Sassanian Relief at Salmas (ancient Shapur)

Salmas (ancient Shapur) in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province is an ancient heritage settlement. Notable are the ties of the Sassanian rock reliefs of the Khantakhti region of Salmas: these depict Shapur I (r. 240-270 CE) and his father Ardashir I Babakan (r. 224-242 CE), the founder of the Sassanian dynasty (224-651 CE). Khantakhti is located approximately 15 kilometres from the Shapur-Urmia highway.

Scholars in general are of the opinion that the reliefs represent the military victory of Ardashir I over the Roman Empire in Armenia. This thesis is mainly based on crown depictions seen on Sassanian reliefs and coins.

1-Sass Relief-SalmasThe mounted figures of Ardashir I (to the front) facing a standing figure and Shapur I (behind Ardashir) (Source: Azariha). It is possible that this relief commemorates a Sassanian military victory in Armenia. The first captive held by Ardashir may be Armenian king Khosrov (Persian: Khosrow) with the captive to the rear held by Shapur I apparently being the Armenian Vizier.

Father and son, Ardashir I and Shapur I, fought hard against multiple powers, notably the Roman Empire, to maintain the independence and territorial integrity of the newly founded Sassanian dynasty.

2-Sass Relief-SalmasClose-up of Ardahsir I at Khantakhi (Source: Azariha). Note the monarch resting his hand over his scabbard-slide sword, like his son Shapur I behind him. This type of scabbard-sword pose is seen in several Sassanian sites, notably at Nagshe Rustam and Bishapur. 

Sassanian military parity with Rome was assured by the victories of Shapur I over the armies of Roman emperors Gordian III (r. 238-244 CE) at Misiche (modern Anbar, north of the Sassanian Ctesiphon) in 244 CE, Philip the Arab (r. 244-249 CE) at Barbalissos in c. 256 CE, and Valerian (r. 253-260 CE) who was defeated and captured in c. 260 CE.

3-Sass Relief-Salmas-Shapur_IClose up of Shapur I at Khantakhti (Source: Public Domain). Shapur was to follow up the military successes of his father Ardashir I by scoring victories over three Roman emperors. 

Interestingly after more than 1800 years, the local Iranian Azeri populace at Salmas remain cognizant of the region’s original name of “Shapur”.

4-Khantakhti PlaquePlaque for visitors and tourists at Khantakhti (Source: Azariha).

Shapour Shahbazi: Bahrām I

The article below by Shapour Shahbazi on Sassanian king Bahrām I (c. June 271 – September 274 CE) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1988 and last updated on August 24, 2011.

Kindly note that picture posted below does not appear in the original publication and on-line posting by Encyclopedia Iranica.

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Bahrām I, the fourth Sasanian king and son of Šāpūr I, succeeded Hormozd (Ohrmezd) I and ruled from June, 271 until September, 274 (for the chronology of the early Sasanians, the findings of W. B. Henning, Asia Major, 1957, p. 116, are followed here). Four of Šāpūr’s sons are named in his Kaʿba-ye Zardošt inscription (A. Maricq, Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965, pp. 61-62): Bahrām Gēlān Šāh, Šāpūr Mēšān Šāh (King of Mesene), Hormozd (Ohrmezd) Ardašīr, Wuzurg Šāh ī Arminān (Great King of Armenia), and Narseh Sakān Šāh (King of the Sakas, exceptionally honored later in the inscription, Maricq, ibid., p. 58, as “the noble Mazdā-worshipping Narseh, King of Sind, Sakastān, and Tūrān to the edge of the sea”). The order shows that Bahrām was the eldest son (Henning, “Notes on the Great Inscription of Šāpūr I,” in Professor Jackson Memorial Volume, Bombay, 1954, p. 419 n. 6), and indeed, the prince is shown on the Naqš-e Rajab investiture relief of Ardašīr I, facing his name-deity Bahrām, who is figured in the Hellenistic guise of Herakles, nude and club in hand (W. Hinz, Altiranische Funde und Forschungen, Berlin, 1969, p. 124 with pl. 59). However, despite Bahrām’s age and Narseh’s exalted position, the succession of Šāpūr had been decided in favor of Hormozd Ardašīr, who, however, reigned for only just over a year. Then Bahrām ascended the throne, probably with the help of the influential priest, Kardēr. Narseh probably looked upon Bahrām as a usurper (see bahrām, iii), but had to settle for the second rank in the empire, becoming “Great King of Armenia” (V. Lukonin, “Varakhran i Narse,” in VDI 1, 1964, pp. 48ff.; H. Humbach and P. O. Skjærvø, The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli III/1, Wiesbaden, 1983. pp. 66ff.).

Bahram I-Sassanina Coin

Sassanian coin of Bahram I (c. June 271 – September 274 CE) (Source: Public Domain).

Bahrām was fond of fighting, hunting, and feasting, which he regarded as virtues (Henning, “Mani’s Last Journey,” BSOS 10, 1942, p. 951), and Sasanian-based sources praised him as a benevolent and worthy king. This was no doubt partly due to his reversal of Šāpūr’s policy of religious tolerance, which enabled the clergy led by Kardēr to proceed with the establishment of a Zoroastrian state church. In 274, he ordered the imprisonment and subsequent execution of Mani, and the persecution of his followers (Henning, ibid., pp. 949ff.). Otherwise Bahrām’s short reign was uneventful. His coins show him wearing the characteristic crown of Mithra: a headgear adorned with ray-shaped spikes (K. Erdmann, “Die Entwicklung der sasanidischen Krone,” Ars Islamica 15-16, 1951, p. 96; R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics, Brunswick, 1971, p. 43, pl. 3 nos. 40-47). The lost Book of the Portraits of Sasanian Kings (Ḥamza, p. 50) depicted Bahrām I as standing, holding a lance in the right hand and leaning upon a sword held in the left, and wearing red gown and trousers and a gold crown topped with a sky-blue globe (Erdmann, op. cit., p. 96 n. 3). Following Ardašīr and Šāpūr, Bahrām I symbolized his accession in a rock-relief (Bīšāpūr IV) showing him on horseback, receiving the diadem of royalty from Ohrmezd, also shown mounted. The relief is accompanied by a Mid. Pers. inscription. The dignified spirituality of the king, the sweeping gesture of the god, the finely balanced composition, and the proportionate, majestic figures of the horses make this monument “artistically the most appealing example of Sasanian rock sculpture” (E. F. Schmidt, Persepolis III: The Royal Tombs and Other Monuments, Chicago, 1970, p. 129. See further F. Sarre and E. Herzfeld, Iranische Felsreliefs, Berlin, 1910, pp. 215ff.; G. Herrmann and R. Howell, The Sasanian Rock Reliefs at Bishapur, pt. 2, Iranische Denkmäler, Lief. 10, Berlin, 1981). Later, Narseh tampered with this sculpture and substituted his own name for that of Bahrām (see Schmidt, op. cit., p. 129 n. 71 for reference).

Bibliography

See also Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 47-48.

Other Oriental, Greek, and Syriac sources are listed by Justi, Namenbuch, p. 361 no. 7.

The identification of Bahrām I with Bahrām Kūšān Šāh, who on his coins wears a crown adorned with a pair of ram’s horns and who is known also from a Sasanian silver plate now in the Hermitage (K. Erdmann, “Die sasanidischen Jagdschalen,” in Jahrb. d. preuss. Kunstsammlung LIX, 1930, p. 190 with references) must be rejected on the evidence of the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt inscription which specifies that Bahrām was King of Gēlān. On Bahrām’s religious policy see further W. Hinz, “Mani and Kardēr,” in La Persia nel medioevo, Rome, 1971, pp. 485ff.

The Site of Taghe Bostan طاق بستان

Taqhe Bostan (Persian: طاق بستان‎) is a major heritage site in Western Iran (located approx. 5-6 km from the city of Kermanshah) dated to the Sassanian era (224-651 CE). The site is extremely valuable for the understanding of the Sassanian era, especially its rock-reliefs and fine carvings typical of the later Sassanian era. Taghe Bostan is one of thirty known Sassanian sites along the Zagros mountain chain.

Panoramic view-Tagh-BostanAn excellent panoramic view of Taghe Bostan (Photo Source: Graduate School of Razi University in Kermanshah).

 Taqhe Bostan’s artistic themes are essentially exhibit the following themes popular in Sassanian arts: martial ardor, strength, mythological themes, Farr (Divine Glory), the sense of honor, the Royal hunt, the Royal Feast, celebrations and joy, and the glories of the court.

1-Taghe Bostan-entrance-nightAnother excellent panoramic view of Taghe Bostan from the waterway ingress at night (Photo Source: Graduate School of Razi University in Kermanshah).

Panel with Ardashir II

The four-figure rock-relief panel featuring Ardashir II r. 379-383 CE) is probably the oldest at Taghe Bostan.

Ardashir II (standing in the middle) receives a large “Farr” ring (with ribbons – a commons Sassanian symbol of royalty) which is a symbol of regal investiture from a figure which believed to be either Ahura-Mazda or possibly Shapur II (r.309-379 AD) (figure to the right). Note that Shapur II was Ardashir II’s predecessor.

Ardashir II acted as the interim ruler for the actual heir of the throne Shapur III (383-388 CE), as the latter was still too young to rule.

1-Taq-Bostan [Click to Enlarge] The Rock-Relief panel of Mithra (left) Ardashir II (middle) and Ahura-Mazda or Shapur II (at right). Dimensions: width: 4 m and 7 cm- height: 3.9 meters. Note that Mithras appears to be engaged in some sort of “knighting” of Ardahsir II as he receives the “Farr” (Divine Glory) diadem from Ahura-Mazda (Photo Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

The third figure (at left) is the god Mithra who holds a symbolic broadsword-like Barsum in his hands. Mithras is not only the guardian of contracts, he is also the god who provides the warrior with courage, endurance, resilience and martial ardor. It is also interesting that Mithra stands on a lotus flower.

Finally, one sees the prostrate figure of Roman emperor Julian the Apostate(r.361-363 CE). The figure of Julian symbolizes his defeat after his massive of invasion of Persia was defeated in 363 CE (Julian was also killed during the failed campaign).

 Taq-e Bostan[Click to Enlarge] The fallen figure of Julian the Apostate at the Ardashir II relief (Photo Source: Public Domain).

Panel with Shapur II and  Shapur III

Taghe Bostan has a smaller Iwan archway as well featuring the figures of Shapur II and III carved into the relief.

5-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] The figures of King Shapur II (right) facing his son Shapur III (left) standing at around 3 meters tall each. Note ceremonial stance of the warriors with palm of hand placed on top of sword hilt and left hand grasping hilt-handle (Photo Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

This Iwan is interesting as it features two distinct inscriptions in Pahlavi of Shapur II and his son Shapur III. The translation of the Pahlavi inscription at Iwan pertaining to Shapur II is as follows:

This is the [form of] Mazda-worshiping Lord Shapur, Shahanshah [king of kings] of Eran [Iran] and An-Eran [non-Iran], whose race is from the Gods. Son of Mazda-worshiping Lord Hormizd, Shahanshah of Eran and An-Eran, whose race is from the Gods, grandson of Lord Narse, the Shahanshah.

TB-PahlaviA close-up view of a Pahlavi inscription at the Shapur II-Shapur III panel at Taghe Bostan (Photo Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004). Note that the figure to the right of the photo is the partial view of Shapur III.

The translation of the Pahlavi inscription at the Iwan pertaining to Shapur III is as follows:

This is the [form of] Mazda-worshiping Lord Shapur, Shahanshah [king of kings] of Eran [Iran] and An-Eran [non-Iran], whose race is from the Gods. Son of Mazda-worshiping Lord Shapur, Shahanshah of Eran and An-Eran, whose race is from the Gods, grandson of Lord Hormizd, the the Shahanshah.

It must be noted that the date of this Iwan and its inscriptions are debated. There are also questions as to whether the inscriptions were added ‘after the fact” by Shapur III.

The Grand Iwan

The overall frontal archway of the Grand Iwan or archway of the Taghe Bostan is distinct and imposing. A discussion of this segment of Taghe Bostan is in essence a four-part discussion that focuses on:

  1. The overall Frontal View
  2. The investiture scene of Khosrow II
  3. The armored knight figure of Khosrow II and steed Sabdiz
  4. The Panels featuring the Royal Hunt

                (1) Overall Frontal View        

The grand Iwan or archway at Taghe Bostan is an impressive structure carved out of the solid rock. Distinctly visible are the arboreal patterns conveying the branches and segments of the sacred tree of life, a mythological pattern common to Iranian peoples since antiquity and especially among the Scythians and the Sarmatians-Alans.

2a-Taq-BostanThe great grotto of Khosrow II at Tagh-e-Bostan. Visible are the arch of the Iwan, the upper register on the back wall featuring the investiture of Khosrow II with the lower section clearly showing the armored knight figure of Khosrow II and his steed Sabdiz (Photo: Shahyar Mahabdi, 2004).

Especially impressive at the grand entrance way are the female angelic or Yazata figures, one at each side of the archway. Much of the artwork for the angel at the left side has collapsed (or suffered damaged) but her head and outstretched right hand holding the “Farr” [Divine Glory] are still intact.

8-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] The Yazata or Angel at the upper left side of the archway of the Grand Iwan at Taghe Bostan (Photo courtesy of S. Amiri-Parian). Note the fluttering ribbons, a consistent Sassanian theme of regal splendor.

The angel on the right side is considerably more intact : her wings and attire are clearly visible and like her left counterpart, she too holds the “Farr” [Divine Glory] with an outstretched right hand. The right hand angel also holds what appears to be a cup filled with roundels (grapes?) with her left hand.

Tagh-e-Bostan-Amiriparian2[Click to Enlarge] The Yazata or Angel at the upper right side of the archway of the Grand Iwan at Taghe Bostan (Photo courtesy of S. Amiri-Parian).

                (2) Investiture of Khosrow II

The investiture of Khosrow II (r. 590-628 CE) is depicted in the upper panel of the interior of the Grand Iwan at Taghe Bostan.  There are three figures in this scene with Khosrow II seen in the middle clasping a ceremonial and highly decorated broadsword with his left hand. Khosrow II is seen receiving a regal Farr diadem with ribbons from Ahura-Mazda (other researchers however, suggest that this is a Zoroastrian priest). To the left of Khosrow II stands Goddess Anahita who is holding a regal Farr diadem as well; again some researchers have suggested that this figure is not Goddess Anahita and simply depicts a priestess instead.

3-Taq-Bostan[Click to Enlarge] Investiture scene above the late Sassanian armored knight at the vault at Tagh-e Bostan. To the left stands Goddess Anahita with her right hand raised, holding a diadem of glory or “Farr” towards Khosrow II at center who receives a diadem with his right hand from Ahura-Mazda or the chief Magus. Anahita was a revered goddess of war among Sassanian warriors (Source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

                (3) Khosrow II as Armored Knight

 The lower section of the Grand Iwan features a highly detailed statue of a late Sassanian armored knight. The figure, generally identified as Khosrow II (r. 590-628 CE) and his steed Sabdiz, provides valuable information on late Sassanian helmet featuring “eyebrow” view slits, Bargostvan (horse armor), mail, attire and the lappet suspension system.

2c-Taq-BostanThe Late Sassanian knight believed to be Khosrow II and his steed Sabdiz at the great vault or Iwan at Taghe Bostan (Photo: Kamran Sheybanipour).

As the feet of the statue are broken off, it is not clear if the knight was using stirrups. The Sassanians most likely deployed stirrups given the important but little known discovery of a pair of iron stirrups dated to the late Sassanian era or the 6th – 7th centuries CE in Iran’s Marlik region.

Kaveh Farrokh-Elite Sassanina CavalryRecreation of the Taghe Bostan among the Sassanian Elite cavalry (top photo – middle figure with hypothetical Panjgan arrow firing device (Historical artist the late Angus Mcbride; Farrokh, K. Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, 2005, Osprey Publishing).

                (4) Panels featuring the Royal Hunt

At the ingress into the Grand Iwan stand two panels depicting the Royal Hunt. The panel at left side of the grand Iwan depicts the hunting of boars. The panel also shows elephants and mahouts.

7-Taq-Bostan [Click to Enlarge] The left panel of the Royal Hunt scene at Taghe Bostan (Photo: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004). Note that just above the left boar hunt panel can be seen the post-Islamic era relief of the Fathali Shah (1772-1834) of the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925), which suggests that the Iranians were cognizant of the military exploits of ancient pre-Islamic Persia before the advent of Western academic studies into this domain.

Notable in the left panel is the portrayal of Khosrow II in a boat shooting a boar – there are two distinct “frames” of this: first the boars is shown leaping towards the king and in the next “panel” the boar is killed. Khosrow is seen accompanied by musicians in a second boat.

 8-Taq-Bostan-Chamanara[Click to Enlarge] Close-up of the king engaged in archery in the left (boar hunt) panel (Photo: Javad Chamanara, 2004).

The right panel at the ingress into the Taghe Bostan archway depicts another Royal Hunt. This scene is that of a great deer hunt which takes place within an enclosure or “Pardis”.

4-Taq-Bostan [Click to Enlarge] The right panel of the Royal Hunt scene at Taghe Bostan (Photo: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

In one depiction at the right panel shown above, Khosrow II is provided shade with an umbrella handled by a courtier while he rests his hand on the sword handle. Another depiction is that of rider (possibly again Khosrow II or one of the Savaran knights) about to shoot an arrow downwards towards prey; the sword is suspended at an angle consistent with the lappet-suspension method of Central Asia. Herrmann has argued that the level platform of the rider’s feet suggest that he was probably using stirrups. Musicians are again present in the right panel as well, on the upper left hand side of the picture.

Epilogue: Old Photos of Taghe Bostan

Below are old photos of Taghe Bostan.

Tagh_Bostan-QajarOld photo of the late Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan during the Qajar era (likely late 19th century) (Forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Shahyar Mahabadi).

1-Taghe Bostan-1932Old photo of the late Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan dated to 1932 (courtesy of: Cyrus Ashayeri).

Chess: Iranian or Indian Invention?

The article below has been edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav of the CAIS website in London. As noted by Suren-Pahlav: “Large portion of this essay has been excerpted from “The Origin of Chess; Some Facts to Think About” by Ricardo Calvo, 1996.”

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The Origin of Chess

Chess is one of humanities popular pastimes and has been described not only as a game, but also as an art, a science and a sport. Chess is sometimes seen as an abstract war-game and a ‘mental martial art. And teaching and playing chess have been advocated as a way of enhancing mental prowess.

Chess-1-afrasiab-chess

Seven piece ivory set (7th century CE) (Source: CAIS).

It is very unlikely that Chess, almost as it is played today suddenly came into existence or invented by one person. The idea of it being a combination of elements from other board-games has merit. Since almost all known board games have religious backgrounds the astrological component is entirely possible, even though one prefers the version that all elements come from other games, as the basis for the counters. Iran as the area of origin is highly possible, especially because of the two excavated debated pieces from the second century CE, which were found in the area of Iranian cultural domination.

However:

chess is an ancient game which is first mentioned in documents dating back to the early years of the 7th century CE. and associated with North West India and Iran. Before the 7th century the existence of chess in any land is not demonstrable by a single shred of contemporary evidence” (Fiske, the Nation).

Claiming the glory

Various scholars have proposed various origins for chess: Bidev states that “chess comes from China”, while Samsin suggests that there was hybridisation of Eastern and Western games in the post Alexander kingdom of Bactria in c180-50BCE. Josten is geographically between the two of them, favoring the Kushan empire in ca. 50BCE – 200CE.

Chess-2-afrasiab-knight

A Knight chess-piece (7th c. CE) from Afrasiab (Source: CAIS).

However, possibly the strongest – or perhaps most vociferous – arguments have come from those who consider that chess originated in the Indian subcontinent in around 600CE. This view was propagated by Murray and van der Linde in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, and has subsequently been supported by Averbak.

This brief paper examines some etymological, literary and archaeological evidence for the Iranian origin of chess – and so suggests that the question of the origin of the famous game is still unanswered.

Etymological evidence

Various names have been, and are now, used for chess-like games. Indian Chaturanga, for example, is a chess-like game, but it is played on an eight by eight board (rather than the modern chess twelve by twelve board) and it uses slightly different pieces and rules to those in the modern game. It has been suggested to be a proto-game for chess, of Indian origin.

The word chaturanga means ‘quadripartite’ or ‘army’ which reflects the four components in Vedic army platoons, which are themselves reflected in the types of pieces used in the game. Ricardo Calvo notes that the first unmistakable reference to the game of chaturanga is in the Harschascharita by the court poet Bina, writing between 625 and 640CE. The word’s early literary use and its origin in the ancient language of Sanskrit have been suggested to provide supporting evidence for the Indian origin of chess. Murray specifically suggested that the Sasanian-Pahlavi word chatrang – used for a game equivalent to the current chess – was derived from chaturanga. However, one of the most etymological evidences can be identified in the terminology of chess pieces which are Persian such as Rook.

Rook which is a Western derivative of Rukh is another term for Iranian mythical bird Sên-Murv, and Simurgh in New Persian. In ancient Iranian literature (Avestan) Sên-Murv identified as Homâ and in Arabic introduced as Rukh. The Simurgh or Rukh, was depicted as a winged gigantic creature in the shape of a bird, that could carry an elephant or a camel. The functionality of the Rook piece in game of chess and its iconography in Iranian world is quite significant. The bird which Iranian believed imparted fertility to the land and the union between the earth and the sky. In India, the piece is more popularly called haathi, meaning “elephant“.

Chess-4-rukh-ferghana A Rukh piece found in Ferghana 8th to 10th centuries CE (Source: CAIS).

Another hint is the nomenclature of the pieces, persistently related to different sorts of animals rather than to components of an army: In the “Grande Acedrex” of King Alfonso of Castile (1283) lions, crocodiles, giraffes etc. play over a board of 12×12 cases with peculiar jumping moves, and the invention of it is connected to the same remote period in India as normal chess. They are very atypical in any context referring to India (see De Gruyter in bibliography).

Other chess terminologies are also deeply rooted in Persian language, such as “checkmate” (the English rendition of shāh māt, which is Persian for “the king is frozen“) as well as “bishop” and “queen” pieces.

Bishop” chess piece which is a western innovation, derived from the elephant, most likely in the 15th century – it is from the Persian pīl meaning “the elephant”. In Europe and the western part of the Islamic world people knew little or nothing about elephants, and the name of the chessman entered Western Europe as Latin alfinus and similar, a word with no other meaning.

 Chess-12-Vizier-BishopVazir (Bishop), found in Saqqizabad, Iran 7th to 8th centuries CE (Source: CAIS).

This word “alfil” is in fact is an Arabic loanword from Persian pīl < fil , and in turn the Spanish word alfil would most certainly have been taken from Arabic. Chess was introduced into Spain by Ali ibn-Nafi the famous Persian poet, musician and singer (also known as Zaryāb or Ziryab, “gold finder”) in the 9th century – it is described in a famous Libro de los juegos the 13th century manuscript covering chess, backgammon, and dice

Chess-5-elephant-7c.

Elephant in carved dolomite-stone circa 7th century CE (Source: CAIS).

Some argue that since one of the pieces are being referred to as “elephant”, must of an Indian origin – on the other hand, elephants are not at all exclusive to India (Gowers, p.173 ff; Walbank, p. 205-6.). However, Iranians were the first nation that introduced cavalry and they had also foot-soldiers, chariots and elephants as well as river and battle-ships. In Egypt, the Ptolemaic Kings obtained elephants regularly from Somalia. Strabo (16,4,5) mentions the foundation of several cities in Africa with the main purpose of hunting elephants (Gowers, p.173 ff; Walbank, p. 205-6.). The English name “bishop” is a rename inspired by the conventional shape of the piece.

 Chess-10-Krishna and Radha playing chaturangaAn Indian manuscript depicting Krishna and Radha playing chaturanga on an 8×8 Ashtāpada (Source: CAIS).

The chess piece known as “queen” is (Persian) farzīn also vizier. It became (Arabic) firzān, which entered western European languages as forms such as alfferza, fers, etc – then later it was replaced by “queen” – possibly brought to West by British during the British rule of India; the Indian equivalent of “queen” is rani.

Historical and Literary Evidence

Pre-Islamic written references to Chess or its development have all point out to it Iranian origin, in particular to two Persian records of about 600CE.  These documents have solidly connected chess with the last period of the Sasanian rulers in Iran (224-651 CE).

The “Karnamak-ī Ardeshīr-ī Pāpakān” (the Book of Deeds of Ardeshir-e Pāpakān), a treatise about the founder of Sasanian dynasty, mentions the game of “chatrang” as one of the cultural accomplishments of the Ardeshir as a young prince. It has a proving force that a game under this name was popular in the period of redaction of the text, supposedly during the reign of Khosrow II, Parviz (r. 590-628 CE) – the work could have been composed as early as 260 CE.

The third and final Pahlavi text is known as Khūsraw ud Rēdag (Khosrow and the Page). It mentiones together with other games in chapter 15 of the (ud pad Čatrang ud new-ardaxšî r ud haštpay kardan az hamahlan fraztar hom “and in playing Chess, backgammon and the hashtpay, I am superior to my comrades” (Unvala, p. 16; Monchi-Zadeh, 1982, p. 65; Panaino, 1999, p. 51). It seems the story was taken place at the court of Khosrow I, Anūshakrūwān (Immortal Soul – r. 488–531 CE) and states that chess is one of the cultural disciplines that a noble should learn.

Chess-7-afrasiab Chess pieces found at Afrasiab, ivory 7th-8th centuries CE (Source: CAIS).

Ferdowsi the greatest of Iranian epic-poets wrote also about it in the 10th century, but his sources are solid and form a continuous chain of witnesses going back to the middle of the 6th Century in Iran. He describes chess as arriving from Hind. According to Iranian historical sources this name “Hind” was not used for India until after the 11th century. Here “Hind” means Eastern-Province of Iranian Empire including modern Sistan va Baluchestan province, and while during the Achaemenid dynastic era it was extended to Khuzestan province.

As Bidev, the Russian chess historian pointed out, nobody could possibly generate the rules of chess only by studying the array position at the beginning of a game. On the other hand, such an achievement might be made by looking at Takht-ī Nard (backgammon), which is another Iranian game-invention – the use of dice also favors its Iranian origin. The world oldest pair of dice was discovered in Dahān-e Gholāmān located in in southeastern Iranian province of Sistan, which date back to the Achaemenid dynastic period or possibly even earlier (see below).

dice-burnt-cityAncient dices discovered at the Burnt-City. At present experts are (a) attempting to determine why the game was played with sixty pieces and (b) working to decode the rules of the game. Iranians call Backgammon “Takht-e Nard”. For more see here…

Archaeological Evidence

The oldest clearly recognisable chessmen have been excavated in ancient Afrasiyab (ancient Samarqand), in Iranian cultural domains contrasts with the absence of such items in India. Afrasiab was under thy Islamic rule since 712, but were essential a Persianate land and society by origin. Some other old pieces, possibly Chess pieces, are the occasionally named chess pieces of an elephant and a zebu bull kept in Tashkent. They were excavated in 1972 at Dalverzin-Tepe (see figure below following this paragraph), an ancient citadel nowadays in Southern Uzbekistan, and stem from the 2nd century. The Russian Chess history expert Linder feels that they are not Chess pieces, but belonged to a forerunner of Chess. They could mean an earlier than previously assumed existence of Chess.

Chess-3-chess_piecElephant and Bull (or Knight or Vizier ?), ivory , dated as early as 2nd c., found at Dalverzin-Tepe. Their use is unknown, some scholars think they can be game pieces (Source: CAIS).

However, there are no chessmen there from early times in India, and only in the 10th century appears an indirect mention from Mas’udi: “The use of ivory [in India] is mainly directed to the carving of chess – and nard pieces“. Some experts believe that old Indian chess pieces may be discovered one day. So far, this is mere speculation.

Next group of chess pieces (three chessmen) comes from Nishapur (see below), and another ivory set was discovered though belonging to later times, 9th or 10th century. These are not idols anymore and are carved following the abstract pattern which has been characterised as “Arabic“.

Chess-6-Rukh-Nishabur.A Rukh from Nishapur, 9th century CE (Source: CAIS). 

Introduction of Chess into India by Muslims

Games upon the “ashtapada” board of 8×8, with dice and with two or more players may have served as “proto-chess“, but the two types of games already differ too strongly in their nature and philosophy to make the evolution of “Chaturanga” into “Shatransh” a simple question of direct parentage via the Persian “Chatrang“.

Muslim writers stated quite frequently that they took the game of “shatranj/sh” from the Iranians, who called it “chatrang“. This happens in the middle of a political-cultural revolution, which has been analyzed in historical texts.

Chess-9-Players_of_Haft_AwrangJami’s 15th century Persian manuscript of Haft Awrang depicting two Persian chess players (Source: CAIS).

The ruling Umayyads were overthrown by a certain Abul-Abbas, who initiated a new era around the year 750 – transferring the Islamic political centre from Damascus to former Iranian territory and Baghdad, which still was under Iranian cultural influence. The Abbasid caliphs culturally and quasi ethnically of Iranian origin – so Iranian dominance became clearly the focal point in the cultural renaissance which took place inside the Arabic trunk. Large number of the previous knowledge from ancient Iran, Greece, Byzantium, Egyptian and Middle East civilizations was compiled and translated into Arabic. The new information absorbed in a scientific body which followed its further path towards the West. Chess was only a part of this knowledge, packaged together with earlier mathematical, astronomical, philosophical or medical achievements.

Chess-8-Basra_chessRock crystal CE 800 (possibly chess pieces) found at Basra (Source: CAIS).

However, we know that while chess flourished in Baghdad in the 9th century, the earliest reliable account of chess-playing in India date only from the 11th century.

Bibliography

M. Unvala, The Pahlavi Text “King Husrav and his Boy,” published with its Transcription, translation and copious notes, Paris, n.d.

Ricardo Calvo; Origin of Chess (http://www.mynetcologne.de/~nc-jostenge/calvo.htm).

De Gruyter, “Hasb” in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leyden-New York (1967).

William Gowers, “African Elephants and Ancient Authors”, African Affairs, 47 (1948) p.173 ff.

D. W. Fiske, The Nation, 1900.

Frank W. Walbank, “Die Hellenistische Welt”, DTV 1983 p. 205-6.

Harold J.R. Murray, A History of Board-games Other Than Chess, Oxford University Press Reprints (1952).

D. Monchi-Zadeh, “Xus-rôv i Kavâtân ut Rêtak,” in Monumentum Georg Morgenstierne, vol. II. Acta Iranica 22, Leiden, 1982, pp. 47-91.

H. J. R. Murray, A History of Chess, Oxford University Press Reprints (1913).

N. Bland, On the Persian Game of Chess, JRAS 13, 1852, pp. 1-69

Henry A. Davidson, A Short History of Chess, David Mckay Co (1980)

Abu Rayhan Biruni, Ketāb tahqīq mā le’l-Hend, Alberuni’s India, 2 vols., London 1888-1910, I, pp.183-85

Panaino, A., La novella degli Scacchi e della Tavola Reale. Un’antica fonte orientale sui due gixochi da tavoliere piuà diffusi nel mondo euroasiatico tra Tardoantico e Medioevo e sulla loro simbologia militare e astrale. Testo pahlavi, traduzione e commento al Wiz-arišn î Chatrang ud nihišn î  new-ardaxšî r “La spiegazione degli scacchi e la disposizione della tavola reale,” Milano, 1999.

Harry Golombek, Chess: A History, Putnam Pub Group (1976).

Ann C. Gunter, Art from Wisdom: The Invention of Chess and Backgammon, Oxford University Press (1991)

Thieme, “Chess and Backgammon (Tric-Trac) in Sanskrit Literature,” Indological Studies in Honor of W. Norman Brown, ed. E. Bender, New Haven Connecticut (1962)

Raymond D. Keene, Chess: An Illustrated History, Simon & Schuster (1990).

David H. Li, Who? Where? When? Why? How? The Genealogy of Chess (http://www.mynetcologne.de/~nc-jostenge/index.htm).

Abul Qasem Ferdowsi, The Shahnameh: (The Book of Kings): 5 (Vol 5) (Persian Text Series. New Series, No 1), Edited by Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh, Mazda Publisher (1997).

I. M. Linder, The Art of Chess Pieces, Moscow, 1994.

Alfred L. Paul, “The Origin of Chess”, Western Chess Chronicle Vol. 1 July, 1936 No. 9 (http://www.chessdryad.com/articles/wcc/transcribed/origin.htm)

Sam Sloan, The Origin of Chess, Sloan Publishers (1985)

C.J. Brunner, “The Middle Persian Explanation of Chess and Invention of Backgammon,” The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University, Vol. 10 (1978)

A. van der Linde,  Geschichte und Literatur des Schachpiels (1874)

David Levy, Oxford Encyclopaedia of Chess Games, Oxford University Press (1981)

David Smith, Ratnakara’s “Haravijaya” (Oxford University South Asian Studies Series), OUP India (1986)

Wolfram Kleiss: An overview of Sassanian Fortifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

darabgirdThe round city of Darabgerd (Source: CAIS).

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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