Art And Structure Of Acheamenid Persepolis: What Was Its Function?
Persepolis was one of the capitals of the Acheamenid Empire from ~515 to 330 BC. It is about 43 miles northeast of the city of Shiraz in modern day Iran. It was founded by Darius the Great and primarily completed by Xerxes I (but ultimately wasn't complete until Artaxerxes II). Persepolis was the primary capital of the Acheamenid Empire until it was burned down and plundered by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The remaining walls contain reliefs depicting things such as ceremonial activities and tribute processions with occasionally accompanying inscri ptions. Scholars have debated what Persepolis' primary function was. At best, scholars can only make educated guesses at the probing questions invoked by Persepolis` surviving ruins. Additionally, there are too few first hand accounts to resolve these questions. This leaves a myriad of different kinds of secondary sources to work with that accompany the primary sources that are Persepolis` reliefs, treasury contents and Greek accounts. Analysis of primary and secondary sources will show that Persepolis' function was not purely ceremonial or administrative, but that it was intended to serve both purposes. Because there is ample evidence to support both functions, the ceremonial and administrative natures of Persepolis must be addressed separately. The many reliefs depicting tribute and gift giving, the extremely rich treasury and Greek accounts of prolific ceremonial activity, and the treasury are all heavily suggestive of ceremony. Evidence of administration includes: the presence of administrative tools, such as weights and transaction seals in the treasury; records of payments to `treasury workmen`; and the treasury`s construction, specifically, its isolation from other rooms, no easily accessible entrances, lack of ornamentation, floor repairs, and narrow passageways. With the given resources explained separately but understood mutually it will become evident that Persepolis was used for both purposes. Ceremonial: Reliefs There are many remaining walls throughout Persepolis that indicate ceremonial activity through ceremonial reliefs. These reliefs are particularly concentrated in the apadana. Here, on the Eastern stairway there is a tribute procession in which numerous people are in a line to give their pictured gifts or tributes to the king. (fig.1) Animals, pottery, food, jewelry, and perfume are depicted being carried in a line up the stairs. The renderings of these tribute bearers with outstretched hands show their intent to give. (fig. 2) It is important to note that the apadana is also the largest and most elaborate room at Persepolis. It is assumed that these reliefs are a direct reflection of the sort of activity that occurred here. The fact that these types of gifts are also found in the Persepolis treasury supports this claim. The vast numbers of these reliefs at Persepolis is a strong indicator of just how significant the role of ceremonies played here. New Year Festival It is noteworthy to discuss, within the same framework as reliefs, the evidence for the famous New Years Festival that was allegedly held here as well. This is said to be one of the biggest and most important festivals for the Persians. This celebration has its origin in Babylonian practice. The Babylonian New Year celebration is called enuma elis. It is believe that the Persians had a similar celebration based on the Babylonians` enuma elis because of imagery and scri pts mentioning the mythological Babylonian god Bel-Marduk at Persepolis. There are many inscri ptions that call Cyrus `Bel Marduk` and reliefs of Babylonian mythological scenes depicting Bel Marduk fighting the demon Tiamat. There is ample evidence of Babylonian influence as well as evidence of ceremonies so it is likely that a festival of some sort took place here during the traditional or mythological `New Year`. Evidence suggests that Persepolis not only had the capacity, but it was thoroughly equipped to hold a festival of this kind. Treasury Content A strong indicator of the ceremonial activity that occurred here is the contents in the Treasury of Persepolis. The treasury was looted and burned by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, but not everything was taken and the fire preserved the tablets that recorded what was kept in the treasury. Artifacts such as pedestals, statuettes, and jewelry are among the sparse remains. (figs. 3, 4) These, found along with over 600 pieces of tableware, demonstrate that there was an immense amount of ceremonial activity here. The fact that this was only a fraction of what was held here is key to understanding the breadth of ceremony in Persepolis. Greek Accounts There are no Greek accounts that are contemporaneous with Persepolis` lifespan, but many came forth after Alexander`s raid. Some of these accounts are from Strabo and Diodorus Sicilus. Strabo supports the evidence that we already have directly from Persepolis with his writings in The Geography. He says:[.] Alexander crossed the Araxes near Persepolis itself. Persepolis, next to Susa, was the most beautifully constructed city, and the largest, having a palace that was remarkable, particularly in respect to the high value of its treasures. In this passage, he references the immense wealth in Persepolis` treasury, further solidifying the evidence from Persepolis` structures depicting the massive influx of gifts and tributes. Furthermore, there exist accounts from Diodorus Siculus from his World History that add to this perspective of Persepolis: It was the wealthiest city under the sun and the private houses had been filled for a long time with riches of every kind. The Macedonians rushed into it, killing all the men and plundering the houses, which were numerous and full of furniture and precious objects of every kind. Here much silver was carried off and no little gold, and many expensive dresses, embroidered with purple or with gold, fell as prizes to the victors. Diodorus describes in more detail the contents of Persepolis at the time of its looting. These accounts show the extent of the wealth and reinforce the existence of such objects depicted in the apadana`s reliefs. It follows that these reliefs are likely depictions of actual ceremonies, performed there. The relief depictions, the treasury contents matching them, and the Greek accounts solidly support the existence of ceremonial activity at Persepolis. Administration Scholars around the world debate the presence of administration in Persepolis. However, there is ample evidence to affirm the administrative capacity of Persepolis, such as: the contents of the treasury containing weights, transaction seals, fortification tablets, and records of payments to `treasury workmen`. This evidence coupled with the particular construction of the treasury itself further solidifies this claim. The treasury was constructed to be isolated, to have narrow passageways, and to have no easily accessible entrances and no ornamentation. This is also coupled with the presence of floor repairs in Hall 38 and 41 reaffirm administrative presence. The construction wouldn`t be able to stand alone strongly in defense of an administrative presence, but when considered mutually with treasury contents it is hardly deniable that there was administrative activity in Persepolis.Seals The transaction seals are the one of the strongest pieces evidence of administrative activity at Persepolis. These are impressions from seals that were found in the treasury by Erich Schmidt and his team. (fig. 5) People used these to authenticate the contents of fortification tablets that contained recorded agreements or payments between two people. These seals typically depicted the king, an animal, or a scene of some type carved onto a ring, which was used to press into the wet clay of a tablet in order to authenticate a transaction or agreement. There were 21 signet rings found in Persepolis. The presence of administrative tools in the Treasury leads shows that there were people that were here to perform these tasks. Fortification Tablets The Fortification Tablets found in the treasury are also very strongly indicative evidence that there was administrative activity in Persepolis. The Fortification Tablets fragment of Achaemenid administrative records of receipt, taxation, transfer, storage of food crops, livestock and food in the region around Persepolis and their redistribution to gods, royal family, courtiers, priests, religious officiants, administrators, travelers, workers, artisans, and livestock. (fig. 7) These were written accounts that kept records of different agreements in and around Persepolis. There are 153 whole tablets and tens of thousands of fragments. This is irrefutable evidence of this administrative activity. They would simply not be there in such quantities if there was no use for them there. Weights The Treasury also contained weights. These weights were pieces of stone that were created to weigh a certain amount so that they could be compared in weight to goods. (fig. 6) This would measure how heavy the goods were and thus how much it should be valued. The administrative workers would perform this work as middlemen in these kinds of transactions. There would often times be inscri ptions on these weights that told the weight of the stone along with different writings such as praise for a king or god. The presence of these kinds of weights in the Treasury, being that they have no real value in and of themselves, lend easily to the notion that there was administrative activity that occurred here. Payments to Titled Workers There are multiple tablets that record payment to "wage-earners", "account renderers" and "Treasury workmen". Additionally, there is mention consistently of a "Basic Trio" in the tablets in the Treasury. The first of the trio is usually given the verb kurmin, meaning to supply, the second is given the name ullira, which means delivery man, and the third is given the verb sharamanna, meaning to apportion. The record of people having actual titles pertaining to work in the Treasury strongly supports the theory that there was a constant role of treasury duties in Persepolis. There would not be identifying titles for workers if there were not an ongoing supply of work to be done. This, even if it weren`t coupled with the abundance of administrative tools in the Treasury suggest administrative activity.Treasury Construction The treasury's construction doesn't necessarily prove administrative activity in itself, but instead it suggests a lack of ceremony. This is an important factor, because a majority of the arguments that contend that Persepolis did not have administrative functions say that the Treasury was a museum that displayed treasures in order to advertise Persian wealth. This is quite common among treasuries in other locations but the construction of the Persepolis treasury favors an isolated administrative workplace. Isolation The treasury is particularly isolated within the whole plan of Persepolis. It is in the southeastern corner of the terrace separated on all four sides by streets and alleys. (fig. 8) This isolation strongly suggests that there was no intention of heavy traffic entering from the large, open ceremonial halls of the rest of Persepolis. This isolation provides privacy, security and separation of workers who could be authenticating transaction seals, storing the new arrival of tributes or essentially anything that`s intended to be kept out of sight. Additionally, the treasury is divided into large rooms and narrow passageways. They would not be easily navigable by large groups of people that did not know the way. Its isolated construction and narrow passageways would not be conducive to anyone other than the few people that were familiar with the Treasury; therefore it was certainly not a museum that intended to be visited by a large number of people. Not Easily Accessible Additionally, we see that there are two entrances into the treasury that do not encourage easy access. (fig. 9) One entrance is from the North and the other from the East. As depicted in the Persepolis plan diagram, these are facing away from the rest of Persepolis. They are not facing the surrounding buildings, including the Throne Hall which was used as a reception hall; if they were it would be optimal access for groups of people that are leaving the ceremony to go to the "museum". However, because they are facing away from the bulk of Persepolis, this would further support that Persepolis was an isolated administrative workplace and not a museum. It would be advantageous to people who need to access the Treasury without risk of being seen by anyone visiting or celebrating. No Ornamentation Furthermore, the Treasury is made entirely out of mud brick and not decorated with reliefs or elaborate stonework of any kind. (fig. 10) This is further evidence that no one of importance was intended to enter the Treasury for leisure. If the entire purpose of the museum were to impress and advertise their treasures, it would most certainly have been decorated accordingly, if not more so than the other structures at Persepolis. There is only one room in the Treasury containing a relief and it was moved there at a later date, its location is in the courtyard of the Treasury which has often been said as the primary workplace of the Treasury workmen. Therefore, although there is one brief instance of a relief, the remaining hundreds of rooms were unornamented and mud brick and not prepared for public consumption. Floor Repairs One of the strongest arguments in favor of administrative activity in the treasury is the floor repairs, namely in Hall 38 and 41. (fig. 11) In Schmidt's excavation there was significant floor repairs found in these two halls. This reveals the traffic patterns of these rooms and suggest show the later repairs to the wear of the floor. The need for floor repairs would only come after constant use, especially in a location such as the Treasury where the public does not often view it. The fact that that the repairs are only in a handful of rooms and only completed partially shows that they were only repaired to serve the purpose of the few people that needed them. This is not a circumstance where an entire room was done, or the entire Treasury was re-floored, there are only certain strips of certain rooms that were repaired. This can easily be seen as a repair of necessity, not of vanity. It suggests travel in these places by people who were there often enough to travel the same path multiple times. It does not suggest infrequent use or meandering crowds. Conclusively, evidence of anything concrete in such partially preserved structure is unlikely, but the facts gathered from the remaining primary sources coupled with the analysis of secondary sources present an opportunity to paint a relatively vivid picture of the function of Persepolis. The ceremonial activity is strongly reflected in the numerous reliefs in the apadana, treasury content and Greek accounts while the administrative activity is thoroughly supported in the transaction seals, weights, record of "Treasury workers", the isolation of the Treasury, its narrow passageways, lack of accessibility, lack of ornamentation and floor repairs. Of course many of these things, when considered separately, can argue for a many different and possibly opposite points. For example, the separation of the Treasury from the rest of Persepolis could be no more than added security of its wealth, the floor repairs could be nothing more than the repair of a cracked floor due to a fallen vessel, but the key is to consider all of these circumstances together. When repaired floors and an isolated rooms are tied with the presence of weights, seals and fortification tablets a more complete picture is painted that can`t be neglected. One must begin to start explaining why instead of describing what. These factors are evidence enough to show that there was, at some point, administrative activity that occurred here alongside the ceremonial activity that Persepolis is famous for.
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