The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
Edited by CAIS
(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.
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
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.
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
is Persian for ‘warehouse’ and ‘storage’.
was founded by
Emperor Shapur I (r. 241 – 272 CE), to use as a massive warehouse for his
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
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.
Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)