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May 2, 2013: Conflict and Co-existence: Greeks in Seleucid and Arsacid Iran. A Presentation by Daniel Potts


Available for download as audio (.mp3, 49.9MB) or video (.m4v, 248.7MB).

Question and Answer Session

Available for download as audio (.mp3, 14.4MB) or video (.m4v, 75.2MB).

Conflict and Co-existence: Greeks in Seleucid and Arsacid Iran
Most ancient historians and archaeologists who have written on the subject of Greeks in Seleucid and Arsacid Iran have reduced it to a dichotomy, with some scholars, usually those with a background in Classics, Classical archaeology and ancient history, emphasizing the role of Hellenism east of the Tigris, and others, more often than not Near Eastern specialists and Iranologists, downplaying its contributions. Leaving to one side the much debated ‘clash of civilizations’ embodied in Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, and the vast body of literature it has spawned, the position taken in this year’s Lauritsen Lecture is rather different and emphasizes two points: first, even though they never occupied large tracts of territory and their poleis were isolates in an alien world that were eventually engulfed by the cultures in which they were embedded, the epigraphically attested Greek enclaves in Iran were very significant where they were present, far more so than the absolute size of these groups would suggest; and second, if we focus on the content of the Greek inscriptions from Iran, rather than their modest number, we find undeniable evidence of Greek institutions on Iranian soil that cannot be ignored. Moreover, some of those institutions survived well into the Arsacid period when another ‘clash of civilizations’, this time involving the Arsacid dynasty and its Seleucid and later Roman opponents, would tend to make one assume that an anti-Greek bias would have superseded any residual affinity for Greek institutions. These factors suggest that the Greek-Iranian relationship was neither as shallow nor as unilaterally hostile as scholars of earlier generations may have imagined. It will be argued that both the broad brush of ‘Hellenism in the East’, and the often overtly nationalist Iranian rhetoric of Greek insignificance in the period following the fall of the Achaemenid empire and the rise of Ardashir I and his Sasanian dynasty, are far too blunt in their approach to what was not a clash of civilizations but an exercise in symbiosis and cultural borrowing.

Daniel T. Potts is Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology and History at New York University.  He received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Archaeology from Harvard University in 1980 and then taught at the Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Copenhagen, where he completed his Habilitation in 1991.  Prior to joining NYU, he was the Edwin Cuthbert Hall Chair of Middle Eastern Archaeology at the University of Sydney for over twenty years.

13-05-02-Potts-ElamAlthough his research interests are wide-ranging, the majority of his scholarly work has focused on the cultural developments in Iran, Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as relations between these regions and their neighbors. Chronologically his span is far-reaching; from the Neolithic to late antiquity, but his main focus has been on the transition from pre-history to the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia and Iran, especially the 3rd millennium BCE.

Potts has led and participated in numerous excavation projects in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the journal Arabian Archaeology & Epigraphy, a Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is the author of the books In the Land of the Emirates: The Archaeology and History of the UAE (2012), Mesopotamia, Iran and Arabia from the Seleucids to the Sasanians (2010), Mesopotamian Civilization: The material foundations (1997), and The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity (1990), among others, and has authored and edited a vast number of other books, volumes, chapters, and articles. Most recently he was the editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Iranian Archaeology (2013).

Cosponsored by the Departments of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and History. The lecture is made possible by a generous gift from Fred and Catherine Lauritsen.

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