in the Middle & Near East has existed ever since the second millennium
BC. Administrative documents plus literary and religious texts were translated
back and forth from Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite and Babylonian throughout
the area. Achaemenian had their documents and texts translated in all the
languages of the Empire including Aramaic that was used parallel to ancient
Persian as the language of the court and administration. In Seleucid, Parthian
and Sassanian time Greek plays were translated; performed and Greek philosophy
and sciences was well known by the Iranian scholars. Iranian artists participated
and performed at the major art festivals in Rome, India, Alexandria in
Egypt and Byzantium cultural centers such as Constantinople (Istanbul).
Such cultural exchanges created an international class of artists, intellectuals
and performers well versed in a number of languages and traditions.
reached their peak in Sassanian period (226-642 AD), especially at the
time of Khosro I (Anoushiravan, 531-578). An imposing succession
of Sassanian emperors actively engaged in collecting, recording and editing
the historical, scientific and religious records of their civilization
and the neighboring countries. The Sassanian Imperial Ideology was based
on the Zoroastrian doctrine. In this religion Ahura Mazda, the Lord of
Wisdom (Khodavand i Kherad) is the origin of all learning therefore all
knowledge is regarded as sacred. According to Dinkard, the Zoroastrian
canon in Pahlavi, Book IV, "all knowledge and sciences was received by
Zoroaster from Ahura Mazda and transmitted through Avesta. Destruction
of Persia by the wicked Alexander dispersed the texts throughout the world.
The Greeks, the Egyptians derived all their knowledge and science from
these dispersed texts. Subsequently Sassanian emperors took it upon themselves
to collect all these texts from all over". The sources name, Byzantium,
India and China as the main centers where book collecting was taking place.
Syriac speaking Christians and Nestorians fleeing persecution by Byzantines
(Orthodox Christians of Constantinople) were received by Anoushiravan and
were commissioned to translate Greek and Syriac texts into Pahlavi. Paul
the Persian dedicated Works of logic to the king. The Greek philosopher
Priscianus Lydus wrote a book in response to the king's questions on a
number of subjects in Aristotelian physics, theory of the soul, meteorology
and biology. Dinkard itself shows familiarity with all these topics, especially
Aristotelian physics. It is apparent from the text that Aristotle's famous
article 'On coming to be and Passing away' was well known by the compilers
of Dinkard. Becoming, decay and transformation the three fundamental concepts
in the article are mentioned and discussed. Books in medicine, astronomy,
Ptolemy's Almagest, Aristotle's Organon and a number of texts in crafts
and skills were translated from Greek sources.
material in astronomy, astrology, mathematics and medicine were also translated
into Pahlavi along with Chinese Herbal medicine and religion. Indian popular
literature was also translated; Kalila va Dimna and Sinbad have survived.
Traces of ancient Indian tales are preserved in Medieval Persian literature
such as Sheereen and Farhad. The story is from Sassanian origin and closely
resembles one of the ancient erotic stories of Kama Sutra. In the Indian
version the Royal sculptor and the Kings' favorite courtesan fall in love.
Once the affair is discovered he is chained to the mountain, he recites
love poetry and carves his lover's face on the rocks before he is put to
The later Muslim
historians refer to the Sassanian Imperial library as the House of Knowledge
(Bayt al Hikmat). The same name was applied to the Royal Library in Baghdad
after the Muslim conquest. The library functioned as both a place where
accounts of Iranian history and literature were transcribed and preserved.
At the same time it was a place where qualified hired translators, bookbinders
and others worked to preserve, purchase, copy, illustrate, write and translate
books. Persia and Byzantium dominated the area at the time. The later was
a continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire and the seat of Greco-Roman
art, culture and civilization. Alexandria and Constantinople though constantly
at conflict were major centers of intellectual activities with theaters,
libraries and universities. In 525,
Byzantine Emperor fell in love and married his future Empress Theodora,
an actor in Alexandria. The two created a grand court in
with intellectuals, artists and performers unprecedented till the Renaissance
movement in the 16th century Western Europe. In addition to Major cities
like Alexandria Constantinople and Jerusalem, intellectuals and scientists
moved and carried ideas from Edessa in the west, through Nisbis and Mosul
(Iraq) to Marv and Gundishapur in Western Persia.