This shared ideal, while often generating conflict during the four centuries of the empires’ coexistence (224-642), also drove exchange, especially the means and methods Roman and Persian sovereigns used to project their notions of universal rule: elaborate systems of ritual and their cultures’ visual, architectural, and urban environments.
The Roman-Persian Wars have been characterized as “futile” and both too “depressing and tedious to contemplate”. Prophetically, Cassius Dio noted their “never-ending cycle of armed confrontations” and observed that: «it is shown by the facts themselves that [Severus’] conquest has been a source of constant wars and great expense to us. For it yields very little and uses up vast sums; and now that we have reached out to peoples who are neighbour of the Medes and the Parthians rather than of ourselves, we are always, one might say, fighting the battles of those peoples.»
In the long series of wars between the two powers, the frontier in upper Mesopotamia remained more or less constant. Historians point out that the stability of the frontier over the centuries is remarkable, although Nisibis, Singara, Dara and other cities of upper Mesopotamia changed hands from time to time, and the possession of these frontier cities gave one empire a trade advantage over the other. As Richard Frye states:
One has the impression that the blood spilled in the warfare between the two states brought as little real gain to one side or the other as the few meters of land gained at terrible cost in the trench warfare of the First World War.
In his book, Matthew Canepa explores the artistic, ritual, and ideological interactions between Rome and the Iranian world under the Sasanian dynasty, the last great Persian dynasty before Islam. He analyzes how these two hostile systems of sacred universal sovereignty not only coexisted, but fostered cross-cultural exchange and communication despite their undying rivalry.
Bridging the traditional divide between classical and Iranian history, this book brings to life the dazzling courts of two global powers that deeply affected the cultures of medieval Europe, Byzantium, Islam, South Asia, and China.
About the author
Matthew P. Canepa is Assistant Professor of Art History at the College of Charleston where he is a faculty member in the interdisciplinary programs in Archaeology and Asian Studies.
Matthew P. CANEPA
The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran (Transformation of the Classical Heritage)
University of California Press; 1st edition (February 2, 2010)