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Hercules in Iran


According to the Greek inscription on the mountain pictured, the statue represents Heracles (Hercules/Herakles) when he was at Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of West Iran. It was carved on the mount in 148 BCE and is dedicated to a local Seleucid governor, who was probably feeling pride at the reported link between his own people and the demigod. Here Heracles is shown quietly resting on a lion skin and drinking from a bowl under the shade of an olive tree after performing one of his labours. His traditional wood bludgeon lies near him, the giant is resting.

Heracles was champion of the Olympic order, the ideal of masculinity as worshipped by the Greeks. If the topic is typically Greek, the style of the carving technique shows the relief was carved by an Iranian artist who must have been unfamiliar with Greek iconography. The conclusion by historians is that this was probably not a royal relief but made instead by a local stone mason or artist. The statue was discovered in 1958, when the nearby road was lowered and at first, the statue had no head but this was found days later during excavations and restored. It was later stolen; what you see now, is a copy. heracles f654x654px-11432847764c85f14336da8240194320 herules tumblr_mruhnqRVrk1s1ey34o1_1280

The Greek orator, and source of much of what we know about the time Libanius, of C314 – 392, states that Heracles was widely considered the ancestor of the Seleucid dynasty in Persia. After the collapse of the first Persian Empire because of the Macedonian invasion, and after the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek dynasty of the Seleucids (the name stemming from Seleukos, a former general of Alexander) were the main rulers of the western part of the Iranian plateau. This can not have been easy for them as the feeling towards anything Greek was naturally acerbic at the time, however riches and strong foreign backing kept them in power. The Seleucids dominated the cities and the main commercial roads, but failed to impose their might in rural areas. However, their artistic influence penetrated the entire Iranian plateau and remains apparent for centuries further, through the Parthian and then the Sasanian dynasties. The presence of such statues and the often seen Greek inscriptions, as well as representations of the Greek god Nike in other carved rock reliefs all over the country, are testament to elements of this influence.

This was an important time culturally for Persia as a fusion of religions occurred in the empire soon after the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty, Heracles appears to have assimilated at least aspects of the old Iranian divinity of power Verethragna (the Persian god of victory and the personification of aggressive triumph, the god of Vrahran – Fire).
Read the translation of the even more famous artefact at Behistan, the cuneiform text orated by king Darius “I am Darius, the great king, the King of kings…”  Authored sometime between his coronation as king of the Persian Empire in the summer of 522 BC and his death in autumn of 486 BC. In effect, then, the inscription is to our understanding of cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs, the document most crucial to the deciphering of a previously lost written language.

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