Objects of Empire: Imperial Elites and Material Cultures of Ancient Iran

Studies of material culture have undergone a profound transformation during the past twenty years and are now among the most dynamic and wide-ranging areas of contemporary scholarship in the human-sciences. In spite of the rich potential which the study of ‘the object’ in ancient Iran offers, as yet material culture studies have not been employed by scholars of the pre-Islamic era. This project aims to address that omission. The project will encourage colleagues and students working in the diverse fields of ancient Persian studies to study the material dimensions of the elite worlds of the pre-Islamic past and to ‘read’ objects through the prisms of linguistics and linguistic anthropology, sociology and anthropology, archaeology and history, geography, economics, and literary and art historical studies. Material culture studies may be held simultaneously to intersect with and transcend the special concerns of a given subject (in this case, ancient Iran) and offer an unbound and fluid interaction with the ancient Persian past. This is a strength and not a weakness. A study of the elite material cultures of ancient Iran is part and parcel of studying human culture in general and just as the concept of ‘culture’ has hundreds of manifestations, so too the beginnings and ends of what constitutes ‘material culture’ can never been defined. Much depends on the context of analysis and research.

The main research themes of this project are as follows:

The first workshop will focus on international relations at state and non-state levels across the three periods. It seeks to explore the nature of Iran’s ruling classes’ engagement at the state level alongside research on other areas of society, such as religious communities, minority communities, intellectual and art circles, merchants, political and/or social movements, and civil society organisations and their engagement with the international.

Papers that speak to the following research questions are welcome:

  1. Ancient Iranian ‘things’ are materially existing and have a significance independent of human action or intervention (eg., a mountain, an animal, a tree).
  2. Ancient Iranian ‘things’ as situated in landscape, location and place (buildings, structures, geography).
  3. Ancient Iranian ‘things’ as created by persons (artefacts).
  4. Component substances or materials which are used to create ancient Iranian ‘things’ (origins, associations, combinations).
  5. Technologies required to produce ancient Iranian ‘things’ and the manner in which they can be moved, exchanged or consumed.
  6. The manner in which ancient Iranian ‘things’ relate to conscious ideas held by persons or subjects.
  7. The relationship of ‘things’ with ancient Iranian culture or society; ‘things’ as being an integral part of being human.
  8. The relationship of ancient Iranian ‘things’ to value systems, cosmologies, beliefs and emotions and social identities.
  9. The relationship of ancient Iranian ‘things’ to Iran’s history, traditions, memories, social stasis and change, place, and locale.
  10. The relationship of ancient Iranian ‘things’ to the human body and reading the body itself as an object.

Programme Director:

Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones was born in Cefn Cribwr, Wales, and studied at the universities of Hull and Cardiff. Having worked for more than a decade at the University of Edinburgh, Lloyd is currently Professor of Ancient History and Persian Studies at Cardiff University. He is the author of ‘Aphrodite’s Tortoise: the Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece’, ‘King and Court in Ancient Persia’, ‘Ctesias’ Persica: Tales of the Orient’, ‘The Culture of Animals in Antiquity’ and ‘Designs on the Past: How Hollywood Created the Ancient World’. Forthcoming publications include ‘Ancient Persia and the Book of Esther: The Visual World of Achaemenid Iran’. Lloyd specialises in the history of Achaemenid Iran and is interested in Iranian interactions with other cultures in antiquity. He is also interested in the intersection of history and storytelling in Iranian culture. Lloyd travels frequently to Iran, and often leads tours to the country with a historical and cultural focus. He works closely with Iranian communities throughout the UK and is dedicated to promoting the history and culture of Iran in the public consciousness.

For enquiries about this programme, please contact the Programme Director:

Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

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