Journal Article: Caucasian Albanian warriors in the armies of pre-Islamic Iran

The HISTORIA I ŚWIAT academic journal has published the following article by Kaveh Farrokh, Javier Sánchez-Gracia (HRM Ediciones, Zaragoza, Spain), and Katarzyna Maksymiuk (Siedlce University, Poland):

Farrokh, K., Sánchez-Gracia, J., & Maksymiuk, K. (2019). Caucasian Albanian warriors in the armies of pre-Islamic Iran. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, 8, pp.21-46.

The article discusses the important role of ancient Albania, an ancient country in the Caucasus (in the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, first labelled with this appellation in May 1918) in the history of Iran. Albanian cavalry was serving with the later Achaemenid armies of Darius III (r. 336–330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

An Albanian-Scythian cavalry commander from the late Achaemenid era (Source: Pinterest). Cavalry of this type from Albania fought for Darius III against Alexander at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

Albania was transformed into a Sassanian province by Šāpūr I (c. 253) with the Albanians (notably their cavalry) becoming increasingly integrated into the battle order of the Sassanian Spah (army).

Book cover of “The Siege of Amida” authored by Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia (2018) DC – click here to download in pdf from Academia.edu … The above image is a recreation by Ardashir Radpour of a Sassanian Savaran knight of the Hamharzan who were often supplied with the highest quality weaponry. Elite Albanian knights fighting alongside the Savaran would have resembled their comrade in arms with respect to attire, equipment and battle tactics. The above book was displayed at the 2018 ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) Conference’s LSS (Library of Social Sciences) display in Washington DC.

All along the Caspian coast the Sassanians built powerful defense works, designed to bar the way to invaders from the north. The most celebrated of these fortifications are those of Darband in Caucasian Albania.

A view of the Darband Wall (known commonly as Derbent; cited as Krevar in local dialects) in Daghestan, Northern Caucasus (Courtesy of Associates of Eduard Enfiajyan).  The origins of the wall of Darband are generally attributed to Kavad I (r. 488-496, 498-530 CE) who after a two-year war (489-490 CE) ejected Khazar invaders rampaging Armenia and Caucasian Albania (modern Republic of Azerbaijan). Construction of the wall was continued by Khosrow I (r. 530-579 CE) and by the late 6th century CE, this had become a system of walls connecting a series of fortresses. Total length of the Darband wall is nearly 70 km, spanning the territory from the Caucasus Mountains to the Caspian Sea. The Wall of Darband or Derbent became a major military fortress shielding Iranian territories in the Caucasus and the historical Azarbaijan below the Araxes River from nomadic attackers along the northern Caucasus, most notably the Khazars.

Albania remained an integral part of the Sasanian army well into the empire’s final days as evidenced by the military exploits of Albanian regal prince Javanshir (Persian: Young Lion) and his cavalry who fought against the Arabo-Islamic invaders at the Battle of Qadissiya (637 CE) and after. Javanshir was a member of the Iranian Mehranid family related to the Parthian clans.

A copy of the 7th century CE statue of the Caucasian Albanian Prince Javanshir (Persian: Young Lion) discovered in Nakhchevan, southern Caucasus (the original statue is housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg – the above copy of the original is in the Republic of Azerbaijan History Museum) (Source: Urek Meniashvili in Public Domain).

The 2,800 Year Embrace in the Hasanlu Tomb

One of the most remarkable finds from ancient Iran pertains to skeletons of a male and a female discovered in a tomb at Tappeh Hasanlu, located in Naqadeh, West Azerbaijan Province, northwest Iran. As noted in the Ancient Origins website:

“The human remains of the “Hasanlu Lovers” were found in a bin with no objects. The only feature found is a stone slab under the head of the skeleton on the left hand side. The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania led by Robert Dyson back in 1972.”

The “Lovers of Hasanlu” (Source: Ancient Origins website). As noted in the Ancient Origins website: “The two skeletons are close together facing each other, while the female skeleton on the left reaching out its right hand to touch the face of her lover on the right. They both have their arms around each other and have clear signs of severe injury and trauma on their bodies sustained around the time of their death. Experts believe that they died together by asphyxiation during the destruction of the Teppe Hasanlu citadel”.

The Hasanlu region in Iran’s northwest region was already settled by Iranian speaking peoples at the time and that these are most likely of the Avestan culture of which one of its manifestations was the Zoroastrian religion.The photo of the Hasanlu tomb containing the skeletons of a male and female in embrace were discussed by Kaveh Farrokh in his lecture “Women in Ancient Iran” during a conference on Iranian Women at Portland State University (April 20, 2013).

The main set of Zoroastrian texts composed in Avestan promote ideas of gender parity, which was a reflection of the nature of early Iranian society (Schwartz, 2007, pp. 4). As noted by Hintze this feature provides “a modern appearance on this ancient [Zoroastrian] religion” (2003, pp.  403). The egalitarianism of Women and Men is emphasized in Zoroastrianism , especially with respect to the honored status of women who are recognized as: “…men’s partners in the common struggle against evil” (Boyce, 1972, pp. 308, footnote 83).

 

A reconstruction by Cernenko and Gorelik of the north-Iranian Saka or Scythians in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F). The ancient Avestan Iranians (those in ancient Persia and the ones in ancient Eastern Europe) often had women warriors and chieftains, a practice not unlike those of the contemporary ancient Celts in ancient Central and Western Europe. What is also notable is the costume of the Iranian female warrior – this type of dress continues to appear in parts of Luristan in Western Iran. 

The equality message of Zoroastrianism is declared by use of very specific and inclusive terminology. Four times in Yasna Haptaŋhāiti:

  1. Nar (man) and nāirī– “woman” are deliberately arranged together:
  2. Twice as part of fixed expression nāirī “a man or a woman” (Yasna Haptaŋhāiti: 35.6, 41.2)
  3. Twice as narąmcā nāirinąmcā “of men and women” (Yasna Haptaŋhāiti: 37.3, 39.2).
  4. iθānarō aθā jə̄naiiō (thus … men, so also women) (in Yasna Haptaŋhāiti, 53.6).

A diagram of Hasanlu Tepe, which is situated to the south of Lake Urmia iin Iran’s northwest (Source: Penn Museum).

Women are described as having moral and religious equality with men. For example, one of the Zoroastrian prayers beseech Aryaman to Nərəbiiascā Nāiribiiascā Zaraθuštrahe (come to the aid of the men and women of Zarathustra). As noted in the Holy Gathas (Aiwisruthrem Gah 9):

“We venerate the righteous woman who is good in thoughts, words, and deeds, who is well-educated, is an authority on religious affairs, is progressively serene, and is like the women who belong to the Wise God.”

In the Younger Avestan both sexes are warned:

“Nōit̰  cahmi zazuua yō nōit̰ urune zazuua. Nōit̰ cahmi zazuši yā nōit̰ urune zazuši” (He has not won anything who has not won [anything] for his soul. She has not won anything who has not won [anything] for her soul) (fragment FrD.3; Hoffmann, 1968, pp. 288).

As noted by Nigosian, in the Zoroastrian faith:

no distinction is made between the gendersboth occupy the same place of honor…on the same level in…power (1993, pp.81).

The Ancient Site of Takhte Sulaiman

The article “The Ancient Site of Takhte Soleyman [Suleiman]” below written by Ḏḥwty was originally posted on the Ancient Origins website on May 24, 2015.

The version produced below has been slightly edited. Kindly note that excepting one photo, all other images and accompanying captions did not appear in the original Ancient Origins posting.

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Between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE, Iran was part of the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival in the East. Under this empire, Zoroastrianism was recognized as the state religion, and numerous Zoroastrian sanctuaries were built by the Sassanian rulers as a sign of their piety. One of the most important of these sanctuaries is found at a site known as Takht-e-Soleyman (or Takhte Suleiman).

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).

Takht-e-Soleyman (meaning ‘The Throne of Solomon’) is located in West Azarbaijan province, in the north-west Iran. The site is located in a valley about 2000m (6500ft) above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains. In the middle of the valley is an oval platform rising about 60m above the surrounding plain that measures about 350m by 550m (1150ft by 1800ft). Located on the platform is a lake fed by springs hidden beneath the surface. Saturated with minerals, the water of this lake is neither drinkable nor able to support any life. An ancient volcano, known as Zendan-e-Soleyman (meaning ‘The Prison of Solomon’) is located about 3km to the west of the site. According to folk legend, King Solomon used to imprison monsters inside the 100m deep crater. Given its stunning natural landscape, it is little wonder that Takht-e-Soleyman was perceived as a mystical site by the ancients.

 

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

The region of Takht-e-Soleyman was considered sacred, worship was conducted there even prior to the arrival of the Sassanians. Around the Zendan-e-Soleyman area, the remains of temples and shrines have been discovered. These traces of structures have been dated to the 1st millennium BCE, and are associated with the Manneans, rulers of the region between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. The volcanic crater was once full of water (but later dried out), a feature that probably attracted the Manneans to build their temples and shrines there.

The ruins and crater at Takht-e-Soleyman Throne of Soloman, Iran in 2006 (Source: Ḏḥwty in Ancient Origins).

With the arrival of the Sassanians in that region in the 5th century CE, Zendan-e-Soleyman lost its importance to Takht-e-Soleyman. During the middle of the same century, during the reign of Peroz, construction began at the site. In the following century, Takht-e-Soleyman became a royal Zoroastrian sanctuary during the reigns of Khosrow I and Khosrow II. This site became one of the most important sanctuaries in Zoroastrianism as its temple housed the Ādur Gušnasp. This was a sacred fire of the highest order, and one of the three great fires of Zoroastrianism believed to have existed since the dawn of creation. The Sassanians also built a temple to the cult of Anahita, a goddess strongly associated with water, at Takht-e-Soleyman. To defend this important religious site, the Sassanians enclosed the area with a wall 13m (42ft) high, with 38 towers and two entrances – one in the north and another in the south. These defenses were not enough, however, to withstand the Byzantine army that attacked the site in retaliation against Sassanian incursion into their territory. As a result, Takht-e-Soleyman was destroyed in 627 CE. The following centuries were uneventful for Takht-e-Soleyman, and it was inhabited by a peasant population. It was only in the 13th century that the site regained some of its past glory and importance for a brief period.

A photograph from the site of ancient Kahib in Daghestan of the Caucasus forwarded by Guseyn Guseynov to Kavehfarrokh.com on March 1, 2015. Note that the above archway at Kahib bears an almost exact resemblance to one of the archways at the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province. For more on Kahib see here …

By then, the Sassanian Empire was already long gone, and the region was now under the control of the Ilkhanate, a part of the Mongol Empire but would later form a state of its own. During the reign of Abaqa Khan, the second Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate, the peasants residing in Takht-e-Soleyman were chased out, and a palace was built for the Khan on the foundations of the ancient sanctuary. In addition to new structures, some ancient ones were also reconstructed. Nevertheless, the site was once again abandoned in the middle of the 14th century, following the demise of the Ilkhanate and the subsequent Timurid invasion. The site fell into ruins, and was only rediscovered in the 19th century. In the 20th century, archaeological work was conducted at the site and in 2003 Takht-e-Soleyman was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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).

Sandstorm in Southern Iran exposed Lost Ancient City and Relics

The Iran FrontPage News Outlet reported on April 5, 2017 of a remarkable archaeological find as a result of severe sandstorm. As noted in the report:

” A strong sand storm in Kerman province in southern Iran has led to the discovery of a lost ancient city full of historical relics. The sand storm unearthed a large part of an ancient city in Negin-e Kavir County near the city of Fahraj in Kerman province.

Exposed remains of a building structure (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency); note top portion of an archway leading towards a chamber or hallway. The archway appears to be based on Sassanian systems.

Approximately 5,000 square meters (53,820 square feet) of this site (including relics) have been identified at Negin Kavir country.

Remains of tile-type flooring of a building structure near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

The remains may alternatively be that of an ancient necropolis, but further studies are needed to fully ascertain the function of the site (i.e. whether it was a city, necropolis, etc.).

Human remains unearthed near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

As noted by Mohammad Vafaei (Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization) to the Tehran Times (April 9, 2017):

“A team of archaeologists has been dispatched to Fahraj in order to determine whether the site used to be a necropolis or an inhabitance …”

A sample of pottery unearthed as a result of the storms near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

As noted by the Archaeology News network (April 6, 2017):

“Clay relics, bones, and brick walls have been discovered in the historical site. Further archeological investigations will be carried out to discover more about the city.”

Remains of a piping system exposed near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

As cautioned by Mohammad Vafaei in the Ancient Origins website:

“One cannot claim that an area is historical as soon as several objects appear from under the ground after storms and floods, since they might have been carried from other regions by water or storm.”

Wall foundations remains of an architectural structure near Fahraj (Photo: Laleh Khajooei, Mehr News Agency).

Initial analyses by archaeologists suggest that this site may be sometime in the early post-Sassanian era (around the early 660s CE) to the early Safavid era (c. early 1500s), however, this site may indeed be very much older. By the same token, the authorities and especially specialists are advising caution until full studies are completed. As noted by the Tehran Times (April 9, 2017):

“Big, sprawling Kerman Province is something of a cultural melting pot, blending various regional cultures over the course of time. It is also home to rich tourist spots and historical sites including bazaars, mosques, caravanserais and ruins of ancient urban areas.”

It would be pertinent for the authorities to allow further investigations into the field to allow for the production of more data leading to scholarly papers and textbooks, not just for the find at Kerman province, but all of southern and central Iran.

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.