Achaemenid imprint over Daskyleion (Turkey)

A large-scale archaeological project to reveal the Persian paradise
The Persian Empire territory, location of the Heart of the Empire and the distant Hellespontine Phrygia province and its capital Daskyleion

he long-term goal is to draw parallel between results in Pasargadae and Persepolis, located in the center of the Persian Empire, and the remote cities of the imperial space.

Report from Prof. Rémy Boucharlat

In August 2015, Dr. Sébastien Gondet conducted an archaeological and geophysical survey at the site of Dascylium (NW Turkey) and on its surroundings. This fieldwork carried out at the request of Prof. K. Iren, the project director, was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Soudavar Memorial Foundation which should be warmly thanked. I would like to stress that this joint proposal was a result of Dr. Gondet’s skills and experience he got in the multi‐year projects he co‐conducted in Pasargadae and in Persepolis area in the early 2000s.

This fieldwork on the famous Achaemenid capital of Hellespontine Phrygia aimed at completing the past and current archaeological excavations on the site itself in focusing on the poorly known landscape around the acropolis. On the ground of the results of the test surveys carried out in 2014,Dr. Gondet planned to shift from the magnetometer method of survey to more accurate geophysical devices and methods which permits to cover more extensive surfaces. He was able to bring these devices hired from two French CNRS institutions.

No doubt the new technologies Dr. Gondet implemented this year lead to quite interesting results for better understanding the landscape. One of the main goals of the proposal is to identify and when it is possible to determine the unbuilt areas either for fields and for creating gardens and parks (paradises) which did existed near Dascylium (Greek authors’ testimonies). The 2015 campaign started to evidence such areas in the NE and Eastern direction away from the acropolis. This is already visible on the geophysical maps Dr. Gondet is being studying and interpreting since he has returned from Turkey.
Large unbuilt areas probably devoted to gardens might have contained some constructions as one can see on the maps, while elsewhere parts of the surface may have been used to built large tombs as the ones Dr. Gondet identified last year and in 2015. Besides their interest of these discoveries for the anthropized landscape around the city, they would also greatly help the strategy of the Turkish archaeological expedition.

Extracts from Dr. Gondet’s report on the August 2015 fieldwork

Achaemenid imprint over Daskyleion (Turkey)

A large-scale archaeological project to reveal the Persian paradise

 In search of the Daskyleion paradise:

Main issues:

At the time of the Achaemenid Empire, Daskyleion was the capital of the Hellespontine Phrygia satrapy located in the northwest of the Anatolian peninsula. The Antique Greek testimonies describe Daskyleion as the place of a luxurious Persian paradise. However despite 50 years of excavations on this site, focusing on buildings on the core city, this landscape remains unknown. Our researches in the centre of the Empire over Pasargadae and Persepolis have demonstrated that the broadening of the archaeological studies by means of the use of new survey techniques, like geophysics, is able to reveal parts of Achaemenid urban landscapes designed as paradises. …The aim is to focus efforts on comprehensive large-scale studies to reveal the Persian imprint on the Daskyleion landscape, i.e. the paradise. With archaeological data concerning Persian paradises in Anatolia still scarce, Daskyleion is a key site because the Achaemenid remains are well-preserved. Our work over the several square kilometres of Daskyleion territory could bring to light important data on the Persian way to develop cities as large paradise landscapes following the model from the royal foundations brought to light in the centre of the Empire.

 Persian paradises as urban landscapes: a new paradigm:

From the mid-5th until the mid-3rd century BC, the Achaemenid Kings ruled over the whole Ancient Near East and beyond. The Persian Empire extended from the Indus Valley to the Aegean Sea and encompassed all the ancient kingdoms within one political entity. The Great Kings wisely managed their Empire by building an administrative network of provincial capitals where members of the elite ruled the satrapies that shaped together the imperial territory. At the same time, Achaemenid control on space was free from the politics of colonization and cultural supremacy. Local customs and habits were often preserved and the new rulers ensured the territorial exploitation sometimes by implementing deep territorial reorganizations. As a consequence, revealing the reality of the Empire challenges the archaeologists since the rise of the Persians rarely implied deep changes in the local material cultures. Looking for uniform Achaemenid impacts over the Empire seems now useless and archaeologists explore new ways to tackle this question by studying the specific Persian imprints on lands and people for each region.

Today archaeologists think that the Persian imprint on spaces could be revealed through large-scale archaeological studies of cities layout. New results obtained in the centre of the Empire, over the royal foundations of Pasargadae (Benech, Boucharlat, Gondet 2012) and Persepolis (Boucharlat, De Schacht, Gondet 2012), demonstrate that the Great Kings developed new patterns of city. Illustrating the ability of the Achaemenid power to control the space, these Achaemenid cities were conceived as large parks encompassing built places (palaces, dwellings, workshops, market places) as well as free and green ones (gardens, fields and orchards). In the Centre of the Empire, we have probably revealed examples of the famous, but still misunderstood, Persian paradises corresponding to these much open urban landscapes. Based on our current researches in Iran, we are now building projects on several cities over the Empire to establish possible common trends in urbanization patterns.

The available data over the whole Empire tend to demonstrate that this new way to conceive cities could have been spread from the heart of the empire towards the periphery. Until the Achaemenid period, the Ancient Near East cities showed dense urban cores protected by thick defence lines. Then we observe an opening of urban spaces materialized by the appearance of free spaces, i.e. green areas, inside cities and building of monuments outside. The Anatolian sphere is of particular interest since Greek authors have described magnificent parks, or paradises, built by the Kings or elite members in several Achaemenid satrapal capitals. Based on our experience from Iranian sites, we have decided to start new projects in Turkey by broadening the scope of archaeological researches on cities towards landscape archaeology approaches, especially towards the intensive use of survey methods.

Daskyleion, the Achaemenid capital of Hellespontine Phrygia: an archaeological perspective

At the time of the Achaemenid conquest, the rulers located their several Anatolian capitals in still existing cities. Archaeological studies on them revealed hints of cultural interactions between the Persians and the local populations particularly in the domain of arts and luxury goods (Dusinberre 2013). However the Achaemenid imprint on the development of cities and their surrounding territories are still poorly known and documented. As a matter of fact the remains of the Achaemenid times are scarce because these sites continued to be densely occupied during the later periods. In famous sites like Sardis, Xanthos or Celaenae the Achaemenid layers are buried under meters of later deposits and difficult to reach. In this respect, Daskyleion is a key site to carry studies on Persian urban landscape because by chance this Phrygian city was not densely reoccupied after the 1st century BC and the Hellenistic period. Only some scattered Roman estates and the presence of a small Byzantine garrison have been reported.

Daskyleion is located in the northwest of the Anatolian peninsula. At least at the time of King Xerxes (485-465 BC), it became the capital of the Hellespontine Phrygia satrapy. Since the rediscovery of this site and the beginning of the excavations during the 1950s, several Turkish archaeological teams were active on this site (Bakir 2011). Previous excavations mostly focused on the central hill, named Hisar Tepe, and brought to light important data concerning the Achaemenid satrapal court. Amongst other discoveries on this Acropolis, we note: an official monument built with Ionian architectural techniques but following a Persian patron (Ateşlier 2001); a collection of clay bullae, some of Persian style, illustrating administrative activities (Kaptan 2002). In addition, these works inform us that the Persian rulers launched a deep reorganization of the urban layout on the hill and most particularly huge terracing works (Iren 2010). These data demonstrate that Daskyleion was the seat of an important administrative centre reshaped and embellished by its Persian rulers.

Nevertheless accurate archaeological data are restricted to the Hisar Tepe hill. Outside, we are only able to assess that the Daskyleion core city reached its maximum growth during the Achaemenid period as far as ancient fortification lines running on the hills tops 500 m eastwards. Even further east, random discoveries of tombstones carved with reliefs of Persian iconography have been regularly reported in the surrounding fields of the Ergili village. 2.5 km south of the Acropolis, two impressive tumuli have been excavated and sheltered the remains of members of the local Persian aristocracy. . Finally, some quarries are also known on hills several kilometres south of the Acropolis. Considered as a whole, these remains delineate the Daskyleion shell and show us the scale on which the Achaemenid settlements might have sprawled. These data show that the Achaemenid Daskyleion was not concentrated on the sole Hisar Tepe mound. The Persian rulers surely planned the development of the site on several square kilometres, a space that remains to be explored.

The Persian paradise of Daskyleion:

Although the location of Daskyleion was forgotten until its rediscovery by archaeologists during the 1950’s, the ancient Greek testimonies have perpetuated its memory as a brilliant city. The main striking feature described by the authors of Antiquity is the famous satrapal paradise connected to the nearby Manyas Lake. In this respect, the Xenophon’s description of this paradise (Hell. IV. 1.15-16) is particularly evocative: “That is where Pharnabazus maintained his residence, with handsome, large villages all round, abundantly provided with all the resources, and with game both in enclosed paradises and in the open spaces – magnificent game! Through the whole length flowed a river stocked with every kind of fish. Wildfowl were there in abundance as well, for those who might hunt for birds.”

In these lines, Xenophon emphasizes on the pleasant flourishing characters of paradises in Daskyleion. Moreover, this quotation illustrates the complex function of the satrapal paradise. Firstly this paradise landscape sheltered the satrapal residence and other monuments thus it was also the place of the political power. Secondly it was a farming place. Finally some inhabited places were distributed around. Then these descriptions do not seem to draw a clear distinction in between city and paradise. In Xenophon’s mind Daskyleion as a whole would seem to be the paradise: satrapal residences, popular dwellings, farming activities, pleasant gardens, hunting parks shape together the open urban landscape of the capital. In this respect, we could draw a comparison with our results obtained over the royal foundations of Persia, Pasargadae and Persepolis, developed following multipolar layouts where settled sectors were intertwined with green fields.

As we have already experienced it in Iran, the use of survey techniques, especially geophysics, allows us to reveal large part of Persian urban layouts. Over Daskyleion, by focusing our efforts around Hisar Tepe and by extending gradually the surfaces covered, we aim to detect part of gardens plans and/or new palaces as well as dwellings nucleus. This work needs to be combined with cartographic ones in order to accurately map the existing remains dated back to the Achaemenid period. At the same time, excavations could be guided by surveys results in order to bring accurate information on features detected.

A new step towards the reconstruction of Persian paradises:

In continuation of the previous support to Prof. Tomris Bakir for the excavations on Hisar Tepe in the early 2000’s, the present proposal to the Soudavar Memorial Foundation aims to broaden archaeological researches over the entire Daskyleion territory to reveal what should have been the ‘paradise’ by means of new survey methods. The Soudavar Foundation funded costs related to the 2015 new surveys works.

This Daskyleion project is part of a more ambitious one that aims to study Persian cities throughout the whole Empire. This program includes future fieldworks over Daskyleion: continuation of geophysical surveys and collaborations with geomorphologists to better understand the evolution of the natural landscape. The results obtained in 2015  will allow the team to attract other funds for 2015/2016. With Prof. Kaan Iren, and other European teams involved in Achaemenid studies, Dr. Gondet also intends to create a European network of projects the Persian paradises and cities over the Empire. The funding support of the Soudavar Foundation for 2015 will therefore serve as a springboard for more ambitious and challenging projects at Daskyleion and over the entire territory of the Persian Empire.