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Tuesday, 30-May-2006 02:05 Email | Share | Bookmark
Bishapur - part 4

This relief shows the investiture of Shapur
in this relief, we see just a triumphant king, adored by his sub
a winged figure that brings the ring of power (cydaris) and the
the diadem.
This cliff is on the other side of the river
The third, extremely weathered relief has five horizontal regist
king Bahram II and shows how he receives a delegation of Arabs
A classical representation of an investitureBahram I
The suppression of a revolt
The Cave of Shapur
the Mundan Cave
7 meters statue
1-This relief shows the investiture of Shapur. Although it is badly damaged, we can see still recognize many elements, and because Sassanid investiture reliefs are often a bit stereotypical, we can deduce the rest. Essentially, this monument is a copy of a relief made by Shapur's father Ardašir I (224?-241) at Naqš-i Rustam. Two horsemen are facing each other. From the left, the supreme god Ahuramazda hands over the symbol of power, the cydaris ring, to Shapur, to the right. Ahuramazda's horse tramples upon the devil (Ahriman), whereas the horse of Shapur steps on the body of the Roman emperor Gordian III, who died during his campaign against the Sassanid capital Ctesiphon (244). The central, kneeling figure is the emperor Philippus Arabs, who paid a large ransom and was allowed to take back the remains of the Roman army.
In 260, Shapur had defeated another Roman emperor, Valerian ). Although the first relief is damaged, we can be certain that he was not depicted. Therefore, this monument was made between 244 and 260. The defeat of Valerian necessitated the creation of a new monument
2 - Compared to the first relief of Bishapur, the second is far more complex and, fortunately, a lot better preserved. Another difference is that the first monument commemorates Shapur's investiture and his first victory, which he presents as gifts from Ahuramazda; in this relief, we see just a triumphant king, adored by his subjects. The only sign of divine help is a winged figure that brings the ring of power (cydaris) and the diadem.
Shapur had already defeated a Roman army, which he had commemorated on the first relief. In 244, the emperor Gordian III had been killed, and his successor Philippus Arabs owed the throne to Shapur. On the second relief, we can see the dead Gordian underneath the victor's horse.
In 260, the Sassanid king defeated another Roman emperor, Valerian, and even took him captive. Here, we see how the king seizes the captured emperor by the hand. This is also shown on a monument at Naqš-i Rustam, where the triumph is depicted in a similar fashion. Valerian's men, of which a substantial part seems to have belonged to the Sixth legion Ferrata, were forced to build the bridge at Shushtar and the city of Bishapur.
Behind Philip we see two important courtiers. One of them may be the high priest Kartir, who made Zoroastrianism the state religion and organized persecutions of adherents of other faiths. The other one, who carries a large sword, may or may not be the Surena, an important commander.
On all sides, subjects of the king are depicted: cavalry to the left, infantry to the right. They salute the king with their right fist and pointed index finger. This gesture can be seen on many Sassanid rock reliefs, and is still made by Bakhtiari nomads.
3 - The third, extremely weathered relief has five horizontal registers. Like reliefs 1 and 2, it was made by the Sassanid king Shapur I (241-272). Like the other monuments on this side of the river, it was damaged when an aqueduct of stone was constructed along the rock. This was removed in the 1970's.
In the center, we see Shapur's triple victory, which was also the theme of the second relief at Bishapur, and is depicted in Naqš-e Rajab and Naqš-i Rustam too. Underneath the king's horse, we see the Roman emperor Gordian III, who was killed in in 244; elsewhere, we recognize Philippus Arabs, who was made emperor by Shapur; and finally, we see the captured Valerian. These figures are very damaged.
There are many horsemen on this relief, and it has been suggested that it represents a special equestrian victory.
As always, the cavalry approaches from the left. The horsemen in the middle register are more elaborated than those in the upper and lower registers. Probably, those in the center are courtiers and officers.
On the right-hand side, we see infantry approaching. They carry the tribute that was paid by Shapur's enemies. This is not only Roman tribute, because we can discern an elephant (right), which suggests a victory against the Kushans of Gandara, the valley of the river Kabul. The Persians took Peshawar and carried away a precious religious object, Buddha's begging bowl. Was it brought to Bishapur?
In the fourth and fifth register, we see other people carrying tribute. These men have been identified with Romans, although their dress is a bit unusual (some have trousers).
Even more Romans bringing gifts.
Although art had changed considerably, the motif of people bringing tribute was old. We can also see it in Achaemenid art (e.g. on the famous eastern stairs stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis).
4 -The fourth Sassanid rock relief at Bishapur (map) was made by king Bahram II (276-294) and shows how he receives a delegation of Arabs. The course of the old aqueduct, which has damaged three of the reliefs on this side of the river, is clearly visible.
The fourth relief is very interesting because it is the only Sassanid monument that shows an embassy, which is led to the king by a Persian nobleman with a long sword (picture). The fact that it is an Arabian embassy is a testimony for the fact that this nation was becoming better organized. We know that by the time of Bahram, there were two large tribal confederations: Yaman or Kalb in the south, and Qays or Hijaz in the north. (In western sources, they are called Arabi and Saraceni.) The rise of Islam was still in the future, but the first signs of its increasing power were there.
The Arabs are recognizable because they are accompanied by a dromedary. There's also a horse.
Finally, a picture of king Bahram II. We do not know what subject he discussed with the Arabian embassador, nor do we know which tribe they represented. However, in the west, the Romans were stronger than they had been for a long time, and we know that the Sassanids and northern Arabs were allies. Perhaps, the men with the dromedary belonged to the Qays federation?
5 - The fifth Sassanid rock relief at Bishapur is a classical representation of an investiture, this time of Bahram I (273-296). It is older than the preceding one, relief 4. There is a close parallel to the relief of the Investiture of Ardašir I at Naqš-i Rustam.
Again, this monument is damaged by the aqueduct that was once there. It is clearly visible on this picture.
From the left, the supreme god Ahuramazda approaches the king and gives him the ring of power, the cydaris. There is a diadem tied to it.
King Bahram is accepting the cydaris. His reign was the beginning of an era of Sassanid weakness. Under Shapur I, the Persians had defeated the armies of Rome, but in 283, the emperor Carus invaded Mesopotamia and even captured the important city Ctesiphon. Immediately after Bahram's dead, the Persians ceded territories in the west to buy peace. It comes as a surprise, therefore, to see Bahram represented as a conqueror, with a defeated enemy underneath his horse. However, it is likely that the dead man did not belong to the original design.
It is often assumed that king Narseh (293-303) added the figure of the defeated enemy after a victory in the east.
6 - The sixth Sassanid rock relief in the Tang-e Chowgan gorge near Bishapur was made by king Shapur II (309-379) and shows the suppression of a revolt. It is made on a higher place, and therefore not damaged by the aqueduct The relief has two registers.
The king is sitting on his throne in the center of the upper register, his hand on his sword. From the right, soldiers come closer. They bring prisoners, among which Iranian noblemen can be recognized
7 - About five kilometers to east of the city of Bishapur, and beyond the reliefs in the Tang-e Chowgan gorge, there's a wide valley between two lines of rocks, some 450-500 meters high. In the northern mountains is, at a height of about 400 meters, the Mundan Cave, which is also known as the Cave of Shapur. It is hard to discern in from the valley, but this picture may be useful.
The entrance of the cave is about twenty meters wide and five meters high, but inside, it is larger and reaches a height of twelve meter. It contains a monumental colossus of the Sassanid king Shapur I (241-272). There is also a well. It has been assumed that the cave was meant as tomb of the king.
Like the representations of the king on the reliefs in the valley (e.g., relief 2), the king is shown with long hair, a crown, and all his weapons. When the Arabs conquered Iran in the seventh century, the statue was pulled down and its legs were destroyed.
The portrait of Shapur, who enjoys the splendid view you can see on the next photo; to the right is the Tang-e Chowgan gorge with the reliefs, and at a distance is the site of the city.
The best way to go to the cave is to hire a guide at the entrance of the excavation of Bishapur, and ask for a driver from the village in the valley. (Announce your visit well in advance.) You will need about two hours to drive to the village, climb the mountain, and return to the entrance of the excavation.

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