The Achaemenid rock-tombs and the rock-reliefs of the Sassanid kings are known to most travelers in
, but Seleucid or Parthian
reliefs and inscriptions are pretty rare. Iran
It is always interesting to see how one civilization copies from a previous one or is inspired by its contemporaries. What I find here at Bisutun, for instance, is quite surprising to say the least. For some reason (our western look towards history?) I expected Hellenism to transpire through art in the days following Alexander’s conquests. It has happened in Sogdiana/Bactria and in
India, but not here in . Seleucos and his successors seem to have
made greater efforts to integrate Persian customs than we might suspect at
first sight. Persia
The idea occurred to me when I was staring at this relief of a fatso bearded Heracles at Bisutun. He poses as a naked athlete holding a bowl, seated on a lion pelt underneath an olive tree; his heavy club rests at his feet and his bow and quiver with arrows hang from a nearby olive tree. The composition has all the Greek ingredients but this scene was definitely not created by a Greek artist, nor was it inspired by Hellenistic heritage.
Next to Heracles’ head there is a temple-like facade carrying an inscription in Greek telling us that this picture was created by Hyacinthos, son of Pantauchos, and carved in honor of Kleomenis, the local Seleucid governor in 148 BC. It is important to remember that Heracles was considered as the ancestor the Seleucid dynasty.
Not far from this Heracles is another more elaborate rock-relief in honor of the most powerful of all Parthian kings, Mithridates II. This was made after the collapse of the Seleucid Empire and when this part of the country was taken over by the Parthians, who ruled for almost four centuries.
The entire panel is more than
12 meters long. The key
position is now occupied by a framed Persian inscription added in 1684,
obliterating a considerable chunk of the Parthian relief. The original relief was
made for King Mithridates II, who
from 123 till 88/87 BC. On the left-hand side we discern two figures in
profile; above them there is a Greek inscription and a Nike in Greek style.
Thanks to a drawing reconstruction, we know there were four dignitaries approaching
their king. The central person caries the Nike and another one seems to raise a
cup. To the right of the 17th century’s niche we see two men on
horseback fighting each other. This relief represents the Parthian King Gotarzes (38-51 AD) subduing his
enemy Meherdates. Above them hovers
another Nike holding a diadem. Persia
Well, both panels have suffered serious damages from the weather elements and the later Safavid inscription, but they are proof that the Parthians tried to integrate the Persian culture at least as much as the Seleucids before them.