In this presentation Professor Ahmad Ashraf discusses the formation of the traditional Iranian and Persian historical narrative, focusing particularly on the period from the Islamic conquest to the Safavid era. The origin of Iran’s traditional history, a mixture of fact and fiction concerning the pre-Islamic era, can be traced to traditions relating to ancient Avestan ideas on the formation of man, the creation of kingship, and social order. These traditions were transmitted orally until the last decades of the Sassanian Empire in the seventh century, when they were formalised into a set of now-lost literary texts. Their reception in the Islamic era was conditioned by factors of random survival and particular use, notably instrumentalised during the Persian cultural revival from the tenth century onwards, when the political context of regional Iranian polities favoured such developments. Elaborating the internal variations while highlighting the comparatively early formalisation of this tradition, Ahmad notes the remarkable fact that this medieval understanding remained the commonly shared historical vision of ‘Iran’ and ‘Persianness’ all the way to the late nineteenth century. Most striking are the things left out of this vision, notably the Achaemenid shahanshahs, a point that emphasises the multiplicity of possibilities in even the most reified and apparently fixed of historical narratives.
The Long History of Identity, Ethnicity and Nationhood