Tag Archives: Empires

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.

Empires of Ancient Eurasia

Benjamin, Craig. 2018. Empires of ancient Eurasia: The first Silk Roads era, 100 BCE – 250 CE (New Approaches to Asian History). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Silk Roads are the symbol of the interconnectedness of ancient Eurasian civilizations. Using challenging land and maritime routes, merchants and adventurers, diplomats and missionaries, sailors and soldiers, and camels, horses and ships, carried their commodities, ideas, languages and pathogens enormous distances across Eurasia. The result was an underlying unity that traveled the length of the routes, and which is preserved to this day, expressed in common technologies, artistic styles, cultures and religions, and even disease and immunity patterns. In words and images, Craig Benjamin explores the processes that allowed for the comingling of so many goods, ideas, and diseases around a geographical hub deep in central Eurasia. He argues that the first Silk Roads era was the catalyst for an extraordinary increase in the complexity of human relationships and collective learning, a complexity that helped drive our species inexorably along a path towards modernity.

About the author: Craig Benjamin is Professor of History at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He is the author of several books and numerous chapters and articles on ancient history, including Volume 4 of The Cambridge History of the World (Cambridge, 2015). Craig has filmed programs and courses for the History Channel and The Great Courses. He is a Past President of the World History Association and Vice President of the International Big History Association.

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:

The Parthians at the margins of the empire

In this issue of L’Histoire, entitled Les mondes d’Alix and dedicated to the graphic novel series Les voyages d’Alix, specialists of antique history explore various aspects relating to the world and time of the novels. The historian Giusto Traina writes on the Parthians.

Traina, Giusto. 2018. Les Parthes aux marges de l’empire. L’Histoire 6. 66–71.

Administration in the Achaemenid Empire

Jacobs, Bruno, Wouter F. M. Henkelman & Matthew W. Stolper (eds.). 2017. Die Verwaltung im Achämenidenreich – Imperiale Muster und Strukturen. Administration in the Achaemenid Empire – Tracing the Imperial Signature. Akten des 6. Internationalen Kolloquiums zum Thema »Vorderasien im Spannungsfeld klassischer und altorientalischer Überlieferungen« aus Anlass der 80-Jahr-Feier der Entdeckung des Festungsarchivs von Persepolis,. Landgut Castelen bei Basel, 14.-17. Mai 20. (Classica et Orientalia 17). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
In recent decades, a number of local archives and other primary sources for the history of the Achaemenid empire have been made available for the first time, or have received new treatment. Foremost among these are the Persepolis Fortification archive and the correspondence between the satraps of Bactria and Egypt and their respective staffs. Several contributors to this volume try to analyze the events and transactions documented by these sources in terms of bureaucratic and administrative protocols and to interpret them within an empire-wide network. Recurring patterns reveal a system of administrative hierarchies and structures. Among other things, the Achaemenid administration managed supplying official travelers, assuring regular communication between the empire’s core and the provinces, and it used some of the same methods and institutions to manage supply, assignment and logistics of workers sent from the provinces to do labor service in the center of Persia.
Another approach represented in this volume confronts these primary sources with information about Achaemenid imperial administration in classical sources, the primary material serving both as corrective and as analytical tool. Combined, these complementary approaches lead to a similar assessment: the imperial administration was not characterized by rupture and ad hoc responses to crises but rather by continuity and stability, and these long-term factors were important reasons for the unprecedented scope and endurance of this first world empire.

Arsacids, Romans and Local Elites

Schlude, Jason & Benjamin Rubin (eds.). 2017. Arsacids, Romans and local elites: Cross-cultural interactions of the Parthian Empire. Oxbow Books.

For almost 500 years (247 BCE–224 CE), the Arsacid kings of Parthia ruled over a vast multi-cultural empire, which encompassed much of central Asia and the Near East. The inhabitants of this empire included a complex patchwork of Hellenized Greek-speaking elites, Iranian nobility, and semi-nomadic Asian tribesman, all of whom had their own competing cultural and economic interests. Ruling over such a diverse group of subjects required a strong military and careful diplomacy on the part of the Arsacids, who faced the added challenge of competing with the Roman empire for control of the Near East. This collection of new papers examines the cross-cultural interactions among the Arsacids, Romans, and local elites from a variety of scholarly perspectives. Contributors include experts in the fields of ancient history, archaeology, classics, Near Eastern studies, and art history, all of whom participated in a multi-year panel at the annual conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research between 2012 and 2014. The seven chapters investigate different aspects of war, diplomacy, trade, and artistic production as mechanisms of cross-cultural communication and exchange in the Parthian empire. Arsacids, Romans, and Local Elites will prove significant for those interested in the legacy of Hellenistic and Achaemenid art and ideology in the Parthian empire, the sometimes under-appreciated role of diplomacy in creating and maintaining peace in the ancient Middle East, and the importance of local dynasts in kingdoms like Judaea, Osrhoene, and Hatra in shaping the geopolitical landscape of the Near East, alongside the imperial powerhouses of Rome and Parthia.

Ancient States and Infrastructural Power

Ando, Clifford & Seth Richardson (eds.). 2017. Ancient states and infrastructural power: Europe, Asia, and America (Empire and After). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

While ancient states are often characterized in terms of the powers that they claimed to possess, the contributors to this book argue that they were in fact fundamentally weak, both in the exercise of force outside of war and in the infrastructural and regulatory powers that such force would, in theory, defend. In Ancient States and Infrastructural Power a distinguished group of scholars examines the ways in which early states built their territorial, legal, and political powers before they had the capabilities to enforce them.

The volume brings Greek and Roman historians together with specialists on early Mesopotamia, late antique Persia, ancient China, Visigothic Iberia, and the Inca empire to compare various models of state power across regional and disciplinary divisions. How did the polis become the body that regulates property rights? Why did Chinese and Persian states maintain aristocracies that sometimes challenged their autocracies? How did Babylon and Rome promote the state as the custodian of moral goods? In worlds without clear borders, how did societies from Rome to Byzantium come to share legal and social identities rooted in concepts of territory? From the Inca empire to Visigothic Iberia, why did tributary practices reinforce territorial ideas about membership?

Source: Ancient States and Infrastructural Power | Clifford Ando, Seth Richardson

King of the Seven Climes

Daryaee, Touraj (ed.). 2017. King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE – 651 CE). UCI Jordan Center for Persian Studies.

 

In a Middle Persian text known as “Khusro and the Page,” one of the most famous kings of the ancient Iranian world, Khusro I Anusheruwan, is called haft kišwar xawadāy “the King of the Seven Climes.” This title harkens back to at least the Achaemenid period when it was in fact used, and even further back to a Zoroastrian/Avestan world view. From the earliest Iranian hymns, those of the Gāthās of Zarathushtra, through the Younger Avesta and later Pahlavi writings, it is known that the ancient Iranians divided the world into seven climes or regions. Indeed, at some point there was even an aspiration that this world should be ruled by a single king. Consequently, the title of the King of the Seven Climes, used by Khusro I in the sixth century CE, suggests the most ambitious imperial vision that one would find in the literary tradition of the ancient Iranian world. Taking this as a point of departure, the present book aims to be a survey of the dynasties and rulers who thought of going beyond their own surroundings to forge larger polities within the Iranian realm.

Thus far, in similar discussions of ancient Iranian history, it has been the convention to set the beginnings of a specifically Iranian world at the rise of Cyrus the Great and the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire. But in fact, this notion is only a recent paradigm, which became popular in Iran in the late 1960s owing to traditions of Classical and European historiography. At the same time, there are other narratives that can be given for the history of the Iranian World, including those that take us to 5000 BCE to sites such as Sialk, near Kashan, or other similar archaeological localities. As attractive as an archaeologically based narrative of local powers can be, however, the aim of the present work is to focus on political entities who aimed at the control of a larger domain beyond their own local contexts. As a result, this book starts its narrative with Elam, the influential civilization and kingdom that existed long before the Achaemenids came to power. Elam boasted a writing system and a complex culture and political organization contemporaneous with that of Mesopotamia, and was made up of cities such as Susa and Anshan. As Kamyar Abdi shows in his chapter, the Iranian civilization owes much to the Elamites and their worldview and conception of rulership. Thus, we do not start the present narrative with 550 BCE and Cyrus, but with 3000 BCE, in the proto-Elamite Period, when signs of a long lasting civilization on the Iranian Plateau first appeared.

Table of Contents: