Richard Payne

Associate Professor

Ph.D. Princeton University, 2009.
Teaching at Chicago since 2013.

Special Interests

Persian and Islamic History, the Sasanian Empire, Late Antiquity

Richard Payne is a historian of the Iranian world in late antiquity, ca. 200–800 CE. His research focuses primarily on the dynamics of Iranian imperialism, specifically how the Iranian (or Sasanian) Empire successfully integrated socially, culturally, and geographically disparate populations from Arabia to Afghanistan into enduring political networks and institutions. His recent book, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity, explores the problem of religious diversity within the empire, showing how Syriac-writing Christians could create a place for themselves in a political culture not of their own making. He is currently at work on the role of Zoroastrian religious institutions and the intersection of ideological and material dimensions in Iranian history. He also maintains interests in the social history of Christian and Zoroastrian communities in the early Islamic world, the interaction of the Near East with Central and Inner Asia, and the comparative study of ancient empires in the Near East and the Mediterranean from the Akkadians to the Romans.

Payne completed a doctorate in history at Princeton University. He was awarded the Bliss Prize from Dumbarton Oaks, the Crisp Fellowship from Phi Beta Kappa, a research fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and a visiting research scholarship from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. He was elected a research fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge.For A State of Mixture, he was awarded the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History from the American Philosophical Society, the Ehsan Yarshater Book Award from the International Society for Iranian Studies, and the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Historical Studies from the American Academy of Religion.



A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).

Co-editor with Myles Lavan and John Weisweiler, Cosmopolitanism and Empire:Universal Rulers, Local Elites, and Cultural Integration in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

Co-editor with Mehrnoush Soroush, The Archaeology of Sasanian Politics [special issue of the Journal of Ancient History] (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014).


Co-editor with Walter Pohl and Clemens Gantner, Visions of Community in the Post-Roman World: The West, Byzantium, and the Islamic World, 300-1100 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012).

Select Articles

“Les polemiques syro-orientales contre le Zoroastrisme et leur contexte politique,” in Flavia Ruani (ed.), Les controverses religieuses en syriaque (Paris: Geuthner, 2016): 239-260.

“Sex, Death, and Aristocratic Empire: Iranian Jurisprudence in Late Antiquity,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 58 (2016): 1-31.

“The Making of Turan: The Fall and Transformation of the Iranian East,” Journal of Late Antiquity 9 (2016): 4-41.

“East Syrian Bishops, Elite Households, and Iranian Law after the Islamic Conquests,” Iranian Studies 48 (2015): 5-32.

“The Archaeology of Sasanian Politics,” in Richard Payne and Mehrnoush Soroush (ed.), The Archaeology of Sasanian Politics [special issue of the Journal of Ancient History] (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014): 1-14.

“The Reinvention of Iran: The Sasanian Empire and the Huns,” in Michael Maas (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014): 282-299.

“Cosmology and the Expansion of the Iranian Empire, 502-628 CE,” Past & Present 220 (2013): 3-33.

“Monks, Dinars, and Date Palms: Hagiographical Production and the Expansion of Monastic Institutions in the Early Islamic Persian Gulf,” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 22 (2011): 97-111.

Upcoming Lectures

“A Cosmopolitan Court: The Problem of Incommensurable Cosmologies in Late Sasanian Political Culture,” at a conference, Échanges culturels entre est et ouest, de l’époque hellénistique à l’époque byzantine, Collège de France, Paris, September 18, 2015.

“From polis to šahrestān: The Political Economy of Sasanian Cities,” at a conference, International Congress of Archaeologists, the University of Tehran, Tehran, October 12, 2015

“East Syrian Polemics against Zoroastrianism and their Political Contexts,” at a conference, Les controverses religieuses en syriaque, Paris, November 13, 2015

“Iran and Turan: Reimagining Central and East Asia in Late Antiquity,” at a conference, Séminaire transatlantique: East and West: Traditions of Representation, the University of Chicago in collaboration with the Collège de France, Chicago, December 4-5, 2015

“The Sasanians and the Silk Road,” at a roundtable, The Silk Road: A Dialogue between Archaeologists and Historians, the American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Atlanta, January 9, 2016

“Zoroastrianism and Empire in Late Antiquity,” at the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Mumbai, March 24 and 25, 2016