A drive problem is preventing more Route 66 updates — don’t worry, the photos aren’t lost, just presently inaccessible — so it’s background day here at the blog! Today we’re going to learn a tiny bit about the city where Saman, one of the Megistanes in So To Honor Him, resides — when he’s not traveling, that is.
The Megistanes, as you may recall from a previous post, were a hereditary priesthood serving four empires in succession. By Saman’s time, they were under the Parthians. Tyspwn, known better today by its latinized name Ctesiphon, was the capital city of the Parthian empire.
Tyspwn lay on the Tigris River, roughly twenty miles from present-day Baghdad. The only visible remaining structure is the Taq-i Kisra, the largest vault constructed in ancient times (and some argue in modern) and once part of the of palace complex.
I’ll bet it made a heckuva impression as ambassadors entered the royal audience chamber beyond it.
Saman wouldn’t have known the Taq-i Kisra; its date of construction isn’t certain but most believe it wasn’t built until the sixth century, by the Sassanids who succeeded the Parthians. In 1888 the Tigris flooded and destroyed about a third of the ruins, and restoration has been off and on since. The nearby town of Salmon Pak hosted a biological and chemical weapons facility for Saddam Hussein and later was an al-Qaeda stronghold, so it’s been a rough go, but supposedly the Iraqi government is interested again in preservation work.
(They have some distractions and difficulties, to say the least. Not satisfied with systematically murdering humans, the Islamic State systematically destroys major archaeological sites with the intent of “culturally cleansing” pre-Islamic history. But there was a long and fascinating history outside of what these radicals want to promote, and brutal terrorism does not prove their own superiority and right to power.)
It’s sad that we don’t have any visual evidence of the city Saman might have known, but very little has been preserved of the Parthian city before the Sassanids. What we do know is that both eras of the city were impressive, as the Silk Road generated enormous wealth. Roman victories in the second century allegedly carried away enough gold and silver to bolster the entire European economy. Just think about that for a second.
According to one Arab account, the most remarkable item taken from the palace of Ctesiphon [during the 637 conquest] was a magnificent carpet known as the King’s Spring which depicted a stream flowing through a garden and measured one hundred feet across. Precious jewels were even sewn into the carpet. The carpet was sent to the Caliph who ordered it cut into small pieces and distributed amongst the faithful. One has to wonder how such an unwieldy object could have been transported in one piece however. [source]
The ruins were later plundered for the construction of Baghdad. But in its own day, Tyspwn/Ctesiphon must have been amazing. I can’t find the origin of this digital recreation (knowledgeable readers are welcome to help!), but it gives an idea of what the palace might have been like when the city was a capital:
Pretty cool, huh?