Susa (/ˈsuːsə/; Persian: شوش Šuš; [ʃuʃ]; Hebrew:
שׁוּשָׁן Šušān; Greek: Σοῦσα [ˈsuːsa]; Syriac:
Old Persian Çūšā) was an ancient city of the
Proto-Elamite, 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
Khuzestan province. It had a population of 64,960 in 2005.
2 Literary references
2.1 Biblical texts
3 Excavation history
4 Early settlement
Susa I period
Susa II and
Susa III period
8.2 Middle Elamite period
10 After Persian conquest
10.2 Macedonian, Parthian and Sassanid periods
10.3 Post-Islamic period and degradation
12 See also
15 External links
In Elamite, the name of the city was written variously Ŝuŝan,
Ŝuŝun, etc. The origin of the word
Susa is from the local city deity
Map showing the area of the Elamite kingdom (in orange) 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
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.
According to these texts, both Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa
during the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BCE, while 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. However, a large portion of the current
structure is actually a much later construction dated to the late
nineteenth century, ca. 1871.
Susa is further mentioned in the Book
of Jubilees (8:21 & 9:2) as one of the places within the
Shem and his eldest son Elam; and in 8:1, "Susan" is
also named as the son (or daughter, in some translations) of Elam.
Site of Susa
Assyria. Ruins of Susa, Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival
The site was examined in 1836 by Henry Rawlinson and then by A. H.
In 1851, some modest excavation was done by William Loftus, who
identified it as Susa.
In 1885 and 1886
Marcel-Auguste Dieulafoy and
Jane Dieulafoy began the
first French excavations.
Jacques de Morgan
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
World War II in 1940.
Archaeological results from the later period were very thinly
published and attempts are underway to remedy this situation.
Roman Ghirshman took over direction of the French efforts in 1946,
after the end of the war. Together with his wife Tania Ghirshman, he
continued there until 1967. The Ghirshmans concentrated on excavating
a single part of the site, the hectare sized Ville Royale, taking it
all the way down to bare earth. The pottery found at the various
levels enabled a stratigraphy to be developed for Susa.
During the 1970s, excavations resumed under Jean Perrot.
Archeologists have dated the first traces of an inhabited Neolithic
village to c 7000 BCE. Evidence of a painted-pottery
civilization has been dated to c 5000 BCE. 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 BC.
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 BCE (a calibrated radio-carbon
date). At this stage it was already very large for the
time, about 15 hectares.
The founding of
Susa corresponded with the abandonment of nearby
villages. Potts suggests that the settlement may have been founded to
try to reestablish the previously destroyed settlement at Chogha
Chogha Mish was also a very large settlement,
and it featured a similar massive platform that was later built at
Another important settlement in the area is Chogha Bonut, that was
discovered in 1976.
Susa I period
Susa was first settled over 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.
Susa's earliest settlement is known as
Susa I period (c. 4200–3900
BCE). Two settlements named by archeologists Acropolis (7 ha) and
Apadana (6.3 ha), would later merge to form
Susa proper (18 ha).
Apadana was enclosed by 6m thick walls of rammed earth (this
particular place is named
Apadana because it also contains a late
Achaemenid structure of this type).
Goblet and cup, Iran,
Susa I style, 4th millennium BC – Ubaid
period; goblet height c. 12 cm; Sèvres – Cité de la céramique,
Nearly two thousand pots of
Susa I style 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
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. 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.
Copper metallurgy is also attested during this period, which was
contemporary with metalwork at some highland Iranian sites such as
Susa II and
Globular envelope with the accounting tokens. Clay,
Uruk period (c.
3500 BCE). From the Tell of the Acropolis in Susa. The Louvre
Susa came 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. According to some scholars,
Susa may have been a colony
There's some dispute about the comparative periodization of
Uruk at this time, as well as about the extent of
Uruk influence in
Susa. Recent research indicates that Early
Uruk period corresponds to
Susa II period.
D. T. Potts, argue that the influence from the highland Iranian
Khuzestan area in
Susa was more significant at the early period, and
also continued later on. Thus,
Susa combined the influence of two
cultures, from the highland area and from the alluvial plains. Also,
Potts stresses the fact that the writing and numerical systems of Uruk
were not simply borrowed in
Susa wholesale. Rather, only partial and
selective borrowing took place, that was adapted to Susa's needs.
Despite the fact that
Uruk was far larger than
Susa at the time, Susa
was not its colony, but still maintained some independence for a long
time, according to Potts.
Some scholars believe that
Susa was part of the greater
Holly Pittman, an art historian at the University of Pennsylvania in
Philadelphia says, "they [Susanians] are participating entirely in an
Uruk way of life. They are not culturally distinct; the material
Susa is a regional variation of that on the Mesopotamian
plain". Gilbert Stein, director of the University of Chicago’s
Oriental Institute, says that "An expansion once thought to have
lasted less than 200 years now apparently went on for 700 years. It is
hard to think of any colonial system lasting that long. The spread of
Uruk material is not evidence of
Uruk domination; it could be local
Susa III period
Susa III (3100–2700 BCE) is also known as the 'Proto-Elamite'
period. At this time, Banesh period pottery is predominant. This
is also when the
Proto-Elamite tablets first appear in the record.
Susa became the centre of
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 BCE.
In the Sumerian period,
Susa was the capital of a state called Susiana
(Šušan), which occupied approximately the same territory of modern
Khūzestān Province centered on the
Karun River. Control of Susiana
shifted between Elam, Sumer, and Akkad. Susiana is sometimes mistaken
as synonymous with
Elam but, according to F. Vallat, it was a distinct
cultural and political entity.
Susiana was incorporated by
Sargon the Great
Sargon the Great into his Akkadian Empire
in approximately 2330 BCE.
Silver cup from Marvdasht, Iran, with a linear-Elamite inscription
from the time of Kutik-Inshushinak. National Museum of Iran
Susa was the capital of an Akkadian province until ca. 2100 BCE,
when its governor, Kutik-Inshushinak, rebelled and made it an
independent state and a literary center. Also, he was the last from
Awan dynasty according to the
Susa kinglist. He unified the
neighbouring territories and became the king of Elam. He encouraged
the use of the
Linear Elamite script, that remains undeciphered.
The city was subsequently conquered by the neo-Sumerian Third Dynasty
of Ur and held until Ur finally collapsed at the hands of the Elamites
under Kindattu in ca. 2004 BCE. At this time,
Susa became an
Elamite capital under the Epartid dynasty.
Middle Elamite period
Around 1500 BCE, the Middle Elamite period began with the rise of the
Anshanite dynasties. Their rule was characterized by an "Elamisation"
of Susa, and the kings took the title "king of Anshan and Susa".
While, previously, the Akkadian language was frequently used in
inscriptions, the succeeding kings, such as the Igihalkid dynasty of
c. 1400 BCE, tried to use Elamite. Thus,
Elamite language and
culture grew in importance in Susiana.
This was also the period when the Elamite pantheon was being imposed
in Susiana. This policy reached its height with the construction of
the political and religious complex at Chogha Zanbil, 30 km
(19 mi) south-east of Susa.
In ca. 1175 BCE, the Elamites under
the original stele bearing the Code of Hammurabi, the world's first
known written laws, and took it to Susa. Archeologists found it in
Nebuchadnezzar I of the Babylonian empire plundered
fifty years later.
Main article: Battle of Susa
Ashurbanipal's brutal campaign against
Susa in 647 BCE is
recorded in this relief. Flames rise from the city as Assyrian
soldiers topple it with pickaxes and crowbars and carry off the
In 647 BCE,
Ashurbanipal 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
Austen Henry Layard in Nineveh
Ashurbanipal as an "avenger", seeking retribution for the
humiliations that the Elamites had inflicted on the Mesopotamians over
"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."
Assyrian rule of
Susa began in 647 BCE and lasted till Median capture
Susa in 617 BCE.
After Persian conquest
Susa underwent a major political and ethnocultural transition when it
became part of the Persian
Achaemenid empire between 540 and
539 BCE when it was captured by
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great during his
Elam (Susiana), of which
Susa was the capital. 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 BCE.
It is probable that Cyrus negotiated with the Babylonian generals to
obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed
confrontation. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and
soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in
years. Cyrus' conquest of
Susa and the rest of
a fundamental shift, bringing
Susa under Persian control for the first
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
Darius the Great began a major building program
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."
Susa continued as a
winter capital and residence for
Achaemenid kings succeeding Darius
the Great, Xerxes I, and their successors.
See also: Palace of Darius in Susa
The city forms the setting of
The Persians (472 BCE), 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
Susa during the
Macedonian, Parthian and Sassanid periods
The marriages of
Stateira II to
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great of
Macedon and her
sister, Drypteis, to
Susa in 324 BCE, as depicted in a
Susa lost much of its importance when Alexander of
the Great) conquered it in 331 BCE and incorporated the first
Persian Empire. The
Susa weddings was arranged by Alexander in 324 BCE
in Susa, where mass weddings took place between the Persians and the
Approximately one century after Alexander,
Susa fell to the Seleucid
Empire. After Seleucia, it was the biggest city under Seleucid control
at the time.
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 CE. 
Parthian Empire gained its independence from the Seleucid
Empire, and took control of much of its eastern provinces,
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
Trajan in 116 CE and never again would the Roman Empire
advance so far to the east). 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 BCE, by Ashurbanipal. The second destruction took place in
638 CE, 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
it remains as a small settlement today.
Susa had a significant Christian population during the first
millennium, and was a diocese of the
Church of the East
Church of the East between the
5th and 13th centuries, in the metropolitan province of Beth Huzaye
Letter in Greek of the Parthian king Artabanus III to the inhabitants
Susa in the 1st century CE (the city retained Greek institutions
since the time of the Seleucid empire).
Glazed clay cup: Cup with rose petals, 8th–9th centuries
Lion on a decorative panel from Darius I the Great's palace
Marble head representing Seleucid King
Antiochus III who was born near
Susa around 242 BC.
Glazed clay vase: Vase with palmtrees, 8th–9th centuries
Winged sphinx from the palace of
Darius the Great
Darius the Great at Susa.
Tomb of Daniel
Ninhursag with the spirit of the forests next to the seven-spiked
cosmic tree of life. Relief from Susa.
19th-century engraving of Daniel's tomb in Susa, from Voyage en Perse
Moderne, by Flandin and Coste.
Archers frieze from Darius' palace at Susa. Detail of the beginning of
the frieze, left.
Ribbed torc with lion heads,
Achaemenid artwork, excavated by Jacques
de Morgan, 1901
Shush Castle, 2011
Children in Susa
Herm pillar with Hermes, from the well of the "Dungeon" in Susa.
Cities of the Ancient Near East
History of Iran
List of oldest continuously inhabited cities
Short chronology timeline
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Antiochus III was born in
242 BC, the son of Seleucus II, near Susa, Iran.
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route de Persépolis à Babylone, Paris, Paris-sorbonne.fr, 2010
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Iranian Studies (CAIS).
Potts, Daniel T. (1999). The archaeology of Elam: formation and
transformation of an ancient Iranian state. Cambridge University
Press, 1999. p. 490. ISBN 0-521-56496-4. World Archaeology
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