Law in the Crisis of Empire: A Sasanian Example

In: Journal of Persianate Studies
Yaakov Elman Yeshiva University

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Except for a century or so beginning with Alexander’s invasion, one or another Iranian dynasty ruled a vast empire for some 1200 years—and then vanished with disconcerting speed in only a few short years in the aftermath of the Arab invasion. The following remarks attempt an explanation for this rapid demise. In particular, I intend to isolate two important factors that contributed mightily to that process, factors which, in my opinion, are reflected in perhaps the most important document dating from that short period: the so-called Sasanian Lawbook, the Mādiyān ī Hazār Dādestān, the “Book of a Thousand Decisions.” This book reveals the attempts of Sasanian jurists to cope with 1.) a demographic crisis brought on by the constant wars of the sixth century and the Black Plague, and 2.) a crisis of liquidity.

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