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A Display of Persian Peace

By Ehsan Norouzi, Sara Ommat Ali

Tehran, 20 September 2005 (CHN) - Just when you are ready to leave the gallery of the "Forgotten Empire: World of Ancient Persia" exhibition in the British Museum, reading about the Persepolis having been ruined by Alexander, you encounter the Cyrus cylinder, a clay tablet carved by order of the Achaemenid empire founder, on which it is inscribed, "I strove for peace ...No one must be tortured, treated violently, or be humiliated".

What urged John Curtis, Keeper of the Ancient Near East department at the British Museum to prepare the exhibition of "Forgotten Empire" was the release of the movie "Alexander" by Oliver Stone in which Iranians were portrayed as Berbers who only found the true meaning of freedom after the assault of Alexander.

"We have tried to provide a real image of ancient Persia. According to historical documents, Persians were pacifist and showed a great tolerance in their encounter with foreign beliefs and religions," says Curtis, adding that the main theme of the exhibition has been peace, tranquility, peaceful co-existence, self-respect, and respect for different religions.

The exhibition begins with the sculpture of Darius the Great and the silver frieze which was found under the columns of Susa palace.

The sculpture is not original and was molded of the original one kept in Iran's National Museum. However, the mold is so perfectly made that no one can distinguish it from the original and still people are not allowed to touch it. The silver frieze which was found with 3 others under the columns of Apadana Palace is set beside a stone box and 2 coins. But there is no sign of the other 6 coins which were used to be in the box.

"We asked Iranian officials to loan us all 8 coins to show the importance of coin mintage in Achaemenid Persia," says Vesta Sarkhosh, curator of Ancient Iranian Coins in the British Museum, "but the Iranian experts denied our request and told us that the British museum already do have some Persian coins. Such explanations are not accepted in the realm of archeology and history, because every single item has its own independent, separated identity."

The next gallery is dedicated to the Achaemenid palaces' capitals and columns, reliefs of "eternal guards" and the tribute delegations bringing presents to the king. The white and golden clothes of the guards who always wore woven headbands are clearly luminous in two enameled reliefs, one of which has been recently loaned from the Louvre and the other is in the British museum since more than 30 years ago on loan from the Louvre.

Passing another corridor, you will enter a gallery surrounded with showcases in which golden and silver rhytons, silver spoons, and candlesticks introduce the visitor to the glory of the Achaemenid court. The Xerxes's rhyton with an inscription in 3 languages at the throat of the vessel is one of the most important artifacts attracting the attention of experts.

Mentioning the validity of the artifact attributed to Xerxes, Maziar Kazemi-nezhad, an expert of the Achaemenid history and director of Persepolis Museum, says, "there are few artifacts that can be surely attributed to a king, but there is no doubt about the Xerxes's rhyton because of the inscription".

The gilded silver and bronze amphora handle in the form of a leaping winged ibex was used as an ornament of vessels. On the reliefs remaining in the Persepolis, a similar artifact is seen in the hands of a member of the delegations bringing presents to the king. The feeling that the vessel was touched by the courtiers makes the artifact interesting for the audience.

The stone trays, gild bronze vessels, and crystal bowls are exhibited in a showcase lit by yellow shines in a gallery dedicated to the Achaemenid vessels. Imagining the Persian ancestors once using such pieces in their daily life and their ceremonies makes one think about their great wealth and status.

A collection of armlets and bracelets with goats' and lions' heads terminals, gold earrings and rings with animal-shape decorations, and clothing ornaments illustrate a royal splendid image of the Achaemenid court in every viewer's mind. An image completed by a simulation screened in the museum theatre, showing how the palaces might have looked like in their original forms. The viewers can also see a simulation of the "eternal guard" parade and the presence of the tribute delegation bringing presents.

In the last gallery, there is a stone coffin in which an Achaemenid princess is laid among jewelry she was once buried with. Although the skeleton is not real and no one knows what happened to the original one, but the experts could remake it with the help of a watercolor painting by Jacques De Morgan. The ornaments of the princess are put in a showcase next to her coffin.

The corridor leads you to another section which is dedicated to the Achaemenids governing over an empire that extended from Egypt to Transoxiana. The artifacts shown in the section include royal signets, the first Persian coins minted in the Achaemenid era, and measuring weights in the form of lions with open mouths called "Karsha".

The gold cavalry are exhibited in a showcase that includes artifacts related to transportation and road management. The experts have tried to select the items which show the styles of horse riding. The horses and gold cavalries which belong to Oxus collection are the most important items in the section.

Religion, the most unknown aspect of Achaemenid life, is the title of a gallery in which the sculptures of Babylonian and Sumerian gods are shown; gods who were praised and returned to their temples by Cyrus the Great. Several Egyptian gods are also showcased beside the Babylonian ones.

There are also small reliefs that show hand to mouth Persians in front of fire trying not to alloy the sanctity of the fire with their breath. On these reliefs, there are also signs of a ritual related to a holy plant called "Hum" which only Zoroastrian priest knew the secrets of, which is said to give power and health to anybody who drinks it. The small reliefs can be seen on mortars used by the priests and given to the temples, each of which was used once and only once.

Nearby, there is a torso of Alexander and a text beside which explains the catastrophic fate of the Achaemenid dynasty. But is this the real end of the Achaemenids? Was all the splendor and glory of Persepolis burnt away?

Sarkhosh explains, "We have introduced by means of pictures some Parthian and Sassanid pieces at the final section of the exhibition so that the viewers can decide for themselves. Then they are faced with the Cyrus Cylinder which I believe can reveal the essence of the Achaemenid beliefs and civilization. The artifact can individually respond to all the distortions made throughout the history by Greek and pan-Greek historians."

Cyrus Cylinder is the final piece of the exhibition, letting you think that is a reason for it to be right there; the piece reminds you that the Achaemenid Persia did not savor justice and freedom just after Alexander conquered the land, reminds you that Cyrus the Great freed the slaves years before Alexander, reminds you of the respect the King had for other religions, their gods, and their disciples, and reminds you of his efforts to live and let live in peace.

... Payvand News - 9/22/05 ... --

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