A History of the Sasanian Empire – M. Rahim Shayegan
The Sasanian empire, the last great oriental power of Late Antiquity, which at its height ruled over most of Central Asia and the Near East, before succumbing to the nascent Muslim polity, has garnered vivid interest in recent decades among historians of the ancient world. This appeal undoubtedly owes to the good fortunes and increasing relevance of the field of late antique studies. Indeed, the geographical expansion of the late antique horizon, and the inclusion therein of eastern realms, notably the neo-Persian empire, has allowed the Sasanian polity to break away from its relative isolation, nested as it was comfortably in Oriental Studies, and be introduced as the imperial other to a wider audience. This isolation has not been merely the consequence of rigid academic structures, but most importantly, the result of linguistic barriers setting apart the “late antique” Orient from the classical and Byzantine worlds. As a consequence, and notwithstanding some exceptions, the field of old Iranian Studies has not been able to compose larger syntheses on the Sasanian empire, initiate important departures in methodological approaches to the empire’s history, or innovate on the perplexing questions of Quellenkritik.
Although the benefits of late antique studies for the Sasanian world are considerable, exposure to the industry of late antiquity is not without peril. In the absence of alternative methodological constructs in the core disciplines of Sasanian studies, which could afford an adequate positioning of the neo-Persian empire in the context of the late antique world, the wholesale adoption of late antique conceptions seems inevitable. Indeed, while Sasanian history ought to participate in these over-arching currents, were it only to benefit from their revitalizing impact, through exposure to new ideas, methods, and insights, evinced from contrasting social and political structures across frontiers, it ought also to dedicate attention to questions specific to Iranian history.
In order to address this dilemma, that is, the need to integrate the Sasanian empire firmly in the field of late antique studies, while seeking to explore its particular features, we have adopted a number of departures. Some of the fundamental questions of Sasanian history offer new insights only to those addressing them from the perspective of diachrony, and while the panoramic view of Iranian history, in the context of late antiquity, allows us to identify the particularities of any given age in dialectics with neighboring cultures and polities, the diachrony, in return, cutting across ages, may reveal continuities that represent the formative forces of ancient Iranian history.
The project of a History of the Sasanian Empire, a multi-volume undertaking contracted with Cambridge University Press, shall greatly benefit from the wealth of programmatic offerings on the Sasanian empire, which the Pourdavoud Center proposes to hold, beginning in 2018.
Blackwell Companion to the Sasanian Empire – M. Rahim Shayegan and Touraj Daryaee
The Blackwell Companion to the Sasanian Empire, which is under preparation by the co-editors M. Rahim Shayegan and Touraj Daryaee (UCI), is designed as an exhaustive, but accessible, introduction to the many facets of the Sasanian world. It takes into account both the diachronic perspective, in order to contextualize Sasanian cultural practices in the continuity of Iranian traditions, and the synchrony to expose the extent of Sasanian interactions with empires and cultures of late antiquity. Its exhaustive character, notwithstanding, the Companion volume is geared towards a wider audience, which includes specialists, scholars in neighboring disciplines, students, and informed readers.
The introductory chapter by the co-editors will outline the history of the empire, introduce a new periodization, and provide a survey of the source material, as well as a discussion of the major methodological challenges facing the study of Sasanian Iran. The volume is organized in 45 independent chapters encompassing the sum of our knowledge on the Sasanian civilization, including an exhaustive bibliography and copious indices.
Iranian Archaeological Research Gateway – Ali Mousavi
The number of archaeological publications in Iran has remarkably increased in the past twenty years, but the availability and preservation of these sources for scholarly use have not reached the status these publications deserve. While some resources include abstracts in English, the bulk of published reports is in Persian. The distribution of Iranian archaeological publications is often very limited and these materials soon become out-of-print. Institutional libraries in North America and Europe infrequently receive some of these publications, but most Iranian archaeological reports remain inaccessible or unknown to the wider community of scholars. The creation of a web-based databank dedicated to the consolidation, preservation, and dissemination of archaeological news, reports, and publications would fill the current vacuum. Likewise, a large volume of older excavation reports remains unpublished. The databank initiative would collect and digitize these important works and publications, and present them in English translation to specialized and interested audiences through a dedicated website, thereby contributing to the visibility of current research and developments in Iranian archaeology.
In contrast to the Achaemenid empire, to which a great deal of scholarly energy and publications have been devoted in the past thirty years, archaeological evidence on the Parthian period in Iran, with very few exceptions, still suffer from a lack of comprehensive excavation reports. Historical periods of multi-stratified and important sites such as Susa and Istakhr are underrepresented in archaeological publications. At Susa, these periods have been known essentially through epigraphic and numismatic finds, in contrast to architectural and stratified vestiges common to other archaeological sites. Since Susa offers a relatively uninterrupted archaeological sequence from the fourth millennium B.C. to the early centuries of the Islamic conquest, it is one of the few loci where the transition from the Parthian to the Sasanian period may be studied. In addition, the excavation results of the famous city of Hecatompylos or present-day Shahr-e Qumes have never been published in full. A forthcoming archaeological project at the site of Istakhr is in development with a proposed excavation start date of Summer 2019. Istakhr, which has never been fully explored, was the most important site of Fars from the Achaemenid period to mid-seventh century. Limited soundings (in the 1930s) and surveys (in the 1970s) of the site remain largely unpublished. The proposed archaeological project will add to the knowledge of this area and build upon previous research.
For the Sasanian period, the situation is different, because the archaeology of this period has benefited from a series of both large-scale excavations and exploration in royal sites, such as Firuzabad and Bishapur, and chance discoveries of rescue operations. Given the encroachment of modern settlements on ancient sites in the past two decades, rescue operations in Luristan, Khuzestan, and Fars provinces have been intensified, but the results of these efforts are generally unknown. Among 159 archaeological operations conducted in Iran in 2014, at least four revealed new Sasanian sites and/or structures in previously less explored regions such as Luristan, western/north-west of Fars, and central Iran. Whereas the excavations at Bishapur have been temporarily interrupted, and chance discoveries of wall paintings at Firuzabad did not result in a full exploration of the site, the launching of new projects such the excavations at Gundishapur (2015–16) and the survey of Darabgird (2010) show the priority and attention devoted to this period in the current state of archaeological research in Iran. The results, however, have not yet been fully published and remain inaccessible or unknown. Another example is the excavations led by Mehdi Rahbar at the Parthian site of Khorheh, located between Tehran and Isfahan, which has been published in Persian. This remarkably informative report is extremely hard to find, hence the need for translating and/or making it available for a larger audience of scholars.
Thus, the UCLA Iranian Archaeological Databank and Website project’s aims are two-fold: the publication of old excavations reports not previously disseminated, and the creation of a gazetteer of archaeological sites and their related published reports, with particular emphasis on those with remains of historical periods such as the Parthian and Sasanian periods. The gazetteer will consist of two components, a quantitative approach to enlist all the archaeological sites and fieldworks pertaining to Iranian archaeology regardless of the present political borders of Iran, and to create data layers and analytics, including the relevant published and/or unpublished materials in multiple languages. The website will be linked to and accessible through the Pourdavoud Center for the Study of Iranian World.