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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: December 2017

6 - Connectivity on a Sasanian Frontier: Route Systems in the Gorgan Plain of North-East Iran



Using examples from several different regions of the Sasanian Empire, this chapter will look at the archaeological evidence for connectivity in frontier zones. Though a number of geographically diverse cases will be considered, I will focus on the evidence for local, regional and interregional networks in the Gorgan Plain of north-east Iran. We currently know very little about Sasanian-period routes through this landscape. Itineraries exist from antique- through Islamic-period textual sources, but the routes that they describe are often difficult to identify in the archaeological record. European travellers of the nineteenth century provide more detailed accounts, but the routes they describe reflect the political and economic landscape of a much later period. However, this information, combined with archaeological evidence for both earlier- and later-period routes, can be compared to archaeological settlement data for the Sasanian period to suggest potential pathways of movement. This approach will highlight how cultural, political and economic networks in this region (including both routes and boundaries) have changed through time.


Frontiers are often drawn as simplistic linear borders, which fail to represent their dynamic nature. In reality they are comprised of multiple, and often overlapping, military, cultural or economic boundaries that can range along a continuum between physical barriers and conceptual boundaries; this makes them important zones of cultural contact where identities and political and social affiliations are formed and reformed at different scales and through time. Recent work on the northern and western frontiers of the Sasanian Empire has deepened our understanding of military boundaries in these borderlands, where the Sasanian Empire appears to have excelled at utilising and augmenting natural features, or constructing elaborate defensive systems to limit or constrain movement. However, these military frontiers often represent only one element within a complex frontier zone. In order to develop a more nuanced understanding of an empire's interactions with communities within and beyond its frontiers, we also need to explore evidence (or lack therefore) for the cultural and economic boundaries that existed alongside these military barriers, as well as evidence for the changing nature of these frontiers through time.