10 junio, 2018

Pantea Arteshbod, Commander of the Immortals

“Strong and Immortal”, that is what her name said about her.
Pantea Arteshbod was one of the most powerful and influential commanders during the reign of Cyrus II the Great (559-530 BCE). These characters, with such a current transcendence and powerful legends enlarged through time, are sometimes difficult to study due to the lack of reliable sources or contrasting information, sources that provide verified information. Pantea Arteshbod is currently a feminism and women empowering not only in Iran. She defends the forgotten role of women in history. However, modern scholarship agrees on various matters: firstly, that she was a real character. Secondly, that she really took part directly in the military organisation, leaded elite troops and later she carried out administrative and directive tasks on the lands conquered by Cyrus II. Thirdly, that her actions can be considered notorious and very influential for the development of the expansive policy of the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty.

Imagined portrait of Pantea Arteshbod

The Immortals, an elite force
Pantea was the wife of General Aryasb and together they thrived in their military careers until reaching one of the highest ranks inside the Persian army: commanding the elite troops, whose known as “Immortals”.
There is not much information about how this corps was organised, and it is generally scattered around in the sources. Most of the scholars agree on the invention of their name was made up by Herodotus, a Greek historian who visited Persia in the 5th century BCE. All the references he makes to the Immortals are inside his narration of the campaign carried out by Xerxes I against Greece (480-479 BCE) when the famous Battle of Thermopiles took place.
According to Herodotus descriptions, the Immortals were given that name due to the swiftness they replaced his soldiers in the event of casualties, so the corps was always formed by 10,000 units. Another well-known reference is the one the Greek historian wrote when described the Persian army moving from Sardis to Hellespont. In this passage, he mentions a special infantry corps whose members had been almost selected personally by the Persian king. Of these 10,000 soldiers, 1,000 of them carried spears adorned with a golden pomegranate and surrounded the other 9,000 with spears adorned with silver pomegranates.
The Greek word for Immortal is Athanatoi (Ἀθάνατοι) and according to Antonio Pagliaro’s research, Herodotus could have misinterpreted Persian terms until reaching the Greek version. According to Pagliaro, the Old Persian word anušiya-, “follower”, or the Indo-Iranian*ánu-tya, “being behind”, could have been mistaken with the Old Iranian *anauša, the true way of saying “immortal”. This interpretation is not without complications, however, especially if it’s noticed that athanatos is used to describe mortals and not gods, which is not that common in the Greek world. In addition, the term anušiya- does not seem to be linked to military units.  

Reenactment of the garments
of an Immortal

The campaign of Cyrus II and the conquest of Babylon
Cyrus II the Great started a military campaign to take over the surrounding territories starting with the kingdom of Media but quickly expanding through the Iranian lands and reaching Egypt on the south. Some of the provinces included in Cyrus’ conquests were Parthia, Hyrcania, Armenia, Elam, Lidia, Drangiana, Areia, Khorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana and Gandhara, this last two really close to India.
In 539 BCE Cyrus sieged the city of Babylon and defeated Nabonidus, the last of their kings. Thus, one of the most powerful empires from Mesopotamia, the one we know as the Neo-Babylonian empire (626-539 BCE), came to an end. Pantea Arteshbod was one of the significative figures both for the campaign and the posterior organisation of the city. According to Persian sources, she was in charge of designing the strategy to follow for the assault. She was highly respected by her companions for her extraordinary intelligence and military vision. After the capture of such a city as Babylon, Pantea played a major role as military governor; her task was to preserve the order and the Persian laws in the recently conquered city.
Contemporary legends tell us that she was not only a deadly warrior but a beautiful woman as well. In fact, her beauty was such that she had to wear a mask or cover her face with a veil, so the rest of their soldiers wouldn’t be distracted by her or fell for her charms since the important thing for them was paying attention to the battlefield.

Digital reconstruction of Babylon

Pantea Arteshbod is one of many unknown feminine characters, slowly but steadily being recovered by the academia, that played a really important part in the history of Iran. Alongside other queens, commanders and princesses Pantea turned herself into a symbol and icon of feminine representation in Ancient History. It is true, though, that these characters are subject of inventions and fantasy; sometimes the tendency to increase their importance, perhaps just an attempt to make them visible, can distort the historical facts behind their names. Nevertheless, women were always there, participating and making history since the very beginning of time.

KURZMAN, C.: The unthinkable revolution in Iran. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
KYTZLER, B.: Frauen der Antike: Von Aspasia bis Znobia. Zurich, Switzerland: Artemis, 1994.
MINOO, Sanam Ed. D: Success Strategies in Emerging Iranian American Women Leaders, Pepperdine University, 2017.
SCHMITT, Rüdiger: “Immortals”, Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. XIII, fasc. 1, 2004, pp. 2-3.

“Pantea Arteshbod”, http://www.persepolis.nu/queens.htm

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