By Matthew Canepa
Paper given at 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies (2006)
Introduction: Art historians have long commented on the formal parallels between sixth and seventh century Byzantine and Sasanian ornamental material with select recent studies refining our knowledge of these parallels. However, the unique role that they played in the two realms’ interaction has requires special attention, and shall be the focus of this paper. In this study I consider the role that the ornamental motifs which embellished Roman and Sasanian palaces, sacred architecture, royal monuments luxury objects and court-costumes played in defining royal identity. Here I investigate what motivated the two realms to appropriate each other’s ornamental material and examine the extent to which there emerged an ‘international’ visual language of kingship between the two empires in which they both participated yet can be located entirely in neither. As I hope will become evident, in order to understand foreign ornamental material between late Roman and Sasanian visual cultures in the politically and ideologically charged imperial sphere, it is most productive to approach ornament as a social, political and economic artifact.