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Ctesiphon

Ctesiphon


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Ctesiphon was an ancient city and trade center on the east bank of the Tigris River founded during the reign of Mithridates I (the Great, 171-132 BCE). It is best known in the modern day for the single-span arch, Taq Kasra, which is the most impressive aspect of the city's ruins. It was the capital of the Parthian Empire (247 BCE - 224 CE) before being destroyed by Rome and was then restored to become capital again of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). The Sassanian king Ardashir I (r. 224-240 CE) rebuilt the city and was crowned there, as his successors would be also.

The city became an important center for trade along the Silk Road. Caravans would stop at Ctesiphon with goods from China and these goods ferried across the Tigris to the city of Seleucia (founded during the Seleucid Empire, 312-63 BCE) to be traded and then go on from there further. Ctesiphon thus became known as the terminus for one of the many branches of the Silk Road.

It was conquered by the Romans three times and was the site of the Battle of Ctesiphon between Ardashir I and Alexander Severus of Rome (r. 222-235 CE) in 233 CE. The city was added to by Ardashir I's successors and remained an important cultural and economic center until it fell to the invasion of the Muslim Arabs in 637 CE who looted it. Afterwards, bricks and other materials from Ctesiphon were used to build the city of Baghdad. The ruins of Ctesiphon are presently in a state of slow deterioration in the village of Salman Pak, Iraq, a suburb of Baghdad.

Founding & Parthian Empire

The city was known as Tisfun to the Persians, Ktesiphon to the Greeks, and is best known by its Latin designation, Ctesiphon; the meaning of the name is unknown. It was founded on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, across from the city of Seleucia, as a military camp, possibly (according to Strabo's Geography 16.1.16), because the Parthian army did not wish to be garrisoned in Seleucia and have to mix with the Greek residents there. Pliny (l. 23-79 CE), however, claims the city was purposefully founded to be grander than Seleucia and attract that city's inhabitants across the river to the new site, thus making Seleucia obsolete (Natural History VI.122). It is possible there was some community there prior to this time – possibly a small trading village – which would have attracted Mithridates I's attention to the location or it could have simply been chosen for its proximity to Seleucia, if one accepts Pliny's claim for its founding.

Ctesiphon developed into a major political & trade center & was made the capital of Parthia under Orodes II.

The much earlier Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) fell to the armies of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, and Alexander's general Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305-281 BCE) took control of the region after Alexander's death in 323 BCE. Seleucus I ruled the western part of his empire from Antioch (on the Orontes River) and established the city of Seleucia for his son, Antiochus I Soter (co-rule 291-281, r. 281-261 BCE), to rule over the eastern regions.

No expense, therefore, was spared on Seleucia, and it is possible – if not probable – that Pliny is correct that Mithridates I would have wanted a Parthian city established nearby which would outshine the Greek's work and encourage people to abandon the old city for his new and much grander vision at Ctesiphon. The Seleucid Empire had been declining for years – and had lost most of its territory to Rome - before it finally fell to the Parthians, and it makes sense that a Parthian king would have wanted to show the might of his empire through a new city that overshadowed Seleucid efforts.

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The city developed into a major political and trade center by the reign of the Parthian king Godarz I (91-80 BCE) and was made the capital of Parthia under Orodes II (r. 58-57 BCE). The city was refurbished and expanded upon during the reign of Vologases I (51-80 CE) who further encouraged trade, making Ctesiphon one of the most important trade centers in the region. There is little else known of Parthian Ctesiphon because of the lack of records which were destroyed, along with the city, by an invading Roman army.

The city was taken by the Roman emperor Trajan c. 115 CE shortly before he burned Seleucia (which was later destroyed by Avidius Cassius in 165 CE after he had conquered Ctesiphon in 164 CE). Roman advances against the city continued under Septimus Severus who sacked the city in 197 CE and sold the inhabitants into slavery as a show of force. Ctesiphon was more or less deserted afterwards and, as the Parthian Empire was crumbling, no effort was made to rebuild or repopulate the city.

Sassanian Empire & the Battle of Ctesiphon

Ardashir I had been a general in the Parthian army who led the revolt which toppled the empire. He then founded the Sassanian Empire and began a series of building projects which included the restoration of the city which he made his capital. From Ctesiphon, Ardashir I issued his famous ultimatum to Rome demanding that all the territories which had once belonged to the Achaemenid Empire which were now in Rome's possession be returned to him, their rightful owner.

Ardashir I did not wait for an answer but marched into Mesopotamia along with his son Shapur I (r. 240-270 CE), took back Syria, and drove the Romans from the region in 229 CE. Alexander Severus demanded he withdraw and, in answer, Ardashir I took Cappadocia. Severus responded by arresting 400 delegates Ardashir I had sent to Rome and sentencing them to slave labor on farms before then launching a three-pronged assault on the Sassanians in 231 CE.

The first army came toward Ctesiphon from the north, the second from the south, and the third in a straight line between these two. The three armies encountered resistance but none they took very seriously, unaware that the main part of the Sassanian forces – including the famous heavily-armed cavalry of the Savaran Knights – was waiting for them.

The three-pronged attack seemed good in theory but, in practice, all Ardashir I had to do was monitor each advance, send a strike force where he felt it would do the most damage while not seriously alarming the Romans, and then continue this strategy until the Roman forces were fooled into thinking the Sassanians were no real threat. This is precisely what he did do so that, by the time the Romans reached Ctesiphon, they were unprepared for the size of the force arrayed against them or the tactics then used. Scholar Kaveh Farrokh cites the historian Herodian's description of the battle:

The Persian king attacked the [Roman] army with his entire force [of heavily armored cavalry and horse archers], catching them by surprise and surrounding them in a trap. Under fire from all sides, the Roman soldiers were destroyed…in the end they were all driven into a mass…bombarded from every direction…the Persians trapped the Romans like fish in a net; firing their arrows from all sides at the encircled soldiers, the Persians massacred the whole army…they were all destroyed…this terrible disaster, which no one cares to recall, was a set-back for the Romans, since a vast army had been destroyed. (185)

Severus, obviously, was least inclined to recall the defeat and so rewrote the event in his victory speech to the Roman Senate in September 233 CE claiming he had completely defeated the Sassanian king and “had destroyed 218 elephants, 1,800 scythed chariots, and 120,000 of their [Sassanian] cavalry” (Farrokh, 186). Farrokh – and many scholars before him – have noted the inflated numbers Severus cites which could not possibly be accurate but his entire “victory speech” was a fabrication so exaggerated numbers should hardly come as a surprise.

After the battle, Ardashir I retired from Persian warfare and encouraged his son to assume greater responsibility and control. At some point, whether before the battle or after, Ardashir I initiated the policy of bringing Zoroastrian priests to the capital to recite the verses of the Avesta (scripture of Zoroastrianism) and have them written down. This practice would continue under Shapur I but only be completed under Shapur II (r. 309-379 CE) and Kosrau I (r. 531-579 CE). Ctesiphon, therefore, was instrumental in the preservation and development of Zoroastrian theology. Although there was a fire temple (Zoroastrian place of worship) in the city, it was not one of the Great Fires of Zoroastrian worship which people would make pilgrimage to.

Further Developments & Taq Kasra

The city flourished under Shapur I to become a major cultural center and the heart of the Sassanian Empire. The decree for the founding of the Academy of Gundeshapur, the leading intellectual center of the region and the first teaching hospital, would have been issued from Ctesiphon. Building projects and plans initiated by Ardashir I, and greatly expanded under Shapur I and his successors, enlarged the city in every direction creating lesser cities and suburbs in the surrounding area and even along the opposite shore of the Tigris.

Ardashir I had set the model for this expansion with his city of Weh-Ardashir (called New Seleucia by the Greeks) where he built his palace and introduced elements of ancient Persian art and architecture such as the minaret and dome. Later Sassanian monarchs would follow suit with elaborate buildings ornamented with decorative friezes, marble floors, mosaics, and courtyards surrounding lush gardens. Farrokh comments:

The city merged with Seleucia and other nearby settlements into one vast, sprawling, urban metropolis, which the Arabs called al-Mada'in (literally, “the cities”). Many of the architectural styles and arts of “Greater Ctesiphon” influenced (and were influenced by) the Byzantine west. After its fall to the Arabs in the 7th century CE, Ctesiphon was to exert a powerful legacy on the arts and architecture of the Islamic world. (125)

Among the most impressive structures in the city was the great arch known as Taq Kasra (or the Arch of Ctesiphon) built either by Shapur I or Kosrau I. Taq Kasra is the largest single-span vaulted arch of unreinforced brickwork in the world, even in the present day, and was constructed as the entrance to the imperial palace and throne room. In this, as in all aspects of Sassanian architecture, the builders drew on the models of the Achaemenid and Parthian empires but also borrowed liberally from Roman engineering, design, and technique.

A defining characteristic of Sassanian culture – whether in architecture or anything else – is their talent for drawing on the past, and others' achievements in a given area, and improving upon them. Taq Kasra is among the best examples of this practice as it was unequaled by any other culture at the time and remains so.

The imperial palace the archway led to was the home of the king but, surrounding it, were the administrative offices. The Sassanian routinely modeled their empire on that of the Achaemenids and centralized the Persian government at Ctesiphon. In keeping with Achaemenid practice, however (and simply as a matter of pragmatism), they used Ctesiphon only as their winter residence, moving to summer quarters in the highlands in warmer months. The government continued to operate from Ctesiphon at these times, however, as described by the scholar Homa Katouzian:

The administration of the state was centralized along Achaemenid lines. A few vassal states remained, the remaining provinces being run not by satraps but by governors-general or marzbans, who played an important role, especially in the frontier provinces, in keeping the peace and managing their regions. Secretaries, administrators, or scribes made up the heads of the bureaucracy [at Ctesiphon] and ran the divans, or ministries, including matters regarding finance, justice, and war. (47)

From Ctesiphon, these bureaucratic administrators would levy and collect taxes, issue calls for conscription, and otherwise maintain the Sassanian Empire. They also regulated trade and, as noted, Ctesiphon became a terminus for goods coming from China and heading to the west, growing increasingly wealthy from trade. Ctesiphon would continue as the greatest and most important city of the empire until its fall to the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE.

Fall of Ctesiphon

Although Roman forces approached or even attacked the city at various times during the Sassanian Period, it held against any attempts to take it until the Muslim Arab invasion of 636/637 CE. The Arabs had been making incursions into Persian lands prior to the reign of the last Sassanian king, Yazdegerd III (632-651 CE) and he intended to stop them. He sent his general Rostam Farrokhzad (d. 636 CE) against them, commanding a large force, and he met them outside the small town of al-Qadisiyyah in 636 CE.

With the rise of nearby Baghdad, Ctesiphon was deserted & fell into ruin.

Rostam demanded their surrender but the response came back that the Sassanians had only two choices: to submit to the Arab Muslims and become their slaves or die by the sword; Farrokhzad chose battle-to-the-death. The Battle of al-Qadisiyya (636 CE) began with a Sassanian advance. Rostam's forces outnumbered the Arab armies but the Arabs' superior tactics, and their use of camels in cavalry units which were more effective on sandy terrain, broke the Sassanian lines. Rostam was killed and his army scattered.

Afterwards, the Arab commander, Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas (l. 595-674 CE), advanced his forces on the metropolis of Ctesiphon. The surrounding cities surrendered and made peace while the people of Ctesiphon, including the noble family, bureaucrats, and garrison, abandoned the city and fled. When the Arabs arrived, the city was empty, and they looted it without opposition, emptying the treasury and taking what valuables could be carried. The imperial palace was afterwards turned into a mosque for a time but, with the rise of nearby Baghdad – built largely from materials taken from Ctesiphon – the city was deserted and fell into ruin.

Conclusion

Ctesiphon was forgotten for centuries afterwards until European explorers rediscovered it in the 19th century CE. No attempts at excavation or restoration were made, however, and in 1888 CE the banks of the Tigris overflowed during a flood and washed away large parts of the remaining structure (the imperial palace and throne room adjoining Taq Kasra). 19th-century CE drawings of the site show the central building and arch largely intact before the flood while significantly damaged afterwards.

The Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein began restoration efforts in the 1980's CE as part of their policy to rebuild ancient sites (such as Babylon) in honor of the past and to attract tourism to the country but these efforts were stopped by the Persian Gulf War of 1991 CE. Restoration efforts were not continued until c. 2004 CE which resulted in the reconstruction and stabilization of the northern section of the palace and Taq Kasra. A Czech company by the name of Avers was contracted to restore the site and completed their work in 2017 CE but, two years later, their work collapsed, damaging Taq Kasra further.

Presently, the ruins of Ctesiphon rise from a small oasis in the village of Salman Pak, 22 miles (35 km) southeast of Baghdad. There has been no security or any kind of authoritative agency regularly on site since the early 1990's CE so vandalism, as well as visitors climbing on Taq Kasra to take “selfies”, have damaged the site further. Taq Kasra now rises over the empty shell of the formerly opulent throne room of marble floors, carpets, and friezes and the entire ruin continues to deteriorate with no plans presently implemented to reverse this course.


Ancient Cities That Were Lost in Time

Throughout history, great cities have risen and fallen, and for some, there is not much evidence to show that they even existed. Others, however, have left more clues. The reasons why civilizations disappear forever can be based upon climate changes, wars, and natural disasters. There are seemingly lost in time – until artifacts are are discovered that bring them back to life. Learning about these ancient civilizations and the people who inhabited them can be quite fascinating. Here are five of them.


Ctesiphon

Ctesiphon was an ancient city and trade center on the east bank of the Tigris River founded during the reign of Mithridates I (the Great, 171-132 BCE). It is best known in the modern day for the single-span arch, Taq Kasra, which is the most impressive aspect of the city's ruins. It was the capital of the Parthian Empire (247 BCE - 224 CE) before being destroyed by Rome and was then restored to become capital again of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). The Sassanian king Ardashir I (r. 224-240 CE) rebuilt the city and was crowned there, as his successors would be also.

The city became an important center for trade along the Silk Road. Caravans would stop at Ctesiphon with goods from China and these goods ferried across the Tigris to the city of Seleucia (founded during the Seleucid Empire, 312-63 BCE) to be traded and then go on from there further. Ctesiphon thus became known as the terminus for one of the many branches of the Silk Road.

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It was conquered by the Romans three times and was the site of the Battle of Ctesiphon between Ardashir I and Alexander Severus of Rome (r. 222-235 CE) in 233 CE. The city was added to by Ardashir I's successors and remained an important cultural and economic center until it fell to the invasion of the Muslim Arabs in 637 CE who looted it. Afterwards, bricks and other materials from Ctesiphon were used to build the city of Baghdad. The ruins of Ctesiphon are presently in a state of slow deterioration in the village of Salman Pak, Iraq, a suburb of Baghdad.

Founding & Parthian Empire

The city was known as Tisfun to the Persians, Ktesiphon to the Greeks, and is best known by its Latin designation, Ctesiphon the meaning of the name is unknown. It was founded on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, across from the city of Seleucia, as a military camp, possibly (according to Strabo's Geography 16.1.16), because the Parthian army did not wish to be garrisoned in Seleucia and have to mix with the Greek residents there. Pliny (l. 23-79 CE), however, claims the city was purposefully founded to be grander than Seleucia and attract that city's inhabitants across the river to the new site, thus making Seleucia obsolete (Natural History VI.122). It is possible there was some community there prior to this time – possibly a small trading village – which would have attracted Mithridates I's attention to the location or it could have simply been chosen for its proximity to Seleucia, if one accepts Pliny's claim for its founding.

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The much earlier Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) fell to the armies of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, and Alexander's general Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305-281 BCE) took control of the region after Alexander's death in 323 BCE. Seleucus I ruled the western part of his empire from Antioch (on the Orontes River) and established the city of Seleucia for his son, Antiochus I Soter (co-rule 291-281, r. 281-261 BCE), to rule over the eastern regions.

No expense, therefore, was spared on Seleucia, and it is possible – if not probable – that Pliny is correct that Mithridates I would have wanted a Parthian city established nearby which would outshine the Greek's work and encourage people to abandon the old city for his new and much grander vision at Ctesiphon. The Seleucid Empire had been declining for years – and had lost most of its territory to Rome - before it finally fell to the Parthians, and it makes sense that a Parthian king would have wanted to show the might of his empire through a new city that overshadowed Seleucid efforts.

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The city developed into a major political and trade center by the reign of the Parthian king Godarz I (91-80 BCE) and was made the capital of Parthia under Orodes II (r. 58-57 BCE). The city was refurbished and expanded upon during the reign of Vologases I (51-80 CE) who further encouraged trade, making Ctesiphon one of the most important trade centers in the region. There is little else known of Parthian Ctesiphon because of the lack of records which were destroyed, along with the city, by an invading Roman army.

The city was taken by the Roman emperor Trajan c. 115 CE shortly before he burned Seleucia (which was later destroyed by Avidius Cassius in 165 CE after he had conquered Ctesiphon in 164 CE). Roman advances against the city continued under Septimus Severus who sacked the city in 197 CE and sold the inhabitants into slavery as a show of force. Ctesiphon was more or less deserted afterwards and, as the Parthian Empire was crumbling, no effort was made to rebuild or repopulate the city.

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Sassanian Empire & the Battle of Ctesiphon

Ardashir I had been a general in the Parthian army who led the revolt which toppled the empire. He then founded the Sassanian Empire and began a series of building projects which included the restoration of the city which he made his capital. From Ctesiphon, Ardashir I issued his famous ultimatum to Rome demanding that all the territories which had once belonged to the Achaemenid Empire which were now in Rome's possession be returned to him, their rightful owner.

Ardashir I did not wait for an answer but marched into Mesopotamia along with his son Shapur I (r. 240-270 CE), took back Syria, and drove the Romans from the region in 229 CE. Alexander Severus demanded he withdraw and, in answer, Ardashir I took Cappadocia. Severus responded by arresting 400 delegates Ardashir I had sent to Rome and sentencing them to slave labor on farms before then launching a three-pronged assault on the Sassanians in 231 CE.

The first army came toward Ctesiphon from the north, the second from the south, and the third in a straight line between these two. The three armies encountered resistance but none they took very seriously, unaware that the main part of the Sassanian forces – including the famous heavily-armed cavalry of the Savaran Knights – was waiting for them.

Advertisement

The three-pronged attack seemed good in theory but, in practice, all Ardashir I had to do was monitor each advance, send a strike force where he felt it would do the most damage while not seriously alarming the Romans, and then continue this strategy until the Roman forces were fooled into thinking the Sassanians were no real threat. This is precisely what he did do so that, by the time the Romans reached Ctesiphon, they were unprepared for the size of the force arrayed against them or the tactics then used. Scholar Kaveh Farrokh cites the historian Herodian's description of the battle:

The Persian king attacked the [Roman] army with his entire force [of heavily armored cavalry and horse archers], catching them by surprise and surrounding them in a trap. Under fire from all sides, the Roman soldiers were destroyed…in the end they were all driven into a mass…bombarded from every direction…the Persians trapped the Romans like fish in a net firing their arrows from all sides at the encircled soldiers, the Persians massacred the whole army…they were all destroyed…this terrible disaster, which no one cares to recall, was a set-back for the Romans, since a vast army had been destroyed. (185)

Severus, obviously, was least inclined to recall the defeat and so rewrote the event in his victory speech to the Roman Senate in September 233 CE claiming he had completely defeated the Sassanian king and “had destroyed 218 elephants, 1,800 scythed chariots, and 120,000 of their [Sassanian] cavalry” (Farrokh, 186). Farrokh – and many scholars before him – have noted the inflated numbers Severus cites which could not possibly be accurate but his entire “victory speech” was a fabrication so exaggerated numbers should hardly come as a surprise.

After the battle, Ardashir I retired from Persian warfare and encouraged his son to assume greater responsibility and control. At some point, whether before the battle or after, Ardashir I initiated the policy of bringing Zoroastrian priests to the capital to recite the verses of the Avesta (scripture of Zoroastrianism) and have them written down. This practice would continue under Shapur I but only be completed under Shapur II (r. 309-379 CE) and Kosrau I (r. 531-579 CE). Ctesiphon, therefore, was instrumental in the preservation and development of Zoroastrian theology. Although there was a fire temple (Zoroastrian place of worship) in the city, it was not one of the Great Fires of Zoroastrian worship which people would make pilgrimage to.

Advertisement

Further Developments & Taq Kasra

The city flourished under Shapur I to become a major cultural center and the heart of the Sassanian Empire. The decree for the founding of the Academy of Gundeshapur, the leading intellectual center of the region and the first teaching hospital, would have been issued from Ctesiphon. Building projects and plans initiated by Ardashir I, and greatly expanded under Shapur I and his successors, enlarged the city in every direction creating lesser cities and suburbs in the surrounding area and even along the opposite shore of the Tigris.

Ardashir I had set the model for this expansion with his city of Weh-Ardashir (called New Seleucia by the Greeks) where he built his palace and introduced elements of ancient Persian art and architecture such as the minaret and dome. Later Sassanian monarchs would follow suit with elaborate buildings ornamented with decorative friezes, marble floors, mosaics, and courtyards surrounding lush gardens. Farrokh comments:

The city merged with Seleucia and other nearby settlements into one vast, sprawling, urban metropolis, which the Arabs called al-Mada'in (literally, “the cities”). Many of the architectural styles and arts of “Greater Ctesiphon” influenced (and were influenced by) the Byzantine west. After its fall to the Arabs in the 7th century CE, Ctesiphon was to exert a powerful legacy on the arts and architecture of the Islamic world. (125)

Among the most impressive structures in the city was the great arch known as Taq Kasra (or the Arch of Ctesiphon) built either by Shapur I or Kosrau I. Taq Kasra is the largest single-span vaulted arch of unreinforced brickwork in the world, even in the present day, and was constructed as the entrance to the imperial palace and throne room. In this, as in all aspects of Sassanian architecture, the builders drew on the models of the Achaemenid and Parthian empires but also borrowed liberally from Roman engineering, design, and technique.

A defining characteristic of Sassanian culture – whether in architecture or anything else – is their talent for drawing on the past, and others' achievements in a given area, and improving upon them. Taq Kasra is among the best examples of this practice as it was unequaled by any other culture at the time and remains so.

The imperial palace the archway led to was the home of the king but, surrounding it, were the administrative offices. The Sassanian routinely modeled their empire on that of the Achaemenids and centralized the Persian government at Ctesiphon. In keeping with Achaemenid practice, however (and simply as a matter of pragmatism), they used Ctesiphon only as their winter residence, moving to summer quarters in the highlands in warmer months. The government continued to operate from Ctesiphon at these times, however, as described by the scholar Homa Katouzian:

The administration of the state was centralized along Achaemenid lines. A few vassal states remained, the remaining provinces being run not by satraps but by governors-general or marzbans, who played an important role, especially in the frontier provinces, in keeping the peace and managing their regions. Secretaries, administrators, or scribes made up the heads of the bureaucracy [at Ctesiphon] and ran the divans, or ministries, including matters regarding finance, justice, and war. (47)

From Ctesiphon, these bureaucratic administrators would levy and collect taxes, issue calls for conscription, and otherwise maintain the Sassanian Empire. They also regulated trade and, as noted, Ctesiphon became a terminus for goods coming from China and heading to the west, growing increasingly wealthy from trade. Ctesiphon would continue as the greatest and most important city of the empire until its fall to the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE.

Fall of Ctesiphon

Although Roman forces approached or even attacked the city at various times during the Sassanian Period, it held against any attempts to take it until the Muslim Arab invasion of 636/637 CE. The Arabs had been making incursions into Persian lands prior to the reign of the last Sassanian king, Yazdegerd III (632-651 CE) and he intended to stop them. He sent his general Rostam Farrokhzad (d. 636 CE) against them, commanding a large force, and he met them outside the small town of al-Qadisiyyah in 636 CE.

Rostam demanded their surrender but the response came back that the Sassanians had only two choices: to submit to the Arab Muslims and become their slaves or die by the sword Farrokhzad chose battle-to-the-death. The Battle of al-Qadisiyya (636 CE) began with a Sassanian advance. Rostam's forces outnumbered the Arab armies but the Arabs' superior tactics, and their use of camels in cavalry units which were more effective on sandy terrain, broke the Sassanian lines. Rostam was killed and his army scattered.

Afterwards, the Arab commander, Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas (l. 595-674 CE), advanced his forces on the metropolis of Ctesiphon. The surrounding cities surrendered and made peace while the people of Ctesiphon, including the noble family, bureaucrats, and garrison, abandoned the city and fled. When the Arabs arrived, the city was empty, and they looted it without opposition, emptying the treasury and taking what valuables could be carried. The imperial palace was afterwards turned into a mosque for a time but, with the rise of nearby Baghdad – built largely from materials taken from Ctesiphon – the city was deserted and fell into ruin.

Conclusion

Ctesiphon was forgotten for centuries afterwards until European explorers rediscovered it in the 19th century CE. No attempts at excavation or restoration were made, however, and in 1888 CE the banks of the Tigris overflowed during a flood and washed away large parts of the remaining structure (the imperial palace and throne room adjoining Taq Kasra). 19th-century CE drawings of the site show the central building and arch largely intact before the flood while significantly damaged afterwards.

The Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein began restoration efforts in the 1980's CE as part of their policy to rebuild ancient sites (such as Babylon) in honor of the past and to attract tourism to the country but these efforts were stopped by the Persian Gulf War of 1991 CE. Restoration efforts were not continued until c. 2004 CE which resulted in the reconstruction and stabilization of the northern section of the palace and Taq Kasra. A Czech company by the name of Avers was contracted to restore the site and completed their work in 2017 CE but, two years later, their work collapsed, damaging Taq Kasra further.

Presently, the ruins of Ctesiphon rise from a small oasis in the village of Salman Pak, 22 miles (35 km) southeast of Baghdad. There has been no security or any kind of authoritative agency regularly on site since the early 1990's CE so vandalism, as well as visitors climbing on Taq Kasra to take “selfies”, have damaged the site further. Taq Kasra now rises over the empty shell of the formerly opulent throne room of marble floors, carpets, and friezes and the entire ruin continues to deteriorate with no plans presently implemented to reverse this course.


Istorie [ modificare | modificare sursă ]

Conform tradiției, orașul Ctesiphon a fost fondat pe malul estic al râului Tigru de către Mitriade I (195-138 î.Hr), regele parților. În timpul domniei lui Gotarzes I (91-87 î.Hr), Ctesiphon ajunge un important centru politic și comercial. Orașul a devenit capitala Imperiului Part în anul 58 î.Hr. Treptat, Ctesiphon se unește cu vechea cetate elenistică Seleucia, aflată pe malul opus al Tigrului, devenind o metropolă cosmopolită cunoscută și sub denumirea de Seleucia-Ctesiphon.

Datorită mărimii și importanței sale, Ctesiphon a fost un obiectiv major pentru Imperiul Roman în timpul războaielor și campaniilor sale militare din Orient. Împăratul Traian (98-117) a reușit să cucerească orașul în anul 116 d.Hr, dar succesorul său Hadrian (117-138) va returna orașul parților în anul 117 în urma unui acord de pace semnat între cele două imperii. După acest eveniment, romanii au reușit să cucerească orașul de două ori: în anul 164 și în 197.

Începând cu anul 226, Ctesiphon a intrat în posesia Imperiului Sasanid, după ce sasanizii au pus capăt dominației parților asupra Persiei. Sub patronajul lor, orașul a prosperat devenind capitală a imperiului. În partea de est a râului Tigru, se afla cea mai veche parte a metropolei cunoscută în scrierile arabe sub denumirea de Madina Al-Atiqa (Orașul Vechi), unde se afla reședința membrilor dinastiei sasanide numită Palatul Alb. Partea de sud al aceleași zone, cunoscută sub denumirea de Aspanbar, era celebră pentru sălile de jocuri și bogățiile sale. Malul opus al râului Tigru, în partea de vest, era cunoscut în limba persană ca Veh-Ardashir (Bunul Oraș al lui Ardashir), Ardashir I (224-242) fiind fondatorul Imperiului Sasanid. În această zonă a orașului locuiau evreii bogați și tot aici avea să fie stabilită mai târziu Patriarhia Nestoriană. Partea de sud a zonei Veh-Ardashir se numea Valashabad.

În anii ce au urmat, orașul Ctesiphon a rămas câmpul de bătălie al celor două mari imperii: Imperiul Roman și Imperiul Sasanid. Alexandru Sever (222-235) a avansat spre Ctesiphon cu o armată, dar a suferit o înfrângere umilitoare din partea șahului Ardashir I. În anul 283, împăratul Carus (282-283) a reușit să cucerească orașul pentru scurt timp și să-l jefuiască într-o perioadă de revolte civile. În anul 295, Galerius (293-305) (pe atunci tetrah sub Dioclețian) a fost învins în apropierea Ctesiphonului, dar s-a întors cu o mare armată în anul 299 reușind să-l cucerească, aceasta fiind ultima dată când romanii cuceresc orașul. Acesta a fost însă înapoiat șahului Narseh (293-302) în schimbul cedării Armeniei și a vestului Mesopotamiei. De asemenea, împăratul Iulian Apostatul (361-363) a fost ucis în urma unei bătăli din apropierea orașului împotriva șahului Shapur al II-lea (309-379).

În anul 410, șahul Yazdegerd I (399-420) a dat un edict prin care acorda libertate de cult creștinilor din imperiu. Tot în acest an a avut loc la Ctesiphon un conciliu bisericesc ce a stabilit înființarea Arhiepiscopiei mitropolitane de Seleucia-Ctesiphon, întemeiată tradițional în anul 280. După Conciliul de la Efes din anul 431, creștinii din Imperiul Sasanid s-au separat definitiv de cei din Imperiul Roman, adoptând nestorianismul. Atunci, arhiepiscopia de la Ctesiphon a devenit Patriarhie a Bisericii Răsăritului (o altă denumire a Bisericii Nestoriene). De asemenea, pe lângă creștini și evrei, în Ctesiphon exista o puternică comunitate maniheistă, acest oraș fiind locul unde s-a născut fondatorul acestei religii, Profetul Mani (216-274).

După cucerirea Antiohiei în anul 541, șahul Khosrau I (531-579) a construit un nou oraș lângă Ctesiphon pentru a-l popula cu prizonieri aduși din Antiohia. El a numit acest oraș Weh Antiok Khusrau care înseamnă Khosrau l-a construit mai bine decât Antiohia. Localnicii din zonă au numit orașul Rumagan (Orașul Romanilor), iar arabii i-au spus Al-Rumiyya. Acest oraș a fost unul dintre multele fortificații construite de către Khosrau I pentru a proteja capitala. De asemenea, Khosrau I a construit o nouă reședință regală la Ctesiphon, Palatul Taq Kasra.

În anul 590, un membru al Casei de Mihran, Bahram Chobin s-a răsculat împotriva noului șah, Khosrau al II-lea, înlăturându-l de la putere și cucerind regiunea Ctesiphonului. Un an mai târziu, în 591, Khosrau al II-lea a reușit să-și recupereze domeniul cu ajutor de la Imperiul Bizantin. În timpul domniei sale (591-628), faima orașului a decăzut, datorită popularității tot mai mari a reședinței sale de iarnă, orașul Dastagerd. În anul 627, armata bizantină a împăratului Heraclius I (610-641) a înconjurat orașul și a anulat asediul abia după ce perșii au acceptat condițiile sale de pace. În 628, o epidemie mortală a lovit Ctesiphonul, printre victime fiind și fiul și urmașul la tron al lui Khosrau al II-lea, Kavadh al II-lea. În anul 629, orașul a fost condus pentru câteva luni de către Shahrbaraz, un alt membru al dinastiei mihranide, dar a fost asasinat de către partizanii lui Boran, fiica lui Khosrau al II-lea. În anii ce au urmat, s-a dus o lungă bătălie între aristocratul Piruz Khosrow și membrii Casei de Ispahbudhan pentru controlul capitalei și automat al imperiului.

În anul 636, arabii musulmani, care au invadat teritoriile Imperiului Sasanid încă din anul 633, i-au învins pe aceștia în marea bătălie de la al-Qādisiyyah. Arabii au atacat apoi Ctesiphonul, ofițerul musulman Khalid ibn 'Urfuta ocupând imediat zona cunoscută sub numele de Valashabad. Acesta a făcut un tratat de pace cu locuitorii din partea vestică a Ctesiphonului, numită Veh-Ardashir și cu cei din orașul Weh Antiok Khusrau, aflat în apropiere. Tratatul prevedea că locuitorii puteau părăsi zona când doresc, dar dacă nu, trebuiau să recunoască autoritatea musulmană și să plătească o taxa (jizya). Când ofițerul Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas a ajuns la Ctesiphon a constatat că familia sasanidă, nobilii și trupele persane au părăsit orașul, dar musulmanii au reușit totuși să captureze o parte din armată și să confiște bogățiile din trezoreria imperială. Mai mult, sala tronului din Taq Kasra a fost folosită temporar drept moschee.

Orașul Ctesiphon a intrat într-un declin rapid, odată cu scăderea importanței sale economice și politice și cu întemeierea orașului Bagdad, capitala Califatului Abbasid. De asemenea, se spune că Al-Mansur (754-775), califul abbasid, a folosit materiale din ruinele Ctesiphonului pentru a construi Bagdadul. În scurt timp, Ctesiphon a fost depopulat devenind un oraș fantomă.

În anul 1915, Ctesiphon a fost câmpul de luptă pentru o importantă bătălie din cadrul Primului Război Mondial (1914-1918), când armta otomană a învins trupele britanice ce încercau să cucerească Bagdadul. În prezent, Ctesiphon este un sit arheologic extrem de important, stârnind interesul savanților din întreaga lume și este o atracție turistică importantă a Irakului.


Politics

Yazdegerd II, the current Shah of West Persia

West Persia is a federal democracy and constitutional monarchy in which the power of the monarch, called the Shah, is limited to a ceremonial role, with no real political roles whatsoever. He is defined in the Constitution as "the symbol of the State, the People and the Religion". Executive power is instead wielded by the Prime Minister of West Persia and his democratically-elected Cabinet, whose sovereignty is officially vested in the people. The parliament is bicameral, with the Upper House having 200 seats and the Lower House 300 seats.

The Imperial Palace, Ctesiphon

The Capital of West Persia is the ancient city of Ctesiphon. Ctesiphon was founded in the late 120s BC. The city became the Empire's capital circa 58 BC during the reign of Orodes II. Gradually, the city merged with the old Hellenistic capital of Seleucia and other nearby settlements to form a cosmopolitan metropolis. The city was the glamorous center of the Second Sasanian Empire, which flourished in culture and arts. However, during the Perso-British War, the City was captured by British forces and sacked. The Imperial Palace, with one of the oldest intact arches in History was burned, and half of the city was reduced to ash. However, the city was rebuilt after the war, but it never recovered it's medieval glory.


Battles - The Battle of Ctesiphon, 1915

Following an extended run of good fortune at Basra, Qurna, Shaiba, Amara, Nasiriyeh and Kut within the space of a year, British forces finally ran out of luck in spectacular fashion at the Battle of Ctesiphon, which ran from 22-25 November 1915.

With the occupation of Kut in November 1915 regional British Commander-in-Chief Sir John Nixon ordered Sir Charles Townshend - commander of 6th Indian (Poona) Division - to further advance upon Baghdad.

Townshend argued against further extending the tenuous British supply line - already some 600km from the sea - without first consolidating supply lines from Basra, with specific requests for supplies of extra transport and trench warfare equipment. Nixon disagreed and instructed Townshend to proceed.

In this Nixon was backed with the eager support of the Indian government - who had appointed him in the first place - and, more reluctantly, by the British government in London, whose initial opposition was overcome when the extent of India's eagerness and confidence became apparent.

The Turks meanwhile, following further defeat at Kut, had retired to carefully prepared defence positions among the ancient ruins of Ctesiphon. This formed the Turks' forward defence of Baghdad, Nixon's real aim.

By the time Nixon gave the order to advance to Townshend the Turks - under Nur-Ud-Din - had constructed two lines of deep trenches either side of the River Tigris, defended by some 18,000 largely experienced troops.

Facing them Townshend brought approximately 11,000 Anglo-Indian troops, a force unlikely to be further boosted save for two Indian divisions promised from the Western Front for the purpose of occupying Baghdad.

The reality was that the British government were willing to be convinced of the possibility of a major victory on the Mesopotamian Front. While the capture of Baghdad had no great strategic value in its own right, it would nevertheless undoubtedly prove of great propaganda value, being one of the four great cities of Islam: a matter of some importance in the light of continuing failure at Gallipoli.

Thus Townshend's force, aided by Firefly (a newly-arrived monitor) plus a shallow-draft gunboat, initiated operations against Nur-Ud-Din on 22 November 1915. Aware of the impracticality of launching a dual attack on both sides of the river at once - not only due to shortage of men but also on account of poor ground conditions on one side - he decided to concentrate his attack on the east bank.

Specifically he chose to repeat his earlier success at Kut-al-Amara and issued orders for night-marching, his aim being to surprise the Turk defenders in a flank attack.

Unfortunately many of his force got lost in the dark, thus losing all element of surprise, and the British attack foundered while negotiating the Turkish second-line defences.

Townshend, unlike earlier encounters, was unable to call upon naval support given the Turks' extensive deployment of mines and artillery.

The following day, 23 November, Turkish forces launched a mild counter-attack intended at reclaiming their front-line positions although it failed Townshend's casualty rate was increasing at an alarming rate.

The British had suffered some 40% casualties, at around 4,500 and while Nur-Ud-Din had suffered more than twice that figure, at 9,600, he could readily call upon reserves from nearby Baghdad (a mere 25km away), a luxury not afforded to Townshend.

Even so Nur-Ud-Din ordered a general withdrawal upon hearing of impending British reserve forces this did not last however and the Turkish retreat was halted once the latter realised their mistake. Informed of the change in Turkish tactics by his sole reconnaissance aircraft Townshend himself authorised a British retreat.

Harried ceaselessly by both the Turks and marsh Arabs (hostile to Turk and Briton alike) Townshend's beleaguered force eventually wound its way back to Kut on 3 December, preceded by make-shift hospital craft operating in highly unsanitary conditions. Townshend also lost his warships during the retreat, sunk by Turkish shore batteries.

Once at Kut Townshend launched preparations for its defence, pending reinforcements from Basra. Shocked by the belated resilience of Ctesiphon's Turk defenders both British and Indian governments resolved to despatch reinforcements to Mesopotamia to provide assistance to Townshend, the former giving serious consideration to regarding both Mesopotamian and Palestine Fronts as a whole.

Click here to view a map charting operations in Mesopotamia through to 1917.


Ctesiphon was the capital of the Persian Empire. Basil Argyros had no illusions about his capability for defying Mirrane on her home turf. Ώ]

Ctesiphon was the Persian Imperial Capital but the King of Kings Khusro feared to enter it since it was prophesized that he would be destroyed if he did so. He did send the Banner of Kaviyan there for safe-keeping, having it hidden in the Imperial Palace. With the Romans reversing his previous successes, he was forced to enter the city to retrieve the banner since it would grant invincibility to an army flying it but was unable to find it. Khusro fled empty-handed and was eventually captured by his son and killed by slow torture thus fulfilling the prophesy.

Generations later, Shahin entered the sacked ruins of the city seeking the banner. He had been given advise from a descendant of one of Khusro's treasure-keepers and so sought the throne-room of the Imperial Palace. There he found the King of Kings' throne missing. It had been made of gold with jewels and ivory inlay and so stolen during the sack. However, three plain stone chairs in front of it remained. The one on the left, for the defeated Emperor of China, had a chunk from the back broken away and the one on the right, for the great klagan of the steppe nomads was overturned. The chair in the center, for the defeated Emperor of the Romans remained standing.

Shahin had been told the banner had been hidden under the central chair so he tried to push it to one side but it would not move. He studied it closely but the chair was flush with the marble floor with no room for anything to be pushed under it. In frustration, Shahin kicked it but he hurt his foot and not the chair. He sat on the floor and leaned against the chair for China to ease his foot. When he did so, the chair shifted under his weight. When he could, he stood up and examined the Roman chair once more. He noticed the legs of the chair went into the floor. He seized the seat of the chair and managed to lift it until it toppled over.

Shahin then examined the sockets the chair legs had fitted. Three had solid sides but the fourth had a small hole drilled into one side. He probed it with a finger and pushed a spring which released a catch. A cubit-square section of floor tilted on hinges revealing a cavity. Inside, was a folded cloth. Shahin spread it out on the floor revealing it as blue silk with a golden sun and silver moon embroidered on it it was the banner. He refolded it, took it out of the palace and put it into a saddlebag on his horse. He then led his horse out of the city where he mounted and rode off.


The Black Banner Hangs Over Ctesiphon

Vund, recently crowned as Khagan by the Huns, stood in front of the large mountain where they had buried the body of his father, the great king Dengizich. Once a minor tribal chieftain who ruled just one of the many Hunnic tribes dwelling in the Central Asian steppes to the north of the Sassanid Empire, Vund’s father Dengizich, in a timeframe of several decades, through a combination of political marriage, assassination, diplomacy, and more importantly war, had managed to accomplish the one thing no Hun was capable of doing in centuries: uniting the Huns under a single banner.

The news of Dengizich’s death hit Vund dearly. He and his close friend Balamir had just returned from a hunting trip when the messenger arrived with the news. They quickly rode back to the village, just in time for Vund to witness his father’s burial. He was devastated and mourned him in the way true Hunnic men mourned: no tears but with the blood of men. Vund and his father’s closest companions galloped in circles around the tent where old Dengizich had expired. They celebrated the man’s passing with a great feasting. Vund ordered the several hundred slaves that they had captured in their campaigns against their many enemies to divert a section of the closest river, bury the man, and then had them murdered to keep the location a secret from those who might desecrate it.

Vund was then crowned King of the Huns although there was a great uncertainty in the air.

In the weeks and months following Dengizich’s passing and burial, silence gripped the dominions of territories ruled by the Huns. For a single question loomed in the minds of everyone within the Hunnic kingdom, particularly in Vund’s court: does he have the capability to fit his father’s stirrups?

For thirty years, the official policy of the Huns was to follow whatever Dengizich said. His words would within minutes become official decree throughout the lands. Whatever the king wanted, it was to be done that was how things operated and it was accepted by everyone who he lorded over without much hesitation. There was no choice when it came to obeying the man’s orders. Defying them was grounds to be executed by archers.

The King’s word was the law of the land. It was as if Tengri himself came down to the ground and dictated his will to his children. The warriors had put their absolute trust in Dengizich as his path was always the correct one. Now that he has gone, for many, it seemed that it would be impossible for Vund to command that same respect. Vund was a competent commander out in the battlefield, being responsible for many of their recent victories since the Hunnic tribes had been pushed to this land by a rival people. No one doubted that the man was a good fighter but being a good king was more than just leading your men in the battlefield, it required skill in diplomacy with the other nations living in the steppes and beyond for war was not the answer to everything. It required political maneuvering when it comes to matters such as mediating disputes and dividing up the war booty fairly among his men.

The challenge for the new King of the Huns was truly daunting. Many wondered whether Vund or anyone was capable to take the old man’s place. How could one succeed a man like King Dengizich? Some along Vund’s court proposed the idea of elevating his late father into the status of godhood, as the living embodiment of the Sky Father who descended down from Heaven itself to reunite his children under one flag! One banner so that they would be strong enough to impose their will throughout the world! Deified!

To young Vund, it was all idle talk to him. He was the Khagan and as such, it was now his utmost responsibility to lead his people in these dark times. They had many enemies but no greater enemy than that of the Aorsi who constantly raided their lands in the days before Dengizich, when the Huns were divided, too busy fighting amongst themselves to unite against the much more united Aorsi [1]. When Dengizich became the undisputed ruler over all the Huns, he had took them down a notch and for thirty years, the Aorsi were wise not to upset the Huns. Now, there was the good chance that they would return to their old ways, attacking the Huns, confident of knowing that Dengizich was not around to smite them with sheer retribution and force. That was not to mention internal enemies, those who wished to usurp the throne from Vund and lead as Khagan themselves..

Tough times were surely ahead.
__________
[1] Aorsi - they are the Alans.


7. Taxila, Pakistan

Dharmarajika Stupa in Taxila, Pakistan. Image Credit: Sasha Isachenko / Commons.

Taxila in Northern Pakistan, connected the Indian subcontinent to the Silk Road. A diverse range of goods including sandalwood, spices and silver passed through the great city.

Beyond its commercial importance, Taxila was a great centre of learning. The ancient university based there from c. 500 BC is considered to one of the earliest universities in existence.

When Emperor Ashoka the Great of the Mauryan dynasty converted to Buddhism, Taxila’s monasteries and stupas attracted devotees from all over Asia. The remains of its great Dharmajika Stupa is still visible today.


Ctesiphon - History

The Imperial Capital of the Parthian and the Sasanian Dynasties

CTESIPHON ( Ṭ īsfūn), ancient city on the Tigris adjacent to the Hellenistic city of Seleucia, ca. 35 km south of the later site of Baghdad. The origin and meaning of the name is unknown (for the forms, see Honigmann, cols. 1102-03 Markwart, Provincial Capitals, pp. 60-61). In the Greek sources it appears as Ktēsiphôn, in Latin Ctesiphon/Ctesifon from the Greek and T(h)esifon or Et(h)esifon, reproducing lo cal forms. In the Aramaic Talmud (‘)q ṭ yspwn (in Syriac q ṭ yspwn) occurs. From Iranian texts of the Sasanian period Manichean Parthian tyspwn (or *tysfwn Henning, pp. 943-44), Pahlavi tyspwn, and Sogdian tyspwn (Sims-Williams, pp. 144, 147-49 Yoshida) are attested. In Arabic texts the name is usually Ṭ aysafūn. According to Yāqūt (III, p. 570, IV, p. 446), quoting Ḥ amza, the original form was Ṭ ūsfūn or Tūsfūn, which was arabicized as Ṭ aysafūn.

The history of the city has been reported and its ruins extensively described by scholars and travelers through the ages. M. Streck (1900-01, I, pp. 246ff. 1917, pp. 26ff.) was the first to collect and comment on these writings. Systematic topographical research in the region of Seleucia/Ctesiphon began with Ernst Herzfeld, who worked there from 1903 to 1911 (Sarre and Herzfeld, pp. 46ff.). In 1927 an American expe dition led by Leroy Waterman located and excavated Seleucia, on the west bank of the river, near modern Tell ‛Omar. German (1928-29) and German-Ameri can (1931-32) teams under Oscar Reuther and Ernst Kühnel respectively excavated sites on both banks and conducted surveys of the area. Since 1964 an Italian expedition under the direction of Giorgio Gullini and Antonio Invernizzi has carried on this work on the west bank. Its findings have helped to clarify the general topography of the site and to provide an initial stratig raphy. Because of the sprawling nature of the city and the complexity of the questions that it poses, however, many points still await further research, and some of the conclusions reached cannot be accepted without doubt (for a differing view, cf. von Gall).

Parthian Dynastic Period

Parthian Ctesiphon has been tentatively located on the east bank of the Tigris opposite Seleucia at a site now bisected by a loop in the Tigris several kilometers north of the Ayvān-e Kesrā (q.v.), an area that has not yet been systematically explored by archeologists. In the early Parthian period the metropolis of Seleucia/Ctesiphon was the administra tive center of Babylonia and also a center for the long- distance trade through the Persian Gulf (cf. Strabo, 16.1.16). When the Arsacids conquered the Mesopotamian lowlands, the capital was transferred to Ctesiphon from Hecatompylos, identified with Šahr-e Qūmes near Dām ḡ ān it thus also became the main terminus for the luxury trade along the Silk Route, as well as through the Persian Gulf. From the time of Mithradates I (ca. 171-38 b.c.e.) until the fall of the Arsacid dynasty in 224 c.e. it was the winter residence of the Arsacid kings (Strabo, 16.1.16 cf. Tacitus, Annals 6.42), though there was a functioning mint in Seleucia throughout the Parthian period (see arsacids iii, p. 540).

Modern knowledge about Parthian Ctesiphon is lim ited and drawn mainly from the accounts of Greek and Roman historians. According to Strabo (16.1.16), the city was founded as a camp for the Parthian armies because the Arsacids did not think it appropriate to admit their troops into the Greek city of Seleucia Pliny (Natural History 6.122), on the other hand, reported that Ctesiphon was founded to draw the population away from Seleucia. Artabanus II (q.v. d. 38 c.e.) was said to have been crowned in Ctesiphon in 10 or 11 c.e. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.48-50). According to Ammianus Marcellinus (23.6.23), the city was enlarged by immigration under Pacorus I around 39 b.c.e. and the same ruler built the city walls. In other sources, however, it is reported that the walls were built somewhat later (Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IV, col. 1110). Under Vologeses I (ca. 51-76 or 80 c.e. for further references, see balāš i) an important new commercial center called Vologesocerta was founded in the region of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, but its identification and precise location are still uncertain.

In the following centuries Ctesiphon was repeatedly conquered by the Romans. Trajan captured the city in the spring or summer of 116, receiving the title Parthicus in consequence (Din Cassius, 68.30.3 Arrian, Parthica, frag. 1 in Müller, Fragmenta III, pp. 587, 590) his booty included a daughter of the king Osroes and the golden Parthian throne (Dion Cassius, 68.80.3). In 117 he invested Parthamaspates with the royal Parthian diadem in Ctesiphon. The city was again invaded in December 165, during the reign of Vologeses IV (148 92/3 see balāš iv), by the Roman general Avidius Cassius, who demolished the royal palace (Dio Cassius, 71.2.3). In 198, in the reign of Vologeses V (ca. 190 or 193-208), Ctesiphon was conquered for a third time, by Septimius Severus, after hard fighting. The city was sacked, and part of its population was forcibly transported. Following the example of Trajan, Septimius took the title Parthicus Maximus (Dio Cassius, 75.9.2-5 “Severus,” in Historia Augusta 16.1 2).

After the Romans had withdrawn the city walls were rebuilt. The history of Parthian Ctesiphon ended with the defeat of Artabanus IV in 224 c.e. and the corona tion of the Sasanian king Ardašīr I at Ctesiphon in 226.

Sasanian Dynastic Period

Ctesiphon remained the capital and coronation city of the Sasanian empire from the accession of Ardašīr until the conquest by Muslim armies in 16/637. It was at once royal residence, imperial administrative center, and one of the most important cities of the rich agricultural province of Babylonia/Āsōristān (q.v.), which, with its network of waterways and fertile soils, supported a dense population, especially along the lower Dīāla basin on the east bank of the Tigris, and many large towns (Adams, pp. 69-70). Following ancient custom, the Sasanian kings used the palace at Ctesiphon only as a winter residence, spending the summers on the cooler highlands of the Persian plateau. Although situated in the heartland of the Sasa nian empire (del-e Ērānšahr), Ctesiphon and the surrounding area were inhabited mainly by Arameans, Syrians, and Arabs, who spoke Aramaic and were predominantly Christian or Jewish. Both the Jewish exilarch and the Nestorian catholicus resided in the city, and in 410 a Nestorian synod was held there (see Eilers, p. 499 Neusner pp. 917-18, 931). The Zoroastrian Persian ruling class, on the other hand, was in the minority. Curiously, none of the major fire temples was located in Sasanian Mesopotamia, though there were a few smaller ones, apparently including one at Ctesiphon its exact site has not been identified (Morony, p. 238). In the later Sasanian period it became customary for each king to make a pilgrimage to the venerated fire sanctuary of Ādur Gušnasp (q.v.) at Šīz (Ta ḵ t-e Solaymān) after the coronation ceremo nies. The capital was connected by a network of roads with all parts of the empire, and one of the most important routes led to Media, where the summer residence (Hamadān) and the great fire temple were located.

From the sources it seems that Parthian Ctesiphon continued to flourish throughout the Sasanian period. A royal palace, the “white palace” (al-qa ṣ r al-abyaż, abyaż al-Kesrā), as yet unidentified, was still standing there when Mesopotamia was conquered by the Arabs ( Ṭ abarī, p. 2440 Balā ḏ orī, Fotū ḥ , p. 262). During the Sasanian period Ctesiphon developed into a me tropolis, consisting of a series of cities and suburbs along both banks of the Tigris (for a topographical plan, see ayvān-e kesrā). It thus became known as “the cities” (Aram. Mā ḥ ōzē, Ar. al-Madā’en). The process began around 230, when Ardašīr I founded a new city at Ctesiphon it was called Weh-Ardašīr by the Persians, New Seleucia by the Greeks, and Kō ḵ ē by the Syrians. A cathedral church is known to have been located there (Streck, 1917, pp. 42-46). A circular walled city west of the Ayvān-e Kesrā has been identified by the Italians as Weh -Ardašīr (von Gall, pp. 81-84). Excavations have revealed part of the fortifications, artisans’ quarters, and residential areas. A late Sasanian church with a long prayer hall lined by two rows of piers and a tripartite choir was excavated by the German expedi tion in 1928-29 a fragmentary painted stucco figure found there may represent a saint (Kröger, pp. 47-48, pl. 12/3). Around the middle of the 5th century the course of the Tigris shifted and divided Weh-Ardašīr in two (Venco Ricciardi and Negro Ponzi Mancini, pp. 100-10). The ensuing severe flooding and other haz ards must have severely disrupted city life and led to a general decline of this town in the 6th century, when only patches of high ground (e.g., modern Tell Barūda) continued to be inhabited (Venco Ricciardi, 1977, pp. 11-14).

Perhaps owing to these changes or perhaps even earlier Asbānbar, or New Ctesiphon, developed, also on the east bank of the river, south of Parthian Ctesiphon. There stood the Sasanian royal palace, Ayvān-e Kesrā, with its enormous audience hall, still standing today. The German excavations revealed that this structure had been part of a larger complex, probably including a corresponding building on the east side of a large courtyard (Kröger, pp. 13-16). A palace or religious building may have stood on a terrace now called Ḥ aram Kesrā or Tell al- Ḏ abā’ī about 100 m to the south (Kröger, pp. 40-45). Only the remains of the terrace foundations and stucco fragments of hunting scenes, possibly from a continuous frieze with large busts of kings, were found (Kröger, p. 26). The main decorative features of the palace area were stucco disks decorated on each side with a rosette design. A square terrace known as Tell Ḏ ahab farther to the southeast yielded similar disks and must thus have had some connection with the palace city. The floors and walls of the palace were decorated with marble, opus sectile, mosaics, and stucco sculptures. It has been suggested that the complex was built by X osrow I Anōšīravān (r. 531-79) to commemorate his conquest of Antioch (q.v.) in Syria in 540 and that it was decorated with mosaics depicting the victory it is also possible that Byzantine craftsmen sent by the emperor Justinian were employed, which would indicate a probable date before his death in 565. To the north and east of the Ayvān-e Kesrā private houses, probably of the 6th century, have been excavated at the sites of Ma‛āre ḏ and Omm al-Sa‛āter in New Ctesiphon (Kröger, pp. 30-136). Their elaborate ground plans suggest that they belonged to members of the upper classes. Vaulted ayvāns set somewhat apart from the other living quarters contained elaborate ornamental or figural stucco reliefs with religious connotations. Mosaics were not used in these private houses, most of which seem to have been abandoned after the fall of Ctesiphon to the Arabs (Kröger, pp. 50ff.).

Another city, still unlocated, was founded at Ctesiphon by X osrow I for the population forcibly transported from Antioch in 540. It was called Weh- Antīōk X osrow/Rūmagān (Ar. Rūmīya) and was mod eled on the original plan of Antioch, with its own hippodrome and bath marble taken by X osrow on his Syrian campaigns is reported to have been used as a building material ( Ṭ abarī, I, pp. 898, 959 Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 165, 239-40 Dīnavarī, ed. Guirgass, p. 70 Ṯ a‛ālebī, Ḡ orar, pp. 612-13 Mas‛ūdī, Morūj, ed. Pellat, I, p. 307). In the late 6th century Weh-Antīōk had a population of about 30,000. In the opinion of the German excavators this city may have stood southeast of the Ayvān-e Kesrā in an area now known as Bostān Kesrā, where a rectangular section of an apparent city wall has survived (Kröger, p. 45). It is possible, however, that this section was part of some other wall, perhaps that of a garden. X osrow II Parvēz (r. 590, 591-628) also departed from the established pattern of summering in the Persian highlands and built his royal summer residence at Dastgerd, north east of Ctesiphon (Same and Herzfeld, pp. 76ff.).


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