From Persia with Love

Long term monkey followers may recall that Kongo has one of the best non-paying jobs in Los Angeles working as a docent at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, more commonly known as the Getty Villa. Two days a week, the monkey gets to meet visitors and share details about the Getty Villa’s Roman architecture and gardens as well as lead groups through the galleries to view the museum’s magnificent collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.

Visitors Check Out The new Persia Exhibit at the Getty Villa

Well, there’s a new exhibit at the museum now and if you’re in LA or plan to visit soon you should put this on your near-term bucket list. Persia – Ancient Iran and the Classical World displays more than 200 objects from 30 institutions and major museums in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. The exhibit is part of the Getty’s ongoing exploration of The Classical World in Context program and features the interaction of ancient Iran with the Greek and Roman empires.

There is a large American-Iranian population in Los Angeles. In fact, Southern California is home to more Iranians that any other place in the world outside of Iran itself. They will really want to visit this exhibit.

Kongo took some images of a few of his favorite pieces in the exhibit yesterday so here’s a sneak peek at what’s in store for you when you come see it in person.

Winged Sphinxes

A large panel of glazed bricks depicting a pair of royal sphinxes sit beneath a winged disk. This panel is from the reign of Persian Emperor Darius the Great and is dated to about 500 B.C.

Darius plays a pivotal role in interacting with the Greek world. Under his rule his armies battled the Athenians in what is now Western Turkey and launched an ill-fated invasion of the Greek mainland at Marathon in 490 B.C.


Another glazed brick panel from the time of Darius I is this life-sized archer on the march. He carries a spear and the primary weapon of the Persian armies, a bow and arrow. The design on the fabric are small fortresses, suggesting past conquests. The impressive panel suggests a fatal flaw in the Persian war fighting machine when it came time to battle the Greeks. Notice that the warrior wears no helmet or armor. Persian infantry carried shields of wicker. When they went up against the heavily armored Greek hoplite warriors, girded with bronze helmets, bronze and leather armor, and equipped with heavy oak and bronze shields the Persians didn’t have a chance. The arrows frequently failed to penetrate Greek armor and the Persian forces could not stand up to the disciplined fighting technique of the Greek phalanx formations. At Marathon a Persian army of 100,000 was soundly defeated by a mere 10,000 hoplites from Athens.

Greeks Fighting Amazons 350 B.C.

The second invasion of Greece by Xerxes, the son of Darius in 480 B.C. also failed, despite winning over the Spartans at Thermopylae and sacking Athens. Eventually the Greek navy and a united Greek army inflicted devastating defeats on the Persians at Salamis and Plataea, ending the Persian threat permanently and launching the Golden Age of Greece.

Losing the war with Greece didn’t slow down Xerxes. The so-called foundation stone shown below gives you an idea of what he thought of himself.

Foundation Deposit of Xerxes I

A great god is Ahura Mazda, who gave this earth, who gave those heavens, who gave humankind, who gave good fortune to people, who made Xerxes king, one among many kings, one commander of many … I am Xerxes, Great King, King of Kings, King of lands of the totality of tongues, King of this great far, earth, son of King Darius, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan stock … and among these lands there is a place where previously they held festivals for evil ones. Afterward, by the favor of Ahura Mazda, I tore down the house of those evil ones and I commanded thus: “You must not hold festivals for the evil ones!” Where previously festivals were held for evil ones, therein I held festivals for Ahura Mazda at the proper time and in the proper manner.”

So there you have it, straight from the chisel of the Great King of Kings…

Alexander the Great

Despite the Greek victories, the mighty Persian empire lasted another 150 years until a young king from Macedonia named Alexander, conquered the empire and a whole lot more.

Gold and Silver Handle Once Graced a Wine Urn

At the height of its glory, the Persian Empire stretched from the Indus Valley and the Hindu Kush to the Balkans, Egypt and the near East, and Libya. It was the largest and most powerful empire the world had yet seen.

Visitors in the Galley

After Alexander’s untimely death in 323 B.C., his generals divided up the empire. In what was to eventually become modern day Iraq and Iran, the Seleucids took control and ruled what became known as the Parthian Empire which was a blend of Hellenistic and Persian cultures. It lasted to 224 A.D. and was a major rival to the Roman Empire.

Seleucid Greek king Antiochus III (ruled 223–187 bc
Reclining Goddess – Babylonian 1st Century AD

One of Kongo’s favorite pieces is this nubile goddess from Babylon. Made from alabaster with gold jewelry she is thought to be Nanaya, the daughter of the Mesopotamian moon goddess, Sin.

Mosaic of Woman Playing an Instrument
Statuette of a Boy in Eastern Dress – Roman, late first century, bronze

The statue is believed to be Alexander Helios, son of Mark Antony and the last Ptolemaic queen, Cleopatra. Ptolemy, a general of Alexander the Great, took over Egypt after Alexander’s death and the Ptolemies ruled Egypt as pharaohs for nearly 300 years until conquered by Augustus in 31 B.C.

Rhyton in the Form of a Stag

This magnificent rhyton from the Parthian period was used to pour and aerate wine. The wine is poured into the round top and emerged from a spout under the chest of the stag to be emptied into a wine drinking bowl. The rhyton was of silver and gilded gold with glass. It’s ornate decoration includes an elaborate floral pattern of acanthus leaves, tendrils, and palmettes.

Silver Plate Depicting David and Goliath from the Sassanian Empire – 630 A.D.

There are lot of other beautiful objects and luxury goods in the Persia exhibit covering nearly 1,100 years of history…from the emergence of the Empire about 550 B.C. to the Muslim conquest in the 650s A.D. This remarkable and resiliant empire played a major role in shaping modern history through its frequent interactions with the Greek and Roman Empires.

The exhibit is at the Getty Villa until August 8 and the museum is open every day except Tuesdays. Admission is free although tickets must be obtained online through the website at Parking is $20. If you visit on Thursdays, you can meet Kongo and get a personal guided highlight tour of the Persian collection.

Travel safe. Have fun.

Follow Kongo on Instagram

3 thoughts on “From Persia with Love

  1. I was just discussing with my husband last night about all the advanced civilizations in human history that have been destroyed and wonder about the ones we have yet to discover. These are very sophisticated pieces of art. The glazed bricks seem unique.

    Back in the early days of the internet, I developed an online friendship with an Iranian-American woman in LA. We even visited each other’s homes. We didn’t have enough in common to sustain a friendship, though. Plus, I was single and she was struggling in her marriage (to a Russian-born Jewish man). Hard for me to relate to her circumstances. I enjoyed her Persian food, though!

    1. Interesting observations, Eileen. The Persian Empire doesn’t get much press when we study “Western” civilization in school, but at one time they were the world’s super power with a relatively benign government (by ancient standards), commitments to human (and women’s rights), freedom of religion, and enormously sophisticated engineering and construction talents. Had they defeated the Greeks in 480 B.C. we would have a very different view of history.