Tamara Talbot Rice
ANCIENT ARTS OF
An extract from Chapter Three, pp. 83-89
Arsaces dressed in the nomadic style and his adherents did likewise. A number of large statues were found at Nisa. Stylistically many resemble Parthian sculptures coming from such widely scattered areas (Ill. 71) as Chorasmia, the Kushan sanctuary of Surk Khotal in Afghanistan, or Nimrud. Statues of comparable size were nevertheless rare at that time, and those at Nisa are therefore thought to be portraits of Parthia's early kings. They may well have served to inspire such Sassanian works as the immense statue of King Shapur which lies fallen and broken in a high cave above Bishapur in Persia, in the district of Shiraz (Ill. 70).
The Parthians chose Dara to be their second capital. Its site is still being sought in the region of Damghan. Later they moved their headquarters to Hekatompylos, then they transferred them to Ecbatana and finally they settled on Ctesiphon. In AD 226, when the Parthians succumbed to the Sassanian emperor Ardashir, Ctesiphon remained the capital of the new Sassanian empire.
During the second phase of Parthia's history, that dated by E. Masson from the year AD 10 to 226, the territory over which the Parthians ruled was so vast that three major artistic styles flourished simultaneously in different parts of it. Thus Babylonian and Assyrian traditions prevailed in the western areas, blending there with those of Rome, whilst in the north, where Parthia marched with Transcaucasia, Hellenism, in the form which it assumed when taken over by Rome, continued to serve as a source of inspiration longer than it did anywhere else in Asia (Ill. 72). Parthians in the Central Asian area, on the other hand, assimilated certain local, that is to say Central Asian traditions such, for example, as the desire and ability to convey an impression of movement in art (Ill. 73). They had perhaps learnt to appreciate the beauty of motion from the Scytho-Sakian nomads as well as from the Greeks who entered Asia with Alexander. The use which the Parthians made of unbaked bricks and the adoption of the iwan or barrel vaulted chamber with only three walls as the central feature of their houses should perhaps be ascribed to Asian influences. Soviet archaeologists have found the ruins of vast fortified palaces in the desiccated areas of south-western Turkestan. The building techniques employed in their construction cannot be entirely traced to the Greeks. Furthermore, though Alexander enclosed the towns which he founded in Central Asia within walls, with the result that he is often credited with having introduced walled fortifications into the area, vallae dating from far earlier times have been found in Siberia. The ruins of the fortified palaces discovered in western Turkestan, though they date from the early centuries of our era, include architectural features which may well prove to have originated with the Parthians. Their discovery tends to confirm the idea tentatively put forward prior to it by M. Rostovtzev that what he described as the Neo-Perso-Parthian style acted as a formative influence in Persian Asia in late Hellenistic times. It is tempting to develop this idea by suggesting that the royal residences of very much the same type which the princes of the early Islamic period built in what is now the Iraqi desert, as for example the Khaja-i-Khodja palace with its arcaded fašade and Hellenistic murals or Kusair Amra or Ukhaidir, were inspired by Parthian prototypes, just as their stucco decorations were in many respects derived from Central Asian sources. Rostovtzev went so far as to ascribe the Persian renaissance with its pleasure in the chase, armed contests and great banquets to Parthian influence (Ill. 74). Delight in these motifs crystallized under the Sassanians, who also adopted the frontality of Parthian art as well as the zest, shared alike by Parthian and nomad, in movement and animal forms (Ill. 75).
Illustrations from Tamara Talbot Rice, Ancient Arts of Central Asia, 1965