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Persian influence on Greece (3)

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  The ancient Persian and Greek cultures did not exist in isolation. There was cross-fertilization. The present article contains a description of Persia's influence on Greece.

This is the third part of the article; the first one can be found here.


The buildings we are about to discuss, were all built after the Persian general Mardonius had destroyed Athens in 479, and after the battles in the harbor of Athens, at Plataea and at Eurymedon, where the Greeks had defeated the Persians. The Athenians had obtained much wealth after these battles. Herodotus tells that after the battle of Plataea
Architecture: Odeon
Architecture: Prytaneum
Architecture: Parthenon frieze
Architecture: Erechtheum
Politics: Delian League
Politics: Episcopus
Rhyton from Ecbatana, National museum Tehran (Iran)
A rhyton from Ecbatana (National Museum, Tehran; ©!!!)

the Greeks dispersed themselves about the Persian camp and found tents furnished with gold and silver, and beds overlaid with gold and overlaid with silver, and mixing-bowls of gold, and cups and drinking vessels [i.e., rhytons]. They found also sacks laid upon wagons, in which there proved to be caldrons both of gold and of silver; and from the dead bodies which lay there they stripped bracelets and collars, and also their swords if they were of gold, for as to embroidered raiment, there was no account made of it.
[Herodotus, Histories 9.80]
Greek rhyton (480-470 BCE), Brygos painter. Museo di archeologia ligure, Genova (Italy).
Athenian rhyton (Museo di archeologia ligure, Genova; ©!!!)
When a Persian king went to war, he not only took his army with him, but many courtiers as well. In this way, he could also live like a king when he was at the front, and was able to give fitting rewards to his brave warriors.

After the Greek victory, the booty was divided between the towns and cities that had shared in the fighting, and everybody received a fair share. So did Athens. As one of the leading powers, it must have been one of the first to choose, and as a consequence, much silver, gold, and other luxuries were brought to Athens. A simple but excellent example are the Persian rhytons (drinking vessels), which appear in Athens suddenly and in great quantities after the war. They were immediately imitated by Greek artists.

Except for precious metals, utensils and luxuries, weapons and tents were taken away from the battle field at Plataea. Especially the royal pavilion, in which Mardonius had had his lodgings, had the full attention of the Athenians.


Architecture: Odeon

It is certain that after Plataea, the pavilion of the great king was taken to Athens. But what happened next? It has been assumed that (a part of) it was already used in 472 as decor [skÍnÍ] of the tragedy The Persians by Aeschylus. Another and more plausible suggestion -not necessarily contradicting the preceding one- is that the wooden construction was used as a music hall (odeon) and later rebuilt from stone. This can be concluded from the following words by the Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea:

Reconstruction of Pericles' Odeon. ©Theatron.
Pericles' Odeon (from Theatron; ©!!!)

The Odeon, or music room, which in its interior was full of seats and ranges of pillars, and outside had its roof made to slope and descend from one single point at the top, was constructed, we are told, in imitation of the king of Persia's pavilion [skÍnÍ]. This was done by Pericles's order.
[Plutarch, Life of Pericles 13.5-6]
It is not surprising that the pavilion was used as a piece of scenery or/and music room. After all, Athens had been sacked and emergency accommodation and temporary buildings are to be expected. Besides, the pavilion of Xerxes was not a family tent, but a portable palace.
Reconstruction of the Hall of Hundred Columns.
Reconstruction of the Hall of Hundred Columns.

When the Odeon of Pericles was excavated, it turned out to have almost the same dimensions as the Hall of the Hundred Columns at Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid empire. The Odeon measured 68,50 x 62,40 meters and contained 9 x 10 columns; the room of the Persepolis palace had -surprise, surprise- 10 x 10 columns and measured 68,50 x 68,50 meters.

The similarity is too obvious to be coincidental. The pavilion must have been a copy of the Hall of the Hundred Columns, and the Odeon must have been a copy of this copy.

It should be noted, however, that this Persian example was not really followed in Greek and Roman architecture. The acoustics of the Odeon of Pericles must have been terrible. Later odeons, e.g. those of Agrippa, Domitian and Herodes Atticus, were little theaters and not square halls.

to part four

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