From the Ancient Middle East, Art That Links Past and Present

An Exhibition at the Met Challenges How We Look at History

A bronze horse cast in Yemen on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, March 2019 Vincent Tullo / The New York Times

“From the first century BC through the mid-third century AD, the political map of the Middle East was defined by two superpowers,” write the curators of a spectacular show currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One behemoth was the Roman Empire, “with its power base in the Mediterranean.” The other was the Parthian Empire, “which controlled Iran and much of Central Asia.” 

“The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” open from March 18 to June 23, 2019, brings together a glorious collection of artwork from the area “in between” these two great powers. The region included much of the modern Middle East: southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judaea, Syria, and Mesopotamia. According to the curators, this geographic space was a contested one, squeezed by powerful neighbors looking to gain at each other’s expense. But its inhabitants had much in common with one another: they spoke a

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