Triumph of Shapur I over Valerian, rock-cut relief, Bishapur, Iran, 260 CE

The Sasanian Empire became so powerful that it Shapur I succeeded in capturing the Roman emperor Valerian in 260 CE. To commemorate this significant victory, King Shapur I ordered a series of larger-than-life rock-cut reliefs.

This rock-cut relief is meant to flaunt the power and authority of Shapur I and the submissiveness of the Roman emperor Valerian. Shapur I, on the right, sits atop a horse and is larger than life-size. He is wearing the distinctive Sasanian crown, which breaks through the relief, drawing even more attention to him and emphasizing and magnifiying his authority. Roman emperor Valerian is on his knees, begging for mercy at the hands of Shapur I.

Similar scenes of the defeated bowing before the Roman emperor are commonplace in Roman art. However, in these rock-cut reliefs, Shapur I switched roles by having the Roman emperor bow before him. As Gardener’s Art through the Ages puts it, “this appropriation of Roman compositional patterns and motifs in a relief celebrating the Sasanian defeat of the Romans add another ironic level of meaning to the political message in stone.”

I am in awe at the sheer size of the rock-cut relief. I am just beyond impressed. I think standing before the large portrait of the kings really emphasizes his power, authority, and greatness. In my opinion, this rock-cut relief does its job really well.

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