The information below on the Persian (or Persian-influenced) ivory comb was passed to Kavehfarrokh.com by Professor Yuri Stoyanov. The below image and caption is from a text from the Biblical Archaeological Review: “Ashkelon Discovered“, L. Stager, 1991, page 30. As noted by Professor Stoyanov:
“The text…naturally downplays the Achaemenid cultural impact on the “Holy Land“.
Kaveh Farrokh has been interviewed by the Persian Heritage Magazine (published March 31, 2014) and Voice of America (published April 1, 2014) regarding the 300 sequel and Noah (starring Russell Crowe).
Kaveh Farrokh was also interviewed with other participants in the Voice of American Persian program entitled [صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح] “Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah“:
صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح-Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah. Note that Farrokh had already published an extensive retort against the first “300” movie (2007) entitled: The 300 Movie: separating fact from Fiction.
The program produced a lively discussion, but unfortunately the shortage of time prevented the full exploration of a number of points, namely whether (1) the movie is political in nature and (2) Zoroastrianism and the Achaemenids. Five more topics also need to be discussed in two more follow-up postings, but for now, topics (1) and (2) are discussed below:
(1) The proposal that the new “300” movie does not serve any particular political and especially anti-Iranian agenda
It was suggested (not by Kaveh Farrokh) that the movie is entertainment cinematography and not intended to be an anti-Iranian picture. This notion is challenged by a number of prominent Western professors and journalists. Professor John Trikeriotis (himself of Greek ancestry) has begun a petition entitled: Adding a disclaimer or explanatory message to “300: Rise of an Empire”. Readers are strongly encouraged to sign the petition and support Professor Trikeriortis’ initiative.
Akbar Montaser, one of the regular readers of Kavehfarrokh.com noted the following on April 7, 2013: “I still believe there is a tendency to demean Iran. This is done “cleverly”, not intelligently. If one does not see the Truth, the same disasters will be repeated based on history“. It is in this light that readers are introduced to the excellent article by Jehanzeb Dar in Racialicious: intersection of racism and Pop Culture:”Frank Miller’s “300′′ and the persistence of accepted Racism“. Below are some quotes from Jehanzeb Dar’s article:
“I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians”…“300”…represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. …“300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office…suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views…”
The late Samuel Huntington’s Eurocentric (if not racist) formula is unhelpful as it diverts the discussion away from the real causes of contemporary military conflicts, which are for the main part based on economics and geopolitical factors.
Revisiting the notion of “300” being “harmless entertainment”, let us return to Jehanzeb Dar’s article cited earlier. The movie clearly attempts a Eurocentric-style “East = backwardness and oppression” versus “West=Freedom and Democracy“. This is again overly simplistic, as Demos (People) Kratus (rule) or Democracy in Athens did not apply to the entirety of society, especially to women. This is exemplified by Greek philosophers such as Socrates (d. 399 BCE) who stated in his Book 8 that “…one sign of democracy’s moral failure is the sexual equality it promotes” (563b; consult Nickolas Pappas, 2003, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic, New York: Routledge). The topic of women’s rights in ancient Achaemenid Persia, and the views of women by contemporary Greek philosophers shall be addressed in ensuing postings.
The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (established in the 1940s) was tasked to promote inter-American cooperation during the 1940s in the distribution of news, films and advertising, to counter the propaganda of World War Two fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
“…300 is arguably the most racially charged movie since D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. In true post-9/11 form, Zack Snyder’s film turns Brown into the new Black; Persians are depicted as bloodthirsty savages thwarted … by a small contingent of freedom fighters – with noticeably paler skin – looking to preserve democracy at all costs. This eerily resembles Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic celebrating the Ku Klux Klan’s rise … to defend Southern whites’ dignity and honor against what were then seen as recently liberated Black insurgents. Like Griffith’s film, this mixture of race, racism, sex… racialized depiction of freedom, nation, and democracy becomes central to 300’s … message. But closer inspection reveals a subtler, yet similarly troubling idea that has gone largely unnoticed: 300’s unapologetic glorification of eugenics.”
Whether one chooses to agree or not with Osagie K. Obasogie or Jehanzeb Dar, serious questions may be raised as to the picture’s true intentions. By the same token, profound political and ideological divisiveness has prevented the Iranian community (diaspora and inside Iran) from coalescing towards a concerted approach. There is for example no real “Iranian anti-defamation League” to protest against Hollywood producers and international cultural venues in general for presenting Iranians as propaganda targets.
Towards the end of the program one of the participants asserted that there is “no absolute proof that Achaemenids were Zoroastrian“. Farrokh only had a few minutes to respond adequacy and in full, which is why this complex topic, which is why it needs to be re-addressed. In principle, yes, the Achaemenids were not Zoroastrian in the sense of an institutionalized religious system during the Sassanian era (like Papacy of Rome), however the notion that they (Achaemenids) were “not Zoroastrian” is highly misleading.
First, the doctrine of Zoroastrianism versus the religious institution of Zoroastrianism cannot be so simplistically equated. The Achaemenids did know of Zoroaster’s teachings, however these were yet be institutionalized into a complex state religious system, as occurred (in its finalized form) during the Sassanian era (224-651 CE).
There is clear proof that Zoroaster and his teachings were known in the ancient world. Xanthus of Lydia for example, who was a contemporary of Herodotus (5th century BCE), is the first westerner to mention Zoroaster by name (Yamauchi, 1990, p.400). Herodotus (like Plutarch later in the 2nd century CE) does not mention Zoroaster by name, but his descriptions of the tribe of the Magi priesthood and Persian customs clearly point to Zoroastrian beliefs (in Chapter XIII of Herodotus’ The Histories, Penguin Classics, London: England, 1972). Similar classical descriptions are found in Strabo (63 BCE-19 CE) where references are made to the Magus, worship practices and the god Mithras (passage 15.3.13-14 of Strabo, Geography, translated by H. L. Jones (ed.), Perseus project, Tufts University, 2000). For more on this subject, a list of readings are provided at the conclusion of this section.
A detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy. Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.
If Greco-Roman sources are so clear about Zoroaster’s doctrines, then how can the Achaemenids not have known of Zoroaster, or respected his teachings?
Much like later Christianity, when the early doctrines of Christ predated the religious institution of Christinaity, so too did the doctrines of Zoroaster precede the religious institution of Sassanian Zoroastrianism. A (broadly-speaking) similar process occurred with respect to Christ’s early teachings when Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 CE) declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The question is how were Zoroastrian doctrines practiced during the Achaemenid era as ancient Iranian theology was invariably complex (as attested to in Zoroastrian documents). Zoroaster was, in a sense, a reformer of the more ancient Iranian cults, perhaps he was at first one of the followers of the cult of Mithras, but direct evidence is certainly lacking for this suggestion. What is clear is that there is solid proof of Achaemenid respect for Zoroaster’s teachings, as seen with the Zoroastrian Fravahar symbol depicted at Persepolis:
Depiction of the Zoroastrian Fravahar at Persepolis (Photo source: Mani Moradi, 2012). This indicates that the doctrines of Zoroaster were known by the Achaemenids, and they clearly respected these, as indicated by the depiction of this symbol at their regal locale of imperial power.
To further consult this topic, readers are referred to:
Nigosian, S.A. (1993). The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research. Montreal & Kingston: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press.
Yamauchi, E.M. (1990). Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House; see especially chapters 12 (Zoroastrianism), 13 (The Magi) and 14 (Mithraism).
Boyce, M. (2001; first published in 1979). Zoroastrians: Their Religious beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge Taylor & Frances Group.
Kriwaczek, P. (2003). In Search of Zarathustra: The First prophet and the Ideas that Changed the World. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Future postings will further discuss topics related to the “300” sequel movie discussed in the Voice of America interview:
Historian John Trikeriotis is a lecturer of ancient Greek warfare and member of the archaeological group, “The Leonidas Expeditions”. In addition, he created the 300spartanwarriors.com, which is used by schools and libraries as a resource on the Battle of Thermopylae.
Trikeriotis’ article is reproduced below; kindly note that excepting one photo, all other pictures posted in the version below originally appeared in Kaveh Farrokh’s response to the first 300 movie entitled: “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“. All commentaries for the pictures are posted by Kavehfarrokh.com. There is also a section of the History Channel program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians” embedded into Trikeriotis’ article below.
The historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote in Book 7, Chapter 187 (Aubrey De Selincourt translation) that: “Amongst all these immense numbers there was not a man who, for stature and noble bearing, was more worthy than Xerxes to wield so vast a power.” Yet, the Warner Bros.’ movies “300”, and its followup “300: Rise of an Empire” which premiered last week, elected to characterize the Achaemenid king based on the eponymous Frank Miller comic book series. His depiction in both of these films as a multi-pierced, bejeweled royal has greatly contrasted with the appearance of Darius the Great’s son, who was immortalized on the palatial reliefs of Persepolis, and more accurately portrayed in the 1962 20th Century Fox motion picture, “The 300 Spartans”.
A historical reconstruction by Professor Nick Sekunda:Court Eunuch (left), King Xerxes (centre) and Royal Spearbearer (right) (Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey Publications, 1992, Plate B; Paintings by Simon Chew). For more see Farrokh’s “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“.
While this physical transformation in the movie is disconcerting, it pales in comparison to the embellishments with respect to Xerxes’ reign over his forces during the Graeco-Persian Wars. More succinctly, it is the symbiotic relationship between Xerxes and Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus which is appallingly ahistorical. Herodotus recorded through oral testimony that Artemisia commanded five vessels, and added that Xerxes was so impressed as to her gallantry during the Battle of Salamis (September 480 BCE) that he stated, “My men have turned to women, and my women to men.”
While this anecdote may be apocryphal, screenwriters, Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, have significantly expanded the role of Artemisia beyond incredulity. Portrayed by French actress Eva Green, the Queen of Halicarnassus’ influence over Xerxes coincides with her ascension to the rank of admiral in the Persian king’s navy. In a series of vignettes, any officer or official of the court who remotely looks as if they will present a challenge to her rise in power is deftly dispatched.
Fantasy portrayal of Queen Artemesia of Halicarnassus (as portrayed by French actress Eva Green) and Persian Immortal guards(Source: Payvand News). The movie not only distorts the attire and equipment of Artemesia and the Immortal Guards, it also presents a caricature image of both Greeks and Persians in antiquity. For more on this topic of false portrayals, kindly see Farrokh’s “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“.
In what is perhaps one of the most implausible scenarios from this latest motion picture, Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro), as a result of Artemisia’s Machiavellian maneuvering, plays a subordinate role and is essentially emasculated in the process. Furthermore, historicity continues to suffer when the queen in another moment of bravado and posturing declares “I will attack the Greeks…with my entire navy.” While this rhetoric may fit into the context of the movie, in reality her fleet was so proportionately small relative to that of the entire Persian armada of 600 plus vessels that it is highly improbable that she could have had a major impact on either of the naval battles of Artemisium (August 480 BCE) or Salamis.
There is one bright spot in the film which begins with the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE) and ends with the Battle of Salamis. It is the image of the construction of the two bridges over the Hellespont (modern day Dardanelles), which enabled Xerxes’ army to march from Abydos to Sestos. Measuring a distance which has been conservatively estimated at approximately 1,400 yards, while spanning over the Hellespont’s turbulent waters, these structures are considered one of ancient history’s greatest engineering achievements.
Part Four of the History Channel program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians“;this section discusses Xerxes’ construction of the bridge over Bosphorus, linking Europe with Asia.
The battles and several of the combatants featured in “300: Rise of an Empire” have been chronicled by ancient historians, as was the three-day naval engagement at Artemisium. As one of the focal segments of the film, it was fought concurrently, on the same days as the conflict at Thermopylae. However, the fighting at Thermopylae is not depicted, only its aftermath is included. Apparently the studio felt compelled to reference the death of King Leonidas and the Spartans during the last stand since it would validate the application of the “300” moniker in the follow-up film’s title. Furthermore, Noam Murro, who succeeded Zack Snyder as director, continued linearly with his predecessor’s visual style. Unfortunately, “300: Rise of an Empire” also maintains the same approach for rendering much of what is shown on the screen as caricature.
Andrew James’ new book “Blood of Kings” has captured the very spirit of the Ancient Achaemenids. Thanks to James’ deep understanding and appreciation of the ancient Achaemenid Empire, he literally takes the reader back in time to the Persians of old.
“Blood of Kings” is a highly recommended historical novel for students of ancient history. James has succeeded in providing a balanced view of the ancient Persians, one that goes past Eurocentric views and even Orientalism – this results in the reader seeing a more human side of ancient Persia.
[Click to Enlarge] A painting of Cyrus the Great-کوروش بزرگ- as he enters Babylon (Picture Source:Mani-Persepolis.nu). Cyrus’ arrival occurred just as the inhabitants of Babylon were engaged in celebrations and festivals, as corroborated by Greek sources (Herodotus, I, 19; Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 7. 5.15). The Nabonidus Chronicle also states that “Cyrus entered Babylon…the state of peace was imposed on all the city, Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon” (Nabonidus Chronicle, III, 12-22). The inhabitants of Babylon-city are recorded as having laid branches before Cyrus as he entered through the city gates.To learn more, click here…
Set against the backdrop of Persia’s invasion of Egypt in 525 BC, Blood of Kings tells the story of the death of Cyrus the Great, the succession and death of Cambyses, and Darius the Great’s rise to power. Inspired by the magnificence of the ancient Persian Empire, it is one of very few books in Western literature to be written from a Persian point of view, with the story being told largely through the eyes of Darius himself. Whereas many Western writers paint an unfair picture of the ancient Persians, Andrew James has depicted them truthfully, showing them to be by far the most advanced nation of their day.
Part Three of History Channel Program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians” (2006). This section discusses Darius the Great’s Royal Road, the Battle of Marathon, digging of the canal between the Red Sea (ancient Arabian Gulf) and Mediterranean Sea, and the building of the bridge over Bosphorus. For the entire History Channel program see: Engineering an Empire -آغاز یک امپراطوری – هخامنشیان-
Andrew was born in London and studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Trinity College, Oxford, before practicing for twelve years as counsel at the English Bar. Visiting Iran in 2005 and 2007 he was captivated by the beauty and sophistication of Persepolis, and by the highly advanced culture it revealed. After learning of the size of the Persian Empire, Andrew decided he wanted to know more about these ancient Achaemenid warriors, whose armies conquered on three continents, including Europe.
[Click to Enlarge] Achaemenid Akenakes. Note the lion and ram motifs on this finely crafted weapon, both symbols of ancient Iran (Copyright of Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani, 2006 – for more see here… and his Facebook page).
Reading a translation of the Bisitun Inscription while standing beneath the great carving James was gripped by the drama of Darius’s account, and was inspired to retell the story in a novel. Andrew then set off to follow the probable line of march of Cambyses’s army across the desert to Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and in 2008 he gave up his career at the Bar to move to the desert, where he spent three years researching and writing his first novel, Blood of Kings.
The West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus the Great-کوروش بزرگ- allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. To learn more, click here…
To write Blood of Kings Andrew spent several years researching ancient Persian history and military affairs, including several visits to the National Museum in Tehran and smaller museums around Iran. The book not only makes a thrilling read for lovers of historical adventure, but also sympathetically portrays ancient Persian culture and life. Blood of Kings has received such a warm welcome from Iranian readers around the world, that Andrew has already received an offer from a respected publisher in Tehran to translate it into Persian.