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Persepolis: Apadana, North Stairs Relief


Pharnaces paying honor ('proskynesis') to king Darius the Great. Relief from Persepolis. Archaeological museum of Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins. Persepolis (Old Persian Pârsa, 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

As indicated in the first part of this article, the relief of the northern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis, now in the Tehran archaeological museum, is one of the most important examples of Achaemenid art. It shows how a king (usually identified with Darius the Great) and his crown prince receive an important official, perhaps Pharnaces.

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Pharnaces, relief found at Persepolis, now at the Archaeological museum of Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins. The latter performs the ritual greeting that is known as proskynesis: he blows a kiss to the king. People of lesser stature had to bow or prostrate themselves for the representative of Ahuramazda on earth. As mayor of the palace or vizier (hazarapatiš), Pharnaces was entitled to a walking stick and golden earrings.
The "bag" of a soldier. Photo Marco Prins. He is followed by two soldiers, not in battle dress. One of them carries an object that resembles a small bag. A similar object has been found in Iranian Azerbaijan. It was, rather remarkably, made of stone. Its function is unknown. An alternative hypothesis is that this man carries small coals of incense for the burner in front of the king.
The counterweight of a spear. Relief from Persepolis, now in the Tehran archaeological museum. Photo Jona Lendering. The two soldiers can be identified with the elite troops that the Greeks called Immortals or "apple bearers". They owed this remarkable surname to the fact that the metal counterweight of their spears had the shape of an apple. These "apples" were covered with silver or gold; to protect them, the soldiers placed their spears on the tip of their shoes.
The Masmoghân on the relief of the northern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins. The first man behind the great king has a turban that can be identified as the cap of one of the Magians, the sacrificial specialists of the Persian empire. He is probably the Masmoghân, the chief Magian and supreme religious leader of ancient Iran, who had, according to a very late tradition, his residence in Rhagae. The lower part of the turban can be put before the mouth, so that the Magian did not pollute the sacred fire with his breath. From the holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, we know that the felt turban is called pâdam.
The second man behind the king is his weapon carrier. This was an important function. On the Behistun relief, a nobleman named Intaphrenes is depicted as the king's bow carrier; later, an aristocrat named Gobryas carried the royal spear (according to the relief on Darius' tomb at Naqš-i Rustam). The man on the northern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis carries Darius' bow and battle ax. He is dressed like a cavalry man.
On his belt, the weapon carrier has a short daggerlike sword in a beautiful scabbard. According to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, this type of sword was called akinakes.



History Photos
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 13 June 2010
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