Myths from Persia, £8.99
Height: 30.000 cm
Width: 18.200 cm
Thickness: 7.700 cm
Gift of Dr. M.Y. Young
Room 52: Ancient Iran
Carved limestone stela with a figure of a god
Probably Parthian, late 2nd - early 3rd century AD
From Masjid-i-Suleiman, western Iran
Hermes, the messenger god, or a local counterpart
This grey limestone stela comes from the religious terrace-site of Masjid-i Soleiman in the kingdom of Elymais in western Iran, a semi-autonomous regional centre within the Parthian empire. Although the figure has been identified as either Athar, god of fire, or as Herakles, it probably depicts Hermes, the Greek messenger of the gods, or his local counterpart. He seems to have wings on his head and, like Hermes, he carries a bag in one hand and a staff - or at least an object that may be a staff - in the other.
During the first two centuries of Parthian dominance the originally nomadic Parthians had continued to be strongly influenced by Hellenism, but by the first centuries AD a new spirit of independence appeared in their art, which moved away from Greek styles. The introduction of frontality also marked a break with previous Near Eastern tradition (while heads had previously been shown frontally, the lower part of the body had always been shown in profile). This continued under the later Sasanians and was eventually adopted into Byzantine art.
J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)