The study of Late Antiquity has developed significantly in recent decades. Once the sole purview of scholars of the later Roman Empire, the term “Late Antiquity” has come to signify the nexus of cultures, communities, and socio-historical phenomena and processes that converged in the Mediterranean and Near East from the time of Constantine the Great to the rise of Islam and beyond. The political, economic, cultural, and religious ramifications of this convergence are indisputably significant for any proper understanding of Western, indeed world, history. Moreover, although regions, events, and communities within the Greco-Roman cultural sphere still receive a disproportionate amount of attention in the study of this period, scholars are increasingly working to incorporate the study of Christian Oriental, Arabian, African, and Iranian communities in a more holistic approach to a discipline that might more fittingly be termed the study of “Global Late Antiquities.”
The integration of Iran and Iraq into this dynamically shifting field is long overdue. Scholars have recognized for some time that the major transformations of the period were stimulated by the centuries-long confrontation between the Roman and Sasanian Empires. Long the province of specialists in ancient Iran, Sasanian Studies has in recent years been revitalized by scholars seeking to shift focus and bring the field into conversation with other scholarly discourses. Thus, specialists in both Late Antiquity and Sasanian Iran stand to benefit from bringing these fields into meaningful dialogue.
This panel will consist of papers by four well-established scholars whose work focuses on different fields relevant to a broader understanding of late antique Iraq and Iran. Each will give a broad overview of recent developments in their particular field, as well as commenting upon larger themes that demonstrate the importance of that field for our understanding of late antique Iraq and Iran, viewed in the broadest possible historical and cultural perspective. Touraj Daryaee and Shai Secunda will probe critical theoretical and methodological questions pertaining to the conceptualization of the period and the field of Late Antique Studies from the perspective of Sasanian and Talmudic Studies, respectively. In contrast, Isabel Toral-Niehoff and Teresa Bernheimer will present case studies relevant to the question of long term continuities in the period in the Sasanian (or former Sasanian) cultural sphere. Michael Pregill, the organizer of the panel, will provide introductory comments and will be the Discussant. Panel will be Chaired by Olga Davidson.
For Peter Brown, whose work introduced the period known as “Late Antiquity” to many, the late antique world begun in the third and lasted till the end of the seventh century CE. Scholars working on this period in the eastern Mediterranean have largely accepted this historical periodization, but mainly within the geographical boundaries of their own areas of interest. Scholars are now increasingly in agreement with Brown that the Near East and at least part of Central Asia should also be counted as part of this historical paradigm. Michael Morony was the first scholar to put forth a solid case for why the Sasanians should be included in the study of the late antique field. There are, however, some scholars who believe that Late Antiquity is only the purview of the Mediterranean world, and that Sasanian Iran should not be included in the field, mainly because the religious and structural makeup of the Mediterranean world appears to them to be quite distinct from that of the Sasanian Near East.
In this paper, I will discuss how the Sasanians themselves saw the period and whether they perceived a significant shift in the area that they ruled (Iranshahr) at this time. Furthermore, while most scholars of Late Antiquity view the geographical boundaries of the field as the two great empires (Eastern Roman and Sasanian Persian), the Middle Persian and Persian sources provide us with a differing world view than that of modern scholars. I will suggest that the Sasanians had a much more holistic and inclusive view of their late antique world; that is, while historians of the Eastern Roman Empire held a bi-partite vision of the period, the Sasanians perceived a tri-partite division of the late antique world, which for them stretched all the way from China to the Eastern Roman Empire. I will argue that we should also be much more inclusive and take the interconnectedness of the late antique world as the Sasanians saw it into account in our contemporary approaches to the period.