Cities and Social Order in Sasanian Iran-The Archaeological Potential

By Karimian, Hassan | Antiquity, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Cities and Social Order in Sasanian Iran-The Archaeological Potential


Karimian, Hassan, Antiquity


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Introduction

Research focusing on the history and nature of Iranian cities during the Sasanian period, AD 224-651, is still in its infancy (Huff 1986: 177). Indeed, much of our knowledge base is drawn from a combination of historical traditions and the results of limited archaeological excavations. Although many of the former were preserved within later Islamic texts (Curtis 2000: 84-90), they provide insufficient detail as to social and spatial order. Some sources record only the names of the cities and their founders (Tafazzoli 1987: 332), whilst others, translated into Arabic and Persian, describe only the social dimensions and administrative affairs of society during the Sasanian period. It may be argued, however, that elements of these records--namely the Karnamak-iArtaxshir-i Pabakan, Shahrhaye Iran or 'The Iranian Cities', Pahlavi Canons, Madigan Hizardudistan, Majmoueye (collection of) Bakhtishoue, Letter of Tansar, History of Karkh Beyt Slough, Rouydad-nameh (adventure letters of) Adiabeneh--contain relevant details allowing us to reconstruct elements of Sasanian social organisation. These details may be further combined with extant Sasanian inscriptions to shed light on the archaeological lacuna (Sarfaraz 1987: 20). The general aim of the present paper is to compare the characteristics of Sasanian cities, as known archaeologically, with the social organisation implied by epigraphical and textual evidence.

Sasanian social structure

In view of the documentary sources, there can be little doubt that Sasanian society was broadly hierarchical (Table 1). Beneath the king of kings at the top of the pyramid, the upper class consisted of nobles divided into four groups. The highest group comprised kings of client states who recognised the overlordship of the Sasanian royal family. As they were frequently rulers of independent or remote regions, the title of king was used for most of them (Karimian 2008: 101). The inscription of Kaba-yi Zardusht in Fars province, for example, lists the presence of four kings from the east of Iran at Ardashir I's court (Sprengling 1953: 18). Tansar's letter refers to the rulers of the western region of Khwarazm and Kabul within this group of client kings or shahs (Minuvi 1977: 956). Due to the existence of these regional kings, the Sasanian kings called themselves Shahan Shah, or king of kings, because such a great number of rulers under them had a kingly title. Also within the first class of society but below the kings were princes, or Wispuhragan, who were the heads of tribes. The third group of the first class included the great menor Wuzurgan, who are mentioned, for example, in the inscription of Paikuli in Iraq (Lukonin trans. 1993: 193, 681). Christensen believes that these great men (Wuzurgan) were the senior officials and representatives of the government (Christensen trans. 1991: 168). The final group of the first class are, perhaps incorrectly, titled 'liberals' (Azatan). These individuals ruled over small regions on behalf of the government and established links between the villagers and central government (Karimian 2008:101).

The clergy and secretaries were the second group of Iranian people during the Sasanian age. The head of clergy was the Magupat Magupatan, who enjoyed the same rank as a prophet (Mas'udi 1970: 97). He was the guardian of religion and held the highest judicial position (Khwarazmi 1993:112). His position is noted as the highest in the Karnamak-iArtaxshir-i Pabakanand and Ivanow believed that the holder of this post had achieved the highest social position after the king by the end of the Sasanian period (Ivanow 1979: 161). Because of this influence, many Sasanian kings tried to reduce the position of clergy (Pigulevskaia trans. 1988 (1958): 79). They were divided into two groups, the Magupatan (Mobad) and the Herbadan (Karimian 2008: 105). Kardir, the Zoroastrian cleric whose portrait is carved in an inscription at Naqsh-i Rajab beside the Sasanian king, mentions Magupat and Herbad as separate titles (Frye trans. …

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