Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. By TOURAJ DARYAEE. London: I. B. TAURIS in association with Iran Heritage Foundation, 2013 (reprint). Pp. xxvi + 225, illus. $29 (paper).
Iranian studies is regrettably a small field, and within it, an even smaller number of researchers focus on the Sasanian Empire. Touraj Daryaee claims that this lack of attention is not accidental, but that it reflects a widely held belief that non-Western nations do not have history. These sentiments of the author are on target, because Iran definitely has a lot of history, but that history has been consistently overlooked or, worse, distorted. One only needs to recall the racially charged movie 300, to see how the popular culture of the West caricatures Iran.
Even among scholars, ancient Persia and today's Iran have often been on the receiving end of these on occasion accidental but now and again purposeful efforts at distortion. The Iranian grudge against Western biases is longstanding. First the Athenians, then Alexander the Great, then the Romans, then the Crusaders, then the British, the Russians, and finally today the Americans, have tried to marginalize Iran. To see the world from the point of view of Iran is really a lesson that we should not miss and this book provides us with a unique opportunity. Touraj Daryaee is one of those brave pioneers who have decided to carry the burdens of Persian studies and to contribute to our education by writing one of the few histories of the Sasanid state and society in circulation, offering his readers not only a rare glimpse into Persian history, but also an exceptional opportunity to correct a persistent historical prejudice.
In addition to being one of the few available books on Sasanian Persia, this is also a good history, which is no small achievement, considering the difficulties of the field. The Sasanian period (224-651 C.E.), sandwiched between the glorious classical Persia of the Achaemenids (550-330 B.C.E.) and the widely known Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates (661-1258 C.E.) is a difficult area to study. It requires knowledge of several research languages, such as Greek and Latin, because of the long-standing rivalry between the Graeco-Roman East and the Sasanians. Knowledge of Sanskrit and the Vedas also comes in handy, because the Sasanians codified the Zoroastrian holy writings, the Avesta, the language and the content of which are fairly similar to the Vedas.
Knowledge of Arabic is highly...