The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
IRANIAN ART: ACHAEMENID DYNASTY
The International Achaemenid Style
By: A. Souren Melekian-Chirvani
Iran Under the Achaemenid Dynasty
Achaemenid art is one of those
categories that are taken for granted, with little attention being paid to the
finer nuances. This was understandable as long as the amount of known material
was minimal and the information available regarding its provenance could not be
held to have much significance.
The situation has changed in recent
decades. Even if the wares now on record overwhelmingly originate from the
clandestine digs that devastate the heritage of the past from the western shores
of Anatolia to the easternmost areas of Afghanistan, there is growing evidence
that objects qualifying as Achaemenid on the simple basis of comparison with
material from Achaemenid Iran were widely disseminated within the borders of the
Achaemenid Empire. In particular, so much has tumbled on to the market that came
out of Lydia in western Anatolia and Armenia in the northeastern quarter that
the stated provenance can no longer be dismissed out of hand as "not
The possibility, indeed, the
probability, of local production must be considered as a working hypothesis in a
number of cases. It is plausible to assume that some precious vessels would have
been taken out of Iran by imperial officials to the distant outposts where they
were stationed, or that, in other situations, imperial vessels would have been
sent out from Iran to highly important officials of non-Iranian extraction. It
is equally plausible to posit that there would have been local ateliers here and
there striving to produce straight imitations and that these gradually gave rise
to regional styles with increasingly distinctive characteristics.
Difficulties begin the minute one tries to classify the
available material according to these hypothetical categories. However, caution
is no excuse for continuing to ignore altogether what amounts to a major problem
of cultural history.
The identification of a silver
incense burner closely matched in the rendition of metal models by the sculptors
of the Persepolis bas-reliefs and carrying the name of an Iranian owner, added
in Lydia after completion, provides a starting point for an investigation that
will have to be carried out for decades to come. It is in all probability the
first identifiable case of an object exported from Iran to Lydia.
A quick glance at several vessels
which came out of Anatolia gives an idea of the range of other objects that
justify speculation on their origin, probably Iranian in some cases, probably
local in others, and demonstrably so regarding one or two. Irritating as the
uncertainty may be concerning individual cases, the overall picture that emerges
is that of an International Achaemenid style with regional nuances. At this
stage, investigation of the subject is bound to take the form of questions
rather than answers.
1. An Achaemenid Incense Burner
The incense burner in fig. 1 was on
view at the Metropolitan Museum from 1980 until 1993, when it was returned to
Turkey. From the beginning, it was called "Greek."
A closer look at the facts shows that there is little justification for the
When Dietrich von Bothmer, the
eminent curator now retired from the Department of Greek and Roman Art,
published it in 1980 as part of a supposedly "Greek and Roman
Treasury," he briefly mentioned its resemblance to two incense burners
represented at Persepolis, adding in the same breath that "the same model
much closer to the silver specimens [sic] is painted on a Clazomenian sherd
preserved in Athens.”
Regrettably, the art historian neither illustrates the sherd,nor does he make
any reference to its whereabouts. As it is, the silver incense burner in fig. 1
could hardly be "closer" to the models represented four times in
variants of the same scene at Persepolis, the king enthroned giving audience
(fig. 2; fig. I, right).
The similarity is so obvious that it might inspire doubts concerning the
authenticity of the silver piece, were it not for the appearance of the metal.
The surface displays entirely convincing areas of oxidisation as well as the
kind of minute scratches to be observed on properly excavated material when
examined under a magnifying glass. No questions appear to have been raised by
any of the scholars or collectors who have seen and handled the object.
What first springs to the eye is the structural similarity. A tall stand with tapering incurving walls, that calls to mind the image of a trumpet resting on its mouth, supports a bowl-shaped receptacle topped by a stepped conical cover. Close to the top, below the receptacle, a compressed knop is partly concealed in the bas-relief specimens by a small parasol-like element. There is no such piece on the silver object. Whether this parasol-like fixture is now missing because it was lost, or whether none
was ever supplied is uncertain.
A smaller detail bears out the
general similarity in construction. In the bas-relief models, an oval lug below
the knop, shaped as a duck head pointed downwards, holds a chain that links it
to the top part of the cover. On the silver incense burner, precisely the same
type of lug is seen. It holds the remains of a broken chain
which, when intact, no doubt linked the stand to the top of the cover. This
parallel bears out in passing the fact that the cock perched on the floral
chalice did not originally belong with the object. The projecting chalice would
have clumsily caught the hanging chain.
By contrast with the close
similarity that the silver incense burner bears to the Persepolis
representation, a glance at a recent typological study of a large number of
incense burners on stands by Bernard Goldman is enough to show that the
Persepolis models and the silver incense burner stand apart, in a class of their
own, with marked differences from all the other types recorded so far.
They are variants of one and the same type that may be characterized as the
imperial Achaemenid model.
The similarity in construction is
matched by the similarity in decoration. Precisely the same kind of horizontal
grooving may be seen on the trumpet-shaped stand in the silver object and in its
carved rendition. This device occurs repeatedly in imperial precious metal
vessels of the Achaemenid period. It may be seen on a series of objects
represented at Persepolis. They include wine beakers, wine bowls and buckets.
Some of the most famous vessels long recognized as Iranian display this type of
grooving. They include, among others, the large silver drinking horn with a goat
head from the Seven Brothers' Barrow and a gold bowl with lion-shaped handles
from Siberia, both in the Hermitage, as well as a gold jug from the so-called
Oxus Treasure in the British Museum.
A second ornamental feature is
never found in Greek metalwork. It consists of staggered rows of arrow-shaped
openings, which are quintessentially Iranian.
Their arrangement is the same in the silver object and on the models carved in
the Persepolis relief. In both cases, none appear on the lowest and broadest
step. This follows functional logic. As the silver incense burner shows, the
lowest step is vertical in order to fit the vertical rim of the bowlshaped
receptacle. No openings are required because the rim itself is not pierced.
I have left aside the finial
designed as a cock perched on a floral blossom. At first glance, it would seem
to have been welded to the top part of the cover as a result of the corrosive
process, indicating that it was fitted to it prior to burial. However, it does
not sit well on the stepped cover. The chalice projects well beyond the
flattened top and would have been a slight hindrance when fixing the chain. In
short, it has every appearance of being a later addition which might have been
made when an inscription was summarily incised on the foot in archaic
This inscription, written in the
Lydian language, was the object of an extensive epigraphical and philological
commentary from Roberto Gusmani.
It reads artymalim, "(I) am of Artimas." The distinguished
linguist notes that the letters include "the rare sign Ì,
which we know as a variant for I (i)" and adds: "the dating put
forward for the object (around the second half of the sixth century BCE) would
appear to be borne out from the standpoint of the development of Lydian
writing." Such a conclusion is broadly consistent with the Persepolis
parallel-the Treasury and the Palace of Xerxes, which points to a date some time
in the late sixth or early fifth century BCE
Neither Gusmani nor von Bothmer
find time to specify that the inscription is an addition. It is incised, rather
clumsily, on the splayed foot in an area where no inscription was ever intended
Who was Artimas? Ferdinand Justi
entered the name in his Dictionary of Iranian Names (Iranisches Namenbuch) as
early as 1895, quoting the interpolation found in the Anabasis by Xenophon which
names one Artimas among the apxovieq of Cyrus the Younger, i.e., the satraps or
satraps-in-charge in Anatolia. This would have been around 401-400 BCE
A. D. H. Bivar has convincingly
argued that a seal in the Imperial Achaemenid style inscribed to the name of one
"Artym," the Aramaic form of Greek Artimas, was executed for the man
named Artimas in the Anabasis interpolation.
The seal (now known only from an electrotype of an original that has been lost
sight of since the nineteenth century) bears out the nature of his office. Under
the typical symbol of imperial Achaemenid authority which is cut on the stone,
the inscription is in Aramaic, the chancery language of the Empire. Aramaic was
not used locally either in Lydia or in neighboring Lycia. The symbol of
authority held by Artimas must therefore have been granted from the central seat
of Achaemenid power, leaving little doubt that he held the high office of the
king's deputy, whether as a satrap or a satrap in-charge, in 401-400 BCE
His name is Iranian. Linguists who
held diverging views on the subject no longer doubt this.
The earlier Artimas who had his name incised on the silver incense burner, some
time in the second half of the sixth century BCE, held equally high office. That
is established by the very occurrence of his name on the incense burner, a
utensil used in imperial rites, in the emperor's presence only, if we are to
judge from the visual evidence of the Persepolis bas-reliefs. In all likelihood,
the owner of the incense burner was the ancestor of the Anabasis Artimas (and,
probably, imperial seal holder) and thus the first in a dynastic succession of
satraps of which Harpagos of Xanthos provides a parallel instance.
Whatever the case may be concerning
the family line of Artimas, the inscription of an Iranian name in Lydian on an
incense burner of pure Persepolitan type some time around 500 BCE makes an
import from Iran highly probable. The satrap could have taken it with him to
Lydia, or it could have been dispatched from Iran as an imperial token-we will
never know. The inscription in Lydian was, by definition, intended to identify
the owner to Lydian speakers, suggesting that the silver piece may have been in
the care of court ceremony attendants. If reserved for the satrap's exclusive
use, just as the Persepolis incense burners seem to have been for royal use
only, such an inscription would have answered a practical necessity.
The importance of the silver
incense burner is enhanced by the discovery of a bronze incense burner which
came to the Metropolitan Museum as part of "one of the different East Greek
treasures acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1966 and 1976"
(figs. 4, 5).
Nothing remotely connects the object with Greece. The bronze incense burner
displays, again, typically Iranian features, all consistent with an attribution
to Achaemenid Iran. Together, the two incense burners illustrate the use of
fundamental modules by Achaemenid metalwork designers to produce very
different-looking objects merely by varying the secondary features.
Here, two fundamental modules are
part of the overall construction. They are the squat bowl-shaped receptacle, an
age-old type, and the cover shaped as a stepped circular pyramid truncated at
the top to make way for a finial. The receptacle is riveted and welded to a
short horizontal handle shaped like a pike. The extremity linking it with the
bowl is chamfered, as is the bud finial on top of the cover. Into this handle
fits a very long shaft with ring-like ribbing. The shaft is terminated at the
other end with a calf's head.
For further strengthening, the
horizontal handle is attached through hot soldering to the rounded sides of the
bowl by two short rods ending with duck heads curving back in opposite
directions. Finally, the figure of a leaping calf, turning its head back, joins
the horizontal handle and the stepped cover. Its hind legs fit on either side of
a hinging plate rising from the handle and its front legs are riveted into the
second step of the cover.
The handling of the animal heads is
typical of Achaemenid art. The small calf protome at the end of the shaft has
well-rounded eyeballs delineated by a raised fillet, a standard feature in
Achaemenid animal sculpture.
So, too, is the thick rounded molding over the eye.
Not least, the leaping calf is typically Iranian. This applies to the very idea
of using the figure of an animal raised on its hind legs and turning its head
away from the object to link two sections of it, as is also the case with
Achaemenid vase-like rhyta.
And, as with the protome, the stylization of the calf's head is purely Iranian,
with its eyeballs tending towards a triangular shape delineated by a fillet. The
curving S-like attachments ending with duck heads find their closest parallels
in a gray stone tray from a group of stone objects found in the Persepolis
All these secondary features
independently point to the same conclusion as the use of an identical primary
module for the receptacle. The bronze incense burner is an Achaemenid-style
artefact of Iranian or, possibly, Lydian make. Until proven otherwise, the first
assumption may be retained as the most likely.
This, too, is a piece of utmost
importance. It is an early forerunner of the metal incense burner attached to a
horizontal handle which was later to enjoy considerable fortune in Iran .
One of the two fundamental modules
used for the silver and the bronze incense burner, i.e., the stepped conical
cover cut off at the top, reproduces an age-old architectural form which goes
back to the Elamite ziggurats of southern Iran.
It survived in vernacular architecture as a standard form of icehouse.
2. The Achaemenid Style in Western
Other objects in the "Greek
and Roman Treasury" require a similar reconsideration. They can be
recognized to be Achaemenid in design at a glance.
This applies to a series of small
shallow bowls with diameters ranging between 16 and 17.5 centimeters. Four
standard types are all matched by near-identical specimens which turned up by
the dozen on the Tehran art market throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
A highly distinctive type is decorated with lotus petals in high relief, numbering from six to eleven, pointed towards the center (fig. 6). In the intervals, slender narrow lotus leaves are pointed towards the outside and topped by lotus blossoms. A central boss, which Hellenists like to call an omphalos, is salient inside. In the publication A Greek and Roman Treasury, four bowls of that type are referred to as "the socalled Achaemenian type.” A typical Iranian example which virtually matches a piece in the Metropolitan Museum presented by Walter Hauser in 1937, after returning from Iran, is the unpublished bowl illustrated here in figs. 7, 8. Endless variants concerning the proportions of the lotus blossoms, buds and leaves are in existence. An exhaustive typological classification of this vast body of material has yet to see the light of day. There is no way at present of determining for sure whether the four silver pieces were imported from Iran or made in
Anatolian ateliers in the Achaemenid fashion. But there is no doubt as to the time when they were disseminated throughout the Middle East under Achaemenid political control. As noted by several writers, the general type appears on Achaemenid levels as far afield as Iraq, Syria and Palestine. A revealing case is
that of the cemetery for Iranian
soldiers at Deve-Hoyuk on the Turkish-Syria border where small phialae were the
most common object found in the graves of Iranian soldiers.
There could be no better Iranian signature to the fashion for objects of this
type, nor a clearer indication as to the way in which they first spread-through
Iranians stationed throughout the Empire.
A second type represented by two
variants among the shallow silver bowls in the "Greek and Roman
Treasury" is decorated with narrow radiating grooves lightly impressed,
their rounded extremities emphasized by incised arcs which form a continuous
scalloped line. Inside, the usual small
boss/omphalos in low relief is generally to be seen. Both variants have
appeared, mostly in repousse bronze /copper?/ sheet, in such large numbers on
the Iranian market that to question the Iranian provenance of those would be
A third basic type has a different
profile designed with a continuous curve starting from the central boss. The low
sides rise gently upwards on the outside and are cut off short by a flat rim. In
the central area there is a raised boss larger in diameter and definitely more
salient, framed by a molding from which it is separated by a narrow undecorated
strip. Engraved around the molding are narrow short grooves with rounded
extremities. As with all the others, there are variants to the type concerning
the size of the boss and the decoration, or the lack of it, around it and on it.
The type, represented in the "Greek and Roman Treasury" by a silver
specimen, is described as "the pure Greek shape" by von Bothmer. It actually surfaced a
number of times in the Tehran market with a "Luristan" label attached
to it. An unpublished example (fig. 9) gives an idea of
one of the common variants.
There is some reason for assuming
that a fourth type of shallow wine bowl represented here by a hitherto
unrecorded piece (figs. 10, 11) has the same Anatolian provenance as the
previous types. According to its present
owner, it was acquired in the London trade at the time when pieces from the
"Greek and Roman Treasury" were being negotiated, and it has very much
the same feel in the hand. While neither fact can be accepted as evidence, this
seems too much of a coincidence to be ignored. A single rib which is gilt
isolates the evened lip from the well. There is no decoration on the sides other
than the horizontal fluting. On the underside, a nine-lobed rosette is engraved
A fifth type, often with a small
diameter of opening varying from 8 to 12 centimeters, has a deep, rounded well
curving over the bottom and topped by a broad, short, outcurving neck. It is
represented in the "Greek and Roman Treasury" by a silver specimen
found in Sardis, the Lydian capital, by the American archaeological expedition.
An object of virtually identical profile can be seen on the northern stairway of
the Apadana at Persepolis.
The type is known in light red pottery found in Samarkand, in the northeastern
corner of Achaemenid Iran, and among the bronze vessels that surfaced on the
Tehran market in the 1960s.
It is, yet again, an object in the International Achaemenid styleGreek is
definitely not the word.
A second class of objects in the
so-called "Greek and Roman Treasury" is Achaemenid in appearance. It
includes two small vase-like beakers with fluted bodies topped by tall everted
Body and neck are marked off by a single molding, ribbed in one case, plain in
the other with clusters of parallel incisions. One of the two has a curving
bottom and therefore needed a stand to rest on, as do some Achaemenid vase-rhyta
of similar design excepting the handles and openings which their function
The other, with a narrow flat base, calls for comparison with two vase-rhyta
represented in the Persepolis reliefs (fig. 12)
They have little in common with Greece and owe all their more obvious
characteristics to the art of Achaemenid Iran-the profile, the vertical
grooving, even the types of moldings separating the ovoid body from the tall
everted neck. The four single incisions
on one molding (which could be an addition in any case) are too insignificant to
give the vase-shaped beaker a flavor of its own.
Not least, it should be added that
the idea of small vase-shaped beakers ties in with a long tradition in Iran
known from the hundreds of north and northwestern Iranian pottery types that
await publication. Many distinctly point to metallic prototypes. In order to
illustrate the general point, I reproduce in fig. 13 an unpublished vase-shaped
beaker missing almost half its body broken off vertically. It came to light in
the course of digging in a corner of the Masjed-e Jame` in Qazvin, where I
photographed it by gracious permission of the mosque authorities. Too little is
known about northwestern burnished gray ware to allow more than a guess
regarding its precise date. Without elaborating, I venture to suggest a dating
not later than the seventh to sixth century BCE at the outside.
It is from such a background that
the silver vase-shaped beakers are descended. In short, they certainly belong to
Achaemenid art. But is it Achaemenid art from Iran or Achaemenid art from Lydia?
3. The Case for a Lydian School of
Such a question raises a broader
issue: Was there a Lydian atelier working in the Achaemenid style where part or
even all the vessels discussed so far might have been produced? The conditions
for creating gold and silver vessels were gathered in Lydia. Massive
installations for separating gold from silver have been excavated on the east
bank of the Pactolus
Moreover, we know that Lydians from the capital Sardis were engaged in working
stone and wood at Susa in Iran, to build the palace of Darius the Great in pure
Other Lydians may just as well have been engaged in producing Achaemenid- style
silver wares in the capital. It is equally conceivable that the Median craftsmen
who travelled to Susa should have been called in to work at Sardis. This being
the case, what criteria can be found to justify the attribution of some pieces
to a Lydian atelier rather than one located within Iran?
The short answer is that, for the
time being, too little is known about Achaemenid silver from Iran to allow the
definition of general criteria. Each case should be judged on its own merits,
and only an educated guess can be submitted.
As has been noted, the addition of
a Lydian inscription to an object thoroughly Persepolitan in appearance, the
silver incense burner, strongly speaks for an import. Until proof to the
contrary comes to light, it should be given an Iranian label. Whether the four
bowls (see fig. G) with nine lotus buds on the underside were similarly
imported, or executed in Anatolia, is harder to determine. The combined shape
and decoration are both idiosyncratic and indistinguishable in design from the
many Iranian bronze models (figs. 7, 8). Judgment must be suspended until,
perhaps, spectral analysis and other technical tests bring new evidence, to say
nothing of excavations. The small silver vase-shaped beakers with rounded bottom
and flat bottom (fig. 12) fall into much the same category.
They have an unmitigated Achaemenid look.
This, however, does not per se
preclude local production, whether in the case of the bowls or of the
vase-shaped beakers. Pottery in the Achaemenid style was produced in Sardis for
household use prior to 213 BCE An earthenware bowl found in the course of the
Sardis excavations is a potter's version of the unpublished Achaemenid bronze
bowl which I photographed in Tehran in 1971 (fig. 14).
Such pieces were probably turned out, in the early stages at least, for Persian
residents whose presence in the Lydian capital is abundantly attested.
One would expect silver ware in the Achaemenid style to have been likewise
executed for the Persian aristocracy, conceivably in mixed workshops with
Iranians (Medians?) and Lydians working together.
The next step would have been the
development of an Achaemenid style with some distinctive variations, however
slight-the Lydian Achaemenid style as distinct from the International Achaemenid
style. There is some evidence of such a development. In A Greek and Roman
Treasury, von Bothmer illustrates two small silver wine jugs with typical
Achaemenid shapes. One, with a flat circular base and rounded sides, is topped
by a broad neck curving out slightly.
The cyma-shaped handle, which is chamfered, ends with a lion's head that bites
the rim. The attachment plate soldered to the body is carved in the form of a
bearded man's face with a pug nose and ears like handles, derived from the
Egyptian Bes mask. Conceding that "the shape of this jug is more Eastern
than Greek," von Bothmer thinks that "the sculptural adjuncts of the
handle-a lion's head above and a head of the Egyptian divinity below-are
"Typically Iranian" would
be a better way to describe it. The gold jug with pouring lip, only 12.7
centimeters high, which forms part of the so-called Oxus Treasure acquired in
present-day Afghanistan, i.e. in the Eastern Iranian world, is a closely
comparable piece with the same horizontal grooving. There, too, the handle has a
lion mask biting the rim.
As for the Bes mask, it serves as the attachment plate for the famous pair of
winged ibexes which were once attached to a now-missing Achaemenid vase-rhyton.
One handle is now in Berlin, the other in the Louvre, in Paris.
In short, the lion's head and the
Bes mask, far from contradicting an attribution to the "East," would,
on the contrary, bear out what the shape irresistibly suggests, an Iranian
The one reason for considering the
possibility of an alternative attribution, albeit not to Greece, lies in the
aesthetic handling of the lion's head and the Bes figure. Iconography is one
thing, style is another. There is nothing quite like the cartoon-like
interpretation of the lion's head whether in the Achaemenid repertoire from
Iran, or in Greek art for that matter. The substitution of dotted lines executed
with a drill to the ribbing normally found on a snarling lion's head in
Achaemenid style has no published parallel. It may either be accounted for by a
gap in time or by a difference in regional provenance. At this stage, we have no
inkling as to the variations which may or may not have existed in Achaemenid art
produced within Iranian lands. Nor do we know much about stylistic evolution in
metal vessels in the two centuries that followed the downfall of the Achaemenid
Empire. The possibility of an attribution to a non-Iranian area within the
boundaries of the Empire such as Lydia may therefore be considered as one of
several plausible explanations for the handling of the lion's head and the mask
of Bes. A more definite statement would be too adventurous for now.
A similar set of arguments applies
to the silver jug with pouring lip published by von Bothmer, but speaks more
strongly in favour of the Lydian hypothesis (fig. 15).
Surprisingly, the learned scholar mentioned the Oxus Treasure gold jug once when
discussing the Metropolitan jug-in another publication-but disregarded the
inferences to be drawn from the parallel.
The silver jug with pouring lip is remarkably close in profile to the Oxus gold
jug and is of roughly the same size. Both share the same horizontal grooving and
almost the same type of arched handle. On the silver handle, simple chamfering
gives way to longitudinal grooving (in other words, the vertical facets on the
handle are concave, not flat/. The three narrow moldings at the base and top are
not sufficiently characteristic to suggest anything. What is highly distinctive
is the head of a bird (?) reduced to quasi-abstraction which terminates the
upper section of the handle and bites the lip of the rim. Nothing comparable has
been recorded in Iranian metalwork. Von Bothmer observes that "similar
stylized animal heads appear on Lydian bronzes" and, yet again, stops short
of making the inference.
Taking his word for it, such an observation strengthens the case for the
attribution of the jug with pouring lip to a Lydian atelier producing vessels in
the imperial Achaemenid taste with very slight variations.
The atelier, obviously working for
the entourage of the Achaemenid satrap in the capital Sardis, would have been
the source of pieces such as the silver bowl found in Sardis mentioned above.
An incense burner on stand with a
stepped circular conical cover which was excavated at Ikiztepe in Gure on the
Hermus, not far from Usak, provides a different case altogether. Machteld J.
Mellink first published it through the courtesy of the Turkish archaeologist
Burhan Tezcan, who excavated the site after tomb looters had started quarrying
She calls it "Persian." William E. Mierse, drawing up a list of
Iraniantype objects excavated in Lydia, mentions the Ikiztepe piece as one of
several "silver incense burners similar to those shown carried by figures
in the procession reliefs at Persepolis.”
The Ikiztepe incense burner is related to the Persepolitan models and to the
"Greek and Roman Treasury" piece in conception only. The stand has a
splayed base, incurving and tapering as it goes up to support the bowl-shaped
receptacle. The cover resembles, up to a point, the Persepolitan model with
which it shares exactly the same number of receding platforms and a finial in
the form of a blossom.
But there are considerable
differences. The proportions are modified. The stand is lower and squatter and a
molding (with vertical ribbing) appears halfway up, not just under the
receptacle. The decoration is even further removed. The horizontal grooving, so
prominent-on the Persepolis models and the incense burner once owned by Artimas,
gives way to a plain ground with just two bands of zigzag lines below the
molding, and one band above. Dots executed with a drill serve to mat the ground
between the triangles pointed downwards (which stand for sun rays, as I have
indicated elsewhere and plan to show in greater detail). On the cover,
arrowopenings appear in one tier out of two in the tiers other than the one
coming over the raised rim of the bowl. These arrows have a very narrow shaft,
unlike the Persepolitan ones. In short, the Ikiztepe incense burner either
belongs to quite another Iranian school of metalwork than the "Greek and
Roman Treasury" piece or, much more likely, illustrates an aspect of the
Lydian workshop production that drew upon Iranian design without in the least
attempting to copy it. It suggests a different workshop from those that might
have created the pieces discussed so far. One might speculate that while these
reflect the main satrapal production within the mainstream of the International
Achaemenid style following designs by Iranian artists or sent from Iran, the
latter represents an original production only loosely linked with the Iranian
An unpublished incense burner in
the Menil Collection, in Houston, probably belongs in the same category (figs.
16, 17). There is no exact equivalent to the bronze vessel with its tripod shaft
supporting a low bowl-shaped receptacle topped by a stepped conical cover.
In conception, the construction of the latter matches that of the receptacle of
the bronze incense burner (figs. 4, 5) found in Western Anatolia. What is
entirely original is the idea of the small stylized birds perched on the
"thighs" of the tripod and, above all, of the three felines with
averted heads supporting the bowl. Their stylization points to a
well-established independent school of metalwork design. The finial on the flat
top, which is a cock, instantly calls to mind the cock added to the silver
incense burner. This suggests a possible Lydian provenance for the Menil piece.
In any case, it illustrates a regional school of metalwork drawing upon the
International Achaemenid style.
From Lydia, the taste for
Achaemenid-style silver may have spread westward. Artists in this westernmost
part of Anatolia were looking at Iranian metalwork and very broadly drawing
their inspiration from it. Such is the implication of the incense burner on
stand of "Persepolitan type" according to von Bothmer which is
illustrated on a Clazomenian pottery sherd preserved in Athens. The Ionian city
of Clazomenae (Klazomenai), which lies seventy-five miles in a beeline west of
Sardis, could be reached within a day by horse. We have Xenophon's word for it.
When the Achaemenid satrap Tissaphernes had Alcibiades arrested and jailed in
Sardis, the Greek commander soon made his escape. He "managed to find
horses and got away by night to Clazomenae," as Xenophon soberly reports in
The Clazomenian sherd suggests that the artists of the Sardis area had seen
incense burners of the Persepolitan type. They represented incense burners
incorporating Persepolitan features with Hellenic elements such as the cover.
And sketching is the initial stage in the creative process of metalworking. The
exchange process seems to have worked in both directions. "A Greek and
Roman Treasury" contains a number of pieces that are not really
"Greek" but incorporate Greek elements in their shape or in their
decoration, pointing to the existence of a Lydian Greek silver style, just as
there was a Lydian Achaemenid style. Indeed, some give the impression of having
come out of the same hands as the "Lydian Achaemenid style" pieces.
Specialists of Greek metalwork and Greek ornament will be in a better position
to assess the degree to which the Lydian goldsmiths innovated. Such versatility
may explain how Lydian culture disappeared. Borrowed clothes suited them so well
that eventually the Lydians lost their own.
4. Achaemenid- Style Silver in
The Lydian school of Achaemenid
metalwork was only one of several cases in the broader Anatolian context. To the
northeast, Phrygia, with its capital Gordion, has yielded an impressive range of
objects from bronzes to pottery that parallel a similar range in Iran, although
the two are aesthetically vastly different in style and, indeed, in technique.
The parallel is striking concerning rhyta which were used, as mentioned earlier,
in Iranian rites predating Zoroastrianism. The connection appears to have been
established early on, before the advent of the Achaemenid Empire. Knowing more
about the extent and the nature of the cultural and religious connections,
probably inherited from a distant Indo-European past to which such parallels
point, might help understand the background to later artistic developments.
Much further east, historical
Armenia has been the source of a very substantial amount of the metalwork so far
recorded in Western literature as "Achaemenid" without further
investigation. Like Lydia, it is likely both to have imported and to have
produced metalwork in the Persian taste. Xenophon tells us in the Anabasis that
when the Greek soldiers plundered the tent of the Achaemenid satrap governor (hyparchos)
of western Armenia called Tiribazos, they carried off among other things
"beds with silver legs" (klinai argyro podes) and
Such legs are actually known, if not from Armenia, at least from neighboring
Georgia. The problem concerning
the Armenian finds is the same as with the objects from Lydia. Must these be
assumed to have been imports from Iran, or were they commissioned locally? We
may never be able to answer that question for sure. But the huge production of
silver and bronze wares in the previous Urartian period and, in later times, to
which the Turkish scholar Oktay Belli has recently drawn attention, makes
continued production a quasi -certainty.
Several of the British Museum
"Achaemenid" silver vessels, all published by O. M. Dalton, came to
light in Armenia. A large silver phiale with a lotus chalice radiating from the
center up to stylized lotus blossoms was found "near Erzingan" (Erzincan
on Turkish maps), and a similar dish also from Armenia has been in the Louvre
A silver rhyton with the foreparts of a mythical animal associating the head of
an eagle and the horns of a goat was found "at Erzingan."
Three silver bowls, with a deep curving well and outcurving everted sides, were
dug up in Armenia, from an unspecified site (fig. 19).
They reproduce a standard Iranian profile. An unpublished bowl worked in
repousse from a bronze (copper?) sheet photographed in Tehran in 1973 is
reproduced in fig. 20 for comparison.
Other finds were made in Armenia in
recent times. Most important are the objects recovered from Arin-Berd on the
outskirts of Erevan, the capital of present-day Armenia.
One rhyton of the drinking horn type is quite remarkable. A human figure wearing
a cap superficially resembling the Persian headdress is seen riding the
foreparts of a horse which forms the protome.
The costume is Persian, but the handling of the figure is very different from
Achaemenid sculpture as we know it from Persepolis. The man sits stiffly and
In the absence of any other
indications, it is reasonable to recognise in it the creation of a regional
atelier belonging to what may be termed the Armenian Achaemenid school. That
such a school actually existed has been established by the spectral analysis of
a gold pectoral showing the ore to have been mined at Zod on the east bank of
Lake Sevan. Miss S. Der Nersessian
recounts the fact without quite taking the next step, which is to infer the
existence of an Armenian school producing vessels in the Achaemenid fashion. She
assumes that the Arin-Berd drinking horn was imported.
Georgia, which had a
thousand-year-old tradition of working gold and silver, is also likely to have
had its school of Achaemenid metalwork. A large number of silver vessels have
now come to light in Georgian sites, ranging from types that can be matched by
Achaemenid objects from Iranian finds to others that only look superficially
Achaemenid. On closer inspection, some of these display features to which no
parallel can be found in metalwork so far originating from the Tehran market.
Examples respectively illustrating the Iranian Achaemenid style and a style with
sui-generis features were found long ago in the Akhal-Gori area.
A detailed study that Georgian scholars are best equipped to undertake, with
easy access to their material, much of which remains unpublished, should yield
interesting insights into developments that must have been very complex in
The reasons that lead to the
multiplicity of Achaemenid schools will appear more clearly as archaeological
excavation work progresses.
Judging from Lydia, by far the
best-studied area not only in Anatolia but in the whole Achaemenid Empire,
thanks to the admirable work conducted by the late Hanfmann and his colleague
Mierse, the presence of significant colonies of Persian residents may well have
been the prevalent factor. This presence is revealed among other things by a
religious edict promulgated in 367 BCE by an Iranian satrap called Droaphernes.
It dedicates a statue of the god Zeus Baradates, an aspect of Ahura Mazda, while
simultaneously revealing the accelerating Hellenization process. The inscription
is in Greek, even though dated to the thirty-ninth regnal year of Artaxerxes II
(405-359 BCE), and the very idea of erecting a statue sharply contrasts with
Zoroastrian tradition. The proportion of Iranian names, about one-fifth, is
substantial. No less remarkable is the fact that the Greek stela should have
survived in the form of a copy of the Roman period, made in the second century
A.D. Precisely in that century Pausanias observed priests celebrating rites, in
a language he could not understand, for "the Lydians who call themselves
These would be the descendants of Persians established prior to the conquest of
Alexander, implying remarkable continuity in the sense of identity of the
Persians in Lydia.
Religion and, more broadly, rituals
guaranteed their continued use of silver objects-the incense burners, the
vessels relating to wine libations, which were part of a ritual as far as the
Iranians were concerned.
The role of Zoroastrianism in the preservation of symbols is confirmed by the
frequent occurrence of Ahura Mazda on what Mierse refers to as "the Perso-Lydian
seals and gold plaques." An admirable pendant reproducing the symbol of
Ahura Mazda, i.e. the winged disc in gold, with cloisonné enamel and a large
circular onyx inset serving as the disc, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum
with the silver vessels.
These are purely Iranian in concept and design. They might have been executed by
Iranian goldsmiths-Medians?-called in for the purpose. As long as there were
Iranians observing their rites and abiding by their ancestral customs, the
silver vessels that went with these were bound to follow the same path.
Note of Thanks
I wish to convey my deep gratitude
to Carol Bromberg and Paul Bernard for supplying me with invaluable
bibliographical references, and in some cases xerox copies of articles to which
I had no access while immobilized in London. I also wish to thank Oscar
Muscarella, who most kindly gave me the reference I needed on the Gordion rhyton.
I am immensely indebted to Dr. Tehrani Moghaddam, director of the Muzeye Meli-e
Iran for giving me permission to photograph the bas-relief from Persepolis at
considerable inconvenience to the museum staff, who stood by while the area was
closed off to the public.
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