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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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(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/

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(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 

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Wilhelm His and Karl Seffner - Facial reconstruction of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bericht an den Rath der Stadt Leipzig (Leipzig 1895.)

Early attempt at facial reconstruction: German Anatomist Dr. Wilhelm His took measurements of facial tissue from a small number of cadavers and using this data he worked with a sculptor, Karl Seffner, to model a bust of composer Johann Sebastian Bach onto a replica of the skull. 

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3D bust of Ivan the Terrible, Tsar Ivan IV (Gerasimov, 1955)

Dr. Mikhail Gerasimov pioneered research into facial anthropology and developed the technique known as the anatomical method. His research had a significant influence on current facial depiction practice, and focused on an understanding of facial anatomy and the importance of muscle structure and position for the production of a recognisable likeness. Image used with permission of Elizaveta Veselovskaya, Moscow Institute of Sciences.

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