Representations of Royalty and Kingship in the Pre-Islamic Eastern Iranian World in the Context of Ancient Eurasian Cultural Exchange


The image of pre-Islamic Iranian kingship exerted unparalleled influence on Iran’s neighbors and successors—the Romans and the Byzantines, the Muslim Caliphs and the Turkic Khagans. However, despite the significance it held for contemporary cultures and the endurance of its legacy until the Early Modern period, the imagery of the pre-Islamic Iranian kings has never been systematically studied. The present project focuses on the iconography of pre-Islamic eastern Iranian (Central Asian) rulers, which has received even less scholarly attention than representations of the western Iranian kings. Pre-Islamic Central Asia was a unique meeting point of diverse peoples, cultures, languages and religions, and a crossroads of all major Eurasian civilizations.

Three main objectives stem from this project: (1) to assemble and categorize all the available visual representations of eastern Iranian kingship, discussing their meaning and significance in relation to the historical evidence (including textual sources). For this purpose a digital two-fold database will be created which will comprise both material representations and textual references from relevant literary sources; (2) to contextualize the depictions of Iranian kingship within ancient Near Eastern royal symbolism and iconography, with the aim of showing the unique position of the Iranian world as the cultural crossroads of Eurasia; (3) to study the influence of pre-Islamic Iranian kingship iconography on the representation of subsequent Eurasian rulers in the pre-modern era. Meticulous analysis of the context and the semantics of the symbols of kingship (such as crowns, weapons, thrones, nimbi, diadems, etc.) and the exploration of specific ideological and artistic concepts that lie behind them can significantly contribute to our understanding of history and culture, and the religious and ethnic composition of the eastern Iranian world in the pre-Islamic period, as well as shed light on the cultural interaction of the elites in Eurasia.

This research is supported by the ISRAEL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (grant No. 1396/17)