UNESCO: The Parthian Fortresses of Nysa

The article Parthian Fortresses of Nysa” was originally posted by UNESCO. The photographs inserted below are from the Meros.org venue, with the descriptive captions and map of the Parthian Empire provided by Kavehfarrokh.com. The version printed below has also been slightly edited.

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Nisa was the capital of the Parthian Empire, which dominated this region of central Asia from the mid 3rd century BCE to the early 3rd century CE. As such it formed a barrier to Roman expansion, whilst at the same time serving as an important communications and trading centre, at the crossroads of north-south and east-west routes. Its political and economic power is well illustrated by the surviving remains, which underline the interaction between central Asian and Mediterranean cultures.

Map of the Parthian Empire in 44 BCE to 138 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 155, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا). See also Military History and Armies of the Parthians

The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa consist of two tells of Old and New Nisa, indicating the site of one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian Empire, a major power from the mid 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. They conserve the unexcavated remains of an ancient civilization which skillfully combined its own traditional cultural elements with those of the Hellenistic and Roman west. Archaeological excavations in two parts of the site have revealed richly decorated architecture, illustrative of domestic, state and religious functions. Situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes, this powerful empire formed a barrier to Roman expansion while serving as an important communication and trading centre between east and west, north and south.

A close-up of one of the sections of Nysa’s enduring Parthian system of architecture (Meros.org).

UNESCO Criteria

Criterion (ii): Nisa is situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes. The archaeological remains vividly illustrate the significant interaction of cultural influences from central Asia and from the Mediterranean world.

Criterion (iii): The Parthian Empire was one of the most powerful and influential civilizations of the ancient world, and a brilliant rival of Rome which prevented the expansion of the Roman Empire to the east. Nisa, the capital of the Parthian Empire, is the outstanding symbol of the significance of this imperial power.

A walled structure of one the chambers at Nysa(Meros.org). Later Sassanian architecture would also display especially thick walls and depending on the region, either bricks or stones could be used in their construction. For more on Parthian and Sassanian military architecture, consult Chapter 13 “Military Architecture”  in Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians (2017).

The integrity and authenticity of the property, and also of the surrounding landscape, in terms of the size of the two tells and the siting of the capital at the foot of the Kopet-Dag mountains, are unquestionable. The two tells do not in any sense represent the original appearance of the Parthian capital, but their present appearance is due solely to natural erosion.

A meandering pathway towards a Nysa structure(Meros.org).

The site is gazetted as one of the 1,300 historical and cultural monuments of Turkmenistan. Nisa is also one of the eight State Historical and Cultural Parks (SHCP) that have been created to protect the most significant sites in Turkmenistan. A buffer zone has been established. The property comes within the provisions of the Bagyr town development plan. Serious efforts are still needed to set up an efficient preventive maintenance scheme that will ensure the survival of recently excavated parts of the site. A five-year plan has been formulated for 2006-2010, in order to ensure a better balance between the different activities (e.g. archaeology vis-à-vis conservation) and to combine and harmonize all the existing documents and strategies relating to the site.

Ancient Qanat discovered in Southern Iran

The report Ancient Qanat found in southern Iran” was first reported by the Tehran Times on November 15, 2018. The version below has been edited slightly. Readers are also referred to:

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Residents of Rostaq, a rural district in Iran’s southern Fars province, have discovered an ancient qanat, which is estimated to date from some 2,000 years ago.

A piece of orange-colored pottery with a diameter of 2 centimeters was found next within the aqueduct, which is probably related to the Parthian era (247 BC–224 CE), as reported by IRNA. As noted by a local official:

“The aqueduct is probably associated with a mother well and several shaft friction structures. Inside the aqueduct was completely flawless and there were only some sedimentary material created over time at the bottom of the canals”

The ingress of a Parthia-era qanat or aqueduct discovered in Rostaq (Source: Tehran Times).

According to the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, some 120,000 qanats have so far been recognized across Iran, of which some 37,000 are still in use in arid and semi-arid regions.

The concept of Persian Qanat, which provides exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas, was registered on UNESCO World Heritage list in 2016.

Remnants of a Centuries-old structure Discovered in Northwest Iran

The news report “Remnants of centuries-old structure found in northwest Iran” was originally posted in the Tehran Times on October 2, 2019. the version published below has been slightly edited from the original version posted in Tehran Times.

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Archaeologists have recently unearthed a vast centuries-old structure during excavation in Rab’-e Rashidi, a 14th-century educational complex in East Azarbaijan province, northwest Iran. Senior Iranian archaeologist Bahram Ajorlou said on Wednesday:

Remnants of a vast structure, measuring some 3,600 square meters, have been found in six archaeological trenches in Rab’-e Rashidi, where an excavation and restoration project is underway … The newly discovered structure is estimated to date from the 8th century AH (1299 CE – 1397 CE) to 10th century AH (1495 CE – 1591 CE) and it also bears fragments of tilework, which date back to the 8th century AH”.

The archaeologists have also discovered three stages of wall architecture, evidence of industrial activities. They have acquired some data from archaeobotanical researches, Ajorlou concluded.

A frontal view of the Rab’-e Rashidi site in Iran’s East Azarbaijan province (Source: Tehran Times)

The third round of excavation and restoration work is carried out by a panel of international cultural heritage experts, archaeologists, and restorers from Iran, the German Archaeological Institute, the Otto-Friedrich University in Bamberg, and the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The Cultural Heritage and Tourism Research Center in collaboration with Tabriz Islamic Art University completed the first phase of the international project to lay the groundwork for UNESCO recognition.

Archaeological speculations, geophysical surveys, 3D laser scans, and endoscopy of the ancient structure were carried out during the first phase.

Situated in the northwestern city of Tabriz, Rab’-e Rashidi includes several archaeological layers that date from Ilkhanid, Safavid and Qajar eras. It is said that students from Iran, China, Egypt, and Syria studied there under the supervision of physicians, intellectuals, scientists and Islamic scholars.

The ancient complex embraces a paper factory, a library, a hospital (Dar-al-Shafa), a Quranic center (Dar-al-Quran), residential facilities for teachers, students’ quarters and a caravanserai amongst other facilities.

Iran is considering the possible inscription of the site on the UNESCO World Heritage list by 2025.

The 2,800 Year Embrace in the Hasanlu Tomb

One of the most remarkable finds from ancient Iran pertains to skeletons of a male and a female discovered in a tomb at Tappeh Hasanlu, located in Naqadeh, West Azerbaijan Province, northwest Iran. As noted in the Ancient Origins website:

“The human remains of the “Hasanlu Lovers” were found in a bin with no objects. The only feature found is a stone slab under the head of the skeleton on the left hand side. The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania led by Robert Dyson back in 1972.”

The “Lovers of Hasanlu” (Source: Ancient Origins website). As noted in the Ancient Origins website: “The two skeletons are close together facing each other, while the female skeleton on the left reaching out its right hand to touch the face of her lover on the right. They both have their arms around each other and have clear signs of severe injury and trauma on their bodies sustained around the time of their death. Experts believe that they died together by asphyxiation during the destruction of the Teppe Hasanlu citadel”.

The Hasanlu region in Iran’s northwest region was already settled by Iranian speaking peoples at the time and that these are most likely of the Avestan culture of which one of its manifestations was the Zoroastrian religion.The photo of the Hasanlu tomb containing the skeletons of a male and female in embrace were discussed by Kaveh Farrokh in his lecture “Women in Ancient Iran” during a conference on Iranian Women at Portland State University (April 20, 2013).

The main set of Zoroastrian texts composed in Avestan promote ideas of gender parity, which was a reflection of the nature of early Iranian society (Schwartz, 2007, pp. 4). As noted by Hintze this feature provides “a modern appearance on this ancient [Zoroastrian] religion” (2003, pp.  403). The egalitarianism of Women and Men is emphasized in Zoroastrianism , especially with respect to the honored status of women who are recognized as: “…men’s partners in the common struggle against evil” (Boyce, 1972, pp. 308, footnote 83).

 

A reconstruction by Cernenko and Gorelik of the north-Iranian Saka or Scythians in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F). The ancient Avestan Iranians (those in ancient Persia and the ones in ancient Eastern Europe) often had women warriors and chieftains, a practice not unlike those of the contemporary ancient Celts in ancient Central and Western Europe. What is also notable is the costume of the Iranian female warrior – this type of dress continues to appear in parts of Luristan in Western Iran. 

The equality message of Zoroastrianism is declared by use of very specific and inclusive terminology. Four times in Yasna Haptaŋhāiti:

  1. Nar (man) and nāirī– “woman” are deliberately arranged together:
  2. Twice as part of fixed expression nāirī “a man or a woman” (Yasna Haptaŋhāiti: 35.6, 41.2)
  3. Twice as narąmcā nāirinąmcā “of men and women” (Yasna Haptaŋhāiti: 37.3, 39.2).
  4. iθānarō aθā jə̄naiiō (thus … men, so also women) (in Yasna Haptaŋhāiti, 53.6).

A diagram of Hasanlu Tepe, which is situated to the south of Lake Urmia iin Iran’s northwest (Source: Penn Museum).

Women are described as having moral and religious equality with men. For example, one of the Zoroastrian prayers beseech Aryaman to Nərəbiiascā Nāiribiiascā Zaraθuštrahe (come to the aid of the men and women of Zarathustra). As noted in the Holy Gathas (Aiwisruthrem Gah 9):

“We venerate the righteous woman who is good in thoughts, words, and deeds, who is well-educated, is an authority on religious affairs, is progressively serene, and is like the women who belong to the Wise God.”

In the Younger Avestan both sexes are warned:

“Nōit̰  cahmi zazuua yō nōit̰ urune zazuua. Nōit̰ cahmi zazuši yā nōit̰ urune zazuši” (He has not won anything who has not won [anything] for his soul. She has not won anything who has not won [anything] for her soul) (fragment FrD.3; Hoffmann, 1968, pp. 288).

As noted by Nigosian, in the Zoroastrian faith:

no distinction is made between the gendersboth occupy the same place of honor…on the same level in…power (1993, pp.81).

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).