This week: Ancient Iran

Epic Iran is the appropriately grand title of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ambitious new exhibition, which explores 5,000 years of Iranian history through 350 objects that represent the country’s art and culture – taking us from the beginnings of civilisation, via the ancient palaces of Persepolis, right up to the present day.

Perhaps surprisingly, the show is the first major survey of Iranian art to be presented in the UK since the Royal Academy’s 1931 exhibition, whose patrons were Their Royal Highnesses King George V and the Shah of Iran. Much has changed in Iran over the intervening nine decades – which have borne witness to the Islamic Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and ongoing international tensions – but the unique beauty of the country’s rich cultural heritage remains undiminished.

This week on The Past, John Curtis, the co-curator of Epic Iran, offers Lucia Marchini, editor of Minerva magazine, an exclusive sneak preview of the new show and talks about the extraordinary sweep of history which gave rise to its treasures.

We have also been delving into the archives to highlight articles of particular relevance to those interested in Iran’s ancient past: Andrew Selkirk, editor-in-chief of Current Archaeology, travelled the country in the footsteps of Persia’s three great kings, Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes; while Irving Finkel, a specialist at the British Museum, explained to Current World Archaeology how the message proclaimed by the museum’s famous 6thC BC Cyrus Cylinder, often characterised as the world’s first human-rights declaration, came to be heard as far afield as China.

After all that, you should be well equipped to tackle our fiendish Friday quiz – which this week is also devoted to a celebration of ancient Iran.

Elsewhere on the site, we are also looking at what forgotten manuscripts can tell us about the decipherment of ancient scripts. In the new issue of Minerva and on the latest edition of PastCast, our unmissable podcast, the authors of a new book on the Rosetta Stone explain how the race to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs really came to be won – and how the seaside town of Worthing was to play an unlikely part.

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