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Parthians (or Arsacids) and Sasanians

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Sassanid citadel, Arg-E-Bam




primarily fortified country manors but also permanently inhabited defensive installations, maintained by the authorities along important land routes, and urban citadels, which functioned as administrative centers and places of refuge for inhabitants under siege, particularly in prehistoric and early historic times.

CASTLES, primarily fortified country manors but also permanently inhabited defensive installations, maintained by the authorities along important land routes, and urban citadels, which functioned as administrative centers and places of refuge for inhabitants under siege, particularly in prehistoric and early historic times. The Old Persian word for “castle, fortress” is didā (Kent, Old Persian, p. 191). Middle Persian has diz, whence New Persian dez, as well as the archaizing form dež. In New Persian kalāt “(mountain) fortress” (especially in Khorasan) and Arabic qaḷʿa “castle” are more commonly used.

Citadels were usually erected inside walled settlements as part of the fortification process. Most castles stand on exposed heights, with steep slopes or cliff faces serving as natural defenses against approaching enemies. They have panoramic views over the surrounding land or the roads to be defended and are often within sight of neighboring castles. In Iran they are always provided with wells or springs, except for those that are surrounded by water, for example, a castle at Safīdrūd north of Rūdbār or the Dutch and Portuguese fortresses on islands in the Persian Gulf and the straits of Hormuz (Kleiss, 1983).

Early Iranian castles. From the beginning of human settlement it was necessary to defend inhabitants from enemies and wild animals. Already in very early prehistoric times there were settlements in which individual houses were connected by walls in such a way as to create a defensive perimeter. Each settlement had only one entrance, which would later develop into a gateway, but as yet there were no towers projecting at regular intervals on the exterior so that defenders could harass an attacking force from the sides.

In Iran such fortified settlements and fortress complexes were understood as early as the 3rd millennium B.C. For example, in Azerbaijan it has been possible to take measurements at the fortress of Bolūrābād (Figure 3a), on the northern edge of the Qarā Żīāʾ-al-Dīn plain north of Ḵᵛoy (Kleiss, 1975). The outer walls of this fortress can be traced on a rock platform at the base of a mountain rising high above the plain; the obviously unfortified settlement area, with several partly rounded residential ground plans, was located on the plain itself. The fortress was 90 m long and 65 m wide, and its rounded triangular plan conforms to the shape of the site. The original fortress wall, consisting of a rubble core faced with large unworked boulders, was 3 m thick; no lime mortar was used as bonding agent. There were no projecting towers on either the interior or the exterior. Within the walls the ruins of some circular buildings are recognizable. In a second building phase the most vulnerable portion of the fortress wall, on the northeast, north, and northwest, was strengthened by the addition of a kind of chambered construction: About 3 m in front of the original defensive wall a second wall, about 1 m thick and also without towers, was erected; a series of cross walls were bonded to it but merely abutted the inner wall. The small chambers thus defined were filled with stones and earth, an economical way of strengthening and heightening the defensive perimeter. Both building phases of Bolūrābād can be ascribed to the 3rd millennium B.C. on the basis of ceramic finds. This type of chambered construction was already known in the 5th millennium B.C. at Zāḡa (Saqqezābād; Figure 3b) on the plain south of Qazvīn, where the temenos wall of a temple precinct was reinforced by means of such a secondary construction.

The fortified settlement of Rāvāz (Figure 3c) southwest of Mākū is 258 m long and 185 m wide, laid out on a triangular basalt platform above two converging tributaries; it also was established in the 3rd millennium B.C. and contained round houses typical of the residential and settlement forms of the time. The individual farmyards were linked only by walls along the edge of the platform. On the east side, where there were no natural defenses, a defensive wall, of unmortared rubble 4 m thick below and of mud brick above, was built with several niches, and there was also an outer ward 15 m long with an entrance gate. In the 3rd or 2nd millennium B.C. the wall was reinforced through the addition of massive, boldly projecting semicircular towers and corner buttresses. This innovation reflected advances in defensive techniques, particularly the tactic of subjecting attackers to crossfire from the sides.

From this developmental stage on, wall towers continued to be used and through the centuries were greatly developed. At the citadel of Ḥasanlū IV (Figure 3d), dated to the period of the so-called “burned buildings” in the early 1st millennium B.C. (before 800 B.C.), the line of the wall was occasionally jogged to create rectangular projections that looked very much like towers.

Urartian castles. In the 9th and 8th centuries B.C. Urartian builders made fundamental contributions to the development of fortress architecture in the Near East. They adapted Mesopotamian fortification methods to the landscape of their own settlement area, the so-called Armenian highlands, but a further advance can also be observed. In this early period Urartian fortresses were erected without regard to the natural terrain, according to a predetermined plan, so that heavy walls and high terraces were frequently necessary. Plain facades predominated, buttressed and defended by massive towers at the corners and along the walls, as at Qaḷʿa-ye Sīāh (Figure 3e), a castle constructed on a flat lava field 36 km east of Māku (Kleiss, 1973). Spaced at regular intervals along the wall between the projecting rectangular towers (which looked somewhat like bastions) there were flat pilasters, which had no defensive or structural function but served only the esthetic purpose of articulating the wall surface. Architectonic devices were thus combined with purely military features, so that even very early Urartian fortresses possessed an undeniable artistic power, underscoring their significance as “royal buildings.” The largest Urartian fortress on Iranian soil, Rusa-i Uru.Tur (Bastam, Besṭām, q.v.), built in the 7th century B.C., is a typical example of later Urartian fortress architecture. The plan (see BEṢTĀM; Figure 3f; cf. Kleiss, 1977b, I, pp. 14-15), which underwent three main building phases in only about fifty years, was entirely determined by the terrain. This Urartian fortress functioned as both religious and economic center for the region and as the seat of provincial government, with the related function of royal residence. Nevertheless, its primary purpose was as a strong castle, encompassing a graduated series of defensive terraces. The massive old Urartian towers with intervening narrow pilasters had developed at Besṭām into a series of equally spaced projections, which also served to articulate the walls. The site has been almost entirely excavated, and it is thus possible to distinguish the functions of the individual sections of the castle. The lower citadel, with the southern entrance, served the military garrison and included a guest house, as well as equipment storerooms and stables. The somewhat higher middle citadel contained reception rooms, the area of the Haldi temple, and extensive storerooms. The upper citadel, on the pinnacle of the mountain, was the governor’s residence and the last refuge in an attack.

The castle at Besṭām was the last major Urartian construction. In the 6th-5th century B.C. a different kind of defensive system made its appearance in Iranian fortress architecture, with the introduction of the zigzag wall without towers. The remains of Qaḷʿa-ye Gavūr (Kleiss, 1978b, pp. 34ff.; Figure 3g), southwest of Ḵᵛoy, include, in addition to Urartian and medieval building phases, a noteworthy phase dating from the 6th-5th centuries B.C., which is perhaps to be connected with the Medes.

Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian castles. The Achaemenid method of building castles can still be recognized in its most coherent form at Persepolis (Figure 3h). The significant architectural and sculptural features of the palace have been thoroughly studied, but Persepolis was also a strong fortress, and this aspect is very little known. The fortifications have been partly excavated, and a detailed plan of the outer walls has been prepared (Kleiss, 1971). The section of the wall along the Kūh-e Raḥmat follows an irregular line conforming to the contours of the terrain. It was constructed largely of mud brick incorporating different levels of the cliff, just as the early Urartians had incorporated cliffs into the foundations of their structures. Large rectangular towers, modeled on those of the stone foundation of the palace terrace, project strongly from the wall. The walls contain passages, and there are rooms in the towers. With the massive rectangular towers and their projecting articulations, the entire structure is imposing, clearly meant to be recognized as a royal fortress. Rectangular towers continued to predominate until the late Achaemenid period, but in about the 4th century B.C. they began to be displaced by semicircular towers, reflecting a further advance in defensive techniques, eliminating to some extent the “blind spots” created by corners.

In contrast to this “royal” type of Achaemenid fortress are the castles in the countryside, the earliest of which were built at the end of the Achaemenid period or, more probably, in the Seleucid period after the downfall of the Achaemenid empire. In this interval, during which Hellenistic culture and architecture penetrated Iran, the more “modern” semicircular tower seems to have definitively replaced the old Mesopotamian rectangular tower. The development is clear at Qaḷʿa-ye Gavūr (Kleiss, 1976; Figure 3i) on the Araxes river east of Jolfā, where a fortress originally constructed on the Urartian system was completely reconstructed in the Median-Achaemenid period (6th century B.C.) with rectangular bastions and, finally, a short time later was provided with heavy round towers, which provided better protection against such highly developed attack weapons as catapults.

The old system of articulating the wall surface by means of projections and large corner towers nevertheless continued into the early Parthian period, as in the fortress at old Nisa in the Russian Transcaucasus of the 3rd century B.C. (Figure 3j).

Sasanian fortress plans generally include heavy, strongly projecting semicircular or parabolic towers spaced closely around the walls and serving both as defenses and to underscore the invulnerability of such structures. At Taḵt-e Solaymān (Naumann, 1977, II, Beilage 2; Figure 3k), a fortified temple in Azerbaijan, the heavy walls follow the natural configuration of the land, whereas the later Sasanian fire temple and lakeside structures at the same site follow predetermined plans.

Fortification with heavy round towers continued to develop in the Sasanian period, as did the “chamber” system, especially in earlier Sasanian structures like Qaḷʿa-ye Doḵtar near Fīrūzābād (Huff, 1976; Figure 21), the wall of which also followed an irregular line.
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Sassanid Iconography and motifs:

Stucco Design and Motifs of the Sassanid Era
Mohammad-Reza Riazi

Throughout the Iranian history especially since the migration of the Aryans to the Iranian plateau no sovereign government has endeavored in exalting the Iranian art as extensively as the Sassanid rulers. The name Iran for the first time was written on Naghshe Rustam in Sassanid Pahlavi script by order of Ardeshir Babakan. Ardeshir and his successors for the first time established a national government in Iran. The Sassanid emphasis on the Iranian nationality and religion (Zoroastrian) led to creation of a civilization unparalleled throughout Iran in terms of being authentically Iranian. In the Sassanid tales the nationalistic spirit floats everywhere. In Avista (the holy book of Zoroastrians) in describing Iran as the main homeland of the Aryans, Iran is mentioned with bride and honor and the people of the Sassanid era adored their homeland and believed in Aryan Glory. The Sassanid not only attempted to preserve religion and national traditions but by innovation of a variety of architecture, stonemasonry, metalwork, glasswork, architectural ornamentation especially stucco, coins and seals, textiles and fashion design left a precious legacy behind.

The artworks of the Sassanid in general, enjoy an internal union and an organic connection and present a single expression and possess distinct visual and structural characteristics with their own special style. In that regard, the Sassanid art bears a special visual language that is easily distinguishable from other visual contemporary languages. (Chinese, Indian, Roman and Byzantine.) Certainly, among all artistic periods in Iran the Sassanid art is the only one still and will continue to be current. The Sassanid era in many aspects witnessed the most precious achievements of the Iranian civilization. The Sassanid art not only excelled within the political boundaries of the kingdom but its motifs penetrated far into Central Asia, China, Japan and Byzantine and depths of Europe. It also played an important role in the appearance of Islamic art. The special characteristics of the Sassanid art involve its decorative aspect. In the Sassanid era the motifs became more symmetrical and employment of round and oval shapes more popular. Often the animal and bird motifs are in pairs either facing each other or back to back. Employing motifs such as the tree of life, dragon, peacock and winged horse indicated the Iranian artist’s tendency towards imagination. Plant motifs also always included palm leave, cardoon, water lily, pomegranate leaf and fruit and grape leaf and clusters. Among the Sassanid art media, the art of stucco in recognition of motifs is of utmost importance. And every day with the discovery of stucco works, knowledge on the Sassanid territories and motifs increases. Use of stucco as decorative material in buildings begins from the Parthian period and turns into one of the most distinguished of all Iranian decorative arts in the Sassanid period and later in the Islamic era. Stucco was used to cover cobblestone and wrecked stone walls. After the Achaemenid period stonemasonry because of high costs and hard work became obsolete and the builders in order to speed up constructions used wrecked stones to erect structures. The wrecked stone arrangement lacked an apparent beauty so stucco helped the architecture and its patterns could be independent of the architecture yet completely cover the whole parts of the building. Stucco therefore, changed the quality of the structure and its visible characteristics and became a technique for surface decoration that led to changes in building façades in a cost efficient and flexible way. It is worthy to note that the Sassanid artists innovated, disintegrated and perfected a variety of stucco works not found elsewhere. Of course, from the very beginning some looked down on stucco because it was believed that the material is not solid enough in the hands of the designer and it gives him the possibility of creating new but worthless images and shapes without a sense of responsibility. Real execution of stucco patterns require carving skill which is not that hard but its design is a tough task. The merit of Sassanid stucco lies primarily on its design. A great design is always considered a systematic and imaginative work and usually the stucco designs are executed by one artist. The most distinguished Sassanid stucco products include blocks of plaster that covered rough brick or wrecked stone walls. Excavations in houses around the royal palace of Tisphoon reveal that stucco decorations were only used in the main assembly hall and probably in the rooms directly adjacent whereas other rooms were only covered by plain plaster. Stucco was used in verandas especially on the arch and side walls and contained masses of exaggerated details. Stucco with rosette motifs were used in decorating the railing. These flowers present a style of decorative stucco. They were comprised of four pieces. Each of the pieces were formed in one mold and then attached to each other by plaster. The rich and diverse decorations of stucco plates were comprised of strips of circles and squares. These shapes usually lined up next to each other in an endless continuity. Geometrical shapes and plant motifs were used singly or in combinations. Animal heads and bodies or the human torsos and even hunting scenes were also used in decorative contexts. The flexibility of stucco provided the possibility to be used in independent and life size statues or in repair of broken pillars. There was almost no limit in using and shaping stucco. The discovery of stucco figures of Shahpour’s head and torso in Haji Abad of Fars indicate the gradual change towards making rock relief works as linked up decorations and colorful stucco mortar which in some cases becomes decoration of interior and exterior walls of the Sassanid palaces. Archeological excavations in various parts of Iran during the last years have revealed a significant volume of stucco works.
The existing pieces indicate that the abundant decorative patterns-also the majority-are built on a circular base and harnessed in a square shape. In addition, the round motifs join each other continuously giving the Sassanid decorations a specific quality comprised of an imaginary combination but single and independent elements. In that sense, they stand opposite the widely printed surfaces used in newer Islamic decorations.
The archeological excavations of the 1990’s in Dareh Shahr of Ilam province revealed a significant number of stucco surfaces and pieces that as far as diversity, finesse and aesthetics of the patterns and compositions are unique and unparalleled. By reference to resources and texts, Dareh Shahr is the same as Mehr Jaan Ghazagh, Saabzaan, Simareh or the city of Khosrow Parviz in the late Sassanid period completely leveled to earth from an earthquake in the years 248 and 344 A.H. The stucco patterns in this region are quite diverse and bear detailed decorations. The shapes are geometric with plant motifs. The stucco works are placed in frameworks as geometrical shapes (triangular, round, square and rectangular) and the surfaces are solid. All of the pieces have backgrounds and margins. The marginal shapes are in the form of Greek chains, rope-like texture and consecutive sevens, upside down patterns and consecutive ‘S’ shapes. The patterns in the center include lilies and 6 or 8 leaf flowers with a central circle, pomegranate, palm leaf and grape leaf and clusters combined in an endless composition. This image reveals the imaginative power of the artists that granted with the quality and flexibility of stucco, were able to create them because the lack of stucco firmness can be quite frustrating both for the artist and the designer. In fact it is a material for his imagination to maneuver enabling him to create any design or pattern that he has in mind.


Yar Shater, Ehsan
2002, History of Iran from Solukian to the fall of the Sassanid, translated by Hassan Anousheh, Tehran, Amir Kabir Publications
Girshman, Roman
1999, Bishabur, translated by Asghar Karimi, Tehran, Cultural Heritage Organization, second volume

National Museum of Iran
Bita, Stucco in architectural decorations of the Kashani and Sassanid eras, Tehran, National Museum of Iran Publications

Prada, Edith
2007, The Art of Ancient Iran, translated by Yousef Majidzadeh, Tehran, National Museum of Iran Publications.

Lakpoor, Simin
2003, Dareh Shahr, Congress of Iranian Architecture and Urban Planning, Arg-e-Bam, Tehran Cultural Heritage Organization Publication
ART IN IRAN, History of

v. Sasanian

The art of the ancient Near East during the four centuries of Sasanian rule is richly documented. There are major remains of many different types: monumental rock reliefs, silver vessels, stucco architectural decoration, and seals. Objects in other media are less numerous but still sufficient to give a varied impression of the art of the period: textiles, wall paintings, floor mosaics, glass, and pottery. Nonetheless, the development of Sasanian art remains unclear because reliable criteria for dating (inscriptional, numismatic, and archeological) are rarely available. The original provenance of the objects is often unknown. While the dynastic rock reliefs are in situ and other architectural decoration was found during the course of scientific archeological excavations, a wider variety of works of art is without a meaningful archeological context. Included in this class are the silver vessels, the seals, and nearly all examples of the minor arts. There has never been a comprehensive excavation of a Sasanian site, revealing an extensive series of structures dating from one period or, alternately, establishing an unbroken sequence over a long time span. Undoubtedly the most significant contributions to the study of Sasanian art will come with the future archeological exploration of Sasanian cities and buildings.

Rock reliefs. Of the major remains, the dynastic rock reliefs are unquestionably the most important. In addition to illustrating the stylistic and chronological development of one branch of Sasanian art, they offer important evidence concerning the nature of the early Sasanian state, society, and religion. The majority of the reliefs have representations of Sasanian kings, identifiable through the form of their crowns. The series begins with the first ruler, Ardašīr I (226-41), and continues with few exceptions through the reigns of his successors until Šāpūr II (309-79). There are no reliefs that can be attributed with certainty to Šāpūr II (Ghirshman, 1971, pp. 79-88; Lukonin, 1969, p. 193) but two, at Ṭāq-e Bostān, were commissioned by his successors Ardašīr II (379-83) and Šāpūr III (383 88) (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1972, pls. 64-92). After the fourth century there is an interruption in the sequence, and the final carvings, in a rock cut arched enclosure at Ṭāq-e Bostān, are dateable, in all probability, to the reign of Ḵosrow II (591-628) (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1969, pls. 4-102; idem, 1972, pls. 1-62).

Changes in the designs and in the styles of carving occur on the rock reliefs. In part, these changes are due to the passage of time but another important factor is the geographical location of the monuments. Although most of the reliefs are in Fārs in southern Iran, there are notable examples elsewhere—at Ṭāq-e Bostān in central Iran, at Salmās in Azerbaijan (Hinz, 1965, pp. 148-60), and at Ray (Herzfeld, 1938, p. 135, fig. 18), south of the modern city of Tehran. The style and appearance of the late 4th century reliefs at Ṭāq-e Bostān is strikingly different from those of the 3rd and early 4th century in Fārs in the south. This may be explained by the passage of almost half a century, but it is probably also the result of the geographical separation of the two groups of monuments. Within Fārs, the reliefs are grouped around a number of centers: 1) Fīrūzābād, 2) Naqš-e Rostam, Naqš-e Rajab, Barm-e Delak, 3) Dārābgerd, 4) Bīšāpūr, Naqš-e Bahrām, Tang-e Qandīl, Gūyom, and Sar Mašhad. The distance between these centers is sufficient to suggest that even within the southern region different groups of craftsmen may have worked at the various locations. At Bīšāpūr, the presence of foreign artisans, transported as prisoners of war by Šāpūr I from the West, is historically documented (Gagé, 1964, p. 287), and their activity is apparent in the architecture of the royal city. The unusual design of some of the victory reliefs of Šāpūr I in the neighboring river gorge is undoubtedly also the result of the presence of captive Syrian workers.

The formal development of the dynastic rock reliefs was governed by the nature of the monuments. These are proclamatory works of art, expressions of political, social, and religious concepts. As part of an official state art, the reliefs are conservative in form and conventional in design. They are slow to reflect changes in taste and fashion and do not necessarily illustrate contemporary styles of dress or appearance. This is evident in the representations of clothing, jewelry, and weapons (Trousdale, 1975, p. 95).

The significance of the reliefs is usually clear. Some are victory monuments and record historical events, but the purpose of the majority is the glorification of the dynasty, as represented by the monarch, and of the religion, in the form of the divinity who invests the ruler with kingship. The reliefs clearly demonstrate the close relationship between secular and religious power at the beginning of the period.

The monuments of Ardašīr I depict two subjects: the historical defeat of the last Arsacid ruler and the granting of kingship to Ardašīr by the god Ohrmazd (Herrmann, 1969, pp. 65-74). The latest relief of Ardašīr I at Naqš-e Rostam illustrates this last theme and becomes one of the standard types throughout the reigns of successive rulers. Two equestrian figures confront each other, their horses standing on the bodies of dead enemies. One horseman is the king, Ardašīr, under whose horse is the defeated Arsacid monarch, Ardavān. The other horseman, bestowing upon Ardašīr the ring of royal authority, is the god Ohrmazd. His enemy, the Evil Spirit (Ahriman), lies beneath the horse’s hooves; around the demon’s head is a diadem of reptiles, and his legs are in the form of two serpents, a detail first observed by H. von Gall. The artisans have arranged the full sculptural forms in a well defined and balanced composition, the culmination of a long development in the course of Ardašīr’s reign from low flat relief (Fīrūzābād) and crowded scenes (Naqš-e Rajab) to a clearly composed and sculptural presentation of the subject matter.

The same type of scene is represented on the reliefs of two later Sasanian kings, Ardašīr’s son Šāpūr I (Herrmann, 1969, pp. 75-83), and Bahrām I (273 76), his successor (Ghirshman, 1971, pp. 76-77). Šāpūr also introduces a new series of victory monuments. They are unrelated in form to the earlier battle scene, executed during the reign of Ardašīr at Fīrūzābād, in which three pairs of contestants are depicted in a horizontal file, one behind the other. The theme of the victory scenes of Šāpūr I is the capture of the Roman emperor Valerian and the defeat of two other Roman armies. Considerable discussion has centered on the identities of the chief prisoners, represented fallen, kneeling, and standing. The generalized portrayal of the human features prevents the recognition of specific individuals although it is probable that Gordian III, Valerian, and Philip the Arab are intended (MacDermot, 1954, pp. 76-80; Ghirshman, 1971, pp. 163-72; Mackintosh, 1973, pp. 181-203).

As sculptures, the figures on the reliefs of Šāpūr I demonstrate the full modeling of the latest works carved during the reign of Ardašīr I. However, a sense of movement and rich decoration are introduced by the exaggerated curvilinear folds of the drapery and the fluttering wind blown ribbons of the royal dress.

The rock reliefs from the reign of Bahrām II (276 93) reveal new trends in the social structure of the Sasanian state. A few of the sculptures represent persons other than the king of kings. The priest Kartīr added his image and his inscriptions to already existing royal rock reliefs and to the rock faces beside these reliefs. Two sculptures, at Barm-e Delak and Tang-e Qandīl, show a female with a male who wears the cap of a prince or noble but not a royal crown. The identity of the persons in these two carvings is disputed, and it has been suggested that the males on the reliefs are royal figures who do not wear the standard Sasanian crown (Hinz, 1969, pp. 224-28; idem, 1973, pp. 201ff; Frye, 1974, pp. 188-90; Herrmann, 1977 and 1983).

The increasing power of the high nobility and the establishment of a priestly hierarchy under the leadership of Kartīr during the reign of Bahrām II are recorded in historical sources (Gagé, 1964, pp. 317-28). The reliefs described above may illustrate the rise to power of these classes of society. Kartīr and others of high rank who had previously been excluded from commissioning such dynastic monuments apparently achieved sufficient status and authority to assume this prerogative under Bahrām II and possibly during the short period of the rule of Bahrām III.

On the royal reliefs, Bahrām II is represented with his wife and members of his family (Herrmann, 1970, pp. 165-71), a subject already appearing on a relief of Šāpūr I at Naqš-e Rajab. The other reliefs of Bahrām II illustrate the theme of royal authority in a new fashion. At Naqš-e Bahrām, the king is enthroned in a frontal position (Hinz, 1969, pp. 198-209). This type of image occurs in a large, unfinished victory relief with a representation of an unknown monarch at Bīšāpūr (Lukonin, 1969, p. 193; Ghirshman, 1971, pp. 79-88) and on a badly worn monument at Naqš-e Rostam (Schmidt, 1970, pl. 94), but only at Naqš-e Bahrām does the subject achieve definitive form. The balanced presentation, with the king seated between two pairs of standing figures, is typically Sasanian.

A more radical design occurs at Sar Mašhad, where the king, Bahrām II, is portrayed in a unique scene as the slayer of lions and the protector of the figures placed beside him, his wife(?), Kartīr, and another male (Hinz, 1969, pp. 215-19; Herrmann, 1970, pp. 165-71; Trümpelmann, Sar Mašhad, 1975, pp. 3-11; P. Calmeyer in Calmeyer and Gaube, 1985, pp. 43-49). This is the earliest dynastic monument illustrating a royal hunt(?), a theme that was to become later, on the court silver plate, the primary expression of Sasanian majesty.

Some of the rock carvings of Bahrām II continue the rich high relief style of Šāpūr I. Others are carved in low relief (10 cm), a feature interpreted by Herrmann as an indication that they are later in date (Herrmann, 1970, pp. 170-71 ).

In the single relief attributed to his reign, Narseh (292 303), the son of Šāpūr I, returned to a more conventional statement of royalty (Schmidt, 1970, pl. 90). The king receives the ring of investiture from the goddess Anāhīd. Both figures are on foot rather than on horseback, a pose presumably not appropriate for the goddess. The basic composition resembles the investiture of Ardašīr I at Naqš-e Rajab where the monarch stretches his arm toward the god Ohrmazd. In both reliefs, the smaller figure of a descendant, and future king, is placed between the ruler and the divinity; this return to an earlier scheme was probably deliberate on the part of Narseh, who was the grandson of Ardašīr I. The over life size figures on the rock carving at Naqš-e Rostam are executed in high relief but are poorly proportioned. The linear details—drapery fold, spiral hairs curls—give a particularly decorative appearance to the monument.

A number of battle scenes in the form of equestrian combats between two protagonists are contemporary with the reliefs of the late 3rd century (Schmidt, 1970, pls. 89, 91, 95). This type was first commissioned by Ardašīr I at Fīrūzābād and is illustrated on a much smaller scale on the relief carved blocks from a building constructed during the reign of Šāpūr I at Bīšāpūr (Ghirshman, 1971, pls. 35, 36, fig. 15). The later examples, all at Naqš-e Rostam, have a simple composition and more limited subject matter than the Fīrūzābād relief. The figures do not always wear recognizable Sasanian crowns, and it is possible that in at least two instances the warrior is a member of the royal family or the high nobility rather than the king (Schmidt, 1970, pls. 89, 95). On one of the reliefs, the three pronged headgear worn by the central combatant may be a special form of helmet rather than a crown (Herzfeld, 1938, pp. 136-37).

These battle scenes have a narrative, pictorial quality lacking in the more conventional investiture and victory reliefs. A wealth of detail covering the animal and human bodies gives the representations a rather decorative appearance.

The reliefs at Ṭāq-e Bostān follow by more than half a century the latest rock carved monuments in Fārs and reveal a change in style (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1972, pls. 64-92). Commissioned by Ardašīr II (379-83) and in all probability, Šāpūr III (383-88), they are primarily proclamations of legitimacy. During this troubled period in the history of the Sasanian monarchy, the natural succession was interrupted by the accession of Ardašīr II who was then succeeded by Šāpūr III, the son of Šāpūr II (Herzfeld, 1928, p. 138).

The relief of Ardašīr II is the more conventional of the two monuments in type and design. Within the customary rectangular panel three figures carved in high relief are standing side by side. The monarch, in the center, grasps the ring of investiture extended to him by the figure on his left, possibly the god Ohrmazd, although the headdress is that of the deceased Šāpūr II. On the other side is the god Mithra, rays emanating from his head, a barsom bundle in his hands, and standing on an Indian lotus. This same divinity is associated with a Sasanian ruler of the Kushan territories who has been identified as Ardašīr II (Lukonin, 1967, p. 27). Beneath the king and the figure holding the symbol of office lies a dead enemy, probably the Roman emperor Julian (Trümpelmann, “Triumph,” 1975, pp. 107-11; Carter, 1981, pp. 74-98). In the arrangement of the figures the scene resembles the investiture of Narseh, but the king wears a new form of royal dress: A beaded halter, strapped around the chest, has replaced the cloak held by a clasp, and the tunic, drawn up at the sides, falls in a rounded curve along the lower hem. The style of the carving is also distinctive. The drapery folds are rendered as a series of curving concentric lines covering the body; this stylization gives the surface of the relief an extremely decorative appearance. The crude, almost grotesque treatment of the facial features is particularly noticeable since the heads are turned outward in a three quarter view. These changes in style and quality of workmanship suggest that the monument was executed by local artisans lacking the skills of the carvers who had worked on the royal monuments in the south. Noting the apparent inexperience of the craftsmen, Herzfeld suggested that the reliefs were the work of painters rather than sculptors (Herzfeld, 1928, p. 139).

The adjacent relief with the figures of Šāpūr II and III is carved in a similar style, but the subject and the setting are new (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1972, pls. 64-73). The two kings, standing side by side, are represented on the back wall of a deep arched niche. They are almost full sculptures in the round. Inscriptions on either side of the heads give the names of the monarchs (Herzfeld, 1924, pp. 123-24). Since no divinity is included in the scene and the emphasis is on the relationship between the two royal personages, father (Šāpūr II) and son (Šāpūr III), it is appropriate that the setting resembles an arched hall similar to the audience halls of Sasanian palaces. Šāpūr III does not wear the crown appearing on his coins and it is possible that the relief was executed before he became king of kings, during the reign of Šāpūr II (Herzfeld, 1938, pp. 113-14).

The latest relief at Ṭāq-e Bostān (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1969; idem, 1972, pls. 1-62) is generally attributed to Ḵosrow II (591 628) (Herzfeld, 1920; idem, 1938, pp. 91-158; Ghirshman, 1963, pp. 293-311; Peck, 1969, pp. 101=2) in spite of some arguments for an earlier date in the reign of Pērōz (Erdmann, 1937, pp. 79=97; idem, 1951, pp. 87=123; von Gall, 1984, pp. 179=90) and one suggestion that the monument was executed during the reign of Ḵosrow I (Gropp, 1970, p. 282). This great ayvān similar in shape but larger than that of Šāpūr II/III may well celebrate the victory of Ḵosrow II over the usurper Bahrām VI (Čōbīn) (Marshak and Krikis, 1969, p. 65; Soucek, 1974, pp. 34=35). Two winged females placed in the spandrels of the arched facade give it the appearance of a Western triumphal monument. The divinities, Ohrmazd and Anāhīd, stand on either side of Ḵosrow II. All three figures are carved on the top of the back wall of the niche. The gods do not surpass the king in height; rather, they appear as supports to the royal person. Beneath the standing figures on the back wall is a horseman in full armor, holding a lance and a shield. The identity of this horseman is uncertain. A royal device (Figure 46a) and a sēnmurw, the fantastic creature believed to be the bearer of prosperity, on his garment suggest that this is the warrior king.

An alternative suggestion is that the rider is the fravahr or genius of the king (von Gall, 1971b, p. 233; J. Kellens, Iranica Antiqua 10, 1973, pp. 133=38 [von Gall, 1984, has now retracted this suggestion]). The close relationship in form between the mounted warrior and certain monumental sculptures in the late antique world has also been observed (Soucek, 1974, p. 34).

Entirely new in form and design are the low relief hunting scenes carved on the side walls of the ayvān of Ḵosrow II at Ṭāq-e Bostān (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1969, pls. 29-102). These resemble wall paintings or mosaics rather than rock sculptures and may be stone imitations of the wall decorations in similarly shaped audience halls in Sasanian palaces. The rock cut monument at Ṭāq-e Bostān, the last attributable to the Sasanian period, is a magnificent expression of royal authority. The large scale figures are solid masses, the body hidden beneath heavy drapery. A rich and elaborate style of workmanship is apparent in the treatment of the hair and dress. On the side walls similar attention is paid to minute details—the textiles, patterns, hair, and equipment of the human figures as well as the surface of the animal and landscape motifs. It is impossible to know whether all three parts of the decoration—royal investiture, mounted warrior, and hunting panels—are contemporary in date. Differences in style and equipment may indicate that the reliefs were executed over a period of time (Trousdale, 1975, p. 98).

A few final observations can be made concerning the Sasanian rock reliefs. It is evident that some rulers added to the reliefs of their predecessors. This is the case at Bīšāpūr where, on the relief of Bahrām I, Narseh substituted his own name in the inscription and added a dead enemy, possibly Bahrām III, beneath the royal mount (Schmidt, 1970, p. 129; Iran 13, 1970, pls. III, IV; Herrmann, 1981 [ = Bishapur, pt. 2], p. 19). It has been suggested that the relief at Dārāb was begun by Ardašīr I and reworked into a victory monument by his son Šāpūr I (Trümpelmann, “Triumph,” 1975, pp. 3-20).

Another fact is that the monuments are frequently unfinished, with some portions carved only in outline. The interruption of historical events (death, war, social upheavals) might explain this phenomenon in occasional instances. However, the large number of reliefs with unfinished details is surprising, and it is possible that paint or some other material was originally used to complete the scenes (Herrmann, 1980 83).

Other stone sculpture. Four busts of Narseh decorate the sides of a square tower erected by that king at Paikuli (Herzfeld, 1924, pp. 7-l0); the inscription describes his assumption of royal power. Much weathered and damaged, the busts are unique examples of a type of royal sculpture that may once have existed in greater quantity.

More unusual and much better preserved is a three times life size statue in the round of Šāpūr I (241 272) at Bīšāpūr, which is the only sizeable stone sculpture in the round to have survived from Sasanian times. The figure is carved from a natural column of stone in a grotto above the river running past the Bīšāpūr rock reliefs (Ghirshman, 1971, pp. 179ff., pls. 28-32). The king’s informal stance, frontal but with arms bent, one hand resting on his hip, presumably placed on the hilt of a now missing sword, is without parallel in Sasanian art and reflects ultimately the influence of Greco Roman prototypes. Another stone figure, terribly worn and mutilated (the entire lower portion is missing) was found at Ṭāq-e Bostān (@#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1972, pl. 63). Probably this is Ḵosrow II (591 628), but the surface is much abraded and no details are observable. The pose is related to that of the Bīšāpūr statue in that the royal figure grasps his sword, but the weapon is, in this instance, centered on the body.

A Middle Persian text carved on a stone column at Bīšāpūr mentions another statue of king Šāpūr I erected by Apasāy, his secretary (Ghirshman, 1936, p. 126). Regrettably nothing remains of this work of art.

Silver plate. During the long period from the end of the 4th century to the end of the 6th century, royal rock reliefs were no longer carved, perhaps because the firm establishment of the dynasty eliminated the political reasons for this type of monumental royal sculpture. In any event, the second half of the Sasanian period, beginning with the latter part of the reign of Šāpūr II (309 79), is characterized by another medium of dynastic art: silver vessels with the image of the king hunting (Harper and Meyers, 1981). A few vessels with representations of nobles and princes of the royal family pursuing animal quarry precede the adoption and exclusive use of this motif by the king himself in the latter part of the 4th century. Two examples have survived, both found west of Iran in the Caucasus (Fajans, 1957, p. 61, pl. 5, fig. 11; Lukonin, 1961, p. 59, pl. 11) and Soviet Azerbaijan (Harper and Meyers, 1981, pl. 8). A third plate, now lost but known through a drawing, was acquired in Afghanistan (Erdmann, 1936, pp. 226-27; Harper and Meyers, 1981, pl. 11 a B). The hunters on all three of these plates may be rulers of newly acquired realms: on the example found in the western Caucasus the inscription names Bahrām, probably the son and heir apparent of Bahrām I.

The earliest silver vessel with an image of a Sasanian king is also from the western part of the empire. Bahrām II, his wife, and son appear on a two handled cup discovered at Zargveshi in Georgia (Lukonin, 1961, p. 57, pls.12 15; idem, 1967, pl. 207; Harper and Meyers, 1981, pl. 12). The royal figures are enclosed within medallions, a form of portraiture employed by princes and nobles on silver plate of the 3rd and early 4th centuries (Harper, 1974, pp. 61-80). Late in the 4th century, the medallion portrait was superseded on the royal court silver by the hunting scene, and this became the standard type, strictly reserved for the king of kings. Existing evidence suggests that from the 4th century until some time in the 6th, no person other than the Sasanian king was permitted to represent himself or his family on silver vessels.

The images on the royal silver plate are stereotyped and the representations remain largely unchanged in style and form for several centuries. Only minor variations occur in the iconography and design. Particularly distinctive is the representation of drapery in a series of short, paired lines. Gilding covers the figural scene or, on the latest examples, the background shell of the plate. Specific weapons are used, customarily the bow, occasionally a lasso. The compositions combine horizontal (horse and dead animals) and vertical (king and the bodies of the living quarry) elements. In general, there is a trend from simple compositions with few figures to more elaborate arrangements in which the numbers and species of animals increases (Erdmann, 1936, pp. 192-232; idem, 1937, pp. 79-97; idem, 1951, pp. 87-123; Herzfeld, 1938, pp. 91-158; Harper and Meyers, 1981).

The date of these vessels with royal hunters is suggested in part by the appearance of the royal crown, often identifiable through a comparison with Sasanian coins. Details of dress and equipment compared with images on securely dated monuments (reliefs, coins, seals) also provide some guidance in establishing a chronological sequence (Harper and Meyers, 1981).

Contemporary with the royal vessels are imitations of the Sasanian hunting plates produced in the countries bordering on Iran to the east and west. In the past, these works have often been confused with original Sasanian products (Erdmann, 1938, pp. 209-17; idem, 1943, pls. 61, 65, 66; Marshak and Krikis, 1969, pp. 51-81). However, on many of the provincial imitations, the differences in design, style, and notably the use of non Sasanian crown types are sufficient to make the distinction between the imitation and the original obvious. Instead of the paired line drapery style of the Sasanian court silver, there is a schematization of the folds in the form of overall parallel lines. The composition is often laid out in a triangular scheme. Gilding is applied to different parts of the design in a coloristic fashion.

A few provincial plates are closer in design and style to the Sasanian court products (Lukonin, 1967, pls. 148, 149, 150). In these instances the stylistic attribution of the vessels to provincial rather than central Sasanian workshops is substantiated by the analysis of the metal.

The use of neutron activation analysis to determine silver composition has revealed that vessels that may be called Sasanian court products on the basis of style and design are produced from silver derived from a single source (Meyers et al., 1973, pp. 67-78; Harper and Meyers, 1981, pp. 144-86). The composition of the metal of the vessels identifiable as provincial works is entirely different; the silver is derived from a number of different ores and in no instance is it the same as that from which the Sasanian royal plate is made. It is evident therefore that the extraction of silver for use at court or state workshops was controlled by the Sasanian government. Beyond the limits of direct Sasanian authority, local rulers obtained silver from various sources and produced hunting plates modeled on Sasanian court products.

Although the image of the frontal king enthroned in state was not popular as a dynastic image either on the luxury vessels or on the rock reliefs, there are two representations of the motif that may be Sasanian. On a silver plate in the Hermitage Museum (Orbeli and Trever, 1935, pl. 13; Erdmann, pl. 67), the enthronement scene (which resembles the rock relief of Bahrām II at Naqš-e Bahrām) is placed over a small hunt in the exergue. The crown of the enthroned king is the same as that appearing on the coins of six late Sasanian rulers from Kavād I to Kavād II. A more elegant gold, glass, and rock crystal bowl in the Bibliothèque Nationale has a central medallion with the frontal enthroned king, seated alone, carved in relief (Sarre, 1922, pl. 44; Ghirshman, 1962, p. 205, fig. 244). The king wears the same crown as the figure on the Bibliothèque Nationale silver plate.

Other Sasanian silver vases and ewers are decorated with motifs that refer less directly to the king of kings. These include the ram (Romans and Barbarians, 1976, pl. 219), possibly a symbol of (xwarrah or the royal fortune, and birds wearing long, jeweled necklets (Romans and Barbarians , 1976, pl. 220). A ewer in the Hermitage Museum (Erdmann, 1943, pl. 77) has figures of a (sēnmurw(. This creature appears on the garments of the king at Ṭāq-e Bostān but is otherwise rarely represented in Sasanian art (Riboud, 1976, pp. 21-42). It was probably a royal motif, and objects decorated with it may therefore be connected specifically with the monarchy (H. P. Schmidt, 1980).

A number of Sasanian silver vessels bear cult or ceremonial scenes lacking any specific reference to the king. The most numerous are vases and ewers decorated with dancing female figures holding particular attributes: vessels, fruit, plants, and animals (Harper, 1971, pp. 503-15). In its form, this type of subject is clearly associated with Dionysiac imagery. Some scholars believe that it was adopted by the Iranians in connection with the cult of Anāhīd, the Iranian goddess of water and fertility (Shepherd, 1964, pp. 66-92; Ettinghausen, 1967/68, pp. 29-41; Trever, 1967, pp. 121-32). More probable are suggestions that the images are associated with seasonal festivals (Harper, 1971, pp. 503-15; Carter, 1974, pp. 171-202).

Plates with mythological images are rather rare, and the precise meaning of this type of subject matter, often modeled on Greco Roman prototypes (Harper, 1978, nos. 8, 13), is uncertain.

A small class of hemispherical bowls is important because the figural subjects are unrelated to royal iconography and provide illustrations of court life and activities. Manufactured in all probability during the 6th and 7th centuries for noble (āzād) rather than royal patrons, the vessels have scenes of vintaging, banqueting, and marriage ceremonies as well as simple geometric, plant, and animal designs (Harper, 1978, nos. 14, 15, 25). The alloy from which these small bowls (average diameter: 14 cm) are made has a high copper content and is, in this sense, inferior to the silver of the court plate. Elliptical bowls with Christian motifs, specifically crosses, also exist (Sasanian Silver, 1967, no. 53). The shape of these vessels suggests a date at the end of the Sasanian period; the production probably reflects the growing prestige and prosperity of the Christian community following the separation of the Nestorian church (484) from the Christian community in the West.

Regrettably, almost none of the surviving silver vessels, Sasanian or provincial, comes from controlled archeological excavations. Many were found in the Soviet Union, particularly in the Perm region in the Ural mountains, an area to which they were sent as articles of barter or trade in antiquity (Orbeli and Trever, 1935, pls. 5, 13, 28, 36, 39 41, 44-47). In recent years, countless other examples have been recovered, by chance, on Iranian soil. The precise use of the vessels, their general purpose, and significance is consequently uncertain. It is probable that the central Sasanian court plates with images of the king were part of a state propaganda production since both the form of the designs and the source of the material were rigidly controlled. Ancient sources speak frequently of gifts of silver plate, some with images of the king, to allies and neighboring rulers whom the monarch intended to impress (Sasanian Silver, 1967, p. 34ff.).

A few objects made of silver are unique. A spectacular, almost lifesize head of a Sasanian king, perhaps Šāpūr II, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Harper, 1966, pp. 136-46). Although images of rulers and emperors executed in stone and metal are familiar in the West, most large scale representations of Sasanian royalty are in relief sculpture. The original provenance of the silver head of a king in the Metropolitan Museum is allegedly Iran, but the circumstances of discovery and therefore the function of this work of art are unknown.

Other sculptures in the round made of silver also survive from the Sasanian era, but they represent animals rather than humans. Vessels in the shape of complete animals and heads of animals as well as rhyta terminating in animal heads were probably originally the property of members of the royal family and nobility (Harper, 1978, nos. 1, 5, 16; Sasanian Silver , 1967, no. 49). Nothing in the design or decoration of these objects refers specifically to the king.

The Middle Persian inscriptions appearing on both the Sasanian and the provincial vessels give their weight and sometimes the name of the owner (Henning, 1959, pp. 132-34; idem, 1961, pp. 353-56; Lukonin and Livshits, 1964, pp. 55-76; Brunner, 1974, pp. 109-21; Frye, 1973, pp. 2-11; Harmatta, 1973, 1974; Gignoux, 1975, 1982). This practice appears to have been customary from the 3rd century to the end of the period.

Stucco. The absence of stone architectural decoration in the Sasanian Near East is, to some extent, compensated for by the use of gypsum plaster—stucco—molded into designs and applied to the walls and ceilings of court and noble buildings. Originally brightly painted, particularly in red and blue, the stucco reliefs include a variety of subjects: hunts, banquets, royal figures, and, in great quantity, plant, animal, and geometric designs. The stucco is usually fragmentary, and the reconstruction of the overall scenes is difficult since the pieces uncovered in excavations are usually scattered over a large area. Sites that have produced a considerable quantity of this material are Kīš (Baltrusaitis, 1938, pp. 601-30; Pope, 1938, pp. 631-45; Moorey, 1976, pp. 65-66; idem, 1978; Harper, Royal Images, 1977, pp. 75-79) and Ctesiphon (Kühnel and Wachtsmuth, 1933; Schmidt, 1934, pp. 1-23; Kröger, 1977; 1982) in Iraq and Tepe Ḥeṣār (Schmidt, 1937, pp. 327-50) and Čāl Ṭarḵān Ešqābād (Thompson, 1976) in Iran. The last named site is, strictly speaking, not Sasanian since it has recently been convincingly dated to the late 7th or 8th century, but the designs remain close to Sasanian forms. A small amount of Sasanian stucco, consisting solely of plant designs, was discovered by the French expedition at Bīšāpūr in southern Iran (Ghirshman, 1956, pp. 149-75).

The conservatism apparent in the style and form of works produced in stucco makes it impossible to establish an absolute chronology in the absence of precise archeological data. The same motifs continue to be repeated in essentially the same form for centuries. In part, this is due to the method of manufacture: the use of molds undoubtedly encouraged the repetition of designs. Roger Moorey (1976, pp. 65-66) and Jens Kroger (in Harper, 1978, pp. 101-4 and in Kröger, 1982) have argued that the stucco from Kīš belongs to the 5th century, that from Ctesiphon and Ḥeṣār to the 6th or early 7th. These opinions are based on the archeological evidence as well as on small variations in the plant and geometric patterns. Until further works in this material are unearthed in controlled archeological excavations, the dating of stucco found in Mesopotamia and Iran will remain unclear.

Gems and seals. This large category is one of the most fruitful for the study of the art and iconography of the Sasanian period. Although the surface of the stamp seals is small, the carved images are more varied than those that have survived in any other medium. In recent years, moreover, specialists in the Middle Persian language have provided a means of establishing a relative chronology based on the changing forms of the Middle Persian letters in the inscriptions, which can then be applied on a comparative basis for those seals without inscriptions (Borisov and Lukonin, 1962; Bivar, 1969; Brunner, 1978; Lukonin, 1976, pp. 158-66; Gignoux, 1978).

Motifs are generally represented in a standard fashion. Single animals stride or are recumbent; animals attack each other; heads of animals radiate out from a central point; pairs of rams are antithetically placed on either side of a plant. Single flowers or bunches of three flowers are common, as is the human hand holding a plant or simply making a gesture in which the forefinger and the thumb are touching. Only a small number of seals represent specific Zoroastrian divinities or cult practices. The most common religious scene is the fire altar with or without attendants. Perhaps associated with a cult are single nude or draped females holding plants or fruit. Royal subjects are rare although a few examples of royal busts and full length figures have survived (Harper, 1978, pp. 142, 147). Human representations vary from simple “portraits,” in the form of a bust facing right in the impression, to elaborate images of high officials and priests dressed in the full regalia of their office. They wear tall caps decorated with floral motifs and devices or signs denoting family or rank.

A star and crescent frequently appear in the field on the face of Sasanian seals, and the inscriptions are customarily carved around the edge of the stone. In recent years many of the designs have been convincingly interpreted in terms of astrological and religious significance (Brunner, 1978; Borisov and Lukonin, 1962, pp. 31-45). A small group of Christian seals can also be identified on the basis of the subject matter (Lerner, 1977, pp. 1-74; Shaked, 1977).

The most common shapes of Sasanian seals are pierced hemispheroids and oval bezels, the latter designed to be set in finger rings, worn on armbands, or mounted as pendants. Stones are varied, chalcedony being one of the most popular.

Textiles. The sixth seventh century rock reliefs on the side walls of the ayvān of Ḵosrow II at Ṭāq-e Bostān illustrate a variety of woven and embroidered plant, animal, and geometric patterns on the garments of assorted personages (Herzfeld, 1920, pp. 121-39; @#$%ai and Horiuchi, 1969, 1972; Peck, 1969, pp. 101-46; Bier in Harper, 1978, pp. 119-25; von Falke, 1913); presumably these are textiles of Sasanian manufacture. Other fabrics found in tombs at Antinoë (Guimet, 1912; Pfister, 1948, pp. 46ff.; idem, 1932) in Egypt, in Central Asia (Stein, 1928), and in the Caucasus (Yerusalimskaya, 1972, pp. 5 46) have also been attributed to Iranian workshops on the basis of their similarity to the textile patterns at Ṭāq-e Bostān and to designs on other Sasanian monuments. None of the existing textiles can be absolutely identified as Sasanian with the exception of a few simply decorated fabrics excavated in a Sasanian grave at Šahr-e Qūmes in northeastern Iran (Hansman and Stronach, 1970, pp. 142-56). Wall paintings and graffiti. Literary sources mention the decoration of palaces with wall paintings (Ammianus Marcellinus 24.6) but only a few fragmentary murals from Susa (Ghirshman, 1962, fig. 224), Ayvān-e Ḵarka (Ghirshman, 1952, p. 21), and from Ḥeṣār (Schmidt, 1937, pp. 336-37) offer evidence for the appearance of works in this medium. The painting from Susa is a monumental hunting scene. At Ayvān-e Ḵarka, a royal headdress was depicted on the upper part of an apse. The fragments of Ḥeṣār illustrate the head of a horse and the leg of a rider. Recently excavated murals of Ḥājīābād in southern Iran—near Dārābgerd—also illustrate figural motifs (Azarnoush, 1983, pp. 172f.).

A crude fresco with battle scenes and a banquet was found in the Syrian city of Dura Europos. Middle Persian inscriptions associate it with the period of the 3rd century Sasanian occupation at this garrison city on the Euphrates River (Little in Baur, Rostovtzeff, and Bellinger, 1933, pp. 182-222). Graffiti at Persepolis belong to the decades immediately preceding the rise of the dynasty under Ardašīr I (Schmidt, 1953, pl. 199; Herzfeld, 1941, figs. 401, 402; Calmeyer, 1976, pp. 63-68). The representations include equestrian and standing figures as well as a lion and ram.

Mosaics. Although mosaics have survived in greater quantity than textiles and paintings, they come almost exclusively from a single site, Bīšāpūr, where eighteen panels with masks and heads, female dancers, musicians, and garland makers have been excavated (Ghirshman, 1956). Ghirshman interprets these 3rd century scenes as Dionysiac motifs and believes them to be an appropriate subject for the decoration of a banquet hall. Von Gall has suggested that there is a specific connection between the themes appearing on the mosaics and the victory reliefs of Šāpūr I in the nearby river gorge and considers both series of monuments illustrations of a Dionysiac pomp or victory celebration. (“Die Mosaiken von Bishapur,” 1971, pp. 193-205).

At Ctesiphon, mosaics decorated the walls and ceilings of the noble residences. Some of the cubes recovered by the German expedition are made of gold glass and the original effect must have been impressive (Reuther, 1929, pp. 442-43). Syrian craftsmen from Antioch, brought east as prisoners of war in the 3rd and 6th centuries, probably played an important role in the development of this craft within the Sasanian kingdom.

Gold. References to gold received by the Sasanians as tribute and booty abound in the ancient literature (Procopius 2.6, 7, 8, 9, 11), but there was no substantial source of gold within the lands permanently under Sasanian rule. This situation may explain the fact that there was never an extensive gold coinage and that the court plate was made of gilded silver. A few gold vessels of late Sasanian date come from the tomb of a Khazar chieftain in Pereshchepina in the Caucasus (Marshak, 1972; Werner, 1984). More numerous are the golden belts and swords found by chance in recent years on Iranian soil (Ghirshman, 1963, pp. 293-311; Nickel, 1973, pp. 131-42; Harper, 1978, pp. 83-84). The form of the swords, with P shaped mounts on one side of the scabbard, differs from those appearing on early Sasanian rock reliefs. This distinctive form of suspension was adopted by the Sasanians possibly as early as the 5th century from the Hephthalites but certainly by the 6th century from Turkic invaders in the lands northeast of Iran (Trousdale, 1975, p. 94).

Glass and pottery. Recent excavations by a Tokyo University expedition in the area of Daylamān in northwestern Iran (Sono and @#$%ai, 1968, pl. XLI) and by an Italian mission at Choche (Venco Ricciardi, 1967, pp. 93-104) in southern Iraq have provided some information concerning the chronology and typology of Sasanian glass and pottery. Strong influence from the Mediterranean world is apparent in the forms and designs of the glass ware, an industry prominent in the east Roman empire (Clairmont, 1963, pp. 65-67; von Saldern, 1963, pp. 7-16; idem, 1968, pp. 32-62; Harper, 1978, pp. 150-59; @#$%ai, 1977). The large number of Sasanian glasses decorated with wheel cut facets suggests that this form of surface embellishment was particularly popular within Iran, the alleged source of most vessels with wheel cut designs.

Early Sasanian ceramics continue many of the traditional Parthian forms. Monochrome glazed wares are common in Iraq and in those areas of Iran, around Susa, that are naturally an extension of the Tigris Euphrates valley. Other Iranian wares of Sasanian date have a red burnished surface (Wilkinson, 1963, fig. 16). Until extensive excavations have been undertaken at Sasanian sites in different parts of Iran and Iraq, it is impossible to reconstruct a comprehensive ceramic typology and establish a chronological sequence for the period.

Conclusion. Sasanian art is an expression of the social and religious institutions that developed in Iran during the first half of the first millennium A.D. A powerful central authority, the monarchy, and an established state religion, Zoroastrianism, dominated and ordered daily life. In Sasanian art there is a clear emphasis on order and clarity of design. Considerable repetition occurs in the subject matter and in the ways of portraying standard motifs. To some extent this can be explained by the fact that many of the surviving works of art had a particular political or cultic significance, and their appearance was regulated by the demands of dynastic or religious doctrine. The adherences to formal rather than realistic images predominates even in the minor arts, on seal stone, bronzes, and textiles.

Although many Sasanian motifs are familiar from earlier periods of Near Eastern art (plant forms, rams confronting a tree, human headed winged bulls, bull and lion combats, birds of prey attacking animals, there are a number of designs newly adopted from Western sources (populated vine scrolls, vintaging scenes, winged victory figures). Toward the end of the period, influences from the East—India and Central Asia—increase. These regions may be the source of the narrative and genre scenes appearing on some late silver plate (Harper, 1978, pp. 74-76). It is also probable that many of the Greco Roman designs reached the Sasanians from their eastern neighbors rather than directly from the Mediterranean world. In return, Sasanian landscape, geometric, and figural patterns were adopted and used in the art of Central Asia.

At present, only those monuments reflecting the life and beliefs of the ruling classes have been recovered and studied in depth. Future archeological excavations at Sasanian centers may provide a better understanding of the material remains and broaden our knowledge of the art of this important period in Iranian history.





In terms of iconographic representation, there is perhaps no more dominant a theme than farr in pre-Islamic imagery. Farr not only portended auspiciousness, but was also perceived as a necessary source of power, and ultimately a source of authority. In a court culture, which placed a high premium on adulation, well wishers naturally wanted to project a maximum of farr for the object of their praise. The desire to maximize farr—termed farrah afzun (may farr be increased)—was iconographically achieved through multiplicity and repetition: the greater the number of the symbols of farr, the more powerful became the projection of auspiciousness and power. Numerous symbols and devices were thus created for this purpose.

Main theme. The core myth that reveals the characteristics of farr, and its function, is the myth of Jamšid as reflected in the Avesta (Yt. 19:31-53). Empowered by his farr, Jamšid rules the world, but loses it when he strays from the righteous path. After two preliminary encounters, his farr is taken by a falcon, vareγna, to Apąm Napāt who hides it for safekeeping in the waters of lake Vouroukaša. The myth underlines three important aspects of farr: a) that it is not permanent and can be lost, B) when non-active it is kept underwater in a dormant state, c) for one to possess it, farr must come out of water first.

A glazed brick panel from Persepolis admirably reflects this myth in respect to the various states of farr (Figure 1). At the bottom level, farr is underwater and encapsulated in a spherical container, most probably a pearl. Its rise from the waters is achieved through stacked lotuses, which transfer it to an emerging sunflower that bursts onto the sky. The Bundahišn recognizes the sunflower (hamišeh-bahār) as the symbol of Mithra, the penultimate purveyor of farr in the Avesta, and the lotus as the symbol of aquatic deities (Ābān), among whom Apąm Napāt was paramount until he was gradually supplanted by Anāhitā (see ANĀHĪD). Consequently, the sunflower and lotus were both perceived as symbols of farr (Soudavar, 2003, pp. 56-59). In addition, brick panels from Susa confirm the aquatic nature of the spherical capsules, or pearls, by showing them engulfed in whirling sea waves; by extension, the pearl too became a symbol of farr (ibid, pp. 98-101).

Origins. At its inception, the xᵛarənah seems to have been a tribal concept, variants of which existed among many tribal societies of the steppes (Gnoli; Soudavar, 2006, pp. 170-73). Its very association with the myth of Jamšid suggests that it was first elaborated for kingly ideology, before its appropriation by Zoroastrianism.

Median and Achaemenid periods. Farr’s earliest symbolism in Iran can be traced back to late seventh century BCE, at a time when the Medes had annihilated the Assyrians, subjugated Urartu, and ruled over a sizeable empire. As befits such an empire, a kingly ideology was developed to convey its grandeur. According to Yt. 13.95, it was based on the dual support of Mithra and Apąm Napāt, the former as the deity presiding over daytime, and the latter over night-time (Boyce; Soudavar, 2003, pp. 52-53, 87-88; Idem, 2010, pp. 126-28). Since one was a solar and the other an aquatic deity, it made sense to attribute to them the sunflower and the lotus, two Egyptian symbols long associated with water and sun that had entered Median iconography by way of Assyria and Mesopotamia. But in choosing them, their symbolism was adapted to Iranian mythology, in which these two flowers could be regarded as two states of the xᵛarənah, the active and the dormant. Objects from this period suddenly manifest an otherwise inexplicable strong linkage between these two symbols. It continues well into Cyrus’s reign, as his tomb displays a gigantic combination of lotus and sunflower (Stronach, p. 157).

The advent of Darius, and the rise of Ahura Mazdā to supremacy at the expense of other deities, required a major shift in kingly iconography. Darius’ new super-deity had to be portrayed as both omnipresent and omnipotent. To project the first, he chose a symbol of Ahura Mazdā modeled after that of the Assyrian god Ašur: a bearded man within a flying ring (Figure 2). It was a symbol readily understood within his empire because Babylonians, Urartians, Elamites, and Hittites had used similar ones for their deities. And to project the second, he chose a modified version of the Egyptian “winged-disk” (actually a winged sphere) to convey the presence of the xᵛarənah.

These two symbols have been the subject of many controversies. In the past, scholars had considered them as symbols of Ahura Mazdā, while the Parsis saw them as frawahrs or fravašis. More recently, Shapur Shahbazi proposed that the first was a symbol of the Kayanid (kauuaēm) xᵛarənah, adorning royal scenes, and the second, a symbol of the Iranian (airiianəm) xᵛarənah, for commoners and warriors (Shahbazi, 1980). In refutation, Pierre Lecoq demonstrated that there were many examples that contradicted Shahbazi’s argument, and that the Parsi interpretations lacked solid grounding (Lecoq, passim). One can readily observe, for instance, that contrary to Shahbazi’s xᵛarənah dichotomy, both symbols appear on a door jamb at Persepolis in which the king is enthroned (Figure 3). More generally, it would be implausible to envisage the xᵛarənah in human form, especially in scenes where the king and the bearded man greet each other with a mutual gesture of the hand (e.g. tombs of Darius and Xerxes), since the xᵛarənah is never said to converse with man, while Ahura Mazdā frequently does so, especially in the Avesta. On the other hand, the iconographical analysis of Achaemenid brick-panels shows clearly that the central element of the bird-like winged-disk is in the shape of the encapsulated xᵛarənah (compare Figure 1 and Figure 4). It was supposed to evoke the xᵛarənah-carrying falcon; which is why its wings and those of the falcon on Figure 5 have been harmonized with similar rounded tips, since they both represent vareγna wings. While the wording of Yt.19: 35 may suggest the “metamorphosis” of xᵛarənah into a bird (Gnoli), iconography vouches for vareγna being a carrier of xᵛarənah (e.g., in Figure 5 the falcon is actually carrying two pearls in his claws). Irrespective of this distinction, the giant winged-disk with two sphinxes guarding it, whether on a brick panel from Susa (Figure 4) or on top of the Persepolis stairways, was to indicate that the xᵛarənah that Jamšid had lost was back and resided in the king’s palace (Soudavar, 2003, pp. 99-104).

In Bisotun, Darius envisioned a unified world under Ahura Mazdā, one no longer divided into the two realms of night and day. He boasted that, as deputy of Ahura Mazdā on earth, his orders were carried “by day and by night” (DB§7). Because lions symbolized the sun and bulls represented the moon, the depiction of winged-disks on two rows of Darius’ canopy in Figure 3 translated Darius’ boast into image: that xᵛarənah empowered him “by day” and “by night” (Soudavar, 2010, pp. 125-27).

There is, however, another reason why Darius chose this particular emblem to represent xᵛarənah. The omnipotence of Ahura Mazdā required control over, or association with, farr, especially when surrounded by his Iranian constituency, as in Persepolis. Since Mithra and Apąm Napāt were commonly perceived to be the donor and the guardian of farr, the stratagem was to declare Ahura Mazdā as the originator of farr. To convey this notion, it sufficed to have a symbol of farr, fairly similar in shape to the winged-ring on which sat Ahura Mazdā as a bearded man. We thus see a shift in symbolism for Ahura Mazdā itself, from Bisotun where he has squared Mesopotamian wing tips (Figure 2), to Persepolis where he has rounded Egyptian wing tips (Figure 3). The visual pairing of the wings was to convey that xᵛarənah actually emanated from Ahura Mazdā. There was otherwise no reason for Darius to modify the Bisotun symbol of the one god he so praised and aggrandized (Soudavar, 2010, pp. 120-23).

Darius’ trial and error approach for developing his political propaganda is also evident in one other important area: the projection of solar radiance. Since time immemorial, solar radiance was a central element in the mapping of kingly power. In a first attempt, Darius tried to imbue his Ahura Mazdā with solar power. He thus planted the well-known symbol of the Babylonian solar deity Šamaš, a disk with pointed rays, on the tiara of Ahura Mazdā in Bisotun. It must have come as an afterthought, for the emblem is inset, but in relief, within an area previously flattened out (Figure 2). Nevertheless, the scheme must have been deemed a failure, because this is the only occasion in which we see Ahura Mazdā adorned with such an emblem. Instead, he decided to make the xᵛarənah radiant; solar power was then projected through the bias of the king’s xᵛarənah. It is not clear whether the radiance of xᵛarənah came as a result of an already established sound association with xᵛar (sun) (Elfenbine, p. 492), or by political necessity, or both, but the fact is that Darius’ xᵛarənah brick panels are fully surrounded by triangular light rays (Figure 1, Figure 5). Concurrently, Darius made use of an alternative terminology for xᵛarənah, one that stressed its radiance. He claimed, in his inscriptions, to be the possessor of Iranian radiance (Ariya čiça) instead of Iranian xᵛarənah. Traditionally, where Darius’ qualifies himself as “Ariya, Ariya čiça,” philologists have seen a double emphasis on tribal affiliation (“Aryan” and “of Aryan origin”), rather than a claim of xᵛarənah possession. But once Darius proclaimed he was an Aryan, he said it all; there was no need to reemphasize that he was from “Aryan origin.” A Kurd would never say that he is a Kurd and of Kurdish stock (Soudavar, 2010, pp. 128-29; Soudavar, 2006, pp. 170-77). As it happens, the Sasanian use of a progeny of the same word for their political motto (MP čihr—NP čehr—in lieu of OP čiça; see below) demonstrates the lasting effect of the switch in terminology adopted by Darius.

From Alexander to the end of the Sasanians. During the Hellenistic and Parthian period, while farr influenced the development of similar concepts by Greeks and Romans (Gnoli; Lecoq, p. 302), its iconography benefited in return from their mythological imagery. The image of the winged-child Eros, for instance, was a perfect fit for Apąm Napāt, the Grandson of Waters, and was adopted as such by Iranians. Therefore, when the time came for Shapur I (Šāpur) to celebrate his victories over three Roman emperors (Figure 6), he chose an Eros-looking Apąm Napāt to deliver the symbol of victory and farr: a long ribbon to be tied as headband, in lieu of the Hellenistic cord-like diadem worn by the Arsacids. The hand-delivered ribbon was termed dast-ār (victory giver), in tune with a composition that played on the word dast (hand, victory) by depicting Shapur holding the wrist of Valerian (dastgir; Soudavar, 2003, pp. 13-16; idem, 2009, p. 426). The fact that in Pahlavi, farr and dast were represented by the same ideogram (McKenzie, p. 202) further facilitated this particular symbolism of the dastār. Moreover, Yt. 18.2 specifies that victory over non-Iranian nations (an-Ērān) was only due to the Iranian xᵛarənah, whose companion was the Strong Wind; and because Shapur now claimed to be the king over Ērān and an-Ērān, he had to project possession of not any xᵛarənah, but the Iranian xᵛarənah. To illustrate this, he was depicted with windblown ribbons tied under his crown. The ribbon, handed out by Apąm Napāt, was accompanied by the Strong Wind, and was therefore depicted as a symbol of the Iranian xᵛarənah. Ribbons were so widely used afterwards, in the first half of the 10th century CE, when Masʿudi wanted to describe the figure of a ram with a ribbon around his neck (as in Figure 10), he referred to it as ḵarrah va ḡorm (farr and ram) (Masʿudi, I, p. 243; reinterpreted in Soudavar, 2006, p. 174): by then, the dastār had become synonymous with farr. The initial choice of a long ribbon headband though, may have come in reaction to the fashion sported by the last of the Arsacids, Artabanus IV, who wore a double diadem (Frendo, p. 27), and as part of general changes implemented by Ardašir I (Ardashir) to mark the advent of a new dynasty.

Following Achaemenid traditions, the Sasanians introduced a political slogan that made use of the radiance of farr rather than farr itself: the king was characterized by the ubiquitous idiom ke čehr az yazadān (lit. whose radiance comes from the gods) to convey the idea that he reflected the gods in their power and glory. For years, the word čehr (čihr) therein has been misinterpreted as “seed” or “origin,” and lately as “image” (Skjaervo et al., pp. 30-37). By the former, the Sasanians claimed divine descent, and by the latter the king was to be regarded as made in the image of the gods. But neither suits Iranian kingly ideology. A reexamination of the documents, when studied in their original context, reveals that in the religious and political realm, čehr usually meant radiance, and was perceived as the manifestation of farr (Soudavar, 2009, pp. 444-50). The use of čehr was therefore interchangeable with farr, and radiance simply projected farr. The hunt scene at Tāq-e Bostān offers a revealing example (Figure 7): by virtue of a successful hunt (left), the king acquires a radiant nimbus as a sign of his acquired farr (right). In the same vein, symbols evoking luminous celestial entities were added to Sasanian coinage to show the various sources of kingly radiance. The Moon, for instance, figures on the reverse of many coins as a crescent, but also appears in the likeness of a cow-head (Figure 8) to evoke its Avestan epithet, gao-čiθra (brilliant as gao). While gao usually meant cow, in this context it refers to the milky color of milk itself (for gao’s translation as milk, see Lubotsky, p. 485; Soudavar, 2009, p. 449). The Moon was thus perceived radiant as milk, and cow-like. Tištriia (Sirius) too was represented by multiple signs: a single star as symbol of night-time’s brightest star; and a three-droplet sign to evoke its name (“who belongs to the (constellation) of the three stars,” (Panaino), as well as its Avestan epithet afš-čiθra (scintillating as raindrops) (Figure 8). As radiant celestial bodies, the Moon and Tištriia naturally abounded with farr, and were recognized as such by the Avesta (Yts 7:3,6, 8:1). A two-legged Ankh-cross (Figure 8), mimicking the body of a child, was a visual pointer to Apąm Napāt, who bestowed farr and who, as Lord of the Night, caused celestial bodies to be radiant (Yt. 8:4) (Soudavar, 2009, pp. 427-31). Fire too was radiant and portended farr; at times, farr even resided in fire or took its form (Zādspram 5.1, 8.8; Gnoli). While the fire altar of Sasanian coinage may have evoked the king’s piety, it was also a reflection of his farr.

In the Paikuli inscriptions, Narseh and his forefathers are said to have received farr and “rulership” from the gods (Humbach and Skjaervo, pp. 52, 65). The king’s legitimacy depended on both; investiture provided rulership, and farr gave the power for its continued exercise. Most investiture scenes allude to a general conveyance of farr, but victory over the Romans offered the opportunity to claim the Iranian farr. That explains why, in the relief of Shapur II at Tāq-e Bostān (Figure 9), in addition to Ahura Mazdā conferring investiture, Mithra stands behind him on top of an enormous lotus. It specifies that victory over Julian the Apostate, lying underneath, was due to the Iranian farr, brought to surface by the lotus (as symbol of Apąm Napāt), and bestowed by Mithra. Shahbazi’s interpretation of the same as the commemoration of Ardašir II’s succession pact with his brother Shapur II (Shahbazi, 1985) misses this essential point, and suffers from other misconceptions, including the identification of the giver of the investiture ring as Ardašir, in lieu of Ahura Mazdā (Soudavar, 2003, pp. 49-56). Had Ardašir ordered this relief, by convention, his supposed effigy would be the tallest, which it is not.

A recurrent symbol of Sasanian iconography is the pair of wings. Some have interpreted it as the symbol of the deity Bahrām (Göbl, p. 325; see BAHRĀM 1), and others have seen it as reference to vareγna (Gnoli). It is the latter interpretation that is valid, for the wings convey on the one hand that farr has not departed, and on the other, they symbolize farr because vareγna feathers reputedly possessed much farr (Yt 14:34-35). As for the image of the ram, the Kārnāmag ī Ardaxšēr ī Pābagān explicitly refers to it as a symbol of farr (Gnoli; Grenet, 2003, p. 42). Consequently, the combination of the ram, ribbons, and a pearl necklace with 4 clasps on the textile in Figure 10 is an association of auspicious symbols that projects the notion of farrah afzun. The repetitive pattern of the motif enhances that notion even more.

The same idea was expressed in a more explicit fashion through the introduction of hybrid syntax, combining words and symbols. Indeed, the stucco tile in Figure 11 displays the monogram afzun, in combination with a pair of wings and a pearl roundel, all symbolizing farr. The tile, therefore, expressed the wish of farrah afzun. The same type of hybrid syntax was also used with the word afzud (in the past tense) to express increased farr through the actions of somebody: on the coinage of Kawād I it was complemented with graduated rings, symbol of the radiance of farr, and on seals it was usually preceded by small roundels evoking pearls as symbols of farr (Soudavar, 2009, pp. 437-38).

Another hybrid syntax combined farr symbols with number signs produced with fingers. Its most popular combination depicts a lotus flower with its stem held between the extended thumb and index, representing the number 10000. Whether the lotus was held by Anāhitā or by a grandee of Shapur (Figure 12), it expressed the wish of ten thousand farr for its recipient (Soudavar, pp. 2003, 59-62).

Bactria and Sogdia. In Bactria, under Demetrius and circa 180 BCE, the head of Heracles was already adorned with what seems to be a radiating nimbus of Mithraic aspiration (Staviskij, p. 217). Under the Kushan dynasty, farr radiance was either projected through a full circular nimbus that adorned the head of deities and kings, or through shoulder-flames (Gnoli; Staviskij, pl. XVI). In 6-8th century Sogdia, perhaps as an extension of Kushan practices, both the nimbus and shoulder-flames were used for the king/hero’s farr, while deities were marked by a flaming nimbus (Azarpay, pp. 112-15). In mural frescoes from Panjikant a series of flying entities approach the heroes to evoke their farr (Azarpay, p. 31). A winged Eros presenting a pearl necklace with a ribbon may represent Apąm Napāt (Azarpay, pls. 6-7); but one is at a loss to find a Zoroastrian explanation for the winged chimera, with a lion's head and a siren's tail (Figure 13), even though some have recognized it as a symbol of the Senmurv (Grenet, 2008, p. 7). However, the fact that it carries a flying ribbon militates in favor of it as a purveyor of farr, coming perhaps from an eastern tradition unrelated to Zoroastrianism.

The spread of farr iconography. The auspiciousness of the concept of farr, its tribal and non-religious origin, and the vast array of signs developed in the Sasanian era, are so many reasons for the spread of Iranian farr symbols to neighboring nations who adhered to non-Iranian religions. Armenia was the first Christian nation to incorporate a farr symbol into its iconographic repertoire. Since p`aṙk` was the Armenian equivalent of farr and derived from the same root, Armenians placed a stylized pair of wings under the cross to create a visual analog for the expression p`aṙk` ḵač (Glorious Cross; Soudavar, 2003, p. 21). Next was Byzantium: in spite of centuries of warfare, the Byzantines adopted many symbols and customs from the Persian courts, even more so after the demise of the Sasanians. The use of textile patterns, especially pearl roundels similar to Figure 10, is well known. But the most telling example is perhaps the portrait of Basileus Manuel II Palaeologos (1391-1425) in the celebrated Adoration of the Magi of circa 1423 by Gentile da Fabriano (Figure 14). His robe is adorned with a Sasanian motif, which combines a pomegranate with a pair of wings and a ribbon, all symbols of farr; his headgear’s rolling feathers are reminiscent of the pair of wings on Sasanian crowns; and he has a nimbus behind his head, a direct adaptation of Sasanian kings’ radiant nimbus, rather than the Palmyran model of the Šamaš nimbus dominated by a star with pointed rays (Soudavar, 2008, pp. 111-16). But, whereas the Sasanian nimbus symbolized a potentially transient trait, the Christian nimbus became the sign of lasting sacredness.

Likewise, images of Buddha as well as Bodhisattvas picked up a number of farr symbols by their passage through the eastern Iranian world. The images of Buddha behind the 6th century Bāmiān statues were adorned with a solar disk and flying ribbons, and replete with Mithra-related signs (Grenet, 1993; Afghanistan, pp. 157-58). In its continued advance eastward, Buddhic iconography carried many of these symbols with it. In China, where the male Bodhisattva of Compassion was transformed into the female Guan Yin, it was often depicted holding a lotus in its fingers (Figure 15), in the same way that Anāhitā was portrayed with the 10000-farr gesture. Eventually though, the lotus flower lost its meaning and was replaced by different decorative flowers and plants.

The Islamic era. Similar to the above, under the Saljuqs the Buddhist nimbus came back to Iran via Central Asia, but devoid of its original connotation, and only as a decorative device to delimit human heads in figurative designs, especially on metalwork.

While numerous allusions to farr and its imagery abound in the Šāh-nāma, and provide further justification for the interpretation of many of the above-mentioned symbols (Ṯervatiān; Soudavar, 2003), the use of farr imagery at Perso-Islamic courts was limited and sporadic. If the farr of a ruler needed to be emphasized, it was expressed in riddles and through literary conceits. The poet Suzani Samarqandi, for instance, likened the Arab-type turban of his king to a symbol of farr by referring to it as dastār, and by interpreting its two floating ends as emblems of “victory” and “triumph,” similar to the function of Shapur’s ribbons in Figure 4 (Soudavar 2003, p. 15; Suzani Samarqandi, p. 221).

But the advent of the Mongols, and the implantation of the Il-Khanids in Iran, provided a new opportunity for the revival of ancient kingly concepts such as the farr. Not only did the vizier Rašid-al-Din describe Ḡāzān and Uljāytu as possessors of farr, but illustrations to a copy of the Šāh-nāma that he initiated, were all designed to reflect the Il-Khanids’ glory by superimposing Mongol events on episodes of the Šāh-nāma. Thus, in the illustration to the story of Bahrām-e Gur Talking to his brother Narsi (Governor of Khorasan), which evoked Ḡāzān’s appointment of his brother Uljāytu to the governorship of the same province (Figure 16), the princely figures are adorned with solar disks as symbol of their farr (Soudavar, 1996, pp. 127-30).

Perhaps, due to religious conservatism, visual references to farr were gradually abandoned. They were revived, however, in Mughal India, when the emperor Akbar’s trusted friend and vizier, Abu’l Fażl ʿAllāmi made the concept of farr the linchpin of Mughal kingly ideology. As a result, a radiating nimbus (šamsa) came to illustrate the king’s farr (Soudavar, 2003, pp. 7-9). All Mughal kingly figures were afterwards adorned with it. The Rājput rulers also imitated them and adopted it as well. Its use became so widespread in the Indian subcontinent that for a short while during the reign of the Safavid Shah Soleymān, when there was an influx of Indian motifs and artists back into Iran, the Shah was depicted with the same (see St. Petersburg Muraqqa, pl.136).

The most noticeable legacy of farr, though, is the symbol of shoulder-flames used in the representation of saintly Islamic figures. Perhaps because Zoroaster’s farr was said to have descended from the Heavens and manifested itself “in the form of fire” (Gnoli), flaming haloes were perceived to underline holiness, and were extended to Islamic saintly figures. The flaming bust on the fire altar of Sasanian coinage, especially on the reverse of some Ḵosrow II (Khosrow) issues, may have provided the prototype for such representation. To this day, flaming-shoulders still mark the images of the Prophet and the Imams.


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Warfare: Sassanids

Here's a selected articles from George Rawlinson

In the character of their warfare, the Persians of the Sassanian period did not greatly differ from the same people under the Achaemenian kings. The principal changes which time had brought about were an almost entire disuse of the war chariot, [PLATE XLVI. Fig. 3.] and the advance of the elephant corps into a very prominent and important position. Four main arms of the service were recognized, each standing on a different level: viz. the elephants, the horse, the archers, and the ordinary footmen. The elephant corps held the first position. It was recruited from India, but was at no time very numerous. Great store was set by it; and in some of the earlier battles against the Arabs the victory was regarded as gained mainly by this arm of the service. It acted with best effect in an open and level district; but the value put upon it was such that, however rough, mountainous, and woody the country into which the Persian arms penetrated, the elephant always accompanied the march of the Persian troops, and care was taken to make roads by which it could travel. The elephant corps was under a special chief, known as the Zend-hapet, or "Commander of the Indians," either because the beasts came from that country, or because they were managed by natives of Hindustan.

The Persian cavalry in the Sassanian period seems to have been almost entirely of the heavy kind. [PLATE XLVI., Fig. 4.] We hear nothing during these centuries of those clouds of light horse which, under the earlier Persian and under the Parthian monarchy, hung about invading or retreating armies, countless in their numbers, agile in their movements, a terrible annoyance at the best of times, and a fearful peril under certain circumstances. The Persian troops which pursued Julian were composed of heavily armed cavalry, foot archers, and elephants; and the only light horse of which we have any mention during the disastrous retreat of his army are the Saracenic allies of Sapor. In these auxiliaries, and in the Cadusians from the Caspian region, the Persians had always, when they wished it, a cavalry excellently suited for light service; but their own horse during the Sassanian period seems to have been entirely of the heavy kind, armed and equipped, that is, very much as Chosroes II. is seen to bo at Takht-i-Bostan. The horses themselves wore heavily armored about their head, neck, and chest; the rider wore a coat of mail which completely covered his body as far as the hips, and a strong helmet, with a vizor, which left no part of the face exposed but the eyes. He carried a small round shield on his left arm, and had for weapons a heavy spear, a sword, and a bow and arrows. He did not fear a collision with the best Roman troops. The Sassanian horse often charged the infantry of the legions with success, and drove it headlong from the field of battle. In time of peace, the royal guards were more simply accoutred. [see PLATE XLVI.]
The archers formed the elite of the Persian infantry. They were trained to deliver their arrows with extreme rapidity, and with an aim that was almost unerring. The huge wattled shields, adopted by the Achaemenian Persians from the Assyrians, still remained in use; and from behind a row of these, rested upon the ground and forming a sort of loop-holed wall, the Sassanian bowmen shot their weapons with great effect; nor was it until their store of arrows was exhausted that the Romans, ordinarily, felt themselves upon even terms with their enemy. Sometimes the archers, instead of thus fighting in line, were intermixed with the heavy horse, with which it was not difficult for them to keep pace. They galled the foe with their constant discharges from between the ranks of the horsemen, remaining themselves in comparative security, as the legions rarely ventured to charge the Persian mailed cavalry. If they were forced to retreat, they still shot backwards as they fled; and it was a proverbial saying with the Romans that they were then especially formidable.
The ordinary footmen seem to have been armed with swords and spears, perhaps also with darts. They were generally stationed behind the archers, who, however, retired through their ranks when close fighting began. They had little defensive armor; but still seem to have fought with spirit and tenacity, being a fair match for the legionaries under ordinary circumstances, and superior to most other adversaries.
It is uncertain how the various arms of the service were organized internally. We do not hear of any divisions corresponding to the Roman legions or to modern regiments; yet it is difficult to suppose that there were not some such bodies. Perhaps each satrap of a province commanded the troops raised within his government, taking the actual lead of the cavalry or the infantry at his discretion. The Crown doubtless appointed the commanders-in-chief—the Sparapets, Spaha-pets, or Sipehbeds, as well as the other generals (arzbeds), the head of the commissariat (hambarapet or hambarahapet), and the commander of the elephants (zendkapet). The satraps may have acted as colonels of regiments under the arzbeds, and may probably have had the nomination of the subordinate (regimental) officers.
The great national standard was the famous "leathern apron of the blacksmith," originally unadorned, but ultimately covered with jewels, which has been described in a former chapter. This precious palladium was, however, but rarely used, its place being supplied for the most part by standards of a more ordinary character. These appear by the monuments to have been of two kinds. Both consisted primarily of a pole and a cross-bar; but in the one kind the crossbar sustained a single ring with a bar athwart it, while below depended two woolly tassels; in the other, three striated balls rose from the cross-bar, while below the place of the tassels was taken by two similar balls. It is difficult to say what these emblems symbolized, or why they were varied. In both the representations where they appear the standards accompany cavalry, so that they cannot reasonably be assigned to different arms of the service. That the number of standards carried into battle was considerable may be gathered from the fact that on one occasion, when the defeat sustained was not very complete, a Persian army left in the enemy's hands as many as twenty-eight of them.
During the Sassanian period there was nothing very remarkable in the Persian tactics. The size of armies generally varied from 30,000 to 60,000 men, though sometimes 100,000, and on one occasion as many as 140,000, are said to have been assembled. The bulk of the troops were footmen, the proportion of the horse probably never equalling one third of a mixed army. Plundering expeditions were sometimes undertaken by bodies of horse alone; but serious invasions were seldom or never attempted unless by a force complete in all arms; comprising, that is, horse, foot, elephants, and artillery. To attack the Romans to any purpose, it was always necessary to engage in the siege of towns; and although, in the earlier period of the Sassanian monarchy, a certain weakness and inefficiency in respect of sieges manifested itself, yet ultimately the difficulty was overcome, and the Persian expeditionary armies, well provided with siege trains, compelled the Roman fortresses to surrender within a reasonable time. It is remarkable that in the later period so many fortresses were taken with apparently so little difficulty—Daras, Mardin, Amida, Carrhse, Edessa, Hierapolis, Berhasa, Theodosiopolis, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Caesaraea Mazaca, Chalcedon; the siege of none lasting more than a few months, or costing the assailants very dear. The method used in sieges was to open trenches at a certain distance from the walls, and to advance along them under cover of hurdles to the ditch, and fill it up with earth and fascines. Escalade might then be attempted; or movable towers, armed with rams or balistae, might be brought up close to the walls, and the defences battered till a breach was effected. Sometimes mounds were raised against the walls to a certain height, so that their upper portion, which was their weakest part, might be attacked, and either demolished or escaladed. If towns resisted prolonged attacks of this kind, the siege was turned into a blockade, lines of circumvallation being drawn round the place, water cut off, and provisions prevented from entering. Unless a strong relieving army appeared in the field, and drove off the assailants, this plan was tolerably sure to be successful.
Not much is known of the private life of the later Persians. Besides the great nobles and court officials, the strength of the nation consisted in its dilchans or landed proprietors, who for the most part lived on their estates, seeing after the cultivation of the soil, and employing thereon the free labor of the peasants. It was from these classes chiefly that the standing army was recruited, and that great levies might always be made in time of need. Simple habits appear to have prevailed among them; polygamy, though lawful, was not greatly in use; the maxims of Zoroaster, which commanded industry, purity, and piety, were fairly observed. Women seem not to have been kept in seclusion, or at any rate not in such seclusion as had been the custom under the Parthians, and as again became usual under the Arabs. The general condition of the population was satisfactory. Most of the Sassanian monarchs seem to have been desirous of governing well; and the system inaugurated by Anushirwan, and maintained by his successors, secured the subjects of the Great King from oppression, so far as was possible without representative government. Provincial rulers were well watched and well checked; tax-gatherers were prevented from exacting more than their due by a wholesale dread that their conduct would be reported and punished; great pains were taken that justice should be honestly administered; and in all cases where an individual felt aggrieved at a sentence an appeal lay to the king. On such occasions the cause was re-tried in open court, at the gate, or in the great square; the king, the Magi, and the great lords hearing it, while the people were also present. The entire result seems to have been that, so far as was possible under a despotism, oppression was prevented, and the ordinary citizen had rarely any ground for serious complaint.
But it was otherwise with the highest class of all. The near relations of the monarch, the great officers of the court, the generals who commanded armies, were exposed without defence to the monarch's caprice, and held their lives and liberties at his pleasure. At a mere word or sign from him they were arrested, committed to prison, tortured, blinded, or put to death, no trial being thought necessary where the king chose to pronounce sentence. The intrinsic evils of despotism thus showed themselves even under the comparatively mild government of the Sassanians; but the class exposed to them was a small one, and enjoyed permanent advantages, which may have been felt as some compensation to it for its occasional sufferings.
Edited by Mega Mania
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  • 2 weeks later...

Changes in Parthian units:

Parthian spearman - Nizagan-e Pahlavig

Parthian horse archer - Kamandar-e Pahlavig

Parthian Heavy Infantry/ Swordsman - Samsirdaran-e Yunanig

Siege weapon

Battering Ram


Characenian Dhow

Changes in Sassanid units:

Nizagan-e Eransahr (replace Payg (infantry))

Kamadar-e Asp (mounted archer)

Aswaran-e Sakasahr (become Champion light cavalry)

Further changes in Parthian and Sassanid units:

Parthian Clibanarii/Grivpanvar now merged together with Aswaran-e Azadan and Sassanid Grivpanvar now merged with Aswaran-e Eransahr. Meanwhile Sassanid receive Omani Marine.

Edited by Mega Mania
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  • 1 month later...

Good books about Sassanid Persia:


P.S. The only book that harbour no prejudice against Sassanid Persia plus valuable information where others failed to provide.

Sassanid cavalryman model from Romeo Models, although the helmet and the shield emblem seems to be historically inaccurate but nonetheless it was a detailed Sassanid cavalryman in armour.

post-15682-0-22530300-1398607075_thumb.j post-15682-0-18416800-1398607119_thumb.j

Another example of Sassanid cavalry armour:


P.S. Ignore the helmet, use archaeological evidence and logic when designing Sassanid cavalry.

Another piece of advice, use logic when designing Sassanid infantry.

Edited by Mega Mania
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Don't trust that model, I have seen it before. Not accurate at all.

If you want to know about Sassanids, check out the INVASIO BARBARORVM forums for Rome: Total War and contact Gaiten



He is almost literally an expert on Parthian and Sassanid Infantry, Cavalry, Culture, Language, etc.

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Surprisingly enough, it's more accurate than a lot of the stuff in this thread. And the leg guards are based on Roman Manica, which we know the Sassies used, as well as the Romans.

Most of what we know of the Sassies is from their Art as they don't leave much in terms of Artefacts. Not like we could waltz into Iran and excavate anyways.

But yeah, it has its issues. Nazeem on RomanArmyTalk is a Sassanid Reenactor and knows what he's talking about. There's another guy on that forum too that's a Sassie.

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Yes, Gaiten.

He's good at designing those so called "Sassanian Infantry" but with a very, very, very strange name even Iranian said the unit name have a handful bad spelling.

And I think he have issue with the Sassanid navy when i visit and read some message in End of Antiquity forum in TWC forum months ago as he cannot accept that the fact Sassanid war vessels was made up by Dhow instead of Roman Trireme/Dromon.

And those armour from IBRR looks stupid especially for the so called field commander, as i cannot believe that a general could arm himself like the King of Eransahr! To add more injuries to the field commander design are the leg armour, I wonder how could he move with that armoured trousers and if that's an armoured trouser then i wonder how did he wear those fancy pants. I found this very, very interesting when the IBRR decide to give an armoured elephant corps for the Sassanids, if fact no Armenian or Roman source mentioned there's any Armoured Elephant corps! the word Elephant armour or Borgostvan e-Pil didn't exist until the rise of the Ghaznavid and the only Eephant Armour in Iran wasn't a metal armour at all but silk armour!

Oh, there's another question why is it all of these Sassanid cavalry have an issue on wearing arm guard and leg guard in IB: SAI and IB:RR?

There's another question, why would Gaiten become so eager to make an armoured elephant model but in truth no solid evidence could prove it exist.

Oh, Nadeem. Yes i know him in RAT, he tried his best make a body armour and a bamboo lance fit for a king but unfortunately his armour and lance have its flaws! The leg guard, for a person to wear leg guard, conventional trouser seems to be a serious problem. If he wish wish to wear a leg guard to achieve full protection, he need to change his trouser into legging because he need to wear a mail stockings with his leg guard. Fortunately, Romeo Models have a model with such details although i seriously doubt the accuracy of the upper part of the model.

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Perhaps you wish to explain on behalf IB mod team why would these names appear in Invasio Barbarorum: Somnium Apostatae Iuliani?

1. Savârân-î Grivpânvâr Mesopotamia Pâhlevi

2. Savârân-î Grivpânvâr Assyrian

The truth is both province are the same province, the real province name is Asoristan not Mesopotamia or Assyria and the word Mesopotamia was a Greek word Μεσοποταμία!

Oh, here's some more:

1. Tabargan-i Daylamig

Why would a unit appears in an earlier time frame (Shapur II) instead of later period (Kosrow II)? Trying to make the game merrier? or don't even know when? To add more injuries to the so called "Daylami Guards", they don't wield Tabar at all! I wonder why don't Gaiten the expert of Middle Persian try to correct such mistakes?

To make things worse, how could an expert like Gaiten make mistakes about Sassanid provinces?

Here's something you might wish to have a look:


Edited by Mega Mania
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Yeah, right.

Oh yes, i've been looking at the so called Sassanian map in the game and it seems they have lost several province in Arabia notably the province of Mazun or modern day Oman. Mazun or Oman was an important province for Sassanid Persia because they are the naval base for Sassanid Persia and the function of the base was obvious: to secure Persian trade routes from being harass by pirates. But the team just IGNORE the fact that these are Persian province where Persian governors rule these province instead the team give these province to the Lakhmid Arabs!

To make things worse, they just reuse the Roman Bireme and Trireme from Barbarian Invasion instead of creating a new warship model.

Edited by Mega Mania
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