Научная статья на тему 'A goddess on the lion from Susa'

A goddess on the lion from Susa Текст научной статьи по специальности «Науки о Земле и смежные экологические науки»

i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.

Аннотация научной статьи по наукам о Земле и смежным экологическим наукам, автор научной работы — Invernizzi A.

The old French Excavations in Susa brought to light the fragment of a marble bowl of the Parthian period decorated with a central medallion in relief. The picture shows a goddess dressed in tunic and mantle and seated on a lion passant. While the style of execution of the lion maintains a fresh naturalism of Hellenistic origin, the goddess is frontal and rather flattened, which points to a date in the late Parthian period. The image may perhaps be interpreted as a variant of that of Nana/Nanaia, who was a major deity in the city of Susa and was often represented on a lion in the eastern regions of the Hellenized Orient down to pre-Islamic times.

i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.
iНе можете найти то, что вам нужно? Попробуйте сервис подбора литературы.
i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.

Текст научной работы на тему «A goddess on the lion from Susa»

хорошему шоссе до Ашхабада.

Несколько дней до отлета в Минводы я жил у Феди, по вечерам мы ходили в кафе, к его персидским друзьям и играли в нарды.

27 ноября я прилетел в Минводы. На этом завершилась моя первая археологическая экспедиция в Среднюю Азию.


The author reminisces about joint archeological expedition at ancient Merv settlement in south Turkmenistan in the fall of 1961 giving sketches of archeologists' daily routine and their research. He presents a vivid portrayal of his friends and colleagues. He thinks he had the rare honor of working together with them under the direction of M.Ye. Masson.



The French excavations in Susa brought to light, among other sculptures, the fragmentary representation in relief of a female figure, obviously divine, riding side-saddle in a frontal attitude a lion passant (fig. 1). The subject is new in the religious imagerie of the city. It is also uncommon that it was carved as the decoration of the inner side of a white marble bowl, on its centre. The fragment is 7,4 cm high and 9 cm large, and is registered in the Musne du Louvre with the number Sb.3784.1

The vessel has a thin low disc-shaped base; its walls were almost vertical, judging from what remains of their inner surface next the head of the lion, though the presence of a figured central medallion inside suggests that the bowl was not much deep. The fragment has a roughly oval contour but, when entire, the vessel can well have had a common circular shape. The presence of a figured medallion in relief on the inner centre of a bowl or dish is a peculiarity very common in ancient metalwork, both classical and oriental; less frequent, though not unknown, is the use of a stone material. However, this could have been thought of a value no less than silver, in a milieu such as that of Susa, deprived of good material for sculpture.

The object must have filled a special ritual function in some religious practice of the city, but nothing precise can be said about it, in the absence of evidence on the context of use of the bowl. The subject and the iconography of the relief, by contrast, appear very interesting, and suggest a number of references to various cultural milieus.

The lion is in right profile. Its hind-part has a relatively more pronounced relief thanks to the contour groove that isolates it from the figure of the goddess, while between the latter and the forepart of the animal a deep profile line separates only the

head of the lion from the torso of the goddess, and the left leg of the latter from the right leg of the lion. By contrast, there is almost continuity of thickness between the knee of the goddess and the shoulder of the lion.

The feline is passant, its left foreleg is not bent but straight, and it is placed higher up probably not because it is intended to be raised from the ground but simply because it follows the curve of the bowl’s wall. The problem of adapting the figures in a circular medallion inside a vessel found similar solutions since the time of Greek archaism, as Attic vase painting widely shows. Both hind-legs of the animal rest on a horizontal plane, though no line of ground seems to be clearly indicated.

The forelegs have strong and large claws; a slight groove runs straight along their back profile. The shoulder is less prominent than the thigh, which is particularly large. The tail is thick and falls along the wall of the bowl, then perhaps twisting around the right leg, so as to turn its tip upwards. This is what seems to be suggested by a shape in relief lined by grooves on the right hind-leg, which is missing on the forelegs. The left hind-leg has claws less prominent than those of the forelegs (the surface of the right hind-leg is fragmentary), and is partly covered by the edge of the skirt of the goddess.

The lion turns its head backward, showing its full left profile. The twist movement is skilfully executed with plastic means; the ruff is smooth, differently from the mane, but delicately modelled dosing the relief on both sides of a roughly vertical curving line that divides it in two different surfaces, so as to describe the two sides of the coat. The mane is a series of radiating plastic tufts placed in a single row in the lower part, in at least two series upwards. The pointed, almost vertical ear stands out from the crown of tufts.

The muzzle of the lion, large and strong, is carved in a naturalistic way; the open mouth discovers the upper canine tooth in full view; the eye, small and round, clearly protrudes from the eye-socket, which is slightly marked by corner incisions. The forehead is worn-out. The front profile of the muzzle is stressed by the wide and deep groove that divides it from the goddess figure. The overall effect of the animal is based on a fresh naturalism, thanks to the careful nuances of the modelling, and in spite of the linear description prevailing in several details of the legs. The treatment of the mane, in particular, seems to produce the effect of a single soft mass, although the lower rows of the tongue-tufts are individually designed.

The dimensional relationship between the two figures of the subject is rather out of proportion, for the lion is very large in respect to the goddess, a feature that immediately reminds the Cybele metal plaque from Ai Khanum (fig. 8). Stylistically, the goddess image, smaller and distinctly frontal, makes a strong contrast with the animal, which maintains substantially the hallmark of the original Hellenistic model. She wears a long tunic that leaves only the tip of the feet free, and a mantle that covers the thighs, torso and head (the latter is missing), and wraps up the bent right arm. The right hand lies however uncovered and rests open in full evidence on the left side of the breast.

The modelling of the drapery is rather simple and schematic. The tunic covers the legs down to the lower horizontal edge, which acquires relief from an oblique undercutting. A few vertical folds fan slightly while falling down, and form small side-swellings. The legs are also shown below the garment as two perfectly vertical shapes. The slight raising of the tunic edge above the feet (these are deprived of any relief) is a consequence of the fan-like design of the central bundle of folds and side-swellings more than of a real description.

1 — Paris, Musee du Louvre: goddes on a lion from Susa, marble; 2 — Kabul, National Museum: a sacrifice to Cybele, silver plaque; 3 — Baghdad, Iraq Museum: Nemesis-Allat riding a dromedary, frieze from the Allat Temple in Hatra; 4 — Paris, Musne du Louvre: tongue relief from Susa, terracotta; 5 — Paris, Musne du Louvre: female rider from Susa, terracotta; 6 — Female rider from Susa, terracotta; 7 — Nana on the lion, Kushan coin; 8 — Penjikent, Building XXV.12: Nana on the lion, wall painting

The tunic covers the torso, but its surfaces are uniformly and slightly convex and do not describe any precise kind of drapery. However, a breast-plate or large necklace possibly completed the dress, for a small fan-like pattern can perhaps be singled out on the breasts.

The edge of the mantle along the right arm is doubled, and a short cut stresses the relief and the pointed shape of the elbow. The edge at the right wrist is flat and becomes thicker downwards, while it widens towards the left shoulder. This is a drapery model of Greek origin and very common in the Hellenized Orient, as plentiful terracotta figurines of the Seleucid and Parthian periods show.

The treatment of the material on the thighs is more original. There is no recourse to perspective in describing the seated posture of the goddess: the foreshortenings that in a relief of limited thickness like this would have made easy to describe the natural inclination in depth of the thighs are avoided. However, the sculptor could not refrain from showing the full shape of the thighs. So, he carved them as seen from above, on an almost vertical line that only suggests and does not represent their actual arrangement in depth. Therefore, the general resulting effect is that of a strong frontal flattening of the figure. We find the same taste also in sculptures of larger size, as for example the Azzanathkona stela from Dura Europos .2

The ornamental design of the folds in the form of small hanging arches (with their points downwards) set in parallel rows on the thighs helps suggesting the volume and obliquity of the latter, although only on a descriptive level. The groove at the waist, which is equally shaped as a hanging arch, also falls within the decorative structure of this drapery model. This reflects a taste rather widespread in the sculpture of the Parthian world, though in our case it still succeeds suggesting the bent position of the legs, although always on a purely ideal level.

In conclusion, the naturalistic approach of the modelling and the search for vivacity of expression remain evident in the representation of the lion. Naturalism on the other hand is often common to Greek and Oriental animal representations, although we probably cannot count on a precise continuity of the Ancient-Oriental taste, for the attitude of our lion is clearly depending on Greek models. By contrast, the goddess figure reveals the expression of hieratic sentiments and is closer to the divine representations widespread in the late Parthian age. The mixture of different iconographic elements and the general style of the execution suggest a date in the late 1st c. AD or the beginning of the 2nd c. AD for the carving of the marble bowl from Susa.

Who is the divinity the Parthian sculptor from Susa represented under the aspect of a goddess riding a lion? The image of the goddess herself does not offer any hint at her identification, for she does not wear any specific attribute on her, and her entirely generic dress and iconography are characteristic of the time. In particular, the right arm bent on the breast and wrapped in the mantle is a very frequent pattern that appertains to mortals, demigods and divine characters. The rich repertoire of the terracotta figurines in the most important cities of the Parthian domain offers countless examples of it in the variants standing/seated, veiled/bare head. This is so at Seleucia on the Tigris,3 Babylon,4 and Susa herself.5 The aspect of the goddess of the marble bowl falls entirely within the range of the seated variants that are continuously reproduced down to late-Parthian times, attaining extreme results of frontalization and simplification.6

Our goddess finds a good parallel in Mesopotamia in the frontal figure of Nemesis-Allat mounting a dromedary (Fig. 2) in the relief from her temple that represents her triumphal entry into Hatra.7 This Arab goddess is also represented in other ways in Mesopotamia: in Hatra she more often assumes the aspect of Athena,

8 9

standing between two acolytes over the lion,8 or seated in arms on the lion.9 In Palmyra she is portrayed seated on the throne in tunic and mantle with the lion next to her.10 That Susa did attach a particular importance to her own religious traditions, does not rule out the worship of other Oriental gods in the city, and a possible name for the goddess of the bowl could be that of Allat. However, not only she rides a mount different from that of the Allat frieze in Hatra, which points to the original homeland of the goddess; the gesture of her left arm and the resulting significance of the general pose were probably quite different.

The gesture of the Susa goddess can hardly be better defined, however: she is apparently deprived of her left arm, so the reconstruction of its intended pose is not assured, though this was certainly different from that of the goddess in the Hatra temple. We would actually expect a left arm extended outwards, leaning onto the head of the lion or embracing its neck, but the wide groove between the torso of the goddess and the head of the animal seems to rule out such a reconstruction. What remains of the edge of the mantel on the left shoulder would perhaps leave open a unique possibility: an arm raised almost vertically to her head, which makes little sense, however. It seems therefore likely that, though the sculptor did not take much care of a complete description and failed to represent the left arm of the goddess, her image should be understood as a typical draped figure of Hellenized Asia, the right arm in the posture that is on sight, the hand disproportionately large so as to attract the attention, the left arm covered by the mantle and extended along the side, in spite of the fact that the latter was not described, for there are no hints at all at its volume and shape and no details suggesting its existence are visible.

A Seleuco-Parthian terracotta tongue-relief from Susa (Fig. 3) could somehow help explaining the apparent absence of the left arm of the figure of the medallion. It represents a canonical draped figure, standing, the right arm folded at the breast, the left extended along the side.11 The mantle that covers the left arm forms a few shallow folds, but the arm is modelled in particularly low relief on the background of the relief, so that it is not much evident. In the case of the stone bowl, the prominence of the bulky lion could have hampered a though minimal description of the left arm of the goddess, and this can have been the reason of its possible “integration” into the torso of the figure.

The repertoire of the Seleuco-Parthian terracotta figurines from Susa includes

another iconographic model of horsewoman that approaches in some way that of the


goddess on the lion of the bowl: a female figure riding a horse side-saddle,12 in precisely the manner the goddess sits on the lion also from the stylistic point of view. This iconography is documented by more than one specimen (Figs. 4-5); which rules out an interpretation of it as the result of an occasional act of invention, though the female figure has certainly not been created expressly as a horsewoman, for she follows the common iconographic pattern of the period, seated, the right arm folded on the breast (assured only for n. 313), the left extended along the side, which is very probably the same attitude as that of the goddess on the lion. The two figurines from Susa are the

result of the same operation as that carried out by the sculptor of the marble medallion: the assembly of a common, independent iconographic type onto a mount; the terracotta figurine being modelled from a single stamp and applied roughly to a hand-modelled animal, the goddess having obviously been carved together with her lion.

The horsewoman is unfortunately fragmentary in both terracotta figurines, and her incomplete state of preservation leaves her subject uncertain. In particular, the question remains open whether she, too, has the status of a goddess or demigoddess. It is in any case likely that the figurine should be related in some way to a religious context, similar to that of the sacred processions attested to by the terracotta figurine


from Syria representing a dromedary that bears a baldachin with two musicians.13 This Syrian figurine can probably be referred to a procession such as that carved on the lintel from the temple of Bel at Palmyra, which makes room for a closed canopy mounted on the back of a dromedary.14

It must also be stressed that the identification of the mount of the terracotta figurines as a horse is not unquestionably clear. The hind-legs are modelled in the way normal for Seleuco-Parthian hand-made horses, which is an entirely generic stylistic and iconographic feature, however. By contrast, the neck shows a slightly arched profile that differs from the straight or a little bit concave one that is common in the hand-modelled horses at Susa, and rather reminds the neck profile of a dromedary. The muzzle, too, where preserved, is anomalous for a horse, and differs considerably in form from the elongated one characteristic of the remaining horses from Susa, which have a long muzzle, prominent or adherent to the neck in the style of the Achemenid tradition. The muzzle here is rather small and pointed, instead. However, these are features not even suitable for a dromedary. So, their extreme simplification and schematism leave at the end uncertain the true identity of the animal, which is particularly regrettable for, if the figurine intended to portray a lady riding a dromedary, it could have something to do with the iconography of the frieze of the Allat temple in Hatra, and its processional subject, though the lady of the terracotta figurine can hardly be thought to represent a goddess.

Only the lion, therefore, can help explaining the identity of the goddess of the marble bowl. In the Ancient Orient the lion is par excellence the animal of Ishtar. In the 1st millennium BC this goddess seems to mingle main features of her personality with those of other deities, such as Allat in the western Semitic regions, and especially Nana, the name and cult of whom seem to overshadow the colleague at such a point, that Nana, having practically superseded Ishtar as the main goddess of the pantheon in Mesopotamia, comes to be worshipped on a very wide territory, from the Mediterranean to Central Asia and India.15 It is precisely as images of Nana that the figures of a goddess on the lion have been interpreted for quite a long time in the eastern regions, the static ones of the goddess seated on the crouching lion (Fig. 6), and those that show her riding the lion passant. Among the latter, the wall painting in Building XXV.12 of Penjikent is particularly worthy of mention,16 for the close affinity of the subject — the goddess seated side-saddle on the lion -, in spite of the great differences in style, specific iconography (the Sogdian goddess has received four arms, her lion looks straight in front), date and cultural milieu (Fig. 7). On the other side, the name of Nana enjoyed an enormous diffusion, and her images seem to adapt from time to time to the local culture of the different background, not only from the

iconographic but the religious point of view. The Susa medallion is obviously likely to show an image of Nana — better than Allat — in a perfectly local Elymaean version, built with the features proper to the iconography that was in fashion in the city during the Parthian period.

The iconographic variant of Susa fits without any difficulty the complex repertoire of Nana so as it has been singled out in the countries between the Mediterranean, Central Asia and India. That the peculiarities of the aspect of the Susa goddess differ from the goddess of the Sogdian painting can hardly surprise. It could perhaps be more astonishing to find an image of Nana on the lion, if this is Nana, in the general iconographic and religious context of Susa, where a number of occurrences show that Nana has Artemis as her Greek counterpart. It is to Nana that the city coins with the motifs of Artemis the archer and a rayed head refer, following common agreement


among the scholars.17 It must nevertheless be observed that these coin motifs show themselves a plurality of iconographic orientation: patently toward Greek culture in the first instance, toward Graeco-Oriental or better Oriental tout court in the second case, for specifically Hellenistic stylistic features cannot be observed in the rayed heads. The goddess on the lion of the marble bowl, therefore, would open a third chapter in the iconographic rendering of Nana in Susa and the Elymaean region.

If we consider that the lion much more than the goddess is reminiscent of Greek models, of which it maintains the basic features of vivid image, we are urged to suppose that the lion suggests, of course to Greek minds, still another divine connection. In the Greek pantheon, the lion is par excellence the animal of Cybele, another Great Goddess. The diffusion of the cult of Cybele into the Hellenized Orient is a subject that still awaits research. However, the silver plaque from Ai Khanum (fig. 8) shows that Cybele was far from being unknown in Greek Bactria, where the precious object portrays her while taking part in a cult of which the iconographic context is widely open to Oriental contributions. These are very clearly seen in the parasol held by the attendant and the cosmic setting represented by the astral symbols that crown the scene. A curious coincidence is the dimensional relationship between the lion and the divine character, which is similar in both documents. The subject of the Ai Khanum plaque, too, has been interpreted with good reasons as the sacrifice offered to Cybele-Nana.18 The astral symbol in the shape of a rayed bust that is part of the cosmic setting is of course entirely generic in its shape and style, but can be compared closely to the rayed heads of the coins of Susa referred to Nana.

In conclusion, the Susa relief acquires a particular importance for on the one hand it seems to confirm that Cybele, too, entered the complex iconographic and possibly also religious synchretism that defines the new Nana worshipped in Hellenized Asia; on the other hand this synchretism confirms the existence of very close ties between the western regions of the Parthian empire and the Central-Asian and Indian regions, where the popularity of the goddess on the lion seems to have been particularly long-lived.


1. AmietP. La sculpture susienne a l’epoque de l’empire parthe // Iranica Antiqua. XXXVI. 2001. P. 290, III.37; InvernizziA. Nisa Partica. Le sculture ellenistiche // Monografie di Mesopotamia. XI. Firenze, 2009. Fig. 2.26.

2. Downey S.B. The Stone and Plaster Sculpture (The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report III.I.2). Los Angeles, 1977. P. 11-14, 251-252, n. 3, pl. II.

3. Van Ingen W. Figurines from Seleucia on the Tigris, Ann Arbor. 1939. P. 91-100, n. 174-208, pls. XII-XV; Invernizzi A. Figure panneggiate dalla Mesopotamia ellenizzata // Mesopotamia. 1973/74. VIII-IX. P. 181-228. Fig. 87-92.

4. Klengel-Brandt E, Cholidis Die Terrakotten von Babylon im Vorderasiatischen Museum in Berlin. Teil 1, Die anthropomorphen Figuren (WVDOG, 115). Saarwellingen, 2006. Pl. 54-55.

5. Martinez-Seve L. A. Les figurines de Suse. De l’epoque neo-elamite a l’epoque sassanide. Tomes 1 et 2, (Musee du Louvre, Departement des Antiquites Orientales). Reunion des Musees Nationaux. Paris, 2002. T. I. P. 278-279, n. 329-332.

6. Sulla via di Alessandro. Da Seleucia al Gandhara, catalogo della mostra. Torino—Palazzo Madama—Milano, 2007. P.197-198, n. 124, from Uruk.

7. Invernizzi A. The investiture of Nemesis-Allat in Hatra // Mesopotamia. 1989. XXIV. P. 129-176. Fig. 63, 66.

8. Safar F, Muhammad Ali Mustafa. Hatra. The City of the Sun God. Baghdad, 1974. P. 232-233, n. 224.

9. Ibid. P. 304, n. 204.

10. Colledge M.A.R. The Art of Palmyra. London, 1976. Pl. 49.

11. Martinez-Seve. Les figurines de Suse. P. 282-284, n. 336.

12. Ibid. P. 268-269, n. 313-314.

13. Bossert H.Th. Altsyrien. Tubingen, 1951. P. 200, n. 662.

14. Colledge. The Art of Palmyra. Pl. 20.

15. Ambros Cl. Nanaja — eine ikonographische Studie zur Darstellung einer altorientalischen Gottin in hellenistisch-parthischer Zeit // Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie. 2003. 93. P. 231-272; Ghose M. Nana: The ‘Original’ Goddess on the Lion”// Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology. 2006. I. P. 97-112; LIMC Suppl. 2009 (Invernizzi). Nanai in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. Supplementum. Dusseldorf, 2009. P. 374-378; Invernizzi A. Nisa Partica. Le sculture ellenistiche // Monografie di Mesopotamia. XI. Firenze, 2009.

16. Grenet F, Marshak B. Le mythe de Nana dans l’art de la Sogdiane // Arts Asiatiques. 1998. 53. P. 14-15, fig. 12; Invernizzi. Nisa Partica. Le sculture ellenistiche. P. 377, add. 25.

17. Le Rider G. Suse sous les Seleucides et les Parthes. Les trouvailles monetaires et l’histoire de la ville //Memoires de la mission archeologique en Iran. XXXVIII. Paris, 1965. P. 295-296; Ambros. Nanaja — eine ikonographische Studie... P. 250-251

18. Ghose M. Nana: The ‘Original’ Goddess on the Lion”// Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology. 2006. I. P. 98, fig. 1; LIMC Suppl. 2009 (Invernizzi). Nanai in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. P. 375-376, add. 15; Invernizzi. Nisa Partica. Le sculture ellenistiche. Fig 2.25.


The old French Excavations in Susa brought to light the fragment of a marble bowl of the Parthian period decorated with a central medallion in relief. The picture shows a goddess dressed in tunic and mantle and seated on a lion passant.

While the style of execution of the lion maintains a fresh naturalism of Hellenistic origin, the goddess is frontal and rather flattened, which points to a date in the late Parthian period.

The image may perhaps be interpreted as a variant of that of Nana/Nanaia, who was a major deity in the city of Susa and was often represented on a lion in the eastern regions of the Hellenized Orient down to pre-Islamic times.



The publication of this volume of studies in honour of professor Gennadij Andreevic Koselenko is a particularly welcome opportunity to remind my first encounter with him in 1993, during my first fieldwork experience in Old Nisa. The Italian team of the Turin Centre for Archaeological Research and Excavations was opening trenches on the northern and western sides of the Round Hall, while that of the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of Moscow, the State University of Moscow and the State University of Ashgabat was investigating the southern and eastern sides of this same building under the supervision of professor Koselenko1 (Fig. 1).

Professor Ko^elenko’s scientific work, rich of ingenious insights as it is, is crucial for any research on the history and culture of Hellenized Asia, and specifically on Parthia. It is also a great pleasure to celebrate his achievements with the following information on the new Italian excavations in the south-western sector of Old Nisa, though they are preliminary for the excavations are still in progress.

In 2007, after the completion of fieldwork in the monumental central complex, the Italian-Turkmen Expedition in Old Nisa2 selected the south-western section of the site as a new area for archaeological investigation. Here, the surface inspection of the ground suggested the likely presence of structures on a large area of about 500 square m, only superficially touched by old trenches and partially covered — in its northern part — by the earth dug up from older excavations3. Though fieldwork is still in progress, after three campaigns a schematic plan of the relevant structures, which cover an area of approximately 55x60 m, can be traced (Fig. 2). It is however likely that this building complex — of the Parthian period — extended originally eastward, in the area where today the terrain slopes down and the natural erosion was more intense.

Under the surface layers dating to the Middle Ages, the excavations brought to light a large square Parthian complex of about 50 m on each side, the precise external limits of which were not defined. The general layout of the structures inside the excavated area was cleared farther during the 2008 and 2009 seasons (Fig. 3), and a general plan of the complex can now be traced, although the western and northern limits of the building need further investigation, and the southern and eastern ones were excavated only partially. One or two rows of rooms of different size were placed around a large and probably uncovered area, which was disturbed by late cuts, re-occupation layers

i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.