Matthew P Canepa

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Art History
421 Heller Hall

271 - 19th Ave S

Professor of Iranian Art and Archaeology

About Professor Canepa

Matthew P. Canepa (PhD, University of Chicago) is an historian of art, archaeology and religions. His research focuses on the intersection of art, ritual and power in the eastern Mediterranean, Persia and the wider Iranian world.

Prof. Canepa's new book entitled The Iranian Expanse (University of California Press) is a large-scale study of the transformation of Iranian cosmologies, landscapes and architecture from the height of the Achaemenids to the coming of Islam. His publications include The Two Eyes of the Earth (University of California Press), the first book to analyze the artistic, ritual and ideological interactions between the late Roman and Sasanian empires in a comprehensive and theoretically rigorous manner. It was awarded the 2010 James Henry Breasted Prize from the American Historical Association for the best book in English on any field of history prior to the year 1000 CE. Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction (Smithsonian, 2010) studies the phenomena of cross-cultural interaction between the ancient to early Medieval Mediterranean, Western Asia and China. Recent publications include an examination of bronze sculpture in Hellenistic Asia, a restitution and reinterpretation of the Persian palace of Qasr-e Shirin, and a study of post-Achaemenid Persian kingship in Anatolia and the Caucasus. He served as an area advisor/editor for the Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity.

Professor Canepa is an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and has been the recipient of numerous research fellowships including from the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2015-2016), Getty Research Institute (2019 and 2013), the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-2010), the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (2007), and the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (2002-2003). In fall 2009 he was invited to be the Michaelmas Term visiting Senior Research Fellow at Merton College, University of Oxford. In 2016 he lectured as Directeur d'études invité at L’École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris.

Educational Background & Specialties


  • Art and Archaeology of Persia and the Ancient Iranian World
  • Art and Archaeology of Hellenistic Western and South Asia
  • Art and Archaeology of the Late Roman-Early Byzantine Empire
  • Art and Ritual of Power in the Ancient, Early Medieval World
  • Cross-Cultural Interaction
  • Archaeologies of Landcape, Memory and the Built and Natural Environment
  • Cognitive Archaeology
  • Law, Ethics of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage
Courses Taught
  • ARTH 8190 - Issues in Ancient Art and Archaeology. Graduate Seminar (topics vary, recent seminars include: "Archaeologies of Iranian Empires" and "Understanding Images and Environments of Power.")
  • ARTH 5192 - Art of Persia and the Ancient Iranian World: art and archaeology of the Achaemenid, Arsacid, and Sasanian empires.
  • ARTH 5115 - Hellenistic Asia and the Iranian East: art and archaeology of Hellenistic, Scythian, Parthian, Kushan and Sogdian Asia.
  • ARTH 5113 - Art Law. Cultural Heritage after Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan: legal and ethical debates in art history, archaeology, museum studies, and the art market.
  • ARTH 5786 Theorizing City and Space in the Mediterranean and Western Asia
  • ARTH 5188 - Late Roman-Byzantine Art and Archaeology
  • ARTH 3182 - Art and Archaeology of Ancient Egypt and Western Asia (undergraduate survey, AH and GP LibEd)
  • ARTH 3162 - Roman Art and Archaeology (undergraduate survey, HIS LibEd))
  • ARTH 3152 - Art and Archaeology of Ancient Greece (undergraduate survey, HIS LibEd)
  • For current offerings refer to UMN's class schedule
Research & Professional Activities

Professional Activities

  • Ancient Iranian Rock Reliefs and Inscriptions Project: Developing project in collaboration with University of Kiel, University of Innsbruck and University of Tehran. , June 2017


  • 'The Iranian Expanse: Architecture, Urbanism, Landscape and Cosmology in Iranian Western Asia (550 BCE – 642 CE).': A book-length study of the transformation of Iranian identity and cultural memory through the natural, urban and built environments. Project awarded fellowships from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI) and American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)
  • Work in Progress- Royal Glory, Divine Fortune: Kingship in Iran between Alexander and Islam (330 BCE-642 CE): A book examining of the development of art, architecture and ritual of Iranian kingship in the Middle Iranian period. Project supported by the Getty Research Institute and the Guggenheim Foundation
  • Work in Progress- Persia and the Ancient Iranian World: Art and Archaeology of Iran from the Achemenids to the Sasanians (under contract with University of California Press): The first intensive study of the art and archaeology of pre-Islamic Iran published in decades.
  • Area Advisor and Subject Editor, The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity: Area advisor and subject editor for Persia, Central Asia, Persian Language and Literature, Persian Religion, and Iranian and Turkic nomads for the Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity, a 1,000,000 word reference work focusing on ca. 250-750 CE.
  • Canepa, Matthew P. The Iranian Expanse: Transforming Royal Identity through Architecture, Landscape, and the Built Environment, 550 BCE–642 CE. Berkeley: University of California Press [forthcoming]
  • Canepa, Matthew P. The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 45. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.
  • Canepa, Matthew P. ed. Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean, Near East and Asia Ars Orientalis 38. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian, 2010.
  • Persia and the Ancient Iranian World: Art and Archaeology of Iran from the Achaemenians to Sasanians. Canepa, Matthew, Berkeley: University of California Press, Author, [under contract].
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction Among Ancient and Early Medieval Visual Cultures.." Theorizing Cross Cultural Interaction, ed. M. Canepa Ars Orientalis 38 (2010): 7-19. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Distant Displays of Power: Understanding Cross-Cultural Interaction Among the Elites of Rome, Sasanian Iran, and Sui-Tang China." Theorizing Cross Cultural Interaction, ed. M. Canepa Ars Orientalis 38 (2010): 121-54. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Technologies of Memory In Early Sasanian Iran: Achaemenid Sites and Sasanian Identity." American Journal of Archaeology 114.4 (2010): 563-96. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Achaemenid and Seleukid Royal Funerary Practices and Middle Iranian Kingship." Commutatio et Contentio. Studies in the Late Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East in Memory of Zeev Rubin (2010): 1-21. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "The Art and Ritual of Manichaean Magic: Text, Object and Image from the Mediterranean to Central Asia." Objects in Motion: The Circulation of Religion and Sacred Objects in the Late Antique and Byzantine World (2011): 73-88. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "The Transformation of Sacred Space, Topography and Royal Ritual in Persia and the Ancient Iranian World." Heaven on Earth: Temples, Ritual, and Cosmic Symbolism in the Ancient World (2013): Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Sasanian Rock Reliefs." Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran (2013): 856-77. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Building a New Vision of the Past in the Sasanian Empire: the Sanctuary of Lake Kayansih and the Great Fires of Iran." Journal of Persianate Studies 5 (2013): 69-94. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Topographies of Power: Theorizing the Visual, Spatial and Ritual Contexts of Rock Reliefs in Ancient Iran." Of Rocks and Water: Towards an Archaeology of Place (2014): 53-92. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Seleukid Sacred Architecture, Royal Cult and the Transformation of Iranian Culture in the Middle Iranian Period." Iranian Studies (2014): 1-27. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Textiles and Elite Tastes between the Mediterranean, Iran and Asia at the End of Antiquity." Gobal Textile Encounters (2014): 1-15. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Dynastic Sanctuaries and the Transformation of Iranian Kingship between Alexander and Islam." Of Architecture and Kingship: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis (2015): 65-117. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Inscriptions, Royal Spaces and Iranian Identity: Epigraphic Practices in Persia and the Ancient Iranian World." Viewing Inscriptions in the Late Antique and Medieval World (2015): 10-35. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Emperor." Late Ancient Knowing: Explorations in Intellectual History (2015): Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Bronze Sculpture in the Hellenistic East." Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (2015): 82-93. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Rival Images of Iranian Kingship and Persian Identity in Post-Achaemenid Western Asia." Persianisms in Antiquity (2017): 200-222. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Methodological and Historiographical Notes on the ‘Paradise’ as an Iranian Royal Institution.." DABIR 1.3 (2017): 39-43. Link
  • Canepa, Matthew P.. "Cross-Cultural Communication in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, and Western and South Asia." Mercury's wings : exploring modes of communication in the ancient world (2017): 249-272. Link
  • Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 2015 - 2016
  • Directeur d'études invité, École pratique des hautes études, Paris, May 2016 - June 2016
  • Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 2015 - 2016
  • Villa Scholar, Getty Research Institute, April 2013 - July 2013
  • James Henry Breasted Prize for the best book in English on any field of history prior to the year 1000 C.E., 2010
  • Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2009 - 2010
  • Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Merton College, University of Oxford, 2009
  • North American Fellow, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, 2007
  • Elected Fellow, Society of Antiquaries of London