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The Cambridge History of Iran
  • Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods, Part 1
  • Edited by E. Yarshater

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    The Cambridge History of Iran
    • Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods, Part 1
    • Edited by E. Yarshater
    • Online ISBN: 9781139054942
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Book description

The third volume, published in two parts, is an account of every aspect of Iranian civilisation from the death of Alexander in 323 BC to the advent of Islam in the seventh century AD. This complex period, of major importance in Iranian history and extending for almost a thousand years, encompasses the reigns of the Seleucid, the Parthian, the Kushan and Sasanian dynasties. As additions to the general objectives of these volumes, Professor Yarshater has included in this volume chapters on the institutional, administrative, legal, numismatic, linguistic and literary aspects of the period; and he further develops the scope of the volume by including studies of Iran's interaction with neighbouring societies, of Iran's mythical and legendary history, and of Iranian settlements outside the geographical boundaries of Iran and Afghanistan. This volume is the most comprehensive study published of this very important period of Iran's history.

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Page 1 of 2

    pp 1-20
  • View abstract
    After Alexander's death in 323 BC, his generals divided the empire and for more than thirty years fought one another for a larger portion of Alexander's heritage. One of these warlords was Seleucus, who on Alexander's order had married Apame. The Seleucid dynasty sprang from the Macedonian-Iranian union. This chapter focuses political organization, financial organization and the internal structure of Seleucid Iran. Alexander and the Seleucids preserved the Persian division of the empire into enormous satrapies. As the Seleucid standard was identical with the Attic standard which was followed in the greater part of the Hellenistic world, the trade from the Indian Ocean to the Adriatic Sea was based on the same monetary system. Greek settlers in Iran wanted to remain Greeks. Alexander's colonists demanded 'A Greek education and a Greek way of life' in Iran and after Alexander's death some of them began to return home, since they felt deprived of Greek civilization.
    pp 21-99
    • By A. D. H. Bivar, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • View abstract
    The first fixed point in Parthian history is provided by the startingpoint of the Arsacid era, the vernal equinox of 247 BC. The significance for the Parthians of this moment in time has been variously explained: by Gardner it was seen as the date of a Parthian revolt against Seleucid suzerainty; by Tarn, as the coronation year of Tiridates I, the second Parthian king. The incursion of Antiochus III had interrupted the Arsacid control of that part of the province of Parthia which lies south of the Alburz Range around Damghan and Shahrud. This chapter discusses the the consolidation of the Parthian kingdom. The reign of Mithradates I came to an end in 138/7 BC, the first precisely established regnal date of Parthian history and the campaign of Carrhae. The chapter also discusses the "Roman peace" and its consequences.
    pp 100-115
    • By Leo Raditsa, St John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland
  • View abstract
    The appearance of the Persian goddess Anāhitā in Asia Minor represents part of a change taking place throughout the dominions of the Achaemenians, not the introduction of something traditionally Iranian into new territories. The Anāhitā cult probably represents a fundamental change in Iranian religion. One cannot speak about the Iranians in Asia Minor without speaking about the Greeks, which is without understanding what Greeks and Persians had in common, for they were enemies who respected each other. The Greeks were fascinated and astonished by the outlandish grandeur of the Persians, with its successes and failures, but they also sensed in it a pathetic quality and saw its extraordinary tendency to entangle all but the best of the Persians in illusion and self destruction. Until the fall of the Persian monarchy, the Iranian presence had probably been as intense in Asia Minor west of the Halys as it had been in P.
    pp 116-180
  • View abstract
    The rise of the Sasanian dynasty can be understood as the successful struggle of a minor ruler of Persis not only against his Parthian overlord, but also against a multitude of neighbouring rulers. The main adversary of the Persians was the Roman empire, and the ambitions of the first Sasanian ruler were soon countered by Rome. It was during the reign of Yazdgard that the Christians of the Sasanian empire held a council in the city of Seleucia in the year 410. Shortly after Bahrāam accession in 421 the persecution of Christians in the Sasanian empire was resumed, probably at the instigation of Zoroastrian priests. The Sasanians inherited from the Parthians a legacy of over two centuries of conflict with the western power. With a Sasanian belief in the destiny of Iran to rule over the territories once held by the Achaemenians, it was inevitable that wars between the two great powers would continue.
    pp 181-231
  • View abstract
    It was during the campaigns of Alexander the Great, after the Macedonians had overrun the western provinces of the Persian empire, that the eastern Iranian element became especially prominent in the Persian camp. The majority of the eastern Iranian troops had been mustered by Bessus, who after the Persian defeat quickly emerged as the most powerful of the Persian leaders under Darius III. After the assassination of the king, it was Bessus who assumed the royal prerogatives, and retired to his satrapy of Bactria to carry on the struggle against Alexander in eastern Iran. The complex and disturbed succession of the later Indo-Bactrian rulers was to a large extent the consequence of a far-reaching event. After the fall of the Kushan dynasty in AD 225, the provinces of Gandhara, Bactria and Sogdiana passed under the rule of Sasanian governors who bore the title of Kushanshah 'King of the Kushans'. This Persian administration continued until about AD 360.
    pp 232-262
  • View abstract
    Transoxiana was the largest country outside the limits of Iran proper that was from early times inhabited by Iranian peoples - either as settled agriculturists, include the Sogdians and the Chorasmians or as nomads. When, after the victorious march across Asia, Alexander's army encountered stubborn resistance in Transoxiana and became bogged down there for over two years, the Greeks could regard only Bactria as conquered, and felt their position on the far side of the Oxus to be precarious. The Great Yiieh-chih were undoubtedly the dominant political power in a considerable area of Transoxiana in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Connected with them also was a political event of crucial significance for the whole of the Middle East - the rise of the Kushan kingdom as a result of the elevation of the Yue-chi tribe of Kwei-shwang and their subjection of the other four tribes.
    pp 263-276
  • View abstract
    In the case of one Iranian settlement in Central Asia that attained great fame in the first millennium AD. There were two great kingdoms in east of the Pamirs: Khotan and Shan-shan. Most of the knowledge of the political history of Khotan derives from Chinese sources. After a period of intermittent Chinese influence, Khotan could be described as "a pleasant and prosperous kingdom, with a numerous and flourishing population" by the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien, who arrived in Khotan about AD 400 on his way to India in search of Buddhist scriptures. The local literature of Khotan is wholly Buddhist but is not confined to translations of Buddhist texts. It is as a consequence of the reassertion of Chinese power in the Tarim basin under the T'ang dynasty. Even more widely scattered throughout Central Asia than the Sakas were the Iranian-speaking people known as Sogdian.
    pp 277-298
    • By David Sellwood, Kingston Polytechnic, President of the Royal Numismatic Society
  • View abstract
    At the time of the Parthian uprising in 238 BC, the currency circulating in northern Iran was similar to that of the rest of the Seleucid empire. The bashlyk while typically nomadic, was also a satrapal head-dress in the Achaemenian period; its diadem binding was retained by all subsequent Parthian princes for their numismatic portraits. As a result of the downfall of Antiochus at Magnesia, the Greek bonds on Parthia were again loosened and an independent currency became feasible. Mithradates I was largely responsible for the political expansion of Parthia and so most recent studies are in agreement that the coins now to be described were struck by this prince. The Susa coins imply that Mithradates had been supplanted there by some other king perhaps as early as 94 BC. Coming immediately after the issues of Mithradates II is a group of drachms and bronze. The dates on Tiridates' coins permit inferences to be drawn about calendrical usages in Parthia.
    pp 299-321
  • View abstract
    This chapter discusses numismatics of the smaller states existing in the shadow of the Arsacid empire in Southern Iran. It considers coinage of minor dynasties include Persis, Elymais and Characene in smaller states. Being significantly different in types and fabric from the rest of the early Persid coinages seem closest to those struck by the Seleucid kings. The metrology of the coinage derived, as did that of the Parthians, from the Attic system was based on the silver drachm. The prince of the "Oborzos" coins may also have been the instigator of a massacre of the local Macedonian garrison. By now Susa itself had become so imbued with Greek ideas that it was scarcely suitable as a residence for Elymaean kings. During the later stages of the period under discussion, a gradual change occurred in the reverses of the Elymaean coinage. The earliest Characenian pieces stem directly in fabric and design from the Hellenistic money circulating in the locality.
    pp 322-340
  • View abstract
    The Achaemenian, Arsacid and Sasanian dynasties, which together ruled Iran for more than a millennium, their coinages are an invaluable source of information about the history, culture and economic life of the Sasanian state. The alteration in Sasanian numismatic portraiture stems from Iranian national tradition; such changes reflect a rejection of the Arsacid dynasty and all it stood for a deliberate challenge to the old enemy Rome. As regards weight-standard and choice of denominations, the Sasanians at first kept strictly to existing traditions. The silver drachm of Attic weight, which even in Parthian times was everywhere the commonest currency, became the chief denomination of the Sasanian state. The formulation of Sasanian coin inscriptions is determined by the political and religious motives of the dynasty. The coin inscriptions are in Sasanian Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and, in isolated instances, ideograms are used. The problems of Sasanian numismatic art are closely connected with those of technology.
  • 10(a) - Iranian Common Beliefs and World-View
    pp 341-358
  • View abstract
    This chapter presents the Iranian outlook and its religious foundations. The Avestan material, although presented in a Zoroastrian redaction, preserves many of the Iranian beliefs which were inherited from remote antiquity and persisted in Iran throughout the Sasanian period. The Indo-Iranian people believed in a number of gods, mostly symbolizing aspects of nature, as well as over man's destiny. Cult gods were another order of divine beings venerated by the Indo-Iranians. The Indo-Iranians believed not only in beneficent gods and spirits but in a number of hostile supernatural beings and malignant spirits. In Zoroastrian teachings the demons and other malicious creatures - all followers of Drug, 'Falsehood', became ever more sharply contrasted with divine beings and acted desperately against the men. In pagan antiquity various myths about the creation of the world and the nature of the universe evidently existed, as their traces can be found in both the Vedas and the Avesta, as well as in the.
  • (b) - Iranian National History
    pp 359-478
  • View abstract
    This chapter examines the mythical, legendary and factual history of Iran. The most important of the Islamic sources relevant to the study of the national history are the "Annals" of Tabari and the Shah-nama of Firdausi. The Zoroastrian religion provides the basic moral and intellectual foundations for a concept of history. The national history begins with the reign of Gayomard. This chapter discusses brief summary and chronology of the national history of Iran. It also discusses myths and legends of western and southern Iran. In the national history, vestiges of archaic times survive in the descriptions of warfare. Although generally counted as a member of the Pishdadian dynasty, Manuchihr in fact begins a new era of the national history. In the national history the legends of the early Kayanians are inextricably interwoven with those of the house of Afrasiyab, the Turanian hero whose feud with Iran dominates the Kayanian epic cycle.
  • 11 - Iran and Mesopotamia
    pp 479-504
  • View abstract
    In 539 BC Cyrus peacefully took possession of Babylon, and the kingdom of Iranian peoples, taken over by the Achaemenian dynasty from the Medes, expanded to become the first real world-empire of ancient history. Under the Seleucids and the Parthians the site of the Mesopotamian capital moved a little to the north on the Tigris to Seleucia and Ctesiphon. When Alexander the Great at last halted his victorious march, the eastern frontier of the Achaemenian kingdom, he saw as the final goal of his desires the rebuilding of Babylon. Parthian art or Mesopotamian art of the Arsacid period worked with borrowed elements of Greek fashion, but these quickly lost their essential character. The drama of the foundation of a new world-religion, which shook both the Christian west and Zoroastrian Iran, was also enacted in Mesopotamia. It was the assimilation of ancient oriental culture into the Achaemenian empire and its Iranian successor states that first gave "Babylonism" the vast world-historical pers.
    pp 505-536
  • View abstract
    During the Early Bronze Age, north-western Iran formed a single cultural zone with Armenia and southern Georgia, which entered into the orbit of what is known as the Kuro-Araxes culture. The transition from tribal-patriarchal organization to independent monarchies in both Armenia and Georgia is traditionally linked with the campaigns of Alexander the Great, and the eventual replacement of the Achaemenian empire by the much weaker Seleucid state. Under the last Persian king of the Achaemenian dynasty, Armenia enjoyed peace and prosperity. The situation in Georgia at this period was different from that prevailing in Armenia. The Romans, and later, the Byzantines, exploited their naval supremacy in the Black Sea to maintain garrisons and trading points at strategic localities in Abkhazia, Colchis and Lazistan. The adoption of Christianity by the Armenians and Georgians was to some extent a political move, designed to place the country within the orbit of Greco-Syrian civilization, and to resist cultural and religious assimilation by the Persians.
  • 13 - Iran and China
    pp 537-558
  • View abstract
    By the middle of the first millennium BC, the combination of nomadic pastoralism and Scythic culture reigned from south Russia and the north-eastern provinces of Iranian settlement to northern China. The secret of silk is said to have been closely guarded by the Chinese. The exact date of its communication to Iran is not certain, but it cannot have been long after AD 419, if the story of a Chinese princess who smuggled the silkworm into Khotan in that year, is to be believed. In art, China experienced the influence of Iran from the 4th century onwards as a more or less direct transmission from the east Sasanian provinces. The chief Iranian influence on the iconography of Central Asian and Chinese Buddhism was however of a more general and theological kind. The full impact of this iconography in China follows the end of Sasanian rule, falling in the T'ang dynasty and particularly the first half of the 8th century.
  • 14 - Cultural Relations between Parthia and Rome
    pp 559-567
  • View abstract
    The Parthians and the Romans were enemies engaged in ruthless and almost perpetual warfare, a life and death struggle which left few opportunities for peaceful contacts. The Parthian empire which the Romans regarded as the second world power was an oriental monarchy. Herodian stresses that the Romans were invincible on foot and the Parthians on horseback. Two commodities which enjoyed a reputation in Rome were "Parthian steel" and "Parthian leather". The Parthian tactics gradually became the standard method of warfare in the Roman empire. The ancient Persian tradition of large-scale hydraulic engineering was thus combined with the unique Roman experience in masonry. The Greco-Roman picture of the Persians as a nation of fierce and indomitable warriors contrasts strangely with another stereotype, the Persians as past masters of the art of refined living, of luxuriose vivere. The Persian influence on Roman religion would be enormous, were people allowed to call Mithraism a Persian religion.
  • 15 - Byzantium and the Sasanians
    pp 568-592
  • View abstract
    The nearly four centuries of Sasanian rule which separate the accession of Ardashir, which have long been viewed as a period of bitter enmity between the Iranian and Roman empires. Persian mercenaries were to be found in the imperial armies, and the presence of Mazdeans on Byzantine territory is revealed by the clauses guaranteeing their religious freedom incorporated in peace treaties. All the repeated attempts of the official Nestorian Church of Persia to dissociate itself from Byzantium and stress its disagreements with Constantinopolitan doctrine, all the protestations by Persian church councils of their loyalty to the king of kings failed to break altogether the accepted equation of Christian with Byzantine supporter and to disabuse the Sasanian authorities. The powerful impact of Greek art on Sasanian Persia and vice versa. Particularly remarkable is the seeming absence of any such revival in the early days of Khusrau II, in the period of closest political co-operation between Iran and Byzantium.
  • 16 - Iran and the Arabs before Islam
    pp 593-612
  • View abstract
    In the Seleucid period, Mesopotamia served as a base for the Seleucid kings' attempts to extend their political and commercial power into the Persian Gulf region and along the eastern coastlands of Arabia. The Parthians and then the Sasanians made Ctesiphon, on the eastern bank of the Tigris in central Mesopotamia, their capital and the centre from which Iranian power radiated over Aramaic, and then increasingly Arab, Iraq. The 6th century was a propitious time for Persian intervention in South Arabia. In the sphere of architecture, Persian influence on the buildings of the Lakhmids, such as the palace of Khawarnaq, must have been decisive, and Persian models must have dominated the architecture of early Islamic Iraq. Persian artistic influences also penetrated across the Syrian desert to the structures of the Umayyad caliphs on the fringes of modern Syria and Jordan, where there was a symbiosis with the local hellenistic and Byzantine artistic and architectural traditions.
  • 17 - Irano-Turkish Relations in the Late Sasanian Period
    pp 613-624
  • View abstract
    Firdausi's Shāh-nāma, completed at the beginning of the 11th century AD and incorporating epic material from earlier times, describes the battles between two equally courageous peoples, the Iranians and the Turanians. In the region of the upper Oxus a kingdom had been founded by the so-called Hephthalites. In 565 AD Hephthalites were defeated by joint forces of Sasanians and Turks, Chinese sources are still found referring to a "king of the Hephthalites", although since their defeat the Hephthalites appear to have been subjected to a Turkish overlord. More important for the study of Turkish culture are the Sakas (Scythians) whose language was also Middle Iranian. One branch of the Sakas who founded a kingdom in Khotan, who were in the Tarim basin, were zealous Buddhists who may have been converts from Zoroastrianism. Another people of the same language group of great importance for the culture of the Turks are the Sogdians.

Page 1 of 2

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