Derbent-Krevar-Winter

Wolfram Kleiss: An overview of Sassanian Fortifications

The article below “Fortifications” by Wolfram Kleiss in the Encyclopedia Iranica was originally published on December 15, 1999 and last Updated on January 31, 2012. Kleiss provides an overview of the fortified passages and defenses of the Sassanians, some of which can be traced back to the Achaemenid era.

This article is available in the print volumes of the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. X, Fasc. 1, pp. 102-106).

Kindly note that the article below contains pictures and captions that do not appear in the Encyclopedia Iranica version.

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The present article deals with the fortified passages and defenses that are implied under the term bārū. Certain passes in Persia still feature barriers going back to the Achaemenid period. An example is the stone wall at the Kotal-e Sangar in Fārs, which bars the way from Persepolis and Bīšāpūr to Ḵūzestān on the saddle (not a real pass) between the Mamassanī plain (plain of Deh-e Now) and the Fahlīān plain, and which is identical with the medieval and modern caravan route (today’s modern highway between Shiraz and Ahvāz). The rubble wall that by now has almost entirely disappeared was originally 1,230 m long and extended between both sides of the saddle’s rugged, steeply rising rock faces. The construction has been associated with a wall mentioned by Arrian (Anabasis 3.17), which the Uxians are said to have erected as a customs-barrier on the road between Ḵūzestān and Fārs, and around which Alexander had made a great détour on his expedition from Susa to Persepolis before taking it by surprise (Stein, pp. 39-44; Kleiss, p. 213, fig. 1).

Another wall (Kleiss, p. 214, Fig. 2) was built on top of the pass 36 km east of Farrāšband and 28 km west of the modern city of Fīrūzābād in the province of Fārs. It overlooks the road between the Sasanian settlements around Farrāšband and the Sasanian round city of Gōr (q.v.) with the bridge over the river west of Fīrūzābād, and is, at the same time, a barrier similar to the one in the Qalʿa-ye Doḵtar area north of Gōr (present-day Fīrūzābād, q.v.), a fortification at the northern access to the plain of Fīrūzābād (Huff). The barrier on the pass extends over a length of about 200 m in a fairly straight line from northwest to southeast in the shape of a ruined rubble wall that was once of considerable height. On the eastern side of the wall lies a heap of stones, the remains of a small halting-place or a tower, the exact measures of which are unknown. The dating of the barrier is unclear; perhaps it was built in the Sasanian period and continued being used in the Islamic period.

Fortifications-1-Firuzabad-AerialViewThe Sassanian City of Firuzabad, known as Gur or Ardashīr-Xhwarra (located in Fars province, approx. 110 km south of Shiraz) (Source: CAIS). Gur is built as a perfect circle measuring at 1,950 meters in diameter and partitioned into 20 sections.  The city was surrounded by a primary wall constructed of stamped clay, a ditch measuring at 35 meters width, as well as an inner-wall of defense.

Roads over passes were rendered defensible without any specific effort at fortification, but only through the itinerary and the constructive protection of the pass, an example being the Kotal-e Doḵtar on the caravan road from Shiraz via Kāzerūn to Būšehr (Figure 3). The way up to this pass from the Kāzerūn plain could be blocked at any time at its serpentine curves and defended by means of traditional weapons (Nathusius, p. 160).

The most important fortification in Persia is the mud-brick wall mistakenly called Alexander’s Wall (Sadd-e Eskandar), which shields the fertile foot-hills leading to the plain of Gorgān against the Turkman steppes. This structure consists of a mud-brick wall stretching out like an embankment, and, adjacent to the wall, 33 forts of varying forms and sizes (120 x 120 m to 300 x 200 m) placed at different distances from one another (400 to 9,850 m). The Gorgān wall (Kiani) was built in the Parthian and Sasanian period as a rampart against attackers, and this function makes it comparable with the Roman limes, constructions in England and Germany, and with the Great Wall of China. The Turkmans call the wall Qïzïl Alan, and in Persian it is also called Sadd-e Pīrūz and Sadd-e Anūšīravān. The Gorgān wall is 175 km long, extending from the Caspian Sea to the Alborz and the north-eastern mountain chains of Persia. The remains of the wall end in the west, north of Gomīšān, at a distance of about 5 km from the Caspian Sea coast, which is due to the variation in the level of the Caspian (now 27 m under sea level) and the very flat level of the coastline. As far as is known, the eastern end of the wall joins the mountain-range at Piškamar, 58 km northeast of Gonbad-e Qābūs, its further prolongation to the east being questionable. The wall is at present 2 to 5 m high and about 10 m wide. A ditch 3 m deep and up to 30 m wide runs along the outer side of sections of the wall. The wall itself is constructed of unbaked bricks (50 x 50 x 10 cm) and baked bricks (40 x 40 x 10 cm). Excavations along the wall and in the forts belonging to it have produced Parthian gray ceramics, Parthian red ware, and glazed Islamic pottery.

gorgan_wallAn Iranian map of the Gorgan wall. The works of Dr. Kiani in 1971 were invaluable in helping lay the basis of mapping the structure. The Gorgan Wall is second only to the Great Wall of China in length. For more on this topic see: Farrokh, K. (2010). The Great Wall of Gorgan: One of the World’s Greatest Frontier Walls. Tehran Times International Daily, March 9, p.7.

The Gorgān plain is protected by two fortifications on its western border, at the narrowest part of the flat plain between the mountains and the Gorgān Gulf (Ḵalīj-e Gorgān), east and west of Bandar-e Gaz and south-east of the Caspian Sea. Extending between the foot-hills of the Alborz mountains and the Ḵalīj-e Gorgān coast, the defensive barrier, approximately 11 km long, is now barely recognizable as a very overgrown earth wall with a height of 1 to 3 m and a width of 2 to 2.50 m. The barrier begins near the ruined city of Tammīša (Ṭamīsa/Ṭamīs in Ar. sources) at the foot of the mountains. A further fortified wall running parallel to it is found 22 km to the west, between Bandar-e Gaz and Behšahr (qq.v.; Kleiss, pp. 215-16). The ruins of Tammīša, near the village of Sar Kalāta, prove to be of Sasanian to Saljuq origin (6th to 9th cents.), which is probably also true of both walls (Bivar and Fehérvári). The fortified wall near the ruined city of Tammīša at the foot of the Alborz mountains is built of clay and baked brick (36 x 36 x 10 cm). Excavations at the wall and in the Tammīša area produced glazed and unglazed Islamic pottery of the 9th to 15th centuries. In their strategic function, the walls of Tammīša correspond with the fortifications of Darband (q.v.; Turk: Derbent) in Daghestan on the western coast of the Caspian Sea (Bretanizkiĭ, p. 375, fig. 214; Ebn Bakrān, pp. 81-82). The latter, with their approximately 150 km long wall ascending the Caucasus heights, were to protect the Persian frontier against the tribes of the northern steppes. This construction is also mistakenly called Sadd-e Eskandar, but building details clearly show that the walls are of Sasanian origin and point to a comparison with the structure of the Taḵt-e Solaymān wall in Azerbaijan (Naumann, p. 35, fig. 15). The Darband fortification, which consists of five sections, is about 2,250 m long, from the coast to the western corner of the citadel (arg), and has an interior dimension of 240 to 250 m for the city area. The northern wall features a closer disposition of the towers than the southern wall. Four gates each face north and south, respectively, and the individual sections of the city are connected by additional gates.

DerbentThe Wall of Derbent (also known as Krevar to locals) in Daghestan as it appears in winter. This is an enduring testament to Sassanian military engineering in the Caucasus (Source: Public Domain).

In its structure as a fortified barrier for the control of a coastline, Darband can be compared with the entire complex of the Byzantine-Turkish fortifications of Trabzon/Trebizond. Between the Black Sea and the Pontus mountains, it attains a length of about 900 m and is divided into three parts: the lower city (Aşağı Hisar), the central city (Orta Hisar), and the citadel (İç Kale; Sinclair, II, p. 48).

Trabzon Defense WallsThe Byzantine-Turkish defense walls at Trabzon (Source: Public Domain).

The position of the citadel of a fortified settlement in the center of the circumvallation is rare. An original example is the Sasanian to early Islamic citadel on the conical rock in the center of the round city of Dārābgerd (Figure 7). In Isfahan and Shiraz the citadels lie within the walled city; they do not connect with the city wall and have no direct connection with the environment outside the city wall (Figure 8).

darabgirdThe round city of Darabgerd (Source: CAIS).

The citadels belonging to fortified settlements are usually built on sites offering the most suitable terrain for fortifications. As a rule, they are built on heights within the area of the settlement. Most citadels are situated at the edge of the settlements, are structurally connected with the city walls and have gates leading both to the city and to the open country—as is the case with Herat, Bam, Kars, Van, Dāmḡān, or the old town of Tehran. The last wall built around Tehran in the 19th century surrounded the citadel (the Golestān Palace complex) as the center of the walled city.

Bibliography

A. D. H. Bivar and G. Fehérvári, “ The Walls of Tammisha,” Iran 4, 1966, pp. 35-50.

L. S. Bretanitskiĭ, Zodchestvo Azerbaidzhana XII-XV vv. i ego mesto v arkhitekture Perednego Vostoka Moscow, 1966.

Moḥammad Ebn Najīb Bakrān, Jahān-nāma, ed. M.-A. Rīāḥī, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.

D. Huff, “Ausgrabungen auf Qaleh Dukhtar,” in AMI, N.S. 9, 1976, pp. 157-73.

M. Y. Kiani, Parthian Sites in Hyrcania: The Gurgan Plain, AMI, suppl. vol. 9, Berlin, 1982.

W. Kleiss, “Sperrbefestigungen in Iran und Vergleiche zu europäischen Beispielen,” Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 30, 1998, pp. 213-14.

A. Nathusius, Im Auto durch Persien, Dresden, 1926.

R. Naumann, Die Ruinen von Tacht-e Suleiman und Zendan-e Suleiman, Führer zu archäologischen Plätzen in Iran 2, Berlin, 1977.

T. A. Sinclair, Eastern Turkey: An Architectural and Archaeological Survey, 4 vols., London, 1987-90.

A. Stein, Old Routes of Western Iran, New York, 1940.

Persian in use-Full cover-Print

Persian in Use: An Elementary Textbook of Language and Culture

Dr. Anousha Sedighi (Associate Professor of Persian and the coordinator of the Persian program at Portland State University) has recently published a book entitled:

Persian in Use: An Elementary Textbook of Language and Culture. Leiden University Press & University of Chicago Press (2015); LUP Textbooks, ISBN 9789087282172 | Page extent 400 | Format Paperback, Full color | Price $85 (€ 69.50); To order, please email Leiden University Press at: [email protected]

Persian in use-Full cover-PrintThe textbook “Persian in Use” is a blind peer-reviewed elementary Persian language and culture textbook designed for first-year Persian language students at college level. The textbook is accompanied by an interactive companion website (click here…). Kindly also visit the Facebook page for Persian in Use (click here…).

Persian in Use offers a thematically organized and integrative approach to help students achieve proficiency in Persian language and culture. The book is organized around high-frequency topics and provides a clear set of communication goals for each lesson. Authentic materials include samples of literary texts, poems, plays, film scripts, and even pop songs.

Dr Anousha SedighiDr. Anousha Sedighi is Associate Professor of Persian and the coordinator of the Persian program at Portland State University. She has been teaching elementary Persian for more than a decade and serves as the current president of the American Association of Teachers of Persian. To read more, click here…

Izadkhast-1-old

The Izadkhast Fortress at Fars Province

The article below and the photographs originally appeared in the Historical Iran Blog.

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The Fortress of Izadkhast is located in the Fars Province of Iran, roughly 135 km south of Isfahan. This historical complex has been situated on a natural base along with unique characteristics. The complex contains the castle of Izadkhast, one caravanserai and the Safavid-period bridge. The works inside of the castle belong to different periods from Sassanids to Qajars. The most important section of the complex is the castle that has been built on singular bedrock in a sand construction and close to the valley of Izadkhast. A bridge and a gate in the most accessible part of the complex made it possible to connect with the surrounding areas.

Izadkhast-1-old[Click to Enlarge] An old photo of Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

It is, in form of construction, unique but can be, from the-materials-used point of view, compared with Citadel of Bam, Rhine and many other citadels, castles built in provinces of Yazd and Kerman. The complex caravanserai can be compared with Safavid caravanserais especially the caravanserais in Isfahan-Shiraz Route.

 

Izadkhast-2[Click to Enlarge] Arched entrance way at Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

Inside the walls of the fortress, there are alleyways and passages that criss-cross it. Right by the front gate that goes over a moat, there are many homes that are now fully deserted while some are completely destroyed. According to the locals, as recent as the turn of the millennium, people still lived in the old part of Izadkhast but due to floods in the past two years, the homes were destroyed and people were forced to move. Most of the homes in the interior were constructed from wood and mud. The smallness of the bedrock led to agglomeration of built rooms. Hence, the smallness of rooms resulted in increase of floors, some as many as five stories high which in itself and considering the circumstances of its time is a remarkable architectural feat.

 

Izadkhast-3[Click to Enlarge] Walls and built-in tower structure at Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

The caravanserai at the castle dates back to the time of Safavid Dynasty (1502 – 1736). The front gate was burned down by Nader Shah’s soldiers camping there during a cold night as they were looking for firewood.

 

Izadkhast-4[Click to Enlarge] Panoramic view of Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

The bedrock on which the complex is situated on protected the castle from the foreigners’ attacks. The tall and almost perpendicular height, ranging from 6 to 15 meters, on three sides of the fortress made it almost impossible for enemies to gain access to the interior. And for further protection, on the fourth and shorter side, a moat 30 meters long, 4 meters across and 4 meters deep had been dug.

 

Izadkhast-5[Click to Enlarge] An overview of Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog & Abbas Soltani at Iranian.com)

Many parts of the Izadkhast fortress have been destroyed as they have collapsed due to erosion and flooding. Inside the walled city, there are clear signs of damage from treasure hunters and unfortunately also graffiti on the walls.

Izadkhast-6[Click to Enlarge] An old alley at Izadkhast (Picture source: Picture source: Historical Iran Blog & Abbas Soltani at Iranian.com)

Military Heritage-1

Military Heritage article on Emperor Julian the Apostate

The Military Heritage Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh:

Farrokh, K. (2015). Julian the Apostate. Military Heritage, March Issue, pp.8, 10-13.

Military Heritage-March 2015[Right] Cover of the March 2015 edition of the Military Heritage journal [left] Sample page of the article in the British Military History Monthly article.

 As noted in the beginning of the article: “when Emperor Julian had received the wound [in Persia], he filled his hand with blood, flung it into the air and cried, Thou hast won, O Galilean” (Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book III). Emperor Julian (r. 361-363 CE) had received that fatal wound during his last duel with the Savaran armored knights of Persia…”. The article provides a detailed overview of the life and career of Emperor Julian the Apostate. Following his brilliant victories over the formidable Germanic warriors of Western Europe, the Emperor’s ultimate nemesis proved to be the Savaran Knights of Persia. The legacy of the Savaran Knights continued to endure centuries after the fall of the Sassanian Empire to the Arabo-Islamic invasions of 637-651 CE.
 Julian's failed invasion of Persia in 363 AD[CLICK TO ENLARGE]-Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 AD. Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” but Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants were especially prized as their cabs afforded very high elevation over the battlefield, which was ideal for Sassanian archery ( Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).
 Elite Sassanian Cavalry-Amir Kabir Publishers-1
Turan Tiger-2

Turan Tiger Hunted in Central Asia in the 1930s

The information cited below was forward to Kavehfarrokh.com by Kooshan Mehran on December 6, 2013. It was originally posted in the Georgian National Museum.

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From a period ranging between 1918 until the early 1930s, the Red Army was engaged in battles against the anti-Soviet Basmachi rebellion in Central Asia. The battles were especially fierce near the border to the north of Afghanistan in Tajikestan.

During this time, Soviet soldiers engaged in the hunting of wild game when not engaged in battles. A favorite hunt for these soldiers was the Turan Tiger.

Turan Tiger-1This Turan specimen has just been hunted by Soviet soldiers in Central Asia sometime in the early 1930s (photo undated-Photo sent by Kooshan Mehran to Kavehfarrokh.com on December 6, 2013). It would appear that this photo was taken somewhere along the banks of the river Panj.

The Turan tiger-Male, Panthera (Tigris) Virgata species is now unfortunately extinct. The sample seen below was hunted near Tbilisi, Georgia in the Caucasus. The tiger shown below is believed to have come to Georgia from Iran, before meeting his demise in Lelobi.

Panthera-virgataThe Panthera (Tigris) Virgata above who originated in Iran and met his end in the village of Lelobi, near Tbilisi in Georgia (for more see here…). This is one of the last known specimens of this species of Tiger, now believed to be extinct (Picture Source: Georgian National Museum).

Turan Tiger-2Another snapshot of Soviet soldiers in Central Asia with the Turan Tiger (photo undated-Photo sent by Kooshan Mehran to Kavehfarrokh.com on December 6, 2013). One interesting detail in reference to the trooper walking second from left: he appears to have a shoulder strap with a rectangular flashlight; this would have probably been an ingenious device in the early 1930s.