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21 Mar

This unassuming grey rock has an impressive provenance, purporting to come from the Achaemenid site of Persepolis, Iran.

In storage since its acquisition in 1916, the fragment is contextualised for the first time in this article, restoring its place in history and its relation to the Museum’s 20th-century collecting practices.

The great audience hall of the Persian kings Darius and Xerxes presents a visual microcosm of the Achaemenid empire—making clear, through sculptural decoration, that the Persian king ruled over all of the subjugated ambassadors and vassals (who are shown bringing tribute in an endless eternal procession). The Achaemenid Empire is notable for its strong, centralized bureaucracy that had, at its head, a king and relied upon regional satraps (regional governors). Primary sources indicate that Darius saw himself building an important stronghold.

The Achaemenid Empire (First Persian Empire) was an imperial state of Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great and flourishing from c. A number of formerly independent states were made subject to the Persian Empire. when he indicated the location of a “Royal Hill” that would serve as a ceremonial center and citadel for the city. Some scholars suggest that the site has a sacred connection to the god Mithra (Mehr), as well as links to the Nowruz, the Persian New Year’s festival.

Despite this paucity of published details, Cheshmeh Ali figures prominently in the culture historical schemes of northern Iran.

During a review of the V&A’s sculpture collection in 2011, an unexpected fragment came to light in the storerooms.

Identified in the catalogue as ‘Ancient Persian’, the unassuming stone dates from a much earlier era than most of the collection.

The relief may have been exhibited in the year following its accession, but it has not been visible since, and does not feature in any current survey of fragments removed from the site.

The purpose of this article is to offer the first examination of the piece, and to investigate its likely context in its probable place of origin.