Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Aśoka and the Achaemenids: Beyond Influence Anxieties

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Virginia Suite A, Lobby Level

The notion of Achaemenid Persian inspiration for the iconic Aśokan pillars of Mauryan India is fraught with historiographic anxieties about “influence” on both sides. As an historian of Achaemenid art, I sketch relevant trajectories leading to the present and then ask: (1) How can we more fruitfully characterize links between the creative synergies of Achaemenid Iran across an empire reaching to the Indus and those of the Emperor Aśoka? (2) How may such links have played out across temporal/spatial gaps? (3) What may their affective agencies have been? And are comparisons between them productive on those grounds? The time is ripe for collaboration. A large archive of sealed administrative documents (the Persepolis Fortification tablets) now provides an intriguing window on the extent of human entanglements between the SW Iranian heartland of the Achaemenid Empire and its southeastern reaches. These data freshly inflect the excavations of Taxila in Pakistan and Pataliputra in India and other regions of the Achaemenid eastward frontier, offering empirically-grounded frameworks for re-considering cultural exchange, receptivity, and also resistance far afield from Persepolis. Actualities of social and material imbrication contributed to the creation of visual landscapes and social textures of cultural memory. Against this backdrop, the inscribed pillar installations of Aśoka sustain their own myriad creative significances. They offer a cogent case study in ideological imperatives which, in dialogue with Achaemenid manifestations, yield potentials for comparative experimentation with, e.g., Soja’s Third Space theory and Venturi’s signscape interpretations of affective architectural/sculptural messaging.

Margaret Cool Root

University of Michigan, Michigan

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