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red. Mirosław Michalak, Magdalena Rodziewicz
Stability and changeability of identities, especially in the context of their disappearance and revival, is one of the leitmotifs of the current publication, which is a fruit of a collective effort of scholars who represent diverse areas of the humanities and varied approaches to the issue of identity in the lands occupied by the Persian-language civilization. Treating the issue of identity in an
interdisciplinary manner made it possible to present it from a variety of standpoints, consequently yielding a complex picture of the matter. Moreover, as it often happens when an interest in a certain research problem is shared by many specialists, new perspectives were discovered. The effect of synergy that emerged during the preparation of this publication undoubtedly adds to its quality. In addition, whereas sociologists and psychologists have long conducted research on identity or identities, an approach to the subject made from the point of view of Oriental Studies is to some extent an innovation and constitutes an interesting challenge.
Editorial review: Bogdan Składanek (University of Warsaw)
DTP: „Radon” Radosław Kierełowicz vel Kieryłowicz
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Cover design: Ewa Majewska
Cover photo: Theatrum historicum ad annum Christi quadrigentesimũ: in quo tum Imperii Romani tũ Barbarorum circumincolentiũ status ob oculos ponitur. Pars orientalis, by Guillaume de L'Isle, apud I. Cóvens & C. Mortier, Atlas nouveau, contenant toutes les parties du monde, Amstelodami ca. 1745.
Copyright © for this edition by Wydawnictwo Akademickie DIALOG, 2015
This publication has been co-financed by the Rector of the University of Warsaw and the Faculty of Oriental Studies University of Warsaw.
ISBN e. 978-83-8002-427-4
Wydawnictwo Akademickie DIALOG
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Wydanie elektroniczne, Warszawa 2015
The Role of the King of Kings: An Interpretation in Historiography
Kasravi – Was He Truly the Integrative Nationalist of Iran?
A Glance at New Persian Translations of the Middle Persian Texts
Who is a Madame?
A Lost Identity: Iranians as Seafarers and Explorers
The National Identity of Iranian Jews, As Manifested in their Intellectual & Judeo-Persian Contributions
Blasphemers or Mystics? Reflection over the Nature of the Revelation in Contemporary Iran
Indigenous versus International? The Role of “Preislamic” Identity and Shici Islam in the Clashes of the Bāwandid Kingdom with the Nizārī Ismācīlīs in Northern Iran
Razi’s Egalitarian Ideas
Rūmī, Balkhī, Mevlevī: The Ambiguities of Identity in the Poetry of Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad (1207-1272 CE)
How the Characters Speak for Themselves: Colloquial Language as Means of Expressing Identity in Čerāqhā rā man xāmuš mikonam, a Novel by Zoyā Pirzād
The concept of “identity” is one of the key components of the present-day humanistic sciences. Also, it is especially significant because it would be difficult to find an aspect of life, or in fact a research area, upon which identity would not have left its stamp. In the course of the 20th century, the work of such scholars as E. Erikson, P. Weinreich and many others has made it possible to arrive at a scientific method of researching identity in the psychological and sociological sense. This pertains to the personal, social identity as much as to collective identities. Erikson distinguished the individual identity and the social (or cultural) identity and investigated social roles played by various individuals, as well as the process of the formation and transformation of identity in the course of a person’s life. His reflection inspired subsequent scholars, one of whom, Weinreich, proposed the conception of the Identity Structure Analysis (ISA) which constitutes a research tool in investigating the relationships of an individual with him/herself and with the surrounding reality. Considering the essays presented in the current volume, the most useful and, in fact, the most important are Weinreich’s concept of the dynamism of identity and his realization that at various points in time identity is essentially stable and forms a continuum, but that is concurrently undergoes change, fluctuation and development.
Collective identities were researched by G.H. Mead as early as the 1930s, and recently by F. Poletta and J.M. Jasper parallel to research on the social identity of individuals conducted mainly by H. Tajfel. In the theory of social identity, various forms of social behaviour of individuals are located on the continuum between the interpersonal and inter-group behaviour. Positive differentiation as the motivation to action is of fundamental importance here, as it results in strong bonds and group identification. In this area we are also dealing with the interaction between stability and continuity on the one hand and the transformation on the other.
With regard to the Persian-language civilization, the issues of the interaction between continuity and change and the processes of disappearance and revival of identities is all the more interesting considering that this civilization has been developing for long centuries on an exceptionally large territory. This is of paramount importance to the issues of identity, since it implies a diversity and progression of transformations both gradual, well-nigh imperceptible, and violent, resulting in evident and momentous caesuras. In fact, very diverse ethnic, religious and cultural identities, all part of one great civilisation, have functioned in the vast area occupied by the speakers of Persian and other languages and dialects related to it, from Turkestan to Iraq. In spite of continuous changes, those identities have demonstrated a surprising durability and strength. Some of those identities have vanished, making way for new ones; yet some have shown a tendency towards revival in new circumstances and new cultural environments.
Stability and changeability of identities, especially in the context of their disappearance and revival, is one of the leitmotifs of the current publication, which is a fruit of a collective effort of scholars who represent diverse areas of the humanities and varied approaches to the issue of identity in the lands occupied by the civilization in question. Treating the issue of identity in an interdisciplinary manner made it possible to present it from a variety of standpoints, consequently yielding a complex picture of the matter. Moreover, as it often happens when an interest in a certain research problem is shared by many specialists, new perspectives were discovered. The effect of synergy that emerged during the preparation of this publication undoubtedly adds to its quality. In addition, whereas sociologists and psychologists have long conducted research on identity or identities, an approach to the subject made from the point of view of Oriental Studies is to some extent an innovation and constitutes an interesting challenge.
In his essay The Role of the King of Kings: An Interpretation in Historiography, Dariush Borbor considers the power structure in ancient Iran, with special focus on the monarch’s position and prerogatives within the hierarchy of authority, and investigates the federalist system of the Persian state in the per-Islamic era. In this, he overcomes the stereotype of the Persian monarchy as one despotic in character and contributes to the debate regarding the sources of the Iranians’ political identity.
Stanisław Jaśkowski investigates the foundations of Ahmad Kasravi’s worldview. Despite his death from the hand of an assassin, Kasravi, an important figure in the era of the Pahlavi monarchy in Iran, managed to profoundly influence the manner in which the present-day Iranians think about their own political community. The essay entitled Kasravi – Was He Truly the Integrative Nationalist of Iran? focuses on this and other issues fundamental to our understating of the modern-day Iran.
The essay A Glance at New Persian Translations of the Middle Persian Texts by Mateusz Kłagisz presents the character and scope of problems faced by a prospective translator of texts originally written in Middle Persian, a language that has been dead for centuries, especially in the situation when he can avail himself of translations into the New Persian, a language whose career as a vehicle of rich and diverse literature reaches back more than a millennium. Similar investigations clearly reveal the long continuous existence of the civilization and the resilience of the identities of both the Persian language and the culture it expresses.
Anna Krasnowolska in her essay Who is a Madame? analyses the titular concept, which often appears in contemporary Persian-language prose, and investigates its meaning and the social role played by women designated as a “madame” in Persian literary texts. Being a foreigner, typically of Polish or Russian extraction, a “madame” not only fulfils definite social roles ascribed to her by the Iranian society in the Pahlavi era, but also in a way constitutes the antithesis of an Iranian woman’s identity.
The essay A Lost Identity: Iranians as Seafarers and Explorers concerns a very special moment in the history of the ancient Iranian civilization. On the basis of sources dating from various periods from the Antiquity to the early Abbasid era, Mirosław Michalak presents the image of the Iranians as excellent seafarers and explorers, who crossed the vast distances of the Indian Ocean and reached China by sea. The essay throws light on a forgotten area of history which once enriched the Iranian identity.
In her essay The National Identity of Iranian Jews, As Manifested in their Intellectual & Judeo-Persian Contributions, Nahid Pirnazar touches upon a very interesting aspect of Iran’s culture, which is literature in the Persian language created by Iranian Jews and written in the Hebrew alphabet. The tradition of writing down Persian texts with Hebrew characters dates back to the beginnings of Persian literature more than a millennium ago. Also, Jewish communities still exist in Iran and the neighbouring countries belonging to the circle of the Persian civilisation, for instance in Bukhara, where the local Jews using a very archaic Persian in their everyday speech. They are thus a part of that civilisation, but they also represent the local, Jewish-Persian identities.
Magdalena Rodziewicz explores the extremely controversial issue of how the fundamentals of faith are construed in the modern-day Shia Islam in her essay Blasphemers or Mystics? Reflection over the Nature of Revelation in Contemporary Iran. The Muslim scholars’ debate on theological issues of fundamental importance, which is presently unfolding in Iran, is often ignored by researchers, while in Iran itself it is an important element of the intellectual life of the elites and, of course, is exceedingly important to the Muslim and Shia identity of the country’s citizens.
Miklós Sárközy describes the development of various ethnic and religious identities and their conflicts on the example of Iran’s Caspian region in the era of the Seljuk preponderance in the essay Indigenous versus International? The Role of ‘Pre-Islamic’ Identity and Shici Islam in the Clashes of the Bāwandid Kingdom with the Nizārī Ismācīlīs in Northern Iran.
The essay Razi’s Egalitarian Idea by Reza Shomali focuses on an interesting aspect of the thought of Mohammad Zakariya Razi, an outstanding and very original Iranian philosopher living the Golden Era of Islamic culture (9th-10th century). The political issue of the equality of human beings as presented in the work of this philosopher is investigated, with a focus on the ontological foundation for equality in connection with the nature of reason. Not only the works of Razi himself, but also of his intellectual and ideological adversaries are used to further the analysis. Mohammad Zakariya Razi is one of the icons of rationalism in an era when the philosophical thought of Islam flourished, and as such represents an important, even though today occasionally suppressed element of identity in the Middle-Eastern, especially the Iranian cultural circle.
The essay Rūmī, Balkhī, Mevlevī: The Ambiguities of Identity in the Poetry of Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad (1207-1272 CE) written by Rafal Stepien is an enquiry into the life and work of one of the greatest poets of the Persian language from the perspective of his exceptionally complex identities, both the ones declared by him personally and the ones ascribed to him after the many centuries that have passed since his death. Currently, the ongoing process of appropriation is evident with regard to this poet, with profoundly anachronistic and fundamentally false ethic or national affiliations being ascribed to him; a process that has no foundation in his life or, in fact, in his output which is very far from this mode of thinking.
In the essay How the Characters Speak for Themselves: Colloquial Language as Means of Expressing Identity in Čerāqhārā man xāmuš mikonam, a Novel by Zoyā Pirzād, Katarzyna Wąsala analyses the manner in which the author of this novel defines the identities of her protagonists by means of the language they use. The issue encompasses the ethno-cultural specificity of the Armenian minority in Iran as much as the socio-cultural roles of the novel’s protagonists regardless of their origin or faith.
This brief and most general presentation of the issues touched upon by the authors of this publication clearly demonstrates how diverse are the forms in which identity manifests itself in the Persian-language civilisation, and how strongly it permeates all the possible areas of human existence: from theology through classical and modern literature to the questions of translation and history. This confirms the power and richness of this identity, as well as determines the power and richness of the civilisation represented by communities speaking the Persian language and the languages and dialects related to it. This civilisation is characterised by an astonishing endurance and at the same time the power to adapt to new conditions and to absorb foreign influences. In contrast to other cultures that may boast equally ancient roots, the Persian civilisation has, literally, retained its linguistic and ethno-cultural identity for millennia without losing anything of its attractiveness and persuasiveness. This is where its own power, and the power of the identity it represents, is rooted.
Research conducted by the authors of essays contained in this book is based on original sources in the languages of the investigated communities, mainly in Persian. This guarantees access to first-hand information and confirms how serious and professional is the authors’ approach to the issues under research. It is also consistent with the method which has for years been applied in the scholarly practice at the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Warsaw and at other centres of scholarship in Poland. The use of original sources in Oriental languages and their all-inclusive analysis make it possible to conduct thorough and methodical research and to produce scholarship of highest quality. It is worth noting that the Polish and foreign scholars who contributed to this publication are all researchers of the Middle East and Middle Asia, and in addition to their experience in academic work and teaching, they fluently and daily use the Oriental languages which underlie the areas of their research.
* * *
As this publication, being a common work of many scholars with diverse backgrounds, is dealing with many transcription systems featuring a wide range of the Oriental languages and dialects, the Editors have decided to maintain the original transcriptions used by the authors. Therefore, no alterations have been made in this regard.
The role of the king of kings (šāhān šāh) is very often misinterpreted and misrepresented in modern scholarship, due to a deep-rooted surviving tradition which emanated through classical Greek writings and was further propagated by modern scholars of classical Greek literature, culture and history who delved in Iranian historiography. This led to the most obvious defects of historical interpretation — a non-comparative one sided view. Although the Greek sources admittedly constituted the most readily available and reliable information for the 19th and the early 20th centuries, nevertheless, it was an inevitable, yet regrettable, starting point for the modern historiography of ancient Iran. It set an unfortunate precedence which has proved to be difficult to reverse in spite of significant new findings of other recent and more reliable autochthonous source materials. One of the most misrepresented topics, in this respect, has been the subject of ancient Iranian attitude to state formation, administrative governance and kingship. Our intention is to alleviate this misunderstanding according to non-Greek and some non-written evidence in certain areas of historiography.
Because of the scanty information on certain aspects of history of Iran, the following quotation aptly describes the defects of some scholarly opinions, “Again and again, we run the risk of overestimating the importance of regions or periods about which we quite fortuitously possess a great deal of information, and of underestimating that of other regions or periods of which we — equally fortuitously — know little or nothing” (Nissen 1988, 2). We will attempt to demonstrate that in spite of the meagre amount of references, there is adequate information to give an accurate overall view of the general socio-political system of pre-Islamic Iran. The theme of our topic is based on three major distinguishing attributes regarding the facet of government.
Firstly, that the prime concept of the earliest history of Iranian administration was neither tribal nor nomadic but federal, confederal or union with expanded divisions of power and wide-ranging, and often independent, civil, military and religious hierarchy (Borbor 2006, 265; idem. 2008, 107 and note 34).
Secondly, that the relationship of the rulers and the ruled were based on well defined common law, and not royal edict as has been suggested by other authors.
Thirdly, that the king of kings and other high ranking civil servants were not as autocratic as is often made out by the current scholarship and were often obliged to adhere to one or several popular consultative assemblies.
Before entering the main topic of our discussion, however, it is vital to deal with three important general points of misinterpretation that have significant consequence on historiography of the king of kings. One being the indiscriminate use of “Persia,” “Persian” and “Persianate” for “Iran” and “Iranian”; the other concerns the misuse of “slavery”; and the third is the misconception of “deification” of the king of kings in ancient Iran. The last two subject matters are often wrongly used as evidence for absolute dictatorship in ancient Iran.
If the Greeks used the term “Persia” and “Persian,” as opposed to Aryan > Iranian, it is very understandable, because their dealings were mainly with the Achaemenian Persians of the time who were centred in Persis (Pārs, Parsa > modern arabicised Fārs). The Achaemenids having been the dominant dynasty during Greek history until the time of Alexander, the name Persia was gradually extended by the Greeks and other peoples to apply to the whole of the Iranian plateau, whereas the Achamenians referred to themselves as “Iranian” Persians and their empire as Iran, clearly expressed by Darius the great’s Bīsotōn manifesto: “adam Dārayavauš xšāyaθiya vazraka xšāyaθiya xšāyaθiyānām xšāyaθiya dahyūnām vispazanānām xšāyaθiya ahyāyā būmiyā vazrakāyā dūraiapiy Vištāspahyā puça Haxāmanišiya Pārsa Pārsahyā puça Ariya Ariya ciça / I am Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries containing all kinds of men, king in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan [Iranian], having Aryan [Iranian] lineage” (DNa §2.8-15; Kent 1953, 137-38) — Old Persian Ariya-/Āriya-, Avestan Airya-, Sanskrit Ā˘rya-, New Persian Ērān > Iran (Kent 1953, 170; Lecoq 1997, 31). This well-established historical fact of over two and a half millennia should not be misused by the modern scholars. Let us be very clear, “Persia” must only be applied to Pārs > arabicised Fārs; “Persian” must be referred only to a citizen of Pārs/Fārs1, or the “Persian language,” and “Persianate” can only correctly designate certain linguistic aspects and not the historic or cultural characteristics which cannot specifically be associated with “Persia” or “Persian.”
The Old Persian bandaka2 used by the ancient king of kings3 has been often wrongly misinterpreted as “servant” or “slave” in order to demonstrate absolute dictatorship of the šāhān šāh in ancient Iran. Soviet scholars, even some of the very respected ones, were infatuated in the presumption of the practice of slavery by many peoples and nations. While a few modern scholars have modified their opinions in recent years, this form of address is still being persistently used as evidence of the despotic office and polity of the king of kings.
Although the Old Persian bandaka < banda is derived from the Indo-European root bhendh with the meanings of “henchman, [loyal] servant, vassal” (Eilers 1989, 682-683), it has had very different concepts, meanings, and usages in various languages and periods. The word bandaka in Darius’ Bīsotōn inscription is a clear indication that the word cannot mean “servant,” even less “slave,” because it occurs as an epithet of high ranking personalities, generals and close supporters of Darius the Great4 — Vidarna, Vindafarnā, and Gaubaruva (members of the seven great noble families), Dādr.ši the Persian and Vivāna (satraps), Vaumisa and Artavardiya (we do not know their position or rank, but must have been Persians of high descent), Dādr.ši the Armenian, and Taxmaspāda the Mede (Herrenschmidt 1989, 683).
The concept of eastern dictatorship has become so deep rooted that even a scholar of Lecoq’s standing (1997, 189, note 1) who rightly dismissed the notion of “slave” as the definition of bandaka, nevertheless translated this word as serviteurs instead of adhérents. In the polite speech of the pre-modern times, the use of “servant” in English as in “I am your most humble/obedient servant” as a polite form of address to a higher ranking person did not mean a “servant” in the real sense. Thus in British English, valedictions have evolved, especially the formal ones, which have largely been replaced by the use of “Yours sincerely,” a diminutive of “I am yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully,” a contraction of “I remain, Sir, your faithful and obedient servant.” Similarly, the often used civility banda in modern Persian does not convey its bona fide sense. For instance banda ānjā bōdam is simply a polite colloquial way of manānjā bōdam “I was there” which is used much less in both conversational or written form of modern Persian. Consequently, bandaka should be interpreted as “[loyal] subject,” “adherent” or pure and simple “citizen,” and not as “servant” and certainly not as “slave” (Eilers 1989, 682) as has often been the case.
Diakonoff (1985b, 136-137) while admitting the non existence of information on categories of slaves, nonetheless speculated that “…there is no doubt that Media, on the threshold between the 7th and the 6th century, overflowed with captive slaves.” Whereas the most common term to designate a slave in ancient Iran was bandaka, he assumed that Median slaves were probably designated as māniya-, an equivalent of the Old Persian *gr.da- (Aramaic letters of Aršām, Satrap of Egypt in the 5th century B.C.E.), garda/u (Babylonian of the Achaemenian period) and kurtaš (Elamite documents; Driver 1957, 63; Dandamayev, 1989, 762). These applied mostly to local domestic helpers or foreign prisoners.
There is no concrete proof for the assumption that the word māniya- < Avestan nmāna “abode, house” ever meant “household slave[s]” (Iranian text of Bīsotōn I. 64-66; Kent 1953, 118, 202; Lecoq 1997, 192). The following phrase: “adam niyaçārayam kārahyā abi cariš gaiθāmcā māniyamcā viθbišcā tyādiš Gaumāta hya maguš adīnā” (Kent 1953, 118) has had several conjectural and unsatisfactory interpretations. King and Thompson version, although not considered a very good translation, nevertheless quite rightly did not connect the word māniya- with slavery. In Kent’s translation: “I restored to the people the pastures and the herds, the household slaves and the houses which Gaumata the Magian took away from them” (Kent 1953, 120), “the household slaves” does not make sense, which should be replaced by “householders/owners” or “[domestic] workers/helpers.” Lecoq’s translation: “J’ai rendu à l’armée les champs et les troupeaux, les esclaves et les maisons que Gaumāta le Mage lui avait enlevés” (Lecoq 1997, 192) is very problematic. Apart from the mis-translation of māniya- as “les esclaves,” the interpretation of kāra as “l’armée” instead of “people” here is also very unlikely. In this phrase, the most viable definition for māniya- is either “householders/owners” or simply the “work force” or “farmers,” certainly not “slaves” or “house slaves.” Lecoq’s interpretation of the Babylonian version is much closer to the point: “J’ai rendu à l’armée les troupeaux de gros et de petit bétail, les champs, les travailleurs des domaines que ce Gaumāta le Mage avait enlevés” (Lecoq 1997, 192). Consequently we propose the following reading: “I restored to the people the pastures and the herds, the householders/owners/farmers and the houses which Gaumata the Magian took away from them.” Further to all this, it is hard to believe that Darius the Great who had just seized power and was justifying his actions and in search of appeasing the nation to declare that he would “put the slaves back where they were” in a monumental res gestae which was widely circulated all over the empire.
In short, as far as slavery in ancient Iran is concerned, it appears to have been limited mainly to prisoners of war; the use of the Middle Persian anšahrīg “foreigner” for slave makes this very obvious (Macuch 1989, 766). In general the number of foreign slaves constituted a small number compared with the free population (Dandamayev, 1989, 763; Diakonoff 1985b, 136-37).
Comparatively speaking, slaves in ancient Iran had a substantial degree of civil rights and a sizeable degree of protection against abuse and molestation. As early as the Median era, it is noted that “the son of a noble Mede can play with the son of a slave on equal terms” (Diakonoff 1985b, 136-137, quoting Herodotus;5 Borbor 2008, 112) which is more than one can say for 20th century America.6 The wide-ranging labour force of Iran has always been formed of free men. Agricultural labour consisted of free farmers; the industrial, the construction and handicrafts sectors were served by free artisans.
The so called “debt slavery,”7 was a form of private serving of a sentence. A creditor could take charge of an insolvent debtor who would be put to the personal services of the creditor, not as a slave, but as serving an out-of-prison sentence. Moreover, as further protection, the creditor could not sell such a debtor into the custody of a third party. Usually the debtor paid off the loan by free work for the creditor, thereby retaining his freedom. Debt slavery, which persisted in the United States until 1956, and pledging one’s person for debt, not to mention self-sale, had totally disappeared by the Achaemenian Iran (Dandamayev 1989, 763).
Dandamayev (1989, 762) states: “In Media a custom existed whereby a poor man could place himself at the disposal of a rich person if the latter agreed to feed him. The position of such a man was similar to that of a slave.” This is not correct, it was not simply the question of “feeding” the person. This was pure and simple employment and the employer had to guarantee the employees sustenance, wellbeing, medical care and protection, though the person may not have received an official fixed salary. In most cases such persons were looked upon as part of the family and functioned very much on the same basis as the modern “au pair” practice of board and lodging. This tradition existed up to the twentieth century. Contrary to the statement of Diakonoff (1985b, 136) who associated these with “slaves within the familia” or the assumption that “the patriarchal family extended to include slaves, appears to have been a feature also of Avestan society,” these, whether male or female, were not slaves but free citizens who entered the service of a person voluntarily and could leave at their free will whenever they wished.
Mādayān ī hazār dādestān (“Book of a Thousand Judgments”)8 is an urbane, wide-ranging, and all-embracing book of jurisprudence and of common law which has come down to us. It exhibits the existence of far-reaching legal rights and protection of slaves. The Sasanian law prescribed a penalty (tāwān) for the abuse of slaves and workers whether men or women, the most important of these being the right to practice their own religion, the right to sue the master against cruel treatment and to obtain compensation. Even though slavery was infrequent in Iran, a slave could receive his freedom from the master through the legal act of manumission. A slave had the right to appear in court as a witness, a plaintiff or a defendant in civil suits. Further to this he had the legal right to dispose of his peculium according to his own wishes. The expression tan “body” was not meant as “slave,” but designated a person who was given for a certain time as security for a debt to the creditor and kept by him in “bondage” (not literally bound or kept in a cell, but employed as a non-paid worker within the above mentioned protective regulations) for the period of time imposed by law (Mādayān, 107 9-12; Sachau 1914, 139; Perikhanian 1983, 638; Macuch 1989, 764-765).
Another misconception widely tooted as an element of undemocratic rule in ancient Iran is the idea of deification of the king of kings. Greek writers, according to their own conventions, tried to convey the Iranian king of kings as divine: the Chorus in Aeschylus (Persae, 156) addresses Atossa as the “wife of a god” and “mother of a god”; Curtius Rufus (Historiae Alexandri Magni, VIII 5.10) insinuates that the Persians worshipped their kings among the gods.
The ancient rulers of Iran, contrary to Greek claims, were never deified or worshiped as gods, in spite of the fact that they often boasted that they became rulers with the support or assistance of Ahōramazdā. Since the worshipping of human beings was forbidden in ancient Iran (Muccioli 2009, 83), the cult of the king never existed. None of the great and most revered rulers such as Cyrus, Darius or others ever claimed to be gods. The three occasions of semblance of deification occurred under special circumstances. Cambyses, while serving his official function of prince-royal in Egypt, adhered to the local Egyptian custom of veneration and deification in order to conciliate the Egyptian popular tradition. The evidence of kingly veneration of the Arsacid Parthian coinage (Dąbrowa 2011, 247) was transitory and none Iranian, as was the somewhat disparaging use of the term “Philhellenes” that the Parthian kings deliberately used on their coinage as a political device to appease the Greeks in their empire, above all in Mesopotamia (Neusner 1963, 40ff; Wolski 1956-1958, 35-52; Schippmann, 1986/updated 2011, 531-32). It all started with Mithradates I, several years after his ascendance to the throne in order to introduce the cult of his royal father and predecessor Phriapitius. Available sources do not offer ground for the belief that the Arsacids were the object of widespread and compulsory worship (Muccioli 2009, 97-98; Dąbrowa 2011, 248, 250).The whole idea lost colour as the years went by.
The Sasanian kings, in our opinion, were never deified (Borbor, 2013). Pahlavi bay has been variously interpreted as “god,” “divine,” “majesty,” “lord” (MacKenzie  2006, 17; Daryaee 2003, 42). We propose baγ when used as a noun to mean “god; lord; almighty,” but as an adjective to be defined as “omnipotent,” an all engulfing word which has been and still is current in many languages imparting the notion of having very great/ infinite authority or/and power, on occasions in allusion to god, but not as god — an omnipotent ruler/sovereign. The concept of being the “image” of god by the royalty has been widespread throughout history which in the case under consideration may be corroborated by the conversation between Themistocles and the Chiliarch in the Achaemenian period: “Now you Hellenes are said to admire liberty and equality above all things; but in our eyes, among many fair customs, this is the fairest of all, to honour the King, and to pay obeisance to him as the image of that god who is the preserver of all things” (Plutarch, Themistocles, 27.3). In the following phrase: “(ANRm-a): ptkr-y ZNH. mzdysn bgy ’rthštr MLK’n MLK’ ’yr’n MNW ctry MN yzd’n / pahikar ēn mazdēsn baγ ardašīr šāhān šāh ērān kē čīhr az yazdān,” which is usually translated as: “This is the image of the Mazda-worshiping Majesty, Ardaxšīr, king of kings of Ērān, whose origin (is) from the gods” (Back 1978, 281; Daryaee 2003, 36). How could the king who admits being “Mazda-worshiping” — and as a result a believer in Ahōramazdā (or any other associated god) — also claim divinity for himself? Consequently, we propose the following reading: “This is the sculpture of the Mazda-worshiping almighty/omnipotent, Ardaxšīr, king of kings of Ērān, who (is an/is in the) image of the gods.”
The undeniable widespread existence of tribes in ancient Iran (Herodotus, I 25.4; I 101), must not be construed as evidence for a tribal or nomadic system of government.9 The statement by Herodotus (idem) that “there are many tribes among the Persians” has tended somewhat to perplex and mystify many scholars in mistakenly referring to the Elamite, Median, Achaemenian and Parthian dynasties’ systems of administration as a federation of tribes, whereas Herodotus himself distinctly differentiates between three types of inhabitants, the “eminent” of whom the Pasargadae were the most distinguished and included the settled royal Achaemenid family; “farmers” who must have been sedentary and “nomads” who migrated (Herodotus, I 25.4). The frequent Assyrian assertion of the existence of “fortresses,” backed with ancient reliefs and seals that illustrate urban settlements with spectacular fortified battlements is an obvious proof of the nature of sedentary life in western Iran (Ghirshman 1964, 85, plate 110). In one case alone, Aššurbānipal states that “I conquered seventy-five of their fortified townships...” (Cylinder B; Diakonoff 1985b, 115-116).
Long before Herodotus, by the middle of the 7th century B.C.E., Media was already a major confederation. The neo-Assyrian western neighbours of the Medes talk of twenty-seven “kings” of Parsūa (infrequently written as Parsūaš) a territory in central Zagros approximately equated with the modern Māhīdašt plains to the northwest of Kermānšāh (Luckenbill 1927, 76; Diakonoff 1985b, 61 and note 2). We do not know whether Parsūa at the time of the second invasion of the Zagros by Sargon II (716 B.C.E.) was an independent confederacy or a state within the Median confederation. Whatever the case, the importance is in the fact that the term Parsūa is always used in cuneiform writing with the determinative10 of “country,”11 never with that of “tribe.” Although Diakonoff (1985b, 61-62 and notes 1-2) wrongly considers “the tribe Parsūa” as a historical myth, we believe that while some or most of Parsūa was already sedentary, some of the population must have still continued as migrating tribes. Diakonoff’s (1985b, 62) reasoning in disputing the movement of the Parsūa from central Zagros to modern Fārs is based on two arguments. Firstly, that he considered that Parsūa was completely sedentary as mentioned above, and secondly on his statement that “it is rather unusual for a passing tribe to leave behind on its way its name as a place-name.” Both of these are quite contrary to our findings about the migration of tribes.
Map showing routes of migration of the ancient Bōrbōr tribe and the existing Bōrbōr tribe related toponymy. Note locations named as Bīvar (the older form of Bōr) also on the migration routes (Dariush Borbor).
Traditionally, tribes migrated in reasonably short distances and they did not move in one go. In their migration, some tribe members settled or partially settled in favourable locations. From there they migrated further, not immediately, but later, and this could vary greatly in time, on occasions even centuries and again a new settlement could have been created. Contrary to Diakonoff’s remark, it was very usual for tribes to give their name to the newly settled localities. The attestation of such a practice is found to this day among the ancient Bōrbōr tribe which has left 15 still existing villages with the name Bōrbōr, a hill called Bōrbōr (Bōrbōr-tapa, in Golestān), a river named Bōrbōr (Bōrbōr-rōd in Alī-Gōdarz of Lorestān) and a district Bōrbōr (dehestān-e Bōrbōr also in Alī-Gōdarz of Lorestān) — all of which we know correspond to the tribal name and they happen to be on the migration routes of the tribe (Borbor, 2014). As further proof they include prevalent burials of tribe members in the relative cemeteries as evidenced by the Bōrbōr names on gravestones (Borbor, forthcoming). Interestingly, the Bōrbōr routes of migration and pattern of settlement is almost identical with the migration pattern of the Persian and the Median tribes from the central Zagros to Fārs and other regions in the plateau.
Map showing routes of migration of the Aryan/Iranian, Mede, Persian and Bōrbōr tribes (Dariush Borbor).
Further evidence for the non-tribal nature of the administration of ancient Iran is found in place names and the names of rulers in written Assyrian sources down to the second quarter of the 1st millennium B.C.E., with rare mention of tribes. It is likely, therefore, that the tribes had already lost their complete independence and were forced to adhere to the regulations and jurisdiction of the respective city-state under which they happened to be.
The origins of archaic democracy, both in the ancient East and later Greece developed concurrently with the formation of city states. Although urbanization does not necessarily lead to democracy, democratic rule does not function without urbanization. Generally speaking, a pastoral or tribal community does not sense the necessity and does not have the necessary institutions required to achieve democracy (Borbor 2008, 102-103). Permanent settlements on the Iranian plateau date to as early as 7000 B.C.E., developments with regional centres to 4000 B.C.E., and regional states to 1700 B.C.E., much earlier than the western neighbours, and preceding Greece by 2000 years (Van de Mieroop 2004, 18ff). Completely developed settlement systems in the Susiana plain, with centres such as Susa that exceed in size anything else we know of up to that time subsisted in continuous development in Iran as early as 3000 B.C.E. When Susiana found itself in a preliminary phase of the process of advanced urban civilization, the rest of Iran was still at the city-state stage or at the stage of forming the first centres (Nissen 1988, 39).
A Mede in a long line of tribute bearers approaching king Sargon II, presenting a fortified city model as a symbol of his city-states’s submission in his left hand and raising his right hand in a gesture of respect. Note the typical hairstyle and dress of a Mede, consisting of an animal skin (probably the forerunner of a modern pōstīn “pelisse, a long cloak (sleeved or none-sleeved) made of leather, lined or trimmed with fur” and high boots. The square cut end of beard which is an indication of royalty as against the short rounded beard (right) for a non royal who bears two horses. Details of stone slab from the wall decoration of Room 10 in Sargon’s palace at Dur-Šarruken (modern Khorsabad). Louvre, AO 19887; (photos by Karen Radner).
Prior to the founding of Susa, Čoqā Mīš was already a developed city (Rothman 2002, 11-12). In order to illustrate the degree of urban advancement, it is important to state that Čoqā Mīš was a planned township with streets and side alleys, sewer and irrigation drains, water wells and even cesspools. Having been an important administrative manufacturing centre, it contained workshops, public and private buildings. It was designed in two separate quarters, the upper neighbourhood on the high mound and the lower neighbourhood on the terrace. Whereas the public and the private buildings were constructed with mud brick, the pavements, drains, wells and cesspools were exclusively built with baked brick. The entire Protoliterate (ca. 3100 B.C.E.) town was crisscrossed by quite sophisticated sewage channels with baked bricks and pottery which fitted well together (Alizadeh 2008, 26-27).
Excavations in sites such as Nōš-ī Jān and Godīn Tapa further support the idea of independent small states centred around fortresses controlling the region and passage through it which emerges so clearly from the Assyrian sources. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that the Medes were already united into a confederation of city-states as early as the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E. This is further attested by heavily fortified illustrations of defeated city-states of the Assyrian kings.
Settlements on the plain of Behbahān around 4000 B.C.E., and probable land use (Nissen, Hans Jörg. 1988. The Early History of the Ancient Near East 9000-2000 B.C. translated by Elizabeth Lutzeier with Kenneth J. Northcott. Chicago London: University of Chicago Press, p. 53.)
Left: Distribution of settlements in Susiana in Late Uruk period (Johnson, Gregory A. 1976. “Early State Organization in Southwestern Iran.” Proceedings of the IVth Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, edited by Harriet Crawford, Tehran, p. 196). Right: Relief showing Ashurbanipal’s destruction, looting and burning of Susa in 647 B.C.E.
An analysis of the system of governance and rule in ancient Iran shows that the beginnings of state formation began with the concept of confederation, in other words sovereignty was located in the provincial governments (ruled by kings or city-state rulers) while limited power was bestowed upon the central government (ruled by the king of kings).12 As the time went on this appears to have changed more to a federal method of governance where sovereignty was located more in the central government which recognized the division of power between the central and provincial governments of the state (Borbor 2006, 265).13
In spite of the extensive protocol, pomp and polite “subservient” lip service that surrounded the king of kings in ancient Iran, he was not as autocratic as has been made out either by history or by modern scholarship. Extensive evidence of widespread delegation of power avoided the problem of decision-making being vested in one person and diminished the possibility of absolute dictatorship. The king of kings and all lesser dignitaries and civil servants were one way or other subjected to a popular arrangement of “stops and checks” which avoided arbitrary decision making. The socio-political structure of government was so well established that dynastic change did not lead to change in method of rule. This led to an unprecedented consistent administrative continuity of several millennia which is not observed in the history of any other civilization.
The Assyrian siege of the Median fortress Kišessim, renamed Kar-Nergal by the Assyrians and turned into the centre of the province of the same name, as shown on a now lost relief from the wall decoration of Room 2 in Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad. The heavily fortified city is identified by a cuneiform inscription (URU.Ki-še-si-im) and shown situated in a mountainous area (the Zagros), with its battlement decorated with deer antlers. (P.-É. Botta and E. Flandin, Monument de Ninive, vol. 1, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1949, pl. 68bis).
The Mannaean confederacy of the 10th to 7th centuries B.C.E. in its heyday around the middle of the 8th century B.C.E. occupied a major portion of the present-day Āzerbāijān and possibly a considerable portion of the region south of Lake Orōmīya and the Sefīd-rōd basin (Diakonoff 1985b, 71). The ruler of Mana, Iranzu (d. ca. 718-717 B.C.E.) or his predecessor expanded their territory. This confederation was formed of no less than fifty separate city-states, and may be taken as a forerunner and example of the Median approach to a confederated democratic rule. The remaining information on social and political organization of the confederation is of immense interest which all point to highly developed civilization. The Mannaean confederacy arose from the amalgamation of several city-states with quite considerable socio-political autonomy who in the words of Diakonoff (1985b, 72) “behaved with great independence.” The confederacy was divided into several “lands” (Akkadian nagū, nagi’u) of which Subi (Tabrīz valley), Uišdiš (eastern shore of the lake Orōmīya), Surikaš, Messi (headwaters of the Jagatu river), Arsianši, Erešteiana and others have come down to us. Each of these city-states had its own governor (šaknu). A common feature of the Mannaean and Median confederations were the existence of the “lord of townships” (Diakonoff 1985b, 72).
The Mannaean king, quite contrary to Western concepts about Eastern rule, did not govern as an autocrat, but by consent of a “legislative council” or “council of elders.” According to Assyrian evidence, the Mannaean king was accompanied by “his great ones, elders, councillors, kinsmen, governors, and chiefs in charge of the country.” Even in a political protocol, the Mannaean king did not address the audience in his own name, but on behalf of “his great ones, councillors of his country.” The “great ones” sat in a “council of elders” — somewhat similar to the contemporary functioning of a senate. Assyrian records show the existence of many city states both in Ellipi, Parsūa and Media proper with the persisting title of “lord of township” (Akkadian bēl āli). As the term was not used by the Assyrians outside of Iranian territory, it indicates autochthonous Iranian development (Diakonoff 1985b, 72 and note 3).
Contemporary Akkadian and Sumerian records prove that Old Elamite Kingdom, in fact, was the earliest part of present-day Iran to reach the level of urban civilization. As early as the 3rd or even 4th millennia B.C.E., it already had a sophisticated hierarchy of institutions and administration. The confederacy consisted of several city states of independent rule. These city states are only known by name. There is a possibility that the original city state of Elam (Elamite Haltamti, Hatamti, Sumerian Adamdun, Akkadian Elamtu[m], also spelled ideographically NIMKI or NIM.MA, “the high country”) was situated perhaps in the highlands of the Zagros, and the name was used later for the whole country (Diakonoff 1985a, 4ff.). The excavations in Anshan, an important Elamite political centre during the last half of the third millennium B.C.E., show further early complex urban development in this part of Iran. At least one third of the ancient settlement there (30 to 50 hectares) was occupied from the late fourth millennium B.C.E. to the latter part of the third millennium B.C.E. (Sumner 1974, 158, 160, 167; Hansman 1985, 103-107). Tapa Yahyā was occupied, with interruptions, from the late Neolithic (ca. 5500 B.C.E.) to the early Sasanian (300 C.E.) period (Potts 2004) and the cities of the Indus which are contemporary or even older than those in Elam show that city state deve-lopment was not limited solely to western Iran, but widespread all over the plateau. Elamite Hieroglyphics from the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C.E. found in Sialk near Kāšān and in other highland regions show a developed inter-plateau trade (Diakonoff 1985a, 6). The combination of these city-states instituted a confederated kingdom somewhat resembling the modern form of the Swiss Confoederatio Helvetica or a commonwealth of nations rather like the modern British Commonwealth.
Beside the great king of Elam, there existed “kings” (Akkadian šarrum), “governors” (šakkanakkum), “priest-princes” (išši’akkum), and “judges” of the individual city states. Some city states had both a “king” and a “governor” (warahše), or a “king” and a “priest-prince.” The royal title did not pass from father to son, and the kings were probably elected from amongst lesser dignitaries. Thus Luh-Hiššan of Awan was the son of a certain Hišep-rašer I and not of his own predecessor Kukku-sime-temti, and PUZÚR-Inšušinak was the son of one Šimpi-išhuk, and not of the proceeding king Hita (Diakonoff 1985a, 7-8 and note 1). A treaty between a coalition of Elamite kings or princes with king Narām-Su’en of Akkad which was written in Old Elamite in the Eastern Semitic (Akkadian) cuneiform script, and termed as the “earliest written document of diplomatic contents in world history” also shows the early confederal system of government in ancient Iran (Diakonoff 1985a, 8). In the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C.E., the king of kings or the overlord bore the Sumerian title of Sukkul-mah, followed in descending order by city state rulers, and other civil servants. The enthroning of a Sukkul-mah might have taken place on some sort of election procedure among the relatives of the previous king of king. The city-state rulers were not appointed puppets, but active political figures and they would not hesitate to rebel against an unpopular king of kings. The population was mostly organized in the form of “kin communes” that united to set up “territorial communities.” These appear to have had popular “community assemblies” (Diakonoff 1985a, 12-15).
Both Assyrian sources and Herodotus exemplify that in the 8th century B.C.E., but in fact a millennia or two earlier, the basic socio-political structure of government in the Iranian plateau was in the form of small city-states — the so called “greater” confederacy of the Medes of the 7th century B.C.E. coincided with the consolidation of the concept of a “confederal empire.” In the words of Diakonoff (1985b, 135), the ruler of a city-state: “was obliged to reckon with organs of self-government of the type of a council of elders and a popular assembly which may even have elected him or confirmed him in his rank.” There is no tangible evidence to support Diakonoff’s (1985b, 137) claim that the overall socio-political administration of the Median confederation was based on the Assyro-Urartian system of government. The structure of government appears very much in line with that of the Mannaean confederacy — the later Achaemenian administration in turn must have been based on Median — a process which in some ways continued for several millennia. The non-tribal confederacy of the Medes is also well attested by the discourses of Jeremiah (25.25; 50.41-3; 51.27-28) who refers to “kings of Media” in the plural, alongside with “satraps” (Aramean pāḥōth, Akkadian pehāte),14 and “governors” (Aramaic sägän, Akkadian šaknu) who administered provinces, the divisions to which satrapies were divided. In the western parts of the plateau, city-state formations, such as Ḥasanlō in the Soldōz valley,15 dated to at the least the turn of the 2nd even 3rd millennium B.C.E. This city had a citadel with massive protections which surrounded the ruler’s palace and dwellings of the aristocracy, paved streets, an outer town and a nearby cemetery. The economy was based on agriculture, vine-growing, cattle breeding, metal work and manufacture of handicrafts.
The Ellipi confederacy, situated in the valleys of the river Seymarra to the south-west of the present-day Kermānšāh where political city-state units dominated is known from the time of Šalmanesar III (r. 859-824 B.C.E.) — these possessed (semi-) democratic social structures; the highest ranking administrator bore the title of the “lord of township.” With later expansion of the city-states, the administrative title of the “lord of state” came into being. The Assyrian sources record numerous separate rulers. According to Diakonoff (1985b 57-58, 74): “There are grounds…for believing that they did not rule autocratically but to a certain extent depended on collective organs of community self rule.” Further inland, we may mention Tapa-Sialk near modern Kāšān. City-states with tower dwellings existed both in the Zagros mountains and on the outskirts of Media proper. These are represented on the reliefs of the Assyrian king Sargon II of the end of the 8th century B.C.E. The formation of city-states and “urban revolution” was an autochthonous feature of the Iranian plateau and was not due to Mesopotamian influence.
When in 672 B.C.E., Esarhaddon of Assyria invited the Medians to swear allegiance to his son, the appointed crown prince Aššurbānipal, he composed a common document for the chiefs to swear allegiance, and separate documents for each of the city-state rulers or “lords of townships.” The evidence which has come down to us mentions several names which include Rāmatāia, the city-state ruler of Urakazabana, Tuni of Ellipi, Burdadi of Karzitali, H˘atarna of Sigris, H˘umbarēš of Nah˘šimarta, Izāia and Larkuta of Zamūa. A good proof of democratic rule is the phrase which states: “if you convoke a (popular) assembly, swear to one another and confer the royal power on one from your (own) midst” (Diakonoff 1985b, 108-109). This document is a good example of the democratic tradition of the election of the king of kings which prevailed in Media, corroborated by Herodotus (I 97-98) who bears out that the first Median king of kings was elected in this way.
Any high ranking civil servant was obliged to reckon with organs of self-government in some type of “stop and check” whether a “legislative assembly,” “assembly of Medes or Persians” (Herodotus, I 125.2), “council of elders” or a “popular assembly,” which might have elected, confirmed or controlled his position and conduct. Such populist practices were not unique to the highest echelon of the government, but were also the case on satrapal levels. Everyday administration was carried out by some type of a “council of leading men” of the community. Analogous systems of administration were also to be found in the city-states of early Sumer, in Hurrian city-states and Hittite Old Kingdom (Diakonoff 1985b, 38).
In 744 B.C.E., the Assyrian army entered the territory of Parsūa which was politically organized into city-states which the annals term as bīt- “house” giving them dynastic names such as Bīt-Zatti and Bīt-Kapsi. Several strongholds are mentioned (Diakonoff 1985b, 76-77).
According to Herodotus during the time of Deiokes (ca. 700-647 B.C.E.) “The Medes at that time dwelled in villages” (Herodotus, I 96.2) — more likely city-states, the important step from village to city life had taken place around the fourth millennium (Borbor 1974, 557).16 Some of the large scale and prestigious cities included Hagmatāna/Ecbatana, modern Hamadān17 to act as the confederal capital of the Median empire (Herodotus, I 98.3; Brown 1998, 81);Later, Pasargadae, the capital city of Cyrus the Great (between 546 and 530 B.C.E.); Persepolis, the ceremonial capital city of Darius the Great (between 515–330 B.C.E.); and Rhaga/Rhagae, modern Rey (ca. 3,000 B.C.E.), an ancient Median settlement of the central plateau, and mentioned several times in the Apocrypha (Judith, 1:5, 15; Tobit, 1:14, 5:5, 6:10). According to Isidore of Charax, who is our main source, Rhagiana possessed five cities, the chief town of which was Rhaga, and was located “at the foot of a mountain called Caspius (i.e. Alborz), beyond which are the Caspian Gates” (Parthian Stations 8. 6; Shahbazi 1991, 365-366).
The structural base of the Iranian confederal administration was extremely well worked out and an extensive hierarchic delegation of power was systematically applied. Furthermore, in order to overcome the predicaments associated with the necessity of speedy communication for the enforcement of decision-making and governance of a far flung empire most civil positions had a “delegated” equivalent, for instance a “Satrap of Satraps” was responsible for the administration of several satrapies. and some nearer satrapies to the central administration became responsible for satrapies which were farther away (Greek inscription of Mithradates II at Behīstōn; Herzfeld 1920, 39; Frye 1962, 192).
The Achaemenian confederacy closely followed that of Media. The concept that the basis of the Median and Achaemenian society was based on kāra “Kriegvolk” (Diakonoff 1956, 333ff) is a very generalized and simplistic way of looking at things. We have seen that the socio-political nature of the Iranian society even as early as the Elamite period was quite complex and advanced. As we consider that the Achaemenian administration and system of rule grosso modo followed the Median, we limit our discussion to happenings which illustrate popular participation in government. Women in ancient Iran were both active and treated with respect. This is very evident in the Elamite period, whereas the system of rule was essentially paternal, as early as the Old Elamite Kingdom (2200 B.C.E.), the role of women was significant, and feminism was well developed, to an extent that the male heirs to the throne were elected or appointed according to maternal lineage of the sister of the king (Malbran-Labat 1995). The tradition of respect for women was not limited to the Elamites but all other dynasties. “During Achaemenid times a woman in Babylonia (as well as in Elam and Egypt) enjoyed great independence and could have her own property, of which she was freely in charge” (Dandamayev and Lukonin 1989, reprint 2004, 119 ff., 124; Koch 1992, 241; Borbor 2008, 114-118).
The first known written entrenched democratic constitution in the world was instituted at the beginnings of the Achaemenian era, prepared by the leading administrators of the Empire either by popular vote or consensus, and subsequently presented to Darius the Great for his signature and propagation: “Us who administer your empire the supervisors, the governors, the lieutenant-governors, and the other officials have greed that your majesty should issue an order and enforce it strictly… So let your majesty issue this order and sign it, and it will be in force, a law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed” (Daniel, 6:6-9.). Cambyses convened the “leading Persians” who were present with the army in order to confer on the situation in Syria (Herodotus, III 65). Cyrus the Younger summoned the “council of seven of the Noblest Persians” in his army to court-martial his relative Orontes who had colluded against his rule (Xenophon, Anabasis, I 6). Darius the Great was elected as king of kings by the frequently mentioned “council of seven” who also deliberated the formation of various types of government (Herodotus, III 80ff). In order to court-martial a rebellious satrap, Darius the Great called a meeting of “all the chief of Persians” (Herodotus, III 127). Xerxes I also called an assembly of the “noblest Persians” to decide whether or not to make an expedition against Athens (Herodotus, VII 8). All of these bear attestation to the fact that the king of kings was not the sole decision maker and he did not rule absolutely.
The Arsacids (Persian Aškānīān), Parthian dynasty ruled parts of Iran from about 247 B.C.E. to about 224 C.E. Parthian kings assumed Achaemenid descent, revived Achaemenid protocols (Neusner 1983, 45ff.), and Artabanus II, who named one of his sons Darius (Dio Cassius, Roman History, 59.27.3), laid claim to Cyrus’ heritage (Tacitus, Annals 4.31). On the whole, then, onomastic, numismatic, and epigraphic considerations point to the conclusion that the Parthian dynasty was “local” and “Iranian” by origin. On this ground “the Zoroastrian character of all the names of the Parthian kings, and the fact that some of these names (gwtrz, hwsrw, ᾽ršk) belong to the ‘heroic background’ of the Avesta,” afford logical explanation that they followed Iranian traditions (Lukonin 1983, 687; Shahbazi 1986a, 525).
The Parthian king of kings were either ratified or appointed by a “council.” The “supreme council” (συνέδριον/Synedrion) of the Parthians consisted of two levels: that of the “king’s kinsmen” — corresponding to the modern senate in modern constitutions and “wise men and magi” — corresponding to the modern lower house or the national assembly, from both of which the kings were appointed” (Strabo, XI 9.3; Frye 1962, 191).
Our information is more copious for the system of rule in the Sasanian era, although, already, the political structure of the administration had become less democratic and the separation of civil and religious laws had become less marked. Nevertheless, an expansive division of power remained in force. As far as the society was concerned, it was divided into at least four major divisions: the princes of royal blood (who did not automatically or necessarily occupy a position higher than other non-princely ranking officials of the realm); the high/upper nobility (wozorgān); the nobility (āzādān); and other officials. Kings or city-state rulers (šahrdārān) still formed the main backbone of the socio-political system. Some of the more important members of the nobility such as Waraz, Suren, Andigan and Karen were enticed into the court while keeping their local heraldry, coat-of-arms, insignia and often their local rule (Daryaee 2003, 10). This system continued to the end of the Qājār period.
Whereas there was a religious and military quadripartitioning of the empire, it did not exist in the realm of secular administration (Daryaee 2003, 125). The reason for this was probably because the central government had more direct authority on the religious and military side than the civil. The foremost bureaucratic hierarchy was made up of: the king of kings (šāhān-šāh), prime minister/grand vizier (wozorg framādār), kings/city-state rulers (šāhrdārān), governors (šahrāb[s]), viceroys (bīdaxš[s]), stewards (framādār[s]), scribes (debīr[s]), treasurers (ganzwar[s]) and judges (dādwar[s]). The main geographical and administrative divisions were: country/empire (Ērān-šahr), city/city-state (šahr), town (rōsta), and village (deh) (de Blois 1990, 209-218; Daryaee 2003, 125). The reason that in the 3rd century C.E. Iran, there are two interpretations of šahr (Daryaee 2003, 125) is because one of them refers to a major šahr (city or city-state), and the other refers to a lesser/minor city or city-state[s]; later termed respectively, belād, kōra, rostaq, and qarīya (Piacentini 1994, 96; Daryaee 2003, 125). An elaborate system of military institutions and ranks stood side by side with the civil administration. The military organization of Iran from the time of Avesta to the advent of Reza Shah was based on a confederal methodology. Each city state had its own military unit depending on its economic importance, headed either by a city-state commander or a regional commander (Geiger 1882, 438-440; Shahbazi 1986b, 490). Neither the Medes nor the Achaemenids possessed a central army. Very often, before a battle (hamarana), a “war council” was held and plans of action discussed (Shahbazi 1986b, 493). The regional armies which were supplied by the city-states to the central government are often mistakenly considered as being tribal contingents. Although it is likely that there were a great variety of ethnic groups which would have included tribesmen as well in these armies, they were not purely tribal armies.