Book Review by Military History Journal of Kaveh Farrokh’s 2017 Textbook on Sassanian Army

The below 2017 book by Kaveh Farrokh has been reviewed by Richard A. Gabriel of the Military History journal on April 29, 2018. This is available on-line at HistoryNet and Academia.edu:

The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians, by Kaveh Farrokh, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, U.K., 2017.

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Following Alexander’s conquest of the Achaemenid empire, rule of the region passed from the Seleucids to two succeeding powers: the Parthians (247 BCE–224 CE) and the Sassanians (224–651). Before Muslim armies ultimately overwhelmed the latter, the Sassanians earned due recognition as the most formidable rival of the Roman–Byzantine empire. Over more than three centuries the two powers fought a number of major and minor wars, conflicts that weakened both, until the armies of Islam overran the Sassanians. Much of what historians later attributed to Muslim culture in art, architecture, military technology and medicine was mostly Sassanid in origin, spread through the Mediterranean world by the expansion of Islam.

Despite their contribution to Western military history and its technological advances, the armies of ancient Persia have received scant attention from Western military historians. Focusing on the armies of the Sassanians, this book is the first in a three-volume set intended to address that oversight.

Author Kaveh Farrokh is a historian born in Greece who speaks Persian, among several other languages, attributes that enabled him to access source materials inaccessible to most Western scholars. The book is well researched, edited, organized and written. His 46 pages of footnotes, 15 pages of references and 14 pages of maps place a trove of source materials in the reader’s hands, though general readers may find the level of detail somewhat overwhelming. The result is a major work of scholarship that is long overdue.

Savārān officer engaged in archery. Recreations by Ardashir Radpour (courtesy A. Radpour & H. Martin).

Article by Kaveh Farrokh and Taraneh Farhid on Achaemenid Era Edicts, Stele and the Cyrus Cylinder

An important recent contribution to the field of Iranian Studies is the publication in 2018 of the following textbook:

Arj-e-Xirad: Papers in Honour of Professor Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh (edited by Farhad Aslani & Massoumeh Pourtaghi). Tehran: Morvarid Publications.

Professor Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh (Hamburg University, Iranian Studies) is a doyen of Iranian Studies much like Dick Davis and those who have passed such as Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014) and Shapour Shahbazi (1942-2006).

The above textbook includes scholarly articles by world-class scholars such as Dariush Akbarzadeh, Dick Davis, Richard Foltz, Shaul Shaked, Gholamreza Karamian, Jurgen Ehlers, Touraj Daryee, Kamyar Abdi and a slew of other scholars.

Kaveh Farrokh and Taraneh Farhid have also contributed the following article to the above textbook [this can be downloaded in pdf from Academia.edu]:

Farrokh, K., & Farhid, T. (1396/2018). [استوانه کوروش بزرگ و اسناد “دیگر” در بابل, مصر و ستون سنگی یادبود خانتوس] “Other” Cylinders and Records before and after Cyrus the Great: Kelar, Babylon, Egypt and Xanthus. Studies in Honor of Professor Jalal Khaleghi Motlagh (ed. F. Aslani & M. Pourtaghi), Tehran: Morvarid Publications, pp.379-394.

The above article challenges a number of new Eurocentric theories proposed since 1979 with respect to the history of Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder. The new theories were promoted in Spiegel Magazine (by Matthias Schultz, July 15, 2008) and the Daily Telegraph (by Harry de Quetteville, July 16, 2008) … these however were responded to by Kaveh Farrokh:

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

New Textbooks on Sassanian Military History (2017-2018)

As of May 20, 2018, Kaveh Farrokh has published six books on the military history of Iran/Persia [see this section in Academia.edu]. His first two books have also been translated into Russian (see Персы: Армия великих царей, Cерия: Военная история человечества, Москва…) and Persian, notably by major Persian-language academic press publication outlets such as Amir Kabir [انتشارات اميركبير], Qoqnoos [ققنوس], Taghe Bostan of University of Kermanshah [طاق‌ بستان], etc. [see this section in Academia.edu].

Kaveh Farrokh’s most recent two new books pertain to the armies of the Sassanians. One of these was co-authored with two scholars in 2018 [See in Academia.edu]:

A Synopsis of Sasanian Military Organization and Combat Units 

  • Kaveh Farrokh
  • Gholamreza Karamian (Department of Archaeology & History Central Tehran Branch, Tehran Azad University)
  • Katarzyna Maksymiuk (Institute of History and International Relations, Faculty of Humanities, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland)

The book was published by the Publishing House of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities with the support of the Central Branch of Tehran Azad University.

The results of the research for the above textbook were conducted under the research theme No. 452/16/S (Army of ancient Iran in comparative background) and financed from the science grant granted by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland.

Savārān officer engaged in archery. Recreations by Ardashir Radpour (courtesy A. Radpour & H. Martin).

Note that Kaveh Farrokh’s co-authors (Prof. Gholamreza Karamian and Prof. Katarzyna Maksymiuk) are top scholars. While too numerous to list here, Prof. Maksymiuk is one of the world’s leading scholars of Partho-Sassanian military studies – readers are referred to her Academia.edu page here …

Note that the maps produced by Prof. Maksymiuk in her 2015 textbook [Geography of Roman-Iranian Wars. Military Operations of Rome and Sasanian Iran] have been reproduced in Farrokh’s 2017 textbook on the Sassanian army (discussed further below).

Prof. Karamian has conducted several critical excavations of Partho-Sassanian sites, which have been reported on Kaveh Farrokh, such as the palace of Ramavand, and has also been published in academic format:

Karamian, Gh., & Farrokh, K. (2017). Sassanian stucco decorations from the Ramavand (Barz Qawaleh) excavations in the Lorestan Province of Iran. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, No.6, pp. 69-88.

Karamian’s discoveries of Parthian sites (with the assistance of his graduate students) of the sites of Andika in Khuzestan (in southwest Iran) and Panj-e Ali (in Luristan, western Iran) have also been academically published:

Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Delfan, M., Astaraki, F. (2016). Preliminary reports of the late Parthian or early Sassanian relief at Panj-e Ali, the Parthian relief at Andika and examinations of late Parthian swords and daggers. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, No.5, pp. 31-55.

Plate Šāpūr II (r. 309-379) atop an Elephant (4th-7th centuries), Los Angeles County Museum of Art inv. no. M.76.174.18, (drawing by Prof. Katarzyna Maksymiuk).

Kaveh Farrokh’s second most recent textbook on the Sassanian military “Armies of Persia: the Sassanians” by Kaveh Farrokh was published in 2017 by Pen & Sword Publishing in England.

  • Publisher: Pen and Sword (Oct. 17 2017)
  • ISBN-10: 1848848455
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848848450
  • Hardcover: 256 pages

Available at:

Rock-cut statue of a late Sasanian ruler, possibly of Khosrow “Parveez” II (6th century CE), In situ Ṭāq-e Bostān, (photo by Prof. David Nicolle).

The textbook’s contents are organized as follows:

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  • List of Plates
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Introduction
  • Historical Timeline of the Sassanian Empire
  • Chapter 1: Martial Ardour, Origins and Missions of the Spah
  • Chapter 2: Organization: Military Titles and Recruitment
  • Chapter 3: Military Reforms of the 6th Century CE
  • Chapter 4: Military Training, Polo, the Hunt and Martial Music
  • Chapter 5: Archery
  • Chapter 6: The Savaran
  • Chapter 7: Infantry, Auxiliary Contingents and Naval Forces
  • Chapter 8: Preparations for War
  • Chapter 9: Tactics and Strategies along the Roman and Caucasian Frontiers
  • Chapter 10: Logistics and Support
  • Chapter 11: Post-Battle Scenarios and War Diplomacy
  • Chapter 12: The Spah in Central Asian: Warfare, Military Developments and Tactics
  • Chapter 13: Military Architecture
  • Chapter 14: Siege Operations
  • Chapter 15: Sassanian Military Culture
  • Chapter 16: Military Weaknesses of the Spah
  • Chapter 17: The Fall of the Spah and the Empire
  • Chapter 18: Post-Sassanian Resistance and Rebellion against the Caliphate
  • Chapter 19: Legacy
  • Maps
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

= = = = =

Various topics of the book (combat units and organization of the Sassanian army) were expostulated by Kaveh Farrokh in a major presentation at the Tenth Annual ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) entitled “The Middle East and Africa: Assessing the Regions Ten Years On” on October 19-21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, delivered the keynote address at the Tenth Annual ASMEA Conference.

(Right) Textbook by Kaveh Farrokh on the Sassanian Army published in late October 2017 on display by the LSS at the ASMEA Conference on October 19-21, 2017 – note that at the LSS display, to the left of the Sassanians text is displayed Dr.  Ilkka Syanne’s new textbook, Military History of Late Rome (284-361); (Left) Cover page of 2017 ASMEA Conference brochure.

Shireen T. Hunter: The New Geopolitics of the South Caucasus

Readers are introduced to the following comprehensive textbook edited by Dr. Shireen T. Hunter pertaining to the Southern Caucasus:

The New Geopolitics of the South Caucasus: Prospects for Regional Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

 

Publisher: Lexington Books

Series: Contemporary Central Asia: Societies, Politics, and Cultures

Hardcover: 304 pages

Release Date: September 22, 2017

ISBN-10: 1498564968

ISBN-13: 978-1498564960

Order textbook through Amazon.com or Lexington Books

The above volume features an impressive array of scholars and experts: Bulent Aras, Richard Giragosian, Mohammad Homayounvash, Shireen T. Hunter (also editor of the textbook), Richard Kauzlarich, Eldar Mamedov, Sergey Markedonov, Mohaiddin Mesbahi, Nona Mikhelidze, Ghia Nodia.

This textbook, which is essentially a collection of examinations of the three South Caucasian states’ economic, social and political evolution since their independence in 1991, is remarkable in its depth and breadth of examination of the geopolitical processes in the Southern Caucasus.

Shireen T. Hunter is a research professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. History , Culture and Politics of Iran and the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Culture and Politics of Sh’iism, Islam and Politics, Muslim Communities in Europe and Russia, Theory of International Relations, Foreign Policy Analysis, Religion and International Affairs. For a comprehensive overview of Dr. Hunter’s expertise and publications see her profile at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service …

The textbook assesses the successes and failures of the Southern Caucasian states in their economic, social and political domains, especially their attempts at construction wholly new national identities and value systems in the endeavor at replacing Soviet-era cultural constructs. Readers are also encouraged (as a preamble to reading the book) to read the following report submitted by Dr. Shireen Hunter in a conference sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, held at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service on October 28, 2016:

Shahram Akbarzadeh (Deakin University) provides the following assessment of Dr. Hunter’s text:

Shireen T. Hunter has brought together a truly international team of experts to examine the complex geopolitics of the South Caucasus. The breadth and depth of analysis of key questions such as state-building, democracy, and the US–Russian rivalry present the reader with a rich and textured account of the region. This volume is a tour de force on the interplay of global and regional dynamics that have made the geopolitics of the South Caucasus a continuing source of challenges and opportunities.”

Map of Iran in 1805 before the invasions of Czarist Russia. Note the Caucasus, north of Iran and along the eastern Caspian littoral, which was Iranian territory. Note that the above map is one of many archival and cartographic sources demonstrating that there has been no “Greater Azerbaijan”  allegedly “divided” between Qajar Iran and Tsarist Russia. Russia invaded Iran and forced her to cede the Caucasus.  Iran also lost important eastern territories such as Herat, which broke away with British support (Source: CAIS).

The textbook clearly expostulates the complex interaction of domestic factors with international pressures and how these have impacted upon the new states. There is an exhaustive examination of regional forces neighboring the Southern Caucasus as well as international geopolitical forces (political, economic, etc.), especially with respect how the (often) divergent aims of these players (regional and international) are affecting the development trajectory of these states. The textbook also provides a comprehensive analysis for how the Southern Caucasian states can engage in resolving conflicts and to engage in constructive cooperation.

Greetings across the Araxes: Iranian Azeris greet the citizens of the ROA or Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) in 1990. Interestingly many Western news reports at the time noted how many of the ROA were demanding re-unification with Iran, an ancient state with strong cultural and historical influences in the southern Caucasus.

Ronald Grigor (Suny, University of Michigan):

Shireen T. Hunter, herself an expert in Caucasian and Central Asian affairs, has gathered an exceptional team of specialists on the local histories, recent experiences, and geopolitics affecting the three South Caucasian republics—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Geography may be destiny, but surviving and thriving in an area contested for centuries by Iran, Russia, and Turkey requires both diplomatic and political skills as well as good luck. In essays written with deep local knowledge and exceptional clarity, leading specialists guide the reader through the intricacies and complexities of the region. If you want to understand the past, present, and future of the South Caucasian peoples, this is the book with which to begin.”

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) one of the ideological founders of the former Soviet Union. Trotsky who was finally deported from Russia in 1929, was highly critical of Joseph Stalin’s falsification of history to suit political purposes, a process which he characterized as “Stalin’s School of Falsification”. One of the results of “Stalin’s History School” was the rewriting of Iran’s cultural, linguistic and historical legacy in the Caucasus. As noted by Dr. Nazrin Mehdiyova (herself originating from the Republic of Azerbaijan) has noted thatAs a result [of Soviet manipulation of history], the myth [of a Greater Azerbaijan] became deeply ingrained in the population [of the Republic of Azerbaijan] …” (Mehdiyova, 2003, p.280; “Azerbaijan and its foreign policy dilemma”, Asian Affairs, 34, pages 271-285). To be clear: history books were actually falsified and re-written by the Soviet Union in large part to (literally) erase the legacy of Iranian history, culture and the Persian language in the Caucasus. The Soviets also invented terms such as “Persian chauvinism” and “pan-Iranism” and used these against any scholars daring to question the Soviet Union’s manufacturing of history. Unfortunately, despite Trotsky’s warnings, Soviet-era propaganda narratives are being promoted by various Western venues at present.  Trotsky paid a high price for questioning Stalin’s methods: he was finally brutally murdered by Stalin’s Soviet agents in Mexico on August 20, 1940.

John Evans (former US ambassador to Armenia):

This study puts today’s volatile South Caucasus in its proper historical and geopolitical context. Readers new to the subject will become conversant with the main issues; old hands will find much to ponder and discuss. Shireen T. Hunter’s own unique perspective is especially valuable.”

Remains of an “Atash-kade” (Zoroastrian fire-temple) undergoing repairs in Georgia. The cultural ties between Iran and the Caucasus  stretch back for thousands of years (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Finally readers are also encouraged to read the following selection of recent articles by Dr. Shireen T. Hunter:

Giusto Traina: Carrhes-Anatomie d’une Défaite (Carrhae-Anatomy of a Defeat)

Italian historian and professor Dr. Giusto Traina has written a seminal academic textbook entitled:

Carrhes-Anatomie d’une Défaite: Quand L’Orient humilia Rome (Carrhae-Anatomy of a Defeat: When the Orient humiliates Rome)

This book was published September 15th 2011 by Les Belles Lettres (first published 2010); the Preface of the book by Giovanni Brizzi.

For more regarding the textbook and means of obtaining this, consult the Les Belles lettres website here …

Dr. Giusto Traina is a professor of Roman history at Sorbonne University in Paris. Dr. Traina is also a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France. His academic profile also includes authorship of  numerous books and articles.

Dr. Giusto Traina brings to life one of the most important battles in the military history of antiquity, one which marks the beginning of incessant warfare between Rome and Iran. In an alert and exciting narrative, Dr. Traina describes how Rome was blocked by the Parthian army whose competence, power and above all its ability in resisting the formidable military machine of Rome had been greatly underestimated.

In was in the Plains of Carrhae (modern Harran) on June 9, 53 BC, where an all-cavalry Parthian force barred the fifty thousand Roman army led by General Marcus Licinius Crassus to conquer the rival empire of the Parthians. Overwhelmed by the arrows of the Parthians, the Romans were reduced to military impotence: more than half of the legionaries were killed, with many others  captured and deported. The Romans were also subjected to the dishonor of having the Parthians seize their military insignia and place these in their Mithraic temples. It would take many years for Rome to erase the consequences of this defeat.

Parthian Horse archers engage the Roman legions of Marcus Lucinius Crassus at Carrhae in 53 BCE. Unlike the Achamenid-Greek wars where Achaemenid arrows were unable to penetrate Hellenic shields and armor, Parthian archery was now able to penetrate the armor and shields of their Roman opponents (Picture Source: Antony Karasulas & Angus McBride).

General Marcus Licinius Crassus, the same man who eighteen years earlier had defeated Spartacus and his six thousand rebellious slaves and gladiators, was to make his final mark with his death at Parthian hands at Carrhae.

Reconstruction by Peter Wilcox and the late historical artist, Angus McBride of Parthian armored knights as they would have appeared in 54 BCE (Picture Source: Osprey Publishing).

Carrhae halted Rome’s seemingly unstoppable conquest of the Classical world. Rome had learned that the Parthian Spada (army) of Persia was more than capable of blocking the Romans from expanding eastwards to India and China.