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Ignoring Achaemenids’ Impact on Other Nations Impossible: Dr. John Curtis


13 July 2004


Experts with the British Museum’s the Ancient Near East department selected the Iranian artifacts they are willing to display at the upcoming exhibition of “Iran’s splendor” in Britain.

Explaining the criteria for handpicking these valued artifacts, Dr. John Curtis, the curator of Ancient Near Near East Collection at British Museum, and head of the visiting delegation, said, “The exhibit is going to explore varied aspects of the Achaemenid era (550-330 B.C.). It is, indeed, impossible to overlook the might, prevalence and influence of the empire on other nations. Showcasing these features is among the main objective of holding such an exhibit. We are, therefore, seeking for those artifacts that can express the empire’s magnificence, vast reign, complex administrative structure and the order in people’s daily life as vividly as possible.”

He added the selected artifacts would be categorized according to such subjects as arts, economics, politics, administration, etc.

Dr. Curtis noted that religion would be one of the major subjects of the exhibit, adding, “There are, fortunately, many inscriptions and tablets left from the period expressing the religious beliefs and thoughts of ancient Iranians. They are valuable sources to study the Achaemenids’ religion.

The British delegation has already chosen 150 artifacts and Iranian authorities are going to give the green light for the trip in a fortnight. “Iran’s Splendor” exhibit is scheduled to be held in Britain next year and afterwards would move into the Louvre Museum in Paris and then into Germany.

The Department of the Ancient Near East covers the ancient civilizations of the Near East from the Neolithic period until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD. The Department has an active fieldwork policy, and is currently involved in excavations across the Near East. All material in the collection is made available to researchers in the Arched Room, one of the few rooms in the British Museum to have retained its Victorian splendor. The Department has a group of supporters known as the Friends of the Ancient Near East.

There are approximately 280,000 objects in the collections of the Department of the Ancient Near East. A representative selection, including the most important pieces, is on display and totals some 4500 objects. The remainder form the study collection which ranges in size from beads to large sculptures. They include approximately 130,000 cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, large collections of pottery (both complete and fragmentary) from all parts of the Ancient Near East, neolithic and later chipped stone assemblages, seals of all periods, beads, jewellery, glass vessels, magical bowls, figurines, metalwork, small stone objects, pieces of sculpture and even modern plaster casts of ancient sculptures not in the Museum (particularly from Iran).

The Achaemenids were enlightened despots who allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A satrap (governor) administered the region, a general supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a state secretary kept official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the central government. The twenty satrapies were linked by a 2,500-kilometer highway, the most impressive stretch being the royal road from Susa to Sardis, built by command of Darius. Relays of mounted couriers could reach the most remote areas in fifteen days. Despite the relative local independence afforded by the satrapy system however, royal inspectors, the "eyes and ears of the king," toured the empire and reported on local conditions, and the king maintained a personal bodyguard of 10,000 men, called the Immortals.


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