A Refreshing view of History and the Movie 300

The below YouTube video “Why The Persians Should Be The Good Guys In ‘300’ ” was posted by Cracked on December 27, 2016 and received 70k hits in less than a day. This is a remarkable posting by young western bloggers and writers who question Eurocentrist historical revisionism and place the ancient Greco-Persian wars in a more even-handed perspective. Readers may also find the article “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction” of interest (posted in 10 segments below):

  1. Introductory notes — see also: The Notion of Democracy and Human Rights
  2. What really led to War
  3. The Military Conflict: Separating Fact from Fiction
  4. The Error of Xerxes: The Burning of Athens
  5. The “West” battling against the “Mysticism” of “the East”
  6. The Portrayal of Iranians and Greeks
  7. A Note on the Iranian Women in Antiquity
  8. “Good” versus “Evil”
  9. Bibliography
  10. ترجمه مقاله کاوه فرخ به فارسی توسط غزال خاكسارى: فیلم 300: افسانه یا واقعیت

Consult also John Trikeriotis’ article: False depictions of Xerxes and Artemesia in “300: Rise of an Empire”; See also articles under: “کوروش بزرگ -Cyrus the Great & the Cyrus Cylinder

 

 

Pseudo-Scholarship about Iran: Insulting Cyrus the Great

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

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

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

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

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

cyrus-cylinder-New

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

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

Cyrus Koresh Kourosh street in Jerusalem

When History goes beyond Politics: Koresh or Cyrus street in Jerusalem. There is currently no street named Cyrus or Koroush in Tehran, the capital of Iran today. There is also an “Iran” street in Israel.

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

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

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

cyropaedia-thomas-jefferson-copy

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

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

6-Evil Immortals

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

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

Atropates

The article below on Atropates by M. L. Chaumont was originally published on December 15, 1987 and last updated on August 17, 2011. Chaumont’s article is also available in print (Vol. III, Fasc. 1, pp. 17-18).

Kindly note that the maps and accompanying descriptions for these do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.

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Atropates (Āturpāt, lit., “protected by the fire,” cf. Av. Atərəpāta), the satrap of Media, commander of the troops from Media, Albania, and Sacasene at the battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C. (Arrian, Anabasis 3.8.4). He remained faithful to Darius III until the latter’s death in 330, after which he went over to the Macedonian camp. Alexander, when passing through Ecbatana (Hamadān) earlier in the same year, had already transferred the governorship of Media to Oxydates (ibid., 3.20.3; Quintus Curtius, Historiae 6.2.11); but in 328-27 B.C. Alexander dismissed Oxydates, whose loyalty he no longer trusted, and reinstated Atropates (Arrian, 4.18.3; Quintus Curtius, 8.3.17, where Atropates is erroneously named Arsaces). As satrap of Media, Atropates delivered Baryaxes, a defeated rebel from that province, to Alexander at Pasargadae in 325-324 (Arrian, 6.29.3). He rose so high in the conqueror’s esteem that his daughter was soon afterward married to Alexander’s confidant Perdiccas (Arrian, 7.4.5; Justin, Historiae 13.4.13). He had a last interview with Alexander in Media in 324-323 (Arrian, 7.13.2, 6).

1-Map-HerodotusClose –up of the Achaemenid Empire region, the Caucasus and Central Asia on Charles Muller’s reconstruction of the world according to Herodotus (484-425 BCE); Note that Media, Armenia and the Caucasus regions are shown as distinct regions (Source: Source: Galichian, R., 2010, The Invention of History: Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Showcasing of Imagination, London, England: Gomitas Institute & Yerevan, Armenia: PrintInfo Art Books, p.163). At this time Media Atropatene had not been formed as Alexander had yet to invade the Achaemenid Empire. Media, Media Atropatene and the later post-Islamic historical designation for northwest Iran “Azerbaijan” was never located in the southern Caucasus, notably modern day Republic of Azerbaijan (founded in May 1918).

Under the territorial dispensation arranged at Babylon after Alexander’s death in 323, the satrapy of Media was divided into two parts, of which only Little Media (the northwestern part) was left to Atropates while Great Media (the eastern part) was assigned to Pytho (Diodorus Siculus, 18.3.3; Justin, 13.4.13). Eventually Atropates refused allegiance to any of the Macedonian generals and made his satrapy an independent kingdom (Strabo, Geography 11.13.1).

2-Ptolemy-Geographia-Third Map-Southern CaucasusPtolemy’s (c. 90-168 CE) map of the southern Caucasus during the Parthian era; from Ptolemy’s Tabula III Asiae of the Geographia printed in Ulm in 1482 (Source: Galichian, R., 2010, The Invention of History: Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Showcasing of Imagination, London, England: Gomitas Institute & Yerevan, Armenia: PrintInfo Art Books, p.19, Figure 1). Note that the region of modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus was known as Albania; the historical Azerbaijan. This southern Caucasian region was never known as Media in antiquity nor was it known as “Azerbaijan” in the later post-Islamic era.

Thereafter this part of Media was known to the Greeks as Media Atropatene or simply Atropatene, like Parthian and Middle Persian Āturpātakān (whence Armenian Atrpatakan), later Ādurbādagān, NPers. Āḏarbāyjān.

10-Map-Whittow-Sassanian[Click to Enlarge] Sassanian Emperor, Shapur I (r. 241-270 CE)شاپور اول ساساني ] , cited Albania and Media Atropatene as two separate provinces of the Persian Empire. Professor Mark Whittow’s map of Oxford University clearly shows the historically attested distinction between ancient Arran/Albania and the original Azarbaijan in Iran. Note how the Araxes River separates Arran from the historical Azarbaijan (in Iran). Professor Whittow has clearly noted that: The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia…many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world to its south and east than with the world to the west(Whittow, M., 1996, The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press, pp.203-204).

Atropates founded a dynasty which was to rule in Atropatene for several centuries (cf. Strabo, 11.13.1).

Bibliography

Sources: Arrian, Anabasis. Diodorus Siculus, BibliothecaHistorica, bk. 18. Strabo,Geography, bk. 11. Modern authors: H. Berve, Alexanderreich II, 1926, no.180.

A. von Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans und seiner Nachbarländer, Tübingen, 1888.

Justi, Namenbuch, p. 49.

J. Kaerst, “Atropates,” in Pauly-Wissowa, II/2, col. 2150.

Th. Nöldeke, “Atropatene,” ZDMG 34, 1880, pp. 692f.

On the name see M. Mayrhofer, Iranisches Personennamenbuch I/1, Vienna, 1977, p. I/29 no. 70.

The Temple of Anahita at Kangavar

The article below on the temple of Anahita in Kangavar near Kermanshah in Western Iran was originally published in the Historical Iran Blogspot.

Before proceeding to the posting, kindly note the following three points:

(1) Two of the photographs depicted below do not appear in  the original Historical Iran Blogspot article. All of the accompanying descriptions for the photographs are from Kavehfarrokh.com.

(2) At the end of the posting are photos provided by A. Parian from his article:

سنگهای شگفت انگیز – نگاهی به پرستشگاه کنگاور- ا. پریان – The Amazing Stones – An observation of the temple at Kangavar – by A. Parian (in Persian)

(3) The date of Kangavar’s construction is debated among scholars. The original consensus was that the structure had been built during the earlier Parthian era (c. 200 BCE). As noted by Mehrdad Kia (The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO-Greenwood, 2016):

The identification of the Kangavar structure as a temple of Anahita is based on a statement made by the first-century BCE author Isidore of Charax. In his short biographical account titled Parthian Stations, Isidore referred to Kangavar as Concobar and identified the city as home to a temple of Anaitis (Anahita). He did not, however, mention the exact date of the temple’s construction” (Kia, 2016, p.23).

Edward J. Keall has identified the academic challenges of pinpointing precise date(s) for the temple’s construction (Keall, E.J., Architecture: Parthian, Encyclopædia Iranica,Vol. II, Fasc. 3, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986, pp. 327–329):

Under the Parthians any observable western influence can just as well be a survival from the Hellenistic period, which is why the monument at Kangāvar was once acceptably dated as early Parthian while recent investigations proved it to be late Sasanian” (Keall, 1986, p.328).

More recently, Warwick Ball (Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire, London & New York: Routledge, 2001) has stated:

Earlier studies favored a Seleucid date, with some suggesting an Achaemenid date for the platform. A date in the Parthian period has since been more generally favoured on stylistic grounds, but recent excavations found evidence for major Sassanian construction. However the colonnaded temenos is different in almost every respect to Sassanian architecture. Probably, the temple underwent numerous major reconstruction periods, with perhaps a 2nd-century AD date for the colonnaded temenos, and major Sassanian reconstruction of the sanctuary building inside” (Ball, 2001, p.332).

At this juncture, it would appear that Kangavar has witnessed various forms of construction spanning the the three major pre-Islamic eras of ancient Iran (Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian). What is certain is that Kangavar remains a critical historical site which requires more studies and excavations.

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The Anahita Temple is the name of an archaeological site in Iran popularly thought to have been attributed to the ancient deity Anahita. It is located at Kangavar in Kermanshah Province and is thought to be built by Achaemenian Emperor Ardeshir II (Artaxerxes II), 404 BC to 359 BC.

1-Kangavar-ColumnsA view of the columns at Kangavar (Source: Photographer Bahman Razei-IRNA in Payvand News). Kangavar’s remains reveal a combination of both Greek and Iranian elements. The edifice for example is Greek in style with the architecture showing Achaemenid designs.

The remains at Kangavar reveal an edifice that is Hellenistic in character, and yet display Persian architectural designs. The plinth’s enormous dimensions for example, which measure just over 200m on a side, and its megalithic foundations, which echo Achaemenid stone platforms, “constitute Persian elements”. This is thought to be corroborated by the “two lateral stairways that ascend the massive stone platform recalling Achaemenid traditions”, particularly that of the Apadana Palace at Persepolis.
The main structure of the Anahita Temple is a quadrilateral one. Its ramparts being 230 m. in length, and its thickness in most of the parts is 18 m. which reveals the archaic grandeur and magnificence of this structure. The stairway of the temple is bilateral and closely attached to the wall. The difference between the lowest and highest point of the structure is 30 m. and is in a form of steps, similar to the Achaemenian structures. At the foot of the eastern wall of the structure is a cemetery which is related to the Parthian era. It is noted that the deceased have been buried in such a way to face the Anahita structure.

2a-Kangavar stairwayStairway at Kangavar (Source: Behrah.com). There are two lateral stairways at Kangavar bearing parallels with that seen at the Apadana Palace at Persepolis.

In the nineteenth century, various Europeans investigated the ruins. Ker Porter in 1818 found them to form the foundations of a single huge platform – a rectangular terrace three hundred yards square, crowned with a colonnade. Professor Jackson in 1906 found one very well-preserved retaining wall at the northwest corner of the enclosure, probably part of the foundation of a single building; it was 12 to 15 feet high and runs north and south for more than 70 feet.

Excavation first began in 1968, by which time the large structure with its great Ionic columns set on a high stone platform had been associated with a comment by Isidore of Charax, that refers to a “temple of Artemis” (Parthian Stations 6). References to Artemis in Iran are generally interpreted to be references to Anahita, and thus Isidore’s “temple of Artemis” came to be understood as a reference to a temple of Anahita. Consequently, it has been commonly believed that the site was a “columnar temple dedicated to “Ardevisur Anahita,” the female guardian angel of waters. Some of the scholars who worked on the excavation believe it lacks the layout of a temple and must therefore be a palace.

2-Kangavar TempleA more panoramic view of the Anahita Temple at Kangavar (Source: Photographer Bahman Razei-IRNA in Payvand News). The very large dimensions for the plinth (platform for placing columns, monuments, statues, etc.) are 200 meters on a side, with stone platforms displaying Achaemenid Persian styles.

The temple was first plundered by Alexander in 335 BC, then further stripped during the reigns of Antigonus (BC 325-301) and Seleucus Nicator (BC 312-280). But when Antiochus the Great arrived at the city in 210 BC, he found columns covered with gold and silver tiles piled up in the temple, along with gold and silver bricks. From these he struck coinage amounting to about four thousand talents’ worth.
In 2005 archaeologists discovered four mines that provided the stones used in the construction of the Anahita Temple.

In an interview with the Persian service of the Cultural Heritage News (CHN) agency, Saeid Dustani (director of the Kangavar Cultural Heritage and Tourism Office) noted the following:

The mines are located in the National Garden in downtown Kangavar, Qureh-Jin and behind the Shahrak-e Vali-e Asr in the south (of the town), and Allah-Daneh district in the north. There is evidence that the mine had been utilized in ancient times. The vertical and horizontal incisions indicate that the stones had been cut for construction purposes. Even some unfinished columns and stone cubes were discovered in some of the mines”.

From the Northern Angle (photos by A. Parian)

These photos by A. Parian are of the north and northeast of the Temple, especially the wall, stairway and balcony facing the northeast.  These photos are from the following article:

سنگهای شگفت انگیز – نگاهی به پرستشگاه کنگاور- ا. پریان – The Amazing Stones – An observation of the temple at Kangavar – by A. Parian (in Persian)

Darius I Stele Discovered in Southern Russia

The report below (originally released by Russia’s TASS News agency) was provided by the Russia beyond the Headlines (RBTH) news outlet on August 5, 2016 originally titled “Darius I stele found in southern Russia may become world sensation. Kindly note that a number of images and their accompanying captions do not appear in the original report.

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Archeologists doing excavations in the area of the antique town of Phanagoria in the Temryuk district of Russia’s southern Krasnodar Territory have discovered fragments of a marble stele carrying an inscription of the ancient Persian King Darius I, the press service of the Volnoye Delo foundation said in a press release on Aug. 5.

1-Darius stele in Southern Russia

The stele of Darius I being excavated by Russian archealogists in southern Russia (Image Source: RBTH & Press Photo).

The find has good chances of becoming a world sensation, said the foundation, which is run by businessman Oleg Deripaska. According to the press release:

The decoded inscriptions state someone made them in the name of the Persian King Darius I … The stele has an inscription in the ancient Persian language. The approximate assessment dates the find to the first half of the 5th century B.C.

Apart from the stele, the archeologists have found in the acropolis the remainders of ancient fortress walls, which in itself is an important even in classical archeology, the foundation said.

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The relief of Darius the Great (reigned 522-486 BCE) at Persepolis (Source: درفش کاویانی in Public Domain).

The stele was found in the seams that can be attributed to the 5th century B.C. The text contains a word unregistered before and roughly interpreted as the place name Miletus, one of the biggest cities in Ionia, a region known as Asia Minor now. As noted in the press release:

Miletus stood at the head of the so-called Ionian uprising of Greek city states against Darius I … It was suppressed in 494 B.C. Researchers believe the king put up a marble stele in the city after his victory over the Greeks. The monument had a text on it – for instance, reporting on the king’s triumph.”

Later on, a fragment of the overturned and broken stele got to Phanagoria – quite possibly, as ballast on a ship that called into the Phanagoria port, since there is no natural stone of the kind on the Taman peninsula.

At present, the stele is undergoing scrutiny at the restoration laboratory of the Phanagoria Research and Cultural Center.

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Modern Russia (and much of Eastern Europe) often acknowledge the cultural legacy of ancient  Iran – above is the first monument in Russia dedicated to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), unveiled in Astrakhan (Source: RBTH & Dmitry Rogulin/TASS); for more information consult RBTH report “Russia’s first statue of Persian poet Omar Khayyam unveiled in Astrakhan“.

Darius I (b. 550, d. 486 B.C.), a Persian ruler from the Achaemenian dynasty considerably expanded the territory of his country with the aid of wars against the Getae, Thrace, Lemnos, Imbros, and Macedonia. He was buried in the mausoleum built on the cliffs at Naqsh-e Rustam near Persepolis on his order and decorated with sculptures.

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Darius the Great’s tomb at Nagshe Rustam in southwest Iran (Source: درفش کاویانی  in Public Domain).