The rock relief of Sasanian king Shapur II at Tang-e Showgan gorge, close to Bishapour, and known as Bishapour relief n°6 is unique when considering both its style and its imaging.
Style: the carving is not deep, leading to a poor volume effect. The surface was left grainy, not being smoothed as other sasanian reliefs usually were. Scholars admit it was probably intentional, in order to ease the painting on the surface (evidences were found backing the hypothesis that sasanian rock reliefs like some other iranian era’s reliefs were painted with multiples colors).
Imaging: The relief shows a dramatic scene of victory or fierce repression, caracterized by a representation of cruelty, unique in the sasanian iconography. Such violent imaging is usually seen on Assyrian imaging (see Susa’s plundering stela from king Ashurbanipal). The relief is carved into a rectangular panel composed with 2 registers. The upper register shows the king at the center, seating on his throne, holding his sceptre in one hand and his sword with the other. Such enthroned king image was inspired by Bahram II’s relief at Sarab-e bahram (and is admitted to have inspired later the byzantian face seating christ icons). Persian courtiers and members of the royal family pay him respect on the lef side of the register, while on the right side, persian soldiers bring prisoners. One of the prisoners is carried, being injured while another watches his guard. The lower register shows either ranks of persian soldiers on the left, and on the right, others who present to the king 2 heads and plundered objects. One of the head still wears an animal figured hat, evidence that the beheaded man was a member of the royal family. An imploring child calls upon the man holding the head, probably being the son of the dead man, increasing the dramatical emotional feature
The scene has been reported as showing the repression of some noble’s revolt, or a victory against the kuchan empire. But during the reign of Shapur II, roman expansion towards the east triggered another war between Persia and Roma. The expanding christian religion was then perceived as endangering zoroastrism, the state religion in Persia. Zoroastrism was at this time an instrument of power and ruling for the sassanian kings since high priest Kartir period. One of Shapur’s nephew was even executed for converting to the christian religion. Famous belgian archeologist Pr Louis Vanden Berghe then stated that the scene probably reports this event as a symbol of the christian repression, with the aim to reinforce the royal power. Arabic ancient scholars also reported Shapur II in their texts as a king reminded for being particularly fierce and cruel.
Taken in Tang-e Showgan, Bishapour, viscinity of Kazerun, Fars province, Iran, April 2007.