Professor Omidsalar: Newly Discovered Manuscript of the Shahnameh

Below is a message by Professor Mahmood Omidsalar:


Sent: Friday, February 13, 2009 8:44 AM
To: undisclosed- recipients
Subject: An Newly Discovered Manuscript of the Shahnameh

Dear Friends,

A new and fine manuscript of the Shahnameh was discovered by Professor Moosavi (Tehran University) who was doing research in a library in Beirut. Professors Khaleghi, Afshar, Shafii-Kadkani, and myself have examined the digital pictures of a few pages of that manuscript, and we unanimously agree that it is a very important discovery. Although it is not illustrated and also lacks a colophon, we all agree that its codicological features indicate that it dates from no later than the mid thirteenth century AD (7th century hejri).  Khaleghi and Moosavi have already published two essays aimed at describing it (Nāmeh-ye Bahārestān, in press).  

Professor Afshar and I have decided to publish a facsimile edition of it in the series of facsimile editions of Persian manuscripts, which we have been editing with the generous help of the Iranian community of Indianapolis, Indiana. You might remember that we did the same for the London manuscript of the Shahnameh a few years ago.

Please inform your friends in the Iranian community that those who are interested in making a tax deductable contribution towards the publication of this important manuscript may go the website of the Foundation For the Preservation of Rare Manuscripts (FRM) at:

(http://www.frmpub. com ) click on Enter, then click on Donations, which will take them to our list of donors and instructions on how to make a tax deductible donation towards the publication of this manuscript.

I cannot adequately stress how important this manuscript is, and how urgent is it to produce a photographic reproduction of it. The fact that the codex belongs to a library in Beirut, Lebanon–and we all know how vulnerable Beirut has been to military attacks– speaks volumes about the urgency of reproducing this important manuscript in some form. We hope that by so doing we will ensure the survival of the contents of the codex even if it is ever destroyed in war.

Please pass this information to all who share an interest in the Shahnameh.


M. Omidsalar


Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani receives World Prize of Book of the Year for Iranian Studies


Every few decades witnesses the arrival of a select few books on Iranian Studies that set the standard of academic excellent. The book, Arms & Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period, by Dr. Manouchehr Mostagh Khorasani is not only in the tradition of the previous great scholars of Iranian Studies such as Roman Roman Ghirshman’s “Iran: Parthians and Sassanians” (1962), but also specifically sets the standard in the studies pertaining to the military history of Iran.

Every year, books published in countries other than Iran in various languages are reviewed and special plaques of Commemoration for Iranian Studies are awarded to the authors. The 16th Round of the World Prize for the Book of the Year of Iran was a lengthy and meticulous process. After the first selection of close to 2000 books in the different domains of Iranian and Islamic studies, 252 titles (78 titles in the field of Iranian Studies and 174 titles in the field of Islamic Studies) were selected for the second and final round of evaluations. The second round of evaluations was conducted by a panel of scholars from different universities in Iran and abroad. 

The evaluation of works in two fields was conducted on the basis of preliminary appraisal of the works on the basis of published lists of books, discussions with academics, research and publication centers as well as information dissemination centers, participation in the most reputable international book exhibitions and counseling with instructors and distinguished experts in the fields of the Iranian Studies and Islamic studies both in Iran and abroad.

This resulted in the final selection of 13 winners for the World Prize of the Book of the Year of Iran. Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani was one of these distinguished awardees.

Some of the other distinguished world-class scholars who were awarded the prize were Dr. Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS), Dr. Elena E. Kuz`mina (Moscow State University). Dr. Christine van Ruymbeke (University of Cambridge), Dr. John Curtis and Dr. Nigel Tallis (The British Museum), Dr. Juan Martos Quesada (Universidad Compultense de Madrid) and Seyed Ahmad Khezri (Iranian cultural attaché in Madrid), Dr. Mohsen Zakeri (Universität Frankfurt), Dr. István Nyitral (Budapest University), Dr. Peter Avery (University of Cambridge), Dr. Beate Dignas (Sommerville College) and Dr. Engelbert Winter (Westfälische Wilhems-Universität Münster), Dr. Walli Ahmadi (University of California, Berkeley), Dr. Asad Abdolhadi Ghandil (University of Cairo), Dr. Benjamin Jokisch (Albert-Ludwig-Universität Freiburg), and Dr. Robert Gleave (University of Exeter).

Having taken more than 10 years of meticulous research and field studies to complete, Dr. Khorasani’s book produces information never seen in western historiography and references. The book contains 2500 color photos of weapons never before seen in western or international museums or academic venues. At the very least, the book will help dispel a number of misconceptions with respect to ancient Iranian militaria.

The book however is as much about the evolution of Iranian metallurgy and art history as it is about militaria. Khorasani’s book carefully analyzes the development of Iranian metalwork technology and related developments with respect to arms and armor dating from the Bronze Age to the Qajar era. Khorasani expostulates upon the symbiotic nature of the technological relationship between regions such as Lursitan and Marlik.


Spearhead from ancient Amarlu. Note the resilience of the metalwork after thousands of years; especially the “swirls” applied at the shaft (Copyright 2006).


Khorasanis’ text is indeed a breakthrough in terms of the history of the metallic arts of Iran; one example being Zoroastrian (and pre-Zoroastrian) mythological motifs. It was during the early Iranic arrivals and the Mede era where much of the basis of the “Persepolis Arts” was first laid. These were ancient Iranian mythological motifs and were impressed upon the metal works of ancient locales such as Luristan. Examples include bird-beasts appearing on metal works such as daggers and swords.


Quiver Plaque from ancient Luristan. Many of the motifs seen (i.e. king seated on throne) were to appear in various forms in later Medo-Achaemenid arts, especially at Persepolis (Copyright 2006).


These motifs were to exert a profound influence on later European and Far eastern arts, especially due to the Scythian/Saka contacts in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe. The motif of the Akenakes dagger for example could be seen in later Alanic warriors migrated into Western Europe by the 4th century AD.



Achaemenid Achenakes. Note the lion and ram motifs, both symbols of ancient Iran (Copyright 2006).


The technological developments in Persia continued to proceed even after the fall of Achaemenid Persia to Alexander the Great. Khorasani outlines the continuation of Iranian technological developments in the framework of blade weapons (swords and daggers), archery equipment, lances, spears, javelins, helmets and armor. These are in tandem with the development of the metallic arts of Iran. This is significant as Khorasani is perhaps the first researcher to comprehensively examine such developments in the domain of military technology.



Portion of the sheath of a late Sassanian sword (late 6th to early 7th century AD) (Copyright 2006).


Iranian metalwork technology continued to evolve during the post-Islamic period, and experienced a powerful renaissance during the Safavid era (1501-1736).


Sword sheath attributed to Shah Abbas (r. 1588 – 1629). Note the fine craftsmanship on the sheath (Copyright 2006) 


The pre-Islamic “Spangenhelm” helmets of riveted construction metallic plates, reached a very high level of sophistication during the Sassanian era. Metallurgy, helmet design and corresponding arts were to evolve into more advanced designs that were to appear during the post-Islamic Iran.



Helmet of the Safavid era (1501-1722). Among the motifs are grape patterns also seen in the national arts of Georgia (Copyright 2006).  


Other never seen items are articles from the Afsharid (r. 1736-1747) and Zand (1750-1794) periods.


Sword of Nader Shah (1688-1747) (Copyright 2006).



 Bazu-band from the Zand era (Copyright 2006).


Khorasani also demonstrates that some of the highest quality metal works (notably in swords and shields) were constructed during the Qajar period (1781-1925). This information is virtually unknown in western historiography which remains primarily focused on the defeats of the Qajars at the hands of imperial Russian forces who invaded Iranian territory in the Caucasus and Central Asia during the 18th and 19th centuries.



Khanjar from the Qajar era. Note the application of color motifs not unlike those seen in the Sassanian era (Copyright 2006).



Shield attributed to Nasser e Din Shah (1831-1896). Note the flowing artistry techniques which can be traced as far back as the pre-Islamic Sassanian era (Copyright 2006).


Dr. Kaveh Farrokh

Message from Persian Gulf Society Board to Dr. Golbahar

From: M Ala <>
Cc: Persian Gulf <>;
Sent: Thu, 5 Feb 2009 9:44 pm
Subject: Persian Gulf name must be used.

Dear Dr. Golbahar:

Dr. Hojbari has brought to our attention that you are holding a
conference at a University where the wrong term of Persian Gulf is

When this University came into being in Bahrain, I personally wrote to
its President, Vice Presidents and academic Deans.  I have not heard
anything from them up to now.

We created a website to educate non-Iranians about the use of correct
term of Persian Gulf.  Our community expects more from Iranians
especially those who teach or conduct research at academic
institutions.  We believe honesty and integrity are two important
elements of academia which we must honor.

On behalf of Persian Gulf Organization, I encourage you to promote the
correct name of Persian Gulf.  At this time, we do not wish to list
your University or you as an abuser of our historical heritage in our

Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

Dr. Mohammad Ala, Board Member and

Questioning the term ”chemical warfare” in reference to Ancient Iran


Recently reports were made with respect to the alleged use of “chemical warfare” by the Sassanian armies of Shapur I during his successful campaigns against Rome in the 3rd century AD.

Payvand News of Iran (February 4, 2009) has cited an interesting report questioning the validity of the term “chemical warfare” in reference to the siege of Dura Europus. The report cites Phd Candidate Reza Yeganehshakib (Depatment of History, University of California, Irvine) and history Professor Khodadad Rezakhani of UCLA who question the “slant” in recent reports regarding “chemical warfare“.

Yeganehshakib holds degrees in Chemical Engineering (BS) and Environmental Studies (MS). Simply put, Yeganehshakib commands a strong understanding of the scientific processes that may have taken place at Dura Europos. Yeganehshakib has observed in the aforementioned Payvand News report that :

The Roman soldiers that were found could have been killed because of the lack of oxygen due to the blockage of the mouth of the tunnel, or possibly because of the collapse of the earth and the blockage of the mouth of the tunnel behind them. The dimensions of the tunnel…must be precisely analyzed and compared to the material and texture of the soil and its mechanical properties to see if the Roman reinforcement and structures could resist the weight of the mass of the soil above it or not.

Roman and Persian miners would have needed some means of providing light in order to be able to see what they were doing. The sulphur crystal and bitumen, mentioned in the article, are among the chemicals that were commonly used in order to produce torch light at the time. The presence of these chemicals and burning them could surely produce hazardous gasses. Gasses like Carbon Monoxide (produced as a result of the lack of enough oxygen required for the complete combustion in the tunnel), sulphur oxides, and unburned Hydrocarbons are among the most lethal gasses produced by burning these chemicals to produce enough light. The accumulation of these gasses in either side of the tunnel was surely quite deadly. The accumulation of the harmful gasses could have been caused either by the physical blockage of the entrance or mouth of the tunnel or due to the air pressure difference between the inside of the tunnel and the outside air pressure particularly at the mouth of it. If the outside air pressure was higher than that of the inside, then the gases inside could not be released to the outside and would accumulate there. The elevation difference of the tunnel and its entrance is a crucial factor, as the air density and pressure in the higher altitudes is lower than that of lower altitude.

If the Persian tunnel, as shown at the first image, was built at a lower elevation and had an open entrance to enter the air, then a hole or any other open area could have unexpectedly connected the Roman and Persian tunnels together. the air and the harmful gases, either produced by those chemicals to produce light or intentionally to produce harmful gasses, would have suddenly rose up and gotten into the Roman tunnel due to the air pressure difference. Therefore almost all of the gasses that had lower densities than air would have rose up to the Roman tunnel. At the time if the Roman tunnel mouth was closed for any reason, even if the process of the gas transfer from Persian side to the Roman side was slowed, the gasses already existing in the Roman tunnel would have remained for awhile.

All the burning processes need enough oxygen, fuel, and temperature. The latter can be produced by the initial ignition that Sulphur Crystals might have cause; however, the gases produced as the result of combustion are proportionate to the amount of fuel and air. By finding evidence of the existence of the quantity and quality of the fuel (a very difficult task), we can determine the amount of the gas released by creating a mass-energy balance for the chemical reaction of this combustion to see if enough hazardous gases were produced in order to kill 21 soldiers (20 Romans and one Persian). We also need to see if there as enough oxygen or air to realize the combustion is another issue.

So, these scientific take on the news imply that although the intentional use of “chemical weapons” was possible, the case could also have been a simple case of accumulation of poisonous gasses as the result of the burning of the chemicals used for creating light in the tunnels. In the former case, one should celebrate that the Persians were indeed as “advanced” as the Romans in their knowledge of warfare tactics and technologies. If the latter, one would also wonder the wisdom of trampling the history of Iran/Persia in all other occasions only to give it credence when violence is involved.

Yeganehshakib and Rezakhani note of the possible political motives behind recent reports by stating:

Usually, when Iran/Persia gets mentioned, it is either in the form of nuclear “threat” currently providing fodder for news networks or in the shape of ghouls and monsters who get massacred in hundreds by a few brave and freedom loving Greeks, making puddles of blood in service of human rights and freedom. So, it was interesting to see that the only time the Persian history makes it to the main news is still in connection with violence, particularly “gruesome” tactics against the beloved, civilised, freedom loving Romans who just killed their enemies by boring them to death, apparently.

…the Sasanians had the definite upper hand in the war with the Romans. This is again interesting, since comments such as “the Sasanian Persians were as knowledgeable in siege warfare as the Romans” (quite common when there is talk of ancient history) somehow imply that the Romans were the Americans of the ancient world, the most civilised, knowledgeable, and technologically advanced of all ancient peoples to whose exalted positions all others needed to aspire, despite constant reminders from those such as the Chinese that this could not be farther from the truth.

The siege of Dura Europos is a field of study that will be examined for decades to come. Few serious scholars would suggest that the successes of Shapur I were due to “Chemical warfare”.  Shapur’s victories against his Roman opponents were primarily due the Savaran, the elite Sassanian cavalry. It was these who were to inflict upon Rome one of her most dramatic defeats in history.

The Controversy of the Achaemenid Tablets


The dangers to Iran’s ancient heritage are existent both inside and outside of Iran. A case of the latter can be seen with respect to the recent controversy on Achaemenid era artifacts in western museums today.

The most salient issue as reported in the History news Network is the case of the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Blanche Manning in the spring of 2006 that citizens who were injured in a 1997 bombing Israel have the right to seize 300 Achaemenid era clay tablets that have been loaned to the University of Chicago.


Achaemenid era tablet. A very large number of these tablets were discovered by the archaeologists of the University of Chicago during their excavations of Persepolis in 1933.

This is perhaps the first time in history where political grievances have been legally mobilized against archaeology and history. This sets a very dangerous legal precedent as it entitles any nationality or ethnic group with political grievances to appropriate historical and archaeological artifacts.

On May 23, 2007, Iranian officials reported that the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has assured them that the confiscation of the Achaemenid tablets would come to an end.

The issue however has not been resolved and as noted by the Payvand news of Iran, the danger of the seizures of the tablets for political purposes remains real.

In response to these politicized actions, The Societas Iranologica Europea (SIE) has released a petition to put a halt to the confiscation and sale of thousands of items from Persepolis as well as Achaemenid treasury clay tablets (written in Elamite) that remain on loan to Chicago University’s Oriental Institute.


Jennifer Gregory, graduate student at the University of Chicago’s oriental Institute, examines the Elamite tablets (Payvand News).

History and archaeology have traditionally been held aloof from the turbulent and ever-changing landscape of contemporary politics. The case of the Achaemenid tablets is a clear contest between political grievances and academic integrity.