The cameras were ready to roll, the Iranian soldiers were poised for battle and the broadcaster Sir David Frost and his team were anxious to get the shot right. It was 1973, in the depths of pre-revolution Iran under the shah. Professor Malcolm Colledge, an art historian, archaeologist and Frost’s contemporary at Cambridge, had been tasked with reconstructing the Parthian victory at the 53BC Battle of Carrhae.
As a published expert on Parthia, (247BC-AD224), an empire located in the north-eastern part of modern Persia, Colledge was on the sidelines directing the troops. “I had to make do with only a hundred of the shah’s soldiers dressed in the ancient uniforms,” Colledge later recalled. “For the soldiers to prepare for battle, I gave the order ‘form a square’ in Latin, ‘quadratum facit’. The soldiers who were bemused at this venture nicknamed me ‘Dr F***-it’,” he added.
Someone on set, wanting to add drama to the scene, kicked up a “blinding shower of dust” to re-create a storm. “It only obliterated the battle from view,” Colledge said, with great amusement. The making of Frost’s eight-part series, Crossroads of Civilisations, on the history of Iran was of Hollywood proportions, costing some $2.5 million and taking four years to complete.
It would be one of many of Colledge’s TV appearances. His work took him across the region from Tunisia to Afghanistan. However, he was perhaps best known for his documentation of the intricate artwork of Palmyra, the 2,300-year-old desert oasis city at the crossroads of the Silk Road in Syria and now under the control of Islamic State (Isis).
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