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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


Iraqi Drought Reveals Sasanian City of Peroz-Shapur and other Archaeological Treasures


15 April 2009



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Ancient buildings have emerged from the river bed in Iraq's western Anbar province as the Euphrates River dries up. For the first time, archaeologists are able to access sites that had been flooded by Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s.


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Cliffs that were once submerged now reveal pre-Christian tombs built into the rock face.


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Map detailing the route of Khalid ibn Walid's conquest of western section of the Sasanian Empire

  (Click to enlarge)


By: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro

Edited by CAIS


LONDON, (CAIS) -- Today oil-rich Iraq, apart from foreign invasion, terrorism and sectarian wars is also suffering from one of the worst droughts in decades. While this is bad news for farmers, it is good news for archaeologists.


The receding waters of the Euphrates River have revealed ancient archaeological sites, some of which were unknown until now.


For Ratib Ali al-Kubaisi, the director of Anbar province's Antiquities Department, the drought has opened up a whole new land of opportunity.


"Everyone … thought that Anbar was only desert with no historical importance. But we discovered that this area is one of the most important archaeological areas in all of Iraq. This part of Iraq was the first to be settled," he says.


In the mid-1980s, Saddam Hussein's government dammed the Euphrates in the area, flooding a 120-mile-long stretch of land near Iraq's border with Syria, submerging large number of archaeological sites, for the most part the Assyrian, Parthian and Sasanian sites.


What once was an enormous reservoir that stretched as far as the eye could see has shrunk to an astonishing 90 percent since summer, officials say.


According to Ratib at least 75 archaeological sites had been partially excavated before the area was flooded. They ran the gamut of civilisations — from Sumerian to Sasanian Iran. But because of the receding waters, Ratib has been able to access some sites for the first time — including, for instance, a cliff with a series of ancient tombs carved into its face. Though they have been heavily damaged by the water, Ratib says they still have values.



Exciting New Finds

It's not only previously discovered archaeological sites that the drought has made accessible.


Ratib and a colleague are suddenly excited by something they've seen on this particular day. They kneel next to what looks like an old stone wall, shards of pottery everywhere. Ratib says he believes it is a Roman-era irrigation ditch.


"I've never seen this site before," he says. "When we excavated this area decades ago, this was all buried underneath the soil, but the receding waters uncovered it."


However it seems his claim is premature and possibly wrong, since Romans never made a base for them to construct any structure, and perhaps he has mistaken it with either Parthian or Sasanian structure.




The fortified town of Anbar was a primary entrepôt on the western borders of the Iran’s Sasanian dynastic Empire (224-637 CE). It was an important town and commercial centre to which caravans came from Roman-Arabia (modern Syria) and Persia. It is located in the alluvial plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, near the ancient city of Ctesiphon, the main capital of the Sasanian dynasty of Iran. The word Anbār is Persian for ‘warehouse’ and ‘storage’.


The town was founded by Emperor Shapur I (r. 241 – 272 CE), to use as a massive warehouse for his forces.


The historian Ammianus Marcellinus referred to Anbar as the second most important city in the western part of Persia after Ctesiphon. The city's population consisted of a large Iranian and non-Iranian Nestorian-Christians, as well as smaller communities of Zoroastrians and Jews percentage.


Anbar was destroyed by Roman Emperor Julian (Julian the Apostate) in March 363 CE. Three months later during the withdrawal, Romans suffered several attacks from Iranian forces. In one such engagement on 26 June 363, the indecisive Battle of Samarra near Maranga the Sasanian army raided Julian’s column, he was wounded and died during the night. Later Christian historians propagated the tradition that Julian was killed by a saint.


Anbar was rebuilt by Shapur II circa 350CE and continued to be a Persian city until the collapse of Sasanian Empire and the flocks of emigrant Bedouin-Arabs from Arabian deserts to the area.


Anbar fell to hand of Arab-Muslim forces after a battle with Sasanian army in July 633. The battle is often remembered as the "the battle of the eyes", since Arab archers under the command of Khalid Ibn al-Walid were ordered to aim at the "eyes" of the defenders of the city, that  stood on the top of the walls of the citadel. Soon the walls were scaled and the gates were broken open. Thousands of Iranians lost their lives.


To avoid another massacre by Arabs, the governor of Anbar, Shirzad (šīrzād) negotiated peace. He had to forfeit all his possessions but allowed to leave at the head of five hundred Persian cavalries for Ctesiphon.





Extracted From/Source: NPR News [*]




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