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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Susa

Site at Susa / Shush

Susa as an Achaemenian Capital

Building of Darius' Palace Complex

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Suggested prior reading:

» Early Achaemenian History - Susa, Shush

» Darius I, the Great

» Darius I, Page 2, Capital Cities



Site at Susa / Shush

map of Elam. Elam became part of Persia
Map of Elam (shown above in red).
The city of Susa is in the north-west of the Elam.
Elam became part of Persia

Susa (also called Shushan, Greek Susiane), was one of the city-states of ancient Elam which later became the winter capital of the Persian Achaemenian kings (c. 675 - 330 BCE). There is evidence that Susa has been continuously inhabited from 4,200 BCE placing it among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In addition, there are traces at Susa of a village inhabited around 7,000 BCE and painted pottery dating from ca. 5,000 BCE at the site.

The Susa historical site is located in the Susiana Plain that is irrigated by the Karkheh Kur (Choaspes), Ab-i Dez and Karun rivers, The Karkheh and Karun rivers form the western and eastern (together with the Zagros mountains) boundaries of the plain. Today, the site is surrounded by the modern-day Shush, a town in the south-west Iranian province of Khuzestan.

The archaeological site includes the ruins of the Achaemenian palace complex of Darius I, the Great, and is located on a fifteen metre high artificial raised 100-hectare terrace. It has suffered greatly in the past seventy years. The photographs below show the reckless spread of urbanization close to the main citadel and over unexcavated area immediately surrounding the mound. In addition, the site is being greatly harmed by illegal excavations, garbage dumping, a planned bus depot, and a hotel on unexcavated land. The surviving walls have been greatly eroded. To add to this tragedy, the site was also heavily damaged by Iraqi bombardment during the first Gulf War.


Aerial view of Susa (looking north) and taken October 23, 1935. Also see University of Chicago archives
Aerial view of Susa (looking north) and taken October 23, 1935.
The Saimarrah River is to the left of the mound and
flows beside the 'tomb of Daniel' (with a pointed roof)
Also see University of Chicago archives
Modern day (2009) aerial view of Susa<br>Note the sprawling urbanization around the site
Modern day (2009) aerial view of Susa
Note the sprawling urbanization around the site,
the reckless building over & close to the site
as well as the considerable erosion of the walls. Courtesy Google Earth

Susa as an Achaemenian Capital

Ruins of King Darius' palace complex at Susa
Ruins of King Darius' palace complex at Susa

Susa became part of the Persian empire under Cyrus II, the Great in 538 or 539 BCE. During the balance of Achaemenian period (to 330 BCE), Susa functioned as one of the rotating capitals (a winter capital) of the Achaemenian Kings.

Darius I, the Great, built an extensive palace complex (see image below) ca. 510 BCE, and Herodotus mentions Susa as being the capital of Darius' empire (Herodotus does not make any mention Persepolis being a Persian capital). The palace complex - whose building continued under Darius' son Xerxes - was destroyed by a fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE) and then restored fifty years later by his grandson, Artaxerxes II (404-358 BCE).

Alexander of Macedonia captured Susa in December 330 BCE and plundered the city, seizing some 40,000 talents of gold and silver from the treasury.


Building of Darius' Palace Complex

Reconstruction of Darius' palace & administrative complex at Susa
Reconstruction of Darius' palace & administrative complex at Susa
Source: Ridpath's History of the World by John Ridpath. 1901

Reconstruction of the Apadana (Audience Hall) at Susa
Reconstruction of the Apadana (Audience Hall) at Susa
Note stone capitals at the top of the wooden columns (see below)

In Darius' inscription (Dsf) found in Susa's great hall, he notes: "The materials, ornamentation and artisans for this palace which I built at Susa have come from afar.

"For its foundations, the earth was dug until I reached rock. When the excavation was complete, foundation rock was packed down some 40 cubits to 20 cubits in depth. On that foundation the palace was constructed using sun-dried brick. These tasks were performed by Babylonians.

"The cedar timber was brought by the Assyrians to Babylon from a mountain in Lebanon. From Babylon, the Carians and Ionians brought it to Susa. The yaka-timber was brought from Kandahar (Gandara) and Kerman (Carmania).

"The gold was brought from Sardis and from Bakhtrish (Bactria) was wrought here. The precious stone lapis lazuli and carnelian which were crafted here was brought from Suguda (Sogdiana). The precious stone turquoise that was brought from Uvarazmish (Chorasmia) was crafted here. The silver and ebony were brought from Egypt. The ornamentation with which the wall was adorned was brought from Ionia. The ivory which was crafted here, was brought from Ethiopia, Sind and Harauvatish (Arachosia).

"The stone columns which were crafted here, were brought from a village named Abiradu, in Elam. The stone-cutters who crafted the stone were Ionians and Sardians.

"The goldsmiths who crafted the gold were Medes and Egyptians. The men who crafted the wood were Sardians and Egyptians. The men who crafted the baked brick were Babylonians. The men who adorned the walls were Medes and Egyptians.

"The work Susa was one of excellence. Me may Ahuramazda protect me, Vistasp my father, and my country."

The palace complex occupied the northern terrace of Susa, and included the Apadana or audience hall and royal residence. The palace complex occupied five hectares and were built on a artificially raised 12-hectare raised area. Access to the palace complex was on a pavement of bricks from the south through the Royal City. The pavement passed through a colossal, covered 24 m square passageway which had two halls and two porticoes each with two columns (cf. Perrot, Ladiray, and Vallat cited at Encyclopaedia Iranica). Turning at a right angle, the road crossed a brick causeway and ended at the Gate of Darius.


Site Plan of the palace complex at Susa
Site Plan of the palace complex at Susa
Stone Capital that sits on top of the columns
Stone Capital that sits on top of the columns (see reconstruction image of the
Apadana above). A capital is the upper part of an architectural pillar or column
that sits on top of the shaft and which supports the assembly that eventually
supports the roof or overhang. At the Louvre, Paris. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Glazed / enamelled decorative brick frieze from the Apadana
Glazed / enamelled decorative brick frieze from the Apadana.
Photo Credit: youngrobv at Flickr. At Pavilion Sully at the Louvre museum, Paris, France
Frieze of griffon assembled from glazed / enamelled decorative brick from the Apadana.
Frieze of griffon assembled from glazed / enamelled decorative brick from the Apadana.
Photo Credit: Glyn Nelson at Flickr. At Pavilion Sully at the Louvre museum, Paris, France

The immortals - Achaemenian elite soldiers
The immortals - Achaemenian elite soldiers.
Photo Credit: dynamosquito at Flickr. At Pavilion Sully at the Louvre museum, Paris, France
Frieze of Griffon assembled from glazed / enamelled decorative brick from the Apadana.
Frieze of sphinx assembled from glazed / enamelled decorative brick from the Apadana.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia. At Pavilion Sully at the Louvre museum, Paris, France

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