Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Democracy Practiced Among Ancient Persians

When Herodotus (490BC-420BC) the great ancient Greek historian traveled to Persia, he wrote a countless amount of information about how the society operated and how the kings saw themselves next to the Gods and rejected democracy all together. He wrote that the kings, possessing as they do all that heart can desire, ought to be void of envy; but the contrary is seen in their conduct towards the citizens. But worst of all is, that he sets aside the laws of the land, puts men to death without trial, and subjects women to violence. The rule of the many, on the other hand, has, in the first place, the fairest of names, to wit, isonomy; and further it is free from all those outrages which a king is wont to commit. There, places are given by lot, the magistrate is answerable for what he does, and measures rest with the commonality. What Herodotus seems to forget is the way the Persian treated their enemies, and ruled the cities they conquered. What is a known fact is that Iranians sometimes enlarged non-Iranian temples, as in the case of the Temple of Ammon at Hibis in Egypt. Iranians never had any objection to specifically Greek rites or Greek religious personnel; for example, when Xerxes captured Athens 480 BCE, he ordered the restored Athenian exiles with him to offer Hellenic-style on the Acropolis.
On the other hand when Alexander the not so great, who probably had heard the word "democracy" from his tutor, Aristotle for the first time, set his feet in Iran, him and his civilized and democrat Greek army, looted the palaces of any treasures that once had flowed in from all the countries under heaven of Ahura Mazdah. The capital, Persepolis, had been despoiled, its sacred sculptures insulted and defiled, then burned and destroyed by that very element that was the holy manifestation of the Persian fire-god, Atar.
Considering that the first charter of human right was written by Cyrus the great, the first official king of Persia, and not by Aristotle, I see it as a great insult to read Herodotus' opinions written in his notes relating Iranian democracy titled "The Persians Reject Democracy".
On a side note, I think that Aristotle has received more than his share of fame for unexplainable reasons! Perhaps being the tutor of Alexander, the king of Macedon, gained him the fame. But if his theories about life were so enchanting why would his pupil, Alexander turn out so unstable? Infact, according to Dr.P.J.Rhodes from Oxford and many others "The Athenian Constitution" was not even written by Aristotle. Rhodes has came up with a number of clues that I wont get into since they are off topic.
My intentions are to draw your attention to the fact that what we read today in the academic papers about the culture and the operating systems of ancient Persia was mostly written by foreigners from Greece, one of whom was Herodotus. You can only imagine what would a Greek's personal opinion be of their ultimate enemy. Unfortunately, the books written by Persians about Persian culture were mostly looted, first by Greeks, next by Arabs and then by Mongols. The amount of information lost to us is infinite. Currently most of the academic work in relations to Ancient Persian culture relies on the facts and fictions in Gatha the Zoroastrian religious book and Shahnameh, an epic book in the style of Odyssey and Iliad of Homer, written by Ferdousi. Recently, archaeological discoveries have also contributed to enhancing our knowledge about Ancient Persia (although most of them were either sold by burglars or stole by French and the British).
To conclude, keep in mind that what you read in the Western literature is not a great representative of the Persian culture. But sadly they have been dwelled on as the only Ancient resources that we have in hand. You can do a little experiment right now by checking to see if your spell check can detect and correct the word Persepolis, or Shahnameh, where as it easily does so for such words as Odyssey, Iliad , etc..

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Monuments of Dariush

Upon Cyrus' death, his vast empire was plunged into chaos. However, out of the midst of the trubulence,emerged another great leader, Darius, who managed to restore the Achaemenid Empire and set it firmly back on it's great path to greatness. He enhanced Cambyses' projects and built a huge temple, in which he is portrayed as being worshipped. He is also shown being fed by the hands of Egyptian Gods.
In this next segment you will read about five of the most famous monuments of the Achaemanid's Period. You can click on the links to see the pictures in each section or visit my pictures which I took during my visit to Shiraz.

The Map of Ancient Persia:

Relief of Darius the Great:

The Bisoutoun:
Determent that all should know of his conquests, Darius built the Bisotoun, which measures 5.5 meters by 3 meters and stands 75 meters high.
Moreover, he ordered to inscribe the Bisotoun Inscription which was consist of a lenthy text on Persian hisotry, engraved on the face of a cliff about a hundred meter off the Hamedan-Baghdad road, near the town of Bisotoun. In antiquity, the village was called "Bagastana", which means "dwelling place of the Gods". In those days, the road was a majore highway, connecting the Capitals of Babylonia and Media.
In the inscription, the Persian King, Darius the Great, commemorates his military victories. He relates how the God, Ahura Mazda, chose him to dethrone a usurper, named Gaumata (522 BCE), and how he then set out to quell several revolts. He aslo mentions his victories over foreign enemies.
The monument consists of four parts. One large panel depicts king Darius, together with his bow carrier, Intraphenes, and his lance carrier Gobryas. Darius surveys ten representatives of various people he has conquered. One of these figures, which is badly damaged, lies under the king's feet.
Above the figures hovers the supreme God, Ahura Mazda. Beneath them , is another panel, containing a cuniform text, in Old Persian, relating the king's conquests. This text in 515 lines in length. Still another inscription tells more or less the same story in Akkadian (the language spoken in Babylonia). A third panel has the same text in Elamite ( the official governmental language of the Persian Empire).
Darius was displeased with the number of scripts in use at that time. He felt his Empire needed one uniform type of writing. Therefore, when Darius (522BC-486BC), ordered the Bisotoun carving, he also demanded that his scholars form a spacial Persian Alphabet. This new alphabet consisted of thirty-six signs indicating syllables and eight ideolograms.
Darius' successors added their own inscription to that of their predecessor. Seven inscriptions from Darius, tweleve from Xerxes, and eleven lines from Artaxerxes II abd Artaxerxes III can be still be seen, on the Bisotoun, as well.

The use of this scripts in the gold and silver tablets of Apadana and stone pots of Persepolis and Pasargadae, have helped unravel some of the mysteries sorounding the buildings of Achamenid monouments.
Initially, Darius chose Pasargadae, which was the palace of cornations, as his residance. It was around this time that he finalized the construction of the second palace at Pasargadae. The groundwork of this structure had already been laid by Cyrus. It was here that Darius first used his new Alphabet.

Pictures of Bisotoun Inscription:

Palace of Susa:
He then headed for Susa, where he broke ground for a magnificent stone Palace. Cedar from Assyria, Gold from Bactria and Sardis, lapis lazuli and agate from Sogdiana, silver and ebony from Egypt, ivory from India, Ethiopia, ornaments from Ionia and stone pillars from Abiradu. Stonecutters from Ionia and Sardis, along with goldsmiths from Media and Egypt erected a palace, so splended, it would, for centuries, hold visitors in amazement. Tragically this magnificent structure was not destined to last. It was consumed by a huge conflagration. Nothing but a handful of glazed bricks, decorated with base-reliefs remains to tell of its former glory.

Aerial Photo of Susa:

Darius commissioned architects, designers, stonecutters, and a host of other artist for his building project at Persepolis. There, on the slopes of Mount Rahmat, overlooking a vast, fertile plain and panoramic view, the most memorable monument of Achamanians was erected.
Though twenty five hundred years have come and gone, its impressive architecture still holds viewers speachless. Even the ruins of this magnificent city sing of its ancient splendor and remains a source of inspiration for architects and stonecutters. visotors come from far and long to catch a glimpse of these wonderous ruins.
The grand staircase, leading to Persepolis, consists of 110 steps on each side, all hewn out of monolithic stone. Those on the right were reserved for Iranian dignitaries, while those on the left, were for representetives of other nations. The rest of Persepolis is erected on a rectangular platform, some 300 meters wide and 455 meters long, which is laid at a hight of approximately 15 meters, on an area of 125,000 square meters. It is likely that some of the monuments were begun prior to the completion of the platform's wall. All of the structures erected on the platform cross each other at a right angle. It has been generally accepted that the placement of these monuments, along a staight line, enabled the Achaemenids to measure time. Such devices would have proved invaluable in helping these Ancient Persians, who were adept Astrologers, detemine the exact time of their feasts. It is believed that sunrise, from the angle observed on Mount Rahmat, helped the Achaemenids a great deal in this respect. Therefore, we can understand why they named the mountain, "Rahmat". This word, in acient Persian, means "Mithra", or "kindness". In western Iran, kindness was considered one of the primary traits of the Sun God.
One of the stunning aspects of Persepolis is the use of 873 stone columns.
Some of these pillars, in Apadana, measure 20 meters in hight. This veritable forest of columns has prompted many to assume that Persepolis was meant to resemble the Garden of Eden. Only 20 of the columns have survived. However, their very existence has given rise to many questions including: "how could these columns have been built so solidly, even according to today's standards?" This is truly amazing giving the limitations of anceint technology. Some weight as much as fifteen thousand kilograms.
Initially, the entrance of Persepolis was located at the Southern wing, close to Darius' inscriptions. However, a change in the original layout caused the architects to alter their plans and construct a magnificent staircase on the Northwest of the platform. The first sixty-three steps of this double staircase lead to a vast landing. Then, after 48 more steps, and a slight turn, the two branches converge, ending at the platform's surface.
Animated 3D pictures of Persepolis (how it was before):

Aeriel View of Persepolis (takht-e-jamshid):

Painting of Persepolis:

Apadana Palace:
Perhaps the most magnificent monuments Darius built were those at the second Apadana palace. Literally Apadana means "Castle". The building project, which took 30 years, ended in the early days of Xerxes' reign.
The Apadana palace of Persepolis was symmetrical to its counterpart at Susa. This palace consisted of a central hall and three porticoes, built on an area of 12,000 squere meters. Along each side of the hall were six limestone pillars, each measuring up to 20 meters high. Sun-dried bricks were used in forming the thick walls of the palace. The bricks were 5.32 meters thick.
Each portico contained 12 pillar. However, only one of the columns on the eastern portico has a capital, consisting of two, interwined, legendary lions. The columns of the western portico are topped by carved bull's heads. These capitals once contained huge cylindrical pins, which, in turn, were surmounted by even larger pins, which supported the ceiling beams.
At Apadana, no expense was spared. The palace was adorned with the most magnificent ornoments of the day. Here, we catch sight of several stone inscriptions. Gold and Silver tables, along with a cache of gold coins, were discovered in a wooden chest, beneath a 5 meter thick wall, in the Great Apadana Hall. The same chest contained a tablet, written in cuneiform
text of the Elamite and Babylonians. This is another indication of Darius foresight, for he not only hid the treasure in the safest possible place, but left a message for posterity along with it.
Work was well underway at Persepolis, when the King went to Susa, for ceremonial affairs. One of his cheif coureirs, named Faranke, was given charge of the construction project. In one talet alone, refrence is made to 2,454 former slaves, who had been summoned to Persepolis (Koch).

Pictures of Apadana Palace:
Picture of the top of the columbs:

Upon Apadana's completion, Darius decided to construct a private palace. Tachara, meaning "winter palace", is the name the king chose for his private residence. This appellation is inscribed on the building's southern platform's surface. The palace is approximately 30 meters wide and 40 meters long. Twelve columns supported its ceiling. The portals weigh 75 tons, apciece and the structure contains eighteen, 18-ton niches careved in stone. The central hall, built on an area of 250 square meters, opens onto a portico in the south. This portico has eight stone columns. According to an inscription, the portico and stairs, in the front, were built during Xerxes' reign. However, the construction of the staircase and carved figures decorating the left wing of the palace, were added later, during the reign of Artaxerxes III. Chambers, which were most probably baths, were located on both sides of the porticoes. The northern wing contained still more rooms. Portals on oppostie sides of the central hall, lead to smaller chambers. Though the actual purpose of the this palace is unknown, a variety of conjectures have been made about it. Some say it was a royal residence, whereas others maintain that Darius used it as his office. Whatever the purpose, Tachara, with its fabulous figures and decorations, is unique.
At the time of Darius's death, Persepolis, "city of Persians", was still under construction. Therefore, it was left to his son and heir, Xerxes, to complete the task.
Watch this beautiful documentary by Farzin Rezaian about Persepolis and the Persian Empire!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Legend of Kaveh Ahangar (Kaveh the Blacksmith)

Kaveh Ahangar is perhaps a mythical figure who first appeared in Ferdousi's Shahnameh as the hero who rescued his people from the ruthless ruler in power at his time. Kaveh was such a man who stood up against the tyrant Zahak (known as snake-shouldered). Zahak was the son of Mardas an Arab ruler in Iran. Stories have it that Zahak killed his father in order to earn the kingdom. It was believed that Zahak had a special relationship with the devil. The devil had kissed his shoulders and from each shoulder had grown a snake. This urges Zahak to seek treatment. This time the devil appears in front of Zahak as a doctor and advises him to drink the blood of young Iranians in order to satisfy the needs of the bloodthirsty snakes. One night Zahak dreams that three men came to his palace and killed him. He wakes up in terror and calls upon the dream interpreter whom in turn tells him that a man with a name of Fereydoon will come and take his kingdom away. Hence Zahak sends for Fereydoon to be discovered and destroyed. Fereydoon's mother, Faranak, hears the command and takes fereydoon to a village in Larijan in Mazandaran (north of Iran). Ferdousi further writes that Fereydoon was left to a farmer in Larijan and milked by a cow whose every hair was of a different color. Zahak soon hears of this unusual cow and comes to the North in the seek to find it. Faranak hears of this and takes Fereydoon to an old man who wondered in the mountains to take care of him. Meanwhile Zahak kills the beautiful caw. Once Fereydoon reaches the age of sixteen he leaves in search of his mother. When he found his mother, he was told all that had happened to him. Fereydoon upon hearing his disturbed life becomes eager to take revenge. As Fereydoon gets closer to approach his revenge he meets Kaveh at a gathering. Kaveh, a working class blacksmith with nothing more than a brave heart & the support of his people, decided to end this vicious cycle & destroy this evil king. With bravery he approached Zahak and demands freedom. He took off his leather apron and puts it on top of a long metal to make a flag out of it. This flag was called the Darafsh the flag of freedom that sentenced the guilty monarch to life in the mountains. It is written that Kaveh, Fereydoon and his two brothers,(Kianoosh and Shadkam), united the people and went to a war with Zahak. Meanwhile Zahak flees to India while his army was fighting with Fereydoon. Fereydoon conquers Zahak's army and after he decides to finish the unfinished business and find Zahak. After finding Zahak, Fereydoon takes him to the Albourz Mountains, located in North of Iran, and prisons him in a cave. The day that Fereydoon destroyed Zahak and his kingdom may also be the day that the Persians celebrate the Mehregan Festival. A day that good destroys evil. Some historians believe the story originated during the Medes kingdom in western Iran & Zahak was in fact the unpopular king Astyages.
Kaveh's flag was later on famous as Darafsh and it was customary in the ancient Persia that every king would add a jewlery to the darafsh. When Arab Muslims invaded Iran, the darafsh was seized in a bloody battle fought around Nahavand (a city with the same name in today's Hamadan province in the mid-western Iran) and taken, among many other war spoils. The Arabs burned the flag and used the valuable items.

Picture of Kaveh Ahangar:

Picture of Darafshe Kaviani: