The First Annual Iranian Studies Initiative

Event Date: 

Friday, February 26, 2016 - 6:30pm



PANEL 1: The Achaemenid Period


Achaemenid Mixed Marriages and Other Relationships: Perspectives from the Western Frontiers

John W.I. Lee (UC Santa Barbara)

            This paper examines marriages and other relationships between Persians/Iranians and non-Persians/Iranians in the western regions of the Achaemenid Empire, with examples drawn from Lydia, Ionia, and Egypt.  I discuss how Greek authors including Herodotus, Xenophon, and Ctesias portray such marriages and relationships, examine Greek concepts of ethnic mixing, intermarriage and “concubinage,” and present possible archaeological evidence for people of mixed Persian/Iranian and non-Persian/Iranian ancestry in Anatolia.


“For the increase of the house:” Ancient Iranian Marriage and the Family in the Achaemenid period.  

Jenny Rose (Claremont Graduate University)

            Usually scholars rely heavily on Greek writings for information concerning Ancient Persian religious belief and social practice, including marriage. This illustrated presentation expands this perspective, introducing some of the primary sources current in the Achaemenid period, which concern the function of marriage and family within the Ancient Iranian social structure. Such relevant internal material includes parts of the Avesta (the earliest texts of the Zoroastrian religion); Old Persian inscriptions and iconography; the Elamite ‘foundation tablets’ from Persepolis; and an Akkadian and Aramaic archive from Nippur.

These sources will be explored in terms of both their development of the construct of the Iranian ‘upright man,’ as representative of the immediate family and wider community or ‘clan,’ and also of their depiction of the role and representation of women, particularly noblewomen. Materials relating to female and child workers on imperial estates will also be discussed. 


The Bible and Jewish Marriages in the Achaemenid Period

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi (Hebrew Union College) and Jacob L. Wright (Emory University)

            Discussions of Jewish marriages in the Achaemenid period depend on three major sources: The Bible, the Elephantine Papyri, and the Babylonian tablets. Since the latter source is discussed separately in the conference, this paper focuses on the first two. Marriage stands out as a prominent subject in a number of biblical texts from the Achaemenid Period, such as Ezra-Nehemiah, Ruth, and Proverbs. As literary artifacts, their historical value lies in the ideas – or ideals - about marriage that these writings present, rather than as evidence for actual practices. Conversely, the Elephantine Papyri, which include actual marriage contracts, serve as windows to actual practices in a small Jewish community in Egypt. This paper will review the available information garnered from both types of sources. It will then assess, critically, what they contribute jointly to understanding marriage practices in Judah and explore cross-cultural influences under Achaemenid rule.


Why did Babylonian elite marriage lose its exclusivity under Persian imperial rule?

Caroline Waerzeggers (University of Leiden)

            At the time of Cyrus’s conquest (539 BCE), there was a clear difference between elite and non-elite marriage in Babylonian society. This distinction was based on different patterns of normative behaviour (before and during marriage) and it was maintained by the practice of social endogamy. By the fifth century, this difference had become obsolete, in the sense that all recorded marriages now follow the elite model, regardless of the partners’ social backgrounds. I will argue that we need to understand this development in the context of wider changes in Babylonian society, and I will look for causes at the conjuncture of slow internal developments and the effects of punctual interference by “the Empire”.




PANEL 2: The Sasanian Period


Queens, Mothers and Wives: The Noble Ladies of the Early Sasanian Empire

Touraj Daryaee (UC Irvine)

            This paper examines the lives of two noble ladies, Queen Denag and Queen Shapurdokhtag in the third century. It is clear that in the third century CE, royal women are portrayed in many rock reliefs and on coins, which suggests that they were not only present, but also a powerful means of legitimacy for princes competing for power. Their portrayal in the eye of the nobility and that of the population of Iranshahr (Realm of the Iranians) was a means by which the men could establish their power. Starting with Queen Denag who is first named in the rock relief to Shapur I, to her portrayal on a seal and a possible rock relief, one is introduced to the importance of women for the Sasanian world. Shapurdokhtag (the daughter of Shapur I), then becomes much better known, because she is portrayed on the Sasanian silver coinage, beside the many rock reliefs. She will be only one of three women in Sasanian history whose image is struck on coins. The reason for presence on coins will be discussed and associated with the idea of legitimacy in the Sasanian world.


 “Who would be mine for the day!'” Temporary Marriage and its Possible Legal and Cultural Roots

Haleh Emrani, UC Irvine

            Zoroastrians of Babylonia had long lived alongside an important Jewish community whose presence in the region can be traced back to the Achaemenid period (c. 550-330 BCE). Such long coexistence should justify an interest in the examination of cultural sharing between these two religious groups of Ērānšahr, the Sasanian Empire. However, it is just recently that the question of the level of cultural contact between them has become a more important source of inquiry and research by scholars of Iranian history, Religious Studies and Late Antiquity.  The aim of this paper is to contribute to such efforts by exploring the roots of instances of temporary marriage in the Zoroastrian and Jewish communities of the Sasanian Empire, and potential continuity of such traditions after the coming of Islam.


Jewish Marriage Practices in Sasanian Babylonia

Dvora Weisberg, (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)

            This paper explores Jewish marriage practices in Sasanian Babylonia. It considers the sources that shed light on these practices and the possible influence non-Jewish practices may have had in shaping Jewish practices and attitudes toward marriage.

            The primary source for Jewish practice in this period is the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli). The Bavli transmits the opinions and rulings of Palestinian and Babylonian rabbis from the first through the fifth century CE; it is believed to have been edited by Babylonian rabbis in the fifth through seventh centuries. Although the Bavli contains extensive discussions about marriage (including the ideal age for marrying, desirable qualities of a spouse, betrothal, dowry, the marriage ceremony, the rights and responsibilities of husbands and wives, and divorce), they cannot be read as an indication of the views of the entire Jewish community in Sasanian Babylonia. Rabbinic rulings are prescriptive rather than descriptive; they represent the view of a rabbinic elite striving to establish itself as the authoritative voice of Judaism. At the same time, we have very little information about the Jews of Sasanian Babylonia apart from the Bavli. That being the case, this paper will draw on the opinions and debates recorded in the Bavli, as well as cases presented in the Bavli as actual incidents or court cases involving marriage, to draw a picture of Jewish marriage as constructed by the emerging leadership (or would-be leadership) of the community.

            Our information about Jewish marriage practices in Sasanian Babylonia comes from the Bavli, a religious text that does not acknowledge the influence of the surrounding culture on Jewish law and ritual. Nonetheless certain stances suggest that the environment may have influenced trends in Jewish marriage. It is particularly suggestive to note variations between practices ascribed to Palestinian rabbis and Jews and those associated with Babylonian rabbis and their community. Two examples are preferences for monogamy or polygyny and preferences for avoiding or embracing levirate marriage, the union between the widow of a childless man and his brother. Palestinian sources privilege halitzah, the ritual that releases the widow from her obligation to marry her brother-in-law while Babylonian sources privilege levirate union. This distinction, at least in part, appears to reflect an emphasis on monogamy among the Jews of Roman Palestine; greater comfort with polygyny may have allowed the rabbis of Babylonia to promote levirate marriage. In both cases, we can posit a link between the stance of the rabbis of the two communities and marriage and inheritance practices of the surrounding cultures.