Achaemenid Persian Griffin Capital at Persepolis

Fig. 1 Persepolis stone griffin double protome column capital
Dr. Patrick Hunt, Stanford University
One of the most impressive yet enigmatic surviving capitals from Persepolis is an Achaemenid masterpiece: the double griffin protome capital. On the one hand, there ought to be more than one of these griffin capitals from before the 330 BCE destruction, although it seems that only this extant one is intact. On the other hand, it is possible that only one was sculpted, since no other griffin protome fragments exist from Persepolis. A few archaeological accounts suggest its emplaced context at Persepolis was from the Apadana, although this cannot be proven since only 13 of the 36 (arranged 6 x 6) columns have survived, given the “conflagration…and catastrophic end” recorded under Alexander. More than a few scholars, including Wiesehöfer, maintain that numerous structures at Persepolis were not destroyed in 330 but only parts thereof and that some use continued thereafter.
Persepolis was first begun by Darius around 518 BCE, the Apadana around 515 and structures like the Treasury may have been begun around 510; some structures like the Unfinished Gate and others may have been incomplete or possibly still underway in the fourth century. The original excavation reports have not connected this griffin protome capital with the Apadana of Darius and its correlation with any other structure is equally ambiguous because this capital seems to have been found only after the initial excavations between 1931-34 and up to 1939. (1) Furthermore, the majority of credible reconstructions suggest all the Apadana column capitals were double bull protomes. Contextualizing this griffin protome capital to other buildings is equally or even more difficult, although it is generally accepted that it must be from Persepolis.
The somewhat darkened visual appearance of this griffin protome might suggest its surface was burned like many of the other protomes – although limestone also often naturally weathers darker – and it was certainly chipped and broken in places, as can be easily seen from comparanda of nearly all photos. Furthermore, the edge of the saddle between the two griffin torsoes where it would have been expected to hold a massive cedar beam shows some expected wear, also easily seen from photos. Some credible accounts, including that of Porada, suggest this griffin capital was never actually used but merely experimental and abandoned before any emplacement. (2)

From 1931-34, Ernst Herzfeld’s excavations from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago were followed by Erich Schmidt’s work through 1939, and the Oriental Institute was joined by the University Museum of Pennsylvania and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in the final prewar years. Subsequent excavations were undertaken by the Iranian Antiquity Service at Persepolis and international collaboration after the war continued this research. (3) The preeminent discussion of Persepolis sculpture remains that of Michael Roaf’s entire 1983 issue of Iran XXI (4). In addition, the best accounts to date of Achaemenid stoneworking are found in the studies of Tilia and Farkas. (5)
The brilliant 2005 London exhibition, Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia: at the British Museum, in part the vision of Dr. John Curtis, Keeper of the Middle Eastern Department and primary author of the companion exhibition volume, showcased some of the glories of Achaemenid art. There this Persepolis “griffin” (as John Curtis identifies it) protome capital is described as a “homa bird” and one of the “four different types of column capital at Persepolis…arranged back to back to carry the gigantic cedar beams that supported the roof“ as mentioned. Both Stronach and Curtis have suggested the intended location of this griffin capital as the Unfinished Gate at Persepolis (6)
My first immersion in Achaemenid sculpture came as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow under Prof. David Stronach in 1992-1995 at University of California, Berkeley, Achaemenid scholar-archaeologist par excellence and excavator of Cyrus’ Royal Palace at Pasagardae. (7) Following Ph.D. research in stone technology, provenance and weathering at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, University of London, 1991, my stone research was continued at Berkeley under David Stronach where I applied this research to Achaemenid materials.
Geological material and provenance of the surviving griffin capital protome is still not fully resolved. Most accounts identify the griffin sculpture as “hard limestone” or “gray limestone” and “marble” and it might even be partly metamorphosized limestone although not necessarily marble as fully metamorphosized calcite mineral. (8) Schmidt’s studies describe many sculptures and statuary of the Apadana and others including the bull statue from Xerxes’ stairway as “made of the same kind of gray limestone that was used for the structures of Persepolis.” (9) According to Iranian geologist Azam Zare’ as noted in recent publications, (10) the primary quarries for Persepolis were at the adjacent Rahmat Mountain to the immediate east but several kilometers distant and also the Majdabad quarries where the stone was better suited than at the nearby Sivand quarries, which were closer than the Majdabad sources. In some of these up to eleven individual regional quarries used for Persepolis stone, the unusual depth of single bedding planes is often considerable, in some case at least several meters thick. It would need to be for this particular griffin protome capital, allowing the masons to extract massive and near-perfect homogenous stone from a single fine-grained stone stratum. Hard limestone has several near-perfect parameters for stone working: it is right in the middle of the spectrum for both workability and durability. As I have published elsewhere, an inverse relationship is at stake. The more workable a stone like soft limestone, the less durable and vice versa, the more durable, the less workable. This Persepolis stone is ideal for both desired characteristics. Whether it is geologically hard limestone as seems most likely or marble, the hard calcite mineral is clearly dense. The weight of the massive stone griffin capital may exceed 20 tons, as the typical Persepolis relief blocks are usually smaller and weigh in around 15 tons. (11)
Reconstructing the technology of working the stone at Persepolis includes understanding the tools that Schmidt and others found, including iron points as well as iron chisels and iron spikes recorded. (12) Toothed hammers and flat chisels were commonly used for such stonework and sometimes even curved chisels were employed for small areas. According to Roaf, “the stone used at Persepolis is too hard to use a saw successfully.” (13) Thus iron at a relative hardness of around 5-6 Mohs would be much more suitable than softer bronze at a relative 4-5 Mohs, too near the Persepolis stone hardness to be adequate. Polishing stones or “rubbing stones” have been found on the Persepolis terrace (14) – some with adhering pulverized material or powder – but whose stone materials have not been geologically proven. Some of these dark polishing stones may even be emery. (15) It would seem logical that the extremely hard Armenian emery – the closest source to Persia and under its hegemony – would naturally be used for polishing given the hardness of these stone sculptures. Pliny noted the hardness and ideal polishing agency of emery in Armenian “sand” for finishing carbonate sculpture, especially marble (loosely marmor although this Roman term encompasses many geological stone types not necessarily metamorphosized calcite). (16)
To obtain a better idea of the stone griffin capital’s appearance before the burning of Persepolis – if this capital was indeed ever in place or even burned, both of which are still arguable – Farzin Rezaeian’s virtual reality images from Persepolis Recreated suggest a compelling programmatic approach to how many capitals were painted and likely gilded as well, which is tenable given that Herzfeld’s original excavations found traces of paint and Roaf also records pigments including red paint “in the mouths and nostrils of capitals” (17), also building on Lerner’s prior studies (18). Farzin Rezaeian’s computer graphics team has realistically depicted many such gilded and painted column capitals. (19) Roaf has also explained holes, channels and extrapolated features on some capitals: “Some of the reliefs and capitals were inlaid with colored stones or metal or were decorated with gold leaf or gold sheet…small holes drilled in some capitals may have been for the attachment of precious ornaments.” (20) Several such holes can be seen on the griffin protome capital on the torso just above the legs that underscore Roaf’s decorative ideas. Perhaps one evidence for this griffin capital never having been in place at Persepolis in normal use is its visual appearance: its sides are flat relative to the curves of the fully rounded Apadana capital sculptures, which might suggest that it was never finished.
Griffins are certainly part of Achaemenid visual motif, although what they mean is less easily sorted. In addition to the magnificent gold double griffin bracelet – beyond its obvious priceless beauty, could it also have some royal amuletic function? – from the Oxus Treasure and the griffin base of the superb silver gilt rhyton (BM# 124081), both in the British Museum, the Persepolis Apadana reliefs of at least eight griffin protomes on vases in various delegations including Armenians and Lydians, (21) various bronze fragments from the Persepolis Treasury, there is also the eagle-headed griffin image from Susa noted in Jantzen (see below in note 35) as catalog number no. 142, and the horned griffin glazed bricks at Susa (see E. Schmidt, Persepolis I, 1953, 32) but also the gold eagle-headed griffin from Kurdistan of the so-called “Ziwiye Treasure” (22), and the griffin-headed gold bracteate jewelry from the Achaemenid “Chicago Treasure” at the Oriental Institute (23) among others. Some of the origins of Achaemenid pieces could also be Scythian. For griffin motifs at Persepolis, see Schmidt, Persepolis I (1953) 72, 85, 174, 189 and 257. That griffin motifs also appear at least as early as the Iron Age in Iran is evidenced by Luristan bronze finds at the Oriental Institute, Chicago, including griffin-decorated pin heads. (24) Margaret Root is the best authority on animals in Persian art, and her decades of magisterial Persepolis scholarship worthy of perusal although she does not discuss mythical griffins in her seminal 2002 chapter. (25)
Fig. 2 Gold Griffin Bracelet, 5th-4th. c BCE, Oxus Treasure, British Museum
Fig. 3 Armenian Tribute Bearer, Apadana, Persepolis, with griffin protome vase
As Schmidt noted early in the Oriental Institute’s excavation and Cahill echoed a half century later, the Treasury (134 x 78 meters) was one of the structures at Persepolis most thoroughly destroyed, as would be expected given its function and the Greek looting thereof in 330 BCE, although Cahill also notes its lack of structural stone in the architectural remains. Thus it was either mostly mud-brick and impermanent material or thoroughly destroyed or both. Perhaps more important, no capitals were found in the structure’s remains. (26)
Since the best opinions to date are that the griffin capital may have been intended for the Unfinished Gate at Persepolis (see footnote 6), it would be important to find out the context. Although this is an argument from silence, is it possible the possibly provisional griffin capital could have been intended for the Treasury? Comparison with the size of the griffin capital base may not match or correspond with the smaller size of the column bases on their shorter, tapered columns – for example, relative to the column bases of the likely much taller 20 meter high Apadana columns – except for the expected 18 columns in the perimeter of the Treasury’s larger interior courtyard complex (Room 29), where the column bases appear to be slightly larger than those of the other rooms. Even if for the Unfinished Gate and not the Treasury, might it still have had apotropaic function? According to Herodotus and others, one of the mythic protective functions of griffins in earlier Mesopotamian cultures (27) and more specifically Scythian lands was to guard treasure and montane gold. (28) Boardman has substantive material on the griffin motif shared between Persia and Greece as well as on this capital form. (29) Griffins also guarded Apollo’s gold and gold in general, and the one-eyed Arismaspians perpetually tried to steal the griffins’ gold, as so many Classical authors recorded, including Herodotus III.116, IV.13 & 27; Ctesias’ Persica; Pausanias I.24.6. & VII.2.3; Aelian IV.27; and Pliny Historia Naturalis VII.2 & X.70. Even Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound 802 & ff. warns against approaching griffins:
“Beware the razor-beaked hounds of Zeus that do not bark,
the Gryphons that live around the flood of Hades’ river
that flows with gold. Do not approach them.”

Although on the one hand, these Greek griffin traditions do not in any way precondition what the griffin motif meant to the Persians, on the other hand a considerable weight of Greek myth tradition and motif in this case derives from orientalized Mesopotamian antecedents (30) and Persian influence, (31) regardless of the questionable identification of the homa-griffin with the simurgh, which is interesting but not convincing, although more indigenous than exogenous. (32) Furthermore, at Mycenaean Pylos wall-painted “griffin” motif in “Nestor’s Palace” from the Late Bronze Age (LH IIIB) even predates possible Persian influence (33) but not necessarily Mesopotamian influence. It is even likely that both Persians and Greeks (as well as Proto-Greeks) derived the griffin motif from Central Asia, Anatolia (since Late Bronze Age griffin motifs can also be attested there) or pre-Scythian (or other Iranian peoples), but the motif may have also been later mediated by Scythians, whom the Persians called Sakas. The famous attacking griffins on gold scabbard reliefs are just a few of many Scythian griffin imagery. (34) Archaic orientalized Greek bronze griffin protomes have been extensively studied by Ulf Jantzen, as bronze griffin tripod protomes are not uncommon in Greek culture in the Orientalized 7th c. BCE from Olympia, Delphi, Athens and Samos (35) and also, for example, in multiple finds at Isthmia as well as 7th c. BCE repoussée electrum griffin head jewelry motif in the Louvre from the Camiros necropolis, Rhodes (36). A more ample discussion of the “Graeco-Persian phenomenon” is much needed. (37) The apotropaic function of monsters is already well-established in Greek contexts, but might be applicable at Persepolis, where several griffin motifs have been identified from the Treasury, including bronzes and small reliefs, possibly more than in any other Persepolis context. (38) It is an intriguing idea if the Greeks might thus have had even more reason to ransack a structure recognizably decorated with griffin capitals, although its Persian function would have been already known to them. As Margaret Cool Root states, “The concept of the animal protome finds culminating expression in ancient Iran in the colossal double animal capitals of Achaemenid palaces.” (39) In recent personal communication, David Stronach shared with me that “the topic calls for an examination of the date that the lion-griffin was first introduced, and where. This fundamental issue can then be related to the Achaemenid fascination with the lion-griffin (which also stands confirmed by the partly gilded silver rhyton in the British Museum”. Griffins will be the subject of a pending journal article I have been encouraged to pursue.
How then can we best understand this singular griffin capital at Persepolis? If this surviving griffin protome comes from the Treasury context or was provisionally intended for it at one stage or for the Unfinished Gate, (40) it would be ironic that, given the Greek destruction and looting, not only was a possible apotropaic intent ultimately futile, but also still enigmatic that only one griffin protome Persepolis capital has been found to date.
(This is a work in progress; helpful response is sought for any needed corrections).
(1) Erich Schmidt. Persepolis Vol. XVIII. Chicago: Oriental Institute Publications, University of Chicago, 1953, 3-5, 47 &ff for overall context on the Kuh-i-Rahmat (Mount of Mercy); Erich F. Schmidt. Persepolis II. Vol. LXIX. Chicago: Oriental Institute Publications, University of Chicago, 1957, 3; on the beginnings at Persepolis, see Pierre Briant. From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Winona Lake. IN: Eisenbrauns, 2002, 86 & 169; on the incomplete Persepolis destruction and continuity of use after 330 BCE, see Josef Wiesehöfer. Ancient Persia. London: I.B. Tauris, 1996, 25. David Stronach in personal correspondence points out the griffin capital was found after the initial excavations.
(2) Edith Porada. The Art of the Achaemenids. With collaboration by R.H. Dyson and C. K. Wilkinson. 145. In Porada’s account, “The griffin protome was published by [André] Godard in ILN (Jan. 2, 1954), p. 18, Figs. 5-8.” See Iran Chamber Society website: (
Also see Wolfram Kleiss. “Capitals” in Encyclopædia Iranica, on the double protome capitals at Persepolis: “The Achaemenid double-protome capital can be viewed as an Iranian invention, though Mesopotamian influences in the representation of composite creatures are also recognizable.” (
(3) Ursula Schneider. Persepolis and Ancient Iran. The Oriental Institute. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1976, 1.
(4) Michael Roaf. “Sculptures and Sculptors at Persepolis”. Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies XXI (1983) 1-164 & ff.
(5) Ann Britt Tilia. “A Study of the methods of working and restoring stone and on the parts left unfinished in Achaemenian architecture and sculpture. East and West (New Series) 18 (1968) 67-95. A. E. Farkas. Achaemenid Sculpture. Leiden: Netherlands Institute for the Near East PIHANS vol. 33, 1974, esp, 127-34 (Tilia appendix).
(6) John Curtis et al. Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. London: British Museum, 2005, 51. This exemplary volume represents not only the highest scholarship but the highest order of what I have elsewhere titled “cultural diplomacy.” David Stronach has echoed this possible Unfinished Gate intended Persepolis context in correspondence with me and mentioned John Curtis’s prior idea on this possible intended placement.
(7) David Stronach, Pasargadae: A Report on the Excavations Conducted by the British Institute of Persian Studies from 1961 to 1963. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978. David Stronach was also a speaker at the “Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran Cross-Cultural Encounters” 2006 International Conference in Athens in November, 2006, where his topic was “Patterns of conquest and patterns of construction: a new look at the birth of Achaemenid art and architecture”. Note that a fragmentary horse protome capital was excavated by David Stronach at Pasargadae, described in his 1978 Pasargadae, 73-4; Plate 55, also referenced by Root, 206 (see below, note 25).
(8) Parisa Mohammadi and Wolfgang Krumbein. “Biodeterioration of ancient stone materials from the Persepolis monuments (Iran)” Aerobiologia 24 (2008), 27–33. On p. 29, Persepolis stone is identified here by petrographic thin section as “marble and limestone (partially carbonate cemented sandstone)”, so the ambiguities still exist. Robert McColl’s 1975 image for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries Digital Collection archive (UWM American Geographical Society Library mc000201) show it as fine gray stone; other photographic images, including later, show it as more beige. Ursula Schneider’s image, 15, 1F1 “A Double-Headed Griffin Capital, Sm7213 is also gray colored. Also note “marbres in Paul Bernand. “Les mortiers et pilons inscrits de Persepolis.” Studia Iranica I (1972) fascicle 2, 174.
(9) Schmidt, 1953, 171, 189 “common gray Persepolis limestone”; Schmidt, 1957, 69. Although from a different Achaemenid context, note the identification of “gray marble” found at Susa’s Apadana in M. Wijnen. “Excavations on Iran”. Persica: Jaarboek van het Genootschap Nederland-Iran Stichting voor Culterele Betrekkingen 6 (1972-1974) 83, with two Darius foundation tablets of gray marble. The Persepolis stone relief in the British Museum (# ME 118868) is not publicly identified as to geological type.
(10) also see Iran Daily, Dec 24, 2005, 12.
(11) Nicholas Cahill. “The Treasury of Persepolis: Gift-Giving at the City of the Persians.” American Journal of Archaeology 89.3 (1985) 386.
(12) Schmidt, Persepolis II, 1957, Plate 81. Nos. 19, & 24-26, from the Treasury, Gate of Xerxes, Apadana and Garrison Quarters respectively.
(13) Roaf. 1983, 3.
(14) ibid. (Roaf).
(15) Schmidt, 1957, Plate 80, 11-14, where three of the “polishers” have question marks about geological identity (“gray limestone?, black slate?, black and grayish-green steatite?”).
(16) Pliny, Historia Naturalis XXXVI.9-10.
(17) Roaf, 1983, 8.
(18) J. A. Lerner. “The Achaemenid relief of Ahura Mazda in the Fogg Art Museum. Bulletin of the Asia Institute 2 (Shiraz, 1971) 19-35; also see J. A. Lerner. “A painted relief from Persepolis.” Archaeology 26 (1973) 116-23.
(19) Farzin Rezaeian et al. Persepolis Recreated. Toronto, Canada: Sunrise Visual Innovations, 2004, e.g. 30-32, 39, 46-47. The griffin capital under discussion is not depicted in his book.
(20) Roaf, 1983, 8.
(21) John Curtis. Ancient Persia. London: British Museum, 2000 2nd ed., 52-3, 62, figs. 54, 56, 60, 69; John Curtis, ed. Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 539-331 BC. London: British Museum, 1997, Plate 1. ([Griffin] Gold Bracelet from Oxus Treasure). According to Stronach, pers. comm., the silver gilt rhyton is “said to have been found ‘near Erzincan’. ” An early study of Achaemenid metalworking in the Oxus Treasure is in O. M. Dalton. The Treasure of the Oxus: with Other Examples of Early Oriental Metal-Work. Franks’ Bequest. London, 1926, 2nd ed.
(22) The so-called “Ziwiye Treasure”. André Godard. Le trésor de Ziwiyè. Haarlem, 1950. Note that according to Goldman (see note 31 below) p 319, Ghirshman identified this as a Scythian burial, and it has long been clear that griffins are also famously Scythian. But while it may be Scythian, the provenance and certainly the collection is highly disputed, see Oscar White Muscarella. “Ziwiye” and Ziwiye: The Forgery of a Provenience”. Journal of Field Archaeology 4.2 (Summer, 1977), 197-219.
(23) Helene J. Kantor. “Achaemenid Jewelry in the Oriental Institute.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 16.1 (1957) 1-23, esp. 8 ff, Inventory A28588, “ten gold bracteates, griffin heads facing left”, Plate VIc.
(24) In the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago collection: OIM A24183, Bronze pin head (Luristan), length 85 mm, griffin-shaped; OIM A7292, Cast Bronze pin Head (Luristan), winged griffin; OIM A24184, Bronze pin head (Luristan) length 73 mm, winged griffin?
(25) Margaret Cool Root. “Animals in the Art of Ancient Iran” in B. J. Collins, ed. A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East. Leiden: E.J. Brill 2002, 169-209; also Margaret Cool Root. “The Lioness of Elam. Politics and Dynastic Fecundity at Persepolis.” Achaemenid History XIII (2003) 9-32. Also note Root’s research on artistic transmission in Achaemenid Persia and co-editorship, mentioned below, in Achaemenid History VIII in footnote 37. Although Root’s quote below from her text in Collins, Brill, 2002, 176, refers to the snake, which is usually not a mythical but instead an oft-observed living creature, it might apply to the ambiguity of griffins as well: “the paradoxical pairing of sinister with beneficent associations of a natural phenomenon is common in nature itself and in the belief systems humans develop about such a duality.” On the other hand, she writes about “heroes stabbing fantastic creatures” as a possible “protection against invasion” function or association in Persepolis interior monumental sculpture relief, 183, also earlier suggested in her monograph The King and Kingship in Achaemenid Art: Essays on the Creation of an Iconography of Empire. Leiden: E.J. Brill 1979, 300-308. Root also quotes, 188, A. U. Pope’s 1954 idea on ancient Iranian zoomorphic rhytons conveying the vitality of that animal, which should be applicable here to the Oxus griffin rhyton.
(26) Cahill, 376.
(27) Jeremy Black and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. London: British Museum, 2003 repr., 101. According to Annie Caubet, “Animals in Syro-Palestinian Art” in B. J. Collins, ed. A. History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East, Brill, 2002, 229, regarding myth animal interactions and diffusion, “Although certain mythological creatures, such as the bull-man, are clearly of Mesopotamian origin, we know neither where nor how other composite monsters, such as the lion griffin or the winged griffin, evolved.”
(28) Adrienne Mayor. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology on Greek and Roman Times. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, 32 ff.; Pierre Grimal (Stephen Kershaw, ed.) Dictionary of Classical Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1990 ed., Γρυπες (plural) 166: “sacred to Apollo whose treasures they guarded in the lands of the Hyperboreans…later fables relate that the griffins resisted any search for gold in the deserts in the north of India” partly as guardians of the precious metal.
(29) John Boardman. Persia and the West: An Archaeological Investigation of the Genesis of Achaemenid Persian Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000, esp. 74-75, 249-250.
(30) Charles Penglase. Greek Myths and Mesopotamia. London: Routledge, 1994, 51, cf. the bird-lion monster Anzu; Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, see Anzu. On p. 89 Dalley’s translation describes Enkidu’s dream with a monstrous encounter in the Epic of Gilgamesh VII: “His face was like that of an Anzu bird. He had the paws of a lion, he had the claws of an eagle.” Also note Henrietta McCall. Mesopotamian Myths. London: British Museum, 1990, 66-9, where she relates the tale of Anzu, including that the monster was first appointed to guard divine chambers. But Anzu, while a bird-lion hybrid, is visually opposite of a Homa-griffin with lion head and forepaws, but with wings, covered in feathers and bird back legs and talons. On the other hand, griffins are emblematic of artistic change in Mesopotamia. See Catherine Breniquet, “Animals in Mespotamian Art” in Billie J. Collins, ed. A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East. Leiden: Brill, 2002, 153-54 “…new elements are apparent, however, in a clear use of animal depictions in close relationship with the divinities. The second millennium B.C. is also known for contacts between cultural and political powers in the Near East, involving artistic exchanges and the diffusion, combined with distortion, of many animal motifs. Such monsters as griffins…are the clearest examples of this phenomenon.” Elsewhere, in Oded Borowski’s article “Animals in the Religions of Syria-Palestine” in Collins, 2002, griffins are associated with deity in the religions of ancient Palestine and kingship in Ramesside Egypt, 407.
(31) Bernard Goldman. “The Development of the Lion-Griffin”. American Journal of Archaeology 64.4 (1960), 319-28, plates 88-91; John Boardman. Greek Early Vase Painting. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998, 151. For a reassessment of Greek Orientalizing and the “Persian Paradigm”, see Ann C. Gunter, “Models of the Orient” in H. Sancisi-Werdenburg and J. W. Drijvers, eds. Achaemenid History V: The Roots of the European Tradition. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1990, 131-148, esp. 145 ff. and Pericles George. Barbarian Asia and the Greek Experience. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, esp. 1-12.
(32) The simurgh and senmurv motifs seem not to have eagle heads in surviving representations, but rather canine or other animal faces. See Vesta Curtis. Persian Myths. London: British Museum, 1993, esp. 21-22, where she discusses and compares traditions of senmurv and simurgh without comparing to the earlier homa lion-bird. The homa has been recently popularly connected again to the simurgh, e.g. Iqbal Latif. “Is ‘discovery’ about alighting of Simorgh?’ Persian Journal (July 29, 2008): “in ‘Persian mythology,’ a very famous bird, Simorgh, a large beautiful and powerful bird, Homa, royal bird of victory whose plume adorned the crowns.”
(33) Carl Blegen and M. Rawson. The Palace of Nestor at Pylos in Western Messenia. Vols.1-4. Princeton: Princeton University Press (for University of Cincinnati) 1966-1973; Carl Blegen, Marion Rawson and Jack Davis. A Guide to the Palace of Nestor. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, Athens, 2001.
(34) The migrations of the Scythians-Sakas into Iran most likely followed the ancestors of the Iranians-Persians themselves from the north. W. J. Vogelsang. The Rise and Organization of the Achaeminid Empire: The Eastern Iranian Evidence. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992, 15 ff.; Esther Jacobson. The Art of the Scythians: The Interpenetration of Cultures at the Edge of the Hellenic World. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995, note Scythian griffins: 12, 243-246 (including famous scabbard-casings with griffins and lions attacking horses, etc.), 250, 252, 271. Also see J. B. Bury et al., Cambridge Ancient History Vol VI, The Fourth Century, 1928, 499, where “the lion-headed griffin was a noted mythical enemy of the Persians…” although this is an eagle-headed griffin at Persepolis. On the other hand, if griffins were perceived as inimical, it might also help explain why only one griffin Persepolis capital existed or vacillating Achaemenid programmes regarding griffins as guardians of treasure or possible apotropaic function.
(35) Ulf Jantzen. Griechische Greifenkessel. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1955; Carol Mattusch. Greek Bronze Statuary: From the Beginnings Through the Fifth Century B.C.. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989, 27.
(36) Isabelle K. Raubitschek. Isthmia, vol. VII (1952-1989). The Metal Objects. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 1998, 87-88, objects #310-312; also Musée du Louvre, Department of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities, Bj 39. From Camiros Necropolis, Rhodes, c. 625-600 BCE.
(37) M. C. Root. “Lifting the Veil: Artistic Transmission Beyond the Boundaries of Historic Periodisation.” in Heleen Sansini-Weerdenburg, Amelie Kuhrt and Margaret Cool Root, eds., Achaemenid History VIII: Continuity and Change. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1994, 9-37, esp. 15 ff. noting negative bias against Achaemenid Persia from a Greek perspective and also her points on cultural reciprocity between Persia and the West on p. 17.
(38) Schmidt, 1957, 8, 15, 18, 39.
(39) Margaret Cool Root, History of Animal World…, in Collins, Brill, 2002, 195.
(40) Apparently, Ann Ashmead had also earlier posed this question about griffins and treasuries in another, different (East Greek or Phrygian) context. Adrienne Mayor pointed me to Ashmead’s research after reading a draft of this article and put me in contact with Ashmead, whose email response to me (10/25/08) verified her idea that griffins might be connected with gold and treasuries in a guardian role. See Ann Harnwell Ashmead. “Terracotta reliefs: Phrygian or East Greek” in Haverford College Collection of Classical Antiquities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1999, figs 54 & 55.
Acknowledgements are given to David Stronach, Adrienne Mayor and H. Anne Weis for reading drafts of this work-in-progress article and providing valuable feedback.
Image credits: Fig. 1, courtesy of Sebastia Giralt.; Fig. 2, Wikimedia Commons 2007; Fig. 3, courtesy of
copyright © 2008 Dr. Patrick Hunt
Stanford University

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