Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Ancient City of Ecbatana

Hamadan (Ecbatana) is situated 400 km south west of Tehran, in the Zagros mountains of central-west Persia at the base of the eastern slope of the Alvand range. It was capital of the Median empire, summer capital of the Achaemenids, and satrapal seat of the province of Media from Achaemenid to sassanid times.
The poet Ferdowsi says that Ecbatana was build by King Jamshid. According to Herodotus the Greek Historian Ecbatana was founded by Deioces, the legendary first king of the Medes. Ancient writers say the city had seven walls, each of which had a different color, and that the inner wall was covered with gold. Later on another Greeks historian Polybius of Megalopolis offers probably the best available description of the city (World history 10.27.5-13). He writes that the city was richer and more beautiful than all other cities in the world. Semiramis, an Assyrian queen, built a gorgeous palace here in 800 BC. In 546 BC Cyrus the Great, a member of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty,overthrow the Median Empire and later conquered Lydia and brought Croesus and his wealth to Ecbatana. According to the Greek historian Xenophon of Athens (c.430-c.355), Ecbatana became the summer residence of the Achaemenid kings (Anabasis 3.5.15).
Alexander visited the city twice. In the spring of 330 B.C.E., following the conquest of Persepolis and Pasargadae, he marched in pursuit of Darius to Ecbatana, where he captured the Persian treasury. Parmenio, Alexander's second-in-command, was left there to oversee communications but was assassinated shortly afterwards on Alexander's orders. Before continuing east, Alexander stored the captured Persian treasure in Ecbatana and looted much of the gold and silver decoration of the palace. During Alexander's second visit in the autumn of 324 B.C.E., his closest friend, Hephaestion, died there. Arrian records, though with skepticism, that Alexander in his sorrow had the Temple of Asclepius torn down. Aelian claims that the city and its walls were pulled down. The reference may be to the citadel walls since Polybius explicitly asserts that the city itself had no walls.
In December 522, the Median rebel Phraortes reoccupied Ecbatana and made it his capital; he was defeated, however, by the Persian king Darius I the Great (May 521). He celebrated this event with a large relief and an inscription along the road between Babylon and Ecbatana (the famous Behistun inscription). Greek sources mention temples dedicated to the goddess AenĂȘ (probably Anahita) and the goddess of healing, which the Greeks called Asclepius. This shrine was destroyed by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great, who overthrew the Achaemenid empire, because the god had allowed his friend Hephaestion to die in Ecbatana (324).
Later, Ecbatana was one of the capitals of the Seleucid and the Parthian empire, sometimes called Epiphaneia and also Hecmatane.
The modern city of Hamadan is built over the mound of ancient Ecbatana, making it all but impossible to excavate the ruins of this fabulously wealthy capital city ( similar to the situation in Athenes).

Picture of the lion erected by Alexander as a memorial to Hephaestion:

The Golden Rhyton found in Ecbatana:

The Behiston Relief Built by Daruis I: