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For other uses, see Ctesiphon (disambiguation).
تيسفون (Persian)
قطيسفون (Arabic)
Karte Seleucia Ktesiphon.png
Map of Sassanid Ctesiphon
Ctesiphon is located in Iraq
Shown within Iraq
Location Salman Pak, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq
Region Mesopotamia
Coordinates 33°5′37″N 44°34′50″E / 33.09361°N 44.58056°E / 33.09361; 44.58056Coordinates: 33°5′37″N 44°34′50″E / 33.09361°N 44.58056°E / 33.09361; 44.58056
Type Settlement
Cultures Iranian peoples Iranian
Site notes
Excavation dates 1928–1929, 1931–1932, 1960s–1970s
Archaeologists Oscar Reuther, Antonio Invernizzi, Giorgio Gullini
Condition Ruined

Ctesiphon (Persian: تيسفون‎, Tīsfūn; Arabic: قطيسفون‎, Quṭaisifūn; others) was the imperial capital of the Parthian Empire and the Sasanian Empire. It was one of the great cities of late ancient Mesopotamia.

It was situated across the Tigris from where the Greek city of Seleucia stood and northeast of ancient Babylon. Today, the remains of the city lie in Baghdad Governorate, Iraq, approximately 35 km (22 mi) south of the city of Baghdad.

Ctesiphon was the largest city in the world from 570 until its fall in 637 during the Muslim conquests.[1]


The Latin name Ctesiphon or Ctesifon derives from Ancient Greek Ktēsiphôn (Κτησιφῶν), a Hellenized form of a local name that has been reconstructed as Tosfōn or Tosbōn.[2] In Iranian sources of the Sassanid period it is attested in Manichean Parthian, in Sassanid Middle Persian and in Christian Sogdian as Pahlavi tyspwn, continuing in New Persian as tīsfūn (تیسفون). Syriac sources mention it as Qṭēsfōn (ܩܛܝܣܦܘܢ), and in medieval Arabic texts the name is usually Ṭaysafūn (طيسفون) or Qaṭaysfūn (قطيسفون) in Modern Arabic al-Mada'in (المدائن). "According to Yāqūt [...], quoting Ḥamza, the original form was Ṭūsfūn or Tūsfūn, which was arabicized as Ṭaysafūn."[3] The Armenian name of the city was Tizbon ((Տիզբոն)). Ctesiphon is first mentioned in the Book of Ezra[4] of the Old Testament as Kasfia/Casphia (a derivative of the ethnic name, Cas, and a cognate of Caspian and Qazvin).


Remains of Taq-i Kisra in 2008.

Ctesiphon is located approximately at Al-Mada'in, 20 miles (32 km) southeast of the modern city of Baghdad, Iraq, along the river Tigris. Ctesiphon measured 30 square kilometers (cf. the 13.7 square kilometers of 4th century imperial Rome). The only visible remains are the great arch Taq-i Kisra or Tagh-e Kasra (the literal meaning: arch of Khosrau[5]) located in what is now the Iraqi town of Salman Pak.


Ctesiphon rose to prominence during the Parthian Empire in the 1st century BC, and was the seat of government for most of its rulers. The city was located near Seleucia, the old Hellenistic capital. Strabo abundantly describes its foundation:

Ruins of Ctesiphon depicted on a 1923 postage stamp of Iraq
Ctesiphon palace ruin, 1864

Because of its importance, Ctesiphon was a major military objective for the leaders of the Roman Empire in their eastern wars. The city was captured by Rome five times in its history – three times in the 2nd century alone. The emperor Trajan captured Ctesiphon in 116, but his successor, Hadrian, decided to willingly return Ctesiphon in 117 as part of a peace settlement. The Roman general Avidius Cassius captured Ctesiphon in 164 during another Parthian war, but abandoned it when peace was concluded. In 197, the emperor Septimius Severus sacked Ctesiphon and carried off thousands of its inhabitants, whom he sold into slavery.

Late in the 3rd century, after the Parthians had been supplanted by the Sassanids, the city again became a source of conflict with Rome. In 283, emperor Carus sacked the city uncontested during a period of civil upheaval. In 295, emperor Galerius was defeated outside the city. However, he returned a year later with a vengeance and won a victory which ended in the fifth and final capture of the city by the Romans in 299. He returned it to the Persian king Narses in exchange for Armenia and western Mesopotamia. In c.325 and again in 410, the city, or the Greek colony directly across the river, was the site of church councils for the Church of the East.[citation needed]

After the conquest of Antioch in 541, Khosrau I built a new city near Ctesiphon for the inhabitants he captured. He called this new city Weh Antiok Khusrau or literally, “better than Antioch Khosrau built this.”[7] Local inhabitants of the area called the new city Rumagan, meaning “town of the Romans” and Arabs called the city al-Rumiyya. Along with Weh Antiok, Khosrau built a number of fortified cities.[8] Khosrau I deported 292,000 citizens, slaves, and conquered people to the new city of Ctesiphon in 542 C.E.[9]

Emperor Julian was killed following a battle outside of the city walls, in 363, during his war against Shapur II. Finally, in 627, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius surrounded the city, the capital of the Sassanid Empire, leaving it after the Persians accepted his peace terms.

Ctesiphon fell to the Muslims during the Islamic conquest of Persia in 637 under the military command of Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas during the caliphate of Umar. Still, as political and economic fortune had passed elsewhere, the city went into a rapid decline, especially after the founding of the Abbasid capital at Baghdad in the 8th century, and soon became a ghost town. It is believed to be the basis for the city of Isbanir in One Thousand and One Nights.

The ruins of Ctesiphon were the site of a major battle of World War I in November 1915. The Ottoman Empire defeated troops of Britain attempting to capture Baghdad, and drove them back some 40 miles (64 km) before trapping the British force and compelling it to surrender.


A German Oriental Society and University of Pennsylvania team led by Oscar Reuther excavated at Ctesiphon in 1928–29 and 1931–32, mainly at Qasr bint al-Qadi on the western part of the site.[10][11][12][13]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an Italian team from the University of Turin directed by Antonio Invernizzi and Giorgio Gullini worked at the site, mainly doing restoration at the palace of Khosrau II.[14][15][16][17][18][19] In 2013 the Iraqi government contracted to restore the Arch of Ctesiphon as a tourist attraction.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://geography.about.com/library/weekly/aa011201a.htm
  2. ^ E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913–1936, Vol. 2 (Brill, 1987: ISBN 90-04-08265-4), p. 75.
  3. ^ Kröger, Jens (1993), "Ctesiphon", Encyclopedia Iranica 6, Costa Mesa: Mazda 
  4. ^ Ezra 8:17
  5. ^ Eventually no less than four Sasanian rulers were quoted as its builders: Shapur I (241–273), Shapur II (310–379), Khosrau I Anushirvan (531–579) and Khosrau II Parvez (590–628). Kurz, Otto (1941). "The Date of the Ṭāq i Kisrā". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (New Series) 73 (1): 37–41. 
  6. ^ Strabo XVI, 1, 16
  7. ^ Dingas, Winter 2007, 109
  8. ^ Frye 1993, 259
  9. ^ Christensen, The Decline of Iranshahr: Irrigation and Environments in the History of the IRAN, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1500, 1993.
  10. ^ K. Schippmann, Ktesiphon-Expedition im Winter 1928/29, Grundzüge der parthischen Geschichte, Darmstadt, 1980
  11. ^ E. Meyer, Seleukia und Ktesiphon, Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft zu Berlin, vol. 67, pp. 1–26, 1929
  12. ^ O. Reuther, The German Excavations at Ctesiphon, Antiquity, vol. 3, no. 12, pp. 434–451, 1929
  13. ^ J Upton, The Expedition to Ctesiphon 1931–1932, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 27, pp. 188–197, 1932
  14. ^ G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, First Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Season 1964, Ancient Of IRAN , vol. I, pp. 1–88, 1966
  15. ^ G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Second Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Season 1965, Mesopotamia, vol. 2, 1967
  16. ^ G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Third Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Season 1966, Mesopotamia, vol. 3–4, 1968–69
  17. ^ G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Fifth Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Season 1969, Ancient Of IRAN, vol. 5–6, 1960–71
  18. ^ G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Sixth Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Seasons 1972/74, Mesopotamia, vol. 5–6, 1973–74
  19. ^ G. Gullini and A. Invernizzi, Seventh Preliminary Report of Excavations at Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Seasons 1975/76, Mesopotamia, vol. 7, 1977
  20. ^ rawstory.com May 30, 2013


  • M. Streck, Die alte Landschaft Babylonien nach den arabischen Geographen, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1900–1901).
  • M. Streck, "Seleucia und Ktesiphon," Der Alte Orient, 16 (1917), 1–64.
  • A. Invernizzi, "Ten Years Research in the al-Madain Area, Seleucia and Ctesiphon," Sumer, 32, (1976), 167–175.
  • Luise Abramowski, "Der Bischof von Seleukia-Ktesiphon als Katholikos und Patriarch der Kirche des Ostens," in Dmitrij Bumazhnov u. Hans R. Seeliger (hg), Syrien im 1.-7. Jahrhundert nach Christus. Akten der 1. Tübinger Tagung zum Christlichen Orient (15.-16. Juni 2007). (Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2011) (Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum / Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity, 62),

External links[edit]

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