The Joy of History (2)

14 April 2010

The Persian Gate

We were the first, after a millennium or two, to visit the site and know what had happened there. Early in the morning, we had hired a taxi in Shiraz and had left for Yasuj, 150 kilometers to the northwest. The driver had been a kind man, who tried to make us feel at home by endlessly playing a tape of Modern Talking, not exactly our type of music. After two hours, we had reached our destination.

In 1979, Henri Speck had tried to visit Yasuj as well. He lectured on English literature in Shiraz, and liked to explore the countryside, trying to find the Persian Gate, the mountain pass where Alexander the Great had forced his way across the Zagros mountains, into the heartland of the Persian Empire. Speck had already found out that the old identification, by Aurel Stein, was incorrect, and had established that the real mountain pass was the Tang-e Meyran near Yasuj. Unfortunately, he was never able to visit the place: in the small police station, he learned that the Revolution had started, that Americans were not safe. So, Speck left Yasuj, hurried to Iraq, forgot about the Persian Gate, and published his results in 2002. But he had never visited the site.

The battlefield at the Persian Gate

My friend Marco and I were more successful. It was easy to find the Tang-e Meyran, and we found the little path that Alexander used to circumvene the Persian positions after a bit of searching. By noon, we knew that Speck had been right. It was a pity that he was not with us, when we were standing there: the first western students of ancient history at the Persian Gate, the first to know what had happened over there. We felt privileged and lighted two special Italian cigars, which we had saved for the occasion. 18 February 2004 is one of the happiest days of my life.

This is an example of what is called “the historical sensation”: to touch the past, to know that you really have contact with something that happened long time ago. The French historian Henry Houssaye (1848-1911) once described the overwhelming nature of this experience, and when he explained what it was to feel present during a famous battle, he started to weep for joy.

He was right. History is nice, it is fun. That is enough. There is no need to use it for a practical purpose. Of course this does not explain why our governments pay money for historians. That needs another justification.


Henry Speck, “Alexander at the Persian Gates. A Study in Historiography and Topography” in: American Journal of Ancient History n.s. 1.1 (2002) 15-234.

Moving (14)

30 June 2009
Persian Gate

Persian Gate

If I say that Hecatompylos has moved to this URL, and if I add that Masjid-e Solaiman is now here, and if I mention that the page on the Persian Gate can be visited here, you will understand that you have come across a new installment of the highly irregular and highly irrelevant series called Moving Livius.Org. Of these three sites, only the last one is really worth visiting, although I have excellent memories of the other Iranian sites too.

The same can be said of Priene in Turkey, where I once spent a leisurely afternoon. The climb to Oenoanda, on the other hand, was exhausting, but certainly worth the effort: the ruins are impressive. Because there were wild animals over there, we hired a hunter and his friend to keep us company. It was the first time that I was escorted by a man who carried a gun.

Still 77 pages to go…


8 February 2009

Magians performing a sacrifice

Magians performing a sacrifice

Dascylium (satellite photo), situated to the southeast of Lake Dascylitis on a bank of a river, was the capital of the Persian satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia and the residence of the Pharnacid dynasty (Artabazus, Pharnabazus, Pharnaces, Pharnabazus, Ariobarzanes, and Artabazus), until it was captured by Parmenion, a general of Alexander the Great, after the battle of the Granicus (334). The site is famous for several fifth-century reliefs, showing Persian Magians performing sacrifices; they are now among the (many) highlights of the Arkeoloji Müzesi of Istanbul.

My new page is here. As I already announced, I am moving several pages of my website; I also moved Shushthar to a new location – so now there’s 121 pages left to do.


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