Machines of power Techniques and politics in Sasanian Iran and in the Abbasid Caliphate

Zubani, Alessia (2020) Machines of power Techniques and politics in Sasanian Iran and in the Abbasid Caliphate, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Studi sul patrimonio culturale / cultural heritage studies, 32 Ciclo. DOI 10.48676/unibo/amsdottorato/9550.
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In the Antique world, research on technology and applied sciences allowed for the construction of the very first ingenious devices, i.e. apparatuses which, through external stimulation and hidden mechanisms, can perform a series of actions and movements. Political and religious organisms quickly came to appreciate the communicative power of such devices, thus actively sponsoring their production. The Sasanian Empire (224-650) is no exception. In fact, at least since the late period, Iranian rulers devoted remarkable attention to the conception and material deployment of ingenious devices. Similar efforts seem to have been taken about a century later by the Abbasids (750-1258). The continuity between these two empires in various domains, such as political theory and dministration, is widely acknowledged. However, the issue of the recovery of the ancient – and, particularly, Sasanian – technical and scientific heritage by the Abbasid court is still largely neglected. The study of a various corpus of historiographic, geographic, poetic, and literary sources, as well as of scientific treaties, allows shedding light on various aspects regarding the production and political use of machines at the Abbasid court. Both at the Sasanian and the Abbasid court, ingenious devices prove themselves to be a preferential vehicle of representation and diffusion of political ideology. Through their public display, they substantially contributed to the definition of the space of power, taking part in the creation of an image of the court as a microcosm in which the King of kings, and later on the Caliph, hold the cardinal place of universal world-rulers. The Sasanian-Abbasid continuity in the realm of technology and science thus is not limited to the recovery, by Abbasid scholars, of Sasanian scientific knowledge, but rather takes the form of a true reactivation of a symbolic heritage.


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