Transcript of "Persian Ancient Art by Behzaad Bahreyni"
Bahreyni , Behzaad
Adamson University – Manila , Philippines
The Achaemenid Persian empire was the largest that the ancient world had seen,
extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central
Asia. Its formation began in 550 B.C., when King Astyages of Media, who dominated
much of Iran and eastern Anatolia (Turkey), was defeated by his southern neighbor
Cyrus II ("the Great"), king of Persia (r. 559–530 B.C.). This upset the balance of power
in the Near East. The Lydians of western Anatolia under King Croesus took advantage
of the fall of Media to push east and clashed with Persian forces. The Lydian army
withdrew for the winter but the Persians advanced to the Lydian capital at Sardis,
which fell after a two-week siege. The Lydians had been allied with the Babylonians
and Egyptians and Cyrus now had to confront these major powers. The Babylonian
empire controlled Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean. In 539 B.C., Persian
forces defeated the Babylonian army at the site of Opis, east of the Tigris. Cyrus
entered Babylon and presented himself as a traditional Mesopotamian monarch,
restoring temples and releasing political prisoners. The one western power that
remained unconquered in Cyrus' lightning campaigns was Egypt. It was left to his son
Cambyses to rout the Egyptian forces in the eastern Nile Delta in 525 B.C. After a tenday siege, Egypt's ancient capital Memphis fell to the Persians.
The name Persia (from the ancient province of Persis; modern Fars, Iran) was given by
the Greeks to the entire land occupied by various Iranian tribes from which the
Achaemenid dynasty arose. It is the land of present-day Iran and Afghanistan,
geographically the Iranian plateau.
The earliest inhabitants of this area are only known, at first, from their stone artifacts
and, later, their pottery. Paleolithic and Neolithic sites have been found in various
parts of the plateau, but distinctive painted pottery appears only in the Chalcolithic
Period, about 3000 BC. In sites such as Tepe Sialk, Tepe Hissar, and Tepe Giyan similar
painted pottery has been found, indicating early connections among the inhabitants.
More is known about the material culture of the peoples on the plateau in the 3d
millennium BC, but the various groups assume an historical identity only with the
advent of written records in cuneiform. In the south were the Elamites, whose
principal city, Susa, was on the plain of Mesopotamia. The Elamite language has not
been fully deciphered, but it was unlike any of the later languages of the region. In the
2d millennium BC the Elamites were found throughout southern Iran.
To the north in the mountains lived Kassites who also descended onto the plains of
Mesopotamia. In present-day Azerbaijan province lived people called Manneans.
South of the sea that bears their name lived the Caspians.
Some of Persian Symbols that we can find in historical places in Iran
Anahita, Persian Water Goddess
Also know as the Fertility Goddess, The Lady of the
Beasts and the Goddess of Sacred Dance, Anahita
ruled the waters, the stars and fate, and represents
the female creative principle. She is depicted with
wings, accompanied by lions and a jeweled diadem
of stars. Anahita is sometimes depicted as the
consort of Mithra. Anahita is associated with rivers,
lakes and the waters of birth. She is a fertility
goddess and the patroness of women as well as
the goddess of war.
The Huma bird is a legendary mythical creature from the Sufi
fables. It is said to never land and live its entire life during flight. It
flies invisibly high above the earth, impossible to spot through the
human eyes. Also referred to as the bird of fortune, the Huma bird
is a compassionate creature and symbolises happiness. According
to the Sufi lore, once you catch a glimpse of Huma or its shadow
even, happiness will ensue for the rest of your life. The prominent
Sufi preacher Inayat Khan portrays the spiritual dimension of this
bird. According to him, it represents the evolution of a thought to
the zenith where it breaks all limitations. “Huma” in Persian
language stands for fabulous bird. It was believed in the olden
times that if this legendary creature sat on the head of an
individual, then it was an omen to the person becoming a king. In
the word Huma, “hu” represents spirit and the word “mah” is
Arabic which represents “water”. In the olden traditions, it was
believed that the Zoroaster was born of the Huma tree which
speaks for the bible verse “Except a man be born of Water and the
Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
The following pictures show the subject
nations in the Achaemenid empire, as they are
depicted on the southern wall of the eastern
stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis. The photos
look a bit pale, but you must imagine that
everything was once painted in bright colors.
These people are Medes, which were related
to the Persians. They are the first in the
procession. They wear a horseman's dress and
The eastern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis show
a procession of people bringing tribute to the
Achaemenid king, Darius the Great (r.522-486). The
relief consists of three parts: the northern wall, with
representations of Achaemenid dignitaries; the
center, with eight soldiers; and the southern wall,
showing representatives of all subject nations. The
relief miraculously survived the sack of Persepolis by
the soldiers of Alexander the Great in 330.
The central scene of the relief. There are
eight soldiers, dressed like Medes and
Persians. Between them is an empty space,
and above them is a traditional
representation of a winged sun, flanked by
two sphinxes. It is not a very striking image
and the simple truth is that it does not
belong on this place. It replaces an older
It symbolizes (probably) eternity. The same
message is more or less implied in the
representation of the sun. It is an excellent
theme for this place. The people who visited
the Apadana offered tribute to the great king
and received presents in return. This
reciprocity strengthened the ties between the
ruler and the subjects, and contributed to the
continuation of the empire.
The original relief makes it possible to interpret the entire
monument. What we see is the king, receiving
representations of the various nations in the Achaemenid
Empire. Behind him are the crown prince, the aristocrats,
and the most important courtiers (northern wall); in front
of him is the mayor of the palace, who announces the
arrival of the visitors (southern wall).
Animals in Ancient Persian
The symbols of ancient Persia indicate their fascination with mythical and
imaginary creatures and their meanings.
Dove: Doves were highly regarded in Persian culture. For
Muslims (as for Christians) they had a religious valence, as
they are revered for once helping Muhammad by
distracting his enemies during one stage of the Hijrah from
Mecca to Medina, enabling him to escape. They were also
romantic symbols, as doves were supposed to act as
messengers between sailors lost at sea and their
sweethearts, bringing them their final words of love, a
tradition that may have arisen from the white doves Greek
sailors are supposed to have witnessed escaping from
sinking Persian ships during a naval expedition of 492
(Waterfield 32). This idea
Because they were generally associated with and
owned by the lower classes--hence they do not
feature heavily in Persian art-- and thought to be
slow-witted, asses were regarded with some
contempt. However, Persians also seem to have
found in that same contemptibility a great
capacity for humor, wisdom, and moral lessons.
Muhammad's Hadiths frequently mention asses,
and religious figures associated with them to
emphasize the value of humility. But even
religious figures' associations with asses can take
a definite comedic turn.
Scorpions: Scorpions have various colloquial
and symbolic meanings in Persian culture. The
saying “you are (like) a scorpion under the
μoor mat” (tu ga dom-e zir-e buria hasti),
evokes slyness, accusing the person in
question for stinging like a scorpion and then
quietly retreating under the mat or carpet.
Another strand of folklore material deals with
the acceptance that it is simply in the nature of
the scorpion (and, by extension, a vile human
being) to be harmful. The Persian proverb “the
scorpion doesn’t sting out of malice, it is its
nature to do so” (nish-e ‘aqrab na az rah-e kin
ast, tabiyyat-ash in ast) is used in everyday
situations if one feels hurt by somebody else.
Due to the ubiquitous presence of scorpions in
the region, the scorpion was feared for its
poisonous sting, leading to the popular Muslim
imagination that particularly dangerous
scorpions inhabit hell.
Ox - BULL
The Ox is not featured heavily in Persian
culture and mythology- however, an animal of
close association to it, the bull, is. A god called
Mithra, a god from pre-Christian paganism,
was first worshipped during the Roman Empire
and spread to ancient Persia as well. In ancient
Persian writings, Mithra slays a bull, in a
symbolic act of 'salvation.' Mithra symbolized
the Sun, or a celestial being, and the bull
symbolized the earth and mankind.
The symbol of Persian/Iranian monarchy. This symbolism
originates from the Peacock Throne, a famous golden
throne stolen from India by the Persians in 1739.
The peacock is a popular motif in Persian designs. An
ancient Persian recipe (see below for link) even illustrates
how to cook a roasted or barbecued skewered peacock,
indicating its popularity among the ancient Persians.
One example of a Persian community who worshipped the
peacock were the Yezidis, who inhabit the Armenia，
Kurdistan and Caucasus mountains. The Yezidis
worshipped Malik-e-Taus, a redeem devil in the
The common motif of two peacocks symmetrically
disposed on either side of the Cosmic tree or hom—a
feature taken from Persia —denotes the psychic duality of
man (related to the myth of the Gemini) drawing its life
force from the principle of unity.
The Faravahar, a winged disc bearing
similarities to the shape of a falcon, is one of
the best known symbols of Zoroastrianism.
The falcon was a popular pet during the
ancient Persian period, leading to several
historical theories stating that the practice of
falconry originated from Persia.
The Persians were famous for breeding horses
famous for their beauty, grace and strength.
Horses did not have any significant symbolic
meaning in Persian culture, but they were
prized for their invaluable function for
transportation and travel. A bequeath of a
horse was both a symbolic gesture of favor and
a practical gift- due to the beauty of the gift
and functionality of the gift itself.