Silver Plate of Shapur II Iran

Identification Edit

This silver plate with gold and copper accents was supposedly found in Anatolia and is from the 4th century Sasanian Empire which was located in current day Iran. [See British Museum] It currently resides in the British Museum and depicts the Sasanian king Shapur II hunting deer. Although the only depiction on this plate is that of a hunting scene it displays Shapur’s political strength as well.

The Sasanian Empire was the last of the Persian rulers prior to the Arab conquest. [See Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2010, Sassanid] The silver plate of Shapur II stands as a symbol of the height of the empire. “The Sasanian monarchs hoped to destroy the remaining vestiges of Greek culture that had lingered since the Seleucid era, and supported the development of native art, architecture, and literature.” [See University of Washington]

Technical Evaluation Edit

This plate and most of the silver artifacts dating back to this period were created by hammering out the silver and employing a variety of techniques to decorate. “The decoration [was] created through a combination of soldering and crimping a number of separately cast details.” [See British Museum] Later pieces containing metallic accents were decorated by “using an amalgam of mercury and gold, which could be painted onto the surface.” [See The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006]

Although the origin of the silver for the plate of Shapur II is not clear historical evidence suggest that the Sasanian Empire had mines of precious metals and obtained lands through warfare that contained mines. The empire may have also obtained “metals, precious materials, and skilled workmen” through conquered lands. [See Gyselen]

Workmen and skilled artisans typically worked in corporations with the exception of those who were chosen to work for the royal family. [See Gyselen] Even though some workmen were from conquered lands they were still highly valued by the Sasanian society. While most peasants had to perform military service some artisans were granted exemptions. [See Gyselen]

Local Historical Context Edit

The plate of Shapur II depicts a hunting scene but really says more about him than being a great hunter. Regardless of whether or not such a scene ever occurred the plate sends a “message of strength and martial prowess.” [See University of Washington] During Shapur’s rule the Sasanian Empire reached its peak and through his military efforts he became known as “Shapur the Great.” [See University of Washington]

Portraits of Sasanian rulers occurred on many plates through out the empire from 224-640CE. In the earlier years of the empire the portraits were of battles or hunting scenes but later artifacts contain scenes of “royals holding court.” [See University of Washington] Plates were usually given to friends of the royal family and were not intended for market. [See University of Washington]

World-Historical Significance Edit

As the plate depiction suggests Shapur II was a strong ruler both politically and militarily. Through his military successes the Sasanian Empire covered lands from central Asia to Armenia. While the empire under went territorial expansion there was cultural expansion as well which included art, such as the plate, and Zoroastrianism. As a result “Sasanian art penetrated Turkistan, reaching as far as China.” [See Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2010, Shapur II] The silver plate of Shapur II served as a reminder of Shapur’s strong, successful reign and reflected the wealth of the empire at the time of his rule.

Bibliography Edit

British Museum, "Plate."¤tPage=1

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, "Shapur II." July 1, 2010.

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, "Sassanid." July 1, 2010.

Gyselen, Rika. "Economy In Sassanian Iran."

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Plate with king hunting rams [Iran]." October, 2006.

University of Washington, "The Sassanian Empire."