IRANIAN SCIENCE

Gondi-Shapur History & Medical School


 

By: Lutz Richter-Bernburg

 

 

GONDʊPUR (< Mid. Pers. Weh-Andik-buhr; Mid. Pers. Inscription: why-'ndywk-hypwhry "Better Is buhr's Antioch," KZ l. 32"; for the successive transformation of the Mid. Pers. form into subsequent Ar. Jondaysbur, cf. the Gk. Bendosabora and Nldeke's observations on similar changes from Mid. Pers. /v/ to NPers. /g/), name of a Sasanian and post-Sasanian district and its urban center in Khhuzestn; its site has been located "south of the village of hbd, three km below the last of the low ridges marking the northern limit of the Khhuzestn plain" (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), between Tostar and Dezful (q.v.).

According to epigraphic, archeological, and literary evidence, the city owed its existence to the Sasanian Ardair I's son and successor, pur I (r. 242-72). Following the long-established royal custom, pur commemorated his role as founder (and possibly patron) in the new establishment's name, including also a reference to his recent victory over the Roman emperor Valerian III (r. 253-60) by claiming superiority for his "Antioch" over the homonymous metropolis of Syria. Consequently, the date of pur's founding act is contingent on the much debated chronology of his Roman war(s) and conquests of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (see antioch). Even though the existence of the "parallel" Syriac name of Bth Lpt (q.v.) would seem to point to a previous settlement in the area, the archeological surface reconnaissance of 1963 (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), which in the absence of a systematic investigation of the site is our only archeological evidence, discovered no trace of a pre-Sasanian occupation. A literary echo of such occupation predating pur is also found in the late Sasanian list of provincial capitals (Markwart, Provencial Capitals, pp. 20, 98, sec. 48) and in the (garbled) legendary account of pur's survey of the site in view of his intended foundation (Tabari, I, pp. 830-31, tr., V, pp. 38-39; Nldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 41-42, n. 2, tr. pp. 87-88, 99-100; Dinavari, ed. Guirgass, pp. 48-49, who mentions two corrupted forms, Nilt and Nilb, of the original Aramaic name as the town's name in Khuzi and in the language of its population, i.e., in Syriac; for the legend of pur's love for a Byzantine princess and the founding of Gondpur on the model of Constantinople to please her, see Ebn al-Qefti, p. 133). The transparently etiological tendency of the report, as quoted by the Anonymous Berolinensis Sprenger 30 (see Tabari, tr., V, p. xxiii) on the one hand and Tabari on the other, would seem to discredit it as merely explaining the popular Persianized name Blbd, but the early attestation of the Aramaic form as byl'b'd and Blapat, in the Parth-ian and Coptic Manichean tradition respectively, would seem to indicate a historical nucleus of the later, embellished accounts, given the fact that in the Sasanian-Arabic tradition, Mani's imprisonment and death was well-nigh unanimously located in Gondpur (Nldeke, pp. 42, n., 47 and n. 5).

The architectural remains on the ground permit us to trace an orthogonal street grid within an oblong rectangular walled enclosure, thus approximating Hamza Esfahni's idealized description of the site's layout as a chessboard of eight by eight streets (p. 49, ll. 7-9). In addition, primary sources, such as inscriptions and bullae, attest Gondpur only at the beginning and during the last few decades of the Sasanian period; to date, its history in the later centuries are documented archeologically primarily by ceramic finds from the above-mentioned surface reconnaissance. These, casting substantive doubt on the literary evidence, clearly point to the site's rapid decline after the late 9th century. Consequently, the geographers of the 10th and subsequent centuries (e.g., Estakhri, p. 93; Maqdesi/Moqaddasi, p. 405) would appear to have derived their information on the site's continued prosperity from uncritical compilations of older texts rather than from autopsy or contemporaneous records (Adams and Hansen, pp. 57-59).

pur's official record of the satrapy of Weh-Andiyk-buhr in his famous trilingual inscription at Ka'ba-ye Zardot (KZ) near Persepolis is paralleled in Sasanian narrative historiography as transmitted to, and partially preserved by, later Arabic and Persian authors; thus he is credited with the establishment of both district and city of Gondpur (Tabari, I, pp. 830-831; Ya'qubi, Ta'rikh I, p. 180). Tabari as well as Hamza (pp. 48-49), or perhaps their common source, even undertook to explain the city's name as deriving from Persian Beh-az-Andiu-pur; in spite of the obvious interpolation of the word "az," their attempt deserves recognition for the correct identification of the main elements of the name: "weh" and "Andik." Also, the possibility of contamination by a later Sasanian pattern of toponymy as exemplified by Weh-az-mid-Kawd remains to be considered (see Gyselen 1989, p. 62, no. 47; cf. Weh-rdair and Weh-Kawd, ibid., pp. 61-62, nos. 46, 48). The terminus post quem of pur's foundation was his occupation of Antioch. However, he conquered the city twice within a few years, the earlier one was arguably in 256 (according to the patriarch Nicephorus, Demetrianus's patriarchate in Antioch began in 253 and lasted altogether four years; see Schwaigert, pp. 20-23) and the later one in 260, during Valerian III's fateful campaign. If the report of Demetrianus's deportation from Antioch and his incumbency as bishop of Gondpur in the Chronicle of Se'ert (Patrologia Orientalis IV/3, p. 221) is accepted, the date of pur's foundation would fall into the period between his two occupations of Anitoch, i.e., the years 256-60.

Documentation of Weh-Andik-buhr's subsequent history under Sasanian rule is very uneven. The relative prominence of Christians in the region is attested by the Chronicle of Se'ert, which mentions the election of a certain Ardaq as the episcopal successor to Demetrianus, thus adumbrating the later importance of B(th) Lpt as the metropolitan see of Bth Huzy (Schwaigert, passim). According to the literary tradition, Weh-Andik-buhr repeatedly fulfilled the function of royal residence during the 3rd and 4rth centuries, at least un-til the great persecution of Christians under pur II. The earliest relevant witness is that of the Manichean tradition of Mani's doomed confrontation with King Warahrn I and his counselors at 'Blapat' and his ensuing fatal imprisonment there in 276-77 (Dinavari, ed. 'mer and ayyl, p. 47). The next firm date is furnished by the Syriac witnesses to pur II's persecution of Christians; in the decade of 340, the Catholicos hdst and others were tried there in the king's presence and executed (Schwaigert, p. 110). Thus the city must have retained some of its former standing even after pur moved residence from Gondpur after the first thirty years of his reign, if Hamza (p. 52) is lent credence, and the coincidence of this date with the (re-)foundation of Karkh dhe Ldhn as Xwarrah buhr in 338 would seem to support it (cf. Schwaigert, pp. 109-10; thus Gyselen's attractive hypothesis, p. 75, against Hamza, p. 52, who cites Xwarrah buhr as Susa's name and, among pur II's foundations, refers to an unnamed town near Sus that the author of Mojmal al-tawrikh [ed. Bahr, p. 67] identifies with Karkh dhe Ldhn). If this is accepted, then 'Omar Kesr's statement (apud Mas'udi, Muruj I, p. 295) that Gondpur served as residence from its foundation through the reign of Hormazd II (303-9) would have to be revised. Sources of Sasanian history mention Gondpur as the hub of Anazd's rebellion against his own father, Khosrow I Aniravn, in about 550 (Dinavari, ed. 'mer and ayyl, pp. 69-70; Nldeke, pp. 467-74, tr. pp. 708-14; here, a similar dissociation between the city's two names, Beth Lpt and Weh-Andik-puhr/Jondaysbur, obtains as does generally between the Syriac Christian and the Arabic sources). Thus, Procopius, on the strength of this observation relying on Syriac authorities (see above), cites Anazd's place of banishment as Blapata, whereas the Islamic texts, beginning chronologically with Abu Hanifa Dinavari (ed. Guirgass, p. 71, ed. 'mer and ayyl, p. 70), only use the popular Arabic adaptation of the royal Sasanian name: Jondaysbur. They are paralleled, if not preceded, in this usage by Theophylactus Simocates' Bendosabra.

Sasanian rule at Gondpur ended with the city's surrender to the Muslim forces in 17/638 (Tabari, I, pp. 2566-68, tr., XIII, pp. 146-49; Ebn al-Athir, Beirut, II, p. 553). This event, as well as the city's subsequent history, are well-documented by narrative sources, with the notable exception of the archeological evidence mentioned above. Gondpur figures in the geographic literature of the 9th and following centuries, but in political history it recaptures attention only once, and then briefly, in the latter part of the 9th century. In 262/875-76, in the course of the successive challenges to caliphal authority, one of the contending leaders, Ya'qub b. Layth Saffr, made Gondpur his residence; whatever further ambitions he may have had were, however, cut short by his sudden death in 265/879. His grave there became one of the city's sites for its remaining span of existence (Estakhri, p. 93; Ebn Hawqal, p. 256; Mas'udi, Tanbih, p. 368; idem, Muruj, ed. Pellat, sec. 601; Trikh-e Sistn, p. 233; Ebn Khallekn, tr. de Slane, IV, pp. 320-22; Hodud al-'lam, ed. Sotuda, p. 139, tr. Minorsky, pp. 131, 381-82). During the following century and a half, Gond-pur gradually faded out of history, although the literary tradition would have it otherwise.

Gondpur's real fame in the history of Islamic Persia rests on its alleged role in the transmission of Hellenistic learning, or more precisely, of Galenic medicine and the institution of the teaching hospital (bimrestn) to the metropolitan 'Abbasid society and beyond that to Islamic civilization at large (see BMRESTN and BOKhTȊUu' iv, pace Dols, esp. pp. 381-85). The earliest testimony to Gondpur in the context of medical learning refers to a medical-philosophical disputation convened on Khosrow II's orders in about 610, in which the drustbed (q.v.) Gabriel of iggr participated; the hospital itself first finds specific mention in the events of the year 148/765, when the caliph al-Mansur is said to have summoned the then head of Gondpur's hospital, Jewarjis b. Jebr'il b. Bokhtiu', to Baghdad (Ebn al-Qefti, pp. 158-60). In spite of the dearth of detailed and reliable information about local and regional conditions in the pre-'Abbasid periods, Khhuzestn and in particular the city of Gondpur must be considered the locale where Syro-Persian Nestorians were weaned on what the later biobibliographical authors celebrated as superior medical learning. The information found in narrative sources concerning the derivation of such knowledge during the Sasanian period from outstanding individual Greek and Indian sources, as well as from the local Aramaic and Iranian roots, (see BOKhTIU' and Aydn Sayl, p. 1120) has substantially been corroborated by the extant texts themselves, however limited their scholarly horizon indubitably is. The differential which in the first 'Abbasid decades obtained between Nestorian medical competence and that of society at large was sufficient to launch the Bokhtiu' family and others onto a brilliant career in the orbit of the 'Abbasid court (cf. Jhez, pp. 109-10; idem, apud Dols, p. 382). Moreover, they rose to the challenge and successively improved their theoretical and practical command of the discipline, not least by rediscovering and eventually passing on to the Muslims, Galen and the other classics of Hellenistic medicine.

As regards the Gondpur hospital, which for several generations was under Bokhtiu''s direction and presumably the city's only such institution, the sources provide only scattered information on how it fared after the Bokhtiu' finally moved to Baghdad (Dols, pp. 377, 381-82); specifically, the question is whether the death of the last known director, Sbur b. Sahl, in 255/869 (Ebn al-Qefti, p. 207), also spelled the end of the hospital itself.

 

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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica

 

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