The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran

The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran

The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran

The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran

Synopsis

This pioneering study examines a pivotal period in the history of Europe and the Near East. Spanning the ancient and medieval worlds, it investigates the shared ideal of sacred kingship that emerged in the late Roman and Persian empires. This shared ideal, while often generating conflict during the four centuries of the empires' coexistence (224-642), also drove exchange, especially the means and methods Roman and Persian sovereigns used to project their notions of universal rule: elaborate systems of ritual and their cultures' visual, architectural, and urban environments. Matthew Canepa explores the artistic, ritual, and ideological interactions between Rome and the Iranian world under the Sasanian dynasty, the last great Persian dynasty before Islam. He analyzes how these two hostile systems of sacred universal sovereignty not only coexisted, but fostered cross-cultural exchange and communication despite their undying rivalry. Bridging the traditional divide between classical and Iranian history, this book brings to life the dazzling courts of two global powers that deeply affected the cultures of medieval Europe, Byzantium, Islam, South Asia, and China.

Excerpt

God effected that the whole world should be illumined from the very beginning by two eyes, namely by the most powerful kingdom of the Romans and by the most prudent scepter of the Persian State. For by these greatest powers the disobedient and bellicose tribes are winnowed and man’s course is continually regulated and guided.

Kosrow ii, in a letter to the Roman emperor Maurice,
in Theophylakt Simokatta 4.11.2–3, trans. Whitby

With this cosmic metaphor, a Sasanian king of kings, Ḵosrow ii, articulated the Roman and Sasanian empires’ shared ideal of the universal, ancient, and sacred nature of their cultures’ kingship, where the king mediated between heaven and earth. These conceptions of kingship, while often generating conflict, drove exchange between the two cultures, especially with regard to the main tools that the Roman and Iranian courts utilized to project their conceptions of universal rule: elaborate systems of ritual, and visual, architectural, and urban environments. This book focuses on a pivotal period in political and religious history, poised between the ancient and medieval worlds in the Mediterranean and the Near East, and offers an analysis of the conditions and motivations that enabled these two hostile systems of sacred universal sovereignty not only to coexist, but to foster cross-cultural exchange and communication even in the face of an undying rivalry.

This book is not intended as a history of diplomatic, economic, institutional, or military dealings between the Roman and Sasanian empires, although those topics enter into its consideration. Rather, this is a study of how the two greatest cultural, political, and military forces in the late antique Mediterranean and Near East devised a sacral, yet extrareligious visual and ritual language of legitimacy and debate to communicate and compete over the course of their coexistence (224–642). It examines the two empires’ motivations and methods for appropriating the creations of each other’s court culture. Thus this study focuses on expressions that often inhabit the margins of cultural identity. Images, performances, and ideologies of kingship, in fact, often present some dissonance when compared with the bare facts of power. Indeed, the dissonance between historical fact and ideological fiction often illuminates what lies behind the rhetoric. It is in the wordless self-descriptive language of art and ritual that we gain access to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.