ENG 283E: Our Premodern Epics: How Epics Create Culture and Vice Versa

Manuscript of the Shahnameh: The Battle of the Iranians and the Turanians

The Walters Art Museum of Illuminated Manuscripts posted four leaves of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh manuscript that are now housed in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which were initially discovered in Shiraz, Iran. These manuscripts were dispersed during the fourteenth century AH. The text of the manuscripts are written in black with the different chapter headings in blue, red, and black. Each leaf represents a different part of the story with a striking image. The leaf that caught my eye was the one that depicted the Battle of the Iranians and Turanians.


In Volume III of the Shanameh, the section called “How the Turanians defeated the Iranians” describes the war between both groups. Ferdowsi writes: “'Twas not the Íránians' day for combating; Their combat-seeking ended in mishap, They turned their faces from the battlefield,

Abandoning the wounded to their fate” (Volume 3, Verses 856-859). The presence of the Battle of the Turanians and the Iranians is predominant throughout Volume III of the Shahnameh. The readers get a great sense of what the battle was like through Ferdowsi’s words, but also the striking images that went along with the text.


According to the Firzwilliam Museum, an important story within the Shahnameh is the murder of Iraj. He was the son of King Faridun, who divided his kingdom with his three sons. The youngest son, Iraj, received the best part out of the three: Iran. Out of jealousy, the other two brothers murdered their younger brother. Due to Iraj’s death, the Iranians have had many wars against the Turanians throughout the Shahnameh. These sedentary civilizations have confronted each other in a multitude of wars, which is now referred to as the Battle of the Iranians and Turanians.


The picture on the manuscript depicts the aggression and divide between these two sedentary civilizations. The color red, which is predominant in the picture, alludes to the goriness and hatred that must have taken place within the Shahnameh. It is important to realize the historical significance behind the presence of images within the Shahnameh. It is a pre-modern epic that can be told both through speech and images. “The book is a treasure trove- virtually an art gallery revealing the evolution of Safavi painting in the crucial years between the early 1520s and the mid-1530s” (Dickinson, 13). That is what makes this epic so unique. The drawings that Ferdowsi includes tell a story and help the reader imagine and visualize what is going on in the epic.



Dickinson, Martin. “Back Matter.” MELA Notes, no. 65/66, 1997, http://www.jstor.org/stable/29785687.

The Fitzwilliam Museum. "Structure and Themes of the Shahnameh: Myth, Legend and History."

The Fitzwilliam Museum. University of Cambridge, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.


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