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Tribute bearers of Persepolis

Visual Essays

Jamshid Varza

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The Achaemenian history as we learn mostly from Herodotus reached the peak of its glory during the reign of Darius and his son Xerxes. It was almost one generation after Cyrus the founder of Persian Empire had conquered the countries spanning from India to Greece and central Asia to Africa. Cyrus the Great with his declaration of treating all the subjects as equal members of his empire showed unprecedented tolerance toward diversity of cultures and religions.

Darius who built the vast central government, roads, and the organized military could bring this empire to a new level of prosperity. Now this empire enjoyed three capitals of Susa, Babylon, and Sardis. It was time for Darius to build something more magnificent than all the three capitals put together.

Darius set out to build the new ceremonial capital of Persepolis in his homeland of Pars -- Herodotus called it the city of Persians of Persepolis. The purpose of the new ceremonial capital was celebration of Norooz "the beginning of spring," the most important of Zarathushti ceremonies. The astrological symbol of "Lion attacking a Bull" at the entry gates symbolize the conquest of winter by spring. Darius started the monumental project and his son Xerxes added the hall of one-hundred columns and the famous Xerxes gates to Persepolis. Throughout Achaemenian history every emperor added a section to this capital to make it more majestic.

The ruins of Persepolis show the monumental work that went into building the place. The size of gates, column and stairways with all the fine stone carving overwhelms the visitor. At two different places in Apadana, Darius placed two foundation plaques, one in gold, the other in silver, accompanied with coins. The text engraved on the plaques in three languages, Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, reads as follows:

"Darius, the Great King, King of Kings, King of Countries, son of Hystaspes, the Achaemenid. Saith Darius the King: This is the kingdom which I posses from the land of the Sakas on this side of Sogdiana as far as Kush, from India to Sardis. Over this Ahura Mazda has granted me dominion, he who is great above all the Gods. May Ahura Mazda protect me and my Royal House."

Stairways and interior stone walls of Persepolis are all covered with detailed carvings. In many places images of people carrying objects which are headed by a Mede or Persian nobleman can be seen. One question that usually come to visitor's mind is "who they are and what the objects are?"

The French archeologist, Roman Ghirshman, who spent a good portion of his professional life working on historic sites of Iran discovered the answer. His work set the path for scholars to follow his work and complete his discoveries. He discovered that these men were "Tribute bearers" from many nations under Darius' command carrying tribute to him on the day of Norooz. Each group is usually lead by a Mede or Persian nobleman.

The head dress of each Tribute bearer is key to his identification

(left) ?

(center) East Stairway of Apadana: Armenian

(right) Elamite lead by a Persian nobleman


(left) East Stairway of Apadana: ?

(center) East Stairway of Apadana: Lydian

(right) Babylonian

East Stairway of Apadana: ?
East Stairway of Apadana: Kandaharan
East Stairway of Apadana: African
East Stairway of Apadana: Assyrian

East Stairway of Apadana: Babylonian


East Stairway of Apadana: Scythian (or Chorasmian) lead by a Mede nobleman.