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.

Piece of carved wood suggests Persian taught maths in Japan 1,000 years ago

The report posted below on October 6, 2016 by Gabriel Samuel of Britain’s Independent newspaper was first released by the Japan Times on October 5, 2016.

Kindly note that excepting the first image, all other images and accompanying descriptions are from Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course on the Silk Route at the University of British Columbia.

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The piece of wood was discovered in the 1960s but as only now been fully analysed Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Archaeologists have unearthed a piece of wood revealing ancient Japan was a “cosmopolitan” nation “where foreigners were treated equally”, including details of one Persian man teaching maths more than a millennium ago.

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Scientists analysed carvings on the wood using infrared imaging technology, which appeared to name a Persian lecturer who worked at a facility where government ministers were trained in the former Japanese capital of Nara.

Previous discoveries have revealed Japan had direct trade links with Persia as early as 600AD, but this is the first time it has been suggested a Middle Eastern official may have been employed in the country at that time.

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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).

Akirhiro Watanabe of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, who led the survey, suggested the man was likely to have taught mathematics due to Persia’s renowned expertise in the subject. As noted by Watanabe to the Japan Times:

Although earlier studies have suggested there were exchanges with Persia as early as the 7th century, this is the first time a person as far away as Persia was known to have worked in Japan… This suggests Nara was a cosmopolitan city where foreigners were treated equally”.

Throughout the 17th century, thousands of Persian merchants were known to travel to the city of Nagasaki for the purposes of trade, but it is now believed the ties between the two countries date back far earlier.

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Sassanian and Soghdian merchants were actively trading with China, a process that led to Iranian links with ancient Korea and Japan (Source: Fall 2014 course on the Silk Route at the University of British Columbia).

Nara was the capital of Japan between 710 and 784, before it was shifted to Kyoto and later to present-day Tokyo.

A vast ancient tomb with colourful painted murals opened to the public at a museum in the Nara Prefecture last week, another impressive find by the local archaeological surveying team.

Last month, archaeologists were left baffled by the remarkable discovery of ancient Roman coins while excavating the ruins of Katsuren Castle on Okinawa Island recently.

The four copper coins were originally thought to be a hoax before their true provenance was revealed through detailed scanning.

Tehran in the 1950s

Below are a number of photographs of Tehran’s districts, avenues, radio stations, traditional venues, recreation areas and airport as they appeared in the 1950s. Readers may find these previous postings of interest as well:

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North Tehran

Darband and Elahiye district in 1957.

Parks & Recreation

Amjadiyeh pool and sports complex in 1958.

Bagh e Shah

Saadi-Theatre-1The Saadi Theatre – note patrons checking showtimes at panel. The smaller sign situated just at the right of theatre sign is “Bank e Melli Iran” (National Bank of Iran) (Photo from Getty Images – Published in Avaxnews.com).

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Major Avenues in the 1950s

Saadi Avenue in 1951.

Naderi Avenue in the winter of 1951.

Tehran-Naderi Avenue -1953Naderi avenue in the fall of 1953.

Pahlavi Avenue in 1955.

Sepah Salar Avenue 1957.

Tehran Banks

The Bank Melli (National Bank) of Tehran. Note how the architecture blends elements of ancient pre-Islamic Iranian motifs  (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images).

Tehran Schools

A Tehran schoolgirl in the early 1950s at a vocational training school for seamstresses (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images). She is studying a physics book.

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Traditional Venues and Shopping Districts

Tehran Bazaar in 1954.

Enjoying an outdoor shave in Tehran in 1958. 

Shahr e Farang in Tehran in 1958.

Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport

Mehrabad Airport in 1958.

Mehrabad Airport check in terminals in 1958.

Tehran Radio

Radio Tehran in 1951.

Kate Ravilious: World’s Oldest Leather Shoe

The article below by Kate Ravilious, “World’s Oldest Leather Shoe Found—Stunningly Preserved“, was reported originally by the National geographic Daily News on June 9, 2010.  about the world’s oldest leather shoe discovered in Armenia. The discovery of the world’s oldest known leather shoe was funded by the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation (Los Angeles), and Joe Gfoeller of the Gfoeller Foundation, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, the Boochever Foundation, and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

Kindly note that a number of photos and the video did not appear in the original National geographic report.

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A Manolo Blahnik it isn’t.

Still, the world’s oldest known leather shoe, revealed Wednesday, struck one of the world’s best known shoe designers as shockingly au courant.

It is astonishing,” Blahnik said via email, “how much this shoe resembles a modern shoe!

Stuffed with grass, perhaps as an insulator or an early shoe tree, the 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe was found exceptionally well preserved—thanks to a surfeit of sheep dung—during a recent dig in an Armenian cave.

About as big as a current women’s size seven (U.S.), the shoe was likely tailor-made for the right foot of its owner, who could have been a man or a woman—not enough is known about Armenian feet of the era to say for sure.

oldest-leather-shoe-armenia_21449_600x450The world’s oldest known leather shoe (pictured) has been found in an Armenian cave, archaeologists say (Photo Source: Gregory Areshian & National Geographic Daily News).

Made from a single piece of cowhide—a technique that draws premium prices for modern shoes under the designation “whole cut”—the shoe is laced along seams at the front and back, with a leather cord.

Ron Pinhasi, co-director of the dig, from the University College Cork in Ireland, explains:

The hide had been cut into two layers and tanned, which was probably quite a new technology,” .

Yvette Worrall, a shoemaker for the Conker handmade-shoe company in the U.K., added:

I’d imagine the leather was wetted first and then cut and fitted around the foot, using the foot as a last [mold] to stitch it up there and then.”

The end result looks surprisingly familiar for something so ancient—and not just to Blahnik.

Shoe-Armenia-Excavation Team-UCLAA member of the research team at the excavation site in Armenia; the actual cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nakhichevanian and Turkish borders (Photo Source: GoodNews).

“It immediately struck me as very similar to a traditional form of Balkan footwear known as the opanke, which is still worn as a part of regional dress at festivals today,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, a curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.

I thought, Wow, not so much has changed.”

 

Oldest Leather Shoe Shows Stunning Preservation

Radiocarbon dated to about 3500 B.C., during Armenia’s Copper Age, the prehistoric shoe is compressed in the heel and toe area, likely due to miles upon miles of walking. But the shoe is by no means worn out.

Shoes of this age are incredibly rare, because leather and plant materials normally degrade very quickly.

But in this case the contents of a pit in the cave, dubbed Areni-1, had been sealed in by several layers of sheep dung, which accumulated in the cave after its Copper Age human inhabitants had gone.

The cave environment kept it cool and dry, while the dung cemented the finds in,” said Pinhasi, lead author of the new study, published by the journal PLoS ONE Wednesday.

Details of the Leather shoe-Armenia

[Click to Enlarge] Close-up details of the leather shoe discovered in a cave in Armenia (Photo Source: GoodNews). The 5,500 year old (perfectly preserved) shoe, the oldest leather shoe of its type in the world, dates back to approx. 3,500 BC (Chalcolithic period). It was made of a single piece of leather and  shaped to fit the wearer’s foot. The shoe is 1,000 years older than Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza.

Why Was Oldest Leather Shoe Made?

Protecting the foot was probably one of the main reasons people started wearing shoes, and certainly this seems the case for the world’s oldest leather shoe.

Around the Armenian cave, “the terrain is very rugged, and there are many sharp stones and prickly bushes,” said University of California archaeologist and study co-author Gregory Areshian, who was partly funded by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Furthermore, shoes like this would have enabled people to cope with extremes of temperature in the region—up to 113°F (45°C) in summer and below freezing in winter—and to travel farther.

These people were walking long distances. We have found obsidian in the cave, which came from at least 75 miles [120 kilometers] away,” he said.

Blahnik, the shoe designer, speculates that even this simple design was worn for style as well as substance.

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The leather shoe hand-held by a researcher at the excavation site. As noted in the UCLA Asia Institute report, the Armenian leather shoe was a European size 37 or women’s size 7. As noted Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, “as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era.” The shoe was found stuffed with grass (Photo Source: UCLA Asia Institute).

The shoe’s function was obviously to protect the foot, but I am in no doubt that a certain appearance of a shoe meant belonging to a particular tribe,” said Blahnik, who knows a thing or two about expressing identity through attire. “I am sure it was part of the outfit which a specific tribe wore to distinguish their identity from another.”

 

Not the World’s Oldest Shoe

Previously, the oldest known closed-toe shoes were those belonging to Ötzi, the “Iceman” found in the Austrian Alps in 1991, who died around 5,300 years ago. (See “Iceman Wore Cattle, Sheep Hides; May Have Been a Herder.”)

Sandals meanwhile, have an even longer history, with the oldest specimens, dated to more than 7,000 years ago, discovered in the Arnold Research Cave in central Missouri.

The wearing of shoes, though, is almost certainly older than the oldest known shoes. For example, a weakening of small toe bones found in 40,000-year-old human fossils has been cited as evidence of the advent of shoes.

Compared to Ötzi’s shoes, the world’s oldest leather shoe is strictly bare-bones, according to Jacqui Wood, an independent archaeologist based in the U.K., who studied Ötzi’s shoes and who said the new study’s science is sound.

The Iceman’s shoe was in another league altogether,” Wood said. “Each base was made from brown bearskin; the side panels were deerskin; and inside was a bark-string net, which pulled tight around the footBy contrast, the Armenian shoe is the most basic of shoes and was probably made worldwide once people decided not to walk about in bare feet.” (See pictures of the Iceman.)

It’s true that similar shoes have been found at other sites and from other times, but study co-authors Pinhasi and Areshian think it’s plausible that the style originated in Armenia.

Pinhasi notes:

Many other inventions, such as wheel-thrown pottery, cuneiform writing, and wool production evolved in the ancient Near East…And so Armenia may give us the earliest clues to a ‘prototype’ shoe, which later spread to Europe“.

Rebecca Shawcross, a shoe historian at the Northampton Museums & Art Gallery in the U.K., said:

You can certainly make a case for this shoe [design] being a forerunner to the North American moccasin, which has gone on to be a popular shoe style, whose influences can be seen in shoes of today—deck shoes; soft, slipper-style shoes for men; and so on.”

The “Astonishingly modern” shoe has been preserved by sheep dung, dryness and stable temperatures of the Armenian cave in which it was discovered. This invention of the shoe allowed humans to better protect their feet over rough terrain, against extreme heat and cold and to travel over longer distances.

Beyond the World’s Oldest Leather Shoe

With the moccasin mystery largely solved, the study team has plenty more puzzles to solve in Areni-1.

Along with the shoe, the ancient sheep dung had sealed in the horns of a wild goat, bones of red deer, and an upside-down broken pot.

Pinhsi said:

It is a strange assortment of items…and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some symbolic meaning“—a meaning that could be revealed as summer, and a new dig season, dawns at Areni-1.

Excavations uncover Large Ancient gate in 2500 Year Old City of Persepolis in Iran

The report below by April Holloway regarding the excavation of a large ancient gate at Persepolis appeared in the Ancient Origins outlet (November 17, 2014). Reports of these findings also appeared in Mehr News.

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2500-year-old-city-of-Persepolis-in-Iran

A view of the 2500-year old city-palace of Persepolis in Iran (Ancient origins & Ivar Husevåg Døskeland)

Excavations at Persepolis, a magnificent palace complex in Iran founded by Darius the Great around 518 BC, have uncovered a great ancient gate in Tale-Ajori, within the Firouzi Complex.  Even older than Persepolis itself, Tale-Ajori lies 3,500 meters outside the city and is of great significance for understanding the Achaemenid Empire. The glazed bricks of the site reveal much about the mythology of the era, while the discovery of the new gate may shed new light on the role Tale-Ajori played within this ancient landscape.

According to Mehr News, the finding of the gate was made by a joint Iranian and Italian expedition team, who carried out excavations over the last two months in the area of the Firouzi Complex, which they believe was part of a city relevant to the royal seat in Persepolis. Tole-Ajori itself is an ovoid mound 80 meters (260 feet) long and 60 meters (200 feet) wide, and is believed to be the site of a single large building, although its original function is still unknown.

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General sketch map of the structural architectural of Tale-Ajori (meaning ‘Bricks Hill’) (P. Callieri & S. Gondet; Ancient origins)

 Archaeologist Alireza Askari Chavardi told Mehr News:

The remains of Achaemenid ascendancy near Firouzi village has only gradually attracted interests of the archaeologists who studied the areas surrounding the royal seat to locate the Royal Sacred Place in the broader limits of the city for nearly 100 years”.

Through the combination of excavations and geophysical surveys, the research team has been trying to piece together the spatial layout across the 10 hectares of archaeological sites near Tale-Ajori, as well as the conceptual links between the royal construction and the surrounding buildings.

As noted further by Chavardi:

One of the most important sections of the region immediately leading to Persepolis is the north-western part of the royal seat which is also called Firouzi Complex, on where the studies conducted by archaeological expeditions have been focused, is where now lies the relics of a famous monument called Tale-Ajori

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A section excavated at Tale-Ajori (meaning ‘Bricks Hill’). (financialtribune.com; Ancient Origins)

Chavardi explains:

The most important findings of this season of excavations are 30 pieces of glazed bricks adorned with images of winged animals, incorporating mythic beasts of Elamite and Achaemenid eras in the tradition not unlike traditions of Shusha and Mesopotamia in south-western Iran…The outer parts and the great hall of the gate of this section of Parseh are decorated with colorfully glazed bricks, and thousands of pieces of bricks

Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great in 521 BC, and was the dynasty’s political and religious capital up to the decline of the empire in 331 BC.  It sits within a large urban landscape of Achaemenid palaces, monuments, and buildings extending across 600 hectares.  The wealth of the Persian empire was evident in all aspects of its construction. The splendor of Persepolis, however, was short-lived, as the palaces were looted and burned by Alexander in 331-330 B.C.

Reconstruction-gardens-Palace-Darius-persia

Reconstruction of the gardens and outside of the Palace of Darius I of Persia in Persepolis (Public Domain & Ancient origins).