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Post-Achaemenid Archaeology

History & Method of Research


By: K. Schippmann


Very few monuments from this period have been discovered in Iran, and probably none from the time of Alexander the Great, though it has been argued by H. Luschey that the long known life-size stone lion of Hamadān was erected by Alexander as a cenotaph for his male-lover Hephaiston, who died suddenly at the games held in Ecbātānā in 324 BCE (A MI, N. F. I , 1968, pp. 115ff.). The only other monument which could perhaps be attributed to the Alexandrian period is the town of Ai Khanum (Ay Xānom, q.v.) in the east of Greater-Iran, in what is today known as Afghanistan. P. Bernard, who excavated the site from 1964, does not rule out this possibility, though he is more inclined to date the foundation of the town from the reign of Seleucus I (312-281 BCE) (Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 1971, pp. 450f.; MDAFA 21, 1973; Comptes Rendus, 1975, pp. 167ff.).The famous capital of this Greco-Bactrian kingdom, Bactra, modern Balkh, might also date to Alexander, however, the few excavations carried out there have produced no evidence concerning the post)Qxhqe,enid period, and no firm conclusions can be drawn (A. Foucher, MDAFA 1, 1942, pp. 98ff.; J.-C. Gardin, MDAFA 15, 1957). 


Failaka (F aylaka), Persian Gulf: In 1958-60, in the Sa'd wa Sa'id tall at the southwestern end of Failaka island the Danish archaeologists discovered a fortified settlement (a military camp?) and a small temple with antae. The plan and ornamentation (Ionian capitals, acroteria with palmettos) are Greek, and an inscription makes it clear that the site was built on in 239 BCE In addition two Doric capitals were found, which the archeologists believe belong to a second temple that has not yet been unearthed. (See E. Albrectsen, KUML, 1958 [1959], pp. 186ff.; O. Morkholm, KUML, 1960, pp. 205ff.; E. Albrectsen, Illustrated London News 27, August, 1960, p.351; Huitième Congres International d'Archéologie Classique Paris 1963, 1965, p.541; G. Bibby, Looking for Dilmun, New York, 1970, pp. 239ff., 329ff.); L. Hannestad in Arable orientate, Mésopotamie et Iran méridional de Page de fer au début de la période islamique. Réunion de travail, Maison de l'Orient, Mémoire, Lyon, 1982, no. 37, pp. 59ff.


HerculesStatue1.jpg (200528 bytes)

Hercules relief, Bistun (Click to enlarge)

Bisotūn, Kermānšāh Province: The Hercules relief in Bisotun has a Greek inscription dating it to 148 BCE It has been known for several years (`A. Hakemi, Majalla-ye Bāstān-šenāsī 3-4, 1958, pp. 3ff.; L. Robert, Gnomon 30, 1963, p. 76; W. Kleiss, AMI, N.F. 3, 1970, pp. 144-46; H. Luschey, Archliologischer Anzeiger, 1974, pp. 114ff.).


The majority of the following discoveries or sites can only be roughly dated within the Seleucid period. Some may even belong to the Parthian period.


Nāhāvand, Lorestān Province: In 1946 a marble stele with two Greek inscriptions was found on the edge of the town. This suggests that the modern Nehavand is identical with the town known in the Seleucid period as Laodikeia. Numerous bronze statuettes were also discovered on the same site, and a small circular stone altar (height 1 m) came to light near the marble stele. R. Ghirshman (Hellenica 7, 1949, p.21) reported that, according to local inhabitants there had been six columns standing there some fifty years previously. The finds must therefore have belonged to one or more temples and presumably date back to the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 2nd century BCE (See L. Robert, Hellenica 7, 1949, pp. Sff.; L. Vanden Berghe, Archéologie de I'Iran ancien, Leiden, 1959, pp.90-91; R. Ghirshman, Iran: Parthians and Sassanians, London, 1962, p. 18).


Dīnavar, Kermānšāh Province: Here were found fragments of a stone vessel adorned with the heads of satyrs, silenes and maenads; date perhaps 3rd century BCE (Vanden Berghe, op. cit., p. 1(0; R. Ghirshman, op. cit., p. 18; H. von Gall, AMI, N.F. 4, 1971, p. 195.


Dokkān-Dāvūd, Kurdistan Province: The relief beneath the well-known rock-cut tomb (Achaemenid?) may belong to the Seleucid period (G. Husing, Der Adte Orient, 9/34, 1908, p.15; N.C. Debevoise, JNES 1, 1942, p. 88; H. von Gall, Archaologischer Anzeiger, 1966, pp. 25, 33ff.; idem, AMI, N. F. 5, 1972, pp. 277ff. and in F. Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the Second Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran 1973, Tehran, 1974, pp. 139ff.).


Sakāvand, Kurdistan Province: There are three rock-cut tombs, one of which is decorated with a relief. Here again the question arises whether the relief goes back to the Seleucid period as Vanden Berghe surmises, or to the Achaemenid period, as von Gall argues. (H. von Gall, Archaologischer Anzeiger, 1966, p. 29; L. Vanden Berghe, On the Track of the Civilizations of Ancient Iran (Memo from Belgium, No. 104-105, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1968), p. 24; G. Gropp, AMI, N.F. 3, 1970, p. 175; H. von Gall, AMI, N.F. 5, 1972, pp. 277 ff., and in Bagherzadeh, op. cit., pp. 141 fl.


Karaftū, Kurdistān Province: A cave used for cultic rituals and containing a Greek inscription dedicated to Hercules was discovered here in 1819 by R. Ker Porter. Opinions differ as to whether this inscription dates from the end of the 4th, or the beginning of the 3rd century BCE, or later. W. Kleiss also mentions the remains of a Parthian settlement. (A. Stein, Old Routes of Western Iran, London, 1940, pp. 324ff.; C. Hopkins, Ars Islamica 9, 1942, p. 220; W. Kleiss, AMI, N.F. 6, 1973, p. 187 [map]; H. von Gall, AMI 11, 1978, pp. 91ff.; P. Bernard, Studia Iranica 9, 1980, pp. 301ff.).


Persepolis, Fārs Province: The well-known Frātadāra temple occupies an extensive site below the palace terrace at Persepolis. The precise purpose of the site as a whole and the relationship between the individual areas within it are not clear; only one small structure can be identified with any certainty as a shrine. The dating is disputed; my own opinion is that it dates from the period after 300 BCE (ca. 280). According to recent investigations by Italian archaeologists (1973-74) the site was laid out as early as the Achaemenid period and brought back into use in the Seleucid era and again later by the Frātadāra rulers. (See K. Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtumer, Berlin and New York, 1971, pp. 177ff.; R. Ghirshman, Terrasses sacrees de Bard-e Nechandeh et Masjid-i Solaiman I (MD AI 45), Paris, 1976, pp. 200ff.; Boyce, Zoroastrianism II, p.226).


Istakhr (Estakr), Fārs Province: Here a few portals, columns and the remains of bases have come to light. Whether they date from the Seleucid period is not certain, nor do we know their exact purpose. (Schippmann, op. cit., pp. 200ff.; F. D. Whitecomb, AMI, Enganzungsb. 6, 1979, pp. 363ff.).


Tall-a Zohhāk, Fārs Province: A marble head which A. Stein acquired herein 1934 during a preliminary search is supposed to have originated from this site hard by the small town of Fasa. Date: 250-150 BCE In 1973 J. Hansmann investigated the site afresh and found among other things Hellenistic pottery. (A. Stein, Iraq 3 1936, pp. 140-41; J. Hansmann, Acta Iranica 5, 1975, pp. 289ff.).


Khurha (Kurha), Lorestan Province: The dating and purpose of the site are not clear. The ruins may be those of a temple, but there is no evidence for the common assumption that they date from the Seleucid period. A date from the Parthian era is also possible, according to W. Kleiss (AMI, N.F. 5, 1972, p. 160; and 6, 1973, pp. 180f.; see also Schippmann, op. cit., pp. 424ff.).


Susa (Šūš), Khūzestān Province: One of the most important Seleucid cities in Iran was Seleukia on the Eulaios, the modern Susa. The new Seleucid settlement lies beneath the tell known as the "vine des artisans" within the great ruins of Susa (Ghirshman, op. cit., p. 197). This tell was first excavated in 1947-48 by Ghirshman, who discovered a Seleucid/Parthian necropolis (ca. 300 BCEA.D.200). In his next dig in 1949-50 he unearthed the famous "Achaemenian village." Whereas Layer I belongs without doubt to the Achaemenid period, Layers II and III, which Ghirshman ascribed to the 6/5th and the 5/4th century BCE respectively, are probably somewhat later, i.e. late Achaemenid and Seleucid, to about 250 BCE (R. Ghirshman, RA 46, 1952, pp. 12ff.; and Village Perse-Achéménide, MDAI 36, 1954; D. Stronach, Iraq 36, 1974, pp. 239ff.)


Bard-e Nishande (Nešānda), Khūzestān Province: The site lies in the Baktiari mountains and was excavated by Ghirshman between 1964 and 1967. The most important complex, apart from a castle and the lower part of the town, is an extensive site (ca. 157 x 94 m) used for religious ceremonies and consisting of an upper and a lower terrace. The former is supposed to have been built as early as the pre-Achaemenid period and was then [possibly] enlarged in post-Achaemenid period. The lower terrace, however, with a temple dedicated-according to Ghirshman-to Anahita and Mithra, dates back no later than the Parthian period (R. Ghirshman, Terrasses sacrées; C. Auge, R. Curie 1, and G. Le Rider, MDAI 44, 1979).


Masjed-i Sulaiman (Masĵed-a Solaymān) Khūzestān Province: This site was subjected to a preliminary investigation by Ghirshman in 1948 and then properly excavated in 1967-72. Here too we have extensive terracing used for cultic purposes. It is said to have originated in the pre-Achaemenid period and to have been considerably enlarged in the Hellenistic period. Two temples were then built, one dedicated-according to Ghirshman, op. cit.-to Athena Hippia (the "Grand Temple"), the other to Hercules (Ghirshman, op. cit.; C. Auge et al., op. cit.).


Šam-i, Khūzestān Province: The site was discovered in 1936; the dates of the Parthian statues and statuettes found in the shrine are hotly disputed. Ghirshman (op. cit., I, p.236 n. l) believes that Šam-i could be one of the two temples of the Seleucid ruler Antiochos IV Epiphanes (175-164) which Mithridates I destroyed when he liberated Elymais. H. von Gall (Istanbuler Mitteilungen 19-20, 1969-70, p.304) dates the Parthian bronze statue from Šami back to the second half of the 1st century BCE and maintains that the temple could have been rebuilt after being razed by Mithridates. The precise function of the temple (a fire shrine?) is also a matter for speculation. (H. Seyrig, Syria 20, 1939, pp. I77ff.; Schippmann, Feuerheiligtiimer, pp. 227ff.)


Bakttari mountains Chahār Mahāl Bakhtiārī Province: One alabaster torso of a female Greek divinity was discovered here (Ghirshman, Iran, p. 22).


Hecatompylos, Khorasan Province: Although this town is mainly known as one of the Parthian capitals, Appian (Syriaca 57) claimed that Hecatompylos was founded by Seleucus I (312-281 BCE). It is probably identical with the ruins of Shahr-i Qumis (Šahr-e Qūmes), some 32 km to the west of Damghan (Dāmgān) in Khorāsān. Excavations have been carried out here since 1967 under the direction of D. Stronach and J. Hansmann. They have of course been mainly interested in the Parthian remains, but some minor evidence of a Hellenistic settlement has also come to light. (J. Hansmann, JRAS, 1968, pp. ll Iff.; J. Hansmann and D. Stronach, JRAS, (970, pp. 29ff. and in JRAS, 1974, pp. 8ff. On the Seleucid period see also L. Vanden Berghe and E. Haerinck, Bibliographique analytique de l'archéologie de 'Iran ancien, Leiden, 1979; Supplement l: /978-1980, Leiden, 1981.).  



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