Persepolis: A Comprehensive Photographic Overview

The highly informative article and comprehensive photo essay of Persepolis further below has been written and produced by Carole Raddato who has generously allowed her work to be reproduced in Kavehfarrokh.com (kindly see her message sent on June 4, 2019:

—–Original Message—–
From: Carole Raddato <xxxxxx>
To: Dr. Kaveh Farrokh <manuvera@aol.com>
Sent: Tue, Jun 4, 2019 12:00 am
Subject: RE: Seeking Your Permission to promote your excellent article “Persepolis”

Dear Dr. Kaveh Farrokh,

Thank you for your email. I would be very honoured to have my Persepolis post shared on your social media pages.

I have just returned from an archaeological trip to Iran and have so far blogged about Persepolis, Susa and Chogha Zanbil. There will be of course more sites covered on my blog. I have recently booked a trip to Alicante to see the Iran Cradle of Civilisation exhibition as nearly 200 objects from the National Museum of Iran on display there.

For your information, and also for your students, note that all my images are published under the Creative Common licence which means that they are all free to use. The best way to access them is via Flickr where they can be easily downloaded.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolemage/collections

Congratulations on your excellent work and your wonderful and richly illustrated Shadows in the Desert book!

Best regards,

Carole Raddato

Kindly note that the version printed below has been slightly edited from the original version.

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

The magnificent ruins of Persepolis, or Parsa, lie at the foot of the Kuh-i-Rahmat mountain, roughly 650 kilometres south of the capital city of Tehran, and 70 kilometres northeast of Shiraz in the Fars region of southwestern Iran. Founded around 518 BC by Darius I (the Great), the site served as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire and was intended and designed to display the splendor and majesty of an empire that stretched from Greece to India. Sacked by Alexander in 333 BC, the site lay hidden, covered in sand until rediscovered in 1620. Persepolis was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.

Coordinates: 29° 56′ 4″ N, 52° 53′ 29″ E

Persepolis, a Greek toponym meaning “city of the Persians”, was known to the Persians as Parsa. It was a monument complex of structures built to the commands of the great Achaemenid kings between about 518 and about 450 BC. An inscription carved on the southern façade of the Terrace wall of Persepolis and written in the three official languages of the Persian Empire – Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian – proves that Darius the Great was the founder of Persepolis. Darius states that he built this fortress upon a place where no fortress had been before and that he made it secure and adequate.

Construction began about 518 BC, as soon as work on Susa was finished. However, according to inscribed tablets found in the Treasury of Persepolis, the tremendous task was not completed until about 100 years later by Artaxerxes I (r. 465–424 BC). Darius started to erect a massive terraced platform, covering an area of 125,000 square metres of the promontory. This platform supported four groups of structures: ceremonial palaces, residential quarters, a treasury, and fortifications. All these buildings were built of locally quarried stone, and architects and craftsmen from all over Persia’s empire contributed to their construction.

A general view of Persepolis (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Darius planned Persepolis as a showcase of the empire, for it was here that ambassadors from all over the Persian world, from Ethiopia to Elam, would congregate each year to offer tribute to the king. The northern part of the Terrace represented the official section of the Persepolis complex, accessible to a restricted public with the Apadana, the Throne Hall, and the Gate of Xerxes (also known as the Gate of All Nations). The southern part held the Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, the Treasury, the Council Hall and the Harem. Darius constructed the platform, the monumental stairway, the Tripylon (or Council Hall), and his private palace. He also carried out the first two building periods of the Treasury and began the Apadana. Xerxes completed the Apadana, built the Gate of All Nations, his palace and his so-called Harem, and started the Throne Hall (also known as the Hall of 100 Columns). Artaxerxes I completed the Throne Hall and began work on an unfinished porch that precedes it.

Architectural Plan of Persepolis (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography – image displayed by the venue from Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 2, Page 376).

The function of Persepolis remains somewhat unclear. Most archaeologists suggest that the site had a sacred connection to the god Mithra (Mehr) and that it was mainly used for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year’s festival held at the spring equinox. More general readings see Persepolis as an important administrative and economic centre of the Persian empire.

Persepolis remained the centre of Persian power until the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander. The Macedonian conqueror captured Persepolis in 330 BC, and some months later his troops destroyed much of the city. The great palace of Xerxes was set alight with the subsequent fire burning vast swathes of the city.

Engineering an Empire: The Persians (History Channel Broadcast posted in YouTube by Prince of Corsica).

The ruins were not excavated until the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago sponsored an archaeological expedition to Persepolis and its environs under the supervision of Professor Ernst Herzfeld from 1931 to 1934, and Erich F. Schmidt from 1934 to 1939.

Below is a portfolio of photos taken from the site of Persepolis.

Part of the monumental double staircase leading up to the terrace. Each flight has 111 steps, each 40 cm deep, 10 cm high, and nearly 7 cm wide. The stairs were carved from massive blocks of stone, but each step was shallow so that Persians in long elegant robes could ascend the 111 steps gracefully. The stairway was executed in the reign of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The east side of the Gate of All Nations also known as the Gate of Xerxes which was was protected by two massive winged bulls with human heads called lamasssus (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Gate of All Nations was a structure which consisted of one spacious room whose roof was supported by four stone columns with bell-shaped bases. It had two large doors, probably made of wood, on the south and east of the spacious room, indicating that the gateway was designed to give access to both the Apadana and to the Throne Hall (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The features of the four colossal figures were deliberately damaged by iconoclasts of the Islamic period to whom representation of living forms was anathema (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The stone columns of the Gate of All Nations, they were 16 metres high and were topped with capitals in the form of a double bull (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Double -griffin capital locally known as “Homa birds” probably from the Unfinished Gate (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Unfinished Gateway was began by Artaxerxes I and possibly never completed. From its southern doorway one entered a large court in front of the Throne Hall. It had a central chamber with four columns and long, narrow rooms on its eastern and western sides (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The northern entrance to the Throne Hall. It had a portico with two rows of eight columns flanked by end walls, with figures of colossal bulls (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The interior of the Throne Hall. The hall was 68m² and its foot was supported by ten rows of ten columns each which rose at a height of 8 metres (less than half the height of the Apadana columns) (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Throne Hall had eight stone doorways decorated on the south and north with reliefs of throne scenes and on the east and west with scenes depicting the king in combat with monsters (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Throne scene relief on the southern doorway of the Hall of Hundred Columns (Throne Hall) depicting an enthroned king and attendant (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Adjacent to the Throne Hall is the Treasury, part of which served as an armory and especially as a royal storehouse of the Achaemenian kings (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The tremendous wealth stored in the Treasury came from the booty of conquered nations and from the annual tribute sent by the peoples of the Empire to the king on the occasion of the New Year’s feast (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Two large stone reliefs were discovered in the Treasury that depict Darius I, seated on his throne, being approached by a high dignitary whose hand is raised to his mouth in a gesture of respectful greeting. One of the reliefs is now in the National Museum of Iran (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Apadana, the largest and most magnificent building of Persepolis located on the western side of the platform. It was begun by Darius and finished by Xerxes, and was used mainly for great receptions by the kings (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Thirteen of the Apadana seventy-two columns which supported the roof still stand. On top of the columns were capitals, consisting of two heads of strong animals like bulls or lions. Between the two heads was the place where the wooden beams could rest (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The monumental eastern stairway of the Apadana adorned with registers of relief sculpture that depicted representatives of the twenty-three subject nations of the Persian empire bringing valuable gifts as tribute to the king (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the northern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting a procession of dignitaries (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Lydians who offer vases, cups and bracelets and a chariot drawn by horses (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). Comment by Kavehfarrokh.com: The late Paul Kriwaczek (1937-2011) however had suggested that the above figures may in fact have been “… Hebrews from Babylon” (in “In Search of Zarathustra: The First prophet and the ideas that Changed the World”, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002, description of top figure alongside page 117)

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Syrians who offer two beautiful rams (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

 

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting an Armenian tribute bearer carrying a metal vessel with Homa (griffin) handles (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Scythians, all armed and wearing the appropriate headgear, who offer a bracelet and folded coats and trousers (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana  (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). Comment by Kavehfarrokh.com: This is depicting Bactrian Tribute Bearers  accompanied by a two-humped Bactrian camel.

Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Ionian Greeks carrying what may be beehives and skeins of colored wool (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

A general view of Persepolis with the Hall of 100 Columns in the foreground and Apadana in the background (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The ruins of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) which connected the Apadana and the Hall of Hundred Columns. The building consists of a central room and three gates that were decorated with reliefs (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Doorjamb of the Tripylon depicting the king with attendants (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief with the symbol of Ahuramazda on the on the southern end of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Main staircase of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran with reliefs depicting Persian soldiers as well as Persian and Median clergy bringing sacrifices and offerings (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Persian soldiers depicted on the main staircase of the Tripylon (or Council Hall). National Museum of Iran (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The palace of Xerxes (called Hadiš in Persian) was twice as large as the Palace of Darius and shows very similar decorative features on its stone door frames and windows (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). A terrace connected the two royal mansions.

The badly ruined Palace of Xerxes who called it in one of its inscription, the Hadish, has traces of the Alexandrian fire which devastated the palace (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The eastern staircase of the Palace of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief of a Persian soldier (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The western staircase of the Palace of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Stone carved Faravahar (Fravahar) on the western staircase of the Palace of Xerxes (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Palace of Darius (also known as Tachara) (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). The Palace was completed after his death in 486 BC by his son and successor Xerxes. Twelve columns supported the roof of the central hall from which three small stairways descend.

The palace of Darius has remained well-preserved (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). This strongly suggests that it was one of the few structures that escaped destruction in the burning of the complex by Alexander the Great’s army.

The southern staircase of the Palace of Darius with reliefs depicting servants coming up the steps carrying animals and food in covered dishes to be served at the king’s tables (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius depicting Persian soldiers (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius depicting a line of attendants bearing food and drinks (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

 

Lion and bull relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The west entrance of the Palace of Darius (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography). Measuring 1,160 square meters (12,500 square feet), it is the smallest of the palace buildings on the Terrace at Persepolis.

View of the Palace of Darius from the Apadana (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

A general view of Persepolis with the Treasury and other structures in the foreground and the palaces of Xerxes and Darius in the background (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

The Tomb of Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358) cut into the rock face of the Kuh-i Rahmat overlooking the Terrace (Courtesy of: Following Hadrian Photography).

Arsacid Chronology in Traditional History

The article below on the origins of the Parthians is authored by the late Shapur Shahbazi and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica. This article is also available in print: Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 5, pp. 542-543.

Readers are also referred to the History of the Parthian army – click here …

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

The Parthian rule lasted 474 years, longer than any dynastic period in Iranian history. Throughout this period, the Arsacid era and the Seleucid era which preceded it by 64 years, were both in use, and so it would have been easy to recall that the Ctesiphon accession of Ardašīr I occurred in the 538th year of the Seleucid era and in the 474th year of the Arsacid era. Yet post-Sasanian sources give various figures for the duration of the Arsacid rule, which may be divided into the following categories. 1: 200 ud and (200 odd) years (Great Iranian Bundahišn, Codex DH, p. 109 lines, 10-11 [Tehran, 1971], TD1, p. 207, lines 1-2 [Tehran, 1971], TD2 p. 240, lines 4-5; Ferdowsī: “sāl-i dovīst (some two hundred years)” (Šāh-nāma VII, p. 116); both may be for 203 years, see A. Sh. Shahbazi, “The “Traditional Date of Zoroaster” Explained,” BSOAS 40, 1977, p. 27 n. 19. 2: 266 years, with variants (Šāh-nāma-ye Abū Manṣūrī apud Bīrunī, The Chronology, p. 117; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 706 and 813; Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, p. 97; Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, p. 874; Moqaddasī, III, p. 155); this frequently recorded tradition was the official Sasanian reckoning, as Masʿūdī says (see below), and is found also in Agathias (270 years: History 4.24) who used Sasanian royal chroniclers (ibid., 4.30.2-5). 3: 284 years, with slight variants (Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, p. 96; Indian Bundahišn 34.9). 4: 400 years, with variants (Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, p. 874; Nāma-ye Tansar, ed. M. Mīnovī, Tehran, 1311 Š./1932, p. 43; Moǰmal al-tawārīḵ, p. 59 [411 years]; Moqaddasī, loc. cit.). 5: 523 years, with variants (Ṭabarī, I, 813, hence Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, p. 874; Abu’l-Faraǰ Zanǰānī apud Bīrūnī, The Chronology, p. 119).

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).

The last category is of non-Iranian origin, as Ṭabarī specifies, being clearly based on Syrian sources using the Seleucid era: Alexander was usually claimed as the initiator of the Seleucid era (hence the era of Alexander), and was assigned a reign of 14 years (Shahbazi, op. cit., pp. 27ff.); since Ardašīr’s Ctesiphon coronation occurred “538 years after Alexander” (Agathias 4.24), one subtracted his reign from this number and obtained (537-14 = ) 523 years for his successors, the Petty Kings (Pahl.kadag-xwadāy, Ar.-NPers. molūk al-ṭawāʾef). The fourth category is a rough estimate by historians unconvinced of the authenticity of the official reckoning. The third group is a re-adjustment of the figure 266 in a scholastic version (Shahbazi, op. cit., p. 30). The first two categories are, however, based on sound historical—albeit unauthentic—traditions. Masʿūdī (Tanbīh, pp. 97f.) and Bīrūnī (cited by S. H. Taqizadeh, BSOS 9, 1937, p. 125) have noted the great difference of opinion between the Iranians and other nations concerning the post-Alexander chronology, and they have accused Ardašīr of having distorted the facts. “One of the state and religious secrets of the Iranians,” says Masʿūdī, is that Zoroaster foretold that his religion would be disturbed 300 years after him but the religion and empire would be stricken by a calamity at the end of his millennium. Now Ardašīr appeared when only two centuries of the millennium were left, and fearing the approach of the calamity, he “reduced almost by half the 500-year period separating him from Alexander, counting from the petty kings only some rulers with a total reign of 260 years and ignoring the rest. . . And so the chronology was thus officially fixed, and published” (Tanbīh, p. 98). H. Lewy (“The Genesis of the Faulty Persian Chronology,” JAOS 64, 1944, pp. 1977ff.), S. H. Taqizadeh (“The “Era of Zoroaster”,”JRAS, 1947, pp. 33ff.) and W. B. Henning (Zoroaster: Politician or Witch-doctor?, Oxford, 1951, pp. 37ff.) have explained this “secret” more convincingly: under the Sasanians the Seleucid era had come to be identified as the era of Zoroaster, and Alexander had been placed 258 years after Zoroaster; the appearance of Ardašīr in the 538th year of the Seleucid era was then re-interpreted as his rise in the 538th year of the millennium of Zoroaster; of these 538 years, 258 separated Zoroaster from Alexander and 14 belonged to the latter; so (538âŠδ258 + 14 = ) 266 years were left for the Parthian period. The Sasanian measure was taken, then, not because the Parthian period was to be reduced, but because the widely used Seleucid era had to be Zoroastrianized.

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

The first category—the importance of which is evidenced by its attestation in two major Iranian sources—has so far remained unexplained. But it is clearly based on the re-interpretation of the Arsacid era (q.v.) as the epochal year of the millennium of Zoroaster: Ardašīr’s Ctesiphon coronation was in the (247 + 227 = ) 474th year of the Arsacid era; allowing 258 years for the interval between Zoroaster and Alexander, and assigning 14 years to the latter, one obtained (474âŠδ258 + 14 =) 202 years for the Parthian period. This Zoroastrianization of the Arsacid era must have been the work of the Parthian families who resented the Sasanian re-interpretation of the Seleucid era as the “era of Zoroaster,” so they countered claiming that their era had been initiated by Zoroaster. In this way they sanctified their dynastic symbol at the expense of sharply reducing the period of their rule.

Readers are also directed to the three tables below provided in the Encyclopedia Iranica regarding the chronology of the Parthians:

“Heirloom of Steel” wins Gloria Musaealis Museum Prize, Prague 16 May 2019

Dr. Antonin Reiter one of the directors of The South Moravian Museum in Znojmo (Czech Republic) contacted Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani on May 16, 2019 to inform him that his last book “Heirloom of Steel” had won the prestigious museum prize Gloria Musaealis 2018.

DR. Khorasani wrote the book as the main author and editor and my other colleagues who contributed to some chapters were Mr. Marco Briccola, Mr. Rainer Daehnhardt, Mr. Petr Eckl, Ms. Vanna Scolari Ghiringhelli and Dr. Bohumil Planka. On May 16, 2019 Dr Khorasani flew to Prague early in the morning to take part in the important event of Gloria Musaealis.

  • Title of the book: Heirloom of Steel: The Collection of Oriental and Asian Arms and Armor in Znojmo Museum (The Czech Republic)
  • Author & Editor: Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani
  • Co-authors: Marco Briccola, Rainer Daehnhardt, Petr Eckl, Vanna Scolari Ghiringhelli, Dr. Bohumil Planka
  • Forward: Dr. Jiří Mačuda
  • Publisher: South Moravian Museum in Znojmo

From left to right: Dr. Bohumil Planca (Nihonto expert and member of the Czech-Japanese Cultural Center), Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani, Ms. Vladimíra Durajková (General Director of the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo) and Dr Antonin Reiter (Director of South Moravian Museum in Znojmo).

Each year all museums in the Czech Republic take part in this important competition. The prizes are given to museums in three categories:

  • Best exhibitions
  • Best publications
  • Best innovations for museums and museum studies

The book “Heirloom of Steel” won in the category of best publications. 43 books were shortlisted in the final competition. In the second step only four books won the museum prize for the best publication. I am really proud to say that “Heirloom of Steel” was among these four books.

The 4 books which won the museum prize among 43 short-listed books are as follows:

Left side: Museum Romani Culture; “Amendar: An Insight in the World of the Romani Personalities“; Right side: Museum of the City Brno; “A New Building Brno 1928“.

Left Side: South Moravian Museum Znojmo; “Heirloom of Steel”; Right side: Museum Cheb; “Flora Soosu and the Surroundings“.

To see a video about the event see below …

The event took place in the picturesque building of Wenceslas Square, where the National Museum is located.

The entire event was accompanied by professional songs and two professional moderators who moderated the whole event. I would like to thank all my colleagues there and also all Czech people. This is a special price as the book “Heirloom of Steel” was the only book which was not directly connected to the Czech cultural heritage and goods but dealt with oriental and Asian arms and armor kept in a Czech museum. The textbook “Heirloom of Steel” has already demonstrated that it is a seminal addition to the domain of military studies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2)     Organization: Military Titles and Recruitment

3)     Military Reforms of the Sixth Century CE

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

5)     Archery

6)     The Savaran

7)     Infantry, Auxiliary Contingents and Naval Forces

8)     Preparations for War

9)     Tactics and Strategies along the Roman and Caucasian Frontiers

10)  Logistics and Support

11)  Post-Battle Scenarios and Diplomacy

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

13)  Military Architecture

14)  Siege Operations

15)  Sassanian Military Culture

16)  Military Weaknesses of the Spah

17)  The Fall of the Spah and the Empire

18)  Post-Sassanian Resistance and Rebellion against the Caliphate

19)  Legacy

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

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

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

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

Cataphract Camels

The article “Cataphract camels” was originally published by the Weapons and Warfare: History and Hardware of Warfare outlet. The version printed below has been edited. Kindly note that two of the images and all accompanying captions do not appear in the original version of the article by Weapons and Warfare.

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

The Parthians and early Sassanian Persians also made use of camel units; even experimented with cataphract camels. The early Sassanids have these armoured camels. That may mean they fought, it may only be an experiment to put off Roman javelin Light Cavalry who were deadly to cataphracts whose rear fighting factor was very poor. Contra Armati where cataphracts fight well to the rear, in reality surround them and they are dead meat because the armour blinds them. The Parthian and early Sassanid army was at times additionally supported by camel-borne troops. The animal could bear the weight of the warrior and his armour better and endure harshness longer than the horse; also, the archer could discharge his arrows from an elevated position. These would have made the division very desirable had it not been greatly hampered by Roman caltrop (tribulus) which, scattered on the battlefield, injured the spongy feet of the animal.

A curious creature in appearance, the Cataphract Camel is nevertheless an extremely formidable opponent. They are extremely heavy, and well-armed; in addition, the smell of camel tends to frighten horses. Carrying spears and maces like ordinary horse cataphracts, these units are equally unstoppable against both infantry and cavalry. Their enemies would be wise to treat them with respect.

A Chinese Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 CE) terracotta sculpture housed at the Musée Cernuschi in Paris, France (Photo: Guillaume Jacquet in Public Domain). This sculpture is depicting a “Western foreigner” camel driver, possibly a Soghdian.

Nations in the Middle East occasionally fielded cataphracts mounted on camels rather than on horses, with obvious benefits for use in arid regions, as well as the fact that the smell of the camels, if up wind, was a guaranteed way of panicking enemy cavalry units that they came into contact with. Balanced against this is the relatively greater vulnerability of camel mounted units to caltrops, due to their having soft padded soles to their feet rather than hooves.

Cataphract camels are well armoured – camel and rider both – shock cavalry. Their primary purpose is to charge into the enemy, using weight and speed to cause additional disruption. The riders carry lances for the initial charge and long maces to continue fighting once in hand-to-hand combat. Recruited from among desert dwelling peoples these soldiers rely on their heavy armour for protection, and their camels are equally well protected. This heavy armour also means that, while they are slow to get moving, they are almost unstoppable in a full charge. They can be used against infantry like any other cataphracts, but their chief virtue is that the smell of the camels upsets horses, giving them an edge when fighting against cavalry.

A diagram by Dr. Ilkka Syvanne of a Parthian camel cataphract (Source: Syvanne, I. (2017). Parthian Cataphract vs. the Roman Army 53 BC-AD 224. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, no. 6, pp.33-54).

Our source is a little early history written by the Roman senator Herodian. He wrote a history that starts with the death of Marcus Aurelius, covers the reign of the demented, tyrannical Commodus, his assassination, the subsequent civil wars, the rise and rule of Septimius Severus and the brief and blood-thirsty reigns of his various relatives, culminating in the rise and brutal fall of the demented teenage trans-sexual god-emperor Elagabalus. Something for everyone here, and a brief stage appearance by Parthian cataphract camels can only have added to this unedifying if colorful pageant. Anyway, Herodian IV.14.3 – the battle of Nisibis, AD 217:

“Meanwhile Artabanus was upon them with his vast and powerful army composed of many cavalry and an enormous number of archers and cataphracts who fought on camels, jabbing with long spears.” (Loeb translation)

To reinforce the point, the Loeb translation of Herodian, IV.14.3 has:

Meanwhile Artabanus was upon them with his vast and powerful army composed of many cavalry and an enormous number of archers and armoured riders (kataphraktous), who fought from the backs of camels with long spears, avoiding close combat.

There is no direct evidence for the Parthians using armoured camels. However, Herodian’s use of the word kataphraktous creates a problem. I have argued elsewhere that the word cataphracti and its Greek equivalent denotes heavily armoured men on armoured horses, the type that later became known in the Roman army as clibanarii. If this is correct, Herodian’s use of kataphraktous implies, by analogy, that the camels might be similarly armoured. In a later passage, he speaks of horses and camels in the same terms (Herod. IV.15.2 – again in the Loeb translation):

The barbarians caused heavy casualties with their rain of arrows and with the long spears of the heavily-armed knights (kataphractōn) on horses and camels, as they wounded the Romans with downward thrusts.

Further, it is well known that cataphracti were particularly vulnerable when unhorsed and I have suggested that, consequently, their horses would also have been heavily armoured. Herodian comments that the Parthian horse and camel riders were disadvantaged when on foot (Herod. IV.15.3). It is true that the reasons that he gives are different from that usually advanced, that unhorsed cataphracti were encumbered by the weight and unwieldiness of their armour. Nevertheless, the point remains the same: the Parthian armoured riders should, so far as possible, be protected from becoming dismounted in battle.

A Parthian camel cataphract closing in on the Roman lines with his long lance (Source: Weapons and Warfare).

All this suggests that the contention that the Parthians fielded armoured camels at the battle of Nisibis may not be as far-fetched as might appear at first sight. That said, the experiment (if such it was) seems to have been short-lived. There is nothing after Herodian to indicate the later use of such forces by either the Parthians or the Sassanids.

There is, however, a further complication. A document on papyrus dated January 300, refers to two cataphractarii serving in ala II Herculia Dromedariorum (P. Beatty Panop. 2, 28. See Skeat 1964). It also mentions, however, at least two common soldiers (mouniphikas) in the same ala. Where then do the cataphractarii fit in? It has been suggested that cataphractarius is a rank, replacing the earlier duplicarius and sesquiplicarius (Zuckermann 1994), but it is possible that cataphractarii constituted an elite body within the ala, providing a shock force and adding to its versatility. Another document could support both views (CPR V 13 + P. Rainer Cent. 165. See Rea 1984). It comprises three letters recording stages in the career of one Sarapion. The first, dated 17th April 395, authorises his admission to the schola catafractariorum in an unnamed unit based at Psoftis in Egypt; the second, dated 396, records his promotion to decurio; the third, dated 401, records his discharge on medical grounds. The second of these also mentions the advancement of one Apion from eques to cataphractarius. The same word is used for both Sarapion’s promotion and Apion’s advancement, prov(ectus). In the third letter, Sarapion and others discharged at the same time are placed in three categories: dec(uriones), catafrac(tarii), eq(uites). Nevertheless, the presence in the Notitia Dignitatum of entire units of cataphractarii leads me to favour the second view.

If I am right, what was the model for the cataphractarii in ala II Herculia Dromedariorum? I have argued that normal cataphractarii were well-armoured, though less heavily than clibanarii, and rode unarmoured horses. These men could, therefore, have been equipped in a similar manner but riding unarmoured camels. Alternatively, despite the apparent lack of continuity, they could have been based upon the Parthian camel riders encountered at Nisibis, which would imply that the Parthian camels were also unarmoured. This raises the question of nomenclature – Herodian refers to cataphracti, not cataphractarii – but this is explicable. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the evidence suggests that cataphractarius is a technical term applicable only to troops in the Roman army. If so, it would have been inappropriate for Herodian to have applied it to non-Roman troops. It is also quite possible that the term had not even been coined at the time that he was writing. Either way, he was obliged to use an available expression nearest to what he was seeking to describe, well-armoured cavalrymen, albeit riding camels, and that expression was the Greek equivalent of cataphracti. Of these alternatives, I favour the first.

Where then does that leave the question of whether the camels fielded by the Parthians at Nisibis were armoured or not? The evidence, in my opinion, is equivocal. As is so often the case, certainty is elusive and there is, therefore, room for alternative interpretations.

Bibliography

Rea 1984 – J.R. Rea, ‘A Cavalryman’s Career, A.D.384(?)-401’, ZPE 56 (1984), 79-88

Skeat 1964 – T.C. Skeat (ed.), Papyri from Panopolis in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Dublin 1964

Zuckerman 1994 – C. Zuckerman, ‘Le Camp Sosteos et les Catafractarii’, ZPE 100 (1994), 199-202