Lev Nussimbaum: from Eastern European Jew to Caucasian Muslim Prince extraordinaire

The article below by Valeriya Nakshun has been reprinted with the permission of Bekhrad Joobin, the editor of the Reorientmag website.


Since the widespread Rachel Dolezal scandal, which involved an American woman claiming to be of African-American descent, discussions about cultural and ethnic appropriation have become increasingly heated and reconsidered. As controversial as the scandal may have been, it was certainly far from being anything new. There have been numerous cases throughout history where Europeans, for instance, have appropriated the cultures of others and misused them towards their own benefits and ambitions. When this occurs in relation to ‘Eastern’ peoples, it is often accompanied, one may argue, by a heavy dose of Saidian Orientalism. As a Jewish native of the Caucasus with an Eastern Mizrahi upbringing, at one stage in my life I became particularly interested in the life of Lev Nussimbaum, an Ashkenazi Jew from Eastern Europe who posed as an ‘exotic’ Muslim prince from Aran (renamed ‘Azerbaijan’ in 1918) and to have documented his adventures under the pseudonym ‘Essad Bey’, and later – according to American author Tom Reiss – ‘Kurban Said’. In his book, The Orientalist, Reiss examines Nussimbaum’s life, and how he shed his identity as a European Jew to become the famous Azerbaijani author. Under the pen name Kurban Said, Nussimbaum’s work (as per Reiss’ findings) became so popular that the love story, Ali and Nino (currently being made into a film by director Asif Kapadia), came to be revered as the national novel of Azerbaijan.

1-Lev-NussimbaumLev? Essad? Kurban? (Source: Reorientmag).

Raised in Baku, Nussimbaum traveled across the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia whilst fleeing the Bolsheviks with his father. Later, the pair emigrated to Germany, and it was there that Lev crafted his identity as Essad Bey and wrote several books about the exotic peoples he claimed to have encountered earlier on. With hostility and hatred towards Jews on the rise, Nussimbaum fled the Gestapo for America, where he continued with his writings. His works about the Caucasus, his childhood home of Azerbaijan, and Persia in some ways seemed to mirror the writings of William Walker Atkinson on India and South Asia. In a piece entitled American Orientalism, scholar and filmmaker Vivek Bald wrote about a former American lawyer and how he founded a publishing firm for books concerning Hinduism and spirituality. Like Nussimbaum, Atkinson wrote under several different Indian-sounding pseudonyms such as Yogi Ramacharaka, Swami Panchadasi, and others, in an effort to pander to European and American audiences. It has often been suggested that authors like Nussimbaum and Atikson exploited the Eastern traditions and cultures they wrote about for their own personal gain.

2-Sergey-Prokudin-GorskyA Dagestani couple photographed in 1910 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Source: Reorientmag).

According to Bald, when ‘Oriental goods’ started making their way to the West, many Europeans and Americans (particularly the former) with colonial attitudes began to appropriate ‘conquered’ cultures and assert their dominance as superiors over the savage-yet-passionate Easterners. The undefined ‘Orient’ became a sort of monolith through which Europeans could fantasise about ideas that might not have been acceptable in their own societies. Images of harems, belly-dancers, and the like often transformed into fantastical and erotic escapes; and, because they so sexualised Eastern peoples, it was not considered inappropriate to view them as unintelligent, backwards, and lustful.

6b-Lev-NussimbaumLev Nussimbaum (1905-1942) in Caucasian attire. As noted by Valeriya NakshunIt may be said that Nussimbaum, like others before and after him, assumed an ‘exotic’ identity in an escapist attempt to shed what he considered ‘boring’ or quotidian” (Source of Photo: RioWang Blogspot).

In many ways, it could be said that Nussimbaum’s view of the ‘East’ played out in more or less the same way. In his book, Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus, Essad Bey wrote about the various peoples inhabiting the region. Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Chechens, Georgians, Ossetians, Persians, and a host of others all provided rich subject matter for Nussimbaum. Written primarily for German readers, Nussimbaum often wrote about these peoples in a light many now might not deem particularly ‘rosy’, and painted them in many instances as a wild bunch with a penchant for swindling, beastly rituals, and savagery. Like Iran to its south, Azerbaijan, though predominantly Shi’a Muslim today, is a country with a strong history of Zoroastrianism (azar meaning ‘fire’ in Persian, and the name of the country referring to the Achaemenid satrap Atropates, ‘Protected by the Fire’). It is also known for its religious diversity, having been home to Eastern Christians and Jews for many centuries, if not millennia. According to Reiss, Nussimbaum was incredibly fascinated with Islam and the Arabic language, his infatuation leading him to ultimately convert officially in Berlin’s Turkish Embassy. It could be said, possibly, that his conversion had an influence on the author’s intentions with regard to his writings.


An illustration of Baku’s Zoroastrian fire temple (Pers. ‘atashgah’) from John Ussher’s 1865 travelogue, A Journey from London to Persepolis (Source: Reorientmag).

While Nussimbaum’s conversion might certainly have been genuine, it could be argued that it gave him a rather false sense of validity. To me, the most peculiar thing about the enigmatic author was his encounter (whether it actually occurred or not) with the indigenous Mizrahi Jews of the region – the same group that I belong to. We speak a Jewish dialect (Judeo-Tat) of Tati, an Iranian language closely related to Persian. Being a Jew, Nussimbaum’s writings on the Mizrahis of Dagestan and Azerbaijan should in theory, one could say, have been more familiar. However, it seems that Nussimbaum wrote even more harshly about them than any other group, as if in an attempt to distance himself from his origins and further emphasise his new identity. Such efforts may come as striking, as Azerbaijanis and other Muslims of the region lived in relative peace with members of other religious communities. Amongst other things, Nussimbaum wrote that the native Jews practiced strange blood rituals with their Muslim neighbours, and that their women washed the feet of men with their hair, both of which ‘observations’ have no historical basis or validity whatsoever. In a way, these sensual examples further evoke a sort of sexualised imagery about the practices of the region, far removed from its realities.

4-Caucasian-JewsTwo of Valeriya’s relatives in Derbent in the early 20th century (Source: Reorientmag).

As Reiss posits in The Orientalist, Nussimbaum was at one point exposed as a fraud, and as such, had to change his pen name from Essad Bey to Kurban Said, such that he could regain some legitimacy for his writing. A sort of Orientalist Romeo and Juliet with similarities to other ‘Eastern’ romances such as the Persian Khosrow and Shirin (in which the Zoroastrian Sassanid monarch Khosrow falls for the Christian Armenian princess Shirin), Ali and Nino tells the story of Ali, an Azerbaijani Muslim man, and Nino, a Christian Georgian woman, set in Azerbaijan, Iran, and other nearby countries. Reiss’ assertion that Nussimbaum was Kurban Said cannot be taken for granted as a fact, as the relationship between the two is still being debated amongst scholars. Writers such as Betty Blair of Azerbaijan International, for example, are convinced that Kurban Said was in reality an Azerbaijani author by the name of Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminli – a view also held by many Azerbaijanis. However, due to what many have claimed to be Orientalist overtones throughout the novel, as well as the presence of hot-headed characters acting on their ‘Caucasian’ and ‘Asian’ emotions, their obsession with revenge, and Ali’s aggressiveness, others have rejected Blair’s argument and instead hold Nussimbaum to be the more likely author amongst the two.

5-Ali-and-NinoAn English translation of Kurban Said’s “Ali and Nino” (Source: Reorientmag).

Regardless of whether or not Nussimbaum was Kurban Said, his life as Essad Bey is nonetheless interesting. Overall, his Orientalist tendencies, it could be argued, seemingly came from some sort of self-loathing and the desire to belong (to a greater degree) to the region he was raised in. As a Jew in the early-mid 20th century, it makes sense that there may have been other reasons (e.g. anti-Jewish hatred and the pogroms) for his desire to reject his European or Jewish identity; but, if he simply wished to save himself from fascism, why were his writings so sensual, so egregiously incorrect and full of factual errors, and over-the-top with respect to the Orient? While the Jewish predicament certainly complicates the reasoning, it may be said that Nussimbaum, like others before and after him, assumed an ‘exotic’ identity in an escapist attempt to shed what he considered ‘boring’ or quotidian. Unfortunately, such newly-forged identities often turn out to be mere caricatures of those they strive to represent and their way of life.

Farroukh Jorat: The Atashgah (Fire temple) of Baku

The article below “Zoroastrians of Apsheron: from Sassanians to present days” is written by Farroukh Jorat from the Republic of Azerbaijan (formerly known as Arran and the Khanates until May 1918).


 Baku is the capital of the Azerbaijan Republic, which called by poets as “Land of flames”. This country was the part of Great Iran from ancient times until XIX century. In this article I will briefly talk about Zoroastrian history of Baku and Apsheron peninsula.

Before Sassanians

The earliest mention of Persians in the Caucasus is found in the Greek historian Herodotus’ account of the Achaemenid expansion of 558-330 BC, during which they annexed Transcaucasia (South Caucasus) as the X, XI, XVIII and XIX satrapies of their empire [1].

Archaeological material uncovered in present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia include Achaemenid architecture, jewelry and ceramics [2].

Beginning of Sassanian times

Earliest mentions of a Zoroastrianism in Transcaucasia dates back to the Sassanians, who founded here the fire temples. Mobed Kartir (III c.) write in “Kabah of Zartusht”:

“And from earliest times onward for the sake of the Yazads and noble lords and for my own soul’s sake, I, Kartir, saw much trouble and toil. And I made prosperous many fires and magi in the empire of Iran. And I also, by command of the King of Kings, put in order those magi and fires which were for the territory outside Iran, wherever the horses and men of the King of Kings arrived the city of Antioch and the country of Syria and what is beyond Syria, the city of Tarsus and the country of Cilicia and what is beyond Cilicia, the city of Caesarea and from the country of Cappadocia to Galatia, and the country of Armenian and Georgia, and Albania, and from Balaskan to the Alans’ pass. And Shahpuhr, King of Kings, with his own horses and men visited with pillaging, firing, and havoc. But I did not allow damage and pillaging, and whatsoever pillaging had been made by any person, those things I had taken away and returned to their own country” [3].

Movses Khorenatsi in V century in the description of Bhagavan on the Caspian coast mentioned about Sanctuary with seven worshiped holes and referred to the establishment of the Shah Ardashir I (227-241) fire temples in Bhagavan [4]. Bhagavan (Bagavan) is one of medieval names of Baku. Ghevond Alishan described them as seven holes with burning oil which were called “Azer Pehram” [5].

Obviously, we are talking about a fire temple “Ateshgah” in the village of Surakhani (near Baku) where burned seven eternal flames.


Fire temple Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Also there is another tower fire-temple called “Maiden Tower”. Nezami Ganjevi in his poem “Eskandar Nameh” wrote:

In that place was a fire built round with stone

Which the fire-worshipper used to call – “Khudi-soz”

For it, were a hundred priests (erbadan) of the fire-temple with collar of gold.

“Khudi-soz” (“Burning itself”) refers to the burning of natural oil or gas fires. “For it, were a hundred priests (erbadan)” – to stand before the sacred fire so many erbads could only in very large temple.

Such large tiered fire temple with premises able to accommodate a hundred erbads could be the Baku temple tower known as the Maiden’s Tower. Having examined the mortar with which the tower was built, scientists have concluded that it was built between the I and X centuries AD, i. e. in Sassanian times.


“Maiden’s tower” in Baku (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Towering fire temple of Sassanian times existed in Ardasher-Khwarrah in the province of Pars (now Firouzabad). This fire temple was built by shah Ardeshir I and was located at the center of the city and it was a 30 m high and spiral in design. This architectural type influenced on architecture of Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.


Draft of towering fire temple in Ardasher-Khwarrah (now Firouzabad), Iran (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In 1964, in front of the “Maiden’s tower” archaeologists found altar of fire, which, unfortunately, was soon destroyed. Altar had three-tier octagonal base, each step was 22-25 cm tall at the center of the upper base has been installed an octagonal tower height of 110 cm and 45 cm at the top of the column is clearly seen traces of fire and oil. The column had no openings for gas, oil burned in the bowl, which is not fully preserved. Place reliance shallow bowl was round a spherical cavity on the top of the column. The whole height of the altar was approximately 225-235 cm.


Altar of fire near the “Maiden’s tower” in Baku (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Sketch of the reconstructed ancient altar of the fire is shown. The altar of this type has been widely distributed by the Medes and Sassanian Iran, where the altars were low (below human growth). Their images carved on coins.


Altar of fire. Coin of shah Ardashir I (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Arabian invasion. VII-XII AD

In 642, in the Caucasus invaded by an army of the Arab Caliphate, began a violent Islamization. However, despite this, the majority of the population remained Zoroastrians a few centuries after the Arab conquest. Estakhri (X century) mentioned that not far from Baku (i.e., on the Apsheron Peninsula) lived fire worshippers [6]. This was confirmed by Movses Kaghankatvatsi in his reference of the province of Bhagavan (“Fields of the Gods” i.e., “Fire Gods”) [7] and by Aboulfeda [8].

At the same time group of Zoroastrians from Sanjan (now in Turkmenistan) migrated to India. It was the beginning the history of Parsi community.

It is known that when referring to Zoroastrians, Muslims used the word “Gabri”. To the west of Baku is located a desert area, which until the 1940’s was called “Gabristan”. In the 1940’s,after the discovery of rock paintings, this place has become famous, and the name “Gabristan” was deemed invalid because of its consonance with the word “gabir” (“grave” in Azeri) and the district was renamed the “Gobustan”. However, as noted archaeologist Gardashkhan Aslanov, in fact stated, the name Gabristan has no relation to the word “grave” and actually means “Country of Gabris”. It is likely that this desert area was a place for Zoroastrians who were trying not to attract the attention of Muslim rulers. Now the new name “Gobustan” stuck and few people know the old name of the area.

Middle ages. XV-XVII AD

From XV-XVI centuries diplomatic and trade relations between India and Shirvan were expanded. Surakhani Ateshgah was used as sanctuary of Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.

In 1683 German traveler Engelbert Kämpfer visited Surakhani and mentioned about “seven holes with eternal fires” [9]. “Surakhani” in Persian of Caucasus (language of Surakhani) means “hole with the fountain”. In other words, “Yotnporakyan Bagink” and “Surakhani” is practically calques.


Seven fire holes, picture by Kaempfer, 1683 (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Chardin in the 17th century reported about Persian Guebres, which worshiped forever burning fire that was in two days’ journey from Shemakha (on the Apsheron) [10].

Engelbert Kaempfer wrote that among people who worshiped fire, two men are descendants of Persians who migrated to India.

French Jesuit Villotte, who lived in Azerbaijan since 1689, reports that Ateshgah revered by Hindus and Guebres, the descendants of the ancient Persians [11].

German traveler Lerch who visited the temple in 1733, wrote that here there are 12 Guebres or ancient Persian fire worshipers» [12].

Around the fire altar (“Chahar-tag”) were cells for pilgrims and guest room (“balakhani”), located at the entrance to the courtyard. According to travelers in the cells as small fires burned.


Ateshgah of Baku, XVIII-XIX centuries (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Despite the fact that the temple was primarily used by a Hindus and Sikhs too, it represents the Sassanian “Chahar-tag” style. Fire temples of this type were in Niasar and other areas of Iran [13].

“Chahar-tag” fire temple in Niasar (Iran) (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

On the walls of cells were encrypted dedicatory inscriptions (14 Hindu, 2 Sikh and one Persian inscriptions).


Persian (Zoroastrian) inscription in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

آتشی صف کشیده همچون دک

جیی بِوانی رسیده تا بادک

سال نو نُزل مبارک باد گفت

خانۀ شد رو سنامد (؟) سنة ۱۱۵٨

ātaši saf kešide hamčon dak

jeyi bavāni reside tā bādak

sāl-e nav-e nozl mobārak bād goft

xāne šod ru *sombole sane-ye 1158

Fires stand in line

Esfahani Bavani came to Badak

“Blessed the lavish New Year”, he said:

The house was built in the month of Ear in year 1158.

In the first line of inscription author talks about of a number of fires burning in the cells around the temple.

Jorat-Baku-10Worshiped fire and small fires stand in line in the background cells (1865) (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In the second line the author says that he was from Isfahan and Bavan and reached the city of Badak. “Jay” is form of “Gay”, one of the earliest names of Isfahan. Bavan (modern Bavanat) is the village near Esfahan. [14, 15]. The word Badak is a diminutive of Bad-Kubeh. (The name of Baku in the sources of the 17th and 18th centuries was Bad-e Kube).

The 1158 year corresponds to 1745 AD. At the end of the reference is the constellation of Sombole /Virgo (August-September). In the name of the month the master mistakenly shifted the “l” and “h” at the end of the word. According to Zoroastrian calendar Qadimi New Year (Novruz) in 1745 AD was in August.

J. Hanway visited Baku in 1747 and left few records of Ateshgah. People, who worshiped fire in Ateshgah he calls “Indians”, “Persians” and “Guebres”. [16].

S. Gmelin, who visited Ateshgah in 1770, wrote that in the present Ateshgah lived Indians and descendants of the ancient Guebres [17].


As said M. J. Saint-Martin, French orientalist of early XIX century: “The city of Baku is regarded by Parsis as a holy place due to many sources of naphtha with natural burning fire and in many places worshiping a eternal fire”. (La ville de Bakou est regardée par les Parsis comme un lieu saint, à cause du grand nombre de sources de naphte qui s’y enflamment naturellement, et qui, en plusieurs endroits, y entretiennent un feu perpétuel.) [18].

In 1820 the French consul Gamba visits the temple. According to Gamba here lived Hindus and Persian guebres, the followers of Zoroaster. [19].

In 1840 Avraham Firkowicz, a Karaite collector, wrote about his meeting in Darband in 1840 with fireworshiper from Baku. Firkowicz asked him “Why do you worship fire?” Fireworshiper replied that they do not worship fire at all, but the Creator, which is not a person, but rather a “matter” (abstraction) called Q’rţ’, and symbolized by fire. Term Q’rţ’ (“kirdar”) means in Pahlavi and Avestan as “one who does”, “creator” [20].

The Englishman Ussher visited Ateshgah in September 19, 1863. He calls it “Atesh Jah” and said that there are pilgrims from India and Persia [21].

German Baron Max Thielmann visited the temple in October 1872 and in his memoirs he wrote that Parsi community of Bombay sent here a priest who after a few years will be replaced. His presence is necessary, because here come the pilgrims from the outskirts of Persia (Yazd, Kerman) and from India and remain in this sacred place for several months or years. [22].

In 1876 English traveler James Bruce visited Ateshgah. He noted that the Bombay Parsi Punchayat provides a permanent presence in the temple of their priest [23].

E. Orsolle, who visited the temple after Bruce, said that after Parsi priest died in 1864, the Parsi Punchayat of Bombay a few years later sent another priest here, but the pilgrims who came here from India and Iran have already forgotten the sanctuary, and in 1880 there was nobody [24].

O’Donovan visited the temple in 1879 and refers about religious worship of Guebres. [25].

In 1898 in the “Men and Women of India” magazine was published an article entitled “The ancient Zoroastrian temple in Baku”. Author calls Ateshgah as “Parsi temple” and notes that the last Zoroastrian priest was sent there for about 30 years ago (that is, in the 1860s.) [26].


Henry in 1905, in his book also noted that 25 years ago (i.e. about in 1880) in Surakhani died last Parsi priest. [27].

In 1855, with the development of oil and gas fields the natural flames of Ateshgah began to fade. In 1887, Ateshgah had greatly weakened flames and was visited by the Emperor Alexander III. The temple flames finally extinguished January 6, 1902.

In 1925 the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic at the invitation of the “Community for the survey and study of Azerbaijan” visited the famous Bombay Zoroastrian scholar and professor J. J. Modi. Modi claimed that the ancient texts say about the Parsi fire temples on the shores of the Khazar (Caspian) Sea.

Parsi scientist visited completely abandoned Ateshgah, but due to the large number of attributes of the Hindu religion (the inscriptions, trishul) he ranked Ateshgah to Hindu temples. In the Persian inscriptions he was able to partially disassemble only the first and last row.

He visited the “Maiden’s tower”, which he considered as “ancient Ateshkade” (fire temple), and suggested the architectural similarity of the tower, discovered during excavations of the ancient city of Taxila, near Rawalpindi (now Pakistan). It should be noted that Modi’s assumption had remained unconfirmed [28].


J. J. Modi, Baku, November, 1925 (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

He gave lectures in Baku on the two subjects: “The Parsees” and “The Importance of Azerbaijan from a Parsee Point of View”. His objective was to create an interest in our religion among the local learned people.

After J. J. Modi’s visit Ateshgah 50 years was in oblivion. But since 1975, after the restoration it was re-opened to the public. Flames of Ateshgahs burn again.


Since the 1991 Zoroastrian community of Iran began missionary work outside of Iran. One of the objectives of Zoroastrians of Azerbaijan is the recognition of Zoroastrianism by society and the State as one of the traditional religions of Azerbaijan. Zoroastrians of Azerbaijan, as well as from Iran and India carried out in Ateshgah religious ceremonies.


Iranian Zoroastrians in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In July 2009, Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan announced a grant of AZN 1 million for the upkeep of the shrine.


Ateshgah at present days (Source: Farroukh Jorat).


Ateshgah and balakhani (house above the entrance) at present days (Source: Farroukh Jorat).


[1] Herodotus, The Histories, Book III (Thaleia) 92, 94.

[2] Kroll Stephan. “Medes and Persians in Transcaucasia: archaeological horizons in north-western Iran and Transcaucasia”, in : G. B. Lanfranchi, M. Roaf, R. Rollinger, eds., Continuity of Empire (?) Assyria, Media, Persia. Padova, S.a.r.g.o.n. Editrice e Libreria, 2003, pp. 281-287. History of the Ancient Near East / Monographs – V.

[3] Royal inscription found on the Kabah of Zartusht. An account of how Zoroastrianism was propagated beyond Iranian territories during the Third Century, and other religions suppressed.

[4] Movses of Chorene “The History of Armenia”.

[5] Alishan. Hin Havatk gam Hetanosagan gronk Hayots (“Ancient Beliefs, or Pagan Religions of Armenia”], pp. 55-56, Venice, 1895).

[6] Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al Istakhri. Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek.

[7] History of the Caucasian Albanians by Movses Dasxuranci. Translated by C. J. F. Dowsett. London, 1961.

[8] Geographie d’Aboulfeda traduite de Parabe en francais et accompagnee de notes et d’eclaircissements par M. Reinaud, t. I-II, Paris, 1848-1883.

[9] E. Kämpfer. Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum fasciculi V, quibus continentur variae relationes, observationes et descriptiones rerum Persicarum et ulterioris Asiae, multa attentione, in peregrinationibus per universum Orientum, collecta, ab auctore Engelberto Kaempfero. Lemgoviæ : Typis & Impensis Henrici Wilhelmi Meyeri, Aulæ Lippiacæ Typographi , 1712, p. 253—262.

[10] Chardin J. Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de 1’Orient. Vol. II. Amsterdam, 1735. p. 311.

[11] J. Villotte, Voyage d’un missionnaire de la Compagnie de Jésus en Turquie, en Perse, en Arménie, en Arabie et en Barbarie, Paris, 1730.

[12] Лерх Иоанн. Выписка из путешествия Иоанна Лерха, продолжавшегося от 1733 до 1735 г. из Москвы до Астрахани, а оттуда по странам, лежащим на западном берегу Каспийского моря. «Новые ежемесячные сочинения», ч. XLIV, февраль, СПб., 1790 г., с. 75.

[13] Fire Temple at Niasar.

[14] Bavan on Google maps.

[15] Ali Akbar Dehkhoda. Loghatnameh, (in Persian), Tehran.

[16] Jonas Hanway. An Historical Account of the British Trade Over the Caspian Sea, 1753.

[17] Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin. Reise durch Russlaud zur Untersuchung d. drei Naturreiche, p. 45.

[18] Saint-Martin M. J. Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur l’Arménie I, Paris, 1818, p. 153-154.

[19] Jean Françoise Gamba. Voyage dans la Russie meridionale. II. Paris. 1826. P. 299.

[20] Dan Shapira. A Karaite from Wolhynia meets a Zoroastrian from Baku. Iran and the Caucasus, vol. 5, no. 1, 2001, pp. 105-106.

[21] Ussher. A Journey from London to Persepolis. pp. 208-207, London, 1865.

[22] Thielmann, Journey in the Caucasus, Persia, and Turkey in Asia, Eng. tr. by Heneage, 2. 9-12, London, 1876.

[23] James Bryce. Transcaucasia and Ararat: Being Notes of a Vacation Tour in the Autumn Of 1876.

[24] E. Orsolle. Le Caucase et la Perse. Ouvrage accompagné d’une carte et d’un plan. Paris, E. Plon, Nourrit et cie, 1885, pp. 130-142.

[25] O’Donovan E. Merv Oasis: Travels and Adventures East of the Caspian during the years 1879-80-81. 2 vols. New York, 1883.

[26] Men and Women of India. Vol. 1, no. 12, p. 696, Bombay, Dec. 1898.

[27] J. D. Henry, Baku, an Eventful History, 1906.

[28] Maari Mumbai Bahaarni Sehel – Europe ane Iran-nee Musaafari-naa 101 Patro. 1926, p. 266-279 (English translation: “My Journey outside Mumbai – 101 letters of my Europe and Iran Journeys.” by Ervad Shams-Ul-Ulama Dr. Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi. Translated from Gujarati by Soli P. Dastur in 2004.

Bruno Jacobs: Achaemenid Rule in the Caucasus

The posting below by Bruno Jacobs’ discussion on Achaemenid Rule in the Caucasus was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on August 15, 2006. Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and their accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.


Achaemenid rule in the Caucasus region was established, at the latest, in the course of the Scythian campaign of Darius I in 513-12 BCE. The Persian domination of the cis-Caucasian area (the northern side of the range) was brief, and archeological findings indicate that the Great Caucasus formed the northern border of the empire during most, if not all, of the Achaemenid period after Darius.

After the conquest of Armenia (OPers. Armina), which is recorded as a province (OPers. dahyu-) of the Achaemenid empire in the Bisotun inscription, the realm of Cyrus the Great already must have reached considerably to the north. The Little Caucasus, the line of the Phasis/Rion and Cyrus/Kura rivers, and the Great Caucasus all offer themselves as natural frontiers, but it is not possible to reconstruct in more detail the boundary line of that time.

ShamkhirAn Iranian legacy in the Caucasus. To the south of the Republic of Georgia is Shamkhir located in the Republic of Azarbaijan (ROA) (known as Arran until 1918). Shamkhir is located some 350 kilometres west of Baku near the Armenian border to its west. The CAIS website hosted by Shapur Suren-Pahlav reported on August 28, 2007 that Archaeologists from the ROA, Georgia and Germany unearthed ruins of a monument dated to the Achaemenid dynasty in the town of Shamkhir. The head of the archaeology team stated that: “During the excavation, we found traces of a 2500 year old historical structure…which has one 1000 square meter chamber surrounded by several smaller rooms…The ruins indicate that this area was once an important Achaemenid centre in the northern provinces in the Caucasus” (Picture and caption from Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and were also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

In the classical sources referring to the Achaemenid period, the Caucasus region is widely neglected (Lordkipanidze, 2000, pp. 4-7). So historians felt obliged to speculate about the border of the empire in that region during the approximately 200 years of Achaemenid rule that followed. Hewsen (1983, p. 128) expresses doubts that the Achaemenid empire ever extended beyond the Armenian plateau. Lordkipanidze (2000, pp. 9-11) concedes that Kachetia may have belonged to the Persian empire, but not Caucasian Iberia north of the Kura. Gagoshidze (1996, pp. 125 f.), however, is of the opinion that the territory of modern Georgia as a whole belonged to the Achaemenid empire, perhaps as an autonomous region (also Knauss, 1999b, p. 220).

It is not possible to reach a definite conclusion on the incorporation of areas between the Black and the Caspian Seas into the empire during the time of Darius I on the basis of Herodotus’s so-called “satrapy list” (Hdt., 3.90-94, esp. 93-94), as is done by Hewsen (1983, pp. 125 f.) and Ter-Martirosov (2000, pp. 246-50), because this catalogue is not appropriate either for the reconstruction of the imperial administration or for historical geography. Clearer insights are gained from the Scythian campaign of Darius I in 513-12 BCE, which involved military operations in the Caucasus region and the territory north of it.

Achaemenid Palace at QarajamirliExcavation of the Achaemenid building at Qarajamirli. The researchers Babaev, Gagoshidze, Knauß and Florian in 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(15)) discovered the remains of a monumental building as well as a number of fragments of limestone column bases. This follows closely the plan of an Achaemenid palace featuring a Symmetrical ground plan for the building as well as architectural sculpture. The pottery found on floor closely follow Persian models from the Achaemenid era. Similar structures have been excavated from Sary Tepe (Republic of Azerbaijan) and Gumbati (Georgia). The Sary Tepe, Gumbatii and Qarajamirli buildings can be interpreted as residences of Persian officials who left the region when Achaemenid Empire collapsed.

At that time Darius attacked the Scythians in a “pincer” movement with two battalions, one coming from the west after the crossing of the Bosporus and Danube, and the other passing over the Caucasus and invading the region north of the Pontus from the east (Jacobs, 2000, pp. 95-99). In spite of the sophisticated tactics, the undertaking did not succeed, and both armies had to retreat—the western one across the Danube and the eastern one across the Oarus, which the Persians secured with fortresses (Hdt., 4.124) in order to save at least a limited territorial gain. Herodotus (4.123) tells us that the Oarus empties into Lake Maietis/Sea of Azov; only the Sal River can be identified with the Oarus, because this river joins the Tanais/Don shortly before it empties into the Sea of Azov (Haussig apud Horneffer et al., 1963, p. 694, n. 120). How far the Persian rule in cis-Caucasia extended to the east is completely uncertain. After the conquest, the region must have been included as an administrative sub-unit (Colchis) of the satrapy of Armenia (Jacobs, 1994, p. 184). Reports of the plans of operation formulated by the Scythians and Lacedaemonians against the Achaemenid empire may belong to this same period when the cis-Caucasian territories were under Persian rule: the Lacedaemonians planned to invade Asia Minor starting from Ephesus, while the Scythians were to attack Media following the Phasis (Hdt., 6.84).

Certainly the occupation of cis-Caucasia as well as the Thracian territory was short-lived. The exact time it ended is unknown. Possibly the repercussions from the defeat of the Persians in Greece and from the successful rebellion of the Thracians were also felt on the east side of the Sea of Azov. A corresponding retaliation on the side of the Scythians could have chased out the Persians, resulting in the displacement of the border to the south. Herodotus’s claim (3.97) that the empire’s border was formed by the Caucasus—by this he probably means the Great Caucasus—may refer to this period.

Silver Rhython-Armina-Achaemenid EraA Silver Rhython of the Achaemenid type from Yerznka, Armenia (5th Century BCE) (Source: Public Domain).

A clue to the contours of the border in later times is given by Xenophon in his report on the return of the “10,000” after the battle of Cunaxa. Marching in the direction of the Black Sea coast, the Greeks passed close by the territory of the Colchians, the border of which could not have run far to the east of Trapezous/Trabzon. Nothing indicates that the Greeks, at that point, might have been near the border of the realm (Xen., Anabasis 4.8). On the contrary, the Colchians were settling on imperial territory; and, since their estates, as Herodotus and others relate, were situated at the Phasis, the river could not have marked the border; thus the next natural barrier to the north, i.e., the Great Caucasus, recommends itself as the border of the empire (Hdt., 4.37; cf. 1.2 and 104; Nonnos, 13.248-52; Strabo, 11.2.17 [C 498]). Regarding the sequel, the fourth century BCE, the sources are completely silent.

The altogether sparse written sources are supplemented by the strikingly rich archeological evidence from the region south of the Great Caucasus. The quantity of Persian objects of luxury is considerable (Smirnov, 1934, pls. 3.24-25; 8-11; 61-65; Gagoshidze, 1964, pl. 12.74; idem, 1996, pp. 126 f.; Davlianidze, 1976; see also the glass bowls from Sairche and from the Algeti valley in Makharadze and Saginašvili, 1999; Gagoshidze and Saginašvili, 2000, p. 72, fig. 3). However, these do not necessarily signify political sovereignty of the Persians, because it is rarely possible to decide whether they document Persian presence, or bear witness to commercial relations, or reached the area as diplomatic presents. Also, local imitations of sumptuous tableware from Persia (Furtwängler, 1995, pp. 195-203, figs. 13.3, 15.6, 17.8; Gagoshidze, 1996, pp. 127 ff.) may point only to the influence of Persian prototypes exerted across the frontier.

georgian-achaemeneanAncient Georgian Column Capital discovered in Tsikha Gora (Courtesy of Gagoshidze and Kipiani). Note the striking resemblance to the column capital from Persepolis below (Picture and caption from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division, Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).

The case of architecture is entirely different; it reflects the influence of the Achaemenid residence with an intensity that is hardly imaginable without Persian presence during a longer period. This opinion is not so much based on the ground plans of buildings, because these either cannot be determined with certainty (Sari-Tepe: Knauss, 1999a, p. 96; cf. Kipiani, 1993, pl. I) or are only partially preserved (Gumbati: Furtwängler and Knauss, 1996, pp. 367-76, fig. 4; Knauss, 1999a, pp. 86-92). More instructive is the formation of individual architectural elements, particularly column bases and capitals, in the region of modern Georgia and through Armenia to Azerbaijan. Here we can mention: (1) a capital with antithetic bull protomes from Zichia Gora and a fragment of a bell-shaped column base that presumably belongs with it (Kipiani, 1993, p. 62, pls. II-V; Lordkipanidze, 1991, p. 152, pl. 40.2-3; Zkitischwili, 1995, pp. 88 f. figs. 5-6; Gagoshidze, 1996, pp. 132 f., fig. 4; Gagoshidze and Kipiani, 2000, pp. 62-64 figs. 1,7-8; 2-3); (2) fragments of another capital with bull protomes from Sairche (Kipiani, 1987, p. 63, pls. VI-IX; Gagoshidze, 1996, p. 133, fig. 5,, pl. 13.2); (3) fragments of at least six bell-shaped column bases from Gumbati (Furtwängler, 1995, pp. 188-94, figs. 10-11; Furtwängler and Knauss, 1996, pp. 374-76; Knauss, 1999a, p. 90; idem, 2000, pp. 121-27, figs. 3-4.2); (4) column bases and similar fragments from Benjamin (Zardarian and Akopian, 1994, p. 185, fig. 6; Gagoshidze and Kipiani, 2000, p. 60, fig. 1.5), Sari Tepe (Kipiani, 1987, pp. 72 f., pls. I-VII, XV f.; Gagoshidze and Kipiani, 2000, fig. 11), and Qaracamirli Köyi (Furtwängler and Knauss, 1996, pp. 374-76, fig. 9; Gagoshidze and Kipiani, 2000, fig. 1.6). This evidence supports the assumption that the region belonged to the Achaemenid empire for a longer period and testify to the orientation of the ruling class toward the forms of representation originating from the center of the empire.

achaemenid-achaemenean-persepolis-georgianThe double-bull motif column capital typical of Achaemenid-era architecture in sites such as Persepolis and Susa. Note the vivid parallels in style, construction and motifs to its Georgian counterpart shown further above. Architecture is only one of the many facets in which the ancient Caucasus and Persia have enjoyed mutual influences (Picture and caption from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division, Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).


Abbreviation. AMIT – Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan.

Ts. Davlianidze, Adreantikuri khanis dzeglebi kvemo kartlidan (Early antique monuments in Kvemo Kartli), Skartvelos sakhelmtsipo museumis moambe 32-B, T’bilisi, 1976, pp. 118-47. A. E. Furtwängler, “Gumbati. Archäologische Expedition in Kachetien. 1. Vorbericht,” Eurasia Antiqua 1, 1995, pp. 177-211.A. E. Furtwängler and F. S. Knauß, “Gumbati. Archäologische Expedition in Kachetien. 2. Vorbericht,” Eurasia Antiqua 2, 1996, pp. 363-81. J. Gagoshidze, Adreantikuri khanis dzeglebi ksnis kheobidan (Early antique monuments from the Ksani valley), T’bilisi, 1964. Idem, “The Achaemenid Influence in Iberia,” Boreas 19, 1996, pp. 125-36. J. Gagoshidze and G. Kipiani, “Neue Beobachtungen zur achaimenidischen Baukunst in Kartli,” AMIT 32, 2000, pp. 59-65. J. Gagoshidze and M. Saginašvili, “Die achaimenidischen Glasgefäße aus Georgien,” AMIT 32, 2000, pp. 67-73. R. H. Hewsen, “Introduction to Armenian Historical Geography – II. The Boundaries of Achaemenid ‘Armina’,” REArm. 17, 1983, pp. 123-43. A. Horneffer, W. Haussig, and W. F. Otto, Herodot – Historien, Stuttgart, 1963. B. Jacobs, Die Satrapienverwaltung im Perserreich zur Zeit Darius’ III., Beihefte zum TAVO Reihe B Nr. 87, Wiesbaden, 1994. Idem, “Achaimenidenherrschaft in der Kaukasus-Region und in Cis-Kaukasien,” AMIT 32, 2000, pp. 93-102.

G. Kipiani, Kapiteli, T’bilisi, 1987 (Georgian with Russian summary). Idem, Arkhitektura Grusii antichnovo perioda – Arkhitekturnyie detali (The architecture of Georgia in the ancient period – architectural details), T’bilisi, 1993 (Georgian with Russian summary). F. S. Knauss, “Achämeniden in Transkaukasien,” in S. Lausberg and K. Oekentorp, eds., Fenster zur Forschung – Museumsvorträge der Museen der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Worte – Werke – Utopien, Thesen und Texte Münsterscher Gelehrter 9, Münster, 1999a, pp. 81-114. Idem, “Ein silbernes Trinkhorn aus Mtisdziri – Die Kolchis zwischen Achämeniden und Griechen,” in R. F. Docter and E. M. Moormann, eds., Classical Archaeology towards the Third Millennium: Reflections and Perspectives. Proceedings of the XVth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Amsterdam, July 12-17, 1998, Allard Pierson Series, Amsterdam, 1999b, pp. 218-22. Idem, “Der ‘Palast’ von Gumbati und die Rolle der Achaimeniden im transkaukasischen Iberien,” AMIT 32, 2000, pp. 119-30. O. Lordkipanidze, Archäologie in Georgien – Von der Altsteinzeit zum Mittelalter, Quellen und Forschungen zur Prähistorischen und Provinzialrömischen Archäologie 5, Weinheim, 1991. Idem, “Introduction to the History of Caucasian Iberia and its Culture of the Achaemenid and Post-Achaemenid Periods,” AMIT 32, 2000, pp. 3-19. G. Makharadze and M. Saginashvili, “An Achaemenian Glass Bowl from Sairkhe, Georgia,” Journal of Garden History 41, 1999, pp. 11-7. I. I. Smirnov, Der Schatz von Achalgori, T’bilisi, 1934. F. I. Ter-Martirosov, “Die Grenzen der achaimenidischen Gebiete in Transkaukasien,” AMIT 32, 2000, pp. 243-52. M. H. Zardarian and H. P. Akopian, “Archaeological Excavations of Ancient Monuments in Armenia 1987-1990,” Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 1, 1994, pp. 161-93. G. Zkitishwili, “Der frühhellenistische Feuertempel von Kawtishkewi,” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1995, pp. 83-98.

Farrokh article in New Book by Brill Publications: “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian)”

Brill Publications in Leiden, which is a major international academic venue for scholarly works, has just published a seminal book entitled:

Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Leiden: Brill, 2015

The book has been edited by Uwe Bläsing, University of Leiden, Victoria Arakelova, Yerevan State University and Matthias Weinreich, along  with the Assistance of Khachik Gevorgian. The Bibliographia Iranica provides an overview of the table of contents…

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-1

Front cover of the 2015 text “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Brill, 2015“. As noted in the Brill webpage: “This unique collection of essays by leading international scholars gives a profound introduction into the great diversity and richness of facets forming the study of one of earth’s most exciting areas, the Iranian and Caucasian lands. Each of the 37 contributions sheds light on a very special topic, the range of which comprises historical, cultural, ethnographical, religious, political and last but not least literary and linguistic issues, beginning from the late antiquity up to current times. Especially during the last decennia these two regions gained greater interest worldwide due to several developments in politics and culture. This fact grants the book, intended as a festschrift for Professor Garnik Asatrian, a special relevance.” Professor Garnik S. Asatrian is the Chair of the Iranian Studies Department at Yerevan State University and the Editor of  the “Iran and the Caucasus” journal, BRILL, Leiden-Boston). Professor Victoria Arakelova (Associate Professor, Department of Iranian Studies, Yerevan State University) is the Associate Editor, of “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden.

The textbook has also published an article by Kaveh Farrokh [The Military Campaigns of Shah Abbas I in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus (1603-1618). Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (Studies in Honour of Prof. Garnik S. Asatrian; Edited by U. Bläsing, V. Arakelova & M. Weinreich), pp. 75-95.] – below is the abstract for that article:

This paper provides an overview of the Safavid military forces and reforms at the time of Shah Abbas I (r.1587-1629), especially with the promotion of the new Ghulam units to counterbalance the traditional Qizlibash forces which had bought the Safavids to power at the time of Shah Ismail (r. 1502-1524). Other significant military reforms were the introduction of firearm units such as the Tofanchi (musketeers), Jazayerchis (bearers of larger and heavier muskets) and Toopchis (artillerymen). The introduction of these reforms proved instrumental in Shah Abbas I’s successes in expelling the Ottomans from Tabriz (1603) and Yerevan (1604), defeating the Ottoman counteroffensive in Azerbaijan (1605) and the capture of Shamakhi (1606) and Ganja (1606). Large numbers of Armenians, Kurds and Azeris had been displaced from their homelands by Shah Abbas I as a result of his scorched earth tactics against invading Ottoman forces in 1606-1607. Shah Abbas’ military successes led to the Ottoman-Safavid peace treaty of 1612 which affirmed all of the Iranian conquests since the recapture of Tabriz. The Safavid army had to fight a series of battles in Georgia (1613-1623) which led to a new Ottoman war (1616). The Safavid army defeated the Ottoman offensives in Yerevan and Ardabil (1616-1618) obliging the Ottomans to negotiate a new peace treaty which affirmed all of Shah Abbas’ conquests since 1603.


Rare drawing by a European traveller who witnessed the aftermath of the liberation of Tabriz by Shah Abbas I on October 21, 1603. Local Azari citizens welcomed the Iranian Safavid army as liberators and took harsh reprisals against the defeated Ottoman Turks who had been occupying their city. Many unfortunate Turks fell into the hands of Tabriz’s citizens and were decapitated (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran: Entesharat-e Iman, p.63).

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-2

Back cover of the 2015 text “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Brill, 2015“. The Brill webpage cites the following scholars as contributors to the volume: Victoria Arakelova; Marco Bais; Uwe Bläsing; Vahe S. Boyajian; Claudia A. Ciancaglini; Johnny Cheung; Viacheslav A. Chirikba; Matteo Compareti; Caspar ten Dam; Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst; Kaveh Farrokh; Aldo Ferrari; Ela Filippone; Khachik Gevorgian; Jost Gippert; Nagihan Haliloğlu; Elif Kanca; Pascal Kluge; Anna Krasnowolska; Vladimir Livshits; Hirotake Maeda; Irina Morozova; Irène Natchkebia; Peter Nicolaus; Antonio Panaino; Mikhail Pelevin; Adriano V. Rossi; James R. Russell; Dan Shapira; Wolfgang Schulze; Martin Schwarz; Roman Smbatian; Donald Stilo; Çakır Ceyhan Suvari; Giusto Traina; Garry Trompf; Matthias Weinreich; Eberhardt Werner and Boghos Zekiyan.


[Click to enlarge] Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) as depicted in a European copper engraving made by Dominicus Custos citing him as “Schach Abas Persarum Rex” or “Shah Abbas the Great monarch of Persia”. Note how Custos makes a particular emphasis on linking Shah Abbas to the “Mnemona Cyrus” (the Memory of Cyrus the Great of Persia). Shah Abbas’ victories over the Ottomans weakened them against the Europeans to the West, and especially in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Long Time Between Drinks

On a humorous note: A long time between drinks! A 1902 cartoon entitled “491 BC-1902 CE” in Puck magazine (v. 52, no. 1348, 1902, December 31) depicting “Persia” (at left) toasting “Greece” (at right) from a punch bowl labeled “Renewal of Diplomatic Relations” (Source: US Library of Congress).

M. L. Chaumont: Greek Historian Arrian (2nd century CE)

The article below by M. L. Chaumont on the Greek historian Arrian (2nd century CE) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1986 and last updated on August 15, 2011. This article is available in print (Vol. II, Fasc. 5, pp. 523-524).

Kindly note that the pictures and accompanying captions below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica publication.


Arrian, L. Flavius Arrianus, Greek historian from Bithynia, born in Nicomedia, whose father had obtained Roman citizenship. He held very high positions. The apex of his career occurred under the emperor Hadrian who appointed him governor of Cappadocia in 131 A.D. His reputation as a historian earned him the name the new Xenophon. Achaemenid and Parthian Iran occupied an important place in Arrian’s historical work, including: (1) the Anabasis, which treats Alexander’s expeditions; its supplement, the History of India; and the History of Events after Alexander; and (2) the Parthica or History of the Parthians.

Arrian-FlaviusPortrait of a bearded man attributed to Flavius Arrianus (Source: Fernhill.com).

The Anabasis is divided into seven books on the model of the Anabasis of Xenophon. Written in a sober and simple style, it is a mine of information on Iran toward the end of the Achaemenid period. It not only describes the famous battles of the Macedonian forces against the armies of Darius III Codomannus, but it also contains many details about the provinces and peoples of the Persian empire, as well as its leading generals and satraps.

Arrian of NicomediaPhilip A. Stadter’s 2010 book “Arrian of Nicomedia” (University of North Carolina Press; for more information see Amazon…)

The principal sources of the Anabasis are Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, and Aristobulus of Cassandreia; these were the authors who Arrian considered most reliable, as he remarks in his preface. Both of them had taken part in Alexander’s campaigns. The former, of Macedonian nobility, had been a member of the bodyguard and the companion in arms of the conqueror before becoming, after Alexander’s death, satrap, and then king of Egypt (Ptolemy I Soter). The second had also belonged to Alexander’s entourage, but in a more modest position, as an engineer or architect. Not even the titles of the works of Ptolemy and Aristobulus have survived, nor do we know what they covered.

Map of Achaemenid Empire-Kaveh Farrokh-2007Map of the Achaemenid Empire drafted by Kaveh Farrokh on page 87 (2007) for the book Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-; Arrian has provided valuable descriptions of the provinces and peoples od the ancient Persian Empire.

The agreement between Ptolemy and Aristobulus on certain points is underlined by Arrian, e.g., Alexander’s generous treatment of the mother, wife, and children of Darius III, taken prisoner at the battle of Issus in October, 333 (Anabasis 2.12.3-6). Similarly, they are agreed that the battle that decided the fate of the Persian empire took place, not at Arbela, as is the general consensus, but at a small Assyrian village, Gaugamela (now Tell Gōmēl) on the Bumelus river (now Gōmēl-sū), 500 or 600 stades from Arbela (ibid., 6.11.5-6). There are instances where the two authors disagree, which Arrian does not fail to note.

Arrian refers to Ptolemy on several occasions, e.g., regarding the intervention of Darius’ mother in favor of the vanquished Uxii (in Ḵūzestān). They were allowed to keep their possessions in exchange for the payment of an annual tribute (ibid., 3.17.6). Probably from the same source is the passage concerning the submission of this bellicose people, who controlled the passes that gave access to Fārs (the Persian Gates) and the taking of these passes in spite of the resistance of the satrap Ariobarzanes (ibid., 3.17. 6; 3.18, 2; cf. E. Kornemman, Die Alexandergeschichte, pp. 56ff. and now W. Heckel, “Alexander at the Persian Gates,” Athenaeum 58, 1980, pp. 168-74). Another example is the account of Bessus, regicide and usurper, who was captured by the soldiers of Ptolemy himself in a village of Bactriana. Arrian also mentions the different version of this event by Aristobulus (cf. L. Pearson, The Lost Histories, p. 166). Again from Ptolemy’s work is the text of the correspondence exchanged between Darius III (in flight) and Alexander after Issus (Anabasis 2.14.1-9; cf. Kornemann, op. cit., p. 115, defending the authenticity of this correspondence).

Alexander and Darius III-Issus-Pompei MosaicPompeii floor mosaic depicting Alexander and Darius III at the Battle of Issus (November 333 BC) (Source: Public Domain). Known often as the “Mosaico di Alessandro” (Mosaic of Alexander) The above is a Roman copy of its Greek original that had been crafted by Philoxenos of Eretria.

From Aristobulus, whose witness is often invoked, came the following information: (a) The order of battle of Darius III’s army at Gaugamela: the different peoples composing the left and right wings are enumerated; in the center was the Great King himself with his kinsmen, picked guard, etc. (ibid., 3.11.3ff.). (b) Description of the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae (a description recognized as exact in modern times). Alexander, finding the tomb profaned and damaged, gave the order to Aristobulus to repair everything and to restore the monument (ibid., 6.20.4-8). (c) The account of the weddings at Susa, especially the marriages of Alexander to Barsine, the eldest daughter of Darius III, and to Parysatis, the youngest daughter of Artaxerxes III, when he was already married to Roxane, daughter of the Bactrian Oxyatres (ibid., 7.4.4).

Among Arrian’s other sources was Nearchus of Crete. After the conquest of India Nearchus was assigned the duty of bringing the Greek fleet from the mouth of the Indus to Susa. The work that Nearchus composed describing this long voyage was to furnish Arrian with the essential material for his History of India (Indica), which is, in fact, the history of one of the stages of Alexander’s expedition. (On the facts of the periplus of Nearchus, see W. Capelle, “Nearchus” no. 3, in Pauly-Wissowa, XVI/2, 1935, cols. 2185ff.; Pearson, op. cit., pp. 112-49; W. Spoerri, “Nearchos,” in Der Kleine Pauly IV, 1972, pp. 33-34.) Nearchus described the banks along which his fleet passed, their ports, water courses, and islands, and he cites the distances between points. He discusses the coasts of the “fisheaters” south of Gedrosia (Tūrān and Makurān), of Carmania (Kermān) (chaps. 32-37), of the Persians (Fārs) (chaps. 38-39), and of the Susians (Ḵūzestān). Then followed, after the mouth of the Euphrates, the passage upward from Pasitigris (Kārūn) and the rendezvous of Nearchus’ fleet and Alexander’s army near a bridge of boats (chap. 24) near modern Ahvāz (cf. G. Le Rider, Suse sous les Séleucides et les Parthes, Paris, 1965, p. 264). The itinerary from there to Susa is found in Anabasis 7.7.1-2. This description contains valuable ethnological and climatic details. This History of India also preserves several indigenous place names more or less faithfully: Neoptana, Hormozeia (Hormuz), on the coast of Carmania (chap. 33); the mountain Ochus (Vahuka), Apostana, Gogana, on the coast of the Persians (chap. 38); the island of Margastana, along the littoral of the Susians (chap. 41).

Winged Sphinx of Darius at SusaWinged Sphinx of Darius at Susa (Source: Public Domain).

The History of Events after Alexander (in ten books) has not survived. It is known through a long summary by Photius (Bibliotheca 92; ed. R. Henry, II, pp. 20-33) and through fragments (ed. A. G. Roos and G. Wirth, II, pp. 253-86; F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker II, Berlin, 1929, pp. 840-51, 872-73, 874, 881-83. The work in four books of Dexippus of Athens (3rd cent. A.D.) on the same subject seems to have been an epitome of the History of Arrian (see F. Jacoby, op. cit., II C: Kommentar, Berlin, 1926, pp. 306-07; we possess from it a brief summary also by Photius (Bibliotheca 82, ed. R. Henry, I, pp. 188-90). The work, in ten books, is devoted to events from 323 to 321, notably to the two successive partitions of the Achaemenid territories and to their consequences. Most of the actual Iranian satrapies passed into the hands of the Macedonian generals. However, some Persians were among the beneficiaries of these partitions.

The Parthica or History of the Parthians is also lost. Arrian was not ignorant of the Parthians. At the time when he governed Cappadocia, the Alan peril may have brought together briefly Parthians and Romans. But when Dio Cassius (Historia romana 69.15) speaks of the intervention of Vologases in those circumstances, it is not easy to determine whether he is concerned with the king Vologases II (III) of Parthia or rather his parent and homonym, the king of Armenia (for the latter identification, see A. von Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans und seiner Nachbarländer, Tübingen, 1888, p. 147). In writing a History of the Parthians, his essential goal was to set down the different phases of Trajan’s Parthian war (114-17). Of this work, in 17 books, Photius has preserved only a brief notice (Bibliotheca 58; ed. R. Henry, I, Paris, 1959, pp. 51-52). But the important fragments preserved by the Suda (Suidas) and Stephan of Byzantium help to partially reestablish its contents (ed. Roos-Wirth, II, 1968, pp. 223-52). See especially the erudite study of A. G. Roos (Studia), and now C. Coppola, “I Parthica d’Arriano nella biblioteca di Fozio,” Studia in memoria di R. Cantarella, Università di Salerno, 1981, pp. 475-91).

Parthian-1-Parthian NoblemanA reconstruction of the face on the statue of a Parthian nobleman housed at Tehran’s Iran Bastan Museum (Picture Source: Parthian Empire).

The first seven books dealt with the period before Trajan: Book I. Origin and customs of the Parthians; the first Arsacids. Arrian gives as ancestor of this dynasty Arsaces, son of Phriapites (frag. I, Roos-Wirth, p. 225 = Photius, Bibliotheca 58, ed. Henry, I, p. 51). This ancestry seems confirmed, to a certain extent, by some Parthian ostraca recently discovered at Nisa. Indeed in the formula of this document the Arsacid king appears as a grandson or great-grandson of Friyapatak (= Phriapites) (cf. M. L. Chaumont, Syria 48, 1971, pp. 145ff.). Book II. The war of Crassus against the Persians and the battle of Carrhae (53 B.C.). Book IV. Mark Antony’s expedition into Media Atropatene (36 B.C.). Book V. Roman-Parthian relations under Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius. Book VI. Corbulo’s campaign into Armenia. Book VII. Relations of Romans and Parthians under the Flavians; the complaints voiced against Trajan by the Arsacid Pacorus II (frag. 32; Roos-Wirth, p. 235).

The account of Trajan’s expedition is contained in books VIII-XVII: Book VIII. Armenian campaign of 114; the attitude of the Roman emperor toward the Arsacid aspirants to the throne of Armenia, Parthamasiris and Axidares (frags. 37-40; Roos, p. 237). Book IX. Mesopotamian campaign (114-l5); many village names mark Trajan’s itinerary from Edessa to Babylonia. In Books XI-XVI he includes, in chronological order: the taking of Ctesiphon, the voyage down the Tigris by the Roman fleet in the direction of the Persian Gulf, the short-lived success in Mesene and Characene, the return to Ctesiphon and Babylonia (116). An interesting fragment survives from the history of the revolt of the Parthian and Armenian princes, concerning the Armenian king, Sanatruces (Sanatruk) (frag. 59; Roos-Wirth, p. 247). In the last book (XVII) were described the siege of Hatra and subsequent events up to the return to Syria.

Roman Emperor TrajanRoman Emperor Trajan as depicted in a marble bust (r. 98-117 CE) (Source: Public Domain).

Although the History of the Parthians probably reflected only the Roman point of view, nevertheless its loss is regrettable. Everything indeed inclines us to believe that Arrian, thanks to his high connections, would have had first-hand access to official and private documents. The few fragments that remain from the original work have been put to good use by modern historians. See N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1936, p. 278 (index); J. Guey, Essai sur la guerre parthique de Trajan, Bibliothèque d’Istros II, Bucarest, 1937, p. 153 (index); G. Wirth, “Zur Tigrisfahrt des Kaisers Trajan,” Philologus 102, 1963, pp. 288-300.

32-Partho-Sassanian belt buckle 2nd or 3rd century CEPartho-Sassanian belt buckle dated to the 2nd or 3rd century CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 143, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا).  


Editions of Arrian’s work: Arriani Anabasis et Indica, ed. F. Dübner, Paris, 1848.

Flavii Arriani quae existant omnia (Teubner ed.), ed. A. G. Roos and G. Wirth, Leipzig, 1968, I: Alexandri Anabasis; II: Scripta minora et fragmenta (contains the History of India, the fragments of the History of the Parthians). Anabasis Alexandri, with an English translation by E. Iliff Robson (Loeb Class. Library), 2 vols., Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1958-61.

Secondary sources: E. Kornemann, Die Alexandergeschichte des Königs Ptolemaios von Ägypten, Berlin, 1935.

M. Luedeke, De fontibus quibus usus Arrianus composuit (Leipziger Studien II), 1882.

L. Pearson, The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great (Philological Monographs XX), New York, 1960.

A Robinson, The History of Alexander the Great (Brown University Studies 16), Providence, 1953.

A. G. Roos, Studia Arriania, Leipzig, 1912.

E. Schwartz, “Arrianus” no. 9, in Pauly-Wissowa, I, 1894, cols. 1230-47; “Aristobolus” no. 4, ibid., cols. 911-18.

W. Vincent, The Voyage of Nearchus, Oxford, 1809.

F. Wenger, Die Alexandergeschichte des Aristobulos von Kassandreia, Würzburg, 1914.

G. Wirth, “Arrianus,” in Der kleine Pauly I, 1964, pp. 605-06.

Idem, “Ptolemaios I als Historiker,” in Pauly-Wissowa, XXIII, 1959, cols. 2467ff.; Der kleine Pauly IV, 1972, col. 1228.

A. B. Bosworth, A Historical Commentary on Arrian’s History of Alexander (Books I-III) I, Oxford, 1980.

R. Syme, “The Career of Arrian,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 86, 1982, pp. 181-211.