Map of Sassanid Ctesiphon
|Location||Salman Pak, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq|
|Excavation dates||1928–1929, 1931–1932, 1960s–1970s|
|Archaeologists||Oscar Reuther, Antonio Invernizzi, Giorgio Gullini|
Ctesiphon (Persian: تيسفون, Tīsfūn) was the imperial capital of the Parthian Empire and the Sasanian Empire. It was one of the great cities of late ancient Mesopotamia. Its most conspicuous structure today is the great archway of Ctesiphon.
It was situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris across from where the Greek city of Seleucia stood and northeast of ancient Babylon. Today, the remains of the city lie in Baghdad Governorate, Iraq, approximately 35 km (22 mi) south of the city of Baghdad.
The Latin name Ctesiphon or Ctesifon derives from Ancient Greek Ktēsiphôn (Κτησιφῶν), a Hellenized form of a local name that has been reconstructed as Tisfōn or Tisbōn. In Iranian sources of the Sassanid period it is attested in Manichean Parthian, in Sassanid Middle Persian and in Christian Sogdian as Pahlavi tyspwn, continuing in New Persian as tīsfūn (تیسفون).
Syriac sources mention it as Qṭēsfōn (ܩܛܝܣܦܘܢ), and in medieval Arabic texts the name is usually Ṭaysafūn (طيسفون) or Qaṭaysfūn (قطيسفون) in Modern Arabic al-Mada'in (المدائن) (literally the cities, referring to the Greater Ctesiphon). "According to Yāqūt [...], quoting Ḥamza, the original form was Ṭūsfūn or Tūsfūn, which was arabicized as Ṭaysafūn." The Armenian name of the city was Tizbon (Տիզբոն). Ctesiphon is first mentioned in the Book of Ezra of the Old Testament as Kasfia/Casphia (a derivative of the ethnic name, Cas, and a cognate of Caspian and Qazvin).
Ctesiphon is located approximately at Al-Mada'in, 32 km (20 mi) southeast of the modern city of Baghdad, Iraq, along the river Tigris. Ctesiphon measured 30 square kilometers (cf. the 13.7 square kilometers of 4th-century imperial Rome).
Ctesiphon was founded in the late 120s BC. It was built on the site of a military camp established across from Seleucia by Mithridates I of Parthia. The reign of Gotarzes I saw Ctesiphon reach a peak as a political and commercial center. The city became the Empire's capital circa 58 BC during the reign of Orodes II. Gradually, the city merged with the old Hellenistic capital of Seleucia and other nearby settlements to form a cosmopolitan metropolis.
The reason for this westward relocation of the capital could have been in part due to the proximity of the previous capitals (Mithradatkirt, and Hyrcania at Hecatompylos) to the Scythian incursions.
Strabo abundantly describes the foundation of Ctesiphon:
|“||In ancient times Babylon was the metropolis of Assyria; but now Seleucia is the metropolis, I mean the Seleucia on the Tigris, as it is called. Nearby is situated a village called Ctesiphon, a large village. This village the kings of the Parthians were wont to make their winter residence, thus sparing the Seleucians, in order that the Seleucians might not be oppressed by having the Scythian folk or soldiery quartered amongst them. Because of the Parthian power, therefore, Ctesiphon is a city rather than a village; its size is such that it lodges a great number of people, and it has been equipped with buildings by the Parthians themselves; and it has been provided by the Parthians with wares for sale and with the arts that are pleasing to the Parthians; for the Parthian kings are accustomed to spend the winter there because of the salubrity of the air, but they summer at Ecbatana and in Hyrcania because of the prevalence of their ancient renown.||”|
Because of its importance, Ctesiphon was a major military objective for the leaders of the Roman Empire in their eastern wars. The city was captured by Rome five times in its history – three times in the 2nd century alone. The emperor Trajan captured Ctesiphon in 116, but his successor, Hadrian, decided to willingly return Ctesiphon in 117 as part of a peace settlement. The Roman general Avidius Cassius captured Ctesiphon in 164 during another Parthian war, but abandoned it when peace was concluded. In 197, the emperor Septimius Severus sacked Ctesiphon and carried off thousands of its inhabitants, whom he sold into slavery.
Late in the 3rd century, after the Parthians had been supplanted by the Sassanids, the city again became a source of conflict with Rome. In 283, emperor Carus sacked the city uncontested during a period of civil upheaval. In 295, emperor Galerius was defeated outside the city. However, he returned a year later with a vengeance and won a victory which ended in the fifth and final capture of the city by the Romans in 299. He returned it to the Persian king Narses in exchange for Armenia and western Mesopotamia. In c.325 and again in 410, the city, or the Greek colony directly across the river, was the site of church councils for the Church of the East.
After the conquest of Antioch in 541, Khosrau I built a new city near Ctesiphon for the inhabitants he captured. He called this new city Weh Antiok Khusrau, or literally, “better than Antioch Khosrau built this.” Local inhabitants of the area called the new city Rumagan, meaning “town of the Romans” and Arabs called the city al-Rumiyya. Along with Weh Antiok, Khosrau built a number of fortified cities. Khosrau I deported 292,000 citizens, slaves, and conquered people to the new city of Ctesiphon in 542.
Emperor Julian was killed following a battle outside of the city walls, in 363, during his war against Shapur II. Finally, in 627, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius surrounded the city, the capital of the Sassanid Empire, leaving it after the Persians accepted his peace terms.
Downfall of the Sasanians and the Islamic conquests
Ctesiphon fell to the Muslims during the Islamic conquest of Persia in 637 under the military command of Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas during the caliphate of Umar. When the Arabs entered the city, the throne hall in Taq Kasra was briefly used as a mosque.
Still, as political and economic fortune had passed elsewhere, the city went into a rapid decline, especially after the founding of the Abbasid capital at Baghdad in the 8th century, and soon became a ghost town. Caliph Al-Mansur took much of the required material for the construction of Baghdad from the ruins of Ctesiphon. He also attempted to demolish the palace and reuse its bricks for his own palace, but he desisted only when the undertaking proved too vast.
The ruins of Ctesiphon were the site of a major battle of World War I in November 1915. The Ottoman Empire defeated troops of Britain attempting to capture Baghdad, and drove them back some 40 miles (64 km) before trapping the British force and compelling it to surrender.
A German Oriental Society and University of Pennsylvania team led by Oscar Reuther excavated at Ctesiphon in 1928–29 and 1931–32, mainly at Qasr bint al-Qadi on the western part of the site.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an Italian team from the University of Turin directed by Antonio Invernizzi and Giorgio Gullini worked at the site, mainly doing restoration at the palace of Khosrau II. In 2013 the Iraqi government contracted to restore the Arch of Ctesiphon as a tourist attraction.
Remains of Taq Kasra in 2008.
- Eventually no less than four Sasanian rulers were quoted as its builders: Shapur I (241–273), Shapur II (310–379), Khosrau I Anushirvan (531–579) and Chosroes II Parvez (590–628). Kurz, Otto (1941). "The Date of the Ṭāq i Kisrā". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (New Series) 73 (1): 37–41.
- E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913–1936, Vol. 2 (Brill, 1987: ISBN 90-04-08265-4), p. 75.
- Kröger, Jens (1993), "Ctesiphon", Encyclopedia Iranica 6, Costa Mesa: Mazda
- Ezra 8:17
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- Strabo XVI, 1, 16
- Farrokh, K. (2007). The rise of Ctesiphon and the Silk Route. In Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War (p. 185).
- Dingas, Winter 2007, 109
- Frye 1993, 259
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- J Upton, The Expedition to Ctesiphon 1931–1932, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 27, pp. 188–197, 1932
- G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, First Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Season 1964, Ancient Of IRAN , vol. I, pp. 1–88, 1966
- G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Second Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Season 1965, Mesopotamia, vol. 2, 1967
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- G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Sixth Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Seasons 1972/74, Mesopotamia, vol. 5–6, 1973–74
- G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Seventh Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Seasons 1975/76, Mesopotamia, vol. 7, 1977
- rawstory.com May 30, 2013
- M. Streck, Die alte Landschaft Babylonien nach den arabischen Geographen, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1900–1901).
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