Sustaining Abundance

The Role of the Divine River in the Economy of Ancient Persia


  • Tobin Montgomery Hartnell American University of Iraq, Sulaimani



Zoroastrianism, political economy, ancient Persia, water rituals, divine river, sustainability


A comparison of archaeological survey and ethnography with the Zoroastrian textual corpus reveals the cultural and economic dimensions of an ancient water management system in northern Persia (southern Iran). The results highlight how humanity’s destructive impact on nature is ubiquitous, yet not all impacts are equivalent. The explanation is partly cultural, as Sasanian (r. 208–641 CE) notions of the Divine River promoted particular types of engagements with local rivers that respected their innate character. For believers, Zoroastrian water rituals promoted material abundance, just as ancient irrigation systems prioritized smaller barrages that allowed the river to mow. In contrast, modern dams severely restrict the water’s mow, which degrades the quality of the water. Even though ancient irrigation systems achieved a similar scale to modern ones, they were ultimately more sustainable because they respected the river as an important entity in its own right.

Author Biography

  • Tobin Montgomery Hartnell, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani

    Assistant Professor of Archaeology and World History, Social Sciences Dept.

    Director of the Center for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage


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How to Cite

Hartnell, T. M. (2021). Sustaining Abundance: The Role of the Divine River in the Economy of Ancient Persia. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 14(4), 450-479.