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Ecbatana on Shepherd's 1923 Map of the Macedonian Empire 336-323 B.C.

Ecbatana (red arrow) on a portion of Shepherd's 1923 Map of the Macedonian Empire 336-323 B.C. From The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd,

PD Shepherd's 1923 Map of the Macedonian Empire 336-323 B.C.

Ecbatana (identified with the modern Iranian city Hamadan [34°48′ N, 48°31′ E; 1,800 m above sea level]) was an important city for ancient Persia. It was on the major east-west route through the central Zagros Mountains, with a fertile plain to one side, renowned for horses, splendor, royal architecture built for the Achaemenids, and its role in Biblical and Greek, in addition to Persian history.

Uniting the Persians and Medes, in about 550 B.C., Cyrus the Great conquered the Median capital of Ecbatana; in time, making it his capital. In his The Heritage of Persia, Richard N. Frye says Cyrus' original capital, Pasargadai, was too small and lacking in prestige.

"Ekbatana, the Median capital, became the centre of the far-flung empire of Cyrus for his first capital Pasargadai was not adequate to the task either in location or in size and prestige."
R.D. Barnett in "Persepolis," Iraq, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 1957), pp. 55-77, says "Cyrus moved the capital of his empire from Ecbatana to Pasargadae in Elam..." which makes sense because Cyrus was buried there and Pasargadae is commonly referred to as Cyrus' (capital) city. Ecbatana became a summer resort capital city for the royal court under Darius, whose main administrative capital was at Susa.

Ecbatana Through the Ages of Ancient Iran

  • Achaemenid - In ancient Iran, the Median satrap (one of the roughly 20 governors of the tribute-paying provinces organized by Cyrus and Darius that were subordinate to the Great King) had his headquarters at Ecbatana.

  • Biblical - Although unlikely, it was thought to be the home of the tomb of the Biblical Jewish Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai.

  • Hellenistic - Alexander - Alexander the Great's beloved Hephaestion died there in 324 B.C. While stationed in Ecbatana, which Alexander had conquered in 330 B.C., his Macedonian general Parmenio(n) was executed for suspected treason, pursuant to Alexander's orders.

    You may see its Greek name as Ἐκβάτανα or Ἀγβάτανα.

  • Hellenistic - Seleucid - It was an important center for Alexander's area successors, the Seleucid monarchs. In honor of the Hellenistc monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the city was renamed Ephuphaneia, around the time of the founding of the Parthian Empire.

  • Parthian - During the Parthian period, it became one of the kings' capital cities.

  • Modern - In A.D. 642, the city fell to the Arab Muslims.

Also Known As...

You may find the name spelled Agbatana, Ecbatana(s), Ecbatanis Partiorum, Ekbatan, Achmetha, Ahmatan, Hamatan, Ahmadan, and more.

An Ancient Description of the City

Of the ancient accounts, Polybius is considered relatively reliable. Here is what he has to say about the city:

"27 1 Media is the most notable principality in Asia, both in the extent of its territory and the number and excellence of the men and also of the horses it produces. 2 It supplies nearly the whole of Asia with these animals, the royal stud farms being entrusted to the Medes owing to the excellence of the pastures. 3 On its borders a ring of Greek cities was founded by Alexander to protect it from the neighbouring barbarians. Ecbatana is an exception. 4 This city is situated in the northern part of Media and commands that portion of Asia which borders on the Maeotis and Euxine. 5 It had always been the royal residence of the Medes and is said to have greatly exceeded all the other cities in wealth and the magnificence of its buildings. 6 It lies on the skirts of Mount Orontes and has no wall, but possesses an artificial citadel the fortifications of which are of wonderful strength. 7 Beneath this stands the palace .... 9 The palace, however, is about seven stades in circumference, and by the magnificence of the separate structures in it conveys a high idea of the wealth of its original founders. 10 For the woodwork was all of cedar and cypress, but no part of it was left exposed, and the rafters, the compartments of the ceiling, and the columns in the porticoes and colonnades were plated with either silver or gold, and all the tiles were silver. 11 Most of the precious metals were stripped off in the invasion of Alexander and his Macedonians, and the rest during the reigns of Antigonus and Seleucus the son of Nicanor, 12 but still, when Antiochus reached the place, the temple of Aene alone had the columns round it still gilded and a number of silver tiles were piled up in it, while a few gold bricks and a considerable quantity of silver ones remained. 13 From all the objects I have mentioned sufficient was collected to coin money with the king's effigy amounting to very nearly four thousand talents. "
Histories Book X


  • Stuart C. Brown's "Ecbatana," The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Edited by Eric M. Meyers
  • The Heritage of Persia, by Richard N. Frye; Mazda Publishers: 2004.

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