Persian Influences on Egyptian Perspectives: Demonstrating Authority through Nuance

Recorded: July 4, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 2
Citation: Stevens, Marissa. "Persian Influences on Egyptian Perspectives: Demonstrating Authority through Nuance." Pourdavoud Institute: Achaemenid Workshop 2 (July 4, 2023).

by Marissa Stevens (University of California, Los Angeles)

One key to the success of the Achaemenid empire was the subtle art of controlling local narratives, beliefs, and perspectives within the lands of its imperial expansion. In some cases, this control walked a fine line between appeasement and manipulation, where traditions were viewed by local populations as being upheld and honored, but also “Persianized” to the point of being relevant to, and for the benefit of the Persian leadership. At Hibis, the incredible subtly of this imperial approach is made clear by one small phrase – aS m XAs.wt imnti.t – as preserved on the exterior north wall of the temple in the Kharga Oasis. This seemingly mundane phrase, translated as “cedar from the western foreign lands,” was part of a dedicatory inscription of Darius describing the materials used to construct the temple and exalt the deities in whose honor it was built. This phrase, though simple, contains a great degree of nuance and showcases both continuity and discontinuity of tradition and innovation. With cedar (and all quality wood) imported to Egypt from the Levant, the use of the word “western” is curious and deliberate; so also is the term “foreign lands.” The Levant is not to the west of Egypt, but of Persia proper. It is also no longer a “foreign land,” but part of the same Achaemenid empire as Egypt. This phrase thus presents a discontinuity of directionality and perspective in an Egyptian context, despite being situated in a context of otherizing terminology traditionally used by the Egyptians. It is this tension, and the possible resolution(s) of this tension, that will be explored in this presentation.

About the Speaker

Marissa Stevens is the Assistant Director of the Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World. Trained as an Egyptologist who studies the materiality, social history, and texts of the Third Intermediate Period and Late Period, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Combining art historical and linguistic approaches, her research interests focus on how objects can solidify, maintain, and perpetuate social identity, especially in times of crisis when more traditional means of self-identification are absent.