New evidence for the Achaemenid Royal Road in the Alvand Mountains (Hamedan, Iran)
Introduction and historical context
Hamedan province is situated in in the Zagros Highlands, western Iran (Figure 1). During the Achaemenid period (c. 550–330 BC), the city of Hegmataneh (‘Ekbatan’; modern Hamedan) was used by the Persian kings as a summer capital. Archaeological materials recovered from the site, preserved in the Hegmataneh Museum, emphasise the city’s significance (Balmaki 2012: fig. 7). Rock-cut, Achaemenid-period inscriptions located to the south of Hamedan, in the middle Alvand Valley, also demonstrate that Hegmataneh had strategic importance and was situated at an important crossroads. The famous Royal Road spanned the western half of the Achaemenid Empire, traversing approximately 2500km across Mesopotamia and Asia Minor to connect Susa to Sardis; Herodotus (Histories 5: 52–53; Rawlinson 2014) records that the journey between the two cities could be completed in 90 days. One of the branches of the Royal Road ran from Persepolis, via Hegmataneh, to Media in western Iran. Another route—an older one—ran between Mesopotamia and Media (Wiesehofer 2001: 77). The purpose of the research reported here is to locate evidence of the latter route in the area to the west of Hegmataneh.
Evidence of the Royal Road in Hamedan
Two key pieces of evidence attest to the route of the Royal Road to the west of Hamedan. First, the well-known Ganjnameh inscriptions of Daruis and Xerxes (Figure 2); these rock-cut, multi-lingual texts were first deciphered by Henry Rawlinson in 1898. Second, the remains of a stone-built fortress, originally intended to protect the city and the road, which is today known as Qez Qale Si (Turkish for ‘Girl’s Castle) or Qale Dokhtar (Jahanpour 1975: 53).
Survey work in this area has now identified a number of new pieces of evidence for the route of the road. The first newly discovered location consists of a rock-cut road cutting associated with carved markings (34˚ 44’ 29.14’’ N; 48˚ 26’ 01.18’’ E). Higher up the mountain slope is another cutting. The local geology consists of soft shale; this has been eroded over time, obscuring the original cuttings (Figure 3). A third newly discovered location lies in a mountain gorge, with the route marked by piles of stone (34˚ 44’ 17.22’’ N; 48˚ 25’ 47.24’’ E). The next location, near the route of the modern Hamedan-Toyserkan road, is similarly indicated by stonework (34˚ 44’ 03’’ N; 48˚ 25’ 38.78’’ E). A small amount of pottery, including Clinky Wares of Parthian date, was also found on the surface at this location. A series of other cuttings and stonework (Figure 4) continue along a twisting path down into the more open landscape below, where the road then headed to the west (Figure 5).
The results of this fieldwork have documented part of the route of one of the branches of the Achaemenid Royal Road. To the west of Hegmataneh, this route is situated close to the modern Hamedan-Toyserkan road and partially corresponds with a traditional route used by transhumant pastoralists. Farther to the west, beyond the mountains, lay an Achaemenid station at Deh-Bozan, near Asadabad (Huff 1989; Mousavi 1989). The route then continued via the Kangavar Valley to Bistoun (Behistun)—the location of another famous roadside inscription of Darius I—and onwards to Mesopotamia (Figure 6).
I would like to express my gratitude to H. Didari for his cooperation in this research.
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* Author for correspondence.
- Behzad Balmaki*
Department of Archaeology, Islamic Azad University (Hamedan Branch), Hamedan, Iran (Email: email@example.com)