King of Persia and ruler of the Achaemenid Empire, Darius I began building the monumental palace complex at Persepolis in the sixth century BCE.
Over the next two centuries, the site was expanded by Darius’s successors before being looted and burned by the armies of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. Intended as the capital of the empire, Persepolis was a grand demonstration of the power and resources of the Achaemenids. It was also to serve as the backdrop for various ceremonies of state.
Among the most impressive remains discovered at Persepolis are the two monumental stairways leading to the Apadana, the main reception hall of the Achaemenid kings, started by Darius and completed under his son, Xerxes. These stairways, a portion of which appears here, were decorated with relief carvings of an annual New Year’s festival during which representatives from the empire’s subject nations congregated to pay tribute to the king. The identity of each figure is indicated through his costume, appearance, and also through the gift that he bears—a product of his native land. In addition to these foreign dignitaries, the procession includes courtiers, servants, soldiers, and guards. For those foreign visitors climbing the stairs or even for those members of the king’s retinue stationed at Persepolis, these carvings, which record a ritual of submission, were both a reminder of their relationship to the Persian king and a model of ideal behavior.