When Roman “Barbarians” Met the Asian Enlightenment

The article When Roman “Barbarians” Met the Asian Enlightenmentwas first published by The Strange Continent.com. A portion of that article has been printed below which has been edited. Commentaries have also been inserted for reference. Kindly note that the article printed below features a number of additional images and accompanying captions that do not appear in the original article in The Strange Continent.

Consistent with this topic, a lecture entitled Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europe during the Classical Era will be offered by Kaveh Farrokh at the University of British Columbia, Department of Asian Studies Alireza Ahmadian Lectures in Persian and Iranian Studies (November 29, 2019, 6:30-8:30, Room 120, CK Choi Building) … for further details kindly click the image below …

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This week, the BBC announced the discovery of two “ethnically Chinese” skeletons at an ancient Roman burial site in England. Who were they? What drove them to the far end of the world? We don’t know, yet.

But for once, an article’s clickbait headline may not be exaggerating. If the genetic identity of these skeletons can be confirmed, it could indeed “rewrite Roman history” — or at least, a whole lot of long-held assumptions about who was in contact with whom in the days of the Roman Empire.

Oh, we’ve known for a long time the ancient Romans were aware of China’s existence — in fact, Chinese silk was such a drain on the Roman economy that the senate tried to outlaw it in the year 14 CE. And the Chinese emperors of the Han dynasty were certainly aware of Rome — they called it Da Qin and repeatedly tried to reach it with envoys and missionaries.

No one disputes the fact that these two cultures had centuries of indirect contact, via trade routes through India and Persia. Roman coins have been found as far east as Japan where Persians were teaching mathematics to the locals.

Sassanian influences upon Japanese arts: the case of the metalwork plate of Shapur II hunting lions (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg – Inv. S-253) and motif-parallels in Japanese textile arts (Source: Fall 2014 course on the Silk Route at the University of British Columbia).

DNA evidence seems to suggest that Europeans settled on the western fringes of China as early as the 200s BCE.

COMMENT BY Kavehfarrokh.com: The sentence “Europeans settled on the western fringes of China as early as the 200s BCE”  is somewhat misleading. First, there are common Indo-European ancestors for the Europeans, Indians and Iranians. The peoples the writer is referring to may have been variously proto-Iranian or Tocharian – the dress found among their mummies in Urumchi for example bear striking resemblance to the later attire of the Medes, Achaemenids, Scythians, Sarmatians, Parthians and Sassanians. Second, these settlements in northwest China appear to have taken place earlier before the reign of the Medes and the succeeding Medo-Achaemenids.

What’s much less clear, though, is whether Chinese or Roman diplomats ever managed to achieve direct contact on each others’ native soil.

Until these Chinese skeletons were unearthed in England — at the far-western end of the Roman Empire, no less — no one had ever found any proof that a single Chinese envoy ever made it to Rome; or that a Roman envoy reached China. Which would mean…Romans were largely locked out of the civilized world. But wait… wasn’t Rome “the civilized world?”

That’s certainly what most of us (in the West, anyway) are taught in school. Back in my school days, I was taught a fair amount about Rome, a tiny bit about China, even less about Persia, and nothing at all about the Kushans, or the Axumites, or any of the other powerful empires that controlled large chunks of the globe — and often helped shape the cultures and fortunes of European nations. Maybe you can relate.

The truth is, though, that Rome’s Asian contemporaries completely dwarfed Rome in many respects: heritage, population density, cultural diversity, technology, architecture, medicine, philosophy, poetry… I could go on, but you get the idea. During the Roman period, the Asian continent was by far the wealthiest, most advanced, most culturally diverse place on earth. Imperial Rome was a dim backwater by comparison.

Ever since I’ve learned that fact, it’s always made me sad to think of the Romans being largely cut off from the main action on the world stage.

If researchers can verify the ancestry of these skeletons in England, maybe Rome wasn’t quite as cut off as we always believed. It’s an exciting thought. But it doesn’t change the fact that, on the whole, contact between Rome and the East — and thus, between Eastern and Western cultural legacies — was mostly indirect, mediated by third (and often fourth and fifth) parties.

Who were these vast empires of Asia? What was it like to live in them? Where did they come from, and what legacies did they leave?

I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a journey to the East.

Before we begin our tale, we first need to briefly set our stage, and make sure all our actors are on their marks.

In the 200s to 400s CE (the range of dates during which the owners of those Chinese skeletons made their way to Roman Britain) the map looked something like this:

A map of the Three Great Empires of Antiquity in c. 200 CE: Rome, Persia (Parthians followed by Sassanians) and China (Source: The Strange Continent).

I say “something like this” because a lot was going on during those centuries:

  • Rome’s legions were fighting fiercely for control of Gaul (modern France and Germany), Britain, Egypt, and various parts of the Balkans; while a succession of (often unfairly maligned) emperors scrambled to hold Rome together through an endless series of famines, wars with the East, coups d’état, refugee crises, and revolts.
  • The steppe horsemen known as the Parthians lost control of Persia, which entered a great classical age under the Sassanian dynasty.
  • The Han dynasty lost its grip on China, which split into three powerful warring kingdoms.
  • Vast tracts of southern Asia were changing hands among a dozen or more competing empires, each with its own rich culture.

Since we don’t know exactly when those Chinese travelers (whoever they were) left China and arrived in Roman Britain, it’s hard to say exactly what kind of “China” they left, what kind of “Rome” they arrived in, or what kind of “Persia” — or what other empires, exactly — they had to pass through.

With that in mind, let’s spend some time in a few of those Asian empires, and get to know their people a little better.

The Sassanians

The Sassanians could trace their cultural ancestry all the way back to the primordial mists of recorded history, to the dawn of civilization itself.

Ancient Persian traditional music as posted by The Strange Continent.

They had taken Persia from the Parthians, who’d taken it from the Seleucids — descendants of Alexander; an infamous villain in Persian eyes to this day — who’d ripped it from the hands of the glorious Achaemenid dynasty, who’d freed Mesopotamia from the brutal yoke of the Assyrian Empire, back when Rome was an unknown village.

The Assyrians, of course, had been just the latest in a line of conquerors reaching back through the Babylonians, though many long centuries, to the Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great — the first documented multi-ethnic empire in world history, which owed its own cultural legacy, in large part, to the Sumerians.

Sargon of Akkad, circa 2250 BCE  (The Strange Continent).

By the time they met Rome, the Sasanians could look back through no less than 3,000 years of literate, urban society. The oldest works of poetry and sculpture in their treasure-houses were as ancient, for them, as the Iliad and the Odyssey, or the Old Testament, are for us today.

In fact, Babylon had long ago been ruled by yet another dynasty from the Persian region. The Elamite people, whose own literate culture was as ancient and venerable as that of the Sumerians, had conquered large swathes of Mesopotamia in the 1800s BCE, holding dominion until they were thrown out by an invading king called Hammurabi.

A bust of Sassanian Shahanshah Shapur II (The Strange Continent).

At its height, the Sassanian Empire spanned all of today’s Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatif, Qatar, UAE, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Egypt, large parts of Turkey, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Yemen and Pakistan. It was geographically smaller than the peak-size Roman Empire— but it was more urban, and far more densely populated.

The Sassanian Empire at its greatest extent c. 620 CE, under Shahanshah Khosrau II (The Strange Continent).

The Sassanian Empire’s subjects hailed from uncounted hundreds of tribes and peoples. They practiced at least ten different major religions, including Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism; along with a late, decadent form of the religion of ancient Babylon.

The state religion, however, was Zoroastrianism — as it had been since the Achaemenid dynasty, five centuries before, and would remain until the coming of Islam (while many practicing Zoroastrians still live in the region, and around the world, today).

Though the empire’s people spoke dozens of languages, the tongues of the court were Greek and Aramaic, along with an ancestor of the Farsi language now spoken in Iran.

At the head of the Sassanian state sat the shah-en-shah — the King of Kings, a title borrowed from the Achaemenid Persian emperors like Darius and Xerxes.

Below the shah-en-shah, a meticulously organized pyramid of governors and viziers extended down to the powerful nobility of land-holding feudal aristocrats, who oversaw the middle castes of priests, warriors, commoners, and artisans.

Court of Khosrow II and his queen Shirin – Smbat Bagratuini (Figure 4) was to replicate the spectacular successes of the Sassanian military against a renewed Turco-Hephthalite invasion of the Sassanian empire from the northeast in 618-619 CE (For more information on color plates and sources consult: Plate F, pp.53-54, 62, Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-).

The upper classes enjoyed the first recognizably “Persian” culture: brocaded silks, floral tapestries, ornate goblets, sumptuous carpets, intricate mosaics, and the styles of music, food and poetry that would so captivate their Islamic conquerors a few centuries hence — just as they would later captivate the Seljuks, the Mongols and the Ottomans; and that continue to lend their distinct influences to Turkish and Iranian culture, even today. Any time you savor a bite of baklava or sip a glass of dark tea, thank the Sassanians.

Sassanian influence remains strong in this painting of King Bahram V Gur, from the mid-16th-century Safavid era (The Strange Continent).

You can also thank the Sassanian aristocracy for much of (what would later become) the medieval European aesthetic. Look at this Sasanian rock engraving, for example, and you’re essentially looking at a medieval European king …

Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam of Sassanian emperor Shapur I (on horseback) capturing Roman emperor Valerian (standing) and Philip the Arab (kneeling), suing for peace, following the victory at Edessa (The Strange Continent).

…except that this engraving depicts the Sassanian shah-en-shah Shapur I, and dates from around 260 CE — a full thousand years before the European medieval period, when the height of Roman fashion was still togas and sandals. It’s like Shapur time-traveled to Rome from the future.

Regal Sassanian figures (middle and right) with the ray-headed Mithras holding a ceremonial sword or barsom at Taghe Bostan (The Strange Continent).

The Sassanian aristocracy, like their later medieval imitators, wore ankle-length robes and pointed slippers, tunics and trousers— more borrowings from the Achaemenids, Assyrians and Babylonians before them.

They rode into battle on famously enormous horses, outfitted in full suits of chain-mail armor, wielding broadswords and longbows, carrying jousting lances. For more see:

Ever wondered how Roman legions would fare against medieval knights? You don’t have to wonder — the Romans fought hundreds of battles against the Sassanians, and the Sassanians often beat the Roman legions to a bloody pulp; especially when fighting on the defensive.

When the Roman army started incorporating their own armored heavy cavalry, they got better at fighting back against the feudal knights of the Sassanian aristocracy — but the Romans never made any permanent incursions into Sassanian territory, or inflicted many serious defeats. The Sassanians never made it very far into Roman territory, either. For hundreds of years, the two armies held each other, in large part, at a stalemate.

Sassanian forces counterattack the invading Turco-Hephthalites in the Sassanian Empire’s northeast; the figures in the above plate (1-late Sassanian Savar-Framandar, 2-Kanarang, 3-Paygospan and 4-Turkic Gok warriors) are based on reconstructions from Sassanian archaeological data such as the grotto of the armored knight inside the vault or Iwan at Taghe Bostan, the (post-Sassanian) metalwork work plate of Pur-e Vahman as well as East Iranian sources (For more information consult: Plate C, pp.53-54, 60-61, Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-).

It wasn’t only in military matters that the  were centuries ahead of their time. Their scholars translated the works of Plato and Aristotle — preserving many books that were later lost to the West — and organized debates between sages and scholars of dozens of philosophies and religions, from all across Asia.

The shah established a “Grand School” at the capital city of Ctesiphon (in modern Iraq), where more than 30,000 pupils studied astronomy, architecture, medicine and literature. In fact, a few centuries later, when the Roman emperor Justinian forcibly closed all the Greek schools, the Sassanians would welcome the fleeing Greek philosophers with open arms.

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

Long after the Western Roman Empire fell beneath waves of attack from the Huns and Goths, the Sassanian emperors continued to hold their own against the Eastern Roman Empire, slowly growing weaker under relentless losses against the Byzantines, the Turks, the Khazars, and hordes of other enemies.

By the time the armies of Islam rode out of Arabia, the once-great Sassanian Empire was fragmented and exhausted. An army led by Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattāb captured city after Sassanian city throughout the mid-600s; and by 651, the remains of the knightly and priestly aristocracy fled, in despair, into the vastness of the Central Asian steppe-land.

The remains of the Sassanian royal palace at Ctesiphon, in modern Iraq (The Strange Continent).

It’s often been said, though, that no one truly captures Persia. Instead, Persia captures her conquerors. There’s no doubt that she captured the Arabs. Much of what we think of as “Arabian culture” today — the distinctive styles of art, food, architecture and music; the tales of The 1,001 Nights; the wealth and opulence of Middle-Eastern monarchs— owes far more, in fact, to the Sassanian palace gardens than to the deserts of Arabia.

To read more on this topic, consult The Strange Continent …

Journal Article: Caucasian Albanian warriors in the armies of pre-Islamic Iran

The HISTORIA I ŚWIAT academic journal has published the following article by Kaveh Farrokh, Javier Sánchez-Gracia (HRM Ediciones, Zaragoza, Spain), and Katarzyna Maksymiuk (Siedlce University, Poland):

Farrokh, K., Sánchez-Gracia, J., & Maksymiuk, K. (2019). Caucasian Albanian warriors in the armies of pre-Islamic Iran. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, 8, pp.21-46.

The article discusses the important role of ancient Albania, an ancient country in the Caucasus (in the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, first labelled with this appellation in May 1918) in the history of Iran. Albanian cavalry was serving with the later Achaemenid armies of Darius III (r. 336–330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

An Albanian-Scythian cavalry commander from the late Achaemenid era (Source: Pinterest). Cavalry of this type from Albania fought for Darius III against Alexander at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

Albania was transformed into a Sassanian province by Šāpūr I (c. 253) with the Albanians (notably their cavalry) becoming increasingly integrated into the battle order of the Sassanian Spah (army).

Book cover of “The Siege of Amida” authored by Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia (2018) DC – click here to download in pdf from Academia.edu … The above image is a recreation by Ardashir Radpour of a Sassanian Savaran knight of the Hamharzan who were often supplied with the highest quality weaponry. Elite Albanian knights fighting alongside the Savaran would have resembled their comrade in arms with respect to attire, equipment and battle tactics. The above book was displayed at the 2018 ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) Conference’s LSS (Library of Social Sciences) display in Washington DC.

All along the Caspian coast the Sassanians built powerful defense works, designed to bar the way to invaders from the north. The most celebrated of these fortifications are those of Darband in Caucasian Albania.

A view of the Darband Wall (known commonly as Derbent; cited as Krevar in local dialects) in Daghestan, Northern Caucasus (Courtesy of Associates of Eduard Enfiajyan).  The origins of the wall of Darband are generally attributed to Kavad I (r. 488-496, 498-530 CE) who after a two-year war (489-490 CE) ejected Khazar invaders rampaging Armenia and Caucasian Albania (modern Republic of Azerbaijan). Construction of the wall was continued by Khosrow I (r. 530-579 CE) and by the late 6th century CE, this had become a system of walls connecting a series of fortresses. Total length of the Darband wall is nearly 70 km, spanning the territory from the Caucasus Mountains to the Caspian Sea. The Wall of Darband or Derbent became a major military fortress shielding Iranian territories in the Caucasus and the historical Azarbaijan below the Araxes River from nomadic attackers along the northern Caucasus, most notably the Khazars.

Albania remained an integral part of the Sasanian army well into the empire’s final days as evidenced by the military exploits of Albanian regal prince Javanshir (Persian: Young Lion) and his cavalry who fought against the Arabo-Islamic invaders at the Battle of Qadissiya (637 CE) and after. Javanshir was a member of the Iranian Mehranid family related to the Parthian clans.

A copy of the 7th century CE statue of the Caucasian Albanian Prince Javanshir (Persian: Young Lion) discovered in Nakhchevan, southern Caucasus (the original statue is housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg – the above copy of the original is in the Republic of Azerbaijan History Museum) (Source: Urek Meniashvili in Public Domain).

Which Gulf Do They Mean?

The article “Which Gulf do they mean?” by Kourosh Ziaberi originally appeared in the LobeLog on August 7, 2019. Kindly note that excepting one image, all other images and accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original release posted on LobeLog. The version printed below has been edited from the original version.

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If you’ve ever wondered how historical realities can be sacrificed and manipulated in the service of myopic political goals, there is a great example for you to follow in your daily roundup of international news offered by the mainstream media.

While reading through coverage of current Middle Eastern affairs in international newspapers, magazines, and news websites, it’s very common for readers to come across the words “the Gulf.” Many people recognize what “the Gulf” signifies, but many others don’t know and get perplexed and still others ignore the vague reference while reading. Basically, the phrase is meant to denote the body of water separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula. By accident, the sea has got a name of its own and is called the “Persian Gulf.” But there are many reasons why it is becoming customary for the mass media to identify it simply as “the Gulf,” leaving critical audiences astounded why the expanse of water is not called by its full name, unlike multiple other geographic entities that are allowed the use of their full names.

WIPO Registration certificate attesting to the correct historical body of water known as the Persian Gulf (Source: Mohammad Ala) … for more see Here This is the first official registration at WIPO (which is a UN body). There have been two other previous declarations (UNAD 311 of 5 March 1971 and UNLA 45.8.2(c) of 10 August 1984) affirming the correct name for the Persian Gulf. WIPO has re-affirmed the legality of this term as (unfortunately) politically motivated outlets have continued using fabricated terminology. You may refer to the following articles for more information:

A Vital Waterway

The Persian Gulf is a vital waterway that is an extension of the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Hormuz, which is considered by the U.S. Energy Information Administration “the world’s most important strategic chokepoint for oil transport.” The earliest evidence of human life on islands in the Persian Gulf dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Period, spanning from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. Inhabitants around the Persian Gulf in ancient times are believed to be the first people to use fish as food.

University of Birmingham researchers believe the land that now lies beneath the Persian Gulf might have been host to humans over 100,000 years, before it was swamped by the Indian Ocean around 8,000 years ago.

Oil was found in the Persian Gulf in 1908. However, it was not until the 1903s when major discoveries were made. It’s reported that more than 50% of the world’s oil reserves lie in and around the Persian Gulf. Moreover, about a third of the world’s liquefied natural gas passes through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow water lane connecting the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

Map of the Persian Gulf by 18th century French cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (Source: LobeLog).

Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson, the British civil commissioner in Baghdad from 1918-20, wrote in a book published in 1928, “No water channel has been so significant as Persian Gulf to the geologists, archaeologists, geographers, merchants, politicians, excursionists, and scholars whether in past or in present. This water channel which separates the Iran Plateau from the Arabia Plate, has enjoyed an Iranian Identity since at least 2,200 years ago.”

The Persian Gulf has been a hotbed of economic development in recent years. The 2005-2015 expansion of the economies of Persian Gulf states—mostly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain—persuaded millions of migrants to move to the region in search of economic opportunities. According to a Pew Research Center study, the number of non-displaced, international migrants living in the Middle East rose from 19 to 31 million in that ten-year period.

Florence 16th Century Map of Persia which cites ” G o l f o  d i  P e r s i a”. For more see … “Iran and the Persian Gulf

Due to its enormous gas and oil resources and its strategically important position, the Persian Gulf has been an arena of rivalry between the world’s major powers since the mid-19th century, when British India, Tsarist Russia, and the Ottoman Empire faced off there.

Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (at left) and Sir Charles Belgrave (right) (Picture Source: Flicker) who was England’s Government Advisor to Bahrain. It was Belgrave who first pioneered the concept of changing the name of the Persian Gulf. The motives for such revisionist schemes remain unclear, but it is possible that Belgrave and the British policymakers may have calculated that such actions would create frictions between the Iranians and the Arabs. For more on this topic see … “Pan-Arabism and it’s Legacy of Confrontation with Iran

What’s in a Name?

For a number of reasons, the Persian Gulf epitomizes Iranian national identity and is highly significant to the Iranian people. The most important reason is Iran’s historical sovereignty over the body of water and that the majority of countries that surround the Gulf today were once parts of the Persian Empire, when the Achaemenid Dynasty was in power. Therefore, it’s not difficult to decipher the strong passion Iranians feel about the Persian Gulf. Today, Among the Persian Gulf’s eight littoral states, Iran has the longest coastline and the largest population. The largest island in the Persian Gulf is Iran’s Qeshm Island.

Countless historical documents identify the body of water as the Persian Gulf, and there is unanimity over the historicity and validity of the name. Greek geographers Strabo, who lived in the Augustan era, and Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century CE, used the name “Persian Gulf” in their maps.

 

Close-up of a Rotated Map by Pomponius Mela (originally drafted in 43 CE) reproduced in Mappa Mundi by Konrad Miller in 1898 (Bild Vi. “Rekonstruierte Karten”, Tafel 7 [Picture Vi, Reconstructed Maps, Plate 7]) (Photo of image: Public Domain). The designation “Persicum Mare” (Persian Sea) is clearly and historically attested upon the map. 

Today, the United Nations only recognizes the name Persian Gulf and issued two editorial directives in 1994 and 1999, clarifying its position on the naming of the waterway.

United Nations Editorial Directive issued on August 18, 1994 which clearly notes of the legality and correct use of the name “Persian Gulf”. For more see … “Jamal Abdul Nasser’s Reference to the Persian Gulf on August 30, 1951

The declining influence of Iran following the 1979 revolution, and the growth of pan-Arab sentiments and Arab nationalism since the early 1960s precipitated the coinage of the term “Arabian Gulf” as a replacement for a name that has been in use commonly for hundreds of years. The Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names in 2002 concluded that the name Arabian Gulf is “faulty.”

Saudi Arabian ARAMCO map printed in 1952. This map identifies the historical name of the body of water separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula as the Persian Gulf (Source: posted in Persian Gulf On-line). For more see … “1952 Saudi Arabian map of the Persian Gulf

These days, certain governments and media organizations see the distortion of the name “Persian Gulf” as a safe and inexpensive shortcut to chip away at Iran while the Islamic Republic is in conflict with the West over the nuclear crisis and a number of other sticking points. For some media outlets, identifying the Persian Gulf as “the Gulf” or “Arabian Gulf” is a matter of pandering to their well-off benefactors in the Arab world, and for some of them, it’s all about demoralizing Iran by deliberately shrugging off a historical reality.

The street plaque “Sharraa Khalij al-Faris” (Persian Gulf Street) in Cairo, Egypt (Source: posted in Persian Gulf On-line). For more see …Jamal Abdul Nasser’s Reference to the Persian Gulf on August 30, 1951

Indisputably, when a country is diplomatically and politically fragile, its assets and resources will be accordingly at stake, and its rivals will race to take its belongings away. The tendency of international media and certain world governments and politicians to call the Persian Gulf as “the Gulf” or even go the extra mile to call it the “Arabian Gulf” is one of the offshoots of Iran’s growing isolation in recent years over its much-debated nuclear program and its controversial regional policies.

Different name – same management: Anglo-Iranian Oil Company or AIOC (Anglo-Persian Oil Company until 1935) changes its title to British Petroleum (BP) in 1954 (at left).  One year before its name change (1953) the petroleum company had been instrumental in cooperating with the CIA to topple Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh (1882-1967) (at right) – for more information consult Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2011, pp. 297-303. At present, BP has major oil interests in the Caucasus to the north of Iran.

However, it’s safe to argue that those in the media who tamper with a geographical name rooted in history don’t simply kowtow to a political agenda. They betray the conscience of their audience and promote fake information. Altering the name of the Persian Gulf does not simply translate to debilitating Iran. It’s equivalent to undermining a shared heritage of mankind and trampling its identity underfoot.

A historical map with the name “Persian” literally erased from the designation “Persian Gulf”, to leave only the invented term “Gulf”. This falsified map is housed in Dubai’s Saeed Al Maktoum House in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Interestingly the UAE along with several modern day states in West Asia, excluding the historical states of Turkey and Iran, were created in the 20th century. States such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia for example, were literally created in large part due to the Anglo-European economic and geopolitical engineering policies. Buttressing such policies are additional Anglo-European 20th century inventions such as “The Middle East” … for more see:

There are numerous geographical regions whose names are taken from the nearby countries—for example, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the South China Sea. The world would be a terrible place if the political nemeses of these countries attempted every day to concoct a new name for those entities in order to fulfill short-term political goals.

King Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al Saud (reigned 1932-1953) meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) (at right) aboard the US warship, USS Quincy, after the Yalta Conference (Feb. 4-11, 1945) (Source: Public Domain). The interpreter is Colonel Bill Eddy with Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy located to the left. Ibn Saud is on record for his racist statement “…we hate the Persians…” (Allen, 2006, p.245; God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, Abacus: London). Western statesmen and business lobbyists to the present day continue to ignore these types of attitudes among non-European leaders in favor of lucrative commercial and geopolitical interests. For more on this topic see … “Pan-Arabism and it’s Legacy of Confrontation with Iran

Pasargadae: the Tomb of Cyrus the Great

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

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

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

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

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

The Pasargadae tomb – a reconstruction by Stronach.

The Tomb of Cyrus: Architecture and Engineering

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

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

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

 

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

Staples or clamps used to secure the blocks at Pasargadae.

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

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

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

The Uratian Erebuni Fortress in modern Yerevan, Armenia.

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

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

The arrival of Alexander

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

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

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

An Achaemenid Rhython.

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

The Arabian arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

Further readings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Persepolis: A Comprehensive Photographic Overview

The highly informative article and comprehensive photo essay of Persepolis further below has been written and produced by Carole Raddato who has generously allowed her work to be reproduced in Kavehfarrokh.com (kindly see her message sent on June 4, 2019:

—–Original Message—–
From: Carole Raddato <xxxxxx>
To: Dr. Kaveh Farrokh <manuvera@aol.com>
Sent: Tue, Jun 4, 2019 12:00 am
Subject: RE: Seeking Your Permission to promote your excellent article “Persepolis”

Dear Dr. Kaveh Farrokh,

Thank you for your email. I would be very honoured to have my Persepolis post shared on your social media pages.

I have just returned from an archaeological trip to Iran and have so far blogged about Persepolis, Susa and Chogha Zanbil. There will be of course more sites covered on my blog. I have recently booked a trip to Alicante to see the Iran Cradle of Civilisation exhibition as nearly 200 objects from the National Museum of Iran on display there.

For your information, and also for your students, note that all my images are published under the Creative Common licence which means that they are all free to use. The best way to access them is via Flickr where they can be easily downloaded.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolemage/collections

Congratulations on your excellent work and your wonderful and richly illustrated Shadows in the Desert book!

Best regards,

Carole Raddato

Kindly note that the version printed below has been slightly edited from the original version.

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

The magnificent ruins of Persepolis, or Parsa, lie at the foot of the Kuh-i-Rahmat mountain, roughly 650 kilometres south of the capital city of Tehran, and 70 kilometres northeast of Shiraz in the Fars region of southwestern Iran. Founded around 518 BC by Darius I (the Great), the site served as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire and was intended and designed to display the splendor and majesty of an empire that stretched from Greece to India. Sacked by Alexander in 333 BC, the site lay hidden, covered in sand until rediscovered in 1620. Persepolis was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.

Coordinates: 29° 56′ 4″ N, 52° 53′ 29″ E

Persepolis, a Greek toponym meaning “city of the Persians”, was known to the Persians as Parsa. It was a monument complex of structures built to the commands of the great Achaemenid kings between about 518 and about 450 BC. An inscription carved on the southern façade of the Terrace wall of Persepolis and written in the three official languages of the Persian Empire – Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian – proves that Darius the Great was the founder of Persepolis. Darius states that he built this fortress upon a place where no fortress had been before and that he made it secure and adequate.

Construction began about 518 BC, as soon as work on Susa was finished. However, according to inscribed tablets found in the Treasury of Persepolis, the tremendous task was not completed until about 100 years later by Artaxerxes I (r. 465–424 BC). Darius started to erect a massive terraced platform, covering an area of 125,000 square metres of the promontory. This platform supported four groups of structures: ceremonial palaces, residential quarters, a treasury, and fortifications. All these buildings were built of locally quarried stone, and architects and craftsmen from all over Persia’s empire contributed to their construction.

A general view of Persepolis (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Darius planned Persepolis as a showcase of the empire, for it was here that ambassadors from all over the Persian world, from Ethiopia to Elam, would congregate each year to offer tribute to the king. The northern part of the Terrace represented the official section of the Persepolis complex, accessible to a restricted public with the Apadana, the Throne Hall, and the Gate of Xerxes (also known as the Gate of All Nations). The southern part held the Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, the Treasury, the Council Hall and the Harem. Darius constructed the platform, the monumental stairway, the Tripylon (or Council Hall), and his private palace. He also carried out the first two building periods of the Treasury and began the Apadana. Xerxes completed the Apadana, built the Gate of All Nations, his palace and his so-called Harem, and started the Throne Hall (also known as the Hall of 100 Columns). Artaxerxes I completed the Throne Hall and began work on an unfinished porch that precedes it.

Architectural Plan of Persepolis (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography – image displayed by the venue from Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 2, Page 376).

The function of Persepolis remains somewhat unclear. Most archaeologists suggest that the site had a sacred connection to the god Mithra (Mehr) and that it was mainly used for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year’s festival held at the spring equinox. More general readings see Persepolis as an important administrative and economic centre of the Persian empire.

Persepolis remained the centre of Persian power until the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander. The Macedonian conqueror captured Persepolis in 330 BC, and some months later his troops destroyed much of the city. The great palace of Xerxes was set alight with the subsequent fire burning vast swathes of the city.

Engineering an Empire: The Persians (History Channel Broadcast posted in YouTube by Prince of Corsica).

The ruins were not excavated until the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago sponsored an archaeological expedition to Persepolis and its environs under the supervision of Professor Ernst Herzfeld from 1931 to 1934, and Erich F. Schmidt from 1934 to 1939.

Below is a portfolio of photos taken from the site of Persepolis.

Part of the monumental double staircase leading up to the terrace. Each flight has 111 steps, each 40 cm deep, 10 cm high, and nearly 7 cm wide. The stairs were carved from massive blocks of stone, but each step was shallow so that Persians in long elegant robes could ascend the 111 steps gracefully. The stairway was executed in the reign of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The east side of the Gate of All Nations also known as the Gate of Xerxes which was was protected by two massive winged bulls with human heads called lamasssus (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Gate of All Nations was a structure which consisted of one spacious room whose roof was supported by four stone columns with bell-shaped bases. It had two large doors, probably made of wood, on the south and east of the spacious room, indicating that the gateway was designed to give access to both the Apadana and to the Throne Hall (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The features of the four colossal figures were deliberately damaged by iconoclasts of the Islamic period to whom representation of living forms was anathema (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The stone columns of the Gate of All Nations, they were 16 metres high and were topped with capitals in the form of a double bull (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Double -griffin capital locally known as “Homa birds” probably from the Unfinished Gate (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Unfinished Gateway was began by Artaxerxes I and possibly never completed. From its southern doorway one entered a large court in front of the Throne Hall. It had a central chamber with four columns and long, narrow rooms on its eastern and western sides (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The northern entrance to the Throne Hall. It had a portico with two rows of eight columns flanked by end walls, with figures of colossal bulls (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The interior of the Throne Hall. The hall was 68m² and its foot was supported by ten rows of ten columns each which rose at a height of 8 metres (less than half the height of the Apadana columns) (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Throne Hall had eight stone doorways decorated on the south and north with reliefs of throne scenes and on the east and west with scenes depicting the king in combat with monsters (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Throne scene relief on the southern doorway of the Hall of Hundred Columns (Throne Hall) depicting an enthroned king and attendant (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Adjacent to the Throne Hall is the Treasury, part of which served as an armory and especially as a royal storehouse of the Achaemenian kings (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The tremendous wealth stored in the Treasury came from the booty of conquered nations and from the annual tribute sent by the peoples of the Empire to the king on the occasion of the New Year’s feast (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Two large stone reliefs were discovered in the Treasury that depict Darius I, seated on his throne, being approached by a high dignitary whose hand is raised to his mouth in a gesture of respectful greeting. One of the reliefs is now in the National Museum of Iran (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Apadana, the largest and most magnificent building of Persepolis located on the western side of the platform. It was begun by Darius and finished by Xerxes, and was used mainly for great receptions by the kings (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Thirteen of the Apadana seventy-two columns which supported the roof still stand. On top of the columns were capitals, consisting of two heads of strong animals like bulls or lions. Between the two heads was the place where the wooden beams could rest (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The monumental eastern stairway of the Apadana adorned with registers of relief sculpture that depicted representatives of the twenty-three subject nations of the Persian empire bringing valuable gifts as tribute to the king (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the northern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting a procession of dignitaries (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Lydians who offer vases, cups and bracelets and a chariot drawn by horses (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). Comment by Kavehfarrokh.com: The late Paul Kriwaczek (1937-2011) however had suggested that the above figures may in fact have been “… Hebrews from Babylon” (in “In Search of Zarathustra: The First prophet and the ideas that Changed the World”, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002, description of top figure alongside page 117)

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Syrians who offer two beautiful rams (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

 

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting an Armenian tribute bearer carrying a metal vessel with Homa (griffin) handles (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Scythians, all armed and wearing the appropriate headgear, who offer a bracelet and folded coats and trousers (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana  (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). Comment by Kavehfarrokh.com: This is depicting Bactrian Tribute Bearers  accompanied by a two-humped Bactrian camel.

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Ionian Greeks carrying what may be beehives and skeins of colored wool (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

A general view of Persepolis with the Hall of 100 Columns in the foreground and Apadana in the background (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The ruins of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) which connected the Apadana and the Hall of Hundred Columns. The building consists of a central room and three gates that were decorated with reliefs (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Doorjamb of the Tripylon depicting the king with attendants (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief with the symbol of Ahuramazda on the on the southern end of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Main staircase of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran with reliefs depicting Persian soldiers as well as Persian and Median clergy bringing sacrifices and offerings (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Persian soldiers depicted on the main staircase of the Tripylon (or Council Hall). National Museum of Iran (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The palace of Xerxes (called Hadiš in Persian) was twice as large as the Palace of Darius and shows very similar decorative features on its stone door frames and windows (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). A terrace connected the two royal mansions.

The badly ruined Palace of Xerxes who called it in one of its inscription, the Hadish, has traces of the Alexandrian fire which devastated the palace (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The eastern staircase of the Palace of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief of a Persian soldier (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The western staircase of the Palace of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Stone carved Faravahar (Fravahar) on the western staircase of the Palace of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Palace of Darius (also known as Tachara) (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). The Palace was completed after his death in 486 BC by his son and successor Xerxes. Twelve columns supported the roof of the central hall from which three small stairways descend.

The palace of Darius has remained well-preserved (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). This strongly suggests that it was one of the few structures that escaped destruction in the burning of the complex by Alexander the Great’s army.

The southern staircase of the Palace of Darius with reliefs depicting servants coming up the steps carrying animals and food in covered dishes to be served at the king’s tables (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius depicting Persian soldiers (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius depicting a line of attendants bearing food and drinks (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

 

Lion and bull relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The west entrance of the Palace of Darius (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). Measuring 1,160 square meters (12,500 square feet), it is the smallest of the palace buildings on the Terrace at Persepolis.

View of the Palace of Darius from the Apadana (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

A general view of Persepolis with the Treasury and other structures in the foreground and the palaces of Xerxes and Darius in the background (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Tomb of Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358) cut into the rock face of the Kuh-i Rahmat overlooking the Terrace (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).