The Harem (or Seraglio) of Xerxes

The structures known collectively as the "Harem of Xerxes" form a complex with a plan resembling the capital letter L, with its angle pointing in a southeasterly direction. Of the two rectangular arms of the complex, one is located between the Treasury to the east and the Tripylon and the open area just described to the west.

This part is referred to as the main wing of the Harem. The other arm lies to the south of the Hadish and the open area, and is termed the western wing of the Harem. The greater part of the main wing was rebuilt in a modified form by Herzfeld’s  architect, Friedrich Krefter, to house the 1930’s expedition staff, and afterwards it served as the Museum of Persepolis and the administrative quarters of the Institute of Achaemenid Research at Persepolis. From 1973 to 1979 the present writer lived in a section of this restored palace.

The reasons for identifying this complex as the Harem of Xerxes are twofold. Firstly, it contains besides a large hall and its adjoining rooms, a number of identical units, each forming an apartment with a four-columned hall and one or two siderooms and storerooms, an arrangement which would have been admirably compatible with the function of a royal seraglio, within which different wives of the king would have had their own apartments. Secondly, unlike other palaces, the whole complex was surrounded by a thick wall and access to it was essentially through a small entrance located in the southwestern corner, a feature which suggests a greatly protected privacy necessary for a royal harem. Thirdly, as we shall see later, the entrance to the main hall of this palace shows Xerxes accompanied by two attendants one of whom is a beardless eunuch most commonly associated with private affairs of a ruler.

 The objects now housed in the Museum of Persepolis can in no way illustrate the magnificence and splendor of the Achaemenids, for precious and highly artistic works were plundered or burnt in the destruction of Persepolis at the hands of Alexander, and what was left discarded or broken was removed by subsequent invaders. Of what has been recovered, and this has not been much, the finest and largest items have gone to other museums, particularly the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Oriental Institute in Chicago.

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