UBC Lecture (November 29, 2019): Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europe

Kaveh Farrokh will be providing a comprehensive lecture on November 29, 2019 at the University of British Columbia:

“Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europe”

Lecture Time & Location: 29 November 2019 6:30-8:30 pm – Room 120, CK Choi Building – For details view below poster – and also click here …). The lecture is free, however due to limited seating interested participants are encouraged to obtain their (Free) tickets (for details view below poster – and also click here …)

This lecture will be hosted by the Alireza Ahmadian Lectures in Persian and Iranian Studies, Persian Language and Iranian Studies Initiative at UBC (University of British Columbia), UBC Asian Studies, UBC Persian Club and the UBC Zoroastrian Student Association.

Abstract & Overview of Lecture

This lecture provides a synoptic overview of the civilizational relations between Greater ancient Iran and Europa (Greco-Roman civilization as well continental Europe). The discussion is initiated with an examination of the conduits of exchange between Greater ancient Iran (the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties of Iran as well as the role of Northern Iranian peoples), the Caucasus and Europa. The lecture then provides an overview of learning exchanges between east and west spanning the time era from the Achaemenids into the Post-Sassanian eras, followed by examples of artistic, architectural, and engineering exchanges between Greco-Roman and Iranian civilizations. Select examples of the ancient Iranian legacy influence upon the European continent are also discussed, followed (time permitting) by examples of the musical legacy of ancient Iran as well as Iranian-European exchanges in the culinary domain.

Select References & Readings

Ahmed, A. & Zaman, O. (eds.) (2018). Dialogue Between Cultures & Exchange of Knowledge And Cultural Ideas between Iran, Turkey & Central Asia With Special reference to the Sasanian & Gupta Dynasty, Proceedings of Conference 8-10 February, 2018. Assam, India: Department of Persian Guawahati University.

Akhvledinai & Khimshiasvili, (2003). Impact of the Achaemenian architecture on Iberian kingdom: Fourth-first centuries BC. The First International Conference on the Ancient Cultural Relations Between Iran and Western Asia, Abstracts of Papers, Tehran, Iran, August 16-18, 2003, Tehran: Iran Cultural Fairs Institute.

Angelakis, A.N., Mays, L.W., Koutsoyiannis, D., Mamassis, N. (2012). Evolution of Water Supply through the Millennia. London & New York: IWA Publishing.

Asutay-Effenberger, N. & Daim, F. (eds.) (2019). Sasanidische Spuren in der Byzantinischen, Kaukasischen und Islamischen Kunst und Kultur [Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture]. Mainz, Germany: Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums.

Azarpay, G. (2000). Sasanian art beyond the Persian world. In Mesopotamia and Iran in the Parthian and Sasanian periods: Rejection and Revival c.238 BC-AD 642, Proceedings of a Seminar in memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin (ed. J. Curtis), London: British Museum Press, pp.67-75.

Azkaei, P.S. (1383/2004). حکیم رازی (حکمت طبیعی و نظام فلسفی) [(The) Wise Razi (Natural Wisdom and System of Philosophy)]. Tehran, Iran. Entesharate Tarh-e Now.

Babaev, I., Gagoshidze, I., & Knauß, F. S. (2007). An Achaemenid “Palace” at Qarajamirli (Azerbaijan) Preliminary Report on the Excavations in 2006. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2, pp. 31-45.

Beckwith C.I. (2011). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press.

Canepa, M. P. (2010). Distant displays of power: understanding cross-cultural interaction interaction among the elites of Rome, Sasanian Iran and Sui-Tang China. Ars Orientalis, Vol. 38, Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean, Near East and Asia, pp. 121-154.

Carduso, E.R.F. (2015). Diplomacy and oriental influence in the court of Cordoba (9th to 10th centuries). Dissertation, Department of History of Islamic Mediterranean Societies, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Compareti, M. (2019). Assimilation and Adaptation of Foreign Elements in Late Sasanian Rock Reliefs at Taq-i Bustan. In Sasanidische Spuren in der Byzantinischen, Kaukasischen und Islamischen Kunst und Kultur [Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture] (eds. N. Asutay-Effenberger & F. Daim), Mainz, Germany: Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, pp.19-36.

Curatola, G., & Scarcia, G. (Tr. M. Shore, 2007). The Art and Architecture of Persia. New York: Abbeville Press.

During J., Mirabdolbaghi, Z., & Safvat, D. (1991). The Art of Persian Music. Mage Publishers.

Farhat, H. (2004). The Dastgah Concept in Persian Music. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press.

Farrokh, K. (2018). Germania, Vikings, Saxons and Ancient Iran. Persian Heritage, 90, pp.28-30.

Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Kubic, A., & Oshterinani, M.T. (2017). An Examination of Parthian and Sasanian Military Helmets. In “Crowns, hats, turbans and helmets: Headgear in Iranian history volume I” (K. Maksymiuk & Gh. Karamian, Eds.), Siedlce University & Tehran Azad University, pp.121-163.

Farrokh, K. (2016). An Overview of the Artistic, Architectural, Engineering and Culinary exchanges between Ancient Iran and the Greco-Roman World. AGON: Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali, Linguistici e Letterari, No.7, pp.64-124.

Farrokh, K. (2009). The Winged Lion of Meskheti: a pre- or post-Islamic Iranian Legacy in Georgia? Scientific Paradigms. Studies in Honour of Professor Natela Vachnadze. St. Andrew the First-Called Georgian University of the Patriarchy of Georgia. Tbilisi, pp. 455-492.

Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا/کویر (انتشارات ققنوس ۱۳۹۰ و انتشارات طاق بستان ۱۳۹۰) – see Book review from peer-reviewed Iranshenasi Journal

Feltham, H. (2010). Lions, Silks and Silver: the Influence of Sassanian Persia. Sino-Platonic Papers, 206, pp. 1-51.

Freely, J. (2009). Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Gagoshidze, Y. M. (1992). The Temples at Dedoplis Mindori. East and West, 42, pp. 27-48.

Garsoïan, N. (1985). Byzantium and the Sassanians. In The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods, Part 1 (ed. E. Yarshater), Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 568-592.

Gheverghese, J.G. (1991). The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics. London: I.B. Tauris.

Gnoli, G. & Panaino, A. (eds.) (2009). Studies in History of Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology in Memory of David Pingree – Serie Orientale Roma CII. Rome: Italy: Istituto Italiano per L’Africa e L’Oriente.

Kayser, P., & Waringo, G. (2003). L’aqueduc souterrain des Raschpëtzer: un monument Antique de l’art de l’ingénieur au Luxembourg [The underground aqueduct of Raschpëtzer: an ancient monument of the art of engineering in Luxembourg]. Revue Archéologique de l’Est, vol. 52, pp. 429-444.

Kurz, O. (1985). Cultural relations between Parthia and Rome. In The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods, Part 1 (ed. E. Yarshater), Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 559-567.

Miller, A.C. (2006). Jundi-Shapur, bimaristans, and the rise of academic medical centres. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99 (12), pp. 615–617.

Miller, L.C. (1999). Music and Song in Persia (RLE Iran B): The Art of Avaz. Great Britain: Routledge.

Overlaet, B. (2018). Sasanian, Central Asian and Byzantine Iconography – Patterned Silks and Cross-Cultural Exchange. In B. Bühler & V. Freiberger (eds.), Der Goldschatz von Sânnicolau Mare [The Gold Treasure of Sânnicolau Mare]. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, pp. 139-152.

Roberts, A.M. (2013). The Crossing Paths of Greek and Persian Knowledge in the 9th-century Arabic ‘Book of Degrees’. Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 293, pp.279-303.

Silva, J.A.M. (2019). The Influence of Gondeshapur Medicine during the Sassanid Dynasty and the Early Islamic Period. Archives of Iranian Medicine, 22 (9), pp. 531-540.

Sparati N. (2002).  L’ enigma delle arti Asittite della Calabria Ultra-Mediterranea [The enigma of the Asittite arts of Calabria Ultra-Mediterranean]. Mammola, Italy: MuSaBa – Santa Barbera Art Foundation & Iiriti Editore.

Ward. P. (1968). The Origin and Spread of Qanats in the Old World. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 112, No. 3, pp. 170-181.

Wulff, H. (1968). The Qanats of Iran. Scientific American, Vol. 218, No. 4, pp. 94–105.

Select Major Reference Resources in Kaveh Farrokh.com

Select Articles in Kavehfarrokh.com

World’s Earliest known Wine

The article below by Mark Berkowitz entitled World’s Earliest Wine” was printed in Archeology: A Publication of the Archaeological Institute of America (Volume 49 Number 5, September/October 1996).


Residue on a potsherd dating to the time of the first permanent settlements in the Middle East suggests that wine-making began 2,000 years earlier than previously thought. The sherd, ca. 7,000 years old, came from one of six two-and-one-half-gallon jars excavated two decades ago from the kitchen area of a mud-brick building in Hajji Firuz Tepe, a Neolithic village in Iran’s northern Zagros Mountains. Using infrared spectrometry, liquid chromatography, and a wet chemical test, Patrick E. McGovern and a team from the University of Pennsylvania Museum found calcium salt from tartaric acid, which occurs naturally in large amounts only in grapes. Resin from the terebinth tree was also present, presumably used as a preservative, indicating that the wine was deliberately made and did not result from the unintentional fermentation of grape juice.

Originally discovered at a Neolithic village site in Iran, this jar was one of six vessels containing the remains of 7,000-year-old wine (Source: Archaeology.org and The University of Pennsylvania Museum). As noted by Amy Ellsworth of the University of Pennsylvania Museum page (July 18, 2012):

“The practice of wine-making or viniculture can be traced back to the Neolithic period, 7,000 years ago when the first Eurasian grape vines were domesticated for this purpose. This “Wine Jar” was found at Hasanlu in Hajji Firuz, Iran. It has been reconstructed from multiple fragments. The jar is one of a series of jars found sunken into the floor along an interior wall of a “kitchen” in a well-preserved Neolithic house at HF Tepe in North West Iran. The jar had a capacity of approximately 9 liters (2.5 gallons). It is the oldest known wine storage container in the world. Analyses of the two jars in the Penn Museum showed that they had contained a resinated wine or “retsina,” i.e., with terebinth tree or pine resin added as a preservative and medical agent. There was a red to go with the white wine, based on the colors of the residues.”

Analysis of the Hajji Firuz Tepe sherd comes in the wake of two other recent discoveries of early wine-making in this region where grapes grow in the wild. Residue from a jar from Godin Tepe, in the nearby middle Zagros Mountains, was dated to 5,100 years ago, until now the earliest evidence of wine-making. Grape presses dating to the late third millennium B.C. have been found at Titris Höyük in southeastern Turkey.

Two New courses for Fall 2018

Kaveh Farrokh is offering two new courses for the of Fall 2018 at the Paris-based Methodologica Universitas at the Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques.  See also the Institution’s Encyclopedic project:

Analytica Iranica: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Iranian Studies … Kaveh Farrokh is one of the Academic Advisors of this Encyclopedia project …

The first of these is the first course offered on the military history of ancient Iran or Persia:

Course HIS/CP/202: The Military History of Ancient Iran: 559 BCE-651 CE [Fall 2018, Methodologica Universitas, Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques]Click here for Registration Information

The course description for the above is as follows (HIS/SP/202):

This course examines Iran’s pre-Islamic military history with respect to political relations, wars, battles with Greece, Rome, Central Asia. These topics are examined in the Achaemenid (559-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian (224-651 CE) epochs. Methodology of the course utilizes scientific methodology in archival analysis (primary and secondary sources), numismatics (study of coins), archaeological analysis (analysis of equipment and technology), and statistical methodology (e.g. compiling data for analysis, factor analysis, etc.). The strengths and weaknesses (military, political and social) of each dynasty is examined up to the downfall of ancient Iran to the Arab conquests of Iran (637-651 CE). Detailed analysis is made of developments from the early Achaemenid era to the end of the Sassanian era with respect to equipment, technology, military architecture, military doctrine, and martial culture. Influences upon and from Greece, Rome, Central Asia and Eastern Europe are also examined. The course concludes with a survey of post-Islamic sources reporting of the extensive military literature pertaining to Sassanian weapons and tactics (battlefield tactics, siege craft, etc.) and its influence upon Islamic warfare.

Kaveh Farrokh meeting the late Professor Ehsan Yarshater (1920-2018) during the Honoring ceremony for the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014) in the Greater San Francisco area in 2008.

The second is a comprehensive course on the History of ancient Iran or Persia, which will incorporate modern research and academic methodologies incorporating anthropology, archaeology, the study of sources, numismatics, etc:

Course HIS/CP/203: The History of Ancient Iran: 559 BCE-651 CE [Fall 2018, Methodologica Universitas, Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques]Click here for Registration Information

Three Books published in 2017-2018 on the military history of Ancient Iran or Persia (from left to right): The Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians (2017; see book review by the Military History Journal in 2018); A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Gholamreza Karamian, 2018); and The Siege of Amida (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia, 2018).

The course description for the above is as follows (HIS/CP/203):

Course begins with the pre Indo-European era of ancient Iran and the rise of proto-Iranian peoples and arrivals onto the Iranian plateau. Recent archaeological works and research of pre Indo-European Iran, such as the Burnt City and Elam are surveyed. This is followed by detailed historical surveys of the three epochs of ancient Iran: Achaemenids (559-333 BCE), Parthians (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanians (224-651 CE). Course material is integrated with methodology utilizing scientific methodology in archival analysis (primary and secondary sources), numismatics (study of coins), archaeological analysis (analysis of equipment and technology), and statistical methodology (e.g. compiling data for analysis, factor analysis, etc.). The political relations and cultural exchanges of the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties with the Greco-Roman, Central Asian, Indian subcontinent, Caucasian, European and Chinese realms are examined. Each epoch is also examined with respect to developments in legal systems, societal development and the role of women, the arts, architecture, learning, medicine, technology, theology and religious philosophy, communications, shipping, commerce and the Silk Route.

[Above] Kaveh Farrokh’s second textShadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-” cited by the BBC-Persian service as theBest History Book of 2007(November 5, 2008), as well as the by Kayhan News Service of London (November 12, 2008). The text was nominated by the Independent Book Publishers’ Association (Benjamin Franklin Award) among the top finalists for the Best textbooks of 2008. The book has been recognized by world-class scholars such as the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014), Harvard University, Dr. Geoffrey Greatrex, Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa, Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, School of HistoryUniversity of Edinburgh and Dr. Patrick Hunt. The book was reviewed in the world-class academic (peer-reviewed by top Iranian Studies scholars) Iranshenasi journal in 2010: Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh. Iranshenasi, Volume XXII, No.1, Spring 2010, pp.1-5 (see document in pdf). [Below] Translations of Shadows in the Desert [A] Persian translation by Taghe Bostan Publishers (2009) [B] Persian translation by Qoqnoos Publishers (2009) [C] the original textbook (2008) and [D] Russian translation by EXMO Publishers.

A Short History of the Iranian Nān (Bread)

The article below by Hélène Desmet-Grégoire on Nān (Bread) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1989. The article is available in print (Vol. IV, Fasc. 4, pp. 444-447).


The Persian term for Bread is nān (for etymology, see Bailey, Dictionary, p. 179, s.v. nāṃji). In modern Iran bread is the dietary staple food for the population and accounts, on the average, for 70 percent of the daily caloric intake.

In the Iranian languages the words for “bread” inherited from old Iranian seem to reflect two different early methods of baking (Harmatta). Harmatta suggests that the practice of baking bread “covered,” that is, in ashes, is reflected in the word naγan, found especially in the eastern Iranian languages (Sogdian, Baluchi, Pashto, etc.) and Armenian nkan, a loanword from Iranian (Parthian), which must be derived from Old Iranian *nikana– (lit., that which is buried or covered), as well as in the form *bakand found in Choresmian, probably from Old Iranian *upakanta– “covered, buried” (for the Choresmian forms, see Benzing, pp. 170f. s.vv. bkn– “to fill,” bknd “bread,” p. 521 s.v. pknd). On the other hand, the practice of baking bread “uncovered,” in an oven, seems to be reflected in the common Persian word nān (Mid., NPers., and western Iranian dialects), probably derived from Old Iranian *naγna– “naked.” Modern Iranian languages and dialects possess a large variety of names for “bread,” both inherited from earlier Iranian languages and borrowed.


Traditional Iranian baking oven in Dargaz, northeast Iran (Source: Dargaz.info).

Bread is mentioned in both the Sasanian inscriptions of the 3rd-4th centuries and in the 9th-century Pahlavi texts. Šāpūr I (a.d. 240-70) ordered that one lamb, one grīw and five hōfan of bread, and four pās of wine should be sacrificed daily at the fire temples for his own soul, the souls of the close family, and the members of his court (Back, pp. 337, 344, 367); bread was also given the souls of the righteous to eat in paradise (inscriptions of Kirdēr, ed. Back, p. 468). In the Draxt āsōrīg (The Babylonian tree), a poem about a contest between a date palm and a goat over precedence (see, e.g., Boyce, “Middle Persian Literature,” p. 55), the date palm maintains that those who do not have wine and bread can satiate themselves with dates instead (ed. Nawwābī, pp. 52-53). In the Bundahišn we are told that garden herbs such as rue, parsley, coriander, and leek are suitable for eating with bread (TD2, p. 117.14; tr. Anklesaria, 16.17, pp. 148-49). In the Ardā Wirāz-nāmag it is said that those who throw bread to dogs will themselves be torn by devils looking like dogs (Gi­gnoux, pp. 94, 188), and finally Ahriman himself taunts the evil that they accomplished his works though they ate the bread of Ohrmazd (Gignoux, pp. 136, 214).

In both Middle and New Persian the expression nān xwardan/ḵordan also signifies “to eat, have a meal” in general. In Middle Persian it is found in the inscription of Šāpūr Sakānšāh at Persepolis from the reign of Šāpūr II (Back, p. 493), in Manichean texts (see Boyce, Reader, p. 44 text n 1; Sundermann, p. 497), and in Pahlavi. For instance, in the Bundahišn it is said regarding the resurrection and the “final body” that just as Mašyē and Mašyānē, when they grew up from the earth, first drank water and then gradually added food, milk, and so on to their diet, men, when they die, will reverse the process, ceasing first to eat meat, then to drink milk, and then to eat at all (nān xwardan-iz) and will end by drinking only water.

In modern Iran bread is the dietary staple food for the population and accounts, on the average, for 70% of the daily caloric intake. Several studies conducted in rural and urban environments have shown variations in the proportion of proteins supplied by bread, from 60% among farmers to 34% among landowners (Bahadori and Klodian; Olszyna-Marzys; Hedayat and Sen Gupta).

In most of Iran bread consists of flat, thin cakes made from wheat flour. Only in the Caspian provinces is there a different tradition, baking bread from rice flour, nān-e berenjī, already mentioned by medieval writers (Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 381, tr. Kramers, p. 371; Moqaddasī, p. 354; Ebn Esfandīār, p. 76; see berenj); this type is, however, meeting increasing competition from com­mercially baked wheat bread (Bazin and Bromberger, p. 79). Rice bread is generally baked on a metal tray (sāj) or on the bottom of an inverted pottery bowl placed on a tripod. Among certain groups of pastoral nomads (e.g., Baḵtīārī and Boir-Aḥmad) varying pro­portions of acorn flour (balūṭ) are occasionally mixed with wheat flour, especially during periods of famine. The bread made this way is called kalg (Digard, pp. 191-92).

Selling bread Tehran qajar era

Shopkeepers at a bread outlet in a Tehran street in the early 20th century (Source: Poolnews.ir).

Several types of bread can be distinguished, depending on whether they are produced commercially or domestically and, particularly, on the baking method: oven or tray. In the towns the quality of the flour seems to be a determining element in distinguishing types of bread. Such distinctions are more vague in rural areas, where the flour is often ground without sifting and, thus, generally has a high percentage of extraction (90-95%).

Similar baking techniques are used throughout the country (Wulff, pp. 292-95), and utensils and ovens are perfectly adapted to the type of bread produced. The most common kind of oven (tanūr), used both in bakeries and village houses, where it constitutes one of the built-in features (Bromberger, 1974, p. 34; Martin, p. 28; Desmet-Grégoire; Bazin and Bromberger, p. 81), is a truncated cone made from dried or baked earth, with or without a flue, standing on the floor or sunk below it. The fire is in the bottom, so that bread may be pressed against the inner walls for baking. Among pastoral nomads, on the other hand, after the dough has been kneaded in a metal pan (mazama, majama), which is used because of its firmness, it is transferred to a tray or an iron baking sheet (sāj) placed over the fire, for baking. Many pastoral nomads, such as in the regions of Ṭāleš, Gāleš and Šāhsevan (Bazin and Bromberger, p. 80), also use a more rudimentary technique: the raw dough is baked on ashes (nān-e ātaš) or pressed against a hot stone.

In urban settings, where most of the bread is purchased from bakeries equipped with a tanūr, four main types of bread are found: tāftūn (taftān), lavāš (nān-e tīrī), nān-e sangak, and nān-e barbarī. The first two types are very similar, differentiated only by the types of flour used and the relative thickness of a slab. Tāftūn, probably the most popular bread in Iran, is made from a mixture of white and whole-wheat flours, lavāš (very similar to tāftūn) from white flour forming a more or less leavened dough. In the bakeries, after flour, water, and salt have been poured together in a trough (ṭaḡār, taštak) and leavening (ḵamīr-māya, āb-e torš, ājī ḵamīra) has been added (for lavāš), the dough is kneaded (varz dādan) by the dough maker (ḵamīrgīr, ḵalīfa) and an assistant (vardast), who usually does most of the work; it is then left to rise (var āmadan). A dough insufficiently kneaded or baked prematurely gives a kind of tough bread called nān-e čeḡer. When the dough is ready one person (čānagīr) rolls out pieces (čāna) with a rolling pin (vardana, čūba) on a board of wooden strips (ḵūna) or an inverted pottery basin, while another (šāṭer) places the rolled pieces on a cushion (nānband, nāvand, bāleštak, rafīda) stuffed with straw and covered with cotton, by means of which he can press them against the oven walls without burning his hands. After baking for a minute or so, the bread is picked off the oven wall by an assistant (nānvāssūn, i.e., nān-vā-estān) who uses a skewer or double-pronged fork (nāṇčīn, sīḵ, došāḵa) with a wooden handle. To make especially crisp bread (nān-e berešta, nān-e dandaʾī) bakers often make holes in the bread with a kind of comb (danda zadan) just before placing it in the oven. Lavāš, no more than 2 or 3 mm thick, is the thinnest bread found in Iran.


Home made Nān-e tāftūn (taftān) (Source: Bartarinha).

Nān-e sangak is a flat, thin bread 3 to 5 mm thick and about 70 cm long; the leavened dough is made from especially milled flour. It is baked in an oven (tanūr-e sangakī, kūra) consisting of a sloping brick shelf covered with red-hot pebbles (sangak, hence the name), which leave their imprints on the bread, and traditionally heated by dry shrubs (ḵār) or firewood (hīzom). In recent years oil has become the major fuel used by urban bakers. At least two men, the ḵamīrgīr and šāṭer, are required to make sangak. The šāṭer stands in front of the oven and flattens the dough by hand on a slightly convex wooden slab (sarak) attached to a very long wooden handle (pārū); he then quickly thrusts the sarak into the oven, sliding the dough onto the pebbles. After a couple of minutes the šāṭer or the nūnvāssūn (also called ātašandāz) removes it with a skewer or double­-prong fork. The sarak rests in a cleft stick, which permits the šāṭer to slide it back and forth more easily; the broad end is set on a ledge next to the oven while the dough is being applied.


The Nān-e Sangak (Source: Ensie & Matthias in Public Domain)

Nān-e sangak, often sprinkled with poppy seeds (ḵašḵāš) or black caraway seeds (sīāhdāna; Nigella sativa), is the bread commonly served with āb-gūšt: it is usually torn in pieces (tarīd, telīd), soaked in the āb-gūšt, and eaten with a spoon as an integral part of the dish. It is also the bread that usually accompanies gūšt-e kūbīda, the solid ingredients of āb-­gūšt mashed and eaten separately from the liquid.


Servings of āb-gūšt (Iranian version of Bouillon) in Dizi containers (cruse or earthen pot) ready for patrons at a local eatery in Tehran’s Damavand district (Source: RezAzizi in Public Domain).

Nān-e barbarī (named after a “Barbar” community that settled south of Tehran during the Qajar period; see Dehḵodā s.v.) is a flat, oval bread 3 to 4 cm thick and about 70 cm long; it is made from pieces of leavened dough weighing about 900 grams each. The flour used has a rate of extraction of 70 to 75 %, and nān-e barbarī thus resembles European breads, though it is baked by the same method as nān-e sangak. It is more expensive than other breads but, where available, is commonly eaten for breakfast (often with cheese) by those who can afford it.


The Nān-e Barbarī (Source:  Wayiran in Public Domain).

In rural areas, where bread is made at home, the making of bread is a strictly womanly task, and the frequency of baking (daily, weekly, etc.) varies according to the seasonal activities. Lavāš seems the most common. Since the primary ingredient (wheat) and the method of preparation are not standardized, the prod­uct can vary in thickness and in the amount of leavening added. It can be kept for several weeks wrapped in a napkin (sofra) and placed in a basket (sabad) or in a cupboard of dried earth (nāndān); for that reason it is very common in western Iran, especially in winter, when daily baking is difficult and the bread keeps longer because of the cold.


The Nān-e Lavāš sold in a market in Yerevan, Armenia (Source: Wiquijote in Public Domain).

Another kind of bread, thicker than lavāš, is also made in the villages; the dough, made from a flour with high rates of extraction, salt, water, and leaven, is left to stand for a rather long time, or else it rises during baking. A single cook can flatten the pieces of dough by hand and press several at a time against the oven walls with a cushion; baking time is about 30 minutes. The name of this bread varies from region to region: It is called gerda around Hamadān, panjakeš around Ṭāleš, kūlas or kūlūs east of the Safīdrūd. It is a tasty bread made for special occasions, or when little time is available, for example when the women take part in the agricultural activities in summer (Desmet-Grégoire, pp. 271-73). Compared to the bread more common in villages or the bread specific to pastoral nomads, it seems to be an intermediate type of bread, which can be baked, for ten minutes, either on a tray (Digard, pp. 190-91) or in a tanūr. It keeps for no more than a day or two and thus is usually made every day.

Aside from breads baked for normal consumption, there are special kinds for the holidays; because the dough is enriched with milk, sugar, honey, eggs, shortening, or yogurt these breads (nān-e šīrī, faṭīr, nān-­e šīrīn, nān-e šīrmāl) are actually closer to pastry. Bread of European type (nān-e tōst, nān-e māšīnī) can also be found in Tehran and other large cities (Olszyna-Marzys: Tual, p. 10).


  1. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège, 1978.
  2. Bahadori and J. Klodian, “Enquêtes sur l’alimentation. Études des budgets familiaux de deux régions de l’Iran,” Bulletin de l’Institut National d’Hygiène, Paris, 1957, no. 3, pp. 593-631.
  3. W. Bailey, Dictionary of Khotanese Saka, Cambridge, 1979.
  4. Bazin, “Quelques données sur l’alimentation dans la région de Qôm,” Studia Iranica 2, 1973, pp. 248-50.
  5. Bazin and C. Bromberger, “Gilân et Azerbâyjân oriental, cartes et documents ethnographiques,” Institut Français d’Iranologie de Téhéran, Bibliothèque Iranienne 24, Paris, 1982, pp. 79-84.
  6. Benzing, Chwaresmischer Wortindex, ed. Z. Taraf, Wiesbaden, 1983.

Isabelle A. Bird Bishop, Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, London, 1891, I, pp. 59-60.

ʿA. Bolūkbāšī, “Važa-ye sangak o pīšīna-ye sangakpazī dar Īrān,” Honar o mardom, N.S., 1347 Š./1968, 74-75, pp. 31-42; 76, pp. 47-51.

Idem, “Taftūnpazī dar Tehrān,” ibid., 1348 Š./1969, 81, pp. 45-54.

  1. Bromberger, “Habitations du Gilân,” Objets et mondes 14, 1974, pp. 3-56.

Idem, “Identité alimentaire et altérité cul­turelle dans le Nord de l’Iran: le froid, le chaud, le sexe et le reste,” Recherches et travaux de l’Institut d’Ethnologie (Neuchâtel) 6, 1985, pp. 5-34.

  1. Canard, “Le riz dans le Proche-Orient aux premiers siècles de l’Islam,” Arabica 6, 1959, pp. 113-31.
  2. Desmet-Grégoire, “Le pain dans la région d’Hamadân,” Studia Iranica 9, 1980, pp. 251-76.
  3. P. Digard, Techniques des nomades Baxtyâri d’Iran, Paris, 1981, pp. 187-92.

Ph. Gignoux, Le livre d’Ardā Vīrāz. Translittération, transcription et traduction du texte pehlevi, Paris, 1984.

  1. Harmatta, “Three Iranian Words for Bread,” AOASH 3/3, 1953, pp. 245-83.
  2. Hedayat and P. N. Sen Gupta, Nu­trition Survey in Iran 1962-1967, unpublished.
  3. Kouhestani et al., “Composition and Preparation of Iranian Flat Breads,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 55/3, 1969, pp. 24-28.
  4. Martin, “Pastoral Production. Milk and Firewood in the Ecology of Turan,” Expedition 22/4, 1980, pp. 24-28.
  5. E. Olszyna-Marzys, Food in Iran, Tehran, 1962.
  6. Ramazani, Persian Cooking, Charlottesville, 1982, pp. 11-19.
  7. G. Reinhold and D. Kamal, “Phytate Concentration of Iranian Flat Breads. Relationship of Bread-Making Method,” in Proceedings of the 6th Symposium on Nutrition in the Near East, Beirut, 1971, pp. 324-40.
  8. Sundermann, “Ein weiteres Fragment aus Manis Gigantenbuch,” in Orientalia Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin Emerito Oblata, Acta Iranica 23, Leiden, 1984, pp. 491-505.
  9. Tual, “Les changements de l’alimentation traditionnelle dans la région de Téhéran,” communication at the International Seminary of the First Festival of Popular Traditions, Isfahan, 1977 (unpublished).
  10. E. Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge, Mass., 1966, pp. 291-95.

Toyoko Morita: Iranian arrivals to ancient Japan

The article below is by Toyoko Morita and originally appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica. Morita’s article was originally published in print on December 15, 2008 and last updated on April 10, 2012. This article is also accessible in print Vol. XIV, Fasc. 5, pp. 558-560 and Vol. XIV, Fasc. 6, p. 561). The version published below has embedded photographs, paintings and accompanying captions that did not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica publication/posting. these a combination of lecture slides from Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies course entitled: “The Silk Route: origins & History“, previous postings as well as a single image from the public domain.


The first mention of Iranians (Persians) coming to Japan can be found in the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), one of the earliest Japanese historical sources, completed in 720 C.E. It records that in 654 C.E. several people arrived in Japan from Tokhārā (Aston, pp. 246, 251, 259). Though there is some controversy about the location of Tokhārā, some scholars have claimed the name to be a shortened version of Toḵārestān, which was part of the territory of Sasanian Persia (Itō, 1980, pp. 5-10).

Fresco along the Tarim Basin, China depicting an Iranian-speaking Buddhist monk (Kushan, Soghdian, Persian or Tocharian?) [at left] instructing a Chinese monk [at right] on philosophy (c. 9th-10th Century). Iranian peoples of Central Asia were the link between Asia as a whole and the civilizations of ancient Iran, notably Sassanian and post-Sassanian culture(s). Open and tolerant, the Soghdians, Kushans, Tocharians, etc. established a sophisticated literature and urban culture (Lecture slide from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures from the course “The Silk Route: origins & History“).

Elsewhere in the Nihon Shoki, it is mentioned that in 660, when an Iranian (Persian), whose name was Dārā, returned to his country, he left his wife in Japan and promised the Emperor that he would come back and work for him again (Aston, p. 266; Imoto, 2002, pp. 58-60).

One of Kaveh Farrokh’s  lecture slides at UBC (University of British Columbia) outlining the influence of Sassanian arts on Japan (Source: Lecture slide from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures from the course “The Silk Route: origins & History“).

In the 7th to the 9th centuries, foreigners—then known in Japanese as toraijin—were coming to Japan mainly from Korea and China, bringing with them technology, culture, religion (Buddhism), and ideas. Eastern Asia, especially the Tang Dynasty of China (618-907), had socio-economic networks with many regions of the world, including southern and western Asia.

An enduring Sassanian legacy in Japan: the Biwa and its ancient Iranian ancestor, the Barbat (Source: Lecture slide from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures from the course “The Silk Route: origins & History“).

Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), the capital of the Tang Dynasty, was an international city with people from various countries, including Iranians (Persians), some of whom traveled further to Japan. Iranian names are to be met with in historical documents, and one can find some influence of Persian culture in the architecture, sculptures, and also in the customs and old Japanese rituals at that time. For example, some scholars have claimed that there is some influence of Persian culture in the Omizutori ritual held every February at Tōdaiji temple in Nara (Itō, 1980, pp. 125-33).

A photo of the Omizutori ritual held on March 9, 2007 in Nara, Japan (Source: “ignis” in public domain). Note that these are monks carrying torches across the balcony of the structure. This may perhaps bear echoes of ancient Zoroastrian or related mythological influences bought over by Iranian-speaking arrivals to ancient Japan.

The oldest document in Persian, which is preserved in Japan, was procured by the Japanese priest named Kyōsei (1189-1268) from Iranians (Persians) during his trip to southern Asia in 1217. Thinking they were Indians, the priest asked them to write something for him as a keepsake. However, after his return to Japan he found out that they were not Indians, because no one could understand what the writing meant. This document—a single page—was discovered in the late 20th century, when it was established that it is written in Persian and contains a line from Abu’l-Qāsem Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma (qq.v.), a line from Faḵr-al-Din Gorgāni’s Vis o Rāmin (qq.v.), and a quatrain of unknown authorship (Okada, 1989).

Scientists have used infrared imaging technology to analyze carvings on a piece of wood from – century Japan. The writings on the wood appears to name a Persian mathematics lecturer who worked at a facility in a millennium ago Japan where government ministers were trained in the former Japanese capital of Nara for more on this click here