The modern town of Shush is located at the site of ancient Susa.
Susa is one of the oldest-known settlements of the region and indeed the world, possibly founded about 4200 BCE (See List of oldest continuously inhabited cities); although the first traces of an inhabited village have been dated to ca. 7000 BCE. Evidence of a painted-pottery civilization has been dated to ca. 5000 BCE.
In historic times, Susa was the primary capital of the Elamite Empire. Its name in Elamite was written variously Šušan, Šušun, etc. The city appears in the very earliest Sumerian records, eg. in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta it is described as one of the places obedient to Inanna, patron deity of Uruk.
Susa is also mentioned in the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible, mainly in Esther, but also once each in Nehemiah and Daniel. Both Daniel and Nehemiah lived in Susa during the Babylonian captivity of Judah of the 6th century BCE. Esther became queen there, and saved the Jews from genocide. A tomb presumed to be that of Daniel is located in the area, known as Shush-Daniel. The tomb is marked by an unusual white, stone cone, which is neither regular nor symmetric. Many scholars believe it was at one point a Star of David.
Susa is further mentioned in the Book of Jubilees (8:21 & 9:2) as one of the places within the inheritance of Shem and his eldest son Elam; and in 8:1, "Susan" is also named as the son (or daughter, in some translations) of Elam.
Šušan was incorporated by Sargon the Great into his Akkadian Empire in approximately 2330 BC. It remained capital of an Akkadian province until ca. 2240 BC, when its Elamite governor, Kutik-Inshushinak, rose up in rebellion and liberated it, making it a literary center. However, following this, the city was again conquered by the neo-Sumerian Ur-III dynasty, and held until Ur finally collapsed at the hands of the Elamites under Kindattu in ca. 2004 BC. At this time Susa again became an Elamite capital.
The Elamites under Shutruk-Nahhunte plundered the original stele bearing the Code of Hammurabi in ca. 1175 BC and took it to Susa, where it was found in 1901. However, Nebuchadrezzar I of the Babylonian empire managed to plunder Susa in return, around fifty years later.
In 647 BCE, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal leveled the city during a war in which the people of Susa apparently participated on the other side. A tablet unearthed in 1854 by Austen Henry Layard in Nineveh reveals Ashurbanipal as an "avenger", seeking retribution for the humiliations the Elamites had inflicted on the Mesopotamians over the centuries:
"Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed... I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt.
The city forms the setting of The Persians (472 BCE), an Athenian tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus that is the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre. The city lost some of its importance when Alexander of Macedon conquered it in 331 BCE and destroyed the first Persian Empire. After Alexander, Susa fell to the Seleucid Empire and was renamed Seleukeia.
Approximately one century later when Parthia gained its independence from the Seleucid Empire, Susa was made one of the two capitals (along with Ctesiphon) of the new state. Susa became a frequent place of refuge for Parthian and later, the Persian Sassanid kings, as the Romans sacked Ctesiphon five different times between 116 and 297 CE. Typically, the Parthian rulers wintered in Susa, and spent the summer in Ctesiphon.
The Roman emperor Trajan captured Susa in 116, but was soon forced to withdraw, because of revolts to his rear. This advance marked the easternmost penetration by the Romans.
Susa was destroyed at least three times in its history. The first was in 647 BCE, by Assurbanipal. The second destruction took place in 638 CE, when the Muslim armies first conquered Persia. Finally, in 1218, the city was completely destroyed by invading Mongols. The ancient city was gradually abandoned in the years that followed.