Stone relief showing a sphinx

Achaemenid Persian, 5th century BC
From Palace H at Persepolis, south-west Iran

A guardian deity, originally protecting the royal Persian god

This male sphinx wears the imposing horned headdress of a divinity. Discovered at Persepolis by Colonel John MacDonald Kinneir during excavations in 1826, it was originally one of a pair flanking the winged disc figure of Ahura-Mazda, a god adopted as the Persian royal deity by Darius I (522-486 BC).

Towards the end of the reign of the Persian king Cambyses (530-522 BC) a revolt broke out. On his way to deal with the problem, Cambyses was killed. The rebellion was eventually crushed by Darius who became the next king. The event was commemorated on a rock-cut relief commissioned by Darius at Bisitun. He was keen to stress his legitimacy and founded Persepolis as a new royal centre.

The most important buildings were on a terrace of natural rock which rose above the surrounding plain. It has been suggested that Persepolis was a ceremonial site rather than a residential city, but little is known of the buildings in the plain. Work on the major structures was undertaken by a wide range of craftsmen, employed from throughout the empire, and some fifteen major buildings were constructed on the citadel during the Achaemenid period. Carved stone reliefs decorated the exterior façades of some of these buildings. They were originally painted. This particular relief was originally set up on a façade of Palace G, constructed by Ataxerxes III (reigned 358-338 BC) but later transferred during or after his reign to replace the original north staircase of Palace H.

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More information


J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)

St J. Simpson, 'Some early archaeological discoveries in Iran' in From Persepolis to the Punjab: (London, The British Museum Press, forthcoming)

D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)


Height: 82.000 cm
Width: 75.000 cm
Thickness: 9.000 cm

Museum number

ME 129381



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