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شوش (Persian)
Royal City and Acropolis Tepes.jpg
Tepe of the Royal city (left) and of the Acropolis (right), seen from the Hill mound of the Apadana in Susa.
Susa is located in Iran
Shown within Iran
Location Shush, Khuzestan Province, Iran
Region Zagros Mountains
Coordinates Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Type Settlement
Founded Approximately 4200  BC
Abandoned 1218 AD
Site notes
Condition In ruins
Official name Susa
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv
Designated 2015 (39th session)
Reference no. 1455
State party Iran
Region Asia-Pacific

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Susa (/ˈssə/; Persian: شوش‎‎ Shush; [ʃuʃ]; Hebrew שׁוּשָׁן Shushān; Greek: Σοῦσα [ˈsuːsa]; Syriac: ܫܘܫShush; Old Persian Çūšā) was an ancient city of the Elamite, First Persian Empire, Seleucid, and Parthian empires of Iran, and one of the most important cities of the Ancient Near East. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about 250 km (160 mi) east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers.

The modern Iranian town of Shush is located at the site of ancient Susa. Shush is the administrative capital of the Shush County of Iran's Khuzestan province. It had a population of 64,960 in 2005.[1]


Map showing the area of the Elamite kingdom (in red) and the neighboring areas. The approximate Bronze Age extension of the Persian Gulf is shown.

Susa was one of the most important cities of the Ancient Near East. In historic literature, Susa appears in the very earliest Sumerian records: for example, it is described as one of the places obedient to Inanna, patron deity of Uruk, in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.

Susa is also mentioned in the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible by the name Shushan, mainly in Esther, but also once each in Nehemiah and Daniel. Both Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BC. Esther became queen there, married to King Ahasueurus, and saved the Jews from genocide. A tomb presumed to be that of Daniel is located in the area, known as Shush-Daniel. The tomb is marked by an unusual white stone cone, which is neither regular nor symmetric. Many scholars believe it was at one point a Star of David. Susa is further mentioned in the Book of Jubilees (8:21 & 9:2) as one of the places within the inheritance of Shem and his eldest son Elam; and in 8:1, "Susan" is also named as the son (or daughter, in some translations) of Elam.

Greek mythology attributed the founding of Susa to king Memnon of Aethiopia, a character from Homer's Trojan War epic, the Iliad.


In urban history, Susa is one of the oldest-known settlements of the region. Based on C14 dating, the foundation of a settlement there occurred as early as 4395 BC (a calibrated radio-carbon date).[2] Archeologists have dated the first traces of an inhabited Neolithic village to c 7000 BC. Evidence of a painted-pottery civilization has been dated to c 5000 BC.[3] Its name in Elamite was written variously Ŝuŝan, Ŝuŝun, etc. The origin of the word Susa is from the local city deity Inshushinak. Like its Chalcolithic neighbor Uruk, Susa began as a discrete settlement in the Susa I period (c 4000 BC). Two settlements called Acropolis (7 ha) and Apadana (6.3 ha) by archeologists, would later merge to form Susa proper (18 ha).[4] The Apadana was enclosed by 6m thick walls of rammed earth. The founding of Susa corresponded with the abandonment of nearby villages. Potts suggests that the city may have been founded to try to reestablish the previously destroyed settlement at Chogha Mish.[4] Susa was firmly within the Uruk cultural sphere during the Uruk period. An imitation of the entire state apparatus of Uruk, proto-writing, cylinder seals with Sumerian motifs, and monumental architecture, is found at Susa. Susa may have been a colony of Uruk. As such, the periodization of Susa corresponds to Uruk; Early, Middle and Late Susa II periods (3800–3100 BC) correspond to Early, Middle, and Late Uruk periods. NOTICE: 'Apadana' means 'assembly hall' and it is the name of the archeological site; not that of the settlement. Susa was destroyed by fire during Achaemenid rule and Artaxerxes II rebuilt the place (404-358) adding a magnificent Apadana, whence the name of the site.

By the middle Susa II period, the city had grown to 25 ha.[4] Susa III (3100–2900 BC) corresponds with Uruk III period. Ambiguous reference to Elam (Cuneiform; 𒉏 NIM) appear also in this period in Sumerian records. Susa enters history during the Early Dynastic period of Sumer. A battle between Kish and Susa is recorded in 2700 BC.

Susa Cemetery

Shortly after Susa was first settled 6000 years ago, its inhabitants erected a temple on a monumental platform that rose over the flat surrounding landscape. The exceptional nature of the site is still recognizable today in the artistry of the ceramic vessels that were placed as offerings in a thousand or more graves near the base of the temple platform. Nearly two thousand pots were recovered from the cemetery most of them now in the Louvre. The vessels found are eloquent testimony to the artistic and technical achievements of their makers, and they hold clues about the organization of the society that commissioned them.[5] Painted ceramic vessels from Susa in the earliest first style are a late, regional version of the Mesopotamian Ubaid ceramic tradition that spread across the Near East during the fifth millennium B.C.[5]

Susa I style was very much a product of the past and of influences from contemporary ceramic industries in the mountains of western Iran. The recurrence in close association of vessels of three types—a drinking goblet or beaker, a serving dish, and a small jar—implies the consumption of three types of food, apparently thought to be as necessary for life in the afterworld as it is in this one. Ceramics of these shapes, which were painted, constitute a large proportion of the vessels from the cemetery. Others are coarse cooking-type jars and bowls with simple bands painted on them and were probably the grave goods of the sites of humbler citizens as well as adolescents and, perhaps, children.[6] The pottery is carefully made by hand. Although a slow wheel may have been employed, the asymmetry of the vessels and the irregularity of the drawing of encircling lines and bands indicate that most of the work was done freehand.


In politics, Susa was the capital of a state called Šušan, which occupied approximately the same territory of modern Khūzestān Province centered on the Karun River. Control of Šušan shifted between Elam, Sumer, and Akkad. Šušan is sometimes mistaken as synonymous with Elam, but it was a distinct cultural and political entity.[7] Šušan was incorporated by Sargon the Great into his Akkadian Empire in approximately 2330 BC. It was the capital of an Akkadian province until ca. 2240 BC, when its governor, Kutik-Inshushinak, rebelled and made it an independent state and a literary center. The city was subsequently conquered by the neo-Sumerian Ur-III dynasty and held until Ur finally collapsed at the hands of the Elamites under Kindattu in ca. 2004 BC. At this time, Susa became an Elamite capital under the Epartid dynasty and, in 1400 BC, of the Igihalkid dynasty that "Elamaized" Šušan.[7] In ca. 1175 BC, the Elamites under Shutruk-Nahhunte plundered the original stele bearing the Code of Hammurabi, the world's first known written laws,[8] and took it to Susa. Archeologists found it in 1901. Nebuchadnezzar I of the Babylonian empire plundered Susa around fifty years later.


Ashurbanipal's brutal campaign against Susa in 647 BC is recorded in this relief. Flames rise from the city as Assyrian soldiers topple it with pickaxes and crowbars and carry off the spoils.

In 647 BC, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal leveled the city during a war in which the people of Susa participated on the other side. A tablet unearthed in 1854 by Austen Henry Layard in Nineveh reveals Ashurbanipal as an "avenger", seeking retribution for the humiliations that the Elamites had inflicted on the Mesopotamians over the centuries:

"Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed. . . .I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and, on their lands, I sowed salt.".[9] Assyrian rule of Susa began in 647 BC and lasted till Median capture of Susa in 617 BC.

After Persian conquest

Achaemenid period

Susa underwent a major political and ethnocultural transition when it became part of the Persian Achaemenid empire between 540 and 539 BC when it was captured by Cyrus the Great during his conquest of Elam (Susiana), of which Susa was the capital.[10] The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the battle(s), Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the conflict over Susa had begun possibly in the winter of 540 BC.[11] It is probable that Cyrus negotiated with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation.[12] Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years.[13] Cyrus' conquest of Susa and the rest of Babylonia commenced a fundamental shift, bringing Susa under Persian control for the first time.

Under Cyrus' son Cambyses II, Susa became a center of political power as one of 4 capitals of the Achaemenid Persian empire, while reducing the significance of Pasargadae as the capital of Persis. Following Cambyses' brief rule, Darius the Great began a major building program in Susa and Persepolis. During this time he describes his new capital in the DSf inscription: "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."[14] Susa continued as a winter capital and residence for Achaemenid kings succeeding Darius the Great, Xerxes I, and their successors.[15]

The city forms the setting of The Persians (472 BC), an Athenian tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus that is the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre.

Events mentioned in the Old Testament book of Esther are said to have occurred in Susa during the Achaemenid period.

Macedonian, Parthian and Sassanid periods

Alexander the Great marries Stateira and Hephaistion marries her sister Drypetis at Susa.

Susa lost much of its importance when Alexander of Macedon conquered it in 331 BC and incorporated the first Persian Empire. The Susa weddings was arranged by Alexander in 324 BC in Susa, where mass weddings took place between the Persians and the Macedonians. Approximately one century after Alexander, Susa fell to the Seleucid Empire. After Seleucia, it was the biggest city in under Seleucid control at the time.[citation needed] Susa used Charax Spasinou as its port. It retained a considerable amount of independence and retained its Greek city state organization well into the ensuing Parthian period and seems to have gained independence under a dynasty whose kings bore the name of Kamnaskires in the 1st century AD. [16]

When the Parthian Empire gained its independence from the Seleucid Empire, and took control of much of its eastern provinces, Susa was made one of the two capitals (along with Ctesiphon) of the new state.

Susa became a frequent place of refuge for Parthian and later, the Persian Sassanid kings, as the Romans sacked Ctesiphon five different times between 116 and 297 AD (Susa was briefly captured only by Roman emperor Trajan in 116 AD and never again would the Roman Empire advance so far to the east). [17] Typically, the Parthian rulers wintered in Susa, and spent the summer in Ctesiphon.

Post-Islamic period and degradation

Susa was destroyed at least three times in its history. The first was in 647 BC, by Ashurbanipal. The second destruction took place in 638 AD, when the Muslim armies first conquered Persia. In 1218, the city was razed by invading Mongols. The city further degraded in the 15th century when the majority of its population moved to Dezful and it remains as a small settlement today.[18]

Susa had a significant Christian population during the first millennium, and was a diocese of the Church of the East between the 5th and 13th centuries, in the metropolitan province of Beth Huzaye (Elam).


Site of Susa
Assyria. Ruins of Susa Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

The site was examined in 1836 by Henry Rawlinson and then by A. H. Layard.[19] In 1851, some modest excavation was done by William Loftus, who identified it as Susa.[20] In 1885 and 1886 Marcel-Auguste Dieulafoy and Jane Dieulafoy began the first French excavations.[21]

Jacques de Morgan conducted major excavations from 1897 until 1911. These efforts continued under Roland De Mecquenem until 1914, at the beginning of World War I. French work at Susa resumed after the war, led by De Mecquenem, continuing until World War II in 1940.[22] [23][24] Archaeological results from the later period were very thinly published and attempts are underway to remedy this situation.[25]

Roman Ghirshman took over direction of the French efforts in 1946, after the end of the war. He continued there until 1967. Ghirshman concentrated on excavating a single part of the site, the hectare sized Ville Royale, taking it all the way down to bare earth.[26] The pottery found at the various levels enabled a stratigraphy to be developed for Susa.[27][28]

During the 1970s, excavations resumed under Jean Perrot.[29][30]


See also


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State - by D. T. Potts, Cambridge University Press, 29/07/1999 - page 46 - ISBN 0521563585 hardback
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  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Potts, 1999
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  7. 7.0 7.1 Vallat, 2010
  9. "Persians: Masters of Empire" ISBN 0-8094-9104-4 p. 7-8
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  11. Kuhrt, Amélie. "Babylonia from Cyrus to Xerxes", in The Cambridge Ancient History: Vol IV — Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean, pp. 112–138. Ed. John Boardman. Cambridge University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-521-22804-2
  12. Tolini, Gauthier, Quelques éléments concernant la prise de Babylone par Cyrus, Paris. "Il est probable que des négociations s’engagèrent alors entre Cyrus et les chefs de l’armée babylonienne pour obtenir une reddition sans recourir à l’affrontement armé." p. 10 (PDF)
  13. The Harran Stelae H2 - A, and the Nabonidus Chronicle (Seventeenth year) show that Nabonidus had been in Babylon before October 10, 539, because he had already returned from Harran and had participated in the Akitu of Nissanu 1 [April 4], 539 BC.
  14. Lendering, 2010
  15. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  16. John E. Hill, Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, First to Second Centuries AD, BookSurge, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1
  17. Robert J. Wenke, Elymeans, Parthians, and the Evolution of Empires in Southwestern Iran, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 101, no. 3, pp. 303-315, 1981
  18. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  19. George Rawlinson, A memoir of Major-General Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, Nabu Press, 2010, ISBN 1-178-20631-9
  20. Google Books, William K. Loftus, Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana, Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana: With an Account of Excavations at Warka, the "Erech" of Nimrod, and Shush, "Shushan the Palace" of Esther, in 1849-52, Robert Carter & Brothers, 1857
  21., Jane Dieulafoy, Perzië Chaldea en Susiane De Aarde en haar Volken 1885–1887, 1886
  22., Jacques de Morgan, Fouilles à Suse en 1897–1898 et 1898–1899, Mission archéologique en Iran, Mémoires I, 1990
  23., Jacques de Morgan, Fouilles à Suse en 1899–1902, Mission archéologique en Iran, Mémoires VII, 1905
  24. Robert H. Dyson, Early Work on the Acropolis at Susa. The Beginning of Prehistory in Iraq and Iran, Expedition, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 21-34, 1968
  25. Shelby White - Leon Levy Program funded project to publish early Susa archaeological results
  26. Roman Ghirshman, Suse au tournant du III au II millenaire avant notre ere, Arts Asiatiques, vol. 17, pp. 3-44, 1968
  27. Hermann Gasche, Ville Royal de Suse: vol I : La poterie elamite du deuxieme millenaire a.C, Mission archéologique en Iran, Mémoires 47, 1973
  28. M. Steve and Hermann H. Gasche, L'Acropole de Suse: Nouvelles fouilles (rapport preliminaire), Memoires de la Delegation archeologique en Iran, vol. 46, Geuthner, 1971
  29. Jean Perrot, Les fouilles de Sus en 1975, Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran 4, pp. 224-231, 1975
  30. D. Canal, La haute terrase de l'Acropole de Suse, Paleorient, vol. 4, pp. 169-176, 1978
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  • Jean Perrot, Le Palais de Darius à Suse. Une résidence royale sur la route de Persépolis à Babylone, Paris,, 2010
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External links