History of Lion & Sun


Around 2500 BC | Prehistoric Period

From 1968 to 1977, archaeologists carried out excavations at Shahdad, near Kerman, Iran. During these excavations, they found an impressive array of ancient settlements located on the edges of the Dasht-e Lut. These settlements dated back to 2500BC. Which was the point in time when urban civilization was emerging.

One of many remarkable artefacts found in Shahdad was a metal flag thought to be the oldest flag in the world. The Shahdad flag is mounted onto a copper pole topped with a bird, or perhaps an eagle. The square flag depicts two figures facing one another on a rich background. This background includes a depiction of two lions attacking a bull.

This 4500-year-old artefact is the earliest occurrence of an image of a lion on a flag in Iran.


Achaemenid Period | 330-550 BC

King Darius‘ Palace at Susa is perhaps the least well known yet the most important of the Achaemenid period palaces. The palace complex provides unique evidence of the sophistication of Achaemenid architecture and construction. First rediscovered in 1851, the Palace was partially excavated over the following century. Its bull-headed capitals and enamel friezes of richly-clad archers holding spears are authoritative representations of the art of the period.

The lion is not only ubiquitous at the Darius‘ Palace but also at other Achaemenid palaces such as Persepolis. Some feel that the ubiquity of the lion was a conscious effort by the Achaemenids to incorporate traditionally Mesopotamian ideals about the lion’s indication of royalty and power.


Achaemenid Period | 330-550 BC

Mazdai (Mazaeus) was a Persian noble and an important official in the Achaemenid empire. He served under Artaxerxes III and was the satrap (governor) of Cilicia. Mazdai later became satrap of Babylon under Darius III. When Darius III fought against Alexander at the Battle of Gaugamela, Mazdai commanded the right flank cavalry.

Mazdai had abundant coinage which he minted in Tarsos, Sidon and Babylon. A number of his coins feature a lion and sun motif. These coins are the earliest occurrence of the image of a lion and a sun on coins used in Iran during the Achaemenid period.


Achaemenid Period | 330-550 BC

For ancient Iranians, Anahita was regarded as an important goddess. She was the guardian of water and an angel of abundance, beauty and fertility. This view of Anahita has existed since the pre-Zoroastrian era in Iran and has persisted into the modern era.

An Achaemenid cylinder seal representing Anahita was discovered on the northeast coast of the Black Sea. This seal was dated to the early 4th century BC. The goddess is seen standing on a lion surrounded by a clear depiction of the sun, along with a king, who scholars theorize could be Ardeshir II (Artaxerxes II). On the seal, the king approaches Anahita with his hands outstretched in worship. The Cylinder seal is on display in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.


Sassanid Period | 224–651

Mithraism was one of the oldest religions of the ancient Persians. The Persians were polytheistic, and among their deities Mithra (also known as Mehr) held the highest standing. Mithra was first mentioned in writing in 1400 BC. The worship of Mithra, or Mithraism, is based on the worship of the sun.

A number of excavated artefacts indicate the importance of the sun god during the Sassanid period. One of those artefacts is a late 4th century inscription of Mithra at the relief of Taq-e-Bostan (Arch of the Garden) in Kermanshah. In this inscription, the Sassanid king Shapur II is giving the diadem of royalty to his brother Ardashir II. Mithra as the god of sun is pictured on the king’s left side, and the rays of light spread out from Mithra’s head in all directions as he stands on a lotus flower.


Sassanid Period | 224–651

Tappe Hissar is the name of two hills near the city of Damghan. During excavations in 1931 and 1932, ceramics from the 4th and 3rd millennium BC were found. Also, the excavations uncovered vessels and gold and silver jewellery from the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC.

A Sassanian palace was built in the fifth century A.D at Tappe Hissar. The palace was decorated with beautiful stucco featuring a variety of motifs. Fragments of the stucco art of this era have been unearthed by excavations in the 20th century. Near the south eastern entrance of the palace dome room, some fragments were found that include a portion of a lion face, a big paw, and two fragments of a lion’s head and mane. The Lion’s mouth is open, displaying three large, sharp fangs. This depiction of an angry roaring lion underscored the dignity and importance of the palace.


Abbasid Period | 125–750

Abu Mashar was an astronomer and astrologer born in Khurasan. He was a member of the third generation (after the Arab invasion) of the Pahlavi-oriented Khurasani intellectual elite. Abu Mashar was immersed in a branch of astrology that had been much cultivated in Sasanian Iran. In this astrological universe, ruling dynasties are assigned fixed terms. Therefore Persian nationalists (of whom Abu Mashar was one) based numerous predictions on this astrological belief. In the early 9th century, Abu Mashar and his peers predicted the imminent collapse of the rule of the Arabs and the restoration of the domination of Iran.

Abu Mashar’s most important contributions to the study of astrology were his Ketābal-qerānāt (“Book of conjunctions”) and Kitāb mawālīd “Book of nativities”. These two titles were translated into Latin, and exercised widespread influence in late Medieval and Renaissance Europe.


Saljūqiyan-i Rūm Period | 1077–1308

The Seljuk dynasty of Rum, as successors to the Seljuqs, based its political, religious and cultural heritage on a mix of Persian und Turkish traditions. Keykhusraw II was the sultan of the Seljuqs of Rûm from 1237 until his death in 1246. He ruled during the Mongol invasion of Anatolia. Keykhusraw II also led the Seljuq army with its Christian allies at the Battle against the Mongols.

Between 1240–1243 a series of remarkable silver coins were struck in Keykhusraw’s name at Sivas and Konya. These coins depict a lion and a sun. It is interesting to note that this Saljuq Rum ruler was the first in 1000 years to introduce the lion and sun figure to coinage after the Mazdai coins during the Achaemenid period.


Ilkhanid Period | 1256–1335

The Ilkhanids were an early Mongol dynasty who settled in Persia and surrounding countries. The dynasty was founded by Holāgu Khan, the grandson of Chengiz Khan. The Ilkhanids ruled the territory covered by present-day Iran, Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan, the southern Caucasus (modern Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), Iraq, and much of Anatolia from 1256-1335

Tiles served decorative and architectural purposes during the Ilkhanid period. Numerous tiles were found at Takht-i Sulayman, the summer palace constructed in the 1270s for Abaqa, the Mongol Ilkhan. One of these tiles features an eight-pointed star from the region of Damghan. The tile is dated to 1267 due to the Persian inscription on the rim. This tile also displays the lion and sun symbol.


Teimurid Period | 1370– 1507

The Timurid (also called Gurkani) was a clan of Turco-Mongol origin descended from the Timur (also known as Tamerlane). Members of the Timurid dynasty were strongly influenced by Persian culture. Since the reign of the first Ilkhan, coins had been struck in Sabzawar. The Sabzawar mint stamped consistent design features on its production of Timurid coinage. These coins became universally circulated throughout the areas of Timur’s conquests.

One of the finest specimens of currency from this period is a coin showing the lion and the sun emblem. This coin was given to favourite Amirs or devoted servants and was worn respectfully on the sash of a turban or on the breast as a protective amulet.


Safavid Period | 1501-1722

The Safavids were the dynasty that took control of Iran in the early 16th century. This period is often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history, and the state that the Safavids created is said to mark the genesis of the Iranian nation-state. In many ways, Safavid society continued Mongol and Timurid patterns and practices,ranging from their administrative institutions to their coinage.

The Safavid copper coin minted in Isfahan in 1703 features the lion and sun image. The Safavids actually made that symbol a powerful part of their royal insignia.


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

The first-known appearance of the sword-bearing lion on the flag of Iran was during Fath Ali Shah’s reign in the early 19th century. The flag then became the national device of Persia from the time of Moḥammad Shah onwards. It’s theorized that towards the end of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s reign two official flags with and without sword were combined into one.

The curved sword, or ‚Shamshir‘, added to the lion and sun symbol was widespread throughout the Middle East beginning in the Ottoman period. The curved design of the sword was introduced through the influence of Turkic warriors from central Asia. These Turkic warriors sported an early type of sabre which had been used in central Asia since the 7th century. This sword, now called a ‚Shamshir‘, was developed in Iran under the influence of the Turkic Seljuk Khanate in the 12th century.


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

The history of newspaper and book publication in Iran can be traced back to the mid 19th century, when Mohammed Shah, the third Shah of Qajar dynasty, was in power (1834-1848).

In 1837, the first Iranian newspaper “Kaghaz-e Akhbar” was published in Tehran by Mīrzā Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ Shīrāzī. This newspaper had the illustration of the lion and the sun on their first page. Shīrāzī was one of five students dispatched to England under the patronage of the crown prince ʻAbbās Mīrzā, His mission was to acquire a knowledge of modern European sciences. By 1907 (the era of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution), there were 90 newspapers circulating in Iran.


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

A modern Iranian postal system was established by Mirzā Taqi Khan Amir Kabir and continued by Amin-al-Dawla. Postage stamps were introduced through this innovation. Like coins, stamps were not only a legal payment method, but also symbols of the state’s sovereignty.

In order to facilitate postal traffic at fixed postage fees, it was decided that Iran should follow the example of other countries by introducing postage stamps. The first Iranian postage stamps were issued in Tehran in 1868. These stamps were printed in Iran, using a design of the lion and the sun within a circle as part of an ornamentally rich frame.


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

The word eskenās (bank note) most likely entered the Persian language in the early 19th century during the reign of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah Qajar. The first series of the “Imperial Bank of Persia” notes were printed and issued in 1890. Denominations of one to five tomans bore facsimile signature of the bank’s president. The notes were individually stamped by the government controller with an oval stamp containing the inscription: “Examined and registered”.

The design of the first Iranian bank notes bearingthe symbol of the lion and the sun also had a picture of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah. While the first currency series had no watermark, the second series, issued in 1924, bore the watermark of the lion and the sun with the sword.


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

A world’s fair was held in Paris, France, from 14 April to 12 November 1900. This fair was called The Exposition Universelle de 1900, or the 1900 Paris Exposition. The fair had nearly 50 million visitors who saw the Lion and the Sun Flag of Iran on top of the Iranian Pavilion.

Iran made a great architectural statement in Paris. The Iran pavilion had four elaborate facades topped by two colonnaded pavilions. A French architect, Philippe Mériat, supervised the construction of the pavilion on the Rue des Nations for the Iranian government. Visitors were dazzled by the octagonal columns carved in cypress; ceilings sculpted, painted, and gilded; and a floor of white marble.


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

After the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, the first constitution of Iran was created in 1906. The constitution was written by Hassan Pirnia, Hossein Pirnia, and Ismail umtaz, among others. This Fundamental Law of Iran was promulgated in the reign of the late Muzaffaru’d-Din Shah and was ratified by him on December 30, 1906.

The Constitution of 1906 consisted of a short preamble and fifty-one articles. At least six of these articles corresponded, fully or in part, to articles in the Belgian constitution. A supplement consisting of 107 articles also extended the coverage of the original constitutional document. Article 5 of the supplement states:

The official colours of the Persian flag are green, white and red, with the emblem of the Lion and the Sun.”


Ghajar Period | 1779–1925

The Bahārestān buildings and garden in Tehran were completed in 1879. After the edict of the constitutional government on 17 August 1906, Prime Minister Mošīr-al-Dawla ordered that the outer building become the site of the new Iranian parliament (Majless Shoraei Melli). To commemorate this event, a gold plaque inscribed with the words dār al-šūrā-ye mellī (National Assembly House) and ʿadl-e moẓaffar (justice triumphant) along with two Lion and Sun figures was placed over the entrance to the new parliament building.

The first Iranian National Assembly was a legislative assembly held from October 7,1906 to June 23, 1908. This session was formally opened by Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar. It was convened before the promulgation of a constitution and the members were elected in compliance with the royal decree.


Pahlavi Period | 1925-1979

The Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) was a branch of the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces and was established by Reza Shah, the Shah of Iran, in 1920. It became operational with its first fully trained pilots on February 25, 1925. Later, in 1929, the Iranian Air Force had a total of 15 pilots enlisted.

The Golden Crown was the first national aerobatics display team of Iran and part of the former Imperial Iranian Air Force from 1958 to 1979. It was formed by Nader Jahanbani, an Iranian general.

The first jets in use for the Golden Crown were four F-84G Thunderjet fighters. The team planes were painted in overall white, with red and green colors and a Lion and Sun emblem at the tail fin.


Pahlavi Period | 1925-1979

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1906, ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad Mirzā Momtāz-al-Salṭana attended the third International Congress of the Red Cross and sought the congress’s approval concerning Iran’s use of the Lion and Sun emblem instead of those of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent.

The “Red Lion and Sun Society” was established in 1922 and became a non-governmental humanitarian organization affiliated with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Though the Red Lion and Sun has now fallen into disuse in this context, Iran has reserved the right to take it up again at any time. The Geneva Convention continues to recognize it as an official emblem.


Pahlavi Period | 1925-1979

The Imperial Order of the Lion and the Sun was instituted by Fat’h Ali Shah of the Qajar Dynasty in 1808. The goal of the order was to honour military personell and civilians who had rendered distinguished services to Iran.

In 1925, under the Pahlavi dynasty, the Order continued as the “Order of Homayoun” with new insignia. However, the insignia design was still based on the Lion and Sun motif. The order was abbreviated as KLS, for Knight of Lion and Sun. The badge of the order consisted of a central medallion bearing an enameled disk of the lion with upraised sword and the rising sun, framed within a six-pointed star. The star of the order was a similar badge superimposed upon a sunburst with eight points.


Pahlavi Period | 1925-1979

The military flags of imperial Iran went through a number of changes during the Pahlavi dynasty. The final set of flags were introduced in the early 1960s.

The national Iranian flag was a horizontal tri-color striped design with green, white and red. A gold lion and sun symbol was placed on the white stripe. The flag was then modified by the addition of a wreath of laurel and oak leaves along with an imperial crown to serve as the naval ensign and war flag. The exact measurements and form of the flag were established in 1957 and remained unchanged until the Revolution of 1979.


Pahlavi Period | 1925-1979

In 1976, the Lion and the Sun motif became standardized in Iran. The design was then used for all kinds of official Iranian documents. This emblem remained the official symbol of Iran until 1979. Until that time the Lion and the Sun appeared on the front of the Iranian passport.

The first passport in Iran was issued during the reign of Nasereddin Shah around 1885. This passport bore the Lion and the Sun symbol even at that time. During the last years of the Pahlavi period, the Iranian passport was recognized by many countries. This allowed Iranian citizens to freely travel on a visa-free or visa on arrival basis.


Unknown gate | Iran today

The Lion and later the Sun was a national symbol of Iran for thousand of years. After the 1979 revolution, this emblem was removed as an Iranian symbol through a decree from Ruhollah Khomeini. The Lion and the Sun were erased from public spaces and government organizations and replaced by the present-day symbol.

Today, the lion and the sun emblem is still admired and used by Iranians both in the country and in exile.

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