Iran And The Silk Road: Art and Trade Along Asia's Crossroads

The Silk Road is named for the trade route that linked China and the West for much of the first millennium AD. This is when Chinese silk was the chief commodity of exchange along a transcontinental route, travelled by Bactrian camel caravan, that traversed the mountains and deserts of Asia's heartland. It was Persian initiative that secured this route, and it was the Middle Iranian Sogdian, that was the trade language through much of the Road's history. During its Golden Age, in the first millennium, this fabled network was an early link between the world's great civilizations, Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian and Chinese.

In my search for meaning in Sasanian art, I have sought to establish a link between word and picture, between worldview and its artistic or artifactual expression. The Iranian world picture, and its symbols of material, social, and spiritual well-being were effectively packaged in art. Although most agree that Persian art of the Sasanian period had a profound impact on Iran's trade partners along the Silk Road, little is known about the reasons for the appeal of Sasanian art beyond the Iranian world. In this paper I seek to explain the appeal of Sasanian art by reference to the function and meaning of that art. I begin with a historical review which highlights major trends in Sasanian art and architecture, followed by a discussion of Sasanian artistic influence on Silk Road traditions.

My concluding consideration of the questions of function and meaning in Sasanian art treats that art's courtly use, and its socio-cultural and religious significance. The enhanced image of the material world projected in all aspects of that art, is here seen as reflection of the positive values and world view of the ancient Iranians.

* Abstract prepared by author.

Guitty Azarpay
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