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The True Cross in Iran: Christian Symbolics of Power in a Zoroastrian Empire

  • 509 Knox Hall, Columbia University (map)

A discussion with Richard Payne, assistant professor in Mount Holyoke College's Department of History and a visiting research scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU). 

As the Iranian Empire reached the apogee of its power in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, Christian elites came to play an ever more prominent role in its institutions and political culture. Iran conquered the Eastern Roman Empire from circa 609 to 628, incorporating overwhelmingly Christian regions such as Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Iran also co-opted the Christian symbols of Roman rule, in particular the True Cross, the most important sign of Christian Roman imperial power, seized after the conquest of Jerusalem in 614. This mobilization of Christian symbols depended on peculiarly Zoroastrian understandings of human difference that allowed for the recognition of merit and power in religions nevertheless deemed inferior to the "Good Religion." 

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