Jens Kröger: Ctesiphon

The article below is by Jens Kröger and originally appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica. Kröger’s article was originally published in print on December 15, 1993 and last updated on November 2, 2011. This article is also accessible in print (Vol. VI, Fasc. 4, pp. 446-448). The version published below has embedded photographs, paintings and accompanying captions that did not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica publication/posting.

Readers are also encouraged to support the fundraising campaign for making of the first-ever documentary on the monument of Taq Kasra situated in the Sassanian capital, Ctesiphon – Click Here … and see below video:


CTESIPHON (Ṭīsfūn), ancient city on the Tigris adjacent to the Hellenistic city of Seleucia, ca. 35 km south of the later site of Baghdad. The origin and meaning of the name is unknown (for the forms, see Honigmann, cols. 1102-03; Markwart, Provincial Capitals, pp. 60-61). In the Greek sources it appears as Ktēsiphôn, in Latin Ctesiphon/Ctesifon from the Greek and T(h)esifon or Et(h)esifon, reproducing lo­cal forms. In the Aramaic Talmud (ʾ)qṭyspwn (in Syriac qṭyspwn) occurs. From Iranian texts of the Sasanian period Manichean Parthian tyspwn (or *tysfwn; Henning, pp. 943-44), Pahlavi tyspwn, and Christian Sogdian tyspwn (Sims-Williams, pp. 144, 147-49; Yoshida) are attested. In Arabic texts the name is usually Ṭaysafūn. According to Yāqūt (III, p. 570, IV, p. 446), quoting Ḥamza, the original form was Ṭūsfūn or Tūsfūn, which was arabicized as Ṭaysafūn.

Rare 1864 photograph of the Gateway of Ctesiphon before the right-hand facade of the structure collapsed (Source: Public Domain).

The history of the city has been reported and its ruins extensively described by scholars and travelers through the ages. M. Streck (1900-01, I, pp. 246ff.; 1917, pp. 26ff.) was the first to collect and comment on these writings. Systematic topographical research in the region of Seleucia/Ctesiphon began with Ernst Herzfeld, who worked there from 1903 to 1911 (Sarre and Herzfeld, pp. 46ff.). In 1927 an American expe­dition led by Leroy Waterman located and excavated Seleucia, on the west bank of the river, near modern Tell ʿOmar. German (1928-29) and German-Ameri­can (1931-32) teams under Oscar Reuther and Ernst Kühnel respectively excavated sites on both banks and conducted surveys of the area. Since 1964 an Italian expedition under the direction of Giorgio Gullini and Antonio Invernizzi has carried on this work on the west bank. Its findings have helped to clarify the general topography of the site and to provide an initial stratig­raphy. Because of the sprawling nature of the city and the complexity of the questions that it poses, however, many points still await further research, and some of the conclusions reached cannot be accepted without doubt (for a differing view, cf. von Gall).

Parthian period

Parthian Ctesiphon has been tenta­tively located on the east bank of the Tigris opposite Seleucia at a site now bisected by a loop in the Tigris several kilometers north of the Ayvān-e Kesrā, an area that has not yet been systematically explored by archeologists. In the early Parthian period the metropolis of Seleucia/Ctesiphon was the administra­tive center of Babylonia and also a center for the long-­distance trade through the Persian Gulf (cf. Strabo, 16.1.16). When the Arsacids conquered the Mesopotamian lowlands, the capital was transferred to Ctesiphon from Hecatompylos, identified with Šahr-e Qūmes near Dāmḡān (see capital cities i); it thus also became the main terminus for the luxury trade along the Silk Route, as well as through the Persian Gulf. From the time of Mithradates I (ca. 171-38 b.c.e.) until the fall of the Arsacid dynasty in 224 c.e. it was the winter residence of the Arsacid kings (Strabo, 16.1.16; cf. Tacitus, Annals 6.42), though there was a functioning mint in Seleucia throughout the Parthian period (see arsacids iii, p. 540).

The rock relief of Khong-e Azhdar (خونگ اژدر) in Izeh, Khuzestan (in SW Iran) of Mithradates I (r. 165-132 BCE) (Source: Hamshahrionline).

Modern knowledge about Parthian Ctesiphon is lim­ited and drawn mainly from the accounts of Greek and Roman historians. According to Strabo (16.1.16), the city was founded as a camp for the Parthian armies because the Arsacids did not think it appropriate to admit their troops into the Greek city of Seleucia; Pliny (Natural History 6.122), on the other hand, reported that Ctesiphon was founded to draw the population away from Seleucia. Artabanus II (q.v.; d. 38 c.e.) was said to have been crowned in Ctesiphon in 10 or 11 c.e. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.48-50). According to Ammianus Marcellinus (23.6.23), the city was enlarged by immigration under Pacorus I around 39 b.c.e. and the same ruler built the city walls. In other sources, however, it is reported that the walls were built somewhat later (Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IV, col. 1110). Under Vologeses I (ca. 51-76 or 80 c.e.; for further references, see balāš i) an important new commercial center called Vologesocerta was founded in the region of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, but its identification and precise location are still uncertain.

Coin of Vologeses I (Source: Classical Numismatic Group available in Public Domain).

In the following centuries Ctesiphon was repeatedly conquered by the Romans. Trajan captured the city in the spring or summer of 116, receiving the title Parthicus in consequence (Din Cassius, 68.30.3; Arrian, Parthica, frag. 1 in Müller, Fragmenta III, pp. 587, 590); his booty included a daughter of the king Osroes and the golden Parthian throne (Dion Cassius, 68.80.3). In 117 he invested Parthamaspates with the royal Parthian diadem in Ctesiphon. The city was again invaded in December 165, during the reign of Vologeses IV (148­92/3; see balāš iv), by the Roman general Avidius Cassius, who demolished the royal palace (Dio Cassius, 71.2.3). In 198, in the reign of Vologeses V (ca. 190 or 193-208), Ctesiphon was conquered for a third time, by Septimius Severus, after hard fighting. The city was sacked, and part of its population was forcibly transported. Following the example of Trajan, Septimius took the title Parthicus Maximus (Dio Cassius, 75.9.2-5; “Severus,” in Historia Augusta 16.1­2).

After the Romans had withdrawn the city walls were rebuilt. The history of Parthian Ctesiphon ended with the defeat of Artabanus IV in 224 c.e. and the corona­tion of the Sasanian king Ardašīr I at Ctesiphon in 226.

Sassanian period

Ctesiphon remained the capital and coronation city of the Sasanian empire from the accession of Ardašīr until the conquest by Muslim armies in 16/637. It was at once royal residence, imperial administrative center, and one of the most important cities of the rich agricultural province of Babylonia/Āsōristān, which, with its network of waterways and fertile soils, supported a dense popula­tion, especially along the lower Dīāla basin on the east bank of the Tigris, and many large towns (Adams, pp. 69-70). Following ancient custom (see courts and courtiers i), the Sasanian kings used the palace at Ctesiphon only as a winter residence, spending the summers on the cooler highlands of the Persian pla­teau.

Sassanian stucco from Ctesiphon housed at the British Museum (Photo: Pejman Akbarzadeh).

Although situated in the heartland of the Sasa­nian empire (del-e Ērānšahr), Ctesiphon and the sur­rounding area were inhabited mainly by Arameans, Syrians, and Arabs, who spoke Aramaic and were predominantly Christian or Jewish. Both the Jewish exilarch and the Nestorian catholicus resided in the city, and in 410 a Nestorian synod was held there (see Eilers, p. 499; Neusner pp. 917-18, 931). The Zoroastrian Persian ruling class, on the other hand, was in the minority. Curiously, none of the major fire temples was located in Sasanian Mesopotamia, though there were a few smaller ones, apparently including one at Ctesiphon; its exact site has not been identified (Morony, p. 238). In the later Sasanian period it became customary for each king to make a pilgrimage to the venerated fire sanctuary of Ādur Gušnasp at Šīz (Taḵt-e Solaymān) after the coronation ceremo­nies. The capital was connected by a network of roads with all parts of the empire, and one of the most important routes led to Media, where the summer residence (Hamadān) and the great fire temple were located.

A reconstruction of Ctesiphon as it may have appeared in the 6th and early 7th centuries CE (Source: in Pinterest).

From the sources it seems that Parthian Ctesiphon continued to flourish throughout the Sasanian period. A royal palace, the “white palace” (al-qaṣr al-abyaż, abyaż al-Kesrā), as yet unidentified, was still standing there when Mesopotamia was conquered by the Arabs (Ṭabarī, p. 2440; Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, p. 262). During the Sasanian period Ctesiphon developed into a me­tropolis, consisting of a series of cities and suburbs along both banks of the Tigris (for a topographical plan, see ayvān-e kesrā). It thus became known as “the cities” (Aram. Māḥōzē, Ar. al-Madāʾen). The process began around 230, when Ardašīr I founded a new city at Ctesiphon; it was called Weh-Ardašīr (see beh-ardašīr) by the Persians, New Seleucia by the Greeks, and Kōḵē by the Syrians. A cathedral church is known to have been located there (Streck, 1917, pp. 42-46). A circular walled city west of the Ayvān-e Kesrā has been identified by the Italians as Weh­-Ardašīr (von Gall, pp. 81-84). Excavations have revealed part of the fortifications, artisans’ quarters, and residential areas. A late Sasanian church with a long prayer hall lined by two rows of piers and a tripartite choir was excavated by the German expedi­tion in 1928-29; a fragmentary painted stucco figure found there may represent a saint (Kröger, pp. 47-48, pl. 12/3). Around the middle of the 5th century the course of the Tigris shifted and divided Weh-Ardašīr in two (Venco Ricciardi and Negro Ponzi Mancini, pp. 100-10). The ensuing severe flooding and other haz­ards must have severely disrupted city life and led to a general decline of this town in the 6th century, when only patches of high ground (e.g., modern Tell Barūda) continued to be inhabited (Venco Ricciardi, 1977, pp. 11-14).

German archeological Map of Seleucia-Ctesiphon during the Sassanian era (Map redrawn by user “Lencer” in Public Domain from original Mesopotamia XL, 2005, 169).

Perhaps owing to these changes or perhaps even earlier Asbānbar, or New Ctesiphon, developed, also on the east bank of the river, south of Parthian Ctesiphon. There stood the Sasanian royal palace, Ayvān-e Kesrā, with its enormous audience hall, still standing today. The German excavations revealed that this structure had been part of a larger complex, probably including a corresponding building on the east side of a large courtyard (Kröger, pp. 13-16). A palace or religious building may have stood on a terrace now called Ḥaram Kesrā or Tell al-Ḏabāʾī about 100 m to the south (Kröger, pp. 40-45). Only the remains of the terrace foundations and stucco fragments of hunting scenes, possibly from a continuous frieze with large busts of kings, were found (Kröger, p. 26). The main decorative features of the palace area were stucco disks decorated on each side with a rosette design. A square terrace known as Tell Ḏahab farther to the southeast yielded similar disks and must thus have had some connection with the palace city. The floors and walls of the palace were decorated with marble, opus sectile, mosaics, and stucco sculptures. It has been suggested that the complex was built by Ḵosrow I Anōšīravān (r. 531-79) to commemorate his conquest of Antioch in Syria in 540 and that it was decorated with mosaics depicting the victory; it is also possible that Byzantine craftsmen sent by the emperor Justinian were employed, which would indicate a probable date before his death in 565. To the north and east of the Ayvān-e Kesrā private houses, probably of the 6th century, have been excavated at the sites of Maʿāreḏ and Omm al-Saʿāter in New Ctesiphon (Kröger, pp. 30-136). Their elaborate ground plans suggest that they belonged to members of the upper classes. Vaulted ayvāns set somewhat apart from the other living quarters contained elaborate ornamental or figural stucco reliefs with religious connotations. Mosaics were not used in these private houses, most of which seem to have been abandoned after the fall of Ctesiphon to the Arabs (Kröger, pp. 50ff.).

A soldier gazes upon the remains of the archway of Ctesiphon (Source: Sgt. Rebecca Schwab, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, USD-C in Public Domain).

Another city, still unlocated, was founded at Ctesiphon by Ḵosrow I for the population forcibly transported from Antioch in 540. It was called Weh-­Antīōk Ḵosrow/Rūmagān (Ar. Rūmīya) and was mod­eled on the original plan of Antioch, with its own hippodrome and bath; marble taken by Ḵosrow on his Syrian campaigns is reported to have been used as a building material (Ṭabarī, I, pp. 898, 959; Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 165, 239-40; Dīnavarī, ed. Guirgass, p. 70; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 612-13; Masʿūdī, Morūj, ed. Pellat, I, p. 307). In the late 6th century Weh-Antīōk had a population of about 30,000. In the opinion of the German excavators this city may have stood southeast of the Ayvān-e Kesrā in an area now known as Bostān Kesrā, where a rectangular section of an apparent city wall has survived (Kröger, p. 45). It is possible, however, that this section was part of some other wall, perhaps that of a garden. Ḵosrow II Parvēz (r. 590, 591-628) also departed from the established pattern of summering in the Persian highlands and built his royal summer residence at Dastgerd, north­east of Ctesiphon (Same and Herzfeld, pp. 76ff.).

Sassanian court of Khosrow II and his queen Shirin at Ctesiphon (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.

In contrast to its history under Parthian rule, Sasa­nian Ctesiphon was successfully invaded only once before the Muslim conquest, by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Carus in 283. In 363 the emperor Julian passed close to the city on his disastrous retreat after the burning of his fleet on the Euphrates but did not enter it.

Emperor Julian, who failed to capture Ctesiphon, is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 CE. Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” but Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants were especially prized as their cabs afforded very high elevation over the battlefield, which was ideal for Sassanian archery (Source: Farrokh, Plate D, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).

In 628 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius advanced toward the capital on his campaign against Ḵosrow II. After having destroyed the sanctuary of Šīz/Taḵt-e Solaymān in Azerbaijan and looted Dastgerd he followed the fleeing Ḵosrow II as far as the west bank opposite Ctesiphon. There, in a last effort, Ḵosrow assembled his army and forced Heraclius to retreat (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 295-96). Only a few years later, however, in March 637 the city was conquered by Muslim troops under Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ (Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, pp. 262ff.; Dīnavarī, ed. Guirgass, p. 133; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 2431ff.; Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ II, p. 165; Baḷʿamī, ed. Rowšan, I, pp. 464-67). The Sasanian royal family, the nobles, and the army fled, and the invading army seized fabulous amounts of booty from the royal treasury, including the cel­ebrated garden carpet called bahār-e Kesrā.


R. M. Adams, Land behind Baghdad, Chicago, 1965.

S. A. al-ʿAli, “Al-Madaʾin and Its Surrounding Area in Arabic Literary Sources,” Mesopotamia 3-4, 1968-69, pp. 417-39.

N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938.

W. Eilers, “Iran and Mesopotamia,” in Camb. Hist. Iran III/1, pp. 481-504.

J. M. Fiey, “Topography of al-Madaʾin,” Sumer 23, 1967, pp. 3-36.

H. von Gall, review of Mesopotamia 1, 1966, in Kunst des Orients 6, 1969, pp. 80-85.

G. Gullini, “Prob­lems of an Excavation in Northern Babylonia,” Mesopotamia 1, 1966, pp. 7-38.

W. B. Henning, “Mani’s Last Journey,” BSOAS 10/4, 1942, pp. 911-­53; repr. in Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, Tehran and Liège, 1977, pp. 81-93.

A. Invernizzi, “Ten Years’ Research in the al-Madaʾin Area, Seleucia and Ctesiphon,” Sumer 32, 1976, pp. 167­-75.

J. Kröger, Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz, 1982.

E. Kühnel, Die Ausgrabungen der zweiten Ktesiphon-Expedition (Winter 1931/2), Berlin, 1933.

O. Kurz, “The Date of the Taq i Kisra,” JRAS, 1941, pp. 37-41.

A. Maricq, “Vologésias, l’emporium de Ctésiphon,” Syria 36, 1959, pp. 264-76; repr. in Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965, pp. 113-25.

M. G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest, Princeton, N.J., 1984.

M. M. Negro Ponzi and M. C. Cavallero, “The Excavations at Choche,” Mesopotamia 2, 1967, pp. 41-56.

J. Neusner, “Jews in Iran,” in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, pp. 109-23.

O. Reuther, Die Ausgrabungen der Deutschen

Ktesiphon-Expedition im Winter 1928/29, Witten­berg, 1930.

F. Sarre and E. Herzfeld, Archäologische Reise im Euphrat- und Tigrisgebiet II, Berlin, 1920.

K. Schippmann, Grundzüge der parthischen Geschichte, Darmstadt, 1980.

N. Sims-Williams, The Christian Sogdian Manuscripts C2, Berliner Turfantexte 12, Berlin, 1985.

M. Streck, Die alte Landschaft Babylonien nach den arabischen Geographen, 2 vols., Leiden, 1900-01.

Idem, “Seleucia und Ktesiphon,” Der Alte Orient 16, 1917, pp. 1-64.

R. Venco Ricciardi, “The Excavations at Choche,” Mesopotamia 3-4, 1968-69, pp. 57-68.

Idem, “Trial Trench at Tell Baruda,” Mesopotamia 12, 1977, pp. 11-14.

Idem and M. M. Negro Ponzi Mancini, La terra tra i due fiumi, Turin, 1985.

L. Waterman, Preliminary Report upon the Excava­tions at Tel Umar, Iraq, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1931-33.

Y. Yoshida, review of The Christian Sogdian Manu­scripts C2, BSOAS 51/1, 1988, pp. 146-48.

GONDÊŠÂPUR: History & Medical School

The article below is by Lutz Richter-Bernburg. This originally appeared in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue. The CAIS site is hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav. Note that the article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

The version printed below is different in that it has embedded photographs and captions used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and were also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.


GONDÊŠÂPUR (< Mid. Pers. Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr; Mid. Pers. Inscription: why-‘ndywk-Šhypwhry “Better Is Šâbuhr’s Antioch,” ŠKZ l. 32″; for the successive transformation of the Mid. Pers. form into subsequent Ar. Jondaysâbur, cf. the Gk. Bendosabora and Nöldeke’s observations on similar changes from Mid. Pers. /v/ to NPers. /g/), name of a Sasanian and post-Sasanian district and its urban center in Khhuzestân; its site has been located “south of the village of Šâhâbâd, three km below the last of the low ridges marking the northern limit of the Khuzestân plain” (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), between Tostar and Dezful (q.v.).

Emperor Valerian surrenders to Shapur I (241-272 CE) and Sassanian nobility at Edessa in 260 CE. Gundeshapur was   founded by Shapur I  on in 271 CE, just eleven years after Emperor Valerian’s surrender at Edessa (portrait by Angus McBridge for Farrokh text of 2005).   Gundeshapur was a major learning, research and intellectual center of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE).

According to epigraphic, archeological, and literary evidence, the city owed its existence to the Sasanian Ardašir I’s son and successor, Šâpur I (r. 242-72). Following the long-established royal custom, Šâpur commemorated his role as founder (and possibly patron) in the new establishment’s name, including also a reference to his recent victory over the Roman emperor Valerian III (r. 253-60) by claiming superiority for his “Antioch” over the homonymous metropolis of Syria. Consequently, the date of Šâpur’s founding act is contingent on the much debated chronology of his Roman war(s) and conquests of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (see antioch). Even though the existence of the “parallel” Syriac name of Bêth Lâpât (q.v.) would seem to point to a previous settlement in the area, the archeological surface reconnaissance of 1963 (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), which in the absence of a systematic investigation of the site is our only archeological evidence, discovered no trace of a pre-Sasanian occupation. A literary echo of such occupation predating Šâpur is also found in the late Sasanian list of provincial capitals (Markwart, Provencial Capitals, pp. 20, 98, sec. 48) and in the (garbled) legendary account of Šâpur’s survey of the site in view of his intended foundation (Tabari, I, pp. 830-31, tr., V, pp. 38-39; Nöldeke,Geschichte der Perser, pp. 41-42, n. 2, tr. pp. 87-88, 99-100; Dinavari, ed. Guirgass, pp. 48-49, who mentions two corrupted forms, Nilât and Nilâb, of the original Aramaic name as the town’s name in Khuzi and in the language of its population, i.e., in Syriac; for the legend of Šâpur’s love for a Byzantine princess and the founding of Gondêšâpur on the model of Constantinople to please her, see Ebn al-QeftÂi, p. 133). The transparently etiological tendency of the report, as quoted by the Anonymous Berolinensis Sprenger 30 (see Tabari, tr., V, p. xxiii) on the one hand and Tabari on the other, would seem to discredit it as merely explaining the popular Persianized name Bêlâbâd, but the early attestation of the Aramaic form as byl’b’d and Bêlapat, in the Parth-ian and Coptic Manichean tradition respectively, would seem to indicate a historical nucleus of the later, embellished accounts, given the fact that in the Sasanian-Arabic tradition, Mani’s imprisonment and death was well-nigh unanimously located in Gondêšâpur (Nöldeke, pp. 42, n., 47 and n. 5).


Gundeshapur was repaired and expanded by Shapur II (310-379 CE). The site may have served as Shapur II’s second capital.

The architectural remains on the ground permit us to trace an orthogonal street grid within an oblong rectangular walled enclosure, thus approximating Hamza Esfahâni’s idealized description of the site’s layout as a chessboard of eight by eight streets (p. 49, ll. 7-9). In addition, primary sources, such as inscriptions and bullae, attest Gondêšâpur only at the beginning and during the last few decades of the Sasanian period; to date, its history in the later centuries are documented archeologically primarily by ceramic finds from the above-mentioned surface reconnaissance. These, casting substantive doubt on the literary evidence, clearly point to the site’s rapid decline after the late 9th century. Consequently, the geographers of the 10th and subsequent centuries (e.g., Estakhri, p. 93; Maqdesi/Moqaddasi, p. 405) would appear to have derived their information on the site’s continued prosperity from uncritical compilations of older texts rather than from autopsy or contemporaneous records (Adams and Hansen, pp. 57-59).

Šâpur’s official record of the satrapy of Weh-Andiyôk-Šâbuhr in his famous trilingual inscription at Ka’ba-ye Zardošt (ŠKZ) near Persepolis is paralleled in Sasanian narrative historiography as transmitted to, and partially preserved by, later Arabic and Persian authors; thus he is credited with the establishment of both district and city of Gondêšâpur (Tabari, I, pp. 830-831; Ya’qubi, Ta’rikh I, p. 180). Tabari as well as Hamza (pp. 48-49), or perhaps their common source, even undertook to explain the city’s name as deriving from Persian Beh-az-Andiu-Šâpur; in spite of the obvious interpolation of the word “az,” their attempt deserves recognition for the correct identification of the main elements of the name: “weh” and “Andiôk.” Also, the possibility of contamination by a later Sasanian pattern of toponymy as exemplified by Weh-az-Âmid-Kawâd remains to be considered (see Gyselen 1989, p. 62, no. 47; cf. Weh-Ârdašir and Weh-Kawâd, ibid., pp. 61-62, nos. 46, 48). The terminus post quem of Šâpur’s foundation was his occupation of Antioch. However, he conquered the city twice within a few years, the earlier one was arguably in 256 (according to the patriarch Nicephorus, Demetrianus’s patriarchate in Antioch began in 253 and lasted altogether four years; see Schwaigert, pp. 20-23) and the later one in 260, during Valerian III’s fateful campaign. If the report of Demetrianus’s deportation from Antioch and his incumbency as bishop of Gondêšâpur in the Chronicle of Se’ert (Patrologia Orientalis IV/3, p. 221) is accepted, the date of Šâpur’s foundation would fall into the period between his two occupations of Anitoch, i.e., the years 256-60.

A statue of Burzoe -برزويه-  at Isfahan. Also known as Bozorg-Mehr-بزرگمهر– Burzoe was was the vizier of Khosrau I Anoushirvan (r. 531-579 CE) and physician during the late Sassanian Empire of the sixth century. He is well known for having translated India’s Panchatantra from its original Sanskrit into Pahlavi (Middle Persian). Unfortunately both the original Panchatantra and its Pahlavi translation were lost in time, but the Pahlavi version was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Mafuqqa. The Arabic version is known as the Kalila and Dimna. it is also noteworthy that Burzoe was an accomplished  sage in chess.

Documentation of Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr’s subsequent history under Sasanian rule is very uneven. The relative prominence of Christians in the region is attested by the Chronicle of Se’ert, which mentions the election of a certain Ardaq as the episcopal successor to Demetrianus, thus adumbrating the later importance of Bê(th) Lâpât as the metropolitan see of Bêth H¨uzâyê (Schwaigert, passim). According to the literary tradition, Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr repeatedly fulfilled the function of royal residence during the 3rd and 4rth centuries, at least un-til the great persecution of Christians under Šâpur II. The earliest relevant witness is that of the Manichean tradition of Mani’s doomed confrontation with King Warahrân I and his counselors at ‘Bêlapat’ and his ensuing fatal imprisonment there in 276-77 (Dinavari, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, p. 47). The next firm date is furnished by the Syriac witnesses to Šâpur II’s persecution of Christians; in the decade of 340, the Catholicos Šâhdôst and others were tried there in the king’s presence and executed (Schwaigert, p. 110). Thus the city must have retained some of its former standing even after Šâpur moved residence from Gondêšâpur after the first thirty years of his reign, if Hamza (p. 52) is lent credence, and the coincidence of this date with the (re-)foundation of Karkhâ dhe Lêdhân as Xwarrah Šâbuhr in 338 would seem to support it (cf. Schwaigert, pp. 109-10; thus Gyselen’s attractive hypothesis, p. 75, against Hamza, p. 52, who cites Xwarrah Šâbuhr as Susa’s name and, among Šâpur II’s foundations, refers to an unnamed town near Sus that the author of Mojmal al-tawârikh [ed. Bahâr, p. 67] identifies with Karkhâ dhe Lêdhân). If this is accepted, then ‘Omar Kesrâ’s statement (apud Mas’udi,Muruj I, p. 295) that Gondêšâpur served as residence from its foundation through the reign of Hormazd II (303-9) would have to be revised. Sources of Sasanian history mention Gondêšâpur as the hub of Anôšazâd’s rebellion against his own father, Khosrow I Anôširavân, in about 550 (Dinavari, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, pp. 69-70; Nöldeke, pp. 467-74, tr. pp. 708-14; here, a similar dissociation between the city’s two names, Beth Lâpât and Weh-Andiôk-Šâpuhr/Jondaysâbur, obtains as does generally between the Syriac Christian and the Arabic sources). Thus, Procopius, on the strength of this observation relying on Syriac authorities (see above), cites Anôšazâd’s place of banishment as Bêlapata, whereas the Islamic texts, beginning chronologically with Abu Hanifa Dinavari (ed. Guirgass, p. 71, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, p. 70), only use the popular Arabic adaptation of the royal Sasanian name: Jondaysâbur. They are paralleled, if not preceded, in this usage by Theophylactus Simocates’ Bendosabôra.

New Persian text of Kalileh va Damneh, produced in Herat in 1429.

Sasanian rule at Gondêšâpur ended with the city’s surrender to the Muslim forces in 17/638 (Tabari, I, pp. 2566-68, tr., XIII, pp. 146-49; Ebn al-Athir, Beirut, II, p. 553). This event, as well as the city’s subsequent history, are well-documented by narrative sources, with the notable exception of the archeological evidence mentioned above. Gondêšâpur figures in the geographic literature of the 9th and following centuries, but in political history it recaptures attention only once, and then briefly, in the latter part of the 9th century. In 262/875-76, in the course of the successive challenges to caliphal authority, one of the contending leaders, Ya’qub b. Layth Saffâr, made Gondêšâpur his residence; whatever further ambitions he may have had were, however, cut short by his sudden death in 265/879. His grave there became one of the city’s sites for its remaining span of existence (Estakhri, p. 93; Ebn Hawqal, p. 256; Mas’udi, Tanbih, p. 368; idem, Muruj, ed. Pellat, sec. 601; Târikh-e Sistân, p. 233; Ebn Khallekân, tr. de Slane, IV, pp. 320-22; Hodud al-‘âlam, ed. Sotuda, p. 139, tr. Minorsky, pp. 131, 381-82). During the following century and a half, Gondêšâ-pur gradually faded out of history, although the literary tradition would have it otherwise.

Iranian physician, philosopher and religious critic Zacharia Razi (Rhazes) (860- 923 or 932) born in Rayy (near Tehran), Iran. Razi Produced two standard Medical texts: Kitab al-Mansuri and the Kitab al-Hawi. He also is known to have produced the first Treatise on Small Pox and Measles and for his use of Animal Gut for Sutures and the Plaster of Paris for Casts.

Gondêšâpur’s real fame in the history of Islamic Persia rests on its alleged role in the transmission of Hellenistic learning, or more precisely, of Galenic medicine and the institution of the teaching hospital (bimârestân) to the metropolitan ‘Abbasid society and beyond that to Islamic civilization at large (see BÈMÂRESTÂN and BOKhTÈŠUu‚’ iv, pace Dols, esp. pp. 381-85). The earliest testimony to Gondêšâpur in the context of medical learning refers to a medical-philosophical disputation convened on Khosrow II’s orders in about 610, in which the drustbed (q.v.) Gabriel of Šiggâr participated; the hospital itself first finds specific mention in the events of the year 148/765, when the caliph al-Mansur is said to have summoned the then head of Gondêšâpur’s hospital, Jewarjis b. Jebrâ’il b. Bokhtišu’, to Baghdad (Ebn al-QeftÂi, pp. 158-60). In spite of the dearth of detailed and reliable information about local and regional conditions in the pre-‘Abbasid periods, Khhuzestân and in particular the city of Gondêšâpur must be considered the locale where Syro-Persian Nestorians were weaned on what the later biobibliographical authors celebrated as superior medical learning. The information found in narrative sources concerning the derivation of such knowledge during the Sasanian period from outstanding individual Greek and Indian sources, as well as from the local Aramaic and Iranian roots, (see BOKhTIŠU’ and Aydén Saylé, p. 1120) has substantially been corroborated by the extant texts themselves, however limited their scholarly horizon indubitably is. The differential which in the first ‘Abbasid decades obtained between Nestorian medical competence and that of society at large was sufficient to launch the Bokhtišu’ family and others onto a brilliant career in the orbit of the ‘Abbasid court (cf. Jâhez, pp. 109-10; idem, apud Dols, p. 382). Moreover, they rose to the challenge and successively improved their theoretical and practical command of the discipline, not least by rediscovering and eventually passing on to the Muslims, Galen and the other classics of Hellenistic medicine.

A medieval portrait of the sages of medicine: Galen (left), the Iranian Avicenna (center) and Hippocrates (right). (980 -1037). Avicenna (or Abu Ali Sina) was born in Afshana, near (Bukhara), the ancient capital of the Iranian Samanid dynasty. The Arab Scholar Al-Qitfi  has noted that “They (the Persians) made rapid progress in science, developing new methods in the treatment of disease along pharmacological lines so that their therapy was judged superior to that of the Greeks and Hindus” (as cited in Elgood, 1953, p.311, Legacy of Persia (edited by AJ. Arberry), Clarendon Press).

As regards the Gondêšâpur hospital, which for several generations was under Bokhtišu”s direction and presumably the city’s only such institution, the sources provide only scattered information on how it fared after the Bokhtišu’ finally moved to Baghdad (Dols, pp. 377, 381-82); specifically, the question is whether the death of the last known director, Sâbur b. Sahl, in 255/869 (Ebn al-QeftÂi, p. 207), also spelled the end of the hospital itself.

Primary Sources

Robert McC. Adams and Donald P. Hansen, “Archaeological Reconnaissance and Soundings in Jundi Shâhpur,” Ars Orientalis 7, 1968, 53-70, with appendix by Nabia Abbott, “Jundi Shâhpur: A Preliminary Historical Sketch,” pp. 71-73.

Friedrich Carl Andreas and Walter Bruno Henning, Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesisch-TurkestanIII, SPAW, Phil-hist. Kl., Berlin 1934, pp. 848-912, esp. p. 861, ll. 26 f.; repr. in Walter B. Henning, W. B. Henning Selected Papers, Acta Iranica 14, Leiden, 1977, pp. 275-340.

Chronicle of Se’ert, ed. and tr. Addai Ibrahim Scher and Jean Perier, in Patrologia Orientalis, Paris, 1908-50: IV/3, pp. 219-313; V/2, pp. 241-334; VII/2, pp. 99-203; XIII/2, pp. 437-639.

Sarah Clackson et al., Dictionary of Manichaean Texts I: Texts from the Roman Empire (Texts in Syriac, Greek, Coptic and Latin), Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum Subsidia, Ancient History Documentary Research Center, Macquarie University, Brepols and Sydney, 1998, p. 182, s.v. Bhlapat.

Abu Hanifa Dinavari, Ketâb al-akhbâr al-tewâl, ed. V. Guirgass, Leiden, 1888, esp. pp. 48-49, 71, 75; ed. ‘Abd-al-Mon’em ‘Âmer and Jamâl-al-Din Šayyâl, Cairo, 1960, pp. 46, 47.

Ebn al-QeftÂi, Ta’rikh al-hokamâ’, ed. Julius Lippert, Leipzig, 1903.

Philippe Gignoux, Catalogue des sceaux, came‚es et bulles sasanides de la Bibliotheàques nationale et du Muse‚e du Louvre II, Les sceaux et bulles inscrits, Paris, 1978, p. 117, nos. 13.1-2., Pl. LXVI, no. 13.

Rika Gyselen, “Ateliers mone‚taires et cachets officiels sasanides,” Stud. Ir. 8/2, 1979, pp. 189-212.

Idem, La geographie administrative de l’Empire Sassanide: les te‚moignages sigillographiques, Paris, 1989, esp. p. 61.

Philip Huyse, Die dreisprachige Inschrift Šâbuhrs I. an der Ka’ba-i Zardušt (ŠKZ), 2 vols., Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, pt. III Pahlavi Inscriptions I: Royal Inscriptions, London, 1999, esp. I, p. 58, sec. 46; II, pp 156-57.

Abu ‘Othmân ‘Amr b. Bahr Jâhez, Ketâb al-bokhalâ’/Livre des avares, ed. Gerlof van Vloten, Leiden, 1900.

Procopius, De bello Gothico 8:10.9. Theophylactus Simocatta, Historiae 3.5; tr. Peter Schreiner asGeschichte, Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 20, Stuttgart, 1985, p. 93.

Aydén Sayélé, “Gondêshâpur,” in EI2 II, p. 1120.

Secondary Sources

Michael W. Dols, “The Origins of the Islamic Hospital: Myth and Reality,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61, 1987, pp. 367-90.

Jean Maurice Fiey, “L’Élam, la premieàre des me‚tropoles eccle‚siastiques syriennes orientales,” Melto 5, 1969, pp. 221-67; repr. in idem, Communaute‚s syriaques en Iran et Irak des origines aà 1552, Variorum Reprints, London, 1979, no. IIIa.

Theodore Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, esp. pp. XXI, 40-42; tr. ‘Abbâs Zaryâb Kho’i as Târikh-e Irâniân wa ‘Arabhâ dar zamân-e Sâsâniân, Tehran, 1358 Š./1980.

Paul Peeters, “S. De‚mëtrianus e‚vêque d’Antioche?” Analecta Bollandiana 42, 1924, pp. 288-314.

Wolfgang Schwaigert, “Das Christentum in Khuzistân im Rahmen der frühen Kirchengeschichte Persiens bis zur Synode von Seleukeia-Ktesiphon im Jahre 410,” Ph.D. Diss., Philipps Üniversität, Marburg, 1989, esp. pp. 27-33

The Sarmatian Connection: Stories of the Arthurian Cycle and Legends and Miracles of Ladislas, King and Saint

The article “The Sarmatian Connection: Stories of the Arthurian Cycle and Legends and Miracles of Ladislas, King and Saint” reproduced below is by János Makkay of the [Department of Archaeology, University of Pecs, in Hungary] (1996). This originally appeared in:

The New Hungarian Quarterly, Volume 37, no. 144, Winter 1996, pp. 113-125.

Note that the article below has printed the major portions of the article and not its entirity. Interested readers are referred to the New Hungarian Quarterly for more information.

Kindly note that none of the images and accompanying descriptions have appeared in the original article and/or any other previous postings of this article.


Under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) the Roman Army campaigned for eight years in Pannonia Barbarica (i.e., in the central and northern parts of the Carpathian Basin, north and east of the Roman limes along the Danube) against the Quadi, a German tribe, and Sarmatians and Alans, Iranian speaking barbarians who came from east of the Carpathians, from the south Russian steppe and from the Lower Danube Plains near the Black Sea. After hard but victorious battles, 5,500 Sarmatian/Alanian heavy cavalry (called cataphractarii, i.e. clothed fully in scale armour) consisting of prisoners taken in war were posted to Britain in 175. Marcus Aurelius sent these warriors to Britannia not only to keep them out of trouble in Pannonia Barbarica but also to deploy them beyond Hadrian’s Wall.2 These Sarmatians are known to have been stationed in permanent camps outside the Roman forts at Ribchester in Lancashire, Chester, and elsewhere. The Sarmatian enclaves – especially the one at Ribchester, a Lancashire site known in ancient times as Bremetennacum veteranorum – survived until the end of the Roman era in the late 4th century A.D.

Fig. 1. Roman tombstone from Chester (housed at Grosvenor Museum, item #: 8394907246), UK depicting Sarmatian horseman attired like other kindred Iranian  peoples such as the Parthians and Sassanians  (Source: Carole Raddato, uploaded by Marcus Cyron in Public Domain).

The tombstone fragments of a Sarmatian/Alanian standard bearer were found at Chester (Deva) in 1890. This is unique evidence of the presence of heavily armoured Sarmatian cavalry from the earliest third century A.D. The two fragments of the tombstone (now in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester) show a horseman wearing a cloak and turning to the right. He holds aloft, with both hands, a dragon standard of the Sarmatian/Alanian type, and his conical helmet, with a vertical metal frame, is of the same pattern. A sword hangs at his right. Both man and horse are shown clad in tightly fitting scale armour. This attire for man and mount was characteristic of Sarmatian/Alanian heavy cavalry.

Fig. 2. Russian reconstruction of King Arthur and his Sarmatian cavalry (Source: Our Russia); note Iranian dragon standards of the cavalrymen also seen in the armies of the parthians and Sassanians.

he original dragon standard shown on the tombstone had a metal head and a cloth body designed like a windsock so that the animal appeared to come alive in the wind. It has been suggested that these standards may have indicated the position of the given Iranian troops and their command posts during the battle and also the wind direction for the Sarmatian/Alanian archers. The best description of this characteristic Iranian tactic and symbolism is in the Tactica of Arrian of Bithynia (2nd century A.D.) who defeated the Alanian invasion of 134. He must have had exact knowledge of how the Iranian peoples conducted themselves in war.3 We know that the military symbol of the kings of the Parthians (as for instance of Mithridates I. in 139 B.C.) was a dragon standard made of textile or leather.4 There is no indication, however of the use of similar standards in Achaemenid times.

The closed society of Sarmatian cataphractarii in Britain was able to maintain its ethnic features during the Late Roman period and afterwards. One reason is that their troops, called cuneus Sarmatorum, equitum Sarmatorum Bremetennacensium Gordianorum were not part of any military organization in active service. Consequently, after the withdrawal of the Roman army, they continued to live on their accustomed sites (Chester, Ribchester, etc.). They were still called Sarmatians after 250 years. A semihistoric Arthur lived about A.D. 500. He was very probably a descendant of those Alan horsemen, a battle leader of the Romanized Celts and Britons against the Anglo-Saxons, who invaded Britain after the Roman army had withdrawn. Arthur and his military leaders could therefore manage to train the natives as armoured horseman after Iranian patterns against the attacks of Angles and Saxons fighting on feet until their victory at Badon Hill.

Fig. 3. Parthian standard bearer with Draco standard (Source: Farrokh, page 130, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا– this drawing originally appeared by Zoka in the 2,500 Year Celebrations of the Persian Empire in 1971).

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae contains detailed accounts of the traditional Roman military tactics used by the army of Arthur in his legendary wars against the Romans.5 He also mentions the dragon standard of the Arthurian army which was set up at a suitable and easily defensible place to show exhausted and wounded warriors where they could find drinking water and have their wounds dressed.6 His own golden helmet was decorated with a dragon, probably the same dragon which appeared to him in a dream while crossing the Channel. Sir Thomas Malory recounted the story as follows:

And as the kyng laye in his caban in the shyp, he fyll in a slomerynge and dremed a merueyllous dreme. Hym semed that a dredeful dragon dyd drowne moche of his peple, and he cam fleynge oute of the West, and his hede was enameled with asure, and his sholders shone as gold, his bely lyke maylles of a merueyllous hewe, his taylle ful of tatters, his feet ful of fyne sable, and his clawes lyke fine gold, and an hydous flamme of fyre flewe oute of his mouthe, lyke as the londe and water had flammed all of fyre.7
What Geoffrey of Monmouth and Malory describe is the peculiar features and use of the military dragon standard by the Iranian peoples and, later, by the Roman army. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, on the triumphal procession of Constantius II in Rome in 357 the Emperor sat alone upon a golden chariot “… and was surrounded by dragons, woven out of purple thread and bound to the golden and jewelled tops of spears, with wide mouths open to the breeze and hence hissing as if roused by anger, and leaving their tails winding in the wind.”8

The dragon standard on the Chester tombstone (a metal head and a cloth body) closely corresponds to two unique archaeological finds, both made of metal and representing the heads of dragon standards. One of them is of bronze and was found in the canabae area of the Roman castellum at Niederbieber, Nordrhein-Westfalen. It dates from the first part of the 3rd century A.D. It has a length of 30 cm, is gilded on its upper part while the lower part is silvered (see the description in Malory). It shows an open-mouthed dragon head with sharp teeth and has a widening rim at its back end with perforations for fastening textile stripes, while a wide vertical perforation across the body served to fit the head to the top of a spear, lance or simple pole.

A depiction of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d”Arthur. Note the windsock carried by the horseman (Farrokh, page 171, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا) – this item was bought from the wider Iranian realm (Persia, Sarmatians, etc.) into Europe by the Iranian-speaking Alans. The inset depicts a reconstruction of a 3rd century AD Partho-Sassanian banner by Peter Wilcox (1986).

The other piece is in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. It is made of silver and comes from the Government of Perm in Russia. This Sassanian piece of the 7th century A.D. shows a dragon-like head of hybrid (dog- or wolf-shaped) character with an open mouth and chased embossé decoration. It also has a vertical perforation for a pole.9

These two pieces in fact have a third parallel. It is a gold dragon standard head found in the Sargetia valley, Transylvania, around 1543, which once belonged to the royal treasures of the Dacian king Decebalus and was hidden in the early autumn of 106 A.D., at the end of Trajan’s second Dacian war.10 Descriptions of the circumstances under which the discovery was made by Trajan in A.D. 106 and then in 1543 of these large treasure troves reveal many details of a belief in a dragon-guardian – as the Beowulf calls it: hordweard.

Recently, in a series of publications, Helmut Nickel and C. Scott Littleton argued that the roots of the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as those concerned with the Holy Grail, are not to be found in the indigenous Celtic traditions of the British Isles, as most Arthurian scholars hold, but rather in a “Scythian tradition”12 that seems to have originated from the religious beliefs of Iranian Sarmatians/Alans of the Hungarian Plain of the 2nd century A.D.

Fig. 5. Sarmatian armour discovered near Hadrian’s Wall in England (Source: Periklisdeligiannis); this most likely belonged to an Iranian-speaking Alan or related Ia-zyges cavalrymen serving as mercenaries in the Roman army in Britain. 

These beliefs centre around the divine sword, the sacred cup of heavenly splendour, the dragon standard as military symbol, and early literary traditions connected with them. The resemblances are not limited to mythology. In some cases artefacts (as for example scale armour and standards) or representations, strongly related to mythological-religious matters were also similar. Now, our whole story starts with such one material connection, with the golden serpentine dragon symbol of the Dacians.

The most intriguing parallel of the triple combination of dragon standards, heavy Iranian cavalry and scale armour appears in recently excavated finds in Uzbekistan. In the cemetery of Orlat two bone plates were discovered in kurgan grave 2, measuring 13,5 x 10,5 cms.13 They are decorated with finely engraved motifs, and one of them represents eight heavily armed men in individual combat. Five are horsemen while three are fighting on foot. Their weapons are swords, long spears, bows and in one case, a battle axe. All of them wear scale armour. One of the horsemen with a very long spear holds a dragon standard which closely resembles the lower (textile) part of the above discussed standards in every detail (see Fig. 6). The plate dates from between the 2nd century B.C. and the end of the 1st century A.D., and the warriors can be identified as Central Asian Alans.

Fig. 6. 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.

A gold plaque of Iranian character from the Siberian collection of Peter the Great dated around 300 B.C. (See Fig. 8.)27 shows a woman seated under a tree, holding a

sleeping man’s head in her lap, and a pair of horses, held by a groom, standing by. The weapons of the warrior, bow and quiver, hang in the branches of a tree. It is not difficult to recognize the scene of Walther’s sleep before the fight in the representation on the plaque.

Fig. 7. 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).

The same scene of repose, however, is well-known from early medieval Hungarian wall paintings centering around Ladislas, King and Saint of the House of Árpád (1077-1095). As Gyula László has shown in a masterful book, the story goes back to eastern, Iranian (or Iranized Turkic) elements, before the Hungarians were christianized after 1000 A.D. onward.28 His research, and that of others, also showed that this motif from the 13=14th century is central in the still extant Hungarian folk ballads Molnár Anna and Kerekes Izsák from Transylvania. In the Saint Ladislas legend a Hungarian princess is abducted by a warrior of the Turkish Kumans. As represented on the wall paintings of the Bántornya medieval church, while they are resting under a shady tree, the warrior asks the princess to take his head in her lap. When he falls asleep, the pursuing knightly saint catches up with them and after a heavy fight will the abductor he liberates the princess.

Another and more common variant of the story is when the king kills the Cumanian raider with the help of the girl after a heavy duel and becomes himself wounded .29

We have an interesting complex of additional elements connecting these and further details of the Arthurian story, the Nibelungen cycle, the Saint Ladislas Legend and Hungarian folk ballads: the nine branches of the tree, the escape of the lady into a cleft (or in a cavity of a tree), murder (usually beheading) of the girl with a sword, hanging of the head in the tree, hanging of the weapons and helmet of the warrior in the branches of a tree, the gentle fondling of the warrior’s hair by the girl, and finally, when Hildegund dresses the wounds of Walther and Hagen, and offers them a drink in a golden bowl.

Fig. 8. Gold plaque housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg depicting a panther, most likely used to decorate breast-plate or shield, dated to the late 7th-century BCE (Source: Sailko in Public Domain).

The original story of the sleeping maiden-abductor (or occasionally of the escorting knight) under a tree seems to have originated in Central Asia and has ancient Middle Iranian sources. The scene was probably a central part of a myth from a by now forgotten Central Asian heroic epic. Nobody has tried to show so far that this Hungarian legend may be a result of Iranian influence on early Hungarian folklore and related somehow to a local “Sarmatian tradition” surviving in the Carpathian Basin. The surviving Sarmatian/Alan population of the Great Hungarian Plain (from the fifth century A.D. to the coming of the Magyars) would be the medium. These Iranian (Sarmatian/Alan) tribes of the great Hungarian Plain were to be linguistically absorbed by the Magyars. The above motifs in Hungarian legends and folklore have their parallels in the Arthurian legends and the Nibelungen cycle and – in this view – go back to the same source, namely the influence of Iranian Alans. First to those 5,500 warriors who were sent to Britain by Marcus Aurelius, and later, in the second half of the fourth century A.D. when Alan tribes fled from the invading Huns and established themselves in Italy, in Gallia Transalpina and in the Rhine valley. A great many Sarmatian and Alan warriors also served in the Roman army in the fourth century A.D. The Sarmatian/Alan connection as traced in Hungarian medieval legends appears further to confirm what was suggested about the Eastern, Iranian, connections and origin of the Arthurian legends and its related details including the motiv of the Holy Grail.


2 * I. A. Richmond: “The Sarmatae, Bremetennacum Veteranorum, and the Regio Bremetennacensis”. Journal of Roman Studies 35, 1945, pp. 16=29. I express my thanks for help and advice to Tom Strickland, Chester.

3 * Arriani Nicomediensis: Tacticá, 35, 1=5. For other ancient sources see Vegetius: Epitoma rei militaris, ii, 13.; Sidonius Apollinaris: Panegyricus Maioriani, Carmina v, 402.; Nemesianus: Cynegetica, 82. – Trebellius Pollio in Historia Augusta, Gallienus, 8.; Codex Iustinianus, 1, 27.; Lucianus Sophista: Quomodo historia conscribenda sit, 29. – [Flavius Vopiscus Syracusius]: Historia Augusta, Divus Aurelianus, xxxi.; Ammianus Marcellinus, xvi, 12, 38=39 and also xv. 5, 16.

4 * János Harmatta in Antik Tanulmányok (Studies in Antiquity) 28, 1981, pp. 111 and 129=131.

5 * Book IX, 1, 3, 4, 11, X, 3, 6, 9, 11, esp. Book X, l, and also XI, 2.

6 * Book X, 6. The dead body of Sir Bedivere was also brought to the same place: Book X, 9.

7 * Caxton’s Malory. A new Edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, ed. by James W. Spisak, (referred as Morte Darthur). Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1983, p. 124, i2recto, 4, Book v. 4. – Historia Regum Britanniae, Book X, 2.

8 * Ammianus Marcellinus xvi, 10, 6=7. Loeb Classical Library.

9 * K.V. Trever: Un étendard Sassanide. Musée de l’Ermitage, Travaux du Département Oriental, tome III, Léningrad, 1940, pp. 167=78, Pls. I-II.

10 * For a detailed account see János Makkay: “Decebál kincsei – The Treasures of Decebalus”. Századok, 129, 1995, pp. 967=1032, and by the same author: “The Treasures of Decebalus.” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 14:3, 1995, pp. 333=43, with further literature.


12 * C.Scott Littleton – A.C. Thomas: “The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends.” Journal of American Folklore 91, 1978, pp. 512=27.; C.Scott Littleton: “The Holy Grail, the Cauldron of Annwn, and the Nartyamonga. A Further Note on the Sarmatian Connection”. Journal of American Folklore 92: 365, 1979, pp. 326=33. C. Scott Littleton: The New Comparative Mythology. Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1982.; C. Scott Littleton: “From Swords in the Earth to the Sword in the Stone: A Possible Reflection of an Alano-Sarmatian Rite of Passage in the Arthurian Tradition” In Homage to G. Dumézil. Washington, 1983, pp. 53=67.; C. Scott Littleton – Linda A. Malcor: From Scythia to Camelot. A Radical Reassesment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail. New York-London, 1994; Helmut Nickel: “Wer waren König Artus’ Ritter? Über die geschichtliche Grundlage der Artussagen.” Waffen- und Kostümkunde 17: 1, 1975, pp. 1=28.; Also by the same author: “About the Sword of the Huns and the Urepos of the Steppes.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 7, 1963, pp. 131-42.

13 * G.A. Pugatsenkova: Iz khudozestvennoi sokrovishnitsy Srednevo Vostoka. (Ancient art treasures of Central Asia).


27 * Nickel, op. cit. 1975. pp. 4=5, and Fig. 3.

28 * Gyula László: A Szent László-legenda középkori falképei (The Legend of Saint Ladislas and its Representations on Mediaeval Wall Paintings). Budapest, 1993, pp. 24=56 with many figures, pictures and earlier literature.

29 * The well-known story told by our medieval chronicles is connected with the victory of the king – then a royal prince – against the Cumans at Kerlés, Transylvania, in 1068.


Dura Europos: Its’ Archaeology & History

The article “Dura Europos: Its’ Archaeology & History” by Pierre Leriche was originally published in the CAIS venue hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in London.



Dura Europos ruined city on the right bank of the Euphrates between Antioch and Seleucia on the Tigris, founded in 303 B.C.E. by Nicanor, a general of Seleucus I. It flourished under Parthian rule. The site is in modern Syria, on a plateau protected on the east by a citadel built on bluffs overlooking the river, on the north and south by wadis, and on the west by a strong rampart with powerful defensive towers. Its military function of the Greek period was abandoned under the Parthians, but at that time it was the administrative and economic center of the plain extending 100 km between the confluence of the Khâbûr and Euphrates rivers and the Abû Kamâl gorge to the south.


Initial archeological exploration of the city took place in 1920-22, under the direction of Franz Cumont and the sponsorship of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris. From 1929 to 1937 Yale University and the Acade‚mie sponsored excavations under the initiative of M. I. Rostovtzeff, who published Dura-Europos and Its Art, a synthesis of the history of the town and of its civilization, formed from Greek, Semitic, and Iranian components. This work has served as the basis for all subsequent studies of the site. In fact, however, understanding of Dura Europos depended mainly on written materials (parchments, papyri, inscriptions, and grafitti; see ii, below), paintings, tombs, and portable objects (e.g., coins, bronzes, and lamps) from the excavations, and very little attention has been paid to the architectural remains. Although nearly a third of the town has been excavated, a large number of buildings have been published only summarily or not at all. It therefore became necessary to resume the work of publication, and for this reason the Mission Franco-Syrienne de Doura-Europos was formed in 1986 under the joint direction of the author and Assad Al-Mahmoud; the major objectives are to reexamine the archeological data, to make available the entire mass of documentation from previous excavations, as well as to save the monuments from destruction.

Fresco at Dura Europos (Source: CAIS).

Dura Europos was brought into the Iranian cultural sphere after the Parthian conquest in about 113 B.C.E. (Bellinger; Welles). This domination lasted three centuries, interrupted by a Roman occupation in 115-17 C.E., during Trajan’s expedition to Ctesiphon (q.v.). In 165 Dura was conquered by Avidius Cassius and became a stronghold in the Roman defensive system along the eastern frontier of the empire. Nevertheless, despite an impressive effort to reinforce its defenses, the town was unable to withstand the great offensive launched by the Sasanian Šâpûr I (240-70) in 256; it was taken after a bitter siege, and the population was deported, thus putting an end to the town’s existence.

The Parthian period

According to recent discoveries, Dura Europos, originally a fortress, was constituted as a city only in the late Hellenistic period and had been only sparsely populated throughout the Greek period. It was under the Parthians, however, that the city assumed its essential aspect, as revealed by the excavations, a configuration only partly modified by the Roman occupation, except for transformation of the northern sector into a Roman camp. Recent work by the Mission Franco-Syrienne has permitted some refinement of this picture; certain buildings that had formerly been attributed to the Parthians can now be dated to the Hellenistic period. For example, according to Armin von Gerkan, the cut-stone fortifications of Dura Europos had been built by the Parthians, fearful that the Greek wall of unbaked bricks would be insufficient against a Roman attack. Only the northern section of the original western wall survived, which he took as proof that the project had been rendered unnecessary by the peace concluded between the Parthians and Augustus in 20 B.C.E. (pp. 4-51). This conclusion was based more on probabilities extrapolated from the reports of ancient historians than on archeological discoveries and has been contradicted by the results of recent soundings and clearing of earlier trenches. It is now clear that it was the Greeks themselves who built the stone fortifications, in the second half of the 2nd century B.C.E., and that the use of mud bricks resulted from the imminent threat from the Parthians, which forced the builders to finish the wall with more easily obtained material (Leriche and Mahmoud, l990). Similarly, the reconstruction of the palace of the strategus (the redoubt palace; Figure 30/24) and its extension to the north, as well as construction of the second palace in the citadel, which shows a number of similarities, had been attributed to the Parthian period, but recent excavations in the interior and at the base of the facade of the former building have revealed that it belongs to the 2nd century B.C.E., that is, the Greek period. In a recent study Susan Downey (1988) has also called into question the restoration of one palace with an ayvân (q.v.), which was suggested in the Yale publications and would imply a Parthian construction.

Mithraic temple at Dura Europos (Source: CAIS).

The Parthian period thus appears to have been primarily a phase of expansion at Dura Europos, an expansion favored by abandonment of the town’s military function. All the space enclosed by the walls gradually became occupied, and the installation of new inhabitants with Semitic and Iranian names alongside descendants of the original Macedonian colonists contributed to an increase in the population (Welles et al.). In his celebrated Caravan Cities Rostovtzeff had argued that this prosperity could have resulted from the town’s position as a trading center and caravan halt, but this hypothesis has been abandoned, for nothing uncovered by the excavations has confirmed it. Instead, Dura Europos owed its development to its role as a regional capital, amply illustrated by the contents of inscriptions, parchments, and papyri.

In the Parthian period Greek institutions remained in place (Arnaud), and the property-zoning scheme established in the Hellenistic period was respected in new construction; that is, buildings were kept within the limits of pre-existing blocks 35 x 70 m laid out uniformly over the entire surface of the plateau, even to a large extent in the interior wadis. The only exceptions were the quarter of the town southeast of the citadel, which had apparently already been occupied before the division into lots, and a sector of the agora that had been invaded by domestic buildings. The ramparts were neglected: Domestic trash accumulated along the periphery, finally forming a mass so thick that it prevented access to certain towers on the western wall.

The architecture of the Parthian period was characterized by a progressive evolution of Greek concepts toward new formulas in which regional traditions, particularly those derived from Babylonia, played an increasing role. These innovations affected both religious and domestic buildings. No secular public building is known to have been built during the Parthian period, with the possible exception of a bath constructed of cut stone in the northeast sector of the town. The evolved Parthian forms generally persisted into the Roman period, except for buildings in the Roman camp in the northern third of the town, for example, the palace of the Dux Ripae and the praetorium.

Depiction of Iranian god Mithras slaying the sacred bull (Source: CAIS).

The architecture of private dwellings varied in detail according to the wealth of the owner. The systematic layout of the Greek city, in which each house was supposed to cover one-eighth of a block (ca. 300 m2), was abandoned or modified through subdivision and consolidation resulting from sales or inheritance (Saliou). The smallest houses covered one quarter or even less of a Greek lot, whereas other, more luxurious examples might cover up to half a block. But the organizing principle of the house remained fundamentally the same: The street door, often situated at a corner of the house, opened onto a corridor leading into a central courtyard, which provided access and light to the various rooms of the house. The principal room, the andro‚n, was usually situated on the south side, opening to the north, and was surrounded on all four walls by a masonry bench; it served as a reception room (Allara). Some houses incorporated columns, but gabled roofs disappeared in favor of terraces, rooms became irregular in shape, and several houses had second stories.

Religious architecture underwent a comparable evolution, traceable through numerous excavated buildings: the temples of Artemis Nanaïa II and Zeus Megistos II, the necropolis temple, and the temples of Artemis Azzanathkona, Zeus Kyrios, Atargatis, Bel, Aphlad, Zeus Theos, Gad, and Adonis. This architecture diverged more and more from the hypothetical Greek model, if in fact such a model had ever been introduced at Dura Europos (Downey, 1988, p. 176). All the temples of the Parthian period have the same basic plan, with variations in detail. A generally square temenos is enclosed by a blank wall; the naos stands at the back of the interior courtyard facing the entrance. Against the interior face of the enclosure wall are a series of rooms for service or secondary cults, usually built by donors. When the naos is set against the back wall of the temenos, a narrow space is left between them to provide a separation of the cella from the exterior world. The building is small, usually square in plan, and raised on a podium of two or three steps, with one or more altars in front. The interior is divided in two: the pronaos, which occupies the full width of the building and is sometimes furnished with tiers of benches on either side of the entrance, and the cella, usually flanked by two chapels or lateral sacristies. The cult image on the wall opposite the entrance, either mounted on a pedestal or painted directly on the surface. All that remains from the Greek tradition is the occasional presence of a columned facade in front of the temple or porticoes along the sides of the courtyard, as at the temple of Bel.

The undermined defenses at Tower 19 (background), where many of the finest military artefacts were preserved (Source: CAIS).

It is thus clear that at Dura Europos entirely original architectural formulas were perfected during the Parthian period, in both religious and domestic constructions; the Babylonian element predominated, though with a certain Greek dressing, but no unequivocal Iranian influence appears. The formula for religious buildings was followed in all temples, whatever the form of worship to which they were consecrated, Greek or Semitic.

The only Iranian cult known at Dura Europos was that of Mithra, which paradoxically had been introduced into the city by Roman troops in 168. The mithraeum, located near the western wall in the Roman camp (Figure 307), belongs to the type dedicated to the cult throughout the Roman world and has no features in common with the other religious buildings at Dura Europos, except that it stands on a podium. It appears to have been a single room of modest dimensions with a bench on each of the longer sides; above the central aisle there was a raised ceiling with a clerestory. At the end of the room was a niche containing two cultic bas-reliefs with an altar before them. The entire surface of the room was covered with painted decoration: scenes from the life of Mithra, representations of magi and the zodiac around the bas-reliefs in the niche, and mounted hunting scenes on the side walls.

Although Iranian influence is difficult to find in the architecture of Dura Europos, in figurative art it is much more pronounced. In fact, owing to landfill that preserved religious buildings along the western wall (see below), Dura has provided the main evidence of a decorative art that seems to have developed in Parthian domains, reflecting a synthesis of the traditions of the ancient Near East (linear drawing, two-dimensional forms, stiff poses) and the Hellenic world (the use of architectural decoration and friezes, types of dress). Furthermore, in religious settings, those most fully represented, the principle of “Parthian frontality” prevailed. This convention, according to which all figures, human or divine, face directly forward, with eyes fixed on the spectator, made its appearance at Dura very early, in the oldest painting, of the sacrifice of Conon, in the temple of Bel (probably 1st century C.E.; Figure 30/8). It persisted until the destruction of the city, as attested in the frescoes of the synagogue, dating from 245 (Figure 30/5). It was equally apparent in sculpture and terra-cottas (except for a statue of Artemis with the tortoise, which comes from a Hellenistic center) and, for example, in two reliefs of the Gads of Dura and Palmyra. On the other hand, in frequent narrative scenes of combat and hunting on horseback, like those in the mithraeum (Figure 30/7), the horses and wild beasts are portrayed in a flying gallop, a characteristic that was to be developed in Sasanian art.

The Siege of Dura Europos

The Sasanian siege of Dura Europos in 256 brought an end to the town’s existence and immobilized Šâpûr’s army for several months. The determined resistance put up by the inhabitants forced the assailants to adopt various siege tactics, which eventually resulted in conquest of the city; the defensive system, the mines, and the assault ramp were left in place after the deportation of the population, which permits modern investigators to gain an exact idea of the military techniques of the Sasanians and the Romans in the mid-3rd century.

A Sasanian helmet from the siege mines beneath Tower 19, Dura-Europos. It is a rare find of Sasanian military archaeology, and also clearly a prototype for Roman helmets of the 3rd century CE (Source: CAIS).

It is not known where the Sasanians located their camp, but traces of their operations against the city wall still survive (du Mesnil du Buisson). To guard against the attack, which was clearly expected from the time that the Sasanian empire was established, the Romans had heightened and reinforced the external faces of the western and northern ramparts by masking them with thick layers of fill covered by a mud-brick glacis and thus burying the buildings along the inside of the wall. The Persians undermined towers 19 and 14 (Figure 30) on the western wall in order to bring them down, but, owing to the filling and the glacis, the towers were not really destroyed. At the southeast corner of the town they built an assault ramp 40 m long and 10 m high against the wall to permit troops to enter; it consisted of a mass of fill packed between two walls of brick and paved with baked bricks, which made it possible to move a siege machine close to the wall. Two tunnels, each wide enough to permit several men to advance abreast, were dug near the body of the ramp. There is no surviving textual description of the siege of Dura Europos, but Ammianus Marcellinus’ account of the siege of Amida (q.v.) a century later, in which the same techniques were used, permits reconstruction of the operations at Dura; the main siege weapons were catapults, movable towers, and even elephants. Clearly the Sasanian armies had a sophisticated knowledge of siege techniques.

The discovery of the body of a Sasanian soldier in one of the trenches has also yielded precious information. He was equipped with a coat of mail, a sword ornamented with a jade disk of Central Asian type, and an iron helmet (left figure) made in two halves with an iron crest running vertically down the center of the front, of clearly Mesopotamian and Iranian origin. This type of helmet served as a model for those adopted in the Roman empire in the 3rd century (James).

The chronology of the siege operations has given rise to a debate that is still far from having been resolved. The discovery of Pahlavi inscriptions on the frescoes of the synagogue does not prove that the town had first been occupied by the Sasanians during a campaign in 253, three years before the final siege. It is also improbable that a house near the triumphal arch on the main street, in which there was a fresco of Sasanian type showing a fight between cavalrymen, belongs to this putative first occupation. It seems now that this fresco, several ostraca in Pahlavi found in the palace of the Dux Ripae (Figure 30/13), and the tombs discovered in the town and along the river resulted from temporary installation of a small Persian detachment in the town after the victory of 256 (MacDonald; Leriche and Al Mahmoud, 1994).


he results of the French-Syrian campaigns have been published in P. Leriche, ed., Doura-Europos. Études I-III (DEE), published in Syria, 1986, 1988, 1992. The fourth volume is forthcoming in the series Bibliotheàque Arche‚o-logique et Historique, Beirut.

A. Allara, “Les maisons de Doura-Europos. Questions de typologie,” in DEE I, pp. 39-60.
P. Arnaud, “Doura-Europos. Microcosme grec ou rouage de l’administration arsacide?” in DEE I, pp. 135-55.

A. R. Bellinger, “The Evidence of the Coins,” Berytus 9, 1948, pp. 51-67.
A. Bounni, “Un nouveau bas-relief palmyrênien de Doura-Europos,” Comptes Rendus de l’Acade‚mie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1994, pp. 11-18.

F. Cumont, Fouilles de Doura-Europos (1922-1926), Paris, 1926. S. B. Downey, “The Citadel Palace at Dura-Europos,” in DEE I, pp. 28-37.
Idem, Mesopotamian Religious Architecture. Alexander through the Parthians, Princeton, N.J., 1988.
A. von Gerkan, “The Fortifications,” in M. I. Rostovtzeff, ed., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Reports VII-VIII, New Haven, Conn., 1939, pp. 4-61.

R. Ghirshman, Iran. Parthians and Sasanians, tr. S. Gilbert and J. Emmons, London, 1962 (for illustrations).
C. Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos, New Haven, Conn., 1979 (with an almost complete bibliography on the site up to that time).
S. James, “Evidence from Dura Europos for the Origins of Late Roman Helmets,” in DEE I, pp. 107-34.
P. Leriche, “Chronologie du rempart de briques crues,” in DEE I, pp. 61-82. Idem, “Techniques de guerre sassanides et romaines aà Doura-Europos,” in F. Vallet and M. Kazanski eds., L’arme‚e romaine et les Barbares du IIIe au VIIIe sieàcle, Paris, 1993, pp. 83-100.
Idem and A. Al Mahmoud, “Bilan des campagnes de 1986 et 1987 de la mission franco-syrienne aà Doura-Europos,” in DEE II, 1988, pp. 3-24.
Idem, “Bilan des campagnes de 1989 et 1990 à Doura-Europos,” in DEE III, pp. 3-28.
Idem, “Doura-Europos. Bilan des recherches re‚centes,” Comptes- Rendus de l’Acade‚mie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1994, pp. 395-420.
D. MacDonald, “Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos,” Historia 35, 1986, pp. 45-68.
S. Matheson, Dura Europos, New Haven, Conn., 1982.
R. du Mesnil du Buisson, “Les ouvrages du sieàge de Doura- Europos,” Me‚moires de la Socie‚te‚ nationale des antiquaires de France 81, 1944, pp. 5-60.
A. Perkins, The Art of Dura-Europos. Oxford, 1973.
M. I. Rostovtzeff, ed., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Reports, 9 vols., New Haven, Conn., 1929-52.
Idem, Caravan Cities, Oxford, 1932.
Idem, “Dura and the Problem of Parthian Art,” Yale Classical Studies 5, 1935, pp. 157-304.
Idem, Dura-Europos and Its Art, Oxford, 1938.
Idem, and A. Perkins, eds., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Reports,, 11 vols., New Haven, Conn., 1943-77.
C. Saliou, “Les quatre fils de Pole‚mocrateàs,” in DEE III, Paris, 1990, pp. 65-100.
D. Schlumberger, L’Orient helle‚nise‚, Paris, 1970.
C. B. Welles, “The Chronology of Dura-Europos,” Eos 48, 1957, pp. 467-74.
Idem, The Parchments and Papyri, The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report 5/1. New Haven, Conn., 1959.

Ibn Sina, Persian Polymath and Physician, Never Demanded Money from his Patients

The article below entitled Ibn Sina, the great Persian polymath and physician, never demanded money from his patients” was written by Damjan Stojanovski and published in the Vintage news outlet on October 13, 2016.

Kindly note that three of the images and accompanying captions displayed below do not appear in the original Vintage News posting.
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The cultural and scientific enlightenment fostered by the Islamic Golden Age during the Abbasid Caliphate undoubtedly propelled mankind’s progress during the High Middle Ages. Contributing to various scientific fields, many thinkers and philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Al-Kindi, Rhazez, and others have cemented their names in the history of science. As for Ibn Sina (980-1037), his work and research are arguably the most revered.

13th-century illustration depicting scholars at an Abbasid library from the Maqamat of al-Hariri by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti. Baghdad, 1237 (Source: Vintage News).

Also known as Avicenna, Ibn Sina was a Persian polymath with contributions in medicine, psychology, geology, physics, astronomy (he was the first to propose that Venus was closer to the Sun than the Earth), and of course, philosophy. A prominent thinker and empiricist, in contrast with his scientific penchant for knowledge, he was also a poet and an Islamic theologian.

A Portrait of Ibn Sina (Source:

Records and historical facts about his life are hard to pin down, as there exists only one known autobiography about him, written by one of his students, al-Jūzjānī. He was born in a village near Bukhara (modern-day Uzbekistan) in 980 CE, most likely in August.

The Statue of Ibn Sina at the Persian Scholar Pavilion in the Vienna International Center (Source: “Yamaha5” in Public Domain). To the right of Ibn Sina, holding a bulbous long-necked beaker, is Zakariya Razi (854 CE – 925 CE), known as “Rhazes” in the West). Razi was another important Iranian polymath, medical prodigy and physician, philosopher and alchemist. To the left of Ibn Sina is the Iranian Polymath and scholar from Khwarezm, Abu-Reyhan Biruni (973-1048 CE),

Because of his father’s position as a governor and a respected scholar, Ibn Sina received a quality education and upbringing. The young genius could memorize the Quran at the age of 10 and had a thirst for unconventional knowledge for his age. At times, he prayed in mosques, when challenged with difficult texts and ideas.

One of his many tutors, Nātilī, had the honor to teach elementary logic to Ibn Sina. However, his teachings were obsolete, since the young thinker was rapidly grasping advanced ideas and was already entering new fields of knowledge.

Undertaking a tremendous task of studying the works of Aristotle on his own, he gained a methodical approach to the sciences which, in return, aided his logical viewpoint. He had difficulty at fist, but once he read Al-Farabi’s commentary on the work, he quickly understood Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. Contrary to popular belief, he was not the first to introduce Aristotelian philosophy to the Middle East, but he was by far the most distinguished.

Pages from a 17th-century manuscript of Al-Farabi’s commentary on Aristotle’s metaphysics (Source: Vintage News & Public Domain).

Ibn Sina favored medicine and anatomy over the rigid field of mathematics and logic; thus he began studying medicine at the age of 16 and became a skilled physician by 18. By 997 CE, Ibn Sina healed the local emir, Nuh II, from a life-threatening illness and was promptly appointed as the emir’s personal doctor. The respected position that Ibn Sina gained from this rather heroic deed allowed him valuable access to the Sāmānid royal library, consequently opening new doors of knowledge. Ibn Sina never required payment from his patients, as the practice of curing and mending their wounds was payment enough for the curious physician.

A manuscript written on paper during the Abbasid Era (Source: Vintage News & Public Domain).

By his 20s, Ibn Sina undertook writing his ideas, penning many books about astronomy, medicine, philosophy, mathematics, music, poetry, and philology.

Tomb of Ibn Sina in Hamedan, Iran (Source: Public Domain).