The ancient city of Susa (biblical Shushan) lay at the edge of the Iranian plateau, not far from the great cities of Mesopotamia. A strategically located and vital center, Susa absorbed diverse influences and underwent great political fluctuations during the several thousand years of its history. When French archaeologists began to excavate its site in the nineteenth century, the astonishing abundance of finds greatly expanded our understanding of the ancient Near East. The artifacts were taken to Paris through diplomatic agreement and became a centerpiece of the Louvre's great collection of Near Eastern antiquities. These works are rarely loaned, but a remarkable selection that includes many undisputed masterpieces, brought to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for exhibition, is presented in this comprehensive publication.
Susa was settled about 4000 B.C. and has yielded striking pottery finds from that prehistoric period. A rich production followed of objects for daily use, ritual, and luxury living, finely carved in various materials or fashioned of clay. Monumental sculpture was made in stone or bronze, and dramatic friezes were composed of brilliantly glazed bricks. Among the discoveries are tiny, intricately carved cylinder seals and splendid jewelry. Clay balls marked with symbols offer fascinating testimony to the very beginnings of writing; clay tablets from later periods bearing inscriptions in cuneiform record political history, literature, business transactions, and mathematical calculations.
A very important group of finds from Susa is made up of objects brought back as booty from conquests in Mesopotamia. These works, many of them the royal monuments of Akkadian and Babylonian monarchs—for instance, the great stele of Naram-Sin—are among the best known of all objects from the ancient Near East. Altogether, the exhibition presents more than two hundred objects found at Susa, produced over a period of about 3500 years. They come from all periods of the site's settlement, from it earliest history to its adornment as a major city of the opulent Achaemenid Persian empire.
Eighteen French and American scholars have contributed essays to this volume on subjects that include the history of art in ancient Iran from prehistoric settlement through the Achaemenid period; the history of the excavations at Susa; the development of writing; seals and sealings; royal and religious structures at Susa; objects brought from Mesopotamia; brick decoration; popular art; and cuneiform texts. Recent results of ongoing research into the archaeology of Susa are discussed. Analyses of specific techniques are included as well as reports on the conservation of objects. Each work in the exhibition is illustrated and fully described, with references to relevant publications.