A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of the afterlife as for any other ancient civilization. Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day and provided one of the most interesting, and compassionate, answers.
The human concern with mortality informs not only the scriptures of world religions but the greatest literary works. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh – considered the oldest epic tale in the world – is centered on finding meaning in life in the face of inevitable death and innumerable works since have explored the same problem.
PERSIA (roughly modern-day Iran) is among the oldest inhabited regions in the world. Archaeological sites in the country have established human habitation dating back 100,000 years to the Paleolithic Age with semi-permanent settlements (most likely for hunting parties) established before 10,000 BCE. The ancient kingdom of Elam in this area was among the most advanced of its time (its oldest settlement, the archaeological site of Chogha Bonut, dates to c. 7200 BCE) before parts of it were conquered by the Sumerians, later completely by the Assyrians, and then by the Medes.
Getting DNA from Indus River Valley Civilization burials is quite difficult, as the hot South Asian climate provides the perfect conditions for degrading biological material. After 5,000 years in the ground there is usually nothing left to sequence. But for the first time, a full genome has been sequenced! A team from Deccan College in India successfully recreated a genome from an individual buried in a cemetery at the site of Rakhigarhi, in Haryana, India. They were able to get enough undamaged DNA by patiently re-sampling the skeleton over 100 times and pooling the results.
It has been known that there are cultural connections between the Indus River Valley Civilization and Iranian civilization. It has even been theorized that the hunter-gatherers who lived in the ecologically rich valley learned farming from Iran. The recent study therefore compared the Rakhigarhi remains to genomes from 523 genetically sampled from Gonur in Turkmenistan and Shahr-i-Sokhta in Iran.
Their analysis showed that the genes associated with this individual’s Iranian ancestry came from before the time when farmers and hunter-gatherers in the area separated from each other. This individual’s Iranian ancestors left before farming spread through Iran, meaning that the Indus River Valley civilization did not learn farming from Iran but independently decided to give up hunting and gathering for farming. The genetic analyses also found that 11 individuals from the 523 belonged to the same genetic group as the Indus River Valley Civilization remains. That suggests that the 11 were migrants, or near descendants of migrants, from the Indus River Valley.
The deadliest recorded blizzard in history happened in 1974 in Iran. It lasted from February 3rd to February 8th, dropped 26 feet of snow, and entombed the region in temperatures as low as -13 F/-25 C.
When it was over, 4,000 people were dead, and entire villages were gone. Literally. Twenty villages were destroyed and never rebuilt.
CAMBYSES II (r. 530-522 BCE) was the second king of the Achaemenid Empire. The Greek historian Herodotus portrays Cambyses as a mad king who committed many acts of sacrilege during his stay in Egypt, including the slaying of the sacred Apis calf. This account, however, appears to have been derived mostly from Egyptian oral tradition and may therefore be biased. Most of the sacrileges attributed to Cambyses are not supported by contemporary sources. At the end of his reign, Cambyses faced a revolt by a man who claimed to be his brother Smerdis, and he died on his way to suppress this revolt.
Cambyses was born to Cyrus the Great and his wife Cassandane, a sister of the Persian nobleman Otanes. Cambyses had a younger brother named Smerdis, from the same mother and the same father. As early as 539 BCE, when Cyrus conquered Babylon, Cambyses held the position of crown prince. He is mentioned on the Cyrus Cylinder, along with his father Cyrus, as receiving blessings from the Babylonian supreme god Marduk. In Babylonian documents dating between April and December 538 BCE, Cambyses is described as ‘king of Babylon’, while Cyrus was given the title ‘king of the lands’. Cambyses may have been appointed king of Babylon in preparation for his succession to the Persian throne.
Prayers and verses from the Qur’an have been used as amulets throughout the Islamic world for centuries. This hexagonal, silver amulet case still contains its original prayer scroll – rather a miracle.
On the scroll are written prayers in a beautiful black calligraphic hand. Names of God are in larger script, in blue and red, around the edges. The scroll was not meant to be read, however, but used as a talisman. Three small loops suggest that the case was meant to be worn as a horizontal pendant. When worn, it was believed such amulets both protected the wearer from harm, and cured them if they were already hurt.
Based on the style of the calligraphy, this amulet and scroll likely come from Iran around 1800.