The Lion-Bull Motifs of Persepolis: The Zoogeographic Context.

Document Type : Research Paper


Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Maharashtra, India


The lion-bull iconography during the Achaemenian period of ancient Persia has generated different theories of astronomical
and seasonal events besides the suggestions that it could be the symbol of the time cycle of the day, with lion representing
the sun and bull the night. However, the present paper draws the reader’s attention to the hitherto unexplored angle of
zoology to understand physiognomy of the lion-bull iconography in sculptural art of ancient Iran. The zoomorphology
of lion and bull attempts at taxonomic identification based on iconography, which is also influenced by observations,
imagination and collective psyche of sculptors. Notwithstanding this human bias involved in depiction of the animal, the
present study demonstrates ‘near-nature’ precision in sculptural art, thereby allowing precise identification and shows
how the artistic manifestations reflect a combination of animal morphology with myths and collective observations that
might have passed down since generations. This is yet another form of faunal evidence that needs to be taken into account
in addition to the skeletal record when confronted with presenting a holistic view of the animal world at the site.
The paper is structured into three parts viz. Zoo-morphology of lion-bull motifs, Biogeography and Early History of lion
and bull, and Faunal (skeletal) evidence of Lion and Bull in protohistoric and early historic Iran. This study highlights the
significance of integrating skeletal record with other means of ‘faunal evidence’ in ancient literature, iconography, coins
and ceramics that are helpful in understanding ancient subsistence, and socio- religious structure.