Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Two Eyes of the Earth

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

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by:
Pages: 456
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Two Eyes of the Earth
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94457-2
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Sources and Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    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...

  7. 2 The Art and Ritual of Kingship within and between Rome and Sasanian Iran
    (pp. 7-33)

    A strange occurrence at a routine diplomatic reception provides an intriguing starting point for considering the basis of Roman and Sasanian kingship and their interaction. It illustrates both the ritually charged nature of environments that grew up around the two sovereigns and the often quite unexpected possibilities that arose from them:

    When [Sēbuxt, the Sasanian envoy] came, Justin [II] proved not amenable to him especially since, when he entered to make the customary obeisance to the emperor, as he threw himself on the ground the cap which he wore on his head after the Persian manner happened to fall to...

  8. 3 The Lure of the Other and the Limits of the Past
    (pp. 34-52)

    From a scattered and fragmentary body of evidence a picture emerges of how an international language of kingship began to arise from the two realms’ originally hostile and competitive appraisals of each other in the third century. The two empires’ third-century expressions of kingship and triumph arose from long and complex histories. In the age of Severus Alexander, the Romans looked back on several hundred years of continuous triumphal ritual, art, and architecture. Although a new dynasty, the Sasanians appropriated their first expressions of triumph from a long-established repertoire developed by their erstwhile Arsacid overlords, which itself drew at least...

  9. 4 Šāpūr I, King of Kings of Iran and Non-Iran
    (pp. 53-78)

    Šāpūr I’s prodigious military successes and innovations in Sasanian kingship had a great impact on Sasanian royal identity and visual culture for this reason, as well as the fact that his reign, of all Sasanian rulers, yields the greatest number of triumphal images depicting Roman emperors. Šāpūr I’s reign is pivotal for Roman and Sasanian agonistic exchange, as it marks the first time in the two realms’ relationship that the imperial identity of one king dramatically changed in response to the existence and claims of the other. It appears perhaps unsurprising that Šāpūr I would celebrate his victories and incorporate...

  10. 5 Rome’s Troubled Third Century and the Emergence of a New Equilibrium
    (pp. 79-99)

    After Severus Alexander’s murder, Rome’s relationship with the Sasanians scarcely figured in the imagery and ideology of his successors, who were largely preoccupied with holding the northernlimes.Rome’s immediate ideological and propagandistic response to Šāpūr’s success and claims was as weak as its military response. After his “submission” to Šāpūr I, Philip mustered only the feeble coin legendpax fundata cum persisto hide the shady dealings around his accession after Gordian III’s death on campaign; it was certainly no answer to the powerful images and statements that Šāpūr I disseminated throughout the Mediterranean and South Asia.¹

    A substantial...

  11. 6 Contested Images of Sacral Kingship and New Expressions of Triumph
    (pp. 100-121)

    Šāpūr I’s rock reliefs and Galerius’s palatial structures capitalized on actual victories over specific—even identifiable—sovereigns to craft the royal selfimage. After the late third century, in the visual culture of both the Roman and the Sasanian courts, these competitive statements of victory and dominance became more and more abstract and focused increasingly on celebrating the sovereign as victor in a continuous and general sense, paralleling new expressions of divine kingship in both cultures.¹ A new, “fraternal relationship” that emerged between Rome and Iran in the fourth century facilitated a growing familiarity and frequency of contact. The interaction of...

  12. 7 Unceasing Embassies
    (pp. 122-153)

    As early as the last quarter of the third century the Roman and Sasanian courts began to fashion a shared visual, ritual, and discursive language of legitimacy to conceptualize their coexistence.This phenomenon has received a modest amount of attention from scholars, who have focused almost discretely on textual evidence.¹ I build on these earlier approaches to examine the symbolic and ideological underpinnings of this cooperative discourse and its much richer, yet more elusive, visual and ritual complement. Before beginning it is important to stress that the fashioning of a language of legitimacy was an outgrowth, or better, a melding of...

  13. 8 City as Stage and Art as Statecraft
    (pp. 154-187)

    Every Roman and Sasanian embassy arrived bearing gifts and departed equally laden. Not merely an afterthought, gift exchange was arguably one of the most important elements in Roman and Sasanian diplomatic protocol. Gifts were a mainstay of Roman and Sasanian diplomatic exchange from at least the time of Constantine the Great and Šāpūr II and formed an integral part of all exchanges.¹

    The gifts exchanged constituted powerful statements that both giver and receiver carefully weighed and to which the courts of both realms devoted considerable resources to produce and evaluate. According to Roman protocol, after the initial discussions, the envoy...

  14. 9 The Late Antique Kosmos of Power
    (pp. 188-223)

    As a result of their diplomatic exchanges, the Roman and Sasanian courts began to display an increasingly similar visual culture of power beginning in the late third century. At the end of the sixth century and through the seventh century, one can even speak of a global sartorial language of legitimacy in which both participated, but which was located entirely in neither. With an equally long-lived impact on the Mediterranean, the Near East, and Central and South Asia, the phenomenon was manifest in a number of interrelated developments rather than a single monolithic process. Over the years, scholars have noted...

  15. Epilogue: The Legacy of the Two Eyes of the Earth
    (pp. 224-226)

    Rome and Sasanian Iran’s fraught relationship as brothers and enemies was the crucible that forged the late antique Mediterranean, Europe, and western Asia. The end result of their coexistence was not just an exchange of cultural material, but a truly global, cross-cultural, and extrareligious language of debate and legitimacy.

    With the collapse of the Sasanian empire and the radical transformation of the Roman empire after the Muslim invasions, an elite inhabitant of late seventh-century Constantinople or Ctesiphon would have certainly experienced the world as he knew it dissolving before his eyes.¹ Yet the traditions of the earth’s two eyes survived...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 227-336)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 337-400)
  18. Index
    (pp. 401-426)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 427-427)
  20. PLATES
    (pp. None)