder’!”

I. He said to him, “Why did you do this?”

J. He said to him, “Those men are a cubit high, and their hats are a cubit high, and they took? from their bellies [in deep voices], and they have outlandish names, like Arda and Arta and Pili-Barish [Pahlavi: Arda/Arta = Sadoq, that is, Justified; Pili-Barish = Elephant-Rider]. If they give orders, ‘Tie him up,’ they tie him up. If they give orders, ‘Kill him,’ they kill him. So if they had killed Dosetai, who is going to give Yannai, my father, a son like me?”

K. He said to him, “Are these men close to the government?”

L. He said to him, “Yes. They have horses and mules in their retinue.”

M. He said to him, “If so, what you did was perfectly within your rights.”

(Bavli Gittin 14a-b)

6-Tomb of DaneilThe tomb of Daniel in Khuzestan in southwest Iran. The main structure (note cone-like dome) as it stands today (left) and Iranian pilgrims paying homage within the tomb of Daniel.

An Arta the Scribe is known from the Dura synagogue graffiti as well, not to mention an Arsaces in addition to an Abraham. The reference to Jews wearing high hats (“as tall as themselves”) calls to mind the pointed cap or hood brought by the Iranians from the Siberian steppes. The Babylonian Talmud (Bavli Horayot 13b) refers to a Jewish authority from Babylonia who wore the kamara, sash, which signified authority in the Kerdīr inscription. The context of the several stories suggests that Jews wore Iranian garments, which were outlandish in the eyes of the Palestinian counterparts. The Talmudic rabbis do not seem to have known much about Iranian religion and culture, and the contrary was also the case. While one may locate in Rabbinic literature motifs and images familiar in Iranian religions, the resurrection of the dead and last judgment being a principal borrowing, one cannot support that the authorities who included them saw them as Iranian. On the contrary, they went to great efforts to prove that resurrection of the dead and last judgment derived from the ancient Israelite scriptures. So the rabbis of the Talmud knew those aspects of Iranian culture, law, and religion that impinged on the practical affairs of the Jewish community. The only matters of Iranian law that interested them had to do with taxes and real estate transactions, laws they had to enforce in their own courts. The Middle East was divided into three cultural units: (1) Hellenistic-Roman, (2) Iranian, and (3) the world of Semites, Armenians, and other smaller groups. It was to that complex third world, the Semitic, Aramaic-speaking part of it, that the rabbis of the Talmud belonged.


Bernhard Geiger, “The Synagogue. Middle Iranian Texts,” in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report VIII, Part I:The Synagogue, ed. Carl H. Kraeling et al., New Haven, 1956, pp. 283-317.

A. Kohut, “Les fêtes persanes et babyloniennes dans les Talmuds de Babylon et de Jérusalem,” Revue des études juives 24, 1892, pp. 256-71.

Jacob Neusner, “How Much Iranian in Jewish Babylonia,” JAOS 92, 1975, pp. 184-90.

Idem, Judaism and Zoroastrianism at the Dusk of Late Antiquity. How two Ancient Faiths Wrote down their Great Traditions, Atlanta, 1993.

J. Neusner et al., eds., The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation, Chico, Calif, then Atlanta, 1984-95.

Seyyed Hasan Taqizadeh, “The Iranian Festivals Adopted by the Christians and Condemned by the Jews,” BSOAS 10, 1940-41, pp. 632-53.

Sigismond Telegdi, “Essai sur la phonétique des emprunts iraniens en araméen,”JA 226, 1935, pp. 177-257.

The Mausoleum at Goor Dokhtar

The article below and the photographs originally appeared in the Historical Iran Blog. Kindly note however, that that the site is located in Dashtestan (Borazjan) and not Kazeroon as the article avers.


Goor Dokhtar is a structure very similar to the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great. This structure is made of 24 slabs of stones, according to the Orartoie and Elamite principles such as the ziggurat of Choghazanbil. It is believed that Goor Dokhtar dates back to the Achaemenid era and is thought to be the resting place of the daughter or sister of Cyrus the Great, although the more prominent belief is that it may be that of his grandfather. While modern maps of the area place Goor Dokhtar in the Bushehr province, due to the proximity to Kazeroon, many tourist brochures of Kazeroon will claim Goor Dokhtar as their own. Goor Dokhtar literally means Zoroastrian girl.


While from a historical standpoint Goor Dokhtar is not any less important than Pasargadae, however, it currently sits alone and unattended in Dasht Eram in Bushehr, surrounded by mountains on all four sides. Without even knowing the history behind it simply its physical characteristics and appearance remind one of Pasargadae and any possible connection between the two structures.

Goor Dokhtar is a rectangular structure with a pointed roof which sits on top of a platform with 3 steps. The platform measures 5.5 by 4.5 meters and one meter high while the monument itself is 3 by 2 meters and with a height of 5.1 meters. Its entrance faces northwest and had a stone door which has long since disappeared and today simply appears as an opening. Currently the inside of the monument is empty and there is reason to believe that an inscription used to exist on the V shaped gable ceiling.


On the exterior of the roof, the stone which formed one side of the arched roof has been removed by vandals and its broken pieces are scattered around the structure. While from a preservation point this act is very unfortunate, however, it led to the discovery of an open space under the roof. Unlike Pasargadae this space had no opening to the outside and thus makes it unlikely that it was to contain a corpse.

Goor Dokhtar was discovered in 1960 by the Belgian archeologist Louis Vandenberg. This valuable monument is registered on the records of the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran.


Matteo Compareti: The last Sassanians in China

The posting below is from Matteo Compareti’s article “The last Sassanians in China” which was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on July 20, 2009.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the Compareti article below are from 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 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).

Readers are also referred to the following resources:


Information on those Sasanians who avoided the submission to the Arabs and lived in Central Asia or at the Tang court can be found in the works of Muslim authors and in Chinese sources. According to Masʿudi, Yazdegerd III (r. 632-51) had two sons, Wahrām and Peroz, and three daughters, Adrag, Šahrbānu, and Mardāwand (Maçoudi, II, p. 241; see also Christensen, p. 508; Amir-Moezzi, pp. 255-56). As Balāḏori recorded, Peroz settled among the Turks of Ṭoḵārestān and even married a noble Turkish woman (Hitti, p. 493).

Qianling Tomb3Visitors to the tomb of Emperor Gaozong (r. 649-683 CE) of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) will see that one of the statues guarding the emperor as depicted above has the name of Sassanian prince Peroz (d. 679 CE) (Picture source: Tour Beijing). Peroz was crowned in China after the Arab invasion which toppled the Sassanian Empire in 637-651 CE. There is a tomb and statue in China which bears this inscription: Peroz, Shah of Iran, crowned in Tang dynasty court: Commander-in-chief of Iranian Army, Martial General of the Right [Flank] Guards, Awe-inspiring General of the Left [Flank] Guards. Peroz asked for Chinese military assistance in 661 CE against the Arabs occupying Iran. Peroz’s descendants in China adopted the Tang dynasty’s Imperial Family Name of Li.


Some further data can be deduced from Chinese sources, especially the Jiu Tangshu (‘Old History of the Tang,’ completed in 945) and the Xin Tangshu (‘New History of the Tang,’ composed in 1060). The two chronicles are roughly the same, although some details can vary: the section regarding the history of Peroz (called Bilusi) is quite different in them. According to the Jiu Tangshu, Peroz was captured by the Turkish prince of Ṭoḵārestān while escaping from the Arabs. Later he could elude his Turkish warders and, in the years 661-62, he sent an embassy to the Tang emperor Gaozong (r. 650-83), asking for military support against the Arabs. After the defeat of the Western Turks between 657 and 659, the Chinese were organizing their protectorate in the territories just conquered. The city of Zaranj in Sistān became the capital of that province, and Peroz was recognized as its governor. Peroz sent several embassies to China, and during 670-74 he personally arrived at the Tang court. Gaozong received him warmly and accorded to him the title of ‘General of the Right Militant Guard.’ In 678-9 he ordered Pei Xingjian to take Peroz back to Persia with the support of a military contingent. However, upon arriving at Suyāb/Ak Beshim, Pei Xingjian remained there and abandoned Peroz. The latter could stay for approximately twenty years in Ṭoḵārestān fighting the Arabs but, later, “the people of his tribe got dispersed” (Daffinà, p. 133). In 708-9 Peroz went back to the Tang capital and was proclaimed ‘General of the Left Majestic Guard.’ Eventually, he died from a disease, and his reign finished, although Chinese chronicles reported the arrival of Persian embassies for a while.

Tang Vase-Sassanian influence[Click to Enlarge] A well-preserved Tang vase (8-9th century CE)housed at the Guimet Museum. This bears distinct Sassanian artistic influences.

The information of the Xin Tangshu appears more reliable. This source states that Peroz found shelter in Ṭoḵārestān, but he did not receive any support from Gaozong. He established himself in Sistān with the help of the rulers of Ṭoḵārestān during a temporary slowdown in the Arab advance. In 661-64 Peroz sent several embassies to the Chinese court requesting Tang intervention against the Arabs, but he could only manage to be recognized in 661 as the head of the ‘Persian Area Command’ (Bosi dudufu), whose capital was Zaranj. In 662 Gaozong accorded to him the title of ‘King of Persia’ (Bosi wang), so for this reason he should be regarded as Peroz III, since Peroz II ascended the Sasanian throne for a very short time after Khosrow II (r. 591-628) and even struck his own coins (Gurnet, pp. 291-94; Bosworth, pp. 408, 411). Later, around 663, the Arabs could defeat him, and Peroz III himself arrived at the Chinese capital Chang’an between 673 and 674, and then again in 675, being warmly received by Gaozong on both occasions. He also got the title of ‘General of the Right Militant Guard.’ It is further recorded that, in 677, Peroz asked permission from Gaozong to build a “Persian temple” (Bosi si) which should be considered a Christian church (Leslie, pp. 283, 286-88; Forte, 1996a, pp. 355, 364). Syro-Oriental Christians were particularly numerous within the domains of the late Sasanians, and it is worth noting that Yazdegerd III’s funeral service would have been accomplished by the bishop of Merv. Moreover, according to a later tradition, his wife would have been Christian (Scarcia, 2004, p. 121). One should also mention Aluoben (Abraham?), a man of Persia who introduced Christianity into China and built the first church at Chang’an (Forte, 1996a, pp. 349-74; Idem, 1996b, pp. 375-428; Tajadod, pp. 43-45). According to an inscription on a Christian stele from Xi-an, another Persian named Li Su (he died in 817) was a clergyman and a member of the Sasanian family (Ge and Nicolini-Zani, p. 181).


[Click to Enlarge] The above figure is from a Tang dynasty burial site, now housed now at the museum at Turin, Italy. Curators and scholars continue to debate the figure’s origins; one possibility is that he was of Iranian descent (Picture source: The Wall Street Journal).

Now it is a well-known fact that there were very strong connections between the late Sasanian rulers and the Christians, whose status was definitely better than during the early Sasanian period (Mango, pp. 111, 115-18; Scarcia, 2000, p. 190; Idem, 2004, pp. 117-35; Panaino, pp. 843-62; Tubach, Arafa, and Vashalomidze). Peroz died possibly around 679, and his statue—unfortunately beheaded but recognizable by a Chinese inscription on the back of its pedestal—still embellishes the monumental tomb of Gaozong and his wife at Qiangling near Xi’an. At the same site, according to a Chinese inscription on its back, there is also the mutilated statue of Nanmei, the ‘Grand Head of Persia’ (Bosi da shouling), but nothing precise is known about him. Possibly, he was one of those Persian aristocrats who followed Peroz in China and held important positions at his court and, so, he could have been a member of the Sasanian family too (Forte, 1996b, p. 404; Idem, 1996c, pp. 191-92).

Parthian-influnece-on-China2[Click Picture to Enlarge] Chinese noblemen engaged in horse-archery during the hunt against lions. Parthian horses and cavalry styles profoundly affected China (see Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-, 2007, pp. 170-171).

The same Chinese chronicle also informs about Peroz’s son, Narseh (called in Chinese sources Ninieshi, Ninieshishi, Nihuanshi, Nilishishi, Nihuangshishi, Nimishi, or Nilishishi), who was a hostage at the Tang court. He is said to have accompanied the Chinese general Pei Xingjian in order to rescue Persia from the Arabs around 679. However, during the crossing of the Turkish territory, in nowadays Kirghizstan, the Chinese general conquered the city of Suyāb/Ak Beshim, taking the Turks and their Tibetan allies by surprise. So, Pei Xingjian left Narseh to regain the throne of Ctesiphon alone, since his true mission had been accomplished. Recent archaeological investigations at Ak Beshim confirmed some of the information in the Chinese sources (Lubo-Lesnichenko, p. 117). The true intentions of the Chinese general could be considered as accurate planning by the Tang court, because the Chinese had had diplomatic exchanges with the Arabs too at least since 651 (Petech, pp. 621-22). In fact, Narseh could never reach proper Persia and fought for twenty years against the Arabs being supported by Turkish lords of Ṭoḵārestān, like his father. A Chinese document discovered in the beginning of 20th century at Astana, near Turfan, makes mention of a so-called ‘Persian army’ (Bosi jun), which crossed the territory of Chinese Turkistan between 677 and 681 (Maspero, pp. 95-97). Possibly, this event could be identified with the passage of Narseh on his way to reestablish the Sasanian dynasty (Jiang, pp. 38-45).

tajiks-of-chinaIranian-speaking Tajik women from China. These are mainly clustered in the Karakorum region.

After the failure of his attempt to re-conquer Persia, Narseh went back to China around 707-9, to live the rest of his days as a respected member of the Tang court, and died from a disease. The Tang emperor accorded to him the title of ‘General of the Left Majestic Guard.’ The Xin Tangshu reports (see Chavannes, p. 173; Daffinà, p. 135) that only the western part of his territory was not invaded by the Arabs (even though this looks rather enigmatic, since the Arabs were coming from the west). The same source also says that embassies coming from a country considered by the Chinese to be Persia continued to arrive at Chang’an until 755. It was proposed to recognize this country as Māzandarān or, most likely, Ṭoḵārestān, where the Arabs arrived later (Chavannes, pp. 173-4; Daffinà, p. 139; Compareti, p. 211), although at least on one occasion, an embassy reached Chang’an in 751 from a kingdom to be likely identified with Surestān in southern Mesopotamia (Daffinà, p. 138). This was actually a territory in the western part of Persia, and Mani too was said to be originally from Surestān, although on this point the Chinese sources are enigmatic (Palumbo, pp. 307-10). In the Jiu Tangshu there is a considerable confusion between the figures of Peroz and Narseh, while in the Xin Tangshu it is clearly stated that after 679 it was Narseh who fought in Ṭoḵārestān against the Arabs, as already argued by some scholars on the basis of the age of Peroz (Drake, pp. 6-7). According to Herzfeld (p. 94), Peroz was born in 636, a date which could be considered well-fitting for the general history of late Sasanians and for the events narrated in the Chinese chronicles. There then arises another question regarding the military position of Peroz as described in the Jiu Tangshu: why, in fact, should Gaozong have accorded to him two different titles?

Admiral Zheng and FleetChinese Admiral Zheng He who was of Persian descent. Zheng He is recognized for having sailed with his giant fleet to Europe and Africa.  (Source: Chris Heller/CORBIS & The Mail).

Some other Persians are recorded in Chinese sources as military or relevant people well received at the court, but their affiliation to the Sasanian family is not proved (Harmatta, pp. 375-76; Daffinà, pp. 136-39; Forte, 2000, pp. 183-85). It was argued that some of the men from Ṭoḵārestān, who arrived in Japan between 654 and 660, could have been members of the Sasanian family, but, once again, this is just a hypothesis (Itō, pp. 60-62). A funerary stele, which was recovered near Luoyang (not far from Xi’an), revealed important information regarding the career of Aluohan, a man of Persia highly esteemed by Gaozong and a contemporary of Peroz, who was even sent to Byzantium as a Chinese envoy and died in 710. Suggestions have been made to identify him with Peroz’s brother, Wahrām, with good argumentation from the point of view of both the Chinese sources (Forte, 1984, pp. 174-80; Idem, 1996c, pp. 193-94) and the Mazdean apocalyptic texts, where he was celebrated in a small poem entitled ‘On the Coming of the Miraculous Wahrām’ (Abar Madan ī Wahrām ī Warzāwand; see Cereti, pp. 635-38; cf. Sprengling, pp. 175-76). His son’s name, Ju Luo, could be probably reconstructed as Khosrow according to the pronunciation of the Tang period. For this reason, he was associated with a certain Khosrow, a descendant of Yazdegerd III, who tried to re-conquer the Sasanian empire in 728-29 with the support of Turkic contingents (Forte, 1996c, pp. 193-94; cf. Harmatta, p. 375), as recorded in the Chinese and Muslim sources (Chavannes, pp. 173, 258; Christensen, p. 509).

Many Persians lived undisturbed in China due to the attitude of the first Tang emperors, but the situation changed after the An Lushan rebellion in 755-6 and, especially, with the edicts issued by the Taoist minister Li Mi (722-89) aimed to stop the monetary support granted to foreign nobles living at Chang’an (Dalby, p. 593).

kashgar-2Shop with modified Persian script in Kashgar, northwest China. This is one of the legacies of the historical silk route straddling between ancient Iran and China, having its origins in the pre-Islamic era and enduring well into the post-Islamic era. The shop sign reads “Jaanan Zaaferan”  or Jaanan’s saffron.


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