The Elamite site of Dur Untash or Choqa-Zanbil

The ancient Elamite site of Dur Untash or Choqa-zanbil  (Persian:چغازنبيل‎- basket hill) in Iran’s Khuzestan province has been the focus of much academic attention in recent years. It is notable that Choqa-zanbil was the first Iranian archaeological site to be listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1979.

چغازبیل Choqa-zanbil is located approximately eighty kilometers to the north of Ahvaz. The site was built by  Elamite king Untash-Napirisha around 1250 BCE.

 The construction of Choqa-zanbil or Dur Untash has been attributed to Elamite king Untash-Napirisha (reigned approx. 1275 to 1240 BCE).  The site was built to pay homage to the Elamite god Inshushinak. Note that the Elamite term Dur Untash is translated as the  “town of Untash”. The site of Choqa-zanbil  is protected by three concentric walls which are integral to the complex. The inner sector of Choqa-zanbil is occupied by a large ziggurat which was dedicated to Inshushinak.


The Choqa-zanbil ziggurat had been built over an older structure which had been a square-shaped temple that featured storage areas. This earlier structure had also been built by king Untash-Napirisha. It is notable that the ziggurat at this site is considered to be the best preserved example of such structures. 

The middle sector of Dur Untash contains a total of eleven temples to accommodate a series of lesser Elamite gods.  Archaeologists have noted that king Untash-Napirisha had intended to build a total of 22 temples but this project came to halt upon the king’s passing. The outer sector of Choqa-zanbil features underground tombs, regal palaces as well as a funerary palace.


A model reconstruction of Dur Untash or Choqa-zanbil. It has been suggested that King Untash-Napirisha may have been endeavoring to build a new religious site which would have united the Elamite gods from the lowlands and highlands. If this was the case, then the king may have intended to replace Susa as Elam’s main religious center.  

Interestingly, the site of Choqa-zanbil remained inhabited until it violent destruction by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (reigned approx. 668–627 BCE) in 640 BCE. The Assyrians inflicted much damage to Elam, however the region’s culture and language endured and was to be passed onto the arriving Iranian peoples, notably the Persians.


Assyrian warrior-king Ashurbanipal engaged in a major siege battle against Dur Untash (modern-day Choqa-zanbil). By 639 BCE the Assyrian armies had completely won the war and Elam was plundered and devastated. The armies of the later Achaemenids adopted various Assyrian features into their military system, notably the concept of the “Chiliarch” which was a type of commander in chief. Assyrian levies were also present in the armies of Xerxes (reigned 486-465 BCE) during his invasion of Greece in 480 BCE.

The devastation wrought by Ashurbanipal upon Elam is seen in his proclamation below:

For a distance of a month and twenty-five days’ journey I devastated the provinces of Elam. Salt and sihlu (a type of course plant) I scattered over them . . . The dust of Susa, Madaktu, Haltemash and the rest of their cities I gathered together and took to Assyria . . . The noise of people, the tread of cattle and sheep, the glad shouts of rejoicing, I banished from its fields. Wild asses, gazelles and all kinds of beasts of the plain I caused to lie down among them, as if at home.”


Ancient Assyrians blinding their captives. Despite the devastation wrought upon Elam by the armies of Assyria, the Elamites survived, with much of their legacy being passed onto the Iranian-speaking peoples.

Farrokh Lecture on Ancient Iranian Women at Portland State University

Kaveh Farrokh will be providing a lecture at Portland State University (PSU) (topic: Women in Ancient Iran) on April 20, 2013.

The PSU lecture is part of larger series of talks on Persian Women organized by the Persian program at PSU and  presented with funding from PARSA Community Foundation (see Facebook) and co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Center and the Department of World Languages & Literatures at Portland State University.


[Click to Enlarge] Kaveh Farrokh’s lecture begins with the role of women on the Iranian plateau from the Bronze Age both before and after the Indo-European arrivals. The prime importance of women in Iranian speaking tribes in the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (i.e. Scythians, Sarmatians, etc.), and the Iranian plateau are detailed, notably the Achaemenid and the ensuing Partho-Sassanian eras. (Time permitting) the discussion then draws on select highlights of the post Islamic era: notably the Karim Khan Zand era and the Constitutional Revolution.

Note that the lectures at Portland State University (April 20-21, 2013) also feature a highly impressive array of Iranologist scholars:

  • Dr. Nayareh Tohidi of California State University: Women as Agents of Change in Modern Iran
  • Dr. Dick Davis of Ohio State University: Women in Persian Literature
  • Dr. Shahla Haeri of Boston University: Women and Political Leadership in Iran

The lecture at Portland State University on “Women in Ancient Iran” will be held at:

Location: PSU-Smith Memorial Student Union, room 238, on Broadway St

Time: 3:00 pm

Conference: From Elam to Iran

The University of Bologna in Ravenna, hosted an excellent conference on March 22-23, 2013 entitled “From Elam to Iran”. For more information on topics presented by professors and consult the brochure here in pdf (From Elam to Iran-University of Bolognia).


Reconstruction of female Elamite dress (circa 3rd millennium BC) by Iranian researchers in the 1970s (for more click here…)

One of the topics presented was prominent Iranologist Professor Yuri Stoyanov (member of the Department of the Near and Middle East, Faculty of Languages and Cultures in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London):

Elam and Media in some contemporary Kurdish and Yezidi historiographical construct

Readers interested in  topics on ancient Elam, the Medes and other domains of  pre-Achaemenid Iran may wish to consult the following links: Pre-Achaemenid Iran.

Ravenna is also host to one of the Roman depictions of Iranians and their costumes during the Sassanian era:


Roman depiction of Iranian (Partho-Sassanian) costume as worn by the three wise men in the Basilica of Sant’pollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. Traditional Partho-Sassanian dress was to be joined by newer forms of dress bearing elements of Central Asian influence by the late 6th and early 7th centuries CE, as seen in Tagh-e Bostan in Kermanshah, Western Iran (Picture source: Faith, Fiction, Friends Blogspot).