Art of the Achaemenid Empire

Colburn, Henry. 2013. Art of the Achaemenid Empire, and art in the Achaemenid Empire. In Brian A. Brown & Marian H. Feldman (eds.), Critical approaches to ancient Near Eastern art, 773-800. De Gruyter.

This chapter introduces two major aspects of the study of Achaemenid Persian art, namely its definition, and the analysis of quotations of other artistic traditions. Achaemenid art is best defined as consisting of two categories of material. One is the art of the empire, that is, art produced in furtherance of imperial goals. The other category consists of art in the empire, or the artistic production of regions subject to Achaemenid rule. Though this art often took an outward form typical of its local context it was always produced in dialogue with the art of the empire. In both of these categories visual quotations of other, often earlier, artistic traditions figured prominently. These quotations were utilized by individuals as a means of constructing and negotiating visually their positions in the social order of the empire, and by parsing these quotations it becomes possible to reconstruct some of the social conditions in which they were selected. This concept is illustrated in three case studies that demonstrate the breadth of Achaemenid art and its value as a historical source for the study of the empire.