Achaemenid Persian Art

Although the Persians took artists, with their styles and techniques, from all corners of their empire, they produced not simply a combination of styles, but a synthesis of a new unique Persian style.

Coloured Glaze Reliefs

The Achaemenids took on this artistic practice in 539-8 BC when Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and soon began to implement it in their palaces. The best example is from Darius’ palace at Susa.

The Frieze of the Archers, from Darius’ palace at Susa. Louvre. (c) Dynamosquito


Most characteristic of Achaemenid sculpture are the slabs carved in low relief that decorate the various stairways and hallways leading to the ceremonial buildings of the Achaemenid palace complexes.

Bas-relief from the northern stairway to the Apadana, Persepolis.

The Achaemenids also used these reliefs to decorate their tombs at the royal necropolis of Naqsh-e Rostam, 12km north of Persepolis.

Upper register of the Achaemenid Tomb of Xerxes I. (c) Dynamosquito

The Persian Column

Persian columns are the distinctive form of column developed in the Achaemenid architecture, c. 500 BC. had little experience of stone architecture, but were able to import artists and craftsmen from around their empire to develop a hybrid imperial style drawing on influences from Mesopotamia, Egypt and Lydia, as well as Elam in Persia itself.

Persian column with Bull capital, Persepolis. (c) Luis Argerich


One artistic technique incorporated from other cultures was the metalworking of gold, probably adopted from the Medes. The most common surviving metal objects are ceremonial drinking cups called rhyta made of gold and silver.

Achaemenid Persian Lion Rhyton, c. 500 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art. (c) Rosemanios

Better known than the rhyta is the Oxus Treasure, a 180-piece trove of reliefs, figurines, jewellery, and coins made of gold and silver. The treasure is important because it demonstrates the variety of forms in which metal was worked during the early Achaemenid Persian Empire. 

Griffin armlet from the Oxus Treasure, mostly in the British Museum.

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