Arsacid Chronology in Traditional History

The article below on the origins of the Parthians is authored by the late Shapur Shahbazi and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica. This article is also available in print: Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 5, pp. 542-543.

Readers are also referred to the History of the Parthian army – click here …

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The Parthian rule lasted 474 years, longer than any dynastic period in Iranian history. Throughout this period, the Arsacid era and the Seleucid era which preceded it by 64 years, were both in use, and so it would have been easy to recall that the Ctesiphon accession of Ardašīr I occurred in the 538th year of the Seleucid era and in the 474th year of the Arsacid era. Yet post-Sasanian sources give various figures for the duration of the Arsacid rule, which may be divided into the following categories. 1: 200 ud and (200 odd) years (Great Iranian Bundahišn, Codex DH, p. 109 lines, 10-11 [Tehran, 1971], TD1, p. 207, lines 1-2 [Tehran, 1971], TD2 p. 240, lines 4-5; Ferdowsī: “sāl-i dovīst (some two hundred years)” (Šāh-nāma VII, p. 116); both may be for 203 years, see A. Sh. Shahbazi, “The “Traditional Date of Zoroaster” Explained,” BSOAS 40, 1977, p. 27 n. 19. 2: 266 years, with variants (Šāh-nāma-ye Abū Manṣūrī apud Bīrunī, The Chronology, p. 117; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 706 and 813; Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, p. 97; Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, p. 874; Moqaddasī, III, p. 155); this frequently recorded tradition was the official Sasanian reckoning, as Masʿūdī says (see below), and is found also in Agathias (270 years: History 4.24) who used Sasanian royal chroniclers (ibid., 4.30.2-5). 3: 284 years, with slight variants (Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, p. 96; Indian Bundahišn 34.9). 4: 400 years, with variants (Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, p. 874; Nāma-ye Tansar, ed. M. Mīnovī, Tehran, 1311 Š./1932, p. 43; Moǰmal al-tawārīḵ, p. 59 [411 years]; Moqaddasī, loc. cit.). 5: 523 years, with variants (Ṭabarī, I, 813, hence Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, p. 874; Abu’l-Faraǰ Zanǰānī apud Bīrūnī, The Chronology, p. 119).

Map of the Parthian Empire in 44 BCE to 138 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 155,Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا).

The last category is of non-Iranian origin, as Ṭabarī specifies, being clearly based on Syrian sources using the Seleucid era: Alexander was usually claimed as the initiator of the Seleucid era (hence the era of Alexander), and was assigned a reign of 14 years (Shahbazi, op. cit., pp. 27ff.); since Ardašīr’s Ctesiphon coronation occurred “538 years after Alexander” (Agathias 4.24), one subtracted his reign from this number and obtained (537-14 = ) 523 years for his successors, the Petty Kings (Pahl.kadag-xwadāy, Ar.-NPers. molūk al-ṭawāʾef). The fourth category is a rough estimate by historians unconvinced of the authenticity of the official reckoning. The third group is a re-adjustment of the figure 266 in a scholastic version (Shahbazi, op. cit., p. 30). The first two categories are, however, based on sound historical—albeit unauthentic—traditions. Masʿūdī (Tanbīh, pp. 97f.) and Bīrūnī (cited by S. H. Taqizadeh, BSOS 9, 1937, p. 125) have noted the great difference of opinion between the Iranians and other nations concerning the post-Alexander chronology, and they have accused Ardašīr of having distorted the facts. “One of the state and religious secrets of the Iranians,” says Masʿūdī, is that Zoroaster foretold that his religion would be disturbed 300 years after him but the religion and empire would be stricken by a calamity at the end of his millennium. Now Ardašīr appeared when only two centuries of the millennium were left, and fearing the approach of the calamity, he “reduced almost by half the 500-year period separating him from Alexander, counting from the petty kings only some rulers with a total reign of 260 years and ignoring the rest. . . And so the chronology was thus officially fixed, and published” (Tanbīh, p. 98). H. Lewy (“The Genesis of the Faulty Persian Chronology,” JAOS 64, 1944, pp. 1977ff.), S. H. Taqizadeh (“The “Era of Zoroaster”,”JRAS, 1947, pp. 33ff.) and W. B. Henning (Zoroaster: Politician or Witch-doctor?, Oxford, 1951, pp. 37ff.) have explained this “secret” more convincingly: under the Sasanians the Seleucid era had come to be identified as the era of Zoroaster, and Alexander had been placed 258 years after Zoroaster; the appearance of Ardašīr in the 538th year of the Seleucid era was then re-interpreted as his rise in the 538th year of the millennium of Zoroaster; of these 538 years, 258 separated Zoroaster from Alexander and 14 belonged to the latter; so (538âŠδ258 + 14 = ) 266 years were left for the Parthian period. The Sasanian measure was taken, then, not because the Parthian period was to be reduced, but because the widely used Seleucid era had to be Zoroastrianized.

A detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.

The first category—the importance of which is evidenced by its attestation in two major Iranian sources—has so far remained unexplained. But it is clearly based on the re-interpretation of the Arsacid era (q.v.) as the epochal year of the millennium of Zoroaster: Ardašīr’s Ctesiphon coronation was in the (247 + 227 = ) 474th year of the Arsacid era; allowing 258 years for the interval between Zoroaster and Alexander, and assigning 14 years to the latter, one obtained (474âŠδ258 + 14 =) 202 years for the Parthian period. This Zoroastrianization of the Arsacid era must have been the work of the Parthian families who resented the Sasanian re-interpretation of the Seleucid era as the “era of Zoroaster,” so they countered claiming that their era had been initiated by Zoroaster. In this way they sanctified their dynastic symbol at the expense of sharply reducing the period of their rule.

Readers are also directed to the three tables below provided in the Encyclopedia Iranica regarding the chronology of the Parthians:

“Heirloom of Steel” wins Gloria Musaealis Museum Prize, Prague 16 May 2019

Dr. Antonin Reiter one of the directors of The South Moravian Museum in Znojmo (Czech Republic) contacted Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani on May 16, 2019 to inform him that his last book “Heirloom of Steel” had won the prestigious museum prize Gloria Musaealis 2018.

DR. Khorasani wrote the book as the main author and editor and my other colleagues who contributed to some chapters were Mr. Marco Briccola, Mr. Rainer Daehnhardt, Mr. Petr Eckl, Ms. Vanna Scolari Ghiringhelli and Dr. Bohumil Planka. On May 16, 2019 Dr Khorasani flew to Prague early in the morning to take part in the important event of Gloria Musaealis.

  • Title of the book: Heirloom of Steel: The Collection of Oriental and Asian Arms and Armor in Znojmo Museum (The Czech Republic)
  • Author & Editor: Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani
  • Co-authors: Marco Briccola, Rainer Daehnhardt, Petr Eckl, Vanna Scolari Ghiringhelli, Dr. Bohumil Planka
  • Forward: Dr. Jiří Mačuda
  • Publisher: South Moravian Museum in Znojmo

From left to right: Dr. Bohumil Planca (Nihonto expert and member of the Czech-Japanese Cultural Center), Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani, Ms. Vladimíra Durajková (General Director of the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo) and Dr Antonin Reiter (Director of South Moravian Museum in Znojmo).

Each year all museums in the Czech Republic take part in this important competition. The prizes are given to museums in three categories:

  • Best exhibitions
  • Best publications
  • Best innovations for museums and museum studies

The book “Heirloom of Steel” won in the category of best publications. 43 books were shortlisted in the final competition. In the second step only four books won the museum prize for the best publication. I am really proud to say that “Heirloom of Steel” was among these four books.

The 4 books which won the museum prize among 43 short-listed books are as follows:

Left side: Museum Romani Culture; “Amendar: An Insight in the World of the Romani Personalities“; Right side: Museum of the City Brno; “A New Building Brno 1928“.

Left Side: South Moravian Museum Znojmo; “Heirloom of Steel”; Right side: Museum Cheb; “Flora Soosu and the Surroundings“.

To see a video about the event see below …

The event took place in the picturesque building of Wenceslas Square, where the National Museum is located.

The entire event was accompanied by professional songs and two professional moderators who moderated the whole event. I would like to thank all my colleagues there and also all Czech people. This is a special price as the book “Heirloom of Steel” was the only book which was not directly connected to the Czech cultural heritage and goods but dealt with oriental and Asian arms and armor kept in a Czech museum. The textbook “Heirloom of Steel” has already demonstrated that it is a seminal addition to the domain of military studies.

The display of a 5500-year-old Human Skeleton in Neyshabur, Iran

The article below “5500-year-old human skeleton on display in Neyshabur, Iran” was originally reported by the Tehran Times on November 16, 2018. The article posted in Kavehfarrokh.com has been slightly edited from its original version.

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A human skeleton, which dates from some 5,500 years ago, was put on show at the museum of archaeology in the city of Neyshabur, northeast Iran in mid-November of 2018.

A team of archaeologist discovered the skeleton in 2004 while surveying a trench in Tapeh Borj, an archaeological site, near Neyshabur, IRNA reported.

The human skeleton dated to c. 5,500 years ago, on display at the Museum of Archaeology in the city of Neyshabur in mid-November, 2018 (Source: Tehran Times & IRNA).

Tapeh Borj has yielded remains and artifacts dated from the 4th millennium BC to the Parthian era (247 BC-224 CE), the report added.

Neyshabur, situated 74 km west of Mashhad, has shifted its position repeatedly in historical times. American excavations in 1934-40 disclosed rich remains of both the Seljuq and pre-Seljuq periods in the locality.

Rumanian Scholar’s views of Ancient Europa-Iran Ties

The below ideas were expressed to Kavehfarrokh.com by Romanian scholar Dr. Dan Tudor Ionescu (ISACCL-Institutul de Studii Avansate pentru Cultura și Civilizația Levantului Centru de excelență al Academiei Mondiale de Artă și Știință) in response to the following posting on Kavehfarrokh.com provided on July 9, 2018:

King Arthur [Part I]: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical Evidence

For more on this topic:

Europa & Eire-An

Kindly note that the text of Dr. Ionescu’s response below has been provided with various inserts of links, images and accompanying caption descriptions.

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Thank You very much! I find it always interesting to explore connections between Celts and Iranians (Alans-Sarmatians-Parthians, Sassania Persians, Ossetians), as well as between these Northern Iranian nomadic tribes and the Dacians and the old Germainic tribes (Goths, Vandals, Heruli, Gepids,, Burgundians, but also Langobards, Franks, Anglo-Saxons, and even Vikings).

The Iranian Kandys cape and its legacy in Europe (click to enlarge). (A) Medo-Persian nobleman from Persepolis wearing the Iranian Kandys cape of the nobility 2500 years past (B) figure of Paul dressed in North Iranian/Germanic dress from a 5th century ivory plaque depicting the life of Saint-Paul (C) reconstruction by Daniel Peterson (The Roman Legions, published by Windrow & Greene in 1992, p.84) of a 4th-5th century Germanic warrior wearing Iranian style dress and the Kandys. The Iranian Persepolis styles of arts and architecture continued to exert a profound influence far beyond its borders for centuries after its destruction by Alexander (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

There are so many elements of common myths: the cult of the sword extracted from stone or coming from a fairy/goddess of the lake (Arthur)/Caspian Sea (Batradz from the Ossetian and Caucasian Narts), the Dracones (the drake either a huge serpent or a wold headed drake with a snake body, like the Dacian, the Sarmatian, and the Frankish Carolingian types of dracones), the Cup/Cauldron of Immortality (from Dagda’s cauldron in the Irish Gaelic myth to Jamshid’s/Kay Khusraw’s/Sikandar’s cup which reflects the world as it truly is in Persian legend) etc.

Sassanian court of Khosrow II and his queen Shirin (Source: Farrokh, Plate F, p.62, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005); note the monarch who sits with his ceremonial broadsword. The Sarmatians shared the culture and martial traditions of their Iranian kin, the Parthians and the Sassanians. Many Iranian traditions were to transmitted to the Europeans by way of the Scythians and Sarmatians, notably the cult of the broadsword.

It is however almost impossible to say with any certainty what is a common Indo-European element from the Early Bronze Age and what was a borrowing or influence and who truly influenced whom; whence a mythologem originated is very tricky to acsertain. Before the Sarmatians and Alans to become the common mobile element linking together people as different as the Brythonic Celts and Romano-Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Vandlas, Lombards, even Huns, Avars, Proto-Bulgars, Proto-Magyars, and Slavs, long before the Germanic and Slavic migrations of the Voelkerwanderungszeit, there were the Celts moving all over Europe and meeting in the East with the Dacians, the Getae, the Thracians, and the Scythians (the Dacian-Thracian being Indo-Europeans heavily influenced by the Iranian Scythians). So, who took from whom, where and when and especially why and how are a set of question still unsolved.

Scythians on the steppes of the ancient Ukraine. Scholars are virtually unanimous that the Scythians were an Iranian people related to the Medes and Persians of ancient Iran or Persia (Painting by Angus McBride). A branch of the Iranian-speaking Scythians were to arrive in the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent, to be then known as the “Sikh” (from Iranian Saka=Scythian).

Note also the following connections:

  • Ire=Ireland (Old Gaelic/Erse)
  • Airyanam Vaeja, Airyanam Kshatram=iryanam=Eran=Iran
  • Wonderful! There was also an Irish mythical King called Eremon (Vedic Aryaman?)

Other Indo-Iranian-Celtic connections. Vide Jean Markale, L’ Epopee Celtique en Irlande, Paris, Payot, 1971; Idem. L’Epopee Celtique en Bretagne; Idem, Le Roi Arthur et la Societe Celtique, Paris, 1977; G. Dumezil, Mythe et Epopee, Paris, 1981-1986 (3vols.) I do not remember the precise quotations, so passim.

With great pleasure always to read You Sir, Sincerely,

Dr. Dan Tudor Ionescu (ISACCL-Institutul de Studii Avansate pentru Cultura și Civilizația Levantului Centru de excelență al Academiei Mondiale de Artă și Știință)

Ancient Iranian Toys or Votive Carts?

The article below Prehistoric Iranian Toys or Votive Carts?” was originally posted in Tavoos on December 21, 2016. The version posted below has been edited along with an additional photo (and accompanying captions) also inserted into the text.

Readers further interested in the pre Mede-Achaemenid era of ancient Iran may wish to click the below item:

The pre-Achaemenid Era

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These animal figurines shown in this article mounted on little carriages are part of a valuable deposit that was on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The relics were unearthed in Susa, southwestern Iran, in the early 20th century.

They are part of a valuable deposit unearthed by French mining engineer and archaeologist Jean-Jacques de Morgan (1857 – 1924) at Susa, southwest Iran, near the temple of Inshushinak. The collection of objects consists in a wide range of items assembled under the brilliant Shutrukid dynasty in the late second millennium BC. A number of animals on casters, tablets and wheels found in isolation indicate the widespread existence of these mobile objects, toys or votive carts, at Susa.

Close up of one the wheeled toys (?) carts with lion on top (Elamite era, c. 1150 BCE), discovered near the temple of Inshushinak (Source: Tavoos).

Morgan’s aim was twofold: first, to reveal the evidences of Elamite civilization, the importance of which was indirectly known by allusions from the Assyrians who destroyed Susa in 648 B.C.E. Second, to discover the very “origins” of eastern civilization, which Morgan assumed to have stemmed from Susiana. Consequently, Darius’s palace was considered as “low period” and the work was centered on the thirty-eight-meter-high Acropolis. To start with, however, there was the surprise discovery of a series of impressive examples of Babylonian civilization brought as war booty in the twelfth century B. C. by an Elamite conqueror. No immediate decision was taken about these findings but in 1900  Mozafaraldin Shah Qajar signed a special treaty was signed in 1900 by granting to France, all the antiquities found or would be discovered in Susa. In this way Louvre was to function as the depository of a complete set of archaeological material, which was unprecedented among archaeological expeditions. The initial shipment in 1901 was of unique importance, containing the Code of Hammurabi, the victory stele of Naram-Sin and Elamite antiquities such as a large bronze table displaying the unique skill of the Elamite metalworkers of the time.

 

Twelfth century BCE Elamite brick panel decoration from Susa’s outer wall of the temple of Inshushinak, Susa depicting a Man-Bull deity guarding a (sacred?) palm tree (Source: Jastrow (2005) in Public Domain). This is currently housed at the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the Louvre Museum.

Susa bears exceptional testimony to the Elamite, Persian and Parthian civilizations and cultural traditions. The modern Iranian town of Shush is located at the site of ancient Susa.

The function of these animals on casters remains unclear, however. Terra-cotta specimens have also been found at Susa (Louvre Museum, sb19324), raising the question as to whether they should be considered as toys or as votive carts carrying figurines. Susian children in the Middle-Elamite court may have played with them, pulling the little carts along with a piece of string. Scholars have also pointed to the religious connotation of human or animal figurines on wheels, suggesting they were purely votive offerings. Of course a toy could become an offering, dedicated to a divinity or buried alongside a deceased person.

Three of the Elamite children’s toys (?) (c. 1150 BCE) from the cache find at the temple of Inshushinak: a lion and hedgehog (sitting atop carts) as well as a standing dove (Source: Tavoos).

These works are part of a group of objects known as the “temple of Inshushinak cache,” found on the Susa acropolis near the temple of the god Inshushinak, whose name means “Lord of Susa.” These precious objects from various periods were gathered together in a sort of hiding-place in the late second millennium BC. They included animals on casters, bronze statuettes of praying figures, circuit games (Louvre Museum, sb2911, sb2912), jewelry and gold ingots. The interpretation of this treasure-trove, like that of the neighboring “golden statuette find” (Louvre Museum, sb2758), remains unclear, but both reflect the far-reaching influence of the Shutrukid dynasty, whose sovereigns sought to pay tribute to the god Inshushinak, particularly on the Susa acropolis, the religious center of Elam.