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Richard N. Frye

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Richard N. Frye
Richard Nelson Frye

(1920-01-10)January 10, 1920
DiedMarch 27, 2014(2014-03-27) (aged 94)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois
Harvard University
AwardsFarabi International Award
Khwarizmi International Award
Scientific career
FieldsIranian studies
InstitutionsGoethe University Frankfurt
University of Hamburg
Shiraz University
Tajik State National University
Harvard University
Academic advisorsArthur Pope
Walter Bruno Henning
Notable studentsFrank Huddle
John Limbert
Michael Crichton
Richard Cottam
Richard Bulliet
Roy Mottahedeh
Jamsheed Choksy

Richard Nelson Frye (January 10, 1920 – March 27, 2014) was an American scholar of Iranian and Central Asian studies, and Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University.[1][2] His professional areas of interest were Iranian philology and the history of Iran and Central Asia before 1000 CE.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, to a family of immigrants from Sweden, "Freij" had four children, his second marriage being to a scholar, who teaches at Columbia University. He spoke fluent Russian, German, Arabic, Persian, Pashto, French, Uzbek, and Turkish,[3] and had extensive knowledge of Avestan, Pahlavi, Sogdian, and other Iranian languages and dialects, both extinct and current.[citation needed]

Although Frye is mostly known for his works about Iran, the Iranian peoples and Iranian Central Asia, the scope of his studies was much wider and includes Byzantine, Caucasian, and Ottoman history, Eastern Turkistan, Assyria and the Assyrian people, ancient and medieval Iranian art, Islamic art, Sufism, Chinese and Japanese archeology, and a variety of Iranian and non-Iranian languages including Avestan, Old Persian, Middle Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Khotanese, and Bactrian, New Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and even Chinese, beside research languages which include French, German, Italian, and Russian.[4]

Early life and career[edit]

Frye was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He first attended the University of Illinois, where he received a BA in history and philosophy in 1939. He received his MA from Harvard University in 1940 and his PhD from Harvard in 1946, in Asiatic history.[citation needed]

Frye served with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He was stationed in Afghanistan and traveled extensively in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. In 1948, he visited Sar Masshad, and was the first European to find and report the existence of the Gur-e Dokhtar tomb (meaning "Tomb of the Maiden" in Persian).

He returned to Harvard to teach. He was a member of the Harvard faculty from 1948 to 1990. He then became a professor emeritus at Harvard. He also served as faculty, guest lecturer, or visiting scholar at the following:

Professor Frye helped found the Center for Middle Eastern Studies[5] at Harvard, the first Iranian studies program in America. He also served as Director of the Asia Institute in Shiraz (1970–1975), was on the Board of Trustees of the Pahlavi University at Shiraz (1974–1978), and Chairman, Committee on Inner Asian Studies, at Harvard (1983–1989), and as Editor of the Bulletin of the Asia Institute (1970–1975 and 1987–1999).

Among Frye's students were Annemarie Schimmel,[6] Oleg Grabar,[7] Frank Huddle (former US Ambassador to Tajikistan), John Limbert, and Michael Crichton, whose Hollywood film The 13th Warrior is loosely based on Frye's translation of Ibn Fadlan's account of his travels up the Volga River.[8]

Frye was also directly responsible for inviting Iranian scholars as distinguished visiting fellows to Harvard University, under a fellowship program initiated by Henry Kissinger. Examples of such guests include Mehdi Haeri Yazdi (1923–1999), Sadegh Choubak, Jalal al Ahmad, and others.[9]

Proponent of Persian culture[edit]

Frye felt that Persian civilization was under-appreciated by other Muslims, particularly Arabs. Frye wrote:

Arabs no longer understand the role of Iran and the Persian language in the formation of Islamic culture. Perhaps they wish to forget the past, but in so doing they remove the bases of their own spiritual, moral and cultural being... without the heritage of the past and a healthy respect for it... there is little chance for stability and proper growth.

— R. N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia, London: Butler & Tanner Ltd., 1989, page 236

In August 1953, shortly before the fall of Mosaddegh, the prominent Iranian linguist Ali Akbar Dehkhoda gave Frye the title "Irandoost" (meaning 'iranophile').[10]

The Qavam House, where the famous Shiraz University Asia Institute was founded. Frye headed the institute from 1969 to 1974.

In addition, Frye was a long-standing supporter of Assyrian continuity, and valued the historical and ancestral connection between modern Assyrians and the Ancient Mesopotamians.[11]

A ceremony was held in Iran on June 27, 2004, to pay tribute to the six-decade endeavors of Frye on his lifetime contribution to Iranian Studies, research work on the Persian language, and the history and culture of Iran.

In his will, Frye expressed his wish to be buried next to the Zayandeh River in Isfahan. The request was approved by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2007.[12] Two other American scholars of Iranian Studies, Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, are already buried there. In 2010 the Iranian government gave a house in Isfahan to Professor Frye in recognition of his services to Iranian studies.[13]

On June 8, 2014, the family of Frye decided to cremate his remains after waiting more than two months for official Iranian permission to bury him in Isfahan. His death coincided with growing resentment by Iranian hardliners over signs of reconciliation with the United States after decades of estrangement. It is not clear what the family intended to do with his ashes.[14]

Richard Foltz dedicated his book A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East to Frye's memory.[15]

Public speaker[edit]

Frye was a popular public speaker at numerous Iran-related gatherings. In 2005, he spoke at UCLA and encouraged the Iranians present to cherish their culture and identity.[16][17] In 2004, he spoke at an architectural conference in Tehran and expressed his dismay at hasty modernization that ignores the beauties of traditional Iranian architectural styles (see Architecture of Tehran).[citation needed]


  • Notes on the Early Coinage of Transoxania; Numismatic Notes, 113, American Numismatic Association, New York 1949
  • The Near East and the Great Powers, Harvard University Press, 1951
  • Iran, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1960
  • The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World's Great Civilizations, World Publishing Company, New York, 1963. Reprinted by Mazda Publishers, 2004. www.mazdapublishers.com
  • Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965. Reprinted by Mazda Publishers, 1997. www.mazdapublishers.com
  • The Histories of Nishapur, Harvard University Press, (Harvard Oriental Series, 45) 1965
  • Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, vol. III, Dura-Europos, London, 1968
  • Persia (3rd edition) Allen and Unwin, London, 1969
  • The United States and Turkey and Iran, Archon Books, 1971
  • Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr. Seals, Sealings, and Coins, Harvard University Press, 1973
  • Neue Methodologie in der Iranistik, Wiesbaden, 1974
  • The Golden Age Of Persia: The Arabs in the East, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1988
  • Frye, Richard N. (1992). "Assyria and Syria: Synonyms". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 51 (4): 281–285. doi:10.1086/373570. JSTOR 545826. S2CID 161323237.
  • The heritage of Central Asia from antiquity to the Turkish expansion Markus Wiener, Princeton, 1996
  • Frye, Richard N. (1997). "Assyria and Syria: Synonyms" (PDF). Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. 11 (2): 30–36. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-07-13.
  • Frye, Richard N. (1999). "Reply to John Joseph" (PDF). Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. 13 (1): 69–70. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-07-11.
  • Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1-56859-177-2
  • Ibn Fadlan's Journey To Russia, 2005, Markus Wiener Publisher, ISBN 1-55876-366-X

See also[edit]

Other notable scholars of Iranian studies
Mehrdad Bahar
Mary Boyce
Roman Ghirshman
Michael Roaf
James R. Russell
Erich Schmidt
Alireza Shapour Shahbazi
David Stronach
Ahmad Tafazzoli
Ehsan Yarshater
Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub


  1. ^ http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~turkish/relfaculty.html Richard Nelson Frye, Aga Khan Professor of Iranian-Emeritus Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations
  2. ^ "Harvard IOHP | Richard N. Frye Transcripts".
  3. ^ Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-56859-177-2
  4. ^ Yarshater, Ehsan (March 31, 2014). "Richard Nelson Frye (January 10,1920 – March 27, 2014)". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  5. ^ Kafadar, Cemal (November 22, 2005). "Crossing Boundaries: Remapping the Study of Middle East History". Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Archived from the original on May 18, 2008.
  6. ^ Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-56859-177-2 p.193
  7. ^ Big Ideas. Big Thinkers. Oleg Grabar | Thirteen/WNET
  8. ^ Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-56859-177-2 p.90, p.150
  9. ^ Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-56859-177-2 p. 103, p.174
  10. ^ Greater Iran, Mazda Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-56859-177-2 p. 142
  11. ^ http://www.aina.org/articles/frye.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  12. ^ Ahmadinejad allows burial of American professor in Iran, The Associated Press, Published: September 13, 2007.
  13. ^ "Ahmadinejad donates house in Isfahan to American Iranologist".
  14. ^ Iran: Harvard Scholar’s Body Cremated After Request for Burial in Iran Falters, The New York Times, Published: June 24, 2014.
  15. ^ Foltz, Richard (2019). A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1784539559.
  16. ^ Iran Heritage Archived 2005-04-13 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Professor Richard Nelson Frye Lecture at UCLA Royce Hall – March 13, 2005

External links[edit]