Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Achaemenid Tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam and Persepolis


How does it feel to actually see these tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam, cut out of the cliff-wall high above your head? No picture can prepare the visitor for this unique setting. We generally know the photographs taken under optimal conditions where every single detail is highlighted, but standing at the foot of these high limestone walls featuring the tombs of four different Persian kings is a unique experience!

I wonder what impression they must have made on Alexander who inevitably must have passed here on his way from Persepolis to Pasargadae as the scars in the cliffs are clearly visible from a distance and certainly from Persepolis.

The only tomb at Naqsh-i Rustam that can be identified with certainty is the one belonging to King Darius the Great (died in 486 BC), the first one facing the visitor upon arrival, thanks to an inscription. All tombs look very much the same, but according to the conclusions drawn so far by the researchers we are supposed to see the tomb relief of Artaxerxes I (died 424 BC) to Darius’ left, followed by that of Darius II; the tomb to his right and at an angle has been attributed to Xerxes I (died in 465 BC). 

It is a fact that after Cambyses II (522 BC) all Achaemenid kings were entombed in one of the high straight cliffs in the area: four of the kings were buried here at Naqsh-i Rustam as mentioned above, but three found their last resting place at Persepolis, i.e. Artaxerxes II (died 359 BC), Artaxerxes III (died in 338/337 BC) and probably Darius III (died 330 BC) whose tomb was not completed. 

The façades of all Achaemenid tombs are very similar and are often referred to as “Persian crosses” because they have the shape of a cross, approximately 23 meters high and 18-20 meters wide. The arms of the cross are enhanced with half-columns and bull-head capitals imitating those found at Persepolis with in their centre the entrance leading into a small burial chamber. 

Above these columns 28 representatives of the various satrapies are carved in relief, set in two rows carrying the throne-bed with twisted legs and lion claws. The king is standing on a stepped throne, wearing the tiara and dressed in the specific kandys-robe (a three-quarter long Persian coat). He is stretching out his right hand in a sign of respect in front of a fire-altar, and his left hand is holding a bow resting on his foot. In the centre above the king we recognize the Achaemenid motive of an aisled sun-disk with a crowned half-figure, as well as a moon-symbol. On either side, guards and courtiers are watching on. 

Since the Persian palaces were so lavished colored, I tried to find out whether these tomb-reliefs were as well. It seems the study is still ongoing but so far the tomb of Darius the Great has revealed some evidence. Traces of blue have been located in Darius’ beard and moustache, as well as in the cuneiform inscriptions. The king’s hair was black and his eyes were red framed in black; his lips and his shoes were red and on his clothes hints of various colours have been found. Overall the colours seem to match those used at Persepolis (For more info see: Tehran Times). Hopefully a closer examination of the other tombs will give us more information on the colors used.

Naqsh-i Rustam has also a series of seven reliefs on a lower register, i.e. below the Achaemenid reliefs. Some five hundred years later, several Sassanid kings have carved out their victories here to be remembered for posterity. I’ll talk about them separately in a next blog.

All the tombs have been looted at some time in antiquity, so all we have are these facades telling the story of great Achaemenid and Sassanid kings.


As far as Persepolis is concerned, the centrepiece is the tomb of Artaxerxes III (died 338/337 BC) in plain view for whoever visits the palaces. On the right hand side of the tomb’s entrance we see a bust of a Persian guard holding a spear. The two other tombs are more difficult to make out and have tentatively been ascribed to Artaxerxes II (died 359 BC) and Darius III (died 330 BC) as mentioned above.

[Click here for more pictures of Naqsh-i Rustam]

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