319 PERSIA-ARTS AND SCIENCES.
CHAPTER XXIX-ARTS AND SCIENCES.
AMONG the peoples of Western Asia, the Persians, after the Babylonians and the Ninevites,
stand first in architectural skill. For a long time their merits remained unnoticed or
unacknowledged. The remote geographical position of Persia, lying beyond the Zagros,
prevented the Greek traders and historians from obtaining personal information respecting
the artistic achievements of the subjects of Cyrus and Cambyses. Nor, is it unlikely that
at a later date, when in the times of Alexander a better knowledge of the architecture and
sculpture of the Persians became diffused in the West, there was a twinge of jealousy in
the Greek writers when they came to speak of works that might rival those of their own
country. Neither Herodotus nor Xenophon ever visited Persia, and the references to
architecture made by Ctesias, who dwelt for seventeen years at the court of Susa, are few
and meager. At the time of the overthrow of the Empire by the Macedonians, the wrath of
Alexander was loosed against the palaces and cities of his foes, and the pride of the land
was in a great measure extinguished by the fagot. Nevertheless, the ruins that were left
behind and the occasional accounts of the Greek authors have furnished sufficient data
from which to derive a tolerable notion of Persian art at the epoch of the Achaemenians.
Indeed, in modern times more attention has been given by travelers and antiquarians to the
remains of Persepolis than to those of Babylon and Nineveh.
As in most of the ancient kingdoms, so in Persia, the grandest display of architectural
skill was in the construction and decoration of royal palaces. Owing to the purer and
simpler religious doctrines of the Persians, their temples were relatively less grand and
less numerous than those of the Mesopotamian nations and the Egyptians. After the palaces,
the most striking works of the Empire were the tombs which the great kings, with feelings,
no doubt, akin to those of the Pharaohs, built for their final abodes. It is, then, to the
houses of the kings-living and dead-that we must turn for our knowledge of the style and
character of the building arts of the Persians.
There are in Persia proper the remains of two great palaces. One stood within the walls of
Persepolis, and the other in the immediate vicinity of the city. The latter, which was the
great edifice to which the torch was applied by the orders of Alexander, is the best
preserved ruin in the country, and is in its present state sufficient, under careful
examination, to give a fair idea of the original edifice. It is built on a raised
platform, after the manner prevalent in Assyria and Babylonia. The exact philosophy of
such a method has never been ascertained. Perhaps the ideal consideration was merely the
elevation of the king's house to a level from which the monarch might look down on his
people. There were also certain physical advantages to be gained from the high situation.
In those countries where the summer heats were excessive, the king's halls would have a
cooler breeze than in the plain. The elevated position was also more defensible. In some
countries, as in Babylonia, there were many ills and pests which were avoided in a measure
on the high platform where stood the house of the king. Here the miasma of the lowlands
was not felt. Here the insects and vermin which plagued the people of less favored
situations were kept at bay by the perpendicular-sometimes jutting-walls and solid masonry
of the basement.
The platform of the great palace just outside of Persepolis was built of massive blocks of
hewn stone. These were held together by strong clamps of iron. The