News

Why ancient spin doctors hit a wall



11 March 2014

Akchakhan-kala was a royal seat of Chorasmia, once the most northern part of the First Persian Empire.
Akchakhan-kala was a royal seat of Chorasmia, once the most northern part of the First Persian Empire.

CONTEMPORARY notions of propaganda evoke modern-day North Korea or Nazi Germany, but attempts by the powerful to influence the minds of every day people have been around since ancient times.

The University of Sydney has been conducting excavations at the large and significant site of Akchakhan-kala in Chorasmia, located in modern-day Uzbekistan, where fascinating examples of early propaganda have been unearthed.

Akchakhan-kala was a royal seat of Chorasmia, once the most northern part of the First Persian Empire. The site dates to a time after the region slipped from the empire's grasp, around the third century BC to the second century AD.

Excavations have revealed magnificent wall paintings, gold ornaments, clay sculptures, painted texts and evidence of elaborate ceremonial practices promoting royal propaganda.

Alison Betts, Professor of Silk Road Studies, will explain this ancient propaganda, the site's amazing wall paintings and Zoroastrianism, one of the world's earliest monotheistic religions, in the first Insights Lecture of 2014 on Thursday, March 13.

Ancient wall paintings at Akchakhan-kala give a rich insight into royal propaganda in the First Persian Empire.
Ancient wall paintings at Akchakhan-kala give a rich insight into royal propaganda in the First Persian Empire.

Professor Betts of the Department of Archaeology says we now have evidence of how imperial propaganda in Iran stressed the subservience of the empire's subjects. This ancient propaganda shows a tension between imperial Persian and tribal influences.

"This is shown especially at the Royal seat of Persepolis where low relief carvings show all the peoples of the empire bringing their donations, each typical of their region," said Professor Betts.

"Kingship was said to be a gift of the gods and the kings had themselves portrayed in religious poses, usually standing before a fire altar with the representation of the supreme deity, Ahuramazda, as a winged figure shown above."

The finds at Akchakhan-kala reveal how Chorasmian rulers sought to shape the royal stronghold and wield power of its peoples.

"It has remarkable wall paintings showing portraits of figures wearing elaborate head dresses and gold jewellery and other scenes and images," said Professor Betts.

"It also has some rare painted texts. The portraits and the architecture hold important clues to the nature of the Chorasmian state at that time."

The religion of Zoroastrianism played a huge party in these public 'campaigns'. It still survives today as one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions, practiced by Parsee people in India.

"It originated in Persia some time around the first millennium BC with the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster, but its precise origins are obscure," said Professor Betts.

When: 
5.30pm, Thursday, March 13
What: Insights 2014: Power and Propaganda in the Ancient World: A Central Asian Perspective
Where: 
General Lecture Theatre 1, The Quadrangle, the University of Sydney.
Cost: 
$10 per ticket
Bookings: 
https://sydney.edu.au/alumni/insights2014


Contact: Luke O'Neill

Phone: 02 9114 1961, 0481 012 600

Email: 5c110e04160537042424540a292a121a3638432134254f1537