Sarab-e Bahram-Level E

Level E
Level E

Sarab-e Bahram
Sasanian king Bahram II’s rock relief at Sarab-e Bahram (Bahram’s fountain), showing an audience scene.

The old Iranian art of carving royal rock reliefs raised a high point under the ruling of Bahram II, as this king gave up all the traditional standards ruling the previous royal rock cut imaging his predecessors set. He introduced new kind of sceneries: images of intimacy like Sarab-e Qandil or Barm-e Dilak, fight against lions like Sar Mashhad, or enthroned frontal representations such as this one. Unlike the previous Sasanian kings, he also ordered the carving of reliefs in new sites that were never carved before his ruling either by the Sasanian or by any previous dynasty. He left nonetheless but 10 rock relieves for the posterity, some being unfinished.

Unique panel carved into a quadrangular frame, the relief like most of Iranian ones is located near the water. In this case, a spring lay below the relief from what it took its name: Cheshm-e Sarab-e Bahram, meaning the eye of Bahram’s fountain. The place is also located on the ancient road connecting the ancient main cities or capitals of Fars to those of the north under Sasanian (Ishtakr, Bishapur & Gur to Ctesiphon) but also previous dynasties (Anshan then Persepolis & Pasargadae to Susa under Elamite then Median then Achaemenian era). As seen on many other sasanian relieves, the frame’s dimensions are that of a golden rectangle (ideal proportions obeying to the mathematical suite of Fibonacci)

Badly damaged by erosion, the relief shows a static scene, completely lacking any movement. The king faces the spectator, seating on a throne, his 2 hands on the top of his sword whose pick lay on the groud. He wears his typical winged crown from which 2 diverging ribbons are stirred up by the wind , with 2 allowing archaeologist to name Bahram II despite the lack of inscription. Above the crown, one can see the king’s korymbos, big spherical hairdressing maintained by a veil. At each side of the king, 2 characters can be seen paying tribute to the monarch by curving their 2nd finger in his direction before their mouth, typical sasanian tribute gesture. Although eroded, some remarkable details can seen on the hats of some characters, allowing their identification: At the left of the panel, a bearded man wears a hat on which a sign (sort of stylized bird flying) can be distinguished, sign of a very high social ranking or function (Vanden berghe identifies him as Papak, a vizier). Between Papak and the king, a beardless figure wearing a scissors signed hat is clearly identified as being Kartir, a “Moebed” (zoroastrian high priest). Such character has a very big importance under Bahram II’s period, being the one that struggled against Christian expansion, instituting zoroastrism as the official state religion. Kartir had that great influence on state affairs that he is the only non royal person who could not only be shown on royal rock reliefs, but also could ordering the addition of his own image on other previous king’s reliefs such as Ardashir’s at Naqs-e Rajab, or even carve his own inscriptions. 2 other characters at the right of the scene might be courtiers, royal princes, or very high rank noblemen. Both of them salute with their right hand at the back of the scene, and hold their harnessed swords with their left ones. All the non royal characters are standing in the frontal plan, while their feet and heads are turned (towards the king for the heads, exterior of the characters for their feet). The composition is not only static, but is perfectly symmetric. The importance of the king is enhanced by the lack of isocephaly: despite sitting, the king’s head is on a higher level than the other characters heads, this impression is increased by the voluminous korymbos passing through the upper level of the frame. Technically, the execution of the carving is of a very good quality, a special attention has been paid to the clothes showing beautiful and fine details despite the erosion.

Taken at Sarab-e Bahram, vicinity of Noorabad, Fars province, Iran, May 2009.

See Also

Sarab-e Bahram side view

Sarab-e Bahram Frame view

Detailed view of Bahram II

Detailed view of Papak & Kartir

Detailed view of Kartir

Detailed view of Papak

Detailed view of 1st Courtier

Detailed view of 2nd Courtier

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Olympus E-510 DSLR
Olympus ED 40-150mm f4-5.6 zoom
ISO 100 RAW

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