In the third century A.D, Iran once again became a major power with the rise of the Sassanians. Under their great King Shapur I and also under his successor Shapur II, they became the scourge of the Romans, who, it must be said, in the third century A.D. were at their weakest, when the raging inflation led to a number of short lived Emperors. Two of these emperors came off badly against Persians. The first was Philip the Arab who agreed to pay an indemnity of 500,000 gold denarii – an enormous sum of money, but even worse, his successor, Valerian was actually captured by the Persians, and held prisoner for two years until he died in captivity. These events became the centre of a number of bas reliefs which form a major feature in Sassanian art.
One of these is at Naqsh-e-Rostan, which lies just 3 km from Persepolis, and was originally the burial place of the Achaemenid kings where four large rock reliefs are carved into the cliff. 700 years later, the Sassanians, wishing to associate themselves with their illustrious forebears, added 7 further bas reliefs below the Achaemenid originals. One cannot but help feeling that the Achaemenid originals are rather more impressive, but the Sassanian reliefs are the more interesting.
Here we see two of the Achaemenid tombs, beautifully sculpted, with a columned portico with a doorway leading into an inner chamber. But between them at the lower level is the later Sassanian sculpture, showing Shapur on his horse, facing the Roman suppliants.
The best-known shows King Shapur I triumphing over the Roman emperors kneeling before his horse is the emperor Valerian whom he captured and held prisoner until his death. Behind is his predecessor Philip the Arab who paid a huge indemnity of 500,000 gold denarii to the Persians: here he is seen handing over a bag, presumably of gold coins.
Another carving show another of the Sassanian favourite scenes, an investiture ceremony, where a god is handing over a ring- the equivalent of a crown, to the king. Here we see the investiture of Ardeshir I (226 – 242) (left) who was the first Sassanid king (and father of Shapur the Great). He began as a vassal of the Parthians, but overthrew his masters and established a new dynasty: here he legitimises his rule by showing that he was given his authority by Ahura Mazda (right) the chief god, or ‘uncreated spirit’ of the Zoroastrians
The third major feature is a tower structure that is very similar to the tower known at Pasagardae that is considered to be the tomb of Cyrus. This tower is considered to be a generation or more later: was it perhaps an imitation of the Cyrus monument, perhaps for a later king?