Heritage Hunters

Trying to cash in on what Darius and Xerxes left us!?


Heritage Hunters
by Ari Siletz

In 2010 James Dolan, chief executive officer of Cablevision got paid about $13 million, or about 400 time the wages of an ordinary you and me. By comparison the manager of the royal household of the Achaemenid king Darius the Great was paid 700 sheep, 600 loads of flour, and 32000 liters of beer and wine. This is about 100 times the wage of an ordinary Achaemenid postal worker (courier). Never mind how much Darius got paid—the king was a national symbol, and therefore beyond labor pricing--but when it comes to income disparity Achaemenids seem to have the U.S. beaten four to one in terms of social justice. How do we know how much workers and top administrators got paid during the Achaemenids?

The information comes from deciphering a fraction of the 12000+ clay tablet “file cabinet” found at Persepolis circa 1930, and now stored mostly in the U.S. These are the famous Persepolis tablets now facing death by lawsuit in the U.S. legal system. The U.S. says the IRI is a state sponsor of terrorism and therefore U.S. citizens can sue Iran for injury resulting from IRI sponsored terrorist activity. For example, if Hamas hurts an American citizen during a terrorist attack, the injured person can sue Iran for supporting Hamas’ act. In fact many plaintiffs have already won large damages against Iran; the only problem was how to collect the court awarded money. After some hunting around in law books, they found out that a loophole in the 2002 Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) allows them to auction off the Persepolis tablets housed in U.S. universities. That should raise a few million, they thought.

But just last week the NIAC news email brought good tidings that some of the tablets have been rescued, apparently through clever use of a legal technicality. Lawyers defending the tablets in Massachusetts successfully argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that the items actually belong to the IRI. To get more detail on the temporarily good news I talked on the phone with NIAC president Trita Parsi. NIAC has been involved in the tablet rescue efforts, leading where it can and assisting where it can. When I asked what would happen to the tablets if they were auctioned, Parsi’s typically measured interview voice became troubled:

“When you have a lot of artifacts--as we see in this case--the relative market value of each item drops. And as has happened before, the business owners destroy many of the items in order to increase the value of the remaining ones. We have seen this happen with Egyptian artifacts in the past. There’s a significant risk. It may actually happen that there will be a deliberate effort to destroy the stocks to make sure that the remaining 500 out of the 12000 fetch the best price! Then this part of our history and heritage will be destroyed.”

This is simply barbarism, committed in the name of 21st century justice. From a perfectly reasonable angle these tablets are just as important as the Darius Behistun inscriptions or even the Cyrus Cylinder. Why? Because archeological sites and museums are full of self-descriptions by rulers of what kick-ass heroes they were and how justly they ruled. Bein e khodemoon, “Cyrus Cylinder” kings were a dime a dozen. Even today, Kayhan is a daily Cyrus Cylinder made out of paper. To give substance to our past we need more than the words of Cyrus and Darius; we need to audit their receipts. And this is precisely what these tablets are: receipts, invoices, pay stubs, wage tables, reimbursement, how much food and wine the priests of different religions got to offer their gods, etc. sampling several periods of Achaemenid rule. So far the tablets reveal an empire buzzing with a complex economy, an active society and run by an intricately structured administrative system. There’s an astonishing amount of detail about Achaemenid life in these tablets, beyond what we could have reasonably hoped; their discovery is a cultural windfall for Iranians. Ironically if it hadn’t been for another barbaric act—Alexander’s--more than two millennia ago, these tablets may have been scattered centuries ago. The quick collapse of the Persepolis building hid the tablets and made them inaccessible.

Despite the recent victory in Massachusetts, the bulk of the tablets in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S. are still very much in danger. NIAC’s main effort has been to participate in legislative efforts to help close the loophole in the law. Museums, libraries and universities are unhappy with TRIA language that allows cultural artifacts to be legally regarded as commercial goods. Already some countries are refusing to loan artifacts to U.S. cultural and educational institutions because of the risk of their being confiscated through lawsuits and auctioned. And already there are indications that the U.S. may face treatment in kind from other countries. These are the cultural dangers of trying to run foreign policy through domestic laws. Since NIAC’s area of expertise is in dealing with Washington, the organization is a natural fit for the Iranian-American contribution to amending the poorly phrased TRIA language. Here, paraphrased, is the amendment NIAC is supporting:

The property of a foreign state or of an agency or instrumentality of a foreign state shall be immune from attachment and from execution if the property—

1. is cultural property.

2. is in the possession, custody, or control of any museum or library, or institution of higher education.

As another effort NIAC also helps with the defense in court cases. Since NIAC is neither the defendant nor the plaintiff in such cases, it can only act as an interested third party to educate the judges with “friend of the court” briefings. Here’s a link to a 15 page NIAC “friend of the court briefing.” Besides citing various court cases and international precedents regarding the immune status of cultural property, the brief explains why the organization is interested in the case:

“These artifacts have substantial historical importance and have value to both scholars and ordinary citizens seeking to understand Iranian history and culture. Even to the extent that the artifacts are legally owned by the Government of Iran, they do not fully belong just to it. They are part of the cultural heritage of all persons of Iranian descent.”

Parsi mentioned a third approach which at first sight seems softer, but on deeper thought is the biggest battle in rescuing our heritage. NIAC has been an active participant in the cultural events of other organizations--such as the Parsa foundation--to promote a higher understanding of the preciousness of our culture. Without a community awakened to its own worth, judicial and legislative efforts are meaningless. The Iranian-American public has to care, or these tablets are just what they look like: old clay that is somehow worth millions to “crazy foreigners.”

Quite aside from fear of losing a valuable part of humanity’s heritage, as an Iranian-American confident of Iran’s historic and cultural worth, I am angry and indignant at this insult of U.S. law to the heritage of other nations, in particular Iran. How dare they try to cash in on what Darius and Xerxes left us!?

I wonder how many other Iranian-Americans are just as displeased.


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Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Re: An Alternative Proposal

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I disagree that the victims have any claim to these tablets. There are many victims of various wrongs in the world. There is also plenty of treasure. Being a victim does not entitle one to just any treasure that is available.

I have said before the real value is the information on them not the clay. So long as that information is preserved I personally am less worried. 

Meanwhile it is best if the tablets were not returned to IRI. Give them temporarily to whatever museum has them now. With the requirement they make images and copies available to all including private individuals and IRI. Once IRI is gone they should be returned to Iran. But fight that battle when the time comes. Right now it is best to keep them where they are.

RonPaul Iranian Fan

An Alternative Proposal

by RonPaul Iranian Fan on

 The author finds the ruling of the District Court of Massachusetts regarding Rubin v. The Islamic Republic of Iran more agreeable than troublesome. That there were victims of violence and that they were left without a remedy by the court's ruling is highly undesirable, but that tablets which represent the heritage of seventy-million Iranians are for the moment safe from being auctioned off is obviously a welcome tiding. For the moment a dark cloud over the fate of the tablets has been removed, but the court did not make clear exactly to whom the tablets belong, and as a result their status is less certain than it was before. The ruling indicates that plaintiffs failed to show the tablets belong to the IRI, and nothing more. We are left with important questions. In terms of US law, to whom do the tablets belong, and should they be returned to Iran? At the outset of the lawsuit, the author was of the opinion that preservation of the tablets would best be achieved either by returning the tablets to Iran to whom they rightly belong, or as an alternative, to establish a Iranian heritage trust or museum funded by Iranian Americans directly as well as by a portion of the taxes they pay to the federal government. The trust or museum would be assigned legal ownership of the tablets by federal legislation. This heritage trust or museum would make the tablets available to museums and universities for the purposes of research, but remove legal ambiguities that could in the future make them vulnerable again to loss and destruction.       


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Well said Ramin

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I am really sick of the cynical attempts by NIAC haters. Their one liners and attempts to be "cute". When Ari or I respond with facts we get nothing in response. Because their goal is not to have a discussion. They want to badmouth NIAC. Or any Iranian organization which may possibly have political muscle. 

Whatever we say they have the same "talking point". You are absolutely right about the Iran haters. We see this all over the place by attacks on Iranian character. Attacks on the culture and attempts to blame all Iranians for IRI. There is a whole team of them. I am not sure how many are real and how many are duplicate IDs. But they all sound more or less the same. Just check out their blogs as they pad each other on the back. One echoes exactly the other one. All in perfect unison.

Ramin J

thank you Ari - thank you NIAC!!!

by Ramin J on

Ari - great article! It really reveals the awesome work NIAC does for our community, and tehfact that people liek Fred and the other Israeli plants on Iranian.com dont care at all about Iran and its people, they only care about Israel.

the fact that he defends these bastards that are seeking to take and destroy the great tablets of Darius and Xerxes says exactly who is on whose side!

The NIAC haters on this site are largely haters of Iran. They pretend to care about the Iranian people and democracy, but in reality, they are here to defend Israel and its interest.

If they cared about Iran and our culture, they would join forces with NIAC and defeat thsi attempt to confiscate the Persepolis tablets. But they dont care about Iran so they side with the right-wing Israelis who are behind this lawsuit.

It is amazing to me that after all the nonsense and ll the lies this crowd spreads about NIAC, these group of young Iranian-Americans are still there, still fighting and not backing an inch. They are an inspiration to us all!


Interesting legal loophole

by bahmani on

Forget the tablets, as long as we have photo of it, and know what the translation means, I think we're good. Let 'em keep the tablets, we'll take the credit for civilization.

Plus, you don't really think for one minute that the government of Iran could properly care for this decaying clay. Remember Iran is run by people who think that the world began when Mohammad started preaching on the side after his day job, and hold a general high disdain for anything "ancient". I mean they're seriously planning a dam to cover Persepolis!

But what i think you are saying is that by the same token of the Us lawsuits against Iran, Iranians who were "injured" by the US "sponsorship" of denying them democracy via the 1953 Mossadegh conspiracy, can now sue the US government directly for denying them their freedom all these years?

Cool! Where do we sign up?

To read more bahmani posts visit: //brucebahmani.blogspot.com/

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear Shazdeh

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Both Ari and I have responded to the question about NIAC. If you be so kind to read the previous responses you will find it. Just to be complete I repeat here and add few more things:

NIAC has no influence over IRI. In fact for it to have influence it needs contact. On one hand the critics say NIAC should not have contact with IRI. On the other hand they want NIAC to influence IRI. How do you influence IRI without any contact?

NIAC does not have a law enforcement ability. It is not FBI or CIA. How do you want it to stop IRI terror? It does not have commandos to send out. It does not have agents and spies. All it has is contacts which its critics oppose.

Shazde Asdola Mirza

Why doesn't NIAC spend its energy to counter the IRI terrorism?

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on


The source of all this type of problem is the IRI state-sponsership of terrorism. What has NIAC done to confront the IRI terrorism?

Whitewashing IRI while claiming "little victories" against the victoms of IRI terror? Who needs bits of clay, when people's lives are in danger?

Anonymous Observer

Not about contacts or connections Ari

by Anonymous Observer on

You know I love you Ari (in a strictly platonic way, of course), but your response to me was just good old fashioned Iranian style Safsateh.  The bottom line is that NIAC has always had two sets of rules in dealing with different parties.  With the U.S., it acts bullish and aggressive.  But with the IR, it is a timid, docile entity that presents issues with the utmost care and in a manner not to upset the smallets fiber of the cehlo kabob bellies of IR officials.  This fact was even pointed out by Bahmani in one of his pieces.  For that reason, NIAC cannot be an honest communicator between the IR and the U.S., let alone an honest broker.

I believe that it is a fair question to ask Mr. Parsi as to why he did not push IR officials, especially Mr. Zarif with whom he was quite friendly, to step in and defend this flimsy lawsuit at the time it was filed.  If a zoologist like me knows that not defending a lawsuit will result in a default, Mr. Parsi's team, with all their legal prowess should have known it too, no?  Or were there "other" considerations involved?  



by MM on

I did not know Mash Ghasem's unmentionable Iranian-American organization had so much influence. 

PS MG - the original name of takht-e jamshid (a contemporary name) was pasargad (the city of persians) whose Greek translation was persepolis.

hamsade ghadimi

ari, too many times i have

by hamsade ghadimi on

ari, too many times i have seen people treat a complex problem as a simple mathematical one. the consequences of such actions usually leads to more problems or for the very least leads to not being to solve the one at hand; hence, the long response to your basic treatment of crush-and-cash economics.

as far as "helpful lessons," this is what i have to offer: niac, being so cozy with the iri officials, should try to influence them to a) pay for damages they have inflicted for the consequences of their state-sponsored terrorism, b) buy back the tablets if they don't want to admit to the judgement of forfeited case (they could even be an anonymous donor to niac and niac could take credit for buying it back), c) stop state-sponsored terrorism (or there will be future consequences), and d) protect our national heritage sites and antiquities within iran. my 2 gheran.

sorry mash ghasem for the mentions.  i hope ke kahir nazadi.

Tiger Lily


by Tiger Lily on

Thanks! Homework, YEAH!

And here's your revision and Gramsci connection via the author ;)

Mash Ghasem

Couldn't find anything by Gramsci on Ghazvin, but

by Mash Ghasem on

C.L.R. James has tis little essay on the history of Greek Direct Democracy. It's pretty nifty!

A Study of Democracy in Ancient Greece
Its Meaning for Today


Tiger Lily

Thanks, MG

by Tiger Lily on

That's so cool, coz I read this thing about Ci something creating the first market democracy with athenians starting agri stuff with olives and exporting them and after a couple of "things", I'm in love with olives. Shayad manam shire Ghazvini khordam. Btw what does the expression mean, please?

And what does Gramscci have to say about it all? LOL!

Mash Ghasem

They refer to it as their 'Sustaining Myth,' but in general

by Mash Ghasem on

that area is amazingly fecund. Grapes, Figs, Olives, you name it, they've got it (My uncle's wedding was there, I'll never forget that wedding).

Tiger Lily

MG, of knocking Greek gifts

by Tiger Lily on

Do Ghazvinis have a lot of olives?

Mash Ghasem

Some historians say the assimilated Greeks gradually all resided

by Mash Ghasem on

in  areas near the current city of Ghazvin. Hence the Greek style!

Soosan Khanoom

MG ......

by Soosan Khanoom on

I can not recall this being called anything other that Takht Jamshid by the iranian inside Iran .... but for the rest of the world it is known as Persepolis...

When Alexandra entered there as you said he could not believe what he was seeing ....  My history Professor at college told us that  Alexandra made his soldiers to dress like Persians, he made them to mimic Persian's life style and he made them marry Persian girls .....

Mash Ghasem

"Given" to us by Greeks, makes it sound so nice, as if

by Mash Ghasem on

there was some kind of a dialogue about it, rather than a bloody occupation and destruction.

It's amazing that when the barbaric Macedonian saw the treasures of Takht Jamshid , he couldn't believe his eyes. It was hundreds times more than anything they had seen in their homeland. So the name : The City of Persians  PRSPOLIS,  got stuck on Persians/Iranians, and became THE name for that location in the Western dominated narraitve, and we proudly use our foriegners given name, to claim our nationalist heritage. As Fred would say, congrats.

Soosan Khanoom

MG ...

by Soosan Khanoom on

I was typing that name and you were asking about it ...  we were cross posting ... I guess .... 

That is funny !!

Is it not the name given to it by the Greeks ?  

Soosan Khanoom

and one more thing

by Soosan Khanoom on

If these LUCKY innocents have won their cases then they should get their hands on these treasures as well ...  So your argument is then completely pointless.   come on give it up ....  let the old treasures go ...  and once we get rid of the IRI we can give them more treasures. I tell you want, we can even let them have the entire Persepolis.  




Mash Ghasem

Imagined Communities

by Mash Ghasem on

Imagined Communities 


This is the best that comes to mind right now. In general in all nationalist narratives, the nation and its identity is ALWAYS under attack and shrinking, and on the verge of eternal disappearnce!

Although Bendeict Anderson also in his masterpiece, makes a distinction between ancient Perisa, China, India,... and the 18th century nation-states (mainly based on a certain Europe model) of Africa and Middle East.

Don't mean to be rude, but if I hear NIAC one more time on this site, KAHIR ZADN, would become, is a distict possiblitiy!!!

P.S. Most ancient civilizations are guilty of Slave labor and sometimes called Slavery Mode of Production. With Achemeniads though there's a presence of Slave labor (as documednted by historical records of financial deals over them) some have called Achemeainds dominat mode of production: Tributary Mode of Prduction.It's also depicted on as reliefs on the walls of Takht Jamshid, opps I meant Persepolis.

Don't mean to be rude (#2): how the heck did Takht Jamshid turn into Perspolis?!?!? 


Soosan Khanoom

You know

by Soosan Khanoom on

I think God of Israel was right ...... They are indeed the chosen people ...

the rest are not even worthy or as you say perhaps unlucky !!

Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

DO you call that Luck ?  

WOW .... That is the best explanation I have ever heard ...


Ari Siletz

More replies

by Ari Siletz on


SK: According to one plaintiff's (Diana Campuzano) lawyers the IRI spends between $50,000,000 and $100,000,000 a year sponsoring terrorist activities of various organizations such as Hamas. The consequence for Ms. Campuzano are detailed in court records. Excerpt:

A team of doctors performed a five-hour craniotomy
on Ms. Campuzano to remove multiple bone fragments, repair the ruptures
in her brain coverings, and repair her anterior skull base fracture with
mini plates, bone cement, and her own harvested tissue...Ms. Campuzano's permanent injuries include impaired
vision, damage to the retina of her right eye, cataracts in both eyes,
destroyed upper sinus cavity, loss of the ability to taste and smell,
destroyed left eardrum.

This type of attack on civilians is repeated on average daily, perhaps hourly, by all the parties in the violence stretching from Gaza to Kabul. The fact that Afghan or Palestinian civilians aren't lucky enough to receive the legal protection the U.S. or Israel are able to give their citizens does not make U.S. or Israeli civilian victims less deserving of compassion or compensation. There are the "lucky" unlucky victims then there are the unlucky unlucky victims of this violence.  As a matter of principle, we can't deny American innocents  justice simply because Afghan innocents aren't getting justice. It's just that the Perespolis collection is the wrong place to go for compensation.



HG: Always happy to get an econ lesson--however turgidly explained. Meanwhile a part of our heritage is threatened. Do you have any helpful lessons there as to how we can save it?


MPD: Glad you enjoyed the article.

Mash Ghasem

More questions than anything else, especially on Slaves

by Mash Ghasem on

during the Achemieniads period. Would that system, mode of slavery that is, also be a part of our 'heritage' and 'cultural worth?'

hamsade ghadimi

ari, thanks for the econ

by hamsade ghadimi on

ari, thanks for the econ 101 lecture.  if i ws teaching it, you would get a c minus and that's being generous.  in your definition of price elasticity, you explained how a monopolist's behavior with a product with infinitely inelastic demand (and no substitue) works. but then you took a wrong turn in your example of a perfectly competitive farmer (opposite in the spectrum from the monopolist) to drive home your point.  for one, there are many farmers with indistinguishable products barring quality grades. secondly, historic data on agricultural products and their demands in general, are widely available and seasonal variations, collusion or other shocks to the system would obviously change the price but not as you predict.

my comment alluded to the second point above (widely available information): will the person holding the artifacts make it known the amount of artifacts available and document the destruction of some to make the remaining rarer and consequently more expensive.  a more realistic example would be that portion of portfolio of a famous painter, say picasso, burns down and is documented, then the remaining pieces of his art would increase in value.  if the buyers don't know how many artifacts the seller has, then they don't have any way of speculating how many ancient persian artifacts he's hording (or is out there).  there needs to be some signal from the seller (i.e., proof of destruction of some artifacts) for the buyer to perceive that the object of desire he's pursuing is very rare.  in this case, taking a game-theoretic approach, the buyer simply puts up only one of the artifacts for sale and declares it's one of a kind or it's very rare (he should know, he's holding the rest).  once he sells it, he waits for a while and then comes up with another, and another.... until the game is over. that's the beauty of asymmetric information as opposed to the (almost) full information scenario (in the case of farmer).

the main mistake in your argument, which reminds me of your previous argument on comparing the democratic path that iran is taking to that of united states is not economic but is primarily based on a logical fallacy commonly known as context-switching. 

ironically, what i like about your answer (hence, the cumulative grade of c minus) is not your economics explanation or logic but your creativity at the end of your response.  i like the notion of a dramatic story where the seller ends up at the bottom of a lake because he fails to destroy artifacts.  i think that's a plausible storyline for a fiction.  it could be even made into a movie with your protagonist as some kind of iranian indiana jones.  i think t. parsi can collaborate with you on the script and even play the part.  cheers. :)

Multiple Personality Disorder

Nice article, Ari

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

I enjoyed the humor in it.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

The best

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


thing to do is to get all the tablets scanned 3-D. Then make them available for free download. Have a billion replicas make dirt cheap in China. The important thing is the information on them not the actual clay. 

I do agree with SK that this is just nonsense. The actual crime was not committed by Iran. Why should Iran be held responsible. Go find the criminals and deal with them. But when did honesty ever get in the way of lawyers. Meanwhile we have some people here screaming "NIAC is evil" like a broken record. There was never any proof Iran was behind the attack. But again American courts run on bias not justice. Did you see a single banker get prosecuted for the financial melt down?

I am surprised they have not blamed that on NIAC! Or better on IRI. Lets milk them while the getting is good. How much will USA pay for all those Afghans they blow up on a daily basis by "mistake". Hint: not a dime or penny. 

Soosan Khanoom


by Soosan Khanoom on

Double post 

Soosan Khanoom

I would actually if I was a Palestinian- American

by Soosan Khanoom on

But I am involved with women for peace ( code pink ) group here in the U.S. So I am doing my best ... 

By the way ,  PLO is Israel made opposition  .. you can file on their behalf .. after all for a person like you who participates in the MEK rally with the church ladies the principles are the same ...