The Iranian Empire emerged in the third century in the interstices of the Silk Road that increasingly linked the markets of the Mediterranean and the Near East with South, Central, and East Asia. The ensuing four centuries of Iranian rule corresponded with the heyday of trans-Eurasian trade, as the demand of moneyed imperial elites across the continent for one another’s high-value commodities stimulated the development of long-distance networks. Despite its position at the nexus of trans-continental and trans-oceanic commerce, accounts of Iran in late antiquity relegate trade to a marginal role in its political economy. The present article seeks to foreground the contribution of trans-continental mercantile networks to the formation of Iran and to argue that its development depended as much on the political economies of its western and eastern neighbours as on internal Near Eastern factors.
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.
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?
The empires of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean invented cosmopolitan politics. In the first millennia BCE and CE, a succession of territorially extensive states incorporated populations of unprecedented cultural diversity. Cosmopolitanism and Empire traces the development of cultural techniques through which empires managed difference in order to establish effective, enduring regimes of domination. It focuses on the relations of imperial elites with culturally distinct local elites, offering a comparative perspective on the varying depth and modalities of elite integration in five empires of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. If cosmopolitanism has normally been studied apart from the imperial context, the essays gathered here show that theories and practices that enabled ruling elites to transcend cultural particularities were indispensable for the establishment and maintenance of trans-regional and trans-cultural political orders. As the first cosmopolitans, imperial elites regarded ruling over culturally disparate populations as their vocation, and their capacity to establish normative frameworks across cultural boundaries played a vital role in the consolidation of their power. Together with an introductory chapter which offers a theory and history of the relationship between empire and cosmopolitanism, the volume includes case studies of Assyrian, Seleukid, Ptolemaic, Roman, and Iranian empires that analyze encounters between ruling classes and their subordinates in the domains of language and literature, religion, and the social imaginary. The contributions combine to illustrate the dilemmas of difference that imperial elites confronted as well as their strategies for resolving the cultural contradictions that their regimes precipitated.
Panelists: Touraj Daryaee, University of California, Irvine Hossein Kamaly, Columbia University Ali Mousavi, University of California, Los Angeles Parvaneh Pourshariati, New York City College of Technology (CUNY) & New York University
Moderator: Nayereh Tohidi, Professor and Director of Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, CSUN
A while ago we posted a link about the exhibition The Eye of the Shah: Qajar Court Photography and the Persian Past. We now draw attention to the catalogue of the exhibition, which presents nearly 200 photographs and contributions by Carmen Perez Gonzalez, Bergische Universität Wuppertal; Reza Sheikh, Independent Scholar; and Judith A. Lerner, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.
The catalogue’s essays discuss such topics as the achievements of court photographers in the service of Naser al-Din Shah, including Reza ‘Akkasbashi, ‘Abdollah Mirza Qajar, and Dust Mohammad Khan Mo’ayyer al-Mamalek, and the volume also examines the role of photography in helping Iranians document Iran’s pre-Islamic monuments during the second half of the nineteenth century.
October 22, 2015- January 17, 2016 Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 11am-6pm, Friday 11am-8pm, Closed Monday and Tuesday
The Eye of the Shah: Qajar Court Photography and the Persian Past explores a pivotal time in Iran, when the country was opening itself to the Western world. With over 150 photographic prints, a number of vintage photographic albums, and memorabilia that utilized formal portraiture of the shah, the exhibition shows how photographers—many of them engaged by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848-1896), the longest reigning Shah of the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925)—sought to create a portrait of the country for both foreigners and Iranians themselves. Most of the photographs in the exhibition have never been publicly displayed.
The Eye of the Shah includes unprecedentedphotographs of life in the royal court in Tehran, such as images of the last shahs of the Qajar Dynasty, their wives and children, and court entertainers. These are complemented by photographs of iconic ancient monuments and sites, such as Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, capturing Iran’s expansive and rich historical past, which further promoted Iran and Iranian culture to the West. The photographers depicted the Iran of their day through images of modernization initiatives, such as the military, the railway, and the postal system, while the daily lives of Iranian people was revealed through photographs showing shopkeepers, street vendors, and field workers. Additionally, Eye of the Shah features pieces by two modern-day Iranian photographers, Bahman Jalali (1944-2010) and Shadi Ghadirian (b. 1974), who evoke and sometimes incorporate images of photography from the Qajar Dynasty, illustrating the continuing and powerful influence that Iranian photography of 19th and early 20th century photography has in the country’s contemporary art world.