discover the achaemenid empire news
program and website founded by Pierre Briant
The Achaemenid Persian Empire
from the Bosphorus to the Indus
river, from 550 to 330 B.C.
Achaemenid museum and Iconographic resources
Textual sources
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archaeological sites

presentation of the Susa visit

Susa - the site

découverte de la statue de Darius
discovery of Darius' statue
© Mission archéologique de Suse

The site that was occupied prior tofrom 4000 BC  had been a capital of Elam. The city shone until the end of the 2nd millennium BC then became more modest, but was still thriving when the Persians arrived. This is how Darius found it when he decided to establish one of his residences here circa 520 BC. The king delimited 70 hectares with a high embankment enclosing the three hills that had been occupied beforehand.
Inside, only the royal constructions are known. The buildings that have been excavated are concentrated in the north, on the tell of the Apadana, in the northern part of the tell known as the Ville Royale, and on the Acropole tell. outside the walls, just one palace has been discovered.
The buildings destined distinctly for storage or administration of the satrapy are not known. Traces of common dwellings are extremely rare, which makes it difficult to reconstruct an overall image of Achaemenid Susa.
The Achaemenid city is mainly Darius’s work. His son Xerxes completed certain buildings but also built others that have not been identified. Two of their successors were also builders or rebuilders – principally Artaxerxes II in the early 4th century BC, according to the remains and inscriptions found inside and outside the royal city.

the excavations

Revelation of Achaemenid Susa was the fruit of several   years of excavation. The Apadana columns and their inscriptions were discovered in 1853 by William K. Loftus.
In 1884-86, Marcel Dieulafoy’s first French mission discovered the capitals of these columns; in the Residence they revealed several panels that had collapsed to the ground, bricks with polychrome glazing representing lines of guards, lions passant, and other fantastic animals, either passant or facing.
From 1897 to 1914 an initial plan of the palace, the Apadana and the Residence was drawn up under the directorship of Jacques de Morgan, who led the Delegation in Persia. It was completed by his successor, Roland de Mecquenem, in the 1920s.
After Roman Ghirshman (1947-1967), who added little information, it fell upon the last director, Jean Perrot (1968-1979) and his team to reveal the near-complete plan of the palace and to add: the constructions that were linked to it but distinct; the Darius Gate and the statue of the king; on the Ville Royale tell, an initial access building, known as the Propylaeum. The city wall was better defined, with an access gate. The Shaur palace, located outside the walls, was also excavated at this time.

Jacques de Morgan
Jacques de Morgan (1857-1924)
© musée du Louvre

the visit

Due to their topographical layout, the vestiges can be presented separately, even though the remains of the royal city form a whole. The itinerary moves from generalities to specifics; it envisages the overall site, then proceeds from the exterior towards the centre, to Darius’s Palace proper. Each building is presented in turn as a whole, then sectors of a smaller scale are detailed, along with any components that have been found. Outside the palace complex, a few scattered remains bearing witness to occupation are rapidly evoked; we finish with the palace built outside the “royal city”. The iconographic documentation presented here (photos, plans and drawings) is broadly a selection drawn from the archives of the French Archaeological Mission at Susa, which are preserved at the Maison Archéologie & Ethnologie, René-Ginouvès in Nanterre.

Rémy Boucharlat (Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée, Lyon) / March 2013

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