Large Vault at Taq-I Bustan: A Study in Late Sasanian Royal Art

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The large vault at Taq-i Bustan, Kermanshah, Iran, was built by the last great Sasanian king, Khusro II (590-628). It was a victory monument, a politicals statement of the power of the Sasanian king, and an expression of the three roles of a proper king: the head of the state religion, a great warrior, and a great hunter. It functioned as a summer retreat within a paradeisos for the Sasanian court and a reviewing stand for courtly and religious festivals including the great hunts of spring (No Ruz) and fall (Mihragan). As an example of late Sasanian royal art it shows the influence of ancient Mesopotamian, Hellenistic, Seleucid, Iranian (Achaemenid through Sasanian), Roman, Byzantine, and Eastern Turkish elements on the royal art of the late Sasanian period. These elements would provide much of the basis for Islamic art.


“The focus of Johanna Movassat’s book on Taq-i Buston, presented in this publication is a royal Sasanian monument that serves as an honorific paean to kingship. The principal image in the monument is here depicted as the “best king”, who as brave warrior and heroic hunter, is crowned and honored, and as head of state and guardian of religion, creates justice and order. This monument, perhaps more graphically than any other, reflects the positive social and spiritual values of the ancient Iranians. Values that hold the universe and life on earth as God’s coherent and orderly creations, conceptualized in a hierarchical order, from good to best, according to their social, material and moral merit. The monument was created during the last phase of Persian art in the pre-Islamic period when despite Greek, roman and nomadic invasions, Iran retained a cultural continuity that had lasted for over a thousand years. … Johanna Movassat’s magisterial book, which benefits from and builds upon the result of this and earlier explorations at the site is a timely response to some critical and still unsettled questions. … Johanna Movassat’s insightful review of the life and times of Khusro II permits one to wonder whether the great Khusro’s personal excesses may have contributed to the set of complex circumstances that precipitated the decline and fall of the Sasanian state.” – (From the Commendatory Foreword) Guitty Azarpay, Professor Emerita, University of California, Berkeley

“Johanna Movassat’s new and compelling work discusses the purpose of one of the most important monuments of the Sasanian empire and engages the informed general reader of Near Eastern history and archaeology as well as the specialist. She offers a clearly-reasoned and persuasive interpretation of why the Large Vault was constructed on its distinctive site, preceded by a wide-ranging review of the diverse interpretations of several generations of scholars. Of special interest are the detailed, evocative sections describing the Vault’s reliefs and the intriguing controversies over their interpretations. Professor Movassat’s work also commands admiration for its consistently clear, direct, and communicative style.” – William McCraw, Professor, Department of Political Science and Humanities, San Jose State University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Guitty Azarpay
List of Illustrations
1. Prior Interpretations of the Large Vault at Taq-i Bustan
2. The large Vault: Description and Comments
3. The Function and Role of the Large Vault
4. Conclusion
Appendix A
Appendix B

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