Legal texts are among the more important sources for the reconstruction of the political and economic institutions, and cultural practices, of late antique Iran, as they considerably further our understanding of past social complexities that are decisively different than our own. This year’s Ehsan Yarshater Biennial Lectures shall provide a sweeping overview and detailed analysis of the principal fields of jurisprudence in Sasanian Iran (third to seventh centuries CE). The five lectures will be investigating the genesis of legal institutions that were instrumental in consolidating the social status of Sasanian élites, notably, the Zoroastrian clergy and the Iranian aristocracy.
Legal Sources and Instruments of Law
The opening lecture will provide an overview of the available legal material, dispersed in a great variety of sources, and discuss the many pitfalls Iranists encounter in reconstructing the Sasanian legal system.
Kinship Ties and Fictive Alliances
The second lecture examines questions pertaining to Family Law, in particular, the role of kinship ties that are of paramount importance in Sasanian jurisprudence. The lecture also elaborates on the significance of legal institutions within the context of marriage and succession.
Property and Inheritance
The third lecture explores the general concept of property, in particular,
how it gave rise to complex categories crucial to preserving the possessions of affluent élites, while ensuring that proprietary rights were preserved from one generation to the next.
Civil and Criminal Proceedings
The fourth lecture reviews the judicial system, the foundation upon which the privileges of the élites were built, and the position of religious minorities, the Jews and Christians, within the framework of the judiciary.
Sasanian Law and other Legal Systems
The final lecture discusses the impact of Iranian law on other important legal systems of the Near East, be it Rabbinic and Nestorian-Christian, or be it Islamic and especially Shi’ite, law.
Some nifty and original observations by my colleague and friend Shervin Farridnejad on a passage in the Nērangestān, discussing the priestly duty concerning the care of xrafstars, commonly referred to as obnoxious creatures:
In the Pahlavi documents we find a sequence of characters that are commonly transliterated as 〈nc〉, representing Middle Persian namāz `reverence’. The vocalisation as namāz, a word most commonly found in the greeting formulae of letters, is not disputed. The question is rather whether these characters stand for a phonetic, albeit abbreviated, spelling of namāz or whether they constitute an abbreviation that developed out of the heterogram 〈ʿSGDH〉.
In light of recent developments in the field and the rather sizeable evidence, I will revisit the arguments brought forward thus far and propose a new interpretation.
I have just completed a monograph on the fifteenth century re-writing in Persian prose of the ubiquitous collection of Persian animal fables, the Kalila wa Dimna tales (Kashefi’s Anvar-e Sohayli. Rewriting Kalila-Dimna in Timurid Herat – forthcoming). My fifteenth-century work, named Anvar-i Suhayli, has suffered virulent criticism both in Iran and in the West and was virtually put in the dustbin of Persian studies. I am thus – how exciting ! – reviving and studying what is tantamount to a forgotten text. It is a Mirror for Princes, containing advice for youths (aged from 7 to 77) at Court. I have also worked on a series of essays related to this research (“Dimna’s Apologia. The Place of Morality in the Trial of a Rhetorical Genius”).
This book contains a critical edition of the Avestan language composition known as the Rašn Yašt, or ‘Hymn to Justice’. The text is accompanied by an English translation, philological commentary and glossary. In addition, the main themes of the Rašn Yašt are taken up for detailed discussion, covering the Zoroastrian deity Rašnu, ancient Iranian cosmography, and the use of ordeal rituals in pre-Islamic Iran.
About the Author: Dr. Leon Goldman was born in 1981 in London, England. Having obtained a B.A. (Hons.) degree from the University of Queensland (Australia) in 2004, with a particular focus on Indian religions and Sanskrit, he returned to London to pursue an M.A. in Iranian and Zoroastrian studies at SOAS. In 2012, he was awarded a Ph.D. from SOAS for his doctoral thesis entitled: Rašn Yašt. The Avestan Hymn to ‘Justice’. Text, Translation and Commentary. From 2012 to 2015, he held the post of British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS with a project devoted to the Sanskrit version of the Zoroastrian Yasna liturgy.
30 people within Cambridge, and another 40 in the surrounding areas have pledged to house refugees. This is just within the last few days and to just one organisation. Another 5,495 have volunteered within the UK to help once the refugees arrive. Please help to increase these numbers. Pledge your support here:
If you are planning to go to Calais as a volunteer, please read this piece by Alison Playford.
Thinking of going to Calais? I’ve just got back and would like to share some thoughts with you.
It appears that a large wave of European citizens are in the process of taking ‘aid’ to Calais and other areas in Europe where migrants and refugees are camped or travelling.
People in the UK and across Europe who are distressed to see pictures of drowned children want to help. I am glad to see this response, but would like to add a few points to the debate, as I think that we are in danger of perpetuating the problem by framing the situation through the political lens of those who created it.
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