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Work Man carrying a kid goat and climbing a staircase

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Porteur de chevreau gravissant un escalier

© 1990 RMN / Philippe Bernard

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Giraudon Catherine

A servant is climbing the stairs to the hall where a banquet is being held to celebrate the new year. He is carrying a kid goat destined for the table. The scene takes place in Persepolis, capital of the Persian empire. The limestone relief was originally part of the decoration in the Achaemenid ruler's palace.

An illustrious capital city

Persepolis was founded by Darius I the Great (522-486 BC) in Fars, where the Persians are from originally. The city was a great political and religious capital. Only the carved stone parts of the palace - terrace walls, doors, and stairways - survive, the walls built of raw earth bricks having crumbled away. The highly ornamental carvings boast of the might of the empire. They depict narratives designed to indicate to visitors the purpose of each room and illustrating events that many would not have been present at in person. In this instance, the relief narrates the ceremony celebrating the new year and the beginning of spring - the most important festival in the Mazdean religious calendar. The day began with an audience given by the great king, followed by a procession of his subjects bearing gifts. The banquets that marked the end of the celebrations are represented by the large numbers of servants.

A devoted servant

This relief of gray limestone, which would originally have been colored, is a fragment from a decorative staircase. A man is shown climbing the stairs toward the left, carrying a live kid goat under his arm, holding its bent forelegs tight with his left hand, while his right hand holds it by the neck. He is wearing Persian trousers that reach to his ankles and a flared, long-sleeved tunic belted at the waist. On his head is a round felt cap with a cloth hiding his neck and the lower part of his face. The relief was purchased by the department in 1931. It is not known whereabouts exactly in the palace it came from. However, there are identical figures in the carvings of lines of servants carrying dishes, vases, or animals. In iconographic terms, it is usual for Medes and Persians to alternate, and live animals destined for the table are always carried by Medes.

A recurring theme

Two other reliefs from Persepolis depict Medes and Persians, the two ethnic groups living in the empire. Staircase decorations depicting servants bearing offerings and dating from the same period have been found in Susa, but they are made of glazed bricks, not limestone. They were inspired by the decoration of the palace of Sargon in Khorsabad (late eighth century BC) which took the form of reliefs depicting lines of servants carrying furnishings and dishes for a feast.

Technical description

  • Porteur de chevreau gravissant un escalier

    Epoque achéménide, Ve siècle avant J.-C.

    Persépolis

  • Calcaire

    H. 75 cm; W. 38 cm; D. 13 cm

  • Acquisition

    AO 14050

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Persian empire during the Achaemenian period: Persepolis and Susa, 6th–4th century BC
    Room 14, temporarily closed to the public
    Vitrine 1 : Persépolis

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