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550 BC - 330 BC - Achaemenid / Persian Empire

Achaemenes750 ?675 ?
CYRUS I640600
CYRUS II, the Great559530
DARIUS I522486
XERXES I486465
Persia first grabbed the attention of the historic world in the sixth century BC with the exploits and conquests of the near-legendary Cyrus the Great, conqueror of the Medes, and of his successors Darius and Xerxes, so strikingly described in the renowned fifth century BC classical Greek works of the historians Herodotus and Xenophon. Prior to 600 BC, the Persians were a nomadic tribe that inhabited the southern part of the area dominated by the Medes, in what is the modern country of Iran. After Cyrus II took control around 550 BC, the Persians attacked the Medes and their allies, the Chaldeans, who controlled New Babylon and Mesopotamia. The Hebrews who were in exile in Babylon assisted the Persians, and as a reward, Cyrus allowed them to return to Palestine after the war.

The Persian Empire, which was founded 550 BC by Cyrus the Great and dominated the surrounding area until the time of Alexander the Great, conquered the kingdom of Lydia in 546 BC. Cambyses II son of Cyrus the Great conquered the Egyptians in 525 BC and Darius the Great his successor pushed the Persian borders far as Indus River and constructed a canal connecting the Nile River and the Red Sea. The Persian religion was based on practices that originated around 1600 BC, but became organized during the lifetime of Zoroaster, who lived around 600 BC.

The native country of the Persians is that mountainous province still called Farsistan, that is, the dwelling-place of the Fars, the Persians. This nation was the purest branch of the Iranian race. For a long period the Persians remained nomads and semi-barbarians, and from this mode of life, and from the rigorous climate of the country they inhabited, acquired the indomitable courage they exhibited.

The Persians and the Bactrians were, of all the Iranian people, those who had preserved the Zoroastrian religion in its greatest purity. Their isolated life and tribal independence, their republican liberty and parliamentary forms of government, which, as we have already shown, were the normal and primitive state of the Iranians, remained unaltered till the time of Cyrus. It was by free deliberation in a real national assembly that he was elected king. Even in later times, when the Persian empire was at its greatest height of glory and power, there still remained something of these ancient forms of this spirit of independence and liberty.

The nature of the government and the authority of the great king were very different in the provinces from what they were in Persia itself. Although elsewhere he was the typical Asiatic sovereign, absolute, uncontrolled, almost divine; in Persia the king was only the chief of a free people. The Persians paid no tribute; the king could not condemn one of them to death for a single crime,J and without observing all the forms of justice; it would even seem that the institution of the trial of every man by his peers, by a jury, existed among them. It was their warlike legions, with the hardy habits of mountaineers, who constituted the chief strength of the armies of the king; but he was unable to march them out absolutely at his own caprice - the Persian nation had to decide on the propriety of the war. On these solemn occasions the king, whose word was law to all the other nations beneath his sceptre, assembled round him, before taking his resolution, a real parliament.

The Persians were divided into ten tribes, and into three social classes - the tribes of the Pasargadians, or more correctly Parsagadians, inhabitants of the city of Parcauvada, "the Persian fortress," called Pasargadae by the Greeks; the Maraphians and the Maspians formed the aristocracy, the warriors.The Panthialaeans, the Derusiaeans and the Germanians were the cultivators of the soil; the Daans, the Mardians, the Dropicans and the Sagartians led the life of nomad shepherds. Modern travellers still find these ancient manners and customs existing in the mountains of Farsistan. The Pasargadae were superior to all the others, from them sprang Achaemenes, the ancestor of Cyrus.

Persian Empire 550 BC
1 Ionia
2 Lydia
3 Phrygia
4 Cilicia
5 Syria
6 Aegyptus Egypt
7 Margiana
8 Susiana
9 Assyria
10 Media
11 Caspii
12 BactriaAfghanistan
13 Armenia
14 Carmania
15 Sacæ
16 Parthia
17 GedrosiaBaluchistan
18 Matieni
19 Colchis
20 IndiaPakistan
The system of government in force hitherto was that introduced into Assyria by Tiglath-pileser III., which had proved so eminently successful in the time of Sargon and his descendants; Babylon and- Ecbatana had inherited it from Nineveh, and Persepolis had in turn adopted it from Ecbatana and Babylon. It had always been open to objections, of which by no means the least was the great amount of power and independence accorded by it to the provincial governors; but this inconvenience had been little felt when the empire was of moderate dimensions, and when no province permanently annexed to the empire lay at any very great distance from the capital for the time being. But this was no longer the case, now that Persian rule extended over nearly the whole of Asia, from the Indus to the Thracian Bosphorus, and over a portion of Africa also.

Darius carefully abstained from any attempt at unification: not only did he allow vassal republics, and tributary kingdoms and nations to subsist side by side, but he took care that each should preserve its own local dynasty, language, writing, customs, religion, and peculiar legislation, besides the right to coin money stamped with the name of its chief or its civic symbol. The Greek cities of the coast maintained thenown peculiar constitutions which they had enjoyed under the Mermnadse; Darius merely required that the chief authority among them should rest in the hands of the aristocratic party, or in those of an elective or. hereditary tyrant whose personal interest secured his fidelity.

Carians, Lycians, Pamphylians, and Cilicians continued under the rule of their native princes, subject only to the usual obligations of the corvee, taxation, and military service as in past days; the majority of the barbarous tribes which inhabited the Taurus and the mountainous regions in the centre of Asia Minor were even exempted from all definite taxes, and were merely required to respect the couriers, caravans, and armies which passed through their territory. Native magistrates and kings still bore sway in Phoenicia4 and Cyprus, and the shekhs of the desert preserved their authority over the marauding and semi-nomadic tribes of Idumsea, Nabatea, Moab, and Ammon, and the wandering Bedawin on the Euphrates and the Khabur. Egypt, under Darius, remained what she had been under the Saitic and Ethiopian dynasties, a feudal state governed by a Pharaoh, who, though a foreigner, was yet reputed to be of the solar race; the land continued to be divided unequally into diverse principalities, Thebes still preserving its character as a theocracy under the guidance of the pallacide of Amon and her priestly counsellors, while the other districts subsisted under military chieftains.

Herodotus states that the dividing of the empire into satrapies [provinoes] took place immediately after the accession of Darius (III. lxxxix.), and this mistake is explained by the fact that he ignores almost entirely the civil wars which filled the earliest years of the reign. His enumeration of twenty satrapies (III. xc.-xcv.) comprises India and omits Thrace, which indicates the drawing up of his list in a period before the Scythian campaign, viz. before 514 BC. Herodotus very probably copied it from the work of Hecateus of Miletus, and consequently it reproduced a document contemporary with Darius himself.

Artaxerxes SusaIf each of these provinces had been governed, as formerly, by a single individual, who thua became king in all but name and descent, the empire would have run great risk of a speedy dissolution. Darius therefore avoided concentrating the civil and military powers in the same hands. In each province he installed three officials independent of each other, but each in direct communication with himself — a satrap, a general, and a secretary of state. The satraps were chosen from any class in the nation, from among the poor as well as from among the wealthy, from foreigners as well as from Persians; but the most important satrapies were bestowed only on persons allied by birth or marriage with the Achaemenids, and, by preference, on the legitimate descendants of the six noble houses. They were not appointed for any prescribed period, but continued in office during the king's pleasure. They exercised absolute authority in all civil matters.

Attached to each satrap was a secretary of state, who ostensibly acted as his chancellor, but whose real function was to exercise a secret supervision over his conduct and report upon it to the imperial ministers.6 The Persian troops, native militia and auxiliary forces quartered in the province, were placed under the orders, moreover, of a general, who was usually hostile to the satrap and the secretary. These three officials counterbalanced each other, and held each other mutually in check, so that a revolt was rendered very difficult, if not impossible.

This reform in the method of government was displeasing to the Persian nobles, whose liberty of action it was designed to curtail, and they took their revenge in sneering at the obedience they could not refuse to render. Cyrus, they said, had been a father, Cambyses a master, but Darius was only a pedler greedy of gain.6 The chief reason for this division of the empire into provinces was, indeed, fiscal rather than political: to arrange the incidence of taxation in his province, to collect the revenue in due time and forward the total amount to the imperial treasury, formed the fundamental duty of & satrap, to which all others had to yield.7 Persia proper was exempt from the payment of any fixed sum, its inhabitants being merely required to offer presents to the king whenever he passed through their districts.

Had the circumstances been more favorable, it might have been easier to decipher cuneiform than hieroglyphic writing, as Babylo-Assyrian possesses exclusively syllabic signs and ideograms and no letters of the alphabet, whilst the application of the ideograms is more limited than in hieroglyphics, since there are about iooo of the latter to only about 400 cuneiform signs. But at the very outset two totally different systems of cuneiform had to be mastered—Ancient Persian, which was simpler and only boasted of about fifty signs, and Babylo-Assyrian. There was no derivative language to serve as an auxiliary, and there was no other key than the Ancient Persian inscriptions, which were yet to be deciphered.

Darius and Xerxes, the Achaemenid kings, had left a number of inscriptions in three languages, but all in cuneiform. As was afterwards discovered, the first column was always Ancient Persian, the second Susian, and the third Babylo-Assyrian. In order to decipher the last named, the so-called 'Third Class,' which was soon ascertained to be identical, as regards character and writing, with the monolingual cuneiform texts found in Nineveh and Babylon, scholars proceeded to make a preliminary attempt upon the Ancient Persian language, the first of the three columns, which was far less complicated and only consisted of about fifty different signs.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2019 11:06:42 ZULU