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Read, Watch and Listen

Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam

AHRC funded a research project at the British Museum that underpinned their 2012 international exhibition Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam

Glasgow Memories

Read about how a fascinating repository of unique interviews about people's working lives in the twentieth century is bringing the past to life in Glasgow

Putting Portus on the map

Read about a major international collaboration that's exploring one of the most important archaeological sites in the world

How green is the Bible?

There are few issues of such pressing political and ethical importance as the impact of human activity on the environment.

Read, Watch and Listen

Films, feature articles, podcasts and image galleries that showcase research from across our funded themes and programmes.

Features

A selection of feature-length articles about different aspects of AHRC-funded research.

Translating the 'Zibaldone'

One of the most famous works in Italian Literature has finally been translated into English thanks to AHRC funding.

What's in a surname?

A major research project is on course to create the largest, most detailed and most accurate database of the UK's family surnames.

Image Gallery

The Image Gallery is designed to showcase the range of digital images generated either as by-products or as outputs of research projects in the arts and humanities.

The Parthian Empire at its Greatest Extent (c. 96 BC)

In the early 1st century BC, Parthia’s territory expanded to the River Euphrates. Parthian and Roman envoys met to establish this landmark as the boundary between the two superpowers. At this first meeting, the Roman magistrate reportedly seized the seat of honour, humiliating his Parthian counterpart as the inferior ambassador. In 53 BC, Parthia finally demonstrated its strength by crushing the Roman army at Carrhae. 30,000 soldiers were killed or captured, and several legionary standards were lost to the Parthians.

Alexandra Magub - School of Oriental and African Studies and The British Museum

The Parthian Shot: silver tetradrachm of an unknown king (c. 80-70 BC).

The archer on Parthian coins not only represented the military might of the Parthians, but also their Iranian character. Trousers were considered effeminate clothing in the Roman world; however the folds of material (shown on the coins as horizontal lines) prevented saddle chaffing. These mounted archers were a chilling reminder of Rome’s defeat at Carrhae: the Roman historian Justin recounts how the cavalrymen would gallop in retreat, only to turn in the saddle and fire fatal shots from their bows. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver denarius of Augustus (63 BC–14 AD).

In 20 BC, Augustus, Emperor of Rome, and Phraates IV, King of Parthia, negotiated the return of Rome’s captured standards. While both sides benefited from this treaty, Augustus was quick to portray the event as a personal victory.  On this coin, a Parthian wearing the characteristic trouser suit returns a standard from his knees. Recounting these events, Augustus published the claim throughout his empire, “I forced the Parthians… as supplicants to accept the friendship of the Roman people“(Res Gestae, 29). 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Phraates IV (c. 37-2 BC).

Parthian kings placed greater emphasis on displaying their God-given splendour (Old Persian, khvarnah) rather than circulating propaganda against their enemies. The khvarnah was an important aspect of the Iranian Zoroastrian religion in ancient times, illuminating the king in celestial splendour and granting him invulnerability in battle. In the Zoroastrian hymns, the Veragna bird delivers the khvarnah and this idea can be seen on Phraates IV’s coinage. A star and crescent moon illuminate him as the holder of this divine splendour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Golden necklace, said to be discovered at Deylaman in north-west Iran.

This necklace brings to life the magnificent jewellery depicted on Parthian coinage. Made of gold and inlaid with gems, it shows two birds clasping kingship rings in their beaks. They evoke the idea of the Zoroastrian Veragna bird, showing that the khvarnah is firmly held by the wearer. Compared to more austere Roman coin portraits, Parthian kings were depicted with lavish earrings, torques, and richly beaded headdresses. These items also symbolise the exotic wealth held within the King’s vast Empire. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Gold aureus of Quintus Labienus Parthicus (died 39 BC).

In 40 BC, this Roman general joined forces with Parthia to fight against a shared enemy: Julius Caesar’s successors. Labienus’ portrait is accompanied by a saddled Parthian horse armed with a bow case- an evocative image for Romans and Parthians alike. Roman accounts claim the Parthians used gold exclusively to adorn their war horses and weapons. Similarly, the Zoroastrian victory deity, Verethragna, is said to have incarnated as a horse with golden adornments, and as a warrior with golden weapons.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Phraataces ("Little Phraates") and Musa (c. 2 BC-4 AD).

At the peace negotiations of 20 BC, Phraates IV received the concubine Musa as a gift from Rome. He was eventually murdered by Musa and their son, Phraataces. The mother-son conspirators reportedly married and ruled Parthia jointly, as shown on this coin. Horrified Roman sources assert that the pair was killed because of this marriage; however, this was not unusual amongst Parthian Zoroastrians. More likely, Musa and Phraataces were perceived to have lost the khvarnah following territorial losses to Rome.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver coin of the Armenian king Tigranes (II) the Great (c. 140-55 BC)

Tigranes II was a Parthian hostage until he bought his freedom and took the Armenian throne. Although Armenia was nestled between Roman and Parthian territories, he resisted their encroachments. Tigranes abandoned the Parthian-style domed tiara of his predecessor for a pointed Armenian tiara illustrating the khvarnah with Veragna birds and a star. The Greek city goddess Tyche is shown on the reverse with a river god at her feet. Despite their Greek appearance, they represent the captured city of Antioch-on-the-Orontes.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver tetradrachm of Phraates III (c. 70-57 BC).

In a rare alliance, Rome and Parthia agreed to overthrow the Armenian Tigranes II. Phraates III, wearing an impressive Parthian tiara decorated with beads, stags and a horn, wanted to place an ally on the Armenian throne. The coin’s reverse shows the enthroned king holding a Veragna bird while Tyche (representing the Parthian city Seleucia-on-the-Tigris) crowns him. In the coin’s inscription Phraates III arrogantly claims to be ‘divine’. He was eventually murdered by his sons for the disastrous Roman alliance.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Postcard of the royal tombs at Nimrud Dagh in Commagene (modern south-central Turkey).

Like Armenia, the kingdom of Commagene bordered both Roman and Parthian territories. In 62 BC, Antiochus I Theos (‘the Divine’) commissioned his royal tomb at Nimrud Dagh. His colossal statue stood alongside figures of lions, Veragna birds, claimed ancestors from both ancient Persian kings and from Alexander the Great, as well as gods fused together from Armenian, Iranian and Greek pantheons. This unique theology placed the king amongst gods of all nations, and sent a strong message to neighbouring superpowers.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Basalt stela of Antiochus I Theos greeting Verethragna-Herakles-Ares from Nimrud Dagh (1st century BC)

Antiochus I is shown as an eastern king wearing an adapted Armenian tiara with a lion decoration. He shakes hands with the divine Verethragna-Herakles-Ares (shown nude in the Greek fashion) who represents Victory and Strength in Zoroastrian, Greek and Roman traditions. Like the balance of cultures in this religious relief, Commagene was cautious in choosing its political alliances. Although Commagene cooperated with Rome, the statesman Cicero was wary of Antiochus’ loyalty: “…the least trust should be given to that king.”

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Hormizd II (303-309 AD).

This Sasanian king’s crown is adorned with a bird holding an incandescent pearl in its beak, echoing earlier images of the Veragna bird delivering the khvarnah. The coin’s reverse shows a central fire holder with the king emerging from the sacred flames. Fire was considered to be the son of Ahura Mazda and was a sacred symbol of the Zoroastrian religion. During the Parthian and Sasanian periods, a regnal fire was lit when a new king ascended the throne.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Marble statue of Mithras slaying the bull, found in Rome (2nd century AD)

In the 1st-4th centuries AD, the Mithraic Mysteries seeped into Roman culture from the East. This secretive religion was inspired by the Zoroastrian Mithra, divinity of Contract and Oath. This statue displays Roman Mithras in a Parthian-like costume powerfully pinning down a bull for ritual slaughter. It is thought that Mithras appealed to the martial identity of Roman soldiers serving in the East. A Zoroastrian hymn describes an armed Mithra victoriously smashing the skulls of the Daevas or evil spirits.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Painted manuscript showing the hero Rostam piercing an enemy, made in Shiraz in southern Iran (1435-1440 AD).

This illustration shows a scene from the Shahnameh, an epic work that recounts Iran’s historical and mythological past. Elements from Roman, Greek and Zoroastrian sources are echoed in the depicted central hero, Rostam. A feline skin covers Rostam’s helmet and jacket, mirroring the Greek hero Herakles’ famed lion pelt. As seen in Commagene, Herakles was associated with Verethragna, the Zoroastrian divinity of Victory who appeared as a gold-adorned horse and warrior. Golden details also decorate Rostam’s illustrated weapons and armour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

(c) Katarina Kelsey, no title, translation of Auriol's image, 18-25 March 2015:

“I was given some contextual background to Auriol’s translation of Sam’s piece that I initially thought I would base my translation on. However I felt unable to translate her narrative and realised I would only be interpreting it. Ultimately I turned to a material translation to translate some of the key themes of her work. Taking inspiration from translations such as Hölderlin's Antigone and Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, I hope my material translation can convey Auriol’s piece to you.” 
http://katarinakelseybookarts.tumblr.com/

(c) Matt Rowe, no title, translation of Briony's image, 6-13 May 2015:

“My translation into a three-dimensional ceramic object continues the core narrative of the resampling of the environment and the suggested ownership of a natural object. I constructed a chalice-like ceramic vessel and fired it using combustive fuel harvested from the seashore, which leaves a carbon imprint on the body of the ceramic. Within the temple-like structure of the kiln I attempted a reprocessing of materials abundant within the seascape of my hometown Folkestone.” http://mattroweportfolio.co.uk 

Drawing of Ardashir I's investiture relief at Naqsh-e Rostam in southern Iran (224-242 AD), from R. Ker Porter (1821) Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia... 1817-1820 vol. I, pl.23; Longman & Co., London

The rise of the Sasanians in southern Iran brought the Parthian Empire to an end in 224 AD. On this rock relief, the royal crown is passed from the supreme Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda (right) to the new king Ardashir I (left). While the God’s horse treads on Ahriman (the embodiment of Evil), Ardashir’s tramples his defeated Parthian opponent. The horses touch poignantly. The relief establishes which king has been granted the khvarnah and is favoured by the divine world.

The Yup'ik Homeland from the Air

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is low-laying braided river system, and has supported the Yup'ik people and their ancestors for millennia. This landscape is dependent on permafrost for its stability, and its topography renders this region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly coastal erosion and flooding. The Western Rim of Arctic North America has been called the 'miner's canary of climate change'.

© This image is credited to Rick Knecht, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

A New Day in Quinhagak

The village of Quinhagak lies close to the Bering Sea coast in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The village is home to around 700 people, and is 60 miles from the nearest other village and only accessible by light aircraft.

© This image is credited to Kate Britton, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Catch of the Day

Quinhagak resident Michael Smith prepares fresh salmon using an uluaq, a traditional Yup’ik tool. Subsistence hunting and fishing remain economically important in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta today, and are a key source of community pride, personal and group identity, and cultural resilience. Contemporary ecosystem disruption, and political and social change, are threatening subsistence activities and, through this, community well-being.

© This image is credited to Renee Ronzone, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

A Perfect Storm

Climate change is leading to increasingly unpredictable and unseasonable weather in Western Alaska. Increasing storminess, coupled with melting permafrost, has created ‘a perfect storm’ for rapid coastal erosion – erosion which is now threatening both modern infrastructure and archaeological sites all along the Bering Sea.

© This image is credited to Renee Ronzone, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

A Race Against The Rising Tides

The remains of the Nunalleq archaeological site (AD 1350-1700) cling precariously on the eroding edge of the Bering Sea. Archaeological teams from University of Aberdeen were first invited to investigate the site in 2009, after locals found artefacts eroding onto the beach. Since excavations first began, the coastline here has retreated more than 10 meters. 

© This image is credited to Rick Knecht, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Digging through Time

Work at Nunalleq is the first large scale excavation in an area nearly the size of the UK. More than 35,000 artefacts have been recovered from the Nunalleq site so far by archaeologists, and community volunteers. Permafrost and waterlogged soils at the site have preserved an extensive assemblage of organic remains, including wooden artefacts like these bentwood bowls being excavated by Dr. Sven Haakanson.

© This image is credited to Rick Knecht, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Spirit Worlds at Nunalleq

Excavations at Nunalleq have also found a number of different masks, some complete like this example, and others fragmented. This mask, found in the summer of 2015, is particularly striking. With ivory insets, a beard and whiskers, it is a transformation piece, transcending animal and human worlds.

© This image is credited to Sven Haakanson, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Amazing organics!

Permafrost and waterlogged soils at the site have preserved an extensive assemblage of organic remains, like the basketry shown in this picture. These kinds of materials are rarely found at archaeological sites, as they would normally decay, but Nunalleq has yielded many preserved wooden artefacts, seeds, plants, animal fur, and even cut strands of human hair (the waste from prehistoric haircuts). Laid on the woven grass are a pair of carved ivory earrings found at the site.

© This image is credited to Sven Haakanson, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Archaeological Survey

An important part of the Nunalleq project is identifying new sites that could be under threat. This involves co-learning and knowledge exchange with community partners. Archaeologists are advising local people on how to recognise and record new sites when they are encountered, and local volunteers bring valuable knowledge of the region and the Alaskan wilderness to the research team.

© This image is credited to Rick Knecht, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Community Workshops

Community workshops are an important part of the field season in Quinhagak. This gives local residents an opportunity to see and experience archaeological finds close-up, and also to discuss them, with archaeologists, and one another. At community workshops, the material culture of Nunalleq is truly integrated into the present. For researchers, community memories of object types and the traditional skill bases of local craftspeople provide valuable new perspectives on the interpretation of the archaeological record at Nunalleq.

© This image is credited to Rick Knecht, and is made available under Creative Commons BY

Richard Neave and the Manchester method

Mr Richard Neave developed the combination technique for facial depiction, called the Manchester method, which incorporated the anatomical and anthropometrical methods. This method includes attention to head and neck muscle structure along with the use of tissue depth markers as guides. Image used with permission from Richard Neave and the University of Manchester.

Technological advances – Digital facial depiction from skeletal remains (Richard III)

This series of images showcases the digital 3D method of facial depiction from human remains developed by Professor Caroline Wilkinson. This technique follows the Manchester method and employs digital sculpting software and a haptic interface. The image shows the face of King Richard III, built from computed tomography (CT) data of the skeletal remains. © Professor Caroline Wilkinson (University of Dundee) and the Richard III Society.

The Melancholy Cataleptic

Albert Londe, Clinique des Maladies du Système Nerveux, 1889. This photograph is of a cataleptic patient in the midst of a seizure. Her rigid limbs have most likely been posed in this position by the photographer or an attendant. She looks like a dancer without a partner. The capturing of these images was common in European hospitals in the later nineteenth century and they signify a relationship between doctor and patient of domination and passivity, where the patient is reduced to their medical condition. © Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons CC-BY.

Peculiarities of Safety

Alexander Morison, The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases, 1838. The epileptic patient above, staring out at the artist, suffered from mania with epilepsy and is pictured in a straightjacket and an oddly thick headband. This item of medical clothing was designed to mitigate head injuries in patients suffering from seizures. The image captures the ambiguities inherent in the relationship between medical technology and humanity. A poignant illustration like this one highlights the very slender but significant differences between intention and experience. © Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).

Ethics of Research

A. Cartaz, “Du somnambulisme et du magnétisme à propos du cours du Dr Charcot à la Salpêtrière”, 1879. Research with patients was shot through with problems of power, care and responsibility. Here, the leading French neurologist Charcot examines the relation between seizures and sound (perhaps with the same patient photographed in Image 1). The illustration speaks to the particular gender politics of male physician and female patient and to emerging cultures of bodily display, the latest incarnations of which can be found in the ‘body spectacle’ genre of medical television. © Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).