In Search of Survival: Cultural Resurgence in Khurasan

The survival of Persian language and cultural traditions in Khurasan, where, following the Arab conquest in the 7th century, successive waves of invading Arab and Turkic tribes settled, has long been of interest to scholars of Middle Eastern culture and history. Unlike Anatolia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, Khurasan not only did not succumb to the language or culture of the nomadic invaders, but it imposed its own ways, customs and ethnic traits on foreign inhabitants. The Khurasanian renaissance manifested itself in military success, exceptional intellectual and literary creativity, efficient administration and nonconformist religious beliefs. This cultural rebirth eventually affected and enlivened the eastern lands of Islam, from Turkey to India. Indeed, the second vitalization of Islamic civilization which followed the decline of its Arab phase since mid-8th century, represents the Persian phase of Islamic culture.

The causes of the decline of civilizations has long been the subject of scholarly analysis and historical speculation. Although many factors have been cited--from climate and colonial design to education, genetics and adverse historical events--scant attention has been paid to the most obvious factor,i.e., the aging process. Indeed, as in individuals, age explains the gradual weakening and decline of dynasties, states, nations and cultures. However, a culture may suffer a number of reversals and may periodically show signs of temporary exhaustion before it finally falls into irredeemable quiescence and stagnation. Furthermore, the infusion of fresh energy into a society may reverse its aging process and propel it to new heights of vigor and vitality.

Khurasan, unlike the western and southern parts of Persia, not only had been ruled by a relatively young Parthian dynasty, but had been assailed and conquered by successive waves of invaders, from Greeks and Macedonians to the Huns, Hephtalites, Turks and finally Arabs. Khurasan was, therefor, able to draw upon fresh sources of untapped energy, unavailable to the same extent, to the rest of the Iranian plateau. It was this reinvigoration of native energy that gave Khurasan its exceptional vitality and made it the home of first Persian autonomous dynasties after the Arab conquest, and distinguished it as the cradle of the Persian literary, artistic, and intellectual renaissance of the 9th, 10th and early 11th centuries.

Ehsan Yarshater
Current Issue: 
Past Issue