Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Chess was Invented by Persians!

The origins of chess are obscure, and it is not until the 7th century that there is a reference to the game in literature. The first mention of chess is found in a Persian poem according to which the advent of the game took place in India. Chess migrated to Persia (Iran) during the reigns of King Chosroe-I Annshiravan (531-579) as described in a Persian book of this period. This book described chess terminology and the names and function of the major pieces/minor pieces in some detail. Chess is also mentioned in the poems of Firdousi, a Persian poet of the 10th century in which he describes gifts being introduced by a convoy from the Rajah of India at the court of the Persian King Chosroe-I. Amongst the gifts was a game which depicted the battle of two armies.
Records show that there were originally four types of pieces used in chess. Shatrang (Indian Sanskrit) means ‘four’ and anga means ‘detachment’. In the Sassanid dynasty (242-651 AD) a book was written in the Middle Persian Pahlavi language called ‘Chatrang namakwor’ (A Manual of Chess). Shatrang (chess) represents the universe, according to ancient Indian mysticism. The four sides being the four elements (fire, air, earth and water), and the four ‘humors’ of man. Although the names of the MPs/mps are different in various countries today, their movements are strikingly similar. In Persia the word ‘Shatranj’ was used for the name of chess itself. The Persians took up Indian chess with enthusiasm. The caliphs, rulers of the Moslem world, kept chess professionals at court through the 9th and 10th centuries. Chess was used by Persiansas a way to define war strategies within the Persian army. On the chessboard, the black and white squares simplify both the battlefield and the circumstances to improve comprehension, the pieces strictly reflect the fabric within the imperial Persian governments. The vocabulary and the rules of the game which are distinctly Persian, has therefore made the game a household hobby with a natural presence among Iranians.
Chess was brought to Europe by the Moors in Spain before AD 1,000.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Mazdak and Mani

Just as Mani's eclectic Faith was a pointer at the germs of decay in the Sassanian body-politic, so also Mazdak's teaching was a pointer at the inevitable downfall towards which the Sassanian Empire was heading. Mani came within one generation of the establishment of Sassanian rule in Iran; Mazdak came towards the end of that rule, about a century before the Empire was overthrown by the Arabs. Both these movements were fiercely and ruthlessly uprooted in the land of their origin, and to all outward appearance it seemed as if the authority of the theocratic state was amply vindicated. But the triumph over Mazdakism was short-lived. There is another similarity between these two movements: Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic writers have poured unbounded vituperation against both. These unfriendly writings are our only sources of information regarding the teachings of Mazdak. As regards Mani a great deal of new and valuable information has come to light since the Turfan discoveries in 1902. These have shown Mani had been a really great personage and the founder of a new Faith. But no such finds have yet been discovered to rehabilitate Mazdak.
The Mazdakites were socially radical religious sectarians who dominated Iranian politics in the late CE 5th and early 6th Centuries. Mazdak of Fesa, building on foundations laid by earlier heterodox religious leaders from the same part of the country, apparently taught that good and evil are everywhere randomly mixed, even in the nature of God, and that the adept who mastered the occult correspondences governing the universe had no need of outward religious formalities.
Mazdak advocated a social program of vegetarianism, pacifism, anti-clericalism, and utopian communism. When the Emperor Kavadh (Ghobâd), locked in struggle with the high aristocracy and perhaps seeking lower class support, converted to the new religion, Mazdak was able to start putting these theories into practice on a vast scale, opening government warehouses to the poor and closing all but three of the kingdom's Fire Temples. Mazdak's teaching was accepted by the masses very quickly. Within the course of a few months his followers could be counted by the hundred thousand: and in every part of the vast empire they were drawn from every stratum of society from the king downwards.
Mazdak might well be termed the first Bolshevik in history. Indeed, in some respects Bolsheviks might be regarded as lukewarm compared to Mazdak; he not only preached communism in worldly possessions but he also advocated an equal division of women among men.
When Kawadh was restored to the throne in 501 A.D. He was made wiser by experience and he withdrew his open support of the Mazdakites. He clearly recognized the seed from which this terrible tree of Mazdakism had grown, and he tried his best during the remaining thirty years of his reign to see that the conditions of the masses were made more tolerable. But he was not strong enough to remove the root causes of Mazdakism. That was reserved for a far greater man than Kawadh. It was his son Khusrav I, known to all Orient by his title Noshiravan, who freed Iran from the Mazdak frenzy.
Mazdak was certainly a successor of Mani, because his movement was not merely social but was essentially religious. His extreme ideas were certainly a menace both to society and to religion. They certainly threatened the very existence of Zoroastrian priesthood, and so very naturally he was violently abused by Zoroastrian writers. He has been called Ashemaogha (a disorter of truth) and one commentator on a religious text explains this epithet by adding, "like Mazdak, the Son of Bamdad". The mildest epithet used for him by Zoroastrians is "accursed". Mazdak's ideas are a natural corollary to the state of Iran in his days, and to the condition of the masses that he had seen with his own eyes. He felt himself obliged to preach extreme communism and an absolute community of possessions, including women. Very likely he was moved by the idea that desperate diseases need desperate remedies. At the same time he also preached a higher ideal of life. He pointed out the value of self-restraint and renunciation of all sense-pleasures including animal food. For this last teaching he has been called "the devil who would not eat". He asserted that the desire for pleasure and possessions constituted the universal cause of all hatred and strife. He also like Mani laid stress on Zoroaster's teaching of the two essential principles of Good and evil which pervade our life on earth. He also enjoined the strict purity of God's "elements", fire, water and earth. But we have very scanty positive knowledge of what he actually taught.
Mazdak was treacherously murdered and many of his closest adherents lost their lives at the same time. Then followed a systematic suppression of all Mazdakites, often with much bloodshed. But though outwardly uprooted and completely destroyed the teachings of Mazdak continued to flourish for several centuries after his murder. Under the rule of the Islamic caliphs of Baghdad several "heretical sects" have been noted by historians. They all seemed to get their inspiration from the teachings of Mazdak, for they cite him as their authority. But what is more surprising and very significant is that many of these "heretical sects" have coupled the name of Mazdak with that of Zoroaster, the Prophet of ancient Iran.
In remote areas, Mazdakism lingered for centuries, eventually becoming hard to distinguish from Central Asian Buddhism which it had always in some ways resembled. Later Islamic writers often use "Mazdakite" (like "Manichee") as simply a generic word for "heretic".

Picture of King Kavad I:

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Wine was Originated in Iran

The origins of wine are as cloudy as the first vintages must have been. We will never know who first allowed grape juice to ferment to the point that it became wine, just as we will never know who ground grain and baked it to produce the first loaf of bread. But the impossibility of tracing the very first batch of wine ever made has not deterred archaeologists and historians from searching for the earliest evidence, a quest that has taken them back more than 7,000 years. The most we can expect to find now is earthenware jars or other vessels bearing evidence that they might have held wine: the remains of grapes -- seeds, stalks and empty skins -- or stains and residues from wine. Evidence of this kind has been found in pottery jars at a number of sites in the Middle East dating from the neolithic period (Late Stone Age), which lasted from about 8500 to 4000 BC.
The most persuasive evidence of early wine has been obtained by a combination of chemical analysis and archaeological inferences. At a number of neolithic sites in the Zagros mountains, in what is now western Iran, archaeologists have located jars that have reddish and yellowish deposits on their interior walls. Analysis of these deposits has shown them to be rich in tartaric acid and calcium tartrate.
The earliest of these neolithic finds were six nine-litre jars embedded in the floor of a mud brick building, dating from 5400-5000 BC, in the community of Hajji Firuz Tepe in the northern region of the Zagros mountains. These vessels contained not only the residues appropriate to grape juice but also bore deposits of resin. Resin from the terebinth tree that grew wild in the region was widely used as a preservative in ancient wine because it has the ability to kill certain bacteria, and tree resin (generally pine) is still used in Greek retsina wine.
Further evidence of ancient wine comes from Godin Tepe, a trading post and administrative and military centre also in the Zagros mountains, but much further south of Hajji Firuz. There, archaeologists discovered thirty- and sixty-litre earthenware jars dating from 3500-3000 BC, just after the neolithic period. Further significance of this discovery is that this area was not a grape growing one, the main crops were grain and the preferred drink of the time was beer, which suggests that wine was probably used as a commodity. Godin was located on the Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean, the probable origin of the wine.
The traces of beer has been found on ancient bowls & dishes in Shoosh. They were the oldest civilization in the world who were drinking alcohol, specifically "beer."
Hence, as one may imagin, wine was not invented in Greece or Italy, but the real land of Wine was Persia and it was later traded through the Silk road to other parts of the world (as Herodotus states). Even today the best wines in the world comes from northern Iran around the region of Armania.

Picture of The Vessle from Iran that contained the remains of 7,000-year-old wine:

Pictures from an excavation in Haji Firuz Tapeh:

Sunday, January 04, 2004

The Three Famous Persian Thrones

There are three thrones located in Tehran. The Sun Throne (also known as the Peacock Throne), the Marble Throne and the Naderi Throne. Chair-like thrones like this were used in ancient Iran by Achaemenid dynasty in the 5th century BC, as well as the 17th century Safavid dynasty.

The Naderi Throne:
The Naderi throne be taken apart into 12 separate sections. It was intended to be portable, to be carried along when the King moved to his summer residences. The throne is constructed of wood, covered with gold, and encrusted with jewels. The history of this throne is not well known. Even its name is confusing. This particular throne has verses written on it which attribute it to Fathali Shah. Diaries written by travellers who visited Fathali Shah's court at the time also mention a throne such as this one, though the throne may have been refurbished by Nasseridin Shah. So why is it called the Naderi throne if it is not related to Nader Shah? The answer is the the term "Nader" also means "rare" or "unique" in the Persian language. Thus, this isn't Nader's Throne, rather the name refers to the fact that the throne is unique or rare.
The height of the throne is approximately 225 cm. Among the 26,733 jewels covering the throne, there are four very large spinels on the backrest, the largest of which is 65 cts.; there are also four very large emeralds on the backrest too, the largest of which is approximately 225 cts. The largest ruby on the throne is 35 cts.
The designs which can be seen on the throne include a peacock tail on the backrest, ducks, dragons, leaves and tree branches. A rather tame-looking lion rests on the front panel of the footstool.

Picture of the Naderi Throne:

Picture of Mohammad Reza Shah's coronation sitting on the Naderi Throne (1967):

The Peacock Throne:
During the reign of Fathali Shah and by his order, a great throne was made under the supervision of Nezamoldoleh Mohammad Hossein Khan Sadr Isfahani, the governor of Isfahan, using gold and loose stones from the treasury. As a motif of the sun, encrusted with jewels, was used on the top of the throne, it became known as the Sun Throne. The throne was later called the Peacock Throne, after Fathali Shah's marriage to Tavous Khanoum Tajodoleh who was known as Lady Peacock because her first name, Tavous, is the Persian word for a peacock.
Thus, this "Peacock Throne" has often been confused with the famous Peacock Throne of the Mughol dynasty in India, which was captured by Nader Shah during his campaigns in that country.
Some years after the death of Fathali Shah, Nasseridin Shah ordered some repairs to be made to the throne, adding some panels to it bearing calligraphic verse.
This throne was kept in the Golestan Palace until September 6th, 1980. At that date, it was relocated to the vault of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where it is on display for the benefit of the public along with the rest of the Imperial jewels.

Pictures of the Peacock Throne:

Picture of Nasseridin Shah sitting on the steps of the Peacock Throne:

Picture of Nassereddin Shah Qajar and Ezzat Doleh (King's sister) and thier mother,Mahde-Olia sitting on the Peacock Throne:

Picture of Nader shah's Tomb:

The Marble Throne:
The spectacular terrace known as Takht-e-Marmar (Marble Throne) was built in 1806 by order of Fath Ali Shah Qajar (r. 1797-1834). The Marble Throne is one of the oldest buildings of the historic Arg. The existing throne, which is situated in the middle of the terrace (iwan), is made of the famous yellow marble of Yazd province.
The throne is made of sixty-five pieces of marble and was designed by Mirza Baba Naghash Bashi (head painter) of the Qajar court. Mohammad Ebrahim, the Royal Mason, oversaw the construction and several celebrated masters of the time worked on the execution of this masterpiece.
Coronations of Qajar kings, and formal court ceremonies were held on this terrace (iwan). The last coronation to be held at Takht-e-Marmar was the coronation of, the self-proclaimed King, Reza Khan Pahlavi in 1925.

Pictures of the Marble Throne:

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Sialk Tappeh (Tappeye Sialk)

The richest archaeological site in central Iran is the mound of the Tappeh-ye Sialk which is located close to Kashan. This site was excavated by Ghirshman in the 1930s. The excavations revealed that the site is more than 7000 years old. Apparantly the Indo-European Aryans or Iranians arrived on the plateau during the second millennium BC, and it is at Tappeh Sialk that the remains of their most ancient dwellings have been found. The rich had jewels made of silver, and the poor of bronze or iron. Probably, one of the most interesting findings are inscribed clay tablets dating back to the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE. The site has revealed a vast number and variety of pottery and domestic implements of clay, stone and bone from as early as the 4th millennium BC, and is believed to have been first settled in the 5th millennium or earlier. It appears to have been sacked and deserted in about the 8th century BC. You can still see the outline of various mud-brick buildings and a large number of potsherds embedded throughout the two mounds.
There are also some records showing immigrants and conquerors passing through this region and settling near Bagh-e Fin.
The artifacts uncovered reside in the Louvre Museum in Paris and the archaeological museum in Tehran. There is not much to do or see there today unless you are an archaeologist.