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Achaemenid Archaeology

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  • Steve Farmer
    New Bryn Mawr Review article just out on the edited volume by Briant and Boucharlat, L archéologie de l empire achéménide: nouvelles recherches:
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2006
      New Bryn Mawr Review article just out on the edited volume by Briant
      and Boucharlat, L'archéologie de l'empire achéménide: nouvelles


      Pierre Briant, Rémy Boucharlat, L'archéologie de l'empire achéménide:
      nouvelles recherches. Actes du colloque organisé au Collège de France
      par le "Réseau international d'études et de recherches achéménides"
      (GDR 2538 CNRS), 21-22 novembre 2003. Persika 6 (Chaire d'histoire et
      civilisation du monde achéménide et de l'empire d'Alexandre, Collège
      de France). Paris: Éditions de Boccard, 2005. Pp. 355; ills.,
      maps. ISBN 2-7018-0195-8. €65.00.

      Reviewed by Antigoni Zournatzi, Research Centre for Greek and Roman
      Antiquity, The National Hellenic Research Foundation (Athens)
      Word count: 2112 words

      [Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

      Until about 20 years ago, the archaeology of the Achaemenid Empire was
      by and large the domain of those scholars and teams who excavated the
      major palatial centers of the Persian rulers in Iran. While the
      results of such researches were valuable for understanding Achaemenid
      practices in the Persian homeland and the material culture of the
      Achaemenid court, Persian everyday culture remained largely obscure.
      Simultaneously, the circumstances of Persian rule in the provinces
      were glimpsed almost exclusively through a lacunose and problematic
      written record, whose testimony stood in apparent opposition to
      then-known archaeological realities. Literary accounts and Achaemenid
      inscriptions and reliefs conveyed the impression of rigorous
      Achaemenid political and economic control over subject provinces.
      Archaeology in contrast supplied meager testimony about Persian
      presence and rule in conquered territories, raising questions as to
      whether the material evidence could shed light on imperial realities
      and casting doubt on the notion of tight imperial rule or pervasive
      Persian influence. The colloquium "L'archéologie de l'empire
      achéménide: nouvelles recherches" (Collège de France, 21-22 novembre
      2003) organized and published under the direction of Pierre Briant and
      Rémy Boucharlat, was conceived on the premise that the apparent
      "archaeological void" -- the lack of artifacts that could be adduced
      as markers of Persian presence -- was the result of earlier research
      preferences, in which the Achaemenid period had claimed little
      attention outside Iran.

      Setting the background for this initiative were a number of recent
      developments. As the editors explain in their introduction, changing
      political circumstances led archaeologists formerly working in royal
      Achaemenid sites to re-direct their research from the homeland to the
      provinces. Archaeological research strategies were also shaped by
      major salvage projects (e.g., the construction of dams in Syria, Iraq,
      Turkey) and by a more recent reorientation from single site
      excavations towards studies and surveys of a larger, regional scope
      (e.g., in Bactria and in the Kharga Oasis in Egypt). These new
      initiatives necessitated the collaboration of specialists working in
      different periods and set the parameters for a more equitable
      treatment of traditionally less favored periods, including the
      Persian, which earlier excavators had often neglected.

      Scholarly publications and colloquia devoted to the history of the
      empire or to particular provinces reflect a growing interest in the
      Persian period in the archaeological domain and a parallel revival of
      the study of the Achaemenid Empire among historians over the past two
      decades. Earlier attempts to draw attention to the growing volume of
      researches in the different regions of the empire are exemplified, for
      instance, by U. Weber's and J. Wiesehöfer's Das Reich der
      Achaimeniden: Eine Bibliographie (AMI Ergaenzungsband 15, Berlin,
      1996) as well as by the introduction of the Bulletin d'histoire
      achéménide by Pierre Briant since 1996. The present volume represents
      the first parallel exploration of the archaeological record for the
      Persian period in a number of the distinct and geographically diverse
      areas and cultures of the empire. The expressed aim of the colloquium
      has been to assess the present state of our knowledge about the
      Persian period and to trace changes in the associated material culture.

      The areas of focus are Lycia (Thomas Marksteiner), Cilicia and Hatay
      (Charles Gates), the Coastal Plain of Palestine (Oren Tal), Egypt
      (Michel Wuttmann and Sylvie Marchand), Northeast Syria (Bertille
      Lyonnet), Southeast Anatolia (Jésus Gil Fuensanta and Petr Charvat),
      Northern Iraq (John Curtis), the Caucasus (Florian S. Knauss), Iran
      (Rémy Boucharlat; Shahrokh Razmjou), and Central Asia (Henri-Paul
      Francfort). The papers are arranged in rough geographical order from
      West to East. Five of the eleven contributions are in English, five in
      French, and one in German, each with a separate bibliography. Many
      papers provide useful maps for locating sites of Achaemenid date or
      occurrences of Persian-related artifacts (although some deficiencies
      can be noted in the missing numbers 1-5 and 7-8 on the map of
      Achaemenid sites in the region of Birecik-Carchemish on p. 153 and in
      the omission of a map in Curtis' review of Northern Iraq).

      Methods of presentation and results vary due to the disparity of
      extant testimony and to the limited, unevenly distributed, and often
      poorly studied or inaccessible archaeological information across the
      vast territory of the Persian realm stretching from the Indus to the
      Mediterranean. Thematic presentations on the Achaemenid impact on
      local coinage, economy, settlement patterns and roads, epigraphy,
      architecture, art, burial customs, ethnicity, and demography are
      provided for Lycia and the Coastal Plain of Palestine, where
      archaeological evidence and earlier studies of the material of the
      Persian period are more plentiful. In the case of Central Asia, a
      similar approach is motivated by artifacts (e.g., fortresses, secular
      and religious edifices and luxury objects) with a possible bearing on
      Achaemenid territorial control or cultural influence during the
      Achaemenid and subsequent periods. Shahrokh Razmjou's re-examination
      of the largely unpublished finds from Farmeshgan in western Iran, the
      only paper dealing with a single site, offers a vantage point for
      reflecting on the little-known circumstances of the Achaemenid
      presence in the Iranian homeland beyond the major palatial centers of
      Pasargadae, Persepolis and Susa. The remaining papers present relevant
      information in the form of inventories of sites (in the Caucasus and
      Northern Iraq), often grouped by sub-regions defined by natural
      geographical subdivisions (Egypt, Northeastern Syria, Birecik-SE
      Anatolia, Iran), and one (Cilicia and Hatay) by periods of
      archaeological exploration.

      Not every inventory aims at a comprehensive overview of Persian period
      sites and finds. In the case of Egypt, uncertainties resulting from
      incompletely recorded cultural sequences at a plethora of sites
      excavated in the Nile valley in the past render exhaustive
      presentation impractical. There is, however, a welcome emphasis upon
      more recent excavations and surveys in less explored districts of the
      Western Oases, which have yielded documents that shed light on
      contemporary architecture, agricultural and water management/qanâts,
      etc. (e.g., "Ain Manâwir in the Kharga Oasis). A systematic coverage
      is successfully attempted for Iran, resulting in a valuable manual of
      sites with traces of Achaemenid period occupation (however minute or
      ambiguous the available evidence may be in some instances), a historic
      overview of archaeological exploration of the country, as well as
      succinct, critical commentaries on longstanding problems (e.g., the
      identification of different local/regional ceramic types diagnostic of
      the Achaemenid period, the precise chronology of artifacts, monuments,
      settlement patterns, and other detectable phenomena of acculturation
      on the Iranian Plateau) that bear simultaneously on the study of
      Persian culture in the center of the empire and on first millennium
      Iranian archaeology as a whole. The systematic overview of earlier
      archaeological activity in Cilicia-Hatay underlines the neglect of the
      Achaemenid period in the context of regional research projects. While
      usefully describing the current state of research, reviews of relevant
      evidence from other western regions (e.g., from southeastern Anatolia,
      northern Iraq, northeastern Syria), once again highlight the scarcity
      of evidence, and even the lack of secure guidelines, for identifying
      and studying the Persian period.

      The preoccupation with chronology evident in a number of the surveys
      stems from the basic need to identify the two centuries of the Persian
      period on the ground in the face of floating dating schemes and the
      uncertain chronological boundaries of the preceding and following
      periods. Independently dated items (e.g., datable texts, Attic
      pottery, coins) are generally rare. On closer inspection, particular
      artifacts (e.g., Lyonnet: terracotta figurines of the so-called
      Persian rider and Ashtarte types; Frankfort: arrow heads) are shown to
      be less reliable markers of Persian period contexts or Persian
      ethno-cultural affiliations than was previously thought to be the
      case. In most instances identification of the period depends on
      ceramic typologies which are not infrequently unavailable in
      publications of local pottery assemblages from stratified contexts or
      may be in need of sharper definition. In Egypt, where ceramic
      materials do not attest clear typological or technical differences
      from the preceding Saite period, pottery is generally attributed to
      the "Late" or "Saite" period. In Cilicia-Hatay, current hopes for
      defining the regional ceramic profile of the period between the sixth
      and fourth centuries would appear to depend, above all, on the
      introduction of further systematic studies of the architectural levels
      and the associated ceramic and other finds from the Achaemenid period
      levels (Periods 4-2) at Al Mina and at Kinet Hüyük (Periods 5-3,
      currently under excavation). In Central Asia, the entire Iron Age is
      treated as a block from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period.
      Although remains of Achaemenid date have been identified in a number
      of the sites investigated by the Eski Mosul Dam Salvage Project in
      northern Iraq, publications of extensive local ceramic assemblages
      that are characteristic of the Persian period are still awaited. In
      central Fars, periodization of sites on the basis of pottery continues
      to remain very imprecise from the end of the seventh century to the
      post-Achaemenid period.

      The unequal attention paid to the question of Achaemenid impact is a
      sign, as the editors note, of the difficulty in identifying it. From
      Central Asia to Anatolia, coastal Syria and Egypt, the recurring
      general pattern is one of the continuity of local cultures (with
      reference, e.g., to building plans, building materials, and burial
      customs). The rich Achaemenid imprint on local monumental architecture
      and craftsmanship in the Caucasus, adroitly summarized by Knauss,
      stand in contrast to findings from other areas. The picture is still
      obscure in Cilicia. At the hilltop fortress of Meydancikkale, thought
      to have been the residence of a regional governor, blocks with reliefs
      that directly evoke Persepolitan sculpture offer a tantalizing glimpse
      into connections between Achaemenid and Cilician material culture.
      Charles Gates's systematic overview of excavations and surveys
      conducted in Cilicia-Hatay before and after World War II underlines,
      however, the limited number of sites with identifiable Achaemenid
      remains and the rarity of artifacts that bare any imprint of an
      Achaemenid presence and influence. Achaemenid connections in northern
      Syria, occurring in the form of figurines, pottery types current in
      Iran, and isolated tablets and architectural elements and decoration,
      are rare overall, but a settlement of a military nature at Tell
      Ahmar/Til Barsip, represented by tombs with materials similar to those
      from Deve Hüyük, seem to at least underline an Achaemenid concern for
      control of the upper Euphrates crossings. The sparse textual record
      still forms the starting point for any discussion of Persian rule in
      Egypt and the Assyrian heartland. In the former area, objects of
      Achaemenid or mixed type are rare. The "fort" of Tell Kedoua offers
      perhaps a rare instance of Achaemenid architectural influence (98). In
      northern Iraq, an erstwhile Achaemenid presence in the relatively well
      explored former capital centers of Nimrud, Khorsabad, Nineveh, and
      Assur is attested almost exclusively in the form of a limited number
      of small diagnostic finds (e.g., jewelry, precious vessels and seals).
      Achaemenid objects are barely reported from sites in the Eski Mosul
      Dam Salvage Area that are otherwise tentatively identified as
      belonging to the Achaemenid period. In Central Asia there is "little
      or nothing to be seen as signs of an Achaemenid presence and
      domination" (334), while rich assemblages of jewelry from the same
      region (including Achaemenid materials) "rarely speak of Achaemenid
      influence on local metalwork" (338).

      As the editors admit, the colloquium's goals were perhaps overly
      optimistic given the present state of research, and attempts at
      synthesis can be seen to raise more questions than answers. This
      well-edited collection of essays ought not to be judged, however, by
      its ability to provide a net picture of Persian rule across the
      empire. Its more important contribution lies in bringing together
      disparate (and often not easily accessible) archaeological patterns of
      research, in offering a wealth of comparative materials (both primary
      archaeological evidence and extensive bibliographies) and in providing
      a valuable research tool for regional specialists. Without covering
      the entire territory of the empire, it still succeeds in defining
      important gaps in our knowledge and in exposing problems, especially
      with reference to chronology and methodology, across a wide spectrum.
      Not least, it focuses attention on directions of research that could
      be profitably explored in the course of future inquiries. The
      archaeology of the Persian Empire is still very much a field in the

      Pierre Briant, Rémy Boucharlat, Introduction

      Thomas Marksteiner, Das achämenidenzeitliche Lykien

      Charles Gates, The Place of the Achaemenid Persian Period in
      Archaeological Research in Cilicia and Hatay (Turkey)

      Oren Tal, Some Remarks on the Coastal Plain of Palestine under
      Achaemenid Rule--an Archaeological Synopsis

      Michel Wuttmann, Sylvie Marchand, Égypte

      Bertille Lyonnet, La présence achéménide en Syrie du Nord-Est

      Jesús Gil Fuensanta, Petr Charvat, Birecik achéménide et l'âge du Fer
      IIIB dans le Sud-Est anatolien

      John Curtis, The Achaemenid Period in Northern Iraq

      Florian S. Knauss, Caucasus

      Rémy Boucharlat, Iran

      Shahrokh Razmjou, Notes on a Forgotten Achaemenid Site at Farmeshgan: Iran

      Henri-Paul Frankfort, Asie centrale.
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