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Thursday, February 23, 2017
Slavery under the Sasanian shahs
I hadn't heard that Zoroastrianism was a particularly pro-slavemaster religion (given that "Zoroastrianism" itself was a fluid concept until recently), and I realised I've been musing that some of the Zoroastrian Empire's provinces might have been "slave states" as of 600 AD. So I did some research. This lookup was cursory by necessity.
Wikipedia and Infogalactic are pointing me to Touraj Daryaee's great opus (2008) and to Farhang Mehr, "Social Justice in Ancient Iran" ed. Social Justice in the Ancient World (Greenwood, 1995), 71f.; 87. These sources mention indentured servitude (usually to a fire-temple), and domestic servitude which would include sex-slavery. Wide-scale slavery - Mehr claims - in the Iranshahr wasn't a thing.
Mehr's system looks to me a lot like the slaveri(es) in the city of Rome in the television series of that name. Or like - more recently - the slaveries most prevalent in the American Tidewater states like Virginia, such as Nehemiah Adams documents in A South-Side View. At least Mehr is citing a Zoroastrian compilation: SJ Bulsara, The Laws of the Ancient Persians as found in the "Matikan E Hazar Datastan" or "The Digest of a Thousand Points of Law (1937, since reissued 1999).
But I must call humbug- not on Bulsara, at least, but on the Iranians who cooked up that guide... and, I'm afraid, on Dr Mehr, who hasn't been looking anywhere outside Bulsara's text, himself. Slaves could come from foreign wars - what if the winner captured a lot of them? There is a basic conflict-of-interest here: war makes slaves, work is found for them to do, now there is a demand for more slaves, and a call for more war. In just this way any historian of the South would laugh at you if you came to him with Nehemiah Adams. Sure there were places in the South where slavery was Not That Bad; even Harriet Beecher Stowe knew that much. There were worse places Down River, as the expression goes. But here's the problem - Georgia and 'Bammy were where the money was, so that's where the slaves went. It was similar in Rome: the Roman house slave had best stay good and loyal, or else he (or she) was going to be sold to a latifundium in Spain or (north) Africa. If it happens now... it happened then.
I've been saying that in the last years of the Iranshahr, the Khuzistan formerly Elymais was - increasingly - where the money was. Do the math.
ASIDE: I also note that once again a writer for Social Justice has used Social Justice as cover for apologetic, and has failed at it. That's what Social Justice does; it serves the Lie. Ahriman leans back in his chair of shadow, and a smile flits across his crimson face.
So what should Mehr have done instead? I personally would have asked how these laws were enacted in practice. Was there any record of a Persian or Pahlavi master punished for abusing his own slaves? or for using Greek and African plantation slaves in the first place, where he could have let his Nestorian and Persian peasants continue to farm his land? If I could not find such an example, I would have admitted that although Zoroastrianism (in its Sasanian form) had social-justice teachings: such were not the point of the religion, and they were not strong enough to do any more with the shahs' and Seven Houses' tyranny than the National Review can do about Washington DC's.
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