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Observations placeholder

Susa - The meeting place for mystic systems



Type of Spiritual Experience



Susa I - The Ancestors

 Archaeologists have dated the first traces of an inhabited Neolithic village to c 7000 BCE.  About 6000 years ago, its inhabitants erected a temple on a monumental platform that rose over the flat surrounding landscape. The exceptional nature of the site is still recognizable today in the artistry of the ceramic vessels that were placed as offerings in a thousand or more graves near the base of the temple platform.  Susa's earliest settlement is known as Susa I period (c. 4200-3900 BCE).  In effect this site could have been placed under the heading of the Ancestors as a site of a mystic movement.

Copper metallurgy is also attested during this period, which was contemporary with metalwork at some highland Iranian sites such as Tepe Sialk, indicating interlinking of sacred sites.

Susa II - Mesopotamian system linking up

Susa came within the Uruk cultural sphere during the Uruk period. An imitation of the entire state apparatus of Uruk, proto-writing, cylinder seals with Sumerian motifs, and monumental architecture, is found at Susa. ‘According to some scholars, Susa may have been a colony of Uruk’, but it would seem more likely that it was interlinked with it as part of the network of sacred sites – especially as it was already a sacred site.  ‘There is some dispute about the comparative periodization of Susa and Uruk at this time, as well as about the extent of Uruk influence in Susa’. Recent research indicates that Early Uruk period corresponds to Susa II period.

Susa III - The Elamite conquests

The Susa III (3100–2700 BCE) period occurs just after the flood.  At the moment, research on the area affected by the flood is concentrated on the Mesopotamian river plains, but if the flood was caused by an asteroid strike in the Persian Gulf [see Mesopotamian system - Nineveh - Tablet of the asteroid strike on the 29th of June 3123 BC #022145], then water might have rushed up the Susa valley system too and destroyed this city. 

The Elamites were quick to take over the site, after which a battle between Kish and Susa is recorded in 2700 BCE, rather indicating that Kish was attempting to re-establish the network of sacred sites.

Susiana was incorporated by Sargon the Great into his Akkadian Empire in approximately 2330 BCE.  Susa was the capital of an Akkadian province until ca. 2100 BCE, then it became an independent state. The city was subsequently conquered by the neo-Sumerian Ur-III dynasty and held until Ur finally collapsed at the hands of the Elamites under Kindattu in ca. 2004 BCE. At this time, Susa became an Elamite capital under the Epartid dynasty.  Around 1500 BCE, the Middle Elamite period began.  This was also the period when the Elamite pantheon was used.

This policy reached its height with the construction of the political and religious complex at Chogha Zanbil, 30 km (19 mi) south-east of Susa [ see separate observation].

In ca. 1175 BCE, the Elamites under Shutruk-Nahhunte plundered the original stele bearing the Code of Hammurabi, the world's first known written laws, and took it to Susa. Archaeologists found it in 1901. Nebuchadnezzar I of the Babylonian empire plundered Susa around fifty years later.

Susa IV -Neo-Assyrian

In 647 BCE, Neo-Assyrian king Ashurbanipal leveled the city during a war in which the people of Susa participated on the other side. A tablet unearthed in 1854 by Austen Henry Layard in Nineveh reveals Ashurbanipal as an "avenger", seeking retribution for the humiliations that the Elamites had inflicted 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."

Assyrian rule of Susa began in 647 BCE and lasted till Median capture of Susa in 617 BCE.

Susa V - Achaemenid period

Susa underwent a major political and ethnocultural transition when it became part of the Persian Achaemenid empire between 540 and 539 BCE when it was captured by Cyrus the Great during his conquest of Susiana, of which Susa was the capital. The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the changes, Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the occupation of Susa had begun possibly in the winter of 540 BCE.

It is possible that Cyrus negotiated with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation”. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years. Cyrus' ‘conquest’ or more likely take-over of Susa and the rest of Babylonia commenced a fundamental shift, bringing Susa under Persian control for the first time.

Under Cyrus' son Cambyses II, Susa became a center of political power as one of 4 capitals of the Achaemenid Persian empire, while reducing the significance of Pasargadae as the capital of Persis. Following Cambyses' brief rule, Darius the Great began a major building program in Susa and Persepolis. At this time the entire empire was Zoroastrian, making Susa once again a major centre of the Mysteries.  During this time he describes his new capital in the DSf inscription:

"This palace which I built at Susa, from afar its ornamentation was brought. Downward the earth was dug, until I reached rock in the earth. When the excavation had been made, then rubble was packed down, some 40 cubits in depth, another part 20 cubits in depth. On that rubble the palace was constructed."

Susa continued as a winter capital and residence for Achaemenid kings succeeding Darius the Great, Xerxes I, and their successors.  The city forms the setting of The Persians (472 BCE), an Athenian tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus that is the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre.

The Kabbalist connection

Events mentioned in the Old Testament book of Esther are said to have occurred in Susa during the Sassanid or Achaemenid period.

Susa is mentioned in the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible by the name Shushan, mainly in Esther, but also once each in Nehemiah and Daniel. Both Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BCE. Esther became queen there, married to King Ahasueurus, and saved the Jews from genocide. Susa is further mentioned in the Book of Jubilees (8:21 & 9:2) as one of the places within the inheritance of Shem and his eldest son Elam; and in 8:1, "Susan" is also named as the son (or daughter, in some translations) of Elam.

Macedonian, Parthian and Sassanid periods

Susa lost much of its importance when Alexander of Macedon conquered it in 331 BCE and incorporated the first Persian Empire. The Susa weddings was arranged by Alexander in 324 BC in Susa, where mass weddings took place between the Persians and the Macedonians.

Approximately one century after Alexander, Susa fell to the Seleucid Empire. When the Parthian Empire gained its independence from the Seleucid Empire, and took control of much of its eastern provinces, Susa was made one of the two capitals (along with Ctesiphon) of the new state.  As we have seen in the main section, the Zoroastrian system remained the main ‘religion’, with the break during Greek rule.

A description of the experience

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items



Activities and commonsteps



Creating a sacred geography