In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ancient Iran

  • Introduction
  • Historical Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • History of the Field
  • Diachronic Studies
  • The Neolithic Period (c. 8000–6000 bce)
  • The Chalcolithic Period (c. 6000–3000 bce)
  • The Bronze Age (c. 3000–1300bce)
  • Elam and the Elamites

Architecture Planning and Preservation Ancient Iran
Henry P. Colburn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0056


One major challenge of the study of ancient Iran is that it does not exist in Western academia as a discrete field of study. Prehistory, for example, which ends in the 3rd millennium in Elam but persists into the 1st millennium BCE elsewhere on the Iranian plateau, has been studied primarily by anthropologists, the Iron Age by Assyriologists, the Parthians by classical archaeologists, and the Sasanians by scholars of Iranian studies. As a result, ancient Iran does not belong to any individual academic discipline, and in the context of Near Eastern studies, perhaps its most obvious home, it has been treated largely as an ancillary field. Thus Iran has seen less archaeological fieldwork, including excavation, regional survey, and study of standing architectural remains, than other parts of the Near East. This problem has been further compounded by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which effectively barred foreign archaeologists from the country and severed contacts between them and their Iranian colleagues. This situation has improved in recent decades, but there are nevertheless relatively few scholars working on ancient Iran and comparatively little scholarship on its architecture, especially compared to Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt, or the Mediterranean. To study Iranian architecture, therefore, it is necessary to extract relevant examples from archaeological reports, both preliminary and final. This is especially true for prehistoric periods before the advent of stone masonry, but even for the Sasanian period most architectural scholarship documents individual sites or buildings. The titles listed here thus provide only the raw material for studying ancient Iranian architecture. This bibliography is dedicated to the memory of David Stronach (b. 1931–d. 2020), a prolific and consummate archaeologist and scholar whose contributions to the study of Iranian architecture have been enormous.

Historical Overviews

The history of ancient Iran is rarely taught at universities, even as part of ancient Near Eastern history courses. Fortunately there are now several useful introductions to the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian EMPIRES, such as Brosius 2006, Curtis and Magub 2020, Daryaee 2009, Daryaee 2017, and Waters 2014. For Iranian prehistory, the first half of Potts 2013 is an invaluable resource.

  • Brosius, Maria. The Persians: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2006.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203068151

    A succinct overview of Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian history, with good discussions of archaeology and material culture.

  • Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh, and Alexandra Magub. Rivalling Rome: Parthian Coins and Culture. London: Spink, 2020.

    Despite its title, this book covers much more than coins—it is an up-to-date overview of Parthian history, society, and material culture, richly illustrated.

  • Daryaee, Touraj. Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009.

    DOI: 10.5040/9780755694174

    An accessible introduction to the Sasanian Empire, organized thematically and based primarily on textual evidence.

  • Daryaee, Touraj, ed. King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE-651 CE). Irvine: UCI Jordan Center for Persian Studies, 2017.

    A recent history of ancient Iran, starting with the Elamite kingdom and extending to the advent of Islam. The volume is focused exclusively on political entities attested in textual sources, namely the Elamites, Medes, Achaemenids, Seleucids, Arsacids/Parthians, Sasanians, and Kushans, and therefore addresses architecture and material culture only in passing. It is especially useful, however, for its treatment of the peoples of Late Antique Central Asia, especially the Kushans, Huns, and Hephthalites.

  • Potts, D. T., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    This indispensable companion contains chapters on prehistory, archaeology, historical periods, and ancient languages, from the Neolithic to the Sasanian Empire. These chapters distill the latest research, including discussions of chronology in the prehistoric chapters, into succinct overviews with up-to-date bibliographies. The early chapters are organized chronologically and the later ones are organized thematically, leading occasionally to uneven coverage. This is without question the most important resource for the study of ancient Iran.

  • Waters, Matthew. Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550–330 BCE. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    The best introductory book about the Achaemenid Empire. Makes excellent use of Near Eastern sources, in addition to Greek ones, and offers a concise yet sophisticated overview.

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