According to Margaret Cool Root, a leading scholar on the ancient Near East, the royal art of the Achaemenid kings reflects the ideals and attitudes of the king and his courtiers, presenting, above all, an ideal view of the nature of Persian kingship. Root argues that the variegated origins and appropriated concepts of Achaemenid iconography, from the Egyptian illustrations of conquered peoples in the form of the Nine Bows to the Assyrian royal hero, create conceptual patterns that are continually replicated at Persepolis to create an official artistic programme. Root asserts that the themes found in royal iconography were disseminated from the empire’s centre and were not the result of individual artists’ own creativity.
However, is this only representative of the rich iconography of Persepolis, or were the art and architecture of provincial palaces, including the paradeisoi (large gardens or parks) and glyptic art (artwork engraved on seals and other small finds) representative of the wider process of ‘Persianisation’? It is worth highlighting at the outset that the various approaches to governing the empire must have impacted on the archaeological record, both on the material evidence left behind and the ways in which Achaemenid influence is not detectable. Regarding the latter, Root has highlighted five factors that have combined to minimise the retrieval of Achaemenid art and architecture: the low priority given to Persian levels at archaeological sites in comparison to Hellenistic or Roman levels, the negative quantification of retrieved material, miscategorised works of Achaemenid-type portable art, misappropriated monumental art claimed to be Greek work despite the presence of Achaemenid features, and the uncritical categorisation of some works as ‘Graeco-Persian’. Achaemenid studies have progressed markedly in the intervening years, though these issues are not yet fully resolved and are particularly applicable for some of the sites under discussion here. It must also be noted here that this paper cannot aim to answer all questions raised due to the scope of the topic, but hopefully contains the scope for further research and study with the publication of new excavation reports.
Ex Historia, Vol.4 (2012)