Frantz Grenet and Pénélope Riboud, A Reflection of the Hephtalite Empire: The Biographical Narrative in the Reliefs of the Tomb of the Sabao Wirkak ( 494–579)




While the sixth-century tomb  of Wirkak is well known for its religious iconography, especially the scene of the ascent to Heaven, it is also interesting for its secular scenes of banquets, hunts, travels, and caravans. These, too,  also indicate close contact with the Central Asian and Iranian worlds. The panels, put together, appear to form a continuous narrative pertaining to Wirkak’s life and social ascent and indicate that his travels took place during the last decades of Hephtalite rule in Central Asia. In this respect, as well as in the remarkable religious eclecticism, this sarcophagus stands unique in the whole series of the Sino-Sogdian reliefs, where biographical scenes appear more stereotyped and form self-contained units.