One of the oldest cities in
Mesopotamia, Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian
empires, located about 150 miles east of the current path of the Tigris River.
Excavations have established that people were living at the acropolis in 5000
BCE and have shown the existence of urban structures about 4000 BCE, and it is
reasonable that the town, situated on a strip of land between the rivers Karkheh
(Choaspes) and Dez (Eulaeus), was already the political center of Elam in the
A second part of the city is
now called the royal hill. From written sources it is known that must have been
ziggurat somewhere on that location. A third part is the artisan's quarter,
which was to the east. The ruins of a donjon on a steep hilltop in the southeast
date back to the earliest period.
Susa was initially the capital of the Elamite Empire (2700
BCE to 539 BCE). Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrians, conquered
the city and the Elamites in 646 BCE.
A tablet was unearthed in
1854 by Henry Austin Layard in Nineveh, revealing that Ashurbanipal portrayed
himself as an "avenger", seeking retribution for the humiliations the Elamites
had inflicted on others:
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.
The city was rebuilt by the
Persian king Darius the Great (522-486). The Apadana palace was clearly his
favorite residence, as the historian Herodotus did not know of another capital.
The son of Cyrus the Great, Cambyses II, formally moved the capital from from
Pasargadae to Susa, making the city the center of the greatest empire of the
Alexander conquered the city
of Susa in 331 BCE, but his conquest did not outlast his death. During his
occupation of the city, however, it was the scene of a mass marriage ceremony
described by the Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia during which many
Macedonian officers were forced to marry Persian women.
Susa became one of the two
capitals of the Parthian Empire (the other being Ctesiphon). Despite a brief
period of Seleucid rule, Susa remained an important city first to the Parthians
and later to the second Persian Empire under the Sassanid dynasty, particularly
since the other capital was often a target of foreign invaders; Ctesiphon was
sacked by Roman armies five different times between 116 and 297 CE. Susa was
only captured once, by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 116 BCE, and the Romans were
shortly forced to withdraw due to revolts.
Susa was devastated during
the Islamic conquest of Persia in 638 CE, but the city survived until the Turkic
Mongols destroyed the city in 1218 CE, after which it was gradually abandoned.
The scene of the Biblical
book of Esther is laid in Susa, where king Ahasverus (Xerxes) resides.
Archaeologists have been able to identify several ruins with buildings mentioned
by the author of Esther although the plot of the story is known to be
fictional. The city is also the reputed location of the tomb of the Prophet