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Work Capital of a column from the audience hall of the palace of Darius I

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Capital of a column from the audience hall of the palace of Darius I

© 1999 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Catherine Giraudon

This colossal capital from one of the thirty-six monumental columns which supported the roof of the apadana at Susa is evidence of an architectural tradition purely Iranian. It is typical of Achaemenid art in combining elements taken from different civilizations to form a coherent stylistic ensemble.

The audience hall in the administrative capital

When Darius the Great succeeded Cyrus, he chose the city of Susa as the administrative capital of his unified empire. He undertook the construction of a palace complex on three natural terraces overlooking the city from the north. There he built a royal palace in the Mesopotamian tradition, onto which opened a vast audience hall, in Persian called an apadana. This was a hypostyle (columned) hall, 109 meters square.

A composite capital

The 36 columns of the hall stood 21 metres in height. Each consists of a square base inscribed with the name of the king, and a fluted shaft recalling the Ionian style, surmounted by three successive elements: a basket-like ensemble of palm-fronds borrowed from Egypt, an arrangement of double volutes with rosettes taken from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and above this the foreparts of two kneeling bulls, back to back. The beam rested in the gap between the necks of the animals. This pair of bull protomes reproduces an old Mesopotamian motif symbolizing the cosmic equilibrium. The capital in the Louvre was reconstructed from fragments of several columns, discovered by Marcel  Dieulafoy during his excavations of 1884-86. It is this that explains the variations in the color of the stone. This is a veined gray limestone brought to the plain of Susa from the Zagros Mountains, rather than the traditional unbaked brick.

A purely Iranian style

The Darius’s foundation charter for the city tells us that it was Greek and Lydian stonemasons who carved the Susan columns. The model they worked from was created by Persian architects, who deliberately – and most probably by royal command – combined several styles to demonstrate the unification of the different parts of the empire. This capital is typical of Achaemenid art in combining elements taken from different civilizations to form, nonetheless, a coherent stylistic ensemble. Furthermore, the use of columns, although rare, was not unknown in the Iranian world: it can be seen in the buildings of Hasanlu in the 9th century BC, and in Luristan in the 8th. It was collaboration with Greek architects which allowed this column-based architecture to reach such a point of development and make possible the construction of buildings on a hitherto unexampled scale.

Technical description

  • Capital of a column from the audience hall of the palace of Darius I

    Achaeminid Period, reign of Darius I, c. 510 BC

    Tell of the Apadana, Susa, Iran

  • Sculpture in the round, limestone

  • Excavations by Marcel and Jeanne Dieulafoy, 1884-86

    AOD 1

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Persian empire during the Achaemenian period: palace of Darius I to Susa, 6th–5th century BC
    Room 12 a

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