I watched Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time this past weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the swashbuckling adventures of Prince Dastan.
But almost immediately, I grimaced at every historical error made in the film. And there are many!
During the first 15 seconds -- the film's prologue -- a map portending to show the expanse of the Persian Empire 2500 years ago shows the region east of the Arabian Peninsula as falling under the control of the Abbasids. This is laughable if it weren't utterly sad. The Abbasid Caliphate did not come into existence until the 9th century CE.
What survived of the Persian Empire into the seventh century CE was destroyed by the spread of the Islamic Empire.
Furthermore, while the film's plot revolves around events apparently unfolding at the height of the Persian Empire -- predating Islam by nearly 1100 years -- the film set design is all based on Islamic architecture with intricate use of geometric shapes and domes. The cities in the film all appear to have minarets.
Throughout the film, we see Persian soldiers using crossbows; while crossbows indeed made their debut in the fifth century BCE, they were used by the Greeks, Romans and Chinese and later were heavily used in Europe, particularly by Crusader armies.
In one scene, Prince Dastan is evading capture as he jumps above a taverna where a troupe of whirling dervishes are performing. Although the word dervish is itself a Perso-Arab-Turkic word, the whirling dervishes did not come into existence until the 1200s in Konya, Turkey, where Jalaluddin Rumi, a Sufi mystic who produced some of the world's most enchanting poetry and literature, came to study and teach.
The allied kingdom of Alamut, which Prince Dastan and the Persians invaded early in the film, was not established until the ninth century CE, and then only as a fortress. Today, it is located in the Al Borz mountains north of Tehran.
The city of Nasaf, where Prince Dastan is said to have grown up in the film, did not exist until the early 700s CE; in the 12th century CE, Nasaf was renamed Qarshi and is today a viable economic hub in Uzbekistan. It did exist during the Persian Empire but was known as Nakhsab.
The secretive, yet powerful sect of Hashashins -- an offshoot of Shia Ismaili Islam -- itself did not come into being until the 11th century CE, when it was formed as a means to battle the Abassid Caliphate and create a Shia emirate in Cairo. And yet in the film, the Hashashins are seen chasing Prince Dastan throughout Persia.
And in an oversight that is sure to anger many Iranians, the Persian soldiers in the film appear to speak perfect Arabic with a Moroccan accent (the film was shot in Morocco and Pinewood Studios).
For the sake of accuracy and historical sensibility, screenwriters Carlo Benard and Doug Miro should have spent a few minutes with a Middle East historian. In the modern communications age, there is no excuse for a Hollywood blockbuster to be so off the mark.
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