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Report: Ancient Iran
National Geographic, August 2008

By Kohl Edelweiss
Enenuru ANE discussion board


The main article on Ancient Iran is by Marguerite Del Giudice and she writes broadly about the Iranian’s and what she understands as their distinct connection to the past, their Persian heritage, their pride in the tradition of their country extending back to Ancient Iran. This pride is somewhat complex because of the notable times Iran had been invaded and forced deal with influxes of foreign culture: (for example) The Turks, the Mongols and most lastingly, the Arabs.

Del Giudice records that on her research trip to Iran she received a very distinct form of hospitality from her hosts and from the Iranians in general; all were concerned about her needs and ensured her needs were met. She explains “in Iran a guest is accorded highest status, the sweetest piece of the fruit, the most comfortable place to sit. It’s part of a complex system of ritual politeness –taarof – that governs the subtext of life here.” The author adds that the word taarof is based on the Arabic root “arafa” which means ‘to know’, or ‘to aquire knowledge of.’ But the idea of taarof – to abase one self while exalting another – is Persian in origin and it has been described as “fighting for the lower hand.”

Throughout the article it is stressed that the Iranians have always maintained a sense of their own identity and their own heritage stretching back to the Persians (550 – 330 BC) and before them the Elamites (2400 – 539BC). The country because of its geography and location, a center point between the west and Asiatic east, and because of its wealth, was repeatedly occupied and the inhabitants had no where to escape to.. However, Del Guidice notes “The Iranians seem particularly proud of the capacity to get along with others by assimilating compatible aspects of the invader’s ways without surrendering their own – a cultural elasticity that is at the heart of their Persian identity.” She explains that they like to say that their conquerors have “gone Persian” like Alexander, who after laying waste to the vanquished, adopted its cultural and administrative practices, took a Persian wife (Roxana), and ordered thousands of his troops to do the same in a mass wedding.

This type of passive resistance, and subtle cultural preservation, may be at the root taarof, or in some way this history may have inspired that peculiar sense of hospitality.

(Ziggurat at Dur Untash)

Something I haven’t been aware of as someone focused on Mesopotamia (and having a disgracefully small amount of reading about Iran), is that the Elamites did in fact have Ziggurats much like those found in Mesopotamia. Browsing through this issue of National Geographic, on page 52-53 there is a really nice one picture which scanned (see attachment.) The accompanying comment to this picture reads:

“Choga Zanbil – Long before the Persians arrived, the Elamites (ca 2400 to 539 BC) had built one of the world’s early civilizations in southwestern Iran. At a high point in their power in the 13th century BC, the mighty ziggurat in the city of Dur Untash towered over the realm. Partly restored, it is one of the largest ziggurats in the world. The Elamites’ cultural influence continued after their world was absorbed by Persia.”

Will have to read more on Iranian Ziggurats.


But what made me really pick up this issue was the mention of a possible find spot for Aratta! This city should be interesting to all you fans and readers of such epics as “Enmerkerand the Lord of Aratta” (1) Or Enmerkar and En-suḫgir-ana (2)



According to the literature then, the early kings of Uruk had a particular concern with Aratta. In Gilgamesh and Huwawa (t. it is suggested that knowledge of the location of Aratta is a feat in itself “In heaven they shine ……, raising ……; on earth they know the way even to Aratta.” In this and other literature, Aratta is held to be a “pure place” and to hold riches and resources (undoubtedly a reason why it concerned the kings Uruk).. for example, like in a praise poem to Shulgi (t. “I filled it with treasures like those of holy Aratta.” For some musing on the occurrence of magic in the texts dealing with the Urukian kings and Aratta, I have made some notes back on this thread:

Despite all of the intrigue this material generated among ANE enthusiasts, on the archaeological side of things Aratta has remained a lost city. While I believe there have been a few debunked theories as to where it may have been, the most exciting possibility I have heard is a new find spot mentioned in this National Geographic article: recent digs in 2000 at a site near the city of Jiroft, have lead the excavators to theorize that they may have found Aratta! Yousef Madjidzadeh appears to be in charge of the dig and is an expert on third millennium archaeology. However, one must temper their enthusiasm as the theory that this is Aratta is accompanied by the comment “Thus far there is no proof…” 0_0 The story of the dig Jiroft and Madjidzadeh’s efforts are interesting and details can be read here:

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