A new exhibition at The Met presents a fascinating overview of the art of the ancient Middle East. Focusing on the four-century period between 100 B.C. and 250 A.D., The World between Empires explores a region situated between the Roman empire of the Mediterranean, and the Parthian empire of modern-day Iran.
Commercial links were a hallmark of the region, connecting its farthest-flung corners with cities thousands of miles away—and sending cultural influences in all directions. From the edge of Arabia, frankincense and myrrh arrived in ports throughout the Mediterranean; artisans of the region in turn were influenced by the naturalism of Hellenistic sculpture.
The ancient trading routes that came to be called the Silk Road enriched the cities between Parthia and Rome. Religious traditions coexisted—and occasionally converged—as polytheistic cultures adapted gods from other regions. Monotheistic communities were also a part of the landscape, as evidenced by the synagogue of Duro-Europos.
This period encompassed the flourishing of some of the most famous cities of the ancient Middle East, including Nabatean Petra, Heliopolis-Baalbek, and Palmyra. Over the centuries, these extraordinary cities influenced the work of architects, archaeologists, and urban planners throughout the world. The art associated with such places bespeak the region’s rich heritage—one currently under beset by violent extremism, pollution, unsustainable tourism, and other stresses. Responses to such threats are a timely theme addressed in the exhibition.
The exhibition features some 190 objects from collections around the world—all beautifully illustrated in the 300-page catalogue published by The Met.