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

Document Type : Research Article


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.


Alizadeh, Abbas.2006 The Origins of State Organisations inPrehistoric Highland Fars, Southern Iran:Excavations at Tell - e Bakun Vol. 128.
Chicago: The University of Chicago,Oriental Institute Publications.Barnett, Ross; Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, Ian Barnes & Alan
Cooper.2006 The Origin, Current Diversity and FutureConservation of the Modern Lion (Pantheraleo). Proceedings of the Royal Society ofBritain 272: 2119-2125.
Bartosiewicz, L.2009 A Lion’s share of Attention: Archaeologyand the Historic Record. Acta ArchaeologicaAcademae Scientiarum Hungaricae 59:759- 773. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.
Bökönyi, S.1967 The Prehistoric Vertebrate Fauna of Tal-i-Iblis. In R. Caldwell (ed.) Investigations atTal-i-Iblis: 309-317. Illinois: Illinois StateMuseum.
Bökönyi, S.1974 History of Domestic Mammals in Centraland Eastern Europe. Budapest: AkademiaiKiado.
Brosius, Maria.2006 People of the Ancient World, The Persians:an Introduction. London and New York:Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.Clutton-Brock, Juliet.1987 A Natural History of DomesticatedMammals. Cambridge University Press.
Curtis, John & Nigel Tallis (eds.).2005 Forgotten Empire, The World of AncientPersian. London: The British Museum Press.
Epstein, H & I.L. Mason.1984 Cattle. In I. L. Mason (ed.) Evolution ofDomesticated Animals: 6 - 27. London:Longman.
Etmead, E.1985 The Mammals of Iran. Vol 2: Carnivora,Pinnipedia, Operissodactyla, Artiodactyla,Cetacea.(In Persian). University of Tehran:Department of the Environment.
Frankfort.1963 The Art and Architecture of the AncientOrient (3rd Revised Impression).Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Gardner, Helen.1948 Art Through the Ages. 3rd Edition.
University of Michigan: Brace Hartcourt.
Gesner, C.1602 Historia animalium. Liber I. De quadrupedibus viviparis. Francoforti.
Guggisberg, C.A.W.1961 Simba: The Life of the Lion. Cape Town:Howard Timmins.
Hartner, Willy.1965 The Earliest History of the Constellationsin the Near East and the Motif of the Lion-Bull Combat. Journal of Near EasternStudies 24:1-18.
Hartner , Willy & Richard Ettinghausen.1964 The Conquering Lion, the Life Cycle of aSymbol. Oriens 17:161-171.
Heaney, G.F.1944 Occurrence of the lion in Persia. Journal ofthe Bombay Natural History Society 44:467.
Hemmer, H.1974 Untersuchugen zur stammesgeschichte derPantherkatzen (Pantherinae). Teil III. Zurartgeschichte des Lowen Panthera(Panthera)leo (Linnaeus 1758).Verö. F. Zool.Staatssamml München 17:167-280.
Herodotus1922 Godley, A. D. (Translator). Herodotus: ThePersian Wars. Books V -VII. Harward: LoebClassical Library ( Harward UniversityPress).
Heymanowski, K.1972 The last mainstay of aurochs and theorganization of their protection in the light ofcontemporary documents. Sylwan 116(9):9-28.
Hinnells, John R.1985 Persian Mythology. Newnes Books.
Kurtén, B.1968 Pleistocene Mammals of Europe. London:
Weidenfield and Nicolson.Lindsay.
1971 Origins of Astrology. London: FredrickMuller.
Mashkour, M.2002 Chasse et elevage au nord du plateaucentral Iranien entre le Néolithique et ÌÂgedu Fer.Paléorient 28:27-42.
Mashkour, M; H. E. Monchot; J-L Trinkaus; F. Reyss,S. Biglari; S. Bailon; Heydari & K. Abdi.2008 Carnivores and their Prey in the WesmehCave (Kermanshah, Iran): A Late PleistoceneRefuge in the Zagros. International Journalof Osteoarchaeology 19: 678-694.
McDevitte W.A & W.S. Bohn (Translators).1869 Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars Book 6(Part 28) 1st Edition. New York: Harper &Brothers.
Mayor, A.2000 The first fossil hunters: paleontology inGreek and Roman times. Princeton UniversityUniversity Press.
Mecquenem, R. de.1947 Contribution à l’étude du palais achéménidede Sus. Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse.30:1-119.
Mecquenem, R. de.1980 Les fopuilleurs de Suse. Iranica Antiqua15 :1-48.
Meyer, J. N.1826 Dissertatio inauguralis anatomico - medicade genere felium. Doctoral thesis, Universityof Vienna.
Nagel, Doris; S. Hilsberg; A. Benesch & J. Schols.2003 Functional morphology and fur pattern in
Recent and fossil Panthera species. ScriptaGeologica 126:228-241.
Nowell, K & P. Jackson.1996 Wild Cats. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSCSpecialist Group.
O’Brien S.J; P. Joslin; G. L. III Smith; R. Wolfe; N.Scaffer; E. Heath; J. Ott-Joslin; P.P. Rawal; K.K.Bhattcharjee & J.S. Martenson.1987 Evidence for African Origins of theFounders of the Asiatic Lion. Zoo Biology 6(2):99-116.
Payne, W.J.A.1991 Cattle Genetic Resources. In G.C Hickman(ed.) World Animal Series B7: 51 - 72.
Amsterdam: Elsevier.Potts, D.T.1999 The Archaeology of Elam: Formation andTransformation of an ancient Iranian State.Cambridge University Press.
Prater, S.H.1965 The Book of Indian Animals. Mumbai: Theof Wales Museum of Western India.

Pusch, E.G.1840 Neue Beiträge zur Erläuterung undendlichen Erledigung der Streitfrage über Turund Zubr (Urus und Bison). Archiv fürNaturgeschichte. 6e Jahrgang, Band 1:47 - 137.
Rice, Michael.1988 The Power of the Bull. London, New York:Routledge Books.
Schmidt, Erich F.1953 Persepolis II: Contents of the Treasury andOther Discoveries. Chicago:Oriental InstitutePublications 69.
Skorupka, S.1968 Sownik frazeologiczny jêzyka polskiego(Dictionary of Idiomatic Polish Language).Vol.II. Tom drugi. Warszawa.
Smith, C.H.1827 Order Ruminantia - The Taurine Group.In E. Griffith; E. Pidgeon & G. Cuvier(eds.) The Animal Kingdom 4: 411 - 428.
London: Printed for G.B. Whittaker.Smith PEL.1986 Paleolithic Archaeology in Iran.Philadelphia: University Museum,Universityof Pennsylvania.
Stamphli, H.R.1983 The Fauna of Jarmo with notes on theanimal bones from Matarrah, The Amukand Karim Shahir. In L.S. Braidwood; R.J.Braidwood; B. Howe; C. A. Reed (eds.)Prehistoric Archaeology along the Zagros
Flanks: 431-483. Chicago: Oriental Instituteof Universitry of Chicago.
Stringer, C.2002 Modern Human Origins: Progress andProspects. Philosophical Transactions ofRoyal Society of Britain 357: 563-579.
Turner, A& M. Antón .1997 The big cats and their fossil relatives. NewYork: Columbia University Press.
Vuure, T. van.2002 History, morphology and ecology of theAurochs (Bos primigenius). Lutra 45 (1):1-16.
Vuure, C. van.2005 Retracing the Aurochs: History, Morphology
and Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox. PensoftPublishers. Sofia-Moscow.
Wood1983 The Guinness Book of Animal Facts andFeats. New York: Sterling PublishingCompany Inc.
Yamaguchi, N; Alan Cooper; L. Werdelin & D.W. Mac-donald.2004 Evolution of the Mane and Group-living inthe Lion (Panthera leo): A Review. Journalof Zoology London 263: 329-342.
Zeuner, F.E.1963 A History of Domesticated Animals.London: Thames and Hudson