Neither just nor kingly: defensive responses in Sasanian historiography
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 23:42 authored by Matthew O'Farrell
The Sasanian historical tradition, the so-called Khwadāy-nāmag or “Book of Lords” forms the basis of Islamic historiography of the Sasanian era as well as Ferdowsi’s Šāhnāmeh, Iran’s national epic. No primary work of this tradition is extant and it is retrievable only by its redactions in much later works. Examination of these has led to a characterization of the lost original texts as a sixth century formulation of a “national” history based on a royal chronicle with ancient religious and mythic beliefs codified into a fictional deep history servicing the needs of the Sasanian dynasty. The second hand, retrospective and mythic character of the tradition however, has made historians understandably wary of engaging with it as a source for the Sasanian period. This is particularly true of the early Sasanians whose short, formulaic reigns are both unhelpful and suggestive of an enormous loss (or suppression) of historical information between the dynasty’s foundation and the compilation of the parent texts of the tradition. This amnesia does, however, highlight the modular and episodic structure of the tradition. Importantly, it also raises questions as to the reasons for their presence. In light of the changing views of the nature of the Sasanian state, particular episodes attached to this early period deserve a more intensive reading. A comparison between contradictory internal traditions regarding particular events as well as their record in the empire’s other literatures, suggests the development of a Sasanian historiography took place in a competitive and defensive context. Its compilers, intent on preserving a constructed elite identity, answered aristocratic and religious critiques directly; incorporating their features and using the poorly remembered past as a convenient canvas on which to reshape them.