The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







See Susa, Italy for the city in Piemont and Susa, Azerbaijan. See S.U.S.A for the students' association of the University of Stirling.

Susa (or Shushan) was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran, located about 150 miles east of the Tigris River in the southeastern portion of the modern nation of Iran. Today, the ancient city is a massive field of ruins, but a modern city sharing its name (Shush ) is located nearby.

Susa is one of the oldest known settlements of the region, probably founded about 4000 BCE. In historic times, it was the capital of the Elamite Empire. Its name originates from their language; it was written variously (Šušan, Šušun etc.) and was apparently pronounced Susən. Šušan was invaded by both Babylonian Empires as well as the Assyrian Empire in violent campaigns. After the Babylonian conquest, the name was misunderstood to be connected with the Semitic word Šušan, "lily".

Susa is mentioned in the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible, mainly in Esther but also once each in Nehemiah and Daniel). Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of Judah of the 6th century BC. Esther became queen there and saved the Jews from genocide.

A tablet unearthed in 1854 by Henry Austin 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."[1]

The city was soon however taken back by the Achaemenid Persians under Cyrus the Great in 538 BC. Under Cyrus' son Cambyses II, the capital of the empire moved from Pasargadae to Susa.

The city lost some of its importance when Alexander the Great conquered it in 323 BC and destroyed the first Persian Empire, but after Alexander's vast empire collapsed upon his death, Susa became one of the two capitals (along with Ctesiphon) of Parthia. Susa became a frequent place of refuge for Parthian and later the Persian Sassanid kings, as the Romans sacked Ctesiphon five different times between AD 116 and 297. Typically, the Parthian rulers wintered in Susa and spent the summer in Ctesiphon.

The Roman emperor Trajan captured Susa in 116 CE, but soon was forced to withdraw due to revolts in his rear areas. This advance marked the greatest eastern penetration by the Romans.

Susa was destroyed at least twice in its history. In 647 BCE, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal leveled the city during the course of a war in which the people of Susa apparently participated on the other side. The second sack of Susa took place in 639 CE when the Muslim armies first conquered Persia. The ancient city was gradually abandoned in the years that followed.

[1]: See pages 7-8 of "Persians: Masters of Empire" ISBN: 0-80949104-4 for reference.

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13