Great Britain ix. Iranian Studies in Britain, Pre-Islamic




Several fields of pre-Islamic Iranian Studies have seen great expansion during recent centuries, and to these, scholars and travelers from Great Britain have made substantial contributions.

Religious, literary and historical studies. Already, before the discovery and publication in 1771 by the French Orientalist Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (q.v.) of the original text of the Zoroastrian scripture, the Avesta, an Oxford scholar, Thomas Hyde (1636-1703), had attempted to write, on the basis of the information from Greek and Latin texts, a description of the religion of the ancient Iranians, which was first published in Oxford in 1700 as Historia religionis veterum Persarum, eorumque magorum (2nd ed., entitled Veterum Persarum et Parthorum et Medorum religionis historia, Oxford, 1760; usually referred to as De vetere religione Persarum). Interesting as a survey of Classical references, this attempt was inadequate owing to lack of access, at the time, to authentic Iranian sources. Work on the newly discovered text of the Avesta was subsequently pursued chiefly in Germany, where a strong school of Avestan studies had developed by the end of the nineteenth century (see GERMANY iii). However, Edward William West (1824-1905) and James Hope Moulton (1863-1917) also made contributions to the expanding Iranian field. West prepared five volumes of translations from Pahlavi texts, outstanding in his day, for F. Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series (vols. 5, 18, 24, 37, and 47). He also wrote a detailed and valuable account of Pahlavi inscriptions and literary texts for the Grundriss (“Pahlavi Literature,” in II, pp. 75-129). Moulton published his Hibbert Lectures of 1912 as Early Zoroastrianism (London, 1913). His eight lectures, The Teaching of Zarathushtra, were printed in Bombay in 1916 (2nd. ed., 1917), and his more extensive work, The Treasure of the Magi, covering aspects of both ancient and modern Zoroastrianism, was published in London in 1917. Another contributor to Sasanian studies was Edward Thomas (1813-1886), who from 1852 embarked on a systematic catalogue of Sasanian seals in the British Museum and also published a collection of Sasanian inscriptions (“Notes Introductory to Sassanian Mint Monograms and Gems,” JRAS 13, 1852, pp. 373-428; “Early Sassanian Inscriptions, Seals and Coins,” JRAS, N.S. 3, 1868, pp. 241-358; also published separately as a monograph, Early Sassanian Inscriptions: Seals and Coins, London, 1868).

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Arthur George Warner began work on an English verse translation of the entire Šāh-nāma, aided by his younger brother Edmond, who completed the task after George’s sudden death from a heart attack in April 1903. Edmond Warner was also responsible for the introduction and the copious notes dealing with many aspects of pre-Islamic Iranian culture accompanying the text (The Sháhnáma of Fir-dausí, 9 vols., London, 1905-25).

In the years following the First World War, the linguistic prodigy Harold Walter Bailey (later Sir Harold Bailey, 1899-1996), born in England but raised in Australia, emerged as the leading exponent of Iranian Studies in Britain. He studied classics at the University of Western Australia before going to Oxford on a Hackett studentship. There he was taught by the Sanskrit and Tibetan scholar Frederick William Thomas, and took a First in Sanskrit, Avestan and Comparative Philology. In 1927 he was appointed the Parsi Community’s Lecturer in Zoroastrian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where he concentrated on Pahlavi (Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-century Books, 1943, reprinted 1971, with a new introduction). From 1936, as Professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge, while equally proficient in Sanskrit and in Iranian languages, he devoted much of his research to the decipherment and interpretation of the Khotanese manuscripts in Indian script brought by Aurel Stein from Central Asia. The publication of many volumes of Khotanese texts led finally to his monumental Dictionary of Khotan Saka (Cambridge, 1979). A bibliography of his works up to 1970 contains 169 items (R. E. Emmerick and D. M. Johnson, “Writings of H. W. Bailey (Books and articles),” BSOAS 33/1, 1970, pp. ix-xiv). Even more must have been published during the long period of his retirement, and a comprehensive bibliography of his oeuvre is currently in preparation (see also G. Gnoli “Harold Walter Bailey (1899-1996),” East and West 49, 1996, pp. 491-93). A pupil of Bailey’s in Pahlavi was Robert (Robin) Charles Zaehner (1913-1974), an ex-diplomat and lecturer in Persian and later Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford, who made contributions to several topics in religious studies (see GREAT BRITAIN x). His most significant contributions to the field of pre-Islamic studies include Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma (Oxford, 1955), and The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (London, 1961), the latter containing a notably commonsense account of the origins of Zoroastrianism.

It was, however, the migration of Walter Bruno Henning (1908-1967) from Berlin to England in 1936 that stimulated the fuller development of scholarship on pre-Islamic Iranian studies in Britain (Mary Boyce and Ilya Gershevitch, “Bibliography of the works of W. B. Henning” in W. B. Henning Memorial Volume, London 1970, pp. xxv-xxxiv; see also, W. B. Henning Selected Papers, Acta Iranica 14-15, Leiden 1977; see also GERMANY iii). Henning, perhaps the keenest intellect to have embarked on the field of Iranian studies, first worked on the Manichaean fragments from the Nachlass of his teacher Friedrich Carl Andreas (q.v.); and the series of articles edited by him under the title “Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesisch-Turkestan” (pt. I, SPAW 10, 1932, pp. 173-222; pt. II, SPAW 7, 1933, pp. 292-363; pt. III, SPAW 27, 1934, pp. 846-912), giving lucid translations of these difficult texts, soon attracted attention. This was despite the fact that the work, amounting to a substantial volume, was serialized in a bulky periodical of limited circulation. After his arrival in England, the majority of Henning’s outstanding articles and decipherments were drafted in stylistically impeccable and frequently humorous English. His Ratanbai Katrak Lectures, delivered at Oxford in 1949 (Zoroaster, Politician or Witch-doctor, Oxford, 1951) have been acclaimed as a work of deep erudition enlivened with irony, in which he dismissed conflicting interpretations of the prophet presented by Ernst Herzfeld and by Henrik Samuel Nyberg, vindicating instead traditional opinions of Zoroaster’s date, location and religious message.

Henning was also the originator, and moving spirit, with Bailey, Vladimir Minorsky and others, of the international Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, the foundation based in the U.K., and dedicated to furthering the recording and interpretation of the widely distributed inscriptional evidence for Iranian languages. He had previously made great progress with the interpretation of Manichaean Sogdian (Sogdica, James G. Forlong Fund series 21, London, 1940, work interrupted by his regrettable internment for six months in 1940-41). There followed some eight other articles on Sogdian topics, and later, pioneer work on the even more difficult interpretation of the Khwarezmian language. A sample in this connection is provided by the Fragment of a Khwarezmian Dictionary (London, 1971) edited from his papers by David Neil MacKenzie. On other themes we may note such titles as “The Book of the Giants,” BSOAS 11/1, 1943, pp. 52-74; “The Murder of the Magi,” JRAS, 1944, pp. 133-44; “The Aramaic Inscription of Asoka Found in Lampāka,” BSOAS 13/1, 1949, pp. 80-88; “A Farewell to the Khaqan of Aq-Aqatärān,” BSOAS 14/3, 1952, pp. 501-22; and “The Inscription of Firuzabad” Asia Major 4/1, 1954, pp. 98-102. Henning was the first to decipher and interpret the Elymaean inscriptions in Ḵuzestān, the language proving to be a form of Aramaic (“The Monuments and Inscriptions of Tang-i Sarvak,” Asia Major II/2, 1952, pp. 151-78), and he also produced the first convincing interpretation of the celebrated Kushan inscription from Sorḵ Kōtal, in what he recognized as the Bactrian language (q.v.; “The Bactrian Inscription,” BSOAS 23/1, 1960, pp. 47-55). Of his pupils at SOAS, Ilya Gershevitch (1914-2001), subsequently appointed University Lecturer in Iranian at Cambridge, specialized in Manichaean Sogdian (A Grammar of Manichaean Sogdian, Oxford, 1954), the Avesta (The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge, 1959; rep. 1967), and connections between Achaemenid Elamite and Old Persian. Mary Boyce, who was to succeed Henning as professor of Iranian Studies at SOAS, took up his work on the Berlin fragments in Manichaean script from Central Asia (The Manichaean Hymn Cycles in Parthian, London, 1957), turning later to fieldwork on living Zoroastrianism, and to her monumental History of Zoroastrianism (3 vols., 3rd vol. with Franz Grenet, Leiden, 1975-91). MacKenzie (1926-2001) concentrated on Pahlavi (especially in his very useful Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, Oxford, 1971; and his “Kerdir’s Inscription,” in Iranische Denkmäler, Lief. 13, Reihe 2/1, Berlin, 1989, pp. 35-72), work-ing also on Sogdian, Khwarezmian (The Khwarezmian Element in the “Qunyat al-munya,” London, 1990), and the canonical Manichaean text of the Šābuhragān (“Mani’s Šābuhragān," BSOAS 42, 1979, pp. 500-534); as well as, in the modern languages field, Pashto and Kurdish (particularly “The Origins of Kurdish,” TPS, 1961, pp. 68-86; and Kurdish Dialect Studies, 2 vols., Oxford, 1961-62). Adrian David Hugh Bivar has studied Sasanian seals and rock–reliefs, Kushano-Sasanian coins and chronology, Mithraic iconography, Arsacid history and pre-Islamic folklore. He has also investigated Elymaean monuments at Šembār, a Median hoard at Nuš-e Jān, Parthian seals from Šahr-e Kumeš, and Gorgān sites (Bivar, The Personalities of Mithra in Archaeology and Literature, New York, 1998; A. Sh. Shahbazi, “A. D. H. Bivar As Teacher, Scholar, and Archaeologist,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute, N.S. 7, 1993, pp. 2-3). From a younger generation, Ronald Eric Emmerick (1937-2001) continued Bailey’s work on the Khotanese texts (Saka Grammatical Studies, London and New York, 1968; and The Book of Zambasta, London 1970; bibliography of his writings in his Guide to the Literature of Khotan, 2nd. ed., Tokyo, 1992, pp. 53-61); while Nicholas Sims-Williams has concentrated on Sogdian and the numerous recently discovered documents in Bactrian. This new evidence has provided a breakthrough into a substantially new Iranian language field (see his SOAS inaugural lecture of 1st February 1996, New Light on Ancient Afghanistan: The Decipherment of Bactrian, London, 1997; Bactrian Documents from Northern Afghanistan I: Legal and Economic Documents, Oxford, 2000). Alan Vincent Williams has worked on the later Pahlavi texts (The Pahlavi Rivāyat Accompanying the Dādestān ī Dēnīg, 2 vols., Copenhagen, 1990).

Important conferences. Mention should also be made of several influential conferences on aspects of ancient Iranian culture, held in Britain during the twentieth century. The International Congress of Persian Art, held in London in 1931, focused world attention on the significance of ancient Iranian art and culture, and prepared the way for Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman’s monumental Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938 (and later reprints with additions). The Sixth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archeology took place at Oxford in 1972, and was widely attended. The First International Congress of Mithraic Studies, held at Man-chester in 1971, again did much to stimulate research on wider aspects of ancient Iranian religion (cf. Hinnells, ed., Mithraic Studies, 2 vols., Manchester, 1975). Besides extensive work in the field of comparative religion, and of modern Zoroastrianism, John Hinnells continued to maintain an up-to-date survey of studies on Roman Mithraism, acting as secretary of the special panel on Mithraism held in association with the XVIth Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions at Rome in 1990. He edited its collected papers Studies in Mithraism, Rome, 1994, and contributed its important introductory paper surveying progress in this field.

Given the difficulties in establishing scholarly contacts with Persian scholars working in Persia and the impossibility of continuing fieldwork after the Revolution of 1979, the conference held in the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London in March 1991 deserves a special mention in being instrumental in bringing together the results of a decade of research in the fields of Parthian and Sasanian archeology (Vesta Sarkhosh-Curtis, Robert Hillenbrand and Michael Rogers, eds., The Art and Archaelogy of Ancient Persia, London, 1998).

Contributions from Classical historians. Writers in the field of Classical history have also made substantial contributions to the study of ancient Iran. Perhaps the most important was that of the brother of the soldier, diplomat and explorer Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-1895; see below), George Rawlinson (1812-1902), whose Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient World, or Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media and Persia (4 vols., London, 1862-67), was followed by The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy, or Geography, History and Antiquities of Parthia (London, 1873), and The Geography, History and Antiquities of the Sassanian or New Persian Empire: Collected and Illustrated from Ancient and Modern Sources (New York, 1876). These works provided a thorough survey of the Classical sources relating to their periods, and are still worth reading. Naturally, the close contact between the academic historian George Rawlinson, and his brother working in the field, enhanced the work of both writers substantially. A popular history of Persia (following in the tradition of Sir John Malcolm’s History of Persia) and covering both Islamic and pre-Islamic Iran was that of Sir Percy Sykes, British Consul in Kermān, A History of Persia, 2 vols., 1915, which ran to three editions (1921, 1930) and several reprints.

Important sections on the history of the much neglected Hellenistic period in Iran were provided by Edwyn Robert Bevan (1870-1943; The House of Seleucus, 2 vols., London, 1902, reprinted 1966, especially chapters 4, 5, 13 and 17). Bevan provides a critical treatment of the original sources available in his time, and is one of the few authors to take note of the evidence of the Monumentum Adulitanum, the lost Ptolemaic inscription reported in Eritrea by the monk Cosmas Indicopleustes. This document reports the attack of Ptolemy III Euergetes on the Seleucid capital at Antioch (q.v.), and his expedition against the eastern provinces of the Seleucid Empire, doing much to explain developments in these provinces after the death Antiochus II (246 B.C.E.). Work on the Seleucid period in Iran, and on the Hellenistic history of the eastern Iranian area, was also undertaken by William Woodthorpe Tarn (1869-1957) in his paper “Seleucid-Parthian Studies” (Proceedings of the British Academy 16, London, 1930, pp. 3-33) and above all in his immensely stimulating but speculative, The Greeks in Bactria and India (Cambridge, 1938; 3rd. ed., Chicago, 1985).

The wars in fifth-century B.C.E. between Achaemenid Persia and the Greek city-states were a favorite theme for historians of ancient Greece, and have been repeatedly treated by Classical historians, though usually without detailed access to Iranian evidence. The History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great (London and New York, 1900; 4th ed. London, 1978) by John Bagnell Bury (1861-1927) was for many years the standard “syllabus” history of Classical Greece. It has four chapters devoted to relations between Greece and Persia (chap. 6, “The Advance of Persia to the Aegean”; chap. 7, “The Perils of Greece-the Persian and Punic Invasions”; chap. 17, “The Conquest of Persia”; chap. 18, “The Conquest of the Far East”). Regarded also as a classic work by ancient historians is Charles Hignett’s Xerxes’ Invasion of Greece (Oxford, 1963), which on the basis of a rigorous analysis of Greek sources, and a critical examination of the Greek topography, attempts a definitive treatment of the Persian operations on Greek soil. His approach may however sometimes err in the direction of over-skepticism. Andrew Robert Burn’s Persia and the Greeks: The Defence of the West, c. 546-478 B.C. (London, 1962) though avowedly written from the Hellenic point of view, gave extensive attention to the role of Persia in the record, and reviewed recent accessions of evidence, especially from Asia. David Malcolm Lewis, a specialist in Greek history and epigraphy, in his Sparta and Persia (Cincinnati Classical Studies, N.S. 1, Leiden, 1977) acutely analyzed the historical implications of the Persepolis Treasury tablets in Elamite, and the identification of the personalities mentioned. Simon Hornblower’s Mausolus (Oxford, 1982) investigates the history of Caria, an Achaemenid province (see especially, chap. 4, “Mausolus and Persia,” pp. 137-82) albeit one closely in touch with the Greek world. Peter Marshall Fraser, Cities of Alexander the Great (Oxford, 1996), surveys evidence, archeological and literary, including Persian language sources, for reported city foundations in Iran and Afghanistan. A major undertaking by the Cambridge University Press has been the production of the Cambridge History of Iran (7 vols., Cambridge, 1968-91), of which volumes two (1985) and three (1983, in two parts) cover the pre-Islamic period, and survey not only political history, but also advances in knowledge of Iranian (especially Zoroastrian) religion, art, archeology and culture during the period treated. The Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum includes three volumes relevant to ancient Iran, and still partly, or largely unsuperseded: The Seleucid Coins of Syria, by P. Gardner, 1878; Parthia, by Warwick Wroth, 1903; and Arabia, Mesopotamia, Parthia etc., by G. F. Hill, 1922. Sir John Boardman, Lincoln Professor of Classical Art at Oxford, has written on the connections between the art of ancient Greece and that of Iran. His detailed and authoritative studies of Graeco-Persian seal engraving (“Pyramidal Stamp Seals in the Persian Empire,” Iran 8, 1970, pp. 19-45 and chap. 6 of his Greek Gems and Finger Rings, 2nd edition, London, 2001, pp. 303-57) have been extended by wider investigations (The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity, London, 1994, chaps. 2 and 4; Persia and the West, London 2001). Averil Cameron, besides many writings on the late Roman-Byzantine world and its authors, has analysed the sections of Agathias relevant to Iran (Agathias on the Sassanians, Dumbarton Oaks Papers23-24, 1969-70, pp. 67-183). Sebastian Brock, a leading Semitist, contributed from Syriac sources two valuable papers on the Sasanian Empire, printed together in his Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (Variorum reprints, London 1984); “Christians in the Sasanid Empire: A Case of Divided Loyalties,” originally printed in Stuart Mews, ed., Religion and National Identity: A Case of Divided Loyalties, Studies in Church History 18, Oxford, 1982, pp. 1-19; and in Analecta Bollandiana 96, Brussels 1978. In each case, the Arabic pagination of the reprint is also that of the original paper.

Travel, exploration, and dieldwork. Many of the 19th-century British visitors to Persia noted archeological remains on their journeys. Claudius James Rich (1787-1821), previously British consul-general in Baghdad, wrote on his visits to archeological sites in Iraq. He visited Pasargadae and Persepolis after his transfer to Shiraz, but soon after perished there in the cholera epidemic. His studies were published posthumously by his widow (Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811 . . . with a Narrative of a Journey to Persepolis, London, 1839). His collection of coins included the only surviving specimens from the great Achaemenid silver hoard discovered on the bank of the Tigris not long before 1816 (G. K. Jenkins, “Coins from the collection of C. J. Rich,” British Museum Quarterly, 1964, pp. 88-94). He also assembled an important collection of Oriental, including Persian, manuscripts (J. R. Fawcett Thompson, “The Rich Manuscripts,” British Museum Quarterly 27, 1963, pp. 18-23). James Baillie Fraser (q.v.) noted in 1822 the vast citadel of the Qalʿa-ye Ḵandān in Astarābād (Travels and Adventures in the Persian Provinces on the Southern Banks of the Caspian Sea, London, 1826, p. 7). James Justinian Morier (1780?-1849) provided useful descriptions of Persepolis, Naqš-e Rostam, Pasargadae and Bišāpur (q.v.) in the accounts of his two journeys in Persia (A Journey through Persia . . . , London, 1812; A Second Journey through Persia . . . , London, 1818). James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855) visited (Travels in Assyria, Media and Persia . . . , London, 1829) Qaṣr-e Širin (p. 37), noted the Ṭāq-e Gerra (p. 58), and described the sculptures at Ṭāq-e Bostān (p. 120), identifying the giant equestrian figure of Khosrow II as Rostam. James Edward Alexander (1803-1885) examined (Travels from India to England . . . in the Years 1825-1826, London, 1827, p. 137) the unexcavated ruins of Persepolis, and included (p. 140) two good engravings of sculptures, one of a sphinx and the other of servants mounting steps carrying provisions. Yet the most informative traveler was Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777-1842; Travels in Georgia, Persia, . . . During the Years 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820, 2 vols., London, 1821-22), who provided many excellent engravings, illustrating (I, p. 492) the winged figure at Pasargadae, and the Tomb of Cyrus (I, p. 497), and describing and illustrating the antiquities of Naqš-e Rostam, Persepolis, and even, near Shiraz, Qaṣr-e Abu Naṣr and Barm-e Delak (q.v.). He also visited Bisotun and Ṭāq-e Bostān, and has illustrations and versions of cuneiform and Pahlavi inscriptions. Some of his observations remain valid to date. Thus at Persepolis he observes, very justly (I, 702), “I do not think that the semicircle was used in Persian edifices, till after the Macedonian invasion;” and indeed the masonry arch was not attested there. At Ṭāq-e Bostān he noted (I, 170) a colossal statue, broken off at the knees, which had previously been immersed in the pool, and during his visit was leaning against the bank. He believed it had fallen from a terrace above the large grotto, “along which a range of sculptured feet broken off at the ankles are yet perfectly distinguishable.” This relic seems not to have been discussed by later visitors. Again, Sir William Ouseley (1767-1842) reported on numerous Persian sites, and noted minor antiquities encountered in his travels (Observations on Some Medals and Gems, Bearing Inscriptions in the Pahlavi or Ancient Persick, Character, London, 1801; Travels in Various Countries of the East, More Particularly Persia, 3 vols., London, 1819-23).

A notable contribution was that of James Felix Jones of the Indian Navy, who accompanied by Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, made a remarkable journey from Baghdad to Hamadān, during which he described in some detail the antiquities of Bisotun (James Felix Jones, Memoirs, Selections from the Records of the Bombay Government, N.S. 43, Bombay, 1857, p. 173) and Rawlinson’s labors to prepare squeezes of the inscription. At Karand he recorded by a commendable (if not completely decipherable) drawing (p. 194), the Greek epitaph of one Eumenes, son of Demetrius, of Samaria, a Hellenistic visitor, which has never again been traced.

The most important nineteenth-century British visitors to Persia were however Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and Austin Henry Layard (1817-1894). The former, delegated to northern Persia as advisor to the army of the shah of Persia, investigated the sculptures and inscriptions of Darius the Great at Bisotun (“Notes on a March from Zohab, at the Foot of Zagros, along the Mountains to Khuzistan (Susiana), and from Thence through the Province of Luristan to Kirmanshah, in the Year 1836,” Geographical Journal 9, 1839 pp. 26-116). He secured squeezes of the trilingual cuneiform inscriptions, and not only substantially translated the Old Persian texts, on the basis of earlier work by the German Grotefend, but succeeded in a pioneer decipherment of the more difficult Babylonian version, which laid the foundation of Assyriology. Layard, after visiting Mesopotamia, came to Ḵuzestān, and also traveled extensively in the Baḵtiāri area, describing among others the Elamite and Elymaean monuments at Malāmir and at Šembār, though he could not yet read the Elymaean inscriptions (“A Description of the Province of Khuzistan,” Geographical Journal 16/1, 1846, pp. 1-105). Edward Stack, in the course of a fairly routine journey northward from the Persian Gulf, was the first westerner to visit and describe the Hellenistic monument at Ḵorha, reaching it several years after a visit by Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, who apparently was the first excavator there (Edward Stack, Six Months in Persia, 2 vols, 1882, II, pp. 126-30). The account of Persia by George Nathaniel Curzon (q.v.), later viceroy of India, Persia and the Persian Question, London, 1892, is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece. Based on substantial first-hand experience, it pays considerable attention to the historical monuments of the country, including those of pre-Islamic periods, and contains the first account of the natural fortress of Kalāt-e Nāderi, near the Northeastern border.

Of the twentieth century visitors, Percy Molesworth Sykes (1867-1945), British Consul at Kermān, already mentioned in connection with his History of Persia, traveled widely not only in the province, but later undertook an extensive tour through southeastern and northeastern Persia, describing many little-known sites and monuments (Sykes, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902). Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943), a Hungarian by birth, but who had taken service with the Government of India, after his amazing travels in Chinese Turkistan, and subsequently on the North-West Frontier of British India, turned to surveying the antiquities of Iran, visiting Bampur (q.v.) and other sites in Baluchi-stan, and traversing the region from Kermān and the Bardasir Plain, through eastern Fārs (Šahr-e Īj, capital of the former state of Šabānkāra; Dārābgerd, etc.), to Firuzābād, Shiraz, Lorestān, and Kurdistan. His pioneer reports of numerous, especially prehistoric sites, led the way for later archeologists to undertake systematic work at many of these locations (among his many publications, see, for example, Old Routes of Western Iran, London, 1940). With the coming of the Second World War, and especially the expansion of road communications in Iran, the time of the “grand explorers” came to an end. Individual archeologists with motor transport could readily visit and record particular sites, but great overland expeditions with extensive reports were no longer necessary. Mention should also be made here of Ralph Norman Sharp, priest of the missionary church of St. Simon the Zealot at Shiraz (1936-62). A dedicated enthusiast for Persian literature and culture, and especially for the Achaemenid monuments and inscriptions of Fārs, he translated several works on the antiquities of the province from Persian to English, including Moḥammad-Taqi Mostawfi’s Eqlim-e Pārs (tr. as The Land of Pars, Chippenham, Wilts., U.K., 1978) as well as an edition of the cuneiform inscriptions, containing Persian translations (The Inscriptions in Old Persian Cuneiform of the Achaemenian Emperors, Tehran, 1976). After his retirement from the ministry he took up the post of Assistant Professor of Old Persian and Pahlavi at Shiraz University, continuing to transmit to a younger generation his profound knowledge of the archeological heritage.

Museums. The national collection, that of the British Museum, has important holdings of Iranian antiquities in its Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities (see also GREAT BRITAIN xi). A most spectacular assemblage, though deriving from outside the present-day boundaries of Persia, is that of the Oxus Treasure. This spectacular find was discovered, perhaps accidentally, in 1877, at a site, probably that of an ancient temple, near Qobādiān on the Waḵšāb in Tajikistan. This tributary of the Oxus, as its name shows, was regarded in antiquity as representing the main course of the river. There is some debate whether the actual find-spot was represented by the site of Taḵt-e Sangin, later the scene of Russian excavations, or whether it may have been that of Taḵt-e Qobād, not far downstream. Though the material covers several centuries from the fifth century B.C.E. to the first or second C.E., there is a major element from the Achaemenid period, when that dynasty controlled the region. Also credibly attributed to the find was a considerable deposit of coins belonging to the immediate post-Alexander period, including issues of autonomous satraps and earlier Seleucids. The Department has also a strong holding of Achaemenid and Sasanian metalwork. In recent years successive members of the Department, including the late Richard David Barnett, T. C. Mitchell, and John Curtis, have published studies of objects with Iranian connections (John Curtis, ed., Mesopotamia and Iran in the Parthian and Sasanian Periods: Rejection and Revival c. 238 B.C. – A.D. 642, London 2000). At Oxford, the Department of Antiquities of the Ashmolean Museum has also a significant holding of material of Iranian interest, notably from the site of Deve Hüyük in Turkey. Numerous contributions in this field have been produced by Peter Roger Stuart Moorey, formerly Keeper of this department, who has also carried out important work on the Lorestān bronzes (see BRONZES OF LURISTAN).

Specialist journals and periodicals. From the 1830s, the need for presenting analytical studies of Iranian and other Asiatic antiquities and recent discoveries gave birth to a number of learned societies, notably The Royal Asiatic Society, the Royal Geographic Society, and the Royal Numismatic Society. The proceedings of these societies were published in their eponymous journals and chronicles, offering scholars valuable and up to date information on the state of current scholarship. For example, the tenth issue of JRAS, was devoted to Henry C. Rawlinson’s edition and translation of Darius’s Inscriptions at Bisotun (H. C. Rawlinson, “The Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun, Deciphered and Translated,” JRAS 10, 1847, pp. i-lxxi, 1-349; see BĪSOTŪN), a path-breaking study of utmost significance; or Edward Stanley Gotch Robinson’s "The Beginnings of Achaemenid Coinage,” NC 18, 1958, pp. 187-93, which established a chronology and classification for Persian coins. Among later journals, the journal Iran, published from 1963 by The British Institute of Persian Studies (see GREAT BRITAIN xiv) can be singled out for its many important contributions to the art and archeology of pre-Islamic Iran.


Bibliography: Given in the text.

(A. D. H. Bivar)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: February 23, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 3, pp. 255-260