Richard Frye

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Richard Nelson Frye (born January 10, 1920 in Birmingham) is the Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University. He is an expert in Iranian philology, and the history of Iran and Central Asia before 1000 AD.

Frye was born to a Nels and Lillie (Hagman) Frye, Swedish immigrants in Birmingham that moved to Danville, Illinois in 1923. Something of a prodigy, he completed grade school at the age of fifteen and entered the University of Illinois in order to study philosophy. Under the influence of professor Albert Howe Lybyer he became interested in Ottoman and Near-Eastern history and completed his bachelor's degree with a dual major in history and philosophy in 1939. He received his master of arts from Harvard University in 1940, having become interested in a broader understanding of Asian history and archeology.

During World War II he served with the Office of Strategic Services, stationed in Afghanistan. He traveled extensively in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia monitoring German and Japanese activities, particularly among Afghan tribes.

He returned to Harvard and completed a PhD in Asiatic history in 1946, for which he translated and explicated Narshakhi's History of Bukhara. He joined the faculty two years later and spent his career there, retiring from active teaching in 1990. He remains a professor emeritus. He has also spent time serving as a guest lecturer or scholar at Habibiya College in Kabul, Afghanistan (1942-44), Frankfurt University (1959-60), Hamburg University (1968-69), Pahlavi University of Shiraz, Iran (1970-76), and the University of Tajikistan (1990-92). He speaks fluent Russian, German, Arabic, Persian, French, Pashto, Uzbek, and Turkish, and has extensive knowledge of Avestan, Pahlavi, Sogdian, and other Iranian languages and dialects, both extinct and current.

Frye helped found the Center for Middle Eastern Studies 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 (1974-78), and Chairman of the Committee on Inner Asian Studies at Harvard from 1983 to 1989. He edited the Bulletin of the Asia Institute from 1970-1975 and 1987-99.

Among Frye's students were Annemarie Schimmel, Oleg Grabar, 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 river Volga.

In August 1953, shortly before Mosaddegh's fall, the prominent Iranian linguist Ali Akbar Dehkhoda gave Frye the title "Irandoost" (meaning "a friend of Iran"). A ceremony was held in Iran on June 27, 2004 to pay tribute to the six-decade endeavors of Professor Frye on his lifetime contribution to Iranology, research work on the Persian language, and the history and culture of Iran. In his will, Professor Frye has expressed his wish to be buried next to the Zayandeh River in Isfahan. This request was approved by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2007. Two other American Iranologists, Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, are already buried there.

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.

Frye had three children with his first wife, the former Barbara York. He is currently married to the Iranian-Assyrian scholar, Eden Naby.


  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1951) The Near East and the Great Powers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1960) Iran. London: George Allen and Unwin
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1963) The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World's Great Civilizations. New York: World Publishing Company
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1965) Bukhara: The Medieval Achievement Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1965) The Histories of Nishapur. Harvard University Press
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1968) Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, vol. III. London: Dura-Europos
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1969) Persia, 3rd ed. London: Allen and Unwin
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1971) The United States and Turkey and Iran. Archon Books.
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1973) Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr. Seals, Sealings, and Coins. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1974) Neue Methodologie in der Iranistik. Wiesbaden
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1993) The Golden Age Of Persia: The Arabs in the East. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1996) The Heritage of Central Asia from Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion Princeton, New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers.
  • Frye, Richard Nelson ( ) Notes on the Early Coinage of Transoxania; Numismatic Notes, 113. American Numismatic Association, New York
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (2005) The Greater Iran: A 20th-Century Odyssey'. Mazda Publishers. ISBN 1568591772
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (2005) Ibn Fadlan's Journey To Russia. Princeton, New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers. ISBN 155876366X