Hatra, northern Mesopotamia
Limestone; L. 67 3/4 in. (172.1 cm)
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1932 (32.145a, b)
Under Alexander the Great (r. 336323 B.C.), the Greeks put an end to Achaemenid power, and an era of Greek influence in the ancient Near East began. Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis fell to the armies of Alexander in 331 B.C., and his power extended as far as India. But in 323 B.C., while still a young man, Alexander became ill and died in Babylon. Deprived of his leadership, the empire that might have become the greatest of the ancient world was split by a struggle for power among his successors, the Seleucid kings.
The Parthian dynasty, originally from the north and east of Iran, established supremacy in the Near East in the second century B.C., after the disintegration of Alexander's empire and collapse of his successors. Ctesiphon, the capital, was situated on the bank of the Tigris River opposite the earlier Greek settlement of Seleucia. The border between the western empire of Rome and the Parthian lands in the east ran between the central and northern Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Hatra in northern Iraq, southwest of modern Mosul, was a major trading city heavily fortified against Roman attack and populated by a mixture of peoples, Parthians as well as Arabs and the inhabitants of Syria.
Once part of a decorated doorway in the north hall of the so-called Main Palace at Hatra, this lintel stone was originally positioned so that the carved surface faced the floor. The two fantastic creatures have feline bodies, long ears, wings, and crest feathersa combination of animal and bird elements typical of Near Eastern lion-griffins. Between the two figures is a vase containing a stylized lotus leaf and two tendrils. The naturalistic modeling of the creatures' bodies and the form of the central vase reflect Roman influence. However, the absolute symmetry of the composition, the pronounced simplification of the plant forms, and the lion-griffin motif are all characteristic of the Near East.