John Trikeriotis: False depictions of Xerxes and Artemesia in “300: Rise of an Empire”

Historian John Trikeriotis, himself of Greek descent, has written an excellent critique of the sequel to the original 300 movie entitled: “300: Rise of an Empire” And Its Ahistorical Depiction Of Xerxes The Great And Queen Artemisia” (Payvand News, March 16, 2014).

John Trikeriotis Historian John Trikeriotis is a lecturer of ancient Greek warfare and member of the archaeological group, “The Leonidas Expeditions”. In addition, he created the 300spartanwarriors.com, which is used by schools and libraries as a resource on the Battle of Thermopylae.

Trikeriotis’ article is reproduced below; kindly note that excepting one photo, all other pictures posted in the version below originally appeared in Kaveh Farrokh’s response to the first 300 movie entitled: “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“. All commentaries for the pictures are posted by Kavehfarrokh.com. There is also a section of the History Channel program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians” embedded into Trikeriotis’ article below.

=====================================

The historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote in Book 7, Chapter 187 (Aubrey De Selincourt translation) that: “Amongst all these immense numbers there was not a man who, for stature and noble bearing, was more worthy than Xerxes to wield so vast a power.” Yet, the Warner Bros.’ movies “300”, and its followup “300: Rise of an Empire” which premiered last week, elected to characterize the Achaemenid king based on the eponymous Frank Miller comic book series. His depiction in both of these films as a multi-pierced, bejeweled royal has greatly contrasted with the appearance of Darius the Great’s son, who was immortalized on the palatial reliefs of Persepolis, and more accurately portrayed in the 1962 20th Century Fox motion picture, “The 300 Spartans”.

Pic32-Xerxes-in-GreeceA historical reconstruction by Professor Nick Sekunda: Court Eunuch (left), King Xerxes (centre) and Royal Spearbearer (right) (Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey Publications, 1992, Plate B; Paintings by Simon Chew). For more see Farrokh’s “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“.

While this physical transformation in the movie is disconcerting, it pales in comparison to the embellishments with respect to Xerxes’ reign over his forces during the Graeco-Persian Wars. More succinctly, it is the symbiotic relationship between Xerxes and Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus which is appallingly ahistorical. Herodotus recorded through oral testimony that Artemisia commanded five vessels, and added that Xerxes was so impressed as to her gallantry during the Battle of Salamis (September 480 BCE) that he stated, “My men have turned to women, and my women to men.”

While this anecdote may be apocryphal, screenwriters, Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, have significantly expanded the role of Artemisia beyond incredulity. Portrayed by French actress Eva Green, the Queen of Halicarnassus’ influence over Xerxes coincides with her ascension to the rank of admiral in the Persian king’s navy. In a series of vignettes, any officer or official of the court who remotely looks as if they will present a challenge to her rise in power is deftly dispatched.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-Queen-Artemisia-HRFantasy portrayal of Queen Artemesia of Halicarnassus (as portrayed by French actress Eva Green) and Persian Immortal guards (Source: Payvand News). The movie not only distorts the attire and equipment of Artemesia and the Immortal Guards, it also presents a caricature image of both Greeks and Persians in antiquity. For more on this topic of false portrayals, kindly see Farrokh’s “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“.

In what is perhaps one of the most implausible scenarios from this latest motion picture, Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro), as a result of Artemisia’s Machiavellian maneuvering, plays a subordinate role and is essentially emasculated in the process. Furthermore, historicity continues to suffer when the queen in another moment of bravado and posturing declares “I will attack the Greeks…with my entire navy.” While this rhetoric may fit into the context of the movie, in reality her fleet was so proportionately small relative to that of the entire Persian armada of 600 plus vessels that it is highly improbable that she could have had a major impact on either of the naval battles of Artemisium (August 480 BCE) or Salamis.

Pic6-Ach-NavalVessels-PhotoReconstruction of Achaemenid ships in 1971; for more see Farrokh’s “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction“.

There is one bright spot in the film which begins with the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE) and ends with the Battle of Salamis. It is the image of the construction of the two bridges over the Hellespont (modern day Dardanelles), which enabled Xerxes’ army to march from Abydos to Sestos. Measuring a distance which has been conservatively estimated at approximately 1,400 yards, while spanning over the Hellespont’s turbulent waters, these structures are considered one of ancient history’s greatest engineering achievements.


Part Four of the History Channel program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians; this section discusses Xerxes’ construction of the bridge over Bosphorus, linking Europe with Asia.

The battles and several of the combatants featured in “300: Rise of an Empire” have been chronicled by ancient historians, as was the three-day naval engagement at Artemisium. As one of the focal segments of the film, it was fought concurrently, on the same days as the conflict at Thermopylae. However, the fighting at Thermopylae is not depicted, only its aftermath is included. Apparently the studio felt compelled to reference the death of King Leonidas and the Spartans during the last stand since it would validate the application of the “300” moniker in the follow-up film’s title. Furthermore, Noam Murro, who succeeded Zack Snyder as director, continued linearly with his predecessor’s visual style. Unfortunately, “300: Rise of an Empire” also maintains the same approach for rendering much of what is shown on the screen as caricature.

The Zoroastrian Fire-Temple of Ani

The article below on the Zoroastrian fire-temple at Ani was originally posted in the Virtual Ani website.

==========================================================

History

The foundations of this unusual structure were uncovered by Nikolai Marr’s excavations before the First World War, during his 1909 season. Since those excavations ended, the fire-temple has been mostly ignored and omitted from maps and descriptions of Ani.

It is thought to be the remains of a Zoroastrian “fire worshipping” temple, dating from between the early first century to the middle of the fourth century AD. Alternatively, it may be an early Christian monument: an open-air martyrion from the fourth or fifth century. In Armenia there are many underground martyrions, but no known examples of an open-air one.

firetemple5[Click to Enlarge] The Zoroastrian fire-temple photographed during the Turkish excavations (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

Whatever its purpose, it is probably the oldest surviving structure in Ani, and, if it is a fire-temple, it proves the existence of at least one substantial building at Ani from before the Christian period. At a later period the structure was converted into a chapel by the insertion of curved walls between its four columns.

During 1998 and 1999 the fire-temple was re-excavated by Professor Beyhan Karamağaralı, director of the Turkish excavations of Ani. Unfortunately, the term “excavation” is being used loosely. For much of the time archaeologists were not present – only laborers and a foreman (destroying evidence that modern archaeology should seek to preserve and study) – hence the vagueness in parts of her summary report 1. Most of the work consisted of clearing the debris that had accumulated over the site since Marr’s excavation, and reassembling the columns that had fallen apart.

firetemple-apse-Ani[Click to Enlarge] Another view of the Zoroastrian fire-temple looking east, towards the apse (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

A Byzantine coin from the reign of Justin I (518- 527AD) was found by the laborers. It may be the only known coin from this emperor to have been found at Ani (see Note 2).

firetemple-inside-Ani [Click to Enlarge] Inside of the Zoroastrian fire-temple, the two western columns (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

Design Analysis

The remains of the fire-temple consist of four squat, circular columns with a diameter of 1.3 metres, resting on cylindrical bases. These columns are set 1.8 metres apart and are placed so as to form a square. The columns are not monolithic, but are constructed from smaller blocks of stone. They carry plain capitals that are also constructed from smaller blocks (three or four pieces). No evidence of the structure’s roof was found by the Russians (or the Turks). However, the massiveness of the columns suggests a stone roof. An altar (see the coin depicted at the bottom of this page) would presumably have been sited under this roof, in the centre of the square. The Russian excavators drew up a conjectural reconstruction showing what the fire-temple may have looked like. A flat roof is equally possible.

firetempleThe fire temple plan for Ani, which is virtualy identical to the Atash-gah of modern-day Baku (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

At an unknown date the structure was converted into a small chapel by the construction of four exedera between the columns. These walls were rather crudely built, and little now survives (although at the time of the Russian excavations they reached as high as the capitals). There is a door in the southern wall, and the floor level between the eastern pillars is raised to create a bema. The front of the bema is ornamented with a blind arcade of four arches.

firetemple7sThe Zoroastrian fire-temple after the Russian excavation; this view faces east towards the apse (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

The Turkish excavation uncovered parts of some surrounding structures (see the plan below, adapted from the plan in Prof. Karamağaralı’s published excavation report). These consist of the remains of poorly constructed walls, none surviving to more than half the height of the columns (but at the time of the Russian excavations they also reached as high as the capitals). The difference in building quality indicates that they are from a late period, from a time after the conversion to a chapel. These walls were also constructed at different stages – a fact not recorded on Karamağaralı’s plan, which is drawn as if they were all from a single building period.

firetempleplanTop view of the Ani fire-temple design  (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

 The walls in front of the chapel entrance seem to form a small courtyard. Another room (rather than a road) seems to have preceded this courtyard. This suggests that it may have been a private chapel attached to a house. It may also have had a funerary purpose: scattered (?) human bones from several individuals were discovered under (or beside?) the wall that runs south from the altar apse.

firetemple11sPersian Sassanid coin from the fourth century CE. While not discovered at Ani, the coin depicts a typical Zoroastrian fire altar (Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

The pillars are constructed from a very gritty, black basalt stone. This is the only apparent example of this type of stone being used at Ani – with one exception. In the citadel wall there is a tower built entirely of re-used blocks of the same stone. These may have been taken from other parts of the fire- temple complex (an enclosure wall?) or from another building of the same period. Hollows cut into the ends of these blocks indicate that they came from a structure built using the ancient masonry technique where large sized blocks of stone are held together by iron “dove-tail” cramps set in lead.

The existence in Armenia of Zoroastrian temple structures in the form of a domed square on four pillars may have encouraged the evolution of the centrally planned, domed church that is so typical of Christian Armenian architecture.

firetemple3sAn engraving from the 1850s depicting a Zoroastrian fire-temple (it shows the Ateshgah Temple in Surakhany, near Baku in modern Republic of Azerbaijan, known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) Photo source & copyright: Virtual Ani 1999).

Notes

1. B. Karamağaralı, 1998 Ani Kazisi, KST, vol. 21, 1999, p431.

2. For a list of coins found during the Russian excavations see

Bilan Comparé des Découverts Numismatiques à Ani et à Dvin, REA, vol. XVIII, 1984, p.461-469.

Castle of Ardashir at Firuzabad-فيروز آباد in Fars

The article below and the photographs originally appeared in the Historical Iran Blog.

============================================

Castle of Ardeshir e Babakan, also known as the Atash-kadeh, is a castle located on the slopes of the mountain on which Ghaleh Dokhtar is situated on. Built in 224 CE by Ardashir I of the Sassanian Empire, it is located two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of the ancient city of Gur, i.e. the old city of Firuzabad in Fars.

GurAerial view of Ardashir’s Firuzabad palace. Note circular pattern for defense and town planning (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

The structure contains three domes, among other features, making it a bit larger and more magnificent than its predecessor the nearby castle of Ghaleh Dokhtar. However, it seems that the compound was designed to display the royalty image of Ardashir I, rather than being a fortified structure for defense purposes. That is why perhaps it would be best to refer to the structure as a “palace” rather than a “castle”, even though it has huge walls on the perimeters (twice as thick as Ghaleh Dokhtar), and is a contained structure. From the architectural design, it seems the palace was more of a place of social gathering where guests would be introduced to the imperial throne.

Ardeshir-GoorFrontal view of the tri-dome structure of Ardashir’s palace (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

What is particularly interesting about this palace is that its architectural design does not exactly fall into that of the Parthians or even Sassanian category; the design is a unique design particular to architects of Fars.

Ardeshir_Babakan_Palace_Firouzabad_Persis-01Frontal view of the tri-dome structure of Ardashir’s palace in late afternoon-early evening; note the “keyhole” design for the entrance doors (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

The palace was built next to a picturesque pond (on the bank of the western branch of Tangab River) that was fed by a natural spring, perhaps in connection with the Persian goddess of water and growth, Anahita. The spring is thought to have fed a royal garden, in the same way that Cyrus had his garden built at Pasargadae. The pond was tiled on its sides, surrounded by pavement for guests of the royal court to enjoy the evenings by.

ardeshirFrontal view of the tri-dome structure of Ardashir’s palace in the fall (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

The structure is 104m by 55m. The balcony is 18m high, although it has partially collapsed. The walls were built of rubble with quick-setting mortar and were as much as 4 meters wide. The outer walls seem to have been slightly articulated by two rows of vertical niches. This articulation, however, would not have detracted from the massive defensible appearance of the structure, to which the low heavy cupolas must have contributed. Originally the rubble walls were covered with stucco, which is still preserved in some places in the domed halls and in the court of the palace. Niches, with a semi-circular top, were set in rectangular frames and molded in the stucco. The lintel of these niches was formed by a cavetto cornice of the type used on the lintels of windows and doors in the palaces of Persepolis from which those of Firuzabad were surely copied in a conscious imitation of Achaemenid architectural features. The balcony, as in the Parthian palace of Ashur, was designed with the ancient Near Eastern type of house in which the rooms open on an inner court to produce a complex which was well suited to the climate of these regions. The style of the interior design is comparable to that of Thachara palace at Persepolis.

374051585_ee741c59bbAn inside view of the dome, much of which has remained surprisingly intact despite the passage of thousands of years of harsh climate (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

Direct parallels have been discovered between the Castle of Ardeshir and the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome – for more, see here…

Ardeshir_Babakan_Palace_Firouzabad_Persis-03Excellent view of the walls of Ardashir’s palace (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

New Book by Andrew James: Blood of Kings

Andrew James’ new book “Blood of Kings” has captured the very spirit of the Ancient Achaemenids.  Thanks to James’ deep understanding and appreciation of the ancient Achaemenid Empire, he literally takes the reader back in time to the Persians of old.

BLOOD OF KINGS coverjpgAndrew James’ book “Blood of Kings” is available from Amazon, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, Kobo, Apple iTunes and other online stores.

“Blood of Kings” is a highly recommended historical novel for students of ancient history. James has succeeded in providing a balanced view of the ancient Persians, one that goes past Eurocentric views and even Orientalism – this results in the reader seeing a more human side of ancient Persia.

Cyrus-Babylon[Click to Enlarge] A painting of Cyrus the Great-کوروش بزرگ- as he enters Babylon (Picture Source: Mani-Persepolis.nu). Cyrus’ arrival occurred just as the inhabitants of Babylon were engaged in celebrations and festivals, as corroborated by Greek sources (Herodotus, I, 19; Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 7. 5.15). The Nabonidus Chronicle also states that “Cyrus entered Babylon…the state of peace was imposed on all the city, Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon” (Nabonidus Chronicle, III, 12-22). The inhabitants of Babylon-city are recorded as having laid branches before Cyrus as he entered through the city gates. To learn more, click here…

Set against the backdrop of Persia’s invasion of Egypt in 525 BC, Blood of Kings tells the story of the death of Cyrus the Great, the succession and death of Cambyses, and Darius the Great’s rise to power. Inspired by the magnificence of the ancient Persian Empire, it is one of very few books in Western literature to be written from a Persian point of view, with the story being told largely through the eyes of Darius himself. Whereas many Western writers paint an unfair picture of the ancient Persians, Andrew James has depicted them truthfully, showing them to be by far the most advanced nation of their day.

Part Three of History Channel Program “Engineering an Empire: The Persians” (2006). This section discusses Darius the Great’s Royal Road, the Battle of Marathon, digging of the canal between the Red Sea (ancient Arabian Gulf) and Mediterranean Sea, and the building of the bridge over Bosphorus. For the entire History Channel program see:  Engineering an Empire -آغاز یک امپراطوری – هخامنشیان-

Andrew was born in London and studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Trinity College, Oxford, before practicing for twelve years as counsel at the English Bar. Visiting Iran in 2005 and 2007 he was captivated by the beauty and sophistication of Persepolis, and by the highly advanced culture it revealed. After learning of the size of the Persian Empire, Andrew decided he wanted to know more about these ancient Achaemenid warriors, whose armies conquered on three continents, including Europe.

akenakes-achaemenid-dr-khorasani1[Click to Enlarge] Achaemenid Akenakes. Note the lion and ram motifs on this finely crafted weapon, both symbols of ancient Iran (Copyright of Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani, 2006 – for more see here… and his Facebook page).

Reading a translation of the Bisitun Inscription while standing beneath the great carving James was gripped by the drama of Darius’s account, and was inspired to retell the story in a novel. Andrew then set off to follow the probable line of march of Cambyses’s army across the desert to Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and in 2008 he gave up his career at the Bar to move to the desert, where he spent three years researching and writing his first novel, Blood of Kings.

The Wall of JerusalemThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus the Great-کوروش بزرگ- allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. To learn more, click here…

To write Blood of Kings Andrew spent several years researching ancient Persian history and military affairs, including several visits to the National Museum in Tehran and smaller museums around Iran. The book not only makes a thrilling read for lovers of historical adventure, but also sympathetically portrays ancient Persian culture and life. Blood of Kings has received such a warm welcome from Iranian readers around the world, that Andrew has already received an offer from a respected publisher in Tehran to translate it into Persian.

Bagh e Eram of ShirazA descendant of Cyrus the Great’s Gardens at ancient Pasargadae: The Garden of Eram at Shiraz, one of those Persian Gardens in Iran declared as UNESCO heritage sites (Photo provided to Kavehfarrokh.com by Mani Moradi).

The Viking Ulfberht Sword and Persian Steel

Western scholarship has been uncovering a number of links between the Vikings and Persia, as noted in a previous posting on Viking traders and Persian silk.

Readers are also invited to partake in the following upcoming event at the British Museum regarding the Vikings and their legacy:

The Vikings are coming… British Museum launches The BP Exhibition Vikings: life and legend (6 March – 22 June 2014
 Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery)


Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist of the University of Stockholm has provided a very intriguing interview with the 2012 documentary television Nova program entitled “Secrets of the Viking Sword.

Ulfbehrt-Rebuilt-Original

The Viking Ulfbehrt Sword: (Top) Contemporary reconstruction of the Ulfbehrt (Picture Source: Reliks.com) (Bottom) an original sample of the weapon from the 9th century – note the “Ulfbehrt” inlay within the blade (Picture Source: Public Domain). A new generation of Western scholars have traced the metallurgical engineering of this venerable Scandinavian weapon to the east, outside of Europe.

fredrik charpentier-SUThe section of interest in the Nova program is where Professor Ljungqvist (photo at left – Source: Stockholm University) states of the Volga trade route between Lake Malaren to Northern Iran where:

“…it is very likely that the steel that you find in the Ulfberht swords originated from Iran…I would guess that they bought it [Persian steel] from friendly trading connections in Iran paid with furs and other Nordic commodities and took it back on the small ships that they used on the rivers

 

 

Video clip of the PBS Nova program section outlining the Viking-Iranian connection.

In summary, as noted by Professor Ljungqvist, the Vikings sailed from Lake Malaren in Sweden to the Volga River and from there into the Caspian Sea southwards towards the ports of northern Persia.

Volga Trade Route-1Map of the Viking Volga Trade Route (Picture Source: PBS-Nova Program). The Ulfberht sword is dated to the time when the Volga Trade Route was operational, between the early 800s to mid-1000s. In practice, the Vikings had several trade routes in addition to the Volga.

Despite the fall of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE) to the Arabo-Muslim invasion in 637-651 CE, many facets of the ancient Sassanian Spah (military) continued to endure in northern Persia. The Caliphate had great difficulties subduing Iran’s mountainous and forested north, where local military commanders were often designated with Sassanian military titles. Northern Iran’s metallurgical and weapons building technology continued unabated after the fall of the Sassanians, a factor which benefited Viking traders sailing along the Volga trade route.

osebergThe Oseberg longship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo (Picture source: Heritage Trust). Viking ships like these sailed to northern Persia in search of trade.

However, the Vikings were already aware of Sassanian military technology, long before the advent of the Ulfbehrt sword. As noted by Peter Wilcox:

The resemblance between this [Sassanian] helmet…from the fully armored king carved into the rock at Taq-i-Bostan [Taghe Bostan] near Kermanshah and those recovered from the Scandinavian graves at Vendel and Valsgarde in Sweden is remarkable ” [Wilcox, P. (1999). Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sasanid Persians. Osprey Publishing, p.47, Plate H1].

This raises questions as to whether this technology was transmitted by other Turkic or Iranian peoples in ancient Eastern Europe sharing the same military tradition as the Sassanians, or through trade. The transfer of Iranian and Hun-Turkic weapons technology to the European realms is a fascinating domain, one currently under investigation by numbers of Western scholars.

 2-Sassanian and viking Helmets

Viking Helmet (Right; Picture Source: English Monarchs) and reconstruction of earlier Sassanian helmet at Taghe Bostan, Kermanshah, Iran (Left; Picture Source: Close up of Angus Mcbride painting of Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan, Wilcox, P. (1999). Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sasanid Persians. Osprey Publishing, p.47, Plate H1).

The sword building technology was certainly not confined to northern Iran only: Central Asia, with its deep-rooted Turco-Iranian or Persianate civilization was also home to advanced metallurgy and sword building as seen in another portion of the   2012 documentary television Nova program entitled “Secrets of the Viking Sword.

Gilan_Talesh_Sheep_Iranian_Music_Flute [Click to Enlarge] Images of North Iran: [Left] an elderly Talysh man plays his flute in the forests of Gilan; [Right] Massouleh region in Gilan (Picture Source: Fouman.com). Evidently the Scandinavians and Northern Iranians have had cordial cultural relations since at least Sassanian times, but this topic has received scant academic attention. 

Studies have yet to be conducted on the relations between the northern Iranians and the Vikings, but it is clear that the interactions were constructive and cordial at the very least. In a sense, the geography of northern Iran would not have appeared all that different from Europe, as Iran is a highly diverse country with respect to geography, linguistic diversity, etc.