First Capital of Cyrus the Great: Anshan, Iran (Tall-i Malyan)

Now a total ruin, the ancient city of Anshan was probably the first capital city of the Persian Achaemenid kings from the 7th century BCE until 546 BCE. The archaeological site upon which it remains is today known as Tall-i Malyan and is northwest of the modern city of Shiraz, Iran.

The history of Anshan goes back several thousand years, perhaps as far back as 5000 BCE. Before the Persians took it over and made it their own, Anshan was a prominent city of the kingdom of Elam. The city is mentioned in a Sumerian document dating from the 21st century BCE, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, which tells of a conflict between the king of Uruk, Enmerkar, and an unknown king in the land of Aratta, believed to be somewhere in northwest Iran. Anshan was a city on the route from Uruk to Aratta.

The plains of Anshan. Photo by Jona Lendering

Around 2276 BCE, Anshan was captured by the Akkadian king Manishtushu, the son of the famous Sargon of Akkad. Soon after the city was liberated by the Elamite Awan dynasty and along with its sister city of Susa, became one of the more prominent cities of the Elamite empire. Though independent, peace with the other city-states of Mesopotamia remained elusive and finally in 640 BCE, the Elamite empire was destroyed by the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal.

The plains of Anshan. Photo by Jona Lendering

Even before the final end of the Elamite empire, the city of Anshan came under Persian rule in the 7th century BCE. The name of this new dynasty was known as the Achaemenid dynasty. King Teispes, who ruled form 675–640 BCE, called himself the “King of the city of Anshan.” It likely remained the capital of the Persian Achaemenid kingdom until the ascension of Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great. After Cyrus defeated the Medes in battle, he established a new capital city at Pasargadae. However, the term “King of Anshan” is also used to describe Cyrus and also his father, Cambyses I of Persia. In the famous “Cyrus Cylinder” found in Babylon, the great king and his ancestors are mentioned as rulers of Anshan:

Teispes: the great king, the king of Anshan.

Cambyses: the great king, the king of Anshan.

Cyrus: The great king, the mighty king, the king of Babel, the king of Sumer and Akkad, the king of the four countries, the son of Cambyses, the great-grandson of Teispes. 1

Pottery shards found at the site of ancient Anshan. Photo by Jona Lendering

Today, the site of ancient Anshan is in ruin and surrounded by fields. There have been several digs in the area that have uncovered several artifacts including some cuneiform tablets and hundreds, if not thousands of shards of pottery. It’s hard to believe by the way that it looks now that this was once the springboard for the largest empire the world had ever known in the ancient Near East.

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  1. Outlines of Parsi History, by Dr. Hormazdyar Dastur Kayoji Mirza; Bombay, 1987.