The Legacy of the Ancient Kings

The Legacy of the Ancient Kings. Ctesiphon and the Persian Sources of Islamic Art

15.11.2016 to 02.04.2017
Pergamonmuseum

How did Islamic cultures and Islamic art arise? Where do their roots lie? Like the Islamic religion itself, Islamic art also built on its predecessors in the Middle East. Focussing on Ctesiphon, a vast landscape of ruins south of Baghdad, this exhibition is devoted to the Persian legacy inherited by Islam.

Dominated by the monumental vaulted hall of the royal palace, the Taq-e Kesra, the city today is an emblem of the grandeur and downfall of the mighty Sassanid empire, a great power in ancient Persia about which little is known today. For centuries it competed with Rome and Byzantium. In the 7th century CE, however, the conquests by the Arab armies fundamentally changed the political balance of power. Culturally, too, a transformation took place ā€“ “Islamic art” was born. But had everything really changed?

The exhibition shows that the existing culture did not simply disappear and that the new culture did not arise out of nothing. Starting with a panoramic view of the world around 600 CE, it introduces a multi-cultural cultural landscape and illustrates how old techniques, ideas and motifs lived on. Many things were adopted to serve as the basis for new innovations ā€“ while others disappeared into the darkness of history. The exhibition also invites the visitor to consider the purely practical problems of researching the past. How can cultural change be identified from archaeological objects? What difficulties do archaeologists encounter when trying to reconstruct the past and what new opportunities are there for us today? Belonging, as they do, to a cultural legacy shared between Iraq and Iran and a cultural heritage currently under threat, and bearing witness to the birth of Islamic culture, the objects on display raise concrete questions for the present day.