13 March 2014
This lecture explores the nature of Kingship in ancient Chorasmia as expressed in the tension between imperial Persian and tribal Saka influences and the role of religion as propaganda in balancing these opposing forces. “Darius the King says: Ahuramazda, the greatest of the gods… he created me; he made me king…This palace which I built at Susa, from afar its ornamentation was brought…The gold was brought from Sardis and from Bactria…The precious stone lapis lazuli and carnelian…was brought from Sogdiana. The precious stone turquoise, this was brought from Chorasmia…” Ancient Chorasmia was located in the extensive delta of the Amu-dar’ya at the Aral Sea. A prehistory linked closely to the cultures of the Eurasian steppe was rapidly changed when the region became the most northerly province of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. This land of semi-settled nomads then inherited the trappings of statehood from the Persians, along with new economic and political structures and new religious practices. The region is a land largely without a written history. Al-Biruni tells us how during the Muslim conquests of Chorasmia all the ancient texts were destroyed. Too far from Europe for the Greek historians to know well, outside the lands of Alexander’s conquests, and well beyond the comprehension of the early Chinese writers, Chorasmia can only be rediscovered through her material remains.
The University of Sydney has been conducting excavations at one of the largest and most splendid of the early Chorasmian sites, Akchakhan-kala. We have found magnificent wall paintings, gold ornament, clay sculptures, painted texts and evidence for elaborate ceremonial practices promoting royal propaganda. The Chorasmian kings found themselves delicately balanced between two totally opposing systems. One, inherited from Persia, was state based, hierarchical, with a state controlled economy; the other, that concerned the indigenous population, was tribally based, structured though segmentary lineage structure and notions of individual autonomy. The site offers us the opportunity to explore the complex nature of Chorasmian Kingship through the role of ceremonial and material propaganda, particularly with reference to a local form of Mazdaism emphasising the cult of fire.
Kate Macfarlane, Alumni Relations Manager
T 02 9351 7454
13 March 2014
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