850 BC-476 AD: Architecture of Classical egypt

The Classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome has shaped the way we build today.
The Parthenon sets on top of the Acropolis in Athens, GreeceThe Parthenon sets on top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation

How Classical Architecture Began
From the rise of ancient Greece until the fall of the Roman empire, great buildings were constructed according to precise rules. The Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, who lived during first century BC, believed that builders should use mathematical principles when constructing temples. “For without symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan,” Vitruvius wrote in his famous treatise De Architectura, or Ten Books on Architecture(compare prices).The Classical Orders
In his writings, Marcus Vitruvius introduced the Classical orders, which defined column styles and entablature designs used in Classical architecture. The earliest Classical orders were Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Classical Periods
700 BC-323 BC: Greek. The Doric column was first developed in Greece and it was used for great temples, including the famous Parthenon in Athens. Simple Ionic columns were used for smaller temples and building interiors.

323 BC-146 BC: Hellenistic. When Greece was at the height of its power in Europe and Asia, the empire built elaborate temples and secular buildings with Ionic and Corinthian columns. The Hellenistic period ended with conquests by the Roman Empire.

44 BC-476 AD: Roman. The Romans borrowed heavily from the earlier Greek and Hellenistic styles, but their buildings were more highly ornamented. They used Corinthian and composite style columns along with decorative brackets. The invention of concrete allowed the Romans to build arches, vaults, and domes. A famous example of Roman architecture is the Roman Colosseum. To learn more about architecture in Ancient Rome, see: Architecture of the Ancient Roman Empire. To view 3D images of Rome as it looked in 320 AD, download the free Google Earth.

From Classical to Neoclassical
More than 1,500 years after the Roman architect Vitruvius wrote his important book, the Renaissance architect Giacomo da Vignola outlined Vitruvius’s ideas in a treatise titled The Five Orders of Architecture (compare prices). Published in 1563, The Five Orders of Architecture became a guide for builders throughout western Europe.

In 1570, another Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, used the new technology of movable type to publish I Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura, or The Four Books of Architecture (compare prices). In this book, Palladio showed how Classical rules could be used not just for grand temples but also for private villas. Palladio’s ideas spread across Europe and into the New World, giving rise to a variety of Neoclassical styles.

3,050 BC-900 BC: Architecture of Ancient Egypt

The pyramid form was a marvel of engineering that allowed ancient Egyptians to build enormous structures.
Pyramids of Giza, EgyptThe most famous pyramids in Egypt are the Pyramids of Giza, built more than 2,000 years B.C. to shelter and safeguard the souls of Egyptian pharaohs.

Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation

Construction in Ancient Egypt
Wood was not widely available in the arid Egyptian landscape. Houses in ancient Egypt were made with blocks of sun-baked mud. Flooding of the Nile River and the ravages of time destroyed most of these ancient homes.Much of what we know about ancient Egypt is based on great temples and tombs, which were made with granite and limestone and decorated with hieroglyphics, carvings, and brightly colored frescoes. The ancient Egyptians didn’t use mortar, so the stones were carefully cut to fit together.

Pyramids in Egypt
The development of the pyramid form allowed Egyptians to build enormous tombs for their kings. The sloping walls could reach great heights because their weight was supported by the wide pyramid base. An innovative Egyptian named Imhotep is said to have designed one of the earliest of the massive stone monuments, the Step Pyramid of Djoser (2,667 BC – 2,648 BC).

Columns in Egypt
Builders in ancient Egypt didn’t use load-bearing arches. Instead, columns were placed close together to support the heavy stone entablature above. Brightly painted and elaborately carved, the columns often mimicked palms, papyrus plants, and other plant forms. Over the centuries, at least thirty distinct column styles evolved. Learn more: Egyptian Column Styles

Influences of Egyptian Architecture
Archaeological discoveries in Egypt reawakened an interest in the ancient temples and monuments. Egyptian Revival architecture became fashionable during the 1800s. In the early 1900s, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb stirred a fascination for Egyptian artifacts and the rise of Art Deco architecture.

Wonders of Ancient Egypt

2,575 BC – 2,134 BC: Old Kingdom

  • Abu Ghurab
  • Dahshur
  • Ras Budran
  • Step Pyramid of Djoser
  • The Giza Pyramids
  • The Sphinx

2,040 BC – 1,640 BC: Middle Kingdom

  • Abydos
  • Karnak
  • Thebes
  • Luxor Temple
  • Temples of Karnak
  • Serabit el-Khadem
  • Tell el Dab’a

1,550 BC -1,070 BC: New Kingdom

  • Tombos
  • Piramesses
  • Abu Simbel
  • Amarna
  • Deir el Bahri
  • Kush Kingdom
  • Deir el Medina
  • Tutankhamun’s Tomb (Tomb of “King Tut”)


Zeus, God of Ancient Greece the Sky

Zeus, Ruler of Mount Olympus,
Known by Many Names,
Lord of the Sky,
Rain-God, Cloud-Gatherer,
And Zeus of the Thunderbolt.
The Mighty Zeus, the Greek god known
also as the Roman god Jupiter or Jove.

Zeus, Greek god of the sky was also the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and all the other Greek gods and goddesses of the Olympian pantheon. Not an easy job for they were quite an unruly bunch! When the Olympians won the war against the ruling Titans, Zeus and his siblings wrested the throne from his father Cronos (Kronos) and the Olympic age began.

Zeus, Greek God of the Sky:

As ruler of the sky, the Greek god Zeus was responsible for bringing (or not, if he so chose) rain, drought, and thunderstorms. No one dared challenge the authority of the mighty Zeus since he was prone to release his fearsome thunderbolts to express his displeasure . . . an awesome way to keep the peace and maintain order, but it worked for several centuries!

The birth of Zeus was to be a fateful event . . . and it certainly was an unusual one! Sixth child of the ruling Titan god Cronos and the goddess Rhea, Zeus was the first to escape the fate of being swallowed by his father. Cronus, made fearful by a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him, had eaten each of his children shortly after their births to prevent this from happening.

ZeusRhea, understandably, was not happy about this, and after the birth of Zeus, tricked Zeus into swallowing a rock that she had wrapped in a blanket, leading him to believe it was his newborn son. With the help of Gaia (the great Titan goddess we call Mother Earth, Rhea placed the care of her infant Zeus in the hands of the ash nymphs who hid him in their cave. Sometimes they hid him in the boughs of an ash tree where he could not be found on earth, in the sea or in the sky. The nymphs were helped by the divine goat Amalthei who allowed Zeus to nurse on her milk. Later when she died Zeus turned the goat’s skin into his royal shield, Aegis, to honor her.

Zeus grew nicely under the nymphs’ care, and, as a young boy, came to be an attendant to his father. Cronus had no reason to suspect that his new cup-bearer was actually his son.

His mother and the goddess Metis (a Titan goddess of wisdom) prepared a special potion for Zeus to slip into his father’s cup. When Cronus drank from the cup he grew nauseous and vomited u[ Zeus’ five siblings that he had swallowed — Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon.

Understandably outraged at having been imprisoned all these years, the siblings decided to wrest the throne away from Cronus. The wise Zeus realized that they would need both weaponry and powerful allies to accomplish this feat so, with his brothers; he freed the Cyclopes (one-eyed giants) from their imprisonment in Tartarus (the unpleasant part of the Underworld that we would describe as Hell).

Grateful for their release and willing to help battle Cronus, the Cyclopes presented the brothers with gifts to show their appreciation. To Zeus they gave his thunderbolts, to Poseidon his trident, and to Hades a helmet that, when worn, made the wearer invisible.

Now well armored, the siblings began the battle against their father and his troops. The war was long and bloody, but eventually won when the invisible Hades crept up behind Cronus, Poseidon immobilized him with his trident, and Zeus knocked him unconscious with his thunderbolts. The reign of the Olympians had just begun!

Since he was a god and couldn’t die, Cronus was imprisoned in Tartarus. Later he managed to escape, changed his name to Saturn, and made his way to Italy where he lived quietly among the mortals.

Meanwhile the three brothers drew lots to divide up their new kingdom. Zeus drew the heavens (which made him the supreme ruler), Poseidon got the sea, and Hades won the Underworld. They agreed to share the rulership of the earth, with all having power over the mortals and the earth’s other creatures.

Unfortunately Zeus let his newly acquired power go to his head. Consequently his first few years of rule were marred by his tendency to abuse his powers.

He built an enormous palace that sat far above the clouds on the top of Mount Olympus and, ensconced there, used his thunderbolts rather liberally, hurling them at anyone who had the misfortune to displease him.

Zeus decided he needed a queen and picked Metis, the goddess who had helped him trick Cronos into disgorging his brothers and sisters. Only one problem . . . Metis declined and changed forms to hide herself from the persistent Zeus. But Zeus wasn’t about to take no for an answer and pursued her relentlessly until she finally fell from exhaustion and consented.

When Metis became pregnant, the great goddess Gaia, irritated with his high-handed ways issued a prophecy that any son of Zeus and Metis would grow to eventually usurp the throne of his father. So, in a variation of his father’s routine, Zeus swallowed the pregnant Metis to prevent her from giving birth to a son.

He need not have bothered for Metis was carrying a daughter, not a son. As the unborn daughter grew for years inside his head, Zeus developed the headache to end all headaches! Hephaestus, the god of the forge, could see how miserable Zeus felt, and fashioning a golden axe especially for the occasion, split Zeus’ head open to relieve the pain. When he did, out stepped Athena, full-grown daughter of Zeus who was fully-clothed and ready to assume her divine responsibilities as the goddess of war. She was to become her father’s most trusted ally and advisor.

Now with Metis out of the way, Zeus went on to have several other consorts (and children by them) before actually marrying. Eventually Zeus decided that it was time for him to marry, and he picked the goddess Hera.

Hera realized she loved him too and agreed to marry him and become the Queen of Heaven (she wasn’t about to settle for just being another of his consorts!) Everyone was jubilant for Hera was greatly loved, and they thought that she would manage to settle Zeus down a bit. Their marriage got off to a good start, with the honeymoon lasting over 300 years!

But Zeus, married or not, wasn’t quite ready to become the mature and benevolent ruler that he would later be. He was soon to resume his philandering ways, pursuing and capturing goddesses, nymphs, and mortals when they caught his wandering eye. Many of the myths of Zeus involve these seductions, with Zeus changing into various forms to seduce his unwilling prey, turning himself into a swan to rape Ledo, a golden rain to impregnate Danae.

And it is no wonder that they were all unwilling, for the jealous Hera, unable to vent her rage on her powerful husband, turned her ire on the women he had seduced and their children.

To his credit, Zeus was always a wonderful father, empowering all his children . . . acknowledging them all as his, protecting them from Hera if need be, giving them positions of power and responsibility.

Zeus could be quite vengeful himself, especially in response to any affront to his power. Take his punishment of Prometheus, for example — he had the poor Prometheus chained to a rock for eternity and sent his eagle daily to pick out and feast on pieces of his liver, punishment for stealing some fire from Mount Olympus to give to the mortals. Many years later the hero Heracles (Hercules) would kill the eagle and free the suffering Prometheus.

At any rate, the other Olympians were growing tired of Zeus’ antics and his arrogance; they decided to revolt. A conspiracy was organized by Poseidon (resentful of having gotten less power than Zeus) and went so far that the conspirators had disarmed and trapped Zeus. But while the brothers and sisters argued among themselves about how their new power would be divided, Zeus escaped and the plot was foiled.

But apparently Zeus had gotten the message that it was time to grow up, and so he resolved to do better. And he did. (Well, maybe not totally, for the amorous escapades continued.)

Superbly rational, Zeus became an outstanding administrator and a respected leader. He set high standards and was a very strict disciplinarian, even-handedly meting out punishments to those who broke the rules and settling all their disputes with great wisdom and impartiality.

Seldom acting out of anger, the Greek god Zeus rarely held a grudge and was usually willing to let “bygones be bygones” once you’d served your time.

He even let the conspirators off lightly, banishing the ringleaders, the bright Apollo and his brother Poseidon, to earth to work as manual laborers, but only for one year. And he forgave Athena for her role, saying that she’d been “duped” by the others.

Hermes later became Zeus’ messenger and trusted aide and extricated Zeus from many tricky situations. Athena, in addition to her responsibilities as the goddess of war, was made the goddess of wisdom and given the responsibility of serving as a judge.

Zeus had two other special attendants . . . Nike (Winged Victory) and a cup-bearer named Hebe. When Hebe left to marry Heracles (Hercules), a beautiful boy named Ganymedes caught the eye of Zeus. Captivated by the youth, Zeus turned himself into an eagle and swept down from the sky to capture the boy. Returning with him to Mount Olympus, he installed him as his personal cup-bearer, a position of great trust.

Zeus had reserved the greatest punishment for his wife Hera and had her strung from the stars with silver thread, heavy anvils tied to her ankles as punishment for her part in the conspiracy to unseat him.

Painful as it was, Hera moaned and groaned night and day. Zeus couldn’t get any rest, so after a few sleepless nights he agreed to let her down if she would promise to honor and respect him forever more. She gladly did.

It should be noted that, in spite of all his infidelities and her repeatedly taking her revenge out on his lovers, the two really loved each other. Eventually, by using her strong sense of humor, Hera convinced him that he didn’t really need to keep “fooling around” and he quit. They lived happily ever after, of course.

The great Titan goddess Gaia, furious that the Olympians had imprisoned her children the Titans, once decided to take Zeus to task for it. She sent an army of giants (who could not be killed by a god, only by a mortal) to lay siege to Mount Olympus.

Gigantic as they were, they were about to scale the walls of the fortress when Heracles (Zeus’ mortal son, also known as Hercules) came to Zeus’ assistance and killed the giants.

Gaia was furious! She created a gigantic monster by the name of Typhoon who had a human shape but, instead of legs had thousands of snakes measuring a hundred miles long when uncoiled. When stretched out to his full length, Typhon’s head touched the stars.

When the monster reared his ugly head over the walls of Mount Olympus, the gods and goddesses shivered in fear. Then changing themselves into various animals to escape unnoticed and ran away to escape. All but one did, that is . . .

Athena remained behind. Disgusted with their departure, she began to taunt Zeus, asking him what kind of a king he was, “A coward king, I’d say!” Zeus was embarrassed and summoned his courage, turned around and fought Typhon. The earth shook for days from their mighty blows.

Finally the beast turned to pick up a tall mountain to hurl at Zeus, and just when he was distracted Zeus unleashed a hundred perfectly aimed thunderbolts at the monster, blasting the mountain to bits and burying the Typhon beneath it. The Typhon didn’t die, but still lays buried beneath Mount Aetna where it periodically shakes and hisses with volcanic fury!

As powerful as he was, there were two powers that Zeus could not have — the power over the Fates and destiny, for they alone could determine the paths that gods and mortals would have to take.

Ambitious, intelligent, persistent, and always keenly focused on his goals, the mighty Zeus looms large in the myths of the Greek gods. Whether defending the peace and political order, seducing a goddess or nymph, punishing an errant son, or doting on one of his many daughters, the Greek god Zeus was always up to something interesting.


The Symbols of the Greek God Zeus

  • Thunderbolts
  • Aegis (shield)
  • Thunderstorms
  • Gold
  • Marble
  • Eagles
  • Oak trees
  • Goats
  • Ash trees
  • Rainbows


Sasanid Architecture

By: Professor Dietrich Huff

1. Building materials

Sasanian architecture is characterized by the widespread use of mortar masonry and the associated vaulting techniques. Although mud brick had been developed long before, and mortar constructions were known in Parthian dynastic eras, both became pre-eminent in the high-standard architecture of the Sasanians. Mud brick remained a most important building material (e.g. Dāmghān, Istakhr/Estakkr, Haĵiābād, Kīš, Ctesiphon, Kūh-ī Khwāja), and only its impermanence shifts our attention to the better preserved stone and brick ruins of Sasanian architecture. Among these, rubble stone masonry with gypsum mortar is predominant. Brickwork was frequently used for vaults and domes, although there are a number of buildings made entirely of brick (e.g. Dastegerd, Ayvan-a Karka, Ctesiphon, Takt-a Solayman). Dressed ashlar appears sporadically, mainly in the early (e.g. B1’sapur, Firūzābād, Nurābād, Pāykūli) and late (e.g. Tāq-a Gerrā, Darband, Takt-a Solaymān, Kangāvar) phases of the empire, and seems to be due to western influence (H. Wulff, Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge, Mass., 1966, p. 102).


2. Construction and structural types

(a) Vaulted constructions

Sasanian vaulting techniques depend largely on the special qualities of gypsum mortar, which allows vaulting without centering because of its short setting time. Barrel vaults with “pitched courses,” the most frequent system, owe their elliptical shape and their significant step out above the impost to this technical procedure, which requires only a back wall or a narrow strip of centering for the first courses, with the following ones successively glued in front (K. A. C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture 1/2, Oxford, 1969, p. 544; O. Reuther, “Sasanian Architecture,” in Survey of Persian Art I, p.498). Notwithstanding its practical advantages, vaulting without centering prevented the development of geometrically advanced constructions. Semicircular barrel vaults appear only when built on centering as a voussoir arch with “lying courses.” The cross vault, resulting from the intersection of two barrel vaults at right angles, was not developed. There are no examples of pointed arches built by formal intention, although they occur as a result of building practice in lesser monuments (e.g. Qasr-a Shīrīn) (G. L. Bell, Palace and Mosque at Ukhaidir, London, 1914, p. 5 1). The standard unit of the rectangular barrel-vaulted room was frequently enlarged by vaulted bays. Adjoining semi-domes occur rarely (e.g. Kīš, Bozpār, Negār, Sarvestān), although in vernacular architecture the use of the squinch vault, probably an ancient technique and one widely regarded as the origin of the Iranian dome, results in a hybridization of semi-dome or dome and cloister vault (A. Godard, “Voutes iraniennes,” Athar-e Iran 4, 1949, p.221). With the barrel-vaulted ayvān, a rectangular room with the front side open, the visible shape of the vault became the dominant feature of the facade. Already present in Parthian time, the ayvān became the most conspicuous element of Sasanian and later Iranian architecture.



(b) Domed constructions

The propagation of the dome on squinches above a square hall may be regarded as the most significant Sasanian contribution to the World architecture. This most uncomplicated and solid of all constructive systems already appears fully developed in the buildings of Ardašīr I in Firūzābād (Fig. 1). Its tectonic disposition remained basically unchanged throughout the Sasanian period and had a decisive impact on Islamic architecture; its empirical form clearly distinguished Eastern dome construction from the abstract geometrical concept of Western domes with pendentives (J. Rosinthal, Pendentifs, trompes et stalactites dans l’architecture orientale, Paris, 1928, p.43). The variety of squinch forms demonstrates an increasing effort to find satisfying forms for what was originally a purely constructive element. In its early stage (e.g. Fīrūzābād) the cupola proper does not yet have a perfectly circular base, but rises on a fairly well rounded octagon. Later examples (e.g. Qasr-e Shīrīn) draw nearer to geometric perfection, which is finally achieved in Islamic architecture.


  1. The elevation of the domed hall consists of three horizontal zones:
  2. plain walls, generally with doors or arches at the four axial intercepts;
  3. a zone of transition including the corner squinches and generally windows or decorative niches at the main axes;
  4. the cupola proper. The addition of barrel-vaulted bays to all four sides of the square produced the mature scheme that was to become a standard type for representative architecture in Iran until the present. This cruciform plan, based on the Chahār-tāq, the square with four arches, appears in the earliest examples of Sasanian architecture, (e.g. Takt-a Nešin in Fīrūzābād); it may have been inspired by Parthian architecture, although the central square was generally covered by cross or barrel vaults in those monuments.



(c) Columns and other supporting constructions

With the introduction of far-spanning vaults, the use of columns as constructive elements was widely discarded. There are examples of archaizing slender columns with bases, capitals, and sometimes fluted shafts that maintain Achaemenid traditions (e.g. Bišāpūr, Nurābād, Kīš), while those of later monuments (e.g. Bisotūn, Tāq-a Bostān) reflect a fresh Byzantine influence. But most often the column was transformed into a massive, round or rectangular pillar suitable for vaulted masonry constructions according to Iranian traditional architecture.


Apart from their use in colonnades (e.g. Kangāvar), pillars distinguish a characteristic group of generally three aisled halls covered by longitudinal or transversal barrel vaults (e.g. Čāl Tarkhān, Dāmghān, Ctesiphon, Takt-a Solaymān, Tepe Mil). Nonetheless the typical supporting elements remained the massive wall, and pillars more often appear as relics of a wall pierced by arches than as individual tectonic members.



(d) Constructive and decorative details

Clay remained the chief coating material for flat and vaulted roofs as well as for floors which were frequently covered with gypsum plaster, stone, or in rare cases, with foreign influenced mosaics (e.g. Bišāpūr). Plaster of Paris, frequently painted (Bišāpūr, Ayvān-a Karkha, Kīš), was widely used for building facings and for the dominant mode of architectural ornamentation, the stucco relief (Čāl Tarkhān, Dāmghān, Hajiābād, Kīš, Ctesiphon) (D. Thompson, Stucco from Chal Tarkhan, London, 1976; J. Kroger, Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz, 1982; M. Azarnoush, “Excavations at Hajidbad, 1977,” Iranica Antiqua 18, 1983, pp. 159ff.). The traditional stepped revetment remained a favorite decorative element, normally with four rectangular stages, which were already becoming dovetail-like at the late Sasanian Tāq-a Gerra.



3. Functional types of buildings

(a) Religious architecture

Frequent reference to sacred fires in Pahlavi texts indicate the important role that sanctuaries of the Zoroastrian state religion played in Sasanian architecture, but their architectural type remains disputed (F. Oehlmann “Persische Tempel,” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1921, pp. 273ff.; U. Monneret de Villard, “The Fire Temples,” Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology 4,1936, pp. 175ff.; K. Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin, 1971; M. Boyce, “On the Zoroastrian Temple Cult of Fire,” JAGS 95, 1975, pp. 454ff.; Y. Yamamoto, “The Zoroastrian Temple Cult of Fire in Archaeology and Literature,” Orient 15, 1979, pp. 19ff.; 17, 1981, pp. 67ff.). The prevailing theory suggests that the main sanctuary structures were a freestanding Čahār-tāq, under which the sacred fire, shining through the four lateral arches, was exposed to worshipers during the religious services, and a small Āteāgāh some distance away, where the fire was kept at other times (A. Godard, “Les monuments du feu,” Athār-a Iran 3, 1938, pp. 7ff.; K. Erdmann, Das iranische Feuerheiligtüm, Leipzig, 1941, pp.46ff.). Apart from religious prescriptions that raise doubts about this kind of cult practice (Dārāb Hormazyār’s Rivāyat, ed. M. R. Unvala, 1, Bombay, 1906, pp. 60, 65ff.), archeological field work suggests another type of sanctuary: a closed chamber, where the fire was permanently maintained and served by priests, with adjoining ambulatories or rooms for worship (E. Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East, London, 1941, pp. 301ff.; E. Keall, “Archaeology and the Fire Temple,” in C. J. Adams, Iranian Civilization and Culture, Montreal, 1972, pp. 15ff.; D. Huff, “Das Imamzadeh Sayyid Husain and E. Herzfelds Theorie fiber den sasanidischen Feuertempel,” Stud. Ir. 11, 1982, pp. 197ff.). If the suggested identification of the Takht-e Nešīn in Fīrūzābād with a fire temple of Ardasīr I proves right, the early type was a square, domed room with four interior bays and with ayvans or rooms added to the four facades (Huff in Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1972, pp. 517ff.). A unique, semi-subterranean structure at Bīšāpūīr, convincingly attributed to Shāpūr I, is believed to be an ambulatory type fire temple because of its corridors; these surround a courtyard-like square of uncertain roofing, apparently associated with Anahita, as it was connected with an underground water canal (Ghirshman, RAA 12, 1938, p. 14; see, for a different interpretation, R. N. Frye, “The So-called Fire Temple of Bishapur,” in The Memorial Volume of the Vlth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeology, Oxford, September 11-16th, 1972, Tehran, 1976, p.93). The Sasanian phase of the mud brick structure at Kūh-e Khwāja, identified as a fire temple by an altar in its principal building, had a square, domed sanctuary surrounded by corridors and halls, with a vast complex of subsidiary rooms and ayvāns around a central court (Herzfeld, op. cit., pp. 291ff.; G. Gullini, Architettura iranica, Torino, 1964, pp. 87ff.). A similar layout was found at Takht-a Solaymān, tentatively dated to the 6th century, which has been identified, on the basis of historical tradition and the excavation of clay bullae bearing priests’ names and titles, as the shrine of Adhur Gūšnasp (Fig. 2), one of the three most important Adhur Wahrāms; the others, Adhur Farnbag and Adhur Burzēnmihr, have not yet been precisely localized. A second shrine excavated here, beside a dome-ambulatory temple, revealed an altar socle in a small sanctuary, preceded by two successive pillar halls rather than ambulatories (H. H. Von der Osten and R. Naumann, Takht-i Suleiman, Berlin, 1961; R. Nauman, “Takht-i Suleiman,” Archäeologischer Anzeiger, 1975, pp. 109ff.; idem, Die Rumen von Tacht-a Suleiman and Zendan-a Suleiman, Berlin, 1977, pp. 57ff.; D. Huff, “Takht-i Suleiman,” AMI 10, 1977, pp. 211ff.). The Čahār Qāpū at Qasr-e Šīrīn, attributed to Khosrow II, seems to have been another dome-ambulatory type temple within a large architectural compound (Bell, op. cit., pp. 51ff.; Reuther, op. cit., pp. 552ff.; differently J. Schmidt, ” Qasr-e Šīrīn,” Baghdader Mitteilungen 9, 1978, pp. 39ff.).


A great number of Čahār-tāq ruins, surveyed all over Iran and most frequent in Fars and Kerman, are regarded as fire temples. Nearly all of them were closed to the outside by blocking walls in their bays or the surrounding vaulted corridors (L. Vanden Berghe, “Récentes découvertes de monuments sassanides duns le Fars,” Iranica Antigua 1, 1961, pp. 163ff.; idem, “Nouvelle découverte de monuments du feu d’époque sassanide,” ibid., 5, 1965, pp. 128ff.; idem, “Les Chahar Taqs du Pusht-i Kuh, Luristan,” ibid., 12, 1977, pp. 175ff.). See further D. Huff, “Sasanian Čahar Taqs in Fars,” in Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1975, pp. 243ff.). The two types are represented by the excavated examples at Tūrang Tepe identified as a sanctuary by an altar socle, and at Qal’a-ye Yazdegerd, respectively (J. Deshayes, “Un temple du feu d’époque islamique a Tureng Tepe,” in Gê feu dans le Proche Orient antique, Leiden, 1973, pp. 31ff.; E. Keall, “Qal`eh-i Yazdigird, an Overview of the Monumental Architecture,” Iran 20, 1982, pp. 51 ff.). Several open air altars including those at Naqš-a Rostam and Tang-a Karam most likely served for some Zoroastrian religious practice (A. Stein, “An Archaeological Tour in the Ancient Persis,” Iraq 3, 1936, pp. 175ff.; K. Erdmann, “Die Altare von Naqsh-i Rustam,” MDOG 81, 1949, pp. 6ff.; D. Stronach, “The Kuh-i Shahrak Fire Altar,” JNES 25, 1966, pp. 217ff.). Christian churches discovered at Hīra, Ctesiphon, and Rahalīya have long prayer halls, mostly with two rows of pillars and tripartite choirs (Reuther, Die Au.sgrabungen der Deutschen Ktesiphon-Expedition, Berlin, 1930, pp. llff.; D. Talbot Rice, “The Oxford Excavations at Hira, 193 1,” Antiquity 6, 1932, pp. 276ff.; B. Finster and J. Schmidt, “Sasanidische and frühislamische Ruinen im Iraq,” Baghdader Mitteilungen 8, 1976, pp. 27, 40ff.).



(b) Palaces

Although palaces provide the best known examples of Sasanian architecture, the number of well defined monuments is smaller than generally assumed. They are characterized by a regular layout along an axis of symmetry and an obligatory ayvān. The two palaces of Ardašīr I at Fīrūzābād, Qal’a-ye Doktar (Fig. 3) and Āteškada, both have as public reception areas a deep ayvān with lateral rooms, followed by a central dome and domed or barrel-vaulted subsidiary halls. A courtyard with ayvāns and large, uniform halls behind or in front of the reception area is generally regarded as the royal living quarters, although it gives the impression of belonging to the official area. Therefore the private lodgings may be assumed in small rooms on the upper floor that are otherwise unexplained (D. Huff, “Qal’a-ye Dukhtar bei Firuzabad,” AMI, N. F. 4, 1971, pp. 127ff.; idem, “Ausgrabungen auf Qal’a-ye Dukhtar bei Firuzabad, 1976,” AMI 11, 1978, pp. 117ff.).


There are few palaces remaining from the middle Sasanian period, during which the characteristic combination of ayvān and domed hall seems to have been abandoned. At the Taq-e Kesrā, now generally attributed to Khosrow I (Reuther, op. cit., pp. 15ff.; O. Kurz, “The Date of the Taq-e Kisrā,” JRAS, 1941, pp. 37ff.; differently Herzfeld, “Damascus: Studies in Architecture II,” Ars Islamica 10,1943, pp. 59ff.), and at the probably contemporary ayvān building at Takt-e Solaymān (Nauman, Die Ruinen von Tacht-a Suleiman, pp. 44), the ayvān appears to be the only dominating element. The inadequately documented `Emārat-e Khosrow in Qasr-a Šīrīin and the nearby ruin of Hawš Kūrī, both attributed to the time of Khosrow II, also seem to lack a dome behind the ayvān, where a transverse structure of uncertain elevation and a square courtyard were located instead (J. de Morgan, Mission scientifique en Perse IV, Paris, 1896, pp. 341ff.; Bell, op. cit., pp. 44ff.; Reuther in Survey of Persian Art I, pp. 533ff.). Regular house-like units added to the rear seem to have been living areas. Both palaces stand on artificial terraces with double ramps like the ruin at Kangāvar, now thought to be a late Sasanian palace (V. Lukonin, “The Temple of Anahita in Kangavar” [in Russian], VDI 2/140, 1977, pp. 105ff., cf. G. Herrmann, The Iranian Revival, Oxford, 1977, p. 107; M. Azarnoush, “Excavations at Kangavar,” AMI 14, 1981, pp. 69ff.). Other terraces such as Tall Dhahab and Haram-a Kesrā at Ctesiphon (Reuther, Ktesiphon-Expedition, pp. 23ff.; E. Kiihnel etal., Die Ausgrabungen der zweiten Ktesiphon-Expedition, Berlin, 1933, pp. Iff.) or Sarmaj (L. Trümpelmann, “Die Terrasse des Hosrow,” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1968, pp. l lff.) may have carried palace-like super structures as well.


The residential function of a number of monuments generally regarded as palaces has been questioned. The ground plan of the well-preserved building of Sarvestān suggests other than palatial use. Its dating in the mid-Sasanian period has also come into question because of its highly developed vaulting system, closely paralleled by early Islamic constructions such as Qasr al-Kharāna in Jordan (O. Grabar, “Sarvistan. A Note on Sassanian Palaces,” in Forschungen zur Kunst Asiens. Festschrift K. Erdmann, Istanbul, 1968, pp. lff.; M. Siroux, “Le palms de Sarvistan et ses voutes,” Stud. Ir. 2, 1973, pp. 49ff.; L. Bier, The `Sasanian’ Palace near Sarvistan, New York, 1979.). The highly complex layout of the socalled palace of Shāpūr I in Bišāpūr raises similar questions of function (Ghirshman, “Les fouilles de Chapour (Iran),” RAA 12, 1938, pp. l5ff.; idem, Bichapour II, Paris, 1956, pp. llff.; Huff, Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1972, pp. 517ff.). The three-naved buildings of Dāmghān (F. Kimball, apud E. F. Schmidt, Excavations at Tepe Hissar, Philadelphia, 1937, pp. 327ff.), Čāl Tarkhān (Thompson, op. cit., pp. 3ff.), Tepe Mil (Kroger, op. cit., pp. 202ff.), and Kīš (P. R. S. Moorey, Kish Excavations 1923-33, Oxford, 1978, pp. 134ff.) can be reasonably regarded as forerunners of similar, early Islamic palaces such as Kūfa and Tall al-Okhayder but are formally connected with the second fire temple at Takht-a Solaymān and other cult buildings as well. There is little decisive evidence for the purpose of the hall on the city wall of ayvān-e Karkha (M. Dieulafoy, L’art antique de la Perse V, 1889, pp. 79ff.; Ghirshman, MDAFI, Paris, 1952, pp. lOff.) or the buildings at Bozpar (L. Vanden Berghe, “Le tombeau achéménide de Buzpar,” in Vorderasiatische Archäologie. Festschrift A. Moortgat, Berlin, 1964, pp.243ff.), Behešto Dozakh (L. Vanden Berghe, “Les ruines de Bihisht-a Duzakh a Sultanabad,” Iranica Antiqua 8, 1968, pp. 94ff.), and elsewhere.



(c) Cities and houses

The political importance of city foundations in Sasanian Iran is indicated by the almost obligatory component of the sponsor-king’s name in the name of the city. Although many attributions may concern some kind of re-founding or shifting of existing places, a number of original foundations are known, the standard pattern of which is a rectangular system of streets. The exceptional concentric and radiating plan of the circular city of Ardašīr-khorra may reflect an individual decision by Ardašīr I, demonstrating the cosmological and sociopolitical ideas of his emerging empire (D. Huff, “Zur Rekonstruktion des Turmes von Firuzabad,” Istanbuler Mitteilungen 19/20, 1969/70, pp. 319ff.; idem, “Der Takht-i Nishin in Firuzabad,” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1972, pp. 517ff.; idem, AMI 11, 1978, pp. 117ff.). Archeological evidence for other circular geometric city plans is scanty, although they appear at different periods in the ancient Orient and with different stages of refinement. The round layout of Hatra, the best known Parthian example, lacks a genuine geometrical concept. It is unlikely that the round perimeter of Dārābgerd is a prototype for Ardašīr-khorra, as it probably dates from the 8th century (Creswell, Early Islamic Architecture I/2, 1969, p.21). The circular plan of Ctesiphon and the general topography of the site of al-Madā’en are still under discussion (Reuther, in Survey of Persian Art I, pp. 2ff.; J. M. Fiey, “Topography of al-Madā’in,” Sumer 23, 1967, pp. X.), and the reportedly round city of Sasanian Esfahān is not yet uncovered. Ardašīir-khorra may have influenced the layout of later circular cities such as al-Mansur’s Baghdad and its successors.


Few details are known about the architectural and sociological structure of orthogonal cities such as Jondīšāpūr (R. McC. Adams and D. Hansen, “Archaeological Reconnaissance and Soundings in Jundi Shapur,” Ars Orientalis 7, 1968, pp. 53ff.), Ayvān-e Karkha, and Bišāpūr, the last featuring a commemorative monument at the intersection of its two orthogonal main axes (Ghirshman, Bichdpour I, pp. 21 ff.; II, plan I). The majority of cities certainly continued older settlements with regular or organically grown patterns, as at Estakr (D. Whitcomb, “The City of Istakhr and the Marvdasht Plain,” In Akten des VII. internationalen Kongresses fur iranische Kunst and Archkologie, Munchen, 7.-10. September 1976, Berlin, 1979, pp.363ff.). Some residential areas have been surveyed or excavated in Kīš (S. Langdon, “Excavations at Kish and Barghutiat 1933,” Iraq 1, 1934, p. 113), Ctesiphon (Kuhnel, 2. Ktesiphon-Expedition, pp. lff.; R. Venco Ricciardi, “The Excavations at Choche,” Mesopotamia 3-4, 1968/69, p.57; idem, “Trial Trench at Tell Baruda,” Mesopotamia 12, 1977, pp. Ilff.), Lorestan (Morgan, op. cit., pp. 36111.), Roqbat al-Madā’en (Finster Schmidt, op. cit., pp. 151ff.) and Qasr-a Abū Nasr (W. Hauser and J. M. Upton, “The Persian Expedition 1933-34,” Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 29, December 1934/11, pp. 3ff.), but the daily life of the middle and lower classes remains incompletely known.



(d) Fortifications

The main elements include ditches, walls with stepped niches, blind windows and arrow slots with horizontal or triangular covering, stepped battlements, corridors or narrow rooms within the walls, and far-protruding bastions, generally with semicircular headings. Unsophisticated gates were placed between pronounced bastions, and gate chambers were connected with the defence platform above by vertical shafts, probably for acoustic communication.


Few city ramparts have survived later changes. Ardašīr-khorra clearly had an earth wall with bastions, a ditch, and a small fore-wall. The ramparts of Bišāpūr were originally lined with semicircular bastions about 40 cm apart (`A. A. Sarfaraz, “Bišāpūr, the Great City of the Sasanians” [in Persian], Bāstān Chenāssi va Honar-e Iran 2, 1969, pp. 27ff.). The presumed palace section of the ramparts of Ayvān-a Karkha shows an elaborate arrangement of brick constructions (Ghirshman, MDAFI, 1952, pp. IOff.). The brick wall of Dastegerd, an unusual 16.6 m thick, harbored narrow corridors with radiating arrow slots and connecting semicircular tower chambers (F. Sarre and E. Herzfeld, Archkologische Reise im Euphrat-and Tigris-Gebiet II, Berlin, 1920, pp. 76; IV, pl. 127). The exceptional cut stone facing of the wall at Takt-a Solaymān (Osten Naumann, op. cit., p. 39) seems to be identical with that of the Darband walls (S. Han-Magomedov, Derbent, Moscow, 1979.). The standard Sasanian fortification type is represented by the mud brick ramparts of Ctesiphon and Estakhr (M. M. Negroponzi and M. C. Cavallero, “The Excavations at Choche,” Mesopotamia 2, 1967, pp.41ff.; Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East, pp.276ff.) and by the rubble stone walls of Qal’a-ye Dokhtar at Firūzābād (Huff, AMI 11, 1976, pp. 138ff.).


Most surviving fortresses served as isolated strongholds or protection for cities; this abundant but scarcely explored military architecture gives some insight into the Sasanian social hierarchy. Examples of the regular, generally square, Roman-type fort with rounded bastions are found in Harsin, Qasr-a Šīrīn (Morgan, op. cit., pp. 354ff.), Sirāf (D. Whitehouse, “Excavations at Siraf,” Iran 10, 1972, pp. 63ff.), and at several Mesopotamian sites (Finster-Schmidt, op. cit., pp. 49ff.). More frequent are irregular fortresses on strategically important heights; these usually have straight curtains between rounded bastions, as at Firūzābād, Bišāpūr, Tūrang Tepe (R. Boucharlat, “La forteresse sassanide de Tureng-Tepe,” in Collogues internationaux du C. N. R. S., No. 567: Le plateau iranien et I’Asie Centrale des origines a la conquête islamique, Paris, 1977, pp. 32911f), and the “Ātašgāh” at Esfahān (fig. 4 ), (M. Siroux, “`Atesh-gāh pres d’ Ispahan,” Iranica Antigua 5, 1965, pp. 39ff.). Territorial defence lines are known from literary tradition and archeological evidence (R. N. Frye, “The Sasanian System of Walls for Defence,” in M. Rosen-Ayalon, ed., Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, Jerusalem, 1977, pp. 7ff.), such as the ditch of Šāpūr II west of the Euphrates, the limes of Sistan (A. Stein Innermost Asia II, Oxford, 1928, pp. 972ff.), the walls of Darband from the Caspian into the Caucasus (A. A. Kudryavtsev, “O datirovke pervykh sasanidskikh ukreplenii v Derbente,” Sovetskaya Arkheologiya 3, 1978, pp. 243ff.), the wall of Tammisha (Tamīša) from the bay of Gorgān/Astarābād to the Elburz (A.D. H. Bivar and G. Féhervári, “The Walls of Temisha,” Iran 4, 1966, pp. 3511f), and the wall of Alexander north of the Gorgān river, although the last may date back to Parthian times (D. Huff, “Zur Datierung des Alexanderwalls,” Iranica Antigua 16, 1981, pp. 125fl.; M. Y. Kiani, Parthian Sites in Hyrkania, AMI, Erganzungsband 9, Berlin, 1982, pp. I Iff.).



(e) Funerary, commemorative, and rock architecture

The remarkable lack of monumental funeral architecture “maybe” explained by Zoroastrian religious prescriptions (Vd. 6.44ff.) [by the Western-Iranian-Zoroastrians] restricting burial rites to exposure of the dead and a possible but not necessary preservation of the bones in bone receptacles, or astodans (q.v.). Rock-cut exposure platforms and small cavities for preserving the bones are known mainly from southern Iran, notably around Estakhr and Bīšāpūr, where the huge grotto with the statue of Šāpūr I (fig. 5) is interpreted as his tomb (Vanden Berghe, Archéologie de l’Iran ancien, p.45; A. Stein, Old Routes of Western Iran, London, 1940, pp.311ff.; Ghirshman, Bichapour I, pp. 180ff.). Ritual texts describe astodāns as freestanding buildings, a type possibly represented by a bone burial in a fortification tower in Shahr-a Qūmes (J. Hausman and D. Stronach, “A Sasanian Repository at Shahr-i Qumis,” JRAS, 1970, pp. 142ff.) and by the tower of Nurābād (D. Huff, “Nurabad, Dum-i Mill,” AMI, N.F. 8, 1975, pp. 167ff.). Rock-cut tombs on the island of Khārg seem to belong at least partly to non-Zoroastrian communities (E. Haerinck, “Quelques monuments funéraires de file de Kharg dans le Golfe Persique,” Iranica Antiqua 11, 1975, pp. 134ff.) [or followers of the Eastern Iranian tradition of Zoroastrianism, which they were against the exposing their deaths to revered elements]


Some commemorative or triumphal monuments are identified by inscriptions. The twin-column monument in Bīšāpūr was dedicated to Shāpūr I (G. Salles and R. Ghirshman, “Chapour,” RAA 10, 1936, pp. 117ff.). The tower-like monument of Pākūi celebrates the victory of Narseh over his rivals (E. Herzfeld, Paikuli. Monument and Inscriptions of the Early History of the Sasanian Empire I-Il, Berlin, 1924). There is as yet no definitive explanation for [possibly] the late Sasanian Tāq-e Gerrā a small ayvān building with archivolt (H. V. Gall and W. Kleiss, “Entwicklung and Gestalt des Thrones im vorislamischen Iran,” AMI, N.F. 4, 1971, pp. 2ff.; S. Kambakhsh-Fard, “L’arc de Guirra, monument en pierre,” Traditions architecturales en Iran 4, 1976, pp. 2ff.), or for a freestanding gateway building outside the wall of Bīšāpūr (Sarfaraz, op. cit., pp. 27, 73). The tower in the center of Ardašīr-khorra (fig. ), which possibly carried a hall with the king’s seat or his fire, may symbolize God-given royalty (Huff, Istanbuler Mitteilungen 19-20, 1969/70, pp. 319ff.). The late Sasanian Tāq-a Bostān, an ayvān-like artificial grotto, is linked by its monumentality with official Sasanian architecture, and by its decoration with the tradition of Sasanian rock reliefs (E. Herzfeld, Am Tor von Asien, Berlin, 1920, pp. 57ff.; M. C. Mackintosh, “Taq-i Bustan and Byzantine Art,” Iranica Antigua 13, 1978, pp. 149ff.; S. Fukai et al., Taq-i Bustan I-IV, Tokyo, 1968-84). It may be related to other, partly unfinished rock monuments, such as those at Bisotūn (H. Luschey, “Bisotun, Geschichte and Forschungsgeschichte,” Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1974, pp. 114ff.; W. Salzmann, “Die Felsabarbeitung and Terrasse des Farhad in Bisotun,” ibid., 1976, pp. I l Off.) and Harsin (Godard, Athar-a Iran 3, 1938, pp. 67ff.).



(f) Civil engineering architecture

The centralized Sasanian government enabled the realization of large scale community projects such as road communications, bridges, irrigation, and drainage systems, most of which utilized the technical skill and manpower of prisoners of war. Many bridges (e.g. Kūzestān and Lorestān, Fīrūzābād, Bīšāpūr, and Bisotūn) dressed masonry with iron clamps at their preserved piers, which are generally rectangular with a triangular prism upstream; the arched superstructures are mostly destroyed (Stein, op. cit., pp. 15, 48, 71). Bridges were frequently constructed as weirs for irrigation and constituted the starting point of far reaching canal systems, as at Šūštar and Dezfūl (Dieulafoy, V, pp. lOSff.; G. Van Roggen, “Notices sur les anciens travaux hydrauliques en Susiane,” MDAF 17, 1905, pp. 167ff.; R. J. Wenke, “Imperial Investments and Agricultural Developments in Parthian and Sasanian Khuzistan: 150 B.C. to CE 640,” Mesopotamia 10/I1, 1975/76, pp.31ff). Aqueducts were carried on walls or bridges, and the use of syphon tunnels seems to have been known (Adams-Hansen, op. cit., pp. 59ff.).

Bibliography: Given in the text.

Bronze head of a goddess, probably Aphrodite


Bronze head of a goddess, probably Aphrodite
© The Trustees of the British Museum


Hellenistic Greek, 1st century BC
Found at the ancient city of Satala, modern Sadak, north-eastern Turkey

In about 1872 a man digging his field on the site of ancient Satala struck with his pick-axe against this head. A bronze hand also lay nearby. The head made its way via Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and Italy to the dealer Alessandro Castellani, who eventually sold it to The British Museum. The hand was presented to the Museum a few years later. Despite rumours that the whole statue had previously been found, the body has never come to light.

Although there is pick-axe damage to the top of the head, the face is well preserved. The eyes were originally inlaid with either precious stones or a glass paste, and the lips perhaps coated with a copper veneer.

The statue has been identified as a nude Aphrodite, her left hand pulling drapery from a support at her side, like the famous statue of Aphrodite at Knidos by the fourth-century sculptor Praxiteles. It has also been suggested that the statue represents the Iranian goddess Anahita, who was later assimilated with the Greek goddesses Aphrodite and Athena.

The size of the head suggests that it came from a cult statue, though excavations made at Satala in 1874 by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British vice-consul at Trebizond, failed to discover a temple there. The statue may date to the reign of Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia (97-56 BC), whose rule saw prosperity throughout the region. The thin-walled casting of the bronze head suggests a late Hellenistic date.

Height: 38.1 cm

Object reg. no: GR 1873,0820.1

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