Sunday, January 22, 2023

Statue of Shapur I

The Colossal Statue of Shapur I‌ (مجسمه شاپور یکم), located in Fars province, is a statue of Shapur I (AD 240–272), the second king of the Sassanid Empire. It stands in the Shapur cave, a huge limestone cave located about 6 km from the ancient city of Bishapur in the south of Iran. 

The statue is about 35 meters from the cave entrance, on the fourth of five terraces, lying approximately 3.4 meters below the level of the cave entrance. Its height of about 6.7 meters and breadth across the shoulders of more than 2 meters make it one of the most impressive sculptures from the Sassanian period.

The statue was known in Europe as early as 1811. Due to the shape of the crown, the colossal statue was identified as Shapur I, the second Sassanian king. After the Arab invasion of Iran and collapse of the Sasanian Empire, the statue was pulled down and a part of one of its legs was broken. The statue had been lying on the ground for about 14 centuries until 1957 when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had a group of Iranian military raised it again on its feet and repaired the broken foot with iron and cement pillars which are located near the original feet. In the 20th century parts of its arms were also broken in an earthquake.

The statue wears a crenellated crown (although a large piece of the front crenellation is missing) and a wide diadem. The mass of hair on the left side of the sculpture has remained intact while the ends of strands of hair on the right side are broken off. Of the left arm of the sculpture only half of it remains with speculation that the missing left hand must have once rested on the sword handle. The right hand is strongly weathered and rests on the waist. The right arm is broken off just below the axilla although a small part of the right underarm is still attached. The clothing of the statue consists of an undervest, an upper garment and wide trousers. Through its skin-tight fit, the shoulders, the upper arms and the chest of the king have been emphasized. At the waist, the upper garment is held together tightly by a belt while a second belt, which is hanging loosely around the hips, functions to fasten on the sword scabbard.

Only small parts of the legs of the sculpture have remained. The fact that the trousers of Shapur I originally reached the ground is evident from the traces of folds encircling the original feet of the sculpture at irregular intervals. The two feet of the sculpture are slightly spread. The right shoe is largely destroyed while the left shoe is virtually intact and has a round toe cap. The broad shoelaces, pleated lengthways, meander in an S-shape onto the ground.

There is speculation regarding the reason that this statue was erected in this location. Archeologists believe that the notch before the cave had been used for the ancient game of polo. Travelling east to west along the notch there are six rock-face reliefs from the Sassanid era, four of which include Shapur I. Extending further west, the notch leads to the ancient city of Bishapur, halfway between Ctesiphon and Takht’e Jamshid. Given that the city was surrounded by walls and mountains, it was only accessible via the said notch. The placement of the statue in a sense enabled Shapur I to keep a watchful eye on all those who made their way to the city. 



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