Detail of a "Yauna" (Ionian) tribute bearer of the famous tribute bearers bas-relief decorating the southern panel of the eastern stairway of the Apadana, Darius the Great’s audience hall at Persepolis, one of the capital of the Achaemenian Persian Empire (515 BCE). During this era, Ionia was with Lydia, forming a Greek satrapy in minor Asia (actual Turkey) having Sardes as provincial capital.
The southern panel hosts a set of 23 bas-reliefs describing the procession of tribute bearers of 23 nations subjected to the king of the kings. Each delegation is leaded by alternating Persian and Median heralds, and brings the king various gifts from everywhere in the empire. As many inscriptions let us know, by such pictorial representation, the king of kings claims his authority on all these provinces, the supremacy of the Persian and Median nations on the others, and acknowledge the great diversity of his giant empire.
Although still being a topic of controversy, most of the delegations are identified with the help of the analysis of the dressings, hairdressing, ethnophysical specificities seen on the various characters, or also using some comparison with lists of the subjected nations left on the Achaemenian royal inscriptions. The execution of those reliefs obeys to strict rules set by the king himself, letting no artistic freedom to the carver. Although many of the artists working on Persepolis were not Persian themselves but coming from all across the empire (Egyptians, Greeks of minor Asia etc…), the style of the sculpture is typically Persian and undoubtly oriental, as testify the profile face & frontal chest posture. The marble sculptures were polished until obtaining a nearly completely erased grain, giving the Achaemenian Ronde-Bosse its particular quality. The use of polychromic pigments to colorize the reliefs in the fashion of those friezes seen in Suza, another Achaemenian capital remain yet an unanswered question. If Suza’s Apadana wall decoration was polychromic, if stigmatas of pigments were attested in Persepolis, one can ask how pigments could adhere to such polished surfaces.
Beautiful details (ornaments, jewelleries, dressings, animals) could be particularly preserved from time and weather erosion if not vandalism, by the fact that the fire Alexander the Great set to Persepolis started in Xerxes’s Haddish palace, provoking the collapse of the close Apadana palace on its eastern side, burying de facto the stairway under meters of dusts and rubbles. In fact, far from destroying the symbol of the Achaemenian power, did Alexander help to preserve it for the future generations.
Taken at Persepolis, Vicinity of Marvdasht city, Fars province, Iran, April 2009.