The Archaeological Institute of America awarded the 2020 James R. Wiseman Book Award to The Iranian Expanse: Transforming Royal Identity through Architecture, Landscape, and the Built Environment, 550 BCE–642 CE by Matthew P. Canepa.
The Iranian Expanse explores how kings in Persia and the ancient Iranian world utilized the built and natural environment to form and contest Iranian cultural memory, royal identity, and sacred cosmologies. Investigating over a thousand years of history, from the Achaemenid period to the arrival of Islam, The Iranian Expanse argues that Iranian identities were built and shaped not by royal discourse alone, but by strategic changes to Western Asia’s cities, sanctuaries, palaces, and landscapes. The Iranian Expanse critically examines the construction of a new Iranian royal identity and empire, which subsumed and subordinated all previous traditions, including those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolia. It then delves into the startling innovations that emerged after Alexander under the Seleucids, Arsacids, Kushans, Sasanians, and the Perso-Macedonian dynasties of Anatolia and the Caucasus, a previously understudied and misunderstood period. Matthew P. Canepa elucidates the many ruptures and renovations that produced a new royal culture that deeply influenced not only early Islam, but also the wider Persianate world of the Il-Khans, Safavids, Timurids, Ottomans, and Mughals.
From the Introduction
The Iranian Expanse is a study of the natural and built environments of power in Persia and the ancient Iranian world from the consolidation of the Achaemenid Empire in the sixth century BCE to the fall of the Sasanian Empire in the seventh century CE. Its chapters analyze the formation and development of some of the most enduring expressions of power in Iranian royal culture: palaces, paradise gardens and hunting enclosures , royal cities, sanctuaries and landscapes marked with a rich history of rock art and ritual activity. It explores how these structures, landscapes, and urban spaces constructed and transformed Iranian imperial cosmologies, royal identities, and understandings of the past. Implicit in this book’s arguments is the understanding that royal engagement with natural, urban, and architectonic space was not merely an ornament or a natural outgrowth of Iranian kingship, but a fundamental tool by which kings in Iran established their dominance, manipulated cultural memory, and appropriated, subsumed, or destroyed the traditions of their competitors. Understanding the continuum between the conceptual, spatial, material, and practical bases of Iranian kingship and their role in forming, supporting, and changing Iranian royal identity lies at the book’s methodological core.
Setting as its goal a sustained analysis of the role of the natural and built environments in the construction and transformation of Iranian royal identities, this book opens an analytical space that can encompass multiple competing understandings and expressions of Iranian kingship and their competitive or appropriative relationship with sites, traditions, and images of preAchaemenid or non-Iranian royal traditions. Although it focuses on the ancient evidence and does not contain extended discussions of theoretical literature, this book often engages debates in the humanities and in the social and behavioral sciences. I approach these issues not simply as theoretical problems, but as important methodological tools that have the potential to shed light on historical processes.
This book’s arguments grow from the conviction that both personal cognition and collective cultural identities are highly implicated in the natural and built environments. Moreover, the personal and collective memories that constitute those identities often crystallize at speciﬁc sites, natural or man-made: they shape and were shaped by the built and natural environments.
It should not be surprising that a change in one could be understood to yield a change in the others. A wide variety of external resources can “scaffold,” that is, support and shape, human cognition and offer affordances for meaningful perceptions and actions, including those relating to personal or collective memories. Within theories of an extended mind, “when parts of the environment are coupled with the brain in the right way they become parts of the mind,” though the inverse of this statement is equally true: when parts of our mind, relating to both cognitive and somatic processes, are coupled with the environment in the right way they become part of the environment.
This is a problem that occupies not only contemporary theoretical approaches but was deeply implicated in ancient Iranian understandings of existence. According to Iranian religious theorizing, everything in the living, material world (Av. gae ˉiθiia-, Mid. Pers. ge ˉtı̄g) also participates in a world “of thought” (Old Av. manahiia-, CHAPTER ONE Introduction I, Ahura Mazda, ﬁrst fashioned forth the Aryan Expanse (airiianəm vaējō) by the Good Lawful River, to be the best of places and settlements. But then the Evil Spirit, full of death, hacked out its adversarial counterfeit (paitiiār e m): a dragon, the red, and the winter, fabricated by the Demons.1 2 CHAPTER ONE Young Av. mainiiauua-, Mid. Pers. me ˉno ˉg), that is, the conceptual, spiritual dimension of existence.
While I am not arguing that contemporary theoretical approaches map onto ancient Iranian concepts, the importance of the relationship between the conceptual world and the living, material world in a number of Iranian religions challenges us to take such “hylonoetic” continua between place, space, and human minds and bodies seriously when approaching the relationship between Iranian royal identities and the art and archaeological evidence. This was at the forefront of the minds of the patrons and designers of the great Iranian palaces , sacred spaces, and landscapes and gardens, from Achaemenid Pasargadae to Sasanian Ayvan-e Kisra: Iranian sovereigns knew that meaningful places and powerful natural and architectonic spaces not only shaped human subjectivities and behavior day to day, but had the potential to bring into alignment and restore to primordial perfection the deeper realities of both the...