Many Iraqis Visit Babylon and Other Ancient Heritage Sites for the First Time

The Babylon ruins, once the capital of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, are among some of the world’s oldest and most magnificent cities. On a mild winter weekend, the sun pours down on the yellow archways of the reconstructed palace of King Nebuchadnezzar II at the site of the ancient city of Babylon. Nearly three millennia after Nebuchadnezzar’s[…]

‘Shahnama’: The Making of the Medieval Persian Book of Kings

Exploring its use (and misuse) over the centuries as political propaganda, loot, and even fodder in the international art market. Introduction Illustrated manuscripts are one of the glories of Persian art, especially those made during the heyday of production from the fourteenth century to the sixteenth century. The most popular text was the Shahnama, or[…]

The Cowardice of Alcibiades and the Revenge of Ancient Athens

He could not keep his word as he kept changing sides and lived in exile. Alcibiades, the son of Cleinias and an Alcmeonid woman named Deinomache, was not yet twenty years old when the Archidamian War (the first phase of the Peloponnesian War) broke out. With his mentor Socrates, he was present when general Phormio[…]

Ancient Assyrian Reliefs Tell the Story of an Empire

Exploring tales of military might, myth, and court life as told through stone sculptures. Interview of Dr. Timothy PottsDirectorThe J. Paul Getty Museum “The reliefs show people being impaled on spikes and the enemy being decapitated and sometimes flayed alive. I mean it’s absolutely brutal, and it was intended to intimidate.” With a powerful empire[…]

An Introduction to Medieval Safavid Art and Architecture

Safavid art and architecture reflected the adoption of a Shi’a identity. Introduction to the Safavid Dynasty: Rise and Empire Brilliantly painted manuscripts. Exquisitely detailed miniatures. Fine silks. Complex, ornate palaces. The art of the Safavids is simply magnificent. The Safavids were a dynastic family that ruled over modern-day Iran. They sustained one of the longest[…]

An Introduction to Ancient Sasanian Art and Architecture

Briefly introducing the Sasanian Empire through a handful of key monuments. The Royal Hunter A rider pulls back the taut string of a bow with his right hand and aims an arrow towards two fleeing mountain rams with his left (image above). The chase is fast; the rams sprint forward with the rider’s horse galloping[…]

Ancient Persia from the Achaemenids to the Sassanians

From their earliest days of the Achaemenid Empire, the Persians introduced a number of novel concepts in innovations and inventions. Introduction Ancient Persian culture exerted a powerful influence throughout the Near East, and beyond, for over a thousand years between c. 550 BCE – 651 CE and many aspects of their culture continued to influence[…]

Ancient Mesopotamia: A First of Many Firsts

Many of the most common aspects of daily life, as well as theological paradigms and political systems, developed first in Mesopotamia. Introduction Mesopotamia is the ancient Greek name (meaning “the land between two rivers”, the Tigris and Euphrates) for the region corresponding to modern-day Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. It is considered[…]

Overthrowing Oligarchy in the Athenian Revolution of 508-507 BCE

Athens had the largest and wealthiest city-state, but they also had a larger class of people excluded from political life by the nobility. Introduction and Background The Athenian Revolution (508–507 BCE) was a revolt by the people of Athens that overthrew the ruling aristocratic oligarchy, establishing the almost century-long self-governance of Athens in the form[…]

Saladin’s Conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 CE

The pulverizing defeat at Hattin had left most of the Crusader strongholds without enough soldiers to defend them. Introduction and Prelude Jerusalem, a holy city for the adherents of all three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) was conquered by the armies of the First Crusade in 1099 CE. The Muslims failed to halt their[…]

Ten Great Ancient and Medieval Persian Poets

These poets would affect the literary arts of cultures around the world and continue to inspire readers in the present day. Introduction Persian literature derives from a long oral tradition of poetic storytelling. The first recorded example of this tradition is the Behistun Inscription of Darius I (the Great, r. 522-486 BCE), carved on a[…]

Ancient and Medieval Persian Literature

The first evidence of Persian literature is usually dated to c.522 BCE with the creation of the Behistun Inscription of Darius I. Introduction Persian literature differs from the common definition of “literature” in that it is not confined to lyrical compositions, to poetry or imaginative prose, because the central elements of these appear, to greater[…]

The Glory of Ancient Persia in the Behistun Inscription of King Darius

The text of the inscription is a statement by Darius I of Persia, written three times in three different scripts and languages. Introduction The Behistun Inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: The document most crucial in the deciphering of a previously lost script. It is located in the Kermanshah[…]

The Hittite Empire, 1680-1180 BCE

The Hittite civilization was one of the cradles of human culture. Introduction “Hittites” is the conventional English-language term for an ancient people who spoke an Indo-European language and established a kingdom centered in Hattusa (the modern village of Boğazköy in north-central Turkey), through most of the second millennium B.C.E. The Hittite kingdom, which at its[…]

Kings of the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

The early Achaemenid kings may or may not have been adherents of Zoroastrianism but that religion would inform the Persian culture. Introduction The Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) was the first great Persian political entity in Western and Central Asia which stretched, at its peak, from Asia Minor to the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia through[…]

Ctesiphon: Urban Trade Center in Ancient and Early Medieval Persia

The city became an important center for trade along the Silk Road. Introduction Ctesiphon was an ancient city and trade center on the east bank of the Tigris River founded during the reign of Mithridates I (the Great, 171-132 BCE). It is best known in the modern day for the single-span arch, Taq Kasra, which[…]

Inventions and Innovations of Ancient Persia

While these contributions may be understood as commonplace in the present day, they were entirely novel in their time. Introduction Ancient Persian culture contributed many of the aspects of the modern world which people simply take for granted as having always existed. The designation “Persia” comes from the Greeks – primarily standardized by the historian[…]

Ataskada: The Fire Temple in Ancient Zoroastrianism

Fire temples were firmly established by the time of the Parthian Empire. Introduction Fire Temples are places of worship in the Zoroastrian religion. They were known as ataskada (“house of fire”) by the Persians but are best known today by the name given them by the Greeks from their word pyratheia (fire temple). They are[…]

Twelve Great Women of Ancient Persia

Ancient Persian (pre-Islamic) women had almost equal rights with men and, in many instances, more freedoms and benefits. Introduction Women in ancient Persia had more rights and greater freedom than any other ancient civilization including, according to some scholars, even ancient Egypt which is famous for its respect for the feminine principle in religion as[…]

The Oxus Treasure from the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

The general consensus is that it is genuine, dates from the Achaemenid Period, and is representative of some of the finest art in metallurgy from that time. Introduction The Oxus Treasure is a collection of 180 artifacts of precious metal, dated to the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE), which were discovered on the north bank[…]

Ancient Persian Art and Architecture

Persian art and architecture was influenced early on by the older civilizations of Elam and Susiana. Introduction Persian art and architecture in the present day is associated with the nation of Iran and usually designated as beginning with the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) but has an even longer history with its origins dating back[…]

Ferdowsi and the ‘Epic of Kings’ in Medieval Persia

He was the author of the Shāhnāmeh (Epic of Kings), the national epic of the Persian-speaking world. Introduction Hakīm Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī Tūsī, more commonly transliterated as Ferdowsi (also Firdowsi), (935–1020) was a highly revered Persian poet. He was the author of the Shāhnāmeh (Epic of Kings), the national epic of the Persian-speaking world. He[…]

Cyrus the Great and Religious Tolerance in Achaemenid Persia

Cyrus was far different from other kings of his time in the ways he chose to rule. “Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth–these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”[1] Vision and Motivation In 550[…]

Darius I: Revising the Administrative System of Ancient Persia

Darius thoroughly revised the Persian system of administration and also the legal code. Introduction Darius the Great (Darayawush I) (ca. 549 B.C.E. – 485/486 B.C.E.; Old Persian Dārayawuš: “He Who Holds Firm the Good”), was the son of Hystaspes and Persian Emperor from 522 B.C.E. to 485/486 B.C.E. His name in Modern Persian is Dariush,[…]

Zorvanism: Zorastrian Sect in the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

It is often referenced as a Zoroastrian heresy because it departed significantly from central Zoroastrian beliefs. Introduction Zorvanism (also given as Zuvanism, Zurvanism) was a sect of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism which emerged in the late Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) and flourished during the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). It is often referenced as a[…]

Avesta: Scripture of Zoroastrianism

It was developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. Introduction The Avesta is the scripture of Zoroastrianism which developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht) sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. The title is generally accepted as meaning “praise”, though this interpretation is[…]

Zoroastrianism: Monotheism in Ancient Persia

Zoroastrianism was adopted by the Achaemenid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and found its fullest expression under the Sassanian Empire. Introduction Zoroastrianism is the monotheistic faith established by the Persian prophet Zoroaster (also given as Zarathustra, Zartosht) between c. 1500-1000 BCE. It holds that there is one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom), creator and[…]