Founded in the sixth century B.C. by the Achaemenid monarch Cyrus the Great (550–530 B.C.), the Persian empire emerged as the largest political and military confederation ever seen in the ancient world. By the fifth century B.C. it encompassed all of the continental Near East—from Turkey east to Afghanistan, and from Egypt north to the Black Sea. Administrative control of the empire was centralized in a series of Iranian capitals. Persepolis, situated on a vast plateau in the modern province of Fars, was one of the foremost of these centers. Here successive monarchs of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, beginning with Darius the Great (522–486 B.C.) built a series of royal palaces, pavilions, and reception halls, each elaborately faced with relief carvings. The Art Museum’s carving comes from one such complex, the so-called Council Hall erected by Darius’ son and successor, Xerxes (486–465 B.C.).
The partial figure preserved in the relief is a Persian royal guard, who marches in procession, lance upright (visible along the right-hand edge of the relief). His identity is clear from his fluted headdress and the paraphernalia he carries, which include a quiver case and bow with a bird-shaped terminal worn on his back.
This fragment originally belonged to a procession of full-length figures representing the king’s royal bodyguard. The frieze included Persian archers like the figure here, in fluted tiaras and full-length robes, alongside their counterparts from neighboring Media. The Medes can be recognized by their distinctive trousers and domed hats. Four of the eight processional figures that made up this frieze are preserved fully on site, thus allowing us to visualize the full figure from which the Art Museum’s fragment derives.