Iraq – Veh-Ardashir

Excavations at Veh-Ardashir
Scientific director:
Giorgio Gullini
Field directors:
Mariangiola Cavallero, Maria Maddalena Negro Ponzi, Roberta Venco Ricciardi

Between 1964 and 1975, the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l'Asia conducted a series of excavation campaigns in the area of the ancient Sasanian city of Veh-Ardashir, founded by the first great Sasanian ruler Ardashir I (224–241 AD) in front of Seleucia, on the opposite bank of the Tigris. The Italian excavations resumed the archaeological studies begun by the Deutsche Orientgesellschaft in 1928-29 and by the joint mission conducted by the Islamische Kunstabteilung der Staatlichen Museen of Berlin and New York’s Metropolitan Museum in 1931-32. The research concerned a limited extension of the site, but the quarter that was excavated in the southwest area of the city behind the city walls – characterized by craftsmen’s buildings, shops and dwellings – provides a lively glimpse into the life of the city and valuable information for reconstructing the history of the region, of great importance during the Sasanian period. In fact, the city yielded a great quantity of exceptionally well-dated artefacts (link con l’ultimo paragrafo 3rd – 7th centuries AD, with continuity in some cases up to the 12th century), in sequences that provide fundamental references for the entire central Mesopotamia.

Ancient Veh-Ardashir was founded by the first great Sasanian ruler Ardashir I, in front of Seleucia, on the opposite bank of the Tigris, not far from the hypothetical site of Ctesiphon, the village near Seleucia that became a city in the 1st century AD. The area, indicated as a nodal point from an archaeological point of view, was called al-Mada’in, i.e. “the cities”, by its Arab conquerors, acknowledging the historical and topographical significance of the complex of ruins since Islamic times. The city – which occupied an area of approximately 700 hectares – was surrounded by massive walls whose course can be followed on the ground for almost their entire extension. The excavations concerned only the better-preserved southern section that emerges from the ground to a maximum height of 4 metres. The walls, made from unbaked bricks and 10 m thick, follow a subcircular course, although they are actually formed by straight segments approximately 30-35m long whose junctions are hidden by the elongated semicircular towers.

The phases of occupation documented in the area where research took place cover a time span of approximately two centuries, from the second half of the 3rd to the second half of the 5th century AD, but an extensive necropolis of the late Parthian period has been found under the Sasanian structures. The Sasanian quarters brought to light display an irregular organization, in which only the main roads are straight and intersect orthogonally. Shops and open spaces, presumably of a commercial nature, are found on the main roads, especially on the wide east-west road that divides the quarter into two blocks (Area 1 to the south and Area 2 to the north), while a thick grid of dwellings and shops extends behind them. During the oldest phases, this eccentric area was occupied by open spaces with wells, drains and ovens, and buildings made from unbaked bricks were constructed only at a later stage. Only some of the dwellings display a careful design, based on the presence of an iwan according to a layout inspired by monumental models. A glass and ceramics kiln that was used in the same period is located northwest of the artisans’ quarter. At the end of the 5th century the inhabited area underwent radical changes; many dwellings disappeared and were replaced by vast open spaces. After the 6th century, the quarter was abandoned due to the Tigris’ frequent floods; however, more recent phases are documented by a large ditch to the east of area 2 that is filled with ceramic material that presumably dates to the 6th – 7th century. From this period onwards, the inhabited area seemed to be limited to Tell Baruda, in the central area of the settlement, where a few rooms of the Sasanian period, presumably artisans’ shops, and Islamic levels of occupation dating between the 8th and 14th centuries, were brought to light. For the entire Sasanian period, the materials associated with the stratigraphy of Veh-Ardashir constitute the best-dated stratigraphical sequence of the entire Middle East, thanks to the finding of numerous coins. They are therefore especially important and act as a fundamental reference for the knowledge and chronology of the Mesopotamian production of the period. They also provide a fundamental background for understanding the relationship with the previous Parthian and the subsequent Islamic period. The pottery display many simple shapes, resulting from a process of morphological simplification that illustrate the continuity and the evolution from the traditional Parthian production from the nearby Seleucia. At the same time, more elaborate and original shapes appear, which attest to the tastes of the new customers, and continue to be produced up to early Islamic times. Typical shapes of the later period include the incantation bowl that were widespread throughout the central and southern Mesopotamian area, and the large ovoid jars with barbotine decorations, which became typical of the subsequent Islamic period. The glass artefacts, dating from the settlement’s oldest phases (i.e. the passage from the Parthian production to the Sasanian production) up to the 4th – 5th century AD (attested by an Iranian, imported and imitation production) are especially significant.


Preliminary reports are published in Mesopotamia, I (1966) following.

1966, “The Excavation at Choche (the presumed Ctesiphon) Area 2”, Mesopotamia, I, 63 ss. 1967, “The Excavation at Choche Area 2”, Mesopotamia, II, 48 ss.

2013, “Terracotta Animal Figurines from Veh Ardashir (Coche) in the Collection of the Museo Civico d'Arte Antica e Palazzo Madama (Torino)”, in A. Peruzzetto, F. Dorna Metzger, L. Dirven (eds.), Animals, Gods and Men from East to West. Papers on Archaeology and History in honour of Roberta Venco Ricciardi, OXFORD, 123-134.

1978-79, “Five Aramaic Incantation Bowls from Tell Baruda”, Mesopotamia, XIII-XIV, 233 ss.
1982, “A Mandaic Lead Fragment from Tell Baruda (Choche)”, Mesopotamia, XVII, 147 ss.

1968-69, “A Relief in the Style of the Gandhara School from Choche”, Mesopotamia, III-IV, 145 ss.
1979, “Figurines de terrecuite de Choche (Ctésiphon)”, in Akten des VII. Int. Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, München 7.-10. Septtember 1976, Berlin, 241 ss.
1995, “The Jupiter Statuette from Veh-Ardashir and the Iconographical Repertoire of 3rd Century Mesopotamia”, Iranica Antiqua, XXX, 23 ss.

In stampa, “On some marks engraved on seals from Coche / Veh Ardashir”, in P. De Vingo (a cura di), Studi in memoria di Mariamaddalena Negro Ponzi Mancini, Torino.

In stampa, “A Watchtower of the late Sasanian Period on the outskirts of Veh Ardashir (Coche)”, in P. De Vingo (a cura di), Studi in memoria di Mariamaddalena Negro Ponzi Mancini, Torino.

1966, “The Excavation at Choche (the presumed Ctesiphon) Area 1”, Mesopotamia, I, 81 ss.
1967, “The Excavation at Choche Area 1”, Mesopotamia, II, 41 ss.
1967, “Some Sasanian Moulds”, Mesopotamia, II, 57 ss.
1984, “Glassware from Choche (Central Mesopotamia)”, on R. Boucharlat & J. F.Salles (Eds.), Arabie Orientale, Mésopotamie et Iran Méridionale, Paris, 33 ss.
1987, “Late Sasanian Glassware from Tell Baruda” Mesopotamia, XXII, 265 ss.
2005, “Al-Mada-in: problem di topografia”, Mesopotamia, XL, 145 ss.

1967, “A Coin Hoard from Choche”, Mesopotamia, II, 105 ss.
1968-69, “Some Bronze Objects from Choche”, Mesopotamia, III-IV, 125 ss.

2012-2013, “The Ladies of Veh Ardashir”, Palazzo Madama: Studi e notizie, Rivista annuale del Museo Civico d’Arte Antica di Torino anno III, numero 2, 10 ss.

1967, “Pottery from Choche”, Mesopotamia, II, 93 ss.
1968-69, “The Excavation at Choche: Seasons 1966, 1967 and 1968”, Mesopotamia, III-IV, 57 ss.
1970-71, “The Excavation at Choche”, Mesopotamia, V-VI, 41 ss.
1973-74, “Trial Trench at Tell Baruda”, Mesopotamia, VIII-IX, 15 ss.
1977, “Trial Trench at Tell Baruda, Choche (1975)”, Mesopotamia, XII, 11 ss.
1984, “Sasanian Pottery from Choche (Artisans Quarter and Tell Baruda)”, in R. Boucharlat & J. F.Salles (Eds.), Arabie Orientale, Mésopotamie et Iran Méridional, Paris, 49 ss.

1985, “Choche”, in La Terra tra i due fiumi, Alessandria, 100 ss.

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