Bukhara in Pre-Islamic Times

The article below by the late Harvard Professor Emeritus Professor Richard N. Nelson Frye (1920-2014) on Bukhara in Pre-Islamic Times was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are 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 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).

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The site or town of Bukhara was one of many settlements in the large oasis formed by the mouths of the Zarafshan (Zarafšān) river in ancient Sogdiana. Since there is no evidence that the river reached the Oxus in historic times, it is a reasonable assumption that in the first millennium B.C. irrigation, using the water of the river, enabled an ever-growing population to expand the arable land of the oasis. At the time of Alexander the Great no city is reported to have existed in this area, and the history of Bukhara cannot be traced before the 4th or 5th century of our era, which is the probable date of the first coins with indigenous Bu­kharan Sogdian writing on them. The alphabet used is one derived from Aramaic.

Ancient Bukhara Ark[Click to Enlarge] The ancient Ark of Bukhara dated to a settlement dated to 500 BCE or (approx.) 2500 years ago. The bulk of the present brickwork is believed to be dated to 850 CE and its repairs and re-building ever since, however elements of the original thousands year-old foundation remains visible. Note the Zindon (Persian; Zendan = prison) pit is seen constructed behind the walls (Picture Source: Megalithic UK).

The name Bukhara may be derived either from a Sogdian word *βuxārak, whence Old Turkish Buqaraq, meaning “fortunate place” (cf. Christian So. fwxʾr) or, less likely, from a local form of vihāra, a Buddhist monastery (see buddhism ii). Naršaḵī seems to favor the former, citing an Arabic word fāḵera with the same meaning, whereas Jovaynī (I, p. 76; tr. p. 98) supports the derivation from vihāra. The name is spelled pwxʾr in a Sogdian manuscript in Sogdian script of uncertain date (Henning, 1940, pp. 8-9).

On the obverse of the coins from Bukhara appears the bust of a ruler facing right and wearing a crown copied from the crown of the Sasanian Bahrām V (r. 420-­38). This gives the earliest date for the coinage, but it is unknown how much later than the time of Bahrām that the coinage actually began (see Frye, 1949, p. 26). The earliest coins have the legend βwγʾr γwβ ʾšδʾδʾ “King Ašδāδ of Bukhara”? (Smirnova, 1970, p. 56). Later kings have a legend reading βwγʾr γwβ kʾwʾ (or kʾnʾ) “king of Bukhara, the hero” (or: “Kā¦nā¦,” a personal name). On still later coins the third word of the legend is shortened to kʾw (So. “giant”) or kʾy, which Henning (apud Frye, 1949, p. 28) suggested was a Sogdian calque on the Middle Persian Kay (written kdy), a title first found on legends of the coins of Pērōz (r. 459-84). After the Arab conquest Arabic words were added to the coins, and gradually the Bukharan legend, no longer understood, degenerated to illegibility. Finally only Arabic legends appear, which for the most part are only pious formulae. The data of the coins with Arabic legends is from early ʿAbbasid times, for standard Islamic coins with only Arabic legends ousted the Bukharan coins by the time of the Samanids, although local issues of the Bukharan coins continued for several centuries. The long series of coins, however, reveals the conservatism of the people of the Bukharan oasis, and perhaps a longer usage of a local written form of Sogdian than hitherto assumed.

Simurgh-Bird MotifPost-Sassanian style decoration motifs common in Iranian architecture adorn this mosque archway in Bukhara; note large bird or Simurgh (Persian Phoenix – Turkic: Ertugrul), a dog reminiscent of Sassanian arts and the floral-arboreal patterns (Picture source: Natasha von Geldern in World Wandering Kiwi).

Although the coins reveal the existence of a pre-­Islamic government in the oasis, undoubtedly the area was settled before the beginning of the coinage. Naršaḵī’s assertion (pp. 7-8; tr. p. 6) that the site of Bukhara had been a swamp in ancient times but that the river brought silt that filled the lowlands and enabled people to live there probably is correct. There may even have been an Oxian lake there in very early times according to Ptolemy (4.12.3).

The Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā mentions several pre-Islamic rulers, but their names are uncertain, and we know nothing about them. The first ruler of Bukhara men­tioned by Naršaḵī (p. 8; tr. p. 7) is Abrūʾī or Abarzī. He became tyrannical and was overthrown by a Turkish ruler called Qarā Jūrjīn. Unfortunately neither person can be identified from other sources. Another ruler mentioned by Naršaḵī (p. 49; tr. p. 35) is Kānā, who is credited with introducing coinage into Bukhara of the time of Abū Bakr, the first caliph. This is hardly acceptable, but whether this is a misreading of the word kʾwʾ on the coins (see above) is uncertain. Another ruler is called Māḵ (p. 29; tr. p. 19), who is said to have built the bāzār in Bukhara called after his name, and still another king of Bukhara called Dīzoʾī is mentioned on a silver vessel (see Frye, 1950, p. 110). Again nothing is known about these rulers.

Suzani Robe-Bukhara-Central AsiaA Suzani Robe from Ancient Bukhara, a mutli-colored style of silk embroidery from Central Asia’s Ferghana valley (Picture Source: Suzanis Blog).

It would seem that there were several local lords in the oasis of Bukhara, especially in the towns of Paykand, Vardana, and Varaḵša. Both Paykand and Varaḵša are mentioned as residences of the rulers by Naršaḵī, but it is unknown whether they were local rulers or rulers of the entire oasis. Some kind of unity in the oasis is implied by the coinage, by the extensive irrigation system, and by the long walls around the settled and cultivated areas. The wall, called kampīrak or kampīr dovāl “old lady’s wall,” probably existed in pre-Islamic times although it may not have been completed (or extended) until the early ʿAbbasid period. In spite of an apparent unity of the oasis the success of the Arab conquest suggests there was little more unity in the oasis than between oases.

With a ruler of Bukhara called Bīdūn (or Bandūn) we reach the time just before the Arab conquest, for he is mentioned by a number of Arabic sources, although with several variant readings of his name. It is uncertain whether he was killed in battle with Salm b. Zīād, the first Arab commander to cross the Oxus in 681, or whether he was already dead and his widow, called Ḵātūn in the sources, was regent for their son Ṭoḡšāda. Under Ṭoḡšāda the Arab conquest of Bukhara was accomplished. It should be noted that in the Arabic sources the rulers of Bukhara were called Boḵār-ḵodāt, where the last word is Sogdian γwtʾw, used for the nobility or aristocracy of the Sogdian oases.

Figure-2-Bukhara Jew[Click to Enlarge] Image of a Bukhara Jew in Central Asia at the turn of the 19th century. The Jews of Bukhara are located in not just in the city of Bukhara but also in other cities of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Bukhara Jews speak a Jewish vernacular of the Samarkand-Bukhara dialect of the Perso-Tajik language (Photo Source: The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center).

The boundaries of the oasis of Bukhara on the whole have remained constant during the last millennium, but from pre-Islamic times mounds or remains of buildings are found in the desert to the west, outside the present-­day oasis, attesting a larger area of settlement in more ancient times (see Shishkin, p. 22). There were many canals in the oasis that utilized the water of the Zarafshan river, and three of the major canals men­tioned in Arabic or Persian sources can be identified today: Šāpūrkām (today Shafrikan/Šāfrekān), Ḵarḡ/qānrūd (Kalkan), and Ḵetfar or ʿĀv/Ḡāw-Ḵetfar (Babkent Darya/Bābkand Daryā), which divided into the Andāna and the Rāmīṯan-Sāmjan canals (Naršaḵī, pp. 44-45, tr. Frye, p. 32; Eṣṭaḵrī, pp. 310-11; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 486-87, tr. Kramers, II, pp. 466-67; Barthold, Turkestan, pp. 113-16).

The only extensive historical pre-Islamic excavations in the oasis were those of a palace complex in Varaḵša in 1938-39 and 1949-54, revealing traces of wall paintings as well as clay statuettes. In the city of Bukhara the site of the mosque of Magoki Attar was investigated by V. A. Shishkin in the 1950s, and pottery and other small objects from the earliest layer suggested a date as early as the beginning of our era. Other sites, such as that of Paykand, have only been surveyed (Shishkin, p. 16).

Bibliography

R. N. Frye, Notes on the Early Coinage of Transoxania, New York, 1949.

Idem, “Additional Notes on the Coinage of Transoxiana,” American Numismatic Society. Museum Notes (New York) 4, 1950, pp. 105-14.

W. B. Henning, Sogdica, James O. Forlong Fund 21, London, 1940.

Jovaynī, Tārīḵ-e jahāngošā, ed. Qazvīnī; tr. Boyle. Naršaḵī, Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā, ed. Rażawī; tr. Frye. O. I. Smirnova, Ocherki iz istorii Sogda, Moscow, 1970.

V. A. Shish­kin, Varakhsha, Moscow, 1963.

O. A. Sukhareva, K istorii gorodov Bukharskogo khanstva, Tashkent, 1958.

The Third Colloquia Baltica Iranica Conference (24-27 November 2016)

Siedlce University in Poland will be hosting the Third Colloquia Baltica Iranica Conference on 24-27 November 2016. The organizers of the conference are as follows: the Institute of History and International Relations, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Student Scientific Association of Historians, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, in cooperation with The Department of Mediterranean Archaeology, Gdańsk University, III CBI President: Katarzyna Maksymiuk and III CBI Secretary: Adam Kubik.

universty-of-siedlice-main-gateMain entrance gate of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities (Public Domain).

The conference will host an array of international experts in the field of ancient Iranian militaria studies such as: Nicholas Sekunda (University of Gdańsk, Poland), Aleksandr Silnov (State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Petersburg, Russia), Dan Tudor Ionescu (Metropolitan Library of Bucharest, Romania), Ilkka Syvänne (University of Haifa, Israel), Patryk Skupniewicz (University of Siedlce, Poland), David Nicolle (University of Nottingham, Great Britain), Valerii Nikonorov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Petersburg, Russia), Svyatoslav Smirnov, (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia), Marcin Lichota (University of Siedlce, Poland), Mariusz Mielczarek (Polish Academy of Sciences, Łódź, Poland), Marta Czerwieniec (University of Siedlce, Poland), Joanna Szklarz (University of Siedlce, Poland), Alli Kolesnikov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Petersburg, Russia) and Sergei
Nikonenko (Saint Petersburg State University, Russia).

Kaveh Farrokh, Reza Karamian of Tehran Azad University and Adam Kubik (University of Siedlce, Poland) will present a paper entitled:

An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets (2nd century BCE – 7th century CE)

Farrokh-Elite Sassanina CavalrySassanina Knight in 4th century AD

Sassanian knight at the time of Shapur II (309–379) engaging Roman troops invading Iran in 333 CE. Note the Spangenhelm helmet (based on the item housed at the Baghdad Museum) and suit of mail covering arms and torso. This knight resembles early Sassanian warriors in which he sports a decorative vest and a medallion strap on his chest; he also dons a Spangenhelm helmet. He has lost his lance in an earlier assault and is now thrusting his heavy broadsword using the Sassanian grip (known in the west as the ‘Italian’ grip) in the forward position for maximum penetration effect. The sword handle is based on that depicted for one of Shapur I’s swords (British Museum B.M.124091); the sheath is based on the Bishapur depictions. His sword tactic is meant for shock and short engagements; he will then retire and discharge missiles. The bow and missiles in the left hand will be deployed as the knight redeploys at least 20 meters away. The quiver is modelled on that of King Pirooz (New York Metropolitan Museum Inv.34.33) (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, Osprey Publishing, 2005, Plate D, p.61) .

The presentation will discuss a comprehensive array of topics such as available reliefs inside Iran that provide iconographic information despite weathering over the ages (Gotarzes relief at Behiston, Tang-e Sarvak, Panj-e Ali, Firuzabad, Nagshe Rustam, Nagshe Rajab and Bishapur), helmets housed at museums (British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, Römisches Germanisches Museum in Mainz-Germany, Baghdad Museum, Musee d’Art Classique de Mougins, and various other select helmets) and all other forms of depictions (plaques), seals/bullae, the armored horseman at Taghe Bostan as well as Classical references. The site of Dura Europos with respect to the graffiti of Iranian horseman and the excavated ridge helmet are also examined. Insignia and decorations on helmets will also be discussed. The links between the military cultures of ancient Iran and Europa are also examined by examination of Roman victory displays (i.e. Trajan’s relief) and helmets (i.e. Dacian helmets featuring parallels with ancient Iranian models.

Farrokh-Ancient Persia at War-Sassanina Spangenhelm Helmet Nineveh

Sassanian Spangenhelm Helmet recovered from Nineveh in modern-day Iraq which would have been a part of Sassanian Enpire (224-651 CE) at the time. The Spangenhelm helmet was constructed by fastening metal plates together by rivets (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing, p.223).

Two of Farrokh and Karamian’s papers in 2016 have been:

universty-of-siedlice-logo

 

The Buddha’s Links to Achaemenid Persia

The article below by  Harvey Kraft “Ancient Persian Inscriptions Link a Babylonian King to the Man Who Became Buddha” first appeared in Ancient Origins on May 4, 2015.

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Dramatic evidence has revealed the presence of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha, as far west as Persia. Family seals and records found at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the fourth Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, have been identified and associated with the names of Siddhartha Gautama and his father, Suddhodana Gautama.

1-Buddha offers fruit to the devil

‘Buddha offers fruit to the devil’ from 14th century Persian manuscript ‘The Jāmiʿ al-Tawārīkh’ (Compendium of Chronicles) (Source: Ancient origins).

The Persepolis Seals identified royals and other important personages within the Persian ruling sphere. Guatama was the name of the royal family of the Saka kingdom.

Analysis of Seals PFS 79, PFS 796 and PF 250 found among the collection of important seals in Persepolis, the Persian capital of Emperor Darius I, are purported to be the Gautama family according to an interpretation by Dr. Ranajit Pal (The Dawn of Religions in Afghanistan-Seistan-Gandhara and the Personal Seals of Gotama Buddha and Zoroaster, published in Mithras Reader: An Academic and Religious Journal of Greek, Roman and Persian Studies. Vol. III, London, 2010, pg. 62).

The family crest bore the etching of a crown-headed king flanked by two totems, each a standing bird-headed winged lion. The Seal of Sedda depiction of a Sramana (Persepolis Seal PFS 79), a Lion-Sun shaman, is based on information gathered from a number of other seals the name refers to Sedda Arta (Siddhartha), i.e., Siddha (Liberator of) and Arta (Universal Truth).

2-Persepolis-Seal-PFS-79Persepolis Seal PFS 79 and outline. Seal of Seddha, standing ruler flanked by bird-headed Arya-Sramana priests of Indus-Vedic tradition, linked to Saka tribe (Scythians) royal family of King Suddhodana Gautama, and his son-prince Siddhartha. Seal art courtesy of Oriental Institute, Chicago (Source: Ancient Origins).

The twin guardians each had the body of lion and the head and wings of a mythic sunbird (i.e., Egyptian Sun-bearing falcon). The lion and falcon-gryphon motifs represented a pair of Sramana shamans. Therefore, the family seal associated with Gautama, described a royal person of the Arya-Vedic tradition.

A similar image of Buddhist iconography shows a Buddha seated on a “lion-throne” under a bejeweled tree with cosmic aides at his side. The Buddhist montage declares his enlightenment under the cosmic Sacred Tree of Illumination.

3-Buddhist Emblem

Possibly a modification of his family seal designed to reflect his new teachings, once Siddhartha Gautama achieves enlightenment this Buddhist emblem comes to represent him seated on the lion-throne under the sacred cosmic tree flanked by two celestial Bodhisattva (Source: Ancient Origins).

What would the family crest of the Gautama family be doing in Persia? Was Siddhartha Gautama connected to the Persian Empire?

The inscriptions of Darius the Great (Per. Darayavaush), the Persian emperor for thirty-five years, boast that the Zoroastrian God Assura Mazda (Per. Ahura Mazda) chose him to take the throne (in 522 BCE) from a usurper named “Gaumâta.” Darius shrouds the short-lived reign of his predecessor in a power struggle involving deceit, conspiracy, murder, and the prize of the Persian throne. He characterizes “Gaumâta” as an opportunist who illegally grabbed the throne in Babylon while the sitting Persian Emperor Kambujiya was away in Egypt.

4- Darius-ParsaRelief carving of Darius the Great at Persepolis (Source: Public Domain).

Written in Cuneiform Script on tablets at Mount Bisutun (aka Behistun) in three different languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian (a form of Akkadian), the Bisutun Inscriptions may have echoed the name of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became the Buddha, in the name of a little known King of Babylon.

The inscriptions refer to a religious figure named “Gaumâta,” from whom the Achaemenid Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, seized the throne in Babylon. Darius painted “Gaumâta” an imposter and illegal ruler, although the description does not seem to fit the highly educated and beloved leader. Darius identified him as a Magi (practitioner of esoteric knowledge), and sardonically labeled him as a “stargazer.” If the name “Gaumâta” referred to Siddhartha Gautama, this reference would mean that he held a key leadership position in the Magi Order. Moreover, as the headquarters of the Magi was in the temple complex of Esagila, home of the ziggurat tower dubbed “House of the Raised Head,” the designation of “stargazer” suggests that Gautama was involved with Babylon’s star observatory.

Could it be that Siddhartha Gautama was the mysterious King “Gaumâta”?

5- Darius victorous over rebels

During lifetime of Buddha (b. 563 – d. 483 BCE) when the Persian Empire stretched from Egypt to the Indus, Darius the Great comes to power by overthrowing the stargazer-Magus “Gaumata” in Babylon about whom his Bisutun Inscriptions claim: “he seized the kingdom on July 1, 522 BCE. Then I prayed to Ahuramazda and slew him.” Image of Darius reasserting Persian domination stomps on “rebels” with inscriptions etched below (Source: Ancient Origins).

The name “Gaumâta” appears to be a variant of Gautama, the Buddha’s family name. In the ancient multilingual land of Babylonia, multiple names and titles with spelling variations referring to the same person were common.Does evidence of the Babylonian Magi Order’s influences appear in Buddhist literature? Could we discover Mesopotamian references in the Buddhist scriptures?

The earliest mathematical systems, astronomical measurements, and mythological literature were initiated in the ziggurat tower-temples of the Fertile Crescent by the cultures of Sumer/Akkad and Amorite Babylonia. Both Magi and Vedic seers furthered knowledge of a cosmic infrastructure, well known in the Buddha’s time from the Tigris to the Ganges. Discovering this connection in the Buddhist sutras would challenge the prevailing view that Buddhism was born and developed in isolation exclusively in India. Although the oral legacy of the sutras were assembled and recorded later in India, a Babylonian finding would have major implications regarding the origin, influences, and intentions of the Buddha.

6- Persian Magi at Ravenna
Byzantine depiction of the Three Magi in a 7th-century mosaic at Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Source: Public Domain).
Described as a compassionate philosopher-cosmologist “Gaumâta” decreed freedom for slaves, lowered oppressive taxes across the board, and inspired neighbors to respect one another in a city known for its diverse ethnic groups and many languages. His espousal of liberty, human rights, and generosity supports the thesis that “Gaumâta” and Gautama were one and the same person.
7-Siddharta Gautama
Prince Siddharta Gautama shaves the hair off his head as the sign to decline his status as ksatriya (warrior class) and becomes an ascetic hermit, his servants hold his sword, crown, and princely jewelry while his horse Kanthaka stands on right. Bas-relief panel at Borobudur, Java, Indonesia (Source: Public Domain).
Darius, a military strongman, and a member of the Achaemenid family, prepared for his coup with a propaganda campaign designed to legitimize his overthrow of “Gaumâta.” In his public inscription he referred to his cohorts as witnesses who would confirm the killing of the usurper.While his story appears to be full of cunning deceptions, the real behind the scenes story of this episode has remained elusive to history. Certainly as Darius had good reason to write history in his own self-interest, what happened has gone undetected for thousands of years because historians know little to nothing about “Gaumâta.”Of course, if “Gaumâta” was really Siddhartha Gautama, this assassination had to be a lie, because he did go on to become the Buddha. Either someone else was murdered in the name of “Gaumâta,” or Darius shrewdly produced a disinformation campaign designed to cover up what really happened. With the “death of the imposter” the new emperor wanted to send a message to supporters of “Gaumâta” that he would not tolerate rebellions and suppressed any hope for the return of this popular leader. But in the wake of the coup nineteen rebellions arose throughout the empire. It would take Darius more than a year of brutal military action to crush the liberation-minded communities inspired by “Gaumâta.”

A Tribute to the Popular Folklore Music of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Afghanistan

Below is a tribute to the musical artists of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Afghanistan from the 1960s-1980s. Musical artists from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus share a powerful musical tradition that may be characterized as Turco-Iranian or Persianate. Artists from Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey in particular often adopt each others’ songs and adapt these to their own country’s unique style and tradition.

Traditional Georgian musical troupe Opera performs a traditional northern Iranian song “Dar Sahel-e Zibay-e Darya” [On the beautiful Coast of the Sea]

-وحید صابری – یک روز بلند آفتابی-Vahid Saberi: Yek Rooz-e Boland-e Aftabi [On a long and Shiny/Sunny Day]

 

Child musical prodigy, Mehemed Mustafali from the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) composes an excellent guitar lead and riff for the traditional song “Ince Bellim”. Note the boy-prodigy’s exemplary and strong command of guitar composition.  

 

Tajik dancer Malika Kalantarova performs a traditional dance to a traditional Tajik song in the city of Dushanbe in Tajikestan. Malika Kalantarova remains one of the most legendary  performers of the former USSR. She not only performed across the former Soviet Union and (esp) Central Asia but even made a number of appearances in India’s Bollywood scene in the 1970s!

Traditional Armenian folk song “Karmir Nur” performed by contemporary Armenian performer Armen Hovhannisyan.

 

Googoosh, one of Iran’s most legendary singers from the 1970s, sings a popular Azari song “Ayraliq” [separation] on Iranian TV (Rangarang). Googoosh remains not only popular among her native Iran but also throughout Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. 

Wolfram Kleiss: An overview of Sassanian Fortifications

The article below “Fortifications” by Wolfram Kleiss in the Encyclopedia Iranica was originally published on December 15, 1999 and last Updated on January 31, 2012. Kleiss provides an overview of the fortified passages and defenses of the Sassanians, some of which can be traced back to the Achaemenid era.

This article is available in the print volumes of the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. X, Fasc. 1, pp. 102-106).

Kindly note that the article below contains pictures and captions that do not appear in the Encyclopedia Iranica version.

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The present article deals with the fortified passages and defenses that are implied under the term bārū. Certain passes in Persia still feature barriers going back to the Achaemenid period. An example is the stone wall at the Kotal-e Sangar in Fārs, which bars the way from Persepolis and Bīšāpūr to Ḵūzestān on the saddle (not a real pass) between the Mamassanī plain (plain of Deh-e Now) and the Fahlīān plain, and which is identical with the medieval and modern caravan route (today’s modern highway between Shiraz and Ahvāz). The rubble wall that by now has almost entirely disappeared was originally 1,230 m long and extended between both sides of the saddle’s rugged, steeply rising rock faces. The construction has been associated with a wall mentioned by Arrian (Anabasis 3.17), which the Uxians are said to have erected as a customs-barrier on the road between Ḵūzestān and Fārs, and around which Alexander had made a great détour on his expedition from Susa to Persepolis before taking it by surprise (Stein, pp. 39-44; Kleiss, p. 213, fig. 1).

Another wall (Kleiss, p. 214, Fig. 2) was built on top of the pass 36 km east of Farrāšband and 28 km west of the modern city of Fīrūzābād in the province of Fārs. It overlooks the road between the Sasanian settlements around Farrāšband and the Sasanian round city of Gōr (q.v.) with the bridge over the river west of Fīrūzābād, and is, at the same time, a barrier similar to the one in the Qalʿa-ye Doḵtar area north of Gōr (present-day Fīrūzābād, q.v.), a fortification at the northern access to the plain of Fīrūzābād (Huff). The barrier on the pass extends over a length of about 200 m in a fairly straight line from northwest to southeast in the shape of a ruined rubble wall that was once of considerable height. On the eastern side of the wall lies a heap of stones, the remains of a small halting-place or a tower, the exact measures of which are unknown. The dating of the barrier is unclear; perhaps it was built in the Sasanian period and continued being used in the Islamic period.

Fortifications-1-Firuzabad-AerialViewThe Sassanian City of Firuzabad, known as Gur or Ardashīr-Xhwarra (located in Fars province, approx. 110 km south of Shiraz) (Source: CAIS). Gur is built as a perfect circle measuring at 1,950 meters in diameter and partitioned into 20 sections.  The city was surrounded by a primary wall constructed of stamped clay, a ditch measuring at 35 meters width, as well as an inner-wall of defense.

Roads over passes were rendered defensible without any specific effort at fortification, but only through the itinerary and the constructive protection of the pass, an example being the Kotal-e Doḵtar on the caravan road from Shiraz via Kāzerūn to Būšehr (Figure 3). The way up to this pass from the Kāzerūn plain could be blocked at any time at its serpentine curves and defended by means of traditional weapons (Nathusius, p. 160).

The most important fortification in Persia is the mud-brick wall mistakenly called Alexander’s Wall (Sadd-e Eskandar), which shields the fertile foot-hills leading to the plain of Gorgān against the Turkman steppes. This structure consists of a mud-brick wall stretching out like an embankment, and, adjacent to the wall, 33 forts of varying forms and sizes (120 x 120 m to 300 x 200 m) placed at different distances from one another (400 to 9,850 m). The Gorgān wall (Kiani) was built in the Parthian and Sasanian period as a rampart against attackers, and this function makes it comparable with the Roman limes, constructions in England and Germany, and with the Great Wall of China. The Turkmans call the wall Qïzïl Alan, and in Persian it is also called Sadd-e Pīrūz and Sadd-e Anūšīravān. The Gorgān wall is 175 km long, extending from the Caspian Sea to the Alborz and the north-eastern mountain chains of Persia. The remains of the wall end in the west, north of Gomīšān, at a distance of about 5 km from the Caspian Sea coast, which is due to the variation in the level of the Caspian (now 27 m under sea level) and the very flat level of the coastline. As far as is known, the eastern end of the wall joins the mountain-range at Piškamar, 58 km northeast of Gonbad-e Qābūs, its further prolongation to the east being questionable. The wall is at present 2 to 5 m high and about 10 m wide. A ditch 3 m deep and up to 30 m wide runs along the outer side of sections of the wall. The wall itself is constructed of unbaked bricks (50 x 50 x 10 cm) and baked bricks (40 x 40 x 10 cm). Excavations along the wall and in the forts belonging to it have produced Parthian gray ceramics, Parthian red ware, and glazed Islamic pottery.

gorgan_wallAn Iranian map of the Gorgan wall. The works of Dr. Kiani in 1971 were invaluable in helping lay the basis of mapping the structure. The Gorgan Wall is second only to the Great Wall of China in length. For more on this topic see: Farrokh, K. (2010). The Great Wall of Gorgan: One of the World’s Greatest Frontier Walls. Tehran Times International Daily, March 9, p.7.

The Gorgān plain is protected by two fortifications on its western border, at the narrowest part of the flat plain between the mountains and the Gorgān Gulf (Ḵalīj-e Gorgān), east and west of Bandar-e Gaz and south-east of the Caspian Sea. Extending between the foot-hills of the Alborz mountains and the Ḵalīj-e Gorgān coast, the defensive barrier, approximately 11 km long, is now barely recognizable as a very overgrown earth wall with a height of 1 to 3 m and a width of 2 to 2.50 m. The barrier begins near the ruined city of Tammīša (Ṭamīsa/Ṭamīs in Ar. sources) at the foot of the mountains. A further fortified wall running parallel to it is found 22 km to the west, between Bandar-e Gaz and Behšahr (qq.v.; Kleiss, pp. 215-16). The ruins of Tammīša, near the village of Sar Kalāta, prove to be of Sasanian to Saljuq origin (6th to 9th cents.), which is probably also true of both walls (Bivar and Fehérvári). The fortified wall near the ruined city of Tammīša at the foot of the Alborz mountains is built of clay and baked brick (36 x 36 x 10 cm). Excavations at the wall and in the Tammīša area produced glazed and unglazed Islamic pottery of the 9th to 15th centuries. In their strategic function, the walls of Tammīša correspond with the fortifications of Darband (q.v.; Turk: Derbent) in Daghestan on the western coast of the Caspian Sea (Bretanizkiĭ, p. 375, fig. 214; Ebn Bakrān, pp. 81-82). The latter, with their approximately 150 km long wall ascending the Caucasus heights, were to protect the Persian frontier against the tribes of the northern steppes. This construction is also mistakenly called Sadd-e Eskandar, but building details clearly show that the walls are of Sasanian origin and point to a comparison with the structure of the Taḵt-e Solaymān wall in Azerbaijan (Naumann, p. 35, fig. 15). The Darband fortification, which consists of five sections, is about 2,250 m long, from the coast to the western corner of the citadel (arg), and has an interior dimension of 240 to 250 m for the city area. The northern wall features a closer disposition of the towers than the southern wall. Four gates each face north and south, respectively, and the individual sections of the city are connected by additional gates.

DerbentThe Wall of Derbent (also known as Krevar to locals) in Daghestan as it appears in winter. This is an enduring testament to Sassanian military engineering in the Caucasus (Source: Public Domain).

In its structure as a fortified barrier for the control of a coastline, Darband can be compared with the entire complex of the Byzantine-Turkish fortifications of Trabzon/Trebizond. Between the Black Sea and the Pontus mountains, it attains a length of about 900 m and is divided into three parts: the lower city (Aşağı Hisar), the central city (Orta Hisar), and the citadel (İç Kale; Sinclair, II, p. 48).

Trabzon Defense WallsThe Byzantine-Turkish defense walls at Trabzon (Source: Public Domain).

The position of the citadel of a fortified settlement in the center of the circumvallation is rare. An original example is the Sasanian to early Islamic citadel on the conical rock in the center of the round city of Dārābgerd (Figure 7). In Isfahan and Shiraz the citadels lie within the walled city; they do not connect with the city wall and have no direct connection with the environment outside the city wall (Figure 8).

darabgirdThe round city of Darabgerd (Source: CAIS).

The citadels belonging to fortified settlements are usually built on sites offering the most suitable terrain for fortifications. As a rule, they are built on heights within the area of the settlement. Most citadels are situated at the edge of the settlements, are structurally connected with the city walls and have gates leading both to the city and to the open country—as is the case with Herat, Bam, Kars, Van, Dāmḡān, or the old town of Tehran. The last wall built around Tehran in the 19th century surrounded the citadel (the Golestān Palace complex) as the center of the walled city.

Bibliography

A. D. H. Bivar and G. Fehérvári, “ The Walls of Tammisha,” Iran 4, 1966, pp. 35-50.

L. S. Bretanitskiĭ, Zodchestvo Azerbaidzhana XII-XV vv. i ego mesto v arkhitekture Perednego Vostoka Moscow, 1966.

Moḥammad Ebn Najīb Bakrān, Jahān-nāma, ed. M.-A. Rīāḥī, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.

D. Huff, “Ausgrabungen auf Qaleh Dukhtar,” in AMI, N.S. 9, 1976, pp. 157-73.

M. Y. Kiani, Parthian Sites in Hyrcania: The Gurgan Plain, AMI, suppl. vol. 9, Berlin, 1982.

W. Kleiss, “Sperrbefestigungen in Iran und Vergleiche zu europäischen Beispielen,” Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 30, 1998, pp. 213-14.

A. Nathusius, Im Auto durch Persien, Dresden, 1926.

R. Naumann, Die Ruinen von Tacht-e Suleiman und Zendan-e Suleiman, Führer zu archäologischen Plätzen in Iran 2, Berlin, 1977.

T. A. Sinclair, Eastern Turkey: An Architectural and Archaeological Survey, 4 vols., London, 1987-90.

A. Stein, Old Routes of Western Iran, New York, 1940.