Hans Holbein the Younger: The Humiliation of Valerianus by Shapur (1521)

(Offentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel, Switzerland)

This drawing shows an episode of Roman History. Central figures are king Shapur I of the Sasanian Empire and the Roman Emperor Valerianus. Following the crisis of the third century in the Roman Empire, whole parts of the Roman Empire fell into disorder. The Sasanian (Persian) Empire took advantage of this by invading the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. Valerianus moved against the Persians with a large army. Unfortunately the plague swept through the Roman army and a significant part of the Roman army was killed. In the battle of Edessa (260 A.D.) the Roman army was defeated and Valerianus was captured by the Persians. The exact fate of Valerianus is unknown but several sources claim that Valerianus died in Persian captivity. The Christian author Lactantius claims that the Persian King Shapur I used Valerianus as a human footstool when mounting his horse. This drawing shows that claim. The Persian king is the central figure with the banner 'SAPOR REX PERSAR' flying above him. The Roman emperor Valerianus is kneeling with the text 'VALERIANVS IMP' below him. The entire setting is placed with 16th century houses and clothing. Drawing from 1521.