Central Asia in the context of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (6th to 4th centuries B.C.)

Xin Wu, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation investigates the imperial relationship between the heartland and provinces of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (c. 559–330 B.C.). It discusses various historical and social aspects of the Empire's northeastern provinces (Bactria, Sogdiana and Chorasmia), located in modern-day Central Asia, and the Persian presence in and impact on the region's social and political situations, religious ideologies, and artistic practices, through examinations of the surviving material culture, including primarily artifacts and their decorations, retrieved from archaeological excavations. The thesis approaches the northeastern provinces from three different perspectives: that of the Persians in the imperial heartland in western Iran, that of the peoples in the northeastern provinces in Central Asia, and that of the (semi)nomadic groups to the north and east beyond the imperial boundaries on the eastern part of the Eurasian steppe. The official inscriptions, monumental and glyptic art, and administrative texts from the imperial heartland (Persian, Elam and Media) suggest that Central Asia was largely integrated into the imperial ideological and administrative system. Meanwhile, conflicts between the Empire's northeastern frontier and its central government were frequent. The social landscape of the northeastern provinces, reconstructed from material found in Central Asia, primarily architecture and artifacts, demonstrates links between the material culture of Central Asia and that of the imperial heartland, suggesting that the Persian visual language, in which the imperial ideology was embedded, was enthusiastically accepted by the social elite in Central Asia; whereas the daily life of ordinary people remained largely unchanged, as the forms and techniques of the architecture and ceramics continued the old Central Asian traditions. The Achaemenid Persian Empire also had a strong impact on the ethno-cultural societies of the (semi) nomadic groups living beyond the imperial boundaries on the steppe to the north and east in modern-day Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang and in the Altai Mountains in Southern Siberia, as suggested by the active adoption of the Persian style in artistic representations. This Persian influence on the art of the steppe, filtered through the northeastern provinces, indicates, in turn, a reflection of a strong Persian presence in and impact on Central Asia.

Subject Area

Art history|Ancient civilizations|Middle Eastern history|History|Archaeology

Recommended Citation

Wu, Xin, "Central Asia in the context of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (6th to 4th centuries B.C.)" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179838.