Luxury and Power review: boozed-up Persians and Greeks on a 500-year bender
Get that down you … gilt silver rhyton displayed in Luxury and Power. Photograph: © The Trustees of the British Museum
British Museum, London
Centuries of conflict between the civilisations of Persia and Greece are chiefly captured through elaborate drinking vessels in this lively – and occasionally puzzling – show
Apair of sculpted heads stare at each other at the start of this exhibition: an ancient Persian with a square beard and tight ringlets facing up to the Greek god Apollo. Here is a polarity that has defined global history. The struggle between the Greek city states and the Achaemenid empire was believed by the Greeks to be a fight to establish who they were: western, not eastern, self-governing, and democratic in the case of Athens, as opposed to the playthings of Persian tyrants.
But guess what – the reality was more complicated. The Persian portrait and the Chatsworth Apollo, as it’s known, are not so different. Both come from 5th century BC Cyprus, and are associated with sanctuaries where Apollo and the Persian god Reshef were jointly worshipped.