SOAS University of London

Centre for Iranian Studies

The Idea of Iran Series

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Books Published


Safavid Persia in the Age of Empires: The Idea of Iran [Volume 10]

Edited by: Charles Melville
Published: 2021

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The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the establishment of the new Safavid regime in Iran. Along with reuniting the Persian lands under one rule, the Safavids initiated the radical transformation of the religious landscape by introducing Imami Shi'ism as the official state faith and in this as in other ways, laying the foundations of Iran's modern identity.

In this book, leading scholars of Iranian history, culture and politics examine the meaning of the idea of Iran in the Safavid period by examining contemporary experiences of both insiders and outsiders, asking how modern scholarship defines the distinctive features of the age.

While sometimes viewed as a period of decline from the high points of classical Persian literature and the visual arts of preceding centuries, the chapters of this book demonstrate that the Safavid era was nevertheless a period of great literary and artistic activity in the realms of both secular and theological endeavour.

With the establishment of comparable polities across western, southern and central Asia at broadly the same time, the book explores some of the literary and political interactions with Iran's Ottoman, Mughal and Uzbek neighbours. As the volume and frequency of European merchants and diplomats visiting Safavid Persia increased, especially in the seventeenth century, and as more Iranians recorded their own travel experiences to surrounding Muslim lands, the Safavid period is the first in which we can document and explore the contours of Iran's place in an expanding world, and gain insights into how Iranians saw themselves and others saw them.


The Timurid Century: The Idea of Iran [Volume 9]

Edited by: Charles Melville
Published: 2020

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The century after the conquests of Timur witnessed the division of eastern and western Iran between his Turko-Mongol successors, and a flowering of Persian culture in the great cities of Herat, Samarqand and Tabriz, among others. In this, the ninth volume in The Idea of Iran series, leading scholars analyse the ways that Timurid contemporaries viewed their traditions and their environment, asking questions such as: what was the view of outsiders, and how does modern scholarship define the distinctive aspects of the period? Essential reading for scholars, students, and all those interested in the history of Iran, the book considers the political, religious and cultural history of this rich and highly productive interval that was the springboard for the formation of new imperial Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal and Ozbek orders of succeeding centuries.


Iran After the Mongols: The Idea of Iran [Volume 8]

Edited by: Sussan Babaie
Published: 2019

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Following the devastating Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258, the domination of the Abbasids declined leading to successor polities, chiefly among them the Ilkhanate in Greater Iran, Iraq and the Caucasus. Iranian cultural identities were reinstated within the lands that make up today's Iran, including the area of greater Khorasan. The Persian language gained unprecedented currency over Arabic and new buildings and manuscripts were produced for princely patrons with aspirations to don the Iranian crown of kingship.

This new volume in “The Idea of Iran” series follows the complexities surrounding the cultural reinvention of Iran after the Mongol invasions, but the book is unique capturing not only the effects of Mongol rule but also the period following the collapse of Mongol-based Ilkhanid rule. By the mid-1330s the Ilkhanate in Iran was succeeded by alternative models of authority and local Iranian dynasties. This led to the proliferation of diverse and competing cultural, religious and political practices but so far scholarship has neglected to produce an analysis of this multifaceted history in any depth. Iran After the Mongols offers new and cutting-edge perspectives on what happened. Analysing the fourteenth century in its own right, Sussan Babaie and her fellow contributors capture the cultural complexity of an era that produced some of the most luminous masterpieces in Persian literature and the most significant new building work in Tabriz, Yazd, Herat and Shiraz. Featuring contributions by leading scholars, this is a wide-ranging treatment of an under-researched period and the volume will be essential reading for scholars of Iranian Studies and Middle Eastern History.


The Coming of the Mongols: The Idea of Iran [Volume 7]

Edited by: David O. Morgan, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2017

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The Mongol invasions in the first half of the thirteenth century led to profound and shattering changes to the historical trajectory of Islamic West Asia. As this new volume in The Idea of Iran series suggests, sudden conquest from the east was preceded by events closer to home which laid the groundwork for the later Mongol success. In the mid-twelfth century the Seljuq empire rapidly unravelled, its vast provinces fragmenting into a patchwork of mostly short-lived principalities and kingdoms. In time, new powers emerged, such as the pagan Qara-Khitai in Central Asia; the Khwarazmshahs in Khwarazm, Khorosan and much of central Iran; and the Ghurids to the southeast. Yet all were blown away by the Mongols, who faced no resistance from a sufficiently muscular imperial competitor and whose influx was viewed by contemporaries as cataclysmic. Distinguished scholars including David O Morgan and the late C E Bosworth here discuss the dynasties that preceded the invasion - and aspects of their literature, poetry and science - as well as the conquerors themselves and their rule in Iran from 1219 to 1256.


The Age of the Seljuqs: The Idea of Iran [Volume 6]

Edited by: Edmund Herzig, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2014

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From their ancestral heartland by the shores of the Aral Sea, the medieval Oghuz Turks marched westwards in search of dominion. Their conquests led to control of a Muslim empire that united the territories of the Eastern Islamic world, melded Turkic and Persian influences and transported Persian culture to Anatolia. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the new Turkic-Persian symbiosis that had earlier emerged under the Samanids, Ghaznavids and Qarakhanids came to fruition in a period that, under the enlightened rule of the Seljuq dynasty, combined imperial grandeur with remarkable artistic achievement. This latest volume in The Idea of Iran series focuses on a system of government based on Turkic 'men of the sword' and Persian 'men of the pen' that the Seljuqs (famous foes of the Crusader Frankish knights) consolidated in a form that endured for centuries. The book further explores key topics relating to the innovative Seljuq era, including: conflicted Sunni-Shi'a relations between the Sunni Seljuq Empire and Ismaili Fatimid caliphate; architecture, art and culture; and politics and poetry.


Early Islamic Iran: The Idea of Iran [Volume 5]

Edited by: Edmund Herzig, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2011

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How did Iran remain distinctively Iranian in the centuries which followed the Arab Conquest? How did it retain its cultural distinctiveness after the displacement of Zoroastrianism - state religion of the Persian empire - by Islam? This latest volume in "The Idea of Iran" series traces that critical moment in Iranian history which followed the transformation of ancient traditions during the country's conversion and initial Islamic period. Distinguished contributors (who include the late Oleg Grabar, Roy Mottahedeh, Alan Williams and Said Amir Arjomand) discuss, from a variety of literary, artistic, religious and cultural perspectives, the years around the end of the first millennium CE, when the political strength of the 'Abbasid Caliphate was on the wane, and when the eastern lands of the Islamic empire began to be take on a fresh 'Persianate' or 'Perso-Islamic' character. One of the paradoxes of this era is that the establishment throughout the eastern Islamic territories of new Turkish dynasties coincided with the genesis and spread, into Central and South Asia, of vibrant new Persian language and literatures.

Exploring the nature of this paradox, separate chapters engage with ideas of kingship, authority and identity and their fascinating expression through the written word, architecture and the visual arts.


The Rise of Islam: The Idea of Iran [Volume 4]

Edited by: Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2009

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This fourth volume in the successful series "The Idea of Iran" addresses the astonishing impact made by Islam during and after the Arab conquest of Iran in the middle of the seventh century. As the Sasanian dynasty crumbled before the invaders' triumphant onslaught, its state religion of Zoroastrianism was unceremoniously dismantled to make way for the new faith of the victorious desert warriors. Yet why, if Iran jettisoned its indigenous religion, did it still manage to retain its Persian language and distinctive Iranian identity once Muslim governance took hold? These, and other intriguing questions, are addressed by the book, which includes distinguished contributions from world-renowned scholars such as Hugh Kennedy, Edmund Bosworth, Robert Hillenbrand and Ehsan Yarshater. Discussing a large variety of subjects which covers the whole spectrum of life in early Islamic Iran, the volume offers one of the most ambitious perspectives on Persian religion, society and culture to be published to date. It will be consulted by all students of Iranian history, and will be regarded as essential reading for scholars of Islam, the Middle East and medieval religion alike.


The Sasanian Era: The Idea of Iran [Volume 3]

Edited by: Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2008

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This latest volume in "The Idea of Iran" series concentrates on the Sasanian period. Seizing power from the previous dynasty - the Parthians - the Sasanians ruled Iran and most of the ancient Near East from 224 until 642 CE. They are particularly fascinating because of their adherence to Zoroastrianism, an ancient dualistic Iranian religion named after the prophet Zarathustra (or, in Greek, Zoroaster). The Sasanians expressed the divine aspect of their rule in a variety of forms, such as on coins, rock reliefs and silver plates, and architecture and the arts flourished under their aegis. Sasanian military success brought them into conflict with Rome, and later Byzantium. Their empire eventually collapsed under the force of the Arab army in AD 642, when Zoroastrianism was replaced with Islam.Engaging with all the major aspects of Sasanian culture, twelve eminent scholars address subjects which include: early Sasanian art and iconography; early Sasanian coinage; religion and identity in the Sasanian empire; later Sasanian orality and literacy; and state and society in late antique Iran.

The volume in question arguably comprises the most complete and comprehensive treatment of the Sasanian civilization yet to be published in English.


The Age of the Parthians: The Idea of Iran [Volume 2]

Edited by: Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2007

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The Parthians are a fascinating but little-known ancient civilization. In the mid-third century BCE a bold and ambitious leader called Arshak challenged Hellenic rule and led his armies to victory. The dynasty which he founded ruled over what became a mighty empire and restored the glory of Iran following the region's conquest by Alexander the Great. This imperial eastern superpower, which lasted for 400 years and stretched from the Hindu Kush to Mesopotamia, withstand the might of Rome for centuries. The Parthians were nomadic horse-warriors who left few written records, concentrating rather on a rich oral and storytelling tradition. What knowledge we have of this remarkable people derives primarily from their coinage, which mixed Hellenism with Persian influences. In this book, distinguished scholars examine - from a variety of perspectives - the origins of the Parthians, their history, religion and culture, as well as perceptions of their empire through the lens of both imperial Rome and China.


Birth of the Persian Empire: The Idea of Iran [Volume 1]

Edited by: Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Sarah Stewart
Published: 2005

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Of the great ancient civilizations, that of Persia is the least known and the most enigmatic. This book explores the formation of the first Persian Empire under the Achaemenid Persians. It brings together a multi-disciplinary view of ancient Iran in the first millennium BC and concentrates on the art, archaeology, history and religion of a geographical area far beyond the present borders of modern Iran in the period beginning just before the formation of the Persian empire in the middle of the 6th century up to its collapse following conquest by Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BC. Eminent scholars here give a critical approach to some of the traditional interpretations and discuss topics which help the reader towards a better understanding of the formation of the Persian empire. This is the first volume in the "Idea of Iran" series which will be a four-volume collection encompassing the history of that country.