Qyzqapan Tomb

Alternative Names

Ishkewt-i Qizqapan


6th–5th century BC

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2015
Site Type
Rock Reliefs and Tombs
Sulaymaniyah Governorate

    Cliff Face Views & Surrounding Landscape

    Antechamber: Full View

    Antechamber: Architectural Details

    Antechamber: Relief (Main Scene)

    Antechamber: Relief (Emblems/Divinities)

    Tomb Chamber

    The rock-cut tomb of Qyzqapan or Ishkewt-i Qizqapan ('Cave of the Ravisher') is located about a kilometer west of the village of Zarzi in the Sulaymaniyah/Slemani Governorate, Iraqi Kurdistan. On comparative and stylistic bases, the tomb has been dated to the late Median or Achaemenian period, with the latter being more likely.1 Its monumentality and rich decoration may suggest that it served as the tomb of a local ruler.

    • 1. Herzfeld (Herzfeld 1941, 203–204) dates the tomb to the late Median period. More recently, scholars have favored a date in the Achaemenid period; see the discussion in von Gall 1988, 579–580.

    The tomb is cut into the cliff face about 8 m above ground level (see the plan).1 Its large anteroom is 7.13 m wide, 5 m high, and 2.78 m deep. The rear wall takes the form of an entrance to a building. Two engaged half-columns, projecting about two-thirds of their diameter, flank the doorway to the tomb chamber. Their bases consist of a pedestal and torus; the shafts are plain and are surmounted by massive capitals of the Ionic type, with palmette ornaments between the spirals. The roof of the entrance porch is carved with features imitating wooden beams. Three great beams project over each column, supporting one cross rafter against the wall and two pairs of rafters forming the eaves.

    figural panel is carved in low relief in the space over the low door between the columns.2 It depicts two men, about three-quarters life size, flanking a stepped altar. This fire altar consists of three slabs set atop a plain shaft resting on three steps. The fire is represented with a semicircle about 55 cm in diameter. Both men raise their right hand and hold a bow in their left, the end of the bow resting on the tips of their feet. They both wear Median-style dress with long tunics and loose trousers. The figure on the right is also draped with a kandys, a coat with long sleeves hanging loose at the side. Their headdresses are typical of a Median type known as a bashlyk, which hangs down over the rear of the head; the men's mouth and the chin are concealed by a band, below which the beard emerges. Above this scene—in the spaces between the capitals—there are three divine emblems. The central emblem is in the shape of a circle with a crescent. The crescent bears a seated male deity, facing left, holding an object in his right hand; the figure appears to be wearing a low cap and a cloak. This symbol probably represents the Persian moon god, Mah. On the right side there is a starburst with eleven rays, reminiscent of the goddess Ishtar’s emblem. On the left, a four-winged figure looking to the left most likely represents the symbol of Ahuramazda, the chief Achaemenid god. Remains of red paint (and probably also traces of gold) can be detected on the crown of Ahuramazda, on the star symbol to the right, and on the wings of the moon god, as well as on the headdress of the right-hand figure in the panel below, suggesting that the reliefs were originally painted in vibrant colors.

    Inside, the tomb is cut about 3 m farther back into the rock. It is divided into three lateral chambers. Each has a grave or a carved coffin, about 72 cm in depth, hollowed in the ground rock.3 The coffin in the left chamber has square corners; the one in the central chamber has slightly rounded corners, while the one in the right chamber is almost oval in shape. Each coffin has a rim about 2.5 cm deep and could have been closed with a slab. These spaces are too small for an outstretched adult body. Thus, they may have been astodan (Persian sotodan) ossuaries, in which the bones of exposed bodies were collected.

    • 1. Plan: Edmonds 1934, fig. 4. See also Herzfeld 1941, fig. 311; von Gall 1988, fig. 1.
    • 2. For further on the iconography of this scene: Herzfeld 1941, 204–205; von Gall 1988, 563–579; Haerinck 1997, 33–34; Bahrani 2017, 299–302.
    • 3. See the diagrams in von Gall 1988, fig. 3.

    Cecil J. Edmonds published a description and photograph of the Qyzqapan tomb in 1934.1 Edmonds, who was briefly in charge of the Department of Antiquities in Iraq in the summer of 1931, was made aware of the Qyzqapan tomb through the mutasarrif of Sulaymaniyah, Ahmad Beg-i Taufiq Beg, who reported that he had “discovered” a rock carving, which he believed to be ancient Persian.2

    • 1. Edmonds 1934.
    • 2. Most later publications appear to rely on Edmonds' accounts of his visit to Qyzqapan, including Hertzfeld 1941 and Haerinck 1997.

    Bahrani, Zainab. 2017. Art of Mesopotamia. New York: Thames & Hudson.

    Edmonds, Cecil J. 1934. “A Tomb in Kurdistan.” Iraq 1: 183–192.

    Haerinck, Ernie. 1997. “Babylonia under Achaemenid Rule.” In Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 539–331 B.C.; Proceedings of a Seminar in Memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin, edited by John Curtis, 26-34. London: British Museum Press.   

    Herzfeld, Ernst. 1941. Iran in the Ancient East. London: Oxford University Press.

    Von Gall, Hubertus. 1988. “Das Felsgrab von Qizqapan: Ein Denkmal aus dem Umfeld der Achämenidischen Königsstrasse.” Baghdader Mitteilungen 19: 557–582.

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