Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran

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The wealth and power of ancient Iran was in part expressed in portable luxury objects fashioned from precious metals and decorated with royal imagery.

From the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire in circa 550 BCE to the fall of the Sasanians to Muslim conquerors in 642 CE, Iran played a central role in the history of the ancient world alongside the Assyrian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine empires. Rulers affirmed their political power through monumental architecture, such as the Achaemenid palace of Persepolis and the towering rock carvings of the Sasanians at Naqsh-i Rustam. They also displayed their wealth and authority through luxury objects fashioned from precious metals and decorated with royal imagery.

Silver vessels, including bowls, goblets, plates, and ewers, graced imperial banqueting tables, where they inspired awe and commanded respect in friends and foes alike. Some of the objects were used in elaborate religious ceremonies, and others were sent to far-flung corners of the Persian Empire and beyond as diplomatic gifts and impressive reminders of royal power and generosity. Together these works evoke a highly sophisticated world with an extensive network of military, commercial, and cultural contacts that extended across much of Asia and Europe for centuries.