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Title: Roses, poppies and narcissi : plant iconography at Tillya-tepe and connected cultures across the ancient world
Author: Peterson, Sara
ISNI:       0000 0004 7431 2322
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2016
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The Tillya-tepe burial site was located in Bactria (Afghanistan) at a nodal point on major trade and communication routes between Rome and China, the northern steppes and India, in a period which represented a high point in trans-Eurasian connectivity. Six 1st century CE elite graves were excavated, producing thousands of objects whose admixture of artistic styles and motifs reflected Tillya-tepe's pivotal position between different cultures. Many of the gold artefacts, including jewellery, costume appliqués and even some weaponry, featured plant imagery. This research concerns the three most prolific floral motifs. Scholars generally refer to them as 'rosettes', but they represent real species: roses, poppies and narcissi, and are depicted in a manner derived from Graeco-Roman conventions. In this thesis these flowers are first studied on artefacts from Tillya-tepe, and then on objects from Hellenistic, Roman, Bactrian, Sarmatian-Alan and Parthian cultures. Tracing a motif in this degree of detail provides specific information about artistic transmission between various peoples. Because these flowers are identified, it is possible to enhance the visual evidence with information from relevant texts, demonstrating that they had wider cultural values in Graeco-Roman and Iranian society. Plant iconography is an under-investigated area of research, and a methodology for its study is provided. I assemble a corpus of evidence which firstly shows how plant imagery can be used to track the transmission of artistic influences. Then, I demonstrate that plant images were not only used for decorative purposes, but were also sometimes applied in a systematic and meaningful manner in the centuries around the Common Era, including at Tillya-tepe. I argue that the concentrated study of floral images is a valuable tool to help understand both the objects they decorate, and the societies which produced them. In this way, plant iconography is used to position the artistic productions of Tillya-tepe within the wider history of art, bringing with it a greater understanding of the status and roles of these enigmatic people.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral