Sari Plate
Silver Plate with Sasanian Noble Hunting Lions,

from Iran, Tehran - Iran Bastan Museum 1275

fourth century

A larger image of the Sari Plate, Silver Plate with Sasanian Noble Hunting Lions, from Iran, Tehran - Iran Bastan Museum 1275

Plate 10 in: Harper, Prudence and Meyers, Peters Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period. Volume One: Royal Imagery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Princeton University Press, New York, 1981


Sari plate (PL. 10). On the two following plates in this group the hunter is in profile to the right. The first of these plates was an accidental discovery made near Sari in the northwest Iranian province of Gilan.68 On the reverse inside the ring foot is a worker’s mark surrounded by two concentric circles.69 On the obverse, the archer, seated upright on his horse, aims to the rear in a Parthian shot. Since he is in right profile, however, the scene is reversed from those previously described, and the human figure is placed on the left side of the plate, the direction toward which the horse, outstretched in a flying gallop, also moves. On the right is a lion in a vertical position, facing outward toward the rim of the plate. Beneath the horse and rider is another lion spread horizontally along the ground. A particularly noticeable new addition to the scene is the large expanse of landscape.70 Small hills, arranged in two rows, spread from the bottom center two thirds of the way to the top, along the circumference on the right side of the plate. Each hillock has a hatched outline and encloses a small flower on a stalk or a leafy plant. All are rather naturalistically rendered.
   The representation fits the circular frame, with part of the design overlapping others. The horse’s hind legs cut rather abruptly across the hindquarters of the vertical lion. On the Krasnaya Polyana plate (PL. 9) there was some overlap between the horse and the hunted animal, but the line of the horse’s legs matched the profile of the animal’s rump, producing a continuous line.
   Aside from the reversal of the position of the

   67. Fajans, “Recent Literature,” p. 61. The heavy weight of this vessel in comparison to others that are hammered may have led to the belief that the plate is cast.
   68. Iran Bastan Museum, Tehran, acc. no. 1275; diam. 28.8 cm.; height with foot 5.5 cm.; weight 1302 gm. Ghirshman, “Notes iraniennes VI,” pp. 5-19 (some son of Shapur II, perhaps Shapur III); Annales du service archéologique de l’Iran, 3 (1956), pp. 329-364 (Guzarishhayi bastanshinasi, 3 [1334], pp. 329-364); Shepherd, “Sasanian Art in Cleveland,” p. 70 (Ardashir II?); Göbl, “Zum Chronologieproblem,” p. 33 (Hormizd I) Marshak and Krikis, “Chilekskie Chashi,” p. 62 (stage 2, fourth century, unknown hunter).
   69. This is the observation of C. J. Brunner.
   70. Ghirshman describes both this vertical horizontal composition and the unusually large expanse of landscape in “Notes iraniennes VI,” pp. 5-19.


human figure, the composition of the Sari plate is close to that of the vessel from Krasnaya Polyana. The vertical figure of the mounted archer is paralleled by that of the fleeing lion: the horizontal body of the horse is balanced by the dead lion outstretched beneath. On both works the horse gallops in one direction and the hunter turns to slay an animal fleeing off in the other direction.
   The dress of the hunter is more elaborate than that on the preceding examples. His headdress is related to that of the figure on the Shemakha plate (PL. 8). A cloth covered with a dotted lozenge pattern, instead of a close fitting cap, covers the crown of the head. Drawn up above it is an elaborate fan shaped crest, decorated with various geometric designs.71 A small ribbon spreads from the base of this crest, and a much larger one flies out behind, coming from the diadem encircling the forehead. Above this diadem is a row of curls. New additions are the two circular balls attached to twisted strands coming from the left side of the hunter’s head and projecting forward and out ward. The earring consists of a small bead with an oval pendant, and the necklace is made of large, modeled beads from which an oval bead hangs, chased on the surface of the garment. Down the sides and across the front of the chest runs a halter with a central beaded roundel enclosing a rosette. From the back of this halter two ribbons with pairs of beads attached at the corners fly out behind the figure. The belt, in this case fully visible, is a band with beading, joined at the center by two circular clasps and tied in a bow, the loops appearing above and falling down below the waist. The light material of the upper garment is decorated at the shoulders with two embroidered roundels having dotted outer borders. The leggings are held in the customary fashion with circular clasp, strap, and ribbons at the foot. This hunter wears a guard on his right or bowstring hand. The crossed lines holding the protective finger coverings are visible.72 The index and little fingers of the hand are straight, the two middle fingers bent.73 The line from the bent arm arches slightly from elbow to index finger.
   The head of the hunter is in pure profile to the right. His hair sweeps out behind his head, ending in whorl curls similar to those on the earliest rock reliefs and continuing through the reign of Bahram II. Only on this plate and on the Sargveshi cup with the medallion portrait of Bahram II (Pl. 2) are the long wavy strands of hair shown in a fashion similar to that of the early rock reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam, Naqsh-i Radjab and other sites. Small dots enclosed in circles are used to represent the curls of the beard, which is bound with a ribbon. There is a smoothened area beneath the lip, a feature appearing on another plate to be discussed below (P1. 28). The mustache is a straight line curving up at the end. A small curl appears on the archer’s right temple, a detail also to be seen on the rock reliefs of Shapur II/III and Ardashir II at Taq-i Bustan.74 Weapons include both sword and bow, the first time the two have been depicted on a single plate. The sword is slung at the waist on a

   71. A few monuments illustrate what may be a related form of headdress. On a graffito at Persepolis perhaps illustrating Shapur, son of Papak, a huge fan shaped object projects above the head: E. F Schmidt, Persepolis I, pl. 199A; Calmeyer, “Zur Genese altiranischer Motive, III. Felsgraber,” p. 66. Lukonin has speculated on whether the headdress of Shapur is not connected with his role as the priest of Anahita: “Monnaie d’Ardachir I et l’art officiel sassanide, p. 113. It is possible that the small figure placed between Narseh and Anabita on the relief at Naqsh-i Rustam wears a related form of headgear. Regrettably, the head is damaged: E. F. Schmidt, Persepolis III, p1. 90.
   72. This detail is mentioned by Ghirshman, in “Notes iraniennes VI,” p. 19. He compares this hand chain with one allegedly from Ziwiye. Bulanda speaks of the outstretched finger of the bowstring hand and of the hand cover necessary to allow for this position: Bogen und Pfeil bei den Völkern des Altertums, pp. 44, 45.
   73. Bivar gives a detailed description of the Sasanian method of gripping the bowstring in “Cavalry Equipment”, p. 285. Bivar does not observe, however, that two different grips appear on Sasanian silver vessels, one in which both fore and little finger are outstretched, the other in which the little finger is bent under.
   74. This curl appears frequently on Parthian coins: Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia. As far as I know it does not exist on Sasanian coins. For the reliefs of Shapur II, III and Ardashir II at Taq-i Bustan, see Fukai and Horiuchi, Taq-i-Bustan II, pls. 64-92. Mention is made of this feature by Shepherd in “Sasanian Art in Cleveland,” p. 73. The interpretation of this forehead curl as a device to cover a temple lesion that appears to have been a genetic defect of the Arsacid rulers is presented by Hart, “The Diagnosis of Disease from Ancient Coins,” pp. 123-127. That the disease causing lesions on the temple was restricted to the Arsacid ruling branch is suggested by the fact that neither lesion nor hair curl appears on the coins of independent rulers of Persis or Elymais. By the Sasanian period it appears that the hair curl may have become a “royal” detail.


decorated strap. Its hilt has a wide guard, and the pommel ends in a circular knob. Below the hilt a pattern decorates the unsharpened segment of the blade.75 The leg of the mounted archer crosses the upper part of the scabbard, the lower part of which emerges below the thigh.76 This too is decorated, having a design of lozenges. The huge compound bow has long straight ears stretching back to the archer’s headdress at the top and to his waist below.
   As elaborate as the archer’s dress are the trappings and harness of the horse. The double reins have pendent beads hanging from them.77 The snaffle bit is bow-shaped, a form similar to that seen on some of the early Sasanian rock reliefs78 In place of the ball of hair above the head of the horse, there is a circular plaque with a rosette and leaf pattern. Presumably it was made of metal. Behind this device the curving trimmed edge of the mane is depicted as on the Krasnaya Polyana plate (P1. 9). Toward the base of the neck, in the center of the clipped arc, there is also a square projection. A single lock of long hair falls down below this projection, against the neck. As usual, the tail is tied in an elaborate knot. Straps crossing the chest and rump of the horse have hanging from them triangular forms, undoubtedly bells, since small punched circles represent the ends of the clappers. The saddle blanket has a narrow dotted border, and the surface is covered with a quatrefoil design. The empty spaces between the leaflike forms have crosses in them. Ribbons project at the back from the vertical edge. The girth running beneath the horse’s belly has a beaded pattern on it. Rising from the horse’s rump on long chains are large balls of hair horizontally divided into waves and emerging at the base from a plant motif. As on the Krasnaya Polyana plate (P1. 9), the head of the horse is rather long, and the ear lies flattened back against the head. The nostrils are pronounced, the far one visible beyond the bridge of the nose against the background of the plate.
   On the Sari plate (P1. 10), the lions are shown in poses that suggest that one is alive, the other dead. The vertically placed lion, seemingly the immediate object of the hunt, is wounded (an arrow is embedded in the front shoulder), and the horizontally outstretched lion below, with head turned down on his paw, is depicted in a fashion long used for dead animals79 In this case also the feathered end of an arrow is portrayed on the front shoulder. The lion bodies are covered with lines of dots meeting to form whorls on the shoulder and rump. Both animals are males, their manes consisting of elaborately twisted curls and pointed tufts.
   The plate is clearly made up of a number of pieces attached to the background shell. One of these is the head of the hunter. The line of the inlaid piece can be seen running beyond the figure’s profile, as on some of the medallion bowls (Pls. 3, 6) and on the vessel in the British Museum depicting Shapur hunting (P1. 13). Other added pieces include parts of the bodies. Some details are chased, and major outlines are incised, on the background shell. The transition between the applied areas and the background is quite noticeable, as it was on the plate from Shemakha (P1. 8). Only certain elements in the design are gilded. On the exterior a single line can be seen below the rim.
   Significantly, the fact that this is a lion hunt and the lion is a royal quarry80 is paralleled by the form and dress of the human figure, which relate him more closely than the figures previously described to the Sasanian king. The right profile, the tied beard, the row of curls above the diadem, the presence of a

   75. See below, p. 58.
   76. Although this appears to be a clumsy method of depicting the leg and scabbard, it is not uncommon for persons seated or reclining to be shown with their leg over the scabbard: Herzfeld, Samarra, pp. 40-44.
   77. This double rein is cited by Ghirshman as evidence for the close association in date of the Sari plate (P1. 10) and the vessel in the Hermitage Museum with a hunter wearing a ram’s-horn headdress (P1. 23): Ghirshman, “Notes iraniennes VI,” p. 14.
   78. The pair of horses drawing the chariot on the Darab relief has this form of bit as does the horse of Shapur I at Naqsh-i Rustam and that of the defeated enemy of Hormizd II at the same site: Hinz, Altiranische Funde, pls. 82, 106, 133b. The same bit is represented in a painting dated AD. 114-116 in the Temple of Zeus Theos at Dura Europos: Rostovtzeff, Dura-Europos ... Seventh and Eighth Seasons, pp. 199, 209, p1. 21.
   79. See, for instance, the relief of Bahram II at Sar Meshed: Hinz, Aitiranische Funde, pl. 134. That this was a conventional pose by the Sasanian period is suggested by its repeated use on Assyrian reliefs of the ninth to seventh centuries B.C.: Barnett, Assyrian Palace Reliefs, pls. 26, 27, 67.
   80. Ghirshman suggests that a victory over a lion, the king of beasts, is, in Sasanian art, a royal prerogative: Persian Art, p. 209.


FIG. 19
Grafitto showing Shapur (?), son of Papak, Persepolis
Photo: Carol Bier

sword, are all such “royal” details. The crowns of two Sasanian kings, Hormizd I and Shapur II, as well as that of the figure identified as the supreme Zoroastrian divinity Ahuramazda on the relief of Ardashir II at Taq-i Bustan, include a band surmounted by a similar row of curved forms. It is clear, however, that the closest parallel for the headdress of the Sari hunter is that worn by Shapur, son of Papak, on a graffito at Persepolis (Fig. 19).81 This is not a royal Sasanian crown type; rather it suggests that the figure on the Sari plate is a crown prince rather than a Sasanian king.

   81. See note 71 above.

Referenced as PLATE 69 in Moya Catherine Carey, Painting the Stars in a Century of Change: A Thirteenth-Century Copy of Al-Ṣūfī’s Treatise on the Fixed Stars (British Library Or. 5323) (Thesis University of London, 2001).
Plate 69. Tehran, Iran Bastan Museum 1275: silver-gilt plate (Sasanian period)
[Taken from Harper & Meyers 1981 p.211.]

See also Plates with figures from Persia and Central Asia
Other Persian Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers