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Italian Digs Unearth Ancient Parthian Imperial Court of Mehrdad-Gerd, Merv


06 May 2005



Italian digs in Iranian province of Margiana (what is today known as Turkmenistan) are unearthing an extensive archaeological complex that was once a flourishing artistic and political center for the ancient Iranian civilization under the Parthian dynasty.


The latest round of digs has revealed invaluable detail about a fortified complex, located 18km southwest of the modern city of Ashkhabad, near the border of Iran, according to the excavation director, Antonio Invernizzi of Turin University.


Archaeologists believe that Mehrdad-Gerd (Old Nisa), one of the Parthian Empire's earliest capitals, was founded in the 2nd century BC.


It was renamed Mithradatkirt, or fortress of Mithradates, after king of kings Mithradat the Great (171-138 BC). The Emperor Mithradat (Mehrdâd in modern Persian) turned Iran into a most powerful empire in world, the Ancient Rome's greatest rivals.


Invernizzi explained that the complex expanded out from an original cluster of buildings protected by walled fortifications after Mithradates liberating Iran and Mesopotamia from Macedonian invasion.


So far, he said, perfectly conserved walls of six to eight meters high had been uncovered, with the original decoration still distinguishable.


Substantial buildings, Mithraic mausoleums and shrines, inscribed documents and a looted treasury have also come to light.


Smaller finds include various artworks, marble statues, fragments of massive clay monuments -- including a depiction of Mithradates the Great -- and around 40 ivory drinking horns, the outer rims of which decorated with people or classical mythological scenes.


Italian archaeologists started excavating Mehrdad-Gerd or Old Nisa -- which was totally destroyed by an earthquake in the first decade BC -- in 1990, picking up where earlier digs by the Russians had left off in the 1950s.


The Parthian Empire was the most powerful force on the Iranian plateau from the 3rd century BC onwards, intermittently controlling Mesopotamia between 190 BC to 224 AD until its fall to Sasanian dynasty..


Originally an Iranian tribe of nomads, the Parni people rose to power under Mithradates. At one point, its empire occupied all of modern Iran, Iraq and Armenia, parts of Turkey, Georgia, Arran (republic of Azerbaijan), Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It also briefly held territories in Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.



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