Menu Ctesiphon - capital of empire 4016.08.29


The imperial capital of the Sasanian Empire, Ctesiphon and its environs were among the largest urban sites in the late antiquity. Situated 35 km south of the modern city of Baghdad, Ctesiphon was founded in the Arsacid ( Parthian ) times on the eastern side of the Tigris opposite the Seleucid city of Seleucia-on-Tigris. It then became the capital and the winter residence of the Parthian kings.

According to Strabo, the city was meant to function as a camp for the Arsacid army. The two citie faced each other from the middle of the first century BC. However, it was probably Seleucia which overshadowed Ctesiphon both in size and importance until 165 CE. The Parthian Ctesiphon was conquered by the Romans several times; its life as the imperial capital of the Arsacids ended with the defeat of the last Arsacid king, Artabanus IV in 224 CE by Ardashir I.

The Sasanian Ctesiphon starts with the coronation of Ardashir I in 224 in Ctesiphon. It continued to serve as both the capital and the coronation city until the Arab invasion, although Sasanians continued with the ancient tradition of only spending the winter in Ctesiphon. Under Ardashir and his successors, the city grew beyond its original boundaries and became a metropolis with many cities and suburbs on both sides of the river Tigris.

Around 230, on the west side of Tigris, Ardashir I found a new city called Weh-Ardashir (“the better [city] of Ardashir”), identified with the walled circular city situated on the west of Iwan-e- Kasra. The famous palace of Iwan-e-Kasra was itself part of new quarter named Asbānbar, or new Ctesiphon, located on the east side of the river. The amazing palace with its huge audience hall, still standing today, must have been part of a larger complex probably with a corresponding building on the east side and a palace or religious building about 100 m to the south. There are remains of terrace foundations as well as stucco fragment of a frieze found on this site. Private houses, probably belonging to nobility of the sixth century, are situated to the north and east of the palace. It has been suggested that the palace was built by Khusro I Anusheravan.

He also built another city to the south of Ctesiphon, called weh-Antiok-Khusro, which was modeled after the original plan of Antioch when the population of the latter were moved into the new city following Khusro’s conquest of Antioch in 540 CE.

The city was taken over by the Muslim army in March of 637; by this time several cities were built there and this in fact resulted in Arabs naming it al-Mada’in (the cities). Indeed, the same concept was also employed by the Syriac speaking population of Mesopotamia who called the large urban complex “Mahoza” ( the cities).

Ctesiphon lost its position after the Arab conquest and especially after cities such as Basra and later Baghdad were founded. It was entirely devastated by Mongols.

( Courtesy SASSANIKA )