In the 6th century BC, with no local tradition to guide them, the early kings of the Achaemenid Persian empire, Cyrus the Great and Darius, had to devise a new style of monumental architecture and sculpture with which to decorate their capital cities and express their mastery of the known world. In time Darius created a homogeneous new style of Persian court art and architecture, derived from the practices of the peoples he now ruled over: Ionian Greeks, Lydians, Mesopotamians and Egyptians. In this book, John Boardman seeks to trace these sources.
First he considers architecture, looking at Lydian skills with masonry, Greek ingenuity in creating 'orders' of stone architecture and appropriate patterns, and other practices over much of the ancient east, together with Egyptian and Mesopotamian elements. He then investigates sculpture, which remains essentially Oriental in nature but carries Greek patterning.
The new monumental styles remained unchanged throughout the period of empire but were confined mainly to Persia itself. Outside Persia, idioms were devised for the arts (including metalwork and seal-engraving) which blended local traditions with Persian motifs and aspirations.
The Achaemenid Persian experiment in art and architecture was unique in antiquity, but lasted only as long as the empire itself. Alexander the Great brought about its fall, yet it continued to influence arts from Greece to India, despite its own heterogeneous origins. For orientalists and classicists alike, this is a record of the brilliant evolution of an artificial yet unified style, unmatched in the history of the art and archaeology of the Old World.