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Persepolis: Apadana, East Stairs

General view of the eastern Apadana stairs, Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins.
The eastern stairs
Persepolis (Old Persian Pārsa, modern Takht-e Jamshid): Greek name of one of the capitals of the ancient Achaemenid empire, founded by the great king Darius (522-486 BCE). There were several satellite sites, like Naqš-i Rustam and Takht-e Rostam.
History Photos, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The eastern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis show a procession of people bringing tribute to the Achaemenid king, Darius the Great (r.522-486). The relief consists of three parts: the northern wall, with representations of Achaemenid dignitaries; the center, with eight soldiers; and the southern wall, showing representatives of all subject nations.
At the far ends of the relief is an inscription with a fairly stereotypical text by king Xerxes (known as XPb). The southern text is in Old Persian, the two northern texts, shown here, are in Elamite and Babylonian.

A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created that heaven, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king: the king of many kings, one ruler of many rulers.
      I am Xerxes, the great king, king of kings, king of all nations, having various kinds of people, king in this great earth far and wide, the son of king Darius, an Achaemenid.
      The great king Xerxes says: What has been done by me here, and what has been done by my father, all this was done by the grace of Ahuramazda. Me Ahuramazda and the other gods preserve me, my kingdom, and what has been done by me.

On the northern wall, we can see a large procession of dignitaries. Closest to the king, the Persian dignitaries are walking; people with horses are next; at the end, we see two chariots. This one was probably that of the crown prince...
... and this one may have been meant for the king. Another interpretation is that one chariot was the "sacred chariot of Ahuramazda" that is mentioned by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus.
Some of the dignitaries. Those with the round caps are usually identified as Medians, those with the straight caps as Persians.
A detail. A better impression of this type of relief can be obtained at the northern stairs of the Apadana, which has survived in a slightly better condition. (Unlike the splendid relief of the tribute bearers, for which the eastern stairs are to be preferred.)

On four places, we can see the struggle between a bull and a lion. This is a very ancient Iranian motif, known from the fourth millennium BCE, and therefore belonging to the age before the invasion of the Indo-Iranians (the "Aryans").
It symbolizes (probably) eternity. The same message is more or less implied in the representation of the sun. It is an excellent theme for this place. The people who visited the Apadana offered tribute to the great king and received presents in return. This reciprocity strengthened the ties between the ruler and the subjects, and contributed to the continuation of the empire.
In fact, the Achaemenid Empire was not to last for ever: in 330, the soldiers of Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis, and the last king Darius III Codomannus was killed. It is fitting that the relief that symbolizes eternity has survived.

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© Jona Lendering for
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Revision: 14 June 2010
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