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Art, Architecture and Interpreting Impact of Empire in Early Achaemenid Anatolia

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.

This project is an ongoing one that is bringing together and reappraising the value and uses of art and architecture in the landscapes of Anatolia, modern Turkey, during the period of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (c. 547-332 BC), with a focus on the early Empire period, c. 547-450 BC.

It is during this period that there is an increase in the construction and visibility of monumental tomb buildings, some of which were additionally decorated with articulate, if now deteriorated, images in sculpture and paint. The project has developed out of doctoral research by Catherine Draycott that used imagery on tombs as a key source for the social identities of Anatolians, who are known on the one hand through the lenses of ancient Greek authors such as Herodotus, and on the other through Persian royal inscriptions. In the absence of ‘indigenous’ literary sources, the rich imagery of tombs, as well as the architectural forms developed, can supply information on the priorities and concepts important to people we know as ‘Lydians’, ‘Mysians’, ‘Phrygians’ and ‘Lycians’.

Through detailed studies of individual monuments and groups of monuments, the project expands that work in three tightly-interlaced areas:

  1. Appraising Approaches to Meaning: assessing issues in the interpretation of significance and meaning through applied case studies in iconography, contextualised in theoretical discourse.
  2. Identifying Historical Phenomena: reframing the approach to historical significance and meaning of the materials of Achaemenid Anatolia by focussing on construction events and their qualities, and on chronological and geographic patterning as indicators of phenomena that supply the cultural history of Anatolia.
  3. Exploring Economic Impacts and Regional Dynamics: the research is now raising new questions about the environmental landscapes, connections, dynamics and economies of places in which specific monuments were made, and to which they point, moving toward further interdisciplinary synthesis of regionalism and the impacts of the Achaemenid Empire on life in its various lands.


  • DRAYCOTT, C.M. 2019. Art History and Achaemenid History: or, what you can get out of the back end of a bull, in C.M. DRAYCOTT, R. RAJA, K. WELCH & W. WOOTTON (eds.) Visual Histories of the Classical World. Essays in Honour of R.R.R. Smith: 16-33. Turnhout: Brepols.
  • DRAYCOTT, C.M. 2019. Activating the Achaemenid Landscape. The Broken Lion Tomb (Yılan Taş) and the Phrygian Highlands in the Achaemenid Period, in G.R. TSETSKHLADZE (ed.) Phrygia in Antiquity: from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine Period: 189-218. Leuven: Peeters.
  • DRAYCOTT, C.M. 2018. Making meaning of myth. On the interpretation of mythological imagery in the Polyxena Sarcophagus and the Kızılbel Tomb and the history of Achaemenid Asia Minor, in L. AUDLEY-MILLER & B. DIGNAS (eds.) Wandering Myths: Cross Cultural Uses of Myth in the Ancient World: 23-70. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • DRAYCOTT, C.M. 2016. Drinking to Death: The Emergence of the ‘Totenmahl’ and Drinking Culture in Late Archaic/early Achaemenid Western Anatolia, in C.M. DRAYCOTT & M. STAMATOPOULOU (eds.) Dining and Death: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the ‘Funerary Banquet’ in Ancient Art, Burial and Belief: 219-298. Leuven: Peeters.
  • DRAYCOTT, C.M. 2015. ‘Heroa’ and the City. Kuprlli’s New Architecture and the Making of the ‘Lycian Acropolis’ of Xanthus in the Early Classical period. Anatolian Studies 65: 97-142.

Recent outreach talks

  • Feb. 3 2020: New Buildings for a New City. ‘Heroa’ buildings at Xanthos in Lycia, Southwest Turkey. Talk for Antioch Archaeology Group – Durham-based local interest group
  • Sept. 11 2019: The Art of the Dead: an archaeological journey of discovery. Public talk for Thinkfest Bermuda 2019, Bermuda College


  • April 2020: Wandering Minds blog (James Murdo)

Related Critical Reviews


Durham Laidlaw Scholar (Leia Tilley) was taken on as a mentee and has developed specific research into the environmental archaeology of the Manyas Plain of Turkey, around a key Achaemenid period Anatolian centre.

 Reconstruction drawing of stone shrines

Image above: Reconstruction of new-style ‘heroons’ (shrine-like cenotaphs to heroic figures) constructed to enhance the ‘acropolis’ of Xanthos in Lycia, SW Turkey, between about 470-50 BC. (French Mission to Xanthos.)

Image above: Yılan Taş, or the Broken Lion Tomb, in the Köhnüş Valley of the Phrygian Highlands, c. 475 BC. The once monumental tufa-rock-cut tomb, which long ago collapsed, points to the presence of a highly connected party in a land that has tended to be thought of as an unproductive backwater in the Achaemenid period. Photo by C.M. Draycott