نقش‌های تزیینی معماری در دوره پارتیان – موزه باستان شناسی استانبول-Topkapi

Parthian artifacts housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum

The Topkapi Palace Museum of Istanbul in Turkey is one of the world’s most important sites for the study of world history and civilization, on par with Museums such as the Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia), The British Museum (London, England), The Louvre (Paris, France), Iran Bastan Museum موزه ایران باستان (Tehran, Iran), Altes Museum (Berlin, Germany), Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome, Italy) and the Egyptian Museum المتحف المصري (Cairo, Egypt).

Enderun-Topkapi-IstanbulThe Enderûn Library at the Topkapi palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey (Source: Public Domain). The Topkapi is one of the most important museums of Persianate or Turco-Iranian civilization.

The source of the information below on Parthian artifacts at the Topkapi museum is from an article penned in the BBC on December 6, 2014 by Pejman Akbarzadeh entitled “ردپای فرهنگ ایران در موزه‌های استانبول” [The Footprint of Iranian Culture in Istanbul’s Museums]. Below are three Parthian items housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum.

 

نقش‌های تزیینی معماری در دوره پارتیان – موزه باستان شناسی استانبول-Topkapi

Parthian architecture: decorative designs motifs (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).

مجسمه‌ای از دوره اشکانی، ساخته شده از ماسه – موزه باستان‌شناسی استانبول-Topkapi

Depiction on a slab of a Parthian nobleman or prince with a scabbard slide sword (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).

بخوردان‌های ماسه‌ای از دوران اشکانیان – موزه باستان‌شناسی استانبول-Topkapi

Incense burners  from the Parthian era (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh). It is not clear if the burning of incense pertained the Zoroastrian faith of the practitioners or whether these were part of other Iranian cults such as a possible (local) form of Mithraism.

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The Third Colloquia Baltica Iranica Conference (24-27 November 2016)

Siedlce University in Poland will be hosting the Third Colloquia Baltica Iranica Conference on 24-27 November 2016. The organizers of the conference are as follows: the Institute of History and International Relations, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Student Scientific Association of Historians, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, in cooperation with The Department of Mediterranean Archaeology, Gdańsk University, III CBI President: Katarzyna Maksymiuk and III CBI Secretary: Adam Kubik.

universty-of-siedlice-main-gateMain entrance gate of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities (Public Domain).

The conference will host an array of international experts in the field of ancient Iranian militaria studies such as: Nicholas Sekunda (University of Gdańsk, Poland), Aleksandr Silnov (State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Petersburg, Russia), Dan Tudor Ionescu (Metropolitan Library of Bucharest, Romania), Ilkka Syvänne (University of Haifa, Israel), Patryk Skupniewicz (University of Siedlce, Poland), David Nicolle (University of Nottingham, Great Britain), Valerii Nikonorov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Petersburg, Russia), Svyatoslav Smirnov, (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia), Marcin Lichota (University of Siedlce, Poland), Mariusz Mielczarek (Polish Academy of Sciences, Łódź, Poland), Marta Czerwieniec (University of Siedlce, Poland), Joanna Szklarz (University of Siedlce, Poland), Alli Kolesnikov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Petersburg, Russia) and Sergei
Nikonenko (Saint Petersburg State University, Russia).

Kaveh Farrokh, Reza Karamian of Tehran Azad University and Adam Kubik (University of Siedlce, Poland) will present a paper entitled:

An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets (2nd century BCE – 7th century CE)

Farrokh-Elite Sassanina CavalrySassanina Knight in 4th century AD

Sassanian knight at the time of Shapur II (309–379) engaging Roman troops invading Iran in 333 CE. Note the Spangenhelm helmet (based on the item housed at the Baghdad Museum) and suit of mail covering arms and torso. This knight resembles early Sassanian warriors in which he sports a decorative vest and a medallion strap on his chest; he also dons a Spangenhelm helmet. He has lost his lance in an earlier assault and is now thrusting his heavy broadsword using the Sassanian grip (known in the west as the ‘Italian’ grip) in the forward position for maximum penetration effect. The sword handle is based on that depicted for one of Shapur I’s swords (British Museum B.M.124091); the sheath is based on the Bishapur depictions. His sword tactic is meant for shock and short engagements; he will then retire and discharge missiles. The bow and missiles in the left hand will be deployed as the knight redeploys at least 20 meters away. The quiver is modelled on that of King Pirooz (New York Metropolitan Museum Inv.34.33) (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, Osprey Publishing, 2005, Plate D, p.61) .

The presentation will discuss a comprehensive array of topics such as available reliefs inside Iran that provide iconographic information despite weathering over the ages (Gotarzes relief at Behiston, Tang-e Sarvak, Panj-e Ali, Firuzabad, Nagshe Rustam, Nagshe Rajab and Bishapur), helmets housed at museums (British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, Römisches Germanisches Museum in Mainz-Germany, Baghdad Museum, Musee d’Art Classique de Mougins, and various other select helmets) and all other forms of depictions (plaques), seals/bullae, the armored horseman at Taghe Bostan as well as Classical references. The site of Dura Europos with respect to the graffiti of Iranian horseman and the excavated ridge helmet are also examined. Insignia and decorations on helmets will also be discussed. The links between the military cultures of ancient Iran and Europa are also examined by examination of Roman victory displays (i.e. Trajan’s relief) and helmets (i.e. Dacian helmets featuring parallels with ancient Iranian models.

Farrokh-Ancient Persia at War-Sassanina Spangenhelm Helmet Nineveh

Sassanian Spangenhelm Helmet recovered from Nineveh in modern-day Iraq which would have been a part of Sassanian Enpire (224-651 CE) at the time. The Spangenhelm helmet was constructed by fastening metal plates together by rivets (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing, p.223).

Two of Farrokh and Karamian’s papers in 2016 have been:

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Education in the Parthian and Sassanian Empires

The article below by Ahmad Tafazzoli entitled Education in the Parthian and Sassanian Empires” was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1997 and last updated on December 9, 2011. The article is also available in print (Vol. VIII, Fasc. 2, pp. 179-180).

Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and accompanying descriptions of these inserted below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica posting.

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No concrete evidence on education in Parthian times has survived. It may be postulated, however, that it was similar to education in the Sasanian period. Information about the latter period is confined mainly to education of princes, the nobility, the clergy, and administrative secretaries (dabīrs). Most peasants were illiterate, but most urban merchants were probably acquainted at least with writing and calculation (Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 416).

The required education for a child of a noble or an upper-class family is described in the Pahlavi treatise Xusraw ud Rēdag (Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, pp. 27-38): writing, religious instruction, physical education, and training in courtly arts. A noble child would begin attending school (fra-hangestān) at the “proper age,” between five and seven years (Wizīrkard, p. 177; cf. Ṭabarī, I, pp. 815, 855: Ardašīr at seven years, Bahrām V at five years) and would have completed general training and religious studies by the age of fifteen years (Andarz ī Pōryōtkēšān, par. 1; Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, p. 41). At school he would learn to write and would memorize the yašts, Hādōxt, Bayān Yasn, and Vidēvdād, the same training provided for a future hērbed (religious teacher). In addition, he would listen to the Zand, the Pahlavi translation of the Avesta. Astrology was also part of the curriculum (Xusraw ud Rēdag,pars. 8-10, 14). The education of a certain Mihrām-Gušnasp, son of a noble Sasanian family who later converted to Christianity and was martyred, was similar. He was said to have been initiated into Middle Persian literature and the Zoroastrian religion at an early age. He could recite the yašts and hold the barsom at the age of seven years (Hoffmann, p. 94; Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 413-14). According to Abū Manṣūr Ṯaʿālebī (Ḡorar, p. 712), Šīrōya (later Kavad II, r. 628 C.E.) read Kalīla wa Demna at school.

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A copy of the Avestan Videvdad Sadeh with illustrations housed at the British Library (RSPA 230, ff. 151v–152r) (Source: Maia Atlantis). The text above was originally copied in 1647 in Yazd, Iran.

The account of the education of Dārāb given in the Šāh-nāma (Moscow, VI, pp. 359-60, vv. 93-103; cf. Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 394; cf. Xusraw ud Rēdag, pars. 11-12) probably reflects Sasanian norms: He first learned the Avesta and Zand and was then trained in riding, archery, polo, and the military arts. It was customary to entrust the education of a prince, especially a crown prince, to a tutor, in some instances far from the court. For example, at the end of the Arsacid period Bābak sent Ardašīr (224-40) at the age of seven years to the argbed Tīrī, who was probably commander of the fortress of Dārābgerd (see DĀRĀB ii), to be educated (Ṭabarī, I, p. 815; Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 876). Writing (dibīrīh), riding (aswārīh), and other skills were parts of his education (Kār-nāmag, ed. Antia, chap. II, p. 5 par. 4). Ardašīr himself, while at the court of the last Arsacid king, Ardavān (see ARTABANUS), had trained princes in horsemanship and hunting (Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 475). Bahrām V (Bahrām Gōr; 421-39), whose education was said to have been entrusted to Monḏer, Arab ruler of Ḥīra in Mesopotamia, was instructed by various tutors (moʾaddeb) in writing, archery, riding, and law. His general education is reported to have finished at the age of twelve years, after which he continued training in archery and riding until he attained mastery (Ṭabarī, I, pp. 855-57; Meskawayh, pp. 78-79; Dīnavarī, ed. Guirgass, p. 53; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 541; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VII, pp. 270-71; Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, pp. 929-30).

A noble education also involved learning to play musical instruments and sing, games like chess and backgammon, and general information about wines, flowers, women, and riding animals (Xusraw ud Rēdag, pars. 13, 15, 57-58, 62-63, 66, 69-93, 96, 99-100). When Ardašīr was relegated by Ardavān to service in the royal stable, he reportedly amused himself by playing the lute (ṭanbūr) and singing (srōd-wāzīg; Kār-nāmag, ed. Antia, chap. 3, p. 11 par. 2; cf. Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, II, p. 30, VI, p. 178, about Rostam and Esfandīār respectively).

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An artistic interpretation of the ancient Iranian Goddess of knowledge and science, Cheesta (Source: Mojarradat). The Avesta makes clear that women are equal to men in receiving education: there is a reference for example to the worship of frauuaṣ̌is (choices) of aēθrapaitinąm aēθriianąm narąm nāirinąm (teachers, of students—male [and] female) (Y. 26.7).

Ferdowsī’s description of the education of Prince Sīāvaš by Rostam in Zābol provides a model of princely education in Sasanian and probably Parthian times as well. The prince was not only trained in horsemanship, archery, hunting, and the arts of war but also learned social etiquette, ceremonial rites, conduct on festive occasions, and delivery of orations. The results of his education were later apparent in the skills in archery, polo, and hunting that he exhibited when he lived at the court of Afrāsīāb (Šāh-nāma, ed. Khaleghi, II, pp. 207, 289-94).

There is some evidence that in the Sasanian period women attended school, at least for general religious studies, though probably in relatively small numbers (Kotwal and Kreyenbroek, pp. 18, 38, 43); the main part of their training, however, consisted of domestic skills learned at home (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 935; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 418). There is one piece of evidence suggesting that some women were well versed in Sasanian civil law (Bartholomae, p. 35; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 418).

Three terms for “school” are attested in Pahlavi books: frahangestān, lit., “place of education” (Xusraw ud Rēdag, par. 8; Kār-nāmag, ed. Antia, chap. 2, p. 8 par. 21); dibīrestān, probably a school for training scribes and secretaries (Andarz ī Ādurbād, pars. 58, 129, in Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, pp. 63, 69; Xwēškārīh ī Rēdagān, pars. 1, 3, 5, 23, in Junker, pp. 15, 16, 20; Sad dar naṯr, chap. 51, p. 37); and hērbedestān, evidently a school for religious studies (Andarz ī Pōryōtkēšān, par. 8, in Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, p. 43; Andarz ō kōdakān, par. 25, in Junker, p. 20). The general term for “teacher” was hammōzgār, for “religious teacher” hērbed, and for “instructor” frahangbed (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, pp. 274, 757; cf. Ṭabarī, I, p. 1063: moʾaddeb al-asāwera “instructor of horsemen”).

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A newly discovered Yasna manuscript announced on the Bibliographia Iranica on June 26, 2015 by Shervin Farridnejad (Source: Bibliographia Iranica). This discovery was first announced by Dr. Saloume Gholami on Facebook. Professor Alberto Cantera and his colleagues at the Avestan Digital Archive (ADA) project have been working to publish the manuscript and make it available for public access. This manuscript originally belongs to the Dinyar family of Yazd, Iran and has been dated to c. 1630.

The sources provide scanty information on educational methods. In two Pahlavi treatises (Xwēškārīh ī Rēdagān and Andarz ō kōdakān) that have survived in Pāzand, the duties of boys at school, at home, and on the way from home to school are described (Junker, pp. 15-21). Physical punishment was administered at school (cf. Zādspram, chap. 27, p. 97 par. 8; Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana, p. 130, par. 9, where beating with a very long stick is mentioned).

Bibliography

(For cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”)

C. Bartholomae, Zum sassanidischen Recht IV, Sb. der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften 13, Heidelberg, 1922/5.

G. Hoffmann, Auszüge aus syrischen Akten persischer Märtyrer, Leipzig, 1880.

H. F. J. Junker, ed., Ein mittelpersisches Schulgespräch, Sb. der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften 3/15, Heidelberg, 1912.

F. M. Kotwal and P. Kreyen-broek, The Hērbedestān and Nērangestān I, Paris, 1992.

Meskawayh, Tajāreb al-omam I, ed. A. Emāmī, Tehran, 1366 Š/1987.

Sad dar naṯr, ed. B. N. Dhabhar, Bombay, 1909. Wizīrkard ī dēnīg, ed. P. Sanjana, Bombay, 1848.

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Central Asia: NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks

The article below by Ralph Blumenthal entitled “NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks” was originally posted by the New York Times on October 30, 2015. Apart from a number of minor edits and formatting, the article below is the same content as the New York Times original, including all of the photographs and accompanying descriptions.

The article is of interest to ancient history enthusiasts as it points to the discovery of ancient symbols in ancient Central Asia (in the region of modern Kazakstan). These ancient symbols are seen (with various variations) in later Indo-European civilizations, notably the proto-Iranian peoples, their cousins in India and Europe and the beginnings of the Zoroastrian religion (see for example: Archaeologists uncover Zoroastrian Links in Northwest China).

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High in the skies over Kazakhstan, space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground.

Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old.

The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise.

Described last year at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, now number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes.

Spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by a Kazakh economist and archaeology enthusiast, Dmitriy Dey, the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs remain deeply puzzling and largely unknown to the outside world.

1-CA-BestamkoeThe Bestamskoe Ring is among the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan — at least 260 earthwork shapes made up of mounds, trenches and ramparts, the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old, recognizable only from the air (Source: New York Times, originally Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA).

Two weeks ago, in the biggest sign so far of official interest in investigating the sites, NASA released clear satellite photographs of some of the figures from about 430 miles up, showing details as small as 30 centimeters by 30 centimeters. “You can see the lines which connect the dots,” Mr. Dey said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this; I found it remarkable,” said Compton J. Tucker, a senior biospheric scientist for NASA in Washington who, along with a colleague, Katherine Melocik, provided the archived images, taken by the satellite contractor DigitalGlobe, to Mr. Dey and The New York Times. He said NASA was “proceeding to map the entire region.”

Last week, NASA put space photography of the region on a task list for astronauts in the International Space Station.

Ronald E. LaPorte, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who helped publicize the finds, called NASA’s involvement “hugely important” in mobilizing support for further research.

The archived images from NASA and dozens more the agency has been working to produce add to the extensive research that Mr. Dey compiled this year in a PowerPoint lecture translated from Russian to English.

“I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air,” Mr. Dey, 44, said in an interview from his hometown, Kostanay, dismissing outlandish speculations involving aliens and Nazis. (Long before Hitler, the swastika was an ancient and near-universal design element.) He theorizes that the figures built along straight lines on elevations were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.”

Kazakhstan, a vast, oil-rich former Soviet republic that shares a border with China, has moved slowly to investigate and protect the finds, scientists say, generating few news reports.

“I was worried this was a hoax,” said Dr. LaPorte, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Pittsburgh who noticed a report on the finds last year while researching diseases in Kazakhstan.

With the help of James Jubilee, a former American arms control officer and now a senior science and technology coordinator for health issues in Kazakhstan, Dr. LaPorte tracked down Mr. Dey through the State Department, and his images and documentation quickly convinced them of the earthworks’ authenticity and importance. They sought photos from KazCosmos, the country’s space agency, and pressed local authorities to seek urgent Unesco protection for the sites — so far without luck.

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The earthworks, including the Turgai Swastika, were spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh archaeology enthusiast (Source: New York Times, originally Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA).

In the Cretaceous Period 100 million years ago, Turgai was bisected by a strait from what is now the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean.

The rich lands of the steppe were a destination for Stone Age tribes seeking hunting grounds, and Mr. Dey’s research suggests that the Mahandzhar culture, which flourished there from 7,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C., could be linked to the older figures. But scientists marvel that a nomadic population would have stayed in place for the time required to lay ramparts and dig out lake bed sediments to construct the huge mounds, originally 6 to 10 feet high and now 3 feet high and nearly 40 feet across.

Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg who viewed some of Mr. Dey’s images, said these figures and similar ones in Peru and Chile were changing views about early nomads.

“The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects — like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs — has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organization as one that predates settled and civilized societies,” Dr. Clarkson wrote in an email.

“Enormous efforts” went into the structures, agreed Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, an archaeologist from Cambridge University and a lecturer at Vilnius University in Lithuania, who visited two of the sites last year. She said by email that she was dubious about calling the structures geoglyphs — a term applied to the enigmatic Nazca Lines in Peru that depict animals and plants — because geoglyphs “define art rather than objects with function.”

Dr. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute and two archaeologists from Kostanay University, Andrey Logvin and Irina Shevnina, discussed the figures at a meeting of European archaeologists in Istanbul last year.

With no genetic material to analyze — neither of the two mounds that have been dug into is a burial site — Dr. Motuzaite Matuzeviciute said she used optically stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring doses from ionizing radiation, to analyze the construction material, and came up with a date from one of the mounds of around 800 B.C.

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One of the enormous earthwork configurations photographed from space is known as the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village in Kazakhstan (Source: New York Times, originally Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA).

Mr. Dey, who spoke in Russian via Skype through an interpreter, Shalkar Adambekov, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, cited a separate scholarly report linking artifacts from the Mahandzhar culture to other figures, suggesting a date as early as 8,000 years ago for the oldest.

The discovery was happenstance.

n March 2007, Mr. Dey was at home watching a program, “Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs,” on the Discovery Channel. “There are pyramids all over the earth,” he recalled thinking. “In Kazakhstan, there should be pyramids, too.”

Soon, he was searching Google Earth images of Kostanay and environs.

There were no pyramids. But, he said, about 200 miles to the south he saw something as intriguing — a giant square, more than 900 feet on each side, made up of dots, crisscrossed by a dotted X.

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Researchers are hoping to marshal support for investigating the earthen mounds that make up figures like this one, the Big Ashutastinsky Cross (Source: New York Times, originally Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA).

At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter.

Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.”

In August 2007, he led a team to the largest figure, now called the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village.

“It was very, very hard to understand from the ground,” he recalled. “The lines are going to the horizon. You can’t figure out what the figure is.”

When they dug into one of the mounds, they found nothing. “It was not a cenotaph, where there are belongings,” he said. But nearby they found artifacts of a Neolithic settlement 6,000 to 10,000 years old, including spear points.

Now, Mr. Dey said, “the plan is to construct a base for operations.”

“We cannot dig up all the mounds. That would be counterproductive,” he said. “We need modern technologies, like they have in the West.”

Dr. LaPorte said he, Mr. Dey and their colleagues were also looking into using drones, as the Culture Ministry in Peru has been doing to map and protect ancient sites.

But time is an enemy, Mr. Dey said. One figure, called the Koga Cross, was substantially destroyed by road builders this year. And that, he said, “was after we notified officials.”

cyrus-cylinder-New

Pseudo-Scholarship about Iran: Insulting Cyrus the Great

Article below by John Limbert appeared in the LobeLog website on November 3, 2016. Kindly note that none of the pictures and their corresponding captions appeared in the original LobeLog release.

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John Limbert is Class of 1955 Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. He served 34 years in the Foreign Service, including 14 months as a hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran.  He has recently authored Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History for the US Institute of Peace.

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What is it about Harvard that impels its people to produce pseudo-scholarly non-facts about Iran? Four years ago a presi­den­tial candidate and graduate of the Harvard Business School claimed that Iran needed its alliance with Syria to achieve “access to the sea.” Perhaps they don’t use maps at the Business School. A couple years ago, a former professor and secretary of state who received his Ph.D. from Harvard warned darkly about a newly reconstructed “Persian Empire” that was about to dominate the Middle East.

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The Tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae where Alexander paid his respects. The tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage site (Source: Public Domain).

Such ahistorical nonsense and geographical mishmash never seems to die. In a recent Time article called “The Iran Paradox,” the current dean of Harvard’s (and Tuft’s) Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy continued this unfortunate precedent. About Iran he wrote that “the inheritors of that [i.e. Cyrus the Great’s] imperial tradition are today’s Shi’ite Iranians, and their present-day ambitions for the Middle East…will roil the already tense region deeply over the next few years.”

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The Cyrus Cylinder housed at the British Museum (Source:  Angelina Perri Birney).

Of course there once were mighty Persian empires. The Book of Daniel tells of the great “empire of the Medes and Persians whose laws alter not.” In the sixth century BCE, Cyrus created a vast multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire whose organi­zing principle was acceptance and support of local customs and beliefs. About 539-538 BCE, the ruler spelled out that policy in the famous “Cyrus cylinder” of Babylonia, which many Iranians today proudly claim was the world’s first universal declaration of human rights. One can argue about Cyrus’ motives, but no one can argue with the success of his program.

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. There is also an “Iran” street in Israel.

But all that happened over 2,500 years ago. What is the relation of Cyrus’ vast empire to the current Islamic Republic and its clumsy foreign policy? None. In the past there were great Persian empires, whose armies burned Athens and humbled mighty Rome. But the last of those empires disappeared over 1,400 years ago with the victory of the in­vading Arab Muslim armies over the Zoroastrian Sassanians. Since then, Iran has either been a province of larger empires or a country confined roughly to its present-day borders. Its history for the last 200 years has been anything but imperial. More often it has been invaded, divided, threatened, manipu­lated, and exploited by outside powers.

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Journalism and Academia join to promote Eurocentricism: Matthias Schultz of Spiegel Magazine (July 15, 2008) and Harry de Quetteville of the Daily Telegraph (July 16, 2008) wrote parallel articles attacking the legacy of Cyrus the Great and his ancient legacy; both publications even criticized the people of Iran for appreciating the historical memory of Cyrus. See responses to the Spiegel article and the Daily Telegraph.

Iran today remains home to many monuments and memories of imperial glory, each a veritable Ozymandias. Iran retains only what British historian Michael Axworthy properly calls “the empire of the mind.” From time to time Iranian politicians will recall Iran’s past glories and issue bombast about reconquering territory lost centuries earlier. Such state­ments, however, ignore reality and are nothing but whistling past the graveyard in an attempt to conceal the Islamic Republic’s current weaknesses.

cyropaedia-thomas-jefferson-copy

Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Cyropaedia (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney). Like many of the founding fathers and those who wrote the US Constitution, President Jefferson regularly consulted the Cyropedia – an encyclopedia written by the ancient Greeks about Cyrus the Great. The two personal copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Cyropaedia are in the US Library of Congress in Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson’s initials “TJ” are seen clearly engraved at the bottom of each page.

What our Fletcher colleague calls “Shi’ite Iranians” are in no way the inheritors of Cyrus’ imperial tradition. Instead, the Islamic Republic today operates from a position of weakness caused by both cultural isolation and its own diplomatic ineptitude. It has managed to alienate almost all of its neighbors with the exception of chaotic Syria and tiny, land­locked Armenia. When the Islamic Republic’s rulers allowed a mob to trash Saudi diplomatic premises in January 2016, and then made only a grudging apology, they only further isolated themselves from much of the Arab world. Iran’s foreign influence today is feeble, and consists mostly of backing factions in the most dysfunctional places, including Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. Contrast such ineptitude with the skills of Cyrus and his successors. Such a performance by his compatriots would make Cyrus the Great, if he were alive, turn over in his grave, as Yogi Berra would say.

6-Evil Immortals

Eurocentricism meets Hollywood: cartoon-like portrayal of ancient Iranians in the movie “300” – For more on this topic read here – and for more on Eurocentricism, consult here…

The persistence of such shallow pseudo-scholarship, especially among those associated with one of the world’s greatest universities, is inexplicable—unless perhaps the moon is always full over Cambridge and Somerville. Those presenting such an account of current events are certainly not learned in their subject. Instead, in order to argue for a questionable policy (for example, “a proactive approach to the Iranian challenge”) they repeat the empty phrases (“inheritors of an imperial tradition”) they have heard and that at first blush seemed profound. On closer examination, however, such ideas are only hollow catchphrases with no bases in scholarly history or geography. They also insult the memory of Cyrus the Great.