The Art of Achaemenian Iran

Prepared by
Iraj Bashiri
Copyright 1998

Darius ascends the throne at a time when the country is in chaos. Cyrus's son, Cambyses, has died near Egypt and a usurper rules in the heartland. According to this frieze, Daruis fought 19 battles and dethroned nine kings to gain farr and establish his right to rule.

Fallen kings, with hands bound, wait their fate before him. The usurper, Gaumata, lies dead under Darius's foot. Ahura Mazda, in the form of a winged being, hovers above.

Nine Kings Prostrate Themselves Before Him.

Persepolis was built by Darius I the Great who ruled between 521 and 485 BC.

The empire of Darius the Great extended from Egypt in the west to the Indus River in the east. The major satrapies or provinces of his Empire were connected to the center at Persepolis, in the Fars Province of present-day Iran. The Royal Road connected 111 stations to each other. Messengers riding swift horses informed the king within days of turmoil brewing in lands as distant as Egypt and Sughdiana.

An aerial view of the of Persepolis palace complex shows the relationship of the various palaces, apadanas, and other parts of the complex to each other. The columns and a most impressive set of stairways are the only major parts that remain of Darius's Apadana.

Darius's palace is to the left of his Apadana. Due to its small size, it is one of the best preserved buildings in the complex. The dark stones distinguish Darius's palace from Xerxes's larger palace, which is to the left of Darius's palace. Later Achaemenian kings, like Artaxerxes, built palaces of their own in this part of the terrace. No trace, however, remains of those palaces, only empty spaces.

Xerxes's Hall of the 100 Columns is the most impressive building in the complex. It is also the most crowded--a jumble of fallen columns, column heads, and column bases.

Persepolis is the 4th capital of the Achaemenians. It was preceded by Ecbatana, originally the capital of the Medes; Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great; and Susa, originally the capital of the Elamites. Susa was rehabilitated by Darius during the early years of his rule.

In what follows, there are some blue prints and some pictures. The blue prints show the location and the sequence whereby the buildings came into existence. The pictures depict either an exact picture of the ruins or a reconstructed version.

The Palace of Darius (indicated by green)

After the establishment of his rule, Darius decided to move his capital away from the Elamite and the Median capitals, that is, away from Susa and Exbatana, respectively. He then built a modest but elegant palace on the Plain of Marv Dasht, close to Cyrus's Pasargadae.

The skeletal frame of Darius's palace consists of large, well-hewn stones. The staircase, the entrance jambs, and some of the interior walls are preserved. The platform on which the main building is constructed and the ramps leading to the main entrance are repeated in the construction of future Achaemenian palaces and Apadanas.

Darius's Apadana (indicated in yellow)
As the Empire grew, Iran's foreign relations became increasingly complex. No longer able to accept foreign dignitaries at his small palace, Darius began the construction of the Apadana, a Throne Hall with which to impress his people and in which to meet with the representatives of the many nations and peoples paying tribute to him. The task of completing the Apadana, however, fell to his son and successor, Xerxes I.

Standing by the gateway and looking at the apadana, you can see Darius's palace in the background. Like his palace, the apadana sits on a massive platform reachable by means of two sets of elaborately decorated staircases. Here is the view described above.

and here is a view from the opposite side showing the columns and the sets of satairs that reach the apadana from the opposite side.

Xerxes's Contributions

As the foreign relations of the Empire expanded even more, Darius's Apadana, too, became too small for Xerxes. Intending to impress his European visitors with the might of his Empire, Xerxes proposed yet another set of buildings to be built on the terrace. His plan consisted of two massive gateways in each of which the dignitaries would wait before being admitted to the projected Hall of One Hundred Columns. As they walked from the first gateway to the second, the visitors could view the impressive facade of Darius's Apadana to their right. In this blueprint, the first gateway and the Hall of 100 Columns are indicated by Red. The second gateway was never completed.

Xerxes's Hall of 100 Columns
Of Xerxes's Hall of 100 Columns nothing remains but column heads and column bases.

Babylonian bricklayers, Ionian stone cutters, and Median designers cooperated to build the complex. Each element of the building reminded a different delegate of the contribution of his nation. The cedar wood, the yakawood, the gold furnishings, and silver rythons meant different things to

Xerxes's Palace (indicated by blue)
Xerxes found his father's palace to be too confining for his large family, especially for his harem. Therefore, he built his own palace and harem near his father's palace. The skeletal frame of the two palaces is very much the same. In the blue print

As mentioned, Xerxes's palace is built on the same model as Darius's. The newer palace, however, is not as well preserved as the older palace.

The Treasury
This last blue print shows the rest of the buildings of the complex. The most important of these is the Treasury Building to the left of the Hall of 100 Columns (indicated in red and yellow). In the center of the complex (in Deep Red) is the Tripylon, which served as a cross-roads of sorts. From the Tripylon you could go to either of the apadanas or the palaces. The last addition is Xerxes's Harem Quarters, attached to his palace (in yellow).

Foreign dignitaries were given access to the Hall of 100 Columns through the gateways. Their movement in the complex, however, was limited. Those who carried gifts were ushered into the treasury to deposit the revenues from their kingdoms and the gifts sent by their lords.

Persian and Median officials had access to the Tripylon and, through the complex stairways of the Tripylon, to the Apadana and the palace complex.

The treasury was the most important building in the sense that all the wealth of the dynasty--revenues from all lands and presents brought to the king over the years--accumulated there.

Ceremony at Court

This is one of the most important friezes in Persepolis. At the center of the frieze, Darius the Great sits on the throne; Xerxes, Viceroy of Babylon and Crown Prince, stands behind him. Both figures are on a higher platform than the floor. An official appears before the king. Two incense burners separate the King and the official.

Behind Xerxes are two other officials. Guards appear on both sides of the picture.

Note especially the fine work of the sculptors as they depict the hands of the guards gripping their spears; the lotus held by the Crown Prince; the Crown Prince's extended hand in ritual praise of his father, and the like.

Nine ibexes appear on the scabbard. The head of a bull completes the picture.

The sword is held in place by a string running around the wearer's leg.

Pictorial Reconstruction This pictorial reconstruction restores, to a degree, not only the skeletal frame but the woodwork and the color that dazzled Darius's visitors. Of special interest are the guarding lions on the two sides of the roof, the parapets, the central position of the winged being, and the stylized frieze in which a lion disables a bull, a reminder of the power of Good over Evil.

Looking at the amount of cedar wood and silk tapestry used to add color within and outside the halls, it is not difficult see why a magnificient palace like Persepolis could be engulfed in flame within minutes, leaving little of its glory.

Xerxes ruled from 485 to 465 BC.

At the time of Darius's death, Xerxes had been the viceroy of Babylon for twelve years. At the beginning of his rule, he suppressed the rebellion in Egypt and dealt harshly with the rebellious Babylonians. He denied the rulers of Egypt and Babylon their hereditary title of "king." Xerxes called himself the King of the Medes and the Persians.

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