You are here

L’archive des Fortifications de Persépolis: État des questions et perspectives de recherches. Actes du colloque organisé au Collége de France, 3–4 novembre 2006

L’archive des Fortifications de Persépolis: État des questions et perspectives de recherches. Actes du colloque organisé au Collége de France, 3–4 novembre 2006

Edited by Pierre Briant, Wouter F.M. Henkelman, and Matthew W. Stolper (Persika 12). Pp. 574, figs. 126, pls. 11, charts 8, tables 28, plans 2, map 1. De Boccard, Paris 2008. €117. ISBN 978-7018-0249-7 (paper).

Reviewed by

This volume presents the proceedings of a colloquium on the Persepolis Fortification Archive, which was discovered in September 1933 and subsequently excavated under the direction of Ernst Herzfeld. A necessary prerequisite for meaningful engagement with this discovery is establishing the scope of the archive. In the past, there have been different estimates. Jones and Stolper argue in their contribution for a total of 20,000–25,000 tablets and tablet fragments, which may represent between 15,000 and 18,000 original documents (37–44).

The clay tablets can be subdivided into three main categories: Elamite cuneiform tablets, tablets with Aramaic alphabetic script, and uninscribed tablets. The first are at the center of a project that Garrison and Root have pursued for years and that has as its primary goal the publication of 1,162—at latest count—legible seals from the 2,087 tablets once translated by Hallock (already published by M.B. Garrison and M.C. Root, Seals on the Persepolis Fortification Tablets. Vol. 1, Images of Heroic Encounter. OIP 117 [Chicago 2001]). The tablets as a whole offer “one of the largest collections of visual imagery from the ancient world” (M.B. Garrison, “Achaemenid Iconography as Evidenced by Glyptic Art,” in C. Uehlinger, ed., Images as Media. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 175 [Freiburg and Göttingen 2000] 125). Root rightly emphasizes, in her contribution, that within administrative interaction, the seal images were far more important than the seal inscriptions, as can be learned, among other things, from the way inscribed seals are commonly applied.

With regard to the second group, the Aramaic tablets, Azzoni and Dusinberre report on the current state of research. Azzoni critically acknowledges the philological achievements of Bowman in particular, who has left behind a manuscript that she will revise and publish. Dusinberre offers observations about sealing practices on the Aramaic tablets. Both enterprises are still in their beginning stages and could benefit from the problematizations, systematizations, and results already formulated by Garrison, Henkelman, Root, and Stolper with reference to the Elamite tablets.

Garrison devotes himself to the third group, the uninscribed tablets. This is a largely independent assemblage, where only occasionally can seal impressions be found that figure also on the Elamite tablets. As a rule, these overlaps concern the seals of suppliers, which leads to the assumptions that the uninscribed tablets relate to allotments of certain products or allotments within certain regions and that the authorities responsible for these transactions were not the same as those who stood behind the Elamite texts.

In view of the surprisingly large number of uninscribed tablets—according to the estimates, 4,000 or more—Garrison and Root elsewhere came to the conclusion that “the archival system itself was not logocentric” (Garrison and Root [2001] 3). This pointed statement is a reminder to always treat all elements of the archive, texts, and seal impressions as part of a whole, because only together do they allow us to understand the archive in its complexity (28). Only this approach makes it possible to take advantage of the condition of the fortification archive, an assemblage coming from a closed context, excavated under controlled conditions, and—so far—not scattered. It is, as Kuhrt notes in her concluding observations, the most important source for our understanding of how the Achaemenid empire functioned.

How much the documentary value of the archive points beyond mere administrative occurrences and how far it exceeds the sum of all documented administrative processes is made clear by contributions that deal with or touch on the numerous areas that can be further illuminated by careful scrutiny. For example, Tavernier tries to trace the documentation process from initial order to written result and thereby sheds light on how the administration attempted to meet the challenges of multilingualism, of which we have both direct and indirect evidence.

Henkelman discusses in his contribution the possibilities the evidence holds for the establishment of a relative topography. For example, in the Elamite texts, the toponyms Tamukkan and Kaupirriš occur; they are probably equivalent to the place names Taoke and Gabai found in classical sources. Together with other locations, these now create orientation points for the geographic placement of more toponyms. A critical view on the feasibility of such approaches is presented by Potts, in which he points especially to the incompatibility of older results achieved by similar means (cf. H. Koch, “Die achämenidische Poststraße von Persepolis nach Susa,” AMIran 19 [1986] 133–47; A. Arfa’i, “La grande route Persépolis–Suse: Une lecture des tablettes provenant des Fortifications de Persépolis,” Topoi 9 [1999] 33–45). The problem should, however, be possible to overcome with appropriately judicious procedures. Tuplin brings out further aspects on which the tablets shed light, among them information on the roles of women and on the location and maintenance of graves of rulers and important persons.

Associated with the treatises on the archive are contributions by Rougemont, Radner, Jursa, Jankovic, Joannès, and Chauveau dealing with Mycenaean, Neo-Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian archives, as well as with an Achaemenid-period archive from Egypt. The value of these contributions lies not only in the comparative possibilities but also in that they demonstrate the limits of comparability, and therefore the unique character of the Persepolis Fortification Archive (567 [Kuhrt]).

Several chapters address the question of the status of the archive at the end of its period of use. Razmjou understands the Persepolis Fortification Archive, the Persepolis Treasury Archive, and even the find of 60 clay bullae (discovered in a vessel in the fortification wall on the Kuh-i Ramat) as components of a central office, evacuated in the course of building operations. This seems unconvincing, however, in view of the distinctiveness of the three assemblages with regard to the types of documents and their chronological settings. Henkelman elsewhere has proposed that with the fortification archive, we have an “inactive” archive in which the processing of accumulated documents, for some reason, ceased happening (The Other Gods Who Are. Achaemenid History 14 [Leiden 2008] 172–77). Tuplin, however, objects that in this case it might be assumed that the largest concentration of unprocessed documents—in particular, those of the Memorandum type—should come from the latest phase of the archive, but in fact this is not the case. Alternative explanations are that normal archiving ended, that documents were continuously issued but not incorporated into this archive, or that the documents were written on another material (324–25).

The present volume belongs to a line of outstanding colloquia held in recent years at the Collège de France dealing with central historical and archaeological themes of the Achaemenid and immediately succeeding periods. This archive, discovered more than 70 years ago, is only now beginning to influence and (partly) revolutionize research on the Achaemenid period to the degree that accords with the complexity of its content and the existing interpretive possibilities. Together with the brilliant treatise by Henkelman (2008), this volume fulfills in an excellent way the objective formulated in the introduction, namely “to establish a baseline for ongoing studies” (22).

Bruno Jacobs
Department of Ancient Studies
University of Basel
4051 Basel

Book Review of Larchive des Fortifications de Persépolis: État des questions et perspectives de recherches, edited by Pierre Briant, Wouter F.M. Henkelman, and Matthew W. Stolper

Reviewed by Bruno Jacobs

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 4 (October 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1144.Jacobs

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.