Persian Roots of Puccini’s Opera Turandot (Turandokht)

The article “Persian roots of Puccini’s opera Turandot” (posted 29 November 2019) on Leiden University’s Leiden Medievalists Blog has been penned by Dr. Asghar Seyed Gohrab, Senior University Lecturer at Leiden University. who has dedicated this article to his friend Dr. Rokus de Groot (University of Amsterdam). The article was bought to the attention of by Anosh Tozie through the Facebook venue.

Readers further interested in Europa-Iran ties can access more resources on this domain in the below links:


What is the place on earth that saw the sun only once? What is it that all beings have, human beings, angels, fairies, demons, anything that grazes and flies, heaven and earth, anything that God has created? How did a Persian story grow to a world opera?

Bahram Gur in the Room of the Seven Portraits (Leiden Medievalists Blog & Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon).

Europeans inspired by Persian culture

Persian culture has captured the attention of European artists from antiquity. Persian imperial history, myths and legends, religions, and poetry have all in one way or another enticed European artists, musicians and scholars. European composers were inspired by Persian subjects creating artistic works. Johann Strauss’s Persische March (1864), Thomas Arne’s (1710-1778) opera Artaxerxes, George Friedrich Handel’s Serse (1738), Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra, are famous examples, which are inspired by Persian culture and history.

Promotional poster for Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot in 1926 (Leiden Medievalists Blog & Public Domain).

Turan’s daughter

But how did a medieval Persian anecdote inspire Puccini’s opera Turandot? The name derives from the Persian compound name Turan and dokht, meaning the daughter of Turan. Dokht is a shortened form of dokhtar or ‘daughter,’ ‘girl.’ As Persian belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, the word dokhtar has cognates in European languages. Turan refers to the north eastern borders Persia. Turandot recounts the story of a Chinese princess who kills her suitors when they fail to decipher riddles.

Puccini: Nessun Dorma from ‘Turandot’ – BBC Proms

Seven Beauties

As a recent investigation has shown (Mogtader & Schoeler, 2019), this story appears in anecdotal form in twelfth century Persia in at least two different sources.

Scene from the opera Turan Dokht by Miranda Lakerveld (Leiden Medievalists Blog & Copyright: Nichon Glerum).

The first source is the Persian masterpiece Seven Beauties, by the Persian poet Nezami (d. 1209) who recounts the romantic history of the pre-Islamic Persian king Bahram. The plot of this story is very complex, filled with mathematical, astronomical, cosmogonic, medical and mystical symbolism. A simplified plot runs as follows. In his early years, Bahram is sent away for education. During a hunting expedition, he comes across a temple. He goes inside the building and sees portraits of seven princesses from the Seven Regions of the world. He instantly falls in love with all of them. As soon as he comes back to Persia, he builds seven pavilions and invites the brides to his palace complex. From Saturday to Friday he visits each night one princess, telling him erotic and didactic stories. Each of these princesses teaches him a lesson and is instrumental in his development as a human being. He starts with the Indian princess in the black pavilion, and then on Sunday, the day of the Sun, goes to the Byzantine princess Humay, till he visits the Persian princess in the White pavilion on Friday, the day of Venus. The colour symbolism, from black to white (leading finally to radiance and colourlessness) is based on astronomical/astrological, mathematical and spiritual symbolism. This journey from black to white also refers to Bahram’s spiritual development from darkness and ignorance to light and illumination, uniting himself with the source of light. He grows to a Perfect Man and an ideal king.

Bahram Gur in the Room of the Seven Portraits (Leiden Medievalists Blog & Collection Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon).

The Ruthless Princess

The plot of a cruel princess who asks riddles from her suitors appears in the red pavilion. It takes place on Tuesday, the day of Mars. Dressed all in red, King Bahram visits the princess Nasrin, who wears crimson robes with hair like the colour of fire and skin whiter than snow. The whole interior of the pavilion is decorated in red, red carpets, roses, and serving red wine. The princess tells a story of a princess in a far-off place in Russia. She is beautiful, skilful in bow and arrow, and is more learned than any men. Her father begs her to marry one of the suitors but she declines. Eventually she leaves the palace and let a palace be built high on a mountain. Hidden swords are placed on the passageway leading to the palace so that they decapitate anyone walking on the road.

She would only marry the strongest and the most intelligent man who could enter this new palace, escaping the swords, and opening the locked door of the palace. Once in the palace, they had to answer four riddles asked by the princess. Would the suitor fail, he was immediately put to death. The princess orders to put her portrait on the city gate, challenging young men to suit her. Many suitors come but lose their lives. While her father weeps and shows pity on their deaths, the princess is cold and laughs, ordering to put the severed heads on the city gate. One day, a prince who is on a hunting expedition, arrives and falls deeply in love with the portrait of the princess. Realizing that this princess is ruthless, he goes to a sage, and asks him how to overcome the invisible swords, how to unlock the palace’s door, and how to answer the riddles. The wise sage says that death comes to everyone but love does not, so the prince should pursue his quest. The sage teaches him how to escape the swords, unlock the door, and answer the four riddles, giving him equipment. The prince succeeds to come into the palace’s garden, a desolate court without any trees and flowers. After long waiting, a maiden comes to him and asks him to go back to her father’s palace and wait for the princess to come and ask him the riddles. The prince goes back. At seeing the prince, people rejoice and remove the portrait of the princess and the skulls of suitors from the city gate. People prepare a feast, drink wine, dance and play music. After waiting for two days, on the third day the princess comes. While smiling, she removes two pearls from her ears and gives them to the prince, asking him what these gifts mean. The prince gives her three pearls that the wise sage had given him. Then he orders courtiers to bring a scale and puts these three pearls on one side and the two pearls on the other. They were equal in weight. The prince answers: “if, as the scholars say, life is but two days long, here is your life and mine. And here is yet another life, which is our life together, when we are made one by love.” (Chelkowski, 1975: 93) Afterwards, the princess calls for a mortar, grinding the pearls and adding sugar to them. She then throws them into a cup and gives them to the prince, asking him what he thinks of such a gift. He brings forth a flask of milk that the sage had given him and pours it to the cup and asks the princess to drink. The powdered pearls remain in the bottom of the cup. Afterwards, the princess gives the prince her precious ring and asks him what he thinks of the gift. The prince gives her a luminous perfect pearl. Finally, the princess unfastens her necklace and gives the prince a pearl exactly the same as the one the prince had given her, asking him what he thinks of the gift. The prince brings forth a glass bead and a string and puts the bead between the pearls, saying to the princess, may our love guard us against evil spirit. In this way he answers all questions.

Rehearsal footage of Turan Dokht, created by director Miranda Lakerveld and composer Aftab Darvishi. 

In Nezami’s account, the prince does not ask riddles, and the riddles asked by the princess are not verbal questions. But in a second source of the story, we find several verbal riddles asked by both the prince and the princess. This second source is Javāmiʿ al-hekāyāt (‘Collection of Stories’) by Mohammad ʿAufi (ca. 1170-1232). ʿAufi’s story is short and it mostly concentrates on ten riddles presented by the princess. ʿAufi places the story in the Roman empire and emphasizes the cruelty of the princess as she kills 42 suitors who failed to answer the riddles. Here a prince falls in love with the cruel Roman princess by hearsay. He goes to her palace and challenges her. The princess’s father shows big sympathy with him. The majority of the riddles are related to cosmogony, religion and ethics. These are riddles to test the intelligence of a young person, which often appear in Persian epic poetry. After answering all of these questions, the prince asks a riddle from the princess, and gives her one day to solve it. In ʿAufi’s retelling, the princess goes to her mother for advice. She convinces her to marry the prince. Several of the motifs Nezami used also appear in ʿAufi’s story such as putting severed heads on the city gate, the king who deeply sympathizes with the young men vising his daughter, and falling in love either through hearsay or portrait.

Bahram vising the red pavilion (Leiden Medievalists Blog).

Another source of the story, which is written much later, is a longer story based on ʿAufi’s narrative. It is here that we see the setting is changed to China. In Persian romantic tradition, including folklore, China is famous for handsome girls, and a Persian prince often goes in quest of finding his marriage partner in China. In this quest story, after much hardship the prince arrives in China and falls in love with a princess through hearsay. An old woman tells him about the cruel behaviour of the princess, imploring him to forget her. The prince goes to the princess’s palace, and she asks him riddles in four consecutive days. The prince answers them all. On the last day, the prince presents a riddle to the princess and gives her one day to guess an answer. Unable to solve the riddle, she sends beautiful maidens to the prince to make him drunk, and to seduce him to dig out the answers. One of the maidens brings the drunken prince to bed and discovers the answer to the riddle. Before making love, the maiden tricks him, running away while leaving behind her cloths. When the next day, the prince comes to the palace to receive the answer from the cruel princess, who haughtily says to the prince that she will kill him, he says, “last night I was on a hunting expedition. I chased a bird. I caught her, prepared her for consummation, but she flew away, yet I have her wings and feathers still with me.” This answer convinces the princess of his intelligence and agrees to marry him.

This longer version of the story was translated into Turkish under the title of Ferec baʿd al-shedda (‘Relief after Hardship’). In the Persian stories, the actual names of the prince and the princess are not mentioned, but in this Turkish translation, Calaf appears, which is a corruption of Khalaf meaning ‘successor,’ ‘child,’ or ‘offspring.’

François Pétis de La Croix (1653-1713) translated the story very freely into French and added Chinese colouring to it. The European versions of the riddle princess starts from this period. Carlo Graf Gozzi (1720-1806) had adapted several oriental stories, among which this particular narrative. Puccini’s libretto is written by Giuseppe Adami (1878-1946) and Renato Simoni (1875-1952). Puccini knew the story already through the play written by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), which was based on Gozzi’s version.

Riddles asked by Puccini’s Turandot.

            It is fascinating to see how an anecdote, which comes probably from an oral Persian background, developed to several complex stories which all emphasize the riddling elements through a powerful, handsome and cruel princess, who tests the intelligence and physical prowess of her suitors.

Answers to riddles:

  • the Red Sea
  • a name


Chelkowski, P., “Āyā operā-ye Turandot-e Puccini bar asās-e kushk-e sorkh-e Haft Peykar- e Nezāmi ast?” (Is Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ based on the Red Pavilion of Nezami’s Haft Peykar?), in Iranshenasi, 1991, pp. 715–721.

Dabashi, H., Persophilia: Persian Culture on the Global Scene, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Marzolph, U. & R. van Leeuwen, The Arabian Nights: Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara: ABC CLIO, 2004.

Marzolph, U., Relief after Hardship: The Ottoman Turkish Model for The Thousand and One Days, Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2017 (I had no access to this book).

Mogtader, Y. & G. Schoeler, Turandot: Die persische Märchenerzählung, Edition, Űbersetzung, Kommentar, Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2019.

Seyed-Gohrab, A.A., Courtly Riddles: Enigmatic Embellishments in Early Persian Poetry, Amsterdam, Rozenberg Publishers / West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University press, 2008. (republished in 2010 at Leiden University Press)

Seyed-Gohrab, A.A., Laylī and Majn‎ūn: Love, Madness and Mystic Longing in Nezāmi’s Epic Romance, Leiden / Boston: E.J. Brill, 2003.

Yohannan, J.D., Persian Poetry in England and America: a 200-Year History, New York: Caravan Books, 1977.

Preserving the Buddhist Stupa Structure in Topdara, Afghanistan

The article below was originally published as “Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan” by the World Cultural Heritage Voices (CHV) outlet on October 17, 2018. Note that the photo and the accompanying caption do not appear in the original CHV outlet.

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The site of Topdara near Charikar in Parwan province, was built around the 4th century CE. Since 2016 the Afghan Cultural Heritage Consulting Organization (ACHCO) has been restoring the sites massive stupa (a holy structure from the Buddhist era). This stupa at Topdara has a diameter of 23 meters and would have originally been covered in white plaster.

The Buddhist stupa structure at Topdara, Parwan province in Afghanistan (Source: The Buddhist Forum). The CHV outlet traces the origins of the site to the 4th CE, during the Sassanian era – the Buddhist Forum states that the site originates in the 1st to 2nd centuries CE, making this contemporary to the Kushan and Parthian empires.

With support from the United States Embassy, ACHCO and the Archaeological Institute of Afghanistan will continue their valuable work to restore this important heritage site for Afghanistan and to continue archaeological excavations to better understand the site’s significance for Asia.

Iranian Documentary Movie Receives the Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine Creativity Award

The documentary “In the Realm of the Spider-Tailed Viper” was one of 40 films out of 600 documentaries selected by The Wildlife Film Festival held at Rotterdam for two screening times on (October 31 and November 3) 2019.

The producer of the movie “In the realm of the spider-tailed viper” is Dr. Mohammad Ala, winner of  the 2019 World Wildlife Film Award, the 2018 Cinema Vérité Award, the 2018 Panda Award and the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award. The above photo shows Dr Ala at Rotterdam in 2019.

The Festival International Du Film De Menigoute held on November 2, 2019 in the new-Aquitaine region of France bestowed the Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine Creativity Award offered for the documentary “In the Realm of the Spider-Tailed Viper” for best film production.

The movie was chosen for this award as a result of its originality, innovation and creativity.

Certificate of award bestowed for the documentary movie “In the Realm of the Spider-Tailed Viper”

The Award ceremonies were also announced in the prestigious France 3 media outlet. The French Ambassador in Iran tweeted and congratulated the Iranian film makers for winning high prizes in France.

The above photo shows Dr. Ala (second from left receiving  the 2013 Grand Prix Film Italia Award) along with two Italian mayors from Lecce and Bari who attended this event. The festival is known among Italians because it started in 1962.

Spider-tailed viper has become winningest wildlife documentary film produced within Iran by an all-Iranian crew. As noted previously, the documentary movie “In the Realm of the Spider-Tailed Viper” has won numerous awards and citations including:

  • Won Green Oscar (Panda) in England
  • Won World Wildlife Film (WWF) Technical Award in Italy
  • Won the highest Wildlife Awards in France
  • Won the first Audience Award in Tehran, Iran
  • UN recognition as an endangered species
  • Various Certificates and Recognition citations in Germany, Italy, France, Iran, and Holland

A snapshot of the audience just before the commencements of the documentary movie screenings for the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam in 2019.

In 2020, a new documentary film featuring a bird species will be introduced from Iran.

UBC Lecture (November 29, 2019): Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europe

Kaveh Farrokh will be providing a comprehensive lecture on November 29, 2019 at the University of British Columbia:

“Civilizational Contacts between Ancient Iran and Europe”

Lecture Time & Location: 29 November 2019 6:30-8:30 pm – Room 120, CK Choi Building – For details view below poster – and also click here …). The lecture is free, however due to limited seating interested participants are encouraged to obtain their (Free) tickets (for details view below poster – and also click here …)

This lecture will be hosted by the Alireza Ahmadian Lectures in Persian and Iranian Studies, Persian Language and Iranian Studies Initiative at UBC (University of British Columbia), UBC Asian Studies, UBC Persian Club and the UBC Zoroastrian Student Association.

Abstract & Overview of Lecture

This lecture provides a synoptic overview of the civilizational relations between Greater ancient Iran and Europa (Greco-Roman civilization as well continental Europe). The discussion is initiated with an examination of the conduits of exchange between Greater ancient Iran (the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties of Iran as well as the role of Northern Iranian peoples), the Caucasus and Europa. The lecture then provides an overview of learning exchanges between east and west spanning the time era from the Achaemenids into the Post-Sassanian eras, followed by examples of artistic, architectural, and engineering exchanges between Greco-Roman and Iranian civilizations. Select examples of the ancient Iranian legacy influence upon the European continent are also discussed, followed (time permitting) by examples of the musical legacy of ancient Iran as well as Iranian-European exchanges in the culinary domain.

Select References & Readings

Ahmed, A. & Zaman, O. (eds.) (2018). Dialogue Between Cultures & Exchange of Knowledge And Cultural Ideas between Iran, Turkey & Central Asia With Special reference to the Sasanian & Gupta Dynasty, Proceedings of Conference 8-10 February, 2018. Assam, India: Department of Persian Guawahati University.

Akhvledinai & Khimshiasvili, (2003). Impact of the Achaemenian architecture on Iberian kingdom: Fourth-first centuries BC. The First International Conference on the Ancient Cultural Relations Between Iran and Western Asia, Abstracts of Papers, Tehran, Iran, August 16-18, 2003, Tehran: Iran Cultural Fairs Institute.

Angelakis, A.N., Mays, L.W., Koutsoyiannis, D., Mamassis, N. (2012). Evolution of Water Supply through the Millennia. London & New York: IWA Publishing.

Asutay-Effenberger, N. & Daim, F. (eds.) (2019). Sasanidische Spuren in der Byzantinischen, Kaukasischen und Islamischen Kunst und Kultur [Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture]. Mainz, Germany: Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums.

Azarpay, G. (2000). Sasanian art beyond the Persian world. In Mesopotamia and Iran in the Parthian and Sasanian periods: Rejection and Revival c.238 BC-AD 642, Proceedings of a Seminar in memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin (ed. J. Curtis), London: British Museum Press, pp.67-75.

Azkaei, P.S. (1383/2004). حکیم رازی (حکمت طبیعی و نظام فلسفی) [(The) Wise Razi (Natural Wisdom and System of Philosophy)]. Tehran, Iran. Entesharate Tarh-e Now.

Babaev, I., Gagoshidze, I., & Knauß, F. S. (2007). An Achaemenid “Palace” at Qarajamirli (Azerbaijan) Preliminary Report on the Excavations in 2006. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2, pp. 31-45.

Beckwith C.I. (2011). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press.

Canepa, M. P. (2010). Distant displays of power: understanding cross-cultural interaction interaction among the elites of Rome, Sasanian Iran and Sui-Tang China. Ars Orientalis, Vol. 38, Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean, Near East and Asia, pp. 121-154.

Carduso, E.R.F. (2015). Diplomacy and oriental influence in the court of Cordoba (9th to 10th centuries). Dissertation, Department of History of Islamic Mediterranean Societies, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Compareti, M. (2019). Assimilation and Adaptation of Foreign Elements in Late Sasanian Rock Reliefs at Taq-i Bustan. In Sasanidische Spuren in der Byzantinischen, Kaukasischen und Islamischen Kunst und Kultur [Sasanian Elements in Byzantine, Caucasian and Islamic Art and Culture] (eds. N. Asutay-Effenberger & F. Daim), Mainz, Germany: Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, pp.19-36.

Curatola, G., & Scarcia, G. (Tr. M. Shore, 2007). The Art and Architecture of Persia. New York: Abbeville Press.

During J., Mirabdolbaghi, Z., & Safvat, D. (1991). The Art of Persian Music. Mage Publishers.

Farhat, H. (2004). The Dastgah Concept in Persian Music. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press.

Farrokh, K. (2018). Germania, Vikings, Saxons and Ancient Iran. Persian Heritage, 90, pp.28-30.

Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Kubic, A., & Oshterinani, M.T. (2017). An Examination of Parthian and Sasanian Military Helmets. In “Crowns, hats, turbans and helmets: Headgear in Iranian history volume I” (K. Maksymiuk & Gh. Karamian, Eds.), Siedlce University & Tehran Azad University, pp.121-163.

Farrokh, K. (2016). An Overview of the Artistic, Architectural, Engineering and Culinary exchanges between Ancient Iran and the Greco-Roman World. AGON: Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali, Linguistici e Letterari, No.7, pp.64-124.

Farrokh, K. (2009). The Winged Lion of Meskheti: a pre- or post-Islamic Iranian Legacy in Georgia? Scientific Paradigms. Studies in Honour of Professor Natela Vachnadze. St. Andrew the First-Called Georgian University of the Patriarchy of Georgia. Tbilisi, pp. 455-492.

Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا/کویر (انتشارات ققنوس ۱۳۹۰ و انتشارات طاق بستان ۱۳۹۰) – see Book review from peer-reviewed Iranshenasi Journal

Feltham, H. (2010). Lions, Silks and Silver: the Influence of Sassanian Persia. Sino-Platonic Papers, 206, pp. 1-51.

Freely, J. (2009). Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Gagoshidze, Y. M. (1992). The Temples at Dedoplis Mindori. East and West, 42, pp. 27-48.

Garsoïan, N. (1985). Byzantium and the Sassanians. In The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods, Part 1 (ed. E. Yarshater), Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 568-592.

Gheverghese, J.G. (1991). The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics. London: I.B. Tauris.

Gnoli, G. & Panaino, A. (eds.) (2009). Studies in History of Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrology in Memory of David Pingree – Serie Orientale Roma CII. Rome: Italy: Istituto Italiano per L’Africa e L’Oriente.

Kayser, P., & Waringo, G. (2003). L’aqueduc souterrain des Raschpëtzer: un monument Antique de l’art de l’ingénieur au Luxembourg [The underground aqueduct of Raschpëtzer: an ancient monument of the art of engineering in Luxembourg]. Revue Archéologique de l’Est, vol. 52, pp. 429-444.

Kurz, O. (1985). Cultural relations between Parthia and Rome. In The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Periods, Part 1 (ed. E. Yarshater), Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 559-567.

Miller, A.C. (2006). Jundi-Shapur, bimaristans, and the rise of academic medical centres. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99 (12), pp. 615–617.

Miller, L.C. (1999). Music and Song in Persia (RLE Iran B): The Art of Avaz. Great Britain: Routledge.

Overlaet, B. (2018). Sasanian, Central Asian and Byzantine Iconography – Patterned Silks and Cross-Cultural Exchange. In B. Bühler & V. Freiberger (eds.), Der Goldschatz von Sânnicolau Mare [The Gold Treasure of Sânnicolau Mare]. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, pp. 139-152.

Roberts, A.M. (2013). The Crossing Paths of Greek and Persian Knowledge in the 9th-century Arabic ‘Book of Degrees’. Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 293, pp.279-303.

Silva, J.A.M. (2019). The Influence of Gondeshapur Medicine during the Sassanid Dynasty and the Early Islamic Period. Archives of Iranian Medicine, 22 (9), pp. 531-540.

Sparati N. (2002).  L’ enigma delle arti Asittite della Calabria Ultra-Mediterranea [The enigma of the Asittite arts of Calabria Ultra-Mediterranean]. Mammola, Italy: MuSaBa – Santa Barbera Art Foundation & Iiriti Editore.

Ward. P. (1968). The Origin and Spread of Qanats in the Old World. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 112, No. 3, pp. 170-181.

Wulff, H. (1968). The Qanats of Iran. Scientific American, Vol. 218, No. 4, pp. 94–105.

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Newly-found Petroglyph in Western Iran may have link to Mithraism

The article “Newly-found petroglyph in western Iran may have link to Mithraism” was published in Payvand News of Iran on October 1, 2019 (this was first reported in the Tehran Times). The version printed below has been slightly edited and provided with hyperlinks. Kindly note that excepting one photo, all other images and accompanying captions do not appear in the original Payvand News and Tehran Times postings.


A newly-discovered rock-carving in western Iran could have a link to Mithraism, a prehistorical religion inspired by Iranian worship of the Zoroastrian god Mithra. Some Iranian archaeologists suggest that the carving was created by a follower of Mithraism as it depicts a simple portrayal of a human with his right hand raised and an object in his hand. But, experts say it needs much more study in order to date the petroglyph.

A rock carving in western Iran (Source: Payvand News).

The petroglyph was found in western Kermanshah province on a mountainside near Taq-e Bostan, an archaeological complex, which consists of a series of properties from prehistoric to historical periods such as imposing Sassanid-era bas-reliefs, Morad-Hassel Tepe, an ancient village, a Parthian graveyard and a Sassanid hunting ground.

It was found upstream of a spring, inside a niche measuring about two meters by two meters, carved some 50 centimeters deep into the mountainside, archaeologist Keyvan Moumivand told IRNA on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a local tourism official has said that various archaeologists and teams of experts must conduct researches on the rock-carving in order to determine its origins and to make a definitive comment on it.

Depiction of Mithras with Persian dress of the (Parthian and Early-Mid Sassanian era type) slaying the sacred bull at the Santa Maria Capua Vetere. 

Some experts say that existence of some Mithraism symbols in parts of the historical zone, including one nearby the bas-relief of Ardashir II, reinforces a possibility that the petroglyph being associated with Mithraism, IRNA reported.

Mithraism, was the worship of Mithra, an Iranian god of the sun, justice, contract, and war in pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Known as Mithras in the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, this deity, according to Britannica Encyclopedia, was honored as the patron of loyalty to the emperor. After the acceptance of Christianity by the emperor Constantine in the early 4th century, Mithraism rapidly declined.

Investiture of Ardashir II (r. 379-383) (center) by the supreme God Ahuramazda (right) with Mithra (left) standing upon a lotus (Ghirshman, 1962 & Herrmann, 1977). Trampled beneath the feet of Ahura-Mazda and Ardashir II is an unidentified defeated enemy (possibly Roman Emperor Julian). Of interest are the emanating “Sun Rays”  from the head of Mithras.  Note the object being held by Mithras, which appears to be a barsum, or perhaps some sort of diadem or even a ceremonial broadsword, as Mithras appears to be engaged in some sort of “knighting” of Ardashir II as he receives the `Farr`(Divine Glory) diadem from Ahura-Mazda (Picture source: Shahyar Mahabadi, 2004).

Taq-e Bostan is known for its bas-reliefs of Sassanian origin (3rd to 7th century CE). The carvings, some of the finest and best-preserved examples of Persian sculpture under the Sassanians, include representations of the investitures of Ardashir II (reigned 379-383 CE) and of Shapur III (383-388), the latter in a man-made cave carved in the form of an iwan (three-sided, barrel-vaulted hall, open at one end).