Contested Images of Sacral Kingship and New Expressions of Triumph

Matthew P. Canepa

in The Two Eyes of the Earth

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780520257276
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944572 | DOI:
Contested Images of Sacral Kingship and New Expressions of Triumph

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Šāpūr I's rock reliefs and Galerius's palatial structures capitalized on actual victories over specific—even identifiable—sovereigns to craft the royal self-image. After the late third century, in the visual culture of both the Roman and the Sasanian courts, these competitive statements of victory and dominance became more and more abstract and focused increasingly on celebrating the sovereign as victor in a continuous and general sense, paralleling new expressions of divine kingship in both cultures. A new, “fraternal relationship” that emerged between Rome and Iran in the fourth century facilitated a growing familiarity and frequency of contact. Like his Roman “brother,” the Sasanian king of kings also cultivated an institutional sanctity. And like the Roman empire, the Sasanian empire conceived of itself as a universal domain that ruled the entire civilized world under a divine mandate. If the king and his actions instituted cosmological stability, then his enemies must find their parallels in the enemies of divine order. This chapter explores contested images of sacral kingship and cosmic and encrypted images of triumph in the Roman and Sasanian empires.

Keywords: Roman empire; Sasanian empire; kings; sacral kingship; images; triumph; Iran; divine order; visual culture

Chapter.  7854 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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