Tepe of the Royal city (left) and of the Acropolis (right), seen from the Hill mound of the Apadana in Susa.
|Location||Shush, Khuzestan Province, Iran|
|Founded||Approximately 4000 BCE|
Part of a series on the
|History of Iran|
Susa (//; Persian: شوش Shush [ʃuʃ]; Greek: Σοῦσα [ˈsuːsa]; Syriac: ܫܘܫ Shush; Old Persian Çūšā-; Hebrew שׁוּשָׁן Shushān) was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about 250 km (160 mi) east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers.
The modern Iranian town of Shush is located at the site of ancient Susa. Shush is the administrative capital of the Shush County of Iran's Khuzestan province. It had a population of 64,960 in 2005.
In historic literature, Susa appears in the very earliest Sumerian records: for example, it is described as one of the places obedient to Inanna, patron deity of Uruk, in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.
Susa is also mentioned in the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible by the name Shushan, mainly in Esther, but also once each in Nehemiah and Daniel. Both Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BCE. Esther became queen there, and saved the Jews from genocide. A tomb presumed to be that of Daniel is located in the area, known as Shush-Daniel. The tomb is marked by an unusual white stone cone, which is neither regular nor symmetric. Many scholars believe it was at one point a Star of David. Susa is further mentioned in the Book of Jubilees (8:21 & 9:2) as one of the places within the inheritance of Shem and his eldest son Elam; and in 8:1, "Susan" is also named as the son (or daughter, in some translations) of Elam.
In urban history, Susa is one of the oldest-known settlements of the region. Based on C14 dating, the foundation of a settlement there occurred as early as 4395 BCE (a calibrated radio-carbon date). Archeologists have dated the first traces of an inhabited Neolithic village to c 7000 BCE. Evidence of a painted-pottery civilization has been dated to c 5000 BCE. Its name in Elamite was written variously Ŝuŝan, Ŝuŝun, etc. The origin of the word Susa is from the local city deity Inshushinak. Like its Chalcolithic neighbor Uruk, Susa began as a discrete settlement in the Susa I period (c 4000 BCE). Two settlements called Acropolis (7 ha) and Apadana (6.3 ha) by archeologists, would later merge to form Susa proper (18 ha). The Apadana was enclosed by 6m thick walls of rammed earth. The founding of Susa corresponded with the abandonment of nearby villages. Potts suggests that the city may have been founded to try to reestablish the previously destroyed settlement at Chogha Mish. Susa was firmly within the Uruk cultural sphere during the Uruk period. An imitation of the entire state apparatus of Uruk, proto-writing, cylinder seals with Sumerian motifs, and monumental architecture, is found at Susa. Susa may have been a colony of Uruk. As such, the periodization of Susa corresponds to Uruk; Early, Middle and Late Susa II periods (3800–3100 BCE) correspond to Early, Middle, and Late Uruk periods.
By the middle Susa II period, the city had grown to 25 ha. Susa III (3100–2900 BCE) corresponds with Uruk III period. Ambiguous reference to Elam (Cuneiform; 𒉏 NIM) appear also in this period in Sumerian records. Susa enters history during the Early Dynastic period of Sumer. A battle between Kish and Susa is recorded in 2700 BCE.
Shortly after Susa was first settled 6000 years ago, its inhabitants erected a temple on a monumental platform that rose over the flat surrounding landscape. The exceptional nature of the site is still recognizable today in the artistry of the ceramic vessels that were placed as offerings in a thousand or more graves near the base of the temple platform. Nearly two thousand pots were recovered from the cemetery most of them now in the Louvre. The vessels found are eloquent testimony to the artistic and technical achievements of their makers, and they hold clues about the organization of the society that commissioned them. Painted ceramic vessels from Susa in the earliest first style are a late, regional version of the Mesopotamian Ubaid ceramic tradition that spread across the Near East during the fifth millennium B.C.
Susa I style was very much a product of the past and of influences from contemporary ceramic industries in the mountains of western Iran. The recurrence in close association of vessels of three types—a drinking goblet or beaker, a serving dish, and a small jar—implies the consumption of three types of food, apparently thought to be as necessary for life in the afterworld as it is in this one. Ceramics of these shapes, which were painted, constitute a large proportion of the vessels from the cemetery. Others are course cooking type jars and bowls with simple bands painted on them and were probably the grave goods of the sites humbler citizens, including adolescents and perhaps children. The pottery is carefully made by hand. Although a slow wheel may have been employed, the asymmetry of the vessels and the irregularity of the drawing of encircling lines and bands indicate that most of the work was done freehand.
In politics, Susa was the capital of a state called Šušan, which occupied approximately the same territory of modern Khūzestān Province centered on the Karun River. Control of Šušan shifted between Elam, Sumer, and Akkad. Šušan is sometimes mistaken as synonymous with Elam, but it was a distinctly separate cultural and political entity. Šušan was incorporated by Sargon the Great into his Akkadian Empire in approximately 2330 BCE. It was the capital of an Akkadian province until ca. 2240 BCE, when its governor, Kutik-Inshushinak, rose up in rebellion and made it an independent state, making it a literary center. Following this, the city was conquered by the neo-Sumerian Ur-III dynasty, and held until Ur finally collapsed at the hands of the Elamites under Kindattu in ca. 2004 BCE. At this time, Susa became an Elamite capital under the Epartid dynasty, and in 1400 BCE, of the Igihalkid dynasty that "Elamaized" Šušan. In ca. 1175 BCE the Elamites under Shutruk-Nahhunte plundered the original stele bearing the Code of Hammurabi, the world's first known written laws, and took it to Susa. Archeologists found it in 1901. Nebuchadnezzar I of the Babylonian empire plundered Susa around fifty years later.
In 647 BCE, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal leveled the city during a war in which the people of Susa participated on the other side. A tablet unearthed in 1854 by Austen Henry Layard in Nineveh reveals Ashurbanipal as an "avenger", seeking retribution for the humiliations the Elamites had inflicted on the Mesopotamians over the centuries:
"Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed... I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt.". Assyrian rule of Susa began in 647 BCE and lasted till Median capture of Susa in 617 BCE.
After Persian conquest
Susa underwent a major political and ethnocultural transition when it became part of the Persian Achaemenid empire between 540 and 539 BCE when it was captured by Cyrus the Great during his conquest of Elam (Susiana), of which Susa was the capital. The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the battle(s), Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the conflict over Susa had begun possibly in the winter of 540 BCE. It is probable that Cyrus engaged in negotiations with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years. Cyrus' conquest of Susa and the rest of Babylonia commenced a fundamental shift, bringing Susa under Persian control for the first time.
Under Cyrus' son Cambyses II, Susa became a center of political power as one of 4 capitals of the Achaemenid Persian empire, while reducing the significance of Pasargadae as the capital of Persis. Following Cambyses' brief rule, Darius the Great began a major building program in Susa and Persepolis. During this time he describes his new capital in the DSf inscription: "This palace which I built at Susa, from afar its ornamentation was brought. Downward the earth was dug, until I reached rock in the earth. When the excavation had been made, then rubble was packed down, some 40 cubits in depth, another part 20 cubits in depth. On that rubble the palace was constructed." Susa continued as a winter capital and residence for Achaemenid kings succeeding Darius the Great, Xerxes I, and their successors.
Macedonian, Parthian and Sassanid periods
Susa lost much of its importance when Alexander of Macedon conquered it in 331 BCE and destroyed the first Persian Empire. Approximately one century after Alexander, Susa fell to the Seleucid Empire. After Seleucia it was the biggest city in under Selucid control at the time. Susa used Charax Spasinou as its port. It retained a considerable amount of independence and retained its Greek city state organization well into the ensuing Parthian period and seems to have gained independence under a dynasty whose kings bore the name of Kamnaskires in the 1st century CE. 
When the Parthian Empire gained its independence from the Seleucid Empire, and took control of much of its eastern provinces, Susa was made one of the two capitals (along with Ctesiphon) of the new state.
Susa became a frequent place of refuge for Parthian and later, the Persian Sassanid kings, as the Romans sacked Ctesiphon five different times between 116 and 297 AD (Susa was briefly captured only by Roman emperor Trajan in 116 AD and never again would the Roman Empire advance so far to the east).  Typically, the Parthian rulers wintered in Susa, and spent the summer in Ctesiphon.
Post-Islamic period and degradation
Susa was destroyed at least three times in its history. The first was in 647 BCE, by Ashurbanipal. The second destruction took place in 638 CE, when the Muslim armies first conquered Persia. In 1218, the city was razed by invading Mongols. The city further degraded in the 15th century when the majority of its population moved to Dezful and it remains as a small settlement today.
Susa had a significant Christian population during the first millennium, and was a diocese of the Church of the East between the 5th and 13th centuries, in the metropolitan province of Beth Huzaye (Elam).
The site was examined in 1836 by Henry Rawlinson and then by A. H. Layard. In 1851, some modest excavation was done by William Loftus, who identified it as Susa. In 1885 and 1886 Marcel-Auguste Dieulafoy and Jane Dieulafoy began the first French excavations.
Jacques de Morgan conducted major excavations from 1897 until 1911. These efforts continued under Roland De Mecquenem until 1914, at the beginning of World War I. French work at Susa resumed after the war, led by De Mecquenem, continuing until World War II in 1940.  Archaeological results from the later period were very thinly published and attempts are underway to remedy this situation.
Roman Ghirshman took over direction of the French efforts in 1946, after the end of the war. He continued there until 1967. Ghirshman concentrated on excavating a single part of the site, the hectare sized Ville Royale, taking it all the way down to bare earth. The pottery found at the various levels enabled a stratigraphy to be developed for Susa.
Lion on a decorative panel from Darius I the Great's palace
Susa section, Louvre museum, Paris
Ninhursag with the spirit of the forests next to the seven-spiked cosmic tree of life. Relief from Susa.
19th-century engraving of Daniel's tomb in Susa, from Voyage en Perse Moderne, by Flandin and Coste.
Archers frieze from Darius' palace at Susa. Detail of the beginning of the frieze, left. Louvre Museum
- Achaemenid architecture
- Choqa Zanbil
- Cities of the Ancient Near East
- History of Iran
- List of oldest continuously inhabited cities
- Monsieur Chouchani
- Short chronology timeline
- "World city populations: Susa". Mongabay.com. 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
- The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State - by D. T. Potts, Cambridge University Press, 29/07/1999 - page 46 - ISBN 0521563585 hardback
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- The Harran Stelae H2 - A, and the Nabonidus Chronicle (Seventeenth year) show that Nabonidus had been in Babylon before October 10, 539, because he had already returned from Harran and had participated in the Akitu of Nissanu 1 [April 4], 539 BCE.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Susa.|
- Livius.org pictures of Susa
- Aerial views of Susa
- Susa City Home Page
- Digital Images of Cuneiform Tablets from Susa - CDLI
- Hamid-Reza Hosseini, Shush at the foot of Louvre (Shush dar dāman-e Louvre), in Persian, Jadid Online, 10 March 2009, Jadidonline.com.
Audio slideshow: Jadidonline.com (6 min 31 sec).