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Ancient Persian Art and Architecture: History & Style

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  • 0:05 The Persian Empire
  • 1:05 The Achaemenid Era
  • 1:48 Architecture and Reliefs
  • 2:54 Locations of Ancient…
  • 4:08 Metalwork and Jewelry
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

This lesson explores the artwork of one of the most powerful and expansive empires in history: the Persian Empire. Persian artwork contained vivid imagery that recorded the success of the Persian kings in battle and their cultural tendencies.

The Persian Empire

An example of the palace gate art in Persia
Persian Palace Gate Art

Many of us have heard of the early civilizations like Egypt and Mesopotamia. In these regions, civilization began with the invention of writing, creation of beautiful works of art and development of urban cities. As cultures emerged, fighting for land and resources became common. The most successful cultures became empires with control over vast areas. One of the most successful empires in the Near East, however, was the Persian Empire. The empire's lifespan was from around 539 BCE to 651 CE. Persia was situated in modern-day Iran. The empire spanned from Egypt to Turkey. The expansion occurred under the rule of rulers like Cyrus II, Darius and Xerxes. Extending its boundaries into culture-rich areas like Egypt and Greece, Persia influenced and was influenced by many of the surrounding native groups.

The Achaemenid Era

Now we will learn a little more about the time period on which we are focusing. After being under the rule of the Median Kingdom, Persia took control under Cyrus II the Great in 539 BCE. As Cyrus came to power, he made peace with the Medians, creating an alliance and becoming ruler of the Achaemenid Empire. This time period came to be known as the Achaemenid Era in Persian history. During this time, works of art were heavily influenced by Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. For example, Persian palaces contained statues at their gates of animals meant to protect palace inhabitants from harm.

Architecture and Reliefs

Now that we know a little bit about the time period, we can learn more about architecture. Achaemenidian kings created majestic royal cities with monumental palaces. As many kings before them had done, Persians built elaborate structures in an attempt to out-do their predecessors. Within the massive palaces could be found reliefs depicting images of royalty and supernatural creatures. In this time span, artists developed the ability to show movement and life within their reliefs.

Bas-reliefs were created to honor the king.
Persian Bas-Relief Example

Sculptures were generally found only in the palaces, but they could also be found among the routes within the empire. Bas-reliefs, carvings in which the figures are barely more prominent than their background, have been found along roads to glorify their king. Persians were inspired by Greek columns. The column became a very popular structure in Persian architecture. The number of columns included was generally a multiple of four. Cyrus' palace at Pasargadae held columns that were surmounted by bulls' heads.

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