History of Iran

A Review of Sassanid Images and Inscriptions
By: Asghar Mahmoudabadi

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Stone cutting and engraving and construction of glorious buildings was not so popular in the Sassanid period as in Achaemenid period. Perhaps if one compares these two periods the Sassanian rank was far loftier than the Achaemenid period. Nevertheless like their Achaemenid ancestors (the Sassanians believed to be the true descendents of Achaemenid Dynasty which had been overturned in 330 A.D. by Alexander) were interested to record important events during their reign such as victory over enemies, ascension to the throne, coronation, and displaying the magnificence of their courts on the breast of mountains in Iran and particularly in Pars or Fars province.

The majority of these images are accompanied by inscriptions from Ardeshir I or Shapour I of the Sassanid Dynasty, but some are void of inscriptions.

With the exception of engravings that have survived at Taqe Bostan near Salmas all the Sassanian images were made in Pars (Fars) province because the Sassanians were very much in love with their original birthplace. Most the inscriptions in Pars are religious or symbolic in nature whereas the images and inscriptions in Taq-e Bostan are less religious and mostly refer to private and royal ceremonies and the glory of their courts. But since the Sassanian kings believed that kingship was a divine gift bestowed by Ahura Mazada, such a definition are frequently visible in the majority of their inscriptions particularly in Pars.

In this short article we hope we can introduce to some extent the Sassanian images and inscriptions to interested readers. In conclusions it must be noted that these images and inscriptions are the most important and most valid sources to trace the Iranian history and it would be appropriate to do more and more to preserve them.

Naqsh-e Rajab

Coronation Ceremony
According to Zareh the founder of the Sassanian Dynasty has most probably crowned himself in his headquarters at Anahita (Venus) Temple at Estakhr, Pars province, where Sassan, his ancestor had been a grand mubid (Zoroastrian monk). It was in that temple or at Naqsh-e Rajab valley near Estakhr that four hundred years after Ardeshir, the last Sassanian king crowned himself because Ardeshir and Shapour had engraved their coronation on the stone in that region.

The ceremony of anointing Ardeshir as king of kings by the grand mubid is shown in two places - Naqsh-e Rajab and Naqsh-e Rostam - near the caves where the Achaemenid kings are buried. Therefore according to Zareh the Naqsh-e Rajab engraving was made before Naqsh-e Rajab. The ceremony in Naqsh-e Rajab has not been wholly preserved intact and many of its details have been erased or are obscure due to erosion or disintegration of the rocks.

The grand mubid is holding the royal ring at his right hand and the royal staff by his left hand and is presenting both these royal insignias to the king. The king wears the ring on his right hand and has raised his left hand and forefinger as a token of respect and obedience. The grand mubid is wearing a corrugated golden crown. The king in this image resembles the pictures imprinted on his coins during the beginning of his reign. He is bestowed with a long and square beard and short hair and the grand mubid and the king and the other personalities in the image are down on their feet. Zareh has spotted the face of two children in the space between the God and the king.

This image has been described in the following manner as well:

Ardeshir is standing on the left side with a crown which seems to have been installed overhead and the grand mubid is standing on the right side and extending the crown to Ardeshir. The representatives of the royal dynasty is standing as shown from the marks on his cap and Shapour , Ardeshir's son and prince royal is standing beside the mubid which means that he is the king's successor. Behind them one can behold the image of Ahura Mazda and a famous lady which is either the mother or the chief lady of Ardeshir. The image is 2.5 meters high and 4.5 meters long.

The King And His Courtiers
Here Shapour and his children, his wife and the elders of the court are mounted on horses. The first standing figure belongs to Hormozd, son of Ardeshir, which means he is the crown prince. Behind him Shapour Shahmishan, the other son of the king is standing. The third image belongs to Nersi, another son of Shapour and king of Turestan, Sekestan and India and behind Nersi one can see Bahram, another son of Shapour, the king of Gilan, along with Azar Nahid, Shapour's first lady. In the second raw and at a little lower elevation Bidaksh and Hezarbod, the elders of the court, are standing and behind them the representative of famous families as well as army commanders.

The details of the images are signified by the marks on the caps they wear. The courtiers are standing according to their rank. It can be in fact said that the images in Naqsh-e Rajab exactly represent the list and titles of the elders of the royal family in Shapour's inscription in the Zoroaster's chief temple. From the picture of Shapour Shahmishan one can trace the history of engravings. An engraving made approximately 262 years B.C. shows that Shapour Shahmishan was not alive and Dinak, his wife, ruled his territory. This shows that the images were engraved before 262 A.D.

Maybe appointment of Hormozd Ardeshir as crown prince led to the engraving. On the breast of Shapour's horse there are inscriptions in Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek languages. The Middle Persian text says:

"This is the portrait of the grand mubid, the Mazda worshipper Shapour, the king of kings of Iran and Atiran whose face resembled that of God. He was son of Mazda worshipper Ardeshir, the king of kings of Iran whose face resembles God and was a descendent of Papak Shah."

The history and particulars of reign of Shapour 1 (272-243 A.D.):

In this image only the image of Shapour I and Hormozd Ardeshir are portrayed with all their special features. On the right side of the image one can see the bust and writing by Mubid Kertir.

Coronation of Shapour I
The third image in Naqsh-e Rajab is the coronation of Shapour I. Here the King is shown receiving the royal ring from the grand mubid. This is an imitation of the coronation of Ardeshir in Naqsh-e Rostam. Here also both the king and grand mubid are mounted on horse and they both wear the same dress. The only difference is that in Shapour's inscription the grand mubid is standing on the left side of the king and the man fallen on prostrate on the ground in Ardeshir's image is not shown in Shapour's image.

As mentioned earlier in this image the king is portrayed on the right side on a horseback stretching his hand to receive the royal ring from the grand mubid. A Grecian and Middle Persian text is inscribed on the breast of the king's horse. The Middle Persian text says:

"This is the portrait of Mazda worshiper, Shapour, the king of Iran and Aniran whose face resembles that of God. He is son of Mazda worshipper king Ardeshir, the king of kings and a descendent of Papak Shah."

The parts of the king's crown are not distinguished. Perhaps in this image the king is not portrayed with the crown of Shapour I. Thus there is a contrast between the royal ring and the inscription on the breast of the horse.

From the method of face sketching this image closely resembles the coronation of Bahram I in Bishapour. Such a resemble is not only visible in the combination of different parts such as the king's and grand mubid's dress and the sinews of the horse but even in small details such as the saddle and accouterments and special form of the royal ring and lace.

Such resemblance shows that these two images have been engraved at the same time. Although I cannot take the responsibility to solve the particulars of the king's image, I wish to remind the reader that I don't think the engraving was made in 243 A.D. when Shapour I was crowned.

On the contrary it seems that this image belongs to the end of the reign of Shapour I or the rule of Hormozd Ardeshir. In such a case one might say that the image was engraved after Shapour's death.

In this image the face of the king has been badly damaged and the details cannot be clearly distinguished. The grand mubid is wearing a corrugated crown and his curling hair is visible outside his crown. The woven hair falls on the neck and shoulder and his cloak is tied to his chest by ornamental fastenings under the pearl necklace and the trousers above his leg carries tender plaits.

The neck and breast of the horse is adorned by round images in the form of chains and the above mentioned rectangular disk is shown in front of the horse's legs.

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