Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia

The article “Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia” written by Mahbod Khanbolouki was originally published in the Ancient Origins venue on January 21, 2015. The version printed below has been slightly edited.

Readers interested in this topic can also read and download the below article as well:

Farrokh, K. (2014). An Overview of the Historical Circumstances that led to the Revolts of Babak Khorramdin. Persian Heritage, Volume XIX, No. 74, Summer, pp.21-23.

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The Umayyad- and Abbasid Caliphate of the Arabs had invaded and occupied the Sassanid Persian empire for 144 years when in 10 July 795 CE, a child was born in a village called Balal Abad situated near modern day Ardabil in northwestern Iran. This child would grow up to become the most prominent rebel leader of the Persians and he would create the largest rebel force the Arabs had ever faced anywhere in the Islamic Caliphate. He fought the invading Arabs for regaining control over Persian territories in order to liberate the Persian people and to restore Persian culture. He would be known as Babak Khorramdin.

Babak lost his father Merdas in his early childhood which resulted in him taking on the responsibility of his family, including his mother and his two younger brothers. His mother Mahrou worked as a nurse for infants while Babak himself worked as a cowherd until he was twelve years old. By the age of eighteen he was already involved in arms trade and business. He enjoyed music and singing and learned to play the Persian string instrument called tambour. A number of stories have been told about him. One story says that Babak was sleeping under a tree during an afternoon when his mother saw his hair and chest drenched in blood. But when his mother quickly woke him up and he stood on his feet, all blood had vanished and he was unharmed. Based on what she had witnessed, she told Babak that he had a great task ahead of him.

A conjectural image Babak Khorramdin (Source: Ancient Origins). Note the Bazz castle in the mountainous background.

The Khorramian sect

One winter day, a wealthy man named Javidan Shahrak was on the way home from the city of Zanjan where he had gained the leadership of a Persian rebel group called the Khorramian sect established in the nearby highlands. Due to a violent snow storm, Javidan couldn’t continue his journey and had to find shelter. By chance, he found the home of Babak and knocked on the door. His mother welcomed him into their home and lit a fire for him. During his stay, Babak took care of Javidan’s horses and showed good manners towards the guest. His level of intelligence impressed Javidan and when the time had come for Javidan to leave, he asked Mahrou whether he could take Babak with him to work in his farms. Javidan also promised her that he would send plenty of money. She accepted his request and by this event, Babak joined the Khorramian rebel group and Javidan became Babak’s role model and teacher. After some time, Babak gained the name Khorramdin, meaning of the delightful faith referring to the pre-islamic religion Zoroastrianism which is the ancient native religion of Persia.

As the leader of the Khorramian rebel group, Javidan fought the Arabs alongside Babak Khorramdin around their strong hold in northwestern Persian between the years 807-817 CE until Javidan became wounded in a battle and died in 817 CE. By the time Javidan died, Babak had learnt how to use geostrategic locations, to apply various military tactics and to lead troops. Javidan had chosen Babak as his successor and leader of the Khorramian sect before he died. Multiple rebel groups were scattered throughout the cities of Persia by the time Babak became a leader. Eventually Babak married Banu Khorramdin, the former wife of Javidan who was a female warrior and who fought side by side Babak and his men. Members of the Khorramian group wore red clothes and therefore they were known as sorkh jamegan among people, meaning the red clothed ones .

Beginning of the Rebellion

The same year as Javidan died, Babak started to motivate his followers to come together and to start a rebellion against the Arab Caliphate, and so the rebellion of the Persians begun. Babak started to recruit farmers and rebel leaders from all around Persia and ordered them to go to arms and to spread fear in the eyes of the Arabs. Babak’s popularity increased rapidly and thousands of people joined his movement. There are different accounts of the number of people who joined his rebel army but the number is estimated to be between 100 000 – 300 000 people strong. The army mainly consisted of farmers and when Babak recruited these men, he also trained them for battles. He ordered his men to raid caravans along the Silk Road, to destroy Arab strongholds and to seize villages, which in turn contributed to loss of control in many provinces ruled by the Arabs.

Statue of Babak Khorramdin the Nakhchevan region of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus (Wikimedia Commons). Kindly note that the Caucasian Republic with the name “Azerbaijan” was not known by this name until May 1918 – the historical Azerbaijan is located in southwest of Iran. The region of the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan was known as Arran and the Khanates and also as Albania in pre-Islamic times.

In 819 CE, full scale battles between Persians and Arabs were initiated. The Caliphate continuously ordered Arab generals to fight Babak. An Arab general named Yahya ibn Mu’adh was sent to fight the Khorramian rebel group, but failed to defeat Babak. During two years time, armies under the command of Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid continuously attacked Babak’s forces with no success. In 824 CE, Ahmad ibn al Junayd attacked the Khorramian rebel group but ended up captured by Babak. In 827 CE, the Arabs under the command of Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi attacked and became victorious but could not capture Babak and his closest men. In 829 CE, Babak returned to restore his strongholds and defeated Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi who ended up getting killed while his Arab army suffered heavy losses.

An image of Babak Khorramdin (Source: Ancient Origins).

The stronghold of the Khorramian rebel group was the Castle of Babak which is situated on an altitude of 2600 metres on the mountain Badd (also known as Bazz). The castle is surrounded by mountains and ravines which during ancient times provided protection from invading troops. A handful of Khorramian soldiers could easily wipe out thousands of enemies and the castle was impossible to invade during winter seasons. It was built during the Sassanid dynasty (224-651 CE) with foundations built during the Parthian dynasty (247 BC-224 CE). As the brilliant war lord that he was, Babak Khorramdin took full advantage of the strategic location of the castle which had an important role in the numerous victories he had against the Arab generals.

The remains of the Castle of Babak which are visited by Iranians and tourists all year round (Source: Iran Tour Center).

In 835 CE, the caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate named al Mu’tasim ordered his best general to confront Babak Khorramdin and to capture him. His name was Haydar ibn Kavus Afshin and was chosen as the governor of the area where Babak was active. He had been a former compatriot of Babak. In the early days of the Persian rebellion, Afshin made an oath together with Babak to cooperate and defeat the Arab armies and to bring back the power of Persia to the hands of the former Sassanid monarchs. By this time, after 18 years of Persian revolts, Afshin had treacherously started to cooperate with the Arabs in exchange for excessive riches, benefits and to be the head general of the Caliphate army. With the help and resources provided by the caliph, Afshin ordered Arab strongholds, which had been destroyed by Babak and his men, to be rebuilt and reinforced. Al Mu’tasim on the other hand managed to capture one of Babak’s men which by torture was forced to exploit information about Babak’s tactics, territorial strategies and about hidden pathways. Shortly before Afshin attacked the Castle of Babak, Babak had sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor Theophilus in request for military reinforcements but the letter did not reach the emperor in time. Babak and his men had to evacuate the castle and flee. Babak himself together with his wife and a few soldiers fled to Armenia while Afshin plundered and thereafter demolished the castle. While Babak was in the custody of the Armenian prince Sahl ibn Sonbāt, the prince was informed about the large reward for finding Babak. Afshin was informed about Babak’s presence in Armenia and he sent a large army to Sahl ibn Sonbāt’s residence and captured Babak.

A 2009 canvas oil painting produced in Tehran by Shahab Mousavizadeh depicting the arrest of Babak Khorramdin (in c. 800 CE) by the Caliphate (Source: Shahab Mousavizadeh).

Babak Khorramdin was held in the presence of the caliph in the city of Samarra and was sentenced to death in 838 CE. Before he was executed, his hands and feet were cut off and it is said that in his agony, Babak washed his face with blood pouring out of his cuts. When the caliph asked him what he was doing, Babak answered that he wouldn’t let the Arabs see his pale face when he was dead so that they wouldn’t think he died with fear of the Arabs. He was decapitated and his head was later sent around the cities of Persia in order to spread fear among Iranians. His body was hanged on the walls of Samarra.

For 21 years, Babak Khorramdin successfully lead a major rebellion which brought the Arabs to their knees one battle after another. Ultimately, he wasn’t defeated by the Caliphate but by treacherous allies. He will always be remembered as the Persian hero who sacrificed his life for freedom and his cultural heritage. He was a brilliant leader and is very much alive today in the minds of Iranians just as he was back in time. Today Iranians visit the ruins of his castle 10 July every year to honor the great legend and his men.

The 1,500-Year-Old Love Story Between a Persian Prince and a Korean Princess that Could Rewrite History

The article The 1,500-Year-Old Love Story Between a Persian Prince and a Korean Princess that Could Rewrite History” written by Mark Oliver was originally posted in Ancient Origins on May 8, 2018. The version printed below has been slightly edited from the original version that appeared in the Ancient Origins venue.

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More than a thousand years before the first European explorer reached Korea’s shores, the Persian Empire was writing love stories about Korean princesses.

It’s a little-known story that could change the way we see our history. Recently, historians took a second look an old Persian epic written around 500 CE (during the time of the Sassanians) and realized that, at the center of the tale, was the unusual story of a Persian prince marrying a Korean princess.

It’s an incredible discovery. Up until recently, we weren’t sure that the Persians of that time even knew Korea existed. This new revelation shows Persia didn’t just make contact with Korea – these countries were intimately connected. And it might just call for a total rewrite of history.

The Kushnameh: A 1,500-Year-Old Persian Epic About Korea

The story is called the Kushnameh, and, in itself, it’s hardly a new discovery. It’s one of the most popular stories to come out of the Persian Empire, one that’s been told and retold countless times in the 1,500 years since it was written.

The Kushmaneh is a massive, epic poem about an evil creature with elephant tusks named Kus who terrorizes a Persian family throughout the generations. The whole story spans across hundreds of years and thousands of lines of poetry – but the really interesting part is somewhere around the middle. There, the author sat down and dedicated an incredible 1,000 lines of poetic verse to describing life in Korea during the Silla dynasty.

King and Queen of Silla. South Korea, Seoul National Folk Museum – Traditional Korean Costumes of Silla Kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD) (Source: Ancient Origins).

A Love Letter to Korea

Korea comes into play when the story starts to focus on a young, noble prince of Persia named Abtin. For his whole life, Abtin has been forced to live in the woods, hiding from the evil Kus the Tusked. He has only one thing to keep him safe: a magic book that tells him his future.

It’s almost like breaking the fourth wall – Abtin has a copy of the book we’re reading, and he’s not above flipping ahead a few pages to see how it all ends. In fact, that’s just what he does. He reads the next chapter and finds out that he’s supposed to go to the Silla kingdom of Korea, and – after briefly getting confused and going to China – he winds up being welcomed with open arms by the king of Silla.

From here, the story is just page after page of lavish descriptions of how beautiful Korea is. Admittedly, some of it seems a little over-the-top. It says, for example, that Korea is so overflowing with gold that even the dogs are kept on golden leashes. But on the whole, the description is so accurate that modern historians are sure the author must have visited it himself .

Abtin is mesmerized by the beauty of the country, and, soon after, by the beauty of its princess Frarang. He falls madly in love with Korean princess, begs the king for her hand in marriage, and she soon becomes his wife and the mother of his firstborn son.

Marriage of Abtin and Frarang (Source: Ancient Origins).

The Story of a Korean Hero

It’s unlikely that any of this really happened, of course. For one thing, there’s limited evidence that Persia spent 1,500 years being terrorized by an immortal monster with elephant tusks, and even less that any early Persian princes had magic books that could tell them the future.

But the symbolism of having a Persian prince taking refuge in Korea and falling in love with a Korean princess is undeniable. This is hard proof that Persians didn’t just know about Korea 1,500 years ago; they had a deep, profound admiration for their nation.

What happens next, though, is what makes it a really big deal. Frarang’s son isn’t just a minor character. His birth is a turning point in the whole story.

The fully Persian prince spends his whole life in hiding and, when he finally returns to his homeland, ends up getting killed by Kus’s men. But it’s his half-Korean son who turns things around.

Frarang and Abtin’s son ends up raising up an army and leading the revolt against Kus. For centuries, in this story, Persia gets tormented by an evil, tusked monster. It’s only under the command of a half-Korean boy and his mother that Persia finally wins its freedom.

This 14th-century Persian painting portrays a scene from the Kushnameh in what scholars believe could be the betrothal of prince Abtin (kneeling) and Silla princess Frarang (sitting) (Source: Ancient Origins).

A Secret Hidden in Plain Sight

For 1,500 years, people have been reading this story without any idea what they were looking at. For a long time, we assumed that the story was just about China.

In the story, the Korean Silla kingdom is referred to as “Chin”, a name that could refer to either China or Korea. It’s even a plot point in the story, in fact. At first, Abtin, like most historians, misreads the “Chin” in his magic future-telling book and thinks he’s supposed to go to China. And, just like modern historians, it takes him years before he realizes that it’s actually talking about China.

Recently, though, historians have taken a look at those descriptions again and realized just how perfectly they really do match up with Korea . The descriptions in this book don’t sound anything like China, but they’re a perfect, vivid description of 6th-century Korea – a place where, believe it or not, they really did keep their dogs on leashes of pure gold.

A Total Rewrite of History

This really might completely change the way we see history. For a long time, Korea has seemed an isolated, distant place from the Western world; but this story suggests that the east and west may not have been so disconnected after all.

It took until 1653 before the first European explorer reached Korea. That’s more than 1,100 years after Kushnama was written.

We’ve always known that Persia had some kind of contact with Korea. They were both a part of the Silk Road, and we’ve known for some time that Persian goods somehow ended up in Korea. Generally, though, it was assumed that they were just part of a bigger trade network.

In this story, though, Korea isn’t a trade partner. They’re a trusted ally, and they’re so important to the Persians that they literally can’t overcome evil until they trust the leadership of a half-Korean, half-Persian prince. It’s an incredibly symbolic marriage of cultures.

It puts other relics under a new light, as well. In an ancient tomb in Gyeong-Ju, for example, there is an old monument to a Korean war hero who looks an awful lot more like a Persian soldier than a Korean one. Now, some people are starting to wonder if this might really be the monument to a forgotten Persian hero who fought for Korea.

There’s no telling how far this could go. It could change everything about how we see the history of these countries. After all, this is far more than a love story between two people. It’s a love story between two nations.

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.

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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.