Clothing Styles of Women in Ancient Iran

Below are creations of the dresses of the ancient women of Iran from the Median, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian eras. The four reconstructions depicted here were made during the early 1970s and are posted in the Iran Matlab website article entitled “مدل لباس زنان در ایران باستان [Clothing of Women in Ancient Iran]”.

Iran Women-Dress-1-MedesMede era (c. 615-549 BCE) dress reconstruction based on the silver box discovered with the Oxus Treasure now housed at the British Museum (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-2a-AchaemenidReconstruction of  noblewoman based on the Achaemenid era (550-330 BCE) tapestry from Pazyryk housed at the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-3-ParthianParthian era (c.247 BCE – 224 CE) dress from Hatra, based on the figurine housed at the Baghdad Museum (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-4-SassanianIranian queen from the Sassanian era (224-651 CE) based on  the silver plate housed at the Walter Art Gallery in Baltimore (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iranian Tribal Women in Shooting and Horseback Riding Competitions

The photographs below are from a national Olympiad in Iran between different tribal elements with respect to horseback riding, sharpshooting, and other various athletic skills. Most of these can be found here:

(۱۳۹۳/۱/۲۳) دومین المپیاد فرهنگی ورزشی ملی عشایر ایران به میزبانی شهرستان فریدونشهر اصفهان برگزار شد [The Second Cultural National Nomads/Tribes Sports Olympiad hosted by the Fereydanshahr county of Isfahan was Held (April 12, 2014)]

These types of activities have been in Iran since ancient times, with Classical authors and later European travellers reporting on exercises in riding, firing arrows from horseback, etc. What is of interest in the photos below are Iran’s tribal women partaking in shooting and horseback riding competitions. Western media and news outlets have avoided mentioning such events. The reasons for this are open to speculation.

1-ContestantsRepresentatives of a number of Iranian tribes holding signs designating their respective regions – from left to right: first sign-Northern Khorasan, second sign unintelligible, third sign-Kurdistan, fourth sign-Kahkiloye & Boyerahmad, fifth sign-Golestan(?), sixth sign-Luristan, seventh sign-Sistan and Baluchistan; remaining signs unintelligible. Note that the photo is partial, in that it does not show all of the tribes participating in the event (Source: Akairan.com).

What is certain is that given the heavy impact of media (news, etc.), TV and movie industries, the overwhelming majority of Western and international audiences have never seen the below images of Iranian tribal women.

2-Lur girl on horsebackLur girl swings round to her side to fire at target (Source: Akairan.com). 

It is a fact that one of the domains that have received the least amount of attention by Western scholarship is the role women warriors of ancient Persia.

Women for example were seen in positions of military leadership in the armies of the Achaemenids (550-330 BCE). A prime example of this is Artemesia of Halicarnassius (now in modern western Turkey) one of Xerxes’ most capable admirals during the failed invasions of Greece in 480 BCE. The daring naval exploits of Artemesia reputedly led Xerxes to state that:

“…my men have become women and my women have become men”.

Artemesia was also one of Xerxes’ chief military advisors.

3-Kurdish-checking gun barrelKurdish girl checks her rifle barrel before engaging in sharpshooting competitions (Source: Akairan.com). 

The role of ancient Iranian female warriors continued after Alexander’s conquests and the overthrow of his Seleucid successors in Iran by the Parthians (250 BC – 224 CE).

A Reuters newscast from Tehran in December 4, 2004 reported on the findings of an archaeologist who had been engaged in excavations near Tabriz, in Iran’s northwest province of Azarbaijan. A series of DNA tests revealed that the 2,000 year old bones of an entombed warrior and accompanying sword belonged to a woman.  As noted by Alireza Hojabri-Nobari to the Iran-based Hambastegi Newspaper:

Despite earlier comments that the warrior was a man because of the metal sword, DNA tests showed the skeleton inside the tomb belonged to a female warrior…

According to Nobari, there were 109 such warrior tombs, and plans were in place to conduct DNA tests on the skeletons of the other ancient warriors of those sites as well.

4-Lur girl takes aimYoung Lur girl takes aim with her rifle (Source: Akairan.com). 

Roman historical sources have reported on the exploits of the women warriors of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). Zonaras (XII, 23, 595, 7-596, 9) states in reference to the forces of Shapur I that:

“…in the Persian army…there are said to have been found women also, dressed and armed like men…”

5-Turkmen girlsTurkmen girls in their traditional attire at the Fereydanshahr competition (Source: Akairan.com). 

The exploits of Persia’s female warriors are recalled in the post-Islamic Shahnama epic of Ferdowsi. One sample quote states of the female warrior Gordafarid that:

“…as she was turning in her saddle, drew a sharp blade from her waist, struck at his lance, and parted it in two.”

6-Lur female sharpshooter-ویسگونLur woman in a local competition in Luristan province in Western Iran, partaking in a shooting contest on horseback (Source: Wisgoon.com).

There are reports that the wife of Karim Khan Zand of Luristan and the wives of his Lur troops often fought beside them in battle against the Afghans in Nader Shah’s time. The Afghans made a point of heaping scorn upon the Zand units who defeated them by characterizing their men as:

“…hiding behind their women’s skirts

7-Kurdish lady on horsebackKurdish lady partaking in a riding competition in Iran’s Kurdish regions (Marivan or Kermanshah?) (Source: Kurdane.com).

While Western media, entertainment (especially Hollywood and the entertainment industry) continue to block and ignore such images and information, the legacy of ancient Iran’s warrior women continue to endure.

Gun-totting-Iranian-women-Malayer

Lur women from Malayer (near Hamedan in the northwest) engaged in target practice in the Eznab area of Malayer city limits in the late 1950s.  The association between weapons and women is nothing new in Iran; Roman references for example note of Iranian women armed as regular troops in the armies of the Sassanians (224-651 CE).

Display and Reconstruction of Remains of 7000 Year Old Woman in Iran

The Tehran Times on January 8, 2016 has reported of the remains of a 7-millennia-old woman that will remain on display at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran (see Tehran Times report for more details regarding the exhibition “Molavi Street Discoveries and Tehran 7,000-Year-Old Woman”).

1-7000 yrd old woman Iran

The 7000 year old remains on display at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran (Source: Tehran Times).

The discovery of the remains of the 7000 year old woman was made in November 2014 by Iranian archeology student Mahsa Vahabi whose keen observation of her surroundings led to the discovery of ancient stone foundations, samples of pottery, human bones. This is all the more remarkable as Mahsa Vahabi had made this discovery as she was walking along Tehran’s Molavi Street near the city’s Grand Bazaar. She found the items situated at the bottom of a construction site excavated by a Tehran-based Water and Wastewater Company. Mahsa Vahabi rapidly reported her discovery Siamak Sarlak a well-known Iranian archaeologist. Vahabi and Sarlak then successfully appealed to the Water and Wastewater Company to suspend its works in order to allow for a professional excavation to take place. 

The bones discovered by Vahabi have been scientifically proven to have been the skeleton of woman who lived sometime 7,000 years ago. Mehr News reported in mid-June 2015 that the face of the skeleton had been reconstructed with the help of 3D imaging technology by Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his research team.

2-7000 yr old woman-Iran

3D imaging Reconstruction of the 7000 year old woman discovered in the construction site along Tehran’s Molavi street in November 2014 by Mahsa Vahabi (Source: Archaeology.org). As reported by Mehr News Agency Mohammad Reza Rokni’s team based the appearance of the woman’s hair on the pottery images from Cheshmeh Ali (dated to the late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village, situated in northern Iran)

For more on a thousands year old civilization based in Iran, consult Archaeology.org: The World in Between

Professor Shapour Shahbazi: Amazons

The posting below highlights the late Professor Shapour Shahbazi’s discussion of Amazon female warriors which was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1989.

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AMAZONS, designation of a fabulous race of female warriors in Greek beliefs, writings, and art, fancifully explained as a-mazos (breastless or full-breasted, see Toepfer, in Pauly-Wissowa I/2, cols. 1765f.). Its derivation from Old Iranian *maz- (combat), producing a folkname *ha-mazan “warrior” (J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, Bern, I, p. 1959) is also disputed (M. Mayrhofer, “Das angebliche iranische Etyman des Amazonen-Namens,” Studi linguistici in onore di Vittore Pisani, II, Brescia, 1969, pp. 66l-66). The Greeks placed the Amazons on the edge of the world they knew: first, on the Thermodon in northeast Asia Minor and later on the Tanais; and on the Caucasus or even on the Jaxartes as geographical explorations pushed “the East” further (Toepfer, ibid., cols. 1755f.). Thrace (Virgil Aeneid 2.659f.) and Libya (Diodorus 3.53f.) were also claimed as their habitat. Originally, they were associated with Asia Minor, where many cities (Myrine, Cyme and Ephesus) were alleged as their foundations (Diodorus ibid.; Strabo 12.3, 21; Tacitus Annals 3.61.2), and they were made the children of Harmonia—a nymph—and Ares, the clan god to whom they sacrificed white horses. Artemis was another of their chief deities (Toepfer, op. cit., cols 1764f.). Later, however, they were connected with the Scythians as the ancestors of the Sauromatae (Herodotus 4.110-17) or the wives of Asia Minor Scythians whom their neighbors had vanquished (Justin 2.4).

female-scythian-warriorA reconstruction by Cernenko and Gorelik of the north-Iranian Saka or Scythians in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F). The ancient 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 (for more on this topic see – Fezana article on Ancient Iranian Women).

The Massagatae Scythians who defeated and killed Cyrus the Great east of the Caspian Sea were said to be ruled by an Amazon-like queen (Herodotus I, 20 s f.), and it was on the Jaxartes that an Amazon queen came to Alexander’s camp with 300 female warriors to beget children from him and his Macedonian notables (Arrian Anabasis 4.15, 4, 7.13, 4; Curtius 6.5, 24f.; Plutarch Alexander 46). Dionysus also conquered them on his Eastern campaign, a modification, it is claimed, of Alexander stories (W. R. Halliday, The Greek Questions of Plutarch, Oxford, 1928, p. 210f.).

Amazon-3-AchaemenidsA reconstruction of a female Achaemenid cavalry unit by Shapur Suren-Pahlav.

The Amazon’s particular importance is due to their popularity in art from the 7th Century B.C. onward. They are represented in vase paintings and sculptured reliefs in various mythical episodes, against Achilles, Heracles, Theseus and Bellerphone, particularly after the Persian invasion of Greece. For in the mythical invasions of Attica by the Amazons and the defuse of Theseus, implications of the Persian expedition and its fate were perfectly evident. This was highlighted by the oriental background or connections of the Amazons, evidenced especially in their costume—short tunic, Iranian trousers, often variegated and elaborately patterned, and pointed hat with cheek flaps and long neck-guard—and their equipment; the bow, the javelin and the light, crescent-shaped shield, also recalled Oriental arms, as can be seen from such Graeco-Persian monuments as the Heroon of Gjölbaschi, the Nereid Monuments, and the Alexander Sarcophagus (A. Klügmann, Die Amazonen in der attischen Literature und Kunst, Stuttgart, 1875; Pauly-Wissowa, I/2, cols. 1761-89; E. Bielefeld, Amazonomachia: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Motivwanderung in der antiken Kunst, Halle, 1951; D. Bothmer, Amazons in Greek Art, Oxford, 1957; A. Sh. Shahbazi, The Irano-Lycian Monuments, Tehran, 1975, p. 82).

Gun-totting-Iranian-women-MalayerIranian women from Malayer (near Hamedan in the northwest) engaged in target practice in the Eznab area of Malayer city limits in the late 1950s.  The association between weapons and women is nothing new in Iran; Roman references for example note of Iranian women armed as regular troops in the armies of the Sassanians (224-651 AD).

The Amazons have also found their way into Persian literature and romances through the Alexander-romance of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (The History of Alexander the Great: being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes, ed. and tr. E. A. W. Budge, Cambridge, 1889, pp. 127f.).

New Course: The Silk Route-Origins and History

A new course by Kaveh Farrokh entitled “The Silk Route-Origins and History” is being offered at the University of British Columbia (final lecture on December 16, 2014):

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The lectures will be delivered at the Tapestry Center in the University of British Columbia’s Wesbrook Village. For information on registration, etc., kindly contact the University of British Columbia-Continuing Studies Division.

 Tajik-Nowruz

Tajik girls celebrate the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21, 2014 in Dushanbe, Tajikestan.

Below is a synopsis of the course as delivered in the Class syllabus:

The origins and history of the east-west Silk Route that connected the empires of Asia, Central Asia, Persia and the Romano-Byzantine West, as well as the lesser-known north-south route that connected Persia, the Caucasus and East- Central Europe. Emphasis will be placed on the development and transfer of the arts, music, culture, mythology, cuisine, and militaria. The peoples of the Silk Route from China across Eurasia, Central Asia, Persia to Europe are also examined

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The curriculum and impetus of this course is the direct outcome of meetings with the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy based in London, England. WAALM is affiliated with the Academic Council On The United Nations System (ACUNS) and The International Peace Bureau. WAALM was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Kaveh Farrokh has been featured in WAALM’s Tribune Magazine (click here…).

silk painting

Chinese painting of Leizu (Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in c. 2700 BCE; she was the teenage wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi.

shir-dar-samarkand

The “Shir Dar” (Lion Gate/doorway) of the Islamic college at Samarkand built originally in 1627 (Nafīsī, 1949, p. 62). The sun motif is characterized by Kriwaczek (2002, picture Plate 1) as ”…the image of Mithra, the rising and unconquered sun, Zoroastrian intercessor between God and Humanity” (Courtesy of Kriwaczek, 2002).

Chinese women silk-12th century CE

Chinese women produce silk in the 12th century CE.

Kyrgiz MusiciansKyrgyz musicians performing with traditional instruments. Hsiang-Nou races replaced Iranian speaking peoples of Central Asia; Despite this: These greatly assimilated the cultural and mythological traditions of their Iranic predecessors.

UBC-2-Migrations

One of ancient founding peoples of the Silk Route? Mummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). For more on this topic, see also here…