BMCR 2021.12.17

Achemenet. Vingt ans après. Études offertes à Pierre Briant à l’occasion des vingt ans du Programme Achemenet

, , , , , Achemenet. Vingt ans après. Études offertes à Pierre Briant à l’occasion des vingt ans du Programme Achemenet. Persika, 21. Leuven: Peeters, 2021. Pp. xviii, 470. ISBN 9789042945104 €87,00.

Twenty years after his establishment of the Chair of the History and Civilization of the Achaemenid World and Alexander’s Empire at the Collège de France and of the launch of the online research platform Achemenet, Pierre Briant, the éminence grise of Achaemenid Studies, is suitably honoured with an edited volume of essays—number 21 in the Persica book-series, the sister-publication of the online resource. Briant’s aim for Achemenet (which also includes the e-journal ARTA, Achaemenid Research on Texts and Archaeology and an image database known as MAVI) was to gather together primary data on the Achaemenid Empire and to make it available to specialists, students, and the general public. Indeed, Briant’s chief argument over the last twenty years has been that historians cannot choose their sources and in the case of the first Persian Empire, whose reach stretched from Libya to Pakistan, they must employ a mosaic of materials to piece together the history and cultures of the Achaemenid world. It is hard to know if and how that internet site has added to the study of ancient Persian history beyond the benefits to an inner-circle of scholars who contribute to its pages; the maze-like structure of the site is not easy to navigate and I am not aware of it being a go-to source for teaching and learning purposes. Yet the presence of Achemenet is not to be dismissed and for those who stumble on it, there is genuine potential to be found there. Certainly though, the dazzling mosaic-like quality of Achaemenid research is neatly-captured in this beautifully presented, if sparsely edited, tribute publication. The paperback book is very well-produced and the illustrations are of a very good quality throughout. The price is hefty though, as all the Persica volumes tend to be.

Following a fittingly reverential (but not sentimental) tribute to Briant by the editors (‘D’un anniversaire à l’autre, Achemenet et Pierre Briant’; pp. V-XVIII), twenty-seven chapters cover an enormous variety of topics. It is impossible to mention, let alone discuss in any detail, each of the contributions within the confines of this review, but it is possible to look at the subjects covered, although the volume lacks any obvious attempt to corral the materials into units or to create any kind of through-line. The editors make no attempt to offer a rationale for the choice of ordering and layout of the individual chapters (although given the maziness of Achemenet itself, this is perhaps a compliment in itself). There is a good deal of material focused on epigraphy, and in particular the always-fascinating cuneiform tablet corpus from Persepolis, although royal inscriptions in Old Persian also get a look-in. Babylonian and Lydian sources are analysed via the Nabonidus Chronicle, the spread of Aramaic as a lingua franca is questioned, and the Old Persian texts are drilled for evidence of colour terminology in a very interesting chapter by Adriano Rossi (pp. 357-69) in which it is argued that ‘hue’ mattered less to the Persians than the concept of brightness, ‘shining or not shining’ (the idea was familiar to the Greeks too, although Rossi does not make us aware of that). Worth mentioning are the two contributions by Wouter Henkelman and Matthew Stolper, ‘Counting trees around Persepolis’ (pp. 169-200) and by Henkelman and Daniel Potts, ‘On animal hides and (pre-)tanning in the Persepolis Fortification archive’ (pp. 277-300). Both are fascinating text-archaeologies in which the authors dig into the language of the Persepolitan bureaucracy and uncover much-needed evidence for the realia of life at the heart of the Empire. Each of the two chapters are framed around analytical discussions and new text editions in transliteration and in English translation. Henkelman and Stolper’s study of plantations and fruit-storage facilities in and around Pars compliments nicely the short contribution by Annalisa Azzoni, ‘PFAT 783: Fruit and the Bazikara’ (pp. 11-16), although the editors make nothing of this.

The second ‘theme’ I managed to find in the book’s higgledy-piggledy structure is rather broad: art and archaeology (not a very innovative label, admittedly). Briant has always been a champion of archaeological data (although as an art historian he has often lacked nuance and subtlety) and so it is proper that clusters of contributions reflect his interest. Here the chapters’ focus ranges from the miniscule (seals and seal-imagery) to the vast (landscape and monumental architecture). In the former category we have Mark Garrison (surely the very subtlest of iconographers in the field) who examines an heirloom seal from Persepolis (PFUTS 150, which shows musicians playing a lyre and reed flute) and skilfully sets it in its Assyrio-Elamite courtly context (pp. 143-168). Likewise, Henri-Paul Francfort explores Achaemenid ‘palm-motifs’ in the art of the eastern satrapies and Central Asia where they are encountered especially in goldwork and textiles (pp. 119-142). He connects the spread of the design to the Hellenistic era and sees its final form in the art of Mauryan India. Indeed, the Mauryans are at the centre of Margaret Cool Root’s fascinating chapter too (although she lightly offers it to Briant as an amuse bouche), on Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), Persepolis, Alexander the Great, and the swashbuckling imperialist narrative of western triumphalism (pp. 343-356). It is excellent. Notable too is Shahrokh Razmjou’s chapter on a possible reconstruction of the (headless) statue of Darius the Great from Susa with its elegant digital rendering (pp. 301-320) which sets the monumental sculpture alongside a small damaged and incomplete figurine of a royal torso in the collection of the National Museum of Iran. The beard-shape preserved on the fragment offers Razmjou a feasible possibility for the original appearance of the Susa statue on which, he argues, the fragment is based.

The final chapters can be grouped under ‘history’ and ‘perseption’. Some concentrate on Greek perceptions of their Persian neighbours and adversaries, others on the ‘Persian Version’ of events, places, and people. Melanie Wasmuth’s contribution to the volume, for example, explores the relationship between royal authority and elite identity in the late 6th c. BCE, with her focus very much on the figures of king Cambyses II and the Egyptian Udjahorresnet, the arch collaborator who fostered a public image for the Persian conqueror in keeping with pharaonic precedents. Udjahorresnet has been much-studied, but Wasmuth gives a fresh voice to his autobiographical inscription, noting how he oscillated between presenting himself as a ‘private’ person and an ‘official of state’. She places the Persian conquest of Egypt in the context of early ‘globalization’ – a new take on a familiar subject.

In spite of its haphazard organization, the volume offers much of real value and reflects the healthy state of scholarship being enjoyed in Achaemenid Studies today. The individual essays all locate themselves within the overarching framework of Pierre Briant’s seminal contributions to the discipline and, as such (and rightly so), reflect his own concerns, likes, and enthusiasms. It is not, therefore, a snapshot of the wider range of topics which now make up Achaemenid Studies. The things which Briant has shown less favour or passion for – popular reception, gender, daily life – tend to be absent. This is not a criticism, but simply a realization. The contents of this tribute do indeed reflect the strengths of the man himself and reconfirm his centrality in the study of the Achaemenid past.

Authors and titles

Front Matter
D’un anniversaire à l’autre, Achemenet et Pierre Briant
1. Les ostraca de ‘Ayn Manâwir et la chronologie des XXVIIIe et XXIXe dynasties, Damien Agut-Labordère and Michel Chauveau
2. PFAT 783: Fruit and the Bazikara, Annalisa Azzoni
3. From the DARIOSH Project: The four inscribed metal plaques from the so-called Apadana in Takht-e Jamshid/Persepolis and their inscription (DPh), Gian Pietro Basello
4. L’insaisissable occupation achéménide sur l’Acropole de Suse, Rémy Boucharlat
5. Nuove osservazioni sulla presenza achemenide nel Golfo Persico, Pierfrancesco Callieri
6. Les Achéménides en Inde à la lumière des fouilles à Barikot (Pakistan), Omar Coloru
7. Männerbund Aspects of Old Persian Anušiya-, Touraj Daryaee
8. Le Pseudo-Aristote et les finances achéménides : un point sur la question, Raymond Descat
9. Death and Celebration in Achaemenid Anatolia: Alternative Realities at Gordion in the Sixth Century, Elspeth R.M. Dusinberre.
10. Palmettes et art ornemental achéménide, Henri-Paul Francfort
11. An Heirloom Seal from Persepolis: Assyria, Elam, and Persepolis, Mark B. Garrison
12. Counting trees around Persepolis, Wouter F.M. Henkelman and Matthew W. Stolper
13. Conquérir l’Égypte grâce à la Babylonie. Réflexions sur la chronologie du règne de Cambyse en Babylonie, Francis Joannès
14. Symbole großköniglicher Herrschaft. Neue Untersuchungen zu Typologie und Technologie achaimenidischer Basen und Kapitelle im Kaukasus, Florian S. Knauß and Matthias Gütte
15. Remarques sur l’emploi et la diffusion de l’araméen dans l’empire achéménide, André Lemaire
16. Le “harem” du Grand Roi est-il une invention des Grecs? Les enjeux de traductions “orientées”, Dominique Lenfant
17. On Achaemenid Persian Art and Architecture in the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, Alexander Nagel
18. On animal hides and (pre-)tanning in the Persepolis Fortification archive, Daniel T. Potts and Wouter F.M. Henkelman
19. An Achaemenid Figurine in the National Museum of Iran: Proposing a Reconstruction of the Statue of Darius from Susa, Shahrokh Razmjou
20. Alexander the Great, the Indian Ocean, and the Borders of the World, Robert Rollinger and Julian Degen
21. Alexander – Persepolis – Ashoka: Inside Wheeler’s Mind-World, Margaret Cool Root
22. Multilingual perception of colour in Iran and the Ancient Near East, Adriano V. Rossi
23. Die Sonderstellung der vier Inschriften DPd–g an der Südmauer von Persepolis gegenüber den anderen Dareios-Texten, Rüdiger Schmitt
24. Tavernier et Tavernier à Persépolis : une predestination?, Jan Tavernier
25. Royal p(a)laces: Lexical Reflections on Achaemenid Residences, Christopher J. Tuplin
26.The Nabonidus Chronicle on the ninth year of Nabonidus (547-6 BC). Babylonia and Lydia in context, Robartus Johannes van der Spek
27. Negotiating cross-regional authority: the acceptance of Cambyses as Egyptian pharaoh as means of constructing elite identity, Melanie Wasmuth
Table of Contents