The article below entitled “Caravansaray” by Moḥammad-Yūsuf Kīānī and Wolfram Kleiss originally appeared on the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1990 and is available in print (Vol. IV, Fasc. 7, pp. 798-802).

Kindly note that excepting three figures and captions from the original Encyclopedia article, all other images and captions did not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica posting.


Caravansaray (also Caravansarai, Caravansaray, Pers. kārvān-sarā/-sarāy “lodging for caravans,” from kār(a)vān “caravan” and sarāy “house”; sometimes called ḵān), a building that served as the inn of the Orient, providing accommodation for commercial, pilgrim, postal, and especially official travelers. The term kārvān-sarā was commonly used in Iran and is preserved in several place names.

In Persian the Arabic term rebāṭ, meaning a fortified rest house on a land route, was common, as was the popular designation kārvān-sarāy-e šāh-ʿabbāsī (built by Shah ʿAbbās) after Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629); the latter term, however, was applied indiscriminately to all caravansaries built between the late 10th/16th and 13th/19th centuries.


Jean Chardin’s illustration from his book “Voyages de Mr. Le Chevalier Chardin en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient 1723” of a caravansary in Kashan during the late Safavid era i(Source: Public Domain from Gallica website).

Caravansaries could be established by religious foundations on pilgrim routes or by merchants’ guilds, as well as by rulers and notables on normal commercial routes, which were often identical with the pilgrim routes (in only rare instances are original building inscriptions preserved in situ). In addition, especially in the reign of Shah ʿAbbās, when the road system was systematically extended throughout Iran, the court at Isfahan seems to have built many caravansaries along the new roads: those linking Isfahan to Faraḥābād on the Caspian Sea (Kleiss, 1980); those leading from Bandar-e ʿAbbās(ī) on the Persian Gulf coast to Lār (either directly or through Bandar-e Lenga) and Shiraz, to Sīrjān and Yazd, and to Bāft and Kermān; and those from Isfahan to Hamadān, from Isfahan to Mašhad via Yazd and Ṭabas, from Isfahan to Kermān via Yazd, from Kermān to Mašhad, from Qazvīn to Shiraz via Sāva and Isfahan, from Qazvīn to Jolfā via Tabrīz, and from Tehran to Mašhad (Kleiss, 1987; 1981, pp. 203ff.).

From the number of surviving caravansaries (by 1366 Š./1987 some 465 buildings had been systematically measured) and from their sizes it is clear that in Safavid and Qajar times there was a state architectural department that was specifically concerned with the construction of caravansaries and stations on the overland routes. Furthermore, in the cities a number of caravansaries were erected as lodging houses, depots, and commercial offices in the vicinity of the bāzārs. They resembled the road caravansaries in form, except that most had two stories, whereas the latter had only one.


The Izadkhast carvansaray dated to the Samanid era (c. 819-999) (Source: Public Domain by Mbenoist).

A social consciousness fostered by the laws and beliefs of Islam and embodied in the institution of the waqf (pious endowment) certainly played a role in the construction of caravansaries, but the desire for prestige was also recognizable in all periods and especially under the Safavids and the Qajars, when rulers and merchants sponsored many such structures along the caravan routes near Isfahan and Tehran.

The normal caravansary consisted of a square or rectangular plan centered around a courtyard with only one entrance and arrangements for defense if necessary. Whether fortified or not, it at least provided security against beasts of prey and attacks by brigands. This architectural type developed in the 1st millennium b.c. in Urartian and Mesopotamian architecture (Kleiss, 1979; Frankfort, pp. 73ff.) and was further evolved in the ancient world, in the palace architecture of the ancient Greeks, for example, the palace of Demetrias called the Anaktoron, with rooms opening from a large colonnaded courtyard (Marzolff; pp. 42ff.); Greek and Roman peristyle houses; and a.d. 3rd- and 4th-century Roman castles like Burgsalach (Ulbert and Fischer, p. 87, fig. 67) and the Palast-Burg in Pfalzel, near Trier (Cüppers, pp. 163ff.). The same building type persisted in the Near East in structures like the church-house from Dura Europos (a.d. 3rd century; Klengel, p. 162). It achieved its fullest expression, however, in the work of Muslim architects: in the desert palaces of the Omayyads, hypostyle (or “Arab”) mosques, Koran schools (madrasas), and above all rebāṭs and caravansaries. It thus played an integral part in the architectural history of the Islamic lands. The Crusaders brought it to Europe, where it was combined with the cruciform aisles of Christian architecture and adopted for the castles of the Teutonic Knights (Holst), as well as for Renaissance (e.g., the castle of Aschaffenburg; Wasmuths Lexikon, p. 191) and Baroque palaces (Wasmuths Lexikon, pp. 321ff.); it survived in modern architecture in buildings for special purposes, like 19th-century museums (e.g., the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin).

In the Persian setting this courtyard plan, the one most commonly adopted for caravansaries, was probably borrowed from the rebāṭ. In the 2nd-6th/8th-12th centuries the Persian rebāṭ was typically almost square, with a single entrance, frequently emphasized by a projecting block. Towers at the corners and at intervals along the curtain walls conveyed a powerful and forbidding impression. Inside the walls the courtyard was surrounded by arcaded porticos and four halls (ayvāns) open toward the courtyard as at Qaḷʿa-ye Sangī near Kāj on the road north of Qom (Figure 61 A). Arrayed against the outer walls were vaulted rooms, opening from the arcades. In the four corners of the structure there were large domed rooms or more complex spaces consisting of cruciform corridors, each with four corner rooms. Only such rebāṭs, which had been designed mainly as military guardposts to ensure safety on the roads but which naturally also served to shelter travelers, could be considered suitable for reception of large camel caravans.

The Mongol invasion brought a visible change in building forms and functions. In the post-Mongol period, for example, it is clear from the plans themselves that the main function of caravansaries, such as that at Bīsotūn, was as inns, especially in the Safavid constructions of the 11th/17th century (see Figure 61 B).


Figure 61. Plans of large courtyard caravansaries. A. Qaḷʿa-ye Sangī near Kāj, with porticos (after Kleiss). B. Bīsotūn, with diagonal walls in the corners and anterooms opening directly from the courtyard (after Kleiss; Encyclopedia Iranica).

Typically there were arched niches on both sides of the portal, which served as cupboards and fireplaces for those staying overnight outside the caravansary. The portal was placed more architectonically, on the central axis of the facade, and emphasized by a projecting two-storied entrance block; in the upper story there were residential quarters for more affluent travelers. There were no porticos around the courtyard; instead there was a series of anterooms with arched entrances, through which travelers passed to reach the guest rooms. The anterooms were raised 60-100 cm above the level of the courtyard so that the caravan animals could not stray into them. Both anterooms and guest rooms were provided with niches and fireplaces, the latter vented through chimneys. The ayvāns, also slightly raised above the level of the courtyard, served to articulate the inner facades and, with the exception of the entrance ayvān, provided additional accommodations for more important travelers. On both sides of the entrance behind the portal there were usually at least two rooms, intended for a guard and for the manager of the caravansary, who no doubt also offered provisions for sale. Larger caravansaries had storerooms, latrines, baths, and places for prayer; in particular there might be a prayer niche in one of the ayvāns, depending on whether or not one of the building axes was oriented to the qebla (the direction of Mecca). In the four corners of the courtyard there were often diagonal walls with entrances to the stables (though arrangements for access to the stables varied considerably). The stalls, with raised sleeping platforms for caravan drivers, were found between the outer walls and the guest rooms (Figure 61 B) and were frequently divided into four sections, in order to increase the capacity for accommodations. The sleeping platforms in the stables were also provided with niches and fireplaces. In a few caravansaries, instead of stable entrances in the four corners of the courtyard, elaborate suites of guest rooms opened directly from the courtyard. These suites could also be entered from the stables through domed rooms. The range of architectural variation in Iranian caravansaries was considerable and was further developed in each subsequent period. Until the construction of caravansaries came to an end at the beginning of the 14th/20th century, they represented an unbroken tradition of considerable achievement within Iranian architecture.

Aside from courtyard caravansaries of this type, among which there were a few examples with two entrances on opposite sides, as well as one with entrances both in front and in one side wall (e.g., Ḵātūnābād near Tehran, see Figure 62 A), there were also round caravansaries with twelve-sided courtyards and octagonal caravansaries (see Figure 63 B-C further below). The number of ayvāns could vary between two and four.


Figure 62. A. Plans and sections of mountain caravansaries at Ḵātūnābād (left; after Kleiss) and Gambūj east of Tehran on the road to Āmol (right; after Siroux, 1949). B. Plan of the mountain caravansary at Gadūk near Fīrūzkūh (after Kleiss; Encyclopedia Iranica).

Furthermore, in certain regions of Iran, there were caravansaries without interior courtyards: completely roofed mountain caravansaries and a pavilion type in the coastal areas on the Persian Gulf. Mountain caravansaries were built in or close to passes and were partially dug out of the cliffs so that their backs and parts of their side walls were sheltered under the overhanging mountains. They provided travelers with shelter from snow storms and avalanches in the autumn and spring (Figure 62 A); in winter the roads through the passes are almost entirely blocked. In lower mountain regions completely vaulted caravansaries also occurred but as a rule only as later additions or as entrance structures associated with courtyard caravansaries. This combination of enclosed and open-court caravansaries occurred much more frequently in the Saljuq ḵāns of central Anatolia and in the Transcaucasian steppes than in Iran. The completely roofed type of mountain caravansary encompassed a broad range, from small road stations to royal structures of the period of Shah ʿAbbās (Figure 62 B). In the smaller examples there is typically a central domed room with surrounding stable corridors or a series of tunnel-vaulted or domed chambers.

In the hot, humid coastal areas along the Persian Gulf, the climatic pattern is entirely different from those in the central Iranian desert basins or the uplands. The caravan routes and buildings on the coastal lowlands along the Persian Gulf can best be studied on the stretches of road built by the Safavids from Bandar-e ʿAbbās to the west, northwest, and north, especially the stretch between Bandar-e ʿAbbās and Lār (Gaube, 1979, pp. 33ff.). The majority of caravansaries on these roads were built in pavilion style (see Figure 63 A), with many variations in plan and construction. The basic type was a square building with a cruciform central space and corner rooms.


Figure 63. A. Plans and sections of three pavilion caravansaries (top; after Kleiss). B. Plans of centralized caravans: Rebāṭ-e Zayn-al-Dīn (middle; after Kīānī) and the Zīza caravansary (bottom; after Siroux, 1971). C. Plans of octagonal caravansaries at (1) Dehbīd, (2) Amīnābād and Ḵān-e Ḵorra, and (3) Čahārābād (all in Fārs)

A stone platform encircled the building. The rooms could all be entered from the outside, as these caravansaries were not intended to provide protection; apparently such measures were unnecessary when the type was introduced by Shah ʿAbbās I, who provided for general security on the caravan routes. The pavilion caravansary could thus be open on all sides in order to permit the cooling winds to blow through the buildings. The cisterns that stood next to such pavilion caravansaries were usually larger than the accommodations themselves.

The size of the caravansaries, especially those built in courtyard form, depended upon the frequency of traffic on the different roads. The prime considerations in construction were function and the need for space, not ostentation. By the size of the buildings the relative significance of the roads can thus be measured.

The spacing of way stations on level terrain was 30-40 km (average 35 km), which represented a day’s caravan journey. In mountainous regions, where the distance between two caravansaries was determined by the steepness of the road, the interval could be as small as 10-20 km. The pavilion caravansaries in the lowlands along the Persian Gulf were only about 5 km apart, often even closer together. The same is true of the small courtyard caravansaries on the road from Bandar-e Lenga to Ḵonj via Lār. These buildings consisted of long, narrow stables, which were grouped around mainly square courts, with small rooms for travelers flanking the entrances.


Interior passageway of the Orbelian (previously Selim) carvansaray in Armenia (Source: Wowarmenia).

Čāpār-ḵānas (postal stations; cf. čāpār) were frequently built next to large caravansaries, mainly in the Qajar period. They also had courtyard plans, but because of their size and construction technique they were not suitable for caravans.

Large Iranian courtyard caravansaries were built mainly of baked brick. The rebāṭs, the mountain caravansaries, and the pavilion types of the Persian Gulf were more frequently built of rubble and faced with stucco. Rubble was also used for many Qajar courtyard caravansaries. In the Saljuq period dressed stone was used in such buildings only in Khorasan, but it was typical for caravansaries in Armenian settlement areas of Azerbaijan in the 12th/18th and 13th/19th centuries.


H. Cüppers, Trier. Kaiserresidenz und Bischofssitz, Mainz, 1984.

H. Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, Harmondsworth, 1956, 4th ed., Harmondsworth and Baltimore, 1969.

H. Gaube, “Ein Abschnitt der ṣafavidischen Bandar-e ʿAbbās-Šīrāz-Strasse. Die Strecke von Seyyed Ğemāl ad-Dīn nach Lār,” Iran 17, 1979, pp. 33-47.

N. v. Holst, Der deutsche Ritterorden und seine Bauten, von Jerusalem bis Sevilla, von Thorn bis Narwa, Berlin, 1981.

M.-Y. Kīānī, “Nosḵaye aṣlī-e ketāb-ḵāna-ye Mūza-ye Brītānīā dar bāra-ye kārvānsarāhā-ye ʿahd-e Ṣafawīya dar Eṣfahān,” Bāstān-šenāsī o honar-e Īrān 5, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 44-49.

Idem, Iranian Caravansarais with Particular Reference to the Safavid Period, Tokyo, 1978.

W. Kleiss, “Die safavidischen Schlösser in der Wüste östlich des grossen Salzsees (ʿAbbasabad/Siah Kuh und Sefid Ab),” AMI 13, 1980, pp. 179-89.

Idem, “Karavanenwege in Iran (Stand 1986),” AMI 20, 1987 (forthcoming). Idem, “Zum Stand der Karavanserail-Forschung in Iran 1979,” AMI 14, 1981, pp. 203-05.

Idem and M. Y. Kīānī, Fehrest-e kārvānsarāhā-ye Īrān I, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.

Idem and S. Kroll, “Vermessene urartäische Plätze in Iran (West-Azerbaidjan) und Neufund (Stand der Forschung 1978),” AMI 12, 1979, pp. 183-243.

H. Klengel, Syrien zwischen Alexander und Mohammed. Denkmäler aus Antike und frühem Christentum, Leipzig, 1986.

P. Marzolff, “Demetrias 1979,” in Bericht über die 31. Tagung für Ausgrabungswissenschaft und Bauforschung 1980, Osnabrück, 1982, pp. 42ff.

K. Pīrnīā and K. Afsar, Rāh o rebāṭ, Tehran, 1359 Š./1970-71.

M. Siroux, Caravansérails d’Iran et petites constructions routières, Cairo, 1949.

Idem, Anciennes voies et monuments routiers de la région d’Isfahan, Cairo, 1971.

Idem, “Les caravansérais routiers safavides,” Iranian Studies 7/3-4, 1974, pp. 348-79.

G. Ulbert and T. Fischer, Der Limes in Bayern. Von Dinkelsbühl bis Eining, Stuttgart, 1983. Wasmuths Lexikon der Baukunst I, Berlin, 1929.

Pierfrancesco Callieri: At the Roots of the Sasanian Royal Imagery – The Persepolis Graffiti

The article below by Pierfrancesco Callieri, At the Roots of the Sasanian Royal Imagery – The Persepolis Graffiti” was originally posted in the CAIS website.


Introductory Summary

Among the most interesting evidence of post-Achaemenid age at Persepolis are a few graffiti, engraved with very thin lines on the limestone blocks of the Harem of Xerxes and of the Tacara.

While initially only isolated images of princely figures were recognised, a more accurate survey has shown that at least in two instances we have evidence of more complex scenes and perhaps of different “layers”.

By comparison with coins of the rulers of Persis, some of these figures have been identified as the immediate predecessors of the Sasanian kings.

In the light of the recent reassessment of the coinage of Fars and of the post-Achemenid epigraphical evidence, the author examines again the problem of the identification of the figures. Besides, the author proposes some reflections on the nature and function of these graffiti, investigating their link on one side with parallel production of graffiti, on the other with the few extant traces of Parthian and Sasanian painting.

This study is offered to Boris Marshak as a token of gratitude for his illuminating contributions to the understanding of the figural world of the Sasanians.

Main Article

Among the most interesting evidence of post-Achaemenid age at Persepolis are a few graffiti, engraved with very thin lines on the limestone blocks of the Harem of Xerxes and of the Tacara.

While initially only isolated images of princely figures were recognised, a more accurate survey has shown that at least in two instances we have evidence of more complex scenes and perhaps of different “layers”.

By comparison with coins of the rulers of Persis, some of these figures have been identified as the immediate predecessors of the Sasanian kings.

In the light of the recent reassessment of the coinage of Fars and of the post-Achemenid epigraphical evidence, the author examines again the problem of the identification of the figures. Besides, the author proposes some reflections on the nature and function of these graffiti, investigating their link on one side with parallel production of graffiti, on the other with the few extant traces of Parthian and Sasanian painting.

This study is offered to Boris Marshak as a token of gratitude for his illuminating contributions to the understanding of the figural world of the Sasanians.

Among the most interesting findings of the post-Achaemenid age at Persepolis are a few figural graffiti, engraved with very thin lines on the limestone blocks of the Harem of Xerxes, now the Persepolis Museum, and of the Tacara. They are only one aspect of the extremely abundant material engraved on the limestone blocks of the Achaemenid complex (see Curtis and Finkel 1999), prevailingly of epigraphical character and currently being investigated (S. Razmjou, personal communication).

While initially only isolated images of princely figures were recognised (Allotte de la Füye 1928; Herzfeld 1935, 1941; Schmidt 1953), a more accurate survey has shown that at least in two instances we have evidence of more complex scenes (Calmeyer 1976: 65-67; Abka’i Khavari 2000: 31, 37), which are extremely similar to some images on the rock-reliefs of the Sasanians. Despite the patent importance of this evidence for the study of the birth of the official art of the Sasanian dynasty, until now an overall view of the different figural graffiti has never been proposed (cf. Faccenna 1997: 89, fn. 30).

The main aim of the present contribution, which is offered to Boris Marshak as a humble token of gratitude for his illuminating contributions to the understanding of the figural world of the Sasanians, is the edition of a “catalogue raisonné” of the Persepolis figural graffiti, which must be considered preliminary due to a lack of adequate documentation which only new field-work will be able to produce.

At Persepolis, figural graffiti recorded to date are concentrated in two buildings: the Harem of Xerxes and the Tacara of Darius I.

As mentioned above, the available documentation on them is uncertain, not only because there has been some uncertainty in the description of the graffiti, but particularly because the graphic rendering of the same graffito in different publications is not always uniform, both in what concerns the isolated figures and the scene as a complex composition. In the absence of a new direct documentation, the only drawing which seems sufficiently reliable is that of Graffito no. 2 by B. Grunewald, published in Calmeyer 1976, which seems to be more accurate in the composition of the scenes and scale as compared to the drawings by Taghi Assafi published in Sami 1338 (see Calmeyer 1976: 65, fn. 132). Moreover, in some points near the principle scenes we find graffiti of isolated parts of figures, which may pertain to different chronological layers of graffiti, or instead, represent engraved patches which were then completed by painting (see below).

Here follows a brief description of the graffiti.

Graffito no. 1 (Sami 1338: fig. on p. 274) (Fig. 1) – A lion in full profile to left, sitting on his hind legs: a mane covers the entire upper part of the body up to the ears and neck, while a long thin tail with tuft of hair at the end is turned up parallel to the back. In the open jaws, its fangs are visible.

 Fig-1-callieri_01Fig. 1 – Graffito no. 1 (after Sami 1338: fig. On p. 274). Not to scale.

The heraldic pose of the animal is rendered with a certain plasticity of volumes. Given the uniqueness of this graffito, we will only mention here that the posture of the animal has an illustrious antecedent in the stone sculpture of a lion in the tomb of Antiochus I’s at Nemrud Dagh in Commagene (Ghirshman 1962: fig. 18), whereas the rendering of the head and tail is not dissimilar from that on some Sasanian silver vessels (e.g. Harper 1981: pl. 14). The attribution of the graffito, therefore, remains problematic.

Graffito no. 2 (Sami 1338: fig. after p. 274; Calmeyer 1976: fig. 3) (Fig. 2) – One scene composed by more figures, of which the two available illustrations give a different composition. In Calmeyer 1976, the long scene is basically centered on two princely mounted figures, one to the extreme left and the other to the extreme right, with isolated elements of other figures in between the two, whereas Sami’s version of the drawing gives a very different composition of the figures, and even the rendering of many details differs a lot.

 Fig-2-callieri_02Fig. 2 – Graffito no. 2 (after Calmeyer 1976: fig. 3). Not to scale.

The main figure on the left part of the scene (Figs. 3, 4) is a male princely personage mounted on a horse, in profile to the left. The personage wears a tunic and trousers, each characterized by a different fabric rendered in detail, while the foot bears a plain shoe. Whereas the bust is frontally viewed, the head is in full profile to the left, with long rounded-tip beard; he wears a tall curved cap with ear-flaps and neck-shield, decorated with a crescent at the middle among embroidered (?) dots which form also a curved perimeter all around, and with what seems the indication of the scaled crest at the center of the tiara (cf. the heads from Hatra in Ghirshman 1962: figs. 100, 102), here seen in profile, with two long ribbons hanging down along the back. With the right hand extended before him he holds a ribboned ring-shaped diadem, while his left hand is placed on the hilt of the long sword, whose scabbard is decorated with pearls along the edges.

 Fig-3-callieri_03Fig. 3 – Graffito no. 2, left part (after Calmeyer 1976: fig. 3). Not to scale.

The horse, of a race with small head and powerful body, has a tuft of tied hair drawn up above the head, while the mane is trimmed regularly, and wears a short caparison along the neck and body; the tail is combed in a plait ending in two bifurcated points. The harness is elaborate: small plain phalerae decorate the muzzle harness, while across the chest and rump the straps carry elaborate circular phalerae; a larger oval ball of hair hangs from below the square saddle blanket, which is decorated with five-petalled flowers.

 Fig-4-callieri_04Fig. 4 – Graffito no. 2, left part (after Sami 1338: fig. following p. 274). Not to scale.

In Calmeyer’s version of the drawing, two oval balls of hair from the horses’ harness are represented at a certain distance behind the mounted figure (elements of figures rendered in painting? see below), whereas even further behind is the head in profile to the left of a male princely figure with beard and curved cap with ear-flaps and neck-shield, decorated with a crescent at the middle, dotted border and what seems to be the indication of the scaled central crest along the outer perimeter, with two long ribbons behind. To the right of the latter, we see a male bearded bust with head in profile to left, with tall curved cap with ear-flap and neck-shield and long ribbons from the nape, and above this bust are the faces in profile to left of two bearded figures. The row of personages is followed on the right by a group of four figures.

The main figure on the right is a male princely personage mounted on a horse, in profile to the left (Figs. 5, 6). The personage wears a tunic, trousers and cloak, each characterized by a different fabric rendered in detail; the cloak, tied on the chest, has two round epaulettes; two short ribbons hang from the dotted shoe. While the bust if frontally viewed, the head is in full profile to the left, with long pointed beard; he wears a tall curved cap with ear-flap and neck-shield, decorated with a crescent at the middle among embroidered (?) dots and with what seems the indication of the scaled central crest along the upper perimetre, with two long ribbons hanging down along the back. With the right hand, visible from across the horse’s neck, he holds the bridles, while his left hand is placed on the hilt of the long sword, whose scabbard is decorated with a row of stars.


Fig. 5 – Graffito no. 2, right part (after Calmeyer 1976: fig. 3). Not to scale.

The horse has a tuft of tied hair drawn up above the head, while the mane is trimmed regularly; the tail is tied at its top with a ribbon. The harness is elaborate: small phalerae decorate the muzzle harness, from which hangs a small oval ball of hair, while across the chest and rump the straps carry elaborate circular phalerae; a larger oval ball of hair hangs from below the square saddle blanket, which is decorated with rosettes and a tasseled border. Ribbons are tied on the four legs, above the heel.

 Fig-6-callieri_06Fig. 6 – Graffito no. 2, right part (after Sami 1338: fig. following p. 274). Not to scale.

A second figure is represented in the background, in the space between the princely figure and the neck of the horse: only his head in full profile to the left is visible, characterized by a long pointed beard and a high cap with ear-flaps and neck-shield and pointed top turned backwards (missing in Sami’s version).Two male figures standing almost frontally viewed, with head in profile to the left, wearing plain tunics tightened at the waist and trousers with the indication of their fabric, hold the reins of the horse: both the figures have long pointed beards and flimsy hair with no headdress.

Even though the rendering of the two main figures is somehow stiff and far from naturalistic, the richness and accuracy with which the details are depicted betray the hand of an artist with good drawing capacity. The side figures, instead, are rather summarily executed.

Graffito no. 3 (Allotte de la Fuÿe 1928: fig. on p. 168; Herzfeld 1941: 308, fig. 402; Sami 1338: fig. before p. 275) (Figs. 7-9) – A standing male figure with frontal body, head turned in profile to the right (but in Herzfeld’s drawing the figure is turned to left!) and feet seen from above turned three-quarters to right (?). He wears tunic at knee length, trousers and cloak, each made of different fabric schematically rendered: the tunic has a decorated border at the neck (different indications in the available drawings), the trousers have a long band decorated with chevron pattern along the vertical border of the right leg, while the cloak, tied on the chest, has two round epaulettes. The headdress consists in a plain hemispheric cap with plain neck-shield and long waved ribbon from the nape, surmounted by a seven-pointed fan-like element apparently obtained by tying a large cloth to the head. The figure, with a long beard including moustache, has the left hand (rendered as the right one) placed on the long sword hilt protruding from the waist, whereas the right arm is stretched forward toward a short incense-burner (?), the rendering of which is very different in the available drawings: the elongated ending appearing in Allotte’s version (Fig. 7), is missing in Herzfeld’s (Fig. 8) and Sami’s (Fig. 9) version; in the latter, we have instead the forepart of a caprid running towards the figure, missing in the other two versions.


Fig. 7 – Graffito no. 3 (after Allotte la Fuÿe 1928: fig. on p. 168). Not to scale.


Fig. 8 – Graffito no. 3 (after Herzfeld 1941: fig. 402). Not to scale.

The rendering of the image is rather schematic and simplified, despite the detailed indication of the clothes fabric and of the physiognomic traits.


Fig. 9 – Graffito no. 3 (after Sami 1338: fig. preceding p. 275). Not to scale.

Graffito no. 4 (Schmidt 1953: pl. 199A; Calmeyer 1976: 67, fn. 134, fig. 4; Harper 1981: fig. 19) (Fig. 10, top left) – A male princely figure mounted on a horse, in profile to the left. The personage wears tunic and trousers, each characterized by a different fabric rendered in detail, while the foot has a plain shoe with a ribbon. While the bust if frontally viewed, the head is in full profile to the left, with long rounded-tip beard; he wears a tall curved cap with ear-flaps and neck-shield, decorated with a crescent at the middle and bordered by a dotted perimeter all around, and with what seems to be the indication of the scaled central crest along the upper perimeter, with four long ribbons hanging down along the back. A fan-like element above the head visibly represents a later addition (see below). With the right hand extended before him he holds a ribboned ring-shaped diadem, while his left hand is placed on the hilt of the long sword, whose scabbard is decorated with pearls along the edges.


Fig. 10 – Graffiti nos. 4, 5 (after Calmeyer 1976: fig. 4). Not to scale.

The horse, with a very small head, has a tuft of tied hair drawn up above the head, while the mane is trimmed regularly; the tail is tied by a ribbon at its top. The harness is elaborate: small plain phalerae decorate the muzzle harness, while across the chest and rump the straps carries plain circular phalerae; a larger oval ball of hair hangs from then harness below the horseman.

Even though the scene is less rich in detail as compared to Graffito no. 2, and despite the dis-proportion of the horse’s head, its rendering is less rigid, and betrays the hand of an artist with good drawing capacity.

Graffito no. 5 (Calmeyer 1976: 67, fn. 134, fig. 4) (Fig. 10, bottom right) – A male princely figure mounted on a horse, in profile to the left. The personage wears tunic and trousers, with no indication of the fabric, while the foot appears covered by the trousers. While the bust if frontally viewed, the head is in full profile to the left, with long rounded-tip beard and long hair flowing from the nape of the neck. He wears a tall curved cap with ear-flaps and neck-shield, decorated with a crescent and disk at the middle and with a border all along the perimeter, with two (?) long ribbons hanging down the back. With the right hand extended before him he holds the bridle, while his left hand is placed on the hilt of the long sword.

The horse, with a very small head, has a tuft of tied hair drawn up above the head (?), while the mane is trimmed regularly; the tail is tied by a ribbon at the top. Across the chest and rump the straps carry plain circular phalerae, while a large oval ball of hair hangs from the harness below the horseman.

Despite the dis-proportion of the horse’s head and legs, the rendering of the scene is not rigid, and betrays the hand of an artist with good drawing capacity.but remarkably different from the author of the other graffiti (cf. also Calmeyer 1976: 66, caption to fig. 4).

Graffito no. 6 (Herzfeld 1935: 80 ff., fig. 10; 1941: 308, fig. 401; Sami 1338: fig. after p. 273) (Figs. 11, 12) – A standing male figure with frontal body, head turned in profile to the left and feet seen from above turned three-quarters to right. He wears a tunic at knee length, with decorated border, tightened with a belt at waist, and trousers; the headdress consists in a plain hemispheric cap with two (?) long ribbons from the nape, but the presence of an element of some sort above it is indicated both by a few ondulated strokes in the available drawings and by a specific statement by Herzfeld, according to whom this element was “shaped as on [Shabuhr’s] coins, like a huge egg” (Herzfeld 1941: 308). Ears are not visible, but it is unclear whether they are covered by an earflap or by the hairline. The figure, with a long square-pointed beard, has the left hand placed on the sword hilt at waist, whereas the right arm is raised to the side.

Fig-11-callieri_11Fig. 11 – Graffito no. 6 (after Herzfeld 1941: fig. 401). Not to scale.

The rendering of the image is extremely schematic and simplified, despite the detailed indication of the trousers’ fabric and the tunic’s border.


Fig. 12 – Graffito no. 6 (after Sami 1338: fig. following p. 273). Not to scale.

As concerns the localization of the graffiti, which as we shall see may have been of some importance for their comprehensive understanding, our information is not uniformly detailed (Fig. 13). Thanks to the accurate recording of E.F. Schmidt, we know precisely that in the Harem of Xerxes, now the Persepolis Museum, Graffito no. 2 is engraved on the S wall of the portico of the Central Section, below the sill of the W window, and Graffito no. 4 is engraved on the S wall of the Main Hall of the Central Section, west of the doorway to the inner court (or, in Calmeyer’s words, ‘rechts neben der westlichen Südtür: see caption to fig. 4). Graffito no. 5 has also the same location as no. 4 (cf. Calmeyer 1976: 66, caption to fig. 4). Two more graffiti are in the some building, even though other authors have not indicated their position in the same detail: Graffito no. 3 is engraved on the S wall of the portico of the Central Section (we do not know the exact point, while this information would be extremely important in order to confirm the hypothesis by Lukonin see below that graffiti nos. 2 and 3 are part of a same investiture scene: see below). Graffito no. 1 is said to be engraved in the Main Hall (Sami 1338: 274; here Graffito no. 6 is also said to be found in the same location: see 275-76).


Fig. 13 – Map showing the localization of the graffiti as can be understood from the bibliography (map after A. Sami, Persepolis, seventh Edition, Shiraz 1970).

In the Tacara of Darius I, Graffito no. 6 is described as being on a side-door of the side apartments (Herzfeld 1935: 80 ff.; 1941: 308; Schmidt 1953: 227, fn. 40).

Since the very first discovery, by comparing them with coins of the ruler of Persis, some of these figures have been identified respectively as “one Manuchihr of Stakhr”, i.e. one of the local dynasts of Fars immediately preceding the Sasanians, as Pabag [Papak], the father of Shabuhr and Ardashir I, and as Shabuhr, the brother of Ardashir I, “who reigned for three months and was killed by a falling stone when visiting Persepolis” (Herzfeld 1941: 308).

Namely, Manuchihr would be one of the figures on the S wall of the Main Hall of Xerxes’ Harem, our no. 4 or 5 (Herzfeld 1935: 81); Pabag would be another figure of the same scene as well as the figure represented in the S wall of the Portico of Xerxes’ Harem, our no. 3 (Allotte de la Füye 1928: 165; Herzfeld 1941: 308, fig. 402; Lukonin 1969: 30, fig. 25.1); Shabuhr would finally be the figure represented on the Tacara, our no. 6 (Herzfeld 1935: 80; 1941: 308, fig. 401) but also the horseman on the left on no. 2. (Lukonin 1969: 30, fig. 25.2)

However, the comparison with the coinage is not so useful in specifically identifying the figures, as has been believed till now on Herzfeld’s footsteps (se also Calmeyer 1976: 65, fn. 131).

Even though the figures bear distinctive marks of their high status, indicated by the diadem which in Arsacid period still represented a kingly prerogative, their identification remains difficult.

The only sure information is that most of the figures have their head in profile to the left, as we see in the coinage of the sub-Arsacid kings of Persis, and that also their headdresses are extremely similar to those of the same dynasty: a high tiara, borded with pearls and with a scaled central crest, with the indication of a specific coat-of-arms at the middle of the side: a crescent or a crescent with disc.

The same type of tiara, in fact, appears on the coins of several kings of Persis, where the main difference between one king and the other is the presence of the crescent alone or of the crescent and dot or of the crescent surrounded by three dots, where the dot can be a representation of a star (see Soudavar 2003: 62).

The first type is found on the coinage of Dare-v/Darayan II, first half of 1st century BC (Alram 1986: 173, pl. 19, no. 564; for the new reading of the name, see Skjærvø 1997: 94). The second type characterizes the images of Napad (Alram 1986: 178, pl. 20, 615), Mantchihr I (Alram 1986: 180, pl. 21, 627), Mantchihr II (Alram 1986: 182, pl. 21, 634), Mantchihr III (Alram 1986: 183, pl. 21, 642), Shabuhr (Alram 1986: 185, pl. 22, 653) and Ardaxshir V (Alram 1986: 186, pl. 22, 656), kings reigning from the second half of the 1st century AD to the first quarter of the 3rd century AD; the third type belongs to the Unknown King II (Alram 1986: 179, pl. 21, 618) and Vadfradad IV (Alram 1986: 180, pl. 21, 623), dated between the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. The busts attributed to the Unknown King III, second half of the 2nd century AD, have the crescent sometimes with three dots (Alram 1986: 183, pl. 21, 641).

However, the presence of the dot or dots is not so clear neither on the graffiti nor on the coinage, so that we would refrain from relying on this aspect for an identification of the king of Graffito no. 3 with Darayan II.

V.G. Lukonin has also suggested that the tiara, wore by Shabuhr in one of the graffiti (our no. 2, left) is a possible distinctive mark of Shabuhr being a priest of Anahita (Lukonin 1968: 113): but this remark appears contradicted by the other interpretation by the same author, according to which graffiti nos. 2 and 3 are part of a single scene of investiture, in which Shabuhr, dressed as a king (no. 2, left), would receive the investiture from his father Pabag, dressed as a priest (no. 3) (Lukonin 1969: 30).

Apart from the tiaras, other headdresses appear on the graffiti.

One particular case is that of the head of the figure on Graffito no. 4. P.O. Harper interprets the “huge fan-shaped object projecting above the head” of our figure 6, perhaps illustrating “Shapur, son of Papak” (Harper 1981: 53, fn. 71, fig. 19) as part of the headdress, similar to the headdress appearing on a plate from Sari (ibid.: pl. 10) dated between the third and the early fourth century A.D.: a headdress which “is not a royal Sasanian crown type”, but belongs to a “crown prince” (ibid;: 55). However, the remarkable difference between the engraving of all the figure and that of this object, well noticeable in the photograph published by Harper and confirmed by the absence of this detail in the drawing published by Sami, can be explained by the fact that the latter belongs apparently to a second layer of graffiti, intended to render the head similar to that of a Sasanian king.

A second peculiar headdress is the one worn by the standing personage of Graffito no. 3, a seven-pointed fan-like element apparently obtained by tying a large cloth onto the head. This is extremely similar in shape to the five-pointed fan-like element which appears on the head of the figure represented on the reverse of some coin types (Alram 1986: 185, nos. 653-655) of Shabuhr, the predecessor of the last king of Persis and first king of the Sasanians, interpreted subjectively by some scholars as the image of the father Pabag (see below).

Of the other standing figures, the one of Graffito no. 6 has the plain hemispherical cap which, as we have seen, was perhaps surmounted by a further element. If, on the basis of the existing incisions, we can exclude that this element was similar to the fan-like element of Graffito no. 3, we think that the interpretation proposed by Herzfeld as a “huge egg” (v. supra) is only hypothetical. At any rate, even if this should prove correct, the fact cannot be taken as a proof for the identification of the personage as Shabuhr, as Herzfeld does, because the figure wearing this “egg-shaped” headdress – which will then be adopted by Ardashir I in his new role of founder of the Sasanian dynasty (Lukonin 1969: pl. XV, types V-VI) – on one of Shabuhr’s types (Alram 1986: 185, no. 656), is that on the reverse: his identification is doubtful, but in any case different from the king himself (see infra).

Other two in Graffito no. 2 are bare-headed, and have large and full hair. They preceed the mounted figure and keep the reins of his horse, therefore they may represent squires.

An interesting observation is that each of the mounted figures, which seem to enact the main role in the scenes, have a custom slightly differing from the other. Only the figure on Graffito no. 2 wears a cloak over the tunic, of the same shape as the cloak worn by the standing figure of Graffito no. 3. The other three horsemen have only tunic and trousers. Also, the decoration of the fabric in which the costumes have been cut is different from character to character, although it does not appear to be linked to any difference of rank between them: one can only note that the figure of Graffito no. 2 is without doubt the figure which carries the richest decoration, along with the most elaborated horse harness.

The main difference, however, lies in the fact that of the four mounted figures, only two keep, with their extended right arm, the ribboned ring-shaped diadem which in the Sasanian investiture scenes will become the standard symbol of the royal khwarrah. Now, the most richly decorated horseman, the one from Graffito no. 2, is not one of these, and yet seems to have the honour of being led step by step by one or two squires: even more enigmatic is the head with pointed cap turned backwards which appears in the background behind him.

As concerns the horses and their elaborate trappings, the large circular phalerae on the harness straps and the balls of hair hanging from chains occur in Sasanian metalwork and rock reliefs, as well as in Parthian and Palmyrene art (see Harper 1981: 51, and fn. 66 with bibliography).

A striking difference is the one between the tail of the horse of the prince on the left side of Graffito no. 2 and the tails of the other horse figures: whereas the latter are tied with a ribbon at their upper end, near the horse body, as in most of Sasanian reliefs, the tail of that horse is combed in a plait ending in two bifurcated points, such as in the Ardashir I rock reliefs at Firuzabad I celebrating the victory over the Arsacid king, or in the Naqsh-e Rostam reliefs IV and VII: a difference whose significance still eludes us.

As we mentioned before, all the figures are in profile to the left, and the only head in profile to the right could be that of Graffito no. 3, which we have seen similarly on the reverse of the Shabuhr coinage.

If we consider that one of the distinctive changes of the coinage of the Sasanians as compared to the previous Iranian coinages is the change of the profile’s direction, we can perhaps suggests that almost all the figures on the graffiti are not Sasanian princes but rather belong to the kings of Persis.

At the same time, the fact that the only right-facing bust is the one similar to the reverse of the coinage of Shabuhr, might suggest that Graffito no. 3 is the latest in the series. Given that we are not sure about the identity of the personage represented on the reverse of many of the coin types of the kings of Fars, either the father, or the forefather, or even the son or the throne heir (cf. Alram 1986: 164; contra, Lukonin 1969: 29, on the basis of the legend BRH bgy X MLK’, interprets the images on the reverse as those of the father of the king), we cannot use the similarity between Graffito no. 3 and the bust on the reverse of the Shabuhr coinage to prove that the figure on Graffito no. 3 is Pabag: particularly if we keep present that the image represented on the reverse of one of the earliest coin types of Ardashir I, and bearing the same legend as the one of the coins of Shabuhr, wears the typical tiara of the ruler of Persis (Alram 1986: 186, no. 657). We therefore prefer to abstain from a precise identification of the figure, but rather point to its being near in time to the Sasanian period, both for the right-facing profile and the similarity in headdress with the figure on the reverse of the last but one king of Persis.

If, as we have seen, it is more than likely that the figurative characters on the graffiti belong to the sub-Arsacid dynasty of the Kings of Fars, we naturally must ask ourselves what could have been the the purpose of these graffiti, inscribed and perhaps painted on the walls of important edifices of the Achaemenid epoch.

Regarding this, an epigraphic testimony, even if it dates back one to two centuries from the graffiti, seems to be particularly pertinent, providing a key to the reading. These are the two Middle Persian inscriptions, dated to the fourth century A.D., engraved at Persepolis, (Henning 1963: pls. 85 and 87; Frye 1966, with bibliography; Lukonin 1969: 128-29; Azarnoush 1986: 223, 228). Both of them were ordered by a Shabuhr Sakanshah who calls himself a son of Hormozd King of King, and has been differently identified with a son of Hormozd I or a son of Hormozd II and brother of Shabuhr II. Leaving aside the problem of the true identity of the personage, what is interesting for us is what is recorded in one of the two inscriptions, the longest one, engraved on a door-jamb to the S of the main hall of the Tacara: V.G. Lukonin translate it as thus: “He [i.e. Shabuhr Sakanshah] arrived in Persepolis [st stwny, “hundred columns”], and had wine near this building. He made great rejoicing and ordered to perform service for the Gods [yzd’n]. He proclaimed praise to his father and grandfather. He proclaimed praise to Shabuhr, King of Kings. And proclaimed praise to himself. He lauded those who built this palace” (Lukonin 1969: 129).

It is not by chance that just in Persepolis Shabuhr Sakanshah had a banquet, ordered rites for Gods, and gave blessing to his father and grandfather. In the long debate about the continuity between the Achaemenid and the Sasanian dynasts, it is now every day clearer that the Sasanians considered themselves heirs of the Achaemenians, whom they knew in a distorted way (cf. Roaf 1998) nevertheless correctly as the authors of Persepolis imposing buildings. This process is not new to the Sasanian dynasty, since it is probably already present in the Fratarakas of Hellenistic Fars: in the coinage of their first series, in fact, the link with the Achaemenid dynasty is stressed both by the legend and particularly by the iconographic elements of the standard and of the building appearing on the reverse (Chaumont 1959: 179; Callieri 1998: 36; for a different interpretation, see Panaino 2003; on this question, see also Skjærvø 1997: 102).

As R.N. Frye has recalled in a paper on the rise of the Sasanians, even during the time of the Fratarakas “the ruins of Persepolis were present, however, to remind the people of the power and magnificence of their ancestors” (Frye 1975: 238).

There seems to be a continuity from the Fratarakas to the early Sasanians in the privileged relationships with these ruins, lasting at least to the fourth century, when Shabuhr Sakanshah had his inscriptions engraved there (cf. also Wiesehöfer 1994: 139, fn. 4).

The act of incising (and painting) on the walls of these ancient monuments would therefore represent an homage to the ancestors, and at the same time a mark of ownership of the ruins and a way to point out the continuity between those kings of the mythical past and the kings of the present time.

This connection with the Sasanian period leads us to examine one last important aspect of the graffiti, which the remarkable iconographic similarities with some of the themes of the Sasanian rock reliefs immediately recall: the role that they have carried out in the development of Sasanian Art.

E. Herzfeld, with his usual insight, comparing the Persepolis graffiti with the graffiti from Dura Europos, underlines their importance to show that “even before the Sasanian period the repertory of motifs that were typical of Sasanian sculpture existed in painting”: “we may assert that a traditional painting was from the beginning the constituent factor also of Sasanian rock-sculpture” (Herzfeld 1941: 308). At the same time, the graffiti “reveal the artistic conception behind the conventionalized forms of the large rock-sculptures” (ibid.): the graffiti would in this way be really the starting point of Sasanian rock-sculpture.

Herzfeld’s view is fully shared by K. Erdmann, who recalls them among the art production which has influenced the birth of Sasanian art (Erdmann 1969: 55-56). The opinion of the two scholars can still be considered still valid, given the deep similarity between the graffiti and the Sasanian rock reliefs.

However, Herzfeld’s observations on the connection of these graffiti with painting seems particularly fitting also. When visiting the site of Persepolis some years ago, the present author was impressed by the fact that the signs incised on the stone are so thin, that the motifs are barely visible, only with a grazing light. Therefore, it is likely that the graffiti were originally painted with colour, and that the incisions were only the preliminary phase of the painting.

Indeed, if we examine the whole of Graffito no. 2, we can really consider the possibility that the minor figures, or better the figures of which only parts are represented in the different modern drawings, are not parts of an unfinished scene (Calmeyer 1976: 65), but may represent engraved patches of a larger scene which were originally painted. If we try to complete all the engraved figures with painted ones, now vanished, we have the representation of a procession, in which mounted princely figures line up with their horses each guided by two standing figures (rather than an investiture on horse with the omission of the god as suggested by Abka’i-Khavari 2000: 37).

This hypothesis will be verified when it is hopefully possible to examine the graffito with infra-red techniques in order to detect the original presence of colour.

However, coming back to Herzfeld’s observations, there is a remarkable difference with the graffiti from Dura-Europos, now available in a comprehensive publication (Goldman 1999). Whereas Dura graffiti are real “occasional” graffiti, incised by common persons not always having a professional training in drawing, Persepolis graffiti show to be the work of well-trained craftsmen. Herzfeld himself recognizes that “the picture of Papak is a work of amazing technical skill” (Herzfeld 1941: 308). Therefore, they are not extemporary traces but works of art, commissioned by the personages which are represented.

Pictorial graffiti are quite rare in Iran. The only area where this form of art has been extensively recorded is that of Birjand, in Southern Khorasan. Here in the 1950s a Persian student identified on the rock-walls of the gorge known as Kal-e Jangal several rock drawings, i.e. drawing in which the line was obtained by simply skratching the surface of the stone without incision, and therefore different from graffiti: “a rock drawing of a man and a lion”, accompanied by a Parthian inscription, “a rock drawing of a male bust (bearded head, with helmet and diadem, in profile turned to the left), with a damaged Parthian inscription,” as well as fragments of seven other inscriptions, all apparently in Parthian, belonging to different periods (Henning 1953: 132-33). On the basis of the reading of the inscription, mentioning the name of a city named after Ardashir (the Sasanian king), Henning is inclined to date the first image also to the early Sasanian period, whereas as regards the male bust (the photo of which, published in an Iranian volume, is not available to the present author), he stresses the fact that it is “reminiscent of the representations of the Parthian kings on their coins”, and therefore “somewhat older” (Henning 1953: 135). Indeed, the motif of the foot combat with the lion is represented once on Sasanian rock reliefs (Barham II at Sar Mashhad) whereas on Sasanian silver vessels the combat with the lion is generally on horse; the rendering of the trousers and foot is not dissimilar to that on several mounted king images on Sasanian vessels (e.g. Harper 1981: pls. 9, 10).

However, in recent times the area of Birjand has been the object of a thorough campaign of surveying rock drawings, graffiti and inscriptions, which has located a new and rich rock-wall at the site of Lâkh Mazâr, near the village of Kutch (Labbâf Khâniki & Bashâsh 1994). Apart from the inscriptions, several human heads, all in profile (ibid.: figs. 13-14), as well as images of lions and caprids (ibid.: figs. 15-16) have been recorded, plus a large number of very poor graffiti which are likely to belong to recent times. Particularly noteworthy as regards the high craft level is the image of a lion with an extremely elaborate rendering of mane and paws (ibid.: fig. 15, D2). While the epigraphical study has suggested a date to the Sasanian period, and particularly to the reign of Kawad, a similarity of some of the busts with Hephthalite busts on engraved gems and coins confirms, at least for a part of the images, a date to the 5th century AD, whereas for some images of lion, a date in the Parthian period has been proposed on rather weak grounds (ibid.: 29-30). It is therefore likely that the rock-wall was sited in such a position that it was used for graffiti for some time during the Sasanian period, while the existence of pre-Sasanian material is still to be proven.

The testimony of Birjand, therefore, although of great interest as far as concerns the common choice to use graffiti as the technical means, is, as comparative material, of secondary importance due to its placement in time which surely comes after that of Persepolis.


Abka’i-Khavari, M. (2000) Das Bild des Königs in der Sasanidenzeit (Texte und Studien zur Orientalistik, 13). Hildesheim-Zürich-New York.

Allotte de la Füye (1928) Graffitis relevés en 1928 dans les ruines de Persépolis. Revue d’assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale 25, pp. 159-168.

Alram, M. (1986) Nomina propria iranica in nummis. Materialgrundlagen zu den iranischen Personennamen auf antiken Münzen (Iranisches Personennamenbuch, IV). Wien.

Azarnoush, M. (1986) Shapûr II, Ardashir II and Shâpûr III: Another Perspective. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, n.F., 19, pp. 219-47.

Callieri, P. (1998) A proposito di un’iconografia monetale dei dinasti del Fars post-achemenide. OCNUS, 6, pp. 25-38.

Calmeyer, P. (1976) Zur Genese altiranischer Motive V. Synarchie. AMI, N.F. 9, 1976, pp. 63-95.

Chaumont, M.-L. (1959) Papak, roi de Staxr, et sa cour. Journal Asiatique, 247, pp. 175-91.

Curtis, J. & Finkel, I. (1999) Game Boards and Other Incised Graffiti at Persepolis. Iran, XXXVII, pp. 45-48.

Erdmann, K. (1969) Die Kunst Irans zur Zeit der Sasaniden. Repr. Mainz (1st ed. Berlin 1943).

Faccenna, D. (1997) Sculptors’ trial pieces in Gandharan art. East and West, 47, pp. 67-93.

Frye, R.N. (1962) The Heritage of Persia. London.

Frye, R.N. (1966) The Persepolis Middle Persian Inscriptions from the Time of Shapur II. Acta Orientalia 30, pp. 83-93.

Frye, R.N. (1975) The rise of the Sasanians and the Uppsala school. Monumentum H.S. Nyberg, I (Acta Iranica 4, deuxième série, I), Leiden- Téhéran-Liège, 1975, pp. 237-45.

Goldman, B. (1999) Pictorial Graffiti of Dura-Europos. Parthica-Incontri di culture nel mondo antico, I, pp. 19-106.

Harper, P.O. (1981) Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period. I. Royal Imagery. New York.

Henning, W.B. (1953) A New Parthian Inscription. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, pp. 132-36.

Henning, W.B., ed. (1963) Minor Inscriptions of Kartir (Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, 3). London.

Herzfeld, E. (1935) Archaeological History of Iran. London. Herzfeld, E. (1941) Iran in the Ancient East. New York.

Hinz, W. (1966) Die Felsreliefs Ardashirs I. In Altiranische Funde und Forschungen, 115-44. Berlin.

Labbâf Khâniki, R. & Bashâsh, R. (1994) Sang-negâre-ye Lâkh Mazâr, Birjand (Selsele-ye maqâlât-e pojuheshi, 1). Tehran 1373.

Loukonin, V.G. (1968) Monnaie d’Ardachir I et l’art officiel sassanide. Iranica Antiqua, 8, pp. 106-17.

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Roaf, M. (1998) Persepolitan Echoes in Sasanian Architecture: Did the Sasanians attempt to re-create the Achaemenid empire? The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Persia. New Light on the Parthian and Sasanian Empires, ed. V. Sarkhosh Curtis, R. Hillenbrand, J.M. Rogers, pp. 1-7. London-New York.

Sami, A. (1338) Naqqâshi va tarâhi az ru-ye noqqushriz-e Sâsâni. Gozâreshhâ-ye bâstânshenâsi. 4. Moshtamel bar haffâri va xâkbardâri va ta‘mirât-e Pâsârgâd va Taxt-e Jamshid az sâl-e 1331 tâ sâl-e 1338 xurshidi, pp. 270-76. Shirâz.

Schmidt, E.F. (1953) Persepolis. I. Structures, Reliefs, Inscriptions (Oriental Institute Publications, LXVIII). Chicago.

Skjærvø, P.O. (1997) The Joy of the Cup: A Pre-Sasanian Middle Persian Inscription on a Silver Bowl. Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 11, pp. 93-104.

Soudavar, A. (2003) The Aura of Kings. Legitimacy and Divine Sanction in Iranian Kingship. Costa Mesa, Ca.

Wiesehöfer, J. (1994) Die “dunklen Jahrhunderte” der Persis. Untersuchungen zu Geschichte und Kultur von Fârs in frühhellenistischer Zeit (330-140 v. Chr.) (Zetemata, 90). München.

Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani: Persian Fire and Steel

The project for the book “Persian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran” came about from Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani’s desire to share with the world the beauty and the sophistication of historical Persian firearms, and his respect for the skill of the craftsmen who made and decorated them, the ingenuity of the engineers who designed them, and the bravery of the people who used them.

Book cover of “Persian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran“; for more information contact: 

Like his previous book, Arms and Armour from Iran, the aim of Persian Fire and Steel is to give the reader a view of these artifacts not only as instruments of war, but also as objects of art and great beauty.

Sample page from the textPersian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran“.

This book is the result of several years of research and translation by Dr. Khorasani in several collections and archives in different countries. It is his hope that lovers of art, history, and weaponry all find in it something that speaks to them.

With over four hundred pages and hundreds of high quality photographs and illustrations describing over , Persian Fire and Steel represents one of the most comprehensive insights into the world of historical Persian firearms ever written.

Ranging from small arms to artillery, it covers everything on the subject from their manufacture to their deployment in battle as described in contemporary treatises. Many of these texts are included in this book, where they have been translated to English for the first time.

Short video by Dr. Khorasani’s on his project and text “Persian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran“; to support Dr. Khorasani’s pledge and reward campaign kindly click this link here …

A Refreshing view of History and the Movie 300

The below YouTube video “Why The Persians Should Be The Good Guys In ‘300’ ” was posted by Cracked on December 27, 2016 and received 70k hits in less than a day. This is a remarkable posting by young western bloggers and writers who question Eurocentrist historical revisionism and place the ancient Greco-Persian wars in a more even-handed perspective. Readers may also find the article “The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction” of interest (posted in 10 segments below):

  1. Introductory notes — see also: The Notion of Democracy and Human Rights
  2. What really led to War
  3. The Military Conflict: Separating Fact from Fiction
  4. The Error of Xerxes: The Burning of Athens
  5. The “West” battling against the “Mysticism” of “the East”
  6. The Portrayal of Iranians and Greeks
  7. A Note on the Iranian Women in Antiquity
  8. “Good” versus “Evil”
  9. Bibliography
  10. ترجمه مقاله کاوه فرخ به فارسی توسط غزال خاكسارى: فیلم 300: افسانه یا واقعیت

Consult also John Trikeriotis’ article: False depictions of Xerxes and Artemesia in “300: Rise of an Empire”; See also articles under: “کوروش بزرگ -Cyrus the Great & the Cyrus Cylinder



Notes on Iranian Cuisine

The article below by Maryam Ala Amjadi on Iranian Cuisine was originally printed in the Tehran Times on September 4, 2011. Kindly note that the pictures and captions posted below did not appear in the original Tehran Times publication.


An incredibly wise man and a passionate food lover once opined that if the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is to prepare them well and serve them with ceremony. This axiom of festive spirit is perhaps the most evident feature that lies at the core of Iranian culinary.

Enriched with a colorful and yet a healthy diversity of dishes that are peculiar to various regions of this country, Iranian food is highly popular in the east and the west for its freshness and deliciousness. The Persian kitchen has the ability to retain its uniqueness by preparing meals within a range of subtle and yet contrasting flavors, such as a combination of sweet and sour or mild and rarely, spicy.

Ash-e-Anar[Click to Enlarge] A bowl of Ash-e Anar known for its unique taste made with pomegranates (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Generally, in Persian cooking food is not overpowered with spices. While herbs, spices and sometimes fruits are used for seasoning and garnishing, the flavors are quite subtle and delicate as in the design patterns of a Persian carpet.

Persian cooking largely relies on rice as one of the main ingredients, which is an affordable and readily available staple in everyday diet. A typical Iranian meal is often a full plate of chelo (plain cooked rice) topped with vegetables, meat or fish. The mild flavor of rice provides a delightful contrast to the seasoned meat and vegetable toppings.

 Dolmeh Kadoo[Click to Enlarge] A vegetarian delight: the Dolmeh Kadoo (stuffed squash in the Persian style) (Picture Source: My Persian Kitchen).

Another staple food of Iran is naan (bread), typically a round, flat bread that can either be baked or cooked over a bed of small stones. While in villages, locals make their own naan, several varieties of fresh-from-the -oven bread is easily purchasable at naan shops in the cities.

After lamb, which is Iran’s favorite meat, beef and chicken are commonly eaten in stews as well as in the form of the popular kabab (kebab) , which is actually meat grilled on a skewer. Fish is common as well, particularly in the North and the neighboring Caspian Sea towns where it is found fresh. In addition, there are a number of dishes prepared with a combination of herbs, grains, pulses, vegetables and even fruits.

 Persian CuisineThe diversity of Persian cuisine as displayed in the Ariana restaurant in London, England (Picture Source: Ariana Restaurant).

A bowl or platter of seasonal fresh fruits and dishes of herbs and vegetables which may be considered “exotic” (like dates and figs) in some other countries, are standard side dishes to most meals. They are also very creatively combined with meats in order to form flavored accessories to the main dishes. The dolma, for example, is one such dish. The term actually describes any vegetable or fruit stuffed with rice-meat mixture. The stuffed grape leaves are the most popular form of dolma.

Today, Persian cuisine is gaining popularity in multicultural cities and cosmopolitan arenas, particularly Los Angeles, Vancouver, Washington D.C., Toronto and London. These cities have significant Iranian population.

Some similar traits of Persian cookery can be found in the cuisines of a few other nations such as the Turks and the Greeks, mainly due to cultural and historical contacts among Iran and these nations. For instance, the kabab which is found worldwide today initially originated in Persia and was later on adopted by the Middle East and Turkey. There are of course many distinct features that set Iranian cuisine apart from other Middle Eastern food. First and foremost, Iran’s rich agriculture and diverse regional climates provide high quality food items and a natural wide diversity of herbs and vegetables. Iranian cookery, therefore, begins with high quality ingredients which preserve a strong natural taste, smell and texture. Secondly, most dishes are a work of art and delicacy and like other artistic works of this land, they are a little more time consuming in terms of preparation. Thirdly, the food is prepared fresh and served fresh. Fourth, less salt and oil are used in Iranian cooking as compared to other Middle Eastern cooking, a positive feature which makes Iranian cuisine, a healthy and hearty choice in one go. Moreover, side dishes shape a colorful panorama on the Iranian table. Spinach and yogurt, minced shallots in curd, lentil soup, a range of salads with olive oil and vinegar dressing, pickled fruits and vegetables peculiar to various regions of Iran are some of the side dishes that accompany the main edibles.

Sabzi-polo-Mahi[Click to Enlarge] Sabzi-polo Mahi (vegetable-seasoned rice and north-Iranian style fish filet) (Picture Source: Phancouver).

Rising above the ingredients of Iranian cooking, one can claim that food is undoubtedly a fundamental part of the Persian heritage. Each item is a tasty representation of geographical aestheticism in a range of colors and scents specific to those regions. Eating is associated with a great deal of social events, as in births, funerals, weddings and many other rituals that convince us of the fact that culinary traditions are intertwined with Iran’s history, religion, culture and even literature. Some ingredients are even used as metaphors in Iranian poetry and prose: Honey colored eyes, peach colored complexion, laughing mouth like pistachio, pomegranate colored lips, hazelnut-like noses, red apple cheeks, almond-shaped eyes and many others.

Deep dish delights at Persian Restaurants

Even through economic slumps, restaurants in Iran are an ever growing industry. After cafés, they are the most popular hangouts for the Iranian youth particularly in the capital. Moreover, with their tradition setting and unique ambiance, they are also a compelling tourist attraction both inside and outside the country as they generally observe the standards of cleanliness and hygiene.

Restaurants are majorly categorized by the type of dishes and services they provide. In a very typical and traditional restaurant, also known as sofreh khaaneh you can expect kabaabs done in a variety of styles: soft kababs, such as koobideh (minced meat kabab), pure meat kababs such as chenjeh (lamb chop kabab), bakhtiyari (a combination of roasted chicken and meat pieces on skewers) and a few others. These kababs as well as almost all stews are served with plain rice, side dishes and a popular yogurt based drink called doogh.

Kabab DishMixed Koobideh, Barg and Joojeh Kabab skewers served with rice (Picture Source: Reza Restaurant); for more on this culinary art, see “Iran’s favorite dish: the Chelo Kebab“…

Sofreh khaneh has flat wooden day beds with large cushions laid out for the diners to recline on as they eat. Sometimes the beds are laid out in a small garden. There are of course many restaurants that offer the same traditional food in the standard restaurant settings but for its relaxed and unique ambience, the sofreh khaneh continues to evolve into an even more popular place, where families and closed ones can bond over food.

Mastokhiar[Click to Enlarge] Persian appetizer (also a yoghurt-dip) called Maast-o Khiar which is a combination of cucumbers, raisins, walnuts, in a Persian-style yogurt (Picture Source: Debbie Ohi). 

Modern Pizzerias face the Kabab Tradition

The much younger generation, however, seems to have developed an increasing preference for fast food which has naturally resulted in the establishment of small and big fast food outlets, where one can usually find a variety of pizza, steak, hamburger, fried chicken etc.

Known humorously as ‘keshloghmeh’ (elastic loaves), a modified Persian word, pizza done in an assortment of styles and flavors, continues to remain a very popular fast food dish among young Iranians. Despite the allure, however, the youth still know where to turn if they are, in the long run, looking for wholesomeness and deliciousness in one plate: the gastronomic charms of the traditional Persian platter. Restaurants serving traditional Iranian dishes, like the cholo kabab are still the most crowded and favored places.

International cuisines are also currently in trend. Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai and Mexican food have become quite popular in recent years, primarily in Tehran.

Persian Pizza[Click to Enlarge] Persian-style “Pizza” from the eateries of Tehran (Picture Source: iFood.TV). There is fact a very large difference between the Persian Pizza and its classic Italian counterpart with respect to the base, toppings, etc. The “Persian Pizza” has become one of the most popular streets foods in Iran.

Facts about food and table manners in Iran

Fork and spoon are the main pieces of cutlery used at the Iranian table. A knife is rarely used at lunch or dinner.

When invited as a guest to lunch or dinner, expect to be offered second and even third helpings. Initial refusals will be assumed to be polite gestures (ta’arof, a sign of social decorum) and are taken mildly.

Iranians usually eat a handful of herbs and greens along with their meals. Known as sabzi khordan (edible greens) these herbs are typically a combination of chives, spring onions, mint leaves, basil, tarragon, radish, parsley and dill, often along with handful of walnuts, naan and a piece of feta cheese.

In most modern house settings food is eaten at the table but in a more traditional atmosphere, sofreh (table cloth like garment) available in a range of material and design pattern is spread on a Persian rug or table. Even in modern houses, some meals are still served on the floor and the sofreh is spread on the dining table.

There are four major types of flat breads (naan) and about ten types of unflat and sweet breads available in various shapes and sizes in the art of Iranian bakery.

Naan e Barbari[Click to Enlarge] Naan-e Barbari (Picture Source: Food and Wine).

Iranians revere bread to a great extent and do not discard or throw away stale bread along with other trash. Leftovers are usually disposed in separate containers. A practical way to refrain from unwanted disposal of bread was the formerly popular custom of trading dried bread for salt or fruit baskets with hawkers who roamed around for this purpose, a tradition that has been fading out, but still in practice in rural areas.

Black tea is an all time beverage in Iran. It would not be an exaggeration to call it the national drink of the country. It is mostly drunk along with sugar cubes and on occasion with sweets. The sugar cubes are taken between the teeth and then the tea is sipped.

 Chai Irani-TS[Click to Enlarge] Traditional Persian Tea (Picture Source: Tumeric Saffron).

Lunch and Dinner: Rice, white gold on the Iranian dining table

Grown mostly in Iran’s northern Caspian provinces and prized mainly for its aroma, rice is indeed the jewel of Persian cuisine. What distinguishes Iranian rice dishes is the range of methods in which this ingredient can come to life in a Persian kitchen. Iranians consume rice daily in ways that somehow elevate it; sometimes it is as simple as boiling it in salt and oil and at times, it can be a ritual of running it half cooked through a sieve, throwing it back into the pot to fully steam and develop , then enriching it with a dash of saffron on the top and creating a golden crust (tahdig) at the bottom of the pot which comes out in different shapes and flavors, after the top of the pot is emptied and served, usually with a combination of another ingredient.

 TahdigThe Tahdig delicacy crust shaped around the rice in the form of a cake (Picture Source: YumSugar). There are in fact a large varieties of the Tahdig.

The main typical Persian dishes are a blend of rice with meat, chicken or fish but rice can also be prepared as the main dish per se: On occasion, Persian rice dishes are richly studded with fruits, nuts, herbs and spices but more than often, rice is seen as an a companion to other dishes.

 Khoresht-e Karafs

The Khoresht-e Karafs (Picture Source: Mastering Persian Cooking).

Another distinct feature in the tradition of rice eating as compared to rice eaters in the west that, when served with stew (khoresht) of either meat or chicken; rice is used as an edible bed where both items are mixed in proportion by the consumer before they are eaten.

The two main national rice dishes are chelo and polo (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs).

Chelo Kabab-Tabriz[Click to Enlarge] Serving of fresh skewers of Čelow-kabāb in the city of Tabriz, Iran’s Azarbaijan province (Picture Source: Payvand News). Tabriz is famous throughout Iran for its culinary style of the Čelow-kabāb dish and is also known for having popularized this throughout the country as well. There are still traditional restaurants in Tabriz that serve skewers almost a meter long! For more on the Čelow-kabāb culinary arts see “Iran’s favorite dish: the Chelo Kebab” …


Persian Omelette[Click to Enlarge] Traditional Persian Omelette (Picture Source: Herald Sun).