Fall 2019 Iranian Studies Initiative Lectures at the University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia’s Persian and Iranian Studies Initiative of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia will be providing a series of lectures by prominent Iranian Studies scholars in the Fall of 2019. All of these lectures will be Free and open to the general public. As seen further below, the lecturers shall be Mahsa Rad, Dominic P. Brookshaw, Shahzad Bashir, Farzan Kermani, Morteza Asadi and Kaveh Farrokh.

The planned lectures and specific dates for these are as follows:

Mahsa Rad, Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran; Visiting International Research Student at UBC: Loneliness and  Struggle: Self-Narratives of Iranian Trans People’s Livesروایت  زندگی ترنس های ایرانی (in Persian)[13 Sept. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Dominic P. Brookshaw, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Persian Literature at The Oriental Institute, Oxford Semi-Annual Lecture in Persian/Iranian Studies: One Poet Among Many: Hafez and the Transregional Literary Networks of 14th-Century Iran (in English) – [Sept. 27, 2019, lecture hall to be announced]

Shahzad Bashir, Ph.D., Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities, Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University: Imagining Time in India: Persian Chroniclers and their Interpreters (in English) – [11 Oct. 2019, 6-7:30 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Farzan Kermani, Ph.D. in Design, IIT Bombay: Iranian Art After Islam: With a Look at Some Renowned Iranian Calligraphersهنر ایران پس از اسلام: با نگاهی به سرگذشت چند خوشنویس بلندآوازه – (in Persian) – [25 Oct. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Morteza Asadi, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar at the School of International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC; former Assistant Professor of Economy at Kharazmi University, Tehran: Political Economy of Oil Curse: The Case of Post-Revolutionary Iran (in English) – [8 Nov. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Kaveh Farrokh, Ph.D., Professor of History & Academic Advisor for Analytica Iranica, Methodolgica Governance University, Paris, France: Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europa during the Classical Era (in English) – [29 Nov. 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., lecture hall to be announced]

Readers further interested in Kaveh Farrokh’s upcoming lecture are encouraged to download two of his peer-reviewed articles as well as the Dissertation of Sheda Vasseqhi below:

Farrokh, K. (2016). An Overview of the Artistic, Architectural, Engineering and Culinary exchanges between Ancient Iran and the Greco-Roman World. AGON: Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali, Linguistici e Letterari, No.7, pp.64-124.

Farrokh, K. (2009). The Winged Lion of Meskheti: a pre- or post-Islamic Iranian Legacy in Georgia? Scientific Paradigms. Studies in Honour of Professor Natela Vachnadze. St. Andrew the First-Called Georgian University of the Patriarchy of Georgia. Tbilisi, pp. 455-492.

PhD Dissertation by Sheda Vasseqhi (University of New England; academic supervision team Academic advising Team: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi, Kaveh Farrokh): Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In  the Origins Of Western Civilization.

See also:

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.

Shab-e Yalda: A Warm Welcome to Winter, Felicitous Farewell to Fall

The article Shab-e Yalda: A warm welcome to winter, felicitous farewell to fall” was originally posted by the Tehran Times on December 20, 2016. Kindly note that two of the images and accompanying captions do not appear in the original Tehran Times report. In addition, one of the points made by the article is disputed, and this is entered into the text for the benefit of readers.

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Once again, Iranians from all walks of life and all around the globe are arranging to celebrate Shab-e Yalda (Yalda Night), which falls on December 20.

The auspicious yet thousands-year-old occasion, known as the longest and darkest night of the year, marks the last eve of autumn and the beginning of winter.

Shab-e Yalda is also called Shab-e Chelleh that literally meaning the night of the forty. One of the dominant features of the feast is Chelleh Neshini (sitting for Chelleh), a social context during which families and friends usually gather in the cozy ambiance of home of an elder such as grandparents, aunts or uncles to rejoice in warmth of one another’s company.

Some opt for making phone calls to friends and close relatives or send text messages to congratulate them on this night.

Guests are served with fresh fruits and colorful Ajil (a mixture of dry fruits, seeds and nuts) in bowls. To Iranians however, the dry fruits are somehow a reminiscence of the abundance of summer and the fresh fruits are an invocation for food during winter.

A marquetry work by artist Qumars Sayyad depicts a rural Iranian family reunion celebrating the Yalda Night (Source: Tehran Times).

All food items are arranged on a spread known as Sofreh (traditional table cloth available in various materials and patterns), usually by women of the house.

Following a fresh and hot dinner, people recite poetry, narrate stories, chant, play musical instruments or just chat in the coziness of their company until midnight or so.

Of all ancient rituals, there are mostly two festivals that are unanimously celebrated by Iranians today, Yalda Night and the Persian New Year or Nowruz that means the birth of a new day.

From a wider point of view, human beings often mourn some endings and celebrate most beginnings. The Iranian nation has strong social and historical fibers to celebrate when it comes to the death of a season that gives birth to another.

Welcome to winter varies region to region

Yalda Night is celebrated in different parts of the country traditionally as a welcome to winter, though it encompasses regional variations and themes. In what follows some of them have been given:

Natives to the northwestern Azarbaijan region believe that eating watermelon will not let the cold of winter into their bones. Also, on this night, new brides carry gifts to brides-to-be of the family.

In Tabriz, the capital of East Azarbaijan Province, local musicians known as ‘Aashigh’ play traditional instruments and sing songs from ancient Persian legends on Yalda. Aashighs are local artists who play a great role in preserving oral culture and they can recite poetry spontaneously.

In the northwestern Ardabil Province, people ask the Chelleh Bozorg (first forty days of winter) to promise them to be moderate as they wish for a good winter time.

Watermelon and pomegranates as symbols of bounty are the traditional fresh fruits of this night. It is believed that eating watermelon before the arrival of winter can immunize one against cold and illness (Source: Tehran Times).

Families in the southern city of Shiraz, Fars Province, spread a Sofreh (Persian table cloth, mostly spread on the floor) which is not very different from the Persian New Year spread. They normally place a mirror and an artistic depiction of Imam Ali (AS), the first Shia Imam, on the spread. In addition to typical Yalda food items, Halva Shekari (a kind of paste made of sugar, butter and sesame seeds) and Ranginak (Persian date cakes) are also served.

In the northern province of Gilan, however, Yalda is never complete without watermelons. It is assumed that anyone who eats watermelons on this day would not be thirsty in summer and cold in winter. Aoknous is a tempting and indispensable Gilani dish on Yalda Night.

People in the southeastern Kerman Province stay up most part of the night to welcome the arrival of the legendary Gharoun (Croesus) who is believed to bring wood for poor families in the disguise of a woodcutter. The wood logs would then turn into gold and bring prosperity and luck to the house. The ritual is of course a symbolic one.

One of the oldest Yalda rituals in the western Lorestan Province was when a group of small and teenage boys would go to the rooftops of houses and throw down their bags tied to the end of a long scarf from the chimney holes. They would sing songs, wishing prosperity and happiness for the owner who would fill their bag with Yalda treats. The children would state their gratitude accordingly by singing songs of merriment.

An Iranian lady recites poetry with the Book of Hafez during the night of Yalda; note the pomegranate and melon on the table spread (Source: Public Domain).

In the villages of northeastern Khorasan Province the groom’s family sends out gifts with a group of musical instrument players to the bride-to-be’s house. In this province, after dinner and festivities, people read out verses from the Shahnameh, a long epic poem by illustrious Persian poet Ferdowsi.

In one of the villages of Garmsar, north-central Semnan Province, people of one family or clan get together over a meal of khorous polo (cockcrow meat and rice dish), after which they chitchat with jokes, anecdotes and short stories.

It is customary for people in the western province of Kermanshah that they stay up most of the night by eating, singing and telling stories to abide with the mother of the world in giving birth to her daughter, the sun.

Mosaic of Christ as Sol in Mausoleum M in the pre-4th-century necropolis located below the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica (Source: Public Domain). While commonly interpreted as representing Christ, the figure is virtually identical to the pre-Christian representations of Mithra (note fluttering Iranian-style cloak on the mosaic figure).

Good to know

  • Yalda Night is celebrated on the last day of Azar (the last month of autumn) and before the first day of Dey (the first month of winter).
  • Watermelon and pomegranate are amongst the most distinguished features of Yalda Night, though a few days before Yalda, the fruits’ prices may soar.
  • Yalda, though not very common, is a female Persian name.
  • In ancient Iranian calendar, winter is divided into two parts, Chelleh Bozorg (the bigger forty) from 22nd of December to 30th of January and Chelleh Koochak (the smaller forty) from 30th January to 10th of March.
  • The word Yalda, meaning birth, was imported from Syriac into the Persian language by the Syriac Christians. NOTE BY Kaveh Farrokh.com – the claim of Syriac origins can be disputed – the following observation is made with respect to the linguistic roots of the term /Yalda/:

The term /da/ in Yalda is not of the Hamito-Semetic linguistic family, but instead belongs to the wider Indo-European language families. In Avestan, the term /Daēva/ is broadly defined as “divine being” (Herrenschmidt & Kellens, 1993, pp. 599-602) (in Old Iranian: /Daiva/), which is derived from older Indo-Iranian /Daivá/ (God), which in turn is traced to (undifferentiated) Proto Indo-European (PIE) /Deiu̯ó/ (God). According to Pokorny’s Master PIE lexicon the /Da/ or /Daē/ affix in /Daēva/ is defined as: “day, sun, glitter, to shine, deity, god” (Pokorny, 1959-1969 & 1989, pp.183-187). The legacy of Yalda is an essence rooted in the ancient Indo-European mythological tradition.“ [This excerpt has been published in the Fezana journal: Farrokh, K. (2015). Yalda: an enduring legacy from ancient Persia. Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 29, No.3, Fall/September, pp. 30-33.]

  • Narratives say that Yalda Night marks the birth of winter and the triumph of the sun as the days grow longer and colder.
  • Ancient Iranians assumed Naneh Sarma begins to descend on earth by Yalda Night. Literally meaning coldness grandma, Naneh Sarma is a folklore Persian character who brings in the coldness during the wintertime.

Two New courses for Fall 2018

Kaveh Farrokh is offering two new courses for the of Fall 2018 at the Paris-based Methodologica Universitas at the Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques.  See also the Institution’s Encyclopedic project:

Analytica Iranica: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Iranian Studies … Kaveh Farrokh is one of the Academic Advisors of this Encyclopedia project …

The first of these is the first course offered on the military history of ancient Iran or Persia:

Course HIS/CP/202: The Military History of Ancient Iran: 559 BCE-651 CE [Fall 2018, Methodologica Universitas, Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques]Click here for Registration Information

The course description for the above is as follows (HIS/SP/202):

This course examines Iran’s pre-Islamic military history with respect to political relations, wars, battles with Greece, Rome, Central Asia. These topics are examined in the Achaemenid (559-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian (224-651 CE) epochs. Methodology of the course utilizes scientific methodology in archival analysis (primary and secondary sources), numismatics (study of coins), archaeological analysis (analysis of equipment and technology), and statistical methodology (e.g. compiling data for analysis, factor analysis, etc.). The strengths and weaknesses (military, political and social) of each dynasty is examined up to the downfall of ancient Iran to the Arab conquests of Iran (637-651 CE). Detailed analysis is made of developments from the early Achaemenid era to the end of the Sassanian era with respect to equipment, technology, military architecture, military doctrine, and martial culture. Influences upon and from Greece, Rome, Central Asia and Eastern Europe are also examined. The course concludes with a survey of post-Islamic sources reporting of the extensive military literature pertaining to Sassanian weapons and tactics (battlefield tactics, siege craft, etc.) and its influence upon Islamic warfare.

Kaveh Farrokh meeting the late Professor Ehsan Yarshater (1920-2018) during the Honoring ceremony for the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014) in the Greater San Francisco area in 2008.

The second is a comprehensive course on the History of ancient Iran or Persia, which will incorporate modern research and academic methodologies incorporating anthropology, archaeology, the study of sources, numismatics, etc:

Course HIS/CP/203: The History of Ancient Iran: 559 BCE-651 CE [Fall 2018, Methodologica Universitas, Départment de Méthodologie des Sciences Historiques]Click here for Registration Information

Three Books published in 2017-2018 on the military history of Ancient Iran or Persia (from left to right): The Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians (2017; see book review by the Military History Journal in 2018); A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Gholamreza Karamian, 2018); and The Siege of Amida (Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia, 2018).

The course description for the above is as follows (HIS/CP/203):

Course begins with the pre Indo-European era of ancient Iran and the rise of proto-Iranian peoples and arrivals onto the Iranian plateau. Recent archaeological works and research of pre Indo-European Iran, such as the Burnt City and Elam are surveyed. This is followed by detailed historical surveys of the three epochs of ancient Iran: Achaemenids (559-333 BCE), Parthians (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanians (224-651 CE). Course material is integrated with methodology utilizing scientific methodology in archival analysis (primary and secondary sources), numismatics (study of coins), archaeological analysis (analysis of equipment and technology), and statistical methodology (e.g. compiling data for analysis, factor analysis, etc.). The political relations and cultural exchanges of the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties with the Greco-Roman, Central Asian, Indian subcontinent, Caucasian, European and Chinese realms are examined. Each epoch is also examined with respect to developments in legal systems, societal development and the role of women, the arts, architecture, learning, medicine, technology, theology and religious philosophy, communications, shipping, commerce and the Silk Route.

[Above] Kaveh Farrokh’s second textShadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-” cited by the BBC-Persian service as theBest History Book of 2007(November 5, 2008), as well as the by Kayhan News Service of London (November 12, 2008). The text was nominated by the Independent Book Publishers’ Association (Benjamin Franklin Award) among the top finalists for the Best textbooks of 2008. The book has been recognized by world-class scholars such as the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye (1920-2014), Harvard University, Dr. Geoffrey Greatrex, Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa, Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, School of HistoryUniversity of Edinburgh and Dr. Patrick Hunt. The book was reviewed in the world-class academic (peer-reviewed by top Iranian Studies scholars) Iranshenasi journal in 2010: Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh. Iranshenasi, Volume XXII, No.1, Spring 2010, pp.1-5 (see document in pdf). [Below] Translations of Shadows in the Desert [A] Persian translation by Taghe Bostan Publishers (2009) [B] Persian translation by Qoqnoos Publishers (2009) [C] the original textbook (2008) and [D] Russian translation by EXMO Publishers.

UNESCO: Takht-e Soleiman

The article below on Takht-e Soleyman (or Takht-e Suleiman) is by UNESCO. Kindly note that except one photo, all other images and accompanying captions do not appear in the UNESCO posting.

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The archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, in north-western Iran, is situated in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period (13th century) as well as a temple of the Sasanian period (6th and 7th centuries) dedicated to Anahita.

One of the structures at Takhte Suleiman (Picture Source: World Historia).

The site has important symbolic significance. The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture.

Brief Synthesis

The archaeological ensemble called Takht-e Soleyman (“Throne of Solomon”) is situated on a remote plain surrounded by mountains in northwestern Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The site has strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water – the principal reason for its occupation from ancient times – and stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years. Located here, in a harmonious composition inspired by its natural setting, are the remains of an exceptional ensemble of royal architecture of Persia’s Sasanian dynasty (3rd to 7th centuries). Integrated with the palatial architecture is an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary; this composition at Takht-e Soleyman can be considered an important prototype.

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).  

An artesian lake and a volcano are essential elements of Takht-e Soleyman. At the site’s heart is a fortified oval platform rising about 60 metres above the surrounding plain and measuring about 350 m by 550 m. On this platform are an artesian lake, a Zoroastrian fire temple, a temple dedicated to Anahita (the divinity of the waters), and a Sasanian royal sanctuary. This site was destroyed at the end of the Sasanian era, but was revived and partly rebuilt in the 13th century. About three kilometres west is an ancient volcano, Zendan-e Soleyman, which rises about 100 m above its surroundings. At its summit are the remains of shrines and temples dating from the first millennium BC.

Takht-e Soleyman was the principal sanctuary and foremost site of Zoroastrianism, the Sasanian state religion. This early monotheistic faith has had an important influence on Islam and Christianity; likewise, the designs of the fire temple and the royal palace, and the site’s general layout, had a strong influence on the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, and became a major architectural reference for other cultures in both the East and the West. The site also has many important symbolic relationships, being associated with beliefs much older than Zoroastrianism as well as with significant biblical figures and legends.

The 10-ha property also includes Tepe Majid, an archaeological mound culturally related to Zendan-e Soleyman; the mountain to the east of Takht-e Soleyman that served as quarry for the site; and Belqeis Mountain 7.5 km to the northeast, on which are the remains of a Sasanian-era citadel. The archaeological heritage of the Takht-e Soleyman ensemble is further enriched by the Sasanian town (which has not yet been excavated) located in the 7,438-ha landscape buffer zones.

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 Zoroastrain priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

  • Criterion (i):Takht-e Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements created by the Sassanians in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context.
  • Criterion (ii):The composition and the architectural elements created by the Sassanians at Takht-e Soleyman have had strong influence not only in the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, but also in other cultures.
  • Criterion (iii):The ensemble of Takht-e Soleyman is an exceptional testimony of the continuation of cult related to fire and water over a period of some two and half millennia. The archaeological heritage of the site is further enriched by the Sassanian town, which is still to be excavated.
  • Criterion (iv):Takht-e Soleyman represents an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary, integrated with Sasanian palatial architecture within a composition, which can be seen as a prototype.
  • Criterion (vi): As the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary, Takht-e Soleyman is the foremost site associated with one of the early monotheistic religions of the world. The site has many important symbolic relationships, being also a testimony of the association of the ancient beliefs, much earlier than the Zoroastrianism, as well as in its association with significant biblical figures and legends.

Integrity

Within the boundaries of the property are located the known elements and components necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the lake and the volcano, archaeological remains related to the Zoroastrian sanctuary, and archaeological remains related to the royal architecture of the Sassanian dynasty. Masonry rooftops have collapsed in some areas, but the configurations and functions of the buildings remain evident.

One of the archways at Ādur-Gushnasp (Picture Source: World Historia).

The region’s climate, particularly the long rainy season and extreme temperature variations, as well as seismic action represent the major threats to the integrity of the original stone and masonry materials. Potential risks in the future include development pressures and the construction of visitor facilities in the buffer zones around the sites. Furthermore, there is potential conflict between the interests of the farmers and archaeologists, particularly in the event that excavations are undertaken in the valley fields.

Authenticity

The Takht-e Soleyman archaeological ensemble is authentic in terms of its forms and design, materials and substance, and location and setting, as well as, to a degree, the use and the spirit of the fire temple. Excavated only recently, the archaeological property’s restorations and reconstructions are relatively limited so far: a section of the outer wall near the southern entrance has been rebuilt, using for the most part original stones recovered from the fallen remains; and part of the brick vaults of the palace structures have been rebuilt using modern brick but in the same pattern as the original. As a whole, these interventions can be seen as necessary, and do not compromise the authenticity of the property, which retains its historic ruin aspect. The ancient fire temple still serves pilgrims performing Zoroastrian ceremonies.

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).

Protection and Management requirements

Takht-e Soleyman was inscribed on the national heritage list of Iran in 1931, and it is subject to legal protection under the Law on the Protection of National Treasures (1930, updated 1998) and the Law of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Charter (n. 3487-Qaf, 1988). The inscribed World Heritage property, which is owned by the Government of Iran, is under the legal protection and management of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (which is administered and funded by the Government of Iran). Acting on its behalf, Takht-e Soleyman World Heritage Base is responsible for implementation of the archaeology, conservation, tourism, and education programs, and for site management. These activities are funded by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, as well as by occasional international support. The current management plan, prepared in 2010, organizes managerial strategies and activities over a 15-year period.

An excellent view of the edge of the lake at Ādur-Gushnasp (Photo Source: Public Domain).

Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property over time will require continuing periodic on-site observations to determine whether the climate or other factors will lead to a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity or authenticity of the property; and employing internationally recognized scientific standards and techniques to properly safeguard the monuments when undertaking stabilization, conservation, or restoration projects intended to address such negative impacts.

King Arthur [Part I]: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical evidence

The article below King Arthur: Some Literary, Archaeological and Historical evidenceis written by Periklis Deligiannis and posted in Academia.edu. The posting below is Deligiannis’ first part of the article with the Sarmatian links with King Arthur to be further discussed in later reports in September 2018, September 2019 and September 2020. For more on the links between wider Iranian culture and Europe click this link …

Kindly note that a number of images and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in Periklis Deligiannis’ original article.

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In 407 AD the Romans withdrew their last regular troops from the British provinces. The independent Romano-Britons had to fight hard against the Pict, Irish and Anglo-Saxon barbarians who were besieging their territory. Former Roman Britain was gradually divided into autonomous ‘principalities’ led by warlords. However they tried to keep united their “British kingdom” as they considered their common territory, and mainly to repel the invading Anglo-Saxons who had conquered the Southeast, advancing headlong. It seems that the Britons in order to maintain their unity, elected a military commander (Dux) as a senior politico-military leader, who led the operations against the invaders and took care on preventing infighting. A sequence of inspired Dukes (Voteporix, Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus) led the British resistance. Those who accept Arthur’s historicity usually consider him as one of these Dukes (a theory consider him Aurelianus’ son).

A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin (design), decorated with semi-gemstones. The Romano-Britons inherited this type together with the rest of the Roman weaponry and military organization (Periklis Deligiannis).

The Briton literary tradition and the archaeological evidence, mainly the Saxon burials, denote that the Anglo-Saxon invasion was halted on the verge of the 5th-6th centuries AD. Many scholars believe that the military action of the legendary king Arthur was the main ‘factor’ for the repulse of the newcomers. However, his historicity is strongly and justifiably disputed. In this series of articles I will deal with some additional literary, archaeological and historical evidence concerning his historicity.

The literary sources on Arthur

The first literary reference to Arthur appears in the Northern Briton epic “Y Goddodin” (“the Votadini” around AD 600) which recounts an attempt of the Votadini people (Celtic Goddodin) of the modern Scottish Lowlands and their allies, to check the advance of the Angles. Some scholars believe that the mention of Arthur in this epic was added later. The first ‘secure’ reference to the legendary commander comes from Nennius in his “History of the Britons” (“Historia Britonnum”, end of 8th century). Nennius’ work was based mostly on the local Briton tradition. Nennius describes the legendary figure as a warlord who repelled the barbarians around the 5th-6th centuries. This was followed shortly after by another reference of Arthur in the “Annales Cambriae” (9th c.). But the author, who developed most of all Arthur’s renowned image as a just and powerful warrior-king, was the Archdeacon of Oxford Geoffrey of Monmouth in his largely mythical “History of the Kings of Britain” (“Historia Regum Britanniae”, AD 1133). Geoffrey relied heavily on the two aforementioned works, and possibly on the local oral tradition. In France, the late medieval chronicler Chretien de Troyes holds an analogous contribution to the Arthurian legend. The later writers of the Arthurian epic circle are based on the works of the last two authors (mostly on Geoffrey’s work and less on Chretien’s) going on to the enrichment of the epic with elements belonging mainly to the Late Middle Ages, such as the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, etc.

In the 5th-6th centuries AD, the Anglo-Saxons brought to Britain many elements of the eastern Scandinavian Proto-Vendel and Vendel cultures, several of which are obvious on their arms and armor, i.e. on their helmets (Sutton Hoo burial, etc.), daggers, swords etc (reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon warlord wearing a Sutton Hoo-type helmet, by the Historical Association Wulfheodenas) (Periklis Deligiannis). Note: segmented helmets fitted with metallic facemasks were very common in the Sassanian army (Spah), a topic that was addressed in detail in: Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., & Kubic, A. (2016). An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets 2nd century BCE – 7th century CE (2016). THE THIRD COLLOQUIA BALTICA-IRANICA, Nov 25-26, Siedlce University.

Modern scholars who do not accept Arthur’s historicity, rely mainly on the fact that he is not mentioned in the main chronicle of the sixth century AD, the chronicle of the Briton churchman Gildas “The Disaster and Conquest of Britain” (“De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae”, mid-6th century) which deals with the events of the Saxon invasion. They believe that if Arthur really existed and halted the Saxons, his name should be referred by Gildas and not just once or twice. But Gildas does not mention him at all.

In fact this argument is not particularly strong, because during the same period a surprisingly large number of princes and nobles named “Arthur” are witnessed across Great Britain. The preference in this personal name appears suddenly, without any prior, and indicates that these aristocrats and warlords received honorary as infants the name of a politico-military personality who achieved great deeds just a little time before their birth. Concerning the fact that the contemporary Latin-speaking Continental writers do not mention Arthur (another argument of those who do not accept his historicity), this is explained by the fact that after AD 407 Britain is lost from their “vision” and interests. It is rater natural that there is no mention of Arthur in the Continental sources, although some scholars believe that the Briton commander is none other than the British king Riothamus of the “History of the Goths” (6th c.) Riothamus is analyzed to Rigo-tamos according to Fleuriot, meaning “Supreme Ruler” which is indeed the title of the Dux Britanniarum of this age. But for what reasons would Gildas have concealed the achievements of his almost contemporary Arthur?

The Lives of the Briton saints suggest in their texts that Arthur was using the money of the Briton Church to financially support his wars, and he was not distracting them with the consent of the Church. It seems in general that his contemporary Christians did not particularly like him and this may explain why Gildas is silent concerning his hypothetical decisive contribution to repulse the Anglo-Saxons. Geoffrey of Monmouth presented Arthur as a pious Christian king, as he had to be in the 12th century, but this presentation has very little significance. The references to the Christian faith of Arthur’s knights and soldiers are of the same small value. If Arthur was a real person, it is very doubtful that he and most of his men followed orthodox (official Roman) Christianity that had not many followers in Britain. Most British of this era rather remained faithful to the ancient Celtic cults or to the heresy of Pelagianism which was significantly removed from orthodox Christianity. It seems that the Britons who were almost permanently under arms, like Arthur and his men, followed mainly the traditional Celtic religion or the cult of Mithras, i.e. the renowned Iranian and later Roman ‘god of the soldiers’.

Location of Tintagel in red (Periklis Deligiannis).

Archaeological and Historical Evidence

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was born in the fortress of Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall. There lived Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall together with his beautiful wife Ygraine (or Igraine). Another Briton warlord, Uther Pendragon was in love with her. Ygraine responded to the feelings of Uther, who despairing of his love for the beautiful duchess asked the help of Merlin the magician. The latter agreed to help Uther on his sexual intercourse with Ygraine in exchange for the surrendering of the child to be born from their commingling. Uther agreed and Merlin gave to him the form of Ygraine’s husband. Gorlois had reduced his wife to their summer dwelling in Tintagel in order to protect her from Uther. The latter managed to make love to Ygraine, her husband was killed, and the child born in Tintagel, namely Arthur, was delivered to Merlin who later established him to the British throne.

Until recently, scholars did not generally consider Geoffrey’s reference on Arthur’s birth in Tintagel as a worthy one. The ruins at the top of the modern island Tintagel (a coastal cliff of Cornwall) belong to a late medieval fortress that was built a century after the writing of Geoffrey’s History. However, probably the archdeacon knew that Tintagel was a fort of the British Dark Ages and followed the local tradition that placed Arthur’s birth there. The archaeological findings reinforce this view. In the summer of 1983 a series of fires extended on Tintagel, where after burning the vegetation, revealed the foundations of strong fortifications. Excavations in the area revealed several findings of ceramics, based on which, the History of the island was divided into two periods. The first historical phase coincides with the Roman period. The fact that no other pottery was excavated in the region, shows that the Roman government was using Tintagel as a commercial post. This is reinforced by the discovery of a harbor on the island, which continued to be used during the 5th-6th centuries. These centuries are concerning Tintagel’s second period, contemporary with Arthur’s wars. The pottery of the 5th-6th century that was discovered on the island was made in the East Roman Empire, Gaul and North Africa, which denotes that the movement of goods by the Celts of Tintagel increased compared to the Roman period. But the large amounts of the excavated pottery, assume that a strong central government controlled the trade. Due to the historical period, this rather corresponded to a monarch. The discovery of a ditch on the island (which considering its use almost always surrounded walls made of tree trunks in Celtic strongholds) denotes that Tintagel was a fortified trading location. After all it would be dangerous for the local Britons to leave defenseless a natural fortress like Tintagel, because it could be captured by overseas enemies or invaders.

‘Tristan and Isolde’ in a classic artwork by Edmund Blair Leighton. Tristan appears in the Arthurian Circle as a worthy knight and a romantic figure as well, but in reality he was a powerful Pict warlord. Dunstan, being his real name, was an historic figure, the champion of the Cruthni (Picts) against the Scottish invaders in Pictavia (Periklis Deligiannis).

During excavations in 1998 an important finding was discovered: a plate (a culvert cover) with a Latin inscription of the 5th century. The name of Arthur was read in it. During the Early Middle Ages, very few could write and the literate usually lived in monasteries or palaces. Some decades ago it was believed that Tintagel was a monastery, but archeology has shown that it was the residence of a prince, judging by the fortifications and the broken utensils of the 5th-6th centuries. Most of the broken pieces came from expensive cups and jugs: such utensils were usually used by rich Celtic and Romano-Briton kings to drink Mediterranean wines. It is believed that the ruler of Tintagel was quite wealthy and powerful, and that his “palace” was in the fort. There are no ruins of it today, because the British “palaces” of the time were mainly made of wood. In conclusion, it seems that Tintagel was a Roman and then a Briton royal fortress that controlled the mouth of the adjacent Camel River. The kings of the 5th-6th century used it only a period of time, generally because the Briton rulers were “itinerant kings.” They did not maintain courtyards or permanent capitals but moved from one fort of their territory to another. Tintagel was possibly the summer residence of the local warlord-king.

The Arthurian legend indicates the existence of two “magical” swords.

Young Arthur was proclaimed king of the Britons when he pulled with ease Uther’s royal sword, which was spiked on a rock. The other pretenders of the throne failed when they tried to pull it. Several British archaeologists believe that the theme of the sword stuck on a rock, originates from the technical construction of the Bronze Age swords. The molten brass was poured into a stone mold, consisting of two parts which were connected tightly together by rivets. The mold was heated to the same temperature as the brass and then it was allowed to return to its natural temperature. Then the coppersmith removed the nails that held the two parts of the stone cast and pulled (using muscular effort) the sword that had been formed, as did Arthur with Uther’s sword. However, in my opinion this explanation is not convincing. The Sarmatian origin of the legend of the sword spiked on a rock is more likely (This will be discussed in later reports in September 2018, September 2019 and September 2020). The Sarmatians were an important North Iranian people of the Eurasian steppe, whose branches were scattered and settled in various regions of Europe, including Britain (members of the Iazygae and Alani tribes, as mercenaries of the Romans). It is significant that their main deity was worshiped in the form of a sword spiked on the ground or on  a rock.

Concerning the second magical sword, according to legend when King Arthur needed a new sword, the Lady of the Lake emerged from the water and handed him the sword Excalibur. The links between King Arthur, the Lady of the lake and ancient Iran’s Goddess Anahita are discussed in the following: