Visiting Research Scholar Lecture
During the latter half of the fourth century CE, the Iranian Empire encountered enemies that would call its very foundations into question: the Huns. Migrating from the Eurasian steppes, the Huns surprised an empire without previous experience of imperialist nomads, conquering Iran's territories in Bactria and Gandhara and establishing royal dynasties in the city states beyond its northeastern frontiers. An Iran that had claimed to subordinate all outside powers now found itself subject to nomadic rulers demanding tribute.
To overcome the challenges the Huns posed to the ideology and infrastructure of the empire, the court creatively developed the corpus of Zoroastrian cosmological and mythical historical traditions – the Avestan sources of the idea of Iran – to provide new modes of representation and models for political action appropriate to the unfavorable circumstances of the age. Histories of the mythical Kayanian kings, the Sasanians' ancestors, represented the fifth–century crisis as the resumption of the Avesta's storied struggle between Iran and Turan, between the civilized allies of Ohrmazd and Ahremanic barbarian nomads. At the same time, mythical history provided paradigms for a peaceful relationship with the Roman Empire, which became a partner of Iran in the fifth century. These histories, moreover, represented the empire as the collaborative venture of dynasties both aristocratic and royal, facilitating the consolidation of the aristocratic networks that marshaled men and material in the empire's service. The resulting reinvention of Iran laid the foundations – ideological, infrastructural, and social – of the expansionist empire of the sixth and early seventh centuries.
Reception to follow
Event is open to the public