Religion of Parthian Iran: A Matter of Complexity – New Evidence from Ancient Elymais

Recorded: February 20, 2020
Event: Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium

by Vito Messina (University of Torino)

Religion of Parthian Iran: A Matter of Complexity – New Evidence from Ancient Elymais

Literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence all demonstrate that the religions of Arsacid Iran is a matter of complexity. The attested religious beliefs and practices reflect the cultural variability of a global empire, encompassing different regions, populations, backgrounds, and even languages. Within this framework, cults and devotion are difficult to address if not considered as part of this complex phenomenon. The degree of complexity increases with the growth of available information, as demonstrated by new data from ancient Elymais (nowadays Khuzestan), the region of Parthian Iran in which monumental religious architecture and sculpture are documented more widely than elsewhere. Surveys and excavations conducted in the highlands of Khuzestan provide new insights on the complexity of religion in that region. Not only have new monumental religious buildings been discovered, which may be classified together with the famous cult terraces of Masǰed-e Soleymān and Bard-e Nešānda, but the coexistence of religious and funerary practices in the same archaeological context was also detected in one of the most important cult places of ancient Iran: the sanctuary of Shami. In the present essay, these insights are discussed in the light of the evidence that was acquired particularly during field surveys and excavations conducted by the Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzestan, with the purpose of offering new insights into this never-ending debate.