Biblical Archaeology Review 45:2, March/April 2019

Site-Seeing: Surprising Susa

By Todd Bolen

Biblical Archaeology Review

Even for the intrepid traveler who tours Iran, the ancient Persian capital of Susa often gets left off the itinerary. The preferred path through Persia begins at the famous Persepolis, makes a quick stop at Pasargadae, and heads straight north for Isfahan and Tehran. But the Biblical action all happened at Susa. A swing to the west, through the beautiful Zagros Mountains, brings you to the city known so well to Nehemiah, Daniel, and most especially, Esther and Mordecai.

Darius the Great is responsible for its fame, for he selected Susa as his capital and constructed the royal terrace and its glorious palace. Susa had once been a great city, founded in the fourth millennium B.C. and rising to its apex as the capital of Elam in the 13–12th centuries, during which time its king conquered Babylonia and carried the Code of Hammurabi back to Susa. But the Elamite kingdom, mentioned 15 times in the Bible, weakened in the following centuries, leading eventually to the destruction of Susa by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in 640 B.C.

Most of what you can see at Susa today began in 521 B.C. when Darius chose to center his empire there. Atop the Elamite ruins, he built a massive terrace, importing more than a million cubic meters of earth and employing workers from the farthest reaches of his kingdom. On this 50-foot-high platform, Darius constructed an enormous palace, consisting of a private residence of 9 acres and a public audience hall of 3 acres.

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