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History of Shush

There are several distinct periods of human settlement at Susa. A first religious and administrative centre was built at the beginning of the IV millennium BC. This very early period is not well understood, but the discovery of numerous seals and high quality vessels suggests links with Lorestan and the Iranian Plateau, not just with Mesopotamia. During the IV millennium BC, Susa turned away from the Iranian world and drew closer to Sumer, centred around the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia. This swing between two civilizations, from Mesopotamia to Iran and back again, became a characteristic feature of Susian Plain history.

The Susian Plain owes much of its historical importance to its geographic location, which resulted in the introduction of the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures into this part of Iran from the IV millennium BC. This location also contributed to the development of Elamite civilization.

Gradually, a new culture with its own script, sometimes called proto-Elamite, developed around Susa. The city became an important trading centre, and the excavation of the stratigraphical layers of this epoch have revealed a large number of seals, inscribed tablets, which deal mainly with accounts and small marble statues. This period appears to have ended rather abruptly for reasons that are still unclear, and Susa turned once again to Mesopotamia, becoming a medium-sized town of Sumerian type (c. 2800-2300 BC). Around 2300 BC, Susa was annexed by the Semite Akkad Empire and elevated to the rank of main city of one of the empire's administrative regions. After going through a period of peace and prosperity, which ended with the fall of Akkad in 2150 ВС, Susa was captured by the new, independent state of Elam, which had formed in the nearby mountains.

It was as capital of the Elamite empire (2000-500 BC) that Susa was to know its period of greatest glory, particularly during the XII century BC after the destruction of the Babylonian Kassite Empire by Elam. An impressive amount of treasure was brought back from Babylon to Susa, including the famous Code of Hammurabi (now in the Louvre Museum in Paris), victory statues of the kings of Akkad and royal charters. However, at the end of the XII century, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, Babylon took its revenge. Susa was sacked and burned to the ground.

Practically nothing is known about the four centuries following the destruction of Susa, but it would appear that the city was rebuilt and prospered once again. One date is certain, that of the sack of Susa in 645 ВС by the Assyrian king Assurbanipal after the Elamites suffered a severe defeat in 659 BC. Elamite power was broken, but the Assyrian Empire was to last only a few more years itself, and Susa was integrated into the Persian Achaemenian Empire.

Susa under Achaemenian rule produced another brilliant period in its history. In 521 or 520 BC, Darius I decided to make the city his administrative capital. Its geographical location halfway between Babylon and Pasargadae was very favourable. The reconstruction and embellishment of Susa continued throughout Darius' reign, and Artaxerxes II later added a new palace to the south. At that time it was probably similar in grandeur to Persepolis.

The palace survived the city's fall to Alexander the Great in 331 BC, and indeed Alexander married one of Darius III's daughters here. The breakup of Alexander's empire marked the end of Susa's role as capital. Under the Seleucids, the town was renamed Seleucia on the Eulaeos, and the objects found there from this period suggest a certain Hellenization of the town. Still prosperous in the Seleucid and Parthian eras, Susa re-emerged as a Sassanian capital. During Shapur II's long reign (AD 310-379) it regained renown as a Jewish pilgrimage site and became a centre of Nestorian Christian study. Evacuated in the face of Mongol raids, Shush disappeared into the sands of time. In the XIII century, the town developed again to some extent, due in part to the number of pilgrims visiting Daniel's tomb, but it then declined again thereafter.

It was not until the XIX century that the West rediscovered Susa; the first archaeological surveys were carried out in 1851 by a British mission, and were followed by excavations directed by William Loftus. From 1884 to 1896, Marcel and Jane Dieulafoy unearthed part of the Achaemenian palace and found the famous glazed brick lion and archer friezes, which are now on show in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Several French archaeologists then worked at Susa from the late XIX century to the mid-1960s: Jacques de Morgan; Roger de Mecquenem; and finally Roman Ghirshman who spent 21 years there, working his way down the various stratigraphic levels. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the excavations were taken over by joint Iranian and American teams.

 

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