The Art of Ancient Iran; Pre-Islamic Culture


By: Edith Porada

 Columbia University

With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson

New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. Art of the World. 1962



Iranian art created relatively few works of major importance, but rather many groups of objects, usually small and portable, with great artistic appeal. Animals were favoured as subjects. Their bodies were often transformed into severely formal compositions which nevertheless possess a mysterious life of their own. In them the beholder enjoys pure form and its enlivenment. A large number of the 61 colour plates of this book show such animal representations--boar, ibex and lion--from the various periods of ancient Iranian art.

The small number of plates makes it impossible to give a detailed survey of Iranian art from the beginnings to the advent of Islam. For that reason I have limited myself to discussion of those features of Iranian art which seem to have endured through the centuries. To that end an effort was made to choose as far as possible works with similar motifs: mostly animals, but also demonic combinations of animals and man. The most persistent motif is that of two-horned animals flanking a tree. The variant renderings of this and other motifs from the prehistoric period to Sasanian times provide a survey of the changing styles and of their basic traits.

As yet the knowledge of Iranian art is uneven, as is the interest in its various phases. While painted prehistoric pottery has been excavated in many different places in western and eastern Iran, the most spectacular finds of metal-work have been made in western Iran, especially in the region south-west of the Caspian Sea. Some phases of Iranian art are more fully illustrated in this book than others: prehistoric pottery, Elamite art of the late second millennium B.C., followed by a brief section on the Luristan bronzes. The last I consider to have been produced in part through stimuli received from Elamite art. Many objects from Hasanlu are illustrated thanks to . . . .

Though the chapters on Achaemenid and Sassanian art have most of the illustrations, these are nevertheless merely samples of the rich remains now known from these periods. Precise determination of the periods and of the local manifestations of pre-Achaemenid art such as the Luristan bronzes is still a matter of discussion, for modern excavations in Iran began as late as 1931-32 with the initial work of Georges Contenau and Roman Ghirshman at the pre-Achaemenid site of Tepe Giyan. The result of the work at this site was, for the first time, a relative dating of the prehistoric cultures of central western Iran. Before that, excavations in Iran--one must include Susa--were little more than unsystematic treasure hunts. Today there are scientific excavations carried out by different nations working with the Archaeological Service of Iran. Every summer excavations fill out a little more of the picture of ancient Iranian art and history.

In a field in which scholarly work has just begun, exchange of views with persons of varied knowledge and experience yields the most valid results. Thus chapters of this book contain not only my own ideas and those accepted from Robert H. Dyson Jr. and Charles K. Wilkinson, but also those of other colleagues [p. 13] like P. H. von Blanckenhage, Vaughn E. Crawford, Marc J. Dresden who very kindly consented to contribute to the glossary and the paragraphs characterizing the Iranian gods, Robert Gšbl, Jacques Duchesne Guillemin, Evelyn B. Harrison, Helene J. Kantor, Machteld J. Mellink, George C. Miles, Morton Smith, Ehsan Yar Shater.

Also some of my students contributed to the text . . . . Moreover, I have learnt a great deal from my frequent visits to the ever hospitable department of ancient Near Eastern art at the Metropolitan Museum [NY]. . . . . I also want to express my deep gratitude to . . . . 

Edith Porada, Columbia University, April 1964 [pp. 13-15]

Geography of Ancient Iran

The historical development of ancient Iran and of its art was largely influenced by the geographical conditions of the country. Iran lies between the Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south, between Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia, in the west and, in the east, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Soviet Union has a common border with Iran across the north to the point where the Turkish border runs down through Azerbaijan in the north-west. The modern frontiers of Iran as a political unit correspond only in a very limited way with those which existed at the time of the country's greatest political and cultural expansion, in the Achaemenid and Sassanian empires. In some instances, however, some of the boundaries follow natural features which divided and also protected the inhabitants of Iran from their neighbours in antiquity just as they do today. One such border runs southward through Baluchistan in the east, where mountains and deserts present obstacles to easy communication. Another, the Zagros range, separates northern Iraq from north-western Iran except for the road which winds through Kurdistan over mountain passes and down through the Diyala valley in to the Mesopotamian plain. In other areas access to Iranian territories is much easier, as in the south-west where the Khuzistan plain forms an extension of the Mesopotamian lowlands. [1] . . . .

As in Khuzistan so too in the north-east [of Iran] no difficult mountain barriers prevented the influx of peoples from the steppes of Central Asia. Repeated incursions of foreign groups came from this direction in historical times. Such groups as the Seljuk Turks or the Mongols subsequently took over political leadership in the entire country. We may assume that similar incursions also occurred in prehistoric times. These may have followed the great trade-route which is known in historic times to have come from Central Asia through the 'outer Iranian' towns of Samarkand, Bukhara, Merv, which are today in the Soviet Union, to Meshed, in modern Iran, from there to Raghes, near Teheran, then by way of Hamadan and Kermanshah to north-eastern Mesopotamia, in the valley of the Diyala, which leads to Baghdad on the Tigris. In the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, traders probably traveled upward along the green banks of the two great streams, especially the Euphrates, into Syria. No doubt this route or one much like it, which follows river courses and traverses mountain ranges at obvious passes, was already traveled in prehistoric times. There was probably also a more direct northern route of communication between Syria and north-western Iran, to judge by the Iranian or Syrian affinities of some of the finds made in northern Mesopotamia, affinities which are not shared with the more isolated south of Mesopotamia. [2]

As important as the roads which brought foreign influence into the country were the mountainous areas provided a refuge for peoples fleeing from invasions for a brief or permanent stay in the security of their mountain strongholds. The point has recently been made that 'the plains were the melting-pots [p. 17] of various peoples while the mountains provided isolated areas where various religious beliefs [or heresies], old traditions and customs could be maintained in comparative isolation from the great areas of history'. [3] The surprising survival of motifs and techniques in Iranian art over many centuries, and even millennia, may be explained by the traditions maintained in these refuge areas. An example of such an areas is seen in the mountain valleys of western Pakistan in a region formerly called Kafiristan or 'Land of the Infidels'. Horses of an ancestor statue in a graveyard in the Rumbur valley wear ornaments which are very similar to those seen on Assyrian reliefs and which also resemble finds of such ornaments made in Iran in Luristan and at Ziwiye in Kurdistan. [4] . . . . [p. 18]

In the earliest times trade was probably limited to objects passed from hand to hand rather than carried in large quantities by merchants in organized groups or caravans. In the earliest levels of excavations of Iranian villages, however, occasionally some stones and pottery types occur which cannot be of local origin. These must have come through trade, sometimes from a considerable distance. Perhaps we should not underestimate the spirit of adventure, and desire for material gain which may have already motivated intrepid traders in the New Stone Age. [p. 19]

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1. For a description of the Khuzistan region and its connections with Mesopotamia, see Adams, 'Early South-western Iran,' p. 109.

2. Ann L. Perkins, in Relative Chronologies in Old World Archaeology, ed. R. W. Ehrich [Univ. of Chicago Press, 1954], p. 42, pointed to the fact that northern Mesopotamia lay 'in the path of migratory movements and commerce between Syria and Iran [and farther Asia] and the lands bordering the Mediterranean.'

3. For a discussion of these 'areas of refuge,' see Frye, Heritage of Persia, pp. 7-9.

4. The ornaments of the wooden horses from the equestrian statue in the Rumbur valley, Kafiristan, are reproduced in I LN [March 30, 1963], p. 468, lower left. In the time of King Sargon [721-705 B.C.], Assyrian horses had similar ornaments worn in the same way, as shown in Barnett, Assyrian Reliefs, Pl. 43. Herzfeld, Iran, p. 141, Fig. 256, reproduced drawings of several slightly differing ornaments of this type, two of which are Assyrian, one comes from Luristan, another from the Ordos region. Examples made of shell in various shapes, which were found at Nimrud, are in the Metropolitan Museum, acc. nos. 54-117, 16-19.


The Beginnings of Art

The earliest objects found in Iran which manifest the desire to express an idea by forms that are effective and perhaps even pleasing are clay figurines found in the excavation of a Neolithic village at Tepe Sarab near Kermanshab. Two of these, which were most carefully executed, are here reproduced. One is a female figure called here the 'Venus' of Tepe Sarab; the other is a little boar.

The female figurine is represented seated with its legs stretched out. Buttocks, thighs and legs are summarized in club-like forms which taper toward the end. Each 'leg' has an oblique grove on the side, perhaps meant to indicate the division between leg and thigh. The ends of the club -like forms are broken off, but it is unlikely that the feet were separately shaped. At most there may have been a line separating the end from the rest of the form and indicating the ankle joint. The upper part of the body, in which the arms are not indicated, is shaped like a broad cone from which the tall neck rises as a steeper and much narrower cone, ending in a short, slightly lengthened horizontal ridge with a rounded edge. The pear-shaped breasts project from the cone of the body approximately at the inception of the neck. One may note that the figurine is put together from several single parts and that the shape of the legs is not unlike that of the breasts, which gives a certain visual unity to the sculpture.

The abstraction of the rendering suggests at once that there was not intention here of showing a specific individual; instead, the stress was placed on the general female characteristics, the breasts and thighs, which are obviously meant to express ideas of fertility. Numerous fragments of figurines of this type and also much plainer ones were found at Tepe Sarab. Other such female figurines with more or less schematized forms were found in the remains of the Early Village Cultures of the Near East [about 6000-4000 B.C.] From Tepe Sarab in Iran to Çatal Hüyük and Hacilar in Turkey. [1] They must have had a specific meaning which we can understand and render only in the most general terms: there undoubtedly existed a belief in sympathetic magic according to which fertility and wealth could be increased by effective renderings in sculpture and painting of the objects associated with them. Thus art was an instrument capable of exerting influence upon nature, man and perhaps even god--though for this early period we cannot assume the existence of concepts of anthropomorphic deities similar to those later known in the cultures of the ancient Near East.

The second figurine from Tepe Sarab represents a boar which is rendered very naturalistically, in contrast to the abstract form of the Venus. The legs are rendered in the simplest way, by pressing together and bending the clay into more or less angular shapes. Yet they create the impression of an animal in rapid movement. The irregular crossing lines on the body may represent bristles, but more likely, and more in keeping with renderings elsewhere, they indicate the wounds received from the weapons of the huntsman. Whatever the significance of this detail, it seems likely that the figurine was made to assure in some way future success in the hunt of the boar. This magical, or should we rather say 'practical', meaning of art for the people who desired these objects, and for those who executed them, appears to have survived in Iran until the Sasanian period. At the same time the desire to decorate an object so as to enliven its appearance should not be disregarded. The bone handle of a flint knife found in a very early [p. 21] level of the excavations at Tepe Sialk near Kashan might be interpreted in this manner. The handle shows a man in what later was the Persian posture of greeting, bowing from the hips with arms crossed. The head may be covered by a round cap of a type still worn today, but the face is chipped off. He wears a kilt rolled up at the waist. The separation of the legs is indicated by a shallow groove in front, below which the feet are shown by a very slight projection. Below the feet was a deep grove for the flint blade, which is not preserved. Other handles made of bone from Tepe Sialk have plain animal heads. We do not know whether these handles were made for magical purposes or merely for the pleasure of decorating. In either case a convincing rendering of human and animal forms has been achieved here as at Tepe Sarab by the simplest means.

Pottery, which appeared in Iran early in the Neolithic Age, provided a cheap substitute for carefully ground stone vessels and less permanent wood and skin containers. It satisfied the need for a variety of such containers in shapes ranging from drinking-cups to cooking pots and storage jars. Many of the vessels excavated in prehistoric sites are therefore utilitarian in nature with thick walls and little or no decoration.

From the beginning, however, the Iranian potter produced some decorated wares. Soon a whole range of fine pottery developed with local styles of decoration based on the ingenuity of the potter, who was inspired by materials and themes already established in his culture and by the stimulus provided by the natural forms of the surrounding countryside. The new medium, pottery, provided the wide range of creative opportunity. Not only could the plastic material be formed into a variety of shapes but its colour could be changed by changing the method of firing and its surface could be decorated by impressing or painting patterns on it. It is scarcely surprising that for over two thousand years, from about 5500 to about 3000 B.C., the shaping and painting of pottery was one of the principal artistic activities of the villagers of Iran. Even after 3000 B.C., the approximate date by which the first truly urban civilization had arisen at Susa in south-western Iran, the production of painted pottery continued in the villages of some areas for centuries.

A study of the art of Iran requires that only pottery representing high points in the artistic production of the country be mentioned here. It is to be understood of course, that such selected pottery by no means reflects the entire state of the ceramic industry in any given village culture.

The relevance of early pottery to the general development of art has been pointed out by Sir Herbert Read, who said: 'Pottery is at once the simplest and the most difficult of all arts. It is the simplest because it is the most elementary; it is the most difficult because it is the most abstract.' And continues: 'Judge the art of a country, judge the fineness of its sensibility by its pottery; it is a sure touchstone. Pottery is pure art; it is art freed from imitative intention. Sculpture, to which it is most nearly related, had from the first an imitative intention and it is perhaps to that extent less free from the expression of the will to form than pottery; pottery is plastic art in its most abstract essence.' [2]

The case for pottery is thus presented in a somewhat exaggerated form and without due consideration of the limitations imposed on the potter by his craft and by the purpose of the objects which he fashioned. Nevertheless, Read furnishes [p. 22] arguments for a consideration of pottery beyond that of archaeological chronology and the study of the diffusion of ceramic traits from one region to another. The latter two studies, however, provide our only guide to the arrangement of early Iranian cultures in space and time, since written sources are lacking for most regions until the middle of the first millennium B.C. --except at Susa, where Mesopotamian influence caused an output of cuneiform texts from the third millennium onward.

The limited extent of systematic archaeological investigation of Iran, and in several instances its poor quality, makes an outline of ceramic and consequently stylistic development highly tentative. Nevertheless, the broad outline for the piedmontal area of the central plateau and the lowland around Susa is discernible, as well as more recently that of early settlements in Azerbaijan.

In the mountain arc surrounding the central desert, reaching approximately from Persepolis and Kerman around to Teheran and Meshed, several early sites have been investigated which show a similar type of coarse buff-brown hand-made pottery. The clay contains a great deal of chopped straw used as a tempering agent to prevent cracking while drying and firing. Surfaces were commonly given a lustrous finish by over-all burnishing. In several excavated sites, such as Tall-i Bakun near Persepolis, and the Belt and Hotu caves, near Beshar on the Caspian shore, this ware, sometimes called soft ware because it crumbles easily, has been found to precede more decorated wares painted black on a red or buff ground. At two other early sites of importance, Tepe Sialk near Kashan and Cheshm-i Ali near Teheran, similar soft ware occurs without decoration along with the later painted pottery. Closely related plain wares associated with painted pottery also occur in the earl sites of Tepe Sarab near Kermanshah, in basal Tepe Giyan near Nihavend, and at Hajji Firuz Tepe in southern Azerbaijan. This extended enumeration of sites bearing a closely related type of pottery becomes interesting when it is realized that similarity in pottery implies contact between villages. In some way the knowledge of how to make pottery from clay mixed with chaff temper spread--whether by trade or by some other means is unknown. Nor is the centre of the earliest pottery manufacture in the Near East known, for the Iranian samples are as yet insufficient to suggest that they represent the sites where pottery was invented.

More distinctive of early Iranian art than the more primitive pottery are the Chalcolithic painted wares which developed on the plateau and also in the western mountains. Their distribution coincides on the one hand with the agricultural zone around the northern end of the central piedmont and on the other with major agricultural valleys in the Zagros. In the central area they have been found at sites near Kashan, Qum, Saveh, Rayy, Tepe Hissar Damghan and Nishapur, as well as on the Caspian coast at Hotu cave. In the Zagros they occur in the north at Hajji Firuz Tepe and Dalma Tepe in the Solduz valley of Azerbaijan; near Kermanshah they are found at Tepe Siahbid, and in the plains at Pasargadae and Persepolis we may mention Tall-i Bakun and Tall-i Nokhodi, [3] a new site. The history of one of these regional developments in painted pottery is best recorded at Tepe Sialk, where the earliest phase is one of purely abstract decoration. Typical of this stage are simple geometric patterns like the lozenges painted in black on a red ground inside the deep fragmentary bowl seen in Figure 2. Hatched and cross-hatched lozenges, zigzags and undulating lines were often used in groups of four, first on the inside and later on the outside of bowls. A second ware used a buff slip as the ground for a delicate type of panel [p. 23] pattern which may have been derived from basketry. All of the geometric designs are characterized by the extent to which they appear as net patterns imposed upon the background, which thus forms an integral part of every design. Only a few patterns composed of solid black triangles occur. The finer pottery with a narrow flat base from which the walls flare out and then change to a more vertical direction. The same basic form, but with the shoulder placed higher in the bowl, was still used in the third period of Sialk about a thousand years later. Another early Sialk form which has been associated with later shapes by the excavator, R. Ghirshman, is the open bowl on a large foot. The walls are much thicker than those previously described. Vessels of both types were covered with a buff slip and decorated with a panelled pattern. Radio-carbon tests indirectly suggest a date of around 5000 B.C. for this early phase on the plateau.

We speak here of one phase because there is consistency in the pottery found in the excavated layers or levels, of which there were five in Period I at Sialk. The first yielded no walls, but the other four present four subsequent levels of construction of pisé walls, which correspond to four levels of occupation. When the pottery changes, when new forms of decoration, new colours, new shapes appear, it is assumed that a new period or phase has begun. Such changes may have been brought about by the addition of a new element in the population, or they may have been independently evolved. The latter seems unlikely when a change in pottery is accompanied by changes in the other remains such as building materials and methods. Such changes occurred between Periods I and I at Sialk when the pisé walls of Period I were replaced by the mud brick of Period II and [p. 24] the pottery of Period II appeared, which is more evolved than that of Period I. It is thin-walled, generally fired a brick red, and contains less straw than the foregoing wares. Patterns now expand. The interiors of deep bowls are divided into segments of different design or are covered by over-all designs. Often the pattern consists of geometric forms and lines so combined as to suggest organic forms. Most distinctive of this new departure are ibexes obtained by adding two short curved lines as horns to a form composed of two semicircles with the space between filled by vertical hatching. A bowl in the Metropolitan Museum, with linked ibex horns in a delicate pattern inside, is a fine example of the style of Period II which has been found at numerous sites other than Sialk--for example, at Kara Tepe in Shahriyar province west of Teheran, where an almost identical bowl was discovered. [4]

The third period at Sialk witnessed the emergence of more naturalistic animal forms than before and the combination of motifs into more complex compositions. By the middle of the period vertically and horizontally directed motifs had appeared. The vertical ones consisted of four elements: superimposed volutes, horizontal 'bird' chevrons, horned lozenges and vertical placed snakes. Horizontal motifs consisted of geometric forms like chequer-boards, but the more interesting vessels have rows of animals, felines, birds or a snake. At the end of the period horned animals are seen, first in panels, then in cursorily executed rows. Man appears fairly frequently with triangular thorax and summarily rendered head. To the same period belongs a vase in the shape of an animal; such vases are called theriomorphic.

The change in decoration corresponds to the change in the consistency of the clay and in the manner of manufacture. At the beginning of the period the clay still [p. 26] contains some straw, but by the middle the clay is very compact with virtually no straw and the surface is smooth, with a soapy feeling. Increased firing temperatures due to improved kilns changed the red colouring to buff or cream [the entire range often occurring on a single vessel] to which a slight lustre is added by light burnishing. Later the surface and paint are again left mat and the colour of the clay has a greenish cast reminiscent of the clays of south-western Iran and Mesopotamia. A most important technological revolution, which occurred during Period III, was the introduction of the potter's wheel, which permitted mass production of new and more regular shapes. The appearance of the actual 'fast' wheel may have been preceded by use of a turn-table, or tournette, as it is called in French. This was a device by which the potter could easily bring every side of the vessel within his reach by turning it on a movable base--a mat or perhaps a clay or stone disk--which in some instances may have been pivoted. The actual potter's wheel can be made to spin fast enough to impart centrifugal force to a centered lump of clay. The result is a more regular form with more sharply defined profiles. A footed beaker was one of the characteristic forms of this new technique, but older forms carried on as well. [p. 27]

In the middle of Period III at Sialk connections can be observed with the potter of other sites, for example, with that of Tepe Hissar at Damghan several hundred miles to the north-east. The main body of Hissar painted pottery [Period IB and IC] is very similar to its Sialk counterpart. Footed beakers with rows of animals and animals in panels, for example, are also found at both sites. One would like to theorize on the nature of this relationship. Why was one pottery essentially duplicated in another place? How did it become known: through trade, through migrant workers or through migration of a people? At any rate the fact that there were connections not only with Hissar but also with the pottery of Tepe Giyan--far to the west, over steep mountain passes--and with other sites indicates that the art of pottery-making was widespread and subject to influences from afar. The technique of mass production which had been created with the potter's wheel and the form of decoration, a combination of geometric and animal forms tastefully adjusted to the form of the vessel, laid the foundation for much of the stylistic tradition which subsequently characterized the pottery of Iran and which eventually found its way even to central India.

The sequence of south-western Iranian pottery cultures is known from two areas, Susiana and the Persepolis plain. Susiana, the region surrounding Susa, has prior claim to our interest because of the fact that prehistoric Iranian pottery was first discovered there and because, owing to its inherent aesthetic appeal, this pottery was the subject of a major essay in stylistic analysis made by the classical archaeologist E. Pottier. [5] Prehistoric Iran was thereby brought for the first time into the field of vision of general art history. When the painted pottery of Susa with its marvelously balanced panelled animal designs was first discovered, it was considered the earliest in the area. Recent excavations however, have shown that it came very late indeed in a development which began before 6500 BC., at a time when pottery was not yet used in the region. [6] Once painted pottery had been developed, several stages followed each other in the Susiana before the exceptional quality of the Susa I pottery had been attained [see Appendix, Chart I: Painted Pottery of Iran].

The example of Susa pottery usually shown is one of the large goblets with ibexes. Of all the painted pottery objects of the ancient Near East, the one here reproduced, which is in the Louvre, is the most successful. The design consists of three panels in each of which the principal figure is an ibex, its body formed by two connected triangles with curved sides. The curve of the back is continued in the marvelous sweep of the horns, which enclose an unidentifiable round object, marked with a central line of chevrons suggesting a plant and, at the side, cross-hatched segments. It may be only a filler design for an otherwise empty space; at the same time it may also give a shorthand indication of plant and pasture. The frame surrounding the ibex becomes slightly narrower toward the bottom and thereby emphasizes the shape of the vessel. A stress on the circular circumference of the goblet is produced by a row of running saluki-like dogs with elongated bodies and also by the dark bands which border each register of [p. 28] animals. The top is formed by birds with long thin necks; these create a very light design in contrast to the bottom, which has a thick band of dark paint that gives solidity to the base. Our short description can only enumerate the elements of the design; it cannot render adequately in words the extraordinary feeling for balance in every detail expressed by the decoration of this vessel.

In addition to the goblets, the insides of open bowls show paintings of similar character, also with a remarkable equipoise between geometric ornament and animal form. The latter is so adjusted to decorative purposes that the over-all effect is entirely harmonious. The composition of the design stresses the circular form of the bowl in various ways: by bands which partly follow the curve of the bowl but turn several times at right angles, by three or four circles arranged within the bowl, or by lines which form counter-curves to the circumference of the bowl. Less artful arrangements involve concentric circles or radial compositions.

In the Persepolis region, at Tall-i Bakun, the probably contemporary painted pottery did not reach quite the degree of sophistication of that at Susa. A pleasing object is, however, one of the many conical bowls painted on the outside with two moufflons whose tremendously enlarged horns form swelling spirals. The space between the horns is filled by cross-hatched squares and circles with an enclosed cross.

Other patterns from Tall-i Bakun and Tal-i Nokhodi show the use of negative design with the same freedom as in a painted filled design. A reversal of forms in rhythmic sequence rather than axial symmetry is also to be observed.

The decorative inventiveness of the early potters of Iran, their sense of form and balance, the assurance with which they executed their lines and shapes, transformed these vessels of simple clay into pleasing works of art. It seems likely that the pottery motifs had more than merely decorative value, but all speculation about their meaning must remain simply speculation.

The use of seals accompanied the emergence of civilization in Iran as in many other regions of western Asia. These engraved seal-stones of various shapes were impressed on lumps of clay which had been pressed over the strings wound around the neck of a vessel to secure in place the piece of woven material or other device which was employed to cover the mouth of the vessel. Other such clay sealings assured the safety of the contents of baskets or of containers fashioned of various materials. No unauthorized person could tamper with goods protected by clay sealings without risking the heavy penalties imposed on thieves in antiquity. [p. 30]

Aside from its practical function, the design engraved on the sealing surface--geometric, animal or human forms--probably had a general protective significance. Thus the seals which were usually perforated and worn as a pendant on a necklace or bracelet surely also served as amulets.

As in the potter of Iran, several groups can be distinguished among the stamp seals of that country, their style differing according to place and date of origin. [7] Only two examples are shown here, both of them closely related to groups of seals represented at Susa, although both were said to have been found in Luristan. The first is a black plaque perforated lengthwise through the middle of the object. One side of the plaque is engraved with a demon with a human body and moufflon horns. The demon has the elbows bent and both hands raised in a gesture of conjuration. Two snakes extend their triangular heads toward the demon's armpits. On either side of the demon appear several V-shaped lines of diminishing size and unknown meaning. The design is deeply and sharply gouged out from the relatively soft stone. All the shapes, such as the demon's limbs, are indicated merely by lines--except for his thorax, which is a triangular plane with horizontal lines and small vertical nicks, perhaps meant to suggest hair. Some surface design is also indicated on the bodies of the snakes, which are represented by two lines between which there is hatching in changing directions. The plaque belongs to the style of Susa A, contemporary with the beautiful pottery discussed above. In one of the painted bowls [8] occurs a human figure whose torso is similarly rendered in triangular form, although the fact that the demon on the seal has bent knees and the figure on the bowl stands upright makes the latter seem more advanced and human, whereas our demon seems to be shuffling along like an animal.

The second seal shown here is called in seal terminology a low hemispheroid. The seal is of dark red stone and has on the base the figure of a demon with the head of an ibex and feet in the form of heads of horned animals--the one recognizable horn looks like that of a bovine animal, but one cannot be sure with one hand the demon holds an ibex by the horns, with the other he raises a second ibex by one hind leg. It seems as if the demon were about to throw these animals into the air. His body is covered with short striations which probably indicate a hariy skin. The engraving is much more delicate than on the foregoing seal; the entire surface of the bodies is hollowed out of the stone, and the outlines are almost naturalistically drawn. Moreover, despite the animal-head form of the feet, the demon's posture is so human that one is inclined to think of a man in the guise of a demon rather than a creature from the fearful unreasoning world of animal demons.

It is interesting to note that in the period to which the second stamp seal belongs, Susa B, the painted pottery of Susa A appears to have been largely replaced by unpainted pottery with characteristics of the Uruk period of Mesopotamia. [9] At all times Mesopotamian art appears to have centered more on man than did the pre-Islamic art of Iran. Perhaps Mesopotamian influence, so noticeable in the pottery of Susa of that time, was also responsible for the striking differences from the moufflon demon in the conception of the ibex demon in this seal. The difference in the horns, moufflon and ibex, of the demons on our two seals may or may not indicate a basic difference in the meaning of the figures. We can only say that, of the two, the ibex demon was far more widely represented and seems to have alternated on seal impressions from Susa with a human master of animals who in one case wears ibex horns on a fez-like headgear. [10] [p. 32]

This is the first evidence for the representation of human and demonic creatures whose power to control snakes and other dangerous animals transcends that of ordinary men. Unfortunately we may never know whether we should call these powerful superhuman beings gods, shamans or--taking into consideration the occasional human form of the figure--kings with superhuman powers.

When the ibex demon was represented in Mesopotamia [11] he probably had a different and lesser significance. At least in historical times, gods were shown in Mesopotamia in human form and only demons, most of them evil, were given features of animals. [p. 33]

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1. For a description of the Khuzistan region and its connections with Mesopotamia, see Adams, 'Early South-western Iran,' p. 109.

2. Ann L. Perkins in Relative Chronologies in Old World Archaeology, ed. R. W. Ehrich [Univ of Chicago Press, 1954], p. 42, pointed to the fact that northern Mesopotamia lay 'in the path of migratory movements and commerce between Syria and Iran [and farther Asia] and the lands bordering the Mediterranean.'

3. For a discussion of these 'areas of refuge,' see Frye, Heritage of Persia, pp. 7-9.

4. The ornaments of the wooden horses from the equestrian statue in the Rumbur valley, Kafiristan, are reproduced in ILN [March 30, 1963], p. 468, lower left. In the time of King Sargon [721-705 B.C.], Assyrian horses had similar ornaments worn in the same way, as shown in Barnett, Assyrian Reliefs, Pl. 43. Herzfeld, Iran, p. 141, Fig. 256, reproduced drawings of several slightly differing ornaments of this type, two of which are Assyrian, one comes from Luristan, another from the Ordos region. Examples made of shell in various shapes, which were found at Nimrud, are in the Metropolitan Museum, acc. nos. 54-117, 16-19.

5. For an archaeological survey of Seistan, see W. A. Fairservis, Archeological Studies in the Seiston Basin of Southwestern Afghanistan and Eastern Iran [Anthroplogical Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 48, New York, 1961].

6. Numerous sources of copper are known elsewhere in Iran; see R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology IX [Leyden, 1964], p. 9.

7. Textural evidence for ancient trade in metal from Elam is very limited. W. F. Leemans, Foreign Trade in the Old Babylonian Period [Studia et documenta ad iura orientis antiqui . . . VI, Leyden, 1960], gives a few references for tin, op. cit., p. 124, and for copper, op. cit., pp. 83-84. That the principal copper trade did not go through Susa in the late third and early second millennium B.C. but through Dilmun was demonstrated by A.L. Oppenheim, 'The Seafaring Merchants of Ur,' Journal of the American Oriental Society 74 [1954], pp. 6-17.

[notes 8, 9, 10, 11 are not included here . . . .] 



The Art of The Early Urban Civilization

The early urban civilization of Susa appears to have matured in the last centuries of the fourth millennium B.C. under the impetus of the contemporary development in Mesopotamia called the Proto-Historic period. In this period stamp seals were almost completely replaced by roller-shaped and lengthwise perforated seal-stones called cylinder seals. These were to become the most distinctive product of art in Mesopotamia and also in Susa. The administrative officers of what we may assume to have been royal or temple estates of Susa made notations on clay tablets shaped like pin-cushions. At first these notations consisted only of numerals; slightly later, and probably owing to a stimulus from the records of Mesopotamia, a pictographic script was developed whose signs were written with a stylus on the clay tablets. We call the script--which is still largely unintelligible--Proto-Elamite because it precedes the linear Elamite of the last third of the third millennium B.C., which was deciphered in 1961. [1] To authenticate the record on the tablet, the scribe rolled his cylinder seal over it while the clay was still soft and retained the impression of the design carved in reverse on the seal-stone. The tablet, which soon dried as hard as stone, became an almost indestructible document.

In Susa cylinder seals were made of marble, of variously coloured limestone, and also of a composite material which was probably faience, though it has not been analyzed. The seals were engraved with copper instruments used with an abrasive such as fine sand. Deep hollows were doubtless made with a bow-drill. Since the style and to some extent also the subject-matter of cylinder seals changed from period to period and since they are preserved in greater numbers than large works of art, the representations on cylinder seals are often our only evidence of the style and current themes of a given period. For the time of the early urban civilization of Susa, for example, cylinders and seal impressions are the principal sources for our knowledge of the art and culture of the period. They show men hunting, tending cattle, hoeing the ground, making and filling storage vessels, storing grain in silos which are not unlike Egyptian ones in outline, baking, weaving, and carrying an exalted personage or statue in a procession. A bearded warrior, doubtless the ruler, is shown transfixing with arrows a host of nude enemies who seem to have threatened a noble temple on a terrace. [2] Slightly later than this group of lively scenes, found on the tablets inscribed only with numerals, are seal designs, called Proto-Elamite, the repertory of which consists almost exclusively of animals or monsters such as griffins. These animals are arranged in rows, composed antithetically or combined in scenes. [3] Our example shows two ibexes leaping toward a pine-tree on a mountain indicated by a pattern of scales. Two equilateral crosses are in the upper field on either side of the crown of the tree; a further cross appears above the back of the ibex on the left. [4] A secondary motif shows in the upper field two antelopes leaping toward a second tree beside which flowers grow. The design is produced by deep lines; the artist was obviously most concerned with the expressive outlines of the animals. The motif of horned animals flanking a tree was preserved for several millennia until Sasanian times in Iran and also became known to other peoples of the Near East in whose art it is frequently found. We have no means of discovering the precise meaning of the motif, but the relation of tree and animal probably expressed certain ideas about the vital forces of nature. [p. 34]

The most interesting among the Proto-Elamite cylinders show animal demons. These monstrous forms with a combination of man and animal recall the demons of the stamp seals and may have been descended from them. In addition to these earlier ibex and moufflon demons, however, a lion and a bull demon were also rendered in Proto-Elamite seals.

Some indication of the significance of the lion demon may be given by a seal impression in which two such creatures are shown walking between mountains represented by heaps of small cones. The gigantic size of the lion demons in relation to the mountains is too striking to be without meaning, although proportions are usually not important in ancient Near Eastern renderings of landscapes. Here, however, one cannot escape the conclusion that the leonine demons were thought to have great power over the mountainous country through which they stride in the seal design.

To judge by another seal impression a bull demon was as powerful as the lion demon, for in this seal design both creatures are shown as if in equipoise: the lion seems to have two bulls in his power, and conversely the bull controls two lions.

A lion demon sculptured in the round is also preserved from this period. [5] Although the figure is little more than eight centimeters high, it conveys an impression of monumental power. The stone, probably magnesite, has the colour of ivory and a smooth, almost luminous surface. The figure is here called a lioness because of the obviously feminine forms of the lower body, but the sex of the figure is not defined and it is possible that a sexless creature was intended. The figure stands before us in an upright human posture, her paws held like fists below her breasts in a gesture characteristic of human figures of the same period in Mesopotamia. [6] From the heavy neck emerges the majestic leonine head, which is turned sideways to rest on the left shoulder. Only a shallow ridge separates the neck from the back and shoulders so that there is the least possible interruption of the nearly triangular outline formed by head and thorax. The lower part of the body is turned at right angles from the thorax so that the legs [p. 35] and abdomen face in the same direction as the head. The accentuated abdomen balances the strong backward curve of the haunches. The legs are cut off above the knee, and the stumps are smoothed off. One stump bears a dowel hole suggesting that the lower legs were made separately, perhaps of a different material. Two holes were drilled in the back of the neck and four at the base of the spine. The four holes were surely intended to tie on the tail, and the pendent bands beside it, seen on the seal impression. The holes on the neck, at the back of the head, cannot be so easily explained. Perhaps the figure had occasionally to serve as a male lion and at such times received a mane, which was tied on with a thin cord slipped through the holes. These were certainly not intended to receive a support for some object which the lioness may have carried, as has been suggested without consideration of the position and the nature of the holes. [7]

The modelling of the figure is superb. The anatomical knowledge displayed, in the indication of the upper leg muscles, for example, is truly surprising. However, such details are stressed no more than is compatible with retaining the overall effect of the form. Thus the paws are treated rather summarily, so as not to weaken the powerful triangle of the thorax.

Only the head is accorded greater realism, a multitude of planes producing various changes from light to shade. The empty sockets of the eyes, in which the graded shadows now add a touch of mysterious life, were once filled with eyeballs of stone or shell and perhaps blue lapis-lazuli pupils. The detailed modelling of the small head effectively accentuates the impact of the less differentiated massive thorax. However, the unity of the form is preserved by the rhythm of the planes, which repeat the pattern of the head in simplified and larger manner throughout the body.

Sculptural means such as those employed for this little lioness might equally well have been used for the creation of a larger statue. This is undoubtedly the reason for the monumental quality of this figure, a quality shared by a number of small works of the proto-Historic period in Mesopotamia.

At the end of this period in Mesopotamia and in Susa, where it is called Susa C., there occurred a striking change in style. In Susa D and in the contemporary early Dynastic period of Mesopotamia the style which emerged in cylinder seals and also in a steatite vase, found at Khafaje but perhaps made in Iran, is flat and linear, almost as if there had been a return to the manner of the early Iranian stamp seals. The figures were hollowed out of the stone as flat planes and varied only by linear patterns. On one side of the vessel a bull which lies on his back is being devoured by a lion, while a falcon or hawk has swooped down to profit from the kill. The design of the animals is extraordinarily expressive: [p. 37] the tense, greedy lion, the lifeless mass of the bull, and the two little bears on either side of a date-palm which lick their mouths after having eaten the sweet fruit. The principal figures of the vase, however, seem to be human or divine. One of them kneels on the back of one of two addorsed bulls, holding streams of water with each hand. Another such figure stands between two lions, holding two snakes. Each figure appears to be characterized as a deity or her representative by a large rosette or star over the left shoulder. Plants which sprout from the watercourses and fill the field suggest the fertility of life-giving water. [8] Control of snakes and lions hostile to man may be indicated by the second motif. The third may show beasts, unrestrained by man or god, destroying a defenseless bull. Such interpretations, stimulated by a study of the vase, unfortunately cannot be proved. We may point, however, to the fact that the equipoise of the figure with bulls and what may be the same figure with lions seen on this vase recalls the Proto-Elamite cylinder seal with an apparent balance of power between lion and bull.

The imprint of a cylinder seal from Susa, from a later stage of the Early Dynastic period, shows long-haired youths who are perhaps related to the figures on the steatite vase. They are in attendance on a deity sitting or kneeling on a lion. The date of the cylinder seal is indicated by the frieze of fighting heroes and animals in the lower register. To judge by Mesopotamian examples, it cannot have been carved much before 2500 B.C. The imprint shows an interesting combination of Mesopotamian stylistic conventions with concepts which appear to have been at home in Susa and probably also in other parts of Iran.

The painted pottery of Susa D has fewer points of contact with Mesopotamian pottery than the cylinder seals have. Only the non-fast polychrome decoration is comparable to the scarlet ware with fugitive red paint used at the beginning of the First Early Dynastic period in the Diyala region. The motifs, of Plate 7, however--a large star, a curiously insecurely positioned goat with a small human figure above--have no parallels in Mesopotamian art. The powerfully stylized eagle with spread wings on the back of this vessel [9] is not unlike contemporary designs from Tepe Giyan near Nihavend; the star pattern also points to a connection with the pottery designs of that site in northern Luristan. [p. 38]


1. For the decipherment of some of the texts with linear Elamite script, see W. Hinz, 'Zur Entzifferung der elamischen Strichschrift,' Iranica Antiqua II/1 [1962], pp. 1-21.

2. For the lively scenes on seal impressons from Susa, see Amiet, Glyptique, Pls. 14-17 and Pl. 46, Fig. 659; for the observation that the silos resemble those of Egypt, see p. 104, remarks about Pl. 16, Figs. 267-269; Pl. 36, Fig. 555; Pl. 37, Figs. 567, 568.

3. For the impressions and extant seals assigned by Amiet to the 'Proto-Elamite' style, see op . cit. [in note III/2], Pls. 32-38 bis, to Fig. I.

4. Unfortunately the impression of the seal published in Delaporte, Louvre I, Pl. 24:8 [S. 254], was not fully reproduced on the present plate, Plate 5, owing to erroneous cutting on the part of the engraver.

5. For a discussion of this leonine demon, see E. Porada, 'A Leonine Figure of the Protoliterate Period of Mesopotamia,' Journal of the American Oriental Society 70 [1950], pp. 223-226.

6. A posture with both fists held below the breast is seen in the male figure from Uruk published by E. Strommenger, FünfJahrtausende Mesopotamien [Munich, 1962], Pl. 33.

7. The suggestion was made by Amiet, op. cit. [in note III/2], p. 109.

8. This interpretation agrees in part with the one given by Frankfort in Art and Architecture, p. 19.

9. For publication of the vase and a drawing of the entire representation, see Revue d'Assyriologie XXXIV [1937], p. 151.


The Art of the Akkad and Post-Akkad Periods in Western Iran; Contemporary Art Works of North-Eastern Iran


The powerful Akkad dynasty, which put an end to the Sumerian city-states of Mesopotamia about 1270 B.C., extended its rule over western Iran also, especially over the south-west: Elam, with its capital city of Susa. Susa may have been a trading centre for some of the raw materials from Iran needed in Mesopotamia: metals, stone and timber. Military campaigns by the Akkadians and later rulers of Mesopotamia were probably necessary to assure the continuous flow of these materials but also [and this was more important] to hold in check the predatory Elamite highlanders, who were always eager to raid the Mesopotamian towns which had grown rich through industry and trade. Elam seems to have had some sort of a federation of such highlanders, with their own, probably half-nomadic living pattern, and the townspeople of Susa and other centres who shared the urban way of life developed in Mesopotamia. [1]

No large monuments are known in Iran from the time of the Akkad dynasty, but a relief of King Naramsin [2291-2255 B.C.] near Darband-i Gawr in southern Kurdistan in Iraq may have influenced somewhat later reliefs at Sar-i Pul, [2] not far from Kermanshah in the Kurdish mountains on the Iranian side of the frontier. In one of these reliefs King Anubanini of the Lullubi tribes--which Akkadian texts locate north of the Elamites--represented himself triumphing over his enemies with the help of the goddess Inanna. Inanna extends to the [p. 40] king a ring, a symbol of divine authority in Mesopotamian iconography. The important role of the goddess Inanna in this relief corresponds to the significant position of the goddess Pinikir in the Elamite pantheon. In the treaty which Naramsin concluded with a king of Awan--a country probably also located north of Elam, but considerably further south than the Lullubi tribes--the invocation of the chief goddess Pinikir precedes the enumeration of the other thirty-five gods of the Elamite pantheon called as witnesses. The text of the clay tablet begins: 'Hearken goddess Pinikir . . . and you good gods of heaven.' [3] The predominance of a female deity declined later in the official religion of Elam, but the presence of numerous female figurines in all levels of the excavations at Susa until the middle of the first millennium B.C. documents her continued importance in popular esteem. A resurgence of veneration for a female goddess at the official level may be observed again in the ascendancy of the Persian Anahita from the later Achaemenid to the Sasanian period. At that time the relief of Anubanini may have been one of the numerous sources of inspiration for the rock-cut reliefs showing the investitute of Sasanian rulers by their divine patrons. The head-dress of the leader of the shackled enemies of Anubanini is very interesting. He wears a feather crown such as that found in a few hammered bronzes of Luristan belonging to the early first millennium B.C. [4]

In Susa the works of art dating from the Akkad period include few objects other than cylinder seals. These resemble Mesopotamian examples so closely that they can scarcely be differentiated. A cylinder seal of unknown origin in the collection of Mossène Foroughi, which can be dated in the Akkad period, shows, however, such unusual style and subject-matter, probably distinctly Iranian, that it will be described in detail. [5] The main figure of the scene seems to be a seated female with snakes issuing from her shoulders and a bull's head above her head. Presumably this is a deity. Before her kneels a servant with two triangular objects, perhaps small vessels, at her sides. Above the goddess appears an eagle [p. 41] over one of whose wings is a human head, perhaps a rendering of Etana [discussed below]. The eagle faces a snake, below which is a musical instrument. Two undulating lines, perhaps serpents whose heads are not indicated, divide off a curious combination of designs: the hind parts of a bull or ox, cut off and upside-down, appear above a female torso over a stool with bull's feet. Below the stool appear the foreparts of the bull or ox. At the upper right of this extraordinary combination of motifs squats a female figure, resembling the goddess enthroned in another part of the seal. The second figure, however, merely seems to hold a snake in her hand, instead of having the reptiles emerge from her shoulders. Below this female figure is a stool marked by vertical and diagonal lines. Two small birds are seen on the ground beside the motif enclosed by undulating lines. A very tenuous interpretation of the scene may be suggested on the basis of the Mesopotamian myth of the shepherd king Etana who flew to heaven on the back of an eagle to obtain the plant of birth for his wife. Numerous Akkadian cylinder seals showing a man on the back of an eagle have been interpreted as illustrating the flight of Etana. In our cylinder the eagle with a human head appearing over its wing may render this subject in an abbreviated manner. The juxtaposition of the eagle with a serpent may refer to the widespread theme of the enmity between eagle and serpent. [6] In the preamble of the Etana myth the eagle devours the young of the snake, and the snake avenges itself on the advice of the sun god Shamash by hiding in the carcass of an ox and attacking the eagle when he crawls into the carcass to feed from it. One may wonder whether the latter incident is rendered in the motif of the female torso between the two halves of a bull or ox on our cylinder seal. While the serpent of the Mesopotamian myth is male, the Iranian version could have featured a female serpent in view of the early prominence of female deities mentioned above. Pictorial support for the existence of a major deity of fertility associated with snakes and streams of water is given by the later Proto-Historic or Early Dynastic steatite vase from Khafaje. In a Mesopotamian myth the motif of such a snake deity of Iranian origin could have been garbled to suit the taste of the Mesopotamian story-teller. The original dignified conception of such a deity in Iran at the time of the Akkad dynasty, however, may be reflected in the rendering of the enthroned goddess on our cylinder seal.

The empire of Akkad came to an end about 2230 B.C. largely as a result of the pressures of groups of tribes on the borders of the empire. The barbarous Guti who swept into the plain from the Zagros mountains brought about the final collapse of the dynasty. At the same time Susa seems to have experienced an invasion of similarly destructive and probably related tribes.

A curiously simplified and repetitious group of cylinder seal designs may be associated with these Guti. [7] The cylinders of this type found at Susa were made of faience and show a principal figure which has one or more pairs of horns rising like excrescences from the head. The figure usually grasps a two-headed horned animal while menacing a second horned animal. The renderings may be derived from Mesopotamian examples of cylinder seals engraved with a frieze of struggling heroes, demons and animals. Such groups of objects, in which Mesopotamian tradition seems to have lingered, may have served to transmit to later Iranian craftsmen garbled versions of ancient Mesopotamian motifs. In this way some of the iconography of the later Luristan bronzes which favoured a horned figure between animals might find an explanation. At the same time it is possible that the horned figure was more than an appealing formal motif for the [p. 42] inhabitants of the mountains of Luristan, and that the concept of a master of animals, a demon with animal horns, first found on the prehistoric stamp seals of the region, was preserved in this area.

The distribution of cylinder seals marks the extent of Mesopotamian and Elamite influence in Iran. Its absence in the north-east, at Tureng Tepe and Tepe Hissar, is shown by the fact that only very few cylinders were found at Tepe Hissar and none at Tureng Tepe. The earlier excavation at that site--for it is at present being excavated anew [8]--yielded several clay statuettes, the most arresting of which, dark grey in colour, is here reproduced in a drawing. It is interesting to compare this idol with the Venus from Tepe Sarab, which was made several thousand years before. In both idols the female characteristics are greatly stressed; in the example form Tureng Tepe, however, the proportions are more natural. Furthermore, there is a striking contrast between the earlier figure, which sits heavily on the ground--as if it were tied to the earth --and the idol from Tureng Tepe, which stands upright before the viewer with arms spread like wings so that the figure seems light and dignified despite its ample proportions. This effect, which is further enhanced by a diadem and many necklaces, suggests that the little figurine may represent a goddess. The fact that the figure was found in a burial, lying against the arm of the skeleton, would not militate against such an interpretation. [9]

The general context in which the figurine was found and its grey colour link it with levels of Hissar which were given the classification Hissar III B-C and which should be dated to the end of the third millennium and the earlier part of the second millennium B.C. [10] These levels at Hissar, so undramatically classified, contain some of the great problems of Iranian archaeology and history: the origin of the metal wealth, metal technology and metal tools of the community at Tepe Hissar and the origin of its grey, often patterned, burnished pottery. Further problems concern the connection between the early ware of Hissar, Tureng Tepe and other sites in this eastern region of Iran and the later grey ware cultures of western Iran. The most important and the most difficult problem connected with this pottery, however, concerns the identity of its makers. The most recent theory put forward considers the possibility that the grey ware was the favoured pottery of the Indo-Europeans in Iran and that its distribution marked their advance in that country. [11] Of the rich metal finds from Hissar III we reproduce [p. 43] here only a drawing of a moufflon head, one of five, made of gold foil and intended to be sewn on to some sort of textile. These precious objects were part of a hoard buried at the end of Hissar III, probably shortly before the site was attacked and destroyed by fire. [12]

The powerful sweep of the horns, the eyes staring out of the head, suggest a more than decorative significance for this object. One would like to know whether there was any connection between the frequent representations of moufflon and ibex on the one hand and of female figurines on the other.

Tentatively we may suggest here that attention to be focused on some rites and concepts which Karl Jettmar was able to observe in villages of Dardistan, situated in north-western India, where 'the three most eminent mountain chains of Asia meet--the Hindukush, Himalaya and Karakoram. Most of this area is inhabited by Indo-Aryan or Iranian peoples'. [13] In the remote valleys of this region ancient religious traditions maintained themselves without interference by the Muhammadan zealots who had destroyed such traditions in neighbouring Kafiristan. Only the wood carvings of Kafiristan still manifest today a similarly tenacious retention of ancient traditions [see p. 18]. The most interesting tradition of Dardistan concerns the cult of a goddess Murkum who was worshipped by all the women of the Haramosh valley. 'She helped in delivery and protected mother and child; yet she was also the chief owner of all ibexes and wild goats denoted by the collective term of mayaro. Therefore she was venerated by hunters, too, who brought her horns'. [14] Jettmar describes a sanctuary of Murkum, which was still in use, as lying almost three thousand metres above sea-level just in front of the Haramosh; this was 'no accident as the mountain was considered the proper home of the Murkum. On the steep slope there is an altar built of boulders dominated by a cliff as big as a house with a juniper tree growing beside it. Next to it is a spring. Below the altar crude benches of stone were erected for the annual meeting of the women. Nut-trees grow between them. Even they are considered holy and no branches were ever broken off.' In the rites performed at the annual meeting of the women at the sanctuary, the goddess was to send the sacrifice, a she-ibex. A male priest is said to have participated in the ceremony by performing a dance and by killing the ibex and dividing it up. The ministry of this priest 'is now abolished but women anxious about the welfare of their families still come to the altar table and put leaves of juniper between the boulders.'

Similar concepts concerning a deity, 'owner-goddess of the animals', also prevailed in some districts of the Caucasus. There, as in the Haramosh valley, a hunter can capture his prey only with her consent. Sometimes the goddess appears in the shape of a "pure" animal. The precise idea that a slaughtered animal may be revived from its bones occurs in both areas. Even the detail that a missing bone can be replaced by a rod is identical. Here, as there, the belief is connected with wild goats and this must be a very old affinity, because Thor, the Germanic god, plays the same trick on his bucks.

'Today there is a vast empty distance between the two centres, the Caucasus and the Hindukush/Karakoram, but once perhaps similar beliefs existed on the Iranian plateau and were destroyed in the course of the violent history of this area.' The possibility here suggested of using the complex of ideas discovered in Dardistan and known from the Caucasus for the interpretation of early works of art from Iran is very tempting but must unfortunately remain a hypothesis without documentary proof. [p. 44]


[ Continue ]

1. For comments on the 'link between the plain and the mountains' which was 'one of the fundamental factors of Elamite history,' see W. Hinz, 'Persia, c. 2400-1800 B.C.,' CAH I/XXIII [1963], p. 4. E. Reiner and M. J. Stève are very doubtful of the validity of some of Hinz' historical interpretations.

2. A good photograph of Naramsin's relief from Darband-i Gawr is found in Von der Osten, Welt der Perser, Pl. 9. Details of the relief are reproduced in the article by E. Strommenger, 'Das Felsrelief von Darband-i-Gaur' Baghdader Mitteilungen 3 [1963], Pls. 15-18. For the reliefs of Sar-i Pul, see N. C. Debevoise, 'The Rock Reliefs of Ancient Iran,' JNES I [1942], pp. 80-82.

3. See Hinz, op. cit. [in note IV [1], p. 21 for the quotation from the Khita treaty with the appeal to the goddess Pinikir, and pp. 21-32 for a summary of religion in ancient Elam.

4. For a disk-shaped bronze pin-head of Luristan type with a figure wearing a feather crown, see A. U. Pope, Masterpieces of Persian Art [New York, 1945], p. 32 [Pl. 16], lower right.

5. For an article on this cylinder seal, see E. Porada in Compte rendu de l'onzième rencontre assyriologique internationale [Leyden, 1964], pp. 88-93.

6. The theme of eagle and serpent was treated by R. Wittkower, 'Eagle and Serpent; a Study in the Migratin of Symbols,' Journal of the Warburg Institute II [1938-1939], pp. 293-325.

7. This attribution may be correct although seals of this type were discovered at Tell Asmar in the Diyala valley of eastern Mesopotamia in levels which preceded the end of the Akkad period; see H. Frankfort, Stratified Cylinder Seals from the Diyala Region [OIP LXXII, 1955], Pl. 49, No. 514; Pl. 53, Nos. 558, 567; Pl. 56, Nos. 596, 597; Pl. 60, No. 629; Pl. 69, No. 748.

8. The earlier excavations at Tureng Tepe were carried out and published by F. R. Wulsin, 'Excavations at Tureng Tepe near Asterabad,' Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology, Supplement 2/1 [New York, 1932]. For the excavations beng carried on at present, see J. Deshayes, 'Rapport préliminaire sur les deux premières campagnes de fouille à Tureng Tepe,' Syria XL [1963], pp. 85-99.

9. For the discovery of the grey figurine from Tureng Tepe, see Wulsin, op. cit. [in note IV/8], p. 10; the head of a similar statuette was reproduced by him, op. cit., Pl. XVII, Fig. 2.

10. Deshayes, op. cit. [in note IV/8], p. 99, would like to date these levels at Tureng Tepe in the third millenium B.C. V.E. Crawford, however, reported that a carbon-14 sample of a Hissar III B level from Yarim Tepe yielded a date between 2200 and 1900 B.C.; see Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art [April 1963], p. 271.

11. For the possible association of the grey ware with the Indo-European Iranians, see Cuyler Young, Proto-Historic Western Iran, especially pp. 231-232.

12. For the hoard on the Treasure Hill where these ornaments were found, see E. R. Schmidt, Excavations at Tepe Hissar Damghan [The University Museum, Philadelphia, 1937], pp. 171-173 and 189.

13. See K. Jettmar, 'Ethnological Research in Dardistan 1958; Preliminary Report,' Proceedings of the American Philosohical Society 105 [February 1961], p. 79.

14. See Jettmar, op. cit. in note IV/13, pp. 88-91 for this and the following quotations. In note 58 he pointed out that at some places the urial, the wild sheep, is also included in the 'mayaro'.