Master Archers of the Achaemenid Empire

The article Master Archers” below written by Ḏḥwty was originally posted on the Ancient Origins website on September 18, 2015.


In the ancient Near East, archery became the predominant means of launching sharp projectiles, replacing spear-throwing. The history of archery, however, may have originated further down south during the Upper Paleolithic period. In South Africa, stone points thought to be arrow heads were discovered by archaeologists dating back 64,000 years old, and are believed to be the earliest evidence of the use of the bow and arrow. Apart from hunting animals for survival, human beings came to use the bow and arrow for a more destructive purpose – warfare. In the history of warfare, warriors of various cultures were renowned for their skill in using the bow and arrow. Of particular note were the soldiers of the Achaemenid Empire. Also known as the first Persian Empire (550 BC – 330 BC), the Achaemenid dynasty was known for its elite force of warriors named by Herodotus – ‘The Immortals’.

 تندیس آرش کمانگیر در مجموعه سعدآباد تهران – Statue of Arash Kamangir (Arash the Archer/Arash who grasps the bow) at Saadabad Palace in Tehran (Source: Drafsh Kaviani [درفش کاویانی] in Public Domain).

The Powerful Achaemenid Composite Bow

The bow used by the archers of the Achaemenid Empire is known as the composite bow. It is said that this weapon was developed by Central Asian nomads during the 2nd millennium BC. The body of this bow was constructed using horn and wood laminated together using animal resin. When the resin dried, a bond would have been formed between the horn and the wood, thus giving the body of the bow enough strength to withstand the immense pressures placed on it when the bow was drawn. To provide the bow with explosive power, sinews from animal tendons were then laminated to the outside face of the bow. It has been speculated that the construction of the composite bow might have taken up to 18 months to complete, and the end product was an immensely powerful weapon.

Early Training Makes a Strong Archer

In addition to such a deadly weapon, the Achaemenids were said to have been trained in archery from a very young age. Regarding the education of Persian boys, the Greek historian, Herodotus, has this to say:

“Their sons are educated from the time they are five years old until they are twenty, but they study only three things: horsemanship, archery, and honesty.”

From this statement, it may be said that archery was one of the skills most highly valued by the Persians of the Achaemenid Empire.

Exhibit of Achaemenid archers (Image Source: Ancient Origins).

Master archers  archers were used extensively by the Achaemenid armies. During battles fought by the Achaemenids, the archers were one of their first lines of attack. They would line up, take cover behind the shield bearers, and release volley upon volley of arrows against their enemies. An anecdote provided by Herodotus about the Battle of Thermopylae serves to illustrate this point:

“Before battle was joined, they say that someone from Trachis warned him [Dianeces] how many Persians there were by saying that when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows. Dianeces, so the story goes, was so dismissive of the Persian numbers that he calmly replied, ‘All to the good, my friend from Trachis. If the Persians hide the sun, the battle will be in shade rather than sunlight.’”

Painting made in 1814 by French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) of Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE) currently housed at the Musée du Louvre in Paris (Image Source: Ancient Origins).

This description suggests that the Achaemenid archers were firing from a long range with a high trajectory. Despite the volume of their projectiles, these archers seemed to have had little effect on the defending Spartans. This may be due to the fact that the Spartans were heavily armored. Although modern tests have shown that arrows released from a composite bow could pierce several layers of chain-mail at ranges up to 180 m (590.6 feet), the Achaemenids were using lightweight arrows. These may not have had the force required to penetrate the shields or cuirasses of the Spartans.

Additionally, the Spartans, who were highly trained and disciplined, were able to maintain a tight stationary formation, thus allowing them to withstand the volleys of Achaemenid arrows at the Battle of Thermopylae. Furthermore, by firing their arrows from a long distance, the Achaemenids were reducing the effectiveness of their weapon. Nevertheless, the battle ended in defeat for the Greeks, who were vastly outnumbered by the invading Persians under King Xerxes.

It has been pointed out that when the Achaemenids formed up closer to the Spartan lines, their archers seemed to have been more effective. One such battle was the Battle of Plataea. According to Herodotus’ account,

“They [the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) and Tegeans] proceeded to perform sacrifices, since they were about to join battle with Mardonius and as much of his army as was there, but the omens were unfavorable, and many of their men fell, with many more wounded, while the sacrifices were taking place, because the Persians formed their wickerwork shields into a barricade and continuously rained arrows down on the Greeks.”   


An illustration from the 1854 text “History of Greece and Rome, including Judea, Egypt, and Carthage” (John Russell, page 82) depicting the Battle of Platea (479 BCE) (Image Source: Ancient Origins).

Despite their Talented Archers the Achaemenids Lost…

Despite the effectiveness of their archers, the Battle of Plataea was eventually won by the Greeks. Additionally, history has shown that in the end, the Achaemenids were unable to add the Greek mainland into their empire. Thus, the Greek playwright, Aeschylus, could have written in The Persians:

Wo, wo is me! Then has the iron storm,
That darken’d from the realms of Asia, pour’d
In vain its arrowy shower on sacred Greece.


Potter, R., & Landes, W.A (trans.), 1998. Aeschylus’ The Persians. Players Press.

Potter, R., (trans.), 1833. Aeschylus’ The Persians.

Gill, V., 2010. Oldest evidence of arrows found, BBC News.

Waterfield, R. (trans.), 1998. Herodotus’ The Histories. Oxford University Press.

Legends and Chronicles, 2015. Persian Warriors.

The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, 2015. An Introduction to the Achaemenid Military Equipments., 2015. Iranian Archer – Soldier Profile.

A Stroll Through Isfahan’s Armenian Julfa Quarter

The report “A Stroll Through the Isfahan’s Armenian Julfa Quarter” and the accompanying photos below were originally published in the Real Iran outlet on March 7, 2016.



New Julfa (literally Jolfa quarter of Isfahan) is the Armenian quarter of Isfahan, Iran, located along the south bank of the river Zayandeh River.


Established by Armenians from Julfa, Nakhichevan in the early 17th century, it is still one of the oldest and largest Armenian quarters in the world.


New Julfa was established in 1606 as an Armenian quarter by edict of Shah Abbas I, the influential shah from the Safavid dynasty. Over 150,000 Armenians were moved there from Julfa in Nakhichevan.


All history accounts agree that, as the residents of Julfa were famous for their silk trade, Shah Abbas treated the population well and hoped that their resettlement in Isfahan would be beneficial to Persia.


New Julfa is still an Armenian-populated area with an Armenian school and sixteen churches, including Surp Amenaprgitch Vank, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in Iran.


Armenians in New Julfa observe Iranian law with regard to clothing, but otherwise retain a distinct Armenian language, identity cuisine, and culture.


The policy of the Safavids was very tolerant towards the Armenians as compared to other minorities, such as the Iranian Georgians and Circassians.


According a reference by David Petrosyan of the Institute for Central Asian and Caucasian studies, New Julfa had between 10,000-12,000 Armenian inhabitants in 1998. As of today it is still one of the largest ethnic Armenian quarters in the world.


Popular with young people in Isfahan, it is experiencing considerable growth compared to other districts.

Achaemenid Judicial and Legal Systems

The article below by F. Rachel Magdalene on the Achaemenid judicial and legal systems was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on September 15, 2009 and last updated on April 17, 2012; this article is also available in print (Vol. XV, Fasc. 2, pp. 174-177). Kindly note that the images and accompanying descriptions inserted below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.


This article will address principally the sources of our knowledge of the judicial and legal system in the Achaemenid period, as well as the nature of the court system, which persons had standing to sue, and legal procedure. Substantive law will be discussed only briefly.

The sources

The legal materials of the Achaemenid period were written primarily in either the Neo-Babylonian [NB] dialect of Akkadian on clay tablets or in Aramaic on perishable materials, although a few extant clay tablets also hold some Aramaic dockets along with the cuneiform. Additional legal materials may be written in the vernacular of a particular colonized region, such as the Demotic legal corpus in Egypt. Because a large quantity of the texts in Aramaic script from the center of the empire has decomposed, we are left chiefly with cuneiform tablets, most of which derive from the archives of the Eanna Temple at Uruk and the Ebabbar Temple from Sippar, as well as from a few private archives of economically important families in southern Mesopotamia (no royal archives have yet been discovered). Fortunately, thousands of such tablets exist from the reign of Cyrus through the revolts of Xerxes’ reign, when these major archives break off (see, e.g., Waerzeggers, pp. 150-73). We do, however, have a small amount of later cuneiform materials from Judahite communities in rural Babylonia (Wunsch and Pearce; Wunsch, forthcoming) and the archive of the wealthy and influential Murašû family (see, e.g., Stolper) that are crucial to understanding later Persian law. These texts record a large range of private legal transactions and material related to litigation.


Inscription of Darius the Great from Susa (Source: Alborzagros in Public Domain).

Other legal materials exist that appear to be from non-private sources

We have discovered one broken tablet of the Neo-Babylonian Law Code, which lists various legal regulations (see, e.g., Borger, pp. 92-95). This particular tablet may be a school tablet that excerpts a larger text. The document addresses claims for compensation, marriage law, and inheritance provisions. Scholars disagree on the nature and legal effect of all the so-called law codes of the ancient Near East and early Greece and Rome (Wells, 2008, pp. 223-43). They may be prescriptive, authoritative statutory law in the modern sense (Ries, pp. 739-43); descriptive legal treatises that pull together and organize real law for pedagogical purposes (Kraus, pp. 283-96; Westbrook, 2000, pp. 33-47); or non-authoritative theoretical treatises more in the nature of wisdom than law (Fitzpatrick-McKinley). This author takes the second position, noting: (1) the close relationship between the literary characteristics of various omen texts and the “law codes” (see, e.g., Bottéro, pp. 409-44; Fincke, pp. 131-47); and (2) the existence of other scholastic documents that concern legal materials (see, e.g., the lexical series ḪAR(UR5).RA and model law suits and contracts written on school tablets; all discussed further in Oelsner et al., p. 914). Moreover, we have records containing royal edicts (dātu ša šarri) (e.g., VAS 6, no. 99 = NRVU, no. 700:10) and administrative orders. The royal edicts were not legislation but a royal decree or command (Oelsner et al., p. 911). We also have letters and a few literary works that reveal legal information.

One must note, however, that a number of factors give rise to the question of whether the cuneiform material is truly representative of the law in all geographic regions of the empire across the entire Persian period. These include: (1) the lack of Aramaic legal materials from the center of the Empire; (2) the Persian administration’s policy to continue, in the periphery, the legal and administrative structures in place, adding only a layer of Persian administration; (3) the possible codification and unification of law by Darius I; (4) the vagaries of archeology; and (5) the fact that large amounts of this legal corpus remains unpublished. Nonetheless, the majority of scholars assert that we do currently have a representative sample of law from the Achaemenid period upon which we may make valid legal historical assertions (e.g., Dandamaev and Lukonin, p. 121).

Legal and judicial structures

All legal authority ultimately derived from the gods, who entrusted it to the king. The king, therefore, established, maintained, and defended justice (Otto, p. 268). He was not above the law but was, rather, an integral part of it. No evidence for a legislative body exists. Judicial administration was ultimately under the authority of the king, and texts document his supervisory role (see, e.g., CT 22, p. 231), although the Achaemenid kings rarely adjudicated individual cases. The courts were sometimes headed by officials, entitled sartennu or sukkallu. A number of texts testify to the existence of a system of court management, all of which contain the phrase ḫīṭu ša X šadādu (zabālulu), where X is the king or other significant royal official (e.g., AnOr 8, no. 45; YOS 6, no. 108; and Magdalene, forthcoming). Violation of orders related to court management would bring upon the offender judicial sanctions.

Courts sat in panels and were derived from various classes of persons, including judges (dayyānu), diverse state officials, temple officials, and various temple and lay assemblies. The courts seemed to be divided into two major divisions, each with different jurisdictional powers, secular courts and temple courts, although their available legal procedures seem to be identical (Holtz, pp. 290-91). Temple courts heard cases where they had subject matter jurisdiction and either in personam or in rem jurisdiction. In such cases, at least one temple official and one royal official had to be on the court. Secular courts had broad power to hear cases, adjudicating all cases that the temple court could not hear. They had, additionally, appellate jurisdiction over temple court decisions (Magdalene, 2007, p. 65). Suits might have been heard in a “house of judgement” (bīt dīni), a “house of judges” (bīt dayyānī), or any number of other settings, including city and temple gates, open public areas, and even storehouses.


The trilingual inscription (Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite) of Xerxes in Van, Eastern Turkey (Source: John Hill in Public Domain).

Standing to sue and legal procedure

The Achaemenid legal system was an inquisitorial system of adjudication as opposed to an adversarial system. Inquisitorial systems are marked by three characteristics: (1) a higher degree of cooperation between the parties than in adversarial systems; (2) judges who are more likely to be involved in developing the evidence at trial; and (3) the requirement of defendant testimony, even where such might incriminate the defendant (Magdalene, 2007, pp. 47-48, n. 70; 65-66, 78; cf. Jackson, pp. 161-62). Litigation in the period had highly sophisticated, but quite flexible, rules of procedure and evidence. The system was not only flexible, but somewhat fluid: one cannot always clearly delineate pre-trial, trial, and (and even in some cases) post-trial phases of litigation from the records, which are often quite brief—sometimes to the point of being cryptic. Various phases of trial could be recorded on different tablets, obscuring our understanding of a given case. Only by reading a large number of tablets does the entire adjudicatory system emerge (Holtz, pp. 27-29).

Royal officials had standing to sue for the king. Temples had standing to sue in the secular courts regarding their interests and were typically represented by senior temple officials. Free men always had standing to sue. Heads of households would typically represent the legal interests of their household members. Women had standing in cases involving significant inner-family disputes, specifically their dowries, where their legal status or rights were at issue (Roth, pp. 387-400), and, when independent, to protect their business interests just like men. Slaves and former-slaves had standing in regard to their status as slave or freeman. In criminal matters, all persons of whatever status could notify the court of alleged criminal activity, lodge an accusation, and testify in the matter.

The basic phases of litigation include, in their typical order of occurrence: (1) the accusation by the plaintiff; (2) a demand upon the defendant, which might be informal (private) or formal (before judicial agents or the assembly); (3) the investigation by the court who would hear the case, other persons with judicial power, or their agents (depositions could be taken during such and shipped to another location for trial); (4) the summons upon the defendant, which might include arrest and seizure of property related to the case, if not done prior to the investigation; (5) the defendant’s declaration or oath regarding the matter (where the defendant claimed that a third-party was actually responsible, he or she might be joined to the case; or a defendant counterclaim against the plaintiff might also be permitted at this time); (6) a second accusation, the testimony of a corroborating third-party witness, or the submission of some documentary or physical evidence; (7) the taking of any additional relevant evidence, including expert witness testimony, circumstantial evidence, and hearsay (Oelsner et al., p. 922); (8) the verdict; (9) an appeal, if taken; and (10) the execution of the verdict.

Judicial relief included: compensation in silver or goods, specific performance, orders of eviction, injunctions (both temporary and permanent), capital punishment, criminal forfeiture of defendants’ property, certain forms of corporal punishment, as well as payments in lieu of corporal punishment. One NB trial record apparently refers to a payment in lieu of blood revenge (Wunsch, 2002, p. 356). In the case of compensation to the victim, we find damage multiples of one, two, three, ten, and thirty. The thirty-fold penalty is clearly used only in the case of theft of, or damage to, temple property (Wells, 2004, p. 114). Penalty assessment or relief granted depended on the nature of the harm, the level of culpability, and the specifics of the matter at hand. Occasionally, the court found for the defendant and assessed a penalty for false suit against the plaintiff. Settlement of the claim, which might be reviewed and sanctioned by either the court or the public assembly where necessary, was possible at any stage of the proceedings. Sometimes verdict or execution documents included a court-ordered prohibition upon one or both of the parties not to sue on the claim again. Releases of liability are observed in execution documents, as well.


Achaemenid Cylinder seal excavated by the expedition of Marcel Dieulafoy in 1885–1886, and now housed at the Louvre Museum (Department of Oriental Antiquities, Sully, ground floor, room 14) (Source: Public Domain).

This system generally continues a long-standing ancient Near Eastern tradition of trial procedure. Only three innovations appear in the NB litigation documents. They are, however, of utmost importance. First, certain procedures are streamlined. For instance, the pre-trial complaint and answer requirement of the Old Babylonian period was eliminated (Magdalene, 2007, pp. 67-68). Second, a significant movement toward rational evidence can be seen in numerous records (Wells, 2004, pp. 108-30). In prior periods, dispositive oaths and ordeals were used to resolve close cases. Typically, the defendant was ordered by the court to submit to the oath or ordeal before the gods. If done, the case was settled in his or her favor. Conditional verdict documents were often issued by the court indicating that, if the defendant did not take the oath, he or she would be guilty. During the NB and Achaemenid periods, oaths were rarely court ordered or taken before the gods. Moreover, when an oath was not so executed, it did not have dispositive effect. Conditional verdicts reflect, instead, the need for additional rational evidence, such as a second accusation or the testimony of a third-party witness. Third, women in earlier periods of ancient Near Eastern history never served as recording witness on legal texts. Scribes in the Achaemenid period, however, recognized the presence of a woman as a recording witness by noting that the legal event took place “in the presence of ” (ina ašābi ša) fPN (Westbrook, 2005, pp. 144-46). Although this change is not as radical as the others, it does point to an increased status for women (contra, Koschaker, pp. 201-9). (For further on standing and litigation procedure in this period, see primarily, Holtz; Magdalene, 2007, pp. 55-94; and Oelsner et al., pp. 911-24.)

Substantive law

The substantive law, that law which determines an individual’s societal status and the rights and duties owed to others within the society, also follows well established ancient Near Eastern traditions, with just a few innovations (Westbrook, 2005, pp. 134-35). The major areas of law, such as contract law, family law, property law, inheritance, torts, criminal law, and so forth, show little philosophical or conceptual innovation in this period. In fact, the major facets of private law are stable from the third millennium onward in the ancient Near East, sharing a common legal tradition much in the manner of modern Common Law systems or Continental systems. Nonetheless, a given society within that shared meta-tradition would shape the particulars of the law in its application. As a modern example, we might take the law regarding driving under the influence of alcohol. The same is true in the ancient world regarding such things as contract law, family law, and criminal law. According to R. Westbrook (2005, pp. 135-45), the Persians applied traditional substantive law in extremely rich, flexible, and innovative ways, particularly in the area of the law related to economic relationships—which seem to be growing in complexity with the financial dealings of these large wealthy families. Another such example can be found in the area of marriage law, where dowries served the same purpose as in other ancient Near Eastern societies, but where we can also observe an increasing tendency to protect the family’s wealth from a potentially financially inept or irresponsible son-in-law in dowry documents. In secured transactions, we no longer see the use of debtor self-pledge or sale, but only the continued use of the pledging and sale of both children and slaves.


The Fravahar symbol depicted at Persepolis (Source: Sahand Ace in Public Domain).

One significant Achaemenid advance in the substantive law seems, according to B. Wells, F. R. Magdalene, and C. Wunsch (Wells et al.), to be in the area of administrative law. The legal documents reflect that the administrative infrastructure was both expanding and organizing throughout the NB and Persian Empires to cope with increased areas of domination, populations, and transactional complexity. This brought with it an awareness of the need to regulate the administrative functions of officials and individuals in service to the king and temple. Not all the known legal documents that contain the phrase ḫīṭu ša X šadādu (zabālulu), as mentioned above, relate to court management. Rather, in total, they address a broad range of administrative responsibilities (see, e.g., British Museum no. 33121; BIN 1, no. 169; YNER 1, no. 2). These texts share two salient features beyond their terminology: (1) a responsibility is owed by PN1 (an assignor) to PN2 (a third-party authority) that is being delegated to PN3 (an assignee); and (2) they indicate that a penalty will be imposed if and when PN3 (the assignee) violates his assumed administrative duty. This may well be the beginnings of administrative law as a substantive area of law. (For further on the substantive law in this period, see primarily, Oelsner et al., pp. 924-74; and Westbrook, 2005, pp. 133-46.)

In sum, the law of the Achaemenid period reflects both continuity with the ancient legal traditions of the greater region, while being both quite creative and flexible in order to attend to changing conditions and new concerns.


Sources. [AnOr 8-9] A. Pohl, Neubabylonische Rechtsurkunden aus den Berliner Staatlichen Museen, 2 vols., Analecta orientalia 8–9, Rome, 1933-34.

[BIN 1] C. E. Keiser, Letters and Contracts from Erech Written in the Neo-Babylonian Period, Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of James B. Nies 1, New Haven, 1917.

[CT 22] R. C. Thompson, ed., Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum 22, London, 1906.

[NRVU] M. San Nicolo and A. Ungnad, Neubabylonische Rechts- und Verwaltungsurkunden: übersetzt und erläutert, vol. 1.

Rechts- und Wirtschaftsurkunden der Berliner Museen aus vorhellenistischer Zeit, Leipzig, 1935.

[VAS 4 and 6] A. Ungnad, Neubabylonische Urkunden, 2 vols. Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler der Koniglichen Museen zu Berlin 4 and 6, Leipzig, 1907–08.

[YNER 1] D. B. Weisberg, Guild Structure and Political Allegiance in Early Achaemenid Mesopotamia, Yale Near Eastern Researches 1, New Haven, 1967.

[YOS 6] R. P. Dougherty, Records from Erech: Time of Nabonidus (555-538 B.C.), Yale Oriental Series, Texts 6, New Haven, 1920.


R. Borger, “Die neubabylonischen Gesetze,” in Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments, vol. 1/3: Rechtsbücher, ed. O. Kaiser, Gütersloh, 1982, pp. 92-95.

J. Bottéro, “Le ‘Code’ de Hammu-rabi,” Annali della Scola Normale Superiore di Pisa 12, 1982, pp. 409-44; repr. as “The ‘Code’ of Ḫammurabi,” in Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the God, tr. Z. Bahrani and M. Van de Mieroop, Chicago, 1992, pp. 33-47.

M. A. Dandamaev and V. G. Lukonin, The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran, ed. and tr. P. L. Kohl, Cambridge, 1989.

A. Fitzpatrick-McKinley, The Transformation of Torah from Scribal Advice to Law, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 287, Sheffield, 1999.

J. C. Fincke, “Omina, die göttlichen ‘Gesetze’ der Divination,” Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux 40, 2006-2007, pp. 131-47.

S. E. Holtz, “Neo-Babylonian Decision Records and Related Documents: Typological, Procedural and Comparative Aspects,” Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Pennsylvania, 2006, published as Neo-Babylonian Court Procedure, Cuneiform Monographs 38, Leiden, 2009.

B. S. Jackson, “Narrative Models in Legal Proof,” in Narrative and the Legal Discourse: A Reader in Storytelling and the Law, ed. D. R. Papke, Liverpool, 1991, pp. 158-78, 333-35.

M. Jursa, “The Transition of Babylonia from the Neo-Babylonian Empire to Achaemenid Rule,” Proceedings of British Academy 136, 2007, pp. 73-94.

P. Koschaker, Babylonisch-assyrisches Bürgschaftsrecht: Ein Beitrag zur Lehre von Schuld und Haftung, Leipzig, 1911.

F. R. Kraus, “Ein zentrales Problem des altmesopotamiscchen Rechtes: Was ist der Codex Hammu-rabi?” Geneva, N.S. 8, 1960, pp. 283-96.

F. R. Magdalene, On the Scales of Righteousness: Neo-Babylonian Trial Law and the Book of Job, Brown Judaic Studies 348, Providence, R.I., 2007.

Eadem, “Administration of the Judiciary: Managing Local Courts in the Persian Period,” in City Administration during the Neo-Babylonian Empire, ed. C. Wunsch, Babel und Bibel, Winona Lake, Ind., forthcoming. J. Oelsner, B. Wells, and C. Wunsch, “Neo-Babylonian Period,” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, ed. R. Westbrook, 2 vols., Handbook of Oriental Studies 72, Leiden, 2003, pp. 2:911-74.

E. Otto, “Neue Aspekte zum keilschriftlichen Prozeßrecht in Babylonien und Assyrien,” Zeitschrift für altorientalische und biblische Rechtsgeschichte 4, 1998, pp. 263-83.

L. Pearce and C. Wunsch, Into the Hands of Nebuchadnezzar: Judean and Other Exiles in Babylonian Texts, Lantham, Md., forthcoming. G. Ries, Review of The Law of Testimony in the Pentateuchal Codes by B. Wells, in Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte (Romanistische Abteilung) 125, 2008, pp. 739-43.

M. T. Roth, “fTašamētu-damqat and Daughters,” in Assyriologica et Semitica: Festschrift für Joachim Oelsner anläßlich seines 65.

Geburtstages am 18. February 1997, ed. J. Marzahn and H. Neumann, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 252, Münster, 2000, pp. 387-400.

M. W. Stolper, Entrepreneurs and Empire: The Murašû Archive, The Murašû Firm, and Persian Rule in Babylonia, Uitgaven van het Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul 54, Leiden, 1985.

C. Waerzeggers, “The Babylonian Revolts against Xerxes and the ‘End of Archives,’” Archiv für Orientforschung 50, 2003/2004, pp. 150-73.

B. Wells, The Law of Testimony in the Pentateuchal Codes, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für altorientalische und biblische Rechtsgeschichte 4, Wiesbaden, 2004.

Idem, “What Is Biblical Law? A Look at Pentateuchal Rules and Near Eastern Practice,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 70, 2008, pp. 223-43.

B. Wells, F. R. Magdalene, and C. Wunsch, He Shall Bear Guilt: Fault, Responsibility, and Administrative Law in Late Babylonian Legal Documents, forthcoming. R. Westbrook, “Codification and Canonization,” in La codification des lois dans l’antiquité: Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg 27–29 Novembre 1997, ed. E. Lévy, Travaux du Centre de Recherche sur le Proche-Orient et la Grèce antiques 16, Paris, 2000, pp. 33-47.

Idem, “Reflections on Neo-Babylonian Law” (review article of Urkunden zum Ehe-, Vermögens-, und Erbrecht aus verschiedenen neubabylonischen Archiven by C. Wunsch), NIN: Journal of Gender Studies in Antiquity 4, 2005, pp. 133-46.

C. Wunsch, Judeans by the Waters of Babylon: New Historical Evidence in Cuneiform Sources from Rural Babylonia, Babylonische Archive 3, Dresden, forthcoming.

Eadem, ed., Mining the Archives: Festschrift for Christopher Walker on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday, 4 October 2002, Babylonische Archive 1, Dresden, 2002.

Ancient Dams at Pasargadae

The site of Pasargadae in Iran is host to the tomb of Cyrus the Great and is also the site of the ancient Persian Gardens known as Paridaeza (Paradise). The term “Paridaeza” (which roughly means “enclosed encampment” in ancient Median) has linguistic relations with the Indo-European term “Perimeter“.

There are reports of yet another interesting discovery near the site of Pasargadae dated to the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BC): the discovery of at least eight different dams at the Pasargadae locale (see report in CAIS).

achaemenid-dam-at-pasargadaePartial view of the dam excavated by a Franco-Iranian archaeological expedition in February-March 2008. The site is approximately 30 kilometers distant from Pasargadae.

These have been discovered by an archaeological team of Iranian, Belgian and French researchers. The team excavated the Achaemenid dams in the Morghab plain, in southern Iran.

The region of Pasargadae and its environs is one of Iran’s most ancient plateaus with archaeologists having already discovered artifacts dating to several millennia B.C. As noted by a French expert of the archaeological team:

Since recognizing the irrigation system of ancient people, especially those living under the reign of the Achaemenid Empire, is significant, we attempted at discovering archaeological structures with help of the past research projects and newly developed tools

The team discovered 8 ancient mud-brick dams. Aerial photography and other techniques have dated these to the Achaemenid era. Two of those dams were over 20 meters tall with the height of the remainder ranging between 8 to 10 meters. Another expert of the archaeological team stated that these irrigation dams featured stone floodgates.

Gertster-Qanat-1976Excellent aerial photogrpah taken in 1976 by Georg Gerster of an Qanat irrigation system. For more on Qanats consult article by Professor H.E. Wulff. (Picture source: Iranfacts). 

Interestingly, the French archaeologists have also been involved in the excavations of an Achaemenid palace (attributed to Cyrus the Great) in the Tang e Bolaghi Valley.

Iranian archaeologist Hamidreza Karami, who is a specialist of Pasargadae, reported on these findings on April 1, 2008. Karami noted that the team had actually discovered two dams dated to the Achaemenid era: (approximately 2500 years) at Tang-e Hanā (Hana Pass). It is believed that the dams had been constructed during the earlier days of the Achaemenids.

According to Karami the dams were most likely constructed to power some type of industrial projects. One possibility according to Karimi was that the dams were powering mills. This is possible as there were no agricultural works in the area that depended on irrigation 2500 years ago.

Karimi also added that one of the purposes of the dams may have been to prevent floods from the Sivand River from swamping the area. As noted by Karimi, the water channels of the second dam are lower than the first dam. Also, the reservoir that would have been formed by the second dam would have been larger than the first dam.

For more information on engineering in ancient Persia, kindly click on the below item:

Bukhara in Pre-Islamic Times

The article below by the late Harvard Professor Emeritus Professor Richard N. Nelson Frye (1920-2014) on Bukhara in Pre-Islamic Times was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the 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-).


The site or town of Bukhara was one of many settlements in the large oasis formed by the mouths of the Zarafshan (Zarafšān) river in ancient Sogdiana. Since there is no evidence that the river reached the Oxus in historic times, it is a reasonable assumption that in the first millennium B.C. irrigation, using the water of the river, enabled an ever-growing population to expand the arable land of the oasis. At the time of Alexander the Great no city is reported to have existed in this area, and the history of Bukhara cannot be traced before the 4th or 5th century of our era, which is the probable date of the first coins with indigenous Bu­kharan Sogdian writing on them. The alphabet used is one derived from Aramaic.

Ancient Bukhara Ark[Click to Enlarge] The ancient Ark of Bukhara dated to a settlement dated to 500 BCE or (approx.) 2500 years ago. The bulk of the present brickwork is believed to be dated to 850 CE and its repairs and re-building ever since, however elements of the original thousands year-old foundation remains visible. Note the Zindon (Persian; Zendan = prison) pit is seen constructed behind the walls (Picture Source: Megalithic UK).

The name Bukhara may be derived either from a Sogdian word *βuxārak, whence Old Turkish Buqaraq, meaning “fortunate place” (cf. Christian So. fwxʾr) or, less likely, from a local form of vihāra, a Buddhist monastery (see buddhism ii). Naršaḵī seems to favor the former, citing an Arabic word fāḵera with the same meaning, whereas Jovaynī (I, p. 76; tr. p. 98) supports the derivation from vihāra. The name is spelled pwxʾr in a Sogdian manuscript in Sogdian script of uncertain date (Henning, 1940, pp. 8-9).

On the obverse of the coins from Bukhara appears the bust of a ruler facing right and wearing a crown copied from the crown of the Sasanian Bahrām V (r. 420-­38). This gives the earliest date for the coinage, but it is unknown how much later than the time of Bahrām that the coinage actually began (see Frye, 1949, p. 26). The earliest coins have the legend βwγʾr γwβ ʾšδʾδʾ “King Ašδāδ of Bukhara”? (Smirnova, 1970, p. 56). Later kings have a legend reading βwγʾr γwβ kʾwʾ (or kʾnʾ) “king of Bukhara, the hero” (or: “Kā¦nā¦,” a personal name). On still later coins the third word of the legend is shortened to kʾw (So. “giant”) or kʾy, which Henning (apud Frye, 1949, p. 28) suggested was a Sogdian calque on the Middle Persian Kay (written kdy), a title first found on legends of the coins of Pērōz (r. 459-84). After the Arab conquest Arabic words were added to the coins, and gradually the Bukharan legend, no longer understood, degenerated to illegibility. Finally only Arabic legends appear, which for the most part are only pious formulae. The data of the coins with Arabic legends is from early ʿAbbasid times, for standard Islamic coins with only Arabic legends ousted the Bukharan coins by the time of the Samanids, although local issues of the Bukharan coins continued for several centuries. The long series of coins, however, reveals the conservatism of the people of the Bukharan oasis, and perhaps a longer usage of a local written form of Sogdian than hitherto assumed.

Simurgh-Bird MotifPost-Sassanian style decoration motifs common in Iranian architecture adorn this mosque archway in Bukhara; note large bird or Simurgh (Persian Phoenix – Turkic: Ertugrul), a dog reminiscent of Sassanian arts and the floral-arboreal patterns (Picture source: Natasha von Geldern in World Wandering Kiwi).

Although the coins reveal the existence of a pre-­Islamic government in the oasis, undoubtedly the area was settled before the beginning of the coinage. Naršaḵī’s assertion (pp. 7-8; tr. p. 6) that the site of Bukhara had been a swamp in ancient times but that the river brought silt that filled the lowlands and enabled people to live there probably is correct. There may even have been an Oxian lake there in very early times according to Ptolemy (4.12.3).

The Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā mentions several pre-Islamic rulers, but their names are uncertain, and we know nothing about them. The first ruler of Bukhara men­tioned by Naršaḵī (p. 8; tr. p. 7) is Abrūʾī or Abarzī. He became tyrannical and was overthrown by a Turkish ruler called Qarā Jūrjīn. Unfortunately neither person can be identified from other sources. Another ruler mentioned by Naršaḵī (p. 49; tr. p. 35) is Kānā, who is credited with introducing coinage into Bukhara of the time of Abū Bakr, the first caliph. This is hardly acceptable, but whether this is a misreading of the word kʾwʾ on the coins (see above) is uncertain. Another ruler is called Māḵ (p. 29; tr. p. 19), who is said to have built the bāzār in Bukhara called after his name, and still another king of Bukhara called Dīzoʾī is mentioned on a silver vessel (see Frye, 1950, p. 110). Again nothing is known about these rulers.

Suzani Robe-Bukhara-Central AsiaA Suzani Robe from Ancient Bukhara, a mutli-colored style of silk embroidery from Central Asia’s Ferghana valley (Picture Source: Suzanis Blog).

It would seem that there were several local lords in the oasis of Bukhara, especially in the towns of Paykand, Vardana, and Varaḵša. Both Paykand and Varaḵša are mentioned as residences of the rulers by Naršaḵī, but it is unknown whether they were local rulers or rulers of the entire oasis. Some kind of unity in the oasis is implied by the coinage, by the extensive irrigation system, and by the long walls around the settled and cultivated areas. The wall, called kampīrak or kampīr dovāl “old lady’s wall,” probably existed in pre-Islamic times although it may not have been completed (or extended) until the early ʿAbbasid period. In spite of an apparent unity of the oasis the success of the Arab conquest suggests there was little more unity in the oasis than between oases.

With a ruler of Bukhara called Bīdūn (or Bandūn) we reach the time just before the Arab conquest, for he is mentioned by a number of Arabic sources, although with several variant readings of his name. It is uncertain whether he was killed in battle with Salm b. Zīād, the first Arab commander to cross the Oxus in 681, or whether he was already dead and his widow, called Ḵātūn in the sources, was regent for their son Ṭoḡšāda. Under Ṭoḡšāda the Arab conquest of Bukhara was accomplished. It should be noted that in the Arabic sources the rulers of Bukhara were called Boḵār-ḵodāt, where the last word is Sogdian γwtʾw, used for the nobility or aristocracy of the Sogdian oases.

Figure-2-Bukhara Jew[Click to Enlarge] Image of a Bukhara Jew in Central Asia at the turn of the 19th century. The Jews of Bukhara are located in not just in the city of Bukhara but also in other cities of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Bukhara Jews speak a Jewish vernacular of the Samarkand-Bukhara dialect of the Perso-Tajik language (Photo Source: The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center).

The boundaries of the oasis of Bukhara on the whole have remained constant during the last millennium, but from pre-Islamic times mounds or remains of buildings are found in the desert to the west, outside the present-­day oasis, attesting a larger area of settlement in more ancient times (see Shishkin, p. 22). There were many canals in the oasis that utilized the water of the Zarafshan river, and three of the major canals men­tioned in Arabic or Persian sources can be identified today: Šāpūrkām (today Shafrikan/Šāfrekān), Ḵarḡ/qānrūd (Kalkan), and Ḵetfar or ʿĀv/Ḡāw-Ḵetfar (Babkent Darya/Bābkand Daryā), which divided into the Andāna and the Rāmīṯan-Sāmjan canals (Naršaḵī, pp. 44-45, tr. Frye, p. 32; Eṣṭaḵrī, pp. 310-11; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 486-87, tr. Kramers, II, pp. 466-67; Barthold, Turkestan, pp. 113-16).

The only extensive historical pre-Islamic excavations in the oasis were those of a palace complex in Varaḵša in 1938-39 and 1949-54, revealing traces of wall paintings as well as clay statuettes. In the city of Bukhara the site of the mosque of Magoki Attar was investigated by V. A. Shishkin in the 1950s, and pottery and other small objects from the earliest layer suggested a date as early as the beginning of our era. Other sites, such as that of Paykand, have only been surveyed (Shishkin, p. 16).


R. N. Frye, Notes on the Early Coinage of Transoxania, New York, 1949.

Idem, “Additional Notes on the Coinage of Transoxiana,” American Numismatic Society. Museum Notes (New York) 4, 1950, pp. 105-14.

W. B. Henning, Sogdica, James O. Forlong Fund 21, London, 1940.

Jovaynī, Tārīḵ-e jahāngošā, ed. Qazvīnī; tr. Boyle. Naršaḵī, Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā, ed. Rażawī; tr. Frye. O. I. Smirnova, Ocherki iz istorii Sogda, Moscow, 1970.

V. A. Shish­kin, Varakhsha, Moscow, 1963.

O. A. Sukhareva, K istorii gorodov Bukharskogo khanstva, Tashkent, 1958.