1902 Encyclopedia > Perspolis


PERSEPOLIS. In the interior of Persia proper, some 40 miles north-east of Shiraz, and not far from where the small river Pulwar flows into the Kur (Kyrus), there is 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 feet; and on the west side a magnificent double stair, of very easy steps, leads to the top. On this terrace, which is not perfectly level, stand and lie the ruins of a number of colossal buildings, all constructed of exquisite dark-grey marble from the adjacent mountain. The stones were laid without mortar, and many of them are still in situ, although the iron clamps by which they were fastened together have been stolen or destroyed by rust. The mason-work is excellent, and the style of the lofty palaces, colonnades, and vestibules most imposing. Especially striking are the huge pillars, of which a number still stand erect. No traveller can escape the spell of these majestic ruins.1 It is impossible to give a minute account of them here; the reader must refer to the numerous descriptions and illustrations in the works of ancient and modern travellers. It is to be observed that several of the buildings were never finished. Stolze has shown that in some cases even the mason's rub-bish has not been removed, and remarks accordingly that in those early times, just as at the present day, an Oriental prince would rather commence a new building of his own than complete the unfinished work of his predecessor.

These ruins, for which the name Chihil mendre or "the forty minarets " can be traced back to the 13th century, are now known as Takhti Jamshid, "the throne of Jamshid'' (a mythical king). 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. Amongst the earlier scholars the fanciful notions of the Persians, who are utterly ignorant of the real history of their country before Alexander, often re-ceived too much attention ; hence many of them were of opinion that the buildings were of much higher antiquity than the time of Cyrus; and even those who rightly regarded them as the works of the Achsemenians were unable to support their theory by conclusive evidence. The decipherment of the cuneiform Persian inscriptions found on the ruins and in the neighbourhood has put an end to all doubt on this point. We now read with absolute certainty that some of the edifices are the work of Darius I., Xerxes, and Artaxerxes III. (Ochus), and with equal certainty we may conclude that all the others were built under the Achaemenian dynasty.

1 See the description of Mas'iidi (ed. Barbier de Meynard, iv. 76 sq.), written 944 A.D. ; and that of Makdisi (Mokaddasi, ed. De Goeje, p. 444), written forty years later.

Behind Takhti Jamshid are three sepulchres hewn out of the rock in the hillside, the facades, one of which is incomplete, being richly ornamented with reliefs. About 8 miles to the north-north-east, on the opposite side of the Pulwar, rises a perpendicular wall of rock, in which four similar tombs are cut, at a considerable height from the bottom of the valley. The modern Persians call this place JVahshi Rustam (" the picture of Rustam") from the Sasanian reliefs beneath the opening, which they take to be a representation of the mythical hero Rustam. That the occupants of these seven tombs were kings might be inferred from the sculptures, and one of those at Nakshi Rustam is expressly declared in its inscription to be the tomb of the great Darius, concerning whom Ctesias relates that his grave was in the face of a rock, and could be reached only by means of an apparatus of ropes. Ctesias mentions further, with regard to a number of Persian kings, either that their remains were brought h Hepvas, "to the Persians," or that they died there.7 Now we know that Cyrus was buried at Pasargadoe, the modern Murgab, two days' journey north-east from Persepolis,8 and if there is any truth in the statement that the body of Cambyses was brought home " to the Persians" his burying-place must be sought somewhere beside that of his father. In order to identify the graves of Persepolis we must bear in mind that Ctesias assumes that it was the custom for a king to prepare his own tomb during his lifetime. Hence the kings buried at Nakshi Rustam are probably, besides Darius, Xerxes I., Artaxerxes I., and Darius II. Xerxes II., who reigned for a very short time, could scarcely have obtained so splendid a monument, and still less could the usurper Sogdianus. The two com-pleted graves behind Takhti Jamshid would then belong to Artaxerxes II. and Artaxerxes III. The unfinished one is perhaps that of Arses, who reigned at the longest two years, or, if not his, then that of Darius III. (Codo-mannus), who is one of those whose bodies are said to have been brought "to the Persians." 9

Another small group of ruins in the same style is found at the village of Hajl abad, on the Pulwar, a good hour's walk above Takhti Jamshid. These formed a single building, which was still intact 900 years ago, and was used as the mosque of the then existing city of Istakhr. For there is no other place that can have answered to the description of the eminent geographer Makdisi, who was himself in this neighbourhood, when he says : " The chief mosque (jdmi) of Istakhr is situated beside the bazaars. It is built after the fashion of the principal mosques in Syria,10 with round pillars. On the top of each pillar is a cow.11 Formerly it is said to have been a fire-temple. The bazaars surround it on three sides " (p. 436).

In the time of its greatest prosperity the Persian metropolis must undoubtedly have covered a great part of the extremely fertile valley of the Pulwar. It is not at all necessary to suppose that its limits are determined by the two heaps of ruins. The great bulk of the houses would, of course, be built in the wretched manner which is all but universal in the East.

Since Cyrus was buried in Pasargadse, which moreover is mentioned in Ctesias as his own city,12 and since, to judge from the inscriptions, the buildings at Persepolis commenced with Darius I., it was probably under this king, with whom the sceptre passed to a new branch of the royal house, that Persepolis became the capital.13 At least it is probable that the great city, in the original home of the dynasty, with its lordly palaces and royal sepulchres, was theoretically considered the metropolis of the whole empire. But certainly, as a residence for the rulers of such extensive territories, a remote place in a difficult alpine region was far from convenient. The practical capitals were Susa, Babylon, and Ecbatana.

This, at the same time, accounts for the fact that the Greeks were not really acquainted with the city until it was taken by Alexander. Ctesias must certainly have known of it, and it is possible that he may have named it simply nipo-at, after the people, as is undoubtedly done by certain writers of a somewhat later date. But whether the city really bore the name of the people and the country is another question. And it is extremely hazardous to assume, with Sir H. Rawlinson and Oppert, that the words and Pdrsd, " in this Persia," which occur in an inscription on the gateway built by Xerxes (D. lin. 14), signify "in this city of Pärsa," and consequently prove that the name of the city is identical with the name of the country.

The name Persepolis appears to have been first used by Clitarchus, one of the earliest, but unfortunately one of the most imaginative annalists of the exploits of Alexander. The word was no doubt meant to allude to the " Persians," but apparently he preferred this extraordinary form to the regular " Persopolis " for the sake of a play on the destruction (n-epo-us) which he relates. Later writers have followed him in the use of the name Persepolis. For information about the capture and treatment of the city by Alexander we are almost entirely dependent on narratives which are based on Clitarchus, since Arrian unfortunately disposes of this episode in a very summary fashion. The course of events may be traced somewhat as follows.

Alexander, having crushed the resistance of the Persian army under Ariobarzanes at the " Persian Gates," marched rapidly on the capital. Ariobarzanes had made his way thither with a few followers, but was refused admission by Tiridates, the commandant of the citadel, who had already commenced negotiations with Alexander, and at last surrendered the place with its immense treasures to the conqueror. In a subsequent battle Ariobarzanes was killed. Alexander then ordered a general massacre, and gave up the city to be plundered. In the citadel he placed a garrison of 3000 men under Nicarchides, and then caused the royal palaces to be set on fire,—certainly not in a drunken freak, but apparently with deliberate calculation on the effect it would produce on the minds of the Asiatics. Now it has hitherto been universally admitted that " the palaces " or " the palace " (TO, BaxriXtia) burned down by Alexander are those now in ruins at Takhti Jamshid, as already described. 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.11 The locality described by Diodorus after Clitarchus corresponds in important particulars with Takhti Jamshid, for example, in being supported by the mountain on the east. And, if there are other details, such as the triple wall, which it is difficult to reconcile with the existing state of things, we must bear in mind on the one hand the great destruction that must have been wrought in the course of thousands of years, and on the other that small inaccuracies are not to be wondered at in a writer like Clitarchus, who is constantly straining after effect. There is, however, one formidable difficulty. Diodorus says that the rock at the back of the palace containing the royal sepulchres rises 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 Stolze expressly observes, one can easily ride up; on the other hand, it is strictly true of the graves at Nakshi Bustam. Stolze has 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. He and Andreas, our highest authorities on the topography of this district,13 consider this spot peculiarly adapted for the site of a citadel, while the water-supply would suffice for a numerous court-retinue and garrison, and for a royal residence with its palaces and gardens. Nevertheless we are unable to adopt this suggestion. The vast ruins of Takhti Jamshid, and the terrace constructed with so much labour, appear to us of more importance than any number of doubts and conjectures. These remains can hardly be anything else than the ruins of palaces and the other belongings of a kingly residence ; as for temples, the Persians had no such thing, at least in the time of Darius and Xerxes. And it can hardly be supposed that such solid structures were much more numerous in former times, and that these alone have survived owing to their peculiar situation on the terrace. For, in the first place, it is evident at a glance that the situation itself is of an excep-tional kind. Moreover, Persian tradition at a very remote period knew of only three architectural wonders in that region, which it attributed to the fabulous queen Humai (Khumai)—the grave of Cyrus at Murgab, the building at Haji abad, and those on the great terrace.14 It is safest therefore to identify these last with the royal palaces destroyed by Alexander. Clitarchus, who can scarcely have visited the place himself, has simply, 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. It is possible, however, that the discrepancy ori-ginated with Diodorus, who often makes his extracts in a very perfunctory manner.

If it should prove that, after all, the terrace is not large enough to have contained the treasure-houses and the barracks of the garrison, in addition to the palaces, or that Alexander could not have set fire to the latter without endangering the former and the safety of the whole fortress, then we should have to assume that a separate citadel (____) stood somewhere outside of the terrace with the palaces. There are many positions naturally adapted for defence in the vicinity. But, as far as yet appears, such an assump-tion is scarcely required. Of course we need not suppose that the number 3000 represents the actual strength of Alexander's garrison ; and we must consider that, when Darius, in the height of his power, laid out this place in the heart of his empire, he was thinking more of regal magnificence than of security. A high wall and a guard of 200 men would suffice for the protection of the treasures at a time when battering engines were unknown.

In 316 B.C. Persepolis is still the capital of Persis as a province of the great Macedonian empire (see Diod., 19, 21 sq., 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 Aehsemenians 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 200 A.D. we find there the city Istakhr2 as the seat of the local governors. There the foundations of the second great Persian empire were laid, and once more there arose round the tombs of the Aehse-menians what was for centuries the theoretical metropolis of a great monarchy whose administrative capitals lay far to the west. Istakhr acquired special importance as the centre of priestly wisdom and orthodoxy. In its most flourishing days it was probably as large as Persepolis had been, whose ruins undoubtedly furnished much of the material for its houses. The peaceable resident, intent on building his house or hut, has too often proved more destructive to ancient buildings than a foreign invader or even the disintegrat-ing forces of nature. The Sasanian kings have covered the face of the rocks in this neighbourhood, and in part even the Achee-menian 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 Perse-polis, and this in spite of the fact that for four hundred years they maintained relations, friendly or hostile, with the empire, while their own sway extended far into the heart of Asia. So remote is Persis !

At the time of the Arabian conquest Istakhr offered a desperate resistance, which was renewed again and again before the place was finally subdued. Blood flowed like water in these struggles for religion and liberty. Nevertheless the city was still a place of considerable importance in the first century of Islam, although its greatness was speedily eclipsed by the new metropolis Shiraz. In the 10th century Istakhr had become an utterly insignificant place, as may be seen from the descriptions of Istakhri, a native (c. 950), and of Makdisi (c. 985). At this time the little town occupied approximately the site assigned to it on Flandin's map, near the present village of Haji abad, surrounding the ruined structure of the Achasmenians, and principally on the left side of the stream. During the following centuries Istakhr gradually declined, until, as a city, it ceased to exist. This fruitful region, however, was covered with villages till the frightful devastations of last century ; and even now it is, comparatively speaking, well cultivated.

The ''castle of Istakhr" played a conspicuous part several times during the Mohammedan period as a strong fortress. It was the middlemost and the highest of the three steep crags which rise from the valley of the Kur, at some distance to the west or north-west of Nakshi Rustam.3 We learn from Oriental writers that one of the Buwaihid sultans in the 10th century of the Flight constructed the great cisterns, which may yet be seen, and have been visited, amongst others, by James Morier and Flandin. Ouseley, wdio has extracted a vast amount of information from Persian authors about the ruins of Persepolis and about Istakhr, points out that this castle was still used in the 16th century, at least as a state prison. But when Delia Valle was there in 1621 it was already in ruins. (TH. N.)


See especially Chardin, Kaempfer, Niebuhr, and Ouseley. Niebuhr's drawings, though good, are, for the purposes of the architectural student, inferior to the great work of Texier, and still far more to that of Flandin and Coste. Good sketches, chiefly after Flandin, are given by Kossowicz, Inseriptiones palseo-persicie, St Petersburg, 1872. In addition to these we have now the photographic plates in Stolze's Persepolis (2 vols., Berlin, 1882). Stolze's " photogrammetric " plan surpasses all previous attempts in accuracy. The numerous reliefs found in this group of ruins (especially on the great double stair), executed in a very remarkable style of art, were first brought within the scope of accurate examination by these works, since, with some individual exceptions (as in Ouseley), the drawings of the figures in the older works were quite inadequate.
Neither " the forty towers " nor " the forty pillars " is a correct rendering of the expression. The round pillars with their heavy capitals have a much closer resemblance to the turrets of the Moham-medan mosques than to our church towers. An older name for all the splendid ruins through the Pulwar valley is haz&r sutvn, " the thousand pillars" (Hamza Isp., ed. Gottwaldt, p. 38). A thousand is, of course, like fort}', a round number.
Sir W. Ouseley, Travels, ii. 369.
6 Lettera xv. (ed. Brighton, 1843, ii. 246 sq.).
See the discussion of this question in Ouseley. I

7 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 (Sekydianus), who as a usurper was not deemed worthy of honourable burial, there is good reason for the omission.
8 See art. PERSIA (p. 667 below). The complete proof will be found in Stolze's work already mentioned, and in his paper cited below.
9 Arrian, iii. 22, 1.
10 This refers only to its solidity and magnificence, and perhaps also
to some of its minor features, but not to its general style. These
Moslems had no great discernment in matters of style. For instance,
Makdisi and others compare the ruins of Takhti Jamshid to those of
Palmyra and Baalbek.
11 Capitals formed of recumbent animal figures are peculiar to the
buildings of the Acbeemenians.
12 Cf. also in particular, Plutarch, Artax., iii., where Pasargadae is
distinctly looked on as the sacred cradle of the dynasty.
13 The story of jfilian (H. A., i. 59), who makes Cyrus build his

jEschylus, whose knowledge of the world is certaiidy not very extensive, takes the " city of the Persians " to he Susa. Cf. especially Pers., v. 15 with v. 761 (rob' CXCTV 'ZOVO-UV). Herodotus does not mention the capital of Persis at all.
The only expression that could be interpreted in this sense is h Hcpaas, " to the Persians." But perhaps es llepacis, with him, means only "to the land of Persis." No doubt, when lie says that the body of Cyrus was conveyed es llepaas, this might be explained on the supposition that he wrongiy imagined that Cyrus was buried in Perse-polis. Xenophon, who knew of Pasargada? from Ctesias, calls it Ilepo-cu (Cyr., viii. 5, 21) ; but, as he was not acquainted with the country, this goes for nothing. Of more importance is the fact that Plutarch, Artax., iii. (probably after Dinon), places Pasargada? eV lUpo-aus, where the expression applies to the country and not to the city.
So undoubtedly Arrian (iii. 18,1, 10), or rather his best authority, King Ptolemy. So, again, the Babylonian Berosus, shortly after Alexander. See Clemens Alex., Admon. ad gentes, c. 5, where, with Georg Hoffmann (Pers. Märtyrer, 137), Kai is to be inserted before flepcrcus, and this to be understood as the name of the metropolis.
Ilepo-exoAis means strictly " city-destroying." IleptraixoXis, a well-authenticated reading in Strabo and iElian (I.e.), is no improvement.
This form is actually restored by later scholars, and seems to have been used by the geographer Ptolemy (vi. 4).
Besides the historians wdio draw upon Clitarchus (Diodorus, Curtius, Justin, Plutarch in Alexander), Strabo (79 sq., 727 sq.), Pliny (vi. 115, 213), and several others. Justin (i. 6, 3) introduces the name Persepolis in an account which is based on Ctesias, just as Arrian (vii. 1, 1) once employs it, although he can scarcely have got it from his excellent sources.
On this locality, see the paper of Fr. Stolze in the Verhand-lungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde in Berlin, 1883, Nos. 3 and 6.
This is mentioned by Curtius only, but it has great intrinsic prob-ability. The massacre at the taking of the city appears to be confirmed by Plutarch (Alex., 37) from the letters of the king.
This again is only found in Curtius. Alexander was in the heart
of a country which he had laid waste, but by no means thoroughly
the dynasty ; he was amongst a people who still felt themselves to be

the dominant race, and knew that their king was still alive. That in these circumstances he should have a strong garrison under a trust-worthy Macedonian was simply a matter of course. Nicarchides after-wards commanded a trireme in the fleet that sailed from the Indus to the Tigris (Arrian, Indica, xix. 5 ; after Nearchus).
10 See art. PURSIA (p. 582 below).

Curtius repeatedly confounds the palace with the metropolis (both being __ /_______), and so speaks of the city being set on fire.
- Properly Stakkr, as written in Pahlavi ; on the coins of the Sasanids "ST" stands as an abbreviation for the name. The Armenians write Stahr. The form with the prosthetic vowel Idakhr is New Persian; the Syrians used at a still earlier time the form Istahr or Istahr.
'_' This height is now called, from its situation, Miydnkala (middle fortress). Older writers and travellers give other names, the nomen-clature of all this part of Persia having greatly altered ; but the name " castle " or " hill of Istakhr " appears not to have entirely disappeared.
See the pians and sketches in Flandin, to whom it was stated that the castle-rock was called Kalai sarv, "castle of the cypress," from a solitary cypress growing there. It is unfortunate that for this particular locality the newest map of Hausknecht (Berlin, 1882) is quite unreliable.
These references are still very useful, although we have now the advantage of knowing the extremely valuable Arabian sources of many of his Persian narratives from printed texts.

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