“Iranian Kingship in Global Context and as a Global Commodity between Alexander and Islam.”

First Name: 
Last Name: 
Institutional Affiliation : 
Department of Art History, University of Minnesota
Academic Bio: 
A specialist in the art and archaeology of ancient Iran, Professor Canepa’s research focuses on cross-cultural interaction in the pre-modern world. His recent book entitled "The Two Eyes of the Earth" (University of California Press) is the first to analyze the artistic, ritual and ideological interactions between the Roman and Sasanian empires in a comprehensive and theoretically rigorous manner. His current projects include an exploration of Middle Iranian art and the global idea of Iranian Kingship and an edited volume that studies the phenomena of cross-cultural interaction between the Mediterranean, Iran, and China. He has been the recipient of numerous research grants including the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (2002-2003), the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (2007), the Archaeological Institute of America (2008) and a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-2010). In November 2008 Professor Canepa was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In fall 2009 he was invited to be the Michaelmas Term Visiting Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford.

“Iranian Kingship in Global Context and as a Global Commodity between Alexander and Islam.”
This paper focuses on two interlocking problems: the global and fluid nature of Iranian kingship during the Middle Iranian period (ca. 331 BCE - 642 CE) and the architectural forms, images and rituals that several dynasties used and contested in laying claim to this heritage.  The purpose of this paper is to shift, for a moment, from individual problems and outline an art historical methodology to analyze the art and ritual of ‘Middle Iranian’ kingship as a global phenomenon.  In this era, several Iranian powers competed for the mantle of ‘rightful Iranian sovereign,’ while striving on different terms with the Hellenistic kingdoms in Iran and India, and, eventually, with other global powers in the Mediterranean, South and East Asia.  These included the great empires of the Arsacid, Kushan and Sasanian dynasties, but also, several regional powers appropriated these ideals, such as Armenia, the kings of Pontos and Bosporos in the southeastern and northern Black Sea and the kings of Commagene in eastern Anatolia.  Broad linguistic and cultural commonalities bound together these peoples and empires; however, incredible ruptures and discontinuities dominated this period throughout.  Related to my developing monograph, my goal here is to offer a methodology that focuses on the motivations and means by which this variety of peoples constructed and, as I prefer to see it, ‘practiced’ Iranian royal identity and competed with each other.  Thus, rather than focusing on any intrinsic ‘Iranian’ or ‘Mazdaean’ quality to these features in a religious, linguistic or ethnic sense, this study deliberately focuses on Iranian kingship as a contested- and malleable- collection of practices. I focus on the means and motivations that drive by which these powers to appropriate each other’s visual, ritual and ideological material, both as a consequence of and as a strategy for maintaining power. In the course of the paper, I touch on several important examples including: the use and transformation of monumental rock reliefs, the traditions of court ritual and architecture, and the establishment of dynastic sanctuaries.  I posit that across this widely defined geographical sphere, Iranian kingship was born not necessarily from a deep immutable national identity, but, from an art historical point of view, from the constant competition and renovation of a common visual and ritual language of legitimacy and debate. 

Academic Discipline : 
Art History
Time Period : 
Up to the 9th century
Canepa, CV.pdf180.23 KB

Posted in