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The Art of Ancient Iran; Pre-Islamic Culture

The Treasure of Ziwiye


By: Edith Porada

Columbia University

With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson


More than a decade ago, in 1947, a treasure of gold, silver and ivory was found by a shepherd boy on the side of a mountain above the small and isolated village of Ziwiye. Ziwiye lies about 25 miles east of Saqqiz, the second largest town of Kurdistan. [1] The treasure seems to have been buried below the walls of a citadel, the remains of which can be discerned in the trenches dug by commercial diggers at the site. The citadel was 'perched on the crest of the hill and defended by mud-brick walls towering above the naturally steep ascent. The structure itself appears to have been stepped in at least three stages: a lower rather triangular area at one end, a second level higher up, and a much smaller and very high third level. The latter was strewn with the fragments of large jars indicating some sort of storage area.' [2] The walls of the citadel were constructed of large bricks [34x34x9 cm] and were at least 7.5 metres thick in some places. The principal building appears to have had some of the features of a palace such as a portico from which three large limestone bases for wooden columns are preserved, or tiles glazed blue, white or yellow, reminiscent of the decoration in Elamite palaces at Susa and Assyrian palaces at Ashur and Nineveh.

The fortress may have been built by the Manneans, who maintained themselves in this part of north-western Iran with relative political independence at least in this part of north-western Iran with relative political independence at least until the middle of the seventh century B.C. It is also possible, however, that the high point was fortified by the Assyrians, who were usually allied with the Manneans. The Assyrians were efficient military architects, but if they built the fortress they certainly did not leave any pottery there. The pottery which can be found on the site is predominantly the Late Buff ware associated by Cuyler Young with the spread of Median power.

The identity of the group which finally destroyed this mountain retreat is unknown, but we may try to make some guesses. Although the Assyrians seem to have had a sportsmanlike enthusiasm for climbing up to the mountain retreats of their opponents and capturing them, [3] more probably candidates for the role of destroyers of this remote site in Mannean territory are the Scythians. The latter were marauding Indo-European tribesmen whose activity in history seems to have been limited to large-scale pillaging in Western Asia, from Iran to the Mediterranean coast.

The Assyrian king Esharhaddon [680-669 B.C.] gave one of his daughters in marriage to the son of the Scythian leader Bartatua. This seems to have kept the Scythians on the side of the Assyrians for several decades, until a year before the fall the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612 B.C. Before or after that event the Scythians for some time controlled the Medes, another Indo-European group which had moved from eastern to western Iran between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages, roughly between the thirteenth and ninth centuries B.C. [4] In contrast to the Scythians, who had taken up an equestrian nomadic way of life, the Medes maintained a more settled, agricultural pattern of existence and were eventually able to achieve a political organization which made it possible for their kings to rule over most of Iran and large tracts of other parts of Western Asia that had formerly been part of the Assyrian empire. The Scythians appear never to have aimed for such an organization. It has even been suggested that their raids in Western Asia were conducted as part of their social pattern, not only for plunder, land and power but [p. 123] also for trophies, for which there were ritually regulated rewards that in turn determined the position of the individual in the community. [5]

Destruction of the citadel of Ziwiye by a group of such marauding Scythian warriors, who lacked the discipline and organization of the Assyrian army to transport back to the homeland a treasure found in the fortress, would fit quite well the limited evidence at our disposition. The fact that some of the ivories were partly burnt [for example, the figurine reproduced in Plate 35, which is burnt at the back] remains a mystery, because so far no trace of a fire has been discovered at the site. [6]

The treasure was contained in a large trough or tub, the flat rim of which is engraved with the figures of Assyrian officers and Iranian tributaries. On the sides of the trough were vertical strips of bronze showing gazelles and rosettes. Two troughs with similarly decorated vertical strips were used for burial in a Neo-Babylonian tomb at Ur, while another of the same shape but with undecorated strips was found at Zincirli in northern Syria [Turkey], used in a building interpreted as a bath-house. [7] Such troughs could therefore be used for various purposes, and the fact that there is no coffin known from Western Asia with such factual secular representations as those on the rim of the Ziwiye trough makes one think that the vessel would have been better suited for holding tribute rather than a corpse.

The tributaries engraved on the rim of the vessel wear long spotted garments with a fringed border and on their heads peaked caps, the point of which falls backwards. Their legs are covered with what may be woolen stockings, and their shoes have slightly upturned toes. Minor differences in the attire of these figures probably indicate that different peoples are represented here, but one can only guess at their identity: Medes, Scythians, but also other peoples may be shown. Most of the men carry an ibex horn, but two bring models of towns [8] such as those seen on some Assyrian reliefs and known from actual examples in bronze found at the Urartian site of Van. One man in the procession carries a large vessel reminiscent in its proportions of the gold bowl from Hasanlu. Such an object would certainly have been accepted as tribute, but one wonders [p. 124] whether the same would have been true of ibex horns, unless they were horn-shaped rhyta made of precious metal. If this was not the case, one can only suggest that the horns may have been tribal symbols and were brought as signs of submission, like the models of towns.

The principal person among the Assyrians pictured on the rim is differentiated by the pattern of his robe from the officers who surround him in plain fringed garments. As simplified in the present rendering, the pattern consists of squares, each with a dot in the centre. In reality, these squares may have contained more elaborate designs, such as a rosette or even towers, as in a robe of Sargon II. [9] A comparison with renderings on Assyrian reliefs of a pattern of dotted squares and of the hair style of the Assyrians on the trough--which shows a solid mop of curls projecting obliquely at the back--yields a date in or shortly after the time of the Assyrian king Tiglathpileser III [745-727 B.C.] as the most likely time at which the vessel could have been made.

The Assyrian dignitary in the engraving on the trough seems also to have been represented in an ivory statuette from Ziwiye mentioned above. Although one must always stress that objects said to come from Ziwiye cannot be proved actually to have been found there, the likelihood is very great that the figurine and the plaques to be discussed below were obtained from that site.

The first impression created by the figurine is that of a man standing humbly before his lord. This impression, so subtly produced by the slight forward inclination of the neck, indicates the hand of a master carver. Artistry of a high order is equally obvious in the clear definition of the planes in the face, the strong assured lines of the eyelids and mouth, and the extraordinarily sensitive, slight modeling of the shoulders. The long undulating fringe of the garment has a soft living quality. The feet have only as much naturalistic detail as is necessary to stress contrast with the stiff cylindrical skirt and thereby to create some interest for the viewer in the lower part of the figure. Of course these effects are apprehended only after an analysis of the figure; the artist who created the little sculpture surely did so without much conscious deliberation.

The statuette shows how the long-fringed shawl was wrapped over the shirt to [p. 125] form the fringed garment known from the Assyrian reliefs. The only un-Assyrian features are the receding forehead, the originally strongly projecting nose, and the exaggerated wavy, perhaps crinkly hair. These features probably characterized a person not of Assyrian stock, but obviously the man here portrayed nevertheless became a high Assyrian dignitary.

The purpose of the figure, rendered with its hands folded in a gesture of reverence toward king or god, cannot be determined, since the comparative material of unpublished fragments of other statues from Ziwiye in the Teheran Museum and one fragment from Zincirli [10] do not give any more indication than does the present example whether all of them were single figures or part of the decoration of some object. It can be stated with certainty only that our figure was free-standing and did not support anything on its head.

Our Assyrian dignitary, with the same gesture of folded hands, is seen again on one of the numerous ivory plaques found at Ziwiye. Wearing his long robe, he precedes two officers in kilts on his way, one would surmise, to attend a ceremony. Above and below this scene are panels showing contests between a hero and an animal. In contrast to the factual rendering of the figures in the central panel, those of the animal contests derive from the world of legend or mythology. The heroic deeds of a man of limitless courage and superhuman power seems to be illustrated, especially by the upper panel, in which the hero pushes a small hand-shield [resembling modern brass knuckles] between the open jaws of the lion and is about to run a spear into the animal's breast.

The position of the lion's forelegs, one stretched forward and the other backward, was surely meant to show the threateningly raised claws of the beast. A [p. 127] comparison of this scene with the same motif in a garment pattern on a relief of Ashurnasirpal II [883-859 B.C.] [11] shows that in the plaque of Ziwiye the proportions differ: the lion is larger, especially his head, and the heroÕs shield is smaller; therefore the hero seems more endangered here than in the Assyrian rendering. The scene has thereby become more dramatic and arouses the interest of the viewer by its content rather than by highly finished and balanced forms. Such qualities characterize provincial art of many periods and countries and suggest that this group of plaques was not made in one of the large Assyrian towns but perhaps in a Mannean centre under Assyrian influence. One would assume that the date of the plaques corresponds to that of the ivory figurine and of the trough, but one must admit that the hair style is less distinctive of Tiglathpileser III [745-727 B.C.] and occasionally seems to render the mop of curls resting on the shoulder which came into use in the time of Sargon II [721-705 B.C.], the successor of Tiglathpileser.

Most of the ivory plaques of Assyrianizing style from Ziwiye show a palmette-tree alone or horned animals or sphinxes flanking such a tree. One of the finest has goats with a tree design composed of palmettes of doubly or triply interlaced tendrils with blossoms, found on reliefs and cylinder seals of the time of Sargon II. [12]

Comparison of the plaque with a fragment of a vessel from Hasanlu shows that the goat rendered in the latter fragment is livelier, has a more slender body, and places its feet on a simpler tree design. The ivory plaque from Ziwiye is more richly decorated but stiffer and obviously later in date. [p. 128]

Transformation of Assyrian motifs into a local stylistic idiom can be noted in a few places, not illustrated here, in which the human figures resemble those of the beaker of Hasanlu and of some ivory fragments found at that site. [13] Characteristic of the figures are their angular movements and the facial type with prominent straight noses, thin lips and straggly beards.

A parallel to this local style in ivory-carving may be a local style in painting glazed eathenware vessels, several examples of which are said to have been found at Ziwiye, where potsherds of such vessels were actually picked up. [14] The bull of the vessel in Plate 36, for example, has an un-Assyrian collar and kneels before a plant which does not look like any tree known from Assyrian art. Vessels of this type but with more conventionally Assyrian designs were found in Ashur in private houses and in graves. The approximate date of this ware suggested by the evidence from Ashur is the eighth or seventh century B.C. [15] The evidence from Ziwiye indicates that at about the same time a local ware of related type was produced in north-western Iran. Where the fashion started, however, cannot be determined. The wreath of lotus-petals on the shoulders of these vessels reminds one of a similar decoration seen in more delicate execution on Egyptian vessels. [16] Such Egyptianizing features, however, need not have come directly from Egypt but were probably disseminated by Phoenician and Syrian craftsmen and their products.

Influence of such craftsmen from the West may also be noted in some of the gold work said to have been part of the treasure of Ziwiye. Our first example is a crescent-shaped pectoral originally worn on a chain around the neck. [17] The representation on the pectoral is divided into two registers, each with a tree in the middle, flanked in the upper register by ibexes and in the lower by winged bulls. Monsters approach from either side. In the upper register there is on either side a sphinx, an Assyrian winged human-headed bull with a horned feather-crown, and an equally Assyrian lion-headed griffin. In the middle of our plate is the small fragment on which a larger and a smaller animal are embossed, the larger one in particular rendered in a style which is considered typically Scythian. Distinctively Scythian features are the heart-shaped ear, the circular eye, the upcurving lips and the abstract body markings. The heart-shaped [p. 130] ear is also seen on a horseÕs cheek-piece of bone, of Scythian style, said to have been found in Ziwiye.

Among the monsters following on either side behind the winged bulls of Assyrian type in the lower register of the pectoral is a bull-man with hands raised as if to support a singed sun-disk, a very common posture for bull-men in Assyrian cylinder and stamp seals of the late eighth and seventh centuries B.C. [18] Behind the bull-man comes a griffin, followed by a ram-headed winged lion and a sphinx sitting on its haunches.

The ram-headed winged lion is repeatedly found in ivories of northern Syria and Phoenicia. [19] The same is true of the apron which hangs between the forelegs of most of the monsters on the pectoral and which developed at an earlier time from the lengthened mane of Egyptian lions. [20]

In an object related to the pectoral another very distinctive northern Syrian feature was noted--the bird-headed tip of the griffin tail. [21] On such minute observations as are enumerated here must be based statements concerning the influence of the art of one region on the products of another.

One wonders about the addition of the Scythian animals to the pectoral with predominantly Assyrian and Syrian monsters. Certainly, the crouching bodies of these Scythian animals fitted easily into the available space at the end of the register, but was this the only reason for their addition? Or were these animals, with what we recognize as stylistic characteristics of Scythian animals in general, thought by the makers of the pectoral [and of other related objects] to be distinctive features of a new type of monster which had its own and perhaps quite specific meaning? Unfortunately such questions may never be answered.

Finally we turn to the tree designs of the pectoral. These are un-Assyrian in that they are composed of ribbons in place of a stem and that the place of palmettres is taken by blossoms and buds in which rimmed round forms predominate; lastly, the tree seems to grow from a knoll. Such tree designs have been associated with Urartian style, and the gold work of Ziwiye has been regarded as having been made in the Urartian tradition of metal-working. [22] That local tradition played a greater role in the Ziwiye gold work than was formerly assumed is, however, indicated by the shape of one of these objects, which turned out to be an epaulette, so far unknown elsewhere. [23]

Moreover, it is not impossible that a tradition existed which linked the gold work of Marlik, however slightly, to that of Ziwiye. Though no thorough study of such a tradition has been possible as yet, owing to insufficient publication of the material from Marlik, two small details may be mentioned here. Both details are found in representations of griffins, one on a gold bowl from Marlik, [24][p. 132] another on the pectoral reproduced in Plate 37. The Marlik griffin has a small curl at the inception of his crest; such a curl also appears on the crest of the griffin in the pectoral, but pointing in the opposite direction. Furthermore, the griffin of the same Marlik bowl has rows of small bead-like teeth lining his beak, as have the gold griffin heads from Ziwiye worked in the round, one of which is reproduced here. As in all griffins, the eagle's head was combined with the body of a lion, here indicated only by the forepaws of the beast. The griffin foreparts formed a set with those of two lions, all of them thought to have once belonged to a cauldron, though this is merely a guess based on analogy with Greek cauldrons. [25] Some relations seem to have existed between Greek and Near Eastern griffins of the seventh century B.C. The direction in which the griffin's features traveled, however, is still the subject of sharp controversies among scholars. [26]

The last gold object from Ziwiye to be discussed here is the bracelet with lions in the collection of A.B. Martin. [27] Two pairs of small lions, probably meant to represent young animals, face each other in the middle of the bracelet, while the ends are formed of the heads of adult lions, one of which could be removed to facilitate putting the bracelet on.

The gable-shaped foreheads and semi-globular bumps on the ears of the little lions resemble those of Neo-Hittite stone sculptures in such south-eastern Anatolian or northern Syrian sites as Sincirli. [28] The closest relationship, however, seems to exist with a bronze lion head from a cauldron found in the Urartian fortress of Karmir Blur and inscribed with the name of the Urartian king Sardur II [764-735 B.C.]. [29] The head from Karmir Blue, however, has none of the stylization of folds into slanting planes, forming sharp arises, which characterize the animals and even determine the shape of the hoop of the golden bracelet.

Such sharp lines and smooth planes probably pleased the ancient wearers and viewers as much as they attract modern visitors in museums. In fact the full effect of shining glistening gold had never been fully realized in earlier techniques of gold-working. A comparison of the ribbons in the tree design of the pectoral with those of the fragment in the University Museum in Philadelphia shows how much more strikingly the quality of the gold is stressed by the new technique. Even if this technique was really derived from work in wood or bone, [30] its effectiveness in gold would have assured its success with the gold-loving Scythians to whom it has been particularly ascribed.

It has been suggested that the 'mixture at Ziwiye and elsewhere of Urartian with occasional Scythian elements surely may be taken as typical of the Medes.' [31]

It may be preferable, however, to reserve judgment on the label to be given to the Ziwiye treasure until more precise information is available about the date of the Ziwiye citadel and more is perhaps learnt about the earlier artistic activities of the Medes. [p. 134]

1. The first report on the general topography of the place of discovery was made by Godard in Ziwiyè, pp. 5-8. Corrections of Godard's statements were given by Cuyler Young in Proto-Historic Western Iran, pp. 50-52. The summarizing remarks here made are based on the observations of Cuyler Young, op. cit.; of R. H. Dyson in 'Archaeological Scrap: Glimpses of History at Ziwiye,' Expedition 5 [Spring 1963], pp. 32-37, and on my own impressions of the site.

2. Dyson, op. cit. [in note X/1], p. 34.

3. On the evaluation of the Assyrian attitude to war, see W. von Soden, 'Die Assyrer und der Krieg,' Irag XXXV [1963], pp. 131-144, especially p. 139.

4. The movements of the Medes have been interestingly reconstructed by Cyler Young in Proto-Historic Western Iran, see especially pp. 229-254, 'The Coming of the Iranians to Western Iran: A Historical Reconstruction'.

5. K. Jettmar, 'Ausbreitungsweg und sozialer Hintergrund des eurasiatischen Tierstils,' Mitteilungen der Anthropodogischen Gesellschaft in Wien XCII [1962] [Festschrift Franz Hancar], p. 185.

6. This is the tentative opinion of V. E. Crawford and R. H. Dyson, Jr., who excavated at Ziwiye in the summer of 1964.

7. The two troughs from Ur described as of copper were discussed by R. D. Barnett in 'The Treasure of Ziwiye.' Irag XVIII [1956], pp. 111-116. Barnett referred, Ibid., p. 114, note 4, to the object from Zincirli publishd by F. von Luschan and W. Andrae, Ausgrabungen in Sendschirli V [Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Mittenhungen aus den orientalischen Sammlungen, Heft XV, 1943], Pl. 57, text pp. 118-119.

8. Tributaries with such models are seen on the strip reproduced by C. K. Wilkinson, 'More Details on Ziwiye,' Iraq XXII [1960], p. 214, Fig. 2. A photograph of a tributary carrying a model of a town from a relief of Sargon II is conveniently reproduced by Barnett in Iraq XII [1950], p. 5, Fig. 3, for the Urartian model of bronze, see ibid., Pl. I. The large vessel which has the relative size of the gold vessel from Hasanlu is seen in Wilkinson's drawing, op. cit., p . 216, Fig. 6, the fifth figure from the left.

9. Sargon's robe, carefully re-drawn, is conveniently reproduced in A. I. Oppenheim's article, 'The Golden Garments of the Gods,' JNES VIII [1949], p. 184, Fig. 18. See also Botta-Flandin, Nineveh II, Pl. 101. The pattern of squares with an inscribed dot appears to have survived in Achaemenid times, as is shown by an ivory plaque from Susa, MDPXXX [1947], p. 88, Fig. 56:4.

10. Von Luschan-Audrae, Ausgrabungen in Sendschirli V [cited in note X/7], Pl. 68 b; 70 s; text, p . 132.

11. A garment pattern showing a hero fighting a lion is seen in Layard, Monuments of Nineveh, Pl. 8.

12. For a tree resembling in the multiple interlaced tendrils that of the ivory plaque, see for example Botta-Flandin, Monument de Nineve II, Pl. 119. An example of a related design in a cylinder seal is in the Newell Collection; OIP XXII [1934], PL. XXX:443.

13. The ivories of local style were reprodced by Godard in Ziwiyè, pp. 105, 106, Figs. 91, 92. An ivory box from Hasanlu in a related style was published in Archaeology 16 [Summer 1963], p. 132. Even more closely related ivories from that site were published in Archeology 17 [Spring 1964], pp. 6, 10.

14. Fragments of painted glazed earthenware vessels were picked up by us on the excursion described by Dyson in Expedition 5 [1963], pp. 32-37.

15. The Assyrian painted and glazed earthenware vessels were discussed by W. Andrae in Coloured Ceramics, pp. 33-57. The most elaborately decorated vessel of this type found in the tombs of Assur contained a few remains of the bones of a cremated corpse and was in tomb dated in the end of the Assyrian Empire, see A. Haller, Die Gräber und Grüfte von Assur [WVDOG 65, 1954], pp. 98-99, s. v. Grab 667. Small vessels which have the same wreath of pointed petals on the shoulder were found in a tomb 30, classified as Neo-Assyrian and possibly dated shortly after 805 B.C. [ibid., pp. 109-110] and in tomb 58, which had Neo-Assyrian tablets and was likewise dated Neo-Assyrian [ibid., p. 158].

16. For delicate wreaths of petals on an Egyptian vessel, see the jar, probably from El 'Amarna,' about 1365 B.C., reproduced by N. E. Scot in the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art [November 1956], p. 83, No. 9.

17. The pectoral was reconstructed by Godard from various fragments, see Ziwiyè, p. 20, Fig. 10. Such a pectoral is worn by a beardless Urartian human-headed bovine creature described by Barnett as a bull-woman; see Irag XII [1950], Pl. VI. The ornament is placed somewhat lower there than in Assyrian reliefs; see the rendering of the royal armour-bearer in a relief of Ashurnasirpal II [883-859 B. C.] published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in The Great King . . . King of Assyria [New York, 1945], Pl. I.

18. The motif of ull-men with raised arms supporting a winged sun-disk is probably of North Syrian origin, but the closest prototype for the posture of the bull-man on the pectoral is found in Neo-Assyrian cylinder seals and stamps of the time of Sargon II and later. Examples are Corpus I, Nos. 771, 772, and 793.

19. For comment on the ram-headed lion or ram-sphinx, see Barnett, Nimrud Ivories [cited in note V/54], p. 87.

20. For the origin of the apron or kilt of the monsters see H. J. Kantor, 'Oriental Institute Museum Notes, No. 11: A Fragment of a Gold Appliqué from Ziwiye . . . , ' JNES XIX [1960], p. 7 and note 8.

21. The bird-headed top of the griffin's tail was noted by Kantor, op. cit. in note X/20, p. 7.

22. Quoted from Kantor, op. cit. in note X/20, p. 13.

23. The gold epaulette was published by C. K. Wilkinson in 'Treasure from the Mannean Land,' Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art [ April 1963], p. 277, Fig. 5.

24. The gold bowl from Marlik on which these features occur was published in the Illustrated London News [April 28, 1962], Supplement, Pl. II, Fig. B, but unfortunately the reproduction is not clear enough to distinguish details.

25. In Artibus Asiae XIII [1950], pp. 191-192, R. Ghirshman referred to the lion and griffin protomes as finials for furniture but called them tenon de chaudron in Sept Mille Ans d'art en Iran, p. 88, Nos. 520-523

26. Most of the literature on the problem of the relations of Greek and Oriental griffins is mentioned by J. L. Benson in 'Unpublished Griffin Protomes in American Collections,' Antike Kunst 3/2 [1960], pp. 58-70. In 1961, however, a griffin attachment was discovered at Gordion and published in the American Journal of Archaeology 66 [1962], pl. 43, Fig. 15, which disproved Benson's hypothesis that 'the griffin protome on cauldrons is a purely Greek affair . . . ' [op. cit., p. 63].

27. The bracelet was published by C. K. Wilkinson in the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art [ March 1955], p. 218 and was taken up again in the article cited in note X/23 on p. 281, Figs. 11-13. The companion piece in Teheran was published by Godard, Ziwiyè, pp. 50-52, Figs.40-42.

28. A good view of one of the lions from Zincirli is reproduced in E. Akurgal, Spaethethitische Bildkunst [Ankara, 1949], Pl. XXVIIa. The relationship between Urartian and Late Hittite lions was noted by R. D. Barnett in 'The Excavations of the British Museum at Toprak Kale near Van,' Iraq XII [1950], p. 37.

29. The lion head from Karmir Blur was published by Piotrovskii in Vanskoe Tsarstvo, p. 178, Fig. 41.

30. E. H. Minns suggested that 'The first vehicle of the style was horn, bone or hard wood'; see The Art of the Northern Nomads [Annual Lecture on Aspects of Art, British Academy, 1942], p. 4.

31. Quoted from R. D. Barnett, 'Median Art,' Iranica Antiqua II [1962], p. 91.


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