The Capitals of Iran (Part 1)

Through the glorious history of Iran, several civilizations and dynasties came to power. Each of them ruled this ancient land for years. Generally, every dynasty that came to power chose a center as the Capitals of Iran. Some of these dynasties, for instance, the Achaemenids and Sassanids, had several cities as capitals.

The Capitals of Iran or its political centers, like its political boundaries, have had many ups and downs throughout history. As a result of these events, the Capitals of Iran changed many times to suit the new situations. Except in a few cases, with every new dynasty came a new Capital. There were even times when in only one dynasty, the political conditions demanded a change of the Capital.

Within a deep look into history, we learn the reasons for these changes. Different motives shifted the political center of the country. As for the subject of the Capitals of Iran, we can mention the time, place, social structure of the government, political strategy, and geopolitical issues. More importantly, the king considered the political security of the city then the socio-economic factors.

The Capitals of Iran

In addition to all this, we should know that the Capital, because of its importance and political identity, contained a message that was conveyed to the people by the king. That message is short and clear. A government is down, and a new one came to power. This new dawn is fundamentally different from the previous government. A king, who in his first act changes a capital, tries to create an identity independent of the one before him.

Given the vast geographical size of Iran, this land offered various options to the first person of the dynasty to implement its political approaches, hence, the Capitals of Iran are many.

We can apportion the capitals of Iran into two categories, the Capitals of ancient Iran and the capitals of post-Islamic Iran, based on the same usual classification in the history of Iran.

The ancient period of Iran is about 1,500 years (millennium BC to the advent of Islam) and covers a wide geographical area, on the one hand, the cities of Central Asia on the east, and on the other hand, the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates on the west.

During this period, which is one of the most influential political periods of the ancient world, several cities with different characteristics have been centralized or selected as the Capitals of Iran. Remains of cities, like Marv, Nessa, Sad Darvazeh, Istkhr, Ctesiphon, Takht-e-Soliman, Neyshabur, and the sort, still exist. However, archeologists have gone through hell and back to uncover them. Excavations of the last 50 years and research left by historians show the greatness of these cities in those long-forgotten years.

Iran’s political border has undergone many changes from ancient times to contemporary times. It is no longer that entire empire that Darius, the great, once said his borders are far away from one another. Therefore, some of these capitals are no longer in Iran.

Also, since different dynasties and governments had different capitals, Iran is more diversified today. The ancient Capitals of Iran come from the Medes, Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids.

The Medes, who came to Iran in the middle of the second half or early first millennium BC, did not have a central government to have a capital for it. Until Deioces, a wise judge succeeded in becoming the first king.

By his order, a palace was built with the necessary fortifications, and the people settled in the fortified city that was built around the Palace. This city is the ancient Hegmataneh, or in Greek Ecbatana, or modern Hamedan. Herodotus explains in detail that the city was as large as Athens and located on a hill. This city consisted of seven concentric circular walls. Each inner wall was taller than the outer wall, and the Palace stood in the middle of the highest inner walls.

Today’s Hamedan in Iran is built on the ruins of this magnificent city and the first throne and Capital of Iran.

In general, the Achaemenids had six capitals during their reign, which were: Anshan, Ecbatana, Babylon, Susa, Pasargadae, and Persepolis.

Pasargadae and Persepolis, compared to other cities, were built during the Achaemenid period by the Kings of the dynasty. Pasargadae was built by Cyrus the Great and Persepolis by Darius the Achaemenid.

The political significance of these capitals varied. For example, Persepolis never was a political capital and was a Palace for Achaemenid celebrations.



Susa, Persepolis, and Pasargadae were three imperial Capitals of Iran that gradually became more important than other cities. Ecbatana, their fourth lesser-known capital must have been the residential cities of the rulers, rather than the residences that were famous and should not be compared to modern or recent centuries.

Parthians took over the throne around the year 247 BC. With the overthrow of the Seleucid usurper and established their imperial center in northeastern Khorasan.

The ancestral home of the Parthian dynasty was the city of Nessa. Its ruins still exist near the capital of Turkmenistan (Ashgabat). Damghan or Hecatompylos was the first formal capital of the Parthian imperial government. The Parthians later moved all their governing bureaucracy to the city of Ctesiphon in present-day Iraq.

The capitals of Iran continue with the history of the Sassanid Empire began with the construction of a city and a palace. According to Tabari’s History, that city was Ardashir-Khwarrah (present-day Firuzabad). In around 225 AD, Ardashir Babakan severed ties with his Parthian emperor Ardavan V. He built a city and named it after himself and Khwarrah. Khwarrah or Khvarenah is a gift from God that shows the legitimacy of the monarchy.

There are Sassanid cities named after their kings like Veh (Bi) Shapur, Veh Ardeshir, Neyshabur, and Ramhormoz. Each indicates they were interested in building cities. They also had different cities as Capitals of Iran.

The ancient city of Ctesiphon is located along the Tigris River, 35 km south of present-day Baghdad. Ctesiphon has a very long history and was built in 120 BC and was the largest city in Mesopotamia. It was also the largest city in the world from 570 to 637 AD (until the victory of the Muslims).

Today, the only remaining part of this magnificent city is Taq (arch) Kasra.

The Palace of Ctesiphon or Iwan of Chosroes was for the Sassanid king (Khosrow I) in the late sixth century AH. It is worth mentioning that Kasra Arch is the largest brick arch without scaffolding in the world.

We will continue with more of the Capitals of Iran in the next part of our blog.