Tag Archives: Achaemenid

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.

Alphabet scribes in the land of cuneiform

Bloch, Yigal. 2018. Alphabet scribes in the land of cuneiform: sepiru professionals in Mesopotamia in the neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods (Gorgias Studies in the Ancient Near East 11). Piscataway, NJ, USA: Gorgias Press.
This book discusses the alphabetic scribes (sēpiru) mentioned in Mesopotamian documents of the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods – specifically, of the 6th-5th centuries bce. The period in question saw a wide diffusion of writing in the Northwest Semitic alphabetic script – mostly in Aramaic – in Mesopotamia; yet, alphabetic texts were normally written in ink on perishable materials and did not survive to be discovered by modern archaeologists. In contrast, cuneiform tablets written on clay have been found in large numbers, and they document different aspects of the alphabetic scribes’ activities. This book presents evidence for understanding the Akkadian term sēpiru as a designation for an alphabetic scribe and discusses the functions of these professionals in different administrative and economic spheres. It further considers the question of the ethnic origins of the alphabetic scribes in Mesopotamia, with special attention to the participation of Judeans in Babylonia in this profession. Bloch also provides translations of over 100 cuneiform documents of economic, legal and administrative content.

Revisiting the Location of Pṛga in the Behistun Inscription

Doroodi, Mojtaba & Farrokh Hajiani. 2018. Revisiting the location of Pṛga in the Behistun inscription on the basis of its etymology and an examination of historico-geographical texts. The Journal of Indo-European Studies 46 (3-4), 265–289.

A multitude of geographical names are referred to in the Behistun Inscription. Despite the fact that scholars have put considerable effort in locating the current sites of many of these places, there is a shroud of mystery hanging over some. A mountain called Parga, the battlefield of King Darius with Vahyazdāta, is one of them. Some researchers have identified it with Forg District which seems to be an erroneous assumption. This study, while convincingly refuting the aforementioned assumption, tries to propound and prove a new idea as regards the whereabouts of Prga. In reaching this goal, the authors have benefited from etymological and historical evidence and have examined the original inscription in Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian, and Aramaic. The results of this study indicate that what is now called Shahrak-e Abarj in the Marvdasht Plain could be the real location of Prga referred to in the Behistun Inscription.

The Worst Revolt of the Bisitun Crisis

Wijnsma, Uzume. 2018. The worst revolt of the Bisitun crisis: A chronological reconstruction of the Egyptian revolt under Petubastis IVJournal of Near Eastern Studies 77 (2), 157–173.

Achaemenid Seal and Monumental Art

Drawing of a lenticular seal from Tomb 33, Prosymna. Athens (after Sakellarakis 1982, no. 27)

The recent volume Friedhelm Pedde & Nathanael Shelley (eds.), Assyromania and More. In Memory of Samuel M. Paley (Marru. Studien Zur Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 4), . Münster: Zaphon. contains two chapters of hight interest for Iranian and Achaemenid Studies:

Literacy and Orality in Achaemenid Iran

Kolb, Anne (ed.). 2018. Literacy in ancient everyday life. Berlin ; Boston: Walter de Gruyter.
The purpose of the conference proceedings is to investigate the importance of literacy in the daily lives of ancient people. In addition to the intended utilization of writing and written material, the circumstances of usage as well as various types of users are the focus of the analyzes. The concept of a diversified literacy of different levels of literacy, literacy and numeracy makes it possible to differentiate the usage of everyday writing according to types or categories of uses and to recognize different functions of literacy.
Two chapters from the first part are of special interests for Iranian and Achaemenian Studies:
The contribution aims at pointing out the impact of language(s) and writing system(s), not least of Elamite, Old Persian and Aramaic, in Teispid-Achaemenid Iran in the context of royal pronouncements and administration, and at putting them in relation to those of the neighbouring cultures. In this context, it is also trying to find out which forms of language acquisition and communication can be proven and whether there has been such a thing as a Persian language policy. On the other hand, the fact that Iran has seen decidingly oral cultures up to Late Antiquity and even beyond, apart from the official contexts, raises the question of the media of communication and the afterlife of Teispids and Achaemenids in Iran’s ‘historical’ traditions.
The article examines the place of female literacy within general everyday literacy in the Achaemenid period. Whereas the Achaemenid heartland lacks of sources written by women, we have abundant private correspondence from the other satrapies of the empire (Babylonia, Egypt, Bactria etc.). Therefore the lacuna from the Persis-region is not coincidental but resulting from the specific social structure of the empire with its dominant hegemonic manliness. This prevented a wider spread of literacy and the Achaemenid heartland remained an orally dominated culture with a functional literacy limited to the elite and higher levels of society.

War and peace in the Iranian world

Jullien, Florence (ed.). 2018. Guerre et paix dans le monde iranien: revisiter les lieux de rencontre (Cahiers de Studia Iranica, 62). Peeters.

Ce volume est le fruit du programme de recherche «Guerre et paix en monde iranien. Revisiter les lieux de rencontre» (2015-2017) de l’Unité Mixte de Recherche “Mondes iranien et indien” et de conférences données dans le cadre d’un atelier lors du deuxième congrès du Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique “Moyen-Orient et Mondes musulmans” (juillet 2017).

Table of contents:

  • Wouter F. M. HENKELMAN: Precarious gifts: Achaemenid estates and domains in times of war and peace
  • Christelle JULLIEN: La piété du Perse “barbare”. Modélisations chrétiennes en milieu sassanide
  • Maria SZUPPE: Les “Nôtres” et les “Autres” dans la conquête qezelbāsh du Khorāsān : propagande et Realpolitik dans l’État safavide naissant
  • Rika GYSELEN: Une cohésion culturelle par l’image ? Le concept air-terre-eau chez les artistes sassanides
  • Johnny CHEUNG: Maintenir la paix religieuse entre les membres musulmans et yézidis des tribus kurdes
  • Florence HELLOT-BELLIER: Violence et solidarités en Azerbaïdjan iranien avant et pendant la première guerre mondiale
  • Anne-Sophie VIVIER-MURESAN: Sanctuaires “partagés” : lieux de tensions ou de rencontres ?
  • Florence JULLIEN: Des chrétiens engagés pour la paix entre la Perse et Byzance. L’ambassade du catholicos Īšōʿyahb de Gdala
  • Denis V. VOLKOV: War and Peace in the Other and the Self: Iran through the eyes of Russian spies. The case of Konstantin Smirnov (1877-1938) and Leonid Shebarshin (1935-2012)
  • Jean-Pierre DIGARD: Meurtre, répression et réparation en milieu tribal iranien (Bakhtyâri, 1973-1974)

Dependent Labor and Status in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods

Kleber, Kristin. 2018. Dependent Labor and Status in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods. In Agnès Garcia-Ventura (ed.), What’s in a name? Terminology related to work force and job categories in the ancient Near East, 441-465, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

The article gives an overview of terms for workers, servile dependents and juridical statuses in Babylonia in the first millennium BC with a focus on the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods (ca. 620 – 330 BC).