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A State of MixtureChristians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity$
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Richard E. Payne

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780520286191

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520286191.001.0001

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Belonging to a Land

Belonging to a Land

Christians and Zoroastrians in the Iranian Highlands

(p.59) 2. Belonging to a Land
A State of Mixture

Richard E. Payne

University of California Press

In the Zagros Mountains, between the plains of Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau, Mount Bisutun stands an icon of antique Iranian imperialism. This chapter examines the refashioning of Bisutun as a Christian site in order to contribute to the history of the encounter in the Iranian highlands in the fifth and sixth centuries of East Syrian Christians with Zoroastrian rituals, beliefs, and landscapes as well as the political structures they underpinned. Christians arrived in the region as outsiders, captives from Roman territory deported to Iran. The indigenous elites were Iranian and Zoroastrian, and there was no pre-Sasanian past available to Christians seeking to define their place in the region. If Christian outsiders were to be incorporated into regional elite networks, they would have to work with the inhabitants of the land and within the prevailing Iranian discourse to establish an identity. Christians who adopted the Iranian language of political belonging would have to assert their difference from Zoroastrians at the same time, to prevent the potential contradictions between Christian and Iranian discourses of identity from coming into view. This was the task that East Syrian ecclesiastical leaders undertook around the beginning of the sixth century.

Keywords:   Mount Bisutun, Zagros Mountains, East Syrian Christians, Zoroastrians

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