The lion and the bull have been fighting, locked in stone, for nearly 2,500 years—ever since an ancient sculptor carved them into a slab of black limestone and set them into a monumental staircase at Persepolis, the royal center of the great Achaemenid Empire.
The two animals were meant to reflect the prestige of this vast Persian empire, which fell in 330 B.C. when Alexander the Great sacked and burned Persepolis and its opulent palaces. The giant stone relief remained there among the ruins until 1931, when the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute began a landmark excavation of the site—and gave the lion and bull a second life.
For the past 80 years, the 4,000-pound stone relief was on loan to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. But it has returned to the University of Chicago in honor of the OI’s 100th anniversary as one of the world’s foremost research centers on the civilizations of the ancient Middle East. The rare artifact is available for public viewing at the Oriental Institute Museum starting on September 28th, when the OI will host a public celebration—the first in a yearlong series of centennial events open to the University community and the general public.