The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Excavations of Staraia Nisa
By: V. N. Pilipko
scholars, who first learned of Parthian Nisa from the works of Greco-Roman
writers, were particularly intrigued by a report on royal tombs from Isidore of
Charax. In the nineteenth century, several sites for Parthaunisa were suggested,
but since there was no precise information concerning the geography and
archaeological monuments of the area, these identifications were not reliable,
and, for the most part, locations were proposed on the basis of the consonance
of names. Russia's conquest of Northern Iranian provinces in early 19th
century, and the annexation Turkmenia, offered European scholars the first true
opportunity to become acquainted with one of the possible sites, the ruins of
the city of Nisa, near Bagir.
A. V Komarov gave the initial account of the ruins at a meeting of the Imperial
Archaeological Commission in 1888; in 1896, V A. Zhukovskii visited Nisa,
but as he was not impressed by the site as a historical monument, there were no
excavations before the 1917 [Russian] revolution.
situation remained unchanged during the early Soviet years. By then, however,
local investigators had become convinced that Nisa was indeed Parthaunisa and
that the fortified site of Novaia (New) Nisa was most likely to be its remains.
In 1930, A. A. Marushchenko and A. S. Bashkirov conducted trial excavations.
Since the first probes at the citadel revealed a mixture of medieval deposits,
Marushchenko was certain that Novaia Nisa was the remains of a city that had
existed only during the Middle Ages,
and he shifted his attention to Staraia (Old) Nisa.
Here, in one of the first probes, archaeologists discovered a four-lobed column
of fired brick. They also found fragments of terra-cotta tiles with
Hellenistic-style decorations in relief that persuaded them that Staraia Nisa
was, in fact, the citadel of Parthaunisa. Further excavations and finds of
painted clay sculpture, fragments of mural painting, and terra-cotta tiles
depicting Heracles' club and a Seleucid anchor confirmed the Classical antiquity
of the monument. At the Third International Congress on Iranian Archaeology and
Art, held in Leningrad in 1935, Marushchenko gave a well-grounded description of
Staraia Nisa as a fortress dating from the Arsacid period. He was certain that
the ruins of Bagir indeed were the Parthaunisa of Isidore of Charax, and his
conviction significantly influenced the interpretation of the architectural
monuments that were recovered. The most important find, the Building with the
Square Hall, was described as a mausoleum of Arsacid rulers. It was also decided
that a nearby structure /the small eastern turret of the Tower-like Structure)
was a kata used to expose the dead.
during the pre-war years were carried out in two stages. In 1930-1931, there
were exploratory probes at the Building with the Square Hall, and a medieval
structure above it was excavated. From 1934 to 1936, work proceeded on a broader
scale. Probes and trenches were dug in various parts of the site, establishing
the existence of storage rooms in the Northern Complex and of four structures in
the Central Complex (fig. 1). Investigations during those years were only
preliminary, however: extensive areas remained unexplored, and the stratigraphy
and plan of the site were not well defined. The contours of the Round Hall, for
example, were determined from a small trench that fixed the location of the
upper sections of its walls, so that only the broadest outline of the
architectural plan was understood. At times, insufficient information was
supplemented by arbitrary reconstructions based on the assumption that the Nisa
buildings were symmetrical, with distinctly geometrical configurations, but even
these provisional plans were not published.
World War II, a new research organzation, the South Turkmen Archaeological
Complex Expedition (IUTAKE),
resumed excavations under the direction of M. E. Masson. The work of the
Expedition took place over a longer period of time and in greater scope than had
been undertaken previously and led to major discoveries. IUTAKE excavated the
Large Square Building, exposing its plan in full and tracing the sequence of
alterations that had been made to it over several centuries and also locating
important hoards within the walled-up rooms.
Over thirty silver coins of Seleucid, Bactrian, Parthian, Sogdian, and even
Pontic (the coinage of Amisos) origins were found, along with fragments of
silver vessels and objects fashioned of cloth-of-gold. All the finds demonstrate
that a significant collection of articles of great value was stored in the Large
Square Building, including small pieces of sculpture, marble sculpture of Greek
origin (figs. 2, 3),
and richly carved ivory rhytons (fig. 4).
The complex of finds and the custom of walling up rooms after they were filled
suggested that the building was a royal treasury, and perhaps associated with
the funeral cult of Parthian kings.
Beside the Large Square Building there was a wine storehouse consisting of large
rectangular rooms filled with rows of clay jars, where excavations revealed
2,751 ostraca with Parthian inscriptions that were primarily records reflecting
the activity of the storehouse.
work in the Central Complex included the four structures that had been
discovered earlier. In particular, the Square and Round halls were completely
excavated. The observations and finds (fragments of clay sculpture, mural
painting, and details of architectural decoration) led to a graphic
reconstruction of the appearance of their interiors.
The most active work at Nisa took place during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Later, when IUTAKE began to concentrate its efforts on Merv, the scale of
investigation at Nisa declined and from 1967 virtually ceased, although none of
the structures in the Central Complex had been completely excavated.
Parthian Expedition of the Institute of History of the Turkmen Academy of
Sciences (headed by V N. Pilipko) began a new cycle of archaeological work at
Staraia Nisa in 1979. Their basic task was to complete excavations of the
Building with the Square Hall and the Towerlike Structure. The excavation of the
Building with the Square Hall has been virtually completed, while that of the
Tower-like Structure is still in progress. In 1982-1986, an expedition of the
Leningrad Section of the Institute of Archaeology (LOIA) worked at Nisa under
the general supervision of V M. Masson (with practical work carried out by V A.
Zav'ialov, S. D. Loginov, and M. N. Pshenitsina) and investigated the northeast
section of the Central Complex, which tentatively had been called the
"Palace." Marushchenko had discovered the remains of two large
courtyards with porticos and some domestic rooms and had begun to dig them out.
The IUTAKE team, chiefly N. I. Krasheninnikova, further investigated this
section, but the results remained unpublished; only the plan of the exposed
buildings was reproduced, without commentary, in a summarizing work by G. A.
The Leningrad expedition partially excavated another courtyard, the walls of
which were decorated with semidetached columns of sun-dried brick, and a number
of domestic rooms adjoining it on the outer, northeast side. (An ostracon
ordering that flour be issued to persons listed by name was found in one of
1985-1986 and 1990-1991, yet another expedition worked at Nisa and under the
general supervision of G. A. Koshelenko brought together a team from the
Institute of Archaeology, Moscow State University, and the Turkmen State
University. This expedition concentrated on the structure that included the
Round Hall and excavated several rooms adjoining it. In 1990-1991, a team of
Italian archaeologists from the University of Turin took part in these
investigations. In 1992-1994, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the
Italian team headed by Antonio Invernizzi continued its investigation of the
Building with the Round Hall independently.
follows is an overview of the results of the excavations of the Parthian
Expedition that I carried out directly. In the investigation of the Building
with the Square Hall, begun by Marushchenko and continued by IUTAKE, the Square
Hall had been excavated completely, revealing an approximate outline of the
outer contours of the building. In several probes, Marushchenko had discovered
remnants of walls of earlier structures that approximately coincided with the
location of its outer walls. He had concluded erroneously that, initially, the
Building with the Square Hall had been a tower-like structure containing a high,
blind-walled lower floor that served as a base and entrances to the main rooms
on the second floor set high above the ground. Thus, he declared that the
building was a mausoleum. Mme. Pugachenkova also
misunderstood its plan. Actually, the IUTAKE expedition explored only the Square
Hall and did not expose its outer contours. Pugachenkova, suspicious of
Marushchenko's data, decided that the structure had been a palace, rather than a
temple (after a certain hesitation in her early publications),
and determined that the Square Hall was part of a large structure that occupied
the northeast section of the Central Complex.
of the period in which the structure was in use also differed. Marushchenko
believed that the Building with the Square Hall was built by the first Arsacids,
functioned for several centuries, and was, so to speak, "put in
mothballs" under the later Arsacids. Pugachenkova thought that the Square
Hall had been built at the order of Mithridates I, had undergone extensive
repairs, some at the end of the first century CE but primarily in the century
following, and had remained in use until the demise of the Parthian Empire.
work of the Parthian Expedition, which completed the excavation of the
unexplored sections of the structure and of adjacent areas, led to conclusions
that differed from the views of both Marushchenko and Pugachenkova. First, it
established that the Building with the Square Hall was not among the earliest
structures at Staraia Nisa. Excavations of the southeast facade and the section
adjacent to it revealed that two older buildings had preceded it in succession.
Judging from a small number of ceramic artifacts and building materials (square
dried bricks 38-45 cm long on a side), they were built during the Arsacid era.
The great thickness of the walls, the large size of the rooms, and the presence
of porticos with the remains of the stone column bases indicate that these were
monumental edifices covering a considerable area. Erected on the natural slope
of a hill, presumably they were constructed in terraces. During the construction
of the Building with the Square Hall, a portion of the walls of these structures
was cut off and some of it used as fill for a newly created level platform. The
contours of the platform basically conformed to those of the new structure; only
on the southwest was a sizable additional projection built. The height of the
platform, following the relief of the hill, reaches 3-4 m on the southeast but
is only about 1.5 m on the northwest.
Its basic purpose was to create a foundation for the Building with the Square
Hall at the level of the courtyard that united all the structures of the Central
the long period of its use, the Building with the Square Hall was altered and
repaired repeatedly. It is not possible to remark on and substantiate all these
changes in this brief overview, and therefore the plan of the Building with the
Square Hall will be described only at the completion of the initial construction
and during the final stage in which the building functioned.
the initial stage, the configuration of the building was a somewhat irregular
quadrangle (clockwise from the northwest, 36 X 30.7 X 36.2 x 29.1 m/ (fig. 5,
no. 1). Built of square dried bricks, 39-44 cm on a side and 12-16 cm thick, the
outer walls varied in thickness from 3.6 to 6m. More than half of the area was
occupied by a large hall that presumably had been intended to be square;
actually, the length on each side fluctuated from 19.2 to 20 m. The lower faces
f the walls of the halls were smooth, and at the corners there were two-step
reinforcing projections. Additional supports for the ceiling are thought to have
been provided by four round columns of fired bricks arranged in a square in the
center of the hall.
passages in the northwest wall led out of the building: a center passage 2.8 m
wide and those at either side 1.2-1.3m. Along the northeast side were two rooms
on a single axis, the almost square White Room (3.95 x 4 m) and a corridor-like
room 19.6 m long and 3.2 to 4m wide. The White Room was open to the outside,
while the corridor-like room communicated with the Square Hall. In the southeast
wall of the Square Hall there was a fifth aperture. Exactly where it led is not
known. During the final stage of the building, three auxiliary rooms were
situated on this side, but it is thought that they appeared comparatively late.
Initially, there might have been a portico facing southeast here, but there is
nod reliable evidence confirming this.
alterations took place in the plan and interior decoration of the Building with
the Square Hall during its final stage (fig. 5, no. 2). The northwest facade of
the building took on a new decorative scheme in the form of eight stepped piers.
Two of the three passages in the northwest wall were blocked up, the easternmost
one completely; in place of the central passage, a two-stepped niche 0.85m deep
was left in the inner wall. The conjectural portico on the southeast side was
replaced by three auxiliary rooms extending in a row along the southeast wall of
the hall. The central room served as a vestibule of sorts, with passages in all
four walls, one of which served as a link to the Square Hall. The aperture
opposite it led outside the building and opened onto the edge of the platform,
which at this point had a vertical surface about 3.5m high. This passage could
only have been reached by ladder. There may have been a small balcony here as
well. The two other apertures communicated with the lateral rooms extending
along the southeast wall.
decorative half-columns were built into the inner walls of the Square Hall, six
to a side and from 1.65 to 3.3m apart. There is a difference in space between
the columns because the apertures that broke up the plane of three of the walls
prevented a uniform distribution. The half-columns included a rectangular
plinth, a scotia and torus, and a shaft 42-48 cm in diameter, constructed with
both fired bricks and wooden uprights coated with alabaster. Four massive,
four-lobed piers of fired brick with gypsum mortar formed a square in the center
of the hall. The profile of the bases of these piers was the same as that of the
half-columns on the walls: deep fascia, sharply concave scotia, and torus. In
the corridor-like room on the northeast, where there was a pavement of fired
brick, the lower section of the walls and the floor were coated with a special
red plaster of large-grained sand, brick dust, and gypsum. The southwest
projection of the platform was further expanded and several rooms and a columned
portico built on it.
final work on the Building with the Square Hall not only established the plan of
the edifice and the sequence of reconstructions more accurately but also
revealed many important finds. The most valuable of these took place during the
clearing of the newly discovered White Room and the collapsed materials adjacent
to the building on the southwest and southeast. When the structure was repaired,
the construction debris was thrown outside the building through an opening in
the southeast wall or from the southwest side of the platform, and was left
inside the Central Complex. Along with the usual debris, artifacts of aesthetic
and scientific value ended up in these heaps: large and small pieces of plaster
bearing paintings that had been knocked off the walls, small fragments of clay
sculpture, decorative architectural details in terra-cotta and unfired clay,
sherds of the vessels used by the construction workers for mixing paints and
mortars, and even a few ostraca with Parthian inscriptions.
of these articles, such as metope tiles, merlons, and terra-cotta acanthi, were
familiar from earlier excavations. Among the architectural details are sculpted
imitations of Ionic-type capitals. Marushchenko had found a large fragment of
the middle portion of one of these objects (probably in a trench on the
southeast side of the building) and had described it as the upper portion of a
gravestone; O. Reuther suggested that it might be the back of the throne of a
while Pugachenkova saw it as the top of a votive or commemorative stele.
The discovery of new fragments of similar objects made it possible to
reconstruct their shape with some degree of confidence (fig. 6/. It is likely
that these modeled imitations of capitals came from the half-columns in the
walls of the Square Hall.
from the piles of debris significantly broadened our understanding of the mural
painting found in the Square Hall. In different sections and at different
periods, the paintings had a gypsum or loess foundation. The technique may be
described as that of tempera, using a rich selection of mineral pigments, the
most common of which was ocher of various shades. Carbon black, vermilion,
Alexandrian frit, etc., were used as well, and perhaps organic pigments. The use
of various pigments and mixtures of pigments provided the paintings with an
extraordinary wealth of colors. Black, white, red, brown, and yellow were the
most popular, with gray, light blue, and pink used less often and green
extremely rare. It is difficult to determine the subject matter of the paintings
from the scattered fragments; it can only be noted that it was exclusively
ornamental in character. The paintings were found only on the upper sections of
the walls and probably took the form of friezes and separate decorative panels.
The greatest number of fragments are painted with parallel polychrome stripes
from 1 to 30 cm wide. At times, the stripes form rectangles or squares,
apparently inscribed one within another. Some of the "striped"
painting is framed with meanders, curling waves, or chains of triangles.
few fragments of clay sculpture discovered in the debris are very small. The
most significant accumulation was found in the White Room, which occupies the
northern corner of the building. The sculpture from Nisa has been described
repeatedly in the literature. The first finds, made by
Marushchenko, were fragments of a bearded head and a male torso clad in
Greek-style armor. The IUTAKE excavations considerably increased the number of
finds, including numerous fragments of arms and legs and an almost intact female
torso loosely draped in a mantle in a thoroughly Greek style.
Whether the figure depicted a deity or a secular figure is uncertain, and other
finds offered no answer to the problem since almost all of the heads were
missing. Therefore, what this sculpture was seen to represent depended to a
marked degree on the individual scholar's definition of the purpose of the
Building with the Square Hall. To those who viewed it as a secular edifice, the
figure was a depiction of Parthian royalty, while to those who viewed it as a
temple, it was a deity. Dating the sculpture also presented difficulties. For
many years, the opinion of L. I. Rempel' that the Nisa clay sculpture dated from
the second century CE was accepted.
finds expanded our idea of the way the statues from Nisa must have looked. For
the first time, there were heads in a comparatively good state of preservation.
Among other remains of clay sculpture, excavations of the White Room yielded
four such heads. The importance of these finds lies in the fact that previous
excavations yielded only small fragments of heads; at one time it was even
proposed that they had been deliberately destroyed during a period of neglect.
One was that of a man whose advanced age is indicated by the sharply delineated
folds running from the nose to the edge of the lips. The face had suffered a
strong frontal blow. In contrast, a second head depicts a young man with
child-like puffy lips and a nascent growth of beard but a stern, tense
expression (fig. 7). The third head, depicting a male with a handsome, noble
face and a luxuriant beard, is the best preserved. His aloof, distracted gaze
contrasts with the meticulously detailed helmet, typical of the Greco-Macedonian
milieu of the Hellenistic period, on which the cheek flap bears a thunderbolt,
an emblem of Zeus (fig. 8).
The fourth male head, bearded, is also shown with a helmet, which appears to be
of the same type. On the cheek flap of this helmet, however, there is a
particular emblem with a representation of a fantastic winged figure whose legs
are shown in the form of vegetal sprouts.
These heads provided further confirmation of the high degree of professionalism of the Nisa sculptors. They are rendered in the best traditions of Hellenistic art, in a realistic manner with a careful treatment of detail. The similar appearance of the Nisa heads, the helmet, and other traits entirely corroborate the early date of these sculptures, which, according to the date of the Building with the Square Hall, falls between the second and the early first centuries BCE It appears that the statues adorning the Square Hall were all of a type: full-length sculptures in the round, over 2m high. Fabricated on the site from unfired clay, some pieces, particularly a number of heads and torsos, were molded in special matrices. While the identity of the statues is not known at this point, since it has not been possible to restore any of the statues completely, it is quite unlikely that they are portrayals of Parthian kings and queens. In the first place, the realistic physical features of the heads show no likeness to the portraits of Arsacid kings on Parthian coins. Second, among the rather numerous finds there are no insignias of royal authority such as diadems or torques. Third, there are fragments depicting bare shins, which is contrary to the aesthetic norms of the Parthian milieu.
few words should be said about the ostraca (fig. 9). During earlier excavations,
they were found only in the area of the wine storerooms and dealt primarily with
the work of those enterprises. No such finds were made during the extensive digs
at the Central Complex, but when the heaps of
debris created by repairs to the Building with the Square Hall and the Towerlike
Structure were cleared away, fifteen ostraca, so badly preserved that they may
have been broken deliberately, were found. Because of their fragmentary state
and the still incomprehensible abbreviations they bear, they are extremely
difficult to decipher. According to V A. Livshits' preliminary determination,
most bear lists of items received and issued to named persons, with the identity
of the items obscured by the enigmatic abbreviations. Ostracon no. 3, which
carries an ambiguous royal command, is of special interest. The information on
the ostracon has been tentatively connected with the activities of construction
teams carrying out repairs in the Central Complex; it should be noted that
ostraca have been discovered only in the piles of debris and that some of them
bear paint smudges indicating that they were handled by the craftsmen who
painted the building's walls.
of the Tower-like Structure were begun by
Marushchenko. His explorations were limited in scope, however, and provided no
exact plan of the building. In particular, he was not aware of the existence of
the inner corridor and the portico. He viewed the structure as a massive,
rectangular block of dried brick masonry encircled by a vaulted corridor. On top
of this block were several rooms, in one of which stood a large clay statue.
According to Marushchenko, the small east tower (see below) was a separate
architectural structure used to expose the dead in accordance with Zoroastrian
custom. However, the plan of the tower was only partially explained. IUTAKE
excavations established the presence of an inner peripheral corridor and
revealed the plan of the northeast face of the structure only in general terms.
The expedition's researchers advanced a proposition, which in my opinion is
incorrect, that the Tower-like Structure was built in stages: at first
consisting of a central "pedestal" and a single (inner) peripheral
corridor, with the later addition of the exterior corridor.
are still far from complete, and many details of the plan are not fully
clarified. At present, there is only general information. The Tower-like
Structure was built at the same time as the Building with the Square Hall and
the Building with the Round Hall, as demonstrated by the existence of a single
leveling platform and the homogeneity of construction techniques and
architectural decorations of all three structures. Were it not for the
turret-like projections at the corners, the Tower-like Structure would be a
rectangular building about 1800 m2 in area, with one of its short sides facing
the common courtyard of the Central Complex. If one ignores the level platform,
which is nearly 4 m high on the south, the Tower-like Structure can be seen as a
two-story structure. Its ground floor comprised a solid, almost square pedestal
of dried bricks (20 X 19.5 x 7.5 m) and two vaulted corridors. The inner
corridor encircled the pedestal, while the outer corridor was broken on the
northeast facade by the portico with two columns at the entrance. In addition,
there were identical auxiliary rooms to either side of the portico (fig. 1). The
outer peripheral corridor led to two similar turrets, occupying the east and
south corners of the building, that contained freestanding inner staircases to
the second floor. The well-preserved rooms of the east turret made it possible
to determine the construction of the door and window openings, which were lit by
window-like embrasures; similar windows were evenly distributed along the outer
peripheral corridor except in the northwest sector, which shared a wall with the
Building with the Round Hall. Only individual sections of the walls of the
second-floor rooms have been preserved, and they give no idea of its plan. Over
its long period of use, the plan of the Tower-like Structure was altered, but
the sequence of these reconstructions will be difficult to assess until the
excavations are finished.
peripheral corridors of the Tower-like Structure were found to be essentially
empty and the rooms of the second floor almost completely destroyed, so the
number of finds from the structure is negligible. This situation changed
somewhat after the discovery of a heap of construction debris at the foundation
of the southeast face of the platform. Like the debris from repairs found at the
Building with the Square Hall, it had been dumped at the foot of the structure.
The composition of these piles of debris provides some idea of the architectural
decor of the rooms on the second floor. As in the Square Hall, they were
formally decorated. The piles contain a large collection of molded fired bricks
and terra-cotta acanthus leaves, evidence of the existence of columns or
half-columns. There are great numbers of terra-cotta tiles with relief
decoration and also merlons with centered arrow-shaped slits. A significant
collection of pieces of painted plaster was found, and there were small
fragments of painted clay statues, of approximately the same type as those from
the Building with the Square Hall.
range of color and technique, the remnants of wall painting correspond to work
from the Building with the Square Hall, and many ornamental motifs are the same.
The "striped" painting bordered by rows of red triangles appears
often, but there are also motifs that are unknown at the Building with the
Square Hall, in particular the guilloche and egg-and-dart designs.
the most important finds associated with the Tower-like Structure are fragments
of mural painting with pictorial subjects. In the clearing of the heaps of
debris at the foot of the structure, about twenty fragments of plaster with
depictions of people and animals were found. It is not known whether they
decorated one formal room or several rooms, each with a different type of
subject matter. Most of the images are small, with the size of a full-length
human figure only 30 cm, which indicates the intimate character of the
paintings. Apparently, the ornamental panels were located in a relatively small
room at not much above floor level. Battle scenes were the most popular subject.
Fragments depicting bareheaded horsemen in the light nomadic garb of a short
jacket and long trousers predominate.
finds are among the most effective. One fragment presents the central section of
a scene in which two groups of horsemen approach each other, while on the other
a fleeing horseman with a severe wound to his neck bends toward the neck of his
horse and protects himself with a shield against the arrows of his pursuers.
There is no clue to the identity of the horsemen. They resemble Central Asian
nomads, among them the Parthians, yet the most complete and
vivid find, the depiction of a "fugitive;" raises serious doubts as to
whether these figures can be interpreted as Parthians. It is hard to imagine
that in a Parthian cult center such as Nisa, designed to glorify the ruling
dynasty and people, Parthians would be depicted in this manner. In addition, the
finds include several small fragments with riders of a different appearance who
are presented as self-confident and dignified. The "fugitive" and
other horsemen like him are most probably not Parthians but, on the contrary,
their adversaries from among the Central Asian nomads. An unsubstantiated
hypothesis identifies them as Sakas, who waged fierce wars against the Parthians
during the last third of the second century BCE
small fragment preserves a lively, attractive image of a female (?) head
skillfully rendered in a few strokes as well as the remains of a Greek
inscription fig. 10). The Hellenistic technique and the three-dimensional effect
indicate that the artist was probably Greek. Another fragment, which depicts a
torso wrapped in a pink shawl, is also worth noting. The non-traditional nature
of the painting and the larger scale of the figure indicate that this may be a
deity. Along with human figures, there are animals, both real and fantastic, for
the most part shown against a sky-blue background-for example, griffins and two
lions shown opposite one another. In the main, the zoomorphic images were
employed to fill areas between pictorial panels.
long and painstaking labor of investigating Nisa is still far from being
completed, and new excavations lead to continual changes in our conception of
the monument. While it is generally accepted that it dates to the Arsacid era,
more exact dating has not been determined. The sparsity of finds from the lower
stratum makes it impossible to date the construction of the fortress more
precisely than to the period between the second half of the third and first half
of the second century BCE Attempts to specify a more exact date are based on
logical conjectures rather than on archaeological materials. In particular,
extrapolating from the ancient name of the town site, Mihrdatkirt, which is
known from the ostraca, it has often been concluded that the fortress was
founded by the Parthian king Mithridates I (171-138 BCE). It is quite possible,
but there is no strict evidence to support this. It may be that the citadel was
built earlier and then renamed in honor of Mithradates.
the citadel ceased to function is equally unclear. It has been suggested that
the Sasanians were to blame for the destruction of Nisa, yet at this point no
strata dating from the second/third centuries CE have been recorded. A number
of pieces of evidence testify that the last period of active use of the Central
Complex dates to the first century CE After that time, the citadel structures
were neglected, and their final destruction was not the result of a massacre but
of an earthquake. Therefore, while the chronological limits of the Parthian
state mark the outer limits of the existence of the fortress, its actual history
was evidently briefer.
differ as to the functions of most of the architectural structures discovered at
Staraia Nisa. The only one not subject to debate is the wine storehouse, where a
great number of clay casks and ostraca were found that reflect its activities.
Most of the ostraca are aide-memoires indicating the receipt and distribution of
wine. The Large Square Building is also almost unanimously thought to be a
treasury, although it is not known whether it is a royal treasury, temple
treasury, or a special depository of the funerary relics of the Arsacid kings.
Among the four buildings of the Central Complex, the Tower-like Structure and
the Building with the Round Hall are recognized as unquestionably religious,
but the nature of the religion and the specific purpose of these sanctuaries has
yet to be established. The Tower-like Structure contains certain elements
characteristic of Iranian religious architecture such as peripheral corridors
and auxiliary rooms to the sides of the main entrance, but, on the whole, its
plan is original and no close analogues are known. A significant portion of the
Building with the Round Hall remains unexcavated, and attempts to define the
Hall as an independent architectural structure must be acknowledged to be
incorrect. Excavation of the northeast construction, the so-called
"Palace;" is also far from complete, and no residential rooms have
been found; therefore, the name must be regarded as provisional. Opinions about
the use of the Building with the Square Hall have been reviewed above, but G. A.
Koshelenko's suggestion that it was a fire temple should also be mentioned.
However, the plan of the Building with the Square Hall does not correspond to
that of Iranian fire temples,
and there are no traces of the constant burning of fires. Therefore, it can only
be said that the building is a religious structure of some sort.
problem of the purpose of the Nisa complex as a whole is very complicated and
far from being resolved definitively. During the early stage of investigation,
attempts were made to declare it one of the capital cities of Parthia. Its
definition as a "sacred fortress of the Parthian kings" is too vague.
Staraia Nisa is often called a royal residence in which, along with secular
buildings, there were sacral ones associated with a funeral cult of the Parthian
kings. This is based entirely on the common identification of both Staraia and
Novaia Nisa with the Parthaunisa of Isidore of Charax, an identification that
lacks strict argumentation. Discovery of royal tombs
within the boundaries of Staraia Nisa would, of course, furnish indisputable
proof. However, there has been no successful attempt to declare one of the
Staraia Nisa structures a mausoleum. In the same way, it has not been
established that the fortress is a royal residence; the central area of the site
is occupied by religious buildings rather than royal ones. It is my opinion,
based on the available data, that Staraia Nisa can be best described as a
Parthian dynastic or general religious center, for which Surkh Kotal may serve
as a distant analogue.
 For example, on the map supplied with the Russian translation of the volume containing G. Drouville's description of his travels in Persia (Puteshestvie v Persiiu [Moscow, 1826]), in which the identification of Nisa/Bagir with Parthaunisa is suggested, Nisa is located slightly to the east of Abiverd.
 The village of Bagir is about 10 km west of Ashkhabad. The fortified site of Staraia (Old) Nisa is situated on the southeastern fringe of Bagir, while Novaia (New) Nisa is on the southwestern fringe. The distance between the two sites is 1.5 km.
 Otchet Imperatorskol arkheologicheskoi komissi za 1896 g. (St. Petersburg, 1898), p. 105. A detailed history of the exploration of Nisa is outlined in M. E. Masson, "Gorodishcha Nisy v selenii Bagir i ikh izuchenie" (A study of Nisa fortified sites in the village of Bagir), TIUTAKE, vol. 1 (1949).
 Material of the Parthian period was, of course, present in the trial trenches, but the investigators simply were not able to distinguish it because they were not familiar with this material.
 As early as 1935, after he discovered artifacts of obviously ancient date at Novaia Nisa, A. A. Marushchenko suggested that they had been carried there from Staraia Nisa by treasure hunters. It was only after the discovery of a necropolis of the Arsacid period that additional work confirmed the existence of a stratum dating from the period of the Parthian state.
 Archaeological/topographical data regarding Staraia Nisa is pertinent. The fortress is situated on the flattened top of a natural hill shaped like an irregular pentagon, and this determined the configuration of the fortress walls. The hill is about 25 ha at the base, and the enclosed space at the top includes about 13 ha. Inside the fortress, archaeologists have distinguished two main areas of development: the north, or domestic, block, which occupies the northern part of the site; and the central block, situated in the broad area of the fortress closer to the west wall. Large hollows that correspond to ancient reservoirs are located east of the Central Complex. Along the east and south walls, the remains of an ancient structure can be detected in microrelief (fig. 1).
 A. A. Marushchenko presented information about these excavations at the Third International Congress on Iranian Art and Archaeology, but the report was never published. The most detailed discussion of the excavations is outlined in the work by M. E. Masson (see n. 3, above). Material from Marushchenko's paper was also used by O. Reuther in "Parthian Architecture," in SPA, vol. 1, p. 444.
 S. A. Ershov, E. A. Davidovich, M. S. Mershchiev, and N. I. Krasheninnikova were among the most active participants of the expedition excavating Staraia Nisa.
 The results of excavations at the Large Square Building are most fully detailed in the following works: M. E. Masson, "Novye dannye po istorii rabovladel'cheskogo obshchestva na territorii IUzhnogo Turkmenistana" (New data on the history of a slaveowning society in the territory of southern Turkmenistan), VDI (1951.1); M. E. Masson and G. A. Pugachenkova, Parfianskie ritony Nisy, TIUTAKE, vol. 4 (Ashkhabad, 1959); G. A. Pugachenkova, Iskusstvo Turkmenistana: Ocherk s drevneishikh vremen do 1917 g. (Moscow, 1967).
 M. E. Masson and G. A. Pugachenkova, "Mramornye statui parfianskogo vremeni iz Staroi Nisy" (Marble statues of the Parthian period from Staraia [Old] Nisa) [review], Bibliotheca classica orientalis 7.4 (1962), cols. 220-23.
 The rhytons were discovered by a team led by E. A. Davidovich. M. E. Masson and G. A. Pugachenkova, The Parthian Rhytons of Nisa (Florence, 1982); R. Ghirshman, "Notes iraniennes XI: Le rhyton en Iran;" ArtAs 25 (1962); P Bernard, "Les rhytons de Nisa: 1. Poetesses grecques;" Journal des savants (1985).
 Masson and Pugachenkova, Parfianskie ritony Nisy, p. 233.
 I. M. Diakonoff and V A. Livshits, Parthian Economic Documents from Nisa, ed. D. N. MacKenzie, CIIr, pt. 2, vol. 2, text 1 (London, ).
Iskusstvo Turkmenistana, pp. 3 7-41.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 See items from Marushcenko's personal archive.
 G. A. Pugachenkova, "Arkhitekturnye pamiatniki Nisy" (Architectural monuments of Nisa), TI UTAKE, vol. 1 (1949), pp. 239-40.
 She continues to defend this viewpoint; see, for example, G. A. Pugachenkova, "K interpretatsii i tipologii nekotorykh arkhitekturnykh pamiatnikov Merva i Nisy" (On the interpretation and typology of several architectural monuments of Merv and Nisa), TIUTAKE, vol. 16 (1978), pp. 19-21.
 G. A. Pugachenkova, Puti razvitiia arkhitektury IUzhnogo Turkmenistana pory rabovladeniia i feodalizma, TIUTAKE, vol. 6 (Moscow, 1958), pp. 78109.
 Farther west, masonry replaced the earth fill that leveled the surface of the courtyard adjacent to the building.
 E. A. Davidovich, "Otchet o raskopkakh 1947 g. na ploshchadi kvadratnogo zala Staroi Nisy" (Report on the excavations of 1947 in the area of the Square Hall in Staraia [Old] Nisa), TIUTAKE, vol. 2 (1953), pp. 117-19.
 Reuther, "Parthian Architecture," p. 444.
 Pugachenkova, "Arkhitekturnye pamiatniki Nisy," p. 229.
 L. I. Rempel', "Terrakoty Merva i glinianye statui Nisy" (The terra-cottas of Merv and the clay statues of Nisa), TIUTAKE, vol. 1 (1949); idem, "Novye materialy k izucheniiu drevnei skul'ptury IUzhnoi Turkmenii" (New materials toward the investigation of the ancient sculpture of southern Turkmenia), TI UTAKE, vol. 2 (1953 ); Pugachenkova, Iskusstvo Turkmenistana, pp. 50-51.
 Pugachenkova, Puti razvitiia arkhitektury, figs. on pp. 91 and 92; D. Schlumberger, Ellinizirovannyi Vostok (Moscow, 1985), p. 42.
 Rempel', "Terrakoty Merva" (The terra-cottas of Merv), pp. 361-62.
 For more details, see V N. Pilipko, "Golova v shleme iz Staroi Nisy" (A helmeted head from Staraia [Old] Nisa), VDI (1989.3).
 During prewar excavations, A. A. Marushchenko found a single ostracon but did not publish his finding. The circumstances of its discovery have not been accurately established.
 This structure is often referred to as the Tower Temple or, simply, the Tower.
 N. I. Krasheninnikova, "K voprosu o vzaimosviazi 'Kruglogo Khrama' s tak nazyvaemoi 'Bashnei' Staroi Nisy" (On the interrelationship of the "Round Temple" and the so-called "Tower" of Staraia [Old] Nisa), Izvestiia AN TurkmenSSR, Seriia obshchestvennykh nauk (1960.4).
 Here and below, the ethnonym "Parthians" is used provisionally. Actually, these might have been Parni, not Parthians.
 V N. Pilipko, "The Horsemen of Nisa," Science in the USSR (1988.1).
 Pugachenkova, Puti razvitiia arkhitektury, pp. 102-3; N. I. Krasheninnikova and G. A. Pugachenkova, "Kruglyi Khram parfianskoi Nisy" (The Round Temple of Parthian Nisa), SA (1964.4); G. A. Koshelenko, Rodina parfian (Moscow, 1977), pp. 57-65.
Rodina parflan, pp. 54-56.
 I. R. Pichikian, "The Oxus Temple Composition in the Context of Architectural Comparison;" Information Bulletin, IASCCA, no. 12 (Moscow, 1987).
 V N. Pilipko, "K voprosu o lokalizatsii Parfavnisy" (The problem of establishing the location of Parthaunisa), Izvestiia AN Turkmen SSR, Seriia obshchestvennykh nauk (1989.2).
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