Darab Bas-relief
The victory bas-relief at Darab is among the earliest and most controversial of the Sasanid carvings. There is no universally accepted interpretation of this scene, though the dates suggested by different hypotheses vary by only some thirty years, from the late 230s to the 260s. The bas-relief shows the figure of a Sasanid emperor mounted on a horse in the middle of the carving.

Darab Bas-relief
The victory bas-relief at Darab is among the earliest and most controversial of the Sasanid carvings. There is no universally accepted interpretation of this scene, though the dates suggested by different hypotheses vary by only some thirty years, from the late 230s to the 260s. The bas-relief shows the figure of a Sasanid emperor mounted on a horse in the middle of the carving.
Heavy growth of long, curly hair frames his manly face, which is seen in three-quarter view. He has a mustache and a long beard which is held by a ring. His headgear consists of a diadem and a tall turban, to which bands of crimped ribbon are attached. The king wears a long, draping shirt, with its flaps falling freely over the horse's back. A cape is fastened with round buttons over his chest, and its folds float in the air behind him. The king wears trousers made of the same light fabric as his shirt. The trousers are decorated with ribbons at the ankles, and the ends of the ribbons fall to the ground. The monarch wears a necklace of large pearls, while bracelets adorn his wrists.

Darab Bas-relief

The horse is very large and stands sturdily on all I four feet. The animal is ostentatiously bedecked, and it appears that its harness was once dotted with pearls these, of course, have disappeared. A huge tassel hangs from the saddle; such tassels are still used by Bedouin Arabs as flywhisks. The horse tramples the figure of a defeated enemy, prostrate under its hooves. The figure wears a beribboned wreath.
Two figures are portrayed standing in front of the king.
One of them bends in respect before the monarch, and the king touches his head with his left hand in a gesture of royal condescension and mercy. The man is definitely not Iranian. He is middle-aged, has short hair, and his head is crowned with a wreath, to which a short ribbon is attached. His outer cape is fastened on his shoulder. His right hand is raised.
This person is half-hidden by a rather short figure of another man, who has a short beard and a diadem or a fillet across his forehead. This man wears a short shirt or tunic, and over it, a cape. Fastened to his belt is a sword with a bird-shaped handle. With hands clasped together, he touches the horse's bridle, as if pleading for mercy.
To the right of the man stands an Iranian nobleman. Behind the monarch, on the left, are shown four rows of Sasanid courtiers.  The personages in the first rows may be princes or members of the high-ranking nobility. Two of these persons used to have flowers in their bent right hands; this motif may have been borrowed from Persepolis. The men in the upper rows maybe military men; the first person in the third row holds a sword, which may have been prepared as a gift for the person whose head the king is touching benevolently.
Carved in the right corner of the scene, and giving balance to its composition, is another group, this time of twenty-two Romans with short beards and hair. All of these are shown in the profile.
In the lower righthand section is a horse pulling a chariot. This animal is much smaller than the Shapur mount. Its harness also differs strikingly from that of the monarch's horse. The chariot, though there was no space to show it completely, was certainly meant as war booty. Most authorities believe that the crown Shapur I is wearing in the bas-relief is that of his father, which would indicate that the scene dates from the period of Shapur and Ardashir's joint rule or from the following interval before Shapur's actual coronation in 241.

Darab Bas-relief Fars Province

Aside from the crown, both style and composition also support the attribution of the engraving to an early date. However, the presence of three defeated Romans in this scene is difficult to explain in the light of the known historical events. The three Roman emperors defeated by Shapur were Gordian III, Philip the Arabian, and Valerian. Gordian is usually shown trampled under the hooves of the king's horse, Philip is shown kneeling, while Valerian is portrayed standing by the monarch's side a pose resembling the one represented at Darab. However, Shapur's victory over his Roman adversaries occurred at a much later date: Gordian was slain in battle in 243, Philip sued for peace in 244, and Valerian was taken prisoner in 260.

Even if we believe what some suggest that only the first two of these emperors are portrayed here, while instead of Valerian, Cyriades (the citizen of Antioch who helped Shapur to capture the city and was later appointed the local ruler) is shown, we still go beyond the date of 242, when Shapur officially put on his famous dentilled crown. Thus, we find no explanation for why he is carved here wearing his father's crown. Some scholars have suggested that the relief depicts other, little-known victories of Ardashir, or even of some symbolic Sasanid monarch, but few persuasive arguments have been produced on behalf of these theories. The bas-relief is carved in a manmade recess in the rock, 8.4 by 6 m. The sculpture has been damaged by a cliff fracture, and by nomads who used the figures as targets for shooting practice. The carving used to soar above a beautiful spring of water, but the spring has dried up. Two very small and much-eroded bas-reliefs are carved beneath the main scene. One of them is believed to show Shapurdokhtak the consort of Narses, and the other, a warrior stabbing a rampant lion.

 

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