Olive cultivation in the heart of the Persian Achaemenid Empire

Djamali, Morteza, Matthew D. Jones, Jérémy Migliore, Silvia Balatti, Marianela Fader, Daniel Contreras, Sébastien Gondet, Zahra Hosseini, Hamid Lahijani, Abdolmajid Naderi, Lyudmila S. Shumilovskikh, Margareta Tengberg & Lloyd Weeks. 2015. Olive cultivation in the heart of the Persian Achaemenid Empire: New insights into agricultural practices and environmental changes reflected in a late Holocene pollen record from Lake Parishan, SW Iran. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (August 2015), 1–15.

This is an Online First Article and has not been assigned to an issue of the journal.

Ancient Persia witnessed one of its most prosperous cultural and socio-economic periods between 550 bc and ad 651, with the successive domination of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian Empires. During this period agricultural activities increased on the Iranian plateau, as demonstrated by a remarkable arboricultural expansion. However, available data are not very informative about the spatial organization of agricultural practices. The possible links between climate conditions and agricultural activities during this millennium of continuous imperial domination are also unclear, due to the lack of parallel human-independent palaeoclimatic proxies. This study presents a new late Holocene pollen-based vegetation record from Lake Parishan, SW Iran. This record provides invaluable information regarding anthropogenic activities before, during and after the empires and sheds light on (i) spatial patterning in agricultural activities and (ii) possible climate impacts on agro-sylvo-pastoral practices during this period. Results of this study indicate that arboriculture was the most prominent form of agricultural activity in SW Iran especially during the Achaemenid, Seleucid and Parthian periods. Contrary to the information provided by some Greco-Roman written sources, the record from Lake Parishan shows that olive cultivation was practiced during Achaemenid and Seleucid times, when olive cultivation was significant, at least in this basin located close to the capital area of the Achaemenid Empire. In addition, pollen from aquatic vegetation suggests that the period of the latter centuries of the first millennium bc was characterized by a higher lake level, which might have favoured cultural and socio-economic prosperity.

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