Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
THE WEDDING AT SUSA

ANCIENT CITIES did not exist only along the Euphrates and the Nile; one of the oldest in the world was Susa (now Shush, Iran), which spread over four hills in the heart of very fertile lowlands on the southern edge of the Persian highlands.

Susa, which according to some estimates developed about 4000 B.C., at first was the capital of the country of Elam, the eastern neighbour and sworn enemy of Babylonia. The thrust of the Elamites toward the Euphrates and the Tigris led to several wars during the third and second millenniums B.C., wars from which now one, then the other adversary emerged as ruler over both countries.

As a city, Susa did not reach its peak, however, until it was ruled by the Persian kings. Darius I, who reigned from 522 to 486 B.C., made Susa the metropolis of his country; in the ancient burgh he erected a palace lavishly decorated with gold and marble.

"All the affairs were conducted from here by just a few officials, after the king had instructed everyone what to do and had given everyone the power he needed," wrote Xenophon, the Greek historian and military leader. And Susa became the centre of a gigantic empire which included today's Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Egypt.

It was so hot in Susa during the summer months that the Persian kings escaped to two mountain residences: Ecbatana, a city ringed by seven concentric walls, and Persepolis, the tremendous palatial city built by Darius I. Strabo, the Greek geographer, reports how the rest of the citizens of Susa protected themselves from the heat:

Though fertile, Susa has an excessively hot climate. For that reason they pile two yards of earth on top of their roofs; due to this weight, they have to build their houses long yet narrow, because they have no long beams; but they would indeed be much better off with roomy houses on account of the smoke.

The capital of the Persian empire surrendered in 331 B.C. without resistance to the advancing Macedonian armies under Alexander the Great and to the conqueror fell immense treasure, including

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