FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

Achaemenid residences and their ‘paradises’: Landscape archaeology between Persia and the Caucasus – PARADISE

Submission summary

Contrary to its immense historical impact on the cultures of the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Achaemenid Empire (539-331 BC) has been difficult to grasp archaeologically outside its centres, the impressive monumental complexes of Persepolis, Susa and Pasargadae. This is particularly surprising given the historic and epigraphic evidence for the existence of a very tight-knit, efficiently organized administration. Wherever major Achaemenian sites outside Iran had been investigated, it appeared that religious practices, local power structures and pre-existing customs were respected and adapted in a deliberate attempt at cooperative rule. During the past 15 years, the implementation of survey projects benefiting from technological advances in landscape archaeology (especially in geophysics) led to new archaeological discoveries that have changed this picture.
Firstly, in the centre of the empire, the extent and internal structure of centres like Pasargadae and Persepolis is now much better understood thanks to the extensive application of combined survey methods and targeted excavations. The impressive monuments from these two sites are only the visible remains of cities loosely distributed within a landscaped environment made up of gardens and parks. Secondly, in a peripheral corner of the empire, the Southern Caucasus, administrative complexes were found which bear all hallmarks of ‘Iranian Achaemenid’ monumental architecture, from building standards to the physical organization of the landscape. Taken together, this suggests that the Achaemenids did create and export within their realm a fundamentally new way of representing rulership, by managing space on an unprecedented scale and creating new imperial landscapes. Their ‘paradises’ were at the same time luxurious residences with spacious gardens and administrative centers, playing an important role for the control of the dependent territories. In order to pursue this theory, five geographically and hierarchically differentiated centres of the Achaemenid Empire have been selected for study: Pasargadae, the foundation of Cyrus the Great, and two still underexplored secondary sites, Borazjan and Farmeshgan, in Iran. Karacamirli, a major centre recently brought to light in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Gumbati, a contemporary complex in Georgia. They will be investigated by a German-French team and its partners with archaeological, geophysical and geomorphological methods. Our project is organized around complementary tasks, with the objective of a comprehensive reconstruction of Achaemenid landscaping in its centres of power in order to better understand their functioning. Existing capabilities will be shared among project partners, with the aim of advancing the interpretive possibilities of archaeological landscape studies.

Project coordination

Sébastien Gondet (Laboratoire Archéorient Environnements et sociétés de l'Orient ancien)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LMU Ludwig Maximilian Universität
BLD Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege
ARCHEORIENT - CNRS Laboratoire Archéorient Environnements et sociétés de l'Orient ancien

Help of the ANR 222,922 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2017 - 36 Months

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