All posts by Yazdan Safaee

Profiling Death

Wicks, Yasmina. 2019. Profiling Death. Neo-Elamite Mortuary Practices, Afterlife Beliefs, and Entanglements with Ancestors (Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 98). Leiden: Brill.

Recent scholarship has begun to unveil the culturally rich and dynamic landscape of southwest Iran during the first half of the first millennium BCE (aka the Neo-Elamite period) and its significance as the incubation ground for the Persian Empire. In Profiling Death. Neo-Elamite Mortuary Practices, Afterlife Beliefs, and Entanglements with Ancestors, Yasmina Wicks continues the investigation of this critical epoch from the perspective of the mortuary record, bringing forth fascinating clues as to the ritual practices, beliefs, social structures and individual identities of Elam’s lowland and highland inhabitants. Enmeshed with its neighbours, yet in many ways culturally distinct, Elam receives its due treatment here as a core component of the ancient Near East.

The Greek Experience of India

Stoneman, Richard. 2019. The Greek Experience of India: From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks. Princeton University Press.


When the Greeks and Macedonians in Alexander’s army reached India in 326 BCE, they entered a new and strange world. They knew a few legends and travelers’ tales, but their categories of thought were inadequate to encompass what they witnessed. The plants were unrecognizable, their properties unknown. The customs of the people were various and puzzling. While Alexander’s conquest was brief, ending with his death in 323 BCE, the Greeks would settle in the Indian region for the next two centuries, forging an era of productive interactions between the two cultures. The Greek Experience of India explores the various ways that the Greeks reacted to and constructed life in India during this fruitful period.

From observations about botany and mythology to social customs, Richard Stoneman examines the surviving evidence of those who traveled to India. Most particularly, he offers a full and valuable look at Megasthenes, ambassador of the King Seleucus to Chandragupta Maurya, and provides a detailed discussion of Megasthenes’ now-fragmentary book Indica. Stoneman considers the art, literature, and philosophy of the Indo-Greek kingdom and how cultural influences crossed in both directions, with the Greeks introducing their writing, coinage, and sculptural and architectural forms, while Greek craftsmen learned to work with new materials such as ivory and stucco and to probe the ideas of Buddhists and other ascetics.

Relying on an impressively wide variety of sources from the Indian subcontinent, The Greek Experience of India is a masterful account of the encounters between two remarkable civilizations.

On Dating Biblical Texts to the Persian Period

Bautch, Richard J., and Mark Lackowski (eds.) (2019). On Dating Biblical Texts to the Persian Period. Mohr Siebrek Ek.


In the last two decades, increasing numbers of texts have been suggested as coming from or edited during the Persian period, but these discussions do not always reflect extensively on the assumptions used in making these claims or the implications on a broader scale. Earlier generations of scholars found it sufficient to categorize material in the biblical books simply as “late” or “postexilic” without adequately trying to determine when, by whom, and why the material was incorporated into the text at a fixed point in the Persian period. By grappling with these questions, the essays in this volume evince a greater degree of precision vis-a-vis dating and historical context. The authors introduce the designations early Persian, middle Persian, and late Persian in their textual analysis, and collectively they take significant steps toward developing criteria for locating a biblical text within the Persian period.

The Concept of Monument in Achaemenid Empire

Soheil, Mehr Azar. 2019. The concept of monument in Achaemenid Empire. New York: Routledge.

The aim of this book is to explore the significance of the concept of ‘monument’ in the context of the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), with particular reference to the Royal Ensemble of Persepolis, founded by Darius I and built together with his son Xerxes. While Persepolis was built as an ‘intentional monument’, it had already become an ‘historic monument’ during the Achaemenid period. It maintained its symbolic significance in the following centuries even after its destruction by Alexander of Macedonia in 330 BC. The purpose of building Persepolis was to establish a symbol and a common reference for the peoples of the Empire with the Achaemenid Dynasty, transmitting significant messages and values such as peace, stability, grandeur and praise for the dynastic figure of the king as the protector of values and fighting falsehood.
While previous research on Achaemenid heritage has mainly been on archaeological and art-historical aspects of Persepolis, the present work focuses on the architecture and design of Persepolis. It is supported by studies in the fields of archaeology, history and art history, as well as by direct survey of the site. The morphological analysis of Persepolis, including the study of the proportions of the elevations, and the verification of a planning grid for the layout of the entire ensemble demonstrate the univocal will by Darius to plan Persepolis following a precise initial scheme. The study shows how the inscriptions, bas-reliefs and the innovative architectural language together express the symbolism, values and political messages of the Achaemenid Dynasty, exhibiting influence from different lands in a new architectural language and in the plan of the entire site.

Labour in the Achaemenid heartland

Tamerus, Mark. 2018. Labour in the Achaemenid heartland. In Agnès Garcia-Ventura (ed.), What’s in a name? Terminology related to the work force and job categories in the ancient Near East, 467-493,
Münster: Ugarit Verlag .

This contribution is concerned with labour in the heartland of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (from the end of the sixth until the mid-fifth century BC). Drawing on earlier studies that have touched upon aspects of the organisation and management of labour in the imperial core, special focus is laid upon the diachronic and synchronic contexts of Persepolitan labour and labourers.

Art History and Achaemenid History

Bull’s head on the northern portico of the Throne Hall of Xerxes (5th century BC), Persepolis, Iran

Draycott, Catherine. 2019. Art History and Achaemenid History: or, what you can get out of the back end of a bull. In C. M. Draycott, R. Raja, K. Welch, and W. Wootton (eds.), Visual Histories of the Classical World. Essays in Honour of R.R.R. Smith , 16-33, Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.


In a recent review of a book entitled Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art, Daniel T. Potts raises the question of whether, regardless of the fact that one can speak of a discipline of Ancient Near Eastern Art History, one should.  He explains that he is not concerned with denying the necessity of studying art or imagery as a part of Ancient Near Eastern History, but that it is insufficient for ‘a deep understanding of the ancient Near East’.  This worry picks up an ongoing tension between ‘ancient historians’ and ‘art historians’ (or archaeologists who work with imagery) that seemingly survives the pictorial turn and the use of ‘visual culture’ as a term emphasizing the whole visual sphere as historical source material, and revolves around the extent to which the ‘larger historical picture’ is sufficiently seen as an end goal. As Potts notes, dress and ornamentation, the ‘wigs, powder, perfume and silk’ of the French Revolution period, for example, can be considered epiphenomena.  On the other hand, ‘Warfare, fiercely contested battles for hegemony and struggles over access to irrigation water and arable land all formed part of the crucible in which Early Dynastic society and its hyper-competitive city state system were forged.’  Serious stuff, not to mention masculine, giving one pause to consider in the context of this book how the fate and trajectory of ‘art history’ within various sub-disciplines might depend on historically gendered scholarship cultures….

Xerxes and Babylonia

Waerzeggers , Caroline (ed.). 2018. Xerxes and Babylonia: The Cuneiform Evidence. Leuven: Peeters.


In the summer of 484 BCE Babylonia revolted against Xerxes, king of Persia. In recent years, a debate has crystallized around the nature of Xerxes’ response to this challenge. This volume continues and expands this debate. It collects nine essays on the cuneiform text corpus dated to the period before, during and after the revolts. This material enables the authors to evaluate the nature of Xerxes’ policies in the sphere of society, science, religion, law, administration and economy against the long-term history of the region. The contributions are by Paul-Alain Beaulieu, Johannes Hackl, Michael Jursa, Karlheinz Kessler, Mathieu Ossendrijver, Reinhard Pirngruber, Malgorzata Sandowicz and Caroline Waerzeggers.

The Monumental Reliefs of the Elamite Highlands

Javier Álvarez-Mon. 2019. The Monumental Reliefs of the Elamite Highlands: A Complete Inventory and Analysis (from the Seventeenth to the Sixth Century BC). Eisenbrauns.


The Monumental Reliefs of the Elamite Highlands documents and analyzes for the first time a corpus of eighteen monumental highland reliefs from the Elamite civilization in ancient Iran, which—hitherto preserved by their remote location and anonymous existence—have recently become imperiled by an influx of tourists and the development of the surrounding landscapes. With this book, Javier Álvarez-Mon aims to safeguard this important part of Iran’s cultural heritage.
The eighteen reliefs presented in this volume are spread across the valley of Izeh/Malamir (Xong-e Azdhar, Shah Savar, Shekaft-e Salman, and Kul-e Farah), the Ghale Tol plain (Qal-e Tul), the Mamasani Fahliyan river region (Kurangun), and the Marvdasht plain (Naqsh-e Rustam). In his analysis of these reliefs, Álvarez-Mon draws from the complementary disciplines of art history and archaeology, giving equal weight to the archaeological context of these artifacts and traditional methods of artistic analysis in order to determine the nature and significance of each artifact’s form and theme. At the same time, the book’s dual emphases on ritual-religious and aesthetic-ecological phenomena respond to the contemporary challenges of the dissociation of human existence from nature and the commodification of the environment on an unsustainable scale, presenting the preservation of this remarkable corpus of monumental art as a matter of urgency.


Richly illustrated with hundreds of color photographs and line drawings, The Monumental Reliefs of the Elamite Highlands is sure to become an invaluable reference to scholars who study the Elamite and other ancient civilizations.

Interpreting Herodotus

Harrison, Thomas & Elizabeth Irwin (eds.). 2018. Interpreting Herodotus. Oxford University Press.

Charles W. Fornara’s Herodotus. An Interpretative Essay (1971) was a landmark publication in the study of Herodotus. It is well known in particular for its main thesis that the Histories should be read against the background of the Atheno-Peloponnesian Wars during which Herodotus wrote. However, it also includes penetrating discussion of other issues: the relative unity of Herodotus’ work; the relationship between Herodotus’ ethnographies and his historical narrative; and the themes and motifs that criss-cross the Histories, how ‘history became moral and Herodotus didactic’. Interpreting Herodotus brings together a team of leading Herodotean scholars to look afresh at the themes of Fornara’s Essay, in the light of the explosion of scholarship on the Histories in the intervening years. What does it mean to talk of the unity of the Histories, or Herodotus’ ‘moral’ purpose? How can we reconstruct the context in which the Histories were written and published? And in what sense might the Histories constitute a ‘warning’ for his own, or for subsequent, generations?

Alexander the Great From His Death to the Present Day

Boardman, John. 2019. Alexander the Great From His Death to the Present Day. Princeton University Press.


John Boardman is one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Greece, and his acclaimed books command a broad readership. In this book, he looks beyond the life of Alexander the Great in order to examine the astonishing range of Alexanders created by generations of authors, historians, and artists throughout the world—from Scotland to China.

Alexander’s defeat of the Persian Empire in 331 BC captured the popular imagination, inspiring an endless series of stories and representations that emerged shortly after his death and continues today. An art historian and archaeologist, Boardman draws on his deep knowledge of Alexander and the ancient world to reflect on the most interesting and emblematic depictions of this towering historical figure.

Some of the stories in this book relate to historical events associated with Alexander’s military career and some to the fantasy that has been woven around him, and Boardman relates each with his customary verve and erudition. From Alexander’s biographers in ancient Greece to the illustrated Alexander “Romances” of the Middle Ages to operas, films, and even modern cartoons, this generously illustrated volume takes readers on a fascinating cultural journey as it delivers a perfect pairing of subject and author.