Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award
University of Chicago
2016 Honorable Mention
Through detailed parsing of archaeological, sillographic, and textual material from Syriac and Middle Persian sources, Payne provides a novel account of the incorporation of Christian elites into the political networks of the Sassanian empire. In doing so, Payne overturns previous assessments that represented hagiographies of Christian saints and martyrs in Iran at face value. By analyzing religious texts in the context of their corresponding social institutions, such as annual shrine commemorations or court deliberations, Payne shows how, by the reign of Khosrow the second, the Iranian state amalgamated Christian elites and religious institutions with an imperial ambition to “incorporate the Christian Roman Empire into an enlarged Eranshahr.” Correspondingly, he argues, the political culture of the Zoroastrian nobility facilitated the development of “shared social and political imaginaries” which facilitated the assimilation of Syrian Christian legal traditions and communal self-understandings into a late Sassanian imperial order. In effect, Payne argues, Eastern Syrian Christians were “as much the heirs of Iran as were their Zoroastrian peers.” As a result, the committee determined that Payne’s monograph substantially contributes to our understanding of the Iranian imperial zone in late antiquity, informing and inspiring work for the next generation of historians.