Persepolis was one of the ancient capitals of Persia, established by Darius I in the late 6th century BC. Its ruins lie 56km (35 miles) north-east of the city of Shiraz, the mountainous region of south-western Iran, where the dry climate has helped to preserve much of the architecture. Darius transferred the capital of the Achaemenian dynasty to Persepolis from Pasargadae, where Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, had ruled. Construction of Persepolis began between 518 and 516 BC and continued under Darius's successors Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I in the 5th century BC. Known as Parsa by the ancient Persians, it is known today in Iran as Takht-e Jamshid ("Throne of Jamshid") after a legendary king. The Greeks called it Persepolis.
At its height the Persian Empire stretched from Greece and Libya in the west to the Indus River in present-day Pakistan in the east. The many nations under the empire's rule enjoyed considerable autonomy in return for supplying the empire's wealth. Each year, at Noe-Rooz (the national festival of the vernal equinox) representatives from these nations brought tribute to the king. The Persian kings used Persepolis primarily as a residence and for ceremonies such as the New Year's celebration. The actual business of government was carried out mainly at Susa and Ecbatana.
Persepolis consists of the remains of several monumental buildings on a vast artificial stone terrace about 450 by 300 m (1,480 by 1,000 ft). A double staircase, wide and shallow enough for horses to climb, led from the plains below to the top of the terrace. At the head of the staircase, visitors passed through the Gate of Xerxes, a gatehouse guarded by enormous carved stone bulls.
Behind Persepolis are three sepulchres hewn out of the mountainside; the facades, of which one is incomplete, are richly ornamented with reliefs. About 8 miles (13 km) north by north-east, on the opposite side of the Pulvar River, rises a perpendicular wall of rock in which four similar tombs are cut at a considerable height from the bottom of the valley. This place is called Naqsh-e Rostam (the Picture of Rostam), from the Sassanian carvings below the tombs, which were thought to represent the mythical hero Rostam. That the occupants of these seven tombs were Achaemenian kings might be inferred from the sculptures, and one of those at Naqsh-e Rostam is expressly declared in its inscriptions to be the tomb of Darius I, son of Hystaspes, whose grave, according to the Greek historian Ctesias, was in a cliff face that could be reached only by means of an apparatus of ropes. The three other tombs at Naqsh-e Rostam, besides that of Darius I, are probably those of Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. The two completed graves behind Persepolis probably belong to Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. The unfinished one might be that of Arses, who reigned at the longest two years, but is more likely that of Darius III, last of the Achaemenian line, who was overthrown by Alexander.
The largest building at Persepolis, the Apadana (audience hall), stood to the right of the gatehouse. Archaeologists estimate that it could accommodate 10,000 people. Massive stone columns supported the Apadana's roof; 36 were interior columns and another 36 supported verandas on three sides of the building. Thirteen of these 72 columns remain standing today.
Remnants of the Apadana, Persepolis Stone doorways and 13 of the 72 massive stone columns that originally supported the Apadana, or audience hall, at Persepolis are still standing today. Each column was 20m (66ft) tall and was topped by an elaborate capital. The double-headed animals at the top of the capitals once supported wooden roof beams.
Monumental staircases decorated with elaborate sculpture in relief led to the Apadana, which stood on an elevated platform. The relief sculpture depicts the ceremonial procession that took place when representatives from the conquered nations brought gifts to the king. The procession is led by Persians and Medes, the peoples whom Cyrus the Great united to found the Persian Empire. After them come delegates bearing gifts: The Elamites bring lions, the Babylonians a Brahma bull, the Lydians bolts of cloth, and so forth. Because the east staircase lay buried beneath ashes and rubble for centuries, its delicately carved relief sculptures remain in excellent condition today.
Next to the Apadana was the Throne Hall, the second largest building at Persepolis, where the king received nobles, dignitaries, and envoys bearing tribute. An enormous throne room, 70 by 70m (230 by 230ft), occupied the central portion of the Throne Hall. It is also known as the 'Hall of a Hundred Columns' after the 100 columns that supported its roof. These columns were made of wood, and only their stone bases survive today. Eight stone doorways led into the throne room. Carvings on the sides of the doorway depict the king on his throne and the king in combat with demons. The Throne Room was begun by Xerxes and completed by Artaxerxes I.
The Treasury stood next to the Throne Hall. This enormous building served as an armoury and a storehouse for the tribute brought to the king on New Year's from the subject nations. It also held booty taken from the nations conquered by the Persian Empire.
Beyond the Apadana lay the Palaces of Darius and Xerxes. The Palace of Darius, the Tachara was reached by stone stairways decorated with carvings of servants carrying animals and food for serving at the king's table. Carved reliefs also decorated the stone jambs of doorways. The subjects depicted on these jambs include the king fighting lions, servants bringing towels and ointments to the king, and attendants shielding the king with umbrellas and flywhisks. A number of the stone doorways are still standing. The Palace of Xerxes, The Hadish, was nearly twice the size of the Palace of Darius and had similar carved reliefs on stairways and doorframes. Living quarters for the king and separate quarters for the women and the servants stood next to the palaces.
Persepolis was destroyed slightly less than two centuries after it was begun. Alexander of Macedonia plundered Persepolis and then set fire to it in 330 BC. According to Greek biographer Plutarch, he needed 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels to carry away the treasure looted from Persepolis. In 316 BC Persepolis was still the capital of Persis as a province of the Macedonian empire. The city gradually declined in the Seleucid period and after, its ruins attesting its ancient glory. In the 3rd century AD the nearby city of Istakhr became the centre of the Sassanian empire. The site is marked by a large terrace with its east side leaning on the Kuh-e Rahmat (Mount of Mercy). Persepolis was eventually abandoned, and it lay buried beneath ashes and rubble until its rediscovery in 1620. Although many people visited Persepolis in the next centuries, excavation of the ruins did not begin until 1931, under the direction of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 halted this work. The Iranian Archaeological Service continued the excavation and restoration of Persepolis after the war.
The Gate of Xerxes or "The Gate of The Nations"
To the north of the Apadana stands the impressive Gate of Xerxes, from which a broad stairway descends. Xerxes, who built this structure, named it "The Gate of The Nations, " for all visitors had to pass through this, the only entrance to the terrace, on their way to the Throne Hall to pay homage to the king. The building consisted of one spacious room whose roof was supported by four stone columns with bell-shaped bases. Parallel to the inner walls of this room ran a stone bench, interrupted at the doorways.
The exterior walls of the structure, made of thick mud brick, were decorated with numerous niches. Each of the three walls, on the east, west, and south, had a very large stone doorway. A pair of colossal bulls guarded the western entrance; two assyrianized man-bulls stood at the eastern doorway. Engraved above each of the four colossi is a trilingual inscription attesting to Xerxes having built and completed the gate. The doorway on the south, opening toward the Apadana, is the widest of the three. Pivoting devices found on the inner corners of all the doors indicate that they must have had two-leaved doors, which were probably made of wood and covered with sheets of ornamented metal.
The Harem of Xerxes
The Harem, where the royal ladies lived, was constructed in an L-shaped form. The main wing was oriented north-south; the west wing extended westward from the southern portion of the main wing.
The nucleus of the main wing was a large centrally placed columned hall with a portico facing a spacious courtyard on the north. The hall had four doorways whose jambs were decorated with reliefs. On the jambs of the southern doorway Xerxes is depicted entering the hall. He is followed by two attendants; one is carrying a fly whisk and the other is holding a parasol over the king's head. On the jamb of the eastern doorway there is a relief showing Xerxes fighting a lion-headed monster. The reliefs on the western doorway show the king in combat with a lion. The queen's quarters are not definitely known, but this impressive central section was probably reserved for her and her retinue.
South of the columned hall, the main wing contained six apartments arranged in two rows. Each apartment consisted of a large pillared room and one or sometimes two smaller rooms. The west wing contained sixteen additional apartments, similarly laid out.
In addition to the access from the Council Hall to the northern part of the main wing of the Harem, two stairways connected the west wing with the Palace of Xerxes. There were also two exits to courtyards or enclosed gardens. A third exit at the eastern end of the western wing may have led to an open area or perhaps to an enclosed area whose limits have been destroyed.
The main wing of the Harem was excavated and restored by Herzfeld. A large part of the building, besides serving as living quarters for the expedition staff, was converted into workrooms, where the cleaning, labeling, and restoring of objects were undertaken. Finally, the front of the Harem was restored and made into a museum to display some of the objects found at Persepolis.
Miscellaneous Structures at Persepolis
Near the southeast corner of the Terrace, at the foot of the mountain, were buildings of modest size and insubstantial structure, whose contents indicate that they were quarters for members of the garrison and perhaps for artisans (red). Immediately to the east was a square mudbrick tower, one of a row of towers linked by a 10-meter thick wall that ran along the east edge of the terrace at the foot of the Kuh-i Rahmat and joined the towered defensive wall that ran from the corners of the Terrace up the slope and along the crest of the Kuh-i Rahmat.
The southwestern corner of the Terrace, west of the palace of Xerxes, may once have been the site of a palace of Artaxerxes I, but the standing remains found there belonged a residential structure called Palace H (green), cobbled together by an unknown post-Achaemenid builder from reused pieces of building material and ornament brought from older strutures on the Terrace. The standing remains of Palace G (cyan), north of the Palace of Xerxes, were also from a post-Achaemenid construction on the site of a destroyed older building, perhaps a palace of Artaxerxes III. To the east of the Palace of Xerxes were scraps of Palace D (yellow), probably the substructure of another building that incorporated debris from Achaemenid buildings. Other post-Achaemenid remains included burials in clay coffins were near the spring about 1 km north of the terrace, in a recess at the foot of the mountain.
Contents of the Treasury and Other Discoveries
What early historians wrote about the wealth of Persepolis certainly was not exaggerated. Thus we learn from the reports of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus that Persepolis was the wealthiest city under the sun and her houses were full of gold and silver and all sorts of riches. On the basis of his and others' accounts, one would have expected the Oriental Institute's expeditions to find an enormous yield of objects. Unfortunately, Alexander and his army did a very thorough job of looting and burning Persepolis in 331/30 B.C. What the Oriental Institute recovered were objects either overlooked or dropped accidentally by the Macedonians.
By far the largest number of finds were from the royal storehouse in the Treasury. Additional objects-far fewer-came from other buildings of the Terrace. Many of these finds were pieces of booty from wars with foreign nations, such as Greece, Egypt, and India, or tokens of tribute from the subject nations of the empire. Some native objects clearly show foreign cultural influences. We know from excavated tablets that Darius I had called to his court many foreign artists and workers whose skill and inspiration were utilized, but never copied, by the Persians.
Uncovered in the debris of the Treasury were hundreds of clay tablets with inscriptions in Elamite cuneiform. These tablets, originally sundried, were baked in the heat of the immense fire that destroyed the building, so that many were found intact instead of having crumbled to dust long ago. These tablets, written for the most part in Old Persian and its corresponding translations of Elamite and Babylonian, were of great value to the excavators. We learn from them of the presence in Persepolis of skilled workmen from many parts of the empire, of stone-relief and inscription workers from Egypt, goldsmiths from Caria, and ornament makers from Susa. Some tablets also mention the month and year of the reign of either Darius or Xerxes when a particular work was executed and the amount of compensation-either in kind or in money-the workers received. Other tablets bear records of sales, of land deals, of taxes to be paid, or of the amount of money borrowed from the treasury. Finally, some tablets give instructions about how much haoma, the sacred intoxicating drink, could or should be used at a cult service.
Seals and Seal Impressions
The chronology of the Persepolis finds was traceable largely through the inscriptions on seals, wall pegs, and foundation slabs, that were discovered. Each usually bore the name of the Achaemenid ruler of its time. Cylinder seals, generally made of stone, often depict, among other subjects, martial or hunting scenes, rituals and offerings, or fights between animals. The royal seals of Darius and Xerxes always depict a king victorious in his fight with ferocious animals or monsters, a scene also depicted in the royal relieves.
Fragments of vessels, whose inscriptions indicate that they were used at the king's table, were also found in the debris. Other finds were ritual objects, mortars and pestels, weights, and tools. Finally, hundreds of pieces of martial equipment were found in the Treasury and in the garrison quarters, e. g., arrowheads, scabbard tips, and bridle ornaments.
Since Alexander's men were so thorough in destroying and looting Persepolis, only a few pieces of jewelry, several gold and silver coins, and some silver buttons were found; not one vessel of precious metal was recovered. However, several alabaster bowls and bottles were excavated, some with inscriptions and dates that prove them to be tribute sent to Persepolis from Egypt during the reigns of Darius and Xerxes. Other vessels were made of a bluish-green artificial compound of copper-calcium-tetrasilicate known as "Egyptian blue." These were a much-valued import from Egypt, where the secret of manufacturing this paste had been known since the Fourth Dynasty.
The Royal Tombs and Other Monuments
About 4.8 kilometers northwest of Persepolis lies the imposing site of Naqsh-i-Rustam in the mountain range of Husain Kuh, where Darius the Great and his successors had their monumental tombs carved into the cliff. Here in 1933 Herzfeld conducted a short survey and made soundings, but it was not until 1936 that Schmidt started to clear and document the royal tombs and to excavate the Ka'bah-i-Zardusht.
Although Naqsh-i-Rustam had long been a sacred area (as the remains of a Pre-Achaemenid relief show), Darius the Great was the first to choose it as a burial place. His successors not only imitated his idea of a cliff tomb but also copied the layout of the tomb itself. The dramatic facade of the tomb is constructed like a cross. An entrance leads into the tomb chamber, cut deep into the rock. In the panel above this facade is a relief depicting the king standing on a three-stepped pedestal in front of an altar. His hand is raised in a gesture of worship. Above him floats the winged disk of Ahuramazda, god of the Zoroastrian religion. This scene is supported by throne bearers representing the twenty-eight nations of the empire. On the side panels are the king's weapon bearers and the Persian guards. The trilingual cuneiform inscriptions on three panels of the rock wall either enumerate the twenty-eight nations upholding the throne or glorify the king and his rule. Some traces of pigment found on the facade of the royal tombs suggest that all or most of the stone reliefs had been painted.
Only the tomb of Darius I can be identified beyond doubt by inscriptions. The three other tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam are attributed to his immediate successors, Xerxes, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. Other royal tombs of similar form, thought to be those of the later Achaemenids, were built at Persepolis itself, cut into the rock face of the Kuh-i Rahmat, overlooking the Terrace. The two complete tombs are assigned to Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III; an incomplete tomb was perhaps meant for the last Achaemenid king, Darius III. About 2 km south of Naqsh-i Rustam, on the south bank of the river Pulvar, are the remains of an unfinished freestanding structure, perhaps the base of a tomb intended for Cambyses II, modeled on the imposing tomb of his father, Cyrus the Great, at Pasargadae, up the Pulvar 43 km northeast of Persepolis.