(modern Hamadan, at 34°48′ N, 48°31′ E and 1,800 m above sea level),

site located at the base of the eastern slope of the 3,571-meter-high Kuh-e Alvand range in the Zagros mountains of west-central Iran. The city is bisected from south to north by the Alusjerd River. The identification of the site with Hamadan is solidly based on both historical and archaeological evidence. The ancient name of the city appears in the Bisitun inscription of Darius II in Old Persian ha mgmatana, Elamite ag-ma-da-na, and Akkadian a-ga-ma-ta-nu and is usually interpreted as hangmata “(place of) gathering.” In classical, biblical, and other sources, the name variously occurs as Agbatana, Ecbatana(s), Ecbatanis Partiorum, Ekbatan, Achmetha, Ahmatan, Hamatan, and Ahmadan. Founded as the capital of the state of Media (Herodotus, Hist. 1.97), the city subsequently served as the satrapal seat of the province of Media from the Achaemenid to the Sasanian period. In addition, it served as a royal treasury and summer residence. It was in Ecbatana that Cyrus's order for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple was found (Ez. 6:2). The city fell to Cyrus II In 550/49 BCE, to Alexander the Great In 330 BCE, to Seleucus I In 305 BCE, to Mithridates I In 147 BCE, to Ardashir I In 226 CE, and to the Muslims In 642 (ah 23), after which it became a provincial capital, which it has remained.

Ecbatana's location provides strategic control over the major east-west route, the so-called High Road, through the central Zagros mountains. An extensive fertile plain lies to the east and, in antiquity, the area was famed for its horse rearing and wheat production (Polybius, History, 544.1). The city's major topographical features are al-Musalla, an 80-meter-high natural rock outcrop in the southeastern quarter, topped by the ruins of a rectangular citadel, probably of the Parthian period (238 BCE–224 CE). The barren hill of Sang-i Shir lies on the city's southeastern perimeter and features a colossal stone lion, possibly from the Hellenistic period. Nearby is Tell Hagmataneh, a 30-meter-high mound in the city's northeastern quarter, which has been identified by chance finds and archaeological investigation as the site of the Median citadel and of subsequent Achaemenid royal construction. The so-called Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, associated by long tradition with Esther, the Jewish bride of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I or Artaxerxes I), and her uncle, Mordechai, is more likely the sepulcher of Shushan-Dukht, the Jewish consort of Yazdigird I (399–420 CE). The most detailed and probably the most reliable ancient description of the city, renowned in antiquity for its vast wealth and splendid royal architecture, is provided by Polybius, History, (10.27.1–13), who describes the palace area as having a circumference of nearly seven stades (1.4 km), a measurement that corresponds closely to the circumference of Tell Hagmataneh. Various early travelers recorded observations of Persepolis-style column bases and other ancient masonry reutilized in later structures or lying in heaps in the river. They identify the city as a source of an extensive trade in antiquities and forgeries. French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan collected numerous antiquities in Hamadan in the late nineteenth century. Charles Fossey directed the earliest archaeological excavations In 1913, under the auspices of the French archaeological mission in Iran (see Chevalier, 1989). In 1920 and 1923, two large treasure troves, both probably from the reign of Artaxerxes II (404–359 BCE) or later, surfaced in the city, but their precise provienience is unknown. In 1956, road construction cut through the western slope of Tell Hagmataneh to a depth of 7 m and revealed a massive zigzagging outer defensive wall constructed in mud brick that is probably Median (seventh century BCE; see Dyson, 1957). In 1971, Stuart Swiny conducted an archaeological survey of the area around Hamadan for the British Institute of Persian Studies, and Massoud Azarnoush of the Iranian Archaeological Service partially excavated a Parthian cemetery from the first century BCE to the first century CE partially excavated in the city's southeast quadrant, near Sang-i Shir (see Swiny, 1975; Azarnoush, 1975). Two trilingual (Old Persian, Neo-Babylonian, and Elamite) rock-cut inscriptions are located at Ganj Nameh, 12 km (7 mi.) southwest of Hamadan, in a 2,000-meter-high pass over the Kuh-e Alvand. The texts praise Ahura Mazda and record the royal lineages and conquests of Darius I (521–485 BCE) and Xerxes I (485–465 BCE).

[See also Medes; Persia, article on Ancient Persia; and Sasanians.]


  • Azarnoush, Massoud. “Hamadan: Excavation Report.” Iran 13 (1975): 181–182.
  • Brown, Stuart C. “Ecbatana.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. New York, in press. Detailed discussion of pre-Islamic Hamadan, with extensive bibliography.
  • Chevalier, N. “Hamadan 1913: Une mission oubliée.” Iranica Antiqua 24 (1989): 245–253.
  • Dyson, Robert H. “Iran, 1956.” University Museum Bulletin (Philadelphia) 21.1 (1957): 27–39.
  • Frye, Richard N. “Hamadhān.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3, pp. 105–106. Leiden, 1960– . Brief history of Hamadan in the Islamic period.
  • Swiny, Stuart. “Survey in North-West Iran, 1971.” East and West 25 (1975): 77–96.

Stuart C. Brown