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Ancient Susa / Persia's Finest City

Susa is one of the oldest cities in the world. Excavations have uncovered evidence of continual habitation dating back to 4200 BCE. Susa was a principal city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires (capital of the Elamites) and was originally known to the Elamites as 'Susan’ or 'Susun’. The Greek name for the city was Sousa and the Hebrew, Shushan.

The modern city of Shush, Iran, presently occupies the ancient site. The old city, is situated between the modern rivers Karkheh and Dez (the rivers Choaspes and Eulaeus mentioned in the Biblical Book of Daniel 8:2, where Daniel received his vision), which bring mud down from the Zagros Mountains making the area one of the most fertile in the region. It was the political center of Elam early in the fourth millennium and there is a fortress, still extant, which dates back to this period.

The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal destroyed Susa completely between 645-640 BCE to avenge the perceived wrongs the people of Mesopotamia had suffered at the hands of the Elamites. The city was rebuilt and inhabited sometime after Ashurbanipal’s attack only to be conquered by the Persian king Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE) in 540 BCE. It was made the capital of the Persian Empire by Cambyses II (died 522 BCE) and was rebuilt and expanded upon by the Persian king Darius the Great (522-486 BCE) who favored it over his other residences.


The Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote extensively on the Achaemenid Empire, reported that Susa was the grand capital of the Persian Empire and the only capital he knew of. The Hebrew prophet Daniel lived in Susa and his tomb may be visited there today.

The Biblical Book of Esther is set in Susa, where king Ahasverus (Xerxes) threatened the Jews with genocide and Esther saved them. After him, during the rule of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE) a huge fire destroyed much of the city from this period. King Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358 BCE) rebuilt the city and added an audience hall (apadana) at Susa which was said to be most impressive. Ancient writers on the city always mention the grandeur of the buildings constructed by Artaxerxes II.

There were other capitals in Persia (Pasargadae, Persepolis, and Ecbatana), but it is clear that Susa was the best known and most mentioned (Persepolis, owing to its location, was unknown to the Greek historians until it was destroyed by Alexander the Great). After the defeat and destruction of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great, and then Alexander’s death, Susa became part of the Seleucid Empire. It was then known as Seleucia on the Eulaeus and Greek architecture and styling began to appear beside the older works of the Elamites and the Persians. The city remained an important intellectual and cultural center until it was sacked by Muslim armies in 638 CE and destroyed. Rebuilt yet again, it thrived until 1218 CE when it was utterly destroyed by invading Mongols.

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