Lara Fabian – Caspian Currents: Connecting Ancient Iran to a Wider Eurasian Context

Published: March 7, 2023

Caspian Currents: Connecting Ancient Iran to a Wider Eurasian Context

Lara Fabian

Monday, March 13, 2023 at 3:00pm, Kaplan Hall 348

In this talk, I explore what happened when expanding Iranian empires met the “Circumcaspian system”—a constellation of patterns of mobility, exchange, and interaction that played out around the Caspian Sea over millennia. This framework helps us to see the processes that brought first Achaemenid, then Arsacid, and eventually Sasanian powers into ever deeper contact with the diverse territories of the Caspian Sea. Moreover, it calls our attention to the network standards that developed as a result of the imperial expansion, which made sociopolitical actors in the space increasingly legible to one another, facilitating increased cooperation, but also competition.

To illustrate this process, I draw on multi-scalar archaeological and historical evidence concerning the eastern Caucasus, with a focus on trade and elite interaction¬—vectors of connectivity that help us understand the shape of regional networks at different scales and within different social strata. This exploration re-integrates the eastern Caucasus within broader patterns that crosscut the Iranian, Steppe, and Mediterranean worlds. But it moreover argues for the importance of the Caspian Sea—and its oft-overlooked northern axis of connectivity—in the development of the Iranian space.

About the Speaker

Lara Fabian is an archaeologist whose research focuses on communities in the South Caucasus between the rise of the Achaemenid and Sasanian empires. Her scholarship examines how local communities interacted with and reacted to the pan-regional political structures on their borders, considering state and imperial formations (e.g., the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Arsacid, Roman, etc.) and also mobile pastoralist federations (e.g., the Sarmatians and Alans).

Her current fieldwork, a collaborative project she co-directs in the Lerik region of Azerbaijan, considers these issues at a microscale, examining lifeways in a ‘marginal’ highland landscape in the Late Iron Age through Medieval periods. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2017, she has worked as part of the “Beyond the Silk Road” project at the University of Freiburg, where she has contributed to the development of a three-volume handbook on economic developments across Eurasia between 300 BCE and 300 CE. Her current book project, “Administering the Margins,” uses examples from the South Caucasus to illustrate the material instantiations of the spread of administrative practices along imperial edges. Her research is also informed by historiographic and reception studies on the development of thought about ‘antiquity’ and the question of Iran in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and post-Soviet Eurasia.