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Persia and its Neighbours: the Archaeology of Late Antique Imperial Power in Iran (PERSIA)
Start date: May 1, 2012, End date: Apr 30, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The Sasanian Empire (3rd-7th c. AD) stretched from Mesopotamia to the west of the Indian Subcontinent. A pilot study has shown that major frontier walls and geometrical fortifications, whose scale and sophistication surpasses those in contemporary Europe, date to the Sasanian era, as do grand urban foundations and canal systems. Yet, excavations and surveys of Sasanian monuments have been far and few between and have mostly employed conventional approaches. Publications amount to a fraction of those on Roman studies.Our interdisciplinary project will provide unique insights into one of the great powers of the age, but the one that is most poorly understood. It will achieve this by bringing together a broad range of complementary methods. Satellite images will be analysed to examine the Empire’s frontier zones. Key sites will be selected for geophysical survey, targeted excavation, scientific dating and systematic analysis of artefacts, faunal and botanical remains. Combining large-scale survey with small-scale case studies promises to provide unrivalled insights into military infrastructure, urbanisation and rural settlement – intertwined phenomena, as agricultural surplus production enabled large-scale construction projects. Our in-depth study of Sasanian frontier territories promises to fill a major gap in our understanding of Late Antiquity and shed light on the reasons behind the longevity, economic and military dominance and dynamism of one of the largest empires of the ancient world, far beyond what has been achieved so far.The Empire’s capabilities challenge our traditional Eurocentric approach. While it is acknowledged that the later Caliphate’s military power and urban culture were unrivalled in Western Europe at the time, our project promises to show that some of these advances have their roots in the pre-Islamic era. Our project will open up new fields of research, and will have a major impact on archaeological studies and ancient and medieval history.
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