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Transcultural Perspectives on the Parthian Empire: The Mountain Fortress of Rabana

starting October 2017

The Parthian Empire played a formative role in the development of Eurasian world-systems through its pioneering relations with Rome, India and Han China. This project will explore the newly discovered Parthian fortress at Rabana in the Zagros Mountains of Iraqi-Kurdistan. During the early first millennium AD, this region lay at the intersection of oriental and occidental civilisations. Settlement at Rabana can be viewed as an extension of this surrounding highland landscape, controlling passage between Mesopotamia and the Persian interior.

The unique character of Parthian remains at Rabana offers an unprecedented opportunity to study the development of society, material culture and technology, within one of the great empires of the ancient world, from a transcultural perspective. Its resident frontier community inhabited a fragile lifeworld, on the frontline of conflict between large territorial states. The settlement was also located along a major intercontinental highway network, the Persian Royal Road. This juxtaposition between connectivity and isolation was a defining attribute of the Parthian world. The overall aim of research is to contextualise archaeological remains within their surrounding landscape context, and in doing so attempt to answer the questions of who built the mountain fortress of Rabana and why?

Photo: Stone staircase uncovered during trial excavations at Rabana in 2017
© Michael Brown

Dr. Michael Brown

Dr. Michael Brown is an archaeologist, focusing on landscapes of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean. He studied at Bangor University in Wales and at Edinburgh University where he got his PhD in Archaeology in 2012. Brown further held visiting positions at the British Institute in Amman, Jordan from 2012-2013, at Durham University from 2013-2014 and at the University of Edinburgh from 2015-2016. Moreover, Brown was involved in various fieldwork projects in Iraq, Cyprus, Syria and Jordan.

Brown is currently a Visiting Scholar at Heidelberg University’s project „Rock Reliefs in Iraq-Kurdistan“.



The online edition of the science magazine Cosmos published a news item about Dr. Michael Brown’s research on the biological properties of ancient beer in Hittite Anatolia. Referring to Brown’s publication in the latest edition of Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the article „Ancient brewing was not a Hittite or miss process“ discusses brewing practices and beer-drinking in the Hittite Empire during the second millennium BC. It also highlights the importance of these findings for archaeologists, ancient historians, and potentially modern craft brewers.
Cosmos, 25 June 2018

Dr. Michael Brown, postdoctoral researcher in Near Eastern Archaeology and at the HCTS, received joint Anglo-German funding for trial fieldwork in Iraq. This research is part of his Transcultural Forays project "Transcultural Perspectives on the Parthian Empire: The Mountain Fortress of Rabana," which started in October 2017 at the HCTS. The grants include financial support from the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (DOG), and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI). Upcoming fieldwork will involve participants from Heidelberg University and the UK working alongside heritage professionals from Iraqi-Kurdistan.