در فرنگ بسیار مشکل است که مجله ایی چاپ کرد که هم شکل و شمایل خوبی داشته و هم با محتوی باشد. مجلات فارسی زبان در اینور آب بسیارند و تعداد کمی بمانند مجله بررسی کتاب٬ به همت مجید روشنگر با کیفیت و خواندنی هستند. متاسفانه یک سری مجله که تعداد آنها در این سو هم کم نیست وجود دارد که بیشتر حاوی تبلیغات برای چلوکبابی ها با رقص شرقی (درحقیقت عربی) و یا فروش مسکن و موبایل و خاربار فروشی و غیرهُم می باشند. اما از آن اسفناکتر مقالاتی است که در حقیقت برای پر کردن لابه لای تبلیغات می باشند.این مقالات به قلم غیر متخصصین درباره موضوع “فرهنگی” مورد بحص نوشته شده اند و بیشتر اوقات در رابطه با ایران بهترین دسته از آنها دستور دست پخت قرمه سبزی و یا فسنجان می باشد.
هفته پیش در شهر کالگری کانادا مهمان برای سخنرانی بودم و در حدود 50 یا 60 نفر از ساعت 10 صبح تا 5 بعد از ظهر به حرف های بنده درباره فروپاشی سلسله ساسانی و آمدن اعراب و اسلام به ایران به بنده گوش دادند (چه استقامتی!). در زمان اقامت دانشجویان آن دانشگاه مجله ایی را بنام پیشماره به من دادند که تمام زحمت تهیه مقاله ها و عکسها و خرج چاپ راخود به عهده داشتند. البته این مجله نیز یک تبلیغ داشت٬ اما بصورت زیبایی در پشت جلد و شکیل گنجانده شده بود و هیچ سیخ کبابی یا زن عریانی در حال غر دادن در میان صفحات مجله نبود. به خودم گفتم چه خوب که در فرنگ جوانانی هستند که می توانند اینچنین کنند.
البته باید گفت که بیشتر این جوانان فقط چند سالی است که از ایران به بلاد کفر آمده اند. آنچه پیشماره را جذاب می کند (بغییر از اینکه عکس خودم هم در آن بود٬ اما اهمیت آن چیز دیگری است!)٬ مقالات نوشته شده که سنگین و گاه انتقادی بود. برای مثال یک مقاله بلند و خوب درباره محسن نامجو و کار و کنسرت او درشهر کالگری نوشته شده بود. با اینکه بنده طرفدار کار نامجو هستم٬ انتقاد این نویسنده محترم را بخوبی درک کردم. قصمت هنری آن و مقالات و گذارش درباره شعرا و منتقدین و محققین تاریخ سینما ایران و مباحث سیاسی بصورت علمی آن٬ همه و همه در این مجله خوب درج کرده بود. باید به این جوانان تبریک گفت.
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The great Italian Iranologist, Gherardo Gnoli passed away this year. He was born in 1937 in Rome and studies with such giants of Oriental Studies as Antonino Pagliaro and Giuseppe Tucci. In 1968 he became the Professor of Iranian Studies and in 1979 the President of the Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (IsMEO). His work on religions of ancient Iran, the date of Zoroaster, ancient Iranian geography and Achaemenid and Sasanian cultural and religious history are of great importance.
UCLA 1997 A. Banani, Mrs. Gnoli, Gh. Gnoli, H.-P. Schmidt & myself
His book published in 1989, entitled The Idea of Iran: An Essay on its origin, provided a fresh study in the development of the idea of Ērān / Ērānšahr in the Sasanian period. Prior to this, it was believed that already in the Achaemenid period there was a mention of (Old Persian) aryānam xšaθram. Gnoli showed that in fact it was the Sasanians who first named their empire as such and it was done so through the reworking of Avestan mythical homeland of the Aryas. One should also mention two of his books, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, 1980; and Zoroaster in History, 2000 which was his Ehsan Yarshater Lectures at UCLA in 1997. I was a student then and present at his lectures and saw the man in person and was able to talk to this great scholar. The date of Zoroaster was a favorite topic of his and the location (Sistan vs. Khawrazm) resulted in many articles from him.
Ravenna in 2003
He also founded the Societas Iranologica Europaea, 1983, where the study of Iran became organized and every four years a major conference took place in Europe. He was the most important European scholar in the promotion of Iranian Studies in Italy and in Europe. Under his guidance more Italian Iranologists have appeared and have worked on ancient Iran than any time before. Furthermore, Gnoli was a kind and encouraging scholar who always supported younger and upcoming scholars in the field. From the little contact that I had with him he was very kind to me and pointed out in areas that he agreed with me (I was influenced by his study of geography of the ancient Iranian world) and when he thought I was wrong. One of last times I saw and talked to him was at the conference on Iranian Identity in Rome in 2005, where the favorite topic of mine was discussed in his keynote speech (Ērānšāhr). There is a humanity and friendliness to many of the Italian scholars in the field which has affinities to the people of my own homeland. Gnoli, with all his greatness, was one of them. His leadership and generosity will be sorely missed in the field of ancient Iranian Studies.
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There are several walls in antiquity which receive much attention in history books and scholarly works. The first and foremost is the Great Wall of China which was put together as a whole during the Ming Dynasty, between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries CE. Part of the wall was built much earlier, but no such thing existed in a contiguous manner till the Ming period. The other is the famous Hadrian’s Wall and the more northern Antonine Wall built in the second century CE by the Romans. Both had similar function in that it attempted to keep outsider away from their empires. But the longest continuous wall built in antiquity was not in China or Rome, but in Iran in Late Antiquity! This wall is called of Sadd-e Iskandar (Barrier of Alexander) or otherwise known as Gizil Yilan (Red Snake).
There have been several studies on wall systems in Iran dealing with the Sadd-ī Iskandar as well (Frye 1977; Bivar & Fehèrvéri 1966). Sadd-e Iskandar runs across the Turkmen steppe from the Caspian Sea to the mountains and it has been the subject of a very good study by a group of Iranian and Western archaeologists in the past decade. According to the recent excavators, the wall is some 195 km. long with some 33 forts, and in fact is the longest ancient wall built in antiquity! (Nokandeh & Sauer 2006: 127), a huge engineering feat for its period. The wall has been dated to the fifth century and early sixth CE, no doubt being built as a defensive mechanism against the Hephthalites and other nomadic people trying to enter Iranshahr (Empire or Realm of the Iranians) (163). As Nokandeh, Sauer et. al., have correctly stated the wall “bears the hallmarks of a powerful demonstration of military superiority and an effective security measure against future threats.” (167). The Hephthalites were one of these forces which threatened the Sasanian Empire in the Fifth century CE.
I was able to see the wall some years ago with the late Iraj Afshar and Khodadad Rezakhani. Once you stand by the wall you can see the clear division between the Sasanian Empire as they saw it and that of the steppes where the nomads and later other settled people appeared. Not only the management and upkeep of the wall must have taken much money and manpower, but its protection was expensive. There are a number of klin workshops along as well which tell us that they made the bricks for the wall right at the site, and some of these workshops have been excavated. There also was a canal and body of rivers which supplied water, another hydraulic project by the Sasanians. Forts which housed soldiers were created along the wall, and according to some estimates they kept some 37,000 (166) soldiers at any time! We simply did not know about such forts as being able to hold so many soldiers, although other Sasanian forts are known (I will discuss one of them in another note on travels with Iraj Afshar).
But of course like any other historical tradition from the Parthian and the Sasanian periods, the wall(s) are unknown or are ignored in the West. What needs to be done now is to have a workshop on comparative wall study in the pre-modern period and / or for that of the Sasanian period. This way we can further study and understand the Sasanian walls and their significance, function and engineering method. We should remember that this is only one of the four walls constructed by the Sasanians in Late Antiquity and the other also merits attention at such a workshop.
A.D.H. Bivar & G. Fehèrvéri, “The Walls of Tammisha,” Iran, vol. 4, 1966, pp. 35-50.
R.N. Frye, “The Sasanian System of Walls for Defense,” in Studies in memory of Gaston Wiet, ed. Rosen-Ayalon, Jerusalem, 1977, pp. 7-15.
H. Mahamdedi, “Wall as a System of Frontier Defense,” in The Spirit of Wisdom. Essays in Memory of Ahmad Tafazzoli, eds. T. Daryaee & M. Omidsalar, Costa Mesa, 2004.
J. Nokandeh, E.W. Sauer et. al., “Linear Barriers of Northern Iran: The Great Wall of Gorgan and the Wall of Tammishe,” Iran, vol. 44, 2006, pp. 127-173.
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قدیمی ترین سرودهایی که به یکی از زبانهای ایران بجای مانده و حاوی نگاه ایرانیان به جهان هستی است به زرتشت تعلق دارد. او نزدیک به سه هزار سال پیش در شرق ایران در هفده سرود مباحث مهمی درباره اخلاق ایمان راستی رفتار و آغاز و پایان جهان را به پیش کشیده که پس از گذر هزاران هزار سال و آمدن سلسله ها و ادیان گوناگون هنوز بسیاری از افکار او در فرهنگ و تمدن ایرانزمین تجلی می کند. همین تداوم پیام اوست که بنظر من زرتشت را مبدل به یکی مهمترین ایرانیان تاریخ و تمدن ما می کند. در گاتاهای زرتشت ما با افکاری روبرو می شویم که اعتقادات مردم ایرانی را شکل داده است. نگاه زرتشت نگاهی است فلسفی به جهان هستی و درباره بسیاری از مسایلی که هر انسان در طول عمر با آن روبرو می شود. همزمان درحین بازگویی این فلسفه ما به داستان ها و اسطوره های ایرانی نیز برمی خوریم. داستان گناه جمشید پادشاه پیشدادی برای اولین بار در گاتاها عنوان شده است. همچنین زرتشت از وجود هفت کشور یا اقلیم یاد می کند که ایران در کشور مرکزی آن استقرار دارد.
اگر قرار بود کسی را مسوول زیربنای باورها و اعتقاد ایرانیان بدانیم، این زرتشت است که در اینجا از همه درخشانتر نقش ایفا می کند. با اینکه هنوز قسمتی از سروده های او امروز برای ما گنگ و نامفهوم است در زمان او این سخنان کاملا ملموس و قابل فهم بوده است. در حقیقت این ضعف درک ما، چه فلسفی و چه زبانی است که آنها را برای ما مشکل ساخته. اما گاتاها به خوبی یک سیستم منسجم اخلاقی را بیان می کنند که دردوران باستانی کم یاب و در دنیای ایرانی بی همتاست. زرتشت در حقیقت پیشرو عطارها و خیامها و سهروردی ها و ملاصدرا هاست و همتراز بودا و سقراط.
آنچه این سروده های زرتشت را جذابتر می کند نحوه بیان پیام آن هاست. در حقیقت گاتاها به ارکستر سمفونی می ماند که در یک سوی آن اهورامزدا خدای بزرگ که ناظم و نظم دهنده جهان است وجود دارد و در سوی دیگر امشاسپندان بخصوص اشه (راستی) و وهومنه (منش نیک) که در دیالوگی درگیرند که توسط زرتشت رهبری می شود. در این میان از یک سو پرسشی عنوان می شود که گاه اهورامزدا و گاه امشاسپندان به آن پاسخ می دهند و گاه درباره آن بحث می کنند. گاه این خود زرتشت است که از این گفتگو مصمم درباره آنچه گفته شده و آنچه در جهان هستی گذشته و می گذرد و خواهد گذشت سخن می گوید وچشمان ما را روشن می کند. خردگرایی زرتشت در گاتا ها به خوبی نمایان است و مبحث “خرد” یک از عناوین جالب توجه در این سروده ها ست.
گه گاه این دنیای غیر انسانی است که مسایل مهم فلسفی را به پیش می کشد. برای مثال در یسنا 29 این روان گاو (گوش اوروان) است که درباره مبحث خشم و دلیل خشونت در جهان با ناله به سخن می پردازد و به نوعی اولین سخنان زد خشونت را دنیای ایرانی بیان می کند. خشونت به انسانها به حیوانات و زمین و جهان هستی یکی از دغدغه های گاتا هاست که ما امروزه نیز با آن روبرو هستیم و می توانیم از سنت ایرانی خود دربرابر این احساس و عمل ناپسند که در فرهنگمان بیداد می کند از آن بیاموزیم. در یسنای 30 زرتشت درباره آزادی عمل و رفتار و کردار انسانها سخن می گوید. شاید بتوان گفت که این اولین بار در تاریخ است که کسی درباره اینکه انسانها حق و آزادی انتخاب راه و روش زندگی خود را دارند را به پیش کشیده شده باشد. این دید زرتشت نیز می تواند خط مشی برای مردم امروز سرزمینمان باشد. انتخاب انسانها با خودشان است اما در یسنا 32 می بینیم که در آخر زمان وعده بدترین مکان برای طرفداران دروغ و خشونت و بهشت برای راهروان راستی و خوبی داده شده است.
اگر سخنان زرتشت در همان هنگام زندگی خود در سه هزار سال پیش در شرق ایران نهفته می شد شاید نمی توانستیم که این فیلسوف ایرانی بلخ را به عنوان یکی از برترین ایرانیان بشماریم. اما سخنان زرتشت چندین هزار سال است که بر پندار و کردار و گفتار و ادبیات و هنر و تاریخ ما اثر نهاده به بهمین دلیل اهمیت او قابل انکار نیست. شاید بازنگری به گاتاها ی زرتشت در زمان حالی که دنیا درتب خشونت و جنگ می سوزند یک ایرانی از گذشته های دور دست و راه و چاره ایی ایرانی و دگر از آنچه وجود دارد را به ما نشان دهد.
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NOWRUZ (literally “New Day” i.e., New Year) is by far the most joyous and important celebration among the Iranians and their neighbors in Asia. The Spring Equinox marks the changing of the year and the regeneration of life and a new birth of the world according to Iranian belief. This is indeed the basis of the Nowruz celebration, which has three millennia of tradition behind it. During Nowruz, Iranians from various religious, ethnic and linguistic background come together to greet the New Year in their homes and hope for a better year to come. Streets bustle with activity where one can see thousands of goldfish in bowls for the traditional Nowruz table, and the children anxiously await receiving gifts from their elders. Parents shop for new shoes and new clothes for their children to wear in line with the symbolic theme of renewal and renovation. Everyone waits eagerly for the exact moment when the earth passes the point of equinox and brings about the start of the New Year on March 21, to become rejuvenated and hopeful for a better year to come.
The story of Nowruz or the Iranian New Year is wrapped in myths and legends which are beautifully told in the great Persian epic, the Shahnameh or Book of Kings. The story goes that when one of the earliest and greatest of the mythical king of Iran, named Jamshid, ascended the throne he organized the realm and brought culture to people. He then made a throne with jewels and was able to have it elevated by supernatural beings to reach the heavens. According to the Book of Kings, he sat on the throne in the sky like the sun shining above. Then “the world’s creatures gathered in wonder about him and scattered jewels on him and called this day the New Day, or Now Ruz.” According to this Persian tale, during the Nowruz, people put aside their differences, rested and made a great feast which included much wine and music. Henceforth no one knew nothing of sorrow, sadness or death. This is the legendary history of the Nowruz, which is memorized for children in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikestan and those expatriates living in other countries today. The Book of Kings is a thousand years old, but it is conceivable that the story was known even a thousand years before then. This is a very old legend that has lived on.
There are pictorial evidence as early as 2500 years ago that the Iranians celebrated the Nowruz with pomp and circumstance. Some suggest that during the heyday of the great empire of antiquity, the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BCE), Persepolis, the great ceremonial capital was used as a staging ground for the New Year celebrations. The interesting scene of the lion devouring the bull on the Apadana palace at Persepolis has been suggested to symbolize the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring. At the side of the Apadana palace in Persepolis, rows of people from Africa, Europe and Asia are shown in perfect procession bringing gifts, that is the best that they produced in their country, which may be related to the idea of gift giving at Nowruz. Emissaries in perfect order, some holding flowers and holding each other’s shoulders and at times holding hand are etched in stone at the palace, portraying the celebratory nature of the Nowruz.
Greek sources mention that precious objects were gifted at Persepolis, the ceremonial center and in some ways the heart of the Iranian Empire. Not only did the king receive gifts as a share (Old Persian bāji), but he also bestowed gifts on his people. From the time of Cyrus the Great, we know that the king of kings made the proper sacrificial ceremony and made a feast and distributed presents among all and even joined in the dance and merry making.
In the later Hellenistic period (330 BCE – 224 CE), the celebration continued with much joy. While there are few references left from this period, through a later Persian romance from the Parthian times, called Vis and Ramin, we have descriptions of merry making during the Nowruz. This time in Marv, which is a city in modern day Turkemenistan, there was a king called Mowbed Manikān. His life is described as a continuous Nowruz and that he always celebrated the New Year. It is during one of these Nowruz celebrations when he fell in love with a lady and so the tale begins. The celebration takes place in the garden, and again wine and music is the mainstay of the celebration.
In late antiquity, the Sasanian kings (224-651 CE) celebrated the Nowruz with similar splendor and grandiose. One tradition has it that the king “gave dinars (gold coins) and dirhams (silver coins) of the year’s coinage put in a lemon, a quince or an apple.” On that day people rested and made merry, and on the third day the king held court and meted out justice to those who sought it. If the Nowruz fell on the Sabbath, the king is said to reward the Jews 4,000 silver coins as present. The court singers presented songs about the New Year and there are even now a series of melodies which are called Bahār (meaning spring) in the Persian musical repertoire. The most famous composer and performer of the late antique Iran was named Bārbad who lived in the seventh century CE. We are told that he was a master composer and made such Nowruz songs very popular, so much so that in the Islamic period these melodies continued to be remembered and sung.
With the coming of Islam, Nowruz continued to be celebrated by the people and the Caliphs in Baghdad. During the Abbasid Caliphate in the ninth century, it is reported that people celebrated the Nowruz by kindling bonfires on the New Year’s Eve and poured water on each other. The people in Baghdad gave each other an apple to honor the day and colored eggs for the feast. Cooks worked through the night to make fresh food for the Nowruz, and people threw parties for relatives and friends. Fruits were served, such as green melons, plums, peaches and dates. Muslims even drank wine in public when celebrating the New Year. At the heart of the Iranian land, Isfahan is the jewel and the 10th century Muslim author, Ibn Hawqal describes the Nowruz celebration as such:
“During the Nowruz festival, people gather for seven days in the bazaar of Karina, a suburb of Isfahan, engaged in merriment; they enjoy various food and go around visiting decorated shops. The inhabitants and those coming from other places to participate in this festival, spend a good deal of money, wear beautiful clothes, and take part in gatherings for plays and merrymaking. Skillful singers, both male and female, take their places side by side on the riverside along the palaces. The whole atmosphere is filled with joy and happiness. Many assemble on the rooftops and in the markets, engage in festivities, drinking, eating, and consuming sweets, not letting an idle moment to pass by.”
In the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, the Safavid Shahs of Iran also celebrated the Nowruz with great fanfare. The French traveler Jean Chardin who traveled to Iran then, beautifully describes the activities of the Safavid court at the time. According to him, eggs, gilded and colored with special scenes, were given as present; at the court, dancers, musicians and singers entertained the crowd, while the court astronomer looked to the sky to call the exact time for the beginning of the spring. Once the time of Nowruz was called, there was huge commotion, firecrackers, muskets and canons were fired as a sign of the beginning of the spring. Bands played music and shouts of joy filled the air and wild rue (Isfand) was sprinkled into the fire so that the air would smell pleasant.
As early as a century ago in Tehran and many other places, the Nowruz was celebrated by having bonfires on the last Wednesday before the New Year and jumped over it saying “my yellowness to you and your redness to me.” This meant that people were asking that their ailments would go away and health from the fire would reach them. The Nowruz was sounded off by canons being fired and then the younger would kiss the hands and feet of the elders and they would in return be presented with gold or silver coins. Everyone wore their new clothes and then they would go to visit each other’s homes till the thirteenth day of the Nowruz. These very same practices still continue today in Tehran and most of Iran and people eagerly await the coming of Nowruz as a time of joy, hope and renewal of life.
Haft Sin: The Ceremonial Table at Nowruz
The Iranian Nowruz has a ceremonial table, which today is called Haft Sin. Traditionally Haft Sin has been explained as a table that includes seven things whose names start with the Persian letter “Sin.” The seven items usually placed on a table are: 1) Sabzeh (lentils/wheat sprouts); Sepand (wild rue); Sib (apple); Sekeh (coins); 5) Sir (garlic); 6) Serkeh (vinegar); and 7) Samanu (cooked wheat). There are also other things placed on the table which include: a glass bowl with water and goldfish; sometimes a bowl of water; a mirror and candles, colored eggs; sweets; a winter citrus; a copy of the holy book, depending on the religious persuasion, nowadays replaced by many with the Book of Kings or the collection of the poems of the famous Persian poet, Hafez of Shiraz. The family members sit by the Haft Sin table before and during the time when the Spring Equinox begins. In the olden days, musicians played in the streets and later a canon was fired to mark the beginning of Nowruz. Since the previous century, people have listened to radio to hear the end of the year prayer and the marking of the beginning of Nowruz. Then, everyone greets and kisses each other and exchange gifts to start the New Year. The Haft Sin table is set several days before the New Year and kept after for a few more days.
Although this may be a more modern tradition of a celebratory table for New Year, the earliest reference to a Nowruz spread is from the Sasanian times where it is stated that the people greeted Nowruz by growing seven kinds of seeds on seven pillars and placed on their Nowruz table trays containing seven branches of vegetables (wheat, barley, peas, rice) as well as a loaf of bread made from seven kinds of grain. A relatively similar setup is given by the great Iranian scholar, Abu Reyhān al-Biruni in the eleventh century where he states that “it has been the custom on this day to sow around a plate seven kinds of grain on seven columns, and from their growth they drew conclusions regarding the corn of that year, whether it would be good or bad.” In the Safavid period we are also told that during the Nowruz a great tablecloth was spread where various fruits, greens, sweets, and colored eggs were placed on it and that the king stared at the water in the bowl placed on the table at the exact time of the New Year for he believed that “water is the symbol of prosperity.”
There is much speculation as to the symbolic meaning of the Haft Sin and the most convincing suggestion is that the seven items on the table really portray the Zoroastrian idea of Amesha Spanta. Zoroastrianism was the religion of ancient Iran and according to this three thousand year old tradition, the supreme deity, Ahura Mazda / Ohrmazd (Lord Wisdom) created the world and all that it is good in it with his helpers who are seven and are called the Amesha Spantas or Amshāspandān. The number of the Amshāspandān, meaning the “Bounteous Immortals” in the Younger Avesta is fixed as seven. In appears that the Amesha Spantas are linked with the seven creations which made the world. The list and connection of the Amesha Spantas with the world are 1) Ahura Mazda with humankind; 2) Vahman with cattle; 3) Ardavahisht with fire; 4) Shahrevar with metals; 5) Spendarmad with earth, 6) Khordad with water and 7) Amurdad with plants. Thus the items on the table may symbolically portray the creator and creations of the world, which regenerates annually during the Nowruz.
Nowruz was originally a Zoroastrian festival and another idea which is tied to the Nowruz has to do with the first month of the year called Farvardin. Nowruz begins with the first day of the month of Farvardin (which falls on March 21, i.e., Spring Equinox). Farvardin relates to Fravashis or the guardian souls of people who at the time of Nowruz, come back to earth to their respective households. The ancient Iranians thus honored the soul (Fravashi) of their departed family members, hence a celebration called Farvardinegān. Homes were cleaned, new clothes were worn and a feast for ten days took place; the feast was divided into two five day period, the last five days of month of Isfand and the first five days of Farvardin which was the first five days of the Nowruz. This was a sort of “all-souls” festival proceeded by Nowruz. Some of the theological aspects of these ceremonies may have been lost through the ages, but the feast and the entire ceremony and tradition has lived on for thousands of years and is echoed in the housecleaning and the buying of new clothes and shoes nowadays.
What makes Nowruz a unique festivity is that it is now celebrated by Iranians and nation-states around the world regardless of religious affiliation. Kurds, an Iranian speaking people, celebrate the Nowruz like any other Iranian in modern day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and of course Iran. Nowruz is celebrated by different ethnic groups who are at times are divided and come together for a common festivity and joyous occasion, including Afghans, Tajiks, Azaris, Kurds, Baluchis, Lurs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkemens and many more people in the region. The celebration goes beyond religious division, and Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Baha’is all join and unite for this one celebration to greet the regeneration of the earth.
What is it that all these people with different backgrounds and religious beliefs celebrate? It is the coming of the Spring Equinox, the celebration of a new season and the continuation of the cycle of life and hope. As the great medieval Iranian scholar Biruni reports, the Iranians called Nowruz the “day of hope.” The earth turns green and brings hope for another great harvest for all humanity. This is one of those times when people can leave their differences aside and come together to greet the Nowruz. Nowruz transcend all religious and ethnic divisions and it has done so for many millennia. Where the Iranians have been present, from the distant past till today, they have made Nowruz a celebration to be remembered. From New York to Orange County, Iranians celebrate the Nowruz in the United States. Nowruz lives on and may it continue to do so a long time to come. This Iranian festivity is among the most unique cultural events which allows us to understand the Iranian heart and soul that has had a brilliant impact on humanity for the past several thousands of years.
 A. Ferdowsi, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, translated D. Davis, Viking, New York, 2006, p. 7.
 Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander. A History of the Persian Empire, Indiana, 2002 , p. 194.
 Xenephon, Cyropaedia VIII.7.1.
 F. Gorgani, Vis o Ramin, edited by M. Roshan, Tehran, 1377, p. 42.
 al-Jahiz, page 101, after M. Boyce, “Iranian Festivals,” The Cambridge History of Iran„ vol. 3(2), edited by E. Yarshater, Cambridge, 1983, p. 799.
 Nizam al-Mulk, Siyāsat-nāmeh, p. 42-43, after Boyce, p. 800.
 K. Inostrantsev, Sasanidskie etiudy, translated by K. Kazemzadeh, Tehran, 2005, p. 75.
 Inostrantsev, p. 79.
 Ibn Hawqal, p. 364, after Shahbazi.
 J. Chardin, Voyage de chevalier Chardin en Perse, et autres lieux de l’Orient, ed. L. Langlès, 10 vols., Paris, 1811, vol. II, p. 267, after Shahbazi.
 S. Nafisi, Sa’id Nafisi’s Version. Literary, Political , and Youth Memories, edited by A. Eetesam, Tehran, 2002, p. 518.
 Nafisi, p. 522.
 Nafisi, pp. 523-524.
 Shahbazi, ibid.,
 A. Biruni, The Chronology of Nations, translated by C.E. Sachau, London, 1879, p. 202.
 Shahbazi, “Nowruz ii.”
There are a number of documents and texts in Judeo-Persian from late antiquity to the recent times. The late Amnon Netzer has given a detailed exposition of the surviving Judeo-Persian literature (“Judeo-Persian Literature,” Encyclopaedia Iranica (http://iranica.com/articles/judeo-persian-ix-judeo-persian-literature), but those working on these texts are few and surprisingly, no one in Iran! The history of Judeo-Persian literature is fascinating and there are those who are interested in the pre-Mongol material (Shaked and Gindin among the most prominent) which amount to about 600 pages of documents, mainly found from the Cairo Geniza because there were Persian Jews in Fatimid Egypt in the medieval period (Shaked, “Early Juadeo-Persian Texts,” in Persian Origins, ed. L. Paul, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003, p. 196). Then we have the post-Mongol texts which are mainly literary in nature, and include epic tales and of course translations of the Bible.
I would like to provide the translation of the first two lines of Psalm 67 as an example. The text and its transliteration, but without translation was given by J. Asmussen (“Judaeo-Persica IV: Einige Bemerkungen zu Baba ben Nuriel’s Psalmenübersetzung,” Acta Orientalia 30, 1966, p. 18). This Judeo-Persian translation was done by the great Rabbi of Isfahan, Baba ben Nuriel in the 18th century on the behest of Nader Shah Afshar (Netzer, “BĀBĀ’Ī BENNŪRĪ’EL” Encyclopaedia Iranica, http://iranica.com/articles/babai-ben-nuriel). Nader Shah Afshar was one of the most interesting rulers of the Iranian world, not so much for his conquests, but rather his attitude toward other religious groups. He is believed to have said “If God is one, religion must be one,” no doubt influenced by Akbar’s religious ideas (W.J. Fischel, “The Bible in Persian Translation: A Contribution to the History of Bible Translations in Persia and India,” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 45, no. 1, 1952, p. 31). His order for the translation of the Jewish and Christian sacred texts was completed and between 1740 and 1741. The Psalms was translated by Baba Ben Nuri’el as such that first the translation of the Psalms was done in Hebrew characters (hence our text) and then transliterated into the Persian script by a scribe (I am doing the same here!) (Fischel, p. 34).
I will provide the image of the manuscript, transliteration and then the Persian.
btsbyh gftn dr nγmh h’ srwd ’st wtsbyh:
xd’ mhrb’ny knd bm’ wbrkt dhd bm’
wrwšn knd nwr’ xd r’ br m’ hmyšh
t’ m‘lwm br xlq’ zmyn r’h h’y’ tw
wbr grwh h’st gš’yš’ tw
به تسبیح گفتن در نغمه ها سرود است و تسبیح
خدا مهربانی کند بما و برکت دهد بما
و روشن کند نور خود را بر ما همیشه
تا معلوم بر خلق زمین راه های تو
و بر گروه هاست گشایش تو
Here is the Hebrew with English translation for comparison:
לַמְנַצֵּחַ בִּנְגִינֹת, מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר.
אֱלֹהִים, יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ; יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה
לָדַעַת בָּאָרֶץ דַּרְכֶּךָ; בְּכָל-גּוֹיִם, יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ
For the Leader; with string-music. A Psalm, a Song:
God be gracious unto us, and bless us; may He cause His face to shine toward us; Selah
That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all nations.
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These notes of mine on the Gathas of Zarathushtra are meant for enlightening the general public and those interested in the tradition of this personage, clouded in mystery and legend. Zarathusthra is a prophet, a mystic, a priest and a poet who is at times clear and other times ambiguous in his poetic message. If one disagrees with my contention, they have to consult the five authoritative translations of the Gathas published in the past century. None of these philologists who have spent their lives studying these hymns can agree on more than 40-60% of the readings and interpretation of these hymns. For me the five are Barthalomae, Duschene-Guillmen, Humbach, Insler, Kellens and Pirart are the most important and diverge from one another in their interpretation.
This is partly due to the archaic language, imagery and historical knowledge of Zarathushtra and his language. The language of the Gathas is known as Old Avestan, belonging to the Eastern Iranian world (Bactrai / Balkh?), if we are to agree with W.B. Henning. Otherwise Sistan is the other suggestion which G. Gnoli is in favor. Old Avestan is an Iranian language which our knowledge of is incomplete, mainly due to the dearth of the material. The closest sister language is that of Vedic Sanskrit and most of the major translators of the Gathas have taken the comparative approach in deciphering the Gathas. To learn Gathic Avestan, knowledge of Sanskrit and better yet, Vedic Sanskrit is a must. Without it one can not make sense of these hymns. Avestan is a dead language and no one speaks it, at least for the past 2500 or 3000 years. In fact NO ONE understood the Gathas until the nineteenth century when European philologists began to apply the scientific (linguistic and philological) method to these hymns.
Already in the Sasanian period when the Avesta was put into writing, the Pahlavi translation of the Gathas showed that 90% of the meaning of the Gathas was not understood by Zoroastrian priests. The Sanskrit translation by the medieval Parsi scholar, Nayrosangh does not do any better and in a sense until the modern times the meaning of the Gathas was forgotten to all. Only with the European scientific endeavor did the Gathas become not only somewhat understood, but very important again, first in India with the Parsi community and then in Iran, especially with the first and one of the best translation of the Gathas in Persian, by Pourdavoud.
The time and homeland of Zarathushtra is also unclear. As mentioned, Bactria and Sistan have been proposed localities, while his time is given as early as the eleventh century BCE and late as the sixth century BCE. G. Gnoli has studied all the possibilities and in many ways is the authority on this subject. But with no evidence within the Gathas to suggest a place, and the language of the Gathas is not directly connected to another modern Iranian language (for example modern Yaghnubi spoken in the Zarafshan Valley in Tajikestan is a descendant of Sogdian). Thus, it is very difficult to place a time and homeland for Zarathusthra.
What I think after having studied the Gathas is to share my readings of the text, certainly based on the work of the great philologists who have deciphered these hymns. Still, I very much subscribe to an inner-Iranian vision of Zarathushtra. That is placing the Gathas and Zarathushtra within the Iranian context, which at least makes sense to me, but mindful of the comparativist approach. Hafez makes sense to me, although he composed his hymns some seven hundred years ago. Of course I know Persian and so there is a direct link to medieval Persian poetry. The Gathas do not supply this connection, but the view, vision and mentality is Iranian. Whether we take Zarathushtra as a reformer, a prophet, his work and thought has made the turn. By this I mean that it is not exactly part of the Indo-Iranian ethical and religious vision, but more of an Iranian vision
We should remember that it was the Iranian people who adopted his ideas and no one else. In fact just like approaching Hafez, approaching Hafez may be beneficial. I do not say this on my own, as the great Iranist, W. Lentz in an article which was published in a hard to find book had mentioned this fact and approach in the 1960s. Individual word study is the affair of philologists and making sense of it is something that others can also play a part in. But what do the hymns mean? Thanks for my friend George Lang, I have been exposed to the concept of Ethnopoetics which simply put means (according to Dennis Tedlock) an attempt by some scholars to hear and read poetry from the distant past, outside the Western tradition. This may be helpful in deciphering these difficult hymns.
I believe just like Zarathushtra himself said, it is for us to choose our path. I am taking heed of this message and will translated and comment from time to time on the Gathic stanzas which seem to reflect an Iranian vision about life, gods, universe and the world.
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There is now a new semi-documentary, semi-science fiction propaganda film in the US, entitled Iranium (Iran + Uranium). As an Iranian-American, after watching the film, I felt angry that here we were with another Hollywood film demonizing Iranians. This of course had started with the movie Not Without My Daughter filmed in 1991 in Neve Ilan, Israel about Iran. Then there was more, more recently the movie 300 which took the IEDs wielding Persians (same as Iranians) to the sixth century BCE, against the freedom-loving Spartans (my history degree tells me otherwise), who are actually American forces fighting in Iraq. These films were made by conservative and neo-conservatives who are part of the Hollywood fantasy/propaganda industry. One could say that it was fair, indeed a tradition, as during the Cold War, the Russians ended up as the “bad” guys in films, no matter whether the movie was concerned with ancient, medieval or modern history, or even science-fiction. However, this film goes beyond the world of Hollywood.
Nowadays a new bogyman has entered the American public life and that is Islam, and even those who are born in the Middle East. However, what makes the movie Iranium different from those mentioned above is that it has a clear message and intention and it is paid for by certain interested entities for a very clear reason. The movie emphasizes the hate that supposedly Iran has for the US and the international community and the danger of the destruction of the world (more precisely, Israel). The movie suggests that the US has not done anything to contain Iran, a sign of its weakness. This is of course in clear ignorance of the fact that Iran has been surrounded by US forces in Iraq, Republic of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a host of Persian Gulf Arab States and that it has been under heavy sanctions for decades. The film suggests that from the Iranian hostage crisis to Obama’s administration, the US has been soft against Iran in the past 30 odd years.
Iran is blamed for every bombing in Africa and the Middle East. From the bombings in Beirut in 1983 to the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 to Yemen in 2000, to even the 9/11, there are innuendos that Iran was involved in some way. The movie suggests Iran is behind every mischief that is taking place in the world in the past 30 years. Some of these allegations are documented and some are unclear, but many more is so far from the truth that one wonders why people with big titles and representatives of the US or other countries would make such claims that “Iran gave support to hijackers” of the 9/11 bombings. This claim is as accurate as stating that aliens from outer space helped the hijackers in their aim.
Experts from many news programs are prodded and the most trusted and accurate of them all, Fox News takes the majority of these showings in the film. But the first 40 minutes of the film is just a setup for what those behind the film really want to tell and that is Iran’s nuclear threat to the US, Israel and the world. The maps and diagrams show Iran’s capability through it proxies reaching Spain, Sweden, UK and Russia, or more directly their ability to load a dirty bomb or through missile attack on a cargo ship hitting such places as “Washington DC, Baltimore and New York.” Again, it is suggested that it is possible that Iran could launch an electromagnetic bomb in the atmosphere above the US which according to the film, in a year will kill 9 out of 10 Americans!
This is a good story for films that would be on the same shelf as the Day that the Earth Stood Still to The Blob. This part of the film certainly reminded me the science-fiction movies and quite interesting in the range of imagination and paranoia. More interesting is the contention that Iran may be able to infiltrate the US through the US-Mexico Border. I have bad news for the film makers, there are millions of Iranians in the US already and have infiltrated the country and are now lawyers, doctors, university professors and successful entrepreneurs. In fact the Iranian-Americans are one of the highest educated minorities in the US and their contribution has been enormous. These Iranians came here for a better life and not to infiltrate the US to bomb it. However, this film is bent on creating fear and by mixing the incursions through the border and linking it to your Iranian neighbor in the US, a nice psychological warfare program for the English speaking audience. Thus, anyone else coming from the border or on planes to the US is fine, but just watch for the Iranians.
The message of the film has been that “we” have been tolerant of Iran and that the US has no will to take action. What needs to be done is to have crippling sanctions and then military strikes on Iran. This aim follows the US policy towards Iraq, where from the time of President Bush Sr. in 1990 to the “Compassionate Conservative” President Bush Jr., according to UNICEF (United Nations) some estimated 500,000 children died as a result of these “compassionate” sanctions and “collateral” war, and another estimated 600,000 were killed in the war that lead to the freedom and democracy in Iraq. This is the prescription that is laid out at the end of the film by the talking-heads, and cemented together by the Iranian born Hollywood actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo. At the end of the film, the pitch is this: we should not wait for Israel to strike, the US will be blamed anyway, and so we might as well strike Iran first. This logic would not be acceptable even from a grade-school child, let alone from a motley crew of educated talking-heads.
But a little research into the foundations and personages behind the film points things to a certain direction. The movies if financed by several organizations, mainly the Clarion Fund, whose president is Raphael Shore who is also the co-producer of the film. Mr. Shore is a Canadian-Israeli film producer and Rabbi belonging to a Jewish Orthodox non-profit organization named Aish HaTorah. This organization seeks to amplify the danger of Islam to the world. His other “documentary” masterpieces include Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (2005) and The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America (2008).
The director is Alex Traiman who lives in the Israeli West Banks settlement of Beit El. Kenneth Timmerman whom Simon Wiesenthal believes is “tracking down the murderers of tomorrow,” is at work in helping the victims of the September 11 attacks sue the government of Iran because of its support of al Qaeda, appears at rallies for the support of the Iranian monarchy, and has written on the plight of Christians in Iraq, the destruction of Israeli towns during the Hezbollah rocket attacks, and a novelist is one of the main talking heads in this “documentary.”
Other talking heads include Arnold Resnicoff who in the film is identified as the US Military Chaplin, but a quick search identifies him as conservative Rabbi and military officer as well; Dore Gold who is the President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; Michael Ledeen, a board member of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, founded by Morris Amitay who was the former Executive Director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and Chet Nagle who is the author of the novel entitled: Iran Covenant which deals with Iranian attempt to have a multi-pronged attack on Israel (again, mind you, this is a novel).
Then there are US representatives as well who take part in the interviews, namely James Woolsey, the former CIA Director; former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton; NY Representative Eliot Engel, a vocal supporter of Israel, condemning Palestinian rocket attacks by Hammas and sponsoring the resolution in the Congress that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel; Nevada Representative Shelly Berkley who according to the Natasha Mozgovaya’s Israeli Newspaper Haaretz had said, “Berkley, a Jewish politician well-known for her support of Israel, backed the Israeli operation in Gaza during December and January, and even told Haaretz that Israel may have been too tolerant (earlier),” among other talking heads in the film.
There are also scholars such as Bernard Lewis whose politics is clear and has significantly changed since 1967. More intriguing is Clare Lopez, of the Center for Security Policy, and who believes that President Obama’s administration has been infiltrated by Islamists (Vali Nasr) and their supporters and that such organizations as NIAC and its President Trita Parsi (a Zoroastrian) are lobbyists for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her repeated showings jives well with her general paranoia that the US is being attacked from all directions, all the way to the US government. Simply put, no Muslim born person should have any contact with the US government.
Lastly, there are few Iranian figures that can not not be mentioned. First is a young man by the name of Amir Fakhravar, the leader of the rarely heard Independent Student Movement - of which he seems to be the sole members as other Iranian students avoid him like a plague - who was much publicized through his contacts with Richard Perle (Neocon theorist who pushed for attacks on Iraq). He is included in the film entitled: The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom; Mandana Zand Ervin, the President of the dubious organization called the Alliance of Iranian Women who has written an article objecting the award of the Noble Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian, and Iranian woman to get such honor, in 2003 (how ironic is this!). She calls Ms. Ebadi “unknown Iranian woman for her unknown human-rights activities in Iran.” In fact the unknown is not Ms. Ebadi, but rather Ms. Zand Ervin, who partakes in Iranian separatists meetings; Lastly, it is Mohsen Sazgara, former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, then turned Green (supporter of the democracy movement in Iran), and now in his third metamorphosis, as a conservative talking head.
All of these people were brought together to make a propaganda film to instill fear into the hearts and minds of Americans that Iran and Iranians are coming to get them from Mexico, on cargo ships, with rockets and nuclear bombs. The message is to bomb Iran before they bomb “us,” or more correctly, one make an educated guess, if I am allowed, “Israel.” If I am not mistaken, there seems to be an overwhelming right-wing Israeli or pro-Israeli camp behind this film with its message. No matter how one is against the current government in Iran, the disseminating of some facts with lies and fantastic stories together is a disservice to everyone and does not do any good.
I can not end this piece without mentioning the Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo who narrated this film. Her politics in recent times has become clearer and clearer, appearing in Fox News and being courted by neo-conservatives. Her last film, Stoning Soraya had all the elements of psychological warfare, backed by Christian right-wing zealots. She may have become a star in Hollywood, but she is no star for me, who never misses an opportunity to poison what the American audience gets to see from her about Iran and Iranians. In the early 20th Century starting with D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, African-Americans were portrayed as slaves, criminals and brutal rapists, until Sydney Poitier objected this typecasting and played in such films as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night in the 1960s. He could have played the docile or mad or villainous African-American and get paid for it, but his consciousness would not allow it. He and others changed the image of African-Americans in Hollywood and gradually in the US. Ms. Aghdashloo, unfortunately lacks such consciousness and plays the Iranian female terrorist in the television shows, along with a host of negative images of Iranians in Hollywood, and partakes in this supposed “documentary.” I liked her old films in Iran, especially Sooteh Delan (Desiderium) where she played a prostitute, employed by a businessman, Habib Agha Zoroofchi to occupy his younger mentally-challenged brother. She appears to continue that role, but this time not for Habib Agha’s brother Majid Do Kaleh, but for another country and a much more sinister cause. I still like her old films.
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My colleague Thomas Sizgorich passed away this past Thursday due to a stroke. He was one of the most interesting scholars of the field of late antiquity that I knew of. He was able to look to the Mediterranean and the Near Eastern world with the same competency and ask really interesting questions which I never thought of. We were planning to make UC Irvine one of the centers of late antique studies in the US, where he taught late Roman history, Islamic history, Arabic and Syriac and I taught Sasanian history, Medieval Iran, Middle Persian and Persian. However, this dream of mine came to an abrupt end when I received a call on Thursday that he was leaving this earth and rushed to hospital to say farewell. Tom is gone, but his work remains and can be a guiding light for others. During his brief career he published a book and several very important articles which I want to briefly touch upon in this shore note.
His book entitled: Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, covers the idea of militant piety as it applied to both Christian and Muslim communities and how communal identities were formed through such narratives. He uses John of Chrysostom as an example for the Christians creating communal boundaries against others. Chrysostom’s dictums made sure that Christians watch over each other, as Ahmad Ibn Hanbal created boundaries for the Muslims so that there would be no communal transgression in the early Islamic period. Sizgorich studies how identities were produced or constructed in late antiquity among these two religious communities and how religious and spiritual violence played out among them. He first focuses on ascetic Christians who emerged as representatives of violence and defenders of communal boundaries. He then looks as the early Islamic world and the concept of Jihād and Islamic ascetic militancy.
In the post Constantine period, some Christians figures created communal boundaries for the community which then put them at odds with other religious groups. These Christians used a variety of traditions or narratives not solely based on the Bible, but also the local traditions as well as the Pagan Roman tradition. Emperor Theodosius attempted to curb the violence by these Christian ascetics in his empire. The violence was against non-Christians and went against imperial views of even the emperor Theodosius, but espoused by zealot monks in Syria and the Levant. Sizgorich concludes that the violence and fear was imposed not because of intolerance, but rather the perceived danger of erosion of communal boundaries.
Sizgorich then turns to the narratives of the Islamic world and deals with militant piety in the early Islamic tradition where he concludes that these narratives brought with it a deadly surplus, namely violence. The Khawārij (militant pious Muslims) are the example of militant piety which stands out in the early Islamic history. Sizgorich believes that the actions of the Khawārij fit into the larger pattern of late antique world, as pious enunciators who desired martyrdom. This violence was both against non-Muslims and those Muslims who did not behave according to the early Islamic narratives that these pious believed in. He suggests that what we have in late antiquity is both Christian and Muslim narratives feeding from one another’s tradition, and interacting with each other. Consequently, fear and violence was invoked by those militant ascetics to curb interaction, to keep their community isolated and pure, as they had perceived it by using their narratives of their own tradition.
This important study made me also think of the use of violence in late antique Iran, specifically in the Mazdean tradition. Not only prohibiting those of the “good religion” (weh-dēnān) from interacting with others, but conversion to Christianity in the late Sasanian, and to Islam in the post-Sasanian period brought a sense of anxiety. The other problem in both periods for Mazdaism was heresy, which in Middle Persian has a plethora terminology (ahlomōγīh, dušwurrōyišnīh, judristagīh, zandīgīh and agdēnīh), Mazdak being the chief zandīg who in the Pahlavi texts is often remembered as the “chief heretic” (ahlomōγān ahlomōγ).
All of this of course brings to mind the perceived danger of communal erosion of communal boundaries for Mazdaism which was under assault from within and from without. It is noteworthy to mention that it appears that the state during the Sasanian period attempted to also maintain communal boundaries and only resorted to violence when one communal group infringed on the rights of the other. Later Pahlavi Rivayats also emphasize the protection of communal boundary through violence through the dictum that if anyone leaves Mazdaism is worthy of death (marg-arzan).
Some of his articles included:
‘“Do Prophets Come with a Sword?’ Conquest, Empire and Historical
Narrative in the Early Islamic World,” American Historical Review 112.4
“‘Not Easily Were Stones Joined By the Strongest Bonds Pulled Asunder’:
Religious Violence and Imperial Order in the Later Roman World” Journal of
Early Christian Studies 15.1 (2007): 75-101.
“Reasoned Violence and Shifty Frontiers: Shared Victory in the Late
Roman East, in H.A. Drake, (ed.), Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions
and Practices (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 165-74.
“Narrative and Community in Islamic Late Antiquity,” Past & Present 185
(Nov. 2004): 9-42.
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