Relief with a Median Servant

  • Iran, Persepolis
  • Persia, Achaemenid period
  • 5th century B.C.
  • Limestone
  • H-35.6 W-19.5
Catalogue Entry

This second Shumei relief from Persepolis (see cat. no. 32) depicts a recurring subject, a servant shown in profile, presumably part of a procession of offering bearers. Such files of people at Persepolis were often composed of alternating Persian and Median servants, bearing the same facial features, yet distinguished by their garments. This figure may be identified as a Median servant by the round headgear, a rendering of a felt bashlyk. Here the headgear is depicted simply, lacking an incised line running horizontally across the top or a looping incised line beneath the chin seen on other examples.1 In addition, the top of the bonnet is shown as a smooth curve, unlike those with a three-knobbed crown.2 The facial features are consistent with renderings from Persepolis, with the eye and eyebrow rimmed and shown frontally in bold relief and the mustache and hair curls clearly defined. The right arm of the figure extends upward, perhaps steadying the lid of a covered food bowl, a gesture repeated by many of the Median bearers at Persepolis.

Both the subject matter of this relief and the motif of parallel petals or leaves along the top provide some clue to the fragment's original location at the site. Rows of alternating Median and Persian servants (as opposed to officials with their distinctive garments) topped with this petal pattern frequently appear on the inner face of stairways at Persepolis.3 An intact example of this configuration decorated the inner face of the eastern parapet of the south stairs of the so-called Central Building (now in the Bastan Museum in Tehran).4 A possible original location for the Shumei relief may be the inner face of the eastern parapet of the south stairs of the Palace of Darius at Persepolis, which is partially destroyed,5 yet reveals this cycle of decoration, or from another of the many later stairways at the site.

1. For a fragment with these details see Los Angeles County Museum of Art 63.36.17: see Kuwayama 1963.
2. Roaf 1983, p. 86.
3. Schmidt 1953, pls. 55B, 85, 135.
4. Roaf 1983, pp. 85-7; Schmidt, 1953, pl. 85.
5. Schmidt 1953, pl. 135a, b.