Saturday, August 16, 2003

The Status of Astronomy in Ancient Iran

Stars have facinated humans for ages; while some have worshiped it, others have studied it. Astron in Greek language means Stars and Astronomy is the science of the heacenly bodies. In Ancient Iran the study of stars and planets and its effect on humans had been a subject of research and they made good use of the knowledge they gained from such research. Among the fragments of the ancient Persian knowledge that have survived the onslaught in history and the misinterpretation by scholars, we find informations that are among the latest discoveries of modern science. An example is the "Mah Yasht", which is to be found in the Avesta. It says to the effect that "In spring with the new moon if a seed is sowen the fruit of that plant will be sweet and in abundance." In the late sixties scientists in Russia and Japan came to the same conclusion.
Today, the notion of "Date line" is so common that we dont even think about it. As far as we are conserned, the whole notion of date line has to do with how we set the different times according to a place named Greenwich in London. What we dont know is that the notion of having a Date Line stem from Persia and the ancient Greenwich was actually located in Sistan, a province in Southern Iran, and it was called Nimrouz meaning Half Day or Noon. An observatory was built at this location and was called the Nimrouz Observatory; it was located on 33.5 degrees latitude and the Date Line passed through it. The choice of the location was based on yhr information that beyond 67 degree North, there was no civilization and from East to West, Sistan was in the center of the ancient civilization, thus when it was Noon ( Nimrouz), in Sistan all the countries of the Ancient Civilization had sunshine, in the Eastern most corner there would be sunset and the Western most corner it would be dawn.
The ancient Persians also had an extensive knowledge about their own planet. They knew that the Earth consisted of seven separate landmasses, for in Avesta we repeatedly read of "haft Keshvar Zamin", meaning Seven Continents.
More importantly the Ancient Persians knew the relationship between the Sun and the Earth. While Galileo in 1616CE was imprisoned for saying that the Earth went around the Sun, the Persians two milleniums before that date had all their calculations in place with regard to the movement of the Earth aroud the Sun. The celebration of the New Day ( Nou Rouz) as against the New Year (saale Nou) is a matter of great significance astronomically.
Today, we are aware that the Earth as a planet is riding on its path round the Sun along with the other planets while the Sun itself is also moving on its own path along with the rest of the Universe. The journey of the Earth around the Sun does not end in a whole number of days but it ends in a fraction (365.24190), that can not be added up to form a whole number. The beginning and the end of the journey are marked in spring with the Vernal Equinox. Thi equinox does not happen at the same time each year but it happens with a differnece of about 5:48:20:16 hours ( give and take a few seconds). These facts were well known to the ancient Persians and taking them into consideration they devised a method of maintaining a calendar that could be fine-tuned with nature. Today in spite of starting the New Year with the Vernal Equinox, the year ends up with a fraction which by even having a leap years every four years and skipping one every 120 years does not help in solving the fraction. The solution was in nature itseld, the Ancient Persians who researched the "wisdom in creation" had come to a conclusion. To zero in the difference the Persians waited for the Equinox to coincide with the Sun Rise at a given location in their country and called the New year of that year Nou Rouz (New Day). one such new year that has been archeologically recorded in history was in 487 BCE, when the Vernal Equinox coincided with the Sun rise at Takhte Jamishid ( Persepolis). A square stone was placed in the central hall where the first rays of the rising Sun would fall at the same tume as the equinox. Today this knowledge is lost to the Persians ans they do not see the difference between New day and New year.
The Persians also used their knowledge of astronomy to influence others in the ancient civilization. The Jews anticipated in Messiah at the turn of the millennium and they were disappointed that this had not happend. The Persians helped them recalculate their calendar by introducing a solar calendar, which was accepted and thus paved the way for the introduction of jesus Christ as the Messiah.
What the ancient Iraninans did has to be compared with what other civilizations of that same time did. An ezample relatd to astronomy is that of the Egyptions who are believed to have plotted the stars and buried their king in it with a hope that he would go to that star represented by the pyramid in which he was buried. The man power and the wealth of the nation were spent on their beliefs about a life after death while their people in their present lives, lived as slaves and in poverty. (the content of this note has been taken from a paper by Mr.Fariborz Rahnamoon)
So did the Babylonian civilization before it came under the influence of Persia. The Bible tells us how they built the "Tower of Babel" to reach the gods who lived beyond the clouds and among the stars.
For the Ancient Iranians, the skies had practical use; it was not the location of the imaginary paradise, because Zarathushtra's heaven and hell was on earth. Paradise is where you creat it, it can be in your home in your city, in your country and enjoyed while one is alive.
The ancient Iranians had immense knowledge in astronomy and they used it to improve and organize the life of their fellow men. They studied nature and copied it to their advantage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The Persian Way of Life

What I'm about to write is taken from the book of Xenophon, a Greek writer who travelled to many places and even wrote a book with the name of "The Persian Expedition" about Iran. He claimed that he had travelled with Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia and the below text is about how he identifyed Cyrus as a character. Xenophon's porpuse by writing this book was to introduce the persian culture to the Greeks and since his writing have survived, today we can learn about our history from Greek sources that may even be biase. What is evidant is that the ancient Perians lived a certain way and the only way to learn about their ways of life is to refer to ancient texts. Many believe that Cyrus was a mythical figure, even if so I believe what they wrote about him is what they expected from a wise man and is not to be underestimated. Just like the Greeks know their heroes ( Achillies, Odysseus, Herakles, jason, ....), I think we should get to know our heroes and celebrate them.
According to Xenophon, while Cyrus was marching against the King of Babylan, two of his mercenary generals, Xenias and Pasion deserted him, taking with them all the valuables and their soldiers. The Greeks thought that Cyrus would persue and punish them. But Cyrus collected his generals and this is what he said: " Xenias and Pasion have left us, but they can be sure enough that they have not got out of reach. I know the way they have gone and they have not escaped me, since I have triremes, which could over take their ships. But, by Heaven, I am certainly not going to pursue them. No one shall say that I make use of man while he is in my service, and then, when he wants to leave, that I arrest him and ill-treat him and take away his property. No! let them go, with the knowledge that they have behaved worse to us than we have to them. It is true that i hold their children and women under my guard at Tralles, but they will not even lose them. No! they will get them back again in return for the good service they did me in the past."
Xenophon has futher analyzed the character of Cyrus son of Ardeshir I as so:
" the cities which were in his command trusted him and so did the men. And the enemies he had were confident that once Cyrus had signed a treaty with them, nothing would happen to them contrary to the terms of the treaty."
"If anyone did him good or evil, he evidently aimed at doing one better. Some people used to refer to a habitual prayer of his, that he might live long enough to be able to repay with interest both those who helped him and those who injured him. It was quite natural then that he was the one man in our times to whom so many people were eager to hand over their money, their cities and their own selfs."
" When he saw that a man was a capable adminstrator, acting on just principles, improving the land under his control and making it increase its profits, he never took his post away from him, but always gave him additional responsibilities. The result was that his administors did their work cheerfully and made money confidently. Cyrus was the last person whom they kept in the dark about their possessions, since he showed no envy for those who became rich openly, but, on the contrary, tried to make use of the wealth of the people who attempted to conceal what they had."
"He thought that the reason to have freinds was to have people to help him, and he applied exactly the same principles to others, trying to be of most service to his friends whenever he knew that any of them needed anything."
"When people send him fine things to wear, wither armour or beautiful clothing, they saw that he remarks: I cant possibly wear all these finary on my own body, and send them to his friends who were in need."
"Often, when he had a particularly good wine, he would send jars full of it to his friends with the message: Cyrus has not for a long time come across a better wine than this; so he has send some to you and wants you to finish it up today with those whom you love best or: Cyrus enjoyed this; so he wants you to taste it too."

This was how all the Persians were brought up, following their King as an example. Xenophon in his book reffers to the way Persian children were disciplined, explaining, " All the children of the Persian nobles are brought up at the court, and there a child can pick up many lessons in good behaviour while having no chance of seeing or hearing anything bad".

Saturday, August 09, 2003

A Roman Emperor Captured By a Persian King

One of the more proud moments in the Persian history was when ShapurI the king of Persia fought with Valerian the Roman emperor and defeated him. Pahlavi Shapur (c.215 - 272) was the son of Ardashir, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty in Persia. Shapur fought against Rome in Asia Minor and imprisoned the emperor Valerian for the rest of his life. The story goes that Shapur conquered Armenia, invaded Syria, and plundered Antioch. At last the emperor Valerianus marched against him, but was captured.Shapur advanced as far as Asia Minor, but was beaten by Ballista. Shapur was unable to resume the offensive; he even lost Armenia. But according to Persian and Arabic traditions, which appear to be trustworthy, he conquered the great fortress of Hatra (a historic fortified city in Iraq), in the Mesopotamian desert; and the great glory of his reign was that a Roman emperor was by him kept prisoner to the day of his death.
In the valley of Istakhr (near Persepolis), under the tombs of the Achaemenids at Naqsh-e-Rustam, Shapur is represented on horseback, in the royal armour, with the crown on his head; before him kneels Valerian, in Roman dress, asking for grace. The same scene is represented on the rocks near the ruins of the towns Darabjird and Shapur in Persia. Shapur left other reliefs and rock inscriptions; one, at Naksh-e-Rajab near Persepolis, is accompanied by a Greek translation; here he calls himself "the Mazdayasnian (worshipper of Ahuramazda), the god Sapores, king of kings of the Aryans (Iranians) and non-Aryans, of divine descent, son of the Mazdayasnian, the god Artaxares, king of kings of the Aryans, grandson of the god-king Papak." ( visit my pictures of Naghshe Rostam).
Shapur ruled over Persian and non-Persian territories, and he tried to find a religion suitable for all his subjects. He tought of his empire as a multinational state in which Manichaesim, enriched by Christian, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian sources, would serve as a unifying bond.