Iranian Cities: Settlements and Water Management from Antiquity to the Islamic Period

In: Eurasian Studies
Rocco Rante Musée du Louvre

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This article attempts a long-term perspective on cities and water from Late Antiquity to the early Islamic centuries (until ca. 1000 CE). It focuses on the question of how cities and their agricultural hinterland were supplied with water. The topography of the site, its geomorphological features, are shown to influence both the setup and subsequent history of the cities. The article uses two sets of examples, one chosen from the Iranian plateau where qanāt irrigation predominates, and the other one from Persianate Central Asia (Transoxiana), where water is derived from larger and medium-sized rivers. The type of irrigation influences the ways in which the city grows, and more generally, the layout of the city is also determined by the water supply. Cities tend to grow towards the source of water, and it can also be observed that in many cases, the political and administrative centre is located where the best water is available. One of the major questions is whether imperial will was behind the construction of irrigation systems or whether local players such as landlords were the decisive factor.

The article combines archaeological research and the study of textual sources but is mostly based on recent archaeological fieldwork.

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