Godin Tepe

6 February 2010

Godin Tepe from the southeast

The excavation of Godin Tepe, close to Kangavar along the road from Hamadan to Behistun, in 1965-1973 was important, because until then, the chronology of Iran’s Bronze Age and Iron Age was poorly understood. Hasanlu, Tepe Nush-e Jan, and Godin Tepe changed all that.

Today, there is not much to see. The Median mansion that once stood at the top, was destroyed when the archaeologists excavated the lower strata of the hill. Still, it is worth to interrupt your trip along the main road at Godin Tepe and climb to the ruins on the summit: the view of the plain is really splendid. The Median prince who built his house over here, knew what he was doing. There is more here.


Bishapur

8 December 2009

The statue in Shapur's cave

Today, I moved the pages of Bishapur, one of the places I like most in Iran. During my first visit, we were especially interested in locations that were Alexander-related, so we visited a lot of Achaemenid sites; yet, we all agreed that Sasanian Bishapur, for which we had not been prepared, was among the highlights of our trip. The six rock reliefs and the city are really spectacular. I already blogged about the recently reopened museum.

I’ve returned several times, and on each occasion, I discovered something new or met someone interesting. But the best memories belong to the climb to the cave with Shapur’s statue, one of the most splendid places in the world – not the cave with the statue, which is interesting but not very special, but the valley. It is the most beautiful place of Fars. You’ve just not been in Iran if you haven’t climbed that rock and enjoyed the scenery.

The Bishapur pages are something of a jubilee: Livius.org has now reached its 3500th page. I also added a very brief article on the Persepolis Treasury Tablets, and a third page of Amsterdam stone tablets, which brings the grand total to 3502.

And because there’s something to celebrate, here is the last version of my Google Earth markers (1437 sites).


Ancient Warfare III.5

1 December 2009

Cover of Ancient Warfare

“The Imperial Nemesis” is a stock phrase and you’d be forgiven if you decided to ignore the latest issue of Ancient Warfare, but that would be a mistake. The articles on the conflict between Rome and Parthia are actually more interesting than the title suggests.

Pawel Grysztar’s historical introduction consists of three parts: a slightly predictable overview of the major campaigns, and extremely illuminating sections on the theaters of operation and the asymmetrical nature of the conflict. After all, the Parthians retained many nomadic traits, while the Romans were essentially sedentary agriculturalists. This aspect is also stressed by Glenn Barnett and Arnold Blumberg, in an article on asymmetrical warfare that I found excellent. Duncan Campbell focuses on the relation between warfare and diplomacy – a theme that Ancient Warfare ought to explore more often.

Joaquín Montero describes the historiographical tradition of Trajan’s campaigns: the notes by the emperor himself, Arrian’s Parthica, Cassius Dio’s rendering of these notes (all quoted), and the survival of this part of Dio’s Roman History. The Parthian bow is the subject of a contribution by Paul McDonnell-Staff, while legionary equipment is dealt with by Raffaele D’Amato. Ross Cowan, finally, describes the Battle of Nisibis in 217, and gives more credit to Macrinus than is common.

As always, Ancient Warfare has some articles that are not directly related to the main theme. In this case, Fred Eugene Ray deals with the Athenian general Myronides and the land empire that Athens created in the mid-fifth century; Murray Dahm continues his entertaining series of articles on ancient military handbooks with an article on Festus’ Breviarium.

My summary would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the fine cover by Johnny Shumate, the maps by Andrew Brozyna and Carlos de la Rocha, the reconstructions of two Iranian warriors by Giorgio Albertini and two Romans by Graham Sumner, and the drawing of Tiridates’ surrender of his diadem to a statue of Nero by Angel Garcia Pinto. The highlight is Igor Dzis’ painting of the battle of Nisibis, which is a work of art, not just an illustration in a journal.

All in all, I liked this issue, and bought five copies for friends in Iran. I you want your own copy, go here.


Mithra and Mithras

26 November 2009

Mithras killing the celestial bull. Roman relief from Dormagen, now in Bonn's Rheinisches Landesmuseum.

Yesterday, I received an impressive present: a book on the cult of Mithra(s). Impressive: it measures 50×31 centimeters and was published more than a century-and-a-half ago, in 1847. To be honest, I do not think that Félix Lajard’s Introduction à l’étude du culte public et des mystères de Mithra en Orient et en Occident, is still useful today. Yet, it is a beautiful book, and it is charming to read that it was printed “par autorisation du roi à l’ imprimerie royale”. Such were the courtesies of the ancien régime.

The author has collected all kinds of drawings of Iranian and Roman reliefs, seals, and coins, and tries to trace the development of the cult of Mithras in Iran and the Roman Empire. In other words, we get lots of pictures of oriental and Roman art objects that Lajard believed to be relevant to the study of the mysteries of Mithras.

It is hard not to be impressed by his attempts to get the details straight. He had not traveled as widely as we expect scholars to do, and was therefore unable to decide which representation of a particular relief was the best, so we often get two pictures of the same monument. I was surprised to learn how large the differences between drawings can be.

This late Iranian Mithra shows no similarities to the contemporary western bull-slayer reliefs (Taq-e Bostan)

The problem was, of course, that he had no idea what he was looking for. The decipherment of Babylonian cuneiform, which revolutionized our knowledge of the Near East, took place in 1857, and Lajard still could adduce parallel illustrations that we now know to be irrelevant, or only marginally relevant, to the study of Mithraism.

The main problem, and a problem that Lajard could have avoided, was the assumption that there was a continuity from Iran to the Roman Empire. Of course it would be exaggerated to state there was no continuity at all: the name Mithras is clearly derived from Mithra and one of the grades of the Roman mysteries was called “Persian”. But the cult of Mithras is essentially a Roman phenomenon. With one possible exception, no Mithraic cave has ever been excavated in Iran, nor are there indications that Avestan hymns were chanted in the Roman mithraea.

It often happens that elements from one civilization cross over to another, and it would certainly have been possible for an Iranian god to join the Roman pantheon. But how much that was Iranian was he allowed to take with him? Compare it to Christianity, which is essentially a type of Judaism accepted by Greeks and Romans. Some converts believed that only a couple of ideas were really useful; men like Marcion of Sinope thought that the Old Testament books could be done away with, and that the Jewish context was best forgotten. Other Christian authors, like Irenaeus, stressed the need to keep in touch with the original foundations. The Roman cult of Mithras seems to have originated with a Marcion-like prophet, who took a couple of lose elements and abandoned the rest of Iranian Mithraism.

Bull and lion on an Iranian relief (Persepolis): no connection to the Roman mithraic reliefs.

This is now very obvious, but it has taken some time to get here. The study of the cult of Mithras has for a long time been dominated by Cumont and Vermaseren, great scholars who believed, just like Lajard, that there had been some kind of continuity.

As I said, Lajard could have avoided the mistake. Even the most unattentive reader thumbing through the pages of his beautiful book will immediately realize that not a single element of the Roman Mithras reliefs – all those bulls being killed – can be connected to ancient Iran. Almost all elements of the Roman monuments, like the bull, the snake, the raven, the cup, the raven, the scorpion, the ear of wheat, and finally the twins Cautes and Cautopates, are absent from the Iranian iconography. (The lion may be an exception, but in Iranian art, the animal is either killed by the king or attacking a bull. He is not watching how someone else kills a bull.)

Yet, Lajard put the eastern and western iconography together as if they had much in common. He was essentially assuming what needed to be proven.

And this, it seems, is what happens often to the study of Roman Mithraism, and not just by people studying its origins. People studying its influence make the same error: assuming a continuity from the Roman mysteries of Mithras to Christianity that needs to be proved. I will not digress on this last point; I just refer to Roger Pearse’s interesting blog articles on this subject. I found his most recent installment and this article especially worthwhile, but he has written more articles on Mithras (which I would love to use for my collection of common errors). Recommended.


Moving Livius.org (15)

17 November 2009

Taq-e Bostan

If I say that Naqš-i Rajab has moved to this URL, and if I add that Zeugma is now here, and if I mention that the page on Taq-e Bostan can be visited here, you will understand that you have come across a new installment of the highly irregular and highly irrelevant series called Moving Livius.Org. (As always, I have used to occasion to improve the pages. So, you will now also find photos of many mosaics from Zeugma.)

Still 56 pages to go…


Naqš-i Rustam

15 November 2009

Little noticed by the visitors, a couple of eagles guard Naqš-i Rustam.

Naqš-i Rustam, where the Achaemenid kings lie buried and the Sasanian kings proclaimed how they had defeated Roman emperors, is one of the main archaeological sites of Iran. The oldest monument dates to the Bronze Age. No one knows why the people started to make rock reliefs on this site, but I am tempted to think that it had something to do with acoustics: there are not many places with such a beautiful echo.

Four Achaemenid kings (Darius the Great, Xerxes, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II) were buried in the rocks of Naqš-i Rustam. These men were also responsible for several other monuments, like the mysterious structure that is called “Ka’bah-i Zardusht“.

Later, the Sasanian rulers added many reliefs: in chronological sequence, the Investiture relief of Ardašir I, which became the model for several other reliefs; the famous Triumph Relief of Shapur I; the Audience Relief of Bahram II; the Equestrian Relief of Bahram II and the Double Equestrian Relief of Bahram II; the remarkable Investiture Relief of Narseh; the Equestrian Relief of Hormizd II; and finally the badly damaged Audience relief of Shapur II.

I am grateful to the Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian, whose work normally graces the pages of the National Geographic; she allowed me to use a splendid picture of Naqš-i Rustam in the winter.


The Vanden Berghe List

14 November 2009

Ardašir's Investiture, Firuzabad

Louis Vanden Berghe (1923-1993) was a Flemish Iranologist, the founder of Irania Antiqua, the excavator of a/o Pusht-i Kuh in Luristan, and a member of the prestigious Society of Antiquaries of London. He is also the author of a useful list of Iranian rock reliefs, published in Reliefs rupestres de l’Iran ancien (1983). Because I am now changing my pages on Naqš-i Rustam, a site with many Sasanian reliefs, the book is on my desk, and I decided to make it available online. So here it is, with links to photos of the sites.


Dishonest Archaeologists

14 November 2009

Photo montage of a flooded Pasargadae

I already blogged about the recent claims that Cambyses‘ lost army had been found. When I finished my article, I briefly suspected that I had been too harsh in my criticism, and when I found a press release stating that the people who had made the claim were not involved in the project, I initially thought that this was mudslinging among colleagues fighting for a scoop. But it turns out I was too kind: read David Meadows’ article here.

The journalists who swallowed the initial press release, ought to have checked their facts, and the problem is that no one seems to do that any more. We have seen the now notorious Pasargadae Hoax: the Iranian authorities are building a dam in the Sivand (true) and the tomb of Cyrus will be flooded (not true, but you can always make a  photo montage to prove a point). We have seen the press releases by Dutch archaeologists. We have seen the outrageous claims made in Israel, where connecting a find to a Biblical person results in a miraculous multiplication of funds.

I know that there are sincere archaeologists, who really do their best to tell the truth. I also know that there are honest journalists. But archaeology is rapidly becoming a suspect discipline.


Cambyses’ Still Lost Army

13 November 2009
Photo Marco Prins

Persian soldiers, on a glazed relief from Susa, now in the Louvre.

You can leave it to archaeologists to make exaggerated claims and you can leave it to journalists to swallow the nonsense. The readers of this little blog know that I have introduced the Ctesias Scale to measure poor archaeological journalism. A possible example of wilful disinformation was the announcement, earlier this week, that the remains of Cambyses‘ lost army had been found: go here or here for examples.

The story: in 525 BCE, the Persian king Cambyses conquered Egypt. After that, he sent an army to the west, to conquer the Oracle of Ammon. It never reached the place, and the Greek researcher Herodotus says that it was destroyed by a violent desert storm. Now, two Italian archaeologists, the twin brothers Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni, claim to have found remains of the army, partly on a sheltered place where people might have tried to find cover against a sandstorm.

There are two reasons to be suspicious.

In the first place, Herodotus is not a very reliable author. Not because he is not interested in the truth: on the contrary, he is certainly one of the most truthloving writers of the ancient world. But it was hard to get correct information, and Herodotus was standing in a tradition that appreciated an artful presentation. So, in his Histories, Xerxes‘ failed expedition is mirrored by the failures of earlier Persian rulers. So, Herodotus says that Cyrus was defeated by the Massagetes (according to Xenophon, Cyrus died of natural causes); that Darius lost a navy in a storm at the Athos; that Darius also lost an army during a Scythian campaign; and that Cambyses lost an army in the desert. These stories are not necessarily untrue, but the repetition makes one suspicious. I would not be surprised if some of these stories were created by Herodotus because he believed they had to have happened.

But even if we assume that Cambyses sent out an expedition to the Oracle of Ammon, there is still a reason not to believe the claim by our two Italian archaeologists. What they have found, or claim to have found, is a set of Persian weapons (e.g., arrowheads), skulls, and bones. Even if we assume that they are indeed Persian, it is a serious logical fallacy to assume that they belong to soldiers of Cambyses’ campaign. The Persians controled Egypt for more than a century (from 525 to c.401) and there must have been dozens of occasions on which soldiers were sent to the west. All these expeditions may have found itself lost in the western desert. What archaeologists can find, is evidence that a Persian army got into trouble; but stating that the finds belonged to a particular expedition is introducing a secundum quid. I think we must be suspicious.

Postscript

Perhaps this message at Andie Byrnes’ Egyptology Blog may be relevant too; although it leaves the Cambyses story itself unchallenged, it suggests that the Castiglionis are not completely bona fide. That may be mudslinging, but I think that suspicion about the report is completely justifiable.

Postpostscript

It helps to check the facts; David Meadows investigated the case. The journalists who swallowed this nonsense, ought to be under orders to read his article.


Two Poorly Understood Sites

9 November 2009

Rujm al-Malfouf

To be honest, I wanted to call this topic “two mysterious sites”, but as we all know, ancient historians must avoid clichés like “mystery”, “lost city”, and “treasure” – that would be the equivalent of “gathering war clouds”, “ghosts from the past”, or “child of nature”. Yet, today I have to introduce two sites that are, well, quite mysterious:

Go there to learn more, and understand less. Two other items: LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer has added an article on Roman fire worship to his Antiquaries’ Shoebox, and on his blog, Bill Heroman refers to a common mistake about the Temple of Herod.


Sarvestan

24 October 2009
Sarvestan Palace

Sarvestan Palace

The Sarvestan Palace (satellite photo), built in the fifth century by the Sasanian king Bahram V, is about an hour and a half east of Shiraz. The trip itself is half the fun, because the road passes along a salt lake and through some orchards (the pomegranates are now ripe). Finally, you reach an immense plain, where the only sounds you hear are the ones you produce yourself, and where your only company consists of an occasional twister. The palace is in the center of the plain, splendidly isolated.

The monument is made of bricks and used to have three domes, of which two survive. Just like the Qalah-e Dokhtar and the palace of Ardašir, both near Firuzabad, the Sarvestan Palace is being restored. There were large scaffolds in the great dome. On our way back, we bought some pomegranates, and enjoyed the chaotic traffic of Shiraz. All in all, the visit was extremely worthwhile.

If you want to go to the Sarvestan palace, too, it may be useful to know that it is not near the town called Sarvestan; it is in fact ten kilometers east of it, close to a small village. I read the sign while we were passing along it in the car and I could not read it well – it may have been Mohsenabad. Amusingly, I wrote in my notes “Mohinabad”, Nothingville.


Iwan-e Karkheh

17 October 2009
Walls of Iwan-e Karkheh

Walls of Iwan-e Karkheh

Iwan-e Karkheh” is the name of a region west of modern Andimeshk (Khuzestan), and is also the name given to the ruins of an ancient city, largely unexplored by archaeologists. Yet, the first conclusions were intriguing. It is a Sasanian city, founded in the fourth century and surrounded by a large wall of about 4×1 km. The enceinte can be seen over large distances. The archaeologists also found a building, perhaps a palace, with a cross-vault of a type that was to become popular in churches but has not been attested earlier than Iwan-e Karkheh.

I was attracted to the site because I had read that it had been converted into a garbage dump, and wanted to see it before it would be destroyed. But the site turned out to be not threatened at all. In all countries of the Near East, people throw away their waste along the roads. Garbage can be seen everywhere, and I have heard in both Syria and Iran the joke that it’s not garbage at all – the farmers grow plastic on their fields. Iwan-e Karkheh is not exceptionally dirty; in fact, it seems to be well protected by the police post in the northeast.

The city must have looked something like Bishapur, but there is, apart from the wall, not much to be seen. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our visit and received an inevitable invitation from a nearby farmer. I do not know whether to recommend a visit, but if you decide to go, take the road from Andimeshk to Ahvaz, turn to the right to Deloran, and after about fifteen kilometer, when the road forks and the Deloran road leads to the right, turn to the left. By then, you will already have seen the walls. Your satellite photo is here.


Godin Tepe

17 October 2009
One of the magazines of Godin Tepe

One of the magazines of Godin Tepe

In the area immediately surrounding modern Hamadan are several sites that may be labeled “Median”. Earlier this year, I blogged about Tepe Nush-e Jan; this time, we visited Godin Tepe, which is just south of the road to Kangavar. The eighth-century Median settlement was built on a hill, consisted of several halls and storage rooms, and reminded me of both Tepe Nush-e Jan and Çavustepe, an Urartaean fort I visited a couple of years ago.

Today, little remains of Godin Tepe (satellite photo). Some of the storage rooms are still recognizable, but the halls were destroyed when the archaeologists made a deep sounding. They discovered that the hill contained at least nine earlier strata, going back to the Copper Age; very interesting of course, but there’s little left to be seen for the occasional visitor.

The most interesting aspect of our visit was the discovery that on the site of the ancient cemetery, which has been excavated and contained no archaeological remains any more, a new cemetery had been made. Apparently, today’s inhabitants want to be buried where their ancestors had rested. Remarkably enough, they all had “Godini” as their family name.


Spijkers op laag water

9 September 2009
Spijkers op laag water

Spijkers op laag water

Only once have I visited a drydock, but I immediately understood what the Dutch expression spijkers op laag water zoeken (“searching for nails in pools”) means. Standing on a scaffolding, some carpenters were preparing the hull of a yacht, and they had dozens of nails with them. When a nail fell to the ground, it was rather silly to go downstairs and look for it, if only because the nails usually dropped into pools and were invisible. I could imagine that one day, the dock’s manager checked those pools, took the nails, presented them to his workers, complained, and ignored that they had actually been able to finish a hull that day. Ever since that day, the carpenters must have said that someone was “searching for nails in pools” when he was focusing on minor errors.

I took this proverb as the title of my book on common errors, because I did not want to suggest that all mistakes were really serious. Two of my best friends believe that the title is wrong, because people will not understand  its  self-deprecating nature. My publisher and another friend believe that the irony will be understood, so in the end I agreed, although some nagging doubt remains.

And there is another doubt. Are the mistakes I am dealing with really that innocent? Many of them certainly are, but if professional scholars repeat them, addressing the problem is not searching for nails in pools, but saying that our academics have become too specialized to have a good view of the entire field.


1350 Ancient Sites on Google Earth

16 August 2009
The Roman fort at Hardknott

The Roman fort at Hardknott

What you are looking for, is here.


New Historical Atlas

23 July 2009

If a book supposed to cost 179 euro is sold for 225 euro, you may feel cheated. And if you immediately spot a very grave error, you’re in a bad mood. But the new Historischer Atlas der antiken Welt is too beautiful to complain for too long. It is also a very good book, and even 225 euro is not an unreasonable price.

Anne-Maria Wittke, Eckart Olshausen and Richard Szydlak have succeeded in making an atlas that will be with us for the next two or three decades. It is more than just a set of 184 full-color and 53 b/w maps. There’s always a helpful explanation on the opposite page, which has benefited from the Neue Pauly, the encyclopedia this atlas tries to supplement. Most maps are attractive and I was quite tempted to leaf through the book for an hour or two. I have not resisted this temptation, and soon forgot my initial disappointment. Although a couple of maps are loaded with too much information, most of them are quite clear. The use of colors on the following map is particularly illuminating:

This book sets a new standard, and there lies a problem: it’s just not good enough. I looked up the map of Germania Inferior, a part of the Roman world where I can check information and that offers a simple litmus test that the Historischer Atlas fails to pass. The most detailed map of this part of the Roman Empire has “the so-called Batavian Revolt” as its subject, and is clearly based on the map of the “Batavenaufstand” in volume 2 of the Neue Pauly (1996), which was made by Olshausen. In the Historischer Atlas, he has meticulously copied all his errors.

Take, for instance, the coastline of the Zeeland archipelago, which did not exist until the Middle Ages. The only evidence for islands in Antiquity is Caesar, Gallic War, 6.31.3, a clearly topical description of the edges of the earth that is not to be taken seriously. These phantom islands can be seen on many maps, but Olshausen should have known better: he ought to have consulted a palaeogeographical map (e.g., Zagwijn’s Nederland in het Holoceen, 1986). Instead, he based his map on outdated maps that were in turn based on written sources. This is worse than carelessness: ignoring palaeogeography and uncritically trusting literary evidence is a very grave methodological error.

Other mistakes on the same map: the Insula Batavorum (“the island of the Batavians”) is the land between the branches of the Rhine (Tacitus, Germania, 29), not an island off the coast; the Brittenburg (why this sixteenth-century name, and not its Latin name Lugdunum?) is on the place of the town of the Cananefates, who have moved to the country of the Frisii Minores; they have in turn moved to the land of the Chauci, who have migrated to the east. Traiecum, De Meern (an outdated name), Helinium, and Fectio are also on the wrong place. Although these mistakes are less serious than forgetting to consult a palaeogeographic map, they are inexcusable: any Dutch archaeologist could have explained things, the Barrington Atlas has got these details right, even websites (e.g., limes.nl) have not made so many mistakes. If internet sites can have the facts straight, a team of three university-employed scholars ought not to make errors.

There’s more outdated information. On page 165, Caesar defeats the Belgians at the Sambre instead of the Selle, even though Turquin’s article on the location was published more than half a century ago; on page 172, the Forum of Trajan is shown with the temple in the northwest – it was excavated in the southeast; the map of the Roman Empire during the reign of Septimius Severus on page 207 shows southeastern Iraq as part of the Roman world, while the annexations in Tripolitana, correctly shown on page 212, are ignored; Waššukanni, the lost capital of Mitanni, is correctly shown as unidentified on the map of the ancient Near East in the 15th-14th centuries, but becomes a known site on the map of the thirteenth century, when it was probably abandoned; the map of Alexander‘s campaign is supposed to be based on Bosworth’s commentary, but still, the Macedonian conqueror makes a detour to Ecbatana in 330 BCE, although Bosworth has convincingly shown that Alexander in fact made a short-cut to overtake Darius. Et cetera.

I know these mistakes are rather trivial, but in a book that is sold for this price, the information ought to have been checked and rechecked. Still, the Historischer Atlas is far better than similar publications, and it is unlikely that other scholars will now publish another, equally ambituous atlas. For the time being, this will be the standard. And although I am critical, your 179 or 225 euro are, in the final analysis, well-spent. I had never seen maps of Rome’s Persian Wars (219), the Palmyrene Empire (221), the Sasanian Empire (215 and 217), and the duel between the Sasanians and Byzantines (241) of this quality and beauty. It has already received a place on my desk, next to my dictionaries and the Neue Pauly. I expect that it will remain there for the rest of my life.

PS: Another contribution by Patrick Charlot: Qadamgah.


The ziggurat of Choga Zanbil

22 July 2009
Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven

A ziggurat is a pyramid-shaped artificial mountain, which served as the base of a temple. The most famous example is the “Tower of Babel“: a temple tower meant to “reach into heaven”, as the author of Genesis states – a claim that has indeed been made by the Babylonian kings Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. The best-preserved ziggurat is in Choga Zanbil, in Khuzestan (Iran).

It is also one of the largest: it occupies a surface of 110×110 meters, and still rises some 25 meters high, less than half of it original heighth. But Choga Zanbil is not just a big heap of ancient tiles and bricks: there are courts and temples, there’s a water refinery, and there’s a royal palace with royal tombs. To be honest, everything is small compared to the building erected by king Untaš-Napiriša (1275-1240).

A “zanbil”, BTW, is a bucket, usually made of leather or rubber. From an excavation in Greece (Halos), I remember that we carried away the dirt in “zambilis”, which suggests that the word has entered modern Greek as a loanword from the Turkish language. Perhaps it’s originally an Arabic word, that was borrowed by the Turks first?

I used to have two pages on the site, based on photos from 2004. But I’ve been there again and again, sometimes twice a year, so I revised everything, and it’s now here.


Iranian Rock Reliefs

21 July 2009
Relief at Sarab-i Qandil

Relief at Sarab-i Qandil

One of the things I like best in Iran, is its ancient rock art. From the Bronze Age to the Sasanian dynasty, and even later, kings have ordered workers to cut reliefs. Some of them are rightly famous, like the Behistun relief and its inscription, others are not so well-known. Every time I visit the country, I try to make photos of at least one relief I’ve not yet seen; you may remember that I’ve blogged about Sar-e Pol-e Zahab and Dukkan-e Daud in March.

I’m not the only one who is interested. Mr Patrick Charlot from Niort, France, is another fan. Today, he surprised me with two articles for the Livius website and photos of an Elamite relief at Kurangun, which dates back to the seventeenth century BCE, and a Sasanian rock relief at Sarab-e Qandil.

They are not Mr Charlot’s first contributions. On earlier occasions, he sent me photos of Barm-e Dilak, Guyum, and Sarab-i Bahram. Thank you!


Google Earth: Better Photos of Iran

20 July 2009
Takht-e Soleyman

Takht-e Soleyman

Google has obtained better photos of Iran, and as a consequence, I could improve my page with links to satellite photos of ancient sites in Iran. Some errors have been corrected, and on many places you can now see the actual ruins, something that was often impossible. For example, you can now discern the Apadana and Great Gate of Susa, and I was able to spot my favorite picknick site (Gandj Nameh). All this is, to use the phrase you have already heard a million times today, “a giant leap forward”. I was impressed by the Zoroastrian shrine at Takht-e Suleyman. and the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil, both of which have become visible only now.

Sometimes, you can see that the people at Google are still working on it. This photo of the Persian Gate shows an imperfect match on precisely the place where the Macedonians were trapped by Ariobarzanes.

If you are interested in downloading my masterfile (which runs on Google Earth, not Google Maps), you can download it from Jim West’s blog, here. Why Jim rebaptized it “biblical”, I don’t know; in any case, the masterfile has markers from Pakistan to Scotland and from Morocco to Ukraine.


Moving Livius.org (14)

30 June 2009
Persian Gate

Persian Gate

If I say that Hecatompylos has moved to this URL, and if I add that Masjid-e Solaiman is now here, and if I mention that the page on the Persian Gate can be visited here, you will understand that you have come across a new installment of the highly irregular and highly irrelevant series called Moving Livius.Org. Of these three sites, only the last one is really worth visiting, although I have excellent memories of the other Iranian sites too.

The same can be said of Priene in Turkey, where I once spent a leisurely afternoon. The climb to Oenoanda, on the other hand, was exhausting, but certainly worth the effort: the ruins are impressive. Because there were wild animals over there, we hired a hunter and his friend to keep us company. It was the first time that I was escorted by a man who carried a gun.

Still 77 pages to go…


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