A Brief History of Some Walls: The Great Wall of Gorgan

The Great Wall of Gorgan

For our exciting journey on A Brief History of Some Walls in History, this week we dig through the lands of ancient Persia, acquainting our shovels and brushes with the enigma of The Great Wall of Gorgan.

Excavation site at Qareh Deeb. [Source: http://www.heritageinstitute.com]

Divar-e Gorgan better known as The Great Wall of Gorgan is a massive structure in north-eastern Persian [modern-day Iran] which borders present day Turkmenistan. The wall is also known as The Red Snake because of the red brick used during construction. It snakes 195 kilometres west to east from the foot of the Elburz Mountains to the Caspian Sea. Today, marine sediments cover much of the westernmost section of the wall because of higher sea levels. The studies conducted on the wall show the refined engineering capabilities of the Sasanians architects. The Edinburgh Research Explorer Team in 2006 makes an interesting point that, the Gorgan Wall differs from other walls. It does not follow the rise and fall of the terrain rather it tries to keep up a gentle gradient like the flow of a canal.

Although The Great Wall of Gorgan is more than 1,000 years older than The Great Wall of China and longer than The Hadrian Wall and Antoine Wall joined, the Gorgan Wall is one of the most obscure walls of ancient history. Compared to other walls both younger and smaller, the expeditions are fewer – the first tour by Dr. Kiani in 1971. The next documented excursion to the wall was in the 1999, followed by excavations from 2005-2008. Recent archaeological studies show that The Great Wall of Gorgan borders or probably joined The Tammishe Wall near the Caspian Sea. It is important to highlight archaeologists’ on-going research of probable connection between the western section of The Great Wall of Gorgan and The Tammishe Wall. The arrangement of the brick kilns on each wall edifice, brick size, the location of the forts and the direction of canals show that both structure may share a common tradition. Are they part of the separate monuments or separate two parts of one wall?

There are varying accounts for the date of construction for the Wall; Ali Mousavi puts it in the 5th century AD during the Sasanian Persian Empire during the reign of Peroz [457-483 AD] when he warred with the Hephtalites. On the other hand, some historical environmentalists posit the view that the Parthians built the wall but the Sasanians extended and repaired the edifice. According to Mohammad Chaichian, a joint study in 2005 of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) and the University of Edinburg in England, confirms the Sasanians as builders of the wall. The study concluded the timeline for erection occurred during Peroz reign or no later than the early 6th century.

It is important to note the use of  6-10 metre wall as a mechanism to keep outsiders out of the rich and fertile plain of ancient Varkana [modern-day Gorgan]. Kroonenberg et al describes the Iranian Wall as an archaeological defence structure built with waterworks and bricks, during a lower water phase of the Caspian Sea. Remains of barracks or garrisons explain the use of the wall as a military barrier. The number of artefacts found in the barracks gives evidence for the use of the rooms for accommodations. For example, each room contained a lamp. The soldiers needed a place to stay with or without their families whilst performing their duties. Another point to consider is the discovery of animal bones, which not only adds to the food consumption of the men but allows archaeologists to date their occupation of the wall until 604 AD. According to The Edinburgh Explorer Team of 2006, an estimated 30,000 soldiers served at the garrisons on The Gorgan Wall. The team explains that if this about figure is conclusive based on the number of forts [was is over 30], then in the ancient world the Sasanian Empire were probably equipped with one of the most resilient and best organized armies.

Furthermore, Dr. Kaveh Farrokh explains that castles lined the wall, 50 kilometres apart, alongside aqueducts and water canals. It is worth noting here that the strategic location of the castles allowed the army to hold back an invading party. However, if attackers broke through the castles stronghold, the guards would learn the force and direction of the enemy. A quick report to the general would result in the Saravan [a high-class Sassanian cavalry] deployment closest to the enemy forces. Due to this military strategy the invading forces would end up trapped between the wall and the Saravan.

Another significant factor of The Gorgan Wall is its irrigation system. The Edinburg Excavation Team describes the landscape around the wall as a very fertile plain. A canal 5 metres [or more] deep run along the length of the wall. It ensured a constant flow of water, not only for construction but for use at the forts and for farming. The water travelled from the Gorgan River to a large canal, then through an earthen aqueduct [the dam] which flowed to another canal, linked to the main ditch along the wall. In addition, there were also were smaller canals travelling various courses through the plain. Furthermore, although canals formed part of the forts for the wall, irrigation systems predate the wall. Thus, the Sasanian builders had to consider pre-existing conditions of the landscape before construction.

Works Cited
Asad A. Ahmed, Behnam Sadeghi, Michael Bonner. “Building An Eygptian Identity.” Sijpesteijn, Petra M. The Islamic Scholarly Tradition:Studies In History, Law and Thought In Honour of Professor Michael Allan Cook. The Netherlands: Brill, 2011. 85-106.

Chaichian, Mohammad. Empires and Walls: Globalization, Migration, and Colonial Domination. Brill, 2013.

Edinburgh, University of. “Secrets of the Red Snake: The great wall of Iran revealed.” Current World Archaeology, No. 27 (February/March, 2008): 13-22.

Eduljee, K. E. The Wall of Gorgan. n.d. 22 November 2014 .

Farrokh, Dr. Kaveh. “The Great Wall of Gorgan: One of the World’s Greatest Frontier Walls.” TEHRAN TIMES INTERNATIONAL DAILY 9 March 2010: 7.

Hamid Omrani Rekavandi, Eberhard W. Sauer, Tony Wilkinson, Esmail Safari,Roger Ainslie,Majid Mahmoudi,Seren Griffiths, Mohammad Ershadi, Julian Jansen Van Rensburg,Morteza Fattahi, James Ratcliffe,Jebrael Nokandeh,Amin Nazifi, Richard Thomas et al. “An Imperial Frontier of the Sasanian Empire: further fieldwork at the Great Wall of Gorgan.” Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies., vol 45 (2007): 95-136.

Mousavi, Ali. “A Survey of the Archaeology of the Sasanian Period During the last Three Decades.” 02 December 2008. http://www.sasanika.com. 18 November 2014 .

Peacock, A. C. S. Early Seljuq History: A New Interpretation. Oxon: Routledge, 2010.

Suzanne A.G. Leroy, Ata A. Kakroodi, Salomon Kroonenberg, Hamid K. Lahijani, Habib Alimohammadiand,Aman Nigarov. “Holocene vegetation history and sea level changes in the SE corner of the Caspian Sea: relevance to SW Asia climate.” Quaternary Science Reviews: Volume 70 (June, 2013): 28-47.

The Great Wall of Gorgon

A map of Gorgan region. The gray line is the The Great Wall of Gorgan [Source: http://www.heritageinstitute.com]


One response »

  1. Pingback: La Gran Muralla de Gorgan: La Serpiente Roja de Irán ha visto surgir imperios y desmoronarse civilizaciones - Descifrando Enigmas

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