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Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran: Cross Cultural Encounters. 1st International Conference, Athens, 11–13 November 2006

July 2010 (114.3)

Book Review

Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran: Cross Cultural Encounters. 1st International Conference, Athens, 11–13 November 2006

Edited by Seyed Mohammad Reza Darbandi and Antigoni Zournatzi. Pp. xxix + 377, b&w figs. 42, color figs. 120, maps 12. National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens 2008. Price not available. ISBN 978-960-930955-4 (paper).

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This book publishes 24 essays (one in abstract), all but one of which were presented at a conference held in Athens in November 2006. While the topic of Greek-Persian interactions/relations is one of long-standing interest in ancient Greek cultural studies, this conference is the first, as noted by many of the dignitaries in the opening remarks, to have been organized by representatives of the modern nation-states of Greece and Iran.

The editors state in their introduction that the focus of this conference was the peaceful relations between ancient Greece and Iran, not the martial ones, and how those relations brought about cross-fertilization between the two cultures. The introduction does not contain an overview of the precise intellectual framework that was given to the authors, nor does it explain how exactly the essays included in this volume relate to the topic or to one another. The essays are not arranged into sections, but there does appear to have been some attempt to group essays according to theme and/or source material.

Given the wealth of topics that could fall under the rubric of relations between ancient Greece and Iran, and the broad time span involved, it is perhaps no surprise that these papers cover an immensely broad spectrum of themes, artifacts, imagery, and chronological periods. The review that follows makes no attempt to grapple with the myriad issues and perspectives raised in these essays or to provide critique of specific interpretations.

The most common approach in the essays is the identification of “Iranica” in Greek culture. (Greece is defined generally by the borders of the modern nation-state.) A few papers do expand beyond these geographic borders: Ivantchik deals with Greek epigraphic data from the Greek colony of Tanais in the Cimmerian Bosporus; Zournatzi discusses material remains from Cyprus; Triantafyllidis surveys Iranica from the island of Rhodes; Lintz and Summerer are concerned with Greek Anatolia. Several essays address Greek artifacts and/or Greek-influenced artifacts (what I shall call “Hellenica”) in Iran: Azarnoush discusses some of the sculptural finds from Sasanian Ha-jı-a-ba-d; Stronach and Talebian write on Pasargadae (the latter author also writes on Persepolis); Root discusses the reliefs on the Apadana; Palagia reviews the famous marble statue known as the Mourning Penelope from Persepolis; Rahbar presents some Hellenica discovered in recent excavation and survey conducted at a variety of sites in Iran.

The authors generally pursue the identification of Iranica and Hellenica by focusing on analyses of specific texts or specific material culture. Tracy discusses what he sees as the generally sympathetic representation of Persians in Aeschylus’ Persians and Trojans in Homer’s Iliad. Herodotus, of course, figures prominent­ly in many essays: Petropoulou mines Herodotus’ description of the death and mourning of the Persian cavalry commander Masistios for insights on Persian death customs, and Weiskopf reads Herodotus’ account (6.42–43) of Artaphernes and Mardonius in Ionia as an example of imperial nostalgia, “a favorable recollection of previous imperial administrators [the Achaemenids] summoned up by the misdeeds of present rulers [the Athenians]” (83). Tsantsanoglou attempts to contextualize the magi mentioned in the much-discussed Derveni papyrus, arguing that the references are to actual Iranian magi and are not simply a pejorative use of the term, and that the text is evidence for “common possessions inside a Near Eastern-Mediterranean koinē” (37).

Both Tuplin and Aperghis approach the subject of continuity in administrative practices between the Achaemenids and the Seleucids, drawing on a wealth of historical accounts and economic documents, but coming to rather different conclusions. Although both scholars take a macrolevel perspective, the two essays manage to skirt each other, for the most part. Both, however, tackle the issue of fiscal administration. Aperghis restates his case for continuity between the two fiscal systems, while Tuplin argues against specific cases of continuity posited in Aperghis’ book The Seleukid Royal Economy (Cambridge 2004). Tuplin is “wary” of suggestions of continuity and wonders “how sensible it was for the Seleucids to maintain or proclaim such continuity in the first place” with regard to Seleucid attempts to rule over the Aegean Greeks (123). Aperghis concludes that the Seleucids “were wise enough to adopt it [Achaemenid administrative practices] in its main elements, modifying it where necessary, thus showing themselves apt pupils of able teachers” (145). A considerable review would be necessary to tackle these two opinions in any detail.

In her contribution, Alinia outlines the history of Sasanian persecution of Christians in the fourth century C.E. Venetis examines the mutual interaction between Late Antique and medieval Greek and Persian literature, stressing the rich research potentials in a long-neglected field of study. Fowden explores the use, adaption, and translation of pseudo-Aristotelian texts in early Islam and the Nachleben of some of those texts in later and contemporary Iran.

A handful of essays focus on artifacts and/or monuments from a single site. Stronach reviews the historical documentation concerning the date for Cyrus’ capture of Sardis and the archaeological evidence for various aspects of monumental construction at Pasargadae. He argues for an extended period of construction at Pasargadae—the whole of the second half of Cyrus’ reign—and thus prefers an early date for the fall of Sardis, ca. 545 B.C.E. Talebian provides a wide-ranging survey of Greek influences on architecture at Pasargadae and Persepolis and describes recent Iranian investigations on the natural and historical settings of both sites. Root, in the second of a series of articles that explore the reception of the imagery on the Apadana by a hypothetical Athenian male ca. 460–350 B.C.E., focuses here on the portrayal of elite Persian manhood and gift-bearers being led by the hand toward the king. While admitting that the hypothetical Athenian might have viewed the reliefs on the Apadana as illustrating his worst fears, she posits some areas where the seemingly radical disjuncture between Persian intent in, and Athenian reception of, the sculptural depiction of manly virtue may have been modulated by human-to-human contact within the “worldly cacophony of a great imperial center” (212).

Palagia tackles the many issues surrounding the Mourning Penelope, a fifth-century Greek marble statue found in the treasury at Persepolis: the original provenance of the statue, how and why it came to be deposited in the treasury at Persepolis, its date, and its relation to Roman copies of the statue type. She posits that two originals of the statue, ca. 450 B.C.E., were commissioned for two separate locations, the Persepolis statue having ultimately been brought to Persepolis as a gift from a Greek city to the king. In her opinion, the marble of the Mourning Penelope is easily recognized as the dolomite marble quarried at Cape Vathy on Thasos. She therefore suggests that the statue originated there and was given as a gift to the Great King (perhaps Artaxerxes II) to curry his favor, and that its primary significance was not its iconography, but its association, via Thasos, with the painter Polygnotos. Summerer provides another update on her research on the remarkable painted beams from the Tartarlı tomb, which she dates to the mid fifth century B.C.E. Her essay reviews the figural decoration on each of the walls and explores some comparanda for the scenes and elements of iconography with an aim toward understanding the significance of the overall figural program in the tomb. She identifies influences from both Anatolian and Persian funerary and figural traditions.

Paspalas poses the question of direct or indirect artistic influences with regard to the “lion griffins” painted on the pediment of a Macedonian tomb of the late fourth century at Hagios Athanasios and the lion griffin depicted on a pebble mosaic of fourth-century date from Sicyon. Azarnoush reviews Sasanian sculptural finds from the site of Ha-jı-a-ba-d, suggesting that Greek influences may be detected in the treatment of drapery and the nudity and proportions of some female figures. Ivantchik’s study of three inscriptions, dating from the second to first centuries B.C.E. from the Greek colony of Tanais in the Cimmerian Bosporus, throws new light on several aspects of the life of the community in the Hellenistic period, including the existence of a dual socioethnic structure (Tanaitai and Hellēnes).

Essays with a broader geographic reach include Zournatzi’s survey of evidence for Iranica on the island of Cyprus. She concludes that while the number of Iranian-inspired objects on the island is relatively small, the objects enable us to glimpse the varied artistic interconnections between the island and the empire and the possible processes involved in those interconnections. Triantafyllidis surveys Iranica from the island of Rhodes, highlighting glasswork and identifying the existence of a “Rhodio-Achaemenid” glass style. Lintz provides a brief survey of her enormous compilation of Iranica in Asia Minor.

A dyad of essays tackle the difficult topic of Achaemenid toreutics, a topic much belabored by problems of provenance and authenticity. Ignatiadou attempts to identify the specific plant types depicted on some of these vessels—opium poppy, water lily (white lotus and blue lotus), and almond—and argues that these plants were sacred to a female Great Goddess (Ishtar-Aphrodite-Anahita-Cybele). They appeared on these vessels because they were “used in religious and ritual practices, such as funerary rituals, rites performed by kings or high priests, or customary banquet libations” (332). Sideris attempts to identify a series of Persianizing toreutic workshops that existed outside of Iran proper.

As mentioned, these essays concern an impressive array of topics covering a large temporal span. One can only imagine the tremendous logistical hurdles that the organizers faced in the planning and execution of this conference. The editors are owed our thanks for bringing this conference, and its published essays, to fruition.

Mark B. Garrison
Department of Art and Art History
Trinity University
San Antonio, Texas 78212

Book Review of Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran: Cross Cultural Encounters. 1st International Conference, Athens, 11–13 November 2006, edited by Seyed Mohammad Reza Darbandi and Antigoni Zournatzi

Reviewed by Mark B. Garrison

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 3 (July 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1143.Garrison

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