Michael Shenkar
Bust on the fire-altar on Sasanian seals. After Gyselen 1993, 20.I.8.
Bust on the fire-altar on Sasanian seals. After Gyselen 1993, 20.I.8.


This article presents some preliminary notes on the virtually unstudied subject of pre-Islamic Iranian aniconism. Despite claims that anthropomorphic figuration of deities is not characteristic of Iranian culture, during certain periods, principal Iranian deities were represented in precise anthropomorphic form. However, the religious art of Iranian peoples, especially in western Iran, does demonstrate significant aniconic trends, especially when compared with the evidence of contemporary cultures.
     After surveying the available evidence for aniconic worship, it is suggested that the western Iranian avoidance of human-shaped divinities was probably determined not only by “aniconic nomadic heritage” but also by the incorporation of cultic practices and ideas originating in the 1st millennium B.C.E. Mesopotamia; the substitution of human-shaped portrayals of deities by non-anthropomorphic symbols.
     It is further concluded that the basic perception of Iranian deities was anthropomorphic. Iranian divinities were viewed as possessing a human form in mēnōg, but not always were thus represented in gētīg.