Bactrian Fortress Reveals How Ancient Civilizations of Central Asia Lived

The article Bactrian fortress reveals how ancient civilizations of Central Asia lived” was originally posted on the Archaeology News Network on February 1, 2019. The original source for the Archaeology News Network is from the Akson Russian Science Communication Association. The version printed below has been edited. Excepting one photo, all other images and accompanying captions do not appear in the original reports of the Archaeology News Network and Akson Russian Science Communication Association.

=========================================================================

Scientists from Russia and Uzbekistan found a unified fortification system that on the northern border of ancient Bactria. This country existed in the III century BC. The fortress found blocked the border and protected the oases of Bactria from the nomads raids. During the excavations, scientists revealed the fortress citadel, drew up a detailed architectural plan and collected rich archaeological material indicating the construction, life and death of the fortress as a result of the assault. In the IV century BC, significant part of Central Asia territory belonged to Bactria, which, as a separate satrapy, was part of the Achaemenid Empire.

A map of the Achaemenid Empire drafted by Kaveh Farrokh on page 87 (2007) for the book Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-:the Iranian region of Bakhtrish (Bactria) in Central Asia was a part of the Achaemenid Empire.

In 329 BC Bactria became part of the Alexander empire and after his death joined the kingdom of Seleucid: the largest Hellenistic state in the East, created by the commander Alexander Seleucius I Nicator and his son Antiochus I Soter. Gradually, the state became weakened by numerous military campaigns and the struggle for power. As a result, once flourishing Bactria ceased to exist in the II century BC when Iranian-speaking nomads from the northern territories, the Saki and Yuadzhi, broke into the country.

View of the Uzundara citadel from above (Credit: Nigora Dvurechenskaya).

Recently, Russian scientists completed excavations in this area and determined the fortress construction time: about 95-90 years of the III century BC, the time of Antiochus I reign and the very beginning of the formation of the Seleucid state. The fortress was inhabited for about 150 years.

It consisted of a diamond-shaped main quadrangle, a triangular citadel (phylacterion), surrounded by powerful double walls with an internal gallery about nine meters wide, and extension walls, which were fortified with 13 rectangular bastions-towers, three of which were also outboards. Outside the fortress there was a marketplace where local residents brought goods needed by the garrison soldiers.

The archaeologists recorded the location of each item using a total station or GPS, and then made it into a single plan tied to the terrain. As a result, the scientists managed to establish where the marketplace was, ran the road to the entrance to the fortress, and determined the place of the assault: there were more than 200 shooting arrowheads, combat darts and troops. It is curious that the proposed battlefield is located to the east of the fortress, which suggests a possible environment or the breakthrough of the enemy through a system of border fortifications.

Scythian gold artifacts from Bactria (Source: Public Domain). Note figures with Iranian tunics flanked by Iranian-type mythological winged beasts.

The warriors who defended Uzundar wore armor: in the inside-wall room of the south-western fortified wall, archaeologists discovered armor-clad plates and two right-handed iron heads from helmets. So far, scientists can not exactly determine what type of helmets these patches were — a pseudoattical or Melos group, so it is still possible that these are the same helmets that Alexander wore during Antiochus I Soter period.

As noted by Nigora Dvurechenskaya (researcher at the Department of Classical Archeology, Head of the Bactrian detachment of the Central Asian Archaeological Expedition):

“This findings are sensational: direct analogies are known from the Takhti-Sanga temple, but there they were bronze, and we found iron fragments in Uzundar. To date, there are only a few specimens and sculptures with which to compare these cheeks and determine their type. We also found fastening details, which gives important information on manufacturing technology, according to tradition, but to answer these questions requires lengthy research…”

In addition to weapons, archaeologists have collected a large number of ceramics, as well as a rich numismatic collection: today around the fortress found about 200 coins of very good preservation from the coins of Antiochus I and all the rulers of the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom from Diodot to Heliocles of very different denominations: from silver drachmas to copper mites. Such a variety proves that Bactria at the very beginning of Seleucid kingdom formation of the was part of developed monetary circulation system. Thus, the materials of Uzundara allow to study and reconstruct all spheres of life of the Seleucidian and Graeco-Bactrian fortresses.

Translation of Professor Katarzyna Maskymiuk’s Sassanian Military History Book into Persian

A seminal textbook on Sassanian military history by Professor Katarzyna Maksymiuk (University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Siedlce, Poland) entitled “Geography of Roman-Iranian Wars: Military Operations of Rome and Sasanian Iran” (2015, Scientific Publishing House of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland) has been translated in 2019 by Parviz Hossein Talaee into Persian “جغرافیای جنگ‌های ایران و روم [Joqrafiya-ye Jang-ha-ye Iran va Rom: Amaliyat-ha-ye Nezami-ye Iran va Rom dar Dore-ye Sasani]” by a major Persian-language academic publishing house, Amir Kabir Publishing (موسسه انتشارات امیرکبیر):

Prof. Katarzyna’s textbook is a major contribution to Sassanian military studies as it has, for the first time in the academic mileau, provided full and comprehensive maps of the battles between the Sassanian Spah (army) and the Romans (later Romano-Byzantines). The maps of this textbook were displayed by permission of Professor Maksymiuk in the 2017 textbook by Kaveh Farrokh on the Sassanian army entitled “Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians” (Pen & Sword Publishing).

Professor Maksymiuk has published an impressive array of publications on Sassanian military history as posted in Academia.edu. Professor Maskymiuk has also published articles and textbooks on Sassanian military history with Illka Syvänne, Gholamreza Karamian, Kaveh Farrokh and Javier Sánchez-Gracia:

For recent advances in Sassanian Studies as well as Sassanian military history see Review of Sassanian Studies by Dr. Matthew G. Marsh.

The Hêrbedestân

The article below by Firoze M. Kotwal on Hêrbedestân is posted in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue but was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 2003 and last updated on March 22, 2012. This article is also available in print in the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. XII, Fasc. 3, pp. 227-228).

Kindly note that the pictures and accompanying captions describing these do not appear in the original postings of this article in the Encyclopedia Iranica and the CAIS venues.

=====================================================================

Hêrbedestân (school for priests, religious school), is a Middle Persian term designating (1) Zoroastrian priestly studies and (2) an Avestan/Pahlavi text found together with the Nêrangestân manuscripts.

The term hêrbedestân, which derives from Middle Persian hêrbed (q.v.), is generally translated as “courses of (advanced) priestly studies” or “religious studies.” It refers to courses of study offered by a priestly teacher (hêrbed). The evidence of the Zand î Wahman yasn (2.2-4) shows that, at least until the time of Sasanian Khosrow I Anôširavân (r. 531-79), attendance at the hêrbedestân was open to priesthood and laity alike. Advanced Zoroastrian priestly studies focused on the Pahlavi translation and exegesis of Avestan texts (Zand), which future scholar priests were required to study profoundly and in some cases to learn by heart. For lay people, on the other hand, such studies may have consisted essentially of listening to the explanations of the hêrbed (see Kotwal and Kreyenbroek, 1992, p. 17). Perhaps as a result of Mazdak’s revolt, Khosrow I found it necessary to bar the laity from studying the Zand, thus restricting attendance at the hêrbedestân to the priesthood.

 

Herbedestan Text-KotwalThe Herbedestan and Nerangestan by Firoze M. Kotwal and Philip G. Kreyenbroek published by ISD in 2009 (Source: Strand Books).

The text known as Hêrbedestân deals with the conditions affecting advanced priestly studies. Like the Nêrangestân and Vendidâd, the text appears to represent an ancient Zoroastrian learned, rather than liturgical, tradition. It was originally transmitted orally and committed to writing at an unknown date. Whereas liturgical texts were usually recited by at least two priests, who could check each other’s recitation, learned texts were taught by a single priestly teacher, whose mistakes were not corrected. This could result in a decline in the accuracy of the transmission; many Avestan passages in the Hêrbedestân are obviously corrupt.

The topics discussed in the Hêrbedestân are arranged in twenty chapters: The first chapter addresses the two questions of who shall go to do advanced priestly studies, and under what circumstances one may leave a piece of property that one is responsible for taking care of. The next chapter continues discussing the last topic and then addresses the questions of how far it is proper to travel, the relative merit of pursuing religious studies versus caring for one’s property, and the remuneration of the priestly teacher. The question of priestly studies versus care of property is resumed in the third chapter, followed by a comparison between the relative merit of pursuing religious studies and that of observing the rules for menstruation. Chapter 4 deals with the issue of how often and for how long should a person pursue religious studies. Chapter 5 is about female students and the women in charge of sacred fires. Chapter 6 is devoted to the question of female students, a question complicated by the fact that, in order to study under a priestly scholar, women must travel, which means that they need male escorts. Then the question arises as to which of the normal womanly duties she should perform for such a companion. The degrees of culpability incurred by a man who has illicit sexual intercourse with the woman he chaperones are discussed, as well as the respective responsibilities of the husband and the offending escort. The passage is followed by an aside on female nubility in general. Chapters 7-11 deal with the subject of accompanying a child to attend advanced priestly studies, and the responsibilities of the escort vis-a-vis the parents or legal guardians of the child. Chapter 12 is on the duration of the priestly studies and on those who are barred from them. It also discusses the situation of the wife and children of a man who converts to Zoroastrianism, of the estate of a deceased foreigner who has converted to the faith, and of a woman who dies shortly after embracing the faith. Relations between Zoroastrian men and non-Zoroastrian women as well as the case of non-Zoroastrians seeking refuge in Iran are also dealt with in this chapter. Chapter 13 is on learning how to recite the sacred texts, while the next four chapters focus on the teacher’s responsibilities (chaps. 14-15) and on valid and invalid reasons for failing to recite and study properly (chaps. 16-17). The remaining three chapters are about priestly teachers who are not good Zoroastrians (chap. 18), teaching those who are not good Zoroastrians (chap. 19), and feeding a non-Zoroastrian (chap. 20). The most important manuscripts are the 17th-century TD (see Kotwal and Boyd for a detailed survey of the MS tradition) and HJ, which had been copied in 1727 (ed. Sanjana).

2-Darmesteter-Zend Avesta

James Darmesteter’s translation of the Zend-Avesta (Source: Archive.org).

James Darmesteter’s French translation of the Avestan part of the Hêrbedestân and Nêrangestân was published in 1893, followed by the English version of it in 1895. The year 1894 saw the publication of the Darab Peshotan Sanjana’s facsimile edition of HJ manuscript. The entire text was translated into English by Sohrab J. Bulsara in 1915. A German translation of the Avestan parts of both texts and their immediate Pahlavi renderings were published by Anatol Waag in 1941. After a long interval, the study of the Hêrbedestân was taken up again by Firoze M. Kotwal and James W. Boyd, who published a facsimile edition of TD manuscript in 1980. This was followed by a critical edition and translation of the text by Kotwal and Philip G. Kreyenbroek (with contributions by James R. Russell) in 1992. This had been preceded by Helmut Humbach and J. Elfenbein’s edition and translation of the same text in 1990.

Bibliography

Sohrab Jamshedjee Bulsara, tr., Aêrpatastan and Nirangestân: The Code of the Holy Doctorship and the Code of the Divine Service, Bombay, 1915.

James Darmesteter, Le Zend-Avesta, 3 vols., Paris 1892-93, repr., Paris, 1960.

Idem, The Zend Avesta, SBE 4, 2nd ed., New York, 1895. Bamanji Nasarvanji Dhabhar, ed., Pahlavi Yasna and Vispered, Bombay, 1949.

Helmut Humbach (in cooperation with Josef Elfenbein), ed. and tr., Ê, Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, N.S. 15, Munich, 1990.

Firoze M. Kotwal and James W. Boyd, Ê, facs. ed. of the MS TD, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1980.

Firoze M. Kotwal and Philip G. Kreyenbroek (with contributions by James Russell), eds. and trs., The Hêrbedestân and Nêrangestân I: Hêrbedestân, Studia Iranica, Cahier 10, Paris, 1992; II: Nêrangestân, Fragard 1, Studia Iranica, Cahier 16, Paris, 1995.

D. N. MacKenzie, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, London 1971. Darab Peshotan Sanjana, ed., Nirangistan, Photozincographed facs. ofa ms. Belonging to Hoshangjee Jamaspjee of Poona, Bombay, 1984.

Anatol Waag, Nirangestan: der Awestatraktat über die rituellen Vorschriften, Iranische Forschungen 2, Leipzig, 1941.

Zand î Wahman yasn, ed. and tr. Carlo G. Cereti as The Zand î Wahman Yasn: A Zoroastrian Apocalypse, Instituto italiano per il medio ed estremo orient, Serie orientale 75, Rome, 1995.

Archaeological Finds in Mazandaran, Northern Iran

The photographs below are from the Facebook page [‎باستان شناسی و تاریخ مازندران- Archaeology and history of Mazandaran –  the site however is currently closed] which often posts archaeological finds in the area. Below are photographs of some of these finds: the first is a coin from the Sassanian era with the other archaeological finds dated to the post-Sassanian era.

Bahram II Queen Prince reign 276-293 CE-bSassanian era coin of  Bahram II (r. 276-293 CE) alongside his Queen and Prince (Source: Facebook page ‎باستان شناسی و تاریخ مازندران- Archaeology and history of Mazandaran).

 

Tabristan 10 century CEGlazed earthenware bowl with leopard depiction confronting serpentine figure, Northern Iran (possibly Tabaristan region), 10th century CE (Source:Facebook page ‎باستان شناسی و تاریخ مازندران- Archaeology and history of Mazandaran).

 

Stucco-1-MazandaranExcavated section of the collapsed building structure at Mazandaran, Buwayhid dynasty (Source: Facebook page ‎باستان شناسی و تاریخ مازندران- Archaeology and history of Mazandaran). The floral and leaf patterns appear to be (pre-Islamic) Sassanian in inspiration.

 

Stucco-4-Mazandaran-Western entranceCollapsed ceiling Stucco of western entrance way to the building structure, Buwayhid dynasty (Source: Facebook page ‎باستان شناسی و تاریخ مازندران- Archaeology and history of Mazandaran). As with the previous photograph, the patterns inset within the circles appear to be (pre-Islamic) Sassanian in inspiration.