IMAGES OF AN EMPIRE

INTRODUCTION
From 1931 through 1939 Ernst Herzfeld and Erich Schmidt directed the Oriental Institute’s Persian Expedition in Iran. During their exploration, excavation, and restoration of this ancient site of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BC), Herzfeld and Schmidt had photographers Hans-Wichart von Busse and Boris Dubensky document the architectural wonders and landscape of Persepolis. This rich collection of photographs is now housed in the Museum Archives of the Oriental Institute. The selection of photographs featured in Persepolis: Images of an Empire capture the quintessential elements of Achaemenid Persian architectural style: forests of columns, monumental audience halls, elaborate staircases, and stone relief carvings of people from all corners of the empire. This court style expresses the Achaemenid imperial ideology of harmonious order, power, and unity. The photographs on display also demonstrate the contrast between the imperial terrace with its imposing architecture and the surrounding barren landscape. This duality reinforced the magnitude and grandeur of Persepolis.

Ernst Herzfeld, 1879-1948, German Archaeologist and Architect, at Persepolis, 1933

ARCHIVAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF PERSEPOLIS
In the nineteenth century, photography offered archaeologists a new mode of documentation, a way to record and publish the remains of an ancient site. Yet this medium was also a new art form, a way to capture the magnificent scale and expert craftsmanship of ancient ruins. The archival photographs taken during the Oriental Institute’s Persian Expedition are both scientific snapshots of an archaeological site and artistic visions of the ruins of a powerful dynasty. The featured photographs of the art and architecture of Persepolis show how the Achaemenid building style and aesthetic established in the reign of Darius (522–486 BC) was maintained with very little alteration by his successors who continued to build at Persepolis: Xerxes (486–465 BC), Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC), and Artaxerxes III (359–338 BC). This court style combined elements from different cultural traditions of the empire as a visual expression of the Achaemenid imperial ideology of diversity and order.

THE GATE OF LANDS
Field Negative P-1174
Schmidt Expedition 1939

The Gate of All Lands, built and so named by King Xerxes (486–465 BC), marked the formal entrance to the terrace at Persepolis. The three monumental doorways on the east, west, and south sides of this freestanding structure made the gate seem open and welcoming yet at the same time controlled circulation and access. The colossal winged human-headed bulls of the east and west doorways are modeled on Assyrian art and present a message of inclusiveness to visitors approaching and leaving the terrace.

Although Persepolis: Images of an Empire focuses on black and white archival images of the site, Persepolis would have been a colorful place. In the lecture video above, Dr. Alexander Nagel discusses the colors used on statues and reliefs at Persepolis and current conservation work to perserve them.

STAIRCASE RELIEF OF A LION
BATTLING A BULL
Central Building, Main Staircase
Field Negative P-480
Schmidt Expedition 1935

The motif of a lion biting the backside of a bull is found in the preserved triangular sections of the staircase reliefs at Persepolis. The message of imperial power and prosperity represented by the neighboring reliefs of subject peoples bringing gifts to the king is also expressed by this motif:

“the lion and the bull were the two most powerful and noble beasts in the Iranian sphere. The emblem projects their union in a symbolic landscape of abundance signifying the combined powers of nature brought together by and for the Achaemenid empire” (Margaret Root, Professor of Near Eastern and Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan).

NOBLES IN PERSIAN DRESS ASCENDING THE STAIRCASE
Central Building, Main Staircase
Field Negative P-486
Schmidt Expedition 1935

This relief shows nobles in typical Persian dress with fluted tiara, long pleated dress, three-strapped shoes, and a belt with short sword (akinakes). The formal repetition of this scene is broken up by the figures who turn to their rear and reach out in a gesture of camaraderie to the figure behind them.

DOORWAY RELIEF OF AN ENTHRONED KING
Hall of 100 Columns
Field Negative P-321
Schmidt Expedition 1935

This relief symbolizes the Achaemenid king’s far-reaching power. The king — resolute with staff in hand and attendant behind — is shown seated on a throne supported by a colossal platform with lion’s paws and rows of throne-bearers who represent the subject peoples of the empire. Darius explains this image in the inscription on his tomb at Naqsh-i-Rustam:

“If you think, ‘How many are the lands of which Darius the King took possession?’ consider the images that carry the throne; then you will know, then it will be known to you ‘The land of the Persian man has gone far,’ then it will be known to you ‘The Persian man beat back the enemy far from Persia.’”

THE PALACE OF DARIUS AND COLUMNS OF THE APADANA (AUDIENCE HALL)
Field Negative P-205
Schmidt Expedition 1935

The stark contrast between the terrace of Persepolis and the surrounding vast landscape is captured beautifully in this picture through the opposition of the monumental columns and stone doorways with the preceding plain. An ancient visitor to Persepolis, however, would not have experienced this same contrast. The accounts of historians from the time of Alexander the Great say that Persia was the best populated, cultivated, and maintained territory of the empire. The plain surrounding Persepolis would have likely been densely populated and exploited for its natural resources.

"The situation of the city, or the palaces, is glorious. The wide, starshaped valley, completely flat, and framed by bizarre ragged and highpiled mountains."
- Ernst Herzfeld, 1879-1948, German Archaeologist and Architect

STAIRCASE RELIEF AND COLUMNS OF THE APADANA
Apadana (Audience Hall), Eastern Staircase
Negative N. 14606
Herzfeld Expedition 1933

The reliefs on the northern wing of the eastern staircase of the Apadana depict nobles in Persian and Median dress, followed by soldiers, guards, and the king’s horses and chariots. The Elamite and Babylonian versions of the inscription of King Xerxes commemorating his construction of the Apadana bound the relief on the right-hand side. The comparison of the relief and towering twenty-meter columns with the worker standing in front draws attention to the scale of this building.

CENTRAL HALL OF THE PALACE OF DARIUS
Negative N. 14550
Herzfeld Expedition 1932

The Central Court of the Palace of Darius once contained twelve stone columns, of which only the bases are preserved. Still standing are the monumental stone window frames and doorways with carved lintels reminiscent of Egyptian temple architecture; The intervening mudbrick walls, however, have long since perished. Reliefs on the doorjambs of the palace show the king either in formal dress accompanied by attendants or as the royal hero in combat with animals and monsters.

DOORWAY RELIEF OF THE KING WITH ATTENDANTS
Central Building
Field Negative P-496
Schmidt Expedition 1935

The Central Building controlled access between the large ceremonial buildings and spaces to the north, the royal palaces, storage and support buildings to the south. Above the king and attendants in this relief is a winged disc from which a human figure emerges with lotus flower in hand. The winged figure may be interpreted as the king’s glory (khvarnah) or the god Ahuramazda, who is invoked by the Achaemenid kings from the time of Darius onward in their royal inscriptions. The god Ahuramazda is the supreme god in Zoroastrian religion.

THE RUINS OF THE PALACE OF XERXES
Field Negative P-505
Schmidt Expedition 1935

The Palace of Xerxes is among the less well-preserved monuments on the terrace at Persepolis, yet elements characteristic of Achaemenid court style are still visible in its art and architecture. The staircase reliefs with the lion and bull and Persian and Median nobles still stand on display, as do the monumental stone doorways with their eclectic design and carvings, reminiscent of those in the Palace of Darius.

"The columns are of white marble, which has weathered to cream, brown, and black .... The reliefs are carved of dull grey stone, quite opaque and very fine in texture, which exposure has turned to mottled black."
- Robert Byron, 104-1941, British Travel Writer

RELIEF OF PERSIAN AND MEDIAN GUARDS
Central Building, Main Staircase
Field Negative P-479
Schmidt Expedition 1936

This relief depicts guards in Persian and Median dress bearing shields and arms. The Medes are identified by their domed hats and the Persians by their fluted tiaras. The border of rosettes visible to the left and top of the figures and the crenellations are common features of Achaemenid imperial architecture.

PROFILE OF A LYDIAN TRIBUTE BEARER
Apadana (Audience Hall), Eastern Staircase
Negative N. 15464
Herzfeld Expedition 1933

Twenty-three foreign delegations are depicted on the left side of the eastern staircase of the Apadana. Each group is distinguished by the garments, hairstyles, headdresses, beards, and form of tribute carried by the figures. The Lydian delegation, from southwest Anatolia, is shown with beehive-shaped hats and long cloaks. They carry bracelets and a chariot as tribute for the king. The reliefs of foreign delegations at Persepolis communicate the components of diversity, inclusiveness, and power central to Achaemenid imperial ideology.

WINGED SPHINX FROM THE PALACE
OF DARIUS
Field Negative P-565
Schmidt Expedition 1935

The combination of horned headdress, bearded head, and body and wings of a sphinx in this relief demonstrates the expert craftsmanship and imaginative qualities of Achaemenid art. Reinforcing this visual experience is the border of rosettes above and below and the stylized palm trees to left and right. The tips of the feathers of a winged disc are visible to the left.

"Every remains of these noble ruins indicate their former grandeur and magnificence, truly worthy of being the residence of a great and powerful monarch; and whilst viewing them, the mind becomes impressed with an awful solemnity!"
- William Francklin, 1763-1839, British Officer of the East India Company

DOUBLE-BULL COLUMN CAPITAL WITH WORKER
Unfinished Gate
Negative N. 12864
Herzfeld Expedition 1933

This bull capital was discovered next to the Unfinished Gate that preceded the Hall of 100 Columns. The kneeling worker shows the colossal scale of this stone figure, which is only one of a pair of back-to-back bull protomes.

THE APADANA (AUDIENCE HALL)
The Apadana was the principal ceremonial audience hall at Persepolis where the king would have received visitors. Two monumental staircases, on the north and east sides, gave access to its platform and lofty 36-columned hall. The reliefs on both staircases, which were mirror images of one another, show an idealized representation of the ceremonial activity that would have taken place within this building.

VIEW OF THE EAST COURT OF THE APADANA AND STAIRCASE OF THE CENTRAL BUILDING
Field Negative P-203
Schmidt Expedition 1935

"On ascending the platform on which the [Apadana] once stood, nothing can be more striking than the view of its ruins; so vast, and magnificent, so fallen, mutilated and silent ..."- Sir Robert Ker Porter, 1777-1842, British Painter, Author and Explorer

TOP REGISTER:
THE KING’S ATTENDANTS, GROOMS, ROYAL HORSES, CHARIOTS, AND CHARIOTEERS
MIDDLE AND BOTTOM REGISTER:
THIRTY-TWO ALTERNATING NOBLES IN PERSIAN AND MEDIAN DRESS

The Medes wear a domed hat, belted knee-length tunic, long trousers, and laced shoes, and the Persians wear a fluted tiara, long pleated dress, and three-strapped shoes.

REPRESENTATIVES OF TWENTY-THREE DELEGATIONS OF THE EMPIRE

Each delegation is led by an usher in Median or Persian dress and is shown bringing gifts and tribute to the king. The delegations are shown on the inner and outer wall of the flight of steps on the left and in three registers on the outer surface of the facade. Scholars continue to debate whether or not we can identify the groups of delegations based on their dress and the types of tribute they carry.

REPRESENTATIVES OF TWENTY-THREE DELEGATIONS OF THE EMPIRE

Each delegation is led by an usher in Median or Persian dress and is shown bringing gifts and tribute to the king. The delegations are shown on the inner and outer wall of the flight of steps on the left and in three registers on the outer surface of the facade. Scholars continue to debate whether or not we can identify the groups of delegations based on their dress and the types of tribute they carry.

PERSEPOLIS FROM THE AIR
Aerial photographs such as Schmidt’s provide a detailed, bird’s-eye perspective on archaeological sites. This perspective allows archaeologists to see ancient architectural plans and road networks, and to understand the relationship between ancient settlements and their surrounding environment. These photographs also provide records of landscapes that are now profoundly altered. In today’s world where anyone with access to a computer can use Google Earth to “visit” sites across the globe, it is important to recall the contributions made by pioneers like Schmidt to viewing the earth from above.This video details how researchers at the Oriental Institute’s Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) have used the Schmidt aerial photographs from the 1930s and published materials to build a 3D model of Persepolis. The model allows you to explore the architecture of the site and to observe some of the differences between the Persepolis of today and that of Schmidt’s era over eighty years ago.

PERSEPOLIS FROM THE AIR
Run Time: 12 Minutes
Produced by the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes

Overhead View of Persepolis taken during the Aerial Survey Expeditions of Iran

Field Negative AE-485

Aerial View of the Terrace of Persepolis Taken from the Northeast

Field Negative AE-404

"Indeed every remains of these noble ruins indicate their former grandeur and magnificence, truly worth of being the residence of a great and powerful monarch; and whilst viewing them, the mind becomes impressed with an awful solemnity" - William Francklin, British Officer of the East India Company, 18th Century

SCHMIDT'S AERIAL SURVEY EXPEDITION
“In thirteen hours of flying over the environs of Persepolis we succeeded in mapping more than four hundred ancient sites in the plain of Persepolis. A task of years if carried out on the ground.” - Schmidt, Flights Over Ancient Cities of Iran, 1940. While in Iran, Erich Schmidt conducted two seasons of aerial survey explorations of an unprecedented scale (1935–1937). From his Waco cabin biplane, given to him by his wife Mary-Helen Warden Schmidt, and named Friend of Iran (Field Negative P-118, Schmidt Expedition 1935), Schmidt and his assistant Boris Dubensky took aerial photographs of excavations already in progress, of sites under consideration for archaeological work, and of areas of Iran yet to be explored. The aerial photographs were published in the Oriental Institute special publication Flights Over Ancient Cities of Iran in 1940. Additional large-scale prints are on display in the nearby Robert and Deborah Aliber Persian Gallery.

AERIAL SURVEY EXPEDITION WORKSPACE

Field Negative P-609
Schmidt Expedition 1935

Exhibits in the aeronautical department in the restored "Harem," prepared for a visit to the Persian Expedition by Reza Shah Pahlavi and the Crown Prince.

WHAT WAS PERSEPOLIS?
Persepolis was one of the most important centers of the Achaemenid Persian empire. There are differentinterpretations of Persepolis through time. We would like to leave you with some of these perspectivesin this lively ongoing debate, so we asked scholars at the Oriental Institute what their thoughts were, and this is what they had to say:

What Was Persepolis to the Achaemenid Persian Empire?

“The intimate associations among the structures, tombs,reliefs, inscriptions, tablets, and surroundings of Persepolismake them the gateways to understanding the largestand longest-lasting political formation of antiquity beforethe Romans, the continental empire of the Achaemenids:its art, both monumental and minor; its languages andthe interplay among them; its administrative organizationand its imprint on the administration of its provinces; thesociety of its heartland and the imprint of its rulers on thesocieties of its subjects; its heritage among conquerorsand successors; and its self-presentation and the mixedenvy and dread of its ancient and modern chroniclers.”

- Matthew Stolper, John A. Wilson Professor Emeritus of Assyriology; Director, Persepolis Fortification Archive Project

What Was Persepolis to the King?

“Persepolis is a unique place. As the most completely excavated Achaemenid capital, it is vitally important for helping us understand how kingship, ritual, and political power all came together and actually functioned in the Persian empire. The Great King did not reside at Persepolis full time. Instead he traveled over the course of the year, holding court in Susa, Babylon, Ecbatana, and Persepolis. But Persepolis seems to have been different from the
other capitals; it was not a pre-existing city, but rather a royal center specifically built for both administration and as the setting for royal rituals—political and religious. Although there is some debate, it is quite possible that the king was actually present for public rituals where representatives of the different provinces brought tribute as a public display of allegiance and imperial unity. The king may well have held court and received the tribute of the subject nations in person. The power and impact of this public political ceremony would have been overwhelming.”

- Gil Stein, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology; Director, Oriental Institute

What Was Persepolis to the Greeks?

“The exact nature and function of Persepolis may still elude us. Persepolis is said to have been a place where the representatives of the subject nations of the Achaemenid empire annually came to pay homage to the King. Yet Herodotus, who lived during the reign of Xerxes and his son Artaxerxes I, never mentions Persepolis, but mentions Susa, Ecbatana, and Babylon, the three Achaemenid capitals. It was not until after Alexander conquered the Persian empire that the Greeks began to mention Persepolis in their records!”

- Abbas Alizadeh, Senior Research Associate, Iranian Prehistoric Project

What Was Persepolis to a Tenth-Century AD Geographer?

“Visitors have always sensed Persepolis is a special place. The great Arab geographer Muqaddasi writing in the late tenth century AD called it ‘the mal’ab (theater) of Sulayman, where one ascends handsome stairs cut in the rock to black pillars and statues in niches, a remarkable construction like the ancient theaters of Syria.’ He may have sensed the spring rituals that were played out with the King and peoples bringing gifts of a unified empire. This was a setting, but not of imperial politics; as Arthur Upham Pope once described, ‘this was the theatrical re-enactment of fundamental, cosmic renewal of life.’”

- Donald Whitcomb, Research Associate (Associate Professor), Medieval and Islamic Archaeology

Credits: Story

Based on an exhibit displayed at the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago.

Curator: Kiersten Neumann
Chief Curator: Jack Green
Exhibit Coordinator: Emily Teeter
Museum Archives: John A. Larson
Exhibit Design and Installation: Erik Lindahl, Josh Tulisiak, Matt Federico
Exhibit Map and Plan: Leslie Schramer

Supported by:Guity Nashat Becker, Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, Zoroastrian Association of Chicago Iran House of Greater Chicago, and Visitors and Members of the Oriental Institute.

The online version of Persepolis: Images of an Empire was compiled and arranged by Foy Scalf.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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