The article regarding the history of the Lion and the Sun motifs on Iranian flags bears the image below which was originally identified as an Achaemenid seal of King Artaxerxes II (at left) facing the goddess Anahita who sits atop a lion. The seal however was not produced during the Achaemenid era, but after the fall of the Achaaemenids and is traceable to the post-Achaemenid dynasties of Anatolia known as Commagene, Cappadocia and the Pontus.
The seal was discovered along the northeastern shore of the Black Sea (Consult Collon, 1987, no. 432) in the region of the ancient Pontus. The seal is in the British museum and not the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg as is often assumed.
Before we discuss (or revisit) the themes imprinted upon the plaque, we need to first provide a sketch of the successor states of Anatolia following the fall of the Achaemenids in 333-323 BC.
The Greco-Persian Legacy of Anatolia: An Overview
As Parthia gained prominence on the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, Persian culture had (once again) risen in prominence in Anatolia as it had during the Achaemenid era. Despite the fall of the Achamenid Empire a few hundred years before, the legacy of Iranic culture had never departed from eastern and central Anatolia. The Hellenic conquests had certainly resulted in political divisions with different regional monarchies, however the Iranic Culture of Pontus-Cappadocia endured
The Kingdoms of Anatolia, Pontus, Commagene and Cappadocia bore a very strong Iranian cultural, artistic and mythological tradition which was combined with that of ancient Greece. The kingdoms were later absorbed by the Roman Empire. Eastern Anatolia to this day endures with a distinct Iranic tradition with its Kurdish population speaking a west Iranian language akin to Persian.
The most famous Pontic leader was Mithradates (Mehrdad ) VI Eupator who was raised in the Greek language but also learned Persian (Bickerman, 1985, p.103; Raditsa, 1985, p.110). Plutarch notes that Mehrdad Eupator appeared in “Persian Dress“.
Mithradates (Mehrdad ) VI Eupator (134-63 BC). Mithradates spoke both Persian and Greek and sought to combine the traditions of both Greece and Persia. According to Plutarch, he appeared in “Persian Dress”.
Some Iranian influence even extended to Ionian coast along Aegean. Plutarch had noted that the cultural exchanges taking place in Ephesos (near modern Izmir in western Turkey), were leading to latter’s “barbarization” (Plutarch, Lys. 3). In Lycia, Iranic names become widespread among the nobility (Dandamaev & Lukonin, 1989, p.300). It was this Greco-Iranian legacy that was to inspire Mithradates of Eupador.
However, to characterize those regions as exclusively Iranian is simplistic: Eastern Anatolia bears a powerful Hellenic and subsequent Armenian imprint as well. During the Achaemenid era Greek cities began to be founded along the Black Sea coast just as the Iranian Magi, nobility and settlers were arriving into the region. A similar process of Irano-Greek fusion had been taking place in the ancient Ukraine since at least Median times.
Just twenty years after the passing of the Hellenic conqueror Alexander in 333 BC, two independent Irano-Anatolian monarchies gained power in Anatolia by 305 BC: the Kingdoms of Pontus and Cappadocia. What is especially of interest is that their subjects claimed descent from the Achaemenids of the First Persian Empire (Raditsa, 1985, p.106). Note the contrast to those Iranians west of the Halys River in western Anatolia: these had become Hellenecized after the conquests of Alexander.