Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran, located about 150 miles east of the Tigris River. The modern 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.
Origin of name
Variants of name
- Biblical Hebrew: שושן (Shushan);
- Greek: Σουσα, transliterated as Sousa
- Latin Susa
It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about 250 km east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers. The site now "consists of three gigantic mounds, occupying an area of about one square kilometer, known as the Apadana mound, the Acropolis mound, and the Ville Royale (royal town) mound."
Susa is one of the oldest-known settlements of the region and indeed the world, possibly founded about 4200 BCE; although the first traces of an inhabited village have been dated to ca. 7000 BCE. Evidence of a painted-pottery civilization has been dated to ca. 5000 BCE.
In historic times, Susa was the primary capital of the Elamite Empire. Its name in Elamite was written variously Šušan, Šušun, etc. The city appears in the very earliest Sumerian records, eg. in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta it is described as one of the places obedient to Inanna, patron deity of Uruk.
Šušan was incorporated by Sargon the Great into his Akkadian Empire in approximately 2330 BC. It remained capital of an Akkadian province until ca. 2240 BC, when its Elamite governor, Kutik-Inshushinak, rose up in rebellion and liberated it, making it a literary center. However, following this, the city was again 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 again became an Elamite capital.
The Elamites under Shutruk-Nahhunte plundered the original stele bearing the Code of Hammurabi in ca. 1175 BC and took it to Susa, where it was found in 1901. However, Nebuchadrezzar I of the Babylonian empire managed to plunder Susa in return, around fifty years later.
n 647 BCE, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal leveled the city during a war in which the people of Susa apparently 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 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."
The city lost some of its importance when Alexander of Macedon conquered it in 331 BCE and destroyed the first Persian Empire. After Alexander, Susa fell to the Seleucid Empire and was renamed Seleukeia.
Approximately one century later when Parthia gained its independence from the Seleucid Empire, 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 CE. Typically, the Parthian rulers wintered in Susa, and spent the summer in Ctesiphon.
The Roman emperor Trajan captured Susa in 116, but was soon forced to withdraw, because of revolts to his rear. This advance marked the easternmost penetration by the Romans.
Susa was destroyed at least three times in its history. The first was in 647 BCE, by Assurbanipal. The second destruction took place in 638 CE, when the Muslim armies first conquered Persia. Finally, in 1218, the city was completely destroyed by invading Mongols. The ancient city was gradually abandoned in the years that followed.
Susa in Biblical texts
Susa is also mentioned in the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible, mainly in Esther, but also once each in Nehemiah and Daniel. Both Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of Judah of the 6th century BCE. Esther became queen there, 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.
Arrian writes.... Immediately after the battle, Darius marched through the mountains of Armenia towards Media, accompanied in his flight by the Bactrian cavalry, as they had then been posted with him in the battle; also by those Persians who were called the king's kinsmen, and by a few of the men called apple-bearers. About 2,000 of his Grecian mercenaries also accompanied him in his flight, under the command of Paron the Phocian, and Glaucus the Aetolian. He fled towards Media for this reason, because he thought Alexander would take the road to Susa and Babylon immediately after the battle, inasmuch as the whole of that country was inhabited and the road was not difficult for the transit of baggage; and besides Babylon and Susa appeared to be the prizes of the war; whereas the road towards Media was by no means easy for the march of a large army. In this conjecture Darius was mistaken; for when Alexander started from Arbela, he advanced straight towards Babylon; and when he was now not far from that city, he drew up his army in order of battle and marched forward. The Babylonians came out to meet him in mass, with their priests and rulers, each of whom individually brought gifts, and offered to surrender their city, citadel, and money. Entering the city, he commanded the Babylonians to rebuild all the temples which Xerxes had destroyed, and especially that of Belus, whom the Babylonians venerate more than any other god. He then appointed Mazaeus viceroy of the Babylonians, Apollodorus the Amphipolitan general of the soldiers who were left behind with Mazaeus, and Asclepiodorus, son of Philo, collector of the revenue. He also sent Mithrines, who had surrendered to him the citadel of Sardis, down into Armenia to be viceroy there. Here also he met with the Chaldaeans; and whatever they directed in regard to the religious rites of Babylon he performed, and in particular he offered sacrifice to Belus according to their instructions. He then marched away to Susa; and on the way he was met by the son of the viceroy of the Susians, and a man bearing a letter from Philoxenus, whom he had despatched to Susa directly after the battle. In the letter Philoxenus had written that the Susians had surrendered their city to him, and that all the money was safe for Alexander. In twenty days the king arrived at Susa from Babylon; and entering the city he took possession of the money, which amounted to 50,000 talents, as well as the rest of the royal property. Many other things were also captured there, which Xerxes brought with him from Greece, especially the brazen statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. These Alexander sent back to the Athenians, and they are now standing at Athens in the Ceramicus, where we go up into the Acropolis, right opposite the temple of Rhea, the mother of the gods, not far from the altar of the Eudanemi. Whoever has been initiated in the mysteries of the two goddesses at Eleusis, knows the altar of Eudanemus which is upon the plain. At Susa Alexander offered sacrifice after the custom of his fathers, and celebrated a torch race and a gymnastic contest; and then, leaving Abulites, a Persian, as viceroy of Susiana, Mazarus, one of his Companions, as commander of the garrison in the citadel of Susa, and Archelaüs, son of Theodorus, as general, he advanced towards the land of the Persians. He also sent Menes down to the sea, as governor of Syria, Phœnicia, and Cilicia, giving him 3,000 talents of silver to convey to the sea, with orders to despatch as many of them to Antipater as he might need to carry on the war against the Lacedaemonians. There also Amyntas, son of Andromenes, reached him with the forces which he was leading from Macedonia; of whom Alexander placed the horsemen in the ranks of the Companion cavalry, and the foot he added to the various regiments of infantry, arranging each according to nationalities. He also established two companies in each squadron of cavalry, whereas before this time companies did not exist in the cavalry; and over them he set as captains those of the Companions who were pre-eminent for merit.
1. As to the kinsmen and apple-bearers, see iii. 11 supra.
2. Diodorus (xvii. 63) and Curtius (v. 6) state that from the treasure captured in Babylon, Alexander distributed to each Macedonian horseman about £24, to each of the Grecian horsemen £20, to each of the Macedonian infantry £8, and to the allied infantry two months' pay.
4. See i. 17 supra.
5. The Chaldees appear in Hebrew under the name of Casdim, who seem to have originally dwelt in Carduchia, the northern part of Assyria. The Assyrians transported these rude mountaineers to the plains of Babylonia (Isa. xxiii. 13). The name of Casdim, or Chaldees, was applied to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia (Gen. xi. 28); the inhabitants of the Arabian desert in the vicinity of Edom (Job i. 17); those who dwelt near the river Chaboras (Ezek. i. 3; xi. 24); and the priestly caste who had settled at a very early period in Babylon, as we are informed by Diodorus and Eusebius. Herodotus says that these priests were dedicated to Belus. It is proved by inscriptions that the ancient language was retained as a learned and religious literature. This is probably what is meant in Daniel i. 4 by "the book and tongue of the Casdim." Cf. Diodorus (ii. 29-31); Ptolemy (v. 20, 3); and Cicero (De Divinatione, i. 1). See Fürst's Hebrew Lexicon, sub voce כֶּֽשֶֹד.
6. In the Bible this city is called Shushan. Near it was the fortress of Shushan, called in our Bible the Palace (Neb. i. 2; Esth. ii. 8). Susa was situated on the Choaspes, a river remarkable for the excellence of its water, a fact referred to by Tibullus (iv. 1, 140) and by Milton (Paradise Reg., iii. 288). The name Shushan is derived from the Persian word for lily, which grew abundantly in the vicinity. The ruins of the palace mentioned in Esther i. have recently been explored, and were found to consist of an immense hall, the roof of which was supported by a central group of thirty-six pillars arranged in the form of a square. This was flanked by three porticoes, each containing two rows of six pillars. Cf. Strabo (xv. 7, 28).
7. The name of the viceroy was Abulites (Curtius, v. 8).
8. If these were Attic talents, the amount would be, equivalent to £11,600,000; but if they were Babylonian or Aeginetan talents, they were equal to £19,000,000. Cf. Plutarch (Alex., 36, 37); Justin (xi. 14); and Curtius (v. 8). Diodorus (xvii. 66) tells us that 40,000 talents were of uncoined gold and silver, and 9,000 talents of gold bearing the effigy of Darius.
9. Cf. Arrian (vii. 19); Pausanias (i. 8, 5); Pliny (Nat. Hist., xxxiv. 9); Valerius Maximus (ii. 10, 1). For Harmodius and Aristogeiton see Thucydides, vi. 56-58.
11. Demeter and Persephone.
13. Antipater had been left by Alexander regent of Macedonia. Agis III., king of Sparta, refused to acknowledge Alexander's hegemony, and after a hard struggle was defeated and slain by Antipater at Megalopolis, B.C. 330. See Diodorus, xvii. 63; Curtius, vi. 1 and 2.
14. According to Curtius (v. 6) these forces amounted to nearly 15,000 men. Amyntas also brought with him fifty sons of the chief laen in Macedonia, who wished to serve as royal pages. Cf. Diodorus, xvii. 64.
- John Curtis (2013). "Introduction". In Perrot, Jean. The Palace of Darius at Susa: The Great Royal Residence of Achaemenid Persia. I.B.Tauris. p. xvi. ISBN 9781848856219.
- "Persians: Masters of Empire" ISBN 0-8094-9104-4 p. 7-8
- The Anabasis of Alexander/3b, Ch.16