Ruined monuments of the acropolis of the city of Pārsa, the dynastic center of the Achaemenid Persian kings, located in the plain of Marvdašt, some 57 km northwest of Shiraz.


PERSEPOLIS (called Taḵt-e Jamšid “Jamšid’s Throne” in Persian), the ruined monuments of the acropolis of the city of Pārsa, the dynastic center of the Achaemenid Persian kings, located in the plain of Marvdašt, some 57 km northwest of Shiraz. One of the best-known sites of the ancient world (FIGURE 1), Persepolis was recently registered by the UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage.

History of scholarship. The oldest description of Persepolis is in Diodorus Siculus (17. 70-2), derived from accounts by Alexander historians. Early Muslim geographers (notably Masʿudi, Moruj IV, p. 77; Eṣṭaḵri, p. 123; Moqaddasi, p. 444; Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 278; Ebn Balḵi, pp. 126-27) describe the ruins but attribute them to the legendary world-king Jamšēd/Jamšid, whom they identify with the Biblical Solomon, hence the appellation Malʿab/Masjed Solaymān (Shahbazi, 1977b, pp. 200-5), or to the legendary queen Homāy (Ḥamza, p. 38, who calls it Hazār Sotun, and Dinavari, ed. ʿĀmer and Šayyāl, p. 27; cf. Ṭabari, I, p. 816, n. a). Starting with Friar Odoricus, (ca. 1325), European travelers (listed in Curzon, II, pp. 148-49; Achaemenid History 7, 1991, pp. 207-9), described Persepolis, and their accounts and drawings enabled O. G. Tychsen, F. Münter and Georg Friedrich Grotefend in early 1800s to decipher Old Persian cuneiform writing (which itself provided the key to the reading of Babylonian and Elamite texts; see Weissbach, 1896-1904) and attribution of Persepolis to the Achaemenid kings. James Morier (1809-11), William Ouseley (1811), and Robert Ker Porter (1818-21) corrected and fully supplemented their predecessors, and paved the way for the scientific study of the inscriptions by Henry Rawlinson (1838-52) and the site by the artists and art historians Charles Textier (1840) and Eugène Flandin and Pascal Coste (1840), who meticulously documented the monuments in their accounts and drawings. Franz Stolze and Friedrich Carl Andreas (1877) and Marsel and Jane Dieulafoy (1881) made the first photographic documentations, and the entire field of Persepolis scholarship was surveyed and updated by George Perrot and Charles Chpiez and George N. Curzon (II, pp. 148-96).

The first excavations were conducted by the Andreas Expedition in 1874 and by Herbert W. Blundell in 1891. By then Persians had come to view Persepolis as a national monument, and consciously copied its architecture and sculpture on metal works, tapestry, and carpets (see Duschesne-Guillemin, 1964), on palace facades (in tile or stone) and even on stamps. At the invitation of Persian authorities the German antiquarian Ernest Herzfeld surveyed the ruins and recommended scientific methods of investigation and restoration (Herzfeld, 1929). These all led to the Oriental Institute of Chicago University Expedition to Persepolis, directed first by Herzfeld (1931-34), and then by Erich F. Schmidt (1935-39), both assisted by the architect Friederich Krefter. They cleared most of the site, found a number of inscriptions on stone and glazed tiles and numerous objects, and parts of two archives of Elamite tablets, and transferred them to Chicago and other places. After their departure, André Godard, Sayyed Moḥammad-Taqi Moṣṭafawi and ʿAli Sāmi continued to excavate the remaining parts (mainly in the north and east of the terrace and in the plain south of the platform). ʿAli-Akbar Tajwidi conducted five seasons of excavations (late 1960s) in the same area of the plain and also cleared part of the fortification on the “ Royal Hill.” In 1965, an Irano-Italian Restoration team (mainly directed by Guiseppe Tilia) began scientific investigation and restoration at Persepolis and other sites of Fārs (Zander, pp. 1-124), while Gerald Walser and Walther Hinz learnedly studied the peoples represented on Persepolitan reliefs, and Krefter presented the results of his works at Persepolis in model reconstructions and lavishly illustrated publications. These developments greatly advanced our understanding of the Achaemenid art and architecture. In 1973, A. Shapur Shahbazi founded the Institute of Achaemenid Research at Persepolis, which directed all aspects of excavations, restorations, and publications of the Achaemenid monuments and facilitated co-operation between scholars in the field. The 1970s started with the (posthumous) publication of the third volume of Schmidt’s monumental work on Persepolis, and witnessed a flow of valuable works about the site by Carl Nylander, Hubertus von Gall, Tilia, and Peter Calmeyer. The trend continued in subsequent decades, culminating with the invaluable studies of Mark Garrison and Margaret C. Root about the thousands of seal impressions stamped on the Elamite clay tablets. Finally, in 2002, the old Persepolis institute was reconstituted, with more authority and means and supported by the UNESCO, as The Foundation for Parsa-Pasargadae Research, with the aims of scientifically investigating, preserving, and publishing the Achaemenid heritage with the co-operation of the scholarly world.

Location and designations. By the late 6th century BCE, the Persian settlers had founded their own city, Pārsa, in the Marvdašt Plain, and Persian kings had started monumental constructions there (Kleiss, 1971; Tilia, 1974). In about 518 BCE, Darius the Great (r. 522-486 BCE) chose a promontory of the “Royal Hill” at the foot of a mountain to the east of the plain to serve as the site for a new palace complex forming the citadel of the city of Pārsa. The name of this mountains, Kuh-e Mehr (Kohmehr) “Mount Mithra” (since the 13th century “translated” as Kuh-e Raḥmat “Mount Mercy”), indicates that the early Persian held the site sacred (as they did *Baγastāna > Bisotun), and associated it with Mithra (Mehr), the deity of Iranians at arm and the “Guardian of Iranian lands” (Shahbazi, 1977b, pp 206-7). A terrace platform covering an area of 125,000 square m was prepared on the promontory and four groups of constructions were built on it: ceremonial palaces, residential quarters, a treasury, and a chain of fortification. The structures were built by Darius I the Great and his successors, Xerxes (486-66 BCE) and Artaxerxes I (466-24 BCE), and maintained until 330 BCE, when they were looted and burnt by Alexander of Macedon. The aims of Darius, and hence the function of Persepolis, are debated. Many scholars (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 270, Krefter, Erdmann, Ghirshman, and Porada, 1965, pp. 152) maintain that it was built as the site for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival. Others (notably Nylander, 1974; Calmeyer, 1980; Mousavi, p. 206) deny that there is any evidence for celebrating Nowruz in the Achaemenid period, and ergo at Persepolis. Some have seen Persepolis as illustration of royal power (Root, 1979, pp. 153-61 and passim), or a political, economic, and administrative center of the empire, or an observatory for correcting time-reckoning systems. But Darius himself specifies that he was building a stronghold, not a political center (see below), and the case for considering Persepolis as the site of the Nowruz festival cannot be taken lightly (see Shahbazi, 2003).

The platform is flanked on the south and north by two valleys in which the houses of the nobility were built. In the plain lay the city of Pārsa with its mud brick houses and gardens. It was called after the name borne both by the province Pārsa (Fārs, Gk. Persis, whence Persia), and by the people inhabiting it. The Greeks knew very little of this city, and a few who had heard about it called it Persai. Later they erroneously elaborated this to Persepolis to indicate “the City of Persians” (Nöldeke), for which the Greek would have been Persai polis (Wachernagel). The Roman adopted the term and subsequent Western writers followed. On the other hand, after the fall of the Achaemenids, the Iranians no longer remembered the name “Pārsa,” and came to call the site Sad Sotun (Hundred-columned) and Čehel Menār (Forty-columned), and Iranian traditional history came to attribute the monuments to Jamšid, the legendary paragon of sovereignty, organizer of the social estates, and subjugator of the dēves (demonic peoples; see DAIVA), who build for him magnificent palaces of stone and bore him while enthroned from one palace to another. It was believed that, upon the building of the palace, he established the greatest Iranian festival, Nowruz or New Year’s Day, at the spring equinox. Today the attribution is abandoned, but the name Taḵt-e Jamšid (Jamšid’s Throne) has stuck (Shahbazi, 1977b).

The Terrace Platform and its fortification. Construction started with the leveling and terracing of the promontory. Depressions in the rocky base were filled with earth, rubble, and huge blocks of roughly hewn stone. Part of the faÇade of the platform was cut from the natural rock and the rest was built with enormous stone slabs cut in polygonal shapes and joined without mortar but by means of metal clamps. A platform was prepared (FIGURE 2) that roughly resembled a rectangle measuring some 300 x 455 m, and provided with a system of water conduits and drains hewn out of the rock. Canals were also cut into the slope of the “Royal Hill,” some to bring drinking water from a spring located several miles northwest of Persepolis (Ḥākemi), others to prevent flooding of the site by leading the rainwater into a deep moat dug behind the eastern fortification wall and eventually into the plain. A well 26 m deep and measuring 4.70 x 4.70 m at the opening was cut into the rock of the hill and linked to the moat to prevent flooding, and probably also to serve as a water storage during the summer. Vertical chimney-like drainage shafts constructed inside the thick walls with bricks and covered with bitumen directed the rainwater from the roof into the underground channels and through these into the plain. Part of this elaborate drainage system still remains in various places and performs the intended function flawlessly.

The retaining walls of the platform’s northern and western sides were built of huge smoothed stone slabs, and rose some 12 m above the ground, and had a battlement of multi-stepped crenellations. A strong line of fortification, mainly of mud-brick, guarded the other sides and extended along the top of the Royal Hill. It consisted of a curtain wall some 7 m in height and provided at intervals with towers standing 5 m high and a passageway running through the entire line and connecting all towers thereby allowing archers to defend the wall through arrow-slots resembling a spearhead.

Diodorus described the city of Pārsa and its acropolis as they appeared to Alexander. “Persepolis was the metropolis of the Persian kingdom. It was the richest city under the sun and the private houses had been furnished with every sort of wealth over the years. The Citadel (arka) is a noteworthy one, and is surrounded by a triple wall. The first is built on an elaborate foundation, sixteen cubits [7 m] in height and topped by a crenellation. The second is similar in every respect but is twice as high. The third circuit is rectangular in plan, and is sixty cubits [27 m] in height, built of a stone hard and naturally durable. Each of the sides contain a gate with bronze doors besides each of which stand bronze bulls (reading taurous for staurous “poles,” see Cecil Smith, apud Curzon II, p. 187, n. 1) twenty cubits [9 m] high; these were intended to catch the eye of the beholder, but the gates were for security.” Diodorus then describes the Royal Hill and the tombs of the kings cut into it (see below), and continues: “Scattered about the royal terrace were residences of the kings and members of the royal family as well as quarters for great nobles, all luxuriously furnished, and building suitably made for guarding the treasure.” The triple wall has been much discussed (Blundell; Mousavi), but it can be explained if one viewed the site from the south, as Darius intended it to be viewed (see below): the retaining wall of the platform is seen first, then the wall of the Hadish and Treasury, and finally the fortification wall.

Original entrance and the Foundation inscriptions. The gate to the site was from the south, through a staircase some 14 m long, which later, perhaps in the last days of the Achaemenid period, was crudely blocked with irregular slabs of reused stone (Tilia 1978, pp. 11-18, 27). To the right of this entrance a huge rectangular block measuring 7.20 x2.50 m bears four cuneiform inscriptions in the name of Darius the Great. Two in Old Persian (DPd and DPe), one in Elamite, and the fourth in Babylonian. These texts were clearly meant to inform visitors about the nature of Persepolis, the people who contributed to its buildings, and Darius’ beliefs and ideals. They are thus essential for the correct interpretation of the site. In the first Darius emphasizes that he owed his power to “Ahura Mazdā, who (is) the greatest of the divine beings,” and proudly proclaims: “This (is) the country Pārsa which Ahura Mazdā gave me, which, being beautiful, possessing good horses, possessing good men, by the grace of Ahura Mazdā and of me Darius the king, does not fear any [enemy].” He ends with the invocation: “Let Ahura Mazdā protect this country from the Lie, from an evil host, from famine” (DPd 5-18). In the second Darius enumerates twenty-five countries which were subject to him, and in the Elamite text he speaks of the building of Persepolis: “As for the fact that upon this place this fortress was built, formerly here a fortress had not been built. By the grace of Ahura Mazdā I built this fortress. And Ahura Mazdā was of such a mind, together with all the divine beings, that this fortress (should) be built. And (so) I built it. And I built it secure and beautiful and adequate, just as I was intending to.” Finally, in the Babylonian text Darius acknowledges that “the work which was done here” was done by artisans of different nations subject to him (see also below).

The Terrace stairway and the “Gate of All Lands.” As works on the platform proceeded, a new and grander entrance was constructed towards the northwestern corner of the platform. Herzfeld (1941, p. 225) described it as “perhaps the most perfect flight of stairs ever built.” It is a monumental double-reversed staircase constructed with huge and irregular limestone blocks (often four or five steps are hewn from a single piece), dry joined with roughly rectangular-shaped metal clamps used during the reign of Xerxes. A battlement of four-stepped crenellations, each decorated on the outer face with a rectangular niche, lined the outer edge. Each flight starts at one end of a pavement of huge well-polished gray limestone, ascends for sixty-three steps, reaches a landing place, turns 90 degrees into an open space, again turns 90 degrees and ascends for another forty-eight steps until it converges with the other at a second landing place 12 m above the ground in front of a building called the “Gate of All Lands.” Each step is 6.70 m long, 10 cm high, and 38 cm wide. The unusually short raises were not meant to allow people to mount the steps on horseback (as is popularly supposed) but to provide sufficient space for large groups of royal guests (many of them no doubt advanced in age) to climb the steps ceremoniously but with ease. In fact, “one climes the steps without becoming aware of climbing” (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 225).

The “Gate of All Lands” was a four-columned square hall (measuring 612 sq. m) with three stone doorways, a western entrance and two eastern and southern exits. A stone bench 52 cm high and 52 cm wide ran along the walls, providing comfortable seating, and a stepped platform opposite the southern doorway served as a stand for the chief usher who could observe from there the king’s throne and audience ceremony in the Apadāna through the southern doorway and arrange for the royal guests to proceed thither group by group. The hall’s thick mud-brick walls were faced with glazed tiles of various colors (green, blue, orange, etc.), showing patterns of rosettes and palm trees. Each of its columns (one was reassembled in 1965 from surviving fragments) reached a height of over 16.5 m and was composed of five elements: a bell-shaped and vertically fluted base, a discoid torus, a cylindrical shaft vertically fluted and adorned in the upper section with volutes, palmettes, rosettes, and lotus decorations, and, finally, a capital shaped as two addorsed kneeling bulls, decorated with rosette patterns. Cedar beams resting on the back of the double-headed bulls supported the roof.

Two enormous winged-bulls support the side pillars of the eastern doorway; their heads and foreparts projecting out in high relief while their bodies ornament the inner sides of the doorways. Such “guardian bulls” are well known from Assyrian art, but while the Assyrian prototypes had five legs, here the bulls are naturalistically four-legged and indicate animation by the gesture of movement in the hind legs. In the past three centuries, many famous as well as unknown visitors to Persepolis have carved their names and titles into the bodies of these “guardian bulls” (for a list up to 1892 see Curzon II, p. 157). The jambs of the eastern doorway are ornamented with human-headed bulls facing toward a passageway 92 m long and 9.70 m wide (called “Army Street”), which led to the “Unfinished Gate” in front of the forecourt of the Hundred Column Hall (see below). A trilingual inscription (in Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian) in the name of Xerxes (XPa) is carved on the upper part of each doorway jamb. In it Xerxes praises Ahura Mazdā, introduces himself, and adds: “By the grace of Ahura Mazdā, this “Gate of All Lands” (duvarƒim visadahyum) I made; much else (that is) beautiful (was) done throughout Pārsa which I did and which my father did; whatever work seems beautiful, all that we did by the grace of Ahura Mazdā” (XPe 11-17). The southern doorway opened into the forecourt of the Apadāna, and it originally had a two-leafed door the sockets of which, each in the form of a large deep bowl with a rosette pattern decorating the rim, can still be seen.

The Apadāna or the Audience Palace of Darius. The largest and most imposing palace of Persepolis was the audience palace, usually called the Apadāna. It had a height of nearly 22 m, and stood on a podium 3 m higher than the level of a spacious open court extending to its north and east. It consisted of a main square hall (60 x 60 m) with thirty-six columns, three porticos (each with twelve columns) on the north, west and east sides, four four-story corner towers, and a series of storage and guardrooms on the south. Its columns soared to a height of 19.50 meters. Those of the northern portico had the same composition as the columns of “Gate of All Lands”; those in the main hall were similar but had a square two-stepped base; in the western portico the double-headed bull capitals rested directly on the fluted shafts while the similarly un-ornate columns of the eastern portico had lion-headed capitals. Of the seventy-two columns once supporting the roof of the palace, only thirteen were still standing in 1977, when another was reassembled at the northeastern corner of the eastern portico. However, illustrations by European travelers show that in 1619 twenty columns were still standing. Two double-reversed staircases on the north and east gave access to the Apadāna. Each is 81.67 m long, divided into three parts of equal length, and surmounted by four-stepped crenellations. The facades of both are exquisitely ornamented with almost identical friezes, and bear inscriptions of Xerxes. Herzfeld (1941, p. 270) remarked: “Such a reduplication of a subject of that size is unparallel in the whole history of art.” The north stairway has been exposed since antiquity to natural elements and stone pilferers, but the eastern was discovered in 1933 and retains a good deal of its original features.

The central hall could accommodate 10,000 guests (Herzfeld, p. 227). Its vast roof rested on large heavy cedar beams supported by columns, and on walls 5.32 m thick and made of mud-brick joined together with lime-and-clay mortar, and coated with gypsum and clay (this was the usual coating of the walls of the Persepolitan palaces). Here and in the porticoes the floor was covered with a layer of gypsum-and-clay plaster, 3-5 cm thick, and surfaced with a greenish-gray mixture of gypsum and mud. Two centrally located symmetrical doorways linked the main hall to the eastern and western porticoes, but the principal entrances were the two monumental doorways which opened from the northern portico, each with two-leafed wooden doors 15 m in height and almost certainly covered with sheets and bands of gold (a fragmentary band measuring 31 x12 cm, found in March 1940 near an Apadāna doorway, is incised with the figures of three winged bulls). Two smaller southern doorways led to inner chambers and vestibules connected to other palaces. Seventeen large windows (six in the western and the eastern walls and five in the northern) allowed enough light to lit the interior of the main hall.

Darius placed four stone boxes inside its four corner-walls, over several Lydian and Greek coins current at that time. Two of them were recovered in 1933 by Friedrich Krefter, each containing a pairs of gold and silver plaques (33 x 33 x 1.6 cm) inscribed with a trilingual “foundation inscription” (DPh), in which Darius introduces himself and gives the extent of his empire “from the Scythians who are beyond Sogdiana, from there to Ethiopia; from India, from there to Sardis (i. is., Lydia; DPh 3-8) The date of the deposit, and hence of the Apadāna, is debated, but a late chronology (e.g., Stronach, EIr II, p.; Roaf, 1983, pp. 138-39) is refuted by Root (1988) on the evidence of Persepolis seal-impressions. The alignment of the north portico with the “Gate of All Lands,” and the identity (save for height) of their columns indicate that the north portico was the first and principal one (contra Koch).

The most splendid parts of Persepolis are the double-reversed stairways of the Apadāna. Their sculptured representations are as follows (based on the eastern façade).

I. One wing shows three superimposed registers of guards, staff-bearers, and dignitaries (FIGURE 3). The rows start with lance-bear I. One wing shows three superimposed registers of guards, staff-bearers, and dignitaries (FIGURE 3). The rows start with lance-bearers, each wearing earrings, torque, and armlets, the “Persian” costume (long flowing garment and skirt, and three-strapped shoes), and a twisted fillet (the mitra). The garments of similarly clad “Susian guards” on the glazed bricks from the Apadāna of Susa (now in the Louvre Museum) are adorned with such motifs as lotus flowers, twelve-petaled rosettes, stars, and schematized representations of city gates are executed colorfully in blue, yellow, brown gray, and black, all recalling ancient authors’ description of the “Immortals,” the elite of the Achaemenid army. Next to the soldiers on the upper register are represented a Median usher, four Median grooms each carrying a whip and a highly decorated folded rug or saddle-cloth (the fourth also carries the royal footstool), another Median usher, three more grooms leading Nisaean stallion of magnificent size and harness (see ASB), and a Persian groom leading forth a pair of two-horsed chariots driven by Persian charioteers.

The Immortals of the middle and lower registers are followed by two lines of dignitaries, each consisting of thirty-two figures alternately clad in the “Persian” and “Mediuan” costumes (see CLOTHING). All wear earrings, torques, and armlets. They hold in one hand a bud or flower (either lotus or pomegranate) or carry objects identifiable as apple, quinces, or colored eggs. Most proceed with a relaxed and casual air, as if attending the party of a friend. One has placed his hand on the bow-case of his friend, another is touching the shoulder of his companion, and many are holding hands. These representations are among the rarest and most pleasant depictions of court ceremonies of the ancient world. To the right of the sculptured frieze is a bilingual inscription of Xerxes (Babylonian and Elamite), similar in context to the Old Persian text carved next to the gift-bearing delegations. They tell us that Xerxes was the author of many fine buildings, and the last paragraph of the Babylonian version specifies that: “This house I have built by the grace of Ahura Mazdā.” Trilingual inscriptions on glazed bricks ornamented the upper faÇade of the north and south porticos. A (restored) copy in Old Persian (XPg) from the eastern side (now kept the Oriental Institute of Chicago University) reads in translation: “Proclaims Xerxes, the Great King: By the favor of Ahura Mazdā, Darius the king, my father, built much that [is] beautiful and ordered [to be built], and similarly, by the will of Ahura Mazdā, I added to that work and built more. May Ahura Mazdā along with the divine beings protect me and my kingdom.” The textual evidence thus proves that the Apadāna had begun by Darius I the Great and completed and supplemented by Xerxes.

II. The corresponding wing represented twenty-three gift-bearing delegations each in its own national dress, and separated from the next by a cypress tree (FIGURE 4a and FIGURE 4b). Eighteen groups proceed in three superimposed and rosette-encased horizontal rows, and five are cramped in a narrow oblique line following the incline of the staircase, next to the Old Persian inscription of Xerxes (XPb). A Persian or Median usher holds the hand of the leader of each delegation with an attitude of cordiality and affection, to conduct him and his companions into the presence of the king. The delegations have been identified (some uncertainty still remain) on the basis of their costumes and gifts and comparison with the throne-bearers sculptured and twice named on the royal tombs (the essential studies are by Junge, Herzfeld, Schmidt, Walser, and Hinz; see also Shahbazi, 1977a, pp. 42-47; idem, 1982, pp. 205-30).

The foremost position is given to the Medes, who present bowls, pitchers, short swords (acinaces), heavy plain armlets, coats, candys, and trousers. The Susians bring bows, a lioness and her two cubs, the Armenians a bridled stallion and vessels, the Arians large bowls, a two-humped Bactrian camel, and a leopard skin, and the Babylonians shallow bowls, mantles, and a humped bull. The Lydians bring vases, bowls, armlets, and a two-horsed chariot, the Arachosians bowls, a Bactrian camel, and the skin of a wild cat, the Assyrians bowls, a lambskin, scarves, and two rams, the Cappadocians Median robe and trousers and a stallion, and the Egyptians (the panel is mainly destroyed) folded clothing and a bull. The central position is given to the north Iranians nation of Pointed-hat Scythians (Saka tigraxaudā), who offer a stallion, two armlets decorated with animal heads, two “Median” robes and a pair of “Median” trousers. The Ionians, similarly centrally positioned, present decorated cups and bowls, bales of cloth and balls of dyed wool. The Bactrians bring bowls and a Bactrian camel, the Gandarians a humped bull, a circular shield, and two decorative lances, the (Pre-Arsacid) Parthias highly decorated bowls and a two-humped camel, the Asagartians (of the Yazd area) Median cloths and a stallion, the Amyrgaean Scythians (Saka haumavargā) sheathed acinaces, armlets, battle-axes, and a stallion, and the Indians (of the Northwest Frontier) ball-shaped bags (of gold dust or spices), a mule, and two double-bladed axes. The Thracians bring four lances, a hemispherical shield, and a bridled stallion, the Arabs (of Jordan and Palestine) a folded garment and a single-humped Arabian camel, the Zarangians (ancient people of Sistān) a circular shield, a lance, and a bull with curved horns, the Libyans two lances, a mountain goat, and a two-horse chariot, and the Ethiopians an elephant tusk, an okapi (see Hampe), and a vessel (of perfume or ointment).

III. The center (formed by the outer stairway) depicts a winged-disk flanked by two seated sphinxes and hovering above a blank space on either side of which stand four Persian and Median guards, while on the triangular areas formed by the inclines of the flights are shown a row of cypress trees, a lion goring a bull, and a row of palm date trees. In Iranian tradition the cypress tree represents auspiciousness (cf. the Kāšmar/Kešmar cypress that was traditionally believed to have been planted by Zoroaster; see Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VI, p. 68, ll. 66-67; see CYPRESS) and the palm tree affluence and good life. The motif of the lion-goring-the-bull appears repeatedly at Persepolis with “almost the character of a coat of arm” (Herzfeld, 1941, pp. 251-52). A similar image was on Lydian coins that were current in Persia until Darius I the Great introduced his own coinage (see DARIC). It may have had an astrological symbolism (Leo = sun and Taurous). The Persian interpreted the winged circle and its elaborate form, the winged-man emerging from a ring, as the symbols of God-given Fortune (xᵛarənah; see FARR), the former representing the Iranian Glory and the latter the Royal Glory (against their interpretation as the frōhar [see FRAVAŠI] or the departed soul of the ancestors, or as Ahura Mazdā see Shahbazi, 1974 and 1981; Calmeyer, 1981, pp. 55-60; Ahn, 1992, pp. 199-215; Boyce, Zoroastrianism II, pp. 100-5; Boyce-Grenet, Zoroastrianism III, p. 104; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1983).

The panels of soldiers flanking an empty space are unsuited to the elaborate processions of the dignitaries and gift-bearers, and in 1972, Ann Britt Tilias demonstrated that they are replacements for the pair of orthostats representing an audience scene, which Erich F. Schmidt discovered in the Treasury (FIGURE 5). The audience scene on the “Treasury Reliefs” completes the ceremony represented on the two wings. It shows an enthroned king in the center, his crown prince standing behind him, both wearing the “Persian” dress and a tall but plain cylindrical crown; behind the prince stand a “Persian” eunuch carrying a towel, a “Mede” holding a highly ornamented battle-ax and a quiver, and two “Persian” guards; before the king stand a pair of incense burners, a “Mede” and two “Persians,” one a lance-bearer, the other carrying a pail or incense receptacle. The “Mede” bows slightly as a gesture of respect towards the king while raising the right hand to the mouth and covering the chin and lower lip with two fingers as a sign of salutation. He carries a staff that identifies him as a senior official associated with the task of introducing persons or groups into the presence of the king, namely, the chiliarch (Old Pers. *hazārapati, Mid Pers. hazārbed) or the commander of the thousand select soldiers of the royal guard. Undoubtedly this scene represented the beginning of the audience ceremony, when the king sat upon the throne under the royal canopy, surrounded by his heir and senior court and military officials, and reviewed three files of the royal guards and the nobles of the empire. At this point, the chiliarch, acting as the master of ceremonies, would come forward and report to the king concerning the course of the festivities, and introduce the participating groups. Behind him would come delegations from various parts of the empire bringing their exotic gifts to the king. They too would proceed in three files, each group led by a Persian or Median usher.

The interpretation of the “Treasury Reliefs” as representing Darius the Great enthroned accompanied by his crown prince Xerxes (or Artabazus, as some have suggested) must be given up (von Gall, 1974; Frye, 1974; Calmeyer, 1975; Shahbazi, 1976). Darius usually wore a crenellated crown, while the enthroned figure here wears the plain cylindrical crown of Xerxes, as is known from his representations in the Hadiš. The enthroned figure thus shows Xerxes and his son and heir prince Darius. When Xerxes was murdered in 466 BCE, allegedly by his son, a younger son destroyed the conspirators and ascending the throne reigned for forty-two years as Artaxerxes I. It was this Artaxerxes who finished the Tripylon, the Hundred Column Hall, and one more palace on the platform (see below). He removed the “Audience Reliefs” depicting his father Xerxes and prince Darius and deposited them safely in the Treasury, replacing them with a panel showing four pairs of “Median” and “Persian” guards on either side of a rectangular blank space (Frye, 1974; Shahbazi, 1976). Exactly the same scene is repeated on the northern stairway of the Tripylon, which we know to have been finished by Artaxerxes I (see below).

The magnificent palace and its sculptured friezes originally glowed with color. Herzfeld writes (apud Schmidt, I, p. 82, n. 90) that when in 1932 he uncovered the eastern staircase, he found traces of pigment “everywhere at the sculptures which had been buried under the soil.” Unfortunately, Herzfeld did not give a detailed record of these polychrome works, which vanished soon after their unearthing. In addition, in some places, especially in the center of the exposed tower walls near the roof, glazed bricks were used to show a frieze of trees, flowers, lions, and other animals in blue, yellow, and turquoise colors. A rectangular area in the center was covered with inscriptions of Xerxes in the Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite cuneiform characters.

The Palace of Darius (the Tačara). The oldest palace of Persepolis is the charming structure known as the Tachara, built by Darius south of the Apadāna and on a platform 2.20-3.00 m. higher than the level of the latter. This palace served as the model for the facade shown of the tomb of Darius the Great at Naqš-e Rostam (and copied on those of his successors), so an authentic reconstruction of the southern faÇade of the Tačara is possible. Likewise, the sculptures of the Tachara were imitated in later palaces.

The Tačara has a rectangular plan (recalling Pasargadaean architecture), and measures 40 x 30 m, and faces a southern courtyard. It consisted of a main hall with twelve columns (which had two-stepped square plinths, wooden shafts coated with gypsum plaster and elaborately designed and brilliantly colored ornamentations, and double-headed bull capitals), two smaller columned rooms on the north, a columned portico on the south, and several chambers and guard-rooms on either side. Originally five doorways (two in the north wall, one in each of the other sides) linked the hall to the side rooms and the south portico (a sixth was added by Artaxerex III at the northwestern corner). The hall had sixteen windows and niches, each hewn from a single rectangular block of stone crowned with a vertically fluted architrave element known as the Egyptian covetto cornice. Each bears on its frames a trilingual cuneiform inscription (DPc), stating: “Stone window-frames made for the royal house of King Darius.” The entire building was paved with red-surfaced flooring like that used in the Treasury, which was a characteristic feature of Darius’ constructions.

The jambs of the doorways of the western rooms are adorned with sculptured figures of “Persian” lance-bearers carrying large rectangular wicker shields, those of chambers represent attendants or servants (some of them eunuchs, see HAREM) with towel and perfume bottles, or a “Persian” royal hero killing lions and monsters. Those of main doorways of the hall depict Darius the Great accompanied by two attendants. He enters from the columned rooms and leaves into the portico. He is wearing a crenellated crown which was originally covered with sheets of gold, as is evidenced by the presence of holes in the stone where they were attached. The armlets, torques, earrings, sequins, and beard ornaments had been made of actual precious metals and stones, and then set into the sculpture (looter removed all accessories before setting fire to the structures). Traces of color (blue, red, etc.) have been detected on the headgears and faces of the attendants. A trilingual inscription (DPa) carved on the two sides of the southern doorway above the head of the king identifies him as: “Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, the Achaemenid, who built this tačara.” Similar trilingual labels (DPb) were engraved on the garments of the royal figures, but one identifies the individual as Xerxes, proving a period of synarchy, when Xerxes was allowed to wear Darius’ crown as his co-regent (Calmyer, 1986, pp. 81f.; von Gall, 1989, pp. 502f., 511: Shahbazi, 1985, p. 11). Of these texts, two were chiseled away in 1718 by the Dutch traveler, Cornelis de Brujin (they are now in the Cabinet des Medalles of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris).

A double reversed stairway connects the south court to the Tačara. Its inner walls are sculptured with representations of servants and attendants, dressed alternately in “Median” and “Persian” costumes (the latter with scarf-like head-wrap), carrying food and utensils. Others have covered their mouths, as if wearing the Zoroastrian mouth-cover (panām), and it is not unlikely that they were priests carrying sacrificial animals or meals for a ritual occasion. The faÇade of the staircase shows the winged-circle flanked by two antithetic seated sphinxes and terraces of palm trees, and below them two antithetic rows of nine “Persian” soldiers flanking an Old Persian inscription of Xerxes (XPc). An Elamite version is inscribed to the right of the scene and a Babylonian to the left. In these Xerxes first venerates Ahura mazdā, then introduces himself, and adds: “By the grace of Ahura Mazdā this hadiš Darius the king made who (was) my father.” The same trilingual text is carved twice more on the inner faces of the monolith pillars of the southern portico. Artaxerxes III added a staircase on the northwest of the Tačara and connected it to the main hall by opening a new doorway. He ornamented the faÇade of the staircase with representations of gift-bearing delegations flanking a very beautifully carved inscription (A³Pa, see Schmitt, pp. 114-18), in which he venerates Ahura Mazdā, introduces himself and traces his genealogy to “Hystaspes, son of Arsames, an Achaemenid,” specifies that “This stone staircase (was) made by me,” and ends with the invocation: “Let Ahura Mazdā and god Mithra protect me and this country and what (has been) built by me” (A³Pa 21-26).

The Tačara is a museum of calligraphy of many Achaemenid as well as non-Achaemenid inscriptions from various periods. Two Middle Persian texts are carved on the north wall of the portico. In the first, a brother of Shapur II, called Shapur Sakānšāh, “[lord] of Sind, Sistān and Turān, up to the edge of the Sea [of Arabia],” informs us that (in 311 CE) he “went on this road, between Estaḵr and Sistān and graciously came (here) to this Satsitūn (Persepolis). Then he had lunch in this building. With him were . . . Persian and Saka knights . . . and chiefs. He caused great rejoicing, and ordered rites performed for the gods. He gave blessings to his father and ancestors. Then he offered blessings to Shapur the king of kings, to his own soul, and also to him who built this structure. May god remember (them?)” (Frye, 1966). Of later inscriptions, one in Arabic language and Kufic script is by the Buyid king, ʿAżod -al-Dawla, who states that he stayed in this palace and had the Zoroastrian priest of Kāzerun brought here to translate for him older (obviously Pahlavi) inscriptions. The king had a especial reverence for the Achaemenid and Sasanian monuments (see Busse), and he removed several doorjambs, lintels, and other architectural elements from the Tačara and reused them in a palace (locally known as the Qaṣr-e Abu Naṣr) he built near Shiraz (Wilkinson). The fragments have been recovered from the ruins of his palace and returned to their original places. There are a dozen more inscriptions of later periods, the last dating from 1888 and giving an account of Farhād Mirzā Farmānfarmā’s treasure-seeking excavation at Persepolis, in which Carl F. Andreas is also mentioned. (Moṣṭafavi tr. Sharp, p. 229) South of the Tačara courtyard Xerxes started a palace (“Palace H”), which his son Artaxerxes I. It had the most elaborately sculptured facade at Persepolis, representing thirty gift-bearing delegations (Shahbazi, 1977, fig. 22), but all were subsequently destroyed or reused. Only its western and southern battlements remain, consisting of alternately smaller and larger crenellations, each of which was crowned with a pair of large bull horns and decorated with small “blind windows,” crosses, and arrow-heads carved on its outer face (looking towards the plain.

The Palace of Xerxes (the Hadiš). Xerxes’ private residence (called hadiš in one of its inscriptions) was twice the size of the Tačara and stood on a platform hewn from the natural bedrock 18 m. higher than the level of the plain. It had a thirty-six columned square hall connected by a doorway to a long balcony on the south which gave a panoramic view of the plain from behind four-stepped crenellations, by another pair to a twelve-columned portico on the north, and by two more to flanking apartments each consisting of a four-columned hall, storage and guardrooms, and a tower. The hall had also nineteen windows and four niches, each hewn from a monolith, and a complete system of drainage. Two double reversed staircases bearing sculptures similar to that of the Tačara ascended the Hadiš from the western and eastern courtyards, while two unadorned staircases on either sides of the balcony (the eastern one was restored in 1978) led down to the Harem. The fine but brittle stone used in this palace was severely burned during Alexander’s fire, making it very difficult to protect the little that has survived.

The sculptures on the doorjambs of the main hall show Xerxes, wearing a tall plain cylindrical crown, and accompanied by two attendants (depicted on a much smaller scale), a parasol-holder, and a towel or a flywhisk carrier. Trilingual inscriptions carved on the folds of the royal garment and above the parasol identify the king, and similar ones are inscribed on the frames of windows and niches. The more detailed trilingual texts on the pillars of the northern portico are essentially the same as those on the pillars of the Tačara portico. In 1978 this writer discovered that an Old Persian inscription carved above the king’s parasol on the eastern jamb of the northwestern doorway of the Hadiš named the royal personage as “Darius the king” instead of “Xerxes the king” (Shahbazi, 1985, pp. 11-12, Pls. XI-XII). This proved that Xerxes had started the Hadiš while he was Darius’ co-regent. The inner faces of the windows of the Hadiš are sculptured with representations of people carrying utensils or leading wild goats or similar animals. This is a variation in Persepolitan sculptures and has no parallel elsewhere.

The harem of Xerxes.To the west of the Treasury is a structure built in two wings joined at southeastern angle and consisting of the following elements: a “service quarter,” a rectangular courtyard, a portico with eight columns (2 x 4 rows), a main hall with twelve columns (3 x 4 rows) and several adjoining chambers, and a number of identical units on either side of a long corridor, each forming an apartment with a four-columned hall and one or two side-rooms and storerooms. This arrangement and the fact that a thick wall surrounded the whole complex and access to it was essentially through a small entrance located in the southwestern corner, makes the identification of the structure by Schmidt (I, pp. 255-64) as the harem of Xerxes sound (see HAREM). The main (eastern) wing of the Harem was rebuilt in a modified form (to afford better lighting) by Friedrich Krefter to house the 1930s expedition staff. It has served as the Museum of Persepolis and housed the administrative quarters of the Institute of Achaemenid Research at Persepolis from 1973 to 1978 and the Foundation for Parsa-Pasargadae Research since 2002. Herzfeld discovered an inscription in Old Persian (XPf) and Babylonian in which Xerxes informs us that his father, Darius, “built much excellent (construction),” and, although he had other sons, “Ahura Mazdā so desired” that Darius “made me the greatest after himself.” He adds: “When I became king, I built much excellent (construction). What had been built by my father, that I protected, and other works I added” (XPf 25 ff.).

The main feature of the Harem is the structure which is now the Museum of Persepolis. The two flanking pillars of the northern portico are the largest monoliths at Persepolis (each is 8.20 m long, 1.20 m wide, and 70.5 tons in weight). Four stone windows in the northern wall facilitated lighting. The entire floor of the building rests on the natural bedrock. The walls were of mud brick, the columns had wooden cores covered with highly colored and decorated gypsum plaster, square (not bell-shaped, as those of the restored building), bases, and double-headed bull capitals. The entrance to the main hall was from the south. Its jambs show Xerxes entering, accompanied by two attendants (depicted on smaller scale), one of whom is a beardless eunuch. They are represented as leaving the hall through the door leading to the north portico. The king wears a flowing pleated gown and a skirt on which patterns of flowers, stars, and walking lions are incised. A Persian “royal hero” is shown dispatching a roaring rampant lion (western doorjambs) or a horned- griffin monster (eastern doorjambs), while Persian soldiers carrying long lances and wicker shields are on portico doorjambs. On the southern wall of the portico are the incised figures of Pābak, his sons Šāpur and Ardašir (the founder of the Sasanian empire) and some dignitaries on horseback and afoot. They provide important data for the study of Sasanian art and history, and also prove that up to the early 3rd century CE, this part of Persepolis was fairly well preserved and had a special significance for the early Sasanians.

The “Tripylon” or Central Palace.” This small but lavishly ornamented structure is located in the center of the terrace on a platform 2.60 m. higher than the level of the Apadāna courtyard. Its main hall (measuring 15.46 x 15.46 m) had three doorways, four columns, and walls of sun-dried bricks faced with glazed tiles or coated with colored gypsum plaster. The eastern entrance was through a corridor flanked by a guardroom on the south and an anti-room on the north and linked by a narrow staircase to the Harem and to the Hundred Column Hall. The jambs of this doorway are sculptured (in the mirror image) with the representation of a king seated under the royal baldachin, his crown prince standing behind him, both on a monumental throne which is being carried into the hall upon the raised arms and hands of twenty-eight persons (shown on a much smaller scale), symbolizing subject nations of the empire. Above the canopy hovers the symbol of the Royal Glory, holding a ring. The sculptures have been mutilated, and the accessories in precious metals and stones looted. Another doorway opened into a north portico and a third into a south portico and through it into a small courtyard linked by means of a small stairway to the area east of the Hadiš. On all four jambs a royal figure is shown leaving the hall accompanied by a parasol-bearer and a flywhisk holder: he wears a tall plain cylindrical crown tapering on the top, characteristic of Artaxerxes I. The king’s crown, beard, and arms were originally bedecked with accessories in precious metals and stones, and one can still observe traces of red paint on the lower part of his robe. His plain low boots also bear traces of red and blue pigments.

The north portico had two elaborately ornamented columns with human-headed bull capitals. Its northern edge was a parapet topped by four-stepped battlements, and ornamented on the inner (southern) face with the sculptured figures of eighty “Persian” guards filed in two confronting rows. The first twenty of each row carry large elliptical shields and lances, the rest lances only. A stone bench abuts the walls on other sides, providing comfortable seating, and a double reversed staircase connect the Apadāna courtyard to the north portico. Its faÇade is fully sculptured. When uncovered by excavation, the sculptures “revealed their original colors unchanged: purple red and turquoise blue, with application of metal, possibly gold” (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 255). “Median” and “Persian” guards are on the eastern and western walls of the socle of the portico, and two Persian ushers on the newel of each staircase. The facade of the wall between the two staircases bears two sculptured registers. The upper, and narrower, band represents two seated sphinxes, ten palm trees, and “Persian” dignitaries bedecked in jewelry, who proceed with ease and evident happiness. The lower register depicts two antithetic files of four Persian shield-bearers flanking a blank rectangle, and, in triangular panels, the motifs of the lion goring the bull, and rows of palm trees. The scene replicates the one on the central faÇade of the Apadāna stairways, suggesting common date and authorship. The outer sides of the flights are covered with the familiar scenes of palm trees, the lion goring the bull, a blank rectangular area, and “Median” and “Persian” lance-bearers. The inner walls of the flights represent dignitaries ascending the steps, “Persians” on the right, “Medians” on the left. They proceed with ease and informality, each holding in one hand a flower or fruit or egg, and with the other hand, touches his own beard, or holds the hand or touches the shoulder of his companion.

Despite an earlier dating, the Central Palace must be attributed to Xerxes and Artaxerxes I (von Gall, 1974, p. 151; Shahbazi, 1976, p. 60; Roaf, 1977, pp. 149-52). The clamps used here narrow straight, characteristic of the post-Darius period; the lower stone wall of the palace is set against the continuation of the eastern stone wall of the Apadāna, indicating that the latter already existed; the column capitals of the northern portico are identical to those of the northern portico of the Hundred Column Hall of Xerxes and Artaxerxes I, and the crowns of the royal figures on the Tripylon doorway resemble that of Artaxerxes I.

The symbolism of the scenes depicted on the jambs of the eastern doorway may reflect an actual event: at one stage of a great festival at Persepolis, Iranian dignitaries ascended the northern stairway and entered the portico while twenty-eight representing subject nations lifted the royal throne supporting the king and crown prince, and carried them into the main hall, where they received the guests. Later Iranian tradition associated the ritual with the mythical king Jamšid.

The Treasury. On the southeastern corner of the Terrace, Darius built a treasury along a west-east long axis (120 x 60 m), but he later enlarged it northwards and still later Xerxes extended the building northward and gave it its final shape, a fortress-like structure surrounded by a thick mud brick wall pierced with a single entrance at the northeastern corner. The columns of its various halls rested on square double plinths or discoid slabs mounted on square plinths, and had wooden shafts covered with ornate and brilliantly colored gypsum plaster. After clearing the structure from debris, the excavators destroyed some important architectural and artistic features of the Treasury by shortening its walls to a standard low level, ostensibly to preserve them.

Alexander approached Persepolis in 330 BCE, its treasurer Tiridates hastened to submit the citadel in the hope of saving the city and its acropolis. But Alexander plundered Pārsa and slaughtered its people, then pillaged the citadel. The Treasury’s “vaults were packed full of silver and gold. The total was found to be one hundred and twenty thousand talents, when the gold was estimated in terms of silver.” Afterwards Alexander burned “the enormous palaces, famed throughout the whole civilized world” (Diodorus 17.71). That the fire was deliberate is shown by the facts that the accessories in precious metal inlaid in sculptured reliefs were first systematically removed, and no attempt was made to put down the fire by the use of water from the moat. Alexander’s true reason for the barbarism must have been the conviction that as long as the “mother-city” of the dynasty he was determined to uproot remained intact, the Persians would not accept him and would continue to fight for the recovery of “the Persian city” (Shahbazi, 1977a, p. 67). The excavation of the Treasury has found little, mainly discarded and fragmentary objects. A part of an archive consisting of 750 small Elamite clay tablets was found left heaped up in a western columned hall among burnt debris. Most are from the time of Xerxes, but some date from the last years of Darius and some from the first years of Artaxerxes I. They are administrative records concerning wages and other expenditures paid from the treasury to laborers or officials (see PERSEPOLIS, ELAMITE TABLETS).

The Hundred Column Hall and other monuments. This second largest palace of Persepolis is located to the north of the Treasury and east of the Apadāna courtyard. Its main feature was a square hall measuring 68.50 x 68.50 m., and provided with ten rows of ten columns, each nearly 14 m high and composed of a bell-shaped base, a discoid torus, a fluted cylindrical shaft with elaborate floral elements, and a double-headed bull capital. Two monumental doorways opened into a north portico with sixteen similarly composed columns (but surmounted by double-headed man-bull capitals) and flanking pillars that were ornamented in high relief with the foreparts of a bull projecting north-wards, facing the visitors of the portico. Everywhere charred remains of palace items and of cedar beams evidence a frightful fire. Even the color and texture of the stone are altered. Another pair of monumental doorways opened into long narrow vestibules on the south, and two smaller pairs opened into a narrow vestibule on the west and a series of guardrooms and storage chambers on the east. There were also five windows and two niches in the north wall and two windows and three niches in each of the other three walls. Thus the hall received limited but adequate light. A Babylonian inscription recovered by Herzfeld in the southeastern corner of the hall states: “Artaxerxes the king speaks: ‘‘this house [is one that] Xerxes the king, my father, laid its foundations in the protection of Ahura Mazdā; I, Artaxerxes the king, built and brought (it) to completion” (A¹Pa 17-22). Hence, the structure must have been built between 486 and 450 BCE.

The four jambs of the southern doorways are sculptured with an identical scene. The winged-human symbol of Royal Glory hovers above a royal canopy decorated with rows of passant lions and bulls flanking two Winged-circles (Iranian Glory: Shahbazi 1980, pp. 140-42). Beneath the baldachins is Artaxerxes I seated on a chair, his flywhisk bearer standing behind him, and both on a monumental throne borne into the hall by fourteen throne-bearers (in reality twenty-eight, as on the eastern doorway of the Tripylon). The entire scene shone with brilliant colors (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 255; Schmidt I, pp. 82, 84-5, 92, 116; Lerner; Tilia 1972-78, II, pp. 31-69): green, gold, blue and red, traces of which have enabled investigators to reconstruct the original majesty of the figures. However, on the jambs of the northern doorways Artaxerxes I is shown enthroned, receiving in audience a “Median” chiliarch, while a towel-bearer and a weapon-bearer stand behind the king and two pairs of “Persian” guards flank the scene. Since Artaxerxes I was a youth when he ascended the throne, no crown prince is shown here. Above the scene hovers the Royal Glory, while below the throne are five (not “six” as in Root, 1979, p. 107) superimposed rows of soldiers, each composed of two confronting files of five “Median” and “Persian” guards, totaling (in reality) one hundred soldiers each shown twice from the opposite views. They represent one hundred columns, as it were, of the Persian Empire. The sculptures of other doorjambs are similar to those of the Tačara and the Harem, showing a Persian royal hero vanquishing a bird-headed leonine monster (NW), a lion (SW), a horned lion-headed monster (NE), and a rampant bull (SE).

A gatehouse (the “Unfinished Gate”) was planned north of the Hundred Column Hall’s forecourt and east of the “Army Street.” To the west of it was the “Garrison quarter.” A street 320 m long and 7.5-10 m wide separated the buildings on the Terrace from the eastern fortification, and the two royal tombs carved in the “Royal Hill” (that of Artaxerxes III overlooking the Hundred Column Hall, and that of Artaxerxes II overlooking the southeastern corner of the Terrace, see Schmidt, III, p. 99; von Gall 1989; contra Schmitt, p. 119). A very important discovery was the finding in two chambers of the Northeast Fortification of a part of the Persepolis Archive consisting of some 30.000 small clay tablets inscribed in Elamite. These “Fortification Tablets” record payment of rations to officials, work groups, messengers, priests of various faiths, commands and proclamations of high official, etc. (see PERSEPOLIS ELAMITE TABLETS). The seals of kings and officials stamped on these tablets (see Garrison and Root) constitute a valuable source for the evaluation of the art history and administrative geography of the Achaemenid Empire.

Some Technical and art historical details. Basically, two types of stone have been used in Persepolis: a limestone of bright gray color quarried locally, and a dark gray limestone brought from Majdābād, a quarry approximately 40 km. to the west of Persepolis (Calmeyer, 1990b; for the stone cutting see studies by Nylander; Krefter, 1967; Tilia, 1968a). For lifting the blocks and lay them in position, scaffolds of strong timbers (oak, cedar, cypress) and pullies and wheels were used. Joining was achieved without mortar, by the “tongues-and-sockets” method, anathyrosis techniques, and clamping. In the last method, iron bars were inserted into holes cut into the joining edges of the two blocks and molten lead was poured over then and then smoothly filed. The early clamps were swallow-tailed in shape, while the later ones were almost straight. The variations provide a reliable dating device. Artisans worked in groups, and often several groups worked on the same piece, each following a different stage of the task (Roaf, 1983). They have left the “mason marks,” which can be used for determining workshops and styles. Herzfeld maintained that all Persepolitan sculptures “were conceived in colour and intended to be painted. The colour scheme as a whole, on its highly polished black background, is quite different from the colour scheme used in Greece” (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 255; see further Lerner; Tilia, 1972-78, II, pp. 31-69).

In his inscriptions carved next to the (original) gate of Persepolis, Darius specifies that nations subject to him co-operated in the creation of Persepolis. In fact Persepolis architecture and sculpture demonstrate that it was the last phase of the art of the ancient Near East, its Imperial style. The Persians planned and directed the work, following their traditional architecture of columned halls surrounded by porches and side chambers (known from the Median sites of Ḥasanlu in Azerbaijan and Tappa Nuš-e Jān near ancient Ecbatana), but artisans from the subject nations executed the designs. Persepolis was in essence Iranian but in details and workmanship Urartian (blind windows, platform construction), Egyptian (architraves, painting of the sculptural figures), Babylonian (court ceremonials and decorative patterns), Elamite (costumes, vessels), Assyrian (doorway designs, tribute processions, and throne-bearing scenes), Scythian (animal motifs and armament decorations), Lydian and Ionian (stone cutting tools and techniques, elements of columns, clamps and gold work), etc. Under Iranian guidance the artists of the ancient world gave us a masterpiece, which has parallels in details but is unique in its perfection of plan, coherence of elements, splendor of forms, and gracefulness of execution.

Persepolitan architecture and sculpture have inspired many a people and artist. The Near Eastern art from Sarnat in India (Wheeler, 1968, 1974) to Lycia and Sidon (Kleemann, von Graeve) show features (columns, capitals, audience scene, and festive processions) borrowed from Persepolis. Similar influence can be traced in Armenia (architecture and iconography), Georgia, and Central Asia (Pazyrik and later kurgans), and Transcaucasus (Chachatrijan, Knaus, Gagozide and Kipiani). The Sasanians regarded the ruins as testimonies of their ancestors (see above), and imitated its features: the monumental Achaemenid throne was copied on the reverse of Ardašir I’s coins, the covetto cornis at Firuzābād, double-headed bull capital and processions of dignitaries and gift-bearers at Bišāpur, and terrace stairway at Kangāvar. Indirect Persepolitan influence is found in the painted scenes of the ʿAbbasid palace at Sāmmara and in the art and architecture of the Safavid Isfahan. The Qajar artists consciously copied Persepolitan-style figures and architectural elements in their monuments in Shiraz and Tehran. The architecture of the Zoroastrian fire temple in Bombay was inspired by Persepolis, and Persepolitan structures were copied in Reżā Shah’s Tehran (e.g., the National Bank, the Police Headquarters). Persepolis sculptures provide artistic repertoires for many a metalworker, carpet weaver, tile designer, and filmmaker.


Gregor Ahn, Religiöse Herrscherlegitimation im achämenidischen Iran, Acta Iranica 31, Leiden and Louvain, 1992, pp. 199-215.

Carl F. Andreas and Franz Stolze, Persepolis: die achämenidischen und sasanidischen Denkmäler und Inschriften von Persepolis, Istakhr, Pasargadae, Shahpur, zum ersten Male photographisch aufgenommen von F. Stolze: im Ancschlusse an die epigraphisch-archaeologische Expedition in Persien von F. C. Andreas, 2 vols. Berlin, 1882.

Richard D. Barnet, “Persepolis,” Iraq 19, 1957, pp. 55-77 Herbert Weld Blundell, “Persepolis,” in Edward Delmar Morgan, ed., Transactions of theNinth International Congress of Orientalists (Held in London, 5th to 12th September 1892), 2 vols., London, 1893, II, pp. 537-59.

John Boardman, Persia and the West: An Archaeological Investigation of the Genesis of Achaemenid Art, London, 2000.

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(A. Shapur Shahbazi)

Originally Published: August 15, 2009

Last Updated: August 15, 2009