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PERSIA Report Summary

Project ID: 295375
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - PERSIA (Persia and its Neighbours: the Archaeology of Late Antique Imperial Power in Iran)

The ERC Persia has made a major contribution to our understanding of the Sasanian Empire, notably its military apparatus, which has been the main focus of our project. Jointly with our colleagues in Iran and Georgia, we have achieved a series of significant breakthroughs:
We have been able to attribute (via radiocarbon dating) two of the largest military fortifications, one with an internal area of c. 125ha, the other even as large as 175ha, firmly to the Sasanian era. In the light of this, it is clear that the largest Sasanian military fortresses exceed all of their Roman counterparts in dimensions.
We could also attribute a series of other geometric forts to this time period, shedding much new light on the extent of Sasanian military infrastructure investment.
In one fort on the Gorgan Wall, we excavated a trench through the entire width of a Sasanian barrack block. This did not only reveal the dimensions of the building, but provided us also with unparalleled insights into its use over time. The barrack block was originally straight and narrow and two rows of rooms wide. Subsequently, it was expanded until eventually encompassing six rows of rooms. We gained unparalleled insights into life in a Sasanian fort and how the different rooms were used, with special areas for storage as well as cooking.
It is also clear now that a Sasanian fort in Dariali Gorge, famous in the ancient and medieval world as the ‘Caspian Gates’ or the ‘Alan Gates’, was built in the late 4th-early 5th century.
The discovery of the terminal of the Tammisheh Wall sheds significant light on sea-level fluctuations in the world’s largest inland sea and Sasanian strategies to control movement along the seashore.
We have been able to explore the Fulayj Fort in Oman, the only certain Sasanian fort known to date in this country and now also firmly dated to the Sasanian era. This has enabled us to compare defensive strategies in the north and south of the Sasanian Empire, the smaller size of compounds in the south reflecting probably in part lesser population density in the frontier zone.
The PERSIA project also provided many other insights into the history and culture of this empire, such as its impact on the environment and successful animal husbandry. As is usual in fieldwork projects, some of the evidence unearthed relates to earlier and later periods of history and we have also gained a much better understanding site density in the Gorgan Plain over time and the history of trans-Caucasian traffic in the Middle Ages.
Overall it is clear now that Sasanian military infrastructure exceeds that of any other ancient or medieval Near Eastern empire in scale – and probably even that of Imperial Rome, challenging our traditional Eurocentric view of world history.

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United Kingdom
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