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Corpus of TExts and Sources about Iran : For a History of the OrieNt in the 6th century – CTESIPHON

Submission summary

This project aims at gathering an unedited and often unaccessible documentation on a homogeneous historical period – the VIth century under the reign of Khusro I (531-579), who was the most brilliant of the Sasanian dynasty – in the area of the Sasanian empire, which extended from the Euphrates to the Indus, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf up to territories lined by Oxus in Central Asia. This reign was a key period for the history of pre-islamic Iran, period of military expansion, State restructuration and assimilation of numerous cultural aspects of the conquered or nearby countries. The sources which enable to reconstruct this history come from various disciplines (sigillography, numismatics, hagiography, historiography, etc.) and are written in numerous languages. This variety, of nature and of expression, is an obstacle for the historian who tries to extract from these heterogeneous data relevant informations. We will reconstitute from these gathered and analyzed data the administrative, social, religious, geographical and political history of the Sasanian empire at a very glorious time of its civilization, and nevertheless little studied. The purpose of recent monographs on Sasanian history is rather to produce manuals for students or to publish studies on specific subjects. There is no general historical monograph on the period of Khusro I. Most of the essential sources are still unedited until today, as the seals and bullae corpus, that of coinage, or the acts of the Persian martyrs relative to this period – documents which are contemporaneous of this reign. The five types of sources belong to different disciplinary fields: 1) the Sasanian seals with inscriptions in pehlevi (and sometimes also in Syriac) are used by all the strata of the society and highlight very different aspects of the Sasanian civilisation (Corpus A: 900 bullae); 2) the Sasanian coinage, with inscriptions in pehlevi, the official language of the State, represents par excellence the state power (B: 2 270 objects); 3) the martyrological literature in Syriac comes from the Christian community of the empire (C); 4) the Byzantine Greek literature enables a better understanding of the regional history during this period (D); 5) the Persian epic literature conveys the Iranian tradition of the Sasanian chronicles which have now disappeared (E). Many scholars have already underlined the importance and the pertinence of a comparison between the Syriac sources and the primary sources material (seals, bullae and coinage) for the elaboration of a new Sasanian history. It is also very useful adding external points of view represented by the corpus of contemporary Greek authors and the properly Iranian tradition represented by the Persian text of Firdousi’s Shahnameh (the most detailed narrative on the reign of Khusro I in comparison with the Arabic historiography which scholars generally prefer). These sources propose interpretations from varied iranian communities, as mazdeans, christians and moslems, and from the great rival empire, the Byzantine christians. By crossing these data, this project contributes to this history, by a means clearly formulated and easily available for consultation: the synergy of these five documentary corpuses, remarkable by their informative quality – sources of an exceptional value which complete and highlight each other – brings new perspectives of knowledge on this half a century of mutations.

Project coordination

Christelle JULLIEN (Mondes iranien et indien) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


MII Mondes iranien et indien

Help of the ANR 130,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2012 - 30 Months

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