Staging the Body of the Lord of the Sevenfold World

Canepa, Matthew P. 2023. Staging the Body of the Lord of the Sevenfold World. Methectic Spaces and Chiasmatic Viewing in Sasanian Iran. In Michele Bacci, Gohar Grigoryan & Manuela Studer-Karlen (eds.), Staging the Ruler’s Body in Medieval Cultures: A Comparative Perspective, 25–51. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

This chapter explores the visibility and materiality of the body of the sovereign as a technology of power in Sasanian Iran. Through analysis of a broad array of objects, structures, and landscapes that the royal image inflected, including the living king himself, it approaches the king’s body as both a perceptible and conceptual phenomenon that manifested not only corporeally but also through a continuum of visual, material, spatial, and environmental contexts. These range from the interior spaces of palaces to the very landscape of the Iranian Plateau. The Sasanian king’s audience halls and thrones were legendary in the late antique world, and their memory lingered in medieval European and Islamic ecumenes long after the fall of the empire. Appropriately, the theatrical staging of the king’s body in audience halls and on thrones will be an important focus, as will the attendant architectural, ceremonial, and technological supports, which were deployed to shape and augment the experience of the sovereign’s sacred presence. Moreover, we will consider the role of portable objects – such as textiles, precious-metal vessels, as well as mass media like seals and coinage – in bringing the image of the king before the eyes of his power bases and his populace. Our goal, therefore, is not simply to re-examine the evidence of such phenomena but to reconstruct a broader visuality of power centred on the king’s image.

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