This is a very useful and interesting investigation of the archaeological evidence relating to the early Islamic and medieval periods of one of Iran’s major pre-modern cities. As such, the study has considerable relevance to the study of other cities in the Iranian Islamic world. There are however some problems with the book, some of which are a result of how it is presented and some are of a more methodological nature. The book comprises seven chapters arranged logically starting with the geographical setting (ch. 1) followed by a summary of the history of the city (ch. 2). The third chapter is a review of previous archaeological research and fieldwork, while ch. 4 presents a descriptive topography of the remains visible up to the 1940s. The following two chapters present the results of recent excavations at the site. Chapter 5 recounts the excavation of four test trenches by the author as well as a summary of the citadel excavations by the Iranian archaeologist Ghadir Afround. The final chapter presents an overview of the urban development and compares it with some other medieval Iranian cities. In general the book bears a strong similarity to the thesis on which it was based, although in this form it is helpfully both shorter and in English rather than French. First of all it should be stated that this is a very important archaeological site which at its height functioned as the Seljuk capital of Iran, although following the Mongol invasion it was reduced to the status of a small regional town. Secondly it is important to note the immensely complicated nature of the site which covers a huge area of more than 225 hectares and spans more than 8000 years from the Neolithic period to the present day. In addition the natural topography of the site is complex, comprising a series of rock outcrops alternating with flat alluvial deposits. The archaeological site itself is also bisected by numerous ancient and modern canals, irrigation works, tracks and other features, which makes any interpretation difficult. This already complex situation is made even more confusing by the partial and incomplete information derived from earlier excavations by Erich Schmidt whose primary interest lay in the pre-Islamic periods. There is also the problem of the expansion of modern Tehran which, from its foundation by the Qajar ruler Āghā Muḥammad Khān in 1796, has grown to encroach upon and eventually swallow its ancient predecessor. The nature of the expansion has been particularly destructive of archaeological features, with cement factories and other industrial activities literally reducing some of the rock outcrops to dust. Set against this challenging set of circumstances any attempt to make some sense of the remains of this important ancient city are to be encouraged. However, there are a few features of the book which reduce its effectiveness. First of all the visual presentation of the site is sometimes confusing. For example there is no standardized map of the site and a variety of different base maps are used to present data—in some places a map of the site based on Schmidt’s work during the 1930s is used (see for example Fig. 11, p. 34; Fig. 30, p. 51 and Fig. 68, 86); elsewhere Pascal Coste’s map of 1840-1 is used as a base map (see for example Fig. 100, p. 124 and Fig. 103, p. 128). While the choice of different base maps may be dictated by the size of the area that needs to be shown, a single base map perhaps based on satellite (Google or Corona images) would have provided more accuracy and more compatibility. Secondly the book does not give much space to the discussion of historical context of the surviving remains. For example it would have been helpful to see how Rayy became part of the outer suburbs of Tehran in the nineteenth century; it would have been interesting to refer to the Qajar rock relief at Chesmeh ʿAli made in 1246/1831 which depicts Fatḥ ʿAlī Shāh and other Qajar princes banqueting. While much of this would have been outside the remit of this book, which covers the period up to the Mongol invasions one would expect more discussion of the Seljuk period remains, specifically the Mausoleum of Ṭughril Beg, built in 1139–40, restored by the Qajar ruler Fatḥ ʿAlī Shāh in the nineteenth century. Similarly, it would have been good to have more discussion of the iwan found by Schmidt as well as the stucco panels from another Seljuk building which are now in the National Museum. The most problematic part of the book concerns the mosque within the sharistān. During the 1930s Schmidt uncovered a large structure with stone foundations which he interpreted as the mosque of al-Mahdī based on historical accounts which state that al-Mahdī built a mosque in the sharistān in the year 158/774-5. In 2007 Rante carried out much smaller scale excavations approximately 75 metres to the east of Schmidt’s mosque excavations. Within the test pit T2 (4m x 5m) two rubble stone features were uncovered and interpreted as the stone foundations of piers similar to those found in Schmidt’s excavations some eighty years earlier. Specifically the author states ‘The relation between the foundations of test T2 and Schmidt’s tests is proof of the link between our structures and those discovered by him’ (p. 76). The link between the two structures is then used as the basis for a reconstruction of the mosque as a large rectangular structure (120m x 75m) with the long axis aligned north-east to south-west (Fig. 68, p. 86). The problems with this hypothesis can be listed as follows: As Rante admits the boundaries (i.e., the walls) of the mosque were not identified in Schmidt’s excavations or his own so that the size and proportions of the mosque are entirely conjectural. The link between Rante’s excavations (T2) and Schmidt’s excavations are not proven by the piers being on a similar orientation. The two stone foundations uncovered in T2 were only partially exposed and could be part of another structure or structures and the orientation is not as definite as Rante assumed. The author uses his excavations as proof that the building excavated by Schmidt was indeed the mosque of al-Mahdī dating to 774-5. First of all, as mentioned above, the link between Schmidt’s building and the structures uncovered in T2 is not as strong as Rante supposes. Secondly, the dating of the masonry foundations in T2 is based on material from a foundation trench filled with the deposit US 208 which is shown in plan (Fig. 66) but not in section (Fig. 67). The material in question is cream bodied white ware which is dated from Susa to between 750 and 800. The presence of this material in the fill of the foundation trench only indicates that the foundations were built after 750 (terminus post quem) and does not prove that the building was built in 774-5. While it is possible that the building uncovered by Schmidt was the mosque of al-Mahdī, the features identified in the Test pit (T2) are not necessarily the same building and cannot with certainty be used to corroborate Schmidt’s identification. Despite these criticisms this book is undoubtedly a major contribution to studies of early Islamic and medieval Rayy and will help to revive interest in this major city which is rapidly disappearing beneath the modern metropolis of Tehran. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 30, 2018
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