Persia and Rum

Thursday 14 – Saturday 16 November 2013

BIPS Sasanian Conference at Rome: Persia and Rum

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The Sasanian Empire reached in the 5th-7th centuries a size comparable to that of the contemporary Roman Empire, stretching from Mesopotamia to modern Pakistan and from Central Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. Recent research on Sasanian frontier walls around the Caspian Sea, as well as on Sasanian sieges of Hatra and Dura-Europos, has revealed that the empire at the time had military capabilities, which matched or more than matched those of its neighbours. The construction of frontier walls associated with forts, including the c. 200 km long Gorgān Wall, more than three times longer than its grandest late Roman counterpart, required advanced engineering and surveying skills. Heavily defended military campaign bases, filled with neat rows of tents, of c. 100 acres average size, c. eight times that of late Roman fortresses, bear witness to the size and level of organisation of Sasanian military units. The security created through successful frontier defence, jointly with investment in ambitious irrigation systems in the interior led to a population increase in rural areas, growing economic prosperity and the foundation of major new cities. Despite evidently one of the largest and most long-lasting empires of the ancient world, little is known to date about the Sasanian state, and the factors which underpinned its success.

Limited knowledge of the Sasanian Empire has led to a widespread belief in western superiority. Rome, the city whose name Persia’s imperial neighbour in the west bore from the beginnings into the ‘Byzantine’ era, is an appropriate place to compare and contrast the changing fortunes and development of the late antique world’s most dominant, populous and well-organised states. The Roman Empire’s initial centre, whose political and demographic climax had long passed by the time the Sasanian Empire reached its greatest geographic extent, power and prosperity, is uniquely placed to explore the dynamisms behind the divergent developments. The conference will examine key phenomena which contributed to their wealth and power or their loss of the competitive edge, such as agriculture, irrigation, demographic developments, urbanism, roads and bridges, military infrastructure, strategy and administration. All contributions would focus on the Sasanian Empire, ideally in comparison with its western imperial neighbour. No contribution would focus exclusively on the much more widely studied late antique Roman world, as it is our aim to reassess the role of Sasanian Persia in the late antique world. The conference at Rome in November 2013 will address our western bias by bringing the Sasanian Empire, notably its military apparatus, urban development and economic wealth, to the attention of those working on the contemporary late antique world in the west.