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Unique Art of the Achaemenids Lives Forever




15 September 2005


Soudabeh Sadigh & Farzandeh Ibrahim Zadeh - Achaemenid era is one of the most honorable in Iranian  history, which has left of itself unique legacy in Persian art.

Achaemenid era had a great effect on the historical art and architecture of Iran. During the period, Iranian art went beyond the boundaries of the country, influencing and bringing changes to other countries as well. CHN talked to Mohammad Bagher Vossooghi, a PhD professor of history in University of Tehran, about the Achaemenid art and the secret of its longevity.

“The most important characteristic of the Achaemenid era compared to other periods is its uniqueness. Many governments tried to repeat that era, but did not succeed to bring the same spirit into their works of art,” says Vosooghi,

He explains, “When we are talking about a historical period, we are not supporting a special belief or a personal policy. Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great, and Xerxes, are not being considered as individuals but as a part of a movement and a historical period. From this point of view, civilization, civil life, art, and philosophy will be considered all together. A civilization which had been built upon sword, art, and a specified mentality, had an effect far beyond its borders. When we compare the art from one historical period with others close to it with regard to time and place, then we understand its dignity or failure.”

According to Vosooghi, Persepolis as a symbol of the Achaemenid art and architecture is unique and is unrepeatable. It is a monument that has still kept its past glory. All of these indicate that Achaemenid art was something beyond Iran’s borders, having planned and thought about its stability and strength”.

Persepolis is a combination of Iranian architecture and Mesopotamian art. Even some trends of Greek civilization can be found there; even in their heyday, the Achaemenids did not resist using art features of their neighbors, however, they did not just copy them, but were influenced and then added their own features to them.

The secret of the survival of Achaemenid art is that it was not limited just to a special region or ethnic group, but rather a multinational work. In this regard, Vossoghi says that economical, cultural, and political attitudes of Achaemenids were a combination of several nations, which influenced their arts as well.

Vosooghi believes Achaemenids to have been pioneers of their time in political and economical fields. “Before and contemporary to them, there were some powerful civilizations in Mesopotamia such as the Assyrians, but no valuable art work remains of them, because their art and civilization was based on their military ideas. What is interesting in this respect is that Achaemenids were inspired by Assyrian architecture style, but their architecture was one step beyond that of the Assyrians,” he adds.

Based on historical books and ancient inscriptions, Assyrians could not tolerate other nations’ opinions and ideas. While depredation, killing, and setting fire to other lands were an honor for Assyrians, 50 years after the collapse of Assyria, Cyrus the Great, the Achaemenid Emperor, captured Babylon without any blood shedding, announcing in his world-famous cylinder his disgust of slaughtering. The Achaemenid culture was one of tolerance. Achaemenid culture was an open one, which looked beyond its boundaries and did not reject others’ beliefs and respected them.

Xenophon, Greek soldier and writer and a disciple of Socrates who he joined Cyrus the Younger in an attack on Persia, cited from Cyrus, “When we are not wise enough, we shouldn’t ask anything from God. When we are not expert enough in shooting, we shouldn’t look for victory. When we don’t implant a seed, we should not expect the ground to give fruit to us.” The words point out to a view point that is surely that of a responsible and realistic person.

These characteristics are reflected in Achaemenid arts as well, which made it well known throughout the history of the world. This art penetrated the world and went beyond perimeters of Iran’s plateau. Darius ordered to inscribe his words in three languages of Persian, Ilamite, and Babylonian, which shows his respect for the languages of other nations under his rule. These honors are not just confessed to by Iranians, but even by the enemies. While Alexander the Great, who defeated the Achaemenid dynasty and conquered Iran, destroyed everything and set fire to the artistic monument of Persepolis, did not leave any traces in Iran, Darius expanded Iran’s art and development to other regions, for example taking the Persian irrigation system to Africa.




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