The “Persian Achaemenid Materials in Context” Project

ANEE's visiting researcher Maria Gabriela Micale discusses her research on the Persian Achaemenid Materials in Context -project and how it relates to other research done at Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires.


The discourse on the Persian Achaemenid artistic and material culture has often been framed in terms of Greek influence. The idea that the “Hellenization” of the Persian cultural milieu culminated in the 4th century is quite widespread, and this view is true of the western regions of the Empire as well. The importance of this debate is also connected to the visibility of the  Persian Achaemenid cultural presence in the Western part of the Empire. However, the question of Persian Achaemenid “visibility” outside the Empire has been considered mainly in reference to official art and the imperial policy regarding self-representation, whereas material production in (and in transit through) the imperial provinces lacks a consideration based on the same critical perspective. This is especially important when the record of a Persian Achaemenid presence may suggest multi-layered social and artistic interactions within and between local communities as well as between regions, as may be the case of Syria under the Persian Achaemenid rule.

 The corpus of Persian Achaemenid art, materials, and iconographies is ever increasing. Some contributions are limited to specific classes of materials and focus on specific regions. Nonetheless, for the duration of the Persian Achaemenid Empire our understanding of Syria is still too limited. Dealing with terracotta figurines from the Persian Achaemenid settlement at Tell Mardikh, my preliminary studies may look limited in scope. However, they have allowed me to assess the centrality of stratigraphy for the historical assessment of materials and iconographies providing a crucial framework of interpretation for fundamental aspects of appearance, continued representation and reciprocal relationships.


Taking into consideration the critical points shortly outlined above, my research at the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires aims at the reassessment of the stratified materials and their architectural context of the Persian Achaemenid settlement at Tell Mardikh, with a special focus on specific assemblages from the settlement on the Acropolis. Completely excavated between the 1960’s and 2010, this settlement is an extremely important archaeological and architectural context for which no comparison within the region exists. The study of this area allows for a distributional analysis in both synchronic and diachronic dimensions across diverse types of context, but especially permits the investigation of the relationships between the different types of materials and the function of specific spaces. The evaluation of the materials’ association in both synchronic and diachronic perspectives may contribute to the decipherment of material culture elements as signifiers within social structures, cultures and belief systems and shed light on the daily-life of the settlement as well as on particular moments of the social community and individual actors within it.

Research Significance

My research at the ANEE allows me to examine this settlement within a vast territory where the population does not share a common cultural, ethnic, and historical background beyond the common distinction between center and periphery. Tell Mardikh probably had a prominent regional position due to its likely preeminent role in the exploitation of the agricultural and artisanal potential of the territory. Beside the coastal cities of Northern Syria in this period, such as al-Mina, Ras Shamra, Ras al Bassit and Tell Sukas, whose role in the commercial maritime trade is undeniable, an important role must be assigned to the agricultural production in both coastal and inner plains as economic foundation of the life in the region. Further, my research offers the chance to engage in a broader investigation of Syria in this period — a complex study that, in a long perspective, aims at filling the gap between what is known of Syria and the other neighboring regions in the same centuries.

If you want to know more

Briant, P. - Boucharlat (eds). 2005. L'archéologie de l'empire achéménide : nouvelles recherches. Paris.

Colburn, H.P. 2020, Archaeology of Empire in Achaemenid Egypt, Edinburgh.

Elayi, J. - Sapin, J. 1998. Beyond the River. New Perspectives on Transeuphratène, Sheffield.

Eph’al, I. 2008. Syria-Palestine under Achaemenid Rule, in Boardman et al. (eds), Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean c. 525 to 479 B.C. (The Cambridge Ancient History IV), (First edition 1988). Cambridge, 139-164.

Khatchadourian, L. 2016. Imperial Matter. Ancient Persia and the Archaeology of Empires. Oakland.

Mazzoni, S. 1984. L’insediamento persiano-ellenistico di Tell Mardikh, Studi Eblaiti 7: 87-132.

Micale, M.G. 2018. A Stamp Seal from the Acropolis of Tell Mardikh/Ebla. A Syrian Style within the Persian Empire?, in A. Vacca / S. Pizzimenti / M.G. Micale (eds), A Oriente del Delta. Scritti sullEgitto e il Vicino Oriente antico in onore di Gabriella Scandone Matthiae (CMAO XVIII). Roma, 389-422.

Micale, M.G. 2018. Clay Figurines in the Persian Achaemenid Near East as seen from Tell Mardikh, in P. Matthiae / F. Pinnock / M. D’Andrea (eds), Ebla and Beyond, Wiesbaden, 495-516.

Root, M. Cool. 1991. From the Hearth: Powerful Persianisms in the Art of the Western Empire, in H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg - A. Kuhrt (eds), Asia Minor and Egypt: Old Cultures in a New Empire. Proceedings of the Groningen 1988 Achaemenid History Workshop (Achaemenid History VI), Leiden, 1-29.

Sancisi-Weerdenburg, H. 1990. The Quest for an Elusive Empire, in H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg, A. Kuhrt (eds), Achaemenid History IV. Centre and Periphery, Leiden, 263-274.