Arthurian Legend and the Sarmatians (Part I)

The article “Arthurian Legend and the Sarmatians (Part I)” was originally written by Periklis Deligiannis. Regarding the Iranian origin of the Sarmatians see: Oric Basirov: Origin of pre-Imperial Iranian Peoples For more on North Iranian peoples see … Scythian and Sarmatian History … For more on the links between ancient Greater Iran or Persia (Eire-An) and Europa, consult the following: Eire-An and Europa … Part II of the below article will be posted in September 2020.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

In  AD  175 ,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  settled  thousands  of  Sarmatian  cavalry  mercenaries  in  Britain.  Two  centuries  later,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  her  troops  from  the  island.  It  seems  that  the  independent
”British  kingdom”  preserved  its  unity  and  coherence  but  soon  after  it  was  struck  by  the  ruthless  Anglo-Saxon  invasion.  The  Sarmatians  were  now  merged  with  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  population,  taking  the  lead  in  checking  the  barbarians.  This  Sarmatian  presence  in  Britain  consists  probably  the  historical  background  of  the  legend  of  king  Arthur  and  his  Knights  of  the  Round  Table.

The  Romans  conquered  modern  England  and  Wales  during  the  1st  century  A.D.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  (Caledonii,  Cornavii/Cornovii,  Venicones  etc.)  which  corresponds  to  the  modern  Scottish  Highlands,  remained  independent.  By  the  4th  century,  her  peoples  had  been  incorporated  into  the  tribal  union  of  the  Picts  (Picti,  Pictae).  Their  name  meant  the  “painted  ones”  in  Latin  because  of  the  ancient  Celtic  custom  of   tattooing  which  they  maintained.  In  fact,  they  called  themselves  Cruthni.  The  Romans  held  Britannia  for  more  than  three  centuries,  but  the  Christianization  and  Latinization  of  its  population  were  confined  only  to  the  cities  and  in  a  few  Southeastern  rural  regions.  The  great  majority  of  the  population  remained  Celtic  in  language  and  in  cults.  Especially  the  rural  populations  were  greatly  influenced  by  the  Christian  heresy  of  Pelagianism.  In  the  late  4th  century  AD,  the  original  Roman  province  of  Britannia  was  split  into  four  provinces:  Caesaresia  Magna,  Caesaresia  Flavia,  Britannia  I  and  Britannia  II.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  and  Ireland  were  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory  for  centuries.

The  Irish  were  crossing  the  Irish  Sea  with  their  light  vessels,  the  Celtic  curraghs.  The  Caledonians-Picts  were  attacking  the  Romano-British  population  by  land  and  sea,  using  the  same  type  of  ships.  Caledonia  and  Britannia  were  separated  by  a  “neutral  zone” (buffer  zone  in  fact)  between  Antoninus’  and  Hadrian’s  Walls,  which  is  almost  equivalent  to  the  modern  Scottish  Lowlands. The  limits  of  Caledonia  (latter  Pictland)  followed  roughly  the  modern  ‘unofficial’  boundaries  between  the  Highlands  and  the  Lowlands  of  Scotland.  The  tribes  of  this  buffer  zone  between  Britannia  and  Caledonia  (the  Damnonii,  the  Selgovae  et. al.)  had  lived  for  two  decades  of  the  2nd  century  AD  under  direct  Roman  control  that  had  reached  Antoninus’  Wall (Vallum  Antonini).  When  they  revolted,  the  Romans  evacuated  this  region  and  restored  the  line  of  their  defense  in  Hadrian’s  Wall (Vallum  Adriani).  Eventually  the  Romans  made  allied  vassals  (foederati)  the  tribes  of   Lowland  Scotland,  using  them  as  a  buffer  zone  against  the  Caledonians/Picts.  However,  their  fidelity  was  always  questionable  and  the  gradual  weakening  of  the  Empire  led  them  to  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory.

Scales  of  Sarmatian  armor  found  near  Hadrians wall (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis).  They  probably  belonged  to  Iazygae  or  Alan  mercenaries  of  the  Roman  army.

In  the  4th  century,  the  Roman  weakening  brought  about  the  increase  of  the  barbarian  attacks  and  the  emergence  of  a  new  invader:  the  Anglo-Saxons.  The  term  ‘Anglo-Saxons’  (or  usually  simply  ‘Saxons’)  is  a  modern  conventional  name  for  of  group  of  Germanic  and  a  few  Slavic  invaders  in  Britain,  originating  from  modern  northern  Germany,  Netherlands,  Belgium  and  Jutland  (Denmark).  This  tribal  group/union  included  the  Saxons  (the  more  numerous  of  the  group),  Engles  (in  Germanic:  Engeln,  modern  English),  Frisians,  Jutes (Geats, a  Gothic  tribal  offshoot),  Proto-Norwegians  (Northwestern  Scandinavians),  Danes,  Angrivarians,  Brukteri  (Boruktuari),  Westphalians,  Ostphalians,  Franks,  Thuringians,  Wangrians  and  a  few  Slavs.  The  Anglo-Saxons  were  crossing  the  North  Sea  with  long  boats  (predecessors  of  the  Viking  ships)  and  were  attacking  Britannia,  looting  and  capturing  its  inhabitants.

The  Roman  armies  and  garrisons  of  Britain  who  faced  the  Irish,  Picts  and  Saxons  included  in  the  4th  century  AD:    I. the  force  of  the  Duke  of  Britannia (Dux  Britanniarum)  which  was  based  in  Eboracum  (capital  of  the  Parisii  tribe)  protecting  Northern  Britain  and  Hadrian’s  Wall.     II. the  force  of   the  Comes  Litoris  Saxonici (Saxon  Shore)  which  protected  the  southeastern  British  coasts  against  the  Anglo-Saxons.    III.  The  fast-moving  force   of  the  Comes  Britanniarum (mainly  cavalry), a  reserve  in  order  to  repel  any  sudden  barbaric  raid  on  any  British  coast.

In  the  early  5th  century,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  was  undergoing  collapse.  The  Romans  had  begun  to  withdraw  their  troops  from  Britain  since  the  4th  century,  in  order  to  check  the  barbarian  pressure  on  the  continental  border  of  the  Rhine.  In  AD  383,  the  Hispano-Roman  general  Maximus,  governor  of  Britannia  who  coveted  the  throne  of  Ravenna,  landed  in  Gaul  with  many  troops.  The  legionaries  that  he withdrew  were  not  replaced  with  new  ones.  The  protection  of  Roman  Britain  was  now  uneconomic  for  the  crumbling  Empire.  The  departure  of  the  Roman  soldiers  continued,  and  together  with  them  departed  a  great  part  of  the  noble  and  wealthy  castes,  whose  members  had  already  understood  that  very  soon  Britannia  would  not  be  a  safe  place  to  live.  Urban  life  had  already  been  reduced  significantly  and  the  economy  had  been  shrunk.  In  407  AD,  the  Empire  withdrew  its  last  regular  troops  from  the  island,  probably  along  with  most  imperial  administrators  and  employees.  The  soldiers  who  remained  were  essentially  some  Romans  and  foreign  mercenaries  who  had  families  with  native  women  or  other  footholds  on  the  island,  and  the  few  British  auxiliaries  who  supported  the  legions.  The  same  applies  to  the  remaining  imperial  officers  and  employees.

A  number  of  Latin-speaking  Germanic  soldiers  called  gentiles,  descendants  of  old  mercenaries  of  Rome,  remained  especially  in  Eastern  Britain.  They  initially  fought  their  Anglo-Saxon  brethren,  however  it  is  possible  that  later  many  of  them  joined  the  invaders  on  the  basis  of  their  common  Germanic  ancestry.  The  well-known Gewisse  are  most  likely  such  a  case.  Finally,  many  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries  (to  whom  we  shall  refer  in  detail  below)  remained  in  the  island  as  well.  After  407,  Britain  South  of  Hadrian’s  Wall  although  was  accounted  for  as  part  of  the  Roman  world,  became  virtually  independent.  The  rise  of  the  barbarian  raids  and  invasions  after  the  Roman  withdrawal,  embarrassed  the  British  leadership.  Its  members  sent  a  message  to  the  Roman  emperor,  with  a  request  for  military  aid  against  the  raiders  (Gemitus Britannorum, “Groans of the Britons”, 410  AD).  The  emperor  could  do  nothing,  advising  them  to  organize  their own defense.

Despite  the  departure  of  the  imperial  army  and  administration  from  Britain,  the  Roman-style  organized  life  went  on.  The  shrunken  Roman  cities  continued  to  exist,  but  the  way  of  life,  language,  cults  and  other  Roman/Latin  elements  were  steadily  giving  ground  to  the  regenerated  Celtic  ones.  The  remaining  Romanized  aristocracy  of  South-Eastern  Britain  undertook  the  organizing  of  the  defense  of  this  region  against  the  Saxons.  The  stably  Celtic  in  civilization  nobility  of  the  mountainous  and  hilly  Western  Britain  undertook  the  repulse  mainly  of  the  Irish  raiders.  The  remaining  former  commanders  of  the  Roman  guards  of  Hadrian’s  Wall  and  the  local  nobles  became  the  hereditary  ruling  class  of  the  Northern  Briton  territories,  mainly  undertaking  the  repulse  of  the  Picts.

Reenactment  of a Saxon warlord by the Historical association Wulfheodenas (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis).  Until  the  9th  century  AD,  the  marching  Anglo-Saxons  gradually  conquered  the  greatest  part  of  the  former  Roman  territories  in  Britain. 

Considering  the  ethno-cultural  conditions,  the  Northern  British  rulers  were  in  an  intermediate  situation  between  the  ‘authentic  Celts’  of  the  Western  region  and  the  Romano-Britons  of  the  South-Eastern  part  of  the  island .  It  is  probable  that  the  three  mentioned  groups  were  in  rivalry  during  the  Roman  period.  However,  the  common  external  threat  of  the  barbarians  joined  them.

The  former  Roman  Britain  was  gradually  divided  into  small  autonomous  Celtic  or  Romano-Celtic  states,  led  by  military  leaders  who  tried  to  maintain  unified  the  “British  kingdom”  as  they  perceived  their  common  territory.  An  action  of  their  unifying  policy  was  the  election  of  a  warlord  (Duke)  as  their  supreme  political  and  military  leader,  who  led  the  war  efforts  against  the  invaders  and  prevented  internal  conflicts.  In  the  medieval  chronicles,  the  supreme  leader  is  referred  as  the  ‘Supreme  Ruler’  of  the  island,  but  his  original  title  or  his  military  one  was  the  Dux  Bellorum.  Probably  this  office  was  the  continuity  of  the  Roman  office  of  the  Dux  Britanniarum.

The  Britons  resisted  the  barbaric  invasions,  led  by  a  series  of  inspirational  supreme  leaders  like  Voteporix,  Vortigern  and  especially  the  legendary  Arthur.  Under  their  leadership,  they  crashed  the  Picts  and  the  Irish  overthrowing  the  Irish  colonies  in  Wales  and  Lowland  Scotland,  and  managed  to  check  the  Anglo-Saxons.  In  429,  the  Romano-Britons  crashed  a  horde  of  Saxon  and  Pict  invaders.

Map of Britain in c. 540 CE (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis), contemporary to the Sassanians

The  British  defense  was  successful  until  442,  when  it  was  shaken  by  two  fatal  “scourges”  (Gildas’  Chronicle).  Vortigern,  probably  one  of  the  leader  of  the  Ordovices  tribe  of  Wales, was  at  that  time  the  Duke  of  Britannia (Supreme  Ruler).  His  name  is  possibly  not  a  personal  name  because  it  can  be  analyzed  in  Brythonic  Celtic  as  the  “Great  King”,  being  probably  a  popularized  rendering  of  the  title  Supreme  Ruler.  Vortigern  had  hired  Jute  mercenaries  in  order  to  repel  the  Anglo-Saxon  invasions.  Their  rebellion  (around  442  AD)  against  him  was  Gildas’  first  “scourge”.  The  Jutes  began  to  raid  Eastern  Britain,  capturing  or  killing  the  inhabitants.  The  second  “scourge”  was  a  plague  that  occurred  on  the  island  (around  446)  and  mainly  affected  the  urban  centers,  decimating  the  remaining  Romanized  population  who  lived  primarily  on  them.  It  was  a  severe  blow  for  the  Romano-British  administration  and  military  organization,  because  they  were  staffed  mainly  by  the  Latinized  population.  In  446,  the  Romano-Britons  asked  for  the  military  aid  of  the  Roman  general  Aetius.  The  great  Aetius  (who  was  meant  to  repel  Attila  in  451  AD  at  the  battle  of  Campus  Mauriacus  or  Catalaunian  Plains)  was  in  Gaul.  The  Briton  request  was  rejected  again.

Vortigern’s   preference  to  Germanic  mercenaries  was  his  great  blunder.  He  probably  did  not  trust  the  native  officials  and  warriors,  aiming  on  the  consolidation  of  his  power  through  the  formation  of  his  own  “Praetorian  guard”  composed  of  Germans.  He “fixed”  his  mistake  of  the  recruitment  of  the  Jutes  with  a  bigger  mistake:  he  settled  a  group  of  Saxon  mercenaries  under  their  warlords  Horsa (‘the  horse’)  and  Hengist (‘the  stallion’),  in  the  land  of  the  Kantii (modern Kent) (about  450  AD).  Their  duty  was  to  suppress  the  rebellion  of  the  Jutes.  The  Saxons  managed  to  defeat  them  but  thereafter  they  also  turned  against  Vortigern  conducting  atrocities  and  looting  on  the  Britons,  from  their  base  at  Kent.  At  the  same  time  they  called  their  brethren  to  come  from  their  cradle  in  Northern  Germany.

These  newcomers  landed  on  the  shores  of  Britain  and  in  a  few  decades  they  conquered  the  Southeastern  part.  But  the  Anglo-Saxon  march  was  limited  because  of  the  efforts  of  the  new  Briton  Duke  (Supreme Ruler)  Ambrosius  Aurelianus  and  then  it  was  stopped  by  the  legendary  great  Duke  Arthur.  It  has  not  been  established  yet  whether  Arthur  was  a  mythological  hero  or  a  real  historical  personality,  but  the  archaeological  discoveries  of  the  last  decades  and  a  review  of  the  chronicles  support  his  historicity.  The  literary,  historical,  archaeological  and  other  relevant  evidence  suggests  strongly  that  a  powerful  warlord  did  live  during  the  verge  of  the  5th-6th  centuries,  uniting  most  of  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  tribes  and  states,  and  fending  the  invaders.  He  could  not  be  other  than  Arthur  of  the  Celto-British  oral  tradition  and  of  the  “History  of  the  Kings  of  Britain”  of  Geoffrey  of  Monmouth  (AD  1133).

Arthur  as  a  military  leader,  was  not  depending  on  foreign  mercenaries  as  Vortigern  did,  but  in  a  “national”  army  comprised  of  Briton  Celts,  Romano-Britons,  Romano-Germans  and  Romano-Sarmatians.  He  inflicted  heavy  losses  to  the  Anglo-Saxons,  forcing  some  of  them  to  return  disappointed  in  Germany  as  it  is  proved  by  archaeology.
The  Roman  army  in  Britain  comprised  many  Sarmatian  mercenaries,  most  of  whom  probably  remained  on  the  island  after  407.  The  Sarmatians  were  a  large  group  of  nomadic  tribes  of  Northern  Iranian (Saka/Scythian)  stock.  Their  cradle  was  in  Central  Asia, possibly  in  modern  Northern  Kazakhstan.  Since  the  3rd  century  B.C.,  some  of  their  tribes  started  a  migration  to  China,  while  the  bulk  of  the  people  invaded  gradually  the  modern  Ukrainian  steppes  destroying  the  Scythian  state  in  Europe.  The  various Sarmatian tribes  were  independent  and very  often  were  fighting  each  other.  The  most  important  were  the  Sauromatae,  the  Roxolani,  the  Iazygae,  the  Siraces,  the  ‘Royal  Sarmatians’,  the  Aorsi/Alans, the  Aspourgians  etc.

The  Sarmatians  fought  primarily  as  armored  cavalry  using  a  long  and  strong  spear  (the  kontos)  as  their  main  weapon.  The  Romans  of  the  Later  Empire  evaluated  their  martial  spirit  and  recruited  them  massively  as  mercenaries.  They  ultimately  adopted  themselves  the  Sarmatian  mounted  warfare.  The  Goths,  the  Huns  and  other  peoples  did  the  same, and  they  also  included  in  their  ranks  many  Sarmatian  allies.  The  formidable  Sarmatians  were  dispersed  and  settled  in  many  European  regions,  where  they  finally  were  assimilated  by  the  local  populations.

Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005). Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. As noted by Periklis  Deligiannis,  the  Sarmatian  cataphracts belonged  to a very similar type of cavalry as the Savaran. Sarmatian cataphracts were using  armour  made  of  large  scales  or  mail  armor  like  the  Savaran in the above battle against Roman forces invading Sassanian Persia. Like the Sassanians, the Sarmatians also used  helmets  that were  mainly  of  the  spangenhelm  type – see following article: Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Kubic, A., & Oshterinani, M.T. (2017). An Examination of Parthian and Sasanian Military Helmets. In “Crowns, hats, turbans and helmets: Headgear in Iranian history volume I” (K. Maksymiuk & Gh. Karamian, Eds.), Siedlce University & Tehran Azad University, pp.121-163.

The  Iazygae,  a  tribe  of  the  Sarmatian  vanguard,  settled  for  some  time  in  Pannonia  (modern  Hungarian  and  Croatian  plain)  and  from  there  they  were  raiding  the  neighboring  Roman  territories.  In  AD  175,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  defeated  them  and  exiled  8,000  Iazygian  horsemen  (most  of  the  surviving  warriors  of  the  tribe)  in  Gaul  and  Britain,  where  they  were  obliged  to  serve  as  mercenaries  of  the  Roman  army.  5,500  of  them  were  settled  in  Britannia.  The  most  important  part  of  their  story  is  that  according  to  a  honorific  Roman  tombstone,  the commander  of  the  Legio  VI  Victrix  in  which  they  enrolled,  was  an  officer  called  Lucius  Artorius  Castus,  who  had  served  in  Dalmatia (a  region  adjacent  to  Pannonia)  and  perhaps  was  of  Dalmatian  (Illyrian)  origin.  The  enrollment  of  the  Iazygian  mercenaries  in  the  Sixth  Legion  was  not  accidental.  The  Sarmatians  undoubtedly  welcomed  a  commander  familiar to  their  homeland,  possibly  familiar  with  their  customs  and  language  as  well.  When  their  twenty-year  term  of  office  ended,  the  Romans  forbade  them  to  return  to  Pannonia  resettling  them  in  Bremetennacum (modern  Ribchester,  near  Lancaster)  and  in  two  other  sites  in  Britain.  Later,  these  three  Sarmatian  settlements-sites  were  identified  with  three  of  the  twelve  sites  of  victories  achieved  by  Arthur  (Nennius: History  of  the  Britons,  late  8th  century).

In  the  end  of  the  3rd  century, a  military  unit  of  500  Sarmatian  cavalrymen  is  reported  to  be  based  in  Bremetennacum, and  they  are  considered  to  be  the  descendants  of  the  Iazygian  captives-mercenaries.  The  personal  name  Arthur  comes  possibly  from  a  Celtic  corruption  of   the  Latin  Artorius  and  it  has  been  suggested  that  the  legendary  Arthur,  Duke  of  Britain  of  the  5th-6th  century,  was  a  descendant  of  the  Roman  Artorius  of  the  2nd  century.  Another  modern  theory  suggests  that  the  Latin  personal  name   Artorius   became  the  Celtic  title  Arthur  (like  the  Roman  name  Caesar  was  converted  to  the  German  title  Kaiser  and  the  Russian  title  Tsar).  However,  Arthur  was  undoubtedly  a  Celt,  even  if  he  was  a  distant  descendant  of  the  Roman  Artorius.

The  number  of  the  Sarmatians  in  Britain  was  not  inconsiderable.  The  Romans  settled  on  the  island  5,500  Iazygian  warriors.  The  Sarmatians  used  to  move  with  their  families  who  lived  in  the  typical  heavy  carriages  of  the  nomads,  thereby  it  is  certain  that  many  of  the  Iazygae  settlers  had  their  women  and  children  with  them.  On  the  other  hand,  many  would  be  young  unmarried  men  who  got  married  with  Briton  women.  The  usual  ratio  of  combatants  to  non-combatants,  used  to  calculate  ancient  populations,  is  1:3 .  Therefore,  a  ratio  of  1:2  is  acceptable  for  the  Iazygae  mercenaries  in  Britain  and  so  we  can  assume  a  total  figure  of  16-17,000  with  the  women  and  children.  If  we  add  to  them  the  rest  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries  who  settled  in  Britain,  mainly  Alans,  the  total  Sarmatian  population  would  number  a  few  tens  of  thousands (possibly  20-30,000).  The  number  of  the  Germanic  gentiles  in  the  island  was  higher.  The  total  population  of  Britannia  was  around  1,000,000-1,500,000.  It seems that the  total  figure of  the  Germanics  and  Sarmatians (men,  women  and  children)  did  not  exceed  5 %  of  the total population.

According  to  some  modern  scholars,  the  history  of  these  Sarmatian  mercenaries  in  Britain  is  the  background  of  the  Arthurian  Legend, as  we  shall  see  in  PART  II (to be posted by Kavehfarrokh.com in September 2020).

The Ancient Site of Takhte Sulaiman

The article “The Ancient Site of Takhte Soleyman [Suleiman]” below written by Ḏḥwty was originally posted on the Ancient Origins website on May 24, 2015.

The version produced below has been slightly edited. Kindly note that excepting one photo, all other images and accompanying captions did not appear in the original Ancient Origins posting.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE, Iran was part of the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival in the East. Under this empire, Zoroastrianism was recognized as the state religion, and numerous Zoroastrian sanctuaries were built by the Sassanian rulers as a sign of their piety. One of the most important of these sanctuaries is found at a site known as Takht-e-Soleyman (or Takhte Suleiman).

An excellent overview of the site of the site of Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) (Picture Source: Iran Atlas). The Ādur-Gushnasp sacred fire was dedicated to the Arteshtaran (Elite warriors) of the Sassanian Spah (Modern Persian: Sepah = Army).

Takht-e-Soleyman (meaning ‘The Throne of Solomon’) is located in West Azarbaijan province, in the north-west Iran. The site is located in a valley about 2000m (6500ft) above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains. In the middle of the valley is an oval platform rising about 60m above the surrounding plain that measures about 350m by 550m (1150ft by 1800ft). Located on the platform is a lake fed by springs hidden beneath the surface. Saturated with minerals, the water of this lake is neither drinkable nor able to support any life. An ancient volcano, known as Zendan-e-Soleyman (meaning ‘The Prison of Solomon’) is located about 3km to the west of the site. According to folk legend, King Solomon used to imprison monsters inside the 100m deep crater. Given its stunning natural landscape, it is little wonder that Takht-e-Soleyman was perceived as a mystical site by the ancients.

 

A reconstruction of the late Sassanians at Ādur Gušnasp or Shiz (Takht e Suleiman in Azarbaijan, northwest Iran) by Kaveh Farrokh (painting by the late Angus Mcbride) in Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-. To the left rides a chief Mobed (a top-ranking Zoroastrian priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

The region of Takht-e-Soleyman was considered sacred, worship was conducted there even prior to the arrival of the Sassanians. Around the Zendan-e-Soleyman area, the remains of temples and shrines have been discovered. These traces of structures have been dated to the 1st millennium BCE, and are associated with the Manneans, rulers of the region between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. The volcanic crater was once full of water (but later dried out), a feature that probably attracted the Manneans to build their temples and shrines there.

The ruins and crater at Takht-e-Soleyman Throne of Soloman, Iran in 2006 (Source: Ḏḥwty in Ancient Origins).

With the arrival of the Sassanians in that region in the 5th century CE, Zendan-e-Soleyman lost its importance to Takht-e-Soleyman. During the middle of the same century, during the reign of Peroz, construction began at the site. In the following century, Takht-e-Soleyman became a royal Zoroastrian sanctuary during the reigns of Khosrow I and Khosrow II. This site became one of the most important sanctuaries in Zoroastrianism as its temple housed the Ādur Gušnasp. This was a sacred fire of the highest order, and one of the three great fires of Zoroastrianism believed to have existed since the dawn of creation. The Sassanians also built a temple to the cult of Anahita, a goddess strongly associated with water, at Takht-e-Soleyman. To defend this important religious site, the Sassanians enclosed the area with a wall 13m (42ft) high, with 38 towers and two entrances – one in the north and another in the south. These defenses were not enough, however, to withstand the Byzantine army that attacked the site in retaliation against Sassanian incursion into their territory. As a result, Takht-e-Soleyman was destroyed in 627 CE. The following centuries were uneventful for Takht-e-Soleyman, and it was inhabited by a peasant population. It was only in the 13th century that the site regained some of its past glory and importance for a brief period.

A photograph from the site of ancient Kahib in Daghestan of the Caucasus forwarded by Guseyn Guseynov to Kavehfarrokh.com on March 1, 2015. Note that the above archway at Kahib bears an almost exact resemblance to one of the archways at the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province. For more on Kahib see here …

By then, the Sassanian Empire was already long gone, and the region was now under the control of the Ilkhanate, a part of the Mongol Empire but would later form a state of its own. During the reign of Abaqa Khan, the second Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate, the peasants residing in Takht-e-Soleyman were chased out, and a palace was built for the Khan on the foundations of the ancient sanctuary. In addition to new structures, some ancient ones were also reconstructed. Nevertheless, the site was once again abandoned in the middle of the 14th century, following the demise of the Ilkhanate and the subsequent Timurid invasion. The site fell into ruins, and was only rediscovered in the 19th century. In the 20th century, archaeological work was conducted at the site and in 2003 Takht-e-Soleyman was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple. After the prayers are concluded, a “Damavaz” (a ceremony participants) holds aloft the censer containing fire and incense in his hand to pass around the congregation. As this is done, the Damavaz repeats the Avesta term “Hamazour” (translation: Let us unite in good deeds). Participants first move their hands over the fire and then over their faces: this symbolizes their ambition to unite in good works and the spread of righteousness (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

Pasargadae: the Tomb of Cyrus the Great

Pasargadae is the site of the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire (c.550-330 BCE). Founded by Cyrus the Great (575-530 BCE).  Readers are invited to consult the below article with respect to the legacy of the Cyrus:

The term “Pasargadae” is generally believed to be the Greek phonological derivation of the Old Persian term Pathragada, which may have meant “Camp of the Persians” but this is no longer agreed upon by all specialists of ancient Iranian languages.

The construction of the Pasargadae complex drew upon artisans of not only Iranian origin (Medo-Persian), but also from Anatolia (i.e. Ionia) and Mesopotamia. These arrived at a unique architectural and civil engineering style of synthesis, one that was to herald the construction of the Persopolis city-palace. The synthesis of various artistic, architectural and engineering styles in northern, western and southern Iran however can be dated to the Elamites, the Medes as well as Luristan.

The site of Pasargadae is well known as housing the tomb of Cyrus and is also known as one of the genesis points for the Persian Gardens of old.

The Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae which has been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The Pasargadae tomb – a reconstruction by Stronach.

The Tomb of Cyrus: Architecture and Engineering

The design of Cyrus‘ tomb is fascinating as it appears to incorporate aspects of both Elamite and Mesopotamian influences. The Elamites had been fusing with the Iranian peoples in south and southwest Iran, especially the Persians (called Parsuash by the Assyrians).

Reconstruction of Pasargadae by the Persepolis-3D website – For more details on the architecture of Pasargadae, see Stronach and Gopnik: Pasargadae.

There are three sections of interest in the tomb of Cyrus. The first is an elevated podium 21.9 meters high and whose base is 13.2 x 12.2 meters. Of particular interest is the use of large blocks in the building of the podium and the tomb itself (see description of this on the History Channel program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians” below:

 

The blocks at Pasargadae were cut very precisely and placed without the use of mortars. Reinforcement was provided by a unique system of clamps or staples.

Staples or clamps used to secure the blocks at Pasargadae.

It is very likely that the techniques for masonry at the tomb have significant influences from the Ionians and Lydians. These influences may be explained by Cyrus’ defeat of King Croesus of Lydia (reigned 560 to 546 BC) who was King Alyattes II (619-560 BC) son and successor. Cyrus also conquered the Ionians along the western coast of Anatolia (modern western Turkey). These conquests resulted in the arrival of Ionian and Lydian artisans who bought these particular features to site at Pasargadae.

An Ionian as depicted in the city-palace complex at Persepolis

The second section is a small chamber, which appears to have some Urartian influences. Urartu located towards northwest Iran and the Caucasus (roughly where Armenia is today) had already witnessed a symbiotic relationship between its own arts and architecture and those of the Medes, although this is a domain that requires more research and excavation work. The tomb itself has the following measurements: it stands at 2.11 meters in height is also 2.11 meters wide and is 3.17 meters in length. Western researchers have noted that these dimensions resemble those found at the tomb of King Alyattes II (619-560 BC) of Lydia. While this is true, it is possible that the inspiration for this may have been derived from the underground tombs of Luristan that have similar type of roofs. Luristan has been a seminal nexus point for the genesis and synthesis of various forms of artistic, metallurgical and building techniques that were to influence the Iranian plateau and northwest Iran.

The Uratian Erebuni Fortress in modern Yerevan, Armenia.

The third section of the structure is a roof and could resemble Phrygian type designs from ancient Anatolia.

A Phrygian Tomb at Midas City dated the 6th Century BC, near modern Eskishehir, Turkey.

The arrival of Alexander

Alexander (356-323 BC) who conquered the Achaemenid Empire, held a profound sense of admiration and respect for Cyrus the Great. When Alexander arrived at the tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae, he is described as having paid his respects at the site and also ordered the tomb repaired and its contents restored (i.e. Arrian, XXIX, 1-11; Quintus Curtius, VII, 6.20).

Alexander (356-323 BC) not only spared the Tomb of Cyrus but ordered it to be repaired and restored to its original state.

It is believed that the items found by Alexander at the site included a carpet (possibly of the Pazyryk type), a golden coffin, bejeweled decorations, a couch with covering (or perhaps quilt of some kind) a table set with drinking goblets (possibly resembling the rhython seen in the photo below).

An Achaemenid Rhython.

This tomb continues to inspire the admiration of western researchers to this day.

The Arabian arrivals

When the Arabs conquered the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE) and entered Iran they first planned to destroy the tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae. Legends detail the story of how the locals dissuaded the Arabs from demolishing the site by recounting to them that it actually housed the remains of the mother of Solomon. This explains why the inscription at the site today states “Qabr e Madar e Soleiman” [The grave/tomb of Solomon’s mother].

A photograph of Pasargadae in the latter days of the Qajar Dynasty.

The tomb of Cyrus is now a UNESCO world heritage site, but has been beset by a number of controversies.

Controversies aside, one element is for certain: the legacy of Cyrus‘ humility endures to this day. An ancient inscription (now lost) is believed by many to have stated the following:

“O man, whoever thou art… I am Cyrus, Grudge me not, therefore, this little earth that covers my body.”

Further readings:

Bussagli, M. (2005). Understanding Architecture. London: I.B.Tauris.

Chahin, M. (1975). Ararat the ancient kingdom of Armenia. History Today, XXV (6), pp. 418-427.

Curtis, J. (1990). Ancient Persia. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Daniel, E.L.  (2001). The History of Iran. Greenwood Press.

Ferrier , R.W.(1989) The Arts of Persia. Yale University Press

Moorey, P.R.S. (1974). Ancient Bronzes from Lursitan. London: British Museum.

Stronach, D. (1985). Pasargardae. In I., Gershevitch (Ed.), Cambridge History of Iran: Vol.2 The Median and Achaemenean Periods, Great Britain, Cambridge University Press, pp. 838-855.

 

Sandstorm in Southern Iran exposed Lost Ancient City and Relics

The Iran FrontPage News Outlet reported on April 5, 2017 of a remarkable archaeological find as a result of severe sandstorm. As noted in the report:

” A strong sand storm in Kerman province in southern Iran has led to the discovery of a lost ancient city full of historical relics. The sand storm unearthed a large part of an ancient city in Negin-e Kavir County near the city of Fahraj in Kerman province.

Exposed remains of a building structure (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency); note top portion of an archway leading towards a chamber or hallway. The archway appears to be based on Sassanian systems.

Approximately 5,000 square meters (53,820 square feet) of this site (including relics) have been identified at Negin Kavir country.

Remains of tile-type flooring of a building structure near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

The remains may alternatively be that of an ancient necropolis, but further studies are needed to fully ascertain the function of the site (i.e. whether it was a city, necropolis, etc.).

Human remains unearthed near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

As noted by Mohammad Vafaei (Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization) to the Tehran Times (April 9, 2017):

“A team of archaeologists has been dispatched to Fahraj in order to determine whether the site used to be a necropolis or an inhabitance …”

A sample of pottery unearthed as a result of the storms near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

As noted by the Archaeology News network (April 6, 2017):

“Clay relics, bones, and brick walls have been discovered in the historical site. Further archeological investigations will be carried out to discover more about the city.”

Remains of a piping system exposed near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

As cautioned by Mohammad Vafaei in the Ancient Origins website:

“One cannot claim that an area is historical as soon as several objects appear from under the ground after storms and floods, since they might have been carried from other regions by water or storm.”

Wall foundations remains of an architectural structure near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

Initial analyses by archaeologists suggest that this site may be sometime in the early post-Sassanian era (around the early 660s CE) to the early Safavid era (c. early 1500s), however, this site may indeed be very much older. By the same token, the authorities and especially specialists are advising caution until full studies are completed. As noted by the Tehran Times (April 9, 2017):

“Big, sprawling Kerman Province is something of a cultural melting pot, blending various regional cultures over the course of time. It is also home to rich tourist spots and historical sites including bazaars, mosques, caravanserais and ruins of ancient urban areas.”

It would be pertinent for the authorities to allow further investigations into the field to allow for the production of more data leading to scholarly papers and textbooks, not just for the find at Kerman province, but all of southern and central Iran.

22nd Gran Paradiso Film Festival – World Wildlife Film Award given to an Iranian film on July 30, 2019

Luisa Vuillermoz, the Artistic Director of the Gran Paradiso Film Festival announced that the Fondation Grand Paradis has selected the movie “In the realm of the spider-tailed viperfor the 22nd edition of the Gran Paradiso Film Festival.
The director and producer of the movie “In the realm of the spider-tailed viper” is Dr. Mohammad Ala, winner of the 2018 Cinema Vérité Award, the 2018 Panda Award and the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award. The above photo shows Dr Ala at the 22nd edition of the Gran Paradiso Film Festival
The above video shows Dr. Mohammad Ala discussing his films as related to the importance of protecting endangered species and the environment in general (Source: GPFF).
The movie “In the realm of the spider-tailed viperhas won the Prize WWF Italia awarded by the Technical Jury, as special acknowledgement for the engagement in the protection and safeguarding or rare and unique species.
The above photo shows Dr. Ala (second from left receiving  the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award) along with two Italian mayors from Lecce and Bari who attended this event. The festival is known among Italians because it started in 1962.
As noted by Luisa Vuillermoz with respect to the 22nd edition of the Gran Paradiso Film Festival 0f 2019:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Mohammad Ala for his participation and his important contribution during the presentation of the Iranian film to the Festival audience.
For more information, photos, press releases, news and information about the 22nd Gran Paradiso Film Festival are available at the official website www.gpff.it.