Kaveh Farrokh’s book on the Sassanian Elite cavalry has been translated into Persian as the “Asvaran” (اسواران ساسانی ) by Yusef Amiri and is now available in bookstores in Iran and abroad:
The complete and authorized Persian translation of Sassanian Elite Cavalry by Yusef Amiri was published in 2009. This is the only translation that has the permission of the author and the original publisher (Osprey). Please see sample pages (in pdf).
Yusef Amiri has significantly enriched and expanded the original English text by providing footnotes and additional information for Iranian readers using references such as the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Iranica, “Golden Age of Persia” by Richard Nelson Frye, and “Iran under Sassanians” by Arthur Christensen among others.
Book cover of the Asvaran, which is Yusef Amri’s project of having translated Kaveh Farrokh’s original book, Elite Sassanian cavalry in English which was orignally published in 2005 by Osprey Publishing in Oxford, England. For Persian-readers interested in obtaining a copy of Amiri’s text, kindly consult the link below:
A number of monhts ago, an article was posted regaridng the history of the Lion and the Sun motifs on Iranian flags. The image below was originally identified as an Achaemenid seal of King Artaxerxes II (at left) facing the godess Anahita who sits atop a lion. The seal however was not produced in the Achaemenid era, but after the fall of the Achaaemedis and is traceable to the post-Achaemenid dynasties of Anatolia known as Commagene, Cappadocia and the Pontus.
The seal was discovered along the northeastern shore of the Black Sea (Consult Collon, 1987, no. 432) in the region of the ancient Pontus. The seal is in the British museum and not the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg as is often assumed.
Before we discuss (or revisit) the themes imprinted upon the plaque, we need to first provide a sketch of the successor states 0f Anatolia following the fall of the Achaemenids in 333-323 BC.
The Greco-Persian Legacy of Anatolia: An Overview
As Parthia gained prominence on the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, Persian culture had (once again) risen in prominence in Anatolia as it had during the Achaemenid era. Despite the fall of the Achamenid Empire a few hundred years before, the legacy of Iranic culture had never departed from eastern and central Anatolia. The Hellenic conquests had certinaly resulted in political divisions with different regional monarchies, however the:Iranic Culture of Pontus-Cappadocia endured
The Kingdoms of Anatolia, Pontus, Commagene and Cappadocia bore a very strong Iranian cultural, artistic and mythological tradtion which was combined with that of ancient Greece. The kingdoms were later absorbed by the Roman Empire. Eastern Anatolia to this day endures with a distinct Iranic tradition with its Kurdish population speaking a west Iranian language akin to Persian.
The most famous Pontic leader was Mithradates (Mehrdad ) VI Eupator who was raised in the Greek language but also learned Persian (Bickerman, 1985, p.103; Raditsa, 1985, p.110). Plutarch notes that Mehrdad Eupator appeared in “Persian Dress“.
Mithradates (Mehrdad ) VI Eupator (134-63 BC). Mithradates spoke both Persian and Greek and sought to combine the traditions of both Greece and Persia. According to Plutarch, he appeared in “Persian Dress”.
Some Iranian influence even extended to Ionian coast along Aegean. Plutarch had noted that the cultural exchanges taking place in Ephesos (near modern Izmir in western Turkey), were leading to latter’s “barbarization” (Plutarch, Lys. 3). In Lycia, Iranic names become widespread among the nobility (Dandamaev & Lukonin, 1989, p.300). It was this Greco-Iranian legacy that was to inspire Mithradates of Eupador.
However, to characterize those regions as exclusively Iranian is simplistic: Eastern Anatolia bears a powerful Hellenic and subsequent Armenian imprint as well. During the Achaemenid era Greek cities began to be founded along the Black Sea coast Just as the Iranian Magi, nobility & settlers were arriving into the region. A similar process of Irano-Greek fusion had been taking place in the ancient Ukraine since at least Median times.
Just twenty years after the passing of the Hellenic conquerer Alexander in 333 BC, two independent Irano-Anatolian monarchies gained power in Anatolia by 305 BC: the Kingdoms of Pontus and Cappadocia. What is especially of interest is that their subjects claimed descent from the Achaemenids of the First Persian Empire (Raditsa, 1985, p.106). Note the contrast to those Iranians west of the Halys River in western Anatolia:who had become Hellenecized after the conquests of Alexander.
Pontic Greek music performance during the Olympic ceremonies held in Athens, Greece in 2004. The music is of interest in that it contains instruments, percussion and melodies consistent with the Music of northern Iran, the Caucasus and Turkey. The drumming for example i seen in western Iranian folklore music; the genuflect motion is seen in various types of Kurdish dances; and the attire is seen in traditional Georgian costume.
The Iranians of Cappadocia: fought against Alexander at Gaugamela in 331 BC and continued to resist the Greeks, even after the fall of the Achaemenids Empire (Raditsa, 1985, p.106). Hellenization took longer to find its roots in Cappadocia and began a century after Alexander’s conquests. The Iranian character of Cappadocia recognized as late as the time of Roman Emperor Augustus by the ancient historian Strabo who considered Cappadocia as: “a living part of Persia” (Strabo XV, 3.15).
Cappadocia bore a strong Zoroastrian legacy. Despite Alexander’s conquests of Asia Mino, Cappadocia still had many Iranian temples and Zoroastrian magi by the advent of Parthian rule in Persia (Strabo, XI, 14.16, XV, 733). Remarkable is the term of Grand Magus as being second after the king (Strabo, XII, 2.3). This term is found in Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian Persia.
The Mithraic-Zoroastrian temples of Cappadocia also served as centers of worship for the populations of: Armenia and Pontus (Raditsa, 1985, p.107) just as the temples of Media Atropatene did for Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians and other Iranic peoples of the Parthian realm.
By the 1st century BC Antiochus I of Commagne spoke of combining the mythology and cultures of Greece and Persia. His geneology claimed Iranian descent from the Achaemenids and Greek descent from Alexander.
Statue at Nimrud-Dagh (ancient Commagene). Note the combination of tall conical Persian hat (still used by mystic cults and Dervishes) with Greek style of anthropomorphic depiction. Antiochus I (86-38 BC) spoke Greek but dressed in Iranian style and demanded that the local Magi dress like the Persians. The surviving statues and architecture of Nimrud-Dagh shows a clear synthesis of Greek and Persian arts and architecture (Ghirschman, 1962).
The regions of Cappadocia and Pontus failed to attract the same level of Hellenic immigration as those further east and south into Iran and Mesopotamia. As noted by Raditsa,
“…Hellenization in lands like Pontus and Cappadocia meant that the natives Hellenized themselves” (1985, p.112)
Assyriology notes on the Plaque: Heir to a Mesopotamian Tradition
But what of the plaque discussed in the introduction of the article?
It is interesting that the seal shows the sun emanating 21 rays, the same symbol which is used by varous ancient Iranic cults among the Kurds of Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The 21 rays may be related to the festival date of Mehregan (Festival of the Sun-god Mithra) which takes place from the 16th to the 21st of Mehr of the Iranian calendar.
That too is in the post-Achaemenid tradition of arts and its style bears a stronger resemblance to the Achaemenid rather than the Hellenic arts. This was (as noted earlier) found in the site of the ancient Pontus where the imprint of Zoroastrianism was strong.
The plaque represents Anahita superimposed on a solar deity - perhaps the ancient Iranic god Mithras. But is the theme specifically Iranic and/or Zoroastrian? The discipline of Assyriology provides an interesting explanation as to an ancient Mesopotamian tradition that has exerted its own influence upon the Iranian-type seal.
The Achaemenid seal discovered on the northeast coast of the Black Sea and represents the goddess Anahita, mounted on a lion and surrounded by the divine radiance, appearing to a Persian king. The details of the king’s and the goddess’s dress and crown are Persian, but in all other respects the seal is a faithful reproduction of centuries older Assyrian seals depicting appearances of the goddess Ishtar to members of the imperial ruling class. It thus illustrates not only the adoption of the Mesopotamian concept of “divine radiance” by the Persians,
A Neo-Assyrian seal (circa 750-650 BC) of Ishtar (at left) standing with her bow on her mythical lion. She is faced by a worshipper. British Museum. The Assyrian and Mesopotamian tradition in general certainly left a robust legacy on the Achaemenid Persians who succeeded them. Indeed the Aramaic language was the Lingua Franca of the Achaemenid Empire.
Therefore while the Achaemenid (or post-Achaemenid) seal has Iranian mythological themes, its artistic motifs have certainly drawn from an ancient Mesopotamian tradition.
Collon, D. (1987). First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: British Museum Publications.
Dandamaev, M., & Lukonin, V.G. (1989). The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ghirshman, R. (1962). Iran: Parthians and Sassanians. London: Thames & Hudson.
Nissinen, M. (Editor) (2000). Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context: Mesopotamian, Biblical, and Arabian. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature.
Parpolo, S. (1997). Assyrian Prophecies. Helsinki, Finland:Helsinki University.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC), Cambyses (also known as Kambujiya), had sent an amry to attack the Oasis of Siwa from Thebes (circa) 525 BC. The reason is generally believed to have been due to the Temple of Amon’s priests not acknowledging Cambyses’ legitimacy in Egypt, which he had recently conquered.
The remains of the ancient Achaemenid Persian army. Their specific mission was to have destroyed the Oracle at the Temple of Amon. The army never achieved its task, having become entombed on the way by a heavy sandstorm. Up to 50,000 troops may have been lost.
What is unique about this discovery is that the Italian archaeologists Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni have done a thorough analysis of the human bones and bronze weapons at the Egyptian site.
The Italian expedition was accompanied by Egyptian geologist Professor Ali Barakat of Cairo University whose metal detector found ancient Achaemendi weapons such as arrow tips and a dagger. As noted by Castiglioni to the Doscovery News outlet:
“We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses’ time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa…“
An Archaeologist’s Dream: The two Castiglionis (Angelo and Alfredo) engaged in examing the remains of what is believed to be Cambyses II’s lost army in Egypt.
Mainstream historiography had generally been skeptical of Herodotus’ accounts of the event as no evidence had yet been unearthed. The Persian army was reportedly entombed in a massive sandstorm never to be heard from again – until now.
Achaemenid dagger found among the remains in Egypt.
Achaemenid Akenakes as shown in Dr. Khorasani’s comprehensive text. Note the lion and ram motifs, both symbols of ancient Iran (Copyright Khorasani 2006).
Unfortunately the reports regarding Cambyses II and the Temple of Amon have been somewhat incomplete. Cambyses’ conflict with the priests at Amon may have also had to do with the fact that their wealthy estates were about to be more equitably distributed to benefit the populace in Egypt.
The reports have not stated that Cambyses’ actually assumed the position of Pharaoh of the 27th dynasty and was careful to observe and respect Egyptian rituals (religious and secular) (Consult Frye, 1984, p.97; Young and Keall, 1993, p.151-152). The local government administration had also been kept intact by Cambyses (consult Atkinson, 1956, p.167-170). The Temple of Amon was in fact funded and supported by not only Cambyses but also by his ultimate successor, Darius the Great.
The remains of the Temple of Amon in Egypt. It is important to place the Cambyses’ specific campaign in context as Achaemnid kings (including Cambyses and Darius the Great) consistently provided funds and support for the reconstruction and repair of Egypt’s temples.
An Egyptian statue of Darius the Great, sculpted in Egypt around 510 BC, portraying him as the Pharaoh of Egypt. Barely visible are the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the pedestal.
As noted by the late Professor Arberry:
“…Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius ruled in Babylon as kings of Babylon and in Egypt as Pharaohs…the Persians on the whole exercised clemency towards their vanquished foes; usually only traitors were treated with severity. They had none of the sheer brutality and delight in cruelty and large-scale massacre for their own sake shown by the Assyrians” (1953, p.8).
Arberry, A.J. (1953). The Legacy of Persia. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
Atkinson, K.M.T. (1956). The legitimacy of Cambysis and Darius as kings of Egypt. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 76, 167-170.
Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Osprey Publishing. Consult pp.49-50.
Frye, R.N. (1984). The History of Ancient Iran. Munich, Germany: C.H. Becksche Verlagsbuchhanndlung.
Khorasani, M.M. (2006) Arms and Armor from iran: Bronze Age to the end of the Qajar Era.. Legat Publications.
Keall, R.J. (1993). The Achaemendis (559-330 BC) . In A. Cotterell (ed.), The Penguin Encyclopedia of Classical Civilizations, pp. 149-162. England: Penguin Books.
The people of history and today are heirs of Cyrus the Great, one the founding rulers of not only ancient Iran or Persia but a pioneer in respecting the rights of diverse peoples in terms of religious worship, cultures, nations and languages. The late Professor Will Durant has perhaps best summarized the core mission of the Cyrus the Great. According to Durant
“The first principle of his [Cyrus the Great] policy was that the various peoples of his empires would be left free in their religious worship and beliefs, for he fully understood the first principle of statesmanship – that religion is stronger than the state. Instead of sacking cities and wrecking temples he showed a courteous respect for the deities of the conquered, and contributed to maintain their shrines…Like Napoleon he accepted indifferently all religions…” (Durant, 1942, pp.353).
As in Cyrus’s time, Iranians not only speak Persian but are also heir to a rich and diverse legacy of languages and traditions spanning the millennia. It is this diversity and the common link of the Persian language that has made Iran unique and perhaps a defining characteristic that has allowed her to endure across the ages. It is possible that this ouitlook was at least partly an outgrowth of the ancient monotheistic religion of Zoroaster. As duly noted by Graf, Hirsch, Gleason, & Krefter, 1988:
”Belief in a heavenly afterlife for good people and torment for evildoers may have been partly responsible for the moral treatment that Achaemenid Kings accorded subject nations…”.
The video below has been posted in the most recent edition of the WAALM-School of Cultural Diplomacy Journal which outlines the history and evolution of Human Rights: