A Most Orthodox Empire? Priestly Discourse in Sasanian Iran and Beyond

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Moritz Maurer



This article explores a specific case of premodern social thought, the Middle Persian Zoroastrian system of estates, MP pēšagān, sg . pēšag, which originated in Sasanian Iran, and its link to the social position of priests in the empire. It is argued that Zoroastrian religious experts tried to impose a totalizing system of social organization and heuristic possibility in a situation characterized by competition for resources in a tributary society. Against a widely held belief, it will be shown that this system was only loosely based on an Avestan predecessor—an observation that should caution against broader attempts to project Middle Persian concepts onto the Avesta and vice versa. The findings also contribute to our understanding of the relationship between the Sasanians and the Zoroastrian tradition.

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