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Taq-e Bostan


The large cave of Khusrau II. Photo Marco Prins. Taq-e Bostan ("the arch of the garden"): site of several Sasanian rock reliefs, on the northeastern outskirts of modern Kermanshah.

Large Cave of Khusrau II

The large cave at Taq-e Bostan -technically, not a cave but an iwan- is the youngest and most splendid monument. It contains artistic elements from various cultural traditions and was created by Khusrau II the Victorious (590-628), the last great king of Sasanian Persia before the arrival of Islam.

It consists of several parts. The upper section of the central relief shows the king's investiture. From the right, the supreme god Ahuramazda hands over a ring to Khusrau, who is standing in the center. This ring, called cydaris, is the symbol of power. From the left, the water goddess Anahita (notice the little jar) presents a second ring. This composition is inspired by sixth-century Byzantine apsidal paintings (with Christ between two saints).
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Anahita, Khusrau II, Ahuramazda. Photo Marco Prins.
Khusrau embarked upon a career as a conqueror, on several occasions defeating the Byzantines, who were weakened by a long Italian war. Khusrau's armies invaded Syria and captured Jerusalem in 614, taking with him the relic of the True Cross. The Persian soldiers went on to invade Egypt, took Alexandria, and in 626, their advance guards paused only a mile from Constantinople. The Persians even occupied Cyprus and Rhodes. It seemed as if the ancient Achaemenid Empire, the model of the Sasanians, was restored.

On the upper relief, Khusrau's belt, caftan, and handkerchief are inspired by the art of the people from the steppe.

Khusrau II on horseback. Photo Marco Prins.
The large cave of Taq-e Bostan was created to celebrate Khusrau's successful campaigns and it comes as not surprise that we find the great conqueror represented a second time, this time as a heavy cavalry man.

However, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius trained an army, and after some initial victories, he invaded Assyria and Mesopotamia in 627. These campaigns, which have been called "the first crusades", were extremely successful. The Persian army mutinied and Khusrau was murdered (628). His successor Ardašir III made peace and the relic of the True Cross was restored to Jerusalem.

The decoration of the entrance of the large cave. Photo Jona Lendering.
After the death of Khusrau, four kings reigned in four years, and in 632, the armies of the Islam invaded the Zoroastrian empire. In 636, the Arabs captured Ctesiphon, and in 651, the last Sasanian king died as a fugitive.

The reliefs of Khusrau's cave at Taq-e Bostan represent the last flowering of Sasanian art. To the left and right of the central scene, we can discern two magnificent huntings scenes. To the left, the king can be seen standing in a boat, taking aim at some wild boars.

This is the magnificent hunting scene on the left wall. The king is standing in a boat. His attendants are also represented, like these hunters on elephant back. This may be inspired by Indian art. After all, the natural habitat of elephants is not in Iran.

Hunting scene. Photo Marco Prins.
On the opposite wall, we can see another hunting scene. This time, the king is seated on a horse. His attendants are trying to catch stags.

The outside of the large cave has been decorated too. There are beautiful floral motifs, and two Victories are shown in the spandrels. These winged deities are of course a Graeco-Roman influence.

Hunting scene. Photo Marco Prins. Hunting scene. Photo Marco Prins. Hunting scene. Photo Marco Prins. Hunting scene. Photo Jona Lendering.
Hunting scene: boat Hunting scene: archer and stags Hunting scene: the king Hunting scene: dogs
Hunting scene. Photo Marco Prins. Taq-e Bostan, large cave: Anahita. Photo Jona Lendering. Taq-e Bostan, large cave: Khusrau II. Photo Jona Lendering. Taq-e Bostan, large cave: Ahuramazda (Hormuzd). Photo Jona Lendering.
Hunting scene: elephant Anahita Khusrau II Ahuramazda (Hormuzd)

One of the victories. Photo Jona Lendering. One of the victories. Photo Marco Prins.

Victories

Literature

Louis Vanden Berghe, Reliefs rupestres de l' Iran ancien (1983 Brussels), #81-84.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 16 Nov. 2009
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other