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Taq-e Bostan


Investiture Relief of Shapur II at Taq-e Bostan.  Photo Marco Prins.
Investiture Relief of Shapur II at Taq-e Bostan
Taq-e Bostan ("the arch of the garden"): site of several Sasanian rock reliefs, on the northeastern outskirts of modern Kermanshah.

Investiture Relief of Shapur II

The relief at Taq-e Bostan shows the investiture of Shapur II (309-379). This is a common representation of royal power: the supreme god Ahuramazda gives the king a cydaris ring and a diadem.
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Shapur's victory relief at Taq-e Bostan. Photo Marco Prins.

The king is standing on top of a defeated enemy, a bearded man who can be identified with the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate, who had been defeated by Shapur in 363 and was killed in action. (This is, of course, the terminus post quem of this monument.) 

The war ended with a treaty in which Julian's successor Jovian abandoned Roman possessions east of the river Tigris. The Iranian god responsible for treaties, Mithra, is also shown at Taq-e Bostan, holding a barsom, a sacred bundle of twigs used by religious rituals.

Shapur's victory relief at Taq-e Bostan. Photo Marco Prins.
Some scholars have argued that the Sasanian ruler who is represented at the relief of Taq-e Bostan is not Shapur II, but his successor Ardašir III (379-383). This view, however, is incorrect; the crown of the ruler represented at this relief is Shapur's, not Ardašir's. Besides, the emperor underneath the Sasanian king's feet can only Julian, and not Ardašir's contemporary Theodosius I the Great, who had no beard and never fought a war against the Persians.

It may be interesting to know that the representation of Mithra at Taq-e Bostan was used as a source of inspiration by the anonymous artist who made a popular painting of Zarathustra, the Bactrian prophet of Zoroastrianism.
A modern portrait of Zarathustra. Shapur's victory relief at Taq-e Bostan. Photo Marco Prins. Shapur's victory relief at Taq-e Bostan. Photo Marco Prins. Shapur's victory relief at Taq-e Bostan. Photo Marco Prins.
Zarathustra Mithra Shapur II Ahuramazda
Mithra at Taq-e Bostan.  Photo Jona Lendering. Shapur II at Taq-e Bostan.  Photo Jona Lendering. Julian at Taq-e Bostan.  Photo Jona Lendering. Mithra's Pedestal: a flower at Taq-e Bostan.  Photo Jona Lendering.
Mithra Shapur II Julian Mithra's Pedestal: a flower.

Literature

Louis Vanden Berghe, Reliefs rupestres de l' Iran ancien (1983 Brussels), #79.
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 16 Nov. 2009
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