What was the ancient city of Persepolis?

Persepolis - courtesy simonhn - CC-BY

Persepolis - courtesy simonhn - CC-BY

Persepolis was founded by Darius I in 518 B.C., as the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It was constructed on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian predesessors. The earliest remains date from around 515 BC. To the ancient Persians, the city was called Parsa, which means “The City of Persians.” It is believed that Cyrus the Great chose the site of Persepolis, but that Darius the Great built the great palaces. The reasons behind the construction of the city were the need for a majestic atmosphere as a symbol for their empire, and to celebrate special events. The wealth of Persia was to be visible in every aspect of its construction. Persepolis was an imperial showcase.

Darius called upon architects and artisans from every corner of the world, from Libya and Egypt to India, from the Danube to the Indus, from the Caucasus Mountains to the Asiatic Steppes and from the Aral Sea to work together with Persian architects to create something never before seen yet unmistakably Persian. The new capital was known for its stunning inscriptions, unique architecture and wooden columns made of tall Lebanese cedars and Indian teak trees.  Persepolis was built on top of a large man-made terrace. Access to the terrace was by a wide double staircase, and through the Gate of All Nations, featuring two pairs of colossal human-headed winged bulls. Construction projects at Persepolis continued throughout the Achaemenid period with major projects from Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes I and III.  Once known as the richest city under the sun, it was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.

Among the few recovered objects are a number of clay tablets. They provide valuable information about how the kings treated their Persepolis workers. These inscriptions show workers were not slaves and were paid for their labor. They also show that Persepolis workers had female supervisors called chiefs, who were sometimes paid twice as much as men and received special maternity benefits. The Achaemenid Empire was one of the world’s first ‘progressive’ societies. In the words of Darius, “… I will not tolerate that the weak shall suffer injustices brought upon them by the mighty. What is just pleases me. … You, my subjects, must not assume what the powerful undertake as sublime. What the common man achieves is much more extraordinary.”

For more information about ancient Persia and modern Iran

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  • Corey says:

    I would like to use some of the information in your “What was the ancient city of Persepolis?” article. Especially the quote of Darius. I would love to find the source of this quote. If you have any info, or time, to help me with this I would be very appreciative.
    Thanks, Corey

  • eiffel says:

    Hi Corey,

    I’m not the author of the article, but I thought you might be interested in pages 8 and 9 of the scholarly work “Literatur” by Ilya Gershevitch and others, which provides the source for a very similar quotation by Darius:

    “I am a friend of justice, I am not a friend of injustice. It is not my pleasure that the poor shall suffer injustice on account of the rich, or that the rich shall suffer injustice on account of the poor.”

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