Christian communities flourished during late antiquity in a Zoroastrian political system, known as the Iranian Empire, that integrated culturally and geographically disparate territories from Arabia to Afghanistan into its institutions and networks. Whereas previous studies have regarded Christians as marginal, insular, and often persecuted participants in this empire, Richard Payne demonstrates their integration into elite networks, adoption of Iranian political practices and imaginaries, and participation in imperial institutions.
The rise of Christianity in Iran depended on the Zoroastrian theory and practice of hierarchical, differentiated inclusion, according to which Christians, Jews, and others occupied legitimate places in Iranian political culture in positions subordinate to the imperial religion. Christians, for their part, positioned themselves in a political culture not of their own making, with recourse to their own ideological and institutional resources, ranging from the writing of saints’ lives to the judicial arbitration of bishops. In placing the social history of East Syrian Christians at the center of the Iranian imperial story, A State of Mixture helps explain the endurance of a culturally diverse empire across four centuries.
A Note on Names, Translations, and Transliterations
1. The Myth of Zoroastrian Intolerance: Violence and the Terms of Christian Inclusion
2. Belonging to a Land: Christians and Zoroastrians in the Iranian Highlands
3. Christian Law Making and Iranian Political Practice: The Reforms of Mar Aba
4. Creating a Christian Aristocracy: Hagiography and Empire in Northern Mesopotamia
5. The Christian Symbolics of Power in a Zoroastrian Empire
Richard E. Payne is Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago.
"An expertly conceived and beautifully written counterpoint to earlier studies of Christian history in the Sasanian Empire... In his meticulous reading of East Syriac sources and the Middle Persian literatures and histories that underlie them, Payne has substantially contributed to a new body of scholarly studies that is quickly revising our understanding of the place of Christianity in the Sasanian period."—Marginalia
"Overall, A State of Mixture is an important contribution to the religious situation in the Sasaniden Kingdom and the structural development of the relations between Christians and Zoroastrians prior to Islamic expansion; this research merits close attention." —Plekos
"This broad yet scrupulous study invites a fundamental rethinking of the history of Christianity in the Sasanian Empire. Rejecting the conventional historiographical framework that focuses on Christian narratives of Zoroastrian persecution, A State of Mixture
demonstrates, with cogency and clarity, how thoroughly the Sasanian Empire absorbed the Christian community within its borders. Weaving together a rich array of texts, documents, and archaeology, Payne’s study shows how the Christian elites of the Sasanian world created local histories, law, and martyr legends consistent with their own values."—Joel Walker, Associate Professor and Jon Bridgman Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington
"Sasanian history and the place of Christians within pre-Islamic Iran is opaque to most scholars and when narrated often done so with banal statements about intolerance and persecution. Richard Payne integrates archaeological and linguistically complex sources to tell a compelling story about violence, ritual, class, ideology, and social life. More broadly, this is a book about how subjects negotiate their positions within empires and how imperial ideology is compatible with religious difference."—Adam H. Becker, Associate Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at New York University
2016 Ehsan Yarshater Book Award, The International Society for Iranian Studies
Jacques Barzun Prize, American Philosophical Society
Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award, Middle East Studies Association
2016 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, American Academy of Religion