Toys for the Shah

The always-great British Libary Asia and Africa blog shared images from a Gift to Kings / Gift to Viziers, recently purchased at auction. This tract on principles of ethics and government includes forty brief sections (bāb), each with four brief maxims, all “selected by sages from the books of the ancients”. The copy of the …

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Cycling across Persia in the 1890s

In 1896, three British men set off on “the longest bicycle ride ever attempted, just 19,237 miles over continuous new ground” – including a ride through Persia. John Foster Fraser’s account of the two year trip is full of colonial-style anecdotes (many of which are a little too close to racism for many modern readers). …

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Tales about Shah Abbas – from 1744

Today the commonest tale told in Iran about Shah Abbas concerns the 999 caravanserais he is supposed to have constructed. Jonas Hanway, in his Historical account of the British Trade over the Caspian Sea, tells lots more. My two favourites stories are about the shrewdness of Shah Abbas. The first is about Abbas’ supposed “method …

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Underwater tunnels to and from the Caspian?

From the times of Ptolemy’s Geographia, the Caspian Sea was (wrongly!) depicted by European cartographers as widest from east to west.  Only as late as 1647 did Adam Olearius manage to correct this mistake.  Click here to see Olearius’ map. Elio Brancaforte has described Olearius as an intellectual hybrid: drawing on classical and biblical sources, …

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Measuring with a rope

I’ve already written a little about the tanab, the traditional rope-measuring device that Munajjim Yazdi and his team used to record the distances that Shah Abbas walked in 1601.  As chief astrologer, Yazdi was a measurement expert – also using his astrolabe (click here to see a slightly later Safavid astrolabe) to compute how fast …

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