Achaemenid Architecture: An Overview
Sabrina Maras, University of California, Berkeley
The architecture of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (from the early or 'archaic' period under Cyrus the Great to the fully developed, 'mature' phase under Darius and his successors) is formidable as a unique style that is both instantly recognizable as Persian, while undeniably citing many still older, architectural traditions. It is an architecture that, in its initial phase, drew on local Iranian and Mesopotamian concepts as well as on skills and innovations that were representative of still wider areas that Cyrus came to conquer. Under Darius, Achaemenid architecture then continued to develop into a more evolved style that successfully absorbed and transformed the many separate traits that contributed to its formation. The results of this conscious synthesis of architectural techniques, coupled with a deliberate use of rhythmic repetition and a special interest in balancing elements, resulted in the creation of a distinct, recognizable style. While the architecture of the Achaemenids, and the reliefs that were part of that architecture were sometimes viewed by early travelers as tedious and repetitive,(1) there is, at the present time, a new awareness of the extraordinary blend of novelty and replication that can be found in the monumental arts of Achaemenid Iran. (2)
Here, it is perhaps best to begin our review of the architecture of Achaemenid Persia by acknowledging a useful tripartite division of the various major architectural elements that are found within the Achaemenid architectural koine, with reference to first, the early influence of the columned halls of northwest Iran; second, the adoption of technically advanced masonry and planning of Lydo-Ionian origin; and third, an also strong 'greater Mesopotamian' component, within which we may place Elamite-related glazed and molded decorative brick techniques, Babylonian palace design, as well as many elements of Neo-Assyrian court iconography.
The columned hall became a hallmark of monumental Achaemenid architecture. A number of theories exist as to the origin of the columned hall in ancient Near Eastern architecture, and the method of its transmission to the Persians. Speculation has included a possible Urartian origin (3); however, the architectural precursors of the Persian columned hall would appear to have come from northwest Iran and, most directly perhaps, from the region of Media.(4) Most significantly, Median architecture exhibits a quite varied use of this architectural trope in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Nevertheless, with the discovery in southeast Arabia of possible pre-8th century BC columned halls (Magee, 2001: p119-121), it is necessary to keep in mind that the diffusion and use of this architectural type was rather widespread and that it could also have existed in Fars itself before the mid-sixth century BC.
The columned halls at Pasargadae signal a number of epochal changes. Apart from the introductions of new well-dressed stone elements, including both stone columns and stone floors, they document the presence of multiple columned porticoes. Accordingly, the blueprint for the new, square Apadanas of Darius I (fig. 1) may be said to derive in no small measure from the rectangular palaces of Cyrus (fig. 2). This modification allowed for an even numbers of columns in each row (i.e., six rows of six columns—a device that no doubt contributed to the rhythmic, visual harmony of these truly majestic reception halls).
The typical layout of a Persian palace in the Achaemenid period included a large columned hall flanked by side rooms and at least one portico. And just as the long, low porticoes of Cyrus' palaces may have been partly inspired by the Greek stoa (Nylander, 1970: p118-121; Stronach, 2008: p164), the tall porticoes of Darius may have been partly inspired by the porticoes of Greek dipteral temples (a Greek temple having a double range of columns that rise to roof height on all four sides) (5) Columns, whether of wood or of stone, were capped by capitals in the form of adorsed [Said of animals or figures placed back to back in decorative sculpture. addorsed dolphins] lions, bulls, human-headed bulls, griffins, or (in one instance) horses (fig. 3); and, from the end of the 6th century onwards, they were usually equipped with fluted, bell-shaped stone bases. The tall stone columns of the Apadanas at Susa and Persepolis rose to heights of over 19 meters, and the effects on any visitor must have been quite overpowering (Gopnik, 2010). [The Great Mosque in Cordoba might give some idea!]
One of the more obvious signs of early Achaemenid contact with western Anatolia comes from the advanced masonry techniques of Lydo-Ionian origin that appear in the very heart of the Persian homeland, at Pasargadae and Persepolis. The incorporation of such
masonry into Persian architecture is first seen at Pasargadae from the mid 540s onwards, soon after Cyrus captured Sardis. Later, of course, many of the same technical advances are attested in the big stone masonry of Persepolis. One may ask why Cyrus took it upon himself to incorporate what were clearly Lydian and Ionian masonry techniques—certainly recognizable as such to delegations hailing from the westernmost parts of the empire—into structures that were intended to represent the very essence of Persian authority. However, when Cyrus the Great seized the Lydian capital, Sardis, in or near 547 BC, (6) he was apparently greatly impressed by the beauty and the technical perfection of the masonry that was used in all the more prominent structures at Sardis. And, with the task of building a new capital in his homeland presumably looming large in his mind, this appears to have persuaded him to bring Lydian stonemasons back to Iran with him, as is evidenced by the mason's marks found on many of the stone blocks of the Tall-e Takht. (7) In keeping with the parallel presence of recognizable Median, Egypto-Phoenician and Mesopotamian motifs in his palatial constructions, Cyrus, who may very well have appreciated the qualities of fine stone masonry for their own sake, was surely also drawing attention to the unprecedented nature of his western conquests.
The effects of this East-West interchange are seen in the generous use of advanced stone masonry in, not least, the gable-roofed tomb of Cyrus (fig. 4); in the great stone platform that juts out from the west side of the Tall-e Takht (fig. 5); in the Zendan (fig. 6); and in the extensive use of stone columns and stone antae within the palaces at Pasargadae. All of this is, in fact, a timely reminder that, while Greece and Persia were often in conflict, there were nevertheless many instances of fruitful cultural exchange between these rival powers. (8)
Glazed and Molded Brickwork
While Cyrus introduced Lydian and Ionian stone masonry techniques in his palaces at Pasargadae, Darius chose to complement the tall stone columns of the Apadana at Susa with an extensive use of a particularly Elamite architectural specialization: namely, the use of molded and glazed bricks. Such bricks were used to depict colorful Persian guards (fig. 7), striding lions and griffons in areas that linked the private palace of Darius to the great hall of the Apadana, situated near the northwestern corner of the site. (9) The use of glazed and molded brick in architectural decor was far from innovative; it is a distinctly long-lived Near Eastern building technique that finds its origins in such cities as Uruk, in the temple of Ishtar built by the Kassite ruler Karaindash, c. 1415 BC (Sauvage, 1998: p26); apart from being well represented in the Middle Assyria in the 13th and 12th centuries BC (Sauvage, 1998: p29; Moorey, 1999: p315), in contemporary Babylonia (Moorey, 1999: p318); and at Susa itself at least as early as the 14th century BC (10) In the early first millennium BC, the use of such bricks continued to be popular in the Neo-Elamite period (cf. Muscarella, 1992: p217; André-Salvini, 2000: p18), and the notable use of glazed brick in Darius' own palatial construction at Susa was simply a continuation of a tradition that was already native to the region. Perhaps in this way Darius was expressing his place as a legitimate heir to both the Elamite and Babylonian realms.
In terms of the depiction of royal guards and, among other motifs, apotropaic sphinxes, there are quite a few indications that the brick friezes at Susa depicted designs that were later re-expressed in stone at Persepolis (11). Indeed, even if no royal audience scenes or scenes of heroic combat have so far been detected among the many brick fragments from Achaemenid Susa (many of which still await definitive study and conservation), there is always a prospect that elements of such scenes will one day come to light.
Specific Borrowings from Neo-Assyria and Elsewhere
The extent to which Achaemenid iconography borrowed from Neo-Assyrian iconography is quite remarkable. It would seem evident, in fact, that Cyrus and Darius each recognized the extraordinary power of Assyria's imperial imagery—and that each of them was very much aware of the ways in which this range of 'orphaned' images could be adapted and appropriated for new purposes. In this context Cyrus was content to do little more than copy certain already well-attested doorway images (12). In contrast, Darius seems to have been inspired by the Assyrian corpus as a whole and based much of the iconography in his reliefs at Persepolis, as well as that in his seals and in his coinage, on Assyrian prototypes (which in this case were given the kind of new, essentially Persian character that goes with the 'mature' Achaemenid style).(13) Other borrowings of note, at least in the reign of Darius, include the appropriation of large parts of a typical Babylonian palace plan in the more private sector of Darius' palace at Susa (fig. 8); and perhaps as a salute to Darius' reconquest of Egypt in 516 BC, an extensive use of a version of the Egyptian cavetto cornice (14) at Persepolis (fig. 9).
We turn now, in some detail, to the architecture of individual royal sites and palaces.
The site of Pasargadae (fig. 10) lies some 40 km east of Persepolis in a level plain in northern Fars that was watered by the perennial stream of the River Pulvar. And we may infer from Strabo (XV.3.8) that this was most probably the place where Cyrus won a key victory over Astyages, the last king of Media. But since Astyages' defeat occurred in 550 BC, and since all big stone construction at Pasargadae was based on Lydo-Ionian techniques that can only have been imported after the fall of Sardis in (or near) 547 BC, the commemoration of the victory was clearly not immediate. The site as a whole extends for over 2km from north to south and includes two royal palaces with columned halls; a ceremonial entry gate (Gate R); the tomb of Cyrus; the enigmatic Zendan [prison]-e Suleiman; a huge stone platform that protrudes from the western end of the Tall-e Takht, where Cyrus probably intended to build his private palace; and a more remote, seemingly sacred area that is today marked by the remains of two monumental stone plinths.
Although the location of the palaces within the broad Pasargadae plain looks at first sight to be somewhat random, the corners of the buildings are always aligned towards the cardinal points of the compass, as recent geomagnetic surveys have confirmed. (15) Also, as the presence of stone-lined water channels near Palace P helps to indicate, large parts of the core of the site were once occupied by extensive rectangular gardens. Herzfeld's claim to have found a temenos wall near Gate R could not be confirmed by recent geomagnetic surveys; but, even if the site stood within a walled parádeisos, (16) it is clear that it was not fortified in any meaningful way. This can be construed, of course, as one more expression of Cyrus' unrivalled power.
The two rows of four stone columns in the tall rectangular hall of Palace S and the five rows of six stone columns in the more nearly square hall of Palace P both find antecedents in earlier ground plans of halls with wooden columns at the Median site of Godin Tepe. (17) At the same time, however, both Palace S and Palace P have been described as 'open structures of a new four-sided character (18) with long, low stoa-like columned porticos. Indeed, it is these two buildings in particular that would seem to have given Darius certain of the more important concepts that led to his invention of the classic, freestanding apadana with three columned porticoes that stood, in a pleasing new refinement, to the same great height as the square central hall.
Placed at the eastern edge of the palace precinct, Gate R (or the 'Gate with the Relief") represents the ceremonial entrance to the site. It is the first free-standing gate known in the ancient Near East, and it offers a striking contrast to the main gates of Nineveh or Babylon that always stood within the continuous line of long, heavily fortified city walls. Gate R (fig. 11) may have symbolically represented the liminal space of movement between the external world outside the palace, and the internal world of the Persian king. It is the first of a series of such gates found at later Persian capitals.
Gate R subscribed to a traditional rectangular shape, but with the novel presence of four doorways. While the two principal doorways were originally flanked by giant bull-like colossi, (19) the jambs of the two side doors were each once marked by striking bas-reliefs. Of the latter carvings only one survives today: that of a four-winged apotropaic figure. The main hall once contained two rows of four columns that rose to an estimated 16 m in height—a circumstance that must have made Gate R the tallest of all the buildings at Pasargadae. The floor of the gate originally consisted of a fine limestone pavement that itself rested on a buff stone foundation.
If one enters Gate R from the NE side doorway, a single extant relief occupies the whole surviving height of the left hand doorjamb. The relief in question (fig. 12) shows a winged gateway figure that faces inward (rather than outward, as in Assyrian palaces). Since the four-winged, bearded figure lacks any of the standard attributes of a Persian king (i.e., a scepter, a long beard, a bow, a lotus, a tiara, or the multi-pleated robe) and, above all, since the figure is winged (in the manner of earlier Assyrian doorway guardians), it has to be interpreted as an apotropaic, magical figure.(20) The figure wears an Egyptian hm-hm crown, such as occurs in contemporary Egyptian and Syro-Phoenician art. The four wings are of Assyrian design and the long rosette-bordered robe conforms to an elite royal Elamite type of dress of the 7th century that is known from Neo-Assyrian representations of Elamite rulers. It would seem, therefore, that this pioneer, protective Persian relief was designed, in part, to advertise the degree to which Cyrus had not only inherited the mantle of ancient Elam but also could command resources that reached, not least, to the borders of Egypt.
Early drawings of the winged figure indicate that it originally stood beneath a trilingual inscription that appears to have been removed during the 1860s. The text of the inscription, written in Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian Akkadian, read 'I, Cyrus, the King, an Achaemenid', and this same CMa inscription appears to have once stood as a 'foundation inscription' not only in Gate R, but also in Palace S and Palace P. For this reason, it is clear that this inscription does not identify the figure in the relief. (21) Indeed, given the fact that Old Persian cuneiform was only introduced early in the reign of Darius, (22) this particular inscription, meaning 'I Cyrus, the King, an Achaemenid (built this),' can only have been introduced by Darius as part of a textual and visual program that was designed to give Cyrus an Achaemenid identity, and hence a place in Darius' ancestral line.
The Tomb of Cyrus
The tomb of Cyrus was placed at a very considerable distance from the rest of the main buildings. The all-stone monument, which originally stood to c. 11 m in height, includes a gable-roofed cella that rests on a rectangular platform composed of three large and three small steps. The doorway leading to the chamber of the tomb is a mere 1.39 m in height and there is evidence to show that it would have been closed by a double-leaved door. The space within the tomb chamber was relatively restricted in that it only measured 3.17 m in length. Arrian (Anabasis vi. 29) nevertheless relates that the body of Cyrus lay in a gold coffin on a golden couch beside a table.
Apart from a single carved rosette at the top of the gable on the entrance facade, the surface of the tomb was almost without decoration. Also, contrary to Greek testimony that dates from the time of Alexander's visit of the tomb in 330 BC, the tomb itself was never inscribed. (23) The rosette seems to mimic the end of a wooden ridge beam, a decorative device seen on Anatolian tombs. And while a number of factors seem to link the design of the tomb to monuments known from Sardis, it is appropriate to stress that the design of the tomb offers a refreshing view of the surprisingly simple requirements of its exceptional owner, Cyrus the Great.
Palace S is highly original in that it possesses columned porticoes on all four sides of the building (fig. 13). The interior of the central hall measures 32.35 x 22.14 m, and within the central hall were two rows of four columns—a pattern of columniation that can be traced back to at least the beginning of the first millennium BC at Hasanlu IV. The columns (as evinced by a single extant example at the northwest end of the SW row) rose to close to 14 m in height. The columns in the porticoes, on the other hand, were (not unlike the columns in a small portico at Hasanlu) much lower in height.
Following a new pattern of construction that first appears in Iran in the reign of Cyrus, stone doorways, stone columns and stone wall-socles came to complement the mud-brick superstructures of the tall side walls. Also, in contrast to Greek stone columns that were always fluted, Iranian stone columns were both unfluted and proportionally thinner. But the use of four stone drums of diminishing size, secured to each other by wooden plugs and tight-fitting anathyrosis joints very clearly speaks for Lydo-Ionian building techniques. So also do the black stone column bases, not only because of their design (each has a two-stepped square plinth capped by a circular torus), but because of the contrast that they offer to the adjacent white stone columns and the white stone floor. On the other hand, the elegant black stone capitals, carved in the shape of such adorsed creatures as bulls and horned lions, can be said to represent a wholly original Iranian creation.
The building's four stone antae at one time each exhibited the same CMa inscription as that which once stood above the winged figure in Gate R. Also, at this still early stage in the evolution of Achaemenid sculpture, the surviving, variously truncated sculptures at Palace S were each distinctly Assyrianizing in style (figs. 14 & 15) (cf. Kawami, 1972).
The overall plan of Palace P (fig. 14) lacks the balance and symmetry that is so often found in Achaemenid buildings. The main elements include a rectangular hall with six rows of five columns, a long portico with two rows of twenty columns that faces onto the adjoining royal garden, and a short, unpaved portico with two rows of twelve columns that stands on the opposite side of the central hall. The ceremonial importance of the garden is emphasized by the striking size and beauty of the 'garden portico.' This portico is distinguished by a long, almost continuous stone bench and by a raised throne-seat that presumably allowed the monarch to enjoy a 'vista of power' down the two-hundred-and-twenty-meter long axis of his fourfold garden. Whether or not this novel garden space was meant to allude to Cyrus' newly acquired title as 'King of the Four Quarters' (and hence, to represent the empire in microcosm) is not known. Allusions to Cyrus' extended empire would also appear to be evident in Palace P's vivid use of bichromatic black and white stone elements (24) and, perhaps above all, in the employment of horizontally fluted torus bases of a kind that are otherwise only known in distant Ionia.
That this palace was the latest of Cyrus' major buildings is indicated by the fact it was clearly not finished when Cyrus died in battle on his distant northeastern frontier. Darius' fragmentary inscriptions that once stood on the doorjambs of the hall indicate that he was more than willing to take credit for the completion of this exquisite structure. At all events, Darius not only erected further copies of the CMa inscription on the antae of Palace P, but he was also responsible for the placement of the reliefs in the two main doorways of the hall that show an image of a king and an attendant in which the royal figure is respectfully labeled as 'Cyrus, the great king, an Achaemenid' (cf. Kent 1953: p116).
To the north of the palaces, the northern part of the site includes the ruins of an elegant white stone tower that exhibits some of the finest masonry found at Pasargadae and which, by the same token, appears to have been built in its entirety during the reign of Cyrus. Still known by its colorful medieval designation as the Zendan-e Suleiman or the 'Prison of Solomon' (and referred to hereafter as the Zendan), this now greatly damaged structure finds its only close parallel in the so-called Ka'bah-e Zardusht' or 'Cube of Zoroaster' at Naqsh-e Rustam.
Before this all-stone building lost its back wall and most of its side-walls, it consisted of a tall square tower, c. 14 m in height, buttressed at the corners, with a low pyramidal roof. Although three rows of blind windows on three sides of the building suggest that the tower was modeled on some older form of three-storied structure (perhaps related to the tower-like temples of Urartu), (25) the lower part of the tower was solid and the entrance facade was dominated by an imposing staircase that led to a single windowless room at a height of 8 m above the ground level.
This baffling design has led to almost endless speculation about the purpose of the building. Over the years it has been viewed as a tomb, as a temple, as a safe and dignified place of storage,(26) or, most recently and perhaps most convincingly, as an 'investiture tower' (Sancisi-Weerdenberg, 1983). Until more evidence is brought to light, however, the original purpose of the Zendan is likely to remain elusive.
The Tall-e Takht
The most obvious feature at the north end of the site is a huge stone platform (locally known as the 'Takht-e Madar-e Suleiman' or the 'Throne of the Mother of Solomon') that juts out from the west side of the Tall-e Takht or 'Throne Hill.' Ghirshman ascribed the monument to Cambyses I, the father of Cyrus, adding that its masonry traditions were based on those of Urartu. (27) However, this interpretation was never supported by any detailed archaeological evidence, and, in the absence of local written sources for the period immediately preceding the reign of Cyrus, Ghirshman's assertions only promote unwarranted speculation concerning the pace of political and economic developments in Fars in the early decades of the 6th century BC (Stronach, 1974: p239).
Subsequently, in 1970, Nylander was able to point out that the 'rugged' and supposedly early appearance of the Takht, with boldly projecting bosses in the ashlars of the platform, were not representative of the intended finish. Rather, a small number of finished blocks revealed a very different type of surface treatment. In these instances each block showed a finely drafted margin and a very slightly raised, carefully pecked central panel. And, as Nylander was able to demonstrate, this 'fine panel style' is identical to an extremely refined form of stone dressing that was at home in both Lydia and Ionia in, for example, the 6th century BC.
Accordingly, the date of the Takht unquestionably falls within the reign of Cyrus, who no doubt planned to erect a major palace on the surface of the platform, approached by monumental staircases. But Cyrus' death in 530 BC interrupted this vast enterprise—and Darius, with major building projects of his own, appears to have been content to allow this elevated location to be given over to a new, more mundane purpose, perhaps largely connected with the safe storage of valuable goods.(28)
The Stone Plinths
At the NW corner of the site of Pasargadae, adjacent to a small stream and at quite some distance from all other major construction, are two freestanding stone plinths—one with an attached stone staircase, the other broken at the top (fig. 15). The exact purpose of the plinths can only be surmised by comparing the plinths with the great funerary relief of Darius at Naqsh-e Rustam, which shows the king standing on a similar, stepped stone plinth, worshipping at a fire altar. It is unknown if the second plinth at Pasargadae supported a fire holder, but since the excavators at Pasargadae found fragmentary remains of stepped stone altars at three separate locations, such a possibility cannot be ruled out. Accordingly, while there is no certainty regarding this reconstruction, it is probable that the plinths were used in a ritual that may have included fire, such as that depicted at the tombs of the Persian kings at the royal burial grounds of Naqsh-e Rustam (cf. Stronach, 1978: p141).
Susa was a particularly important strategic city: a gateway to Mesopotamia on the one hand, and a key point of access to the Iranian plateau on the other. It had been the chief seat of Elamite power for thousands of years before Cyrus finally integrated it into his empire. And while Darius (522-486 BC) was largely pre-occupied with military matters at the beginning of his reign, he still lost no time in introducing a comprehensive program of royal construction at this critical site.
Construction at Susa was probably started even before c. 519 BC, prior to any building at Persepolis (cf. Boucharlat, 1997: p57). Three existing tells were combined to create a new lozenge-shaped city many parts of which stood 15 meters or more above the level of the surrounding plain. Like Pasargadae and Persepolis, Susa was essentially unfortified (ibid). One of the more astounding aspects of the new construction was the introduction of deep gravel-filled foundation trenches that were devised to support the tall columns and walls of the towering Apadana (Perrot, 1981).
Visitors to Susa who had business with the king were obliged to follow a long and tortuous route to reach the royal presence. A visitor had to pass through an external gate on the eastern side of the Ville Royale in order to gain access to the city (Boucharlat, 1997: p57). Then it was necessary to negotiate a second control point on the opposite side of the Ville Royale, before crossing an elevated causeway that led to the Gate of Darius: the main gate to both the Apadana and the adjacent residential Palace of Darius.
The Gate of Darius
The Gate of Darius—a free-standing ceremonial entrance gate to the east of the palace of Darius—is oriented east-west (fig. 16). The gate itself is a rectangular structure measuring 40 x 30 meters. The square central hall of the gate once had four columns and the surviving stone column bases still carry trilingual inscriptions in the name of Xerxes, indicating that he completed his father's construction. A no longer complete statue of Darius (fig. 17) was unearthed on the south side of the west doorway (and it is thought that four such statues may have originally been used to flank the gate's two opposed doorways). (29)
At Susa we find the earliest example of Darius' expansive new form of audience hall (cf. Stronach, 1985). The central hall of the building was 109 meters square and it contained 36 columns, each over 19 m in height, arranged in six rows of six columns (fig. 18). Adding to the innate symmetry of the structure, the Apadana also had three porticos with double rows of columns each of which rose to the same height as the central hall—a refinement that may have been inspired by the tall porticoes of contemporary Greek temples.
Four of the extant stone column bases of the Apadana carry inscriptions of Artaxerxes II (404-359 BC), that record that the Apadana was built by Darius, burned in the time of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC), and then restored by Artaxerxes II. It is unknown to what extent the structure was damaged and rebuilt. Since the columns were of stone, it is only reasonable to suppose that the doorframes would also have been of stone, as they were at both Pasargadae and Persepolis.
The Palace of Darius
The adjoining Palace of Darius, a huge structure with dimensions of approximately 244 m x 152 m, contained three large courts. In numerous ways the plan is very like that of the palace of Nebuchadnessar II (604-562 BC) at Babylon (Amiet, 1992: 13). And it would seem possible that, in answering his urgent need for a residence appropriate to his status, Darius ordered his architects to reproduce many aspects of the already long familiar Babylonian palace plan.
It may also be worth stressing that, since Susa lies in an alluvial plain where all stone has to be imported, brick remained an unusually important building material even during the Achaemenid period. For this reason, especially, Darius would seem to have found it appropriate to make use of glazed, molded and baked bricks in different parts of his local building program.
Several types of brick friezes have been reconstructed from the bricks and brick fragments that were recovered during the excavations on the Apadana mound. Most of these friezes were painstakingly reconstructed from thousands of brick fragments, some of which were reused in later levels (Caubet, 1992: p224). Only the lion frieze was discovered nearly intact, with a length of more than 4 meters (Labrousse, 1972: p122; André-Salvini, 2000: p20). The bricks were recovered from within or near the palace, (30) but not in the interior of the Apadana itself (Muscarella, 1992: p217). The brick friezes are best described as a hybridization of Persian, Mesopotamian and Elamite iconographic motifs.
The brick friezes include a wide range of the iconographic motifs, many of which were also introduced in stone at Persepolis. The motifs include winged and human headed sphinxes facing each other below a symbol of the winged disk (a probable reference to Ahuramazda)(fig. 19); the elegant royal guards of Darius, resplendent in their embroidered robes; striding winged bulls, griffins and lions; and decorative devices such as the rosette or other abstract designs. (31)
The Statue of Darius
There is surprisingly little sculpture in the round that is known from the Achaemenid era. The only known at least half-complete, larger-than-life-size royal stone statue of Achaemenid date consists of the statue of Darius the Great that was discovered during the excavation of the Gate of Darius in 1972 (cf. Perrot, 2010). It was crafted in Egypt c. 494 BC, and it originally adorned the main temple at Heliopolis from whence it was brought to Susa (see Root: 1979: p45), very probably in the reign of Xerxes. (32)
The green schist statue is broken away at the chest and it therefore lacks its head and shoulders. It shows Darius the great king in a typically Egyptian, half-striding pose wearing a long, pleated Persian robe. On the base of the statue are 24 Egyptian fortress cartouches, with a like number of peoples of the empire each depicted in appropriate regional dress.
The principal deity worshipped by Darius, Ahuramazda, is invoked in the trilingual (Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian) inscription running down the vertical pleats on the right side of the king's robe (Root, 1979: p69). The formula follows that of other inscriptions, but Darius also states that he commissioned the statue to show that 'The Persian man had conquered Egypt' (Vallat, 1974: p162-3). At the same time, the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription on the corresponding left pleat invokes Atum (Yoyotte, 1974: p182). On part of the base, two Nile gods offer Upper and Lower Egypt to Darius (Yoyotte, 1974: p182; Root, 1979: p70). It may be noted that Darius was careful to invoke the correct deity that corresponded to the given audience, whether Persian or Egyptian.
Although Schmidt suggests that Darius only began construction at Persepolis in 516 BC, it seems likely that he embarked on this enormous building venture at a still earlier date. In keeping with his stress on his explicitly Persian identity, he chose to call his new capital 'Parsa', and he elected to place it in the very heart of the Persian homeland. Construction was far from complete at the time of Darius' death in 486 BC and work duly continued through the reigns of Xerxes (486- 464 BC), and Artaxerxes I (465-426), with further additions also owed to Artaxerxes III (359-338 BC) in particular.
Persepolis (fig. 20) is located at the foot of the Kuh-e Rahmat (The Mount of Mercy), 43 kilometers as the crow flies to the southwest of Pasargadae (Schmidt, 1953: p20). The partly natural rock terrace on which the palaces stand rises dramatically to at least 12 meters above the surrounding plain and extends over an area of 450 x 300 meters (Schmidt, 1953: p61).
Those structures that can be ascribed to Darius, in terms of either planning or execution, appear to have very largely set the parameters for all subsequent royal construction at the site. Among the features that were in all probability at least planned by Darius were the Apadana and its associated reliefs, the private palace of Darius, and an early version of the Treasury (33). In addition, the tomb of Darius was among still other projects that Darius appears to have completed nearby at Naqsh-e Rustam (Schmidt, 1970: p80).
Gate of All Lands
In its first years, Persepolis was accessible from the south. However, Xerxes (Darius' son and successor) completed a presumably already planned double staircase that led to his monumental Gate of All Lands (fig. 21), near the NW corner of the terrace. In concert with almost all construction from the time of Darius onwards, the main hall of the gate is square. But it also appears to cite Gate R at Pasargadae in that the two main doorways were guarded by huge Assyrian-inspired bull colossi.
The Apadana Reliefs
Although not fully realized during Darius’ reign, the famed stone reliefs of the Apadana appear to have been planned under Darius and completed by Xerxes (cf. Root, 1979: p44, 95; and Roaf, 1983: p138-139). In the original composition, two nearly mirror-image reliefs—one associated with the east staircase and the other with the north staircase—show the same sequence of images.
In each case, 23 delegations from all parts of the empire are shown being escorted into the presence of the enthroned king and the adjacent figure of the crown prince (fig. 22), while the royal figures are themselves backed by impressive files of royal guards and the assembled Persian nobles who stand behind them. It is of note that the figures in riding dress and court dress (fig. 23), who were formerly identified as 'Medes' and 'Persians' respectively, are now interpreted as Persians dressed in two equally acceptable forms of Achaemenid attire.(34)
While the present central scene on both the north and the east sides of the socle of the Apadana shows short, confronted files of royal guards in alternate riding and court dress on each side of an uninscribed central panel, (35) Tilia (1972: p175-198) was able to demonstrate that these somewhat nondescript reliefs replaced the original sculptures depicting the king and the crown prince with their immediate entourage. Thus, in the original design, the almost mirror-images on the north and east sides of the Apadana were intended to portray an impressive review scene in which the enthroned monarch—with the symbol of Ahuramazda hovering above him—embodied royal and religious authority. After viewing this demonstration of supreme power, the visitor presumably climbed yet further until reaching the 'level of the king', i.e., the floor of the Apadana itself.
In keeping with the design of the slightly earlier, and very similar audience hall of Darius at Susa, the tall central hall of the Apadana at Persepolis was enclosed by equally tall, spacious porticoes on its north, east and west sides (fig. 24). The central hall of the Apadana at Persepolis was immense, measuring 60.5 m on each side. Its 36 stone columns, ranged in six rows of six columns, were capped with composite capitals. The fact that the construction of the hall began under Darius was affirmed when two of the original foundation deposits were discovered in situ.(36) Further inscriptions also affirm that the construction of this vast twenty-meter high building was completed by the faithful Xerxes. (37)
Palace of Darius
This compact, elegant structure (fig. 25) stands a little to the south of the Apadana on its own individual platform. The ground plan of the building, which includes a hypostyle hall with adjacent suites of smaller rooms and a columned portico flanked by a guardroom, duly set the pattern for all other royal residences at Persepolis (including the palace of Xerxes).(38) The relatively early date of the building is also reflected by the slightly rectangular (as opposed to square) shape of its central hall, which possessed three rows of four columns (Schmidt, 1953: fig. 92). Notable also are the fluted, Egyptianizing cornices that stand above the building's stone-framed doorways and windows: each a silent reminder, perhaps, of the importance Darius gave to the reconquest of Egypt in 516 BC.
This rather indefinable structure (fig. 26)—often called the Tripylon with reference to its three monumental doorways—is without inscriptions (39) and stands at the center of the site where, in Schmidt's words, it served as 'the main link...between the northern area of open courts and spacious public buildings and that portion of the site which was occupied by the residential palaces of the kings.' (40) Because its principal doorjambs include imposing images of the king (surmounted by the symbol of Ahuramazda), and other parts of the monument are distinguished by reliefs that depict long lines of nobles, Schmidt preferred the designation 'Council Hall' to Herzfeld's 'Tripylon'. Needless to say, there are few if any contemporary descriptions of the specific function of the different buildings at Persepolis, and modern observers can do little more than put forward possible interpretations.
The 'Treasury,' so named by Schmidt because of its evident use as a storage area for tribute in the era of the Achaemenid kings, underwent several changes in plan before it took on its present final form c. 470 BC (cf. Roaf, 1983: fig. 54). Unlike most of the other major structures at Persepolis, the Treasury had very few stone elements apart from its 300 stone column bases. As a result, the whole structure had collapsed over time and was hidden under a heavy overlay of crumbled mudbrick—and the whole edifice only came to light during the course of Schmidt's excavations.
In its final form the Treasury was c. 140 x 77 m in size. The walls were constructed entirely of sundried bricks. There were an estimated 100 partitions to the structure, and it included columned halls, suites of small rooms, and courts with porticoes, passages, and vestibules (fig. 27). It was separated from other structures on all four sides by streets. No evidence of windows has been located, and apart from its well-lit internal courts, it presumably benefited from some form of clerestory lighting. Blind arrow slots decorated the buttresses in the outer face of the structure's perimeter wall—perhaps a form of symbolic 'defense' for the Treasures contained within its four walls. The multiple stone column bases speak for the former presence of 'forests' of wooden columns. In addition, the recovery of painted, curved pieces of plaster seems to make it plain that the many columns of the Treasury were each covered with painted plaster (Schmidt, 1953: fig. 72).
The two above-mentioned stone reliefs showing the enthroned king were eventually set into the sidewalls of the east and south porticos of courtyard 17 of the Treasury. They were apparently moved from their original positions on the north and east sides of the Apadana early in the reign of Artaxerxes I. The precise reason for this singular event remains a subject for speculation.
A number of objects—either overlooked or left behind by Alexander's invading army—were found in the Treasury. These items consisted of either booty or tribute, and included objects that can be seen to range from Greek statuary to votive objects from Mesopotamia. (41)
The Hall of One Hundred Columns
The most significant of the later buildings constructed at Persepolis consists of the 'Throne Hall' or 'The Hall of One Hundred Columns' (fig. 28), begun by Xerxes and finished by his son Artaxerxes I (Schmidt, 1953: p129-137; Root, 1979: p108). It was an enormous structure and, in terms of its ground plan, it outdid all previous columned halls in size. It was built as one apparent destination point for visitors who passed through the Gate of All Lands—and it must have been an arresting site for all who gained access to it.
Of the many structures at Persepolis that were damaged by the fire that was probably deliberately started in 330 BC by one of Alexander's entourage during his five-month sojourn at the site, few were so severely damaged as the Hall of One Hundred Columns (cf. Shahbazi, 2009). Many of the stone column drums and column bases were cracked and scorched by fire. Of course, the sudden loss of the wooden roofs of the palaces also led to the early collapse of the tall mud-brick walls and this, remarkably enough, may have contributed to the fine preservation of many of the reliefs.
The Ka'bah-e Zardusht (or The Cube of Zoroaster)
This once partially buried tower (fig. 29) was so named in medieval times because of its evident antiquity and its half-obscured, cube-like appearance. It was closely similar in plan and elevation to the Zendan at Pasargadae—a monument that can be safely identified as the prototype. The structure has a square, three-stepped stone base measuring 7.3 m on each side. On the entrance facade a steep stone staircase originally led to a relatively large doorway that in turn gave access to a single elevated, windowless room. Door sockets reveal that the doorway was originally closed by double-leaved stone doors.
The roof slants upwards towards the center giving it a low, four-sided pyramidal design. Beneath the roof is a well-preserved, denticulated (tooth-shaped) cornice. The white stone fabric of the tower contrasts with the dark stone inserts in each of the blind windows. Sixteen rows of uniformly staggered rectangular depressions also give further texture to the walls. However, these vertical slots were omitted on the lower parts of the walls, a circumstance that permitted the addition of later inscriptions by Shapur I (r. 241-272 AD) in Middle Persian, Greek and Parthian, and by the influential Zoroastrian priest Kardir (c. 285 AD) in Middle Persian. As in the case of the Zendan, it is not known for certain how the structure was used in Achaemenid times.
Naqsh-e Rustam: the royal tombs
The royal Achaemenid tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam (fig. 30)(cf. Schmidt, 1970: plates 1 and 19) are carved into a living rock face approximately 8 km northwest of Persepolis. The cliff where they are placed is over 60 meters in height, and, as a pre-existing Neo-Elamite relief attests, it was already a sanctified location in pre-Achaemenid times (Schmidt, 1970: p80). The first tomb to be erected in this spectacular location was the tomb of Darius the Great (Root, 1979: p75). The form of the tomb and its iconography appears to have been copied almost exactly by Darius’ three immediate successors, although no inscriptions serve to identify the three other tombs at the site (Root, 1979: p73; p162). This new form of rock-cut tomb represents an obvious departure from the freestanding design of the tomb of Cyrus (and the similar design of a second monument that could represent the unfinished tomb of Cyrus' son and heir, Cambyses II). Once again, therefore, Darius, in his capacity as a 'royal architect,' may be said to have hit upon a novel concept of arresting power.
The extensive relief on the facade of the tomb is dominated, in the uppermost register, by the figure of Darius. The monarch stands on a three-stepped platform situated a little distance from a fire altar while, at the apex of the scene, the symbol of Ahuramazda hovers in his own, still loftier plane. To the right of Ahuramazda is placed a lunate symbol. Darius, whose martial qualities are symbolized by the bow in his left hand, raises his right hand to salute his god; and Ahuramazda—shown as an anthropomorphic figure rising from a winged disk—mirrors this gesture, while he holds the 'ring of kingship' in his other hand.
This tableau is located upon a seemingly gigantic movable throne or platform supported by thirty subjects of the empire, representing thirty separate lands (Root, 1979: p73)—a metaphor for the dominions of Darius. This register is placed, in turn, above an accurate representation of a palace façade that makes reference to Darius’ own palace facade at Persepolis (Schmidt, 1970: p81). Below, a blank register completes the cruciform shape of the entire carved space. In associated inscriptions Darius asks those whom he knows will come to look at his tomb to observe 'how many bear the throne' (Kent, 1953: p138); and he urges his subjects to follow the will of Ahuramazda: 'O man, that which is the command of Ahuramazda, let this not seem repugnant to thee; do not leave the right path; do not rise in rebellion' (Kent, 1953: p138). Ultimately, of course, such phrases served to fortify his rule and to warn against further revolts.