Arthurian Legend and the Sarmatians (Part I)

The article “Arthurian Legend and the Sarmatians (Part I)” was originally written by Periklis Deligiannis. Regarding the Iranian origin of the Sarmatians see: Oric Basirov: Origin of pre-Imperial Iranian Peoples For more on North Iranian peoples see … Scythian and Sarmatian History … For more on the links between ancient Greater Iran or Persia (Eire-An) and Europa, consult the following: Eire-An and Europa … Part II of the below article will be posted in September 2020.

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In  AD  175 ,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  settled  thousands  of  Sarmatian  cavalry  mercenaries  in  Britain.  Two  centuries  later,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  her  troops  from  the  island.  It  seems  that  the  independent
”British  kingdom”  preserved  its  unity  and  coherence  but  soon  after  it  was  struck  by  the  ruthless  Anglo-Saxon  invasion.  The  Sarmatians  were  now  merged  with  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  population,  taking  the  lead  in  checking  the  barbarians.  This  Sarmatian  presence  in  Britain  consists  probably  the  historical  background  of  the  legend  of  king  Arthur  and  his  Knights  of  the  Round  Table.

The  Romans  conquered  modern  England  and  Wales  during  the  1st  century  A.D.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  (Caledonii,  Cornavii/Cornovii,  Venicones  etc.)  which  corresponds  to  the  modern  Scottish  Highlands,  remained  independent.  By  the  4th  century,  her  peoples  had  been  incorporated  into  the  tribal  union  of  the  Picts  (Picti,  Pictae).  Their  name  meant  the  “painted  ones”  in  Latin  because  of  the  ancient  Celtic  custom  of   tattooing  which  they  maintained.  In  fact,  they  called  themselves  Cruthni.  The  Romans  held  Britannia  for  more  than  three  centuries,  but  the  Christianization  and  Latinization  of  its  population  were  confined  only  to  the  cities  and  in  a  few  Southeastern  rural  regions.  The  great  majority  of  the  population  remained  Celtic  in  language  and  in  cults.  Especially  the  rural  populations  were  greatly  influenced  by  the  Christian  heresy  of  Pelagianism.  In  the  late  4th  century  AD,  the  original  Roman  province  of  Britannia  was  split  into  four  provinces:  Caesaresia  Magna,  Caesaresia  Flavia,  Britannia  I  and  Britannia  II.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  and  Ireland  were  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory  for  centuries.

The  Irish  were  crossing  the  Irish  Sea  with  their  light  vessels,  the  Celtic  curraghs.  The  Caledonians-Picts  were  attacking  the  Romano-British  population  by  land  and  sea,  using  the  same  type  of  ships.  Caledonia  and  Britannia  were  separated  by  a  “neutral  zone” (buffer  zone  in  fact)  between  Antoninus’  and  Hadrian’s  Walls,  which  is  almost  equivalent  to  the  modern  Scottish  Lowlands. The  limits  of  Caledonia  (latter  Pictland)  followed  roughly  the  modern  ‘unofficial’  boundaries  between  the  Highlands  and  the  Lowlands  of  Scotland.  The  tribes  of  this  buffer  zone  between  Britannia  and  Caledonia  (the  Damnonii,  the  Selgovae  et. al.)  had  lived  for  two  decades  of  the  2nd  century  AD  under  direct  Roman  control  that  had  reached  Antoninus’  Wall (Vallum  Antonini).  When  they  revolted,  the  Romans  evacuated  this  region  and  restored  the  line  of  their  defense  in  Hadrian’s  Wall (Vallum  Adriani).  Eventually  the  Romans  made  allied  vassals  (foederati)  the  tribes  of   Lowland  Scotland,  using  them  as  a  buffer  zone  against  the  Caledonians/Picts.  However,  their  fidelity  was  always  questionable  and  the  gradual  weakening  of  the  Empire  led  them  to  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory.

Scales  of  Sarmatian  armor  found  near  Hadrians wall (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis).  They  probably  belonged  to  Iazygae  or  Alan  mercenaries  of  the  Roman  army.

In  the  4th  century,  the  Roman  weakening  brought  about  the  increase  of  the  barbarian  attacks  and  the  emergence  of  a  new  invader:  the  Anglo-Saxons.  The  term  ‘Anglo-Saxons’  (or  usually  simply  ‘Saxons’)  is  a  modern  conventional  name  for  of  group  of  Germanic  and  a  few  Slavic  invaders  in  Britain,  originating  from  modern  northern  Germany,  Netherlands,  Belgium  and  Jutland  (Denmark).  This  tribal  group/union  included  the  Saxons  (the  more  numerous  of  the  group),  Engles  (in  Germanic:  Engeln,  modern  English),  Frisians,  Jutes (Geats, a  Gothic  tribal  offshoot),  Proto-Norwegians  (Northwestern  Scandinavians),  Danes,  Angrivarians,  Brukteri  (Boruktuari),  Westphalians,  Ostphalians,  Franks,  Thuringians,  Wangrians  and  a  few  Slavs.  The  Anglo-Saxons  were  crossing  the  North  Sea  with  long  boats  (predecessors  of  the  Viking  ships)  and  were  attacking  Britannia,  looting  and  capturing  its  inhabitants.

The  Roman  armies  and  garrisons  of  Britain  who  faced  the  Irish,  Picts  and  Saxons  included  in  the  4th  century  AD:    I. the  force  of  the  Duke  of  Britannia (Dux  Britanniarum)  which  was  based  in  Eboracum  (capital  of  the  Parisii  tribe)  protecting  Northern  Britain  and  Hadrian’s  Wall.     II. the  force  of   the  Comes  Litoris  Saxonici (Saxon  Shore)  which  protected  the  southeastern  British  coasts  against  the  Anglo-Saxons.    III.  The  fast-moving  force   of  the  Comes  Britanniarum (mainly  cavalry), a  reserve  in  order  to  repel  any  sudden  barbaric  raid  on  any  British  coast.

In  the  early  5th  century,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  was  undergoing  collapse.  The  Romans  had  begun  to  withdraw  their  troops  from  Britain  since  the  4th  century,  in  order  to  check  the  barbarian  pressure  on  the  continental  border  of  the  Rhine.  In  AD  383,  the  Hispano-Roman  general  Maximus,  governor  of  Britannia  who  coveted  the  throne  of  Ravenna,  landed  in  Gaul  with  many  troops.  The  legionaries  that  he withdrew  were  not  replaced  with  new  ones.  The  protection  of  Roman  Britain  was  now  uneconomic  for  the  crumbling  Empire.  The  departure  of  the  Roman  soldiers  continued,  and  together  with  them  departed  a  great  part  of  the  noble  and  wealthy  castes,  whose  members  had  already  understood  that  very  soon  Britannia  would  not  be  a  safe  place  to  live.  Urban  life  had  already  been  reduced  significantly  and  the  economy  had  been  shrunk.  In  407  AD,  the  Empire  withdrew  its  last  regular  troops  from  the  island,  probably  along  with  most  imperial  administrators  and  employees.  The  soldiers  who  remained  were  essentially  some  Romans  and  foreign  mercenaries  who  had  families  with  native  women  or  other  footholds  on  the  island,  and  the  few  British  auxiliaries  who  supported  the  legions.  The  same  applies  to  the  remaining  imperial  officers  and  employees.

A  number  of  Latin-speaking  Germanic  soldiers  called  gentiles,  descendants  of  old  mercenaries  of  Rome,  remained  especially  in  Eastern  Britain.  They  initially  fought  their  Anglo-Saxon  brethren,  however  it  is  possible  that  later  many  of  them  joined  the  invaders  on  the  basis  of  their  common  Germanic  ancestry.  The  well-known Gewisse  are  most  likely  such  a  case.  Finally,  many  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries  (to  whom  we  shall  refer  in  detail  below)  remained  in  the  island  as  well.  After  407,  Britain  South  of  Hadrian’s  Wall  although  was  accounted  for  as  part  of  the  Roman  world,  became  virtually  independent.  The  rise  of  the  barbarian  raids  and  invasions  after  the  Roman  withdrawal,  embarrassed  the  British  leadership.  Its  members  sent  a  message  to  the  Roman  emperor,  with  a  request  for  military  aid  against  the  raiders  (Gemitus Britannorum, “Groans of the Britons”, 410  AD).  The  emperor  could  do  nothing,  advising  them  to  organize  their own defense.

Despite  the  departure  of  the  imperial  army  and  administration  from  Britain,  the  Roman-style  organized  life  went  on.  The  shrunken  Roman  cities  continued  to  exist,  but  the  way  of  life,  language,  cults  and  other  Roman/Latin  elements  were  steadily  giving  ground  to  the  regenerated  Celtic  ones.  The  remaining  Romanized  aristocracy  of  South-Eastern  Britain  undertook  the  organizing  of  the  defense  of  this  region  against  the  Saxons.  The  stably  Celtic  in  civilization  nobility  of  the  mountainous  and  hilly  Western  Britain  undertook  the  repulse  mainly  of  the  Irish  raiders.  The  remaining  former  commanders  of  the  Roman  guards  of  Hadrian’s  Wall  and  the  local  nobles  became  the  hereditary  ruling  class  of  the  Northern  Briton  territories,  mainly  undertaking  the  repulse  of  the  Picts.

Reenactment  of a Saxon warlord by the Historical association Wulfheodenas (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis).  Until  the  9th  century  AD,  the  marching  Anglo-Saxons  gradually  conquered  the  greatest  part  of  the  former  Roman  territories  in  Britain. 

Considering  the  ethno-cultural  conditions,  the  Northern  British  rulers  were  in  an  intermediate  situation  between  the  ‘authentic  Celts’  of  the  Western  region  and  the  Romano-Britons  of  the  South-Eastern  part  of  the  island .  It  is  probable  that  the  three  mentioned  groups  were  in  rivalry  during  the  Roman  period.  However,  the  common  external  threat  of  the  barbarians  joined  them.

The  former  Roman  Britain  was  gradually  divided  into  small  autonomous  Celtic  or  Romano-Celtic  states,  led  by  military  leaders  who  tried  to  maintain  unified  the  “British  kingdom”  as  they  perceived  their  common  territory.  An  action  of  their  unifying  policy  was  the  election  of  a  warlord  (Duke)  as  their  supreme  political  and  military  leader,  who  led  the  war  efforts  against  the  invaders  and  prevented  internal  conflicts.  In  the  medieval  chronicles,  the  supreme  leader  is  referred  as  the  ‘Supreme  Ruler’  of  the  island,  but  his  original  title  or  his  military  one  was  the  Dux  Bellorum.  Probably  this  office  was  the  continuity  of  the  Roman  office  of  the  Dux  Britanniarum.

The  Britons  resisted  the  barbaric  invasions,  led  by  a  series  of  inspirational  supreme  leaders  like  Voteporix,  Vortigern  and  especially  the  legendary  Arthur.  Under  their  leadership,  they  crashed  the  Picts  and  the  Irish  overthrowing  the  Irish  colonies  in  Wales  and  Lowland  Scotland,  and  managed  to  check  the  Anglo-Saxons.  In  429,  the  Romano-Britons  crashed  a  horde  of  Saxon  and  Pict  invaders.

Map of Britain in c. 540 CE (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis), contemporary to the Sassanians

The  British  defense  was  successful  until  442,  when  it  was  shaken  by  two  fatal  “scourges”  (Gildas’  Chronicle).  Vortigern,  probably  one  of  the  leader  of  the  Ordovices  tribe  of  Wales, was  at  that  time  the  Duke  of  Britannia (Supreme  Ruler).  His  name  is  possibly  not  a  personal  name  because  it  can  be  analyzed  in  Brythonic  Celtic  as  the  “Great  King”,  being  probably  a  popularized  rendering  of  the  title  Supreme  Ruler.  Vortigern  had  hired  Jute  mercenaries  in  order  to  repel  the  Anglo-Saxon  invasions.  Their  rebellion  (around  442  AD)  against  him  was  Gildas’  first  “scourge”.  The  Jutes  began  to  raid  Eastern  Britain,  capturing  or  killing  the  inhabitants.  The  second  “scourge”  was  a  plague  that  occurred  on  the  island  (around  446)  and  mainly  affected  the  urban  centers,  decimating  the  remaining  Romanized  population  who  lived  primarily  on  them.  It  was  a  severe  blow  for  the  Romano-British  administration  and  military  organization,  because  they  were  staffed  mainly  by  the  Latinized  population.  In  446,  the  Romano-Britons  asked  for  the  military  aid  of  the  Roman  general  Aetius.  The  great  Aetius  (who  was  meant  to  repel  Attila  in  451  AD  at  the  battle  of  Campus  Mauriacus  or  Catalaunian  Plains)  was  in  Gaul.  The  Briton  request  was  rejected  again.

Vortigern’s   preference  to  Germanic  mercenaries  was  his  great  blunder.  He  probably  did  not  trust  the  native  officials  and  warriors,  aiming  on  the  consolidation  of  his  power  through  the  formation  of  his  own  “Praetorian  guard”  composed  of  Germans.  He “fixed”  his  mistake  of  the  recruitment  of  the  Jutes  with  a  bigger  mistake:  he  settled  a  group  of  Saxon  mercenaries  under  their  warlords  Horsa (‘the  horse’)  and  Hengist (‘the  stallion’),  in  the  land  of  the  Kantii (modern Kent) (about  450  AD).  Their  duty  was  to  suppress  the  rebellion  of  the  Jutes.  The  Saxons  managed  to  defeat  them  but  thereafter  they  also  turned  against  Vortigern  conducting  atrocities  and  looting  on  the  Britons,  from  their  base  at  Kent.  At  the  same  time  they  called  their  brethren  to  come  from  their  cradle  in  Northern  Germany.

These  newcomers  landed  on  the  shores  of  Britain  and  in  a  few  decades  they  conquered  the  Southeastern  part.  But  the  Anglo-Saxon  march  was  limited  because  of  the  efforts  of  the  new  Briton  Duke  (Supreme Ruler)  Ambrosius  Aurelianus  and  then  it  was  stopped  by  the  legendary  great  Duke  Arthur.  It  has  not  been  established  yet  whether  Arthur  was  a  mythological  hero  or  a  real  historical  personality,  but  the  archaeological  discoveries  of  the  last  decades  and  a  review  of  the  chronicles  support  his  historicity.  The  literary,  historical,  archaeological  and  other  relevant  evidence  suggests  strongly  that  a  powerful  warlord  did  live  during  the  verge  of  the  5th-6th  centuries,  uniting  most  of  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  tribes  and  states,  and  fending  the  invaders.  He  could  not  be  other  than  Arthur  of  the  Celto-British  oral  tradition  and  of  the  “History  of  the  Kings  of  Britain”  of  Geoffrey  of  Monmouth  (AD  1133).

Arthur  as  a  military  leader,  was  not  depending  on  foreign  mercenaries  as  Vortigern  did,  but  in  a  “national”  army  comprised  of  Briton  Celts,  Romano-Britons,  Romano-Germans  and  Romano-Sarmatians.  He  inflicted  heavy  losses  to  the  Anglo-Saxons,  forcing  some  of  them  to  return  disappointed  in  Germany  as  it  is  proved  by  archaeology.
The  Roman  army  in  Britain  comprised  many  Sarmatian  mercenaries,  most  of  whom  probably  remained  on  the  island  after  407.  The  Sarmatians  were  a  large  group  of  nomadic  tribes  of  Northern  Iranian (Saka/Scythian)  stock.  Their  cradle  was  in  Central  Asia, possibly  in  modern  Northern  Kazakhstan.  Since  the  3rd  century  B.C.,  some  of  their  tribes  started  a  migration  to  China,  while  the  bulk  of  the  people  invaded  gradually  the  modern  Ukrainian  steppes  destroying  the  Scythian  state  in  Europe.  The  various Sarmatian tribes  were  independent  and very  often  were  fighting  each  other.  The  most  important  were  the  Sauromatae,  the  Roxolani,  the  Iazygae,  the  Siraces,  the  ‘Royal  Sarmatians’,  the  Aorsi/Alans, the  Aspourgians  etc.

The  Sarmatians  fought  primarily  as  armored  cavalry  using  a  long  and  strong  spear  (the  kontos)  as  their  main  weapon.  The  Romans  of  the  Later  Empire  evaluated  their  martial  spirit  and  recruited  them  massively  as  mercenaries.  They  ultimately  adopted  themselves  the  Sarmatian  mounted  warfare.  The  Goths,  the  Huns  and  other  peoples  did  the  same, and  they  also  included  in  their  ranks  many  Sarmatian  allies.  The  formidable  Sarmatians  were  dispersed  and  settled  in  many  European  regions,  where  they  finally  were  assimilated  by  the  local  populations.

Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005). Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. As noted by Periklis  Deligiannis,  the  Sarmatian  cataphracts belonged  to a very similar type of cavalry as the Savaran. Sarmatian cataphracts were using  armour  made  of  large  scales  or  mail  armor  like  the  Savaran in the above battle against Roman forces invading Sassanian Persia. Like the Sassanians, the Sarmatians also used  helmets  that were  mainly  of  the  spangenhelm  type – see following article: Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Kubic, A., & Oshterinani, M.T. (2017). An Examination of Parthian and Sasanian Military Helmets. In “Crowns, hats, turbans and helmets: Headgear in Iranian history volume I” (K. Maksymiuk & Gh. Karamian, Eds.), Siedlce University & Tehran Azad University, pp.121-163.

The  Iazygae,  a  tribe  of  the  Sarmatian  vanguard,  settled  for  some  time  in  Pannonia  (modern  Hungarian  and  Croatian  plain)  and  from  there  they  were  raiding  the  neighboring  Roman  territories.  In  AD  175,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  defeated  them  and  exiled  8,000  Iazygian  horsemen  (most  of  the  surviving  warriors  of  the  tribe)  in  Gaul  and  Britain,  where  they  were  obliged  to  serve  as  mercenaries  of  the  Roman  army.  5,500  of  them  were  settled  in  Britannia.  The  most  important  part  of  their  story  is  that  according  to  a  honorific  Roman  tombstone,  the commander  of  the  Legio  VI  Victrix  in  which  they  enrolled,  was  an  officer  called  Lucius  Artorius  Castus,  who  had  served  in  Dalmatia (a  region  adjacent  to  Pannonia)  and  perhaps  was  of  Dalmatian  (Illyrian)  origin.  The  enrollment  of  the  Iazygian  mercenaries  in  the  Sixth  Legion  was  not  accidental.  The  Sarmatians  undoubtedly  welcomed  a  commander  familiar to  their  homeland,  possibly  familiar  with  their  customs  and  language  as  well.  When  their  twenty-year  term  of  office  ended,  the  Romans  forbade  them  to  return  to  Pannonia  resettling  them  in  Bremetennacum (modern  Ribchester,  near  Lancaster)  and  in  two  other  sites  in  Britain.  Later,  these  three  Sarmatian  settlements-sites  were  identified  with  three  of  the  twelve  sites  of  victories  achieved  by  Arthur  (Nennius: History  of  the  Britons,  late  8th  century).

In  the  end  of  the  3rd  century, a  military  unit  of  500  Sarmatian  cavalrymen  is  reported  to  be  based  in  Bremetennacum, and  they  are  considered  to  be  the  descendants  of  the  Iazygian  captives-mercenaries.  The  personal  name  Arthur  comes  possibly  from  a  Celtic  corruption  of   the  Latin  Artorius  and  it  has  been  suggested  that  the  legendary  Arthur,  Duke  of  Britain  of  the  5th-6th  century,  was  a  descendant  of  the  Roman  Artorius  of  the  2nd  century.  Another  modern  theory  suggests  that  the  Latin  personal  name   Artorius   became  the  Celtic  title  Arthur  (like  the  Roman  name  Caesar  was  converted  to  the  German  title  Kaiser  and  the  Russian  title  Tsar).  However,  Arthur  was  undoubtedly  a  Celt,  even  if  he  was  a  distant  descendant  of  the  Roman  Artorius.

The  number  of  the  Sarmatians  in  Britain  was  not  inconsiderable.  The  Romans  settled  on  the  island  5,500  Iazygian  warriors.  The  Sarmatians  used  to  move  with  their  families  who  lived  in  the  typical  heavy  carriages  of  the  nomads,  thereby  it  is  certain  that  many  of  the  Iazygae  settlers  had  their  women  and  children  with  them.  On  the  other  hand,  many  would  be  young  unmarried  men  who  got  married  with  Briton  women.  The  usual  ratio  of  combatants  to  non-combatants,  used  to  calculate  ancient  populations,  is  1:3 .  Therefore,  a  ratio  of  1:2  is  acceptable  for  the  Iazygae  mercenaries  in  Britain  and  so  we  can  assume  a  total  figure  of  16-17,000  with  the  women  and  children.  If  we  add  to  them  the  rest  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries  who  settled  in  Britain,  mainly  Alans,  the  total  Sarmatian  population  would  number  a  few  tens  of  thousands (possibly  20-30,000).  The  number  of  the  Germanic  gentiles  in  the  island  was  higher.  The  total  population  of  Britannia  was  around  1,000,000-1,500,000.  It seems that the  total  figure of  the  Germanics  and  Sarmatians (men,  women  and  children)  did  not  exceed  5 %  of  the total population.

According  to  some  modern  scholars,  the  history  of  these  Sarmatian  mercenaries  in  Britain  is  the  background  of  the  Arthurian  Legend, as  we  shall  see  in  PART  II (to be posted by Kavehfarrokh.com in September 2020).

The Ancient Site of Takhte Sulaiman

The article “The Ancient Site of Takhte Soleyman [Suleiman]” below written by Ḏḥwty was originally posted on the Ancient Origins website on May 24, 2015.

The version produced below has been slightly edited. Kindly note that excepting one photo, all other images and accompanying captions did not appear in the original Ancient Origins posting.

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Between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE, Iran was part of the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival in the East. Under this empire, Zoroastrianism was recognized as the state religion, and numerous Zoroastrian sanctuaries were built by the Sassanian rulers as a sign of their piety. One of the most important of these sanctuaries is found at a site known as Takht-e-Soleyman (or Takhte Suleiman).

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).

Takht-e-Soleyman (meaning ‘The Throne of Solomon’) is located in West Azarbaijan province, in the north-west Iran. The site is located in a valley about 2000m (6500ft) above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains. In the middle of the valley is an oval platform rising about 60m above the surrounding plain that measures about 350m by 550m (1150ft by 1800ft). Located on the platform is a lake fed by springs hidden beneath the surface. Saturated with minerals, the water of this lake is neither drinkable nor able to support any life. An ancient volcano, known as Zendan-e-Soleyman (meaning ‘The Prison of Solomon’) is located about 3km to the west of the site. According to folk legend, King Solomon used to imprison monsters inside the 100m deep crater. Given its stunning natural landscape, it is little wonder that Takht-e-Soleyman was perceived as a mystical site by the ancients.

 

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 Zoroastrian priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

The region of Takht-e-Soleyman was considered sacred, worship was conducted there even prior to the arrival of the Sassanians. Around the Zendan-e-Soleyman area, the remains of temples and shrines have been discovered. These traces of structures have been dated to the 1st millennium BCE, and are associated with the Manneans, rulers of the region between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. The volcanic crater was once full of water (but later dried out), a feature that probably attracted the Manneans to build their temples and shrines there.

The ruins and crater at Takht-e-Soleyman Throne of Soloman, Iran in 2006 (Source: Ḏḥwty in Ancient Origins).

With the arrival of the Sassanians in that region in the 5th century CE, Zendan-e-Soleyman lost its importance to Takht-e-Soleyman. During the middle of the same century, during the reign of Peroz, construction began at the site. In the following century, Takht-e-Soleyman became a royal Zoroastrian sanctuary during the reigns of Khosrow I and Khosrow II. This site became one of the most important sanctuaries in Zoroastrianism as its temple housed the Ādur Gušnasp. This was a sacred fire of the highest order, and one of the three great fires of Zoroastrianism believed to have existed since the dawn of creation. The Sassanians also built a temple to the cult of Anahita, a goddess strongly associated with water, at Takht-e-Soleyman. To defend this important religious site, the Sassanians enclosed the area with a wall 13m (42ft) high, with 38 towers and two entrances – one in the north and another in the south. These defenses were not enough, however, to withstand the Byzantine army that attacked the site in retaliation against Sassanian incursion into their territory. As a result, Takht-e-Soleyman was destroyed in 627 CE. The following centuries were uneventful for Takht-e-Soleyman, and it was inhabited by a peasant population. It was only in the 13th century that the site regained some of its past glory and importance for a brief period.

A photograph from the site of ancient Kahib in Daghestan of the Caucasus forwarded by Guseyn Guseynov to Kavehfarrokh.com on March 1, 2015. Note that the above archway at Kahib bears an almost exact resemblance to one of the archways at the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province. For more on Kahib see here …

By then, the Sassanian Empire was already long gone, and the region was now under the control of the Ilkhanate, a part of the Mongol Empire but would later form a state of its own. During the reign of Abaqa Khan, the second Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate, the peasants residing in Takht-e-Soleyman were chased out, and a palace was built for the Khan on the foundations of the ancient sanctuary. In addition to new structures, some ancient ones were also reconstructed. Nevertheless, the site was once again abandoned in the middle of the 14th century, following the demise of the Ilkhanate and the subsequent Timurid invasion. The site fell into ruins, and was only rediscovered in the 19th century. In the 20th century, archaeological work was conducted at the site and in 2003 Takht-e-Soleyman was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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).

Establishment of a Permanent Exhibition of Sassanian Inscriptions at the Suleimaniyah Museum

The information provided in this article with respect to the establishment of the permanent exhibition of Sassanian inscriptions in Iraq’s Suleimaniyah Museum was first and originally reported in Persian by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in Facebook on June 11, 2019 in the following post: برپایی نمایشگاه دائمی سنگنبشته های پایکولی در موزه سلیمانیه. 

Kavehfarrokh.com also thanks Mojtaba Doroodi (in consultation with Soheil Delshad) for his time and efforts and the support of Dr. Mohammad Ala for providing their expertise in the provision of translations and context of the Pahlavi text of the Sassanian inscriptions at Pāikūlī.

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Archaeology Dr. Carlo Giovanni Cereti of Sapienza University in Rome, as part of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Iraqi Kurdistan (MAIKI), has set up a permanent exhibition of Sassanian inscriptions from the site of Pāikūlī in Iraq’s Suleimaniyah’s Museum. Dr. Cereti has been the curator and primary organizer of this initiative.

Pāikūlī is actually a stone monument structure much like the monument known today as the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht (Kaaba of Zarathustra) in the site of Nagshe Rustam in southwest Iran’s Fars province. Pāikūlī however lacks the stepped foundations and stairway seen at the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht. The site of Pāikūlī is located in modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan’s Suleimaniyah region, which has been a part of the Iranian realms since antiquity, notably during the Sassanian era. This region was formally separated from Iran in favor of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the Second Treaty of Erzerum signed on May 31, 1847. The region was to be inherited by the newly created nation-state of Iraq after the First World War (1914-1918) in the aftermath of the partition of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1299-1922).

Relief bust of Sassanian King Narseh (r. 293-302 CE)  from the original structure at Pāikūlī (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav) – see sketches of the original Pāikūlī structure below. 

Sketches of the original Pāikūlī structure (Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav). Note the image of king Narseh in the walls of the structure.

Inscription in Pahlavi from Pāikūlī (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav). The above Pāikūlī block appears as D3 in the academic publication by Dr. Helmut Humbach and Dr. Prods O. Skjaervo (The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli: Restored text and Translation. Reichert Verlag, 1983 – discussed further below). Note that five of the above lines are intact with the sixth line damaged.

The inscription above has been coded and translated in context by Mojtaba Doroodi in consultation with Soheil Delshad – five of the lines have been thus examined (the sixth line is too damaged for proper analysis):

The full translation in context of the five lines is provided in New Persian below followed by the English version:

As noted by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian, the inscription examined here was first translated by the late German Iranologist Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948) (see in Encyclopedia Iranica). Readers are referred to the most recent and most comprehensive translations in English of the Pāikūlī inscriptions made by Dr. Helmut Humbach and Dr. Prods O. Skjaervo:

Humbach, H. & Skjaervo, P.O. (1983). The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli: Restored text and Translation. Reichert Verlag.

The environs of the Pāikūlī site in 2019 (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav).

Fall 2019 Iranian Studies Initiative Lectures at the University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia’s Persian and Iranian Studies Initiative of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia will be providing a series of lectures by prominent Iranian Studies scholars in the Fall of 2019. All of these lectures will be Free and open to the general public. As seen further below, the lecturers shall be Mahsa Rad, Dominic P. Brookshaw, Shahzad Bashir, Farzan Kermani, Morteza Asadi and Kaveh Farrokh.

The planned lectures and specific dates for these are as follows:

Mahsa Rad, Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran; Visiting International Research Student at UBC: Loneliness and  Struggle: Self-Narratives of Iranian Trans People’s Livesروایت  زندگی ترنس های ایرانی (in Persian)[13 Sept. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Dominic P. Brookshaw, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Persian Literature at The Oriental Institute, Oxford Semi-Annual Lecture in Persian/Iranian Studies: One Poet Among Many: Hafez and the Transregional Literary Networks of 14th-Century Iran (in English) – [Sept. 27, 2019, lecture hall to be announced]

Shahzad Bashir, Ph.D., Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities, Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University: Imagining Time in India: Persian Chroniclers and their Interpreters (in English) – [11 Oct. 2019, 6-7:30 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Farzan Kermani, Ph.D. in Design, IIT Bombay: Iranian Art After Islam: With a Look at Some Renowned Iranian Calligraphersهنر ایران پس از اسلام: با نگاهی به سرگذشت چند خوشنویس بلندآوازه – (in Persian) – [25 Oct. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Morteza Asadi, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar at the School of International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC; former Assistant Professor of Economy at Kharazmi University, Tehran: Political Economy of Oil Curse: The Case of Post-Revolutionary Iran (in English) – [8 Nov. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Kaveh Farrokh, Ph.D., Professor of History & Academic Advisor for Analytica Iranica, Methodolgica Governance University, Paris, France: Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europa during the Classical Era (in English) – [29 Nov. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Readers further interested in Kaveh Farrokh’s upcoming lecture are encouraged to download two of his peer-reviewed articles as well as the Dissertation of Sheda Vasseqhi 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.

Farrokh, K. (2009). The Winged Lion of Meskheti: a pre- or post-Islamic Iranian Legacy in Georgia? Scientific Paradigms. Studies in Honour of Professor Natela Vachnadze. St. Andrew the First-Called Georgian University of the Patriarchy of Georgia. Tbilisi, pp. 455-492.

PhD Dissertation by Sheda Vasseqhi (University of New England; academic supervision team Academic advising Team: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi, Kaveh Farrokh): Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In  the Origins Of Western Civilization.

See also:

A detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.

Dr. Ilkka Syvanne’s Book Review of Kaveh Farrokh, Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians

Dr. Ilkka Syvanne (Helsinki University & University of Haifa) has published a book review of Kaveh Farrokh’s 2017 text, Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians in the Persian Heritage journal. This can be downloaded from Academia.edu (pdf):

Syvanne, I. (2019). Review of Kaveh Farrokh, Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians. Persian Heritage, 93, p.15.

The text of Dr. Syvanne’s review in the Persian Heritage journal has been reprinted below. Readers are also encourage to consult the Review of Sassanian Studies by Dr. Matthew G. Marsh as well as Richard AS. Gabriel’s review (2018) in the Military History journal of Kaveh Farrokh, Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians

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The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians (Pen & Sword, Barnsley  2017) by Kaveh Farrokh is a very welcome addition to the books dealing with Sasanian Persia.  Dr. Farrokh has divided his monograph into thematically organized chapters which deal with all of the issues relating to the Sasanian armed forces so that he analyses for example the organization, equipment, culture, training, personal combat skills, combat tactics, siege tactics, naval matters,  and military history to provide a complete overview of the Sasanian armed forces throughout its history.

  • Publisher: Pen and Sword (Oct. 17 2017) – Available at Pen & Sword or Amazon.com
  • ISBN-10: 1848848455
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848848450
  • Hardcover: 256 pages

In addition to this, it includes useful illustrative examples of battles, sieges, equipment (e.g. in the Plates which also includes re-enactor photos) and maps.

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

Farrokh’s monograph is particularly valuable for its analysis of the military terms, changes is tactics and organization and because it corrects many earlier misunderstandings.  The book relates all of the changes in organization, equipment and tactics throughout the existence of the Empire and provides an overview of the influence of Persian military and its military culture on other peoples and on the posterity.  The actual narrative contents are as follows:

1)     Martial Ardour, Origins and Missions of the Spah.

2)     Organization: Military Titles and Recruitment

3)     Military Reforms of the Sixth Century CE

4)     Military Training, Polo, the Hun, and Military Music

5)     Archery

6)     The Savaran

7)     Infantry, Auxiliary Contingents and Naval Forces

8)     Preparations for War

9)     Tactics and Strategies along the Roman and Caucasian Frontiers

10)  Logistics and Support

11)  Post-Battle Scenarios and Diplomacy

12)  The Spah in Central Asia: Warfare, Military Developments and Tactics

13)  Military Architecture

14)  Siege Operations

15)  Sassanian Military Culture

16)  Military Weaknesses of the Spah

17)  The Fall of the Spah and the Empire

18)  Post-Sassanian Resistance and Rebellion against the Caliphate

19)  Legacy

As a military historian (I am Dr. Ilkka Syvanne) whose areas of specialization include Greek, Roman, late-Roman, East Roman (Byzantine) and Iranian military history, I do obviously have disagreements with some of the interpretations and conclusions adopted by Kaveh Farrokh (obviously we do still agree on most issues).  For example I date the four-fold strategic division of the Iranian Empire to an earlier period on the basis of Ammianus (e.g.  Syvanne, Military History of Late Rome vol.1, p.113), interpret the developments in tactics, equipment and archery differently (e.g.  MHLR Vol.1 p.113ff.; The Age of Hippotoxotai esp. chapter 10.1, Bahram V Gur in Historia i Swiat, two forthcoming books dealing with Iran) and many of the battles and sieges too (e.g. Farrokh p.155ff. vs. Syvanne, MHLR vol. 1 p.211ff., Desperta Ferro/Julian, forthcoming Gallienus, together with the forthcoming vols. of MHLR), but this should only to be expected.  There are no two historians who would agree on everything especially when the evidence is such as we have for this period.  There are many different ways to interpret the evidence and this should always be kept in mind.  It is also for this reason that Kaveh Farrokh’s book is so valuable.  He provides a different perspective and interpretation of many events that give the readers the possibility and also the reason to ponder which of the different interpretations might be the correct one or if there even exist such a possibility.  Despite our best efforts to be impartial and to seek honestly the truth, we historians are still humans with our subjective views and therefore we are all liable to make mistakes and/or interpret the evidence differently.

Rock-cut statue of a late Sasanian ruler, possibly of Khosrow “Parveez” II (6th century CE), In situ Ṭāq-e Bostān, (photo by Prof. David Nicolle).

In sum, Dr. Kaveh Farrokh is an acknowledged expert of Iranian history and for a good reason.  This book proves this once again.  He has been among those historians who have done the most to increase our understanding of Iranian history and culture.  Indeed, the previous two to three decades has witnessed ever increasing interest in all things related to Middle East and this fortunately includes also the ancient pre-Islamic Iran, the study of which is absolutely necessary if we want to understand today’s phenomena in the Middle East, but a lot of work still needs to be done and I am not saying this because I am among those who have contributed to this discussion and have also written a number of books for the Pen &Sword Publishing.  I am saying this because there really is still a lot to be researched and analysed in ancient Iranian history that is absolutely necessary for the understanding of how this great Empire has affected our history and our very existence today.  Kaveh Farrokh’s book is not only a very good addition to this literature and discussion, but it is also a book which demonstrates also to the doubting Thomas’s that it is worthwhile to study Iranian history.  His conclusions demonstrate the importance of understanding the Iranian history.   I wholeheartedly recommend the buying of this book.

Two more textbooks on Sassanian military history published in 2018: The Library of Social Sciences Book Exhibit displayed the following textbooks during the Eleventh Annual ASMEA Conference in November 2018: (Left) A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Gholamreza Karamian, 2018) – click here to download in pdf from Academia.edu...  and (Right) The Siege of Amida (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia, 2018) – click here to download in pdf from Academia.edu…