Family Law in Religious Communities of Late Sasanian Empire: Indicator of Social Change and Continuity

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Haleh Emrani was born in Tehran, Iran where she completed her elementary and secondary schooling. She obtained her M.A. in History with emphasis on Late Antique Near East from California State University, Fullerton in 2005 and is currently working towards her PhD. in the same field at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her concentration is on social history, particularly on the position of women in late Sasanian and early Islamic Iran. She has also created and is maintaining the following professional websites: ( )– Sasanika: Late Antique Near East Project; ( – Bulletin of Iranian Ancient History. Publications: “Like Father, Like Daughter: Late Sasanian Imperial Ideology and the Rise of Boran to Power”, in Nameye Iran-e Bastan: The International Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies, Issue 13, 2009. “A Speech by Nour Hamada: Tehran, 1932,”Journal of Middle East Women's Studies - Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2008. Review of Jamsheed K. Choksy, Evil, Good, and Gender: Facets of the Feminine in Zoroastrian Religious History in Nameye Iran-e Bastan: The International Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies, Issue 9, 2006. *The Political Life of Queen Boran: Her Rise to Power & Factors That Legitimized Her Rule*, MA Thesis submitted and approved by the faculty of California State University, Fullerton, in August 2005.

The conquest of the Sasanian Empire by Arab Muslim armies in the late seventh century resulted in major political, social and religious changes affecting not only the conquered regions, but also Byzantium and its inheritors. The extent of this transformation is still being questioned by scholars, few of whom have characterized this transformation as a break in the general history of Eurasia and North Africa, while the majority view it as a lesser historical transition and emphasize the continuity with the past.
One aspect of the social history of the region allowing us to examine a single facet of this transition is the position of women in the different religious communities under the Late Sasanian and early Islamic rules. The Late Sasanian Empire was comprised of different ethnic and religious groups living side-by-side under a common system of administration hovering over a collection of communal legal systems. The most prominent of these religious communities were Mazdean, Jewish and Christian. This religious make-up was preserved in the conquered territories for two centuries after the Islamic conquest. This paper attempts to point out some of the social changes resulting from the transfer of power from Sasanian to Islamic rule based on a comparative study of a few specific aspects of family law in the selected religious communities. The main sources to be considered are legal rulings as preserved in Mādayān ī Hazār Dādestān (MHD; 1st half of 7th century) Dādestān ī Dēnīg (DD; 9th century), the Pahlavi Rivāyats of Aturfarnbag and Farnbag Srōš (AFS, 1st half of 9th century) and Rivāyatt-ī Hēmīt-ī Ašawahistān (RHA, 10th century) for the Mazdeans. For the Jewish community some rulings in the Babylonian Talmud will be compared to the later gaonic writings. Finally, for the Christian community, the records of the synods from the 5th to the 9th centuries, as preserved in the Synodicon Orientale and the law-book of Ishobokht will be examined. The proposed study should contribute to the social history of the Late Sasanian Empire and should construct a more plausible picture of its position within the framework of Late Antiquity.'

Academic Discipline : 
Near Eastern History
Time Period : 
Up to the 9th century
Other : 
3rd-7th c.

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