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Whence Came the Asvārān? An Inquiry into the Ambiguity of Sources

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AbstractNarratives of the Arab Conquests that were compiled in book form only after the ninth century fall short of providing a consistent, let alone an accurate, view of Sasanian hierarchies of rank and status during the sixth and seventh centuries. Knowledge of provincial divisions and administrative practices under Sasanian rule was reflected more accurately, not least of all because it directly pertained to the collection of tax revenues for the conquerors. When it comes to information about Iranian society and culture before the conquests, Arabic sources, often based on veterans’ tales, offer but fragmentary and anecdotal information. While scholars have made great use of these sources, it is still difficult to fathom the composition and function of groups such as the Sasanian asvārān. Focusing on a few well-known conquest narratives, this article investigates the information they contain on the asvārān, and will underline some of the difficulties involved when drawing inferences from them with respect to Sasanian social hierarchy and military structure.

Affiliations: 1: Barnard College


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