Sar-e Pol-e Zahab (“Sarpol”) is an Iranian town, not far from the Iraqi border, with no particular claim to fame, although you may have heard the name during the final stages of the First Gulf War, as one of the places during Iran’s 1988 counteroffensive against the Mujahedin-e Khalq. I would never have gone there, had it not been for five small, ancient rock reliefs.
The youngest one was made during the reign of the Parthian king Gotarzes I or II, and shows a satrap doing obeisance to his king. It is about twenty centuries younger than the four other reliefs, which commemorate the investitures of four kings of Lullubi. This state was more or less identical to the valley of the river Diyala, north of Baghdad; the kings of Akkad (2335-2154) and the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112-2004) had to fight against the Lullubians on several occasions.
The reliefs are badly damaged but easy to find: go to the place where the main road crosses the river and ask for the girls’ school. From its playground, you will see both the Parthian and the best-preserved Lullubian relief, which shows the investiture of a king named Anubanini (drawing). A second, very worn relief can be found on the west face of the same rock, and the other two reliefs are on the north and south faces of the rock across the river. The Anubanini relief is the most interesting of these: not only because it is well-preserved, but also because it was the model of Darius’ Behistun relief. Besides, you do not want to miss the multi-decibel entertainment offered by dozens of enthusiastic Iranian girls seeing their first foreigner.
The reliefs are included as #1, #2, #3, #4, and #36 in the Vanden Berghe catalog.