Carved limestone stela with a figure of a god


British Museum

British Museum

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.

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  • Title: Carved limestone stela with a figure of a god
  • Date Created: 150/250
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 29.80cm; Width: 18.20cm; Thickness: 7.70cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved
  • Subject: costume/clothing; crown; classical deity
  • Registration number: 1920,1120.1
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Masjid-i Suleiman
  • Period/culture: Parthian
  • Material: limestone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Young, M Y


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