Archaeology Odyssey 8:6, November/December 2005

Why Darius Built Persepolis

By Ali Mousavi

Persepolis is a mystery. The ancient Persian city boasts some of the world’s most impressive ruins, but no one knows exactly why it was built. The ruling Achaemenid Persian dynasty already had a capital at Pasargadae when Persepolis was founded by Darius I (522–486 B.C.), also known as Darius the Great, and they had a political and administrative center at Susa. Why did they need Persepolis?

Equally strange, the city is hardly ever mentioned in classical texts. While the Greeks had direct information about such Achaemenid cities as Ecbatana (possibly today’s Hamadan) and Susa, they apparently knew nothing of Persepolis.a The Greek historian Herodotus (485–425 B.C.), for instance, never refers to Persepolis. Nor does the Greek medical doctor Ctesias, who spent 20 years in the Achaemenid court working as the personal physician of King Artaxerxes II (405–359 B.C.)—though Ctesias’s history of Persia, Persika, does mention Darius’s rock-cut tomb at the “double mountain” of Naqsh-e Rustam (see photo, only 4 miles northwest of Persepolis.1

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