History of Iran

Susa, capital of Elam
By: Jona Lendering

Capital of Elam, favorite residence of the Persian king Darius I the Great.

Susa is one of the oldest cities in the world. Excavations have established the existence of urban structures about 4000 BCE, and it is reasonable that the town, situated between the rivers Karkheh and Dez (one of these is the ancient Eulaeus), was already the political center of Elam in the fourth millennium. A castle on a steep hilltop dates back to this period (in the center of the picture). The Assyrian king Aššurbanipal destroyed the Elamite capital between 645-640.

Susa, View Looking Approximately N; Note the "Tomb of Daniel," Center Left on a Branch of
the Saimarrah River, From an Altitude of 534 m. on Oct 23, 1935.

The city was rebuilt by the Persian king Darius the Great (522-486). It was clearly his favorite residence. The Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who wrote a lot about the Achaemenid empire, did not know of another capital. The scene of the Biblical book of Esther is laid in Susa, where king Ahasverus (Xerxes) resides. Unfortunately, a big fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424) destroyed much of the buildings from this age.

The Persian palace on a hill to the north of Susa has been excavated - rebuilt after the fire. On the picture, it is visible at top left. King Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358) built an audience hall (apadana), that is visible at bottom left. The conical structure in front is venerated as the tomb of the prophet Daniel, another Biblical figure who was related to the Persian court at Susa. In fact, there were other capitals (Pasargadae, Persepolis, and Ecbatana), but is evident that Susa was more impressive. An inscription in the palace, known as DSf, describes how Darius built his residence.
    The Archers of Darius, Susa around 500 BCE
    A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king of many, one lord of many.

    Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda I built this palace.

    Darius the King says: Ahuramazda, the greatest of the gods created me, made me king, bestowed upon me this kingdom, great, possessed of good horses, possessed of good men.

    By the favor of Ahuramazda, my father Hystaspes and Arsames my grandfather - these both were living when Ahuramazda made me king in this earth.

    To Ahuramazda thus was the desire: he chose me as his man in all the earth; he made me king in all the earth.

    I worshipped Ahuramazda. Ahuramazda bore me aid. What was by me commanded to do, that he made successful for me. What I did, all by the favor of Ahuramazda I did.

    This palace which I built at Susa, from afar its ornamentation was brought. Downward the earth was dug, until I reached rock in the earth. When the excavation had been made, then rubble was packed down, some 40 cubits in depth, another part 20 cubits in depth. On that rubble the palace was constructed.

    And that the earth was dug downward, and that the rubble was packed down, and that the sun-dried brick was molded, the Babylonian people performed these tasks.

    The cedar timber, this was brought from a mountain named Lebanon. The Assyrian people brought it to Babylon; from Babylon the Carians and the Yaunâ [=Greeks] brought it to Susa. The yakâ-timber was brought from Gandara and from Carmania.

    The gold was brought from Lydia and from Bactria, which here was wrought. The precious stone lapis lazuli and carnelian which was wrought here, this was brought from Sogdiana. The precious stone turquoise, this was brought from Chorasmia, which was wrought here.

    The silver and the ebony were brought from Egypt. The ornamentation with which the wall was adorned, that from Yaunâ was brought. The ivory which was wrought here, was brought from Ethiopia and from India and from Arachosia.

    The stone columns which were here wrought, a village named Abiradu, in Elam - from there were brought. The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Yaunâ and Lydians.

    The goldsmiths who wrought the gold, those were Medes and Egyptians. The men who wrought the wood, those were Lydians and Egyptians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians. The men who adorned the wall, those were Medes and Egyptians.

    Darius the King says: At Susa a very excellent work was ordered, a very excellent work was brought to completion.

    Me may Ahuramazda protect, and Hystaspes my father, and my country.
This text interesting because it mentions many nations. The palace was clearly meant as propaganda, where every visitor would be impressed by the size of the empire.

After the fall of the Achaemenid empire and the reign of Alexander the Great, Susa became part of the Seleucid empire. It was now called Seleucia on the Eulaeus. A palace in Greek style was erected, next to Darius' palace. The administrative center, however, was in the southern part of the city, where nearly all Greek and Parthian inscriptions were discovered. The city remained important until the thirteenth century.

R. Boucharlat, "Susa under Achaemenid Rule" in: John Curtis (ed.) Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 559-331 BC (1997 London) 54-67