THE ART OF IRAN PREISLAMIC
THE ART OF ZAGROS AND CENTRAL ALTOPIANO
Although we do not intend to base ourselves on the mythological history of Iran, it is necessary to remember that no myth emerges without relations with the reality of its time. Gilgamesh and his saga are a good example of this fact. Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king or prince of Uruk who later assumed first the character of a national hero and then a demigod in search of eternity. The Gilgamesh that crosses the world in search of eternity is actually the same Gilgamesh, prince of Uruk, who in the course of his life did not set foot outside Uruk, from some neighboring cities like Eridu and Vavar, or at most Kish. Many archaeologists, in an attempt to discover the origin of the myths of some peoples, came across their historical realities.
Unfortunately, Iran has never been given the necessary importance to this issue, and even Western archaeologists, often not very well versed in the mythological history of Iran, have not been able to find an alternative route to those in the history of the ancient Near East. The few excavations that have been carried out in this large territory have not generally been conducted in full and have often been abandoned halfway through work. The reason is perhaps to be sought in the financial weakness of governments, or in the scarcity, if not even in the absence, of local experts.
The still incomplete excavations carried out recently in Central Iran - Robat-e Karim, Cheshme Ali and Tepe Qeitariah - show that in this land, from a few millennia before Christ and even before that in Mesopotamia, or in general in the fertile crescent, appeared the first Neolithic villages, in the plateau there were rural communities that led a thriving life.
Regarding the peoples and ethnic groups that lived in western and central Iran, Orientalists have different opinions, all of which can be explained in relation to Mesopotamia. But what emerges unequivocally is that the different Iranian governments - Guti, Lullubi or Cassiti - did not have much interest in writing or recording documents. Even the Elamites were not immune to this tendency. These states passed down the succession of events orally, and that is how the mythological history of Iran was born.
When south-western Iran, ie Susa and Elam, began to be urbanized and developed in parallel with the Sumerians and the Babylonians, in western and central Iran emerged some monarchical states which, thanks to ethnic kinship, always refrained from attacking Elam. These are the Cassites, the Lullubi, the Guti, the Mannei, later joined by Medi and Persiani. We have no written documents on these states and therefore we must rebuild their civilization on the basis of the artistic findings that have come down to us.
The Cassites, the most important among these peoples, emerged in the second millennium distinguishing themselves as a powerful and warlike state; once they put sixteen archers at the disposal of the Elamites, who faced the Babylonians. They had gradually joined the Aryan peoples who had settled in the plateau in the past and developed quickly and easily thanks to this mixture. The ari-Iranian element became preponderant, without however upsetting their ethnic originality. They spent the hot season in one place and the cold months in another, and traces of their passage have reached us, often in areas rich in water sources.
The oldest artefact we have dates back to the sixth-seventh millennium; it is a woman sitting with legs stretched out, big thighs and prominent breast. There is no head, but a long neck. This statuette, very realistic, was found in Tepe Sarab. Among the other finds from this period, there are some very refined ceramics, decorated with drawings of natural elements and local or mountain animals. The Cassites in this period possessed a particular skill in ceramics and in its decoration, and for about three thousand years their decorated ceramics were exported everywhere. At Cheshme Ali were found pottery dating back to the fifth to fourth millennium similar to those of the Zagros, which show the relationship between the inhabitants of this mountain range and those of Tepe Siyalk. On the other hand, a comparison between animal-themed drawings on ceramics found at Tepe Hesar (Damghan) and those of Siyalk, Zagros and even Susa suggest that they are works of one people who had only one origin despite being dispersed in different areas.
The representation of a chamois with enormous, complex and asymmetrical horns is perhaps the connecting point of this art. Other animals drawn in this era are waterfowl, dogs, leopards and panthers. As we approach the fourth millennium, the drawings become more realistic, losing geometric schematicity, to the heart of the fourth millennium, where they give way to cruder, less decorated and less refined ceramics.
The most beautiful ceramics designed on the plateau, if we do not consider Susa, have been found in the Fars and in the vicinity of Persepolis; they are mainly terrines, jugs and vases, sometimes decorated inside and others outside.
It should be noted that western Iranians, unlike those of central and southern Italy, together with ceramics also dedicated themselves to other arts, such as metallurgy. Most of the metal artifacts found - including daggers, swords, bats, shields, axes, arrowheads, horse harnesses, common and parade reins, training bridles, rattles and bells and wagon equipment, braids, belts, bracelets , hooks and eyelets, buttons, mirrors, necklaces, rings, earrings, hair clips, beauty accessories, various types of dishes, cups and glasses, cups with simple and stylized forms of animals or with engraved decorations - is in bronze.
The inhabitants of these regions, who were forerunners in the arts of weaving, the melting of metals and ceramics, seem to have been the first to discover glass and to introduce glass seals and vitreous enamel. Thanks to the spread of the myth of Gilgamesh, which crossed the borders of Sumerian domination, many bronze depictions, in particular on the seals produced in the region, were influenced by the saga of the Sumerian hero. Gilgamesh recognizes himself in different forms on the bronze findings and most probably lost the heroic character he had in Mesopotamia, to turn into a mere ornamental motif. The influence of the Babylonian art and, after and more of it, of the Assyrian art, is evident in the bronze works of this period.
The brooches were another artifact that was mostly made of bronze and came from Luristan. These brooches, dating back to the second millennium, end up with a large circle decorated with engravings or reliefs representing Gilgamesh and other deities of fertility and protectors of the forest (Fig. 6). Many of these brooches are ex-vows donated to temples, which carry a portrait of the person, most of them women, who made the vow. Some represent a scene of childbirth, and were probably gifts brought to the temple as thanks for a particularly difficult delivery. In addition, statuettes were found, the smallest of which measures 4,8 centimeters, the largest 8,5. These figurines are naked, others dressed and armed, others still represented in a state of fear or sin, and show that the vow was often made at the temple as a request for forgiveness or help.
Many of these brooches, human and animal statuettes (horses, dogs and other animals), sometimes also bronze seals and printed tablets that were produced in Luristan, were ordered by the Assyrians. In this way the people of Luristan produced according to their taste and exported those religious and political objects that were commissioned from the outside.
Among the findings, worthy of note are the other bronzes found in Luristan and dating back to the third and second millennium. These are objects that include weapons, swords, daggers, axes and harnesses and equine paraments (Fig. 7). These objects were exported to Mesopotamia, as evidenced by the findings at Mari and Tell Ahmar. These artifacts from Luristan were also used by the Babylonians. On one of the axes there is the following written in elamite: "Bali Sar, powerful king, king of all", and its history is contemporary to the Akkadian period.
Towards the end of the second millennium and up to the first half of the first, iron was also used in Luristan, although only in small quantities and only in alloy steel for the axes, daggers and swords, the decorations being made only on bronze . Iron objects were produced in Luristan especially in the ninth century a. C.