Italian AGON Journal article: Ties of Greco-Roman civilization with ancient Iran

The AGON academic Journal of Italy (Università degli Studi di Messina; chief editors: Professor Massimo Lagana & Professor Salvatore Albanese) has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh which examines historical ties between Greco-Roman civilization and ancient Iran. The article can be downloaded in full from Academia.edu below:

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

The article in AGON (Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali) begins as thus:

Apharban, the Persian ambassador representing Sassanian king Narses (r. 293-302 CE) during negotiations with the Roman general Galerius1 in the aftermath of his victory over Sassanian forces in 291-293 CE stated the following to his Roman hosts:

It is clear to all mankind that the Roman and Persian empires are like two lights, and like (two) eyes, the brilliance of one should make the other more beautiful and not continuously rage for their mutual destruction” [Peter the Patrician, fragment 13; translation made by Canepa (2010, p. 133)].

The article examines the process and history of the long-standing relations between the Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations, notably during the during the Achaemenid (559 BCE-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian dynasties (224-651 CE). Works of researchers such as Professor Nik Spatari, whose works examining East-West ties in the context of ancient Calabria in southern Italy are also cited:

Spatari-Assitite

Professor Nik Sparati (Left) and his book “L’ enigma delle arti Asittite della Calabria Ultra-Mediterranea” (Published by: MuSaBa: Santa Barbera Art Foundation & Iiriti Editore, 2002). Note that the book jacket features the superimposed images of Darius the Great and Persephone (also known as Kore), the Mediterranean Goddess: Spatari has discovered Achaemenid-Persian artistic influences upon the Persephone (Kore) image. Among other ancient Iran-Italy ties, Spatari and his team have also discovered strong parallels between Sassanian architecture and the Basilica di Massenzio.

Architecture is one of the areas examined in detail from the time of the Achaemenids to the end of the Sassanian era. As noted by Professors Curatola and Scarcia a common theory postulates that:

“…domed spaces in Christian buildings in Europe derive from the Armenian model, which, in turn, comes from Sassanian Persia: This can be attributed to geographic proximity and also to the fact that for long periods Armenia was contained within Eranshahr. “ (Curatola & Scarcia, 2007, p. 92).

Sarvistan-S-Paolo

The Sarvistan palace built in the 300s AD [1], floor plan of Sarvistan by Nik Spatari [2] reconstruction of Sarvistan by Oscar Reuther, “Sasanian Architecture,” in Survey of Persian Art, Figure 152). [3] the Basilica di S. Marco in Veneziana built in the time period of 1100-1300 AD [4] and floor plan of the Basilica di S. Marco (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.

Sassanian Iran was to leave a profound legacy on Romano-Byzantine architecture during its tenure in 224-651 CE. As noted in the paper however, architectural influences from ancient Iran can be traced back to the earlier Parthian and Achaemenid eras.

Farrokh Lecture-UBC-Tirgan-YSU

A lecture slide used in instruction for Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division (this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) (Slide is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). The above slide discusses the parallels discovered by Professor Nik Spatari with respect to the “tri-chamber” design at Firuzabad and the Basilica di Massenzio. The floor plan of Ardashir’s palace and the “tri-chamber” (note yellow arrows) have been outlined by the Calabria research teams who noted of the parallels with the Basilica in Rome.

The ties of the Greco-Romans and ancient Iran are examined in a variety of other contexts besides architecture, notably the arts (Darius-Persephone motif, silverware, motifs such the Senmurv, etc.) and technology (communications, Qanat aqueducts, windmills, etc.).

Slide1

An example of technology exchanges: an old water wheel in Tehran (Image: Farda News) [at Left]; reconstructed water wheel based on the ancient Persian model from Cordoba, Spain (Image: Graham Beards in Public Domain). The Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations often engaged in the exchange of technologies in antiquity. The Persian water wheel spread from ancient Iran to Rome (which introduced this technology into Europe) as well as China in antiquity (Kurz, 1985, p.563)

The culinary arts (transmission of cooking styles, exchange of nuts, fruits, etc. ) are also examined. The pistachio plant for example, was first located in the Khorasan and Soghd regions; these were first cultivated in West Khorasan and were unknown by other peoples until the Achaemenid era.

Pistachio_macro_whitebackground_NS

The Achaemenids were the first to commercially grow the pistachio in ancient Iran and export this to neighboring countries more than 2500 years ago (Image: Public Domain). By the Sassanian Era the pistachio was considered a delicatessen (mostly used in baking and in cookies). Pahlavi texts dating to the Sassanian era mention the Gorgani pistachio as especially famous at the time. The Roman world not only adopted the pistachio (already known by Greco-Iranian contacts) and spread this to the European peoples.

Fezana Journal article on Kurdish ties to ancient Iranian Mythology & Zoroastrianism

The Fezana Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the links between the Kurds and ancient Iranian mythology, notably Zoroastrianism:

Farrokh, K. (2016). Exploring Kurdish ties to ancient Iranian mythology and Zoroastrianism. Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 30, No.1, Fall/September, pp. 16-20.

One topic discussed in the article:

Neither Zoroastrianism nor Yaresanism believe in the “Tabula Rasa” (lit. blank slate) philosophy that humans are born with wholly “blank” minds, that subsequently acquire knowledge, wisdom and beliefs as a result of their material (or sensory) experiences with the outside world (i.e. John Locke’s 1689 “Essay concerning Human Understanding”). In Zoroastrianism in particular the notion of human choice (between evil and good) is bestowed upon the individual prior to their acquisition of physical life (Stausberg & Vevaina, 2015, p.222). Yaresanism shares the notion of divine manifestation of holy men born of virgin maidens with both Zoroastrianism and Mithraism; like the Saoshant who is to be born of a virgin (Bundahishn, 33.36-38) and Mithras born of virgin goddess Anahita, Sultan Sahak was born of the Kurdish virgin Dayerak Rezhbar (also known as Khatun-e Rezhbar).”

kurd-engaged-in-worship-of-mithras

Kurdish man engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary that acts as an ancient Iranian (Zoroastrian or Mithraic?) temple (Source: Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue of Mithras in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day. His costume can also found in certain rural areas of Mazandaran in northern Iran. For more on Mithraism, consult: Mithra-The “Pagan” Christ?

 The following observation is made in the article with respect to Kurdish Sufi sects:

“The notion of absolute egalitarianism persists among several Kurdish Sufi groups such as the Qaderi movement in Iranian Kurdistan whose followers follow the teachings of their founder Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani (1078- 1166). Though nominally Sunni, the Qaderi order’s mysticism sets them widely apart from Islamic theology and practices. Their spiritual leader or “Pir” often engages his followers in repetitive mystical chants known as “Zikr” rituals. The Pir can even (especially among the Qaderis of Baiveh), be regarded as their earthly intercessor with God, somewhat reminiscent of the role of Mithra.

3-Newroz_Istanbul(4)

Kurds in Istanbul, Turkey celebrate the coming Newroz (Nowruz) by jumping over fire much like the Chaharshanbeh Soori ceremonies in Iran (Source: Photo by Bertil Videt in 2006 for Public Domain).

The legacy of Iranian mythology among the Kurds is further discussed:

The Kurdish-speaking peoples maintain strong ties to ancient Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian culture. Too numerous to list here, one of these is the Nowruz (New Year; Newroz in Kurdish), which like all Iranian peoples is celebrated on March 21. Interestingly many Kurds of Iraq and Turkey regard the Nowruz/Newroz as “the day of Kawa Ahsengar (Persian: Kaveh Ahangar [the Ironsmith])

4-sedreh-pushi-IstanbulSedreh-Pushi ceremony of a group of Turkish Kurds and Iranians in Istanbul who are recent converts to Zoroastrianism (Source: Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies).

Fezana Journal article on the Legacy of ancient Yalda Festival

The Fezana Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the ancient Yalda festival of Iran:

Farrokh, K. (2015). Yalda: an enduring legacy from ancient Persia. Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 29, No.3, Fall/September, pp. 30-33.

The article begins as thus:

The annual Iranian festival of the birth of the unconquerable Sun (In Roman Mithraism: Sol Invictus), Mithras, is known as “Yalda” or more commonly as “Shab-e Yalda ” (Night of Yalda) as well as “Shab-e Chelley-e Bozorg” (Night of the Great Forty). “

Figure 1-Persian_Lady_recites_Hafez_Poems_in_Yalda_NightAn Iranian lady recites poetry with the Book of Hafez during the night of Yalda; note the pomegranate and melon on the table spread (Source: Public Domain).

The following observation is made in the article with respect to the linguistic roots of the term /Yalda/:

The term /da/ in Yalda is not of the Hamito-Semetic linguistic family, but instead belongs to the wider Indo-European language families. In Avestan, the term /Daēva/ is broadly defined as “divine being” (Herrenschmidt & Kellens, 1993, pp. 599-602) (in Old Iranian: /Daiva/), which is derived from older Indo-Iranian /Daivá/ (God), which in turn is traced to (undifferentiated) Proto Indo-European (PIE) /Deiu̯ó/ (God). According to Pokorny’s Master PIE lexicon the /Da/ or /Daē/ affix in /Daēva/ is defined as: “day, sun, glitter, to shine, deity, god” (Pokorny, 1959-1969 & 1989, pp.183-187). The legacy of Yalda is an essence rooted in the ancient Indo-European mythological tradition.

Figure 3-ChristAsSolMosaic of Christ as Sol in Mausoleum M in the pre-4th-century necropolis located below the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica (Source: Public Domain). While commonly interpreted as representing Christ, the figure is virtually identical to the pre-Christian representations of Mithra (note fluttering Iranian-style cloak on the mosaic figure).

The legacy of Yalda is further discussed:

Perhaps most interesting is the continuing legacy of Yalda and Mithras in Rome and greater Europe, even after the official adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine the Great in 312 CE (r. 306-337 CE) followed by the legalization of Christian worship in 313 (Edict of Milan), the formulation of the Nicene creed of Christianity in 325 CE (First Council of Nicea) which became the official state religion of Rome in 380 CE (Edict of Thessalonika). Mithraism however, could not be so easily displaced.

Mithras-LegacyMithras’ Enduring Legacy? (Left) Mithras at Taghe Bostan, Western Iran; (Middle) Deo Sol Invictus, Italy; (Right) The Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, New York.

Military Heritage article on Emperor Julian the Apostate

The Military Heritage Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh:

Farrokh, K. (2015). Julian the Apostate. Military Heritage, March Issue, pp.8, 10-13.

Military Heritage-March 2015[Right] Cover of the March 2015 edition of the Military Heritage journal [left] Sample page of the article in the British Military History Monthly article.

 As noted in the beginning of the article: “when Emperor Julian had received the wound [in Persia], he filled his hand with blood, flung it into the air and cried, Thou hast won, O Galilean” (Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book III). Emperor Julian (r. 361-363 CE) had received that fatal wound during his last duel with the Savaran armored knights of Persia…”. The article provides a detailed overview of the life and career of Emperor Julian the Apostate. Following his brilliant victories over the formidable Germanic warriors of Western Europe, the Emperor’s ultimate nemesis proved to be the Savaran Knights of Persia. The legacy of the Savaran Knights continued to endure centuries after the fall of the Sassanian Empire to the Arabo-Islamic invasions of 637-651 CE.
 Julian's failed invasion of Persia in 363 AD[CLICK TO ENLARGE]-Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 AD. Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” but Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants were especially prized as their cabs afforded very high elevation over the battlefield, which was ideal for Sassanian archery ( Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).
 Elite Sassanian Cavalry-Amir Kabir Publishers-1

Military History Monthly article on Sassanian Army (Spah)

The British Military History Monthly Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the Sassanian army of ancient Iran (Spah):

Farrokh, K. (2014). Soldiers of the Sassanian Empire: Rome’s unbeaten rival in the East. Military History Monthly, November Issue 50, pp.62-66, 68.

Military History Monthly-November-2014

[Right] Cover of the November edition of the British Military History Monthly journal [left] Sample page of the article in the British Military History Monthly article. Note that the image of the Sassanian knight is by Ardeshir Radpour (photo credit: Ardeshir Radpour & Holly Martin).

As noted in the beginning of the article: “With all its success and brilliance in Europe, the Mediterranean, and North Africa, Rome never conquered the Spah (‘Military’) of the Sassanian Empire. Roman Emperors such as Alexander Severus, Valerian, and Julian the Apostate tried and failed to subjugate Persia. Thanks to European and Iranian military historians, as well as Classical, Iranian, and Islamic sources, we now have a clearer picture of the Sassanian Spah.

Julian's failed invasion of Persia in 363 AD

[CLICK TO ENLARGE]- Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 AD. Above is a recreation of  Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion.  Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” which is Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants were especially prized as their cabs afforded very high elevation over the battlefield, which was ideal for Sassanian archery ( Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).

The article provides an overview of the tactics, armaments and key characteristics of the Sassanian Spah.

45-North Iranian belt

[Click to Enlarge] Iranian belt from the Sassanian era found in the Caucasus (Picture source: Farrokh, page 214, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-Picture printed in text was under the Courtesy of the Institute of Manuscripts, Georgian Academy of Sciences and printed specifically  with the permission of Dr. David Khoupenia) .

It is further averred in the article that: “Persia’s elite knights were not unlike later European chivalry and Japanese Samurai“.

Late Sassanian era swords-Kaveh Farrokh

Late Sassanian sword (Farrokh 2004; reprinted Hughes 2010, p.51). Entire sword from front [1] and back [2]; sword handle at front [3] and back [4]; sword mount at front [5] and back [6].

The legacy of the Spah centuries continued to endure centuries after the fall of the empire to the Arabo-Islamic invasions of 637-651 CE. One example of that legacy is cited as thus: “The Mongol armies of Genghis Khan perfected this stratagem with the dictum ‘march divided, attack united’…“.

Elite Sassanian Cavalry-Amir Kabir Publishers-1The most recent translation of Farrokh’s third text Elite Sassanian Cavalry (translated into Persian by Maysam Alaie), Sassanian Elite Cavalry made in 2014 by Amir Kabir Publishers (انتشارات امیرکبیر) of Iran. For more information see -خبرگزاری کتاب ایران- (Iran book News), and -خبرگزاری اریا- (Arya News).