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Later Achaemenid Rulers

Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses, who took an army into Egypt (525 BC). There was a battle in the delta, in which Greek mercenaries fought on both sides. Herodotus declares that he saw the bones of the slain still lying on the field fifty or sixty years later, and comments on the comparative thinness of the Persian skulls. After this battle Cambyses took Memphis and most of Egypt. In Egypt, we are told, Cambyses went mad. He took great liberties with the Egyptian temples, and remained at Memphis "opening ancient tombs and examining the dead bodies." He had already murdered both Croesus, ex-king of Lydia, and his own brother Smerdis before coming to Egypt, and he died in Syria on the way back to Susa of an accidental wound, leaving no heirs to succeed him.

DariusCambyses was presently succeeded by Darius the Mede (521 BC), the son of Hystaspes, one of the chief councillors of Cyrus. Darius at Behistun says 'My father is Hystaspes, and the father of Hystaspes was Arsames, and Arsames' father was Ariyaramnes, and Ariyaramnes' father was Teispes, and Teispes' father was Achaemenes. On that account are we called Achaemenians. From ancient times we have been kings. Eight of my race have before me held the kingdom. I am the ninth. In two lines we have been kings.' It will be noted that Darius does not call any of his immediate ancestors kings. It is possible that Achaemenes ruled a part of Anshan without having the title "king".

Matt Waters notes that "Recent research has emphasised the familial distinction between Cyrus the Great and Darius I, and it has become difficult to give credence to the traditional, modern reconstruction of Darius’ kinship claims that implies a dual descent from Achaemenes via Teispes: one line to Cyrus and the other to Darius. With Cyrus’ inscriptions at Pasargadae demonstrated as spurious, and the “Achaemenid dynasty” demonstrated as Darius’ creation ex nihilo, the relationship between Darius and his predecessors requires a new assessment."

With the establishment of Darius' capital in Susa, the region - once Elam - became completely Persian and was thereafter known as "Susiana." The empire of Darius I was larger than any one of the preceding empires. It included all Asia Minor and Syria, that is to say, the ancient Lydian and Hittite empires, all the old Assyrian and Babylonian empires, Egypt, the Caucasus and Caspian regions, Media, Persia, and it extended, perhaps, into India to the Indus. The nomadic Arabians alone of all the peoples of what is nowadays called the Near East, did not pay tribute to the satraps (provincial governors) of Darius.

The organization of this great empire seems to have been on a much higher level of efficiency than any of its precursors. Great arterial roads joined province to province, and there was a system of royal posts; at stated intervals post horses stood always ready to carry the government messenger, or the traveller if he had a government permit, on to the next stage of his journey. Apart from this imperial right-of-way and the payment of tribute, the local governments possessed a very considerable amount of local freedom. They were restrained from internecine conflict, which was all to their own good.

At first the Greek cities of the mainland of Asia paid the tribute and shared in this Persian Peace. Darius had already made plans for an expedition into Europe, aiming not at Greece, but to the northward of Greece, across the Bosphorus and Danube. He wanted to strike at South Russia, which he believed to be the home country of the Scythian nomads who threatened him on his northern and north-eastern frontiers. But he lent an attentive ear to the tempter, and sent agents into Greece.

XerxesXerxes I [b. about 519 BC; d. 465 BC] was the second son of Darius, the son of Hystaspes, and began to reign in 485. He was preferred to his brother Artabazanes, born before his father was raised to the throne; while Xerxes was born after that event, and was the son of Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, but this preference caused no struggle between the brothers.

After having suppressed a revolt in Egypt in a single campaign, he thought himself able to execute the plan of conquering Greece, already conceived by his father, and collected for this purpose an immense army, estimated by the historians as containing 1,000,000 men. In all probability the Greeks greatly exaggerated the number of their enemies; and the train of women and slaves who followed the army made at least half of its numerical amount; still the numbers of the Persians were beyond all comparison superior to those of the Greeks. By means of a bridge of boats Xerxes crossed the Hellespont (480 BC) while the Greeks awaited him on the frontier of their country, in the pass of Thermopylae. After the heroic Leonidas had fallen with his Spartans, Xerxes burned Athens, which had been forsaken by its inhabitants.

The first naval battle between the two powers at Artemisium had been indecisive; but it inspired the Greeks with new confidence; and the second naval action at Salamis, in which, if we believe the Greek historians, 2,000 Persian vessels were engaged against 380 Greek, terminated in the defeat of the Persians (Sept. 480). Xerxes now quitted Greece, leaving behind him his best general, Mardonius, who, not long after, was routed at Plataea.

Xerxes now gave himself up to debauchery; his conduct offended his subjects and Artabanus, the captain of his guards, conspired against him, and murdered him in his bed. The personal accomplishments of Xerxes have been commended by ancient authors; and Herodotus observes that there was not one man among the millions of his army that was equal to the monarch in comeliness or stature, or as worthy to preside over a great and extensive empire.

The Persian empire extended from the Hellespont to the Punjab, from Lake Aral to the cataracts of the Nile. But it was a vast congeries of subject provinces having no internal bond and no principle of cohesion but the will of the king. Since the reign of Darius II [r. 423-404 BC] it had been tending to dissolution in its western provinces, which were the most exposed to danger. As stages in this process may be mentioned the revolt of Egypt under Amyrtsus in 410 and that of the Cypriote Evagoras, which was not put down till 383; the numerous revolts of satraps, of Greek cities and of semiGreek tyrants during the first half of the 5th century and the attack on Persia made by Tachos, King of Egypt, in 361.

Darius III CodomannusDarius III, king of Persia (surnamed Codomannus, origin and meaning unknown), was the great-grandson of Darius II, and the 12th and last king of Persia. He ascended the throne 336 BC, when the kingdom had been weakened by luxury and the tyranny of the satraps under his predecessors and could not resist the attacks of a powerful invader. It has been well remarked that the position of the Persian empire had some resemblance to that of the Roman empire when overrun by the Germans. Both empires held together merely by the law of inertia; in both their strength lay not in their native elements, but in mercenaries taken from the very peoples, the Germans and the Greeks, who threatened respectively the safety of the two empires.

Alexander of Macedon crossed over into Asia in the spring of 334 with 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse. Alexander proposed to himself nothing short of complete dispossession of Darius III in favor of himself as captain-general of Hellas and the establishment of his own Panhellenic empire in the room of the Persian. The Persian empire, the conquest of which he undertook, was at least 50 times as large as his own and numbered about 20 times as many inhabitants. He was not led from point to point by this or that strategical reason. His business was not to leave Asia till every satrapy in the Persian empire acknowledged his sway.

Alexander subjected Egypt and the two armies met between Arbela and Gaugamela, and after a bloody engagement Darius III was compelled to seek safety in flight (331 BC). Alexander took possession of his capital, Susa, captured Persepolis and reduced all Persia. Darius fled to the northern provinces, where he was seized by Bessus, one of his satraps, and afterward murdered.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:21 ZULU