Friday, December 14, 2007

The Sassanians   posted by Razib @ 12/14/2007 12:58:00 AM

The Sassanian Empire this week on In Our Time. Kind of obscure, so worth it. Speaking of obscurity, some reading on the dynamics of Islamicization in Iran (Conversion to Islam) revealed the fact that there was a strong tendency for new Persian converts and their offspring to use very Arabic names during the first centuries, specifically ones associated with early Muslims. While Arab Muslims themselves might on occasion have had names which might also have been used by Jews or Christians (e.g., Arabic forms of David), Persian converts were underrepresented in these "ambiguous" variants, rather their names signified that they had to be Muslim. But as the proportion of Iran's population which was Muslim increased (going from minority to majority sometime in the 10th century), there was a modest bounce back of pre-Islamic Persian names among the elites. The argument goes that only with the indigenization of Islam within Persian culture were Iranian forms and elements allowed to make an explicit come back, since they no longer posed any threat as an alternative (there were principalities where the rulers still championed Zoroastrianism in regions such as the southern shore of the Caspian Sea as late as the 9th century). This of course neglects the elephant in the room that the early Caliphs seem to have transplanted Sassanian court motifs in toto to generate the aura around their monarchy. Additionally, I'm skeptical of the generality of this claim, the first Byzantine Emperor with a Hebraic name was Michael I, four centuries after public paganism had been definitively marginalized.