Seb castle in Southeast Iran

The province of Sistan-Baluchestan Province (Sistan is the northern part with Baluchestan the southern portion) is one of Iran’s driest regions.  The province’s coastal areas are distinctly humid with some increase in rainfall coming in from the east towards the west. This region is an ancient crossroads that has linked the civilizations the Indus Valley with those of West Asia.

Seb Castle (situated in a village also named “Seb“) was a key military stronghold during the Qajar dynasty (1789-1925), vital for observation of Iran’s southeast borderlands. The origins of the castle however may date back to the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736), or possibly earlier.

Seb Castle stands at a height of 23 meters, and is a key tourist attraction in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province (Source: Historical Iran).

Built of clay and mortar Seb castle is noticeably robust. It’s builders also used a local plant seed with adhesive qualities to further enhance its architectural resilience. In a sense, the builders had studied local foliage to see which of these would make the best (and long-lasting) cement.

Seb is believed to have been renovated (a minimum of) three times over time, alongside other intermittent additions to the structure (Source: Historical Iran).

Another unique architectural innovation used by the builders of Seb castle was the use of palm trees. Specifically, slabs of wood were cut according to architectural specifications to further strengthen the castle’s structure. The palm tree wood helps absorb  the local ground’s low-level seismic vibration activity. This has done much to prevent the structure from gradually deteriorating over time, and collapsing.

Seb’s primary structure stands on the top of a short rocky cliff (Source: Tehran Times). This freed the architects from having to construct a base-foundation for the castle. 

Despite its relatively small size, Seb Castle by the Qajar era had become a strategic location and was used as a base to help govern towns such as Paskooh, Gasht, Zaboli and Soran. The castle for example, had been used as base for Qajar armies in 1878 to maintain the central government’s authority in the region.

A View of the interior of Seb castle (Source: Historical Iran). Seb Castle’s rectangular base measures at 36 x 25 meters.

UNESCO: Takht-e Soleiman

The article below on Takht-e Soleyman (or Takht-e Suleiman) is by UNESCO. Kindly note that except one photo, all other images and accompanying captions do not appear in the UNESCO posting.

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The archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, in north-western Iran, is situated in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period (13th century) as well as a temple of the Sasanian period (6th and 7th centuries) dedicated to Anahita.

One of the structures at Takhte Suleiman (Picture Source: World Historia).

The site has important symbolic significance. The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture.

Brief Synthesis

The archaeological ensemble called Takht-e Soleyman (“Throne of Solomon”) is situated on a remote plain surrounded by mountains in northwestern Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The site has strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water – the principal reason for its occupation from ancient times – and stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years. Located here, in a harmonious composition inspired by its natural setting, are the remains of an exceptional ensemble of royal architecture of Persia’s Sasanian dynasty (3rd to 7th centuries). Integrated with the palatial architecture is an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary; this composition at Takht-e Soleyman can be considered an important prototype.

An excellent overview of the site of the site of Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) (Picture Source: Iran Atlas). The Ādur-Gushnasp sacred fire was dedicated to the Arteshtaran (Elite warriors) of the Sassanian Spah (Modern Persian: Sepah = Army).  

An artesian lake and a volcano are essential elements of Takht-e Soleyman. At the site’s heart is a fortified oval platform rising about 60 metres above the surrounding plain and measuring about 350 m by 550 m. On this platform are an artesian lake, a Zoroastrian fire temple, a temple dedicated to Anahita (the divinity of the waters), and a Sasanian royal sanctuary. This site was destroyed at the end of the Sasanian era, but was revived and partly rebuilt in the 13th century. About three kilometres west is an ancient volcano, Zendan-e Soleyman, which rises about 100 m above its surroundings. At its summit are the remains of shrines and temples dating from the first millennium BC.

Takht-e Soleyman was the principal sanctuary and foremost site of Zoroastrianism, the Sasanian state religion. This early monotheistic faith has had an important influence on Islam and Christianity; likewise, the designs of the fire temple and the royal palace, and the site’s general layout, had a strong influence on the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, and became a major architectural reference for other cultures in both the East and the West. The site also has many important symbolic relationships, being associated with beliefs much older than Zoroastrianism as well as with significant biblical figures and legends.

The 10-ha property also includes Tepe Majid, an archaeological mound culturally related to Zendan-e Soleyman; the mountain to the east of Takht-e Soleyman that served as quarry for the site; and Belqeis Mountain 7.5 km to the northeast, on which are the remains of a Sasanian-era citadel. The archaeological heritage of the Takht-e Soleyman ensemble is further enriched by the Sasanian town (which has not yet been excavated) located in the 7,438-ha landscape buffer zones.

A reconstruction of the late Sassanians at Ādur Gušnasp or Shiz (Takht e Suleiman in Azarbaijan, northwest Iran) by Kaveh Farrokh (painting by the late Angus Mcbride) in Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-. To the left rides a chief Mobed (a top-ranking Zoroastrain priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

  • Criterion (i):Takht-e Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements created by the Sassanians in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context.
  • Criterion (ii):The composition and the architectural elements created by the Sassanians at Takht-e Soleyman have had strong influence not only in the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, but also in other cultures.
  • Criterion (iii):The ensemble of Takht-e Soleyman is an exceptional testimony of the continuation of cult related to fire and water over a period of some two and half millennia. The archaeological heritage of the site is further enriched by the Sassanian town, which is still to be excavated.
  • Criterion (iv):Takht-e Soleyman represents an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary, integrated with Sasanian palatial architecture within a composition, which can be seen as a prototype.
  • Criterion (vi): As the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary, Takht-e Soleyman is the foremost site associated with one of the early monotheistic religions of the world. The site has many important symbolic relationships, being also a testimony of the association of the ancient beliefs, much earlier than the Zoroastrianism, as well as in its association with significant biblical figures and legends.

Integrity

Within the boundaries of the property are located the known elements and components necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the lake and the volcano, archaeological remains related to the Zoroastrian sanctuary, and archaeological remains related to the royal architecture of the Sassanian dynasty. Masonry rooftops have collapsed in some areas, but the configurations and functions of the buildings remain evident.

One of the archways at Ādur-Gushnasp (Picture Source: World Historia).

The region’s climate, particularly the long rainy season and extreme temperature variations, as well as seismic action represent the major threats to the integrity of the original stone and masonry materials. Potential risks in the future include development pressures and the construction of visitor facilities in the buffer zones around the sites. Furthermore, there is potential conflict between the interests of the farmers and archaeologists, particularly in the event that excavations are undertaken in the valley fields.

Authenticity

The Takht-e Soleyman archaeological ensemble is authentic in terms of its forms and design, materials and substance, and location and setting, as well as, to a degree, the use and the spirit of the fire temple. Excavated only recently, the archaeological property’s restorations and reconstructions are relatively limited so far: a section of the outer wall near the southern entrance has been rebuilt, using for the most part original stones recovered from the fallen remains; and part of the brick vaults of the palace structures have been rebuilt using modern brick but in the same pattern as the original. As a whole, these interventions can be seen as necessary, and do not compromise the authenticity of the property, which retains its historic ruin aspect. The ancient fire temple still serves pilgrims performing Zoroastrian ceremonies.

The Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple. After the prayers are concluded, a “Damavaz” (a ceremony participants) holds aloft the censer containing fire and incense in his hand to pass around the congregation. As this is done, the Damavaz repeats the Avesta term “Hamazour” (translation: Let us unite in good deeds). Participants first move their hands over the fire and then over their faces: this symbolizes their ambition to unite in good works and the spread of righteousness (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

Protection and Management requirements

Takht-e Soleyman was inscribed on the national heritage list of Iran in 1931, and it is subject to legal protection under the Law on the Protection of National Treasures (1930, updated 1998) and the Law of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Charter (n. 3487-Qaf, 1988). The inscribed World Heritage property, which is owned by the Government of Iran, is under the legal protection and management of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (which is administered and funded by the Government of Iran). Acting on its behalf, Takht-e Soleyman World Heritage Base is responsible for implementation of the archaeology, conservation, tourism, and education programs, and for site management. These activities are funded by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, as well as by occasional international support. The current management plan, prepared in 2010, organizes managerial strategies and activities over a 15-year period.

An excellent view of the edge of the lake at Ādur-Gushnasp (Photo Source: Public Domain).

Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property over time will require continuing periodic on-site observations to determine whether the climate or other factors will lead to a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity or authenticity of the property; and employing internationally recognized scientific standards and techniques to properly safeguard the monuments when undertaking stabilization, conservation, or restoration projects intended to address such negative impacts.

UNESCO: Sassanian Archaeological Landscape of the Fars Region

In a report provided by UNESCO on Jul, 2, 2018, eight Sassanian archaeological sites have been officially identified as heritage sites. These are located in three geographical regions in Iran’s Fars Province: Firuzabad, Bishapur and Sarvestan.

Aerial view of Ardashir’s Firuzabad palace. Note circular pattern for defense and town planning (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

These UNESCO sites are Sassanian fortified structures, palaces, as well as city plans. These are chronologically dated from the early to late Sassanian eras (224-651 CE).

These sites include the original capital of Ardashir Papakan (founder of the Sassanian dynasty), as well as the city and architectural structures of his son and successor, Shapur I.

Structures at the site of Shapur I’s palace at Bishapur (Photo: Pentocelo in situ [Bishapur, Iran] April, 2006).

As averred further by UNESCO:

The archaeologic landscape reflects the optimized utilization of natural topography and bears witness to the influence of Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions and of Roman art, which had a significant impact on the architecture and artistic styles of the Islamic era.

Book Review by Military History Journal of Kaveh Farrokh’s 2017 Textbook on Sassanian Army

The below 2017 book by Kaveh Farrokh has been reviewed by Richard A. Gabriel of the Military History journal on April 29, 2018. This is available on-line at HistoryNet and Academia.edu:

The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians, by Kaveh Farrokh, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, U.K., 2017.

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Following Alexander’s conquest of the Achaemenid empire, rule of the region passed from the Seleucids to two succeeding powers: the Parthians (247 BCE–224 CE) and the Sassanians (224–651). Before Muslim armies ultimately overwhelmed the latter, the Sassanians earned due recognition as the most formidable rival of the Roman–Byzantine empire. Over more than three centuries the two powers fought a number of major and minor wars, conflicts that weakened both, until the armies of Islam overran the Sassanians. Much of what historians later attributed to Muslim culture in art, architecture, military technology and medicine was mostly Sassanid in origin, spread through the Mediterranean world by the expansion of Islam.

Despite their contribution to Western military history and its technological advances, the armies of ancient Persia have received scant attention from Western military historians. Focusing on the armies of the Sassanians, this book is the first in a three-volume set intended to address that oversight.

Author Kaveh Farrokh is a historian born in Greece who speaks Persian, among several other languages, attributes that enabled him to access source materials inaccessible to most Western scholars. The book is well researched, edited, organized and written. His 46 pages of footnotes, 15 pages of references and 14 pages of maps place a trove of source materials in the reader’s hands, though general readers may find the level of detail somewhat overwhelming. The result is a major work of scholarship that is long overdue.

Savārān officer engaged in archery. Recreations by Ardashir Radpour (courtesy A. Radpour & H. Martin).

King Arthur [Part I]: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical evidence

The article below King Arthur: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical evidence” is written by Periklis Deligiannis and originally posted in the Delving into History website. The posting below is Deligiannis’ first part of the article to be followed later this year with his analysis of the North Iranian Sarmatian links to the king Arthur legend.

Kindly note that a number of images and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in Periklis Deligiannis’ original article.

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In 407 AD the Romans withdrew their last regular troops from the British provinces. The independent Romano-Britons had to fight hard against the Pict, Irish and Anglo-Saxon barbarians who were besieging their territory. Former Roman Britain was gradually divided into autonomous ‘principalities’ led by warlords. However they tried to keep united their “British kingdom” as they considered their common territory, and mainly to repel the invading Anglo-Saxons who had conquered the Southeast, advancing headlong. It seems that the Britons in order to maintain their unity, elected a military commander (Dux) as a senior politico-military leader, who led the operations against the invaders and took care on preventing infighting. A sequence of inspired Dukes (Voteporix, Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus) led the British resistance. Those who accept Arthur’s historicity usually consider him as one of these Dukes (a theory consider him Aurelianus’ son).

A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin (design), decorated with semi-gemstones. The Romano-Britons inherited this type together with the rest of the Roman weaponry and military organization (Periklis Deligiannis).

The Briton literary tradition and the archaeological evidence, mainly the Saxon burials, denote that the Anglo-Saxon invasion was halted on the verge of the 5th-6th centuries AD. Many scholars believe that the military action of the legendary king Arthur was the main ‘factor’ for the repulse of the newcomers. However, his historicity is strongly and justifiably disputed. In this series of articles I will deal with some additional literary, archaeological and historical evidence concerning his historicity.

The literary sources on Arthur

The first literary reference to Arthur appears in the Northern Briton epic “Y Goddodin” (“the Votadini” around AD 600) which recounts an attempt of the Votadini people (Celtic Goddodin) of the modern Scottish Lowlands and their allies, to check the advance of the Angles. Some scholars believe that the mention of Arthur in this epic was added later. The first ‘secure’ reference to the legendary commander comes from Nennius in his “History of the Britons” (“Historia Britonnum”, end of 8th century). Nennius’ work was based mostly on the local Briton tradition. Nennius describes the legendary figure as a warlord who repelled the barbarians around the 5th-6th centuries. This was followed shortly after by another reference of Arthur in the “Annales Cambriae” (9th c.). But the author, who developed most of all Arthur’s renowned image as a just and powerful warrior-king, was the Archdeacon of Oxford Geoffrey of Monmouth in his largely mythical “History of the Kings of Britain” (“Historia Regum Britanniae”, AD 1133). Geoffrey relied heavily on the two aforementioned works, and possibly on the local oral tradition. In France, the late medieval chronicler Chretien de Troyes holds an analogous contribution to the Arthurian legend. The later writers of the Arthurian epic circle are based on the works of the last two authors (mostly on Geoffrey’s work and less on Chretien’s) going on to the enrichment of the epic with elements belonging mainly to the Late Middle Ages, such as the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, etc.

In the 5th-6th centuries AD, the Anglo-Saxons brought to Britain many elements of the eastern Scandinavian Proto-Vendel and Vendel cultures, several of which are obvious on their arms and armor, i.e. on their helmets (Sutton Hoo burial, etc.), daggers, swords etc (reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon warlord wearing a Sutton Hoo-type helmet, by the Historical Association Wulfheodenas) (Periklis Deligiannis). Note: segmented helmets fitted with metallic facemasks were very common in the Sassanian army (Spah), a topic that was addressed in detail in: Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., & Kubic, A. (2016). An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets 2nd century BCE – 7th century CE (2016). THE THIRD COLLOQUIA BALTICA-IRANICA, Nov 25-26, Siedlce University.

Modern scholars who do not accept Arthur’s historicity, rely mainly on the fact that he is not mentioned in the main chronicle of the sixth century AD, the chronicle of the Briton churchman Gildas “The Disaster and Conquest of Britain” (“De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae”, mid-6th century) which deals with the events of the Saxon invasion. They believe that if Arthur really existed and halted the Saxons, his name should be referred by Gildas and not just once or twice. But Gildas does not mention him at all.

In fact this argument is not particularly strong, because during the same period a surprisingly large number of princes and nobles named “Arthur” are witnessed across Great Britain. The preference in this personal name appears suddenly, without any prior, and indicates that these aristocrats and warlords received honorary as infants the name of a politico-military personality who achieved great deeds just a little time before their birth. Concerning the fact that the contemporary Latin-speaking Continental writers do not mention Arthur (another argument of those who do not accept his historicity), this is explained by the fact that after AD 407 Britain is lost from their “vision” and interests. It is rater natural that there is no mention of Arthur in the Continental sources, although some scholars believe that the Briton commander is none other than the British king Riothamus of the “History of the Goths” (6th c.) Riothamus is analyzed to Rigo-tamos according to Fleuriot, meaning “Supreme Ruler” which is indeed the title of the Dux Britanniarum of this age. But for what reasons would Gildas have concealed the achievements of his almost contemporary Arthur?

The Lives of the Briton saints suggest in their texts that Arthur was using the money of the Briton Church to financially support his wars, and he was not distracting them with the consent of the Church. It seems in general that his contemporary Christians did not particularly like him and this may explain why Gildas is silent concerning his hypothetical decisive contribution to repulse the Anglo-Saxons. Geoffrey of Monmouth presented Arthur as a pious Christian king, as he had to be in the 12th century, but this presentation has very little significance. The references to the Christian faith of Arthur’s knights and soldiers are of the same small value. If Arthur was a real person, it is very doubtful that he and most of his men followed orthodox (official Roman) Christianity that had not many followers in Britain. Most British of this era rather remained faithful to the ancient Celtic cults or to the heresy of Pelagianism which was significantly removed from orthodox Christianity. It seems that the Britons who were almost permanently under arms, like Arthur and his men, followed mainly the traditional Celtic religion or the cult of Mithras, i.e. the renowned Iranian and later Roman ‘god of the soldiers’.

Location of Tintagel in red (Periklis Deligiannis).

Archaeological and Historical Evidence

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was born in the fortress of Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall. There lived Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall together with his beautiful wife Ygraine (or Igraine). Another Briton warlord, Uther Pendragon was in love with her. Ygraine responded to the feelings of Uther, who despairing of his love for the beautiful duchess asked the help of Merlin the magician. The latter agreed to help Uther on his sexual intercourse with Ygraine in exchange for the surrendering of the child to be born from their commingling. Uther agreed and Merlin gave to him the form of Ygraine’s husband. Gorlois had reduced his wife to their summer dwelling in Tintagel in order to protect her from Uther. The latter managed to make love to Ygraine, her husband was killed, and the child born in Tintagel, namely Arthur, was delivered to Merlin who later established him to the British throne.

Until recently, scholars did not generally consider Geoffrey’s reference on Arthur’s birth in Tintagel as a worthy one. The ruins at the top of the modern island Tintagel (a coastal cliff of Cornwall) belong to a late medieval fortress that was built a century after the writing of Geoffrey’s History. However, probably the archdeacon knew that Tintagel was a fort of the British Dark Ages and followed the local tradition that placed Arthur’s birth there. The archaeological findings reinforce this view. In the summer of 1983 a series of fires extended on Tintagel, where after burning the vegetation, revealed the foundations of strong fortifications. Excavations in the area revealed several findings of ceramics, based on which, the History of the island was divided into two periods. The first historical phase coincides with the Roman period. The fact that no other pottery was excavated in the region, shows that the Roman government was using Tintagel as a commercial post. This is reinforced by the discovery of a harbor on the island, which continued to be used during the 5th-6th centuries. These centuries are concerning Tintagel’s second period, contemporary with Arthur’s wars. The pottery of the 5th-6th century that was discovered on the island was made in the East Roman Empire, Gaul and North Africa, which denotes that the movement of goods by the Celts of Tintagel increased compared to the Roman period. But the large amounts of the excavated pottery, assume that a strong central government controlled the trade. Due to the historical period, this rather corresponded to a monarch. The discovery of a ditch on the island (which considering its use almost always surrounded walls made of tree trunks in Celtic strongholds) denotes that Tintagel was a fortified trading location. After all it would be dangerous for the local Britons to leave defenseless a natural fortress like Tintagel, because it could be captured by overseas enemies or invaders.

‘Tristan and Isolde’ in a classic artwork by Edmund Blair Leighton. Tristan appears in the Arthurian Circle as a worthy knight and a romantic figure as well, but in reality he was a powerful Pict warlord. Dunstan, being his real name, was an historic figure, the champion of the Cruthni (Picts) against the Scottish invaders in Pictavia (Periklis Deligiannis).

During excavations in 1998 an important finding was discovered: a plate (a culvert cover) with a Latin inscription of the 5th century. The name of Arthur was read in it. During the Early Middle Ages, very few could write and the literate usually lived in monasteries or palaces. Some decades ago it was believed that Tintagel was a monastery, but archeology has shown that it was the residence of a prince, judging by the fortifications and the broken utensils of the 5th-6th centuries. Most of the broken pieces came from expensive cups and jugs: such utensils were usually used by rich Celtic and Romano-Briton kings to drink Mediterranean wines. It is believed that the ruler of Tintagel was quite wealthy and powerful, and that his “palace” was in the fort. There are no ruins of it today, because the British “palaces” of the time were mainly made of wood. In conclusion, it seems that Tintagel was a Roman and then a Briton royal fortress that controlled the mouth of the adjacent Camel River. The kings of the 5th-6th century used it only a period of time, generally because the Briton rulers were “itinerant kings.” They did not maintain courtyards or permanent capitals but moved from one fort of their territory to another. Tintagel was possibly the summer residence of the local warlord-king.

The Arthurian legend indicates the existence of two “magical” swords.

Young Arthur was proclaimed king of the Britons when he pulled with ease Uther’s royal sword, which was spiked on a rock. The other pretenders of the throne failed when they tried to pull it. Several British archaeologists believe that the theme of the sword stuck on a rock, originates from the technical construction of the Bronze Age swords. The molten brass was poured into a stone mold, consisting of two parts which were connected tightly together by rivets. The mold was heated to the same temperature as the brass and then it was allowed to return to its natural temperature. Then the coppersmith removed the nails that held the two parts of the stone cast and pulled (using muscular effort) the sword that had been formed, as did Arthur with Uther’s sword. However, in my opinion this explanation is not convincing. The Sarmatian origin of the legend of the sword spiked on a rock is more likely (This will be discussed in later reports in September 2018, September 2019 and September 2020). The Sarmatians were an important North Iranian people of the Eurasian steppe, whose branches were scattered and settled in various regions of Europe, including Britain (members of the Iazygae and Alani tribes, as mercenaries of the Romans). It is significant that their main deity was worshiped in the form of a sword spiked on the ground or on  a rock.

Concerning the second magical sword, according to legend when King Arthur needed a new sword, the Lady of the Lake emerged from the water and handed him the sword Excalibur. The links between King Arthur, the Lady of the lake and ancient Iran’s Goddess Anahita are discussed in the following: