Ancient, Late Antique, and Early Islamic Iran: Sources and Resources

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


Maria Brosius


Parvaneh Pourshariati
Ohio State University


by Daniel Beckman / University of California, Los Angeles

This paper examines the interactions between the Greeks and Persians following the Persian Wars and presents a new interpretation of the Persian satraps’ role in these interactions. I will demonstrate that between 479 and 387, the Great Kings of Persia increasingly relied on a combination of diplomatic efforts and defensive military actions. This strategy was intended not only to limit the ability of the Greek states to harm their interests, but also to limit the ability of any one satrap to stage a dangerous rebellion.
In the case of the Aegean region, Persian satraps were presented with a uniquely difficult task. The Greeks living in the area were politically disorganized and quick to launch violent attacks whenever a tempting target presented itself. The fact that the immensely valuable Egyptian, Phoenician, Cypriot, and Thracian territories were also nearby meant that any disturbance in Persian control would affect the wellbeing of the entire empire. Finally, contrary to the Greek perception that the satraps had nearly limitless wealth, the satraps were in fact forced to compete with one another for resources, and occasionally had to tap into their own wealth to finance military campaigns. This created an environment in which it was nearly impossible for a satrap to successfully carry out his King’s wishes.
Because the punishment for failure was frequently death, several satraps opted to try their luck in a rebellion. In response, the Persian Kings divided command between as many men as possible, gave newcomers important commands while powerful satraps were passed over, and controlled finances so as to prevent the satraps from collecting excess wealth. As I will show, this system prevented the satraps from dealing effectively with the Greek states, but it was nonetheless necessary for the security of the Persian Empire: when Cyrus the Younger was appointed as the karanos in Asia Minor, he brought about an end to the Peloponnesian War that was favorable to Persia, but just three years later, he very nearly overthrew King Artaxerxes himself.
This talk will begin with a brief review of the major political events, with special attention paid to treaties and diplomatic initiatives. Following this, I will show how the Asia Minor satraps attempted to carry out the kings' orders, and how the kings attempted to control the satraps. Throughout, I will emphasize the consistency of Persian goals as well as the evolution of Persian methods.

by Abolala Soudavar / Independent Scholar

Official Sasanian documents attest an ancestral relationship with Pāpak, but are only reverential toward Sāsān. Later sources disparage that ancestry or present a confusing scenario. Such a confusion most likely arises when, for one reason or another, later descendants of the founder have problems in identifying themselves with their origins, or the movement that brought their dynasty to power. They thus engage in muddying up their origins in order to conceal what is subsequently deemed inappropriate. In the instant case, as David Frendo explains, adverse propaganda emanating from the Armenian Arsacids must have also been in play. A series of accusations, claims and counterclaims in between the two neighboring countries would have then further distorted the picture.
Frendo traces back the use of the term “Sasanian” in modern scholarship to the 17th-century ecclesiastical French historian de Tillemont, who adopted the dynastic name les Sasassanides from a Latin translation of Bar Hebraeus’ Arabic work, Tārikh ad-dowal, in which he refers to the last pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty as “Banu Sāsān.” The dynastic name (les Sassanides) coined by de Tillemont subsequently generated the intuitive notion that Sāsān was the eponymous founder of the dynasty, and thus added another wrinkle to the problem.
While the Paikuli inscriptions incorporate a problematic reference to a certain Sāsānagān group of people, Frendo demonstrates that in his diplomatic correspondence, Khosrow II proudly claimed to rely on a group of people referred to as Asones or Sasones, whom he proposes to be a “Sasanian” congregation distinct from the royal family. It is the aim of this paper to demonstrate that the Sāsānagān, the Sasones, and the Banu Sāsān, were one and the same, and it applied to a brotherhood organization that Sāsān had constituted and that Pāpak had inherited. Two later dynasties that stemmed from similar congregations, namely the Khorramdiniyyeh and the Safavids offer two possible succession models from one leader to another: through wife or daughter. Chances are that Pāpak succeeded Sāsān by marrying his wife. As for Pāpak's leadership of the Sāsānagān there is ample visual and textual evidence that he was indeed the master of a Mithraic congregation, a position that his own successors acknowledge in varying degrees, according to the prevailing winds of Zoroastrian orthodoxy.

by D Gershon Lewental / University of Oklahoma

The death of the Persian dynast Rostam b. Farrokh-Hormozd at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah during the Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran received much attention in both the Islamic conquest literature and the Persian epic tradition canonised in the Shāh-nāmeh. In my paper, drawn from my dissertation on the changing perceptions of al-Qādisiyyah through time, I examine various literary representations of Rostam’s death and reveal how they reflect different attitudes regarding Iran and Islam.

A scion of a leading Sāsānian family, Rostam served as the power behind the throne in the empire’s last years. Unsurprisingly, the recording of his death involved great embellishment and little can be determined about the actual circumstances of the incident. Arabic accounts depict his end in a humiliating manner, combining ominous symbolism and humourous elements to convey a didactic message about the overturning of the existing order through the rise of Islam. By contrast, the Shāh-nāmeh recasts Rostam’s death in a heroïc light; killed not by an anonymous fighter, he falls in single combat with the Arab commander, in a personification of the clash between the imperial Sāsānian order and the nascent Islamic movement. Furthermore, it attributes his demise not to the direct actions of his opponent but to the appearance of a dust storm, underscoring the theme that fate decreed the fall of the Sāsānians and fortune no longer smiled upon the land of Iran.

A careful examination of the narratives of early Islamic history teaches us much about the mindset of those living in the first centuries following the momentous events of the Seventh Century. By removing the layers of literary embellishment and moralistic exegesis, we can understand better the impact of the death of this Sāsānian dynast. In addition, by comparing the narrative traditions, we can uncover valuable testimony regarding the early development of what might later be described as an Islamic Iranian identity.

by Nahid Ghani / Independent Scholar

Scholars in Zoroastrianism, such as Macuch (1981, 1993, 2007); Carlsen (1984); Mazaheri (1938); Shaki (1971, 1975) and Hjerrild (1988, 1993, 2003) have extensively studied family laws in Ancient Iran. They have based their research on Zoroastrian jurisprudential texts. However, the study of different aspects of marriage laws, with regard to temporary marriage, has nearly been deprived of the attention it deserves, especially the comparison of this kind of matrimony in Pre-Islamic Iran and in Shiʻism.
As most of the original texts in Middle Persian and Early New Persian suggest, there existed five kinds of marriage in Ancient Iran, specifically in Sasanian era. According to “Persian Rivayats” pAdixSAy-zanIh, osrA’InIh, čagar-zanIh, ayOgEnIh, and stUrIh were different marriages. Although we cannot find a specific legal term for temporary marriage in the Pahlavi legal texts, there are some laws, either directly or subtly, mentioning the conditions of such matrimony. Macuch, who believes ayOgEnIh was intermediary successorship rather than a kind of marriage, brings up the question whether temporary marriage in Sasanian era continued to exist as Motʻa in Shi’ism (1985). However, her valuable article inspecting the Zoroastrian laws is devoid of evidence from Shiʻi jurisprudential texts.
This research is to shed light on some legal aspects of temporary marriage in both Zoroastrianism and Shiʻism. It also examines women’s rights and responsibilities in this kind of matrimony, and hence the impact of these laws on women’s social status.
The research has been fundamentally done through primary sources among which are MAdayAn I Hazar DAdestAn (the Book of a Thousand Judgments), RiWAyat Āzar FarrnbaG FarroxzAdAn, RiWAyat Ēmed ASawahiStAn, and Shiʻa reference books such as Sharḥ e Lomʻa and jurisprudential text of Oṣul e KAfi part II. The former is the major source of jurisprudence and even in the law system of Modern Iran, the latter consists of Rivayats in different subjects one of which is matrimony.