In recent years the Achaemenid sites in the Borazjan area have attracted a great deal of attention and their identification with Elamite Tamukkan/Greek Taocê has been widely accepted. Aside from the architectural interest of these sites, however, their location along what later became an important route linking the Persian Gulf and the Iranian plateau is significant. Whether travelling between the Persian Gulf coast and Shiraz, or the earlier Achaemenid capitals (Pasargadae and Persepolis), Borazjan represents the first stage for travellers moving along this route. This study examines some of the logistical aspects of travel between Borazjan and the highlands, as well as the climatic extremes experienced by travellers during much of the year. The difficulties of traversing the route are illustrated with selections from 19th and early 20th century travellers accounts. The advantages of commencing or ending the journey at Shif, as opposed to Bushehr, are discussed with reference to numerous examples. The importance of mules as pack animals along the route is emphasized. Finally, the implications of the evidence marshaled for the burgeoning field of sensory studies are underscored.
R.T. Hallock’s identification of El. Tamukkan with Gr. Taocê1 predated the excavation and initial publication of the monumental architectural complexes near Borazjan (Sang-e Siah, Bardak-e Siah and Charkhab).2 Although Rawlinson suggested that, ‘The Achæmenian Palace of Taoce, mentioned by Strabo, was probably at the modern village of Dalaki, where there is a fine mound of great apparent antiquity,’3 most scholars would today agree that Taocê/Tamukkan should be identified with the Borazjan sites. Due to limited exploration and excavation, the function(s) and chronology of these important sites are still imperfectly understood,4 but iconographic, architectonic and epigraphic data5 suggest building activity and regular use from the reign of Cyrus to that of Darius or Xerxes, and possibly beyond.
Borazjan lies on the principal route linking Bushehr and Shiraz (Fig. 1). As Maclean noted in 1904, ‘The only important route is viâ Borasjun and Kazeroon to Shiraz.’6 For most travellers, Borazjan was either the last stop on the way from the highlands to the Persian Gulf coast, or the first stop heading in the opposite direction. Hence the Borazjan complex would have received visitors during the Achaemenid period who, after sailing either down or up the Persian Gulf by ship and landing on the coast,7 had just completed the first overland stage of their journey to the north; or, moving in the opposite direction, the Borazjan complex would have been where visitors spent their last night before traversing the remaining distance to the coast and boarding a vessel bound for southern Babylonia or points south.
The fact that Bushehr’s Elamite predecessor, Liyan, probably acted as a maritime gateway to the highlands of Anšan8 makes it tempting to think that the Liyan-to-Anšan or Tamukkan-to-Parsa route was always the main thoroughfare from the Persian Gulf to the Iranian plateau. Yet, in some periods, this was demonstrably not the case. During the Safavid period, for example, Bandar ‘Abbas was the principal port of entry on the Persian Gulf for goods destined for the markets of the Iranian Plateau.9 Indeed, when Carsten Niebuhr visited Bushehr in 1765 he remarked that (Fig. 2), until 1735 when Nader Shah decided to make it the headquarters of his much vaunted but never realized navy,10 Bushehr had been an unimportant village.11 Strictly speaking, however, this is not quite correct. Nader Shah’s naval yard was at Reshahr, c. 6 kms. to the south of Bushehr.12 Earlier, Shah ‘Abbas I had kept a squadron of 100 vessels at Reshahr with which to attack vessels bound for Basra.13
Nevertheless, despite fluctuations in the importance of the Bushehr region and its immediate hinterland through time, scholars appear to be unanimous in recognizing the importance of the Borazjan complex. It is not my intention here to challenge this contention, yet it is interesting to consider what the hydrography, climate and environment of the Borazjan region, and the topographic exigencies of travel between the Iranian plateau and the coast, meant to the region’s transient population, whether bureaucrats and royal visitors passing through, or corvée laborers brought to work on the building projects attested in cuneiform sources, during the Achaemenid period. What follows is intended to initiate a conversation about some often overlooked, critical factors that would have impacted all who frequented Bushehr and its hinterland in antiquity, and followed the route linking this part of the coast with the Iranian plateau.
Persian Gulf, Borazjan, Elamite, Achaemenid, Tamukkan, Travellers.
This study has sketched out some of the difficulties of travel between Bushehr, Borazjan and the Achaemenid capitals; some of the logistical requirements of travel along that route; and some of the climatic considerations that made travel during much of the year an unpleasant experience, to say the least. These considerations naturally make one consider the Borazjan complex in a new light, not merely as impressive examples of Achaemenid monumental architecture, but as sites that could be difficult of access, uncomfortable and potential graveyards for those not in the upper echelons of society.
In that sense, some of the data presented here may contribute to the growing field of sensory studies in both the recent historical past and more remote antiquity that have become increasingly common in recent years as a means to gaining a deeper understanding of our subjects’ life experiences. Many sensory studies focus on sight — viewsheds, natural illumination and darkness within buildings — and sound — from the noise of battle to the sound of silence on the steppe.103 Others focus on smells, whether pleasant ones produced by frankincense and other aromatics in palaces and sanctuaries,104 or the stench of war, death and the battlefield.105 Sensory discomfort due to extremes of weather and environmental conditions, as well as the influence of these factors on the utilization of a specific ancient site and on its inhabitants, are less commonly treated. Govert van Driel’s study of references to weather in Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian sources, for example, made much of the cold and the importance of seasonality as a consideration in the timing of Assyrian military campaigns, but was curiously silent on the topic of heat.106 In fact, comments on extreme heat tend to be regarded as a literary trope, and the ability to withstand it a form of boasting by those who, despite scorching temperatures, managed to prevail over adverse conditions and defeat an adversary. A vivid illustration of this is provided by the literary account of Nebuchadnezzar I’s (1125-1104 BC) Elamite campaign, launched in July from the eastern Babylonian outpost of Der. ‘With the heat glare scorching like fire, the very roadways were burning like open flame….The finest of the great horses gave out, the legs of the strong man faltered.’107 Yet the unseasonable nature of the campaign also conferred a tactical advantage on Nebuchadnezzar who felt his campaign had been ‘divinely ordained, in the unexpected summer month of Tammuz (June-July). His timing made for a miserable forced march for his army because of the unbearable heat and the dried-up water sources. But this unorthodox timing also afforded Nebuchadnezzar the element of surprise when confronting the Elamite forces.’108
Another, much later example of almost unbearable heat from the same general area appears in Strabo’s description of Susiana which, he noted, had ‘a hot and scorching atmosphere.’ So intense was the heat at Susa that, ‘when the sun is hottest, at noon, the lizards and the snakes could not cross the streets in the city quickly enough to prevent their being burnt to death in the middle of the streets.’109 Such language may sound hyperbolic, but only to someone who has never visited Khuzestan in the summer. Indeed, with a modern average maximum of 46.4˚ C (115.52˚ F) and average minimum of 32˚ C (89.6˚ F) in July,110 the descriptions of Khuzestan’s summer heat in the accounts of Nebuchadnezzar I and Strabo are no exaggeration.
In the introduction to her classic study of Athens and Persia in the fifth century B.C., Margaret Miller wrote that ‘experience shows that even the wildest imagination cannot step beyond the familiar world of sensory experience.’111 Implying as it does that nothing we have not ourselves experienced in the flesh can be imagined, this assertion, I suggest, needs to be modified. On the contrary, we can and must step outside of our own compendium of sensory experiences if we are ever to have an inkling of what life was like in the past. And while we may not be able to travel on a mule from Shif to Shiraz, or sail in a small craft up and down the Persian Gulf, we can get closer to the experience of those who did these things by scrutinizing the literature of pre-modern, pre-motorized travel for experiential descriptions of places that interest us in antiquity. The many descriptions that survive from the 19th and early 20th century of travel between the Persian Gulf coast and Shiraz, via Borazjan, offer a rich body of data that helps us to better understand the exigencies of life there in the Achaemenid period, whether for corvée laborers or élite Achaemenid travellers. They afford us a fresh perspective, one that looks at the Borazjan complex not as decontextualized monuments or free-floating units of Achaemenid architecture and iconography but as buildings tethered to an environment that could be brutally harsh for most of the year, one in which travellers, whether arriving from Babylon by sea or from Pasargadae and Persepolis by land, sought refuge from an unforgiving climate of scorching sun, suffocating winds or freezing cold.