Settlements > Persepolis

Persepolis

Background

PERSEPOLIS, an ancient city of Persia, situated some 40 m. N.E. of Shiraz, not far from where the small river Pulwar flows into the Kur (Kyrus). The site is marked by a large terrace with its east side leaning on Kuhi Rahmet (“the Mount of Grace”). The other three sides are formed by a retaining wall, varying in height with the slope of the ground from 14 to 41 ft. on the west side a magnificent double stair, of very easy steps, leads to the top. On this terrace are the ruins of a number of colossal buildings, all constructed of dark-grey marble from the adjacent mountain. The stones were laid without mortar, and many of them are still in situ. Especially striking are the huge pillars, of which a number still stand erect. Several of the buildings were never finished. F. Stolze has shown that in some cases even the mason's rubbish has not been removed.[1] These ruins, for which the name Kizil minare or Chihil menare (“the forty columns or minarets”), can be traced back to the 13th century, are now known as Takhti Jamshid (“the throne of Jamshid”). That they represent the Persepolis captured and partly destroyed by Alexander the Great has been beyond dispute at least since the time of Pietro della Valle.

It has been universally admitted that “the palaces” or “the palace” (τὰ βασίλεια) burned down by Alexander are those now in ruins at Takhti Jamshid. From Stolze's investigations it appears that at least one of these, the castle built by Xerxes, bears evident traces of having been destroyed by fire. The locality described by Diodorus after Cleitarchus corresponds in important particulars with Takhti Jamshid, for example, in being supported by the mountain on the east.[8] There is, however, one formidable difficulty. Diodorus says that the rock at the back of the palace containing the royal sepulchres is so steep that the bodies could be raised to their last resting-place only by mechanical appliances. This is not true of the graves behind Takhti Jamshid, to which, as F. Stolze expressly observes, one can easily ride up; on the other hand, it is strictly true of the graves at Nakshi Rustam.

Stolze accordingly started the theory that the royal castle of Persepolis stood close by Nakshi Rustam, and has sunk in course of time to shapeless heaps of earth, under which the remains may be concealed. The vast ruins, however, of Takhti Jamshid, and the terrace constructed with so much labour, can hardly be anything else than the ruins of palaces; as for temples, the Persians had no such thing, at least in the time of Darius and Xerxes. Moreover, Persian tradition at a very remote period knew of only three architectural wonders in that region, which it attributed to the fabulous queen Humāi (Khumāi)—the grave of Cyrus at Murgab, the building at Hājjīābād, and those on the great terrace.[9] It is safest therefore to identify these last with the royal palaces destroyed by Alexander. Cleitarchus, who can scarcely have visited the place himself, with his usual recklessness of statement, confounded the tombs behind the palaces with those of Nakshi Rustam; indeed he appears to imagine that all the royal sepulchres were at the same place.

In 316 B.C. Persepolis was still the capital of Persis as a province of the great Macedonian Empire (see Diod. xix, 21 seq., 46; probably after Hieronymus of Cardia, who was living about 316). The city must have gradually declined in the course of time; but the ruins of the Achaemenidae remained as a witness to its ancient glory. It is probable that the principal town of the country, or at least of the district, was always in this neighbourhood. About A.D. 200 we find there the city Istakhr (properly Stakhr) as the seat of the local governors.

There the foundations of the second great Persian Empire were laid, and Istakhr acquired special importance as the centre of priestly wisdom and orthodoxy. The Sassanian kings have covered the face of the rocks in this neighbourhood, and in part even the Achaemenian ruins, with their sculptures and inscriptions, and must themselves have built largely here, although never on the same scale of magnificence as their ancient predecessors. The Romans knew as little about Istakhr as the Greeks had done about Persepolis—and this in spite of the fact that for four hundred years the Sassanians maintained relations, friendly or hostile, with the empire.

Sources

Bibliography—E. Flandin and P. Coste, Voyage en Perse (1843-1847); F. Stolze, Die Achaemenidischen und Sassanidischen Denkmäler und Inschriften von Persepolis, &c. (1882); G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Histiore de l'art dans l’antiquité, v. (1890). See also Darius; Persia: Ancient History; and Caliphate.(Th. N.; A. H. S.)↑ Cf. J. Chardin, E. Kaempfer, C. Niebuhr and W. Ouseley. Niebuhr's drawings, though good, are, for the purposes of the architectural student, inferior to the great work of C. Texier, and still more to that of E. Flandin and P. Coste. Good sketches, chiefly after Flandin, are given by C. Kossowicz, Inscriptiones palaeo-persicae (St Petersburg, 1872). In addition to these we have the photographic plates in F. Stolze's Persepolis (2 vols., Berlin, 1882).↑ Lettera XV. (ed. Brighton, 1843), ii. 246 seq.↑ This statement is not made in Ctesias (or rather in the extracts of Photius) about Darius II., which is probably accidental; in the case of Sogdianus, who as a usurper was not deemed worthy of honourable burial, there is a good reason for the omission.↑ Arrian, iii. 22, 1.↑ Cf. also in particular Plutarch, Artax. iii., where Pasargadae is distinctly looked on as the sacred cradle of the dynasty.↑ The story of Aelian (H. A. i. 59), who makes Cyrus build his royal palace in Persepolis, deserves no attention.↑ So Arrian (iii. 18, 1, 10), or rather his best authority, King Ptolemy. So, again, the Babylonian Berossus, shortly after Alexander. See Clemens Alex, Admon ad gentes, c. 5, where, with Georg Hoffmann (Pers. Märtyrer, 137), καί is to be inserted before πέρσαις, and this to be understood as the name of the metropolis.↑ The name of this mountain too, βασιλικὸν ὄρος, is identical with Shāhkūh, which is at least tolerably well established by W. Ouseley (ii. 417) as a synonym of Kūhi rahmet.↑ See especially Hamza Isp., 38, Ṭabarī, i. 690, 816 (cf. T. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser . . . aus . . . Ṭabari, p. 8) The ruins at Takhti Jamshid are alluded to as the work of Humāi, in connexion with an event which occurred shortly after A.D. 200.[185][186][187]

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