Cultural Practices in Ancient Persia

Astrology in Ancient Persia

Astrology is an occult practice that originated in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China.

The astrologers observed the movements of the planets and assigned them godlike features and powers. Each planet represented a god or a goddess and ruled certain areas of life. The astrologers advised the rulers/kings and interpreted the pattern of planetary movements as omens or signs for understanding the future. The practice is deeply rooted in the concept of Divination an important aspect of the Mesopotamian life. Divination was employed as a technique to communicate with gods, who according to the Mesopotamian religious thought, shaped the destinies of humans and controlled all events in the cosmos. Divination presupposes supernatural cause and effect in all perceived phenomena and assumes the cooperation of the gods in their willingness to reveal their future intentions. Observing the planets resulted in rudimentary scientific advances in astronomy and the practitioners of the prophetic aspects of astronomy became astrologers with great prestige and influence.

Feasting and banquets

Banquets were more than a time for celebration and consuming food and wine: they could also serve as deeply religious ceremonies. They could go on for days and included a time for drinking wine and listening to music after eating.
Significance of cup, goblets and drinking vessels: Feasting vessels were ornately decorated on the exterior so they could be admired while in use. The motifs often had multilayered religious and secular meanings, ranging from scenes of Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) or figures associated with the ancient Zoroastrian religion to views of nature with birds and trees. There is speculation in Persian history circles that vessels and cups could have been commonly given as gifts from royalty to those they favoured.

Click here for more images of drinking vessels and plates.
Wine in Persia: Wine was highly popular and regularly consumed in Ancient Persian culture. Herodotus tells us that the Persians were very fond of wine (Old Persoan batu) and that they made important decisions in the following manner. First they became drunk, since they believed that only when you are drunk do you tell the truth. It was in Persia that the earliest wine was made in world history. Wine was also used with drugs for collecting information. In modern times, alcohol is forbidden in Islam. However, with the coming of Islam, the consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages was deemed haram “illicit,” but Medieval Persian texts demonstrate the continuing love of wine.

Music and Musical Instruments in Persia

Music was an important element in imperial and aristocratic courts. It would be played during various occasions from religious ceremonies to more secular setting, or for entertainment purposes.

Cymbals: There were a variety of cymbals played during ancient Persian times. Different kinds of cymbals were used according to the occasion to provide different sounds as appropriate. See Iranian Musical Instruments.
Naqqara: a timpanic instrument with a dual hemispheric body played with wooden drumsticks. It has origins as a military drum but may occasionally be used for ceremonial purposes. See below for a performance using Naqqara.

Mirrors in Persia

Mirrors have significant symbolism in Persian culture, predominantly in traditional Iranian wedding ceremonies.Mirror and candelabras are amongst the most important ceremonial objects that are taken to the brides’ home and they are remnants of Zoroastrianism religious beliefs. Mirror and candelabras represent light and fire, two very important elements in the Zoroastrian religion.

Perfumery in Persia

Iranians are regarded as the first manufacturers of perfume and discoverers of decorative and cosmetic powders and sweet smelling oils or beauty creams.
During the Sassanides period, preparation of various kinds of perfumes and flower water was quite prevalent. The Sassanid kings were selective in their use of perfumes, aromas and incenses, in such a way that their companions and relatives were not allowed to use the same perfumes and aromatic materials that were used by kings.
The Iranian orators and writers of the post-Islamic period have described spraying of perfumes and the bestowal of gold and silver in royal receptions and festivities.

Culture of Iran by Massoume Price. For full article click here: Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia: A Brief History
Gruen, Erich S. 2011. Cultural identity in the ancient Mediterranean. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute.
Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art.
The Art of Wine in Ancient Persia.
History of Music and Musical Instruments.
Young, Wilson, and Allan Chatto. 1999. One hundred years of pipe band drumming. [Scotland]: Wilson Young Pub.
History of Music and Musical Instruments.
Encyclopedia Iranica- Musical History.
Iranian Marriage Ceremony.
Historical Background of Perfume & Perfume Manufacturing in Iran by M. Hossein Abrishami.