Australian Archaeologists Discover the Course of Achaemenid Royal Road near Persepolis

WA – AUSTRALIA (29/September/2020)

Australian archaeologists have made a significant discovery by unearthing remnants of the ancient Royal Road near the northern quarters of Persepolis complex that extended beyond to the valley of Naqshe Rustam in Fars, Iran. The ancient Royal Road was an intercontinental highway that was constructed during the reign of Darius the Great in the 6th century BCE. It originated from Sardis in western Turkey and stretched out as far east as the Indus river in Central Asia. Herodotus, the Greek historian in 440 BCE described the Royal Road as a network of highways that allowed mounted couriers transport messages from Sardis to Susa. Though the researchers were aware of the extension of the Road to the east, well beyond Susa, no hard evidence had emerged showcasing the course of that highway and its diversions near Persepolis, up to now.     

Archaeologists from the Institute for the Study of Ancient Iranian Society and Culture were in their final surface survey campaign of the area, where they stepped on the remains of a road that continued for more than 3 kilometres from south to north over the mount of Rahmat. The road is concealed from the eyes of anyone approaching Persepolis terrace from the local plain of Marvdasht, since it is carved at the back of the top-most rise of the mount overlooking the landscape. The team of researchers led by Avi Bachenheimer from ISAISC were in the process of documenting contours of the land in July 2020 where they identified traces of a guarded trail that begun from the northern entry gate of Persepolis complex proceeding towards the city of Istakhr and Naqshe Rustam.  

“The path is covered in dirt and debris, but it is clearly distinctive from the nearby landscape”, says Bachenheimer. “It is about 150 to 180 centimeters wide and is protected on opposite flanks by various mosaics of large rock pieces.” Bachenheimer believes that

the Royal Road had been constructed in a way that would only allow adequate transportation of royal couriers and their messages along. This prevented adverse usage of the network by enemies of the Achaemenid Empire for military operations. For its moderate size and expanse, the pathway has consistently fallen short of human eye’s attention in past.     

Bachenheimer

The discovery will transform our modern understanding of the cultural landscape outside the limits of Persepolis complex. Preliminary surface examination of the road conducted by the team of ISAISC researchers also showcases the very high volume of traffic in and around the Royal Road near Persepolis with various concentrations of potsherds across the site. Cultural remains indicative of presence of courier stations along the path have also been sighted. Persepolis and its surrounds are laden with culturally significant landmarks. As Bachenheimer points out: “Persepolis was the crown jewel in the treasure chest of Achaemenid Empire’s art and architecture.”

ISAISC – Editorial Board

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