Achaemenid Art & Architecture: Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Megan Criss
In this lesson, we will dive into the Achaemenid period of art and architecture in the Persian Empire. We will cover where it derived from, how it is defined, and some defining characteristics.

The Achaemenid Period

Achaemenid style art and architecture falls within the Achaemenid period of 550-330 BC. During the beginning of this period, Cyrus II the Great was in power. The style of architecture and art in this period reflected the character of the Achaemenid kings and their varied influences such as Egyptian and Greek. These varied influences are derivations of the style that can be found in the structures erected during the Achaemenid period. Now let's get into what the Achaemenid style is, and what its defining characteristics are.

What is Achaemenid Art & Architecture?

Achaemenid art and architecture can be defined as a style that uses relief sculpture to act as a supplemental element to massive architectural structures. Relief sculpture is a technique that results in the protrusion of a medium from a flat surface. The use of this technique creates depth and dimension on an otherwise flat and plain surface like stone. The addition of relief sculpture draws the eye in and creates an overall sense of great detail and interest. Persian kings were known to be extravagant when planning and executing the erection of their palaces and cities, trying to constantly outdo one another. This is where we can start digging into the more distinctive and defining characteristics of Achaemenid art and architecture.

Example of relief sculpture

Influences & Architecture

The palaces of the Achaemenid period held images of royalty as well as the occasional animal, in fact, their palaces often had animal statues outside so as to protect the palace, a tradition long established by cultures like the Egyptians. Another characteristic of this period's style was their Greek influence in the creation and use of columns. Columns could usually be found in grouping of twos or fours, and columned halls became an integral factor of Achaemenid architecture. Columned halls stand to define and accentuate large open spaces in buildings, often important spaces. A great example of this is the columned halls at Pasargadae, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great, and later on his tomb.

Columns were capped by capitals in the form of animal heads such as lions, bulls, or griffins, and later evolved into fluted columns with bell-shaped bases. Achaemenid columns were typically more slender and tightly fluted than the Greek columns. An example of these would be the columns of the Apadanas of Susa and Persepolis. Apadanas are large hypostyle halls: hypostyle halls originate from the Greece, and are large open halls with roofs supported by columns. The columns at Susa and Persepolis rose over 19 meters (over 62 feet) tall, creating a powerful impression for guests and visitors.

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