Susa, derived from the word shushan, meaning "lily" in the ancient Semitic tongues, is one of the oldest known settlements of the Mesopotamian civilization, probably founded about 4000 BC. It is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible and in the Jewish Tanakh. The Hebrew prophets Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of the sixth century BC. Esther became queen there and saved the Jews from genocide.
Prior to that, Susa had been the capital of the ancient Elamite Empire before passing under control of Babylon. It was part of both Babylonian empires as well as the Assyrian Empire and was captured by the Achaemenid Persians under Cyrus the Great in 538 BC. Under Cyrus' son Cambyses II, the capital of the empire moved from Pasargadae to Susa.
The city lost some of its importance when Alexander the Great conquered it in 323 BC and destroyed the first Persian Empire, but after Alexander's vast empire collapsed upon his death, Susa became one of the two capitals (along with Ctesiphon) of Parthia. Susa became a frequent place of refuge for Parthian and later the Persian Sassanid kings, as the Romans sacked Ctesiphon five different times between AD 116 and 297. Typically, the Parthian rulers wintered in Susa and spent the summer in Ctesiphon.
Susa was destroyed at least twice in its history. In 647 BC, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal leveled the city during the course of a war in which the people of Susa apparently participated on the other side. The second sack of Susa took place in 639, when the Saracens conquered Persia in the name of Islam. The ancient city was gradually abandoned in the years that followed.