GONDÊŠÂPUR: History & Medical School

The article below is by Lutz Richter-Bernburg. This originally appeared in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue. The CAIS site is hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav. Note that the article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

The version printed below is different in that it has embedded photographs and captions used in 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.


GONDÊŠÂPUR (< Mid. Pers. Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr; Mid. Pers. Inscription: why-‘ndywk-Šhypwhry “Better Is Šâbuhr’s Antioch,” ŠKZ l. 32″; for the successive transformation of the Mid. Pers. form into subsequent Ar. Jondaysâbur, cf. the Gk. Bendosabora and Nöldeke’s observations on similar changes from Mid. Pers. /v/ to NPers. /g/), name of a Sasanian and post-Sasanian district and its urban center in Khhuzestân; its site has been located “south of the village of Šâhâbâd, three km below the last of the low ridges marking the northern limit of the Khuzestân plain” (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), between Tostar and Dezful (q.v.).

Emperor Valerian surrenders to Shapur I (241-272 CE) and Sassanian nobility at Edessa in 260 CE. Gundeshapur was   founded by Shapur I  on in 271 CE, just eleven years after Emperor Valerian’s surrender at Edessa (portrait by Angus McBridge for Farrokh text of 2005).   Gundeshapur was a major learning, research and intellectual center of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE).

According to epigraphic, archeological, and literary evidence, the city owed its existence to the Sasanian Ardašir I’s son and successor, Šâpur I (r. 242-72). Following the long-established royal custom, Šâpur commemorated his role as founder (and possibly patron) in the new establishment’s name, including also a reference to his recent victory over the Roman emperor Valerian III (r. 253-60) by claiming superiority for his “Antioch” over the homonymous metropolis of Syria. Consequently, the date of Šâpur’s founding act is contingent on the much debated chronology of his Roman war(s) and conquests of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (see antioch). Even though the existence of the “parallel” Syriac name of Bêth Lâpât (q.v.) would seem to point to a previous settlement in the area, the archeological surface reconnaissance of 1963 (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), which in the absence of a systematic investigation of the site is our only archeological evidence, discovered no trace of a pre-Sasanian occupation. A literary echo of such occupation predating Šâpur is also found in the late Sasanian list of provincial capitals (Markwart, Provencial Capitals, pp. 20, 98, sec. 48) and in the (garbled) legendary account of Šâpur’s survey of the site in view of his intended foundation (Tabari, I, pp. 830-31, tr., V, pp. 38-39; Nöldeke,Geschichte der Perser, pp. 41-42, n. 2, tr. pp. 87-88, 99-100; Dinavari, ed. Guirgass, pp. 48-49, who mentions two corrupted forms, Nilât and Nilâb, of the original Aramaic name as the town’s name in Khuzi and in the language of its population, i.e., in Syriac; for the legend of Šâpur’s love for a Byzantine princess and the founding of Gondêšâpur on the model of Constantinople to please her, see Ebn al-QeftÂi, p. 133). The transparently etiological tendency of the report, as quoted by the Anonymous Berolinensis Sprenger 30 (see Tabari, tr., V, p. xxiii) on the one hand and Tabari on the other, would seem to discredit it as merely explaining the popular Persianized name Bêlâbâd, but the early attestation of the Aramaic form as byl’b’d and Bêlapat, in the Parth-ian and Coptic Manichean tradition respectively, would seem to indicate a historical nucleus of the later, embellished accounts, given the fact that in the Sasanian-Arabic tradition, Mani’s imprisonment and death was well-nigh unanimously located in Gondêšâpur (Nöldeke, pp. 42, n., 47 and n. 5).


Gundeshapur was repaired and expanded by Shapur II (310-379 CE). The site may have served as Shapur II’s second capital.

The architectural remains on the ground permit us to trace an orthogonal street grid within an oblong rectangular walled enclosure, thus approximating Hamza Esfahâni’s idealized description of the site’s layout as a chessboard of eight by eight streets (p. 49, ll. 7-9). In addition, primary sources, such as inscriptions and bullae, attest Gondêšâpur only at the beginning and during the last few decades of the Sasanian period; to date, its history in the later centuries are documented archeologically primarily by ceramic finds from the above-mentioned surface reconnaissance. These, casting substantive doubt on the literary evidence, clearly point to the site’s rapid decline after the late 9th century. Consequently, the geographers of the 10th and subsequent centuries (e.g., Estakhri, p. 93; Maqdesi/Moqaddasi, p. 405) would appear to have derived their information on the site’s continued prosperity from uncritical compilations of older texts rather than from autopsy or contemporaneous records (Adams and Hansen, pp. 57-59).

Šâpur’s official record of the satrapy of Weh-Andiyôk-Šâbuhr in his famous trilingual inscription at Ka’ba-ye Zardošt (ŠKZ) near Persepolis is paralleled in Sasanian narrative historiography as transmitted to, and partially preserved by, later Arabic and Persian authors; thus he is credited with the establishment of both district and city of Gondêšâpur (Tabari, I, pp. 830-831; Ya’qubi, Ta’rikh I, p. 180). Tabari as well as Hamza (pp. 48-49), or perhaps their common source, even undertook to explain the city’s name as deriving from Persian Beh-az-Andiu-Šâpur; in spite of the obvious interpolation of the word “az,” their attempt deserves recognition for the correct identification of the main elements of the name: “weh” and “Andiôk.” Also, the possibility of contamination by a later Sasanian pattern of toponymy as exemplified by Weh-az-Âmid-Kawâd remains to be considered (see Gyselen 1989, p. 62, no. 47; cf. Weh-Ârdašir and Weh-Kawâd, ibid., pp. 61-62, nos. 46, 48). The terminus post quem of Šâpur’s foundation was his occupation of Antioch. However, he conquered the city twice within a few years, the earlier one was arguably in 256 (according to the patriarch Nicephorus, Demetrianus’s patriarchate in Antioch began in 253 and lasted altogether four years; see Schwaigert, pp. 20-23) and the later one in 260, during Valerian III’s fateful campaign. If the report of Demetrianus’s deportation from Antioch and his incumbency as bishop of Gondêšâpur in the Chronicle of Se’ert (Patrologia Orientalis IV/3, p. 221) is accepted, the date of Šâpur’s foundation would fall into the period between his two occupations of Anitoch, i.e., the years 256-60.

A statue of Burzoe -برزويه-  at Isfahan. Also known as Bozorg-Mehr-بزرگمهر– Burzoe was was the vizier of Khosrau I Anoushirvan (r. 531-579 CE) and physician during the late Sassanian Empire of the sixth century. He is well known for having translated India’s Panchatantra from its original Sanskrit into Pahlavi (Middle Persian). Unfortunately both the original Panchatantra and its Pahlavi translation were lost in time, but the Pahlavi version was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Mafuqqa. The Arabic version is known as the Kalila and Dimna. it is also noteworthy that Burzoe was an accomplished  sage in chess.

Documentation of Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr’s subsequent history under Sasanian rule is very uneven. The relative prominence of Christians in the region is attested by the Chronicle of Se’ert, which mentions the election of a certain Ardaq as the episcopal successor to Demetrianus, thus adumbrating the later importance of Bê(th) Lâpât as the metropolitan see of Bêth H¨uzâyê (Schwaigert, passim). According to the literary tradition, Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr repeatedly fulfilled the function of royal residence during the 3rd and 4rth centuries, at least un-til the great persecution of Christians under Šâpur II. The earliest relevant witness is that of the Manichean tradition of Mani’s doomed confrontation with King Warahrân I and his counselors at ‘Bêlapat’ and his ensuing fatal imprisonment there in 276-77 (Dinavari, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, p. 47). The next firm date is furnished by the Syriac witnesses to Šâpur II’s persecution of Christians; in the decade of 340, the Catholicos Šâhdôst and others were tried there in the king’s presence and executed (Schwaigert, p. 110). Thus the city must have retained some of its former standing even after Šâpur moved residence from Gondêšâpur after the first thirty years of his reign, if Hamza (p. 52) is lent credence, and the coincidence of this date with the (re-)foundation of Karkhâ dhe Lêdhân as Xwarrah Šâbuhr in 338 would seem to support it (cf. Schwaigert, pp. 109-10; thus Gyselen’s attractive hypothesis, p. 75, against Hamza, p. 52, who cites Xwarrah Šâbuhr as Susa’s name and, among Šâpur II’s foundations, refers to an unnamed town near Sus that the author of Mojmal al-tawârikh [ed. Bahâr, p. 67] identifies with Karkhâ dhe Lêdhân). If this is accepted, then ‘Omar Kesrâ’s statement (apud Mas’udi,Muruj I, p. 295) that Gondêšâpur served as residence from its foundation through the reign of Hormazd II (303-9) would have to be revised. Sources of Sasanian history mention Gondêšâpur as the hub of Anôšazâd’s rebellion against his own father, Khosrow I Anôširavân, in about 550 (Dinavari, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, pp. 69-70; Nöldeke, pp. 467-74, tr. pp. 708-14; here, a similar dissociation between the city’s two names, Beth Lâpât and Weh-Andiôk-Šâpuhr/Jondaysâbur, obtains as does generally between the Syriac Christian and the Arabic sources). Thus, Procopius, on the strength of this observation relying on Syriac authorities (see above), cites Anôšazâd’s place of banishment as Bêlapata, whereas the Islamic texts, beginning chronologically with Abu Hanifa Dinavari (ed. Guirgass, p. 71, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, p. 70), only use the popular Arabic adaptation of the royal Sasanian name: Jondaysâbur. They are paralleled, if not preceded, in this usage by Theophylactus Simocates’ Bendosabôra.

New Persian text of Kalileh va Damneh, produced in Herat in 1429.

Sasanian rule at Gondêšâpur ended with the city’s surrender to the Muslim forces in 17/638 (Tabari, I, pp. 2566-68, tr., XIII, pp. 146-49; Ebn al-Athir, Beirut, II, p. 553). This event, as well as the city’s subsequent history, are well-documented by narrative sources, with the notable exception of the archeological evidence mentioned above. Gondêšâpur figures in the geographic literature of the 9th and following centuries, but in political history it recaptures attention only once, and then briefly, in the latter part of the 9th century. In 262/875-76, in the course of the successive challenges to caliphal authority, one of the contending leaders, Ya’qub b. Layth Saffâr, made Gondêšâpur his residence; whatever further ambitions he may have had were, however, cut short by his sudden death in 265/879. His grave there became one of the city’s sites for its remaining span of existence (Estakhri, p. 93; Ebn Hawqal, p. 256; Mas’udi, Tanbih, p. 368; idem, Muruj, ed. Pellat, sec. 601; Târikh-e Sistân, p. 233; Ebn Khallekân, tr. de Slane, IV, pp. 320-22; Hodud al-‘âlam, ed. Sotuda, p. 139, tr. Minorsky, pp. 131, 381-82). During the following century and a half, Gondêšâ-pur gradually faded out of history, although the literary tradition would have it otherwise.

Iranian physician, philosopher and religious critic Zacharia Razi (Rhazes) (860- 923 or 932) born in Rayy (near Tehran), Iran. Razi Produced two standard Medical texts: Kitab al-Mansuri and the Kitab al-Hawi. He also is known to have produced the first Treatise on Small Pox and Measles and for his use of Animal Gut for Sutures and the Plaster of Paris for Casts.

Gondêšâpur’s real fame in the history of Islamic Persia rests on its alleged role in the transmission of Hellenistic learning, or more precisely, of Galenic medicine and the institution of the teaching hospital (bimârestân) to the metropolitan ‘Abbasid society and beyond that to Islamic civilization at large (see BÈMÂRESTÂN and BOKhTÈŠUu‚’ iv, pace Dols, esp. pp. 381-85). The earliest testimony to Gondêšâpur in the context of medical learning refers to a medical-philosophical disputation convened on Khosrow II’s orders in about 610, in which the drustbed (q.v.) Gabriel of Šiggâr participated; the hospital itself first finds specific mention in the events of the year 148/765, when the caliph al-Mansur is said to have summoned the then head of Gondêšâpur’s hospital, Jewarjis b. Jebrâ’il b. Bokhtišu’, to Baghdad (Ebn al-QeftÂi, pp. 158-60). In spite of the dearth of detailed and reliable information about local and regional conditions in the pre-‘Abbasid periods, Khhuzestân and in particular the city of Gondêšâpur must be considered the locale where Syro-Persian Nestorians were weaned on what the later biobibliographical authors celebrated as superior medical learning. The information found in narrative sources concerning the derivation of such knowledge during the Sasanian period from outstanding individual Greek and Indian sources, as well as from the local Aramaic and Iranian roots, (see BOKhTIŠU’ and Aydén Saylé, p. 1120) has substantially been corroborated by the extant texts themselves, however limited their scholarly horizon indubitably is. The differential which in the first ‘Abbasid decades obtained between Nestorian medical competence and that of society at large was sufficient to launch the Bokhtišu’ family and others onto a brilliant career in the orbit of the ‘Abbasid court (cf. Jâhez, pp. 109-10; idem, apud Dols, p. 382). Moreover, they rose to the challenge and successively improved their theoretical and practical command of the discipline, not least by rediscovering and eventually passing on to the Muslims, Galen and the other classics of Hellenistic medicine.

A medieval portrait of the sages of medicine: Galen (left), the Iranian Avicenna (center) and Hippocrates (right). (980 -1037). Avicenna (or Abu Ali Sina) was born in Afshana, near (Bukhara), the ancient capital of the Iranian Samanid dynasty. The Arab Scholar Al-Qitfi  has noted that “They (the Persians) made rapid progress in science, developing new methods in the treatment of disease along pharmacological lines so that their therapy was judged superior to that of the Greeks and Hindus” (as cited in Elgood, 1953, p.311, Legacy of Persia (edited by AJ. Arberry), Clarendon Press).

As regards the Gondêšâpur hospital, which for several generations was under Bokhtišu”s direction and presumably the city’s only such institution, the sources provide only scattered information on how it fared after the Bokhtišu’ finally moved to Baghdad (Dols, pp. 377, 381-82); specifically, the question is whether the death of the last known director, Sâbur b. Sahl, in 255/869 (Ebn al-QeftÂi, p. 207), also spelled the end of the hospital itself.

Primary Sources

Robert McC. Adams and Donald P. Hansen, “Archaeological Reconnaissance and Soundings in Jundi Shâhpur,” Ars Orientalis 7, 1968, 53-70, with appendix by Nabia Abbott, “Jundi Shâhpur: A Preliminary Historical Sketch,” pp. 71-73.

Friedrich Carl Andreas and Walter Bruno Henning, Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesisch-TurkestanIII, SPAW, Phil-hist. Kl., Berlin 1934, pp. 848-912, esp. p. 861, ll. 26 f.; repr. in Walter B. Henning, W. B. Henning Selected Papers, Acta Iranica 14, Leiden, 1977, pp. 275-340.

Chronicle of Se’ert, ed. and tr. Addai Ibrahim Scher and Jean Perier, in Patrologia Orientalis, Paris, 1908-50: IV/3, pp. 219-313; V/2, pp. 241-334; VII/2, pp. 99-203; XIII/2, pp. 437-639.

Sarah Clackson et al., Dictionary of Manichaean Texts I: Texts from the Roman Empire (Texts in Syriac, Greek, Coptic and Latin), Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum Subsidia, Ancient History Documentary Research Center, Macquarie University, Brepols and Sydney, 1998, p. 182, s.v. Bhlapat.

Abu Hanifa Dinavari, Ketâb al-akhbâr al-tewâl, ed. V. Guirgass, Leiden, 1888, esp. pp. 48-49, 71, 75; ed. ‘Abd-al-Mon’em ‘Âmer and Jamâl-al-Din Šayyâl, Cairo, 1960, pp. 46, 47.

Ebn al-QeftÂi, Ta’rikh al-hokamâ’, ed. Julius Lippert, Leipzig, 1903.

Philippe Gignoux, Catalogue des sceaux, came‚es et bulles sasanides de la Bibliotheàques nationale et du Muse‚e du Louvre II, Les sceaux et bulles inscrits, Paris, 1978, p. 117, nos. 13.1-2., Pl. LXVI, no. 13.

Rika Gyselen, “Ateliers mone‚taires et cachets officiels sasanides,” Stud. Ir. 8/2, 1979, pp. 189-212.

Idem, La geographie administrative de l’Empire Sassanide: les te‚moignages sigillographiques, Paris, 1989, esp. p. 61.

Philip Huyse, Die dreisprachige Inschrift Šâbuhrs I. an der Ka’ba-i Zardušt (ŠKZ), 2 vols., Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, pt. III Pahlavi Inscriptions I: Royal Inscriptions, London, 1999, esp. I, p. 58, sec. 46; II, pp 156-57.

Abu ‘Othmân ‘Amr b. Bahr Jâhez, Ketâb al-bokhalâ’/Livre des avares, ed. Gerlof van Vloten, Leiden, 1900.

Procopius, De bello Gothico 8:10.9. Theophylactus Simocatta, Historiae 3.5; tr. Peter Schreiner asGeschichte, Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 20, Stuttgart, 1985, p. 93.

Aydén Sayélé, “Gondêshâpur,” in EI2 II, p. 1120.

Secondary Sources

Michael W. Dols, “The Origins of the Islamic Hospital: Myth and Reality,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61, 1987, pp. 367-90.

Jean Maurice Fiey, “L’Élam, la premieàre des me‚tropoles eccle‚siastiques syriennes orientales,” Melto 5, 1969, pp. 221-67; repr. in idem, Communaute‚s syriaques en Iran et Irak des origines aà 1552, Variorum Reprints, London, 1979, no. IIIa.

Theodore Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, esp. pp. XXI, 40-42; tr. ‘Abbâs Zaryâb Kho’i as Târikh-e Irâniân wa ‘Arabhâ dar zamân-e Sâsâniân, Tehran, 1358 Š./1980.

Paul Peeters, “S. De‚mëtrianus e‚vêque d’Antioche?” Analecta Bollandiana 42, 1924, pp. 288-314.

Wolfgang Schwaigert, “Das Christentum in Khuzistân im Rahmen der frühen Kirchengeschichte Persiens bis zur Synode von Seleukeia-Ktesiphon im Jahre 410,” Ph.D. Diss., Philipps Üniversität, Marburg, 1989, esp. pp. 27-33

Ibn Sina, Persian Polymath and Physician, Never Demanded Money from his Patients

The article below entitled Ibn Sina, the great Persian polymath and physician, never demanded money from his patients” was written by Damjan Stojanovski and published in the Vintage news outlet on October 13, 2016.

Kindly note that three of the images and accompanying captions displayed below do not appear in the original Vintage News posting.
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The cultural and scientific enlightenment fostered by the Islamic Golden Age during the Abbasid Caliphate undoubtedly propelled mankind’s progress during the High Middle Ages. Contributing to various scientific fields, many thinkers and philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Al-Kindi, Rhazez, and others have cemented their names in the history of science. As for Ibn Sina (980-1037), his work and research are arguably the most revered.

13th-century illustration depicting scholars at an Abbasid library from the Maqamat of al-Hariri by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti. Baghdad, 1237 (Source: Vintage News).

Also known as Avicenna, Ibn Sina was a Persian polymath with contributions in medicine, psychology, geology, physics, astronomy (he was the first to propose that Venus was closer to the Sun than the Earth), and of course, philosophy. A prominent thinker and empiricist, in contrast with his scientific penchant for knowledge, he was also a poet and an Islamic theologian.

A Portrait of Ibn Sina (Source: CGIE.org).

Records and historical facts about his life are hard to pin down, as there exists only one known autobiography about him, written by one of his students, al-Jūzjānī. He was born in a village near Bukhara (modern-day Uzbekistan) in 980 CE, most likely in August.

The Statue of Ibn Sina at the Persian Scholar Pavilion in the Vienna International Center (Source: “Yamaha5” in Public Domain). To the right of Ibn Sina, holding a bulbous long-necked beaker, is Zakariya Razi (854 CE – 925 CE), known as “Rhazes” in the West). Razi was another important Iranian polymath, medical prodigy and physician, philosopher and alchemist. To the left of Ibn Sina is the Iranian Polymath and scholar from Khwarezm, Abu-Reyhan Biruni (973-1048 CE),

Because of his father’s position as a governor and a respected scholar, Ibn Sina received a quality education and upbringing. The young genius could memorize the Quran at the age of 10 and had a thirst for unconventional knowledge for his age. At times, he prayed in mosques, when challenged with difficult texts and ideas.

One of his many tutors, Nātilī, had the honor to teach elementary logic to Ibn Sina. However, his teachings were obsolete, since the young thinker was rapidly grasping advanced ideas and was already entering new fields of knowledge.

Undertaking a tremendous task of studying the works of Aristotle on his own, he gained a methodical approach to the sciences which, in return, aided his logical viewpoint. He had difficulty at fist, but once he read Al-Farabi’s commentary on the work, he quickly understood Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. Contrary to popular belief, he was not the first to introduce Aristotelian philosophy to the Middle East, but he was by far the most distinguished.

Pages from a 17th-century manuscript of Al-Farabi’s commentary on Aristotle’s metaphysics (Source: Vintage News & Public Domain).

Ibn Sina favored medicine and anatomy over the rigid field of mathematics and logic; thus he began studying medicine at the age of 16 and became a skilled physician by 18. By 997 CE, Ibn Sina healed the local emir, Nuh II, from a life-threatening illness and was promptly appointed as the emir’s personal doctor. The respected position that Ibn Sina gained from this rather heroic deed allowed him valuable access to the Sāmānid royal library, consequently opening new doors of knowledge. Ibn Sina never required payment from his patients, as the practice of curing and mending their wounds was payment enough for the curious physician.

A manuscript written on paper during the Abbasid Era (Source: Vintage News & Public Domain).

By his 20s, Ibn Sina undertook writing his ideas, penning many books about astronomy, medicine, philosophy, mathematics, music, poetry, and philology.

Tomb of Ibn Sina in Hamedan, Iran (Source: Public Domain).

Sheda Vasseqhi PhD Study: Positioning of Iran And Iranians In Origins Of Western Civilization

Sheda Vasseghi has completed her PhD Dissertation at the University of New England entitled:

Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In Origins of Western Civilization. PhD Dissertation, University of New England (download this at Academia.edu …)

Sheda Vasseqhi

Vasseghi’s PhD academic advising team were composed of the following members: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh.

Her study explored a number of widely taught college-level history textbooks in order to examine how these positioned Iran and Iranian peoples in the origins of Western Civilization. As noted by Vasseghi in her abstract:

“Western Civilization history marginalizes, misrepresents, misappropriates, and/or omits Iran’s positioning. Further, the mainstream approach to teaching Western Civilization history includes the Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman narrative.”

Vasseghi used a multi-faceted theoretical approach—decolonization, critical pedagogy, and Western Civilization History dilemma—since her study transcended historical revisionism. This collective case study involved eleven Western Civilization history textbooks that, according to the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), are most popular among American college faculty. Vasseghi reviewed and collected expert opinion on the following five themes:

(1) terminology and definition of Iran, Iranians, and Iranian languages

(2) roots and origins of Iranian peoples

(3) which Iranian peoples are noted in general

(4) which Iranian peoples in ancient Europe are specifically noted

(5) Iranians in connection with six unique Western Civilization attributes.

Vasseghi selected experts specializing in Iranian, Western Civilization, and Indo-European studies in formulating a consensus on each theme. She then compared expert opinion to content in surveyed textbooks. Vasseghi discovered that the surveyed textbooks in her study overwhelmingly omitted, ill-defined, misrepresented, or marginalized Iran and Iranians in the origins of Western Civilization.

Readers are encouraged to visit Kaveh Farrokh’s Academia.edu profile cited in the introduction of this post to download Sheda Vasseghi’s Dissertation. Here is one of the quotes from her study:

“The researcher recommends that textbook authors and publishers engage experts in the field of Iranian studies in formulating content. A caveat for engaging those in the field of Iranian studies when writing Western Civilization history textbooks involves making a distinction between a native Iran and post-Islamic invasion and colonization of Iran in early Middle Ages (7th century onwards). That is, in the Age of Antiquity, Iran was under an Iranian governance and ancestral beliefs such as Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.”

This is an important observation given Western Media and academic outlets using sweeping (if not simplistic) terms such as “Middle East”, “Muslims”, etc. without acknowledging the context of Iran’s unique background, ancient history and language(s). Put simply, terms such as “Middle East” are not scientific but geopolitical in origin. The term “Muslim Civilization” for example serves to dilute (or even blur) the critical role of Iranian and Indian scholars in the preservation and promotion of learning, sciences and medicine. Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) who in his Muqaddimah (translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91) has acknowledged the role of the Iranians in the promotion of scholarship:

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.”

[For more see: Farrokh, K. (2015). Pan-Arabism and Iran. In “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism” (Immanuel Ness & Zak Cope, Eds.), Palgrave-Macmillan, pp.915-923.]

Sources such as Ibn Khaldun are now rarely mentioned in many modern-day “Islamic Studies” in Western history textbooks which may explain in part the numerous errors uncovered in Vasseghi’s study. She further avers:

“Critical pedagogy is important in transformational leadership in education. Educators are obligated to point out errors or problems in content and mainstream narratives. In regards to teaching history of Western Civilization, one should recall the warnings of its looming demotion by Ricketts et al. (2011) because unfortunately teaching it “had come to be seen as a form of apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism, and colonialism” (p. 14). It appears that in perceiving that something is missing from or fragmented in Western Civilization history content, educational institutions are now marginalizing and omitting it from their curriculum in America, a Western nation. Therefore, the significance of this study is the need for authors and educators to shift the currently flawed narrative on the history of the West. Iran’s positioning is a key component in the study of Western Civilization. The researcher argues that Iran and Iranians not only influenced the making of the West; they are part of the West. By placing Iran and Iranians where they belong, historians may also address concerns about teaching the history of the West (Ricketts et al., 2011).”

In her final PhD defense session with her research committee (Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh) on Monday, March 20, 2017, Vasseghi noted that she plans to author books tailored to Western audiences to help educate with respect to the role of Iranians in the formation of European civilization. Vasseghi’s books would also be geared towards a lay (non-academic) audience.

Skull Operations by the Ancients

The report below was made by Dr. Maziar Ashrafian Bonab and posted in the CAIS website in London hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav.

Kindly note the excepting one photo, all other pictures are Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia, notably lectures delivered in 2014.


In 2000, a rather full skull with forehead and parietal bones was found during the archeological excavations in the historical cemetery of Chal-e Shahin in Kohgilooye and Boyer Ahmad Province.

Dr_Maziar_Ashrafian_Bonab_Shahr-e_SukhtehExamination of a skeleton in one of the excavations in Shahr-e Sookhteh (lit. Burnt City) (Source: CAIS).

In a primary probe of the finding, two discoid holes with some 0.7cm diameter, on parietal bones were found on the margins of which no trace or recovered bony tissues could be seen. Such sings are usually created shortly before death showing a kind of operation on the skull, which is called trepanation. This sort of operation used to be carried out in the ancient times in order to save the patients from physical and mental disorders.

In many primitive societies, magicians did take such a measure to let the poisonous vapor as well as satanic souls, known as the cause of illness, out the head of the patients with nervous and mental disorders or paranoia. They took a part of skull out or made a hole in it. Reports show that trepanation had been performed in different parts of the world especially in Central and Latin America.

burnt-city-eyeball1Skeleton of a young woman from Shahr-e Sookhteh (lit. Burnt City) From University of British Columbia Course-Summer 2014: “Ancient Inventions that Changed the World“). Note artificial eye in the eye socket of the skull; for more, see here…

Some unique samples of such skulls are now being kept at a number of museums and centers such as London University Archeological Institute and Medical Center of Kansas University.

In addition, some instances have been reported from other parts of the world including Europe, but rare in Asia and Middle East. However, the 4850- year-old trepanation sample discovered in Shahr-e Sukhteh (burnt city), Sistan va Baloochestan Province is one of the very ancient trepanation in the world and the second one in Iran belonging to a 13-year-old girl with chronic hydrocephalus.


Trepanation in Ancient Britain: The Critchel Down skull bearing evidence of surgery (From University of British Columbia Course-Summer 2014: “Ancient Inventions that Changed the World“). The circle of bone had been removed with sharp stone tools. The patient survived; when he died in old age, he was buried with the circle of bone that had been removed…perhaps he had kept this for religious or “Good Luck” reasons.

In anthropometric and pathology examinations, it was found out that this sample dates back to the first millennium BCE. This finding will be presented at the National Museum of Medical Sciences History.

Christopher I. Beckwith: Empires of the Silk Road

Readers are introduced to Professor Christopher I. Beckwith’s text: “Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present” (available on Amazon.com):


  • Author: Christopher I. Beckwith
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Date: Reprinted in 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0691150346; ISBN-13: 978-0691150345

This book is recommended reading for Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course “The Silk Route Origins and History“. Readers interested in the history of the Silk Route are also referred to the “Soghdian-Turkish Relations Symposium” (21-23 November, 2014) being held in Istanbul, Turkey (for brochure of conference, list of participants, etc., kindly click on images below to enlarge): Sogut_Program


Christopher I. Beckwith’s text provides a comprehensive history of Central Eurasia from antiquity to the current era. This is an excellent text that provides a critical analysis of the Empires of the Silk Road by analyzing the true origins and history of this critical region of Eurasia.


Statue of a foreigner holding a wineskin, Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith examines the history of the great and forgotten Central Eurasian empires, notably those of the Iranic peoples such as the Scythians, the Hsiang-Nou peoples (e.g. Attila the Hun, Turks, Mongols, etc.) and their interaction with China, Tibet and Persia.


One of the critical land bridges of the Silk Route: the Pamir Mountains which as a 2-way gigantic connector between the civilizations of the east and West (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith outlines the scientific, artistic and economic impacts of Central Asia upon world civilization. Beckwith also tabulates the history of the Indo-European migrations out of Central Eurasia, and their admixture with several settled peoples, resulting in the great (Indo-European) civilizations of India, Persia, Greece and Rome. The impact of these peoples upon China is also examined.


Italian pottery of the 1450s influenced by Chinese ceramic arts; housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris (Photo source: Public Domain).

This is a book that has been long overdue: Empires of the Silk Road places Central Eurasia within the major framework of world history and civilization. It is perhaps this quote by Beckwith which demonstrates his acumen on the subject:

The dynamic, restless Proto-Indo-Europeans whose culture was born there [Eurasia] migrated across and discovered the Old World, mixing with the local peoples and founding the Classical civilizations of the Greeks and Romans, Iranians, Indians, and ChineseCentral Eurasians – not the Egyptians, Sumerians, and so on– are our ancestors. Central Eurasia is our homeland, the place where our civilization started” (2009, p.319).


Second century CE Kushan ceramic vase from Begram with a “Western” motif: a Greco-Roman gladiator (Photo source: Public Domain). The Silk Route challenges the fallacy of a so-called “Clash of Civilizations” – to the contrary, East and West have had extensive adaptive contacts since the dawn of history.