Sunday, October 25, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Seyed Mohammad Reza Darbandi, Antigoni Zournatzi (ed.), Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran: Cross-Cultural Encounters. 1st International Conference (Athens, 11-13 November 2006). Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation; Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO; Cultural Center of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2008. Pp. xxix, 377. ISBN 9789609309554. €60.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Margaret C. Miller, University of Sydney

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The volume commemorates a landmark occasion, when the national research centres of Iran and Greece collaborated in a multi-national interdisciplinary conference on the history of exchange between Iran and Greece. Its nearly 400 pages reflect a strong sense of its symbolic importance. Papers span the Achaemenid through the Mediaeval periods and address the theme of exchange from the perspective of many disciplines -- history, art, religion, philosophy, literature, archaeology. The book thus brings together material that can be obscure outside the circle of specialists, and in a manner that is generally accessible; the wide range of topics and periods included is a strength. Excellent illustrations often in colour enhance the archaeological contributions, as does inclusion of hitherto unpublished material.

The volume commences with a brief section on what might be called Greek textual evidence (Tracy, Petropoulou, Tsanstanoglou), followed by papers on interaction in Sasanian through mediaeval Persia (Azarnoush, Alinia, Venetis, Fowden), four papers discussing Achaemenid, Seleucid and Parthian history (Weiskopf, Ivantchik, Tuplin, Aperghis), aspects of the archaeology of Persepolis and Pasargadae (Stronach, Talebian, Root, Palagia), and ends with essays on the receptivity to Achaemenid culture in the material culture of the western empire and fringes: Cyprus, Turkey, Greece (Zournatzi, Lintz, Summerer, Paspalas, Ignatiadou, Sideris, Triantafyllidis), followed by a paper on traces of Greek material culture in the archaeology of (Seleucid) Iran (Rahbar). The wealth of vehicles, contexts and levels of exchange attested through the ages is both eye-opening and exciting. While there is unfortunately little attempt at globalizing synthesis or theoretical modelling, the analytical methods and collections of data in the individual contributions will aid future work in the area.

Stephen Tracy starts the volume with a synchronic analysis of the ways in which first Aeschylus, then Homer, play upon the prejudices of their audience against "barbaroi" and then show the human quality of the enemy. In Persai, the Athenians are anonymous in contrast with the delineated personalities of the Persian royal family; in the Iliad, Achilles is "not very likeable" but learns humanity from the sorrow of Priam. Both poets focus on common humanity that transcends short-term hostilities.

Angeliki Petropoulou offers a detailed analysis of Herodotus' account of the death of Masistios and subsequent mourning (Hdt. 9.20-25.1). Herodotus played up the heroic quality of Masistios' death, stressing his beauty and height, qualities appreciated by both Greeks and Persians. The fact that Masistios seems to have gained the position of cavalry commander in the year before his death, coupled with the likelihood that his Nisaian horse with its golden bridle was a royal gift, suggests he had been promoted and rewarded for bravery.

Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou discusses the Derveni papyrus' mention of magoi (column VI.1-14). Though the papyrus dates 340-320, the text was composed late fifth century BC, making the apparently Iranian content especially important. Both the ritual described and the explanation for it cohere with elements known from later Persian sources as features of early Iranian religious thought. While the precise vehicles of transmission of such knowledge to the papyrus are unknowable, the papyrus is the first certain documentation of the borrowing of Iranian ideas in Greek (philosophical) thought.

On the Iranian side exchange of religious ideas is documented by Massoud Azarnoush in the iconography of a fourth-century AD Sasanian manor-house he excavated at Hajiabad 1979.1 Moulded stucco in the form of divine figures included dressed and naked females identified with Anahita. The very broad shoulders of the Hellenistically dressed Anahita fit an Iranian aesthetic; the closest parallel for the slender naked females is found not in the cognate Ishtar type but in the Aphrodite Pudica type. Reliefs of naked boys, of uncertain relationship with Anahita, have attributes of fertility cult in the (Dionysian?) bunches of grapes they hold and in the ?ivy elements of their headdress.

Sara Alinia offers a brief but fascinating account of the development of state-sponsored religion hand-in-hand with state-sponsored persecution of religious elements that were deemed to be affiliated with another state: the Christian Late Roman Empire and the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire. She documents the rise of religion as a tool of inter-state diplomacy and vehicle for inter-state rivalry; religion was but one facet of the political antagonism between the two.

Evangelos Venetis studies the cross-fertilization between Hellenistic and Byzantine Greek romance and Iranian pre-Islamic and Islamic romantic narrative. Persian elements are found in Hellenistic romance; Hellenistic themes contribute to Persian epics. The fragmentary nature of texts ranging 2nd -11th/14th c. AD and the lack of intermediary texts are serious impediments which may yet be overcome. The Alexander Romance, known in Iran from a Sasanian translation, contributed to the form and detail of the Shahname, as well as to other Persian epics.

Garth Fowden outlines the complex history of the creation, translation, wide circulation and impact of the pseudo-Aristotelian texts on religious thought. Aristotle's works were translated into Syriac in the 6th c. and in the mid 8th c. into Arabic. Arab philosophers, attracted to the idea of Aristotle as counsellor of kings, updated him. Owing to his remoteness in time, "Aristotle" offended neither Muslim nor Christian. The Letters of Alexander, Secret of Secrets and al-Kindi's sequel of Metaphysics, the Theology of Aristotle, contributed significantly to the philosophical underpinnings of both Muslim and Christian theology; the last remains an important text in teaching at Qom.

Michael N. Weiskopf argues that Herodotos' account of the Persian treatment of Ionia after the Ionian revolt constitutes "imperial nostalgia" -- the popular memory of how good things were under a past regime, in the context of a new regime. Herodotos 6.42-43, stressing the administrative efficiency and fairness of Artaphernes' arrangements, allows a reading of Mardonios' alleged imposition of democratic constitutions (so dissonant with the subsequent reported governing of Ionian states) as imperial nostalgia, to be contrasted with the inconsistent and unfair treatment of the Ionians by the Athenians of Herodotos' own day.

Askold I. Ivantchik publishes two Greek inscriptions from Hellenistic Tanais in the Bosporos (and reedits a third). Evidently private thiasos inscriptions, they confirm that the city was already in 2nd or 1st century BC officially divided into two social (presumably ethnic) groups: the Hellenes and the Tanaitai, presumably Sarmatians, on whose land the city was founded in the late 3rd century BC. A thiasos for the river god Tanais includes members with both Greek and Iranian names, showing that private religious thiasoi were an important vehicle for breaking down social barriers between the two populations of the city.

Two papers offer contrasting interpretations of the evidence for Seleucid retention of Achaemenid institutions. That there were parallels between structures of the different periods is uncontested; the question is whether the parallels signify a deliberate programme of Seleucid self-presentation as the "heirs of the Achaemenids." Christopher R. Tuplin argues that acquisition of the empire involved adoption of the Achaemenid mantle in some contexts and maintenance of those structures that worked, but that the balance of evidence suggests no conscious policy of continuation, and considerable de facto alteration of attitude and form. He suggests that the evidence of continuity of financial (taxation) structures -- a major part of Aperghis' argument -- is ambiguous, at best. The treatment and divisions of territory, most notably the "shift of centre of gravity" from Persis to Babylonia, argue more for disruption than continuity.

G. G. Aperghis gives the case for a deliberate Seleucid policy of continuation of many Achaemenid administrative practices. He points to the retention of the satrapy as basis of administrative organization; use of land-grants (albeit to cities rather than individuals); continuing royal support of temples; maintenance of the Royal Road system (n.b. two Greek milestones, one illustrated in this volume by Rahbar); the retention of two separate offices relating to financial oversight. He suggests that the double sealing of transactions in the Persepolis Fortification Tablets metamorphosed into the double monogram on Seleucid coinage. Further field work in Iran, like that outlined by Rahbar (see below), will settle such contested matters as whether the many foundations of Alexander had any local impact. At present, Tuplin offers the more persuasive case.

David Stronach, excavator of Pasargadae, gives his considered opinion on the complex nexus of issues relating to the date of Cyrus' constructions at Pasargadae. Touching upon the East Greek and Lydian contribution to early Achaemenid monumental architecture in stone and orthogonal design principles, Cyrus' conquest chronology and the Nabonidus Chronicle, Darius' creation of Old Persian cuneiform, the elements of the Tomb of Cyrus, and new evidence confirming the garden design, he argues that the chronology of the constructions at Pasargadae indirectly confirms the date of the conquest of Lydia around 545.

Mohammad Hassan Talebian offers a diachronic analysis of Persepolis and Pasargadae, starting with a survey of the Iranian and Lydian elements in their construction. Modern interventions include the ill-informed and damaging activities of Herzfeld and Schmidt at Persepolis in the 1930s, the stripping away of the mediaeval Islamic development of the Tomb of Cyrus, and the damage to the ancient city of Persepolis in preparation for the 2500-anniversary celebrations in 1971. Recent surveys in the region compensate to some degree. Talebian urges the importance of attention to all periods of the past rather than a privileged few.

Margaret Cool Root continues her thought-experiment in exploring how a fifth-century Athenian male might have viewed Persepolis.2 Sculptural traits such as the emphasis on the clothed body and nature of interaction between individuals would have seemed to the hypothetical Athenian to embody a profoundly effeminate culture. Yet Root's study of the Persepolis Fortification Tablet sealings, their flashes of humour and playfulness in their utilisation on the tablets, reveals a world in which oral communication -- idle chit-chat -- perhaps bridged the cultural divide. She concludes that a visiting Greek might well have learned how to read the imagery like an Iranian.

Olga Palagia argues that the most famous Greek artefact found at Persepolis, the marble statue of "Penelope", was not booty but a diplomatic gift from the people of Thasos: its Thasian marble provides a workshop provenance. The "Polygnotan" character, seen also in the Thasian marble "Boston Throne," possibly from the same workshop, suits the prestige of the gift: Thasos' great artist, the painter Polygnotos, is also attested as a bronze sculptor. A putative second Penelope in Thasos, taken to Rome in the imperial period with the "Boston Throne," would have served as model for the Roman sculptural versions.

Antigoni Zournatzi offers the first of a series of regional studies documenting receptivity to Persian culture in the western empire and beyond, with a look at Cyprus. Earlier scholarship focused on siege mound and palace design; receptivity can be tracked in glyptic, toreutic, and sculpture. Western "Achaemenidizing" seals may be Cypriote; Persianizing statuettes may reflect local adoption of Persian dress (or Persian participation in local ritual). The treatment of beard curls on one late 6th century head may reflect Persian sculptural practice. Zournatzi suggests that Cypro-Persian bowls and jewellery were produced not for local consumption but to satisfy tribute requirements.

Yannick Lintz announces a project to compile a comprehensive corpus of Achaemenid objects in western Turkey, an essential step in any attempt to understand the period in the region.3 Particular challenges lie in matters of definition, both of "Achaemenid" and "west Anatolian" traits. The state of completion of the database is not clear; one is aware of a volume of excavated material in museums whose processing and publication was interrupted and can only wish her well in what promises to be a massive undertaking.

Lâtife Summerer continues her publication of the Persian-period Phrygian painted wooden tomb at Tatarli in western Turkey with discussion of the different cultural elements of its iconographic programme.4 The friezes of the north wall especially present Anatolian traditions; the east wall friezes of funerary procession and battle (between Persians and nomads) offer a mix of Persian and Anatolian. New Hittite evidence clinches as Anatolian the identification of the cart with curved top familiar in Anatolo-Persian art; it carries an effigy of the deceased. Alexander von Kienlin's appendix expands the cultural mix presented by the tomb with his demonstration that its Lydian-style dromos was an original feature.

Stavros Paspalas raises questions about the vehicles and route of cultural exchange between the Persian Empire and Macedon through analysis of Achaemenid-looking lion-griffins on the façade of the later fourth century tomb at Aghios Athanasios. He identifies a pattern of specifically Macedonian patronage of Achaemenid imagery also in southern Greece in the fourth century in such items as the pebble mosaic from Sikyon and the Kamini stele from Athens. Enough survives to suggest independent local Macedonian receptivity to Persian ideas rather than a secondary derivation through southern Greece.

Despina Ignatiadou summarises succinctly the growing corpus of Achaemenidizing glass and metalware vessels in 6th-4th century BC Macedon. Three foreign plants lie behind the forms of lobe and petal-decoration on phialai, bowls, jugs, and beakers: the central Anatolian opium poppy, the Egyptian lotus (white and blue types) and the Iranian/Anatolian (bitter) almond. The common denominator is their medicinal and psychotropic qualities; Ignatiadou suggests that their appearance on vessels has semiotic value and that such drugs were used in religious and ritual contexts along with the vessels that carry their signatures, perhaps especially in the worship of the Great Mother.

Athanasios Sideris outlines the range of issues related to understanding the role of Achaemenid toreutic in documenting ancient cultural exchange: production ranges between court, regional, and extra-imperial workshops, not readily distinguishable. The inclusion of little-known material from Delphi and Dodona enriches his discussion of shape types. He works toward identification of local workshops, both within and without the empire, based especially on apparent local preferences in surface treatment. The geographical range of production is one area that will benefit from further international research collaboration.5

Pavlos Triantafyllidis focuses on the wealth of material from Rhodes, both sanctuary deposits and well-dated burials, that attests a history of imports from Iran and the Caucasus even before the Achaemenid period. Achaemenid-style glass vessels start in the late 6th century with an alabastron and petalled bowl, paralleled in the western empire, and carry on through the fourth century. An excavated fourth-century glass workshop created a series of "Rhodio-Achaemenid" products that dominated Rhodian glassware through the early third century. This microcosmic case study brilliantly exemplifies a much broader phenomenon.

Mehdi Rahbar outlines and illustrates archaeological material, some not previously published, that will be fundamental in future discussions of Seleucid Iran. The as of yet limited corpus includes: modulation of Greek forms perhaps to suit a local taste (Ionic capital from the temple of Laodicea, Nahavand, known from an 1843 inscription of Antiochus III; fragmentary marble sculpture of Marsyas?), amalgam of Iranian and Greek (milestone in Greek with Persepolitan profile), Greek import (Rhodian stamped amphora handle ΝΙΚΑΓΙΔΟΣ from Bisotun);6 and Iranian adoption of Greek decorative elements (vine leaves, grapes, and acanthus patterns, for which compare Azarnoush's stucco).

The volume concludes with a brief overview of ancient Iranian-Greek relations and their modern interpretation by Shahrokh Razmjou.

The inclusion of the texts of the introductory and concluding addresses made on the occasion of the conference in particular allow the reader to comprehend its aims: hopes of exchange in the modern world through assessing exchange in the past. A number of the papers make it very clear that collaboration between specialists of "East" and "West" in both textual and archaeological research could yield great gains for all periods of history and modes of analysis. The conference and its publication, therefore, succeed at a variety of levels.

Editing such a volume must have been a real challenge and it is to the credit of authors and editors that throughout the whole volume, I found only a handful of minor infelicities and typographical errors, none of which obscure meaning.7


Stephen Tracy, "Europe and Asia: Aeschylus' Persians and Homer's Iliad" (1-8)
Angeliki Petropoulou, "The Death of Masistios and the Mourning for his Loss" (9-30)
Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou, "Magi in Athens in the Fifth Century BC?" (31-39)
Massoud Azarnoush, "Hajiabad and the Dialogue of Civilizations" (41-52)
Sara Alinia, "Zoroastrianism and Christianity in the Sasanian Empire (Fourth Century AD)" (53-58)
Evangelos Venetis, "Greco-Persian Literary Interactions in Classical Persian Literature" (59-63)
Garth Fowden, "Pseudo-Aristotelian Politics and Theology in Universal Islam" (65-81)
Michael N. Weiskopf, "The System Artaphernes-Mardonius as an Example of Imperial Nostalgia" (83-91)
Askold I. Ivantchik, "Greeks and Iranians in the Cimmerian Bosporus in the Second/First Century BC: New Epigraphic Data from Tanais" (93-107)
Christopher Tuplin, "The Seleucids and Their Achaemenid Predecessors: A Persian Inheritance?" (109-136)
G. G. Aperghis, "Managing an Empire--Teacher and Pupil" (137-147)
David Stronach, "The Building Program of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae and the Date of the Fall of Sardis" (149-173)
Mohammad Hassan Talebian, "Persia and Greece: The Role of Cultural Interactions in the Architecture of Persepolis-Pasargadae" (175-193)
Margaret Cool Root, "Reading Persepolis in Greek--Part Two: Marriage Metaphors and Unmanly Virtues" (195-221)
Olga Palagia, "The Marble of the Penelope from Persepolis and its Historical Implications" (223-237)
Antigoni Zournatzi, "Cultural Interconnections in the Achaemenid West: A Few Reflections on the Testimony of the Cypriot Archaeological Record" (239-255)
Yannick Lintz, "Greek, Anatolian, and Persian Iconography in Asia Minor : Material Sources, Method, and Perspectives" (257-263)
Latife Summerer, "Imaging a Tomb Chamber : The Iconographic Program of the Tatarli Wall Paintings" (265-299)
Stavros Paspalas, "The Achaemenid Lion-Griffin on a Macedonian Tomb Painting and on a Sicyonian Mosaic" (301-325)
Despina Ignatiadou, "Psychotropic Plants on Achaemenid Style Vessels" (327-337)
Athanasios Sideris, "Achaemenid Toreutics in the Greek Periphery" (339-353)
Pavlos Triantafyllidis, "Achaemenid Influences on Rhodian Minor Arts and Crafts" (355-366)
Mehdi Rahbar, "Historical Iranian and Greek Relations in Retrospect" (367-372)
Shahrokh Razmjou, "Persia and Greece: A Forgotten History of Cultural Relations" (373-374)


1.   The site is fully published in: M. Azarnoush, The Sasanian manor house at Hajiabad, Iran (Florence 1994).
2.   The first appears as "Reading Persepolis in Greek: gifts of the Yauna," in C. Tuplin, ed., Persian Responses: Political and Cultural Interaction with(in) the Achaemenid Empire (Swansea 2007) 163-203.
3.   Deniz Kaptan is similarly compiling a corpus of Achaemenid seals and sealings in Turkish museums.
4.   Other studies: "From Tatari to Munich. The recovery of a painted wooden tomb chamber in Phrygia", in I. Delemen, ed., The Achaemenid Impact on Local Populations and Cultures (Istanbul 2007), 129-56; "Picturing Persian Victory: The Painted Battle Scene on the Munich Wood", in A. Ivantchik and Vakhtang Licheli, edd., Achaemenid Culture and Local Traditions in Anatolia, Southern Caucasus and Iran: New Discoveries (Leiden/Boston 2007: Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 13), 3-30.
5.   Considerable progress is being made, e.g., in Georgia: V. Licheli, "Oriental Innovations in Samtskhe (Southern Georgia) in the 1st Millennium BC," and M. Yu. Treister, "The Toreutics of Colchis in the 5th-4th Centuries B.C. Local Traditions, Outside Influences, Innovations," both Ivantchik / Licheli, edd., Achaemenid Culture and Local Traditions in Anatolia (previous note), 55-66 and 67-107.
6.   For early 2nd c. date of this fabricant, see Christoph Börker and J. Burow, Die hellenistischen Amphorenstempel aus Pergamon: Der Pergamon-Komplex; Die Übrigen Stempel aus Pergamon (Berlin 1998), cat. no. 274-286; one example has a context of ca. 200 BC.
7.   Except possibly the misprint on p. 357, line 8 up, where "second century" should presumably be "second quarter" (of the fourth century).

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