Fake Bowing, From the Achaemenids to the Sasanians

Recorded: April 12, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 1
Citation: Nabel, Jake. "Fake Bowing, From the Achaemenids to the Sasanians." Pourdavoud Center: Achaemenid Workshop 1 (April 12, 2023).

by Jake Nabel (Pennsylvania State University)

Two stories of fallacious prostration bookend the encounters between the Greek and Persian worlds at either end of antiquity. In the fourth century BCE, the Theban Ismenias faked a bow to escape disgrace before the Achaemenid ruler Artaxerxes II. Many centuries later, the Sasanian king Peroz I used the same trick as he faced defeat by the Hephthalite Huns – at least according to the Roman author Procopius, who has clearly reworked the earlier story. Scholars have noticed the intertext, but they have not explained it. Why did Procopius redeploy a tale of Achaemenid- Greek relations in his narrative of Sasanian central Asia? Drawing on a variety of sources from Greco-Roman historiography to Zoroastrian religious texts, I put forward a reading of the passage as a challenge to Procopius’ literary predecessors and as a destabilization of the received fault lines, first inscribed in the Achaemenid period, between the Greek and Persian worlds.

About the Speaker

Jake Nabel is the Tombros Early Career Professor of Classical Studies and an Assistant Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is a historian of ancient Rome, pre-Islamic Iran, and the points of contact between the two. Professor Nabel’s research interests include Roman-Parthian relations, the reception of Alexander the Great in Persian literature, early imperial Latin poetry, and late antique Armenia. He is currently writing a book on a group of Arsacid princes who lived at the court of the Roman emperor in the first century CE.