Saturday, June 25, 2011

Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy

Chapter 2 - The Iranian Revival: Parthians and Sassanids

  • "in the reign of the Arsacid Mithradates I (171 -138 BC) the Parthians renewed their expansion, taking Sistan, Elam, and Media. Then they captured Babylon in 142 BC and, one year later, Seleuceia itself. In the decades that followed, the Parthians were attacked by the Sakae in the east and by the Seleucids in the west." - 33
  • "Mithradates [II, the Great] had diplomatic contacts with both the Chinese Han emperor Wu Ti and with the Roman republic under the dictator Sulla." - 33
  • "the rise of the Parthians in the east was helped by the prolonged struggle between the Maccabean Jews and the Seleucids in Palestine." - 34
  • "While the hostile Parthians controlled the central part of the route to China, wealthy Romans were dismayed to see much of the gold they paid to have their wives and daughters clothes in expensive silks going to their most redoubtable enemies." - 38
  • "Something else taken west by the Roman soldiers from their encounters in the east was a new religion -- Mithraism....Mithras always remained primarily a god of soldiers...and was an important bonding element in the lives of military men....Although Mithras was associated with the sun (sol invictus -- the Invincible Sun), Mithraism seems to have taken on some of the ritualized cult character of Western paganism, losing most of the ethical content of Iranian Mazdaism and becoming a kind of secret society a little like Freemasons." - 41
  • "The wars and the disputed provinces had taken on a totemic value -- they had become a part of the apparatus by which the Persian shahs and Roman emperors alike justified their rule....Upper Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Syria had become an unfortunate playground for princes." - 46
  • "Ardashir and Shapur [the first Sassanid rulers] made changes in government that may have paralleled the beginnings of some deeper change in society. Government became more centralized, the bureaucracy expanded" - 47
  • "Another phenomenon that emerged in the reign of Shapur was a new religion -- Manichaeism, named after its originator, the prophet Mani." - 49
  • "Manichaeism was based on the idea of a queasy, dystopic creation in which the good -- the light -- had been overwhelmed and dominated by evil -- the demonic -- which was itself identified with matter. Through copulation and reproduction (inherently sinful), evil had imprisoned light in matter and had established the dominance of evil on earth....the only real hope was the eventual liberation of the spirit in death." - 50
  • "As pursued later by the Western Christian church in medieval Europe, the full grim panoply of Manichaean / Augustinian formulae emerged to blight millions of lives... -- the distaste for the human body, the disgust for and guilt about sexuality, the misogyny, the determinism..., the obsessive idealization of the spirit, the disdain for the material -- all distant indeed from the original teachings of Jesus." - 52
  • "we should remember that Manichaeism was condemned by the Mazdaean Magi as a heresy at an early stage, and that it is more correct to see it as a distortion of Iranian thinking -- or indeed as an outgrowth of Christian gnosticism dressed in Mazdaean trappings" - 53
  • "Shortly before Shapur II became shah [in 310 AD], Armenia turned Christian, at least officially." - 55
  • "The reign of Khosraw [Anushirvan], for its intellectual achievements, for its exemplification of the Sassanid idea of kingship, was the pinnacle of Sassanid rule. In later centuries it became almost the Platonic form of what monarchy should be" - 62-3

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