Comparative Approaches to Ethnonyms: The Case of the Persians
Odile Kommer, Salvatore Liccardo, Andrea Nowak
Odile Kommer: Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences
Salvatore Liccardo: Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences
Andrea Nowak: Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Vienna
This article1 examines ethnonyms for Persians in Medieval Latin, Greek, and Arabic sources. These ethnonyms are part of ethnic terminologies which changed over time and varied in different regional contexts. The ethnonyms for Persians are approached in different textual genres from a combination of historiographical, philological, and social anthropological perspectives. In the first part, the investigation of Persians in Late Antique source material sets out from the Tabula Peutingeriana and examines the entries on the map which refer to the Persians, highlighting both their ethnic and political meanings. The second part deals with source material on medieval South Arabia. First, it focuses on the texts of the tenth-century Yemeni scholar al-Hamdānī and his use of a set of ethnonyms for the Persian minority population, of which each term evokes a different association. This is followed by an analysis of the early thirteenth-century account of Persian traveler Ibn al-Mujāwir, in which the roles and meanings of ethnonyms for Persians in different narrative units are discussed. This case study shows that there are interdependencies between ethnonyms and other means of identification, such as language, lifestyle, place of dwelling, kinship, descent, and the division of the world into different spatial and ideological realms. The case of the Persians illustrates how the authors under discussion used ethnonyms as part of narrative strategies which support processes of selfing and othering.
Keywords: ethnonyms, ethnicity, historical geography, Alexander narrative, Late Antiquity, (Early) Middle Ages, South Arabia, Tabula Peutingeriana, Persian