The Tachara (Winter Palace) of Persepolis

The article below by the late Shapur Shahbazi on the Tachara palace of Persepolis first appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica on August 15, 2009 and was last updated on August 15, 2009.

Kindly note that the pictures and captions featured below do not appear in the Encyclopedia article.


The oldest palace of Persepolis is the charming structure known as the Tachara, built by Darius south of the Apadāna and on a platform 2.20-3.00 m. higher than the level of the latter. This palace served as the model for the facade shown of the tomb of Darius the Great at Naqš-e Rostam (and copied on those of his successors), so an authentic reconstruction of the southern facade of the Tačara is possible. Likewise, the sculptures of the Tachara were imitated in later palaces.

Tachara-Persepolis-1The Tachara (Winter Palace) of Persepolis (Source: Public Domain). This is located just south of the famous Apadana section of Persepolis. It is notable in two ways: (1) it appears to have suffered the least damage following Alexander’s destruction of Persepolis in 330 BCE and (2) it is one of the smallest known palaces at Persepolis.

The Tačara has a rectangular plan (recalling Pasargadaean architecture), and measures 40 x 30 m, and faces a southern courtyard. It consisted of a main hall with twelve columns (which had two-stepped square plinths, wooden shafts coated with gypsum plaster and elaborately designed and brilliantly colored ornamentations, and double-headed bull capitals), two smaller columned rooms on the north, a columned portico on the south, and several chambers and guard-rooms on either side. Originally five doorways (two in the north wall, one in each of the other sides) linked the hall to the side rooms and the south portico (a sixth was added by Artaxerex III at the northwestern corner). The hall had sixteen windows and niches, each hewn from a single rectangular block of stone crowned with a vertically fluted architrave element known as the Egyptian covetto cornice. Each bears on its frames a trilingual cuneiform inscription (DPc), stating: “Stone window-frames made for the royal house of King Darius.” The entire building was paved with red-surfaced flooring like that used in the Treasury, which was a characteristic feature of Darius’ constructions.

Darius_In_ParseConstruction of the Tachara was initiated by Darius I (r. 522-486 BCE) (above; Picture source: Public Domain) but was not to be completed until after his death (486 BCE) by his successor and son, Xerxes I (486-465 BCE). After the passing of Xerxes I, the Tachara was to be used his son and successor, Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE).

The jambs of the doorways of the western rooms are adorned with sculptured figures of “Persian” lance-bearers carrying large rectangular wicker shields, those of chambers represent attendants or servants (some of them eunuchs, see HAREM) with towel and perfume bottles, or a “Persian” royal hero killing lions and monsters. Those of main doorways of the hall depict Darius the Great accompanied by two attendants. He enters from the columned rooms and leaves into the portico. He is wearing a crenellated crown which was originally covered with sheets of gold, as is evidenced by the presence of holes in the stone where they were attached. The armlets, torques, earrings, sequins, and beard ornaments had been made of actual precious metals and stones, and then set into the sculpture (looter removed all accessories before setting fire to the structures). Traces of color (blue, red, etc.) have been detected on the headgears and faces of the attendants. A trilingual inscription (DPa) carved on the two sides of the southern doorway above the head of the king identifies him as: “Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, the Achaemenid, who built this tačara.” Similar trilingual labels (DPb) were engraved on the garments of the royal figures, but one identifies the individual as Xerxes, proving a period of synarchy, when Xerxes was allowed to wear Darius’ crown as his co-regent (Calmyer, 1986, pp. 81f.; von Gall, 1989, pp. 502f., 511: Shahbazi, 1985, p. 11). Of these texts, two were chiseled away in 1718 by the Dutch traveler, Cornelis de Brujin (they are now in the Cabinet des Medalles of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris).

Reconstruction-gardens-Palace-Darius-persiaA reconstruction the Tachara’s nevirons and gardens by  painted by Charles Chipiez (Source: Public Domain). The dimensional layout of the Tachara columns are modest: there are just three rows of four columns at the Tachara. The dimensions of the palace are as follows: (a) Area: 1,160 square meters (English system: 12,486 square feet) (b) rimary chamber: 15.15 meters x 15.42 meters (English system: 49.70 feet x 50.59 feet) and (c) Primary window: 2.65 meters x 2.65 meters x 1.70 meters (8.69 feet x 8.69 feet x 5.57 feet).

A double reversed stairway connects the south court to the Tačara. Its inner walls are sculptured with representations of servants and attendants, dressed alternately in “Median” and “Persian” costumes (the latter with scarf-like head-wrap), carrying food and utensils. Others have covered their mouths, as if wearing the Zoroastrian mouth-cover (panām), and it is not unlikely that they were priests carrying sacrificial animals or meals for a ritual occasion. The faÇade of the staircase shows the winged-circle flanked by two antithetic seated sphinxes and terraces of palm trees, and below them two antithetic rows of nine “Persian” soldiers flanking an Old Persian inscription of Xerxes (XPc). An Elamite version is inscribed to the right of the scene and a Babylonian to the left. In these Xerxes first venerates Ahura mazdā, then introduces himself, and adds: “By the grace of Ahura Mazdā this hadiš Darius the king made who (was) my father.” The same trilingual text is carved twice more on the inner faces of the monolith pillars of the southern portico. Artaxerxes III added a staircase on the northwest of the Tačara and connected it to the main hall by opening a new doorway. He ornamented the faÇade of the staircase with representations of gift-bearing delegations flanking a very beautifully carved inscription (A³Pa, see Schmitt, pp. 114-18), in which he venerates Ahura Mazdā, introduces himself and traces his genealogy to “Hystaspes, son of Arsames, an Achaemenid,” specifies that “This stone staircase (was) made by me,” and ends with the invocation: “Let Ahura Mazdā and god Mithra protect me and this country and what (has been) built by me” (A³Pa 21-26).

Tachara-Persepolis-2 Reconstruction of the south facade of the Tachara as viewed from the Paridaisa (Picture Source: Persepolis3D – Afhami & Gambke) . What immediately stands out with the Tachara is the use engineers made of the highest quality black (and finely polished) stone. This was no simple placing of blocks of black stone; there is evidence of was constructed of the finest quality stone. The fine masonry stands in testimony of its original engineers: the workmanship has withstood the test of time. In contrast, the block walls made of mud have long since disappeared.

The Tačara is a museum of calligraphy of many Achaemenid as well as non-Achaemenid inscriptions from various periods. Two Middle Persian texts are carved on the north wall of the portico. In the first, a brother of Shapur II, called Shapur Sakānšāh, “[lord] of Sind, Sistān and Turān, up to the edge of the Sea [of Arabia],” informs us that (in 311 CE) he “went on this road, between Estaḵr and Sistān and graciously came (here) to this Satsitūn (Persepolis). Then he had lunch in this building. With him were . . . Persian and Saka knights . . . and chiefs. He caused great rejoicing, and ordered rites performed for the gods. He gave blessings to his father and ancestors. Then he offered blessings to Shapur the king of kings, to his own soul, and also to him who built this structure. May god remember (them?)” (Frye, 1966). Of later inscriptions, one in Arabic language and Kufic script is by the Buyid king, ʿAżod -al-Dawla, who states that he stayed in this palace and had the Zoroastrian priest of Kāzerun brought here to translate for him older (obviously Pahlavi) inscriptions. The king had a especial reverence for the Achaemenid and Sasanian monuments (see Busse), and he removed several doorjambs, lintels, and other architectural elements from the Tačara and reused them in a palace (locally known as the Qaṣr-e Abu Naṣr) he built near Shiraz (Wilkinson). The fragments have been recovered from the ruins of his palace and returned to their original places. There are a dozen more inscriptions of later periods, the last dating from 1888 and giving an account of Farhād Mirzā Farmānfarmā’s treasure-seeking excavation at Persepolis, in which Carl F. Andreas is also mentioned. (Moṣṭafavi tr. Sharp, p. 229) South of the Tačara courtyard Xerxes started a palace (“Palace H”), which his son Artaxerxes I. It had the most elaborately sculptured facade at Persepolis, representing thirty gift-bearing delegations (Shahbazi, 1977, fig. 22), but all were subsequently destroyed or reused. Only its western and southern battlements remain, consisting of alternately smaller and larger crenellations, each of which was crowned with a pair of large bull horns and decorated with small “blind windows,” crosses, and arrow-heads carved on its outer face (looking towards the plain).

Chess: Iranian or Indian Invention?

The article below has been edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav of the CAIS website in London. As noted by Suren-Pahlav: “Large portion of this essay has been excerpted from “The Origin of Chess; Some Facts to Think About” by Ricardo Calvo, 1996.”


The Origin of Chess

Chess is one of humanities popular pastimes and has been described not only as a game, but also as an art, a science and a sport. Chess is sometimes seen as an abstract war-game and a ‘mental martial art. And teaching and playing chess have been advocated as a way of enhancing mental prowess.


Seven piece ivory set (7th century CE) (Source: CAIS).

It is very unlikely that Chess, almost as it is played today suddenly came into existence or invented by one person. The idea of it being a combination of elements from other board-games has merit. Since almost all known board games have religious backgrounds the astrological component is entirely possible, even though one prefers the version that all elements come from other games, as the basis for the counters. Iran as the area of origin is highly possible, especially because of the two excavated debated pieces from the second century CE, which were found in the area of Iranian cultural domination.


chess is an ancient game which is first mentioned in documents dating back to the early years of the 7th century CE. and associated with North West India and Iran. Before the 7th century the existence of chess in any land is not demonstrable by a single shred of contemporary evidence” (Fiske, the Nation).

Claiming the glory

Various scholars have proposed various origins for chess: Bidev states that “chess comes from China”, while Samsin suggests that there was hybridisation of Eastern and Western games in the post Alexander kingdom of Bactria in c180-50BCE. Josten is geographically between the two of them, favoring the Kushan empire in ca. 50BCE – 200CE.


A Knight chess-piece (7th c. CE) from Afrasiab (Source: CAIS).

However, possibly the strongest – or perhaps most vociferous – arguments have come from those who consider that chess originated in the Indian subcontinent in around 600CE. This view was propagated by Murray and van der Linde in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, and has subsequently been supported by Averbak.

This brief paper examines some etymological, literary and archaeological evidence for the Iranian origin of chess – and so suggests that the question of the origin of the famous game is still unanswered.

Etymological evidence

Various names have been, and are now, used for chess-like games. Indian Chaturanga, for example, is a chess-like game, but it is played on an eight by eight board (rather than the modern chess twelve by twelve board) and it uses slightly different pieces and rules to those in the modern game. It has been suggested to be a proto-game for chess, of Indian origin.

The word chaturanga means ‘quadripartite’ or ‘army’ which reflects the four components in Vedic army platoons, which are themselves reflected in the types of pieces used in the game. Ricardo Calvo notes that the first unmistakable reference to the game of chaturanga is in the Harschascharita by the court poet Bina, writing between 625 and 640CE. The word’s early literary use and its origin in the ancient language of Sanskrit have been suggested to provide supporting evidence for the Indian origin of chess. Murray specifically suggested that the Sasanian-Pahlavi word chatrang – used for a game equivalent to the current chess – was derived from chaturanga. However, one of the most etymological evidences can be identified in the terminology of chess pieces which are Persian such as Rook.

Rook which is a Western derivative of Rukh is another term for Iranian mythical bird Sên-Murv, and Simurgh in New Persian. In ancient Iranian literature (Avestan) Sên-Murv identified as Homâ and in Arabic introduced as Rukh. The Simurgh or Rukh, was depicted as a winged gigantic creature in the shape of a bird, that could carry an elephant or a camel. The functionality of the Rook piece in game of chess and its iconography in Iranian world is quite significant. The bird which Iranian believed imparted fertility to the land and the union between the earth and the sky. In India, the piece is more popularly called haathi, meaning “elephant“.

Chess-4-rukh-ferghana A Rukh piece found in Ferghana 8th to 10th centuries CE (Source: CAIS).

Another hint is the nomenclature of the pieces, persistently related to different sorts of animals rather than to components of an army: In the “Grande Acedrex” of King Alfonso of Castile (1283) lions, crocodiles, giraffes etc. play over a board of 12×12 cases with peculiar jumping moves, and the invention of it is connected to the same remote period in India as normal chess. They are very atypical in any context referring to India (see De Gruyter in bibliography).

Other chess terminologies are also deeply rooted in Persian language, such as “checkmate” (the English rendition of shāh māt, which is Persian for “the king is frozen“) as well as “bishop” and “queen” pieces.

Bishop” chess piece which is a western innovation, derived from the elephant, most likely in the 15th century – it is from the Persian pīl meaning “the elephant”. In Europe and the western part of the Islamic world people knew little or nothing about elephants, and the name of the chessman entered Western Europe as Latin alfinus and similar, a word with no other meaning.

 Chess-12-Vizier-BishopVazir (Bishop), found in Saqqizabad, Iran 7th to 8th centuries CE (Source: CAIS).

This word “alfil” is in fact is an Arabic loanword from Persian pīl < fil , and in turn the Spanish word alfil would most certainly have been taken from Arabic. Chess was introduced into Spain by Ali ibn-Nafi the famous Persian poet, musician and singer (also known as Zaryāb or Ziryab, “gold finder”) in the 9th century – it is described in a famous Libro de los juegos the 13th century manuscript covering chess, backgammon, and dice


Elephant in carved dolomite-stone circa 7th century CE (Source: CAIS).

Some argue that since one of the pieces are being referred to as “elephant”, must of an Indian origin – on the other hand, elephants are not at all exclusive to India (Gowers, p.173 ff; Walbank, p. 205-6.). However, Iranians were the first nation that introduced cavalry and they had also foot-soldiers, chariots and elephants as well as river and battle-ships. In Egypt, the Ptolemaic Kings obtained elephants regularly from Somalia. Strabo (16,4,5) mentions the foundation of several cities in Africa with the main purpose of hunting elephants (Gowers, p.173 ff; Walbank, p. 205-6.). The English name “bishop” is a rename inspired by the conventional shape of the piece.

 Chess-10-Krishna and Radha playing chaturangaAn Indian manuscript depicting Krishna and Radha playing chaturanga on an 8×8 Ashtāpada (Source: CAIS).

The chess piece known as “queen” is (Persian) farzīn also vizier. It became (Arabic) firzān, which entered western European languages as forms such as alfferza, fers, etc – then later it was replaced by “queen” – possibly brought to West by British during the British rule of India; the Indian equivalent of “queen” is rani.

Historical and Literary Evidence

Pre-Islamic written references to Chess or its development have all point out to it Iranian origin, in particular to two Persian records of about 600CE.  These documents have solidly connected chess with the last period of the Sasanian rulers in Iran (224-651 CE).

The “Karnamak-ī Ardeshīr-ī Pāpakān” (the Book of Deeds of Ardeshir-e Pāpakān), a treatise about the founder of Sasanian dynasty, mentions the game of “chatrang” as one of the cultural accomplishments of the Ardeshir as a young prince. It has a proving force that a game under this name was popular in the period of redaction of the text, supposedly during the reign of Khosrow II, Parviz (r. 590-628 CE) – the work could have been composed as early as 260 CE.

The third and final Pahlavi text is known as Khūsraw ud Rēdag (Khosrow and the Page). It mentiones together with other games in chapter 15 of the (ud pad Čatrang ud new-ardaxšî r ud haštpay kardan az hamahlan fraztar hom “and in playing Chess, backgammon and the hashtpay, I am superior to my comrades” (Unvala, p. 16; Monchi-Zadeh, 1982, p. 65; Panaino, 1999, p. 51). It seems the story was taken place at the court of Khosrow I, Anūshakrūwān (Immortal Soul – r. 488–531 CE) and states that chess is one of the cultural disciplines that a noble should learn.

Chess-7-afrasiab Chess pieces found at Afrasiab, ivory 7th-8th centuries CE (Source: CAIS).

Ferdowsi the greatest of Iranian epic-poets wrote also about it in the 10th century, but his sources are solid and form a continuous chain of witnesses going back to the middle of the 6th Century in Iran. He describes chess as arriving from Hind. According to Iranian historical sources this name “Hind” was not used for India until after the 11th century. Here “Hind” means Eastern-Province of Iranian Empire including modern Sistan va Baluchestan province, and while during the Achaemenid dynastic era it was extended to Khuzestan province.

As Bidev, the Russian chess historian pointed out, nobody could possibly generate the rules of chess only by studying the array position at the beginning of a game. On the other hand, such an achievement might be made by looking at Takht-ī Nard (backgammon), which is another Iranian game-invention – the use of dice also favors its Iranian origin. The world oldest pair of dice was discovered in Dahān-e Gholāmān located in in southeastern Iranian province of Sistan, which date back to the Achaemenid dynastic period or possibly even earlier (see below).

dice-burnt-cityAncient dices discovered at the Burnt-City. At present experts are (a) attempting to determine why the game was played with sixty pieces and (b) working to decode the rules of the game. Iranians call Backgammon “Takht-e Nard”. For more see here…

Archaeological Evidence

The oldest clearly recognisable chessmen have been excavated in ancient Afrasiyab (ancient Samarqand), in Iranian cultural domains contrasts with the absence of such items in India. Afrasiab was under thy Islamic rule since 712, but were essential a Persianate land and society by origin. Some other old pieces, possibly Chess pieces, are the occasionally named chess pieces of an elephant and a zebu bull kept in Tashkent. They were excavated in 1972 at Dalverzin-Tepe (see figure below following this paragraph), an ancient citadel nowadays in Southern Uzbekistan, and stem from the 2nd century. The Russian Chess history expert Linder feels that they are not Chess pieces, but belonged to a forerunner of Chess. They could mean an earlier than previously assumed existence of Chess.

Chess-3-chess_piecElephant and Bull (or Knight or Vizier ?), ivory , dated as early as 2nd c., found at Dalverzin-Tepe. Their use is unknown, some scholars think they can be game pieces (Source: CAIS).

However, there are no chessmen there from early times in India, and only in the 10th century appears an indirect mention from Mas’udi: “The use of ivory [in India] is mainly directed to the carving of chess – and nard pieces“. Some experts believe that old Indian chess pieces may be discovered one day. So far, this is mere speculation.

Next group of chess pieces (three chessmen) comes from Nishapur (see below), and another ivory set was discovered though belonging to later times, 9th or 10th century. These are not idols anymore and are carved following the abstract pattern which has been characterised as “Arabic“.

Chess-6-Rukh-Nishabur.A Rukh from Nishapur, 9th century CE (Source: CAIS). 

Introduction of Chess into India by Muslims

Games upon the “ashtapada” board of 8×8, with dice and with two or more players may have served as “proto-chess“, but the two types of games already differ too strongly in their nature and philosophy to make the evolution of “Chaturanga” into “Shatransh” a simple question of direct parentage via the Persian “Chatrang“.

Muslim writers stated quite frequently that they took the game of “shatranj/sh” from the Iranians, who called it “chatrang“. This happens in the middle of a political-cultural revolution, which has been analyzed in historical texts.

Chess-9-Players_of_Haft_AwrangJami’s 15th century Persian manuscript of Haft Awrang depicting two Persian chess players (Source: CAIS).

The ruling Umayyads were overthrown by a certain Abul-Abbas, who initiated a new era around the year 750 – transferring the Islamic political centre from Damascus to former Iranian territory and Baghdad, which still was under Iranian cultural influence. The Abbasid caliphs culturally and quasi ethnically of Iranian origin – so Iranian dominance became clearly the focal point in the cultural renaissance which took place inside the Arabic trunk. Large number of the previous knowledge from ancient Iran, Greece, Byzantium, Egyptian and Middle East civilizations was compiled and translated into Arabic. The new information absorbed in a scientific body which followed its further path towards the West. Chess was only a part of this knowledge, packaged together with earlier mathematical, astronomical, philosophical or medical achievements.

Chess-8-Basra_chessRock crystal CE 800 (possibly chess pieces) found at Basra (Source: CAIS).

However, we know that while chess flourished in Baghdad in the 9th century, the earliest reliable account of chess-playing in India date only from the 11th century.


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