The Site of Taghe Bostan طاق بستان

Taqhe Bostan (Persian: طاق بستان‎) is a major heritage site in Western Iran (located approx. 5-6 km from the city of Kermanshah) dated to the Sassanian era (224-651 CE). The site is extremely valuable for the understanding of the Sassanian era, especially its rock-reliefs and fine carvings typical of the later Sassanian era. Taghe Bostan is one of thirty known Sassanian sites along the Zagros mountain chain.

Panoramic view-Tagh-BostanAn excellent panoramic view of Taghe Bostan (Photo Source: Graduate School of Razi University in Kermanshah).

 Taqhe Bostan’s artistic themes are essentially exhibit the following themes popular in Sassanian arts: martial ardor, strength, mythological themes, Farr (Divine Glory), the sense of honor, the Royal hunt, the Royal Feast, celebrations and joy, and the glories of the court.

1-Taghe Bostan-entrance-nightAnother excellent panoramic view of Taghe Bostan from the waterway ingress at night (Photo Source: Graduate School of Razi University in Kermanshah).

Panel with Ardashir II

The four-figure rock-relief panel featuring Ardashir II r. 379-383 CE) is probably the oldest at Taghe Bostan.

Ardashir II (standing in the middle) receives a large “Farr” ring (with ribbons – a commons Sassanian symbol of royalty) which is a symbol of regal investiture from a figure which believed to be either Ahura-Mazda or possibly Shapur II (r.309-379 AD) (figure to the right). Note that Shapur II was Ardashir II’s predecessor.

Ardashir II acted as the interim ruler for the actual heir of the throne Shapur III (383-388 CE), as the latter was still too young to rule.

1-Taq-Bostan [Click to Enlarge] The Rock-Relief panel of Mithra (left) Ardashir II (middle) and Ahura-Mazda or Shapur II (at right). Dimensions: width: 4 m and 7 cm- height: 3.9 meters. Note that Mithras appears to be engaged in some sort of “knighting” of Ardahsir II as he receives the “Farr” (Divine Glory) diadem from Ahura-Mazda (Photo Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

The third figure (at left) is the god Mithra who holds a symbolic broadsword-like Barsum in his hands. Mithras is not only the guardian of contracts, he is also the god who provides the warrior with courage, endurance, resilience and martial ardor. It is also interesting that Mithra stands on a lotus flower.

Finally, one sees the prostrate figure of Roman emperor Julian the Apostate(r.361-363 CE). The figure of Julian symbolizes his defeat after his massive of invasion of Persia was defeated in 363 CE (Julian was also killed during the failed campaign).

 Taq-e Bostan[Click to Enlarge] The fallen figure of Julian the Apostate at the Ardashir II relief (Photo Source: Public Domain).

Panel with Shapur II and  Shapur III

Taghe Bostan has a smaller Iwan archway as well featuring the figures of Shapur II and III carved into the relief.

5-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] The figures of King Shapur II (right) facing his son Shapur III (left) standing at around 3 meters tall each. Note ceremonial stance of the warriors with palm of hand placed on top of sword hilt and left hand grasping hilt-handle (Photo Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

This Iwan is interesting as it features two distinct inscriptions in Pahlavi of Shapur II and his son Shapur III. The translation of the Pahlavi inscription at Iwan pertaining to Shapur II is as follows:

This is the [form of] Mazda-worshiping Lord Shapur, Shahanshah [king of kings] of Eran [Iran] and An-Eran [non-Iran], whose race is from the Gods. Son of Mazda-worshiping Lord Hormizd, Shahanshah of Eran and An-Eran, whose race is from the Gods, grandson of Lord Narse, the Shahanshah.

TB-PahlaviA close-up view of a Pahlavi inscription at the Shapur II-Shapur III panel at Taghe Bostan (Photo Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004). Note that the figure to the right of the photo is the partial view of Shapur III.

The translation of the Pahlavi inscription at the Iwan pertaining to Shapur III is as follows:

This is the [form of] Mazda-worshiping Lord Shapur, Shahanshah [king of kings] of Eran [Iran] and An-Eran [non-Iran], whose race is from the Gods. Son of Mazda-worshiping Lord Shapur, Shahanshah of Eran and An-Eran, whose race is from the Gods, grandson of Lord Hormizd, the the Shahanshah.

It must be noted that the date of this Iwan and its inscriptions are debated. There are also questions as to whether the inscriptions were added ‘after the fact” by Shapur III.

The Grand Iwan

The overall frontal archway of the Grand Iwan or archway of the Taghe Bostan is distinct and imposing. A discussion of this segment of Taghe Bostan is in essence a four-part discussion that focuses on:

  1. The overall Frontal View
  2. The investiture scene of Khosrow II
  3. The armored knight figure of Khosrow II and steed Sabdiz
  4. The Panels featuring the Royal Hunt

                (1) Overall Frontal View        

The grand Iwan or archway at Taghe Bostan is an impressive structure carved out of the solid rock. Distinctly visible are the arboreal patterns conveying the branches and segments of the sacred tree of life, a mythological pattern common to Iranian peoples since antiquity and especially among the Scythians and the Sarmatians-Alans.

2a-Taq-BostanThe great grotto of Khosrow II at Tagh-e-Bostan. Visible are the arch of the Iwan, the upper register on the back wall featuring the investiture of Khosrow II with the lower section clearly showing the armored knight figure of Khosrow II and his steed Sabdiz (Photo: Shahyar Mahabdi, 2004).

Especially impressive at the grand entrance way are the female angelic or Yazata figures, one at each side of the archway. Much of the artwork for the angel at the left side has collapsed (or suffered damaged) but her head and outstretched right hand holding the “Farr” [Divine Glory] are still intact.

8-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] The Yazata or Angel at the upper left side of the archway of the Grand Iwan at Taghe Bostan (Photo courtesy of S. Amiri-Parian). Note the fluttering ribbons, a consistent Sassanian theme of regal splendor.

The angel on the right side is considerably more intact : her wings and attire are clearly visible and like her left counterpart, she too holds the “Farr” [Divine Glory] with an outstretched right hand. The right hand angel also holds what appears to be a cup filled with roundels (grapes?) with her left hand.

Tagh-e-Bostan-Amiriparian2[Click to Enlarge] The Yazata or Angel at the upper right side of the archway of the Grand Iwan at Taghe Bostan (Photo courtesy of S. Amiri-Parian).

                (2) Investiture of Khosrow II

The investiture of Khosrow II (r. 590-628 CE) is depicted in the upper panel of the interior of the Grand Iwan at Taghe Bostan.  There are three figures in this scene with Khosrow II seen in the middle clasping a ceremonial and highly decorated broadsword with his left hand. Khosrow II is seen receiving a regal Farr diadem with ribbons from Ahura-Mazda (other researchers however, suggest that this is a Zoroastrian priest). To the left of Khosrow II stands Goddess Anahita who is holding a regal Farr diadem as well; again some researchers have suggested that this figure is not Goddess Anahita and simply depicts a priestess instead.

3-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] Investiture scene above the late Sassanian armored knight at the vault at Tagh-e Bostan. To the left stands Goddess Anahita with her right hand raised, holding a diadem of glory or “Farr” towards Khosrow II at center who receives a diadem with his right hand from Ahura-Mazda or the chief Magus. Anahita was a revered goddess of war among Sassanian warriors (Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

                (3) Khosrow II as Armored Knight

 The lower section of the Grand Iwan features a highly detailed statue of a late Sassanian armored knight. The figure, generally identified as Khosrow II (r. 590-628 CE) and his steed Sabdiz, provides valuable information on late Sassanian helmet featuring “eyebrow” view slits, Bargostvan (horse armor), mail, attire and the lappet suspension system.

2c-Taq-BostanThe Late Sassanian knight believed to be Khosrow II and his steed Sabdiz at the great vault or Iwan at Taghe Bostan (Photo: Kamran Sheybanipour).

As the feet of the statue are broken off, it is not clear if the knight was using stirrups. The Sassanians most likely deployed stirrups given the important but little known discovery of a pair of iron stirrups dated to the late Sassanian era or the 6th – 7th centuries CE in Iran’s Marlik region.

Kaveh Farrokh-Elite Sassanina CavalryRecreation of the Taghe Bostan among the Sassanian Elite cavalry (top photo – middle figure with hypothetical Panjgan arrow firing device (Historical artist the late Angus Mcbride; Farrokh, K. Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, 2005, Osprey Publishing).

                (4) Panels featuring the Royal Hunt

At the ingress into the Grand Iwan stand two panels depicting the Royal Hunt. The panel at left side of the grand Iwan depicts the hunting of boars. The panel also shows elephants and mahouts.

7-Taq-Bostan [Click to Enlarge] The left panel of the Royal Hunt scene at Taghe Bostan (Photo: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004). Note that just above the left boar hunt panel can be seen the post-Islamic era relief of the Fathali Shah (1772-1834) of the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925), which suggests that the Iranians were cognizant of the military exploits of ancient pre-Islamic Persia before the advent of Western academic studies into this domain.

Notable in the left panel is the portrayal of Khosrow II in a boat shooting a boar – there are two distinct “frames” of this: first the boars is shown leaping towards the king and in the next “panel” the boar is killed. Khosrow is seen accompanied by musicians in a second boat.

 8-Taq-Bostan-Chamanara[Click to Enlarge] Close-up of the king engaged in archery in the left (boar hunt) panel (Photo: Javad Chamanara, 2004).

The right panel at the ingress into the Taghe Bostan archway depicts another Royal Hunt. This scene is that of a great deer hunt which takes place within an enclosure or “Pardis”.

4-Taq-Bostan [Click to Enlarge] The right panel of the Royal Hunt scene at Taghe Bostan (Photo: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

In one depiction at the right panel shown above, Khosrow II is provided shade with an umbrella handled by a courtier while he rests his hand on the sword handle. Another depiction is that of rider (possibly again Khosrow II or one of the Savaran knights) about to shoot an arrow downwards towards prey; the sword is suspended at an angle consistent with the lappet-suspension method of Central Asia. Herrmann has argued that the level platform of the rider’s feet suggest that he was probably using stirrups. Musicians are again present in the right panel as well, on the upper left hand side of the picture.

Epilogue: Old Photos of Taghe Bostan

Below are old photos of Taghe Bostan.

Tagh_Bostan-QajarOld photo of the late Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan during the Qajar era (likely late 19th century) (Forwarded to by Shahyar Mahabadi).

1-Taghe Bostan-1932Old photo of the late Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan dated to 1932 (courtesy of: Cyrus Ashayeri).

Tehran in the 1950s

Below are a number of photographs of Tehran’s districts, avenues, radio stations, traditional venues, recreation areas and airport as they appeared in the 1950s. Readers may find these previous postings of interest as well:


North Tehran

Darband and Elahiye district in 1957.

Parks & Recreation

Amjadiyeh pool and sports complex in 1958.

Bagh e Shah

Saadi-Theatre-1The Saadi Theatre – note patrons checking showtimes at panel. The smaller sign situated just at the right of theatre sign is “Bank e Melli Iran” (National Bank of Iran) (Photo from Getty Images – Published in

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Major Avenues in the 1950s

Saadi Avenue in 1951.

Naderi Avenue in the winter of 1951.

Tehran-Naderi Avenue -1953Naderi avenue in the fall of 1953.

Pahlavi Avenue in 1955.

Sepah Salar Avenue 1957.

Tehran Banks

The Bank Melli (National Bank) of Tehran. Note how the architecture blends elements of ancient pre-Islamic Iranian motifs  (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images).

Tehran Schools

A Tehran schoolgirl in the early 1950s at a vocational training school for seamstresses (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images). She is studying a physics book.

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Traditional Venues and Shopping Districts

Tehran Bazaar in 1954.

Enjoying an outdoor shave in Tehran in 1958. 

Shahr e Farang in Tehran in 1958.

Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport

Mehrabad Airport in 1958.

Mehrabad Airport check in terminals in 1958.

Tehran Radio

Radio Tehran in 1951.

Israel Post Issues Cyrus Declaration Stamp

The article below entitled Israel features Cyrus Declaration, several nations honor Magna Carta” appeared in the Linn’s Stamp News and Insights website on May 15, 2015. Kindly note that the pictures and accompanying captions seen below did not appear in the original Linn’s Stamp News and Insights article.


Recent stamps commemorate two historic charters: the Cyrus Declaration of 538 B.C. and the Magna Carta of A.D. 1215. Israel pictures the Cyrus Declaration, also known as the Cyrus cylinder, on an 8.30-shekel stamp issued April 14.


The Cyrus Declaration Stamp Sheet (Source: Israel Post).

In announcing this stamp on its website, the Israel Post stated:

In 538 BCE king Cyrus made a public declaration granting the Jews the right to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.”

The biblical book of Ezra begins with the king’s decree. The tab, or label, attached to the stamp includes a portion of Ezra 1:3, “Anyone of you of all His people … and let him go up to Jerusalem.”

Cyrus Koresh Kourosh street in Jerusalem

When History goes beyond Politics: Koresh or Cyrus street in Jerusalem. There is currently no street named Cyrus or Koroush in Tehran, the capital of Iran today (for more see here…). There is also an “Iran” street in Israel; see also “Iranian Schindler who saved Jews from Nazis“.

The stamp pictures the cylinder, which was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam during a British Museum archaeological excavation in 1879 in Babylon.

The British Museum, in a press release announcing that the cylinder would be displayed in five museums in the United States in 2013, explained its significance:

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (cuneiform is the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) after he captured Babylon in 539 BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands … ”

Iranian Jews 2011

Iranian Jews praying during Hanukkah celebrations on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran (Source: Wodu). For more see “Professor Jacob Neusner: Persian Elements in Talmud“.

Mehrdad Fakour: Achaemenid Gardens

The article below by Mehrdad Fakour on the Achaemenid Gardens was originally posted in the CAIS website in London hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav. A number of pictures posted below are not featured in the original CAIS posting


Since the first millenium B.C.E., the garden has been an integral part of Persian architecture, be it imperial or vernacular. In addition to written historical references, archaeological evidence of Achaemenid gardens exists at Pasargadae, Persepolis, Susa, and other sites (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.20-25; Arrian, Anabasis 5.29.4-5; Sâmî, pp. 75-77; Stronach, 1978, pp. 107-12; Pinder-Wilson, p. 85; Yamauchi, p. 332 and n. 55).

paridaeza2An overall top view of Pasargadae at Cyrus’ time. Note the canal, water channels; the two rectangles are gardens: for more see here…

The Achaemenids had a keen interest in horticulture and agriculture. Their administration greatly encouraged the efforts of the satrapies toward innovative practices in agronomy, arboriculture, and irrigation. Numerous varieties of plants were introduced throughout the empire (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.8.10-12; Moynihan, pp. 11, 25).

paridaeza1A top view of a reconstruction of the Persian Garden at Pasargadae (Source: CAIS). Note water channels at rim of garden – for more information see History Channel program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians“.

Aside from the practical aspects of the garden and its sensual pleasures, royal gardens also incorporated political, philosophical, and religious symbolism. The idea of the king creating a fertile garden out of barren land, bringing symmetry and order out of chaos, and duplicating the divine paradise on earth, constituted a powerful statement symbolizing authority, fertility, and legitimacy (Eliade, pp. 59-72; Moynihan, p. 20; Faqîh, p. 566; Stronach, 1990, pp. 171-80).

pasargadaeirrigation_canalOne of the remaining irrigation canals at Pasargadae (CAIS).

What made gardens special during the Achaemenid reign was that for the first time the garden became not only an integral part of the architecture, but was also the focus of it. Henceforth gardens were an integral part of Persian culture. Successive generations of European and Asian monarchs and garden lovers copied the concept and design of Persian gardens (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 5.3.7-13; idem, Oeconomicus 4.13-14; Moynihan, p. 2 and n. 19; Bazin, 1990, pp. 12-13).

The Persian Gardens were to be adopted by the Greeks and later Romans; above is a reconstruction of the House of the Vettii and its garden in ancient Pompeii (Source: Public Domain).

The earliest gardens on the Iranian plateau associated with the Achaemenids are located at Pasargadae, the royal park residence of Cyrus the Great (ca. 559-530 B.C.E.), the founder of the Persian empire. The royal palaces at Pasargadae were conceived and constructed as a series of palaces and pavilions placed among geometrically designed gardens, parterres, and meticulously hewn and dressed stone water-courses, set in a large formal park containing various flora and fauna. Recent studies suggest that this garden may have been the model for the subsequent chahârbâgh (q.v.) and hašt behešt (Stronach, 1978, pp. 107-12; idem, 1989, pp. 475-87).

Persian Garden-SpainPersian Garden in Spain (Public Domain). The Moors were the primary conduit of bringing this type of architecture into the European mainland following the Arabo-Islamic conquests.

From the time of the Achaemenid empire the idea of an earthly paradise spread to the literature and languages of other cultures. The Avestan word pairidaêza-, Old Persian *paridaida-, Median *paridaiza- (walled-around, i.e., a walled garden), was transliterated into Greek paradeisoi, then rendered into the Latin paradisus, and from there entered into European languages, i.e., French paradis, and English paradise (Oxford English Dictionary XI, pp. 183-84; Yamauchi, pp. 332). The word entered Semitic languages as well: Akkadian pardesu, Hebrew pardes (Nehemiah 2:8; Ecclesiastes 2:5; Song of Solomon 4:13), and Arabic ferdaws (Koran 18.107, 23.11).

taj-mahalThe Taj Mahal, completed by 1648, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site (Source: Public Domain). The master architect of Taj Mahal was an Iranian named ‘Ostad Isaa Afandi’ from Shiraz. The builders were also Persian stone masons, imported from Iran by Mogul Shah Jahan, as per the request of the aforementioned Chief Master Architect Afandi. The white marble for the Taj Mahal was  imported from Isfahan. The calligraphy was created by the Persian calligrapher Abd ul-Haq, who came to India from Shiraz, Iran, in 1609. Shah Jahan conferred the title of “Amanat Khan” upon him as a reward for his “dazzling virtuosity”. Another striking Iranian influence can be seen in the design of the gardens and waterworks of the locale. Much of the fauna of Taj Mahal’s Persian gardens were directly imported from Iran. The term “Taj Mahal” is Persian for “The Royal Gounds” or more literally “The Crown Locale”. 

Although the concept of a paradise may be traced back to the Sumerian epic of Gilgamish (Kramer, pp. 147-49), it seems the idea existed independently in the Indo-Iranian tradition, where we find references in the Avesta (Yt. 22.15).

Baghe Eram Shiraz-House of QavamA Persian Garden at Eram in Shiraz, Iran; also known as the Eram Garden باغ ارم   (Source: Public Domain).


A. Giamatti, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic, Princeton, 1966.

G. Bazin, Paradeisos: The Art of the Garden, Boston, Toronto, and London, 1990, pp. 12-13.

M. Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London, Boston, and Melbourne, 1979, p. 77.

A. R. Burn, “Persia and the Greeks,” in Camb. Hist. Iran II, p. 339.

M. A. Dandamayev, “Royal Paradeisoi in Babylonia,” in Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin Emerito Oblata, Leiden, p. 117.

M. Eliade, Myth, Dreams, and Mysteries, New York, 1961, pp. 59-72.

N. Faqîh, “Ùehra-ye bâgh-e îrânî,” Iran-nâma 4, 1991, pp. 565-88, esp. p. 566.

G. de Francovich, “Problems of Achaemenid Architecture,” East and West 16, 1966, pp. 201-60.

S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, 1963.

The Zend-Avesta, tr. J. Darmesteter and L. H. Mills and ed. F. M. Müller, SBE 4, 23, 31, Oxford, 1880-87.

E. Moynihan, Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India, New York, 1979, pp. 1-2, 11, 20, 25.

R. Pinder-Wilson, “The Persian Garden: Bagh and Chahar Bagh,” in E. B. MacDougall and R. Ettinghausen, eds., The Islamic Garden, Washington, D.C., 1976, pp. 70-85.

V. Sackville-West, “The Persian Garden,” in A. J. Arberry, ed., The Legacy of Persia, Oxford, 1953.

A. Sâmî, Pâsârgâd yâ qadîmtarîn pâytakht-e šâhanšâhî-e Îrân, Shiraz, 1956, pp. 75-77.

Strabo, Geography 15.3.7 (reference to a park surrounding Cyrus’ tomb).

D. Stronach, Pasargadae: A Report on the Excavations Conducted by the British Institute of Persian Studies from 1961 to 1963, Oxford, 1978, pp. 107-12.

Idem, “The Garden as a Political Statement: Some Case Studies from the Near East in the First Millenium B. C.,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute 4, 1990, pp. 171-80.

Idem, “The Royal Garden at Pasargadae: Evolution and Legacy,” Archaeologica Iranica et Orientalis: Miscellanea in Honorem Louis Vanden Berghe, Ghent, 1989, pp. 476-502.

A. Tadjvidi, “Persepolis,” Iran 11, 1973, pp. 200-201. A. B. Tilia, Studies and Restorations at Persepolis and Other Sites of Fars II, IsMEO Centro Studi e Scavi Archeologici i Asia, Reports and Memoirs 18, Rome, 1978.

D. N. Wilber, Persian Gardens and Garden Pavilions, Tokyo, 1962.

E. M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1990, pp. 332-33.

M. L. Chaumont: Greek Historian Arrian (2nd century CE)

The article below by M. L. Chaumont on the Greek historian Arrian (2nd century CE) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1986 and last updated on August 15, 2011. This article is available in print (Vol. II, Fasc. 5, pp. 523-524).

Kindly note that the pictures and accompanying captions below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica publication.


Arrian, L. Flavius Arrianus, Greek historian from Bithynia, born in Nicomedia, whose father had obtained Roman citizenship. He held very high positions. The apex of his career occurred under the emperor Hadrian who appointed him governor of Cappadocia in 131 A.D. His reputation as a historian earned him the name the new Xenophon. Achaemenid and Parthian Iran occupied an important place in Arrian’s historical work, including: (1) the Anabasis, which treats Alexander’s expeditions; its supplement, the History of India; and the History of Events after Alexander; and (2) the Parthica or History of the Parthians.

Arrian-FlaviusPortrait of a bearded man attributed to Flavius Arrianus (Source:

The Anabasis is divided into seven books on the model of the Anabasis of Xenophon. Written in a sober and simple style, it is a mine of information on Iran toward the end of the Achaemenid period. It not only describes the famous battles of the Macedonian forces against the armies of Darius III Codomannus, but it also contains many details about the provinces and peoples of the Persian empire, as well as its leading generals and satraps.

Arrian of NicomediaPhilip A. Stadter’s 2010 book “Arrian of Nicomedia” (University of North Carolina Press; for more information see Amazon…)

The principal sources of the Anabasis are Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, and Aristobulus of Cassandreia; these were the authors who Arrian considered most reliable, as he remarks in his preface. Both of them had taken part in Alexander’s campaigns. The former, of Macedonian nobility, had been a member of the bodyguard and the companion in arms of the conqueror before becoming, after Alexander’s death, satrap, and then king of Egypt (Ptolemy I Soter). The second had also belonged to Alexander’s entourage, but in a more modest position, as an engineer or architect. Not even the titles of the works of Ptolemy and Aristobulus have survived, nor do we know what they covered.

Map of Achaemenid Empire-Kaveh Farrokh-2007Map of the Achaemenid Empire drafted by Kaveh Farrokh on page 87 (2007) for the book Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-; Arrian has provided valuable descriptions of the provinces and peoples od the ancient Persian Empire.

The agreement between Ptolemy and Aristobulus on certain points is underlined by Arrian, e.g., Alexander’s generous treatment of the mother, wife, and children of Darius III, taken prisoner at the battle of Issus in October, 333 (Anabasis 2.12.3-6). Similarly, they are agreed that the battle that decided the fate of the Persian empire took place, not at Arbela, as is the general consensus, but at a small Assyrian village, Gaugamela (now Tell Gōmēl) on the Bumelus river (now Gōmēl-sū), 500 or 600 stades from Arbela (ibid., 6.11.5-6). There are instances where the two authors disagree, which Arrian does not fail to note.

Arrian refers to Ptolemy on several occasions, e.g., regarding the intervention of Darius’ mother in favor of the vanquished Uxii (in Ḵūzestān). They were allowed to keep their possessions in exchange for the payment of an annual tribute (ibid., 3.17.6). Probably from the same source is the passage concerning the submission of this bellicose people, who controlled the passes that gave access to Fārs (the Persian Gates) and the taking of these passes in spite of the resistance of the satrap Ariobarzanes (ibid., 3.17. 6; 3.18, 2; cf. E. Kornemman, Die Alexandergeschichte, pp. 56ff. and now W. Heckel, “Alexander at the Persian Gates,” Athenaeum 58, 1980, pp. 168-74). Another example is the account of Bessus, regicide and usurper, who was captured by the soldiers of Ptolemy himself in a village of Bactriana. Arrian also mentions the different version of this event by Aristobulus (cf. L. Pearson, The Lost Histories, p. 166). Again from Ptolemy’s work is the text of the correspondence exchanged between Darius III (in flight) and Alexander after Issus (Anabasis 2.14.1-9; cf. Kornemann, op. cit., p. 115, defending the authenticity of this correspondence).

Alexander and Darius III-Issus-Pompei MosaicPompeii floor mosaic depicting Alexander and Darius III at the Battle of Issus (November 333 BC) (Source: Public Domain). Known often as the “Mosaico di Alessandro” (Mosaic of Alexander) The above is a Roman copy of its Greek original that had been crafted by Philoxenos of Eretria.

From Aristobulus, whose witness is often invoked, came the following information: (a) The order of battle of Darius III’s army at Gaugamela: the different peoples composing the left and right wings are enumerated; in the center was the Great King himself with his kinsmen, picked guard, etc. (ibid., 3.11.3ff.). (b) Description of the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae (a description recognized as exact in modern times). Alexander, finding the tomb profaned and damaged, gave the order to Aristobulus to repair everything and to restore the monument (ibid., 6.20.4-8). (c) The account of the weddings at Susa, especially the marriages of Alexander to Barsine, the eldest daughter of Darius III, and to Parysatis, the youngest daughter of Artaxerxes III, when he was already married to Roxane, daughter of the Bactrian Oxyatres (ibid., 7.4.4).

Among Arrian’s other sources was Nearchus of Crete. After the conquest of India Nearchus was assigned the duty of bringing the Greek fleet from the mouth of the Indus to Susa. The work that Nearchus composed describing this long voyage was to furnish Arrian with the essential material for his History of India (Indica), which is, in fact, the history of one of the stages of Alexander’s expedition. (On the facts of the periplus of Nearchus, see W. Capelle, “Nearchus” no. 3, in Pauly-Wissowa, XVI/2, 1935, cols. 2185ff.; Pearson, op. cit., pp. 112-49; W. Spoerri, “Nearchos,” in Der Kleine Pauly IV, 1972, pp. 33-34.) Nearchus described the banks along which his fleet passed, their ports, water courses, and islands, and he cites the distances between points. He discusses the coasts of the “fisheaters” south of Gedrosia (Tūrān and Makurān), of Carmania (Kermān) (chaps. 32-37), of the Persians (Fārs) (chaps. 38-39), and of the Susians (Ḵūzestān). Then followed, after the mouth of the Euphrates, the passage upward from Pasitigris (Kārūn) and the rendezvous of Nearchus’ fleet and Alexander’s army near a bridge of boats (chap. 24) near modern Ahvāz (cf. G. Le Rider, Suse sous les Séleucides et les Parthes, Paris, 1965, p. 264). The itinerary from there to Susa is found in Anabasis 7.7.1-2. This description contains valuable ethnological and climatic details. This History of India also preserves several indigenous place names more or less faithfully: Neoptana, Hormozeia (Hormuz), on the coast of Carmania (chap. 33); the mountain Ochus (Vahuka), Apostana, Gogana, on the coast of the Persians (chap. 38); the island of Margastana, along the littoral of the Susians (chap. 41).

Winged Sphinx of Darius at SusaWinged Sphinx of Darius at Susa (Source: Public Domain).

The History of Events after Alexander (in ten books) has not survived. It is known through a long summary by Photius (Bibliotheca 92; ed. R. Henry, II, pp. 20-33) and through fragments (ed. A. G. Roos and G. Wirth, II, pp. 253-86; F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker II, Berlin, 1929, pp. 840-51, 872-73, 874, 881-83. The work in four books of Dexippus of Athens (3rd cent. A.D.) on the same subject seems to have been an epitome of the History of Arrian (see F. Jacoby, op. cit., II C: Kommentar, Berlin, 1926, pp. 306-07; we possess from it a brief summary also by Photius (Bibliotheca 82, ed. R. Henry, I, pp. 188-90). The work, in ten books, is devoted to events from 323 to 321, notably to the two successive partitions of the Achaemenid territories and to their consequences. Most of the actual Iranian satrapies passed into the hands of the Macedonian generals. However, some Persians were among the beneficiaries of these partitions.

The Parthica or History of the Parthians is also lost. Arrian was not ignorant of the Parthians. At the time when he governed Cappadocia, the Alan peril may have brought together briefly Parthians and Romans. But when Dio Cassius (Historia romana 69.15) speaks of the intervention of Vologases in those circumstances, it is not easy to determine whether he is concerned with the king Vologases II (III) of Parthia or rather his parent and homonym, the king of Armenia (for the latter identification, see A. von Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans und seiner Nachbarländer, Tübingen, 1888, p. 147). In writing a History of the Parthians, his essential goal was to set down the different phases of Trajan’s Parthian war (114-17). Of this work, in 17 books, Photius has preserved only a brief notice (Bibliotheca 58; ed. R. Henry, I, Paris, 1959, pp. 51-52). But the important fragments preserved by the Suda (Suidas) and Stephan of Byzantium help to partially reestablish its contents (ed. Roos-Wirth, II, 1968, pp. 223-52). See especially the erudite study of A. G. Roos (Studia), and now C. Coppola, “I Parthica d’Arriano nella biblioteca di Fozio,” Studia in memoria di R. Cantarella, Università di Salerno, 1981, pp. 475-91).

Parthian-1-Parthian NoblemanA reconstruction of the face on the statue of a Parthian nobleman housed at Tehran’s Iran Bastan Museum (Picture Source: Parthian Empire).

The first seven books dealt with the period before Trajan: Book I. Origin and customs of the Parthians; the first Arsacids. Arrian gives as ancestor of this dynasty Arsaces, son of Phriapites (frag. I, Roos-Wirth, p. 225 = Photius, Bibliotheca 58, ed. Henry, I, p. 51). This ancestry seems confirmed, to a certain extent, by some Parthian ostraca recently discovered at Nisa. Indeed in the formula of this document the Arsacid king appears as a grandson or great-grandson of Friyapatak (= Phriapites) (cf. M. L. Chaumont, Syria 48, 1971, pp. 145ff.). Book II. The war of Crassus against the Persians and the battle of Carrhae (53 B.C.). Book IV. Mark Antony’s expedition into Media Atropatene (36 B.C.). Book V. Roman-Parthian relations under Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius. Book VI. Corbulo’s campaign into Armenia. Book VII. Relations of Romans and Parthians under the Flavians; the complaints voiced against Trajan by the Arsacid Pacorus II (frag. 32; Roos-Wirth, p. 235).

The account of Trajan’s expedition is contained in books VIII-XVII: Book VIII. Armenian campaign of 114; the attitude of the Roman emperor toward the Arsacid aspirants to the throne of Armenia, Parthamasiris and Axidares (frags. 37-40; Roos, p. 237). Book IX. Mesopotamian campaign (114-l5); many village names mark Trajan’s itinerary from Edessa to Babylonia. In Books XI-XVI he includes, in chronological order: the taking of Ctesiphon, the voyage down the Tigris by the Roman fleet in the direction of the Persian Gulf, the short-lived success in Mesene and Characene, the return to Ctesiphon and Babylonia (116). An interesting fragment survives from the history of the revolt of the Parthian and Armenian princes, concerning the Armenian king, Sanatruces (Sanatruk) (frag. 59; Roos-Wirth, p. 247). In the last book (XVII) were described the siege of Hatra and subsequent events up to the return to Syria.

Roman Emperor TrajanRoman Emperor Trajan as depicted in a marble bust (r. 98-117 CE) (Source: Public Domain).

Although the History of the Parthians probably reflected only the Roman point of view, nevertheless its loss is regrettable. Everything indeed inclines us to believe that Arrian, thanks to his high connections, would have had first-hand access to official and private documents. The few fragments that remain from the original work have been put to good use by modern historians. See N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1936, p. 278 (index); J. Guey, Essai sur la guerre parthique de Trajan, Bibliothèque d’Istros II, Bucarest, 1937, p. 153 (index); G. Wirth, “Zur Tigrisfahrt des Kaisers Trajan,” Philologus 102, 1963, pp. 288-300.

32-Partho-Sassanian belt buckle 2nd or 3rd century CEPartho-Sassanian belt buckle dated to the 2nd or 3rd century CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 143, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا).  


Editions of Arrian’s work: Arriani Anabasis et Indica, ed. F. Dübner, Paris, 1848.

Flavii Arriani quae existant omnia (Teubner ed.), ed. A. G. Roos and G. Wirth, Leipzig, 1968, I: Alexandri Anabasis; II: Scripta minora et fragmenta (contains the History of India, the fragments of the History of the Parthians). Anabasis Alexandri, with an English translation by E. Iliff Robson (Loeb Class. Library), 2 vols., Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1958-61.

Secondary sources: E. Kornemann, Die Alexandergeschichte des Königs Ptolemaios von Ägypten, Berlin, 1935.

M. Luedeke, De fontibus quibus usus Arrianus composuit (Leipziger Studien II), 1882.

L. Pearson, The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great (Philological Monographs XX), New York, 1960.

A Robinson, The History of Alexander the Great (Brown University Studies 16), Providence, 1953.

A. G. Roos, Studia Arriania, Leipzig, 1912.

E. Schwartz, “Arrianus” no. 9, in Pauly-Wissowa, I, 1894, cols. 1230-47; “Aristobolus” no. 4, ibid., cols. 911-18.

W. Vincent, The Voyage of Nearchus, Oxford, 1809.

F. Wenger, Die Alexandergeschichte des Aristobulos von Kassandreia, Würzburg, 1914.

G. Wirth, “Arrianus,” in Der kleine Pauly I, 1964, pp. 605-06.

Idem, “Ptolemaios I als Historiker,” in Pauly-Wissowa, XXIII, 1959, cols. 2467ff.; Der kleine Pauly IV, 1972, col. 1228.

A. B. Bosworth, A Historical Commentary on Arrian’s History of Alexander (Books I-III) I, Oxford, 1980.

R. Syme, “The Career of Arrian,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 86, 1982, pp. 181-211.