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Shayan G





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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 12:38 pm    Post subject: New Excavations at World's Second Longest Defensive Wall         Reply with quote

Hello everyone! I just found this article that radically revolutionizes previous conceptions about Sassanian military might and infrastructural capabilities. Here it is, quoted for Science Daily. Hope you find it as intriguing as I did!
Quote:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2008) — New discoveries unearthed at an ancient frontier wall in Iran provide compelling evidence that the Persians matched the Romans for military might and engineering prowess.

The 'Great Wall of Gorgan in north-eastern Iran, a barrier of awesome scale and sophistication, including over 30 military forts, an aqueduct, and water channels along its route, is being explored by an international team of archaeologists from Iran and the Universities of Edinburgh and Durham. This vast Wall-also known as the 'Red Snake'-is more than 1000 years older than the Great Wall of China, and longer than Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall put together.

Until recently, nobody knew who had built the Wall. Theories ranged from Alexander the Great, in the 4th century BC, to the Persian king Khusrau I in the 6th century AD. Most scholars favoured a 2nd or 1st century BC construction. Scientific dating has now shown that the Wall was built in the 5th, or possibly, 6th century AD, by the Sasanian Persians. This Persian dynasty has created one of the most powerful empires in the ancient world, centred on Iran, and stretching from modern Iraq to southern Russia, Central Asia and Pakistan.

Modern survey techniques and satellite images have revealed that the forts were densely occupied with military style barrack blocks. Numerous finds discovered during the latest excavations indicate that the frontier bustled with life. Researchers estimate that some 30,000 soldiers could have been stationed at this Wall alone. It is thought that the 'Red Snake was a defence system against the White Huns, who lived in Central Asia.

Eberhard Sauer, of the University of Edinburgh's School of History, Classics and Archaeology, said: “Our project challenges the traditional Euro-centric world view. At the time, when the Western Roman Empire was collapsing and even the Eastern Roman Empire was under great external pressure, the Sasanian Persian Empire mustered the manpower to build and garrison a monument of greater scale than anything comparable in the west. The Persians seem to match, or more than match, their late Roman rivals in army strength, organisational skills, engineering and water management.”

The research is published in the new edition of Current World Archaeology and the periodical Iran, Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 45.


University of Edinburgh (2008, February 18). Excavations In Iran Unravel Mystery Of 'Red Snake'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 21, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2008/02/080218155534.htm

It makes me wonder just how much of the Sasanian resources were devoted towards warding off steppe attacks. Perhaps it was this constant war in the East that left it vulnerable to the Arabs in the West?

Here's a map of the wall: http://medlem.spray.se/davidgorgan/Maps/Gorgan_wall.jpg

I'm amazed that although I'm a history major with a focus on Central Asia, I've never even HEARD of this in any of my history books. And it isn't for lack of reading! This is one of military history's Best Kept Secrets I suppose.

Anyhow, enjoy! Hope this is a fun little read for you!

Edit to add: Here's a more comprehensive article from the journal of Current World Archaeology. Warning: Big pdf file!
http://www.shc.ed.ac.uk/staff/academic/esauer..._walls.pdf
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 1:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is very, very cool. Many years ago I had thought about studying near east history pre arba conquest but the languages needed settled it between my two favorite periods.

I often wondered about that as it was garrisoned around that time as well.

RPM
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Shayan G





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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 2:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It must have been a heck of a sight when garrisoned! I'm still rather brain-numb that I'd never heard of this before, despite years of reading about steppe/Iranian plateau interactions. It kind of terrifies me into wondering just how much else I and Iranian studies are missing on the whole in what remains a very young field of study for a very ooooold region!

It's also very exciting. Every time I think my love of history won't find me a good enough job or that there are too many academics for me to try to get into the market, something like this pops up Wink
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 4:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Projects like this speak volumes about the logistic and economic sophistication of a society. This is very cool.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 9:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shayan,


It is very impressive. I blush to admit that I had never even heard of a a Sassanian Persian before now. Can you flesh these people out a little?


Thanks,




Ken Speed
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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 10:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This really shouldn't come as a surprise . . . the Eastern Empire paid "tribute" to the Sassanians for many decades in order to support the defense of the "Caspian Gates", and other strong points, against the nomadic barbarians of "Turan" (aka Turko-Mongolian nomads).

For those who don't know, the Sassanians were an ethnically "Persian" dynasty who ousted the Parthian Arsacid dynasty of Iran in the 3rd century AD.
The Sassanians were decent military engineers, and often employed free (or captured) Roman artisans in their state building projects.

The greater threat, for both the Roman and Sassanian Empires, was always the steppe nomads. Well, those nomads and each other. The Arabs, prior to the time of Muhammad, were never a serious threat, because they were never unified. Both the Romans and the Sassanians maintained client buffer states in North Arabia, who supervised local developments and provided valuable auxiliary troops in the constant border warfare between the great empires. By the time of Muhammad, however, the Romans and the Sassanians were engaged in a prolonged and bitter war, with much destruction and loss of life on both sides. A newly unified and aggressive Arab polity, offering freedom of religion for both various Christian sects and Zoroastrians, may have actually come as a relief to the battered populations of the Levant and Mesopotamia . . . .

I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Feb, 2008 10:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John,

I thought the Sassanid Dynasty was formed by one of Alexander's succsessors after his death; is this correct? I had hear that they were very advanced, but I've never heard of this wall until now. This is really impressive.
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 1:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The sassanid empire is covered in popular books by Osprey among others.

There is more in german, unfortunately buried in university librairies.

peter
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 5:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not surprised either, though for a different reason from John's. It's hard to be surprised of Sassanian prowess when you repeatedly read in Roman and Byzantine works about just how hard it was to fight these Persians!
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 8:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not surprised, either. The wars between the two empires were near apocalyptic in scale and destruction; the sizes of armies at the beginning and the end tell a lot of the consequences. It created just the sort of power vacuum needed for early Islam to do what it did.
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Shayan G





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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 10:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oof! Big essay done, sorry for the delay. Lots of comments now, glad you all found it an interesting read! My response may be obnoxiously long thanks to quotes, apologies in advance.

Ken Speed wrote:
Shayan,

It is very impressive. I blush to admit that I had never even heard of a a Sassanian Persian before now. Can you flesh these people out a little?


Here's a great introduction to that dynasty. Their innovations proved very influential and continue to resonate throughout history today, militarily, architecturally, and culturally. Much of what may be termed the High Culture of Islamic societies is derived from the unparalleled influence of the Sassanian dynasty:

The wikipedia article is surprisingly good, well worth a half hour for any student of history:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sassanian_Empire

http://www.iranchamber.com/history/sassanids/sassanids.php

And the army, to whom we owe thanks for the beginnings of knighthood:
http://www.iranchamber.com/history/sassanids/sassanian_army.php

John Cooksey wrote:
For those who don't know, the Sassanians were an ethnically "Persian" dynasty who ousted the Parthian Arsacid dynasty of Iran in the 3rd century AD.
The Sassanians were decent military engineers, and often employed free (or captured) Roman artisans in their state building projects.


All our evidence indicates they were FAR more than "decent." Roman involvement in construction was largely in terms of slave labor rather than engineering. The Sassanians had 1000 years of Persian architecture at their backs, with thousands more years experience gleaned from their Mesopotamian subjects and various other conquered peoples. They were skilled engineers in their own right.

Quote:
The greater threat, for both the Roman and Sassanian Empires, was always the steppe nomads. Well, those nomads and each other. The Arabs, prior to the time of Muhammad, were never a serious threat, because they were never unified. Both the Romans and the Sassanians maintained client buffer states in North Arabia, who supervised local developments and provided valuable auxiliary troops in the constant border warfare between the great empires. By the time of Muhammad, however, the Romans and the Sassanians were engaged in a prolonged and bitter war, with much destruction and loss of life on both sides. A newly unified and aggressive Arab polity, offering freedom of religion for both various Christian sects and Zoroastrians, may have actually come as a relief to the battered populations of the Levant and Mesopotamia . . . .


Great summary!

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
I thought the Sassanid Dynasty was formed by one of Alexander's succsessors after his death; is this correct? I had hear that they were very advanced, but I've never heard of this wall until now. This is really impressive.


The Sassanians were ethnic Persians and thoroughly nationalist--sometimes to the point of bigotry and persecution of minorities, ironic considering the Achaemenids they admired had been so progressive as to be the first dynasty to right a declaration of human rights--and sought to culturally expunge Greek influence from their kingdom. The Seleucid dynasty were the post-Alexandrian Greeks, and the Parthians, a Scythian-derived Iranian tribe, were somewhat hellenized as well--the Sassanians deposed them and took control in the early 3rd century.

James Arlen Gillaspie wrote:
I'm not surprised, either. The wars between the two empires were near apocalyptic in scale and destruction; the sizes of armies at the beginning and the end tell a lot of the consequences. It created just the sort of power vacuum needed for early Islam to do what it did.


Ironically the power vacuum in the Persian empire was thanks to bad luck with kings and court intrigue more than overwhelming opposition--an incompetent king was assassinated, and as happens all too often, his puppet-king successor may as well have been an invertebrate for all the backbone he lacked. Two terrible kings in a row--always seems to be the downfall of Iranian empires! The empire more than had the resources to defeat the Arab armies, ironically, if it simply had a competent king! A fact many Iranians still resent. Iran's greatest strength and greatest weakness simultaneously has always been the monarchy. It's amazing how long these cultural memories last!

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
I'm not surprised either, though for a different reason from John's. It's hard to be surprised of Sassanian prowess when you repeatedly read in Roman and Byzantine works about just how hard it was to fight these Persians!


I totally agree! I love reading about this empire, even though my ancestors were on the OTHER side of that wall Wink What DOES amaze me is that I'd never heard of the wall before! The Sassanians were one of the most influential dynasties ever in the Middle East, and for this wall to remain so obscure is simply shameful!

Anyhow sorry for the length of my post. Glad you all enjoyed the article! The pdf link at the bottom of my first post is well worth reading for great pictures of the site and more detail.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 3:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shayan and all,

Thanks for the information. I haven't read it all yet but I certainly will. Learning about this kind of thing is one of the best things about this site.


Ken Speed
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 4:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shayan G wrote:

And the army, to whom we owe thanks for the beginnings of knighthood:


In terms of gear, you might be pretty close. A lot of cultures pretty heavily emphasized elite as superior equipped cavalry before this time. Roman resemblances to medieval knighthood with tournament status is pretty strong 100 years before this dynasty. From the Greek text "Taktika" we have good insight to Roman cavalry already having specialized exhibitions (could go on with priveledges, etc.) a good 100 years before this time.

After telling how the ground was specially selected and prepared, he proceeds:
“Then those of them who are conspicuous for rank or for skill in horsemanship ride
into the lists armed with helmets made of iron or brass and covered with gilding to
attract the particular attention of the spectators. Unlike the helmets made for real
battle, these helmets do more than serve as a protection to the head and cheeks;
they are made to correspond in every way to the faces of the horsemen, with
openings at the eyes large enough to admit of a clear view and yet sufficiently small
not to involve exposure. They have yellow plumes attached to them, not to serve
any useful purpose, but rather for display. If there be but a slight wind, then when
the horses gallop in the charges, the plumes make a brave show, waving in the air
'under the influence of the breeze. And the horsemen carry oblong shields, not like
shields for real battle but lighter in weight—the object of the exercises being
smartness and display—and gaily decorated. Instead of breast-plates, they wear
tunics, made just like real breast-plates, sometimes scarlet, sometimes purple,
sometimes parti-coloured. And they have hose, not loose like those in fashion
among the Parthians and Armenians, but fitting closely to the limbs. Their horses
are most carefully protected by frontlets, but do not require any side armour, for
the javelins they use for exercise are of wood without any metal. Even so they might
injure the eyes of the horses, but they fall harmlessly on their flanks, particularly as
these are for the most part protected by trappings.”


I could go on here, but the Roman adaptation of specialized and elite status as cavalry is considerably older than the culture being discussed here. We could back up another couple of centuries and focus on the Gaulish Tenceteri and pretty much show the same kind of specialized emphasis as well as some significant hereditary status.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 1:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
I could go on here, but the Roman adaptation of specialized and elite status as cavalry is considerably older than the culture being discussed here. We could back up another couple of centuries and focus on the Gaulish Tenceteri and pretty much show the same kind of specialized emphasis as well as some significant hereditary status.


Most likely to at least the beaker people who spread the domesticated horse in eurasia and nw africa Wink

Before, during and after roman reign the torque, sword and horse were pretty much a standard set of regalia for the warrior upper class in germanic/celtic/related culture. The golden spur can probably be seen as a 'successor'.
The step from this leading warrior class to the free men mentioned in the salian law to the feudal system is not a significant one if any.

A real change is the construction of 'chivalry'. This was the core of knighthood. 80% or so of it was unreal but still an explanation for most of the illogical inefficiencies of the knights and their armour.

peter
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 2:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What illogical inefficiencies are these?

M.

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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 5:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Eversberg II wrote:
What illogical inefficiencies are these?


For one thing the commitment to the tinned knight heavy cavalry; the rather silly ritual of tournaments/jousting taken to the battle field.
Reading about medieval warfare in general makes one, or at least me, wonder about the utter lack of strategic common sense let alone -brilliance. ' Chivalry' explains the bulk of this.
Medieval knights were a far cry from the differentiated cavalries in the roman warmachine or the versatile frankish freemen. ' Chivalry' explains the bulk of this.
The ruling class of medieval society was a complex network of competative&loyal familiy ties woven across europe that had nothing to do with countries, cultures or the peoples ruled. ' Chivalry' explains the bulk of this.

peter
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 7:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have to agree with Peter.
The author may have meant "medieval style cavalryman", but chose the word "knighthood." Knighthood was a social/ feudal status that many mounted men at arms who were eligible (as many as 75% by the late 12th century) declined. I personally like reading about it The recent post on Impetuous Knights has many valid statements about their inconsistent performance in large open battlefield situations. A few groups exhibited exceptionable cavalry strategy. The Teutonic knights knew when and how to use their cavalry. The Tenceteri were technically never conquered. Caesar's troops tired of chasing them (they evaded a lot when they new that logistics were not in their favor) and actually resorted to slaughtering their old, women and children (50,000 of them).

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 8:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's a factor of the mindset present in that time. In the far future, the same could be said about our modern warfare and our ignorant inability to pull off orbital bombardment despite having the technology, or our inability to destroy major population centers, etc. In many ways modern warfare is even more...primitive than wars of old.

M.

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J. D. Carter




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 11:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I tried matching the map link you provided with satellite imagery on Google Earth. There are some places that I thought were close, especially where it starts in the west near the Caspian but after it gets to that population center just east of the sea there is such a patch work quilt of roads & tracks that my poor eyes just couldn't follow.

Thank you for sharing this. It's provided quite a bit of reading in itself and ever link associated with the story just leads to more and more good reads.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Feb, 2008 2:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J. D. Carter wrote:

Thank you for sharing this. It's provided quite a bit of reading in itself and ever link associated with the story just leads to more and more good reads.


Ditto!
Please don't take my comments on "Knighthood" as an insult to this dynasty. Considering its relatively short lifespan, the achievements are remarkable. I consider the Mesopotamian region to be the cradle of ancient civilization, and full of many awesome things, many non-Egyptian in origin.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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