The Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE), sometimes known as First Persian Empire, was an empire in Southwest Asia, founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation. It expanded to eventually rule over significant portions of the ancient world which at around 500 BCE stretched from the Indus Valley in the east, to Thrace and Macedon on the northeastern border of Greece making it the biggest empire the world had yet seen. The Achaemenid Empire would eventually control Egypt as well. It was ruled by a series of monarchs who unified its disparate tribes and nationalities by constructing a complex network of roads.
Calling themselves the Parsa after their original Aryan tribal name Parsua, Persians settled in a land which they named Parsua, bounded on the west by the Tigris River and on the south by the Persian Gulf. This became their heartland for the duration of the Achaemenid Empire. It was from this region that eventually Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II of Persia) would advance to defeat the Median, the Lydian, and the Babylonian Empires, opening the way for subsequent conquests into Egypt and Asia minor.
At the height of its power after the conquest of Egypt, the empire encompassed approximately 8 million km2 spanning three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. At its greatest extent, the empire included the modern territories of Iran, Turkey, parts of Central Asia, Pakistan, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Afghanistan, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and all significant population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya. It is noted in Western history as the antagonist foe of the Greek city states during the Greco-Persian Wars, for emancipation of slaves including the Jewish people from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting infrastructures such as a postal system, road systems, and the usage of an official language throughout its territories. The empire had a centralized, bureaucratic administration under the Emperor and a large professional army and civil services, inspiring similar developments in later empires.
Traditional view is that the Persian Empire's vast size and its extraordinary ethnocultural diversity would prove to be its undoing as delegation of power to local governments would eventually weaken the king's central authority, causing much energy and resources to be wasted in attempts to subdue local rebellions explaining why when Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon) invaded Persia in 334 BCE he was faced by a disunified realm under a weak monarch, ripe for destruction.
This viewpoint however is challenged by some modern scholars who argue that the Achaemenid Empire was not facing any such crisis around the time of Alexander, and that only internal succession struggles within the Achaemenid family ever came close to weakening the Empire. Alexander, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, would eventually cause the collapse of the empire and its disintegration around 330 BCE into what later became the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence at that time. The Iranian Culture of the central plateau, however, continued to thrive and eventually reclaimed power by the 2nd century BCE.
The historical mark of the Achaemenid Empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well. Many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by, or allied to the Persian kings. The impact of Cyrus the Great's Edict of Restoration is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts and the empire was instrumental in the spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China. Even Alexander the Great, the man who would set out to conquer this vast empire, would respect its customs, by enforcing respect for the royal Persian kings including Cyrus the Great, and even by appearing in proskynesis, a Persian royal custom, despite stern Macedonian disapproval.
The Persian empire would also set the tone for the politics, heritage and history of modern Persia (now called Iran). The influence also encompasses Persia's previous territories collectively referred to as the Greater Persia. A notable engineering achievement is the Qanat water management system, the oldest and longest of which is older than 3000 years and longer than 44 miles (71 km.)
In 480 BCE, it is estimated that 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire or about 44% of the world's population at the time, making it the largest ever empire by population in percentage terms.
Cyrus II of Persia (c. 600 BC or 576 BC-530 BC), commonly known as Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia, parts of Europe and the Caucasus. From the Mediterranean sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen.
The reign of Cyrus the Great lasted between 29 and 31 years. Cyrus built his empire by conquering first the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Either before or after Babylon, he led an expedition into central Asia, which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought "into subjection every nation without exception". Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in December 530 BC. He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who managed to add to the empire by conquering Egypt, Nubia, and Cyrenaica during his short rule.
Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. It is said that in universal history, the role of the Achaemenid empire founded by Cyrus lies in its very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects. In fact, the administration of the empire through satraps and the vital principle of forming a government at Pasargadae were the works of Cyrus. Cyrus the Great also left a lasting legacy on the Jewish religion through his Edict of Restoration, where because of his policies in Babylonia, he is referred to by the people of the Jewish faith, as "the anointed of the Lord" or a "Messiah".
Cyrus the Great is also well recognized for his achievements in human rights, politics, and military strategy, as well as his influence on both Eastern and Western civilizations. Having originated from Persis, roughly corresponding to the modern Iranian province of Fars, Cyrus has played a crucial role in defining the national identity of modern Iran. Cyrus and, indeed, the Achaemenid influence in the ancient world also extended as far as Athens, where many Athenians adopted aspects of the Achaemenid Persian culture as their own, in a reciprocal cultural exchange.
The best-known date for the birth of Cyrus the Great is either 600-599 BC or 576-575 BC. Little is known of his early years, as there are only a few sources known to detail that part of his life, and they have been damaged or lost.
Herodotus's story of Cyrus's early life belongs to a genre of legends in which abandoned children of noble birth, such as Oedipus and Romulus and Remus, return to claim their royal positions. Similar to other culture's heroes and founders of great empires, folk traditions abound regarding his family background. According to Herodotus, he was the grandson of the Median king Astyages and was brought up by humble herding folk. In another version, he was presented as the son of a poor family that worked in the Median court. These folk stories are, however, contradicted by Cyrus's own testimony, according to which he was preceded as king of Persia by his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
After the birth of Cyrus the Great, Astyages had a dream that his Magi interpreted as a sign that his grandson would eventually overthrow him. He then ordered his steward Harpagus to kill the infant. Harpagus, morally unable to kill a newborn, summoned the Mardian Mitradates (which the historian Nicolaus of Damascus calls Atradates), a royal bandit herdsman from the mountainous region bordering the Saspires, and ordered him to leave the baby to die in the mountains. Luckily, the herdsman and his wife (whom Herodotus calls Cyno in Greek, and Spaca-o in Median) took pity and raised the child as their own, passing off their recently stillborn infant as the murdered Cyrus.
For the origin of Cyrus the Great's mother, Herodotus identifies Mandane of Media, and Ctesias insists that she is fully Persian but gives no name, while Nicolaus gives the name "Argoste" as Atradates's wife; whether this figure represents Cyno or Cambyses's unnamed Persian queen has yet to be determined. It is also noted that Strabo has said that Cyrus was originally named Agradates by his stepparents; therefore, it is probable that, when reuniting with his original family, following the naming customs, Cyrus's father, Cambyses I, names him Cyrus after his grandfather, who was Cyrus I.
Herodotus claims that when Cyrus the Great was ten years old, it was obvious that Cyrus was not a herdsman's son, stating that his behavior was too noble. Astyages interviewed the boy and noticed that they resembled each other. Astyages ordered Harpagus to explain what he had done with the baby, and, after Harpagus confessed that he had not killed the boy, Astyages tricked him into eating his own broiled and chopped up son. Astyages was more lenient with Cyrus and allowed him to return to his biological parents, Cambyses and Mandane. While Herodotus's description may be a legend, it does give insight into the figures surrounding Cyrus the Great's early life.
Cyrus the Great had a wife named Cassandane. She was an Achaemenian and daughter of Pharnaspes. From this marriage, Cyrus had four children: Cambyses II, Bardiya (Smerdis), Atossa, and another daughter whose name is not attested in the ancient sources. Also, Cyrus had a fifth child named Artystone, the sister or half-sister of Atossa, who may not have been the daughter of Cassandane. Cyrus the Great had a specially dear love for Cassandane. Cassandane also loved Cyrus to the point that on her death bed she is noted as having found it more bitter to leave Cyrus, than to depart her life.
According to the Chronicle of Nabonidus, when Cassandane died, all the nations of Cyrus's empire observed "a great mourning", and, particularly in Babylonia, there was probably even a public mourning lasting for six days (identified from 21-26 March 538 BC). Her tomb is suggested to be at Cyrus's capital, Pasargadae. There are other accounts suggesting that Cyrus the Great also married a daughter of the Median king Astyages, named Amytis. This name may not be the correct one, however. Cyrus probably had married once, after the death of Cassandane, to a Median woman in his royal family. Cyrus the Great's son Cambyses II would become the king of Persia, and his daughter Atossa would marry Darius the Great and bear him Xerxes I.
Though his father died in 551 BC, Cyrus the Great had already succeeded to the throne in 559 BC; however, Cyrus was not yet an independent ruler. Like his predecessors, Cyrus had to recognize Median overlordship. During Astyages's reign, the Median Empire may have ruled over the majority of the Ancient Near East, from the Lydian frontier in the west to the Parthians and Persians in the east.
In Herodotus's version, Harpagus, seeking vengeance, convinced Cyrus to rally the Persian people to revolt against their feudal lords, the Medes. However, it is likely that both Harpagus and Cyrus rebelled due to their dissatisfaction with Astyages's policies. From the start of the revolt in summer 553 BC, with his first battles taking place from early 552 BC, Harpagus, with Cyrus, led his armies against the Medes until the capture of Ecbatana in 549 BC, effectively conquering the Median Empire.
While Cyrus the Great seems to have accepted the crown of Media, by 546 BC, he officially assumed the title "King of Persia" instead. With Astyages out of power, all of his vassals (including many of Cyrus's relatives) were now under his command. His uncle Arsames, who had been the king of the city-state of Parsa under the Medes, therefore would have had to give up his throne. However, this transfer of power within the family seems to have been smooth, and it is likely that Arsames was still the nominal governor of Parsa, under Cyrus's authority - more of a Prince or a Grand Duke than a King. His son, Hystaspes, who was also Cyrus's second cousin, was then made satrap of Parthia and Phrygia. Cyrus the Great thus united the twin Achamenid kingdoms of Parsa and Anshan into Persia proper. Arsames would live to see his grandson become Darius the Great, Shahanshah of Persia, after the deaths of both of Cyrus's sons. Cyrus' conquest of Media was merely the start of his wars.
The exact dates of the Lydian conquest are unknown, but it must have taken place between Cyrus's overthrow of the Median kingdom (550 BC) and his conquest of Babylon (539 BC). It was common in the past to give 547 BC as the year of the conquest due to some interpretations of the Nabonidus Chronicle, but this position is currently not much held. The Lydians first attacked the Achaemenid Empire's city of Pteria in Cappadocia. Croesus besieged and captured the city enslaving its inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Persians invited the citizens of Ionia who were part of the Lydian kingdom to revolt against their ruler. The offer was rebuffed, and thus Cyrus levied an army and marched against the Lydians, increasing his numbers while passing through nations in his way. The Battle of Pteria was effectively a stalemate, with both sides suffering heavy casualties by nightfall. Croesus retreated to Sardis the following morning.
While in Sardis, Croesus sent out requests for his allies to send aid to Lydia. However, near the end of the winter, before the allies could unite, Cyrus the Great pushed the war into Lydian territory and besieged Croesus in his capital, Sardis. Shortly before the final Battle of Thymbra between the two rulers, Harpagus advised Cyrus the Great to place his dromedaries in front of his warriors; the Lydian horses, not used to the dromedaries' smell, would be very afraid. The strategy worked; the Lydian cavalry was routed. Cyrus defeated and captured Croesus. Cyrus occupied the capital at Sardis, conquering the Lydian kingdom in 546 BC. According to Herodotus, Cyrus the Great spared Croesus's life and kept him as an advisor, but this account conflicts with some translations of the contemporary Nabonidus Chronicle (the King who was himself subdued by Cyrus the Great after conquest of Babylonia), which interpret that the king of Lydia was slain.
Before returning to the capital, a Lydian named Pactyas was entrusted by Cyrus the Great to send Croesus' treasury to Persia. However, soon after Cyrus's departure, Pactyas hired mercenaries and caused an uprising in Sardis, revolting against the Persian satrap of Lydia, Tabalus. With recommendations from Croesus that he should turn the minds of the Lydian people to luxury, Cyrus sent Mazares, one of his commanders, to subdue the insurrection but demanded that Pactyas be returned alive. Upon Mazares's arrival, Pactyas fled to Ionia, where he had hired more mercenaries. Mazares marched his troops into the Greek country and subdued the cities of Magnesia and Priene. The end of Pactyas is unknown, but after capture, he was probably sent to Cyrus and put to death after a succession of tortures.
Mazares continued the conquest of Asia Minor but died of unknown causes during his campaign in Ionia. Cyrus sent Harpagus to complete Mazares's conquest of Asia Minor. Harpagus captured Lycia, Cilicia and Phoenicia, using the technique of building earthworks to breach the walls of besieged cities, a method unknown to the Greeks. He ended his conquest of the area in 542 BC and returned to Persia.
By the year 540 BC, Cyrus captured Elam (Susiana) and its capital, Susa.
Situated just to the east of Mesopotamia, Elam was part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic period (Copper Age). The emergence of written records from around 3000 BC also parallels Mesopotamian history where writing was used slightly earlier. In the Old Elamite period (Middle Bronze Age), Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands. Its culture played a crucial role in the Gutian Empire, especially during the Achaemenid dynasty that succeeded it, when the Elamite language remained among those in official use. Elamite is generally treated as an isolate language.
The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the battle(s), Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the conflict had begun possibly in the winter of 540 BC. Near the beginning of October, Cyrus fought the Battle of Opis in or near the strategic riverside city of Opis on the Tigris, north of Babylon. The Babylonian army was routed, and on October 10, Sippar was seized without a battle, with little to no resistance from the populace. It is probable that Cyrus engaged in negotiations with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years.
Two days later, on October 7 (proleptic Gregorian calendar), Gubaru's troops entered Babylon, again without any resistance from the Babylonian armies, and detained Nabonidus. Herodotus explains that to accomplish this feat, the Persians, using a basin dug earlier by the Babylonian queen Nitokris to protect Babylon against Median attacks, diverted the Euphrates river into a canal so that the water level dropped "to the height of the middle of a man's thigh", which allowed the invading forces to march directly through the river bed to enter at night. On October 29, Cyrus himself entered the city of Babylon and detained Nabonidus.
Prior to Cyrus's invasion of Babylon, the Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered many kingdoms. In addition to Babylonia itself, Cyrus probably incorporated its subnational entities into his Empire, including Syria, Judea, and Arabia Petraea, although there is no direct evidence of this fact.
After taking Babylon, Cyrus the Great proclaimed himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world" in the famous Cyrus cylinder, an inscription deposited in the foundations of the Esagila temple dedicated to the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. The text of the cylinder denounces Nabonidus as impious and portrays the victorious Cyrus pleasing the god Marduk. It describes how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries. Although some have asserted that the cylinder represents a form of human rights charter, historians generally portray it in the context of a long-standing Mesopotamian tradition of new rulers beginning their reigns with declarations of reforms.
Superimposed on modern borders, the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus's rule extended approximately from Turkey, Israel, Georgia and Arabia in the west to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Indus River (Pakistan) and Oman in the east. Cyrus the Great's dominions comprised the largest empire the world had ever seen. At the end of Cyrus's rule, the Achaemenid Empire stretched from Asia Minor in the west to the northwestern areas of India in the east.
Darius I, also known as Darius the Great, was the third king of the Achaemenid Empire. Darius I was the greatest of all the Persian kings. He extended the empires borders into India and Europe. He also fought two wars with the Greeks which were disastrous.
Darius established a government which became a model for many future governments:
Darius held the empire at its peak, then including the entire Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Romania-Panonia), portions of north and northeast Africa including Egypt (Mudraya), eastern Libya, coastal Sudan, Eritrea), as well as northeast portions of and greater India (Pakistan and northwest India), the Aegean Islands and northern Greece/Thrace-Macedonia.
Darius ascended the throne by overthrowing the alleged magus usurper of Bardiya with the assistance of six other Persian noble families; Darius was crowned the following morning. The new king met with rebellions throughout his kingdom and quelled them each time. A major event in Darius's life was his expedition to punish Athens and Eretria for their aid in the Ionian Revolt and subjugate Greece. Darius expanded his empire by conquering Thrace and Macedon and invading Scythia, home of the Scythians, nomadic tribes who invaded Media and had previously killed Cyrus the Great.
Darius organized the empire by dividing it into provinces and placing satraps to govern it. He organized a new uniform monetary system, along with making Aramaic the official language of the empire. Darius also worked on construction projects throughout the empire, focusing on Susa, Pasargadae, Persepolis, Babylon and Egypt. Darius devised a codification of laws for Egypt. He also had the cliff-face Behistun Inscription carved, an autobiography of great modern linguistic significance. Darius also started many massive architectural projects, including magnificent palaces in Persepolis and Susa.
Darius was born as the eldest of five sons to Hystaspes and Rhodugune in 550 BCE. Hystaspes was a leading figure of authority in Persia, which was the homeland of the Persians. Darius' inscription states that his father was satrap of Bactria in 522 BCE. According to Herodotus, Hystaspes was the satrap of Persis, although most historians state that this is an error. Also according to Herodotus (III.139), Darius, prior to seizing power and "of no consequence at the time", had served as a spearman (doryphoros) in the Egyptian campaign (528-525 BCE) of Cambyses II, then the Persian Great King. Hystaspes was an officer in Cyrus' army and a noble of his court.
Before Cyrus and his army crossed the Aras River to battle with northern tribes, he installed his son Cambyses II as king in case he should not return from battle. However, once Cyrus had crossed the Aras River he had a dream with a vision of Darius in which he had wings atop his shoulders and stood upon the confines of Europe and Asia (the whole known world). When Cyrus awoke from the dream, he inferred it as a great danger to the future security of the empire, as it meant that Darius would one day rule the whole world. However, his son Cambyses was the heir to the throne, not Darius, causing Cyrus to wonder if Darius was forming treasonable and ambitious designs. This led Cyrus to order Hystaspes to go back to Persis and watch over his son strictly, until Cyrus himself returned. Darius did not seem to have any treasonous thoughts as Cambyses II ascended the throne peacefully, and through promotion Darius was eventually elevated to Cambyses' personal lancer.
The rise of Darius to the throne contains two variations, an account from Darius and another other from Greek historians. Some modern historians have inferred that Darius' rise to power might have been illegitimate. To them, it seems likely that Gaumata was in fact Bardiya, and that under cover of revolts, Darius killed the heir to the throne and took it himself.
Darius' account, written at the Behistun Inscription states that Cambyses II killed his own brother Bardiya, but that this murder was not known among the Iranian people. A would-be usurper named Gaumata came and lied to the people, stating he was Bardiya. The Iranians had grown rebellious against Cambyses' rule and on 11 March 522 BCE a revolt against Cambyses broke out in his absence. On 1 July, the Iranian people chose to be under the leadership of Gaumata, as "Bardiya". No member of the Achamenid family would rise against Gaumata for the safety of their own life. Darius, who had served Cambyses as his lance-bearer until the deposed ruler's death, prayed for aid and in September 522 BCE, along with Otanes, Intraphrenes, Gobryas, Hydarnes, Megabyxus and Aspathines, killed Gaumata in the fortress of Sikayauvati.
Several days after Gaumata had been assassinated, Darius and the other seven nobles discussed the fate of the empire. At first, the seven discussed the form of government; a democratic republic was strongly pushed by Otanes, a oligarchy was pushed by Megazybus, while Darius pushed for a monarchy. After stating that a republic would lead to corruption and internal fighting, while a monarchy would be led with a single-mindedness, not possible in other governments, Darius was able to convince the other nobles that a monarchy was the correct form of government.
To decide who would become the monarch, the six nobles (Otanes stated that he had no interest in becoming king) decided on a test. All six nobles would gather outside mounted on their horses at sunrise, and the nobles' horse which neighed first would become Great King. According to Herodotus, Darius had a slave, Oebares who helped Darius win this contest. Before the contest, Oebares rubbed his hand over the genitals of a mare that Darius' horse had a fondness for. When the six nobles gathered outside, Oebares placed his hands beside the nostrils of Darius' horse, who became excited at the smell and neighed.
Immediately after, lightning and thunder occurred leading the other six noblemen to believe to be an act of God, causing them to dismount and kneel before Darius. Darius did not believe that he had achieved the throne through fraud but through brilliant sagacity, even erecting a statue of himself mounted on his neighing horse stating "Darius, son of Hystaspes, obtained the sovereignty of Persia by the sagacity of his horse and the ingenious contrivance of Oebases, his groom."
According to the accounts of Greek historians, Cambyses II had left Patizeithes in charge of the kingdom when he headed for Egypt. He later sent Prexaspes to murder Bardiya. After the killing, Patizeithes put his brother Gaumata, a Magian who resembled Bardiya, on the throne and declared him the Great King. Otanes discovered that Gaumata was an impostor, and along with six other Iranian nobles including Darius, created a plan to oust the pseudo-Bardiya. After killing the impostor along with his brother Patizeithes and other Magians, Darius was crowned king the following morning.
Following his coronation at Pasargadae, Darius moved to Ecbatana. He soon learned that support for Bardiya was strong, and revolts in Elam and Babylonia had broken out. Darius ended the Elamite revolt when the revolutionary leader Aschina was captured and executed in Susa, after three months the revolt in Babylonia had ended. While in Babylonia, Darius learned a revolution had broken out in Bactria, a satrapy which had always been in favour of Darius, and had initially volunteered an army of soldiers to quell revolts. Following this, revolts broke out in Persis, the homeland of the Persians and Darius. These new revolts led to a renewed revolt in Elam and Babylonia. With all these ongoing revolts, revolts broke out in Media, Parthia, Assyria, and Egypt. By 522 BCE, the majority, if not the entire Achaemenid Empire was revolting against Darius and in turmoil. Even though Darius did not have the support of the populace, Darius had a loyal army, led by close confidants and nobles (including the six nobles with whom he removed Gaumata) with whom he was able to suppress and quell all revolts within a year. In Darius' words, he had killed a total of eight "lying kings" through the quelling of revolutions. Darius left a detailed account of these revolutions at the Behistun Inscription.
Early in his reign, Darius wanted to organize the loosely organized empire with a system of taxation he inherited from Cyrus and Cambyses. To do this, Darius created twenty provinces called satrapies (or archi) which were each assigned to a satrap(archon) and specified fixed tributes that the satrapies were required to pay. A complete list is preserved in the catalog of Herodotus, beginning from Ionia and listing the other satrapies from west to east excluding Persis which was the land of the Persians and the only province which was not a conquered land. Tributes were paid in both silver and gold talents.
Tributes in silver from each satrap were measured with the Babylonian talent. Those paid in gold were measured with the Euboic talent. The total tribute from the satraps came to an amount less than 15,000 silver talents.
The majority of the satraps were of Persian origin and were members of the royal house or the six great noble families. These satraps were personally picked by Darius to monitor these provinces, which were divided into sub-provinces with their own governors which were chosen either by the royal court or by the satrap. To assess tributes, a commission evaluated the expenses and revenues of each satrap. To ensure that one person did not gain too much power, each satrap had a secretary who observed the affairs of the state and communicated with Darius, a treasurer who safeguarded provincial revenues and a garrison commander who was responsible for the troops. Additionally, royal inspectors who were the "eyes and ears" of Darius completed further checks over each satrap.
There were headquarters of imperial administration at Persepolis, Susa, and Babylon while Bactria, Ecbatana, Sardis, Dascyclium and Memphis also had branches of imperial administration. Darius chose Aramaic as a common language, which soon spread throughout the empire. However, Darius gathered a group of scholars to create a separate language system only used for Persis and the Persians, which was called Aryan script which was only used for official inscriptions.
Darius conducted the introduction of a universal currency, the daric sometime before 500 BCE. Darius applied the coinage system as a transnational currency to regulate trade and commerce throughout his empire. The daric was also recognized beyond the borders of the empire - in places such as Celtic Central Europe and Eastern Europe. There were two types of darics, a gold and a silver. Only the king could mint gold darics, important generals and satraps minted silver darics, the latter usually to recruit Greek mercenaries in Anatolia. The daric was a major boost to international trade, trade goods such as textiles, carpets, tools and metal objects began to travel throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. To further improve trade, Darius built a royal highway, a postal system and Phoenician-based commercial shipping.
The daric also improved government revenues as the introduction of the daric led to new taxes on land, livestock and marketplaces. This also led to the registration of land. It was measured and taxed accordingly. The increased government revenues helped maintain and improve existing infrastructure. The increased government revenues also helped fund irrigation projects in dry lands. This new tax system also led to the formation of state banking and the creation of banking firms. One of the most famous banking firms was Murashu and Sons, based in Nippur. These banking firms provided loans and credit to clients.
The daric was called darayaka within the empire and was most likely named after Darius. In an effort to further improve trade, Darius built canals, underground waterways and a powerful navy. He further improved and expanded the network of roads and waystations throughout the empire, so that there was a system of travel authorization for the King, satraps and other high officials, which entitled the traveller to draw provisions at daily stopping places.
According to A. T. Olmstead's book History of the Persian Empire, Darius the Great's father Vishtaspa (Hystaspes) and mother Hutaosa (Atossa) knew the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) personally and were converted by him to the new religion he preached, Zoroastrianism.
While there is no absolute consensus on the kings before Darius, such as Cyrus and Cambyses, it is well established that Darius was an adherent of Zoroastrianism or at least a firm believer in Ahura Mazda. As can be seen at the Behistun Inscription (see below), Darius believed that Ahura Mazda had appointed him to rule the Achaemenid Empire. Darius had dualistic convictions and believed that each rebellion in his kingdom was the work of druj, the enemy of Asha. Darius believed that because he lived righteously by Asha, Ahura Mazda supported him. In many cuneiform inscriptions denoting his achievements, he presents himself as a devout believer, perhaps even convinced that he had a divine right to rule over the world.
In the lands that were conquered by his empire, Darius followed the same Achaemenid tolerance that Cyrus had shown and later Achaemenid emperors would show. He supported faiths and religions that were "alien" as long as the adherents were submissive and peaceable, sometimes giving them grants from his treasury for their purposes. He had funded the restoration of the Jewish temple which had originally been decreed by Cyrus the Great, presented favor towards Greek cults which can be seen in his letter to Gadatas, and supported Elamite priests. He had also observed Egyptian religious rites related to kingship and had built the temple for the Egyptian God, Amun.
During Darius's Greek expedition, he had begun construction projects in Susa, Egypt and Persepolis. He had linked the Red Sea to the river Nile by building a canal which ran from modern Zaqaziq to modern Suez. To open this canal, he traveled to Egypt in 497 BCE, where the inauguration was done among great fanfare and celebration. Darius also built a canal to connect the Red Sea and Mediterranean. On this visit to Egypt he erected monuments and executed Aryandes on accounts of treason. When Darius returned to Persis, he found that the codification of Egyptian law had been finished.
Additionally, Darius sponsored large construction projects in Susa, Babylon, Egypt and Persepolis. In Susa, Darius built a new palace complex in the north of the city. An inscription states that the palace was destroyed during the reign of Artaxerxes I, but was rebuilt. Today only glazed bricks of the palace remain, the majority of them in the Louvre. In Pasargadae Darius finished all incomplete construction projects from the reign of Cyrus the Great. A palace was also built during the reign of Darius, with an inscription in the name of Cyrus the Great. It was previously believed that Cyrus had constructed this building, however due to the cuneiform script being used, the palace is believed to have been constructed by Darius.
In Egypt Darius built many temples and restored those that had previously been destroyed. Even though Darius was a Zoroastrian, he built temples dedicated to the Gods of the Ancient Egyptian religion. Several temples found were dedicated to Ptah and Nekhbet. Darius also created several roads and routes in Egypt. The monuments that Darius built were often inscribed in the official languages of the Persian Empire, Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian and Egyptian hieroglyphs. To construct these monuments Darius hired a large number of workers and artisans of diverse nationalities. Several of these workers were deportees who had been employed specifically for these projects. These deportees enhanced the economy and improved international relations with neighboring countries that these deportees arrived from. At the time of Darius's death construction projects were still underway. Xerxes completed these works and in some cases expanded his father's projects by erecting new buildings of his own.
One of the significant events of Darius' early reign was the slaying of Intaphernes. Intaphernes was one of the seven noblemen who had deposed the previous ruler and installed Darius as the new monarch. The seven had made an agreement that they could all visit the new king whenever they pleased, except when he was with his wife. One evening, Intaphernes went to the palace to meet Darius, but was stopped by two officers who stated that Darius had retired for the night. Becoming enraged and insulted, Intaphernes drew his sword and cut off the ears and noses of the two officers. While leaving the palace, he took the bridle from his horse, and tied the two officers together. The officers went to the king and showed him what Intaphernes had done to them. Darius began to fear for his own safety; he thought that all seven noblemen had banded together to rebel against him and that the attack against his officers was the first sign of revolt. He sent a messenger to each of the noblemen, asking them if they approved of Intaphernes' actions; they denied it and disavowed any connection to Intaphernes' actions, stating that they stood by their decision to appoint Darius as King of Kings.
Taking precautions against further resistance, Darius sent soldiers to seize Intaphernes, along with his son, family members, relatives and any friends who were capable of arming themselves. Darius believed that Intaphernes was planning a rebellion, but when he was brought to the court, there was no proof of any such plan. Nonetheless, Darius killed Intaphernes' entire family, excluding his wife's brother and son. She was asked to choose between her brother and son. She chose her brother to live. Her reasoning for doing so was that she could have another husband and another son, but she would always have but one brother. Darius was impressed by her response and spared both her brother's and her son's life.
After securing his authority over the entire empire, Darius embarked on a campaign to Egypt where he defeated the armies of the Pharaoh and secured the lands that Cambyses had conquered while incorporating a large portion of Egypt into the Achaemenid Empire. Darius also led his armies to the Indus River, building fortresses and establishing Persian rule.
After Bardiya was murdered, widespread revolts occurred throughout the empire, especially on the eastern side. Darius asserted his position as king by force, taking his armies throughout the empire, suppressing each revolt individually. The most notable of all the revolts is the Babylonian revolt which was led by Nebuchadnezzar III. This revolt occurred when Otanes withdrew much of the army out of Babylon to aid Darius in suppressing other revolts. Darius felt that the Babylonian people had taken advantage of him and deceived him, which resulted in Darius gathering up a large army and marching to Babylon.
At Babylon, Darius was met with closed gates and a series of defenses to keep him and his armies out of Babylon. Darius encountered mockery and taunting from the rebels, including the famous saying "Oh yes, you will capture our city, when mules shall have foals." For a year and a half, Darius and his armies were unable to capture Babylon, though he attempted many tricks and strategies - even copying that which Cyrus the Great had employed when he captured Babylon. However, the situation changed in Darius's favor when, according to the story, a mule owned by Zopyrus, a high-ranking soldier, foaled. Following this, a plan was hatched for Zopyrus to pretend to be a deserter, enter the Babylonian camp, and gain the trust of the Babylonians. The plan was successful, and Darius' army eventually surrounded the city and overcame the rebels.
During this revolt, Scythian nomads took advantage of the disorder and chaos and invaded Persia. Darius first finished defeating the rebels in Elam, Assyria, and Babylon and then attacked the Scythian invaders. He pursued the invaders, who led him to a marsh; there he found no known enemies but an enigmatic Scythian tribe distinguished by their large pointy hats.
The Scythians were a group of north Iranian nomadic tribes, speaking a Indo-Iranian language who had invaded Media, killed Cyrus in battle, revolted against Darius and threatened to disrupt trade between Central Asia and the shores of the Black Sea as they lived between the Danube river, river Don and the Black Sea.
Darius crossed the Black Sea at the Bosphorus Straits using a bridge of boats. Darius conquered large portions of Eastern Europe - even crossing the Danube to wage war on the Scythians. Darius invaded Scythia, where the Scythians evaded Darius' army, using feints and retreating technique eastward while wasting the countryside, by blocking wells, intercepting convoys, destroying pastures and continuous skirmishes against Darius' army. Seeking to fight with the Scythians, Darius' army chased the Scythian army deep into Scythian lands, where there were no cities to conquer and no supplies to forage. In frustration Darius sent a letter to the Scythian ruler Idanthyrsus to fight or surrender.
The ruler replied that he would not stand and fight with Darius until they found the graves of their fathers and tried to destroy them - until then, they could continue their current technique as they had no cities or cultivated lands to lose. Darius ordered a halt at the banks of Oarus, where he built eight frontier fortresses spaced at intervals of eight miles. After chasing the Scythians for a month, Darius' army was suffering losses due to fatigue, privation and sickness. In fear of losing more troops, he halted the march at the banks of the Volga River and headed towards Thrace. He had conquered enough territory of Scythia to force the Scythians to respect the Persian forces.
Darius's European expedition was a major event in his reign, which began with the invasion of Thrace, after which he left Megabyzus to conquer Thrace, returning to Sardis to spend the winter. Before returning, Darius also conquered many cities of the northern Aegean, while Macedonia submitted voluntarily. The Asiatic Greeks and Greek islands had submitted to Persian rule by 510 BCE. Nonetheless, there were certain Greeks who were pro-Persian, such as the medizing Greeks, which were largely grouped at Athens. This improved Greek-Persian relations as Darius opened his court and treasuries to the Greeks who wanted to serve him. These Greeks served as soldiers, artisans, statesmen and mariners for Darius; however, Greek fear of the strength of Darius' kingdom became strong and the constant interference by the Greeks in Ionia and Lydia were all stepping stones in the conflict that was yet to come between Persia and Greece.
When Aristagoras organized the Ionian revolt, Eretria and Athens supported him by sending ships and troops to Ionia and burning Sardis. Persian military and naval operations to quell the revolt ended in the Persian reoccupation of Ionian and Greek islands; however, anti-Persian parties gained more power in Athens, and pro-Persian aristocrats were exiled from Athens and Sparta. Darius responded by sending troops led by his son-in-law across the Hellespont; however, a violent storm and harassment by Thracians forced the troops to return to Persia. Seeking revenge on Athens and Eretria, Darius assembled another army of 20,000 men under his Admiral, Datis who met success when he captured Eretria and advanced to Marathon. In 490 BCE, at the Battle of Marathon, the Persian army was defeated by a heavily armed Athenian army, with 9,000 men who were supported by 600 Plataeans, 1,000 soldiers from each of eleven Greek city-states (11,000 men in total) and 10,000 lightly armed soldiers led by Miltiades.
The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece. Darius began preparations for a second force which he would command, instead of his generals; however, before the preparations were complete, Darius died, thus leaving the task to his son Xerxes.
Darius was son of Hystaspes and grandson of Arschama I, both men belonging to the Achaemenid tribe, and being alive when Darius ascended the throne. Darius justifies his ascension to the throne with his lineage tracing back to Achaemenes, even though he was distantly related. For these reasons, Darius married Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, with whom he had four sons, Xerxes, Achaimenes, Masistes and Hystaspes. He also married Artystone, another daughter of Cyrus, with whom he had two sons, Arsames and Gobryas.
Darius also married Parmys, the daughter of Bardiya, with whom he had a son, Ariomardos. Furthermore, Darius married Phratagone, with whom he had two sons, Abrokomas and Hyperantes. He also married another woman of the nobility, Phaidime, the daughter of Otanes. It is unknown if he had children with her. Before these royal marriages, Darius married a commoner with whom he had three sons, Artobarzanes (the first born), Arabignes and Arsamenes, while daughters are not known. Although Artobarzanes was the first born of Darius, Xerxes became heir and next king through the influence of Atossa, who had great authority in the kingdom, as Darius loved her, of all of his wives, most.
After becoming aware of the Persian defeat at the Battle of Marathon, Darius began planning another expedition against the Greek-city states; this time, he, not Datis, would command the imperial armies. Darius had spent three years preparing men and ships for war, when a revolt broke out in Egypt. This revolt in Egypt worsened his failing health and prevented the possibility of leading another army himself. Soon Darius died. In October 486 BCE the body of Darius was embalmed and entombed in the rock-cut sepulcher which had been prepared for him several years earlier.
Xerxes, eldest son of Darius and Atossa, succeeded to the throne as Xerxes I; however, prior to Xerxes's accession, he contested the succession with his elder half-brother Artobazan, Darius' eldest son who was born to his commoner first wife before Darius rose to power.
In 1923 CE German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld made casts of the cuneiform inscriptions on Darius's tomb. They are currently housed in the archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
From the Behistun Inscription also called
The Stone Tablets of Darius the Great
The Persian Rosetta Stone
Darius left a tri-lingual monumental relief on Mount Behistun which was written in Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian between his coronation and his death. The inscription begins with a brief autobiography with his ancestry and lineage. To aid the presentation of his ancestry, Darius wrote down the sequence of events which occurred after the death of Cyrus the Great. Darius mentions several times that he is the rightful king by the grace of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian God. In addition, further texts and monuments from Persepolis have been found, including a fragmentary Old Iranian inscription from Gherla, Romania (Harmatta) and a letter from Darius to Gadates, preserved in a Greek text of the Roman period.
Herodotus, a Greek historian and author of The Histories, provided an account of many Persian kings and the Greco-Persian Wars. He wrote an extensive amount of information on Darius which spans half of book 3, along with books 4, 5 and 6. It begins with the removal of the alleged usurper Gaumata and continues to the end of Darius's reign.
The Book of Ezra (chapter 6, verse 1) describes the adoption and precise instructions to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. It was completed and inaugurated of the sixth year of Darius (March 515 BCE), as also related in the Book of Ezra (chapter 6, verse 15), so the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled. Between Cyrus and Darius, an exchange of letters with King Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes is described (chapter 4, verse 7), the grandson of Darius I, in whose reign Ezra and Nehemiah came to Jerusalem.
The generous funding of the temple gave Darius and his successors the support of the Jewish priesthood. There is mention of a Darius in the Book of Daniel, identified as Darius the Mede. He began ruling when he was 62 years old (chapter 5, verse 31), appointed 120 satraps to govern over their provinces or districts (chapter 6, verse 1), was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans (chapter 9, verse 1), and predated Cyrus (chapter 11, verse 1). Therefore, many scholars identify him with Cyaxares II rather than Darius I of Persia.
Xerxes I of Persia, also known as Xerxes the Great, (519 BC-465 BC), was the fourth king of the Achaemenid Empire.
Immediately after seizing the kingship, Darius I of Persia (son of Hystaspes) married Atossa (daughter of Cyrus the Great). They were both descendants of Achaemenes from different Achaemenid lines. Marrying a daughter of Cyrus strengthened Darius' position as king.
Darius was an active emperor, busy with building programs in Persepolis, Susa, Egypt, and elsewhere. Toward the end of his reign he moved to punish Athens, but a new revolt in Egypt (probably led by the Persian satrap) had to be suppressed. Under Persian law, the Achaemenian kings were required to choose a successor before setting out on such serious expeditions. Upon his great decision to leave (487-486 BC), Darius prepared his tomb at Naqsh-e Rostam and appointed Xerxes, his eldest son by Atossa, as his successor. Darius' failing health then prevented him from leading the campaigns, and he died in October 486 BC.
Xerxes was not the oldest son of Darius, and according to old Iranian traditions should not have succeeded the King. Xerxes was however the oldest son of Darius and Atossa hence descendent of Cyrus. This made Xerxes the chosen King of Persia. Some modern scholars also view the unusual decision of Darius to give the throne to Xerxes to be a result of his consideration of the unique positions that Cyrus the Great and his daughter Atossa have had.Artobazan was born to "Darius the subject", while Xerxes was the eldest son born in the purple after Darius' rise to the throne, and Artobazan's mother was a commoner while Xerxes' mother was the daughter of the founder of the empire.
Xerxes was crowned and succeeded his father in October-December 486 BC when he was about 36 years old. The transition of power to Xerxes was smooth due again in part to great authority of Atossa and his accession of royal power was not challenged by any person at court or in the Achaemenian family, or any subject nation.
Almost immediately, he suppressed the revolts in Egypt and Babylon that had broken out the year before, and appointed his brother Achaemenes as governor or satrap (Old Persian: khshathrapavan) over Egypt. In 484 BC, he outraged the Babylonians by violently confiscating and melting down the golden statue of Bel (Marduk, Merodach), the hands of which the rightful king of Babylon had to clasp each New Year's Day. This sacrilege led the Babylonians to rebel in 484 BC and 482 BC, so that in contemporary Babylonian documents, Xerxes refused his father's title of King of Babylon, being named rather as King of Persia and Media, Great King, King of Kings (Shahanshah) and King of Nations (i.e. of the world). Even though Herodotus' report in the Histories has created certain problems concerning Xerxes' religious beliefs, modern scholars consider him a Zoroastrian.
Darius died while in the process of preparing a second army to invade the Greek mainland, leaving to his son the task of punishing the Athenians, Naxians, and Eretrians for their interference in the Ionian Revolt, the burning of Sardis and their victory over the Persians at Marathon. From 483 BC Xerxes prepared his expedition: A channel was dug through the isthmus of the peninsula of Mount Athos, provisions were stored in the stations on the road through Thrace, two pontoon bridges later known as Xerxes' Pontoon Bridges were built across the Hellespont. Soldiers of many nationalities served in the armies of Xerxes, including the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Jews.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes' first attempt to bridge the Hellespont ended in failure when a storm destroyed the flax and papyrus cables of the bridges; Xerxes ordered the Hellespont (the strait itself) whipped three hundred times and had fetters thrown into the water. Xerxes' second attempt to bridge the Hellespont was successful. Xerxes concluded an alliance with Carthage, and thus deprived Greece of the support of the powerful monarchs of Syracuse and Agrigentum. Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians, especially Thessaly, Thebes and Argos. Xerxes set out in the spring of 480 BC from Sardis with a fleet and army which Herodotus exaggerated to be more than two million strong with at least 10,000 elite warriors named Persian Immortals. The actual Persian strength was around two to three hundred thousands. Xerxes was victorious during the initial battles.
The Battle of Thermopylae, a small force of Greek warriors led by King Leonidas of Sparta resisted the much larger Persian forces, but were ultimately defeated. According to Herodotus, the Persians broke the Spartan phalanx after a Greek man called Ephialtes betrayed his country by telling the Persians of another pass around the mountains. After Thermopylae, Athens was captured and the Athenians and Spartans were driven back to their last line of defense at the Isthmus of Corinth and in the Saronic Gulf.
What happened next is a matter of some controversy. According to Herodotus, upon encountering the deserted city, in an uncharacteristic fit of rage particularly for Persian kings, Xerxes had Athens burned. He almost immediately regretted this action and ordered it rebuilt the very next day. However, Persian scholars dispute this view as pan-Hellenic propaganda, arguing that Sparta, not Athens, was Xerxes' main foe in his Greek campaigns, and that Xerxes would have had nothing to gain by destroying a major center of trade and commerce like Athens once he had already captured it.
At that time, anti-Persian sentiment was high among many mainland Greeks, and the rumor that Xerxes had destroyed the city was a popular one, though it is equally likely the fire was started by accident as the Athenians were frantically fleeing the scene in pandemonium, or that it was an act of "scorched earth" warfare to deprive Xerxes' army of the spoils of the city.
At Artemisium, large storms had destroyed ships from the Greek side and so the battle stopped prematurely as the Greeks received news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. Xerxes was induced by the message of Themistocles (against the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus) to attack the Greek fleet under unfavorable conditions, rather than sending a part of his ships to the Peloponnesus and awaiting the dissolution of the Greek armies. The Battle of Salamis (September, 480 BC) was won by the Greek fleet, after which Xerxes set up a winter camp in Thessaly.
Due to unrest in Babylon, Xerxes was forced to send his army home to prevent a revolt, leaving behind an army in Greece under Mardonius, who was defeated the following year at Plataea. The Greeks also attacked and burned the remaining Persian fleet anchored at Mycale. This cut off the Persians from the supplies they needed to sustain their massive army, and they had no choice but to retreat. Their withdrawal roused the Greek city-states of Asia.
After the military blunders in Greece, Xerxes returned to Persia and completed the many construction projects left unfinished by his father at Susa and Persepolis. He built the Gate of all Nations and the Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis, which are the largest and most imposing structures of the palace. He completed the Apadana, the Palace of Darius and the Treasury all started by Darius as well as building his own palace which was twice the size of his father's. His taste in architecture was similar to that of Darius, though on an even more gigantic scale. He also maintained the Royal Road built by his father and completed the Susa Gate and built a palace at Susa.
In 465 BC, Xerxes was murdered by Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard and the most powerful official in the Persian court (Hazarapat/commander of thousand). He was promoted to this prestigious position in the Achamenid court through his successful withdrawal of the second Persian army from Greece, even though this involved refusing to help Mardonius in Plataea. Although Artabanus bore the same name as the famed uncle of Xerxes, a Hyrcanian, his rise to prominence was due to his popularity in religious quarters of the court and harem intrigues. He put his seven sons in key positions and had a plan to dethrone the Achamenids.
In August 465 BC, Artabanus assassinated Xerxes with the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres. Greek historians give contradicting accounts of events. According to Ctesias (in Persica 20), Artabanus then accused the Crown Prince Darius, Xerxes' eldest son, of the murder and persuaded another of Xerxes' sons, Artaxerxes, to avenge the patricide by killing Darius.
But according to Aristotle (in Politics 5.1311b), Artabanus killed Darius first and then killed Xerxes. After Artaxerxes discovered the murder he killed Artabanus and his sons. Participating in these intrigues was the general Megabyzus, whose decision to switch sides probably saved the Achamenids from losing their control of the Persian throne.
The Persian Empire is named after an Indo-European tribe called Parsua. The name Persia is a Latin pronunciation of the Indo-Iranian people Parsua who named their territorial borders Persis, after their tribal name, an area located north of the Persian Gulf and East of Tigris river referred to as Persis (or in Persian, Pars).
Despite its success and rapid expansion, Achaemenid Empire was not the first Iranian empire, as by sixth century BCE another group of ancient Iranians had already established the Median Empire. The term Achaemenid is in fact the Latinized version of the Old Persian name Haxamanis (a bahuvrihi compound translating to "having a friend's mind"), meaning in Greek "of the family of the Achaemenis." Despite the derivation of the name, Achaemenes was himself a minor seventh century ruler of the Anshan located in southwestern Iran. It was not until the time of Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II of Persia) a descendant of Achaemenes, that the Achaemenid empire developed the prestige of an empire, and set out to incorporate the existing empires of the ancient east, to become the vast Persian empire of which the ancient texts speak.
At some point in 550 BCE, Cyrus the Great rose in rebellion against the Median empire (most likely due to the Medes' mismanagement of Persis), eventually conquering the Medes and creating the first Persian empire. Cyrus the Great would utilize his tactical genius, as well as his understanding of the socio-political equations governing his territories, to eventually incorporate into the Persian empire the neighboring Lydian and Neo-Babylonian empires, and also leading the way for his successor, Cambyses II to venture into Egypt and defeat the Hittite Empire and the Egyptian Kingdom.
Cyrus the Great would reflect his political acumen in the management of his newly formed empire, as the Persian empire became the first to attempt to govern many different ethnic groups, on the principle of equal responsibilities, and rights for all people, so long as subjects paid their taxes and kept the peace. Additionally, the king would agree not to interfere with the local customs, religions, and trades of its subject states, a unique quality that eventually won Cyrus the support of the Babylonians. This system of management would ultimately become an issue for the Persians, as with a larger empire came the need for order and control, leading to expenditure of resources and mobilization of troops, to quell local rebellions, weakening the central power of the king. By the time of Darius III, this disorganization had almost led to a disunified realm.
The Persians from whom Cyrus hailed were originally nomadic pastoral people in the western Iranian plateau and by 850 BCE were calling themselves the Parsa and their constantly shifting territory Parsua for the most part localized around Persis (Pars). As Persians gained power, they developed the infrastructure to support their growing influence including creation of a capital named Pasargadae, and an opulent city named Persepolis.
Begun during the rule of Darius the Great (Darius I), and completed some 100 years later, Persepolis was a symbol of the empire serving both as a ceremonial centre and a center for government. It had a special set of gradually progressive stairways named "All Countries" around which carved relief decoration depicted scenes of heroism, hunting, natural themes, and presentation of the gifts to the Achaemenid kings by their subjects during the spring festival, Nowruz.
The core structure was composed of a multitude of square rooms or halls, the biggest of which was called Apadana. Tall, erect, decorated columns would often welcome visitors as well as impress them as to the size of the structure. Later on, Darius the Great (Darius I), would also utilize Susa and Ecbatana as his governmental centres, developing them into a similar metropolis status.
Account of the ancestral lineage of the Persian kings of the Achaemenid dynasty can be derived from either documented Greek or Roman accounts, or from existing documented Persian accounts, such as those found in the behistun Inscription. However, since most existing accounts of this vast empire are in works of Greek philosophers and historians, and since much of the original Persian documents are lost, not to mention varying scholarly views on their origin and possible motivations behind them, it is difficult to create a definitive and completely objective list.
Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II of Persia), and Darius the Great (Darius I of Persia), were critical in expansion of the empire. Cyrus the Great is often believed to be the son of Cambyses I, grandson of Cyrus I, father of Cambyses II, and a relative of Darius the Great, through a shared ancestor, Teispes. Cyrus the Great is also believed to have been a family member (possibly grandson) of the Median king Astyages through his mother, Mandana of Media. A minority of scholars argue that perhaps Achaemenes was a retrograde creation of Darius the Great, in order to reconcile his connection with Cyrus the Great, after gaining power.
Ancient Greek writers provide some legendary information about Achaemenes by calling his tribe the Pasargadae, and stating that he was "raised by an eagle". Plato, when writing about the Persians, identified Achaemenes with Perses, ancestor of the Persians in Greek mythology.
According to Plato, Achaemenes was the same person as Perses, a son of the Ethiopian queen Andromeda and the Greek hero Perseus, and a grandson of Zeus. Later writers believed that Achaemenes and Perses were different people, and that Perses was an ancestor of the king. This account further confirms that Achaemenes could well have been a significant Anshan leader and an ancestor of Cyrus the Great. Regardless, both Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great were related, prominent kings of Persia, under whose rule the empire expanded to include much of the ancient world.
The empire took its unified form with a central administration around Pasargadae erected by Cyrus the Great. The empire ended up conquering and enlarging the Median empire to include in addition Egypt and Asia Minor. During the reigns of Darius I and his son Xerxes I it engaged in military conflict with some of the major city-states of Ancient Greece, and although it came close to defeating the Greek army this war ultimately led to the empire's overthrow.
In 559 BCE, Cambyses I the Elder was succeeded as the king of Ansan by his son Cyrus II the Great, who also succeeded the still-living Arsames as the King of Persia, thus reuniting the two realms. Cyrus is considered to be the first true king of the Persian empire, as his predecessors were subservient to the Medes. Cyrus the Great conquered Media, Lydia, and Babylon. Cyrus was politically shrewd, modeling himself as the "savior" of conquered nations, often allowing displaced people to return, and giving his subjects freedom to practice local customs. To reinforce this image, he instituted policies of religious freedom, and restored temples and other infrastructure in the newly acquired cities. (Most notably the Jewish inhabitants of Babylon, as recorded in the Cyrus Cylinder and the Tanakh). As a result of his tolerant policies he came to be known by those of the Jewish faith, as "the anointed of the Lord."
His immediate successors were less successful. Cyrus' son Cambyses II conquered Egypt in 525 BCE, but died in July 522 BCE as the result of an injurious self-accident, during a revolt led by a sacerdotal clan that had lost its power following Cyrus' conquest of Media. According to Herodotus, Cambyses II had originally ventured into Egypt to take revenge for the pharaoh Amasis' trickery when he sent a fake Egyptian bride whose family Amasis had murdered, instead of his own daughter, to wed Cambyses II. Additionally negative reports of mistreatment caused by Amasis, given by Phanes of Halicarnassus, a wise council man serving Amasis, further enforced Cambyses's resolve to venture into Egypt. Amasis died before Cambyses II could face him, but his successor Psamtik III was defeated by Cambyses II in the Battle of Pelusium.
While Cambyses II was in Egypt, the Zoroastrian priests, whom Herodotus called Magi, usurped the throne for one of their own, Gaumata, who then pretended to be Cambyses II's younger brother Bardiya (Greek: Smerdis or Tanaoxares/Tanyoxarkes), who had been assassinated some three years earlier. Owing to the strict rule of Cambyses II, especially his stance on taxation, and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Perses, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68). Cambyses II himself would not be able to quell the imposters, as he died due to accidental injury on the way back from Egypt.
The claim that Gaumata had impersonated Bardiya (Smerdis), is derived from Darius the Great and the records at the Behistun Inscription. Historians are divided over the possibility that the story of the impostor was invented by Darius as justification for his coup. Darius made a similar claim when he later captured Babylon, announcing that the Babylonian king was not, in fact, Nebuchadnezzar III, but an impostor named Nidintu-bel.
According to the Behistun Inscription, Gaumata ruled for seven months before being overthrown in 522 BCE by Darius the Great (Darius I) (Old Persian Daryavus "Who Holds Firm the Good", also known as Darayarahush or Darius the Great). The Magi, though persecuted, continued to exist, and a year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (Gaumata), saw a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdata) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.
Herodotus writes that the native leadership debated the best form of government for the Empire. It was agreed that an oligarchy would divide them against one another, and democracy would bring about mob rule resulting in a charismatic leader resuming the monarchy. Therefore, they decided a new monarch was in order, particularly since they were in a position to choose him. Darius I was chosen monarch from among the leaders. He was cousin to Cambyses II and Bardiya (Smerdis), claiming Ariaramnes as his ancestor.
The Achaemenids thereafter consolidated areas firmly under their control. It was Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great who, by sound and farsighted administrative planning, brilliant military maneuvering, and a humanistic world view, established the greatness of the Achaemenids and, in less than thirty years, raised them from an obscure tribe to a world power. It was during the reign of Darius the Great (Darius I) that Persepolis was built (518-516 BCE) and which would serve as capital for several generations of Achaemenid kings. Ecbatana (Hagmatana "City of Gatherings", modern: Hamadan) in Media was greatly expanded during this period and served as the summer capital.
Darius the Great (Darius I) eventually attacked the Greek mainland, which had supported rebellious Greek colonies under his aegis; but as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Marathon, he was forced to pull the limits of his empire back to Asia Minor. Some scholars argue that in the context of history of the Near and Middle east in the first millennium, Alexander can be considered as the "last of the Achaemenids." This is partly because Alexander maintained more or less the same political structure, and borders as the previous Achaemenid kings.
Cyrus the Great founded the empire as a multi-state empire, governed by four capital states; Pasargadae, Babylon, Susa and Ekbatana. The Achaemenids allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A 'satrap' (governor) was the vassal king, who administered the region, a 'general' supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a 'state secretary' kept the official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the satrap as well as the central government. At differing times, there were between 20 and 30 satrapies.
Cyrus the Great created an organized army including the Immortals unit, consisting of 10,000 highly trained soldiers Cyrus also formed an innovative postal system throughout the empire, based on several relay stations called Chapar Khaneh.
Darius the Great moved the capital from Pasargadae to Persepolis; he revolutionized the economy by placing it on a silver and gold coinage and introducing a regulated and sustainable tax system that was precisely tailored to each satrapy, based on their supposed productivity and their economic potential.
For instance, Babylon was assessed for the highest amount and for a startling mixture of commodities - 1000 silver talents, four months supply of food for the army. India was clearly already fabled for its gold; the province (consisting of the sindh and western punjab regions of ancient northwestern India) was to supply gold dust equal in value to the very large amount of 4680 silver talents.
Egypt was known for the wealth of its crops; it was to be the granary of the Persian Empire (as later of Rome's) and was required to provide 120,000 measures of grain in addition to 700 talents of silver. This was exclusively a tax levied on subject peoples. Other accomplishments of Darius' reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system, and construction of a new capital at Persepolis.
Under the Achaemenids, the trade was extensive and there was an efficient infrastructure that facilitated the exchange of commodities in the far reaches of the empire. Tariffs on trade were one of the empire's main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute.
The satrapies were linked by a 2,500-kilometer highway, the most impressive stretch being the Royal Road from Susa to Sardis, built by command of Darius I. The relays of mounted couriers could reach the remotest of areas in fifteen days. Despite the relative local independence afforded by the satrapy system, royal inspectors, the "eyes and ears of the king", toured the empire and reported on local conditions. The king also maintained a personal bodyguard of the elite 10,000 Immortals when not at war.
The practice of slavery in Achaemenid Persia was generally banned, although there is evidence that conquered and/or rebellious armies were sold into captivity. Zoroastrianism, the de facto religion of the empire, explicitly forbids slavery, and the kings of Achaemenid Persia, especially the founder Cyrus the Great, followed this ban to varying degrees, as evidenced by the freeing of the Jews at Babylon, and the construction of Persepolis by paid workers. The vexilloid of the Achaemenid Empire was a gold falcon on a field of crimson.
Despite its humble origins in Persis, the empire reached an enormous size under the leadership of Cyrus the Great. Cyrus created a multi-state empire where he allowed regional rulers, called the 'satrap' to rule as his proxy over a certain designated area of his empire called the satrapy. The basic rule of governance was based upon loyalty and obedience of each satrapy to the central power, or the king, and compliance with tax laws.
Due to the ethnocultural diversity of the subject nations under the rule of Persia, its enormous geographic size, and the constant struggle for power by regional competitors, the creation of a professional army was necessary for both maintenance of the peace, and also to enforce the authority of the king in cases of rebellion and foreign threat.
Cyrus managed to create a strong land army, using it to advance in his campaigns in Babylonia, Lydia, and Asia Minor, which after his death was used by his son Cambyses II, in Egypt against Psamtik III. Cyrus would die battling a local Iranian insurgency in the empire, before he could have a chance to develop a naval force. That task however would fall to Darius the Great, who would officially give Persians their own royal navy to allow them to engage their enemies on multiple seas of this vast empire, from the Black sea, and the Aegean Sea, to the Persian Gulf, Ionian Sea, and the Mediterranean sea.
Since its foundation by Cyrus, the Persian empire had been primarily a land empire with a strong army, but void of any actual naval forces. By the fifth century BCE, this was to change, as the empire came across Greek, and Egyptian forces, each with their own maritime traditions and capabilities. Darius the Great (Darius I) is to be credited as the first Achaemenid king to invest in a Persian fleet.
Even by then no true "imperial navy" had existed either in Greece or Egypt. Persia would become the first empire, under Darius, to inaugurate and deploy the first regular imperial navy. Despite this achievement, the personnel for the imperial navy would not come from Iran, but were often Phoenicians (mostly from Sidon), Egyptians, Cypriots, and Greeks chosen by Darius the Great to operate the empire's combat vessels.
At first the ships were built in Sidon by the Phoenicians; the first Achaemenid ships measured about 40 meters in length and 6 meters in width, able to transport up to 300 Persian troops at any one trip. Despite origin of the technique of the arsenal and ship construction in Sidon, soon other states of the empire were constructing their own ships each incorporating slight local preferences.
The ships eventually found their way to the Persian Gulf. Persian naval forces laid the foundation for a strong Persian maritime presence in the Persian Gulf, that existed until the arrival of the British East India Company, and the Royal Navy in the mid-nineteenth century CE. Persians were not only stationed on islands of the Persian Gulf, but also had ships often of 100 to 200 capacity patrolling the empire's various rivers including the Shatt-al-Arab, Tigris and Nile in the west, as well as the Sind waterway in India.
The Achaemenid high naval command had established major naval bases located along the Shatt-al-Arab, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. The Persian fleet would soon not only be used for peace-keeping purposes along the Shatt al-Arab but would also open the door to trade with India via the Persian Gulf. Darius's navy was in many ways a world power at the time, but it would be Artaxerxes II who in the summer of 397 B.C.E would build a formidable navy, as part of a rearmament which would lead to his decisive victory at Knidos in 394 BCE, reestablishing Achaemenid power in Ionia. Artaxerxes II would also utilize his massive navy to later on quell a rebellion in Egypt.
The construction material of choice was wood, but some armored Achaemenid ships had metallic blades on the front, often meant to slice enemy ships using the ship's momentum. Naval ships were also equipted with hooks on the side to grab enemy ships, or to negotiate their position. The ships were propelled by sails or manpower. As far as maritime engagement, the ships were equipped with two mangonels that would launch projectiles such as stones, or flammable substances.
Xenophon describes his eye-witness account of a massive military bridge created by joining 37 Persian ships across the Tigris river. The Persians utilized each boat's buoyancy, in order to support a connected bridge above which supply could be transferred. Herodotus also gives many accounts of Persians utilizing ships to build bridges. Darius the Great, in an attempt to subdue the Scythian horsemen north of the Black sea, crossed over at the Bosphorus, using an enormous bridge made by connecting Achaemenid boats, then marched up to the Danube, crossing it by means of a second boat bridge. The bridge over the Bosphorus essentially connected the nearest tip of Asia to Europe, encompasing at least some 1000 meters of open water if not more. Herodotus describes the spectacle, and calls it the "bridge of Darius"
Years later, a similar boat bridge would be constructed by Xerxes the Great (Xerxes I), in his invasion of Greece. Although the Persians failed to capture the Greek city states completely, the tradition of maritime involvement was carried down by the Persian kings, most notably Artaxerxes II. Years later, when Alexander invaded Persia and during his advancement into India, he took a page from the Persian art of war, by having Hephaestion and Perdiccas construct a similar boat-bridge at the Indus river, in India in spring of 327 BCE.
Median (left) and Persian (right) soldiers
By the 5th century BCE the kings of Persia ruled over territories roughly encompassing today's Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Macedonia (ancient kingdom), Uzbekistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, many parts of Greece, Libya and northern parts of Arabia.
The Ionian Revolt in 499 BCE, and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria, were military rebellions by several regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from 499 to 493 BCE At the heart of the rebellion was the dissatisfaction of the Greek cities of Asia Minor with the tyrants appointed by Persia to rule them, along with the individual actions of two Milesian tyrants, Histiaeus and Aristagoras.
In 499 BCE, the then tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, launched a joint expedition with the Persian satrap Artaphernes to conquer Naxos, in an attempt to bolster his position in Miletus (both financially and in terms of prestige). The mission was a debacle, and sensing his imminent removal as tyrant, Aristagoras chose to incite the whole of Ionia into rebellion against the Persian king Darius the Great.
The Persians continued to reduce the cities along the west coast that still held out against them, before finally imposing a peace settlement in 493 BCE on Ionia that was generally considered to be both just and fair. The Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Achaemenid Empire, and as such represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars.
Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, but Darius had vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their support for the revolt. Moreover, seeing that the political situation in Greece posed a continued threat to the stability of his Empire, he decided to embark on the conquest of all of Greece. However, the Persian forces were defeated at the Battle of Marathon and Darius would die before having the chance to launch an invasion of Greece.
Xerxes I (485-465 BCE), son of Darius I, vowed to complete the job. He organized a massive invasion aiming to conquer Greece. His army entered Greece from the north, meeting little or no resistance through Macedonia and Thessaly, but was delayed by a small Greek force for three days at Thermopylae. A simultaneous naval battle at Artemisium was tactically indecisive as large storms destroyed ships from both sides. The battle was stopped prematurely when the Greeks received news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. The battle was a strategic victory for the Persians, giving them uncontested control of Artemisium and the Aegean Sea.
Following his victory at the Battle of Thermopylae, Xerxes sacked the evacuated city of Athens and prepared to meet the Greeks at the strategic Isthmus of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf. In 480 BCE the Greeks won a decisive victory over the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis and forced Xerxes to retire to Sardis. The land army which he left in Greece under Mardonius retook Athens but was eventually destroyed in 479 BCE at the Battle of Plataea. The final defeat of the Persians at Mycale encouraged the Greek cities of Asia to revolt, and marked the end of Persian expansion into Europe.
Xerxes I was followed by Artaxerxes I (465 - 424 BCE), who moved the capital from Persepolis to Babylon. It was during this reign that Elamite ceased to be the language of government, and Aramaic gained in importance. It was probably during this reign that the solar calendar was introduced as the national calendar. Under Artaxerxes I, Zoroastrianism became the de-facto religion of state, and for this Artaxerxes I is today also known as the Constantine of that faith.
Artaxerxes I died in Susa, and his body was brought to Persepolis for internment in the tomb of his forebears. Artaxerxes I was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Xerxes II, who was however assassinated by one of his half-brothers a few weeks later. Darius II rallied support for himself and marched eastwards, executing the assassin and was crowned in his stead.
From 412 Darius II (423-404 BCE), at the insistence of the able Tissaphernes, gave support first to Athens, then to Sparta, but in 407 BCE, Darius' son Cyrus the Younger was appointed to replace Tissaphernes and aid was given entirely to Sparta which finally defeated Athens in 404 BCE In the same year, Darius fell ill and died in Babylon. At his deathbed, his Babylonian wife Parysatis pleaded with Darius to have her second eldest son Cyrus (the Younger) crowned, but Darius refused.
Darius was then succeeded by his eldest son Artaxerxes II Memnon. Plutarch relates (probably on the authority of Ctesias) that the displaced Tissaphernes came to the new king on his coronation day to warn him that his younger brother Cyrus (the Younger) was preparing to assassinate him during the ceremony. Artaxerxes had Cyrus arrested and would have had him executed if their mother Parysatis had not intervened. Cyrus was then sent back as Satrap of Lydia, where he prepared an armed rebellion. Cyrus and Artaxerxes met in the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BCE, where Cyrus was killed.
Artaxerxes II (404-358 BCE), was the longest reigning of the Achaemenid kings and it was during this 45-year period of relative peace and stability that many of the monuments of the era were constructed. Artaxerxes moved the capital back to Persepolis, which he greatly extended. Also the summer capital at Ecbatana was lavishly extended with gilded columns and roof tiles of silver and copper (Polybius, 27 October 2012).
The extraordinary innovation of the Zoroastrian shrine cults can also be dated to his reign, and it was probably during this period that Zoroastrianism was disseminated throughout Asia Minor and the Levant, from Armenia. The temples, though serving a religious purpose, were however not a purely selfless act: they also served as an important source of income.
From the Babylonian kings, the Achaemenids had taken over the concept of a mandatory temple tax, a one-tenth tithe which all inhabitants paid to the temple nearest to their land or other source of income (Dandamaev & Lukonin, 1989:361-362). A share of this income called the quppu sa sari, "kings chest" - an ingenious institution originally introduced by Nabonidus - was then turned over to the ruler. In retrospect, Artaxerxes is generally regarded as an amiable man who lacked the moral fibre to be a really successful ruler. However, six centuries later Ardeshir I, founder of the second Persian Empire, would consider himself Artaxerxes' successor, a grand testimony to the importance of Artaxerxes to the Persian psyche.
During the reign of Cyrus and Darius, and as long as the seat of government was still at Susa in Elam, the language of the chancellory was Elamite. This is primarily attested in the Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets that reveal details of the day-to-day functioning of the empire.
In the grand rock-face inscriptions of the kings, the Elamite texts are always accompanied by Akkadian and Old Persian inscriptions, and it appears that in these cases, the Elamite texts are translations of the Old Persian ones. It is then likely that although Elamite was used by the capital government in Susa, it was not a standardized language of government everywhere in the empire. The use of Elamite is not attested after 458 BCE
Following the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Aramaic language (as used in that territory) was adopted as a "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic or Imperial Aramaic, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did."
In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an "official language", noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language. Frye reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the "lingua franca" of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought. Many centuries after the fall of the empire, Aramaic script and - as ideograms - Aramaic vocabulary would survive as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi writing system.
Although Old Persian also appears on some seals and art objects, that language is attested primarily in the Achaemenid inscriptions of Western Iran, suggesting then that Old Persian was the common language of that region. However, by the reign of Artaxerxes II, the grammar and orthography of the inscriptions was so "far from perfect" that it has been suggested that the scribes who composed those texts had already largely forgotten the language, and had to rely on older inscriptions, which they to a great extent reproduced verbatim.
Herodotus mentions that the Persians were invited to great birthday feasts (Herodotus, Histories 8), which would be followed by many desserts, a treat which they reproached the Greeks for omitting from their meals. He also observed that the Persians drank wine in large quantities and used it even for counsel, deliberating on important affairs when drunk, and deciding the next day, when sober, whether to act on the decision or set it aside.
It was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism reached South-Western Iran, where it came to be accepted by the rulers and through them became a defining element of Persian culture. The religion was not only accompanied by a formalization of the concepts and divinities of the traditional Indo-Iranian pantheon but also introduced several novel ideas, including that of free will.
Under the patronage of the Achaemenid kings, and by the 5th century BCE as the de-facto religion of the state, Zoroastrianism would reach all corners of the empire. The Bible claims that Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after centuries of captivity by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.
During the reign of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, Herodotus wrote: "the Perses have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine." He claims the Persians offer sacrifice to: "the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times. At a later period they began the worship of Urania, which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, to whom the Persians referred as Anahita." (The original name here is Mithra, which has since been explained to be a confusion of Anahita with Mithra, understandable since they were commonly worshipped together in one temple).
From the Babylonian scholar-priest Berosus, who - although writing over seventy years after the reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon - records that the emperor had been the first to make cult statues of divinities and have them placed in temples in many of the major cities of the empire (Berosus, III.65). Berosus also substantiates Herodotus when he says the Persians knew of no images of gods until Artaxerxes II erected those images. On the means of sacrifice, Herodotus adds "they raise no altar, light no fire, pour no libations."
This sentence has been interpreted to identify a critical (but later) accretion to Zoroastrianism. An altar with a wood-burning fire and the Yasna service at which libations are poured are all clearly identifiable with modern Zoroastrianism, but apparently, were practices that had not yet developed in the mid-5th century. Boyce also assigns that development to the reign of Artaxerxes II (4th century BCE), as an orthodox response to the innovation of the shrine cults.
Herodotus also observed that "no prayer or offering can be made without a magus present" but this should not be confused with what is today understood by the term magus, that is a magupat (modern Persian: mobed), a Zoroastrian priest. Nor does Herodotus' description of the term as one of the tribes or castes of the Medes necessarily imply that these magi were Medians. They simply were a hereditary priesthood to be found all over Western Iran and although (originally) not associated with any one specific religion, they were traditionally responsible for all ritual and religious services.
Although the unequivocal identification of the magus with Zoroastrianism came later (Sassanid era, 3rd-7th century CE), it is from Herodotus' magus of the mid-5th century that Zoroastrianism was subject to doctrinal modifications that are today considered to be revocations of the original teachings of the prophet. Also, many of the ritual practices described in the Avesta's Vendidad (such as exposure of the dead) were already practiced by the magu of Herodotus ' time.
Achaemenid architecture refers to the architectural achievements of the Achaemenid Persians manifesting in construction of spectacular cities utilized for governance and inhabitation, temples made for worship and social gatherings (such as Zoroastrian temples), and mausoleums erected in honor of fallen kings (such as the burial tomb of Cyrus the Great). The quintessential feature of Persian architecture was its eclectic nature with elements of Median, Assyrian, and Asiatic Greek all incorporated, yet maintaining a unique Persian identity seen in the finished products.
Achaemenid art refers to the artistic achievements of the Aachaemenid Persians manifesting in construction of complicated frieze reliefs, crafting of precious metals ( such as the Oxus Treasure), decoration of palaces, glazed brick masonry, fine craftsmanship (masonry, carpentry, etc.), and gardening, and out door decoration. It is critical to understand that although Persians borrowed techniques from all corners of their empire, it was not simply a combination of styles, but synthesis of a new unique Persian style.
Cyrus the Great in fact had an extensive ancient Iranian heritage behind him; the rich Achaemenid gold work, which inscriptions suggest may have been a specialty of the Medes, was for instance in the tradition of the delicate metalwork found in Iron Age II times at Hasanlu and still earlier at Marlik.
One of the most amazing examples of both Achaemenid architecture and art is the grand palace of Persepolis, and its detailed workmanship, coupled with its grand scale.
According to Plutarch, Artaxerxes' successor Artaxerxes III (358 - 338 BCE) came to the throne by bloody means, ensuring his place upon the throne by the assassination of eight of his half-brothers. In 343 BCE Artaxerxes III defeated Nectanebo II, driving him from Egypt, and made Egypt once again a Persian satrapy. In 338 BCE Artaxerxes III died under unclear circumstances (natural causes according to cuneiform sources but Diodorus, a Greek historian, reports that Artaxerxes was murdered by Bagoas, his minister). while Philip of Macedon united the Greek states by force and began to plan an invasion into the empire.
Artaxerxes III was succeeded by Artaxerxes IV Arses, who before he could act was also poisoned by Bagoas. Bagoas is further said to have killed not only all Arses' children, but many of the other princes of the land. Bagoas then placed Darius III (336-330 BCE), a nephew of Artaxerxes IV, on the throne. Darius III, previously Satrap of Armenia, personally forced Bagoas to swallow poison. In 334 BCE, when Darius was just succeeding in subduing Egypt again, Alexander and his battle-hardened troops invaded Asia Minor.
At two different times, the Achaemenids ruled Egypt although the Egyptians twice regained temporary independence from Persia. After the practice of Manetho, Egyptian historians refer to the periods in Egypt when the Achaemenid dynasty ruled as the twenty-seventh dynasty of Egypt, 525-404 BCE, until the death of Darius II, and the thirty-first dynasty of Egypt, 343-332 BCE, which began after Nectanebo II was defeated by the Persian king Artaxerxes III.
Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon) defeated the Persian armies at Granicus (334 BCE), followed by Issus (333 BCE), and lastly at Gaugamela (331 BCE). Afterwards, he marched on Susa and Persepolis which surrendered in early 330 BCE From Persepolis, Alexander headed north to Pasargadae where he visited the tomb of Cyrus, the burial of the man whom he had heard of from Cyropedia.
In the ensuing chaos created by Alexander the Great's invasion of Persia, Cyrus the Great's tomb was broken into and most of its luxuries were looted. When Alexander the Great reached the tomb, he was horrified by the manner in which the tomb was treated, and questioned the Magi, putting them to court. On some accounts, Alexander's decision to put the Magi on trial was more about his attempt to undermine their influence and his show of power in his newly conquered empire, than a concern for Cyrus's tomb. Regardless, Alexander the Great ordered Aristobulus to improve the tomb's condition and restore its interior, showing respect for Cyrus. From there he headed to Ecbatana, where Darius III had sought refuge.
Darius III was taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men murder Darius III and then declared himself Darius' successor, as Artaxerxes V, before retreating into Central Asia leaving Darius' body in the road to delay Alexander, who brought it to Persepolis for an honorable funeral. Bessus would then create a coalition of his forces, in order to create an army to defend against Alexander. Before Bessus could fully unite with his confederates at the eastern part of the empire, Alexander, fearing the danger of Bessus gaining control, found him, put him on trial in a Persian court under his control, and ordered his execution in a cruel and barbarous manner.
Despite having succeeded to conquer the whole of the Persian empire, Alexander the Great, was nonetheless unable to offer a stable alternative. After his death, Alexander's once massive Persian empire was broken into and succeeded by few smaller empires the most significant of which was the Seleucid Empire, ruled by the generals of Alexander and their descendants. They in turn would be succeeded by the Parthian Empire.
Istakhr, one of the vassal kingdoms of the Parthian Empire, would be overthrown by Papak, a priest of the temple there. Papak's son, Ardasir I, who named himself in remembrance of Artaxerxes II, would revolt against the Parthians, eventually defeating them and establishing the Sassanid Empire or as it is known the second Persian Empire.
The Achaemenid Empire left a lasting impression on the heritage and the cultural identity of Asia and Middle East, as well as influencing the development and structure of future empires. In fact the Greeks and later on the Romans copied the best features of the Persian method of governing the empire, and vicariously adopted them. Georg W. F. Hegel in his work The Philosophy of History introduces the Persian Empire as the "first empire that passed away" and its people as the "first historical people" in history.
Sumerian Gods (Anunnaki) Create the Human Race
Sumerian god Anu is depicted much like the Faravahar
According to Ancient Alien Theory
Ahura Madza (Faravahar) was an alien protector of Earth
His symbols include the lion, wings, flame, and crown.
Parthian Empire (247 BC - 224 AD), adopted both Hellenistic and Iranian customs
Sassanid Empire (224 - 651 AD), also called "Neo-Persian Empire" and "Second Persian Empire"
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