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Achaemenid art

The official sculpture of the Persian empire was made in a distinctive style which owed much to Mesopotamian forerunners, and like them tended to the glorification of the ruler. It used to be thought that the style arose from the presence of particular groups of foreign craftsmen, notably Ionian Greeks, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Median, Persian, Babylonian, Sardian, Egyptian, and Ionian artisans who worked on the great palace complexes subordinated any indigenous traits to an international style devised to articulate the ideology of Achaemenid kings.

Only a few sculptured reliefs are preserved from Pasargadae, the city of Cyrus (1). Darius I is shown triumphant over a prostrate usurper in the Bisutun relief, while Ahuramazda hovers above. A colossal statue of Darius in Egyptian granite found at Susa presents many problems: was it (and its lost pair) originally made for an Egyptian setting, or were they commissioned for Darius' Susan palace? The tombs of Darius and his successors at Naqš-i Rustam show a royal personage on a platform borne by personifications of the lands of the empire. The façades of the apadana at Persepolis showed the king granting an audience to an official, ranks of tribute bearers and courtiers, and lions attacking bulls. The theme of royal victory occurs in reliefs representing struggles between royal heroes and mythical beasts, motifs which are frequently repeated on seal-stones. Achaemenid tapestries no longer survive, and only a little gold and silver plate and jewellery, decorated with stylized goats or winged horned griffins, is extant.


E. F. Schmidt, Persepolis, 1–3 (1953–70).Find this resource:

    R. Ghirshman, Persia from the Origins to Alexander the Great (1964).Find this resource:

      Cahiers de la délegation française en Iran 4 (1974) (on the Darius statue at Susa).Find this resource:

        M. C. Root, The King and Kingship in Achaemenid Art (1979).Find this resource:

          E. Porada, Cambridge History of Iran 2 (1985), 793–827.Find this resource:

            P. Calmeyer, Encyclopaedia Iranica 2/6 (1990), 569–580.Find this resource:

              ‘Musée Achéménide’ 〈〉.

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