The Persian Empire

THE PERSIAN EMPIRE Similar to the Roman Empire the Persian Empire stretched across vast lands without any serious rivalry. At the height of the empire it stretched across, not only, Asia, from the Aegean to the Indus River, but also included part of the continent of Africa. We get the word, Persia, from the Greek word Parsa meaning, “Above reproach”. The Persians unlike most other Empires would be ruled under a benevolent ruler. This would bring a large amount of cultural diffusion to the Empire. The empires history is separated into three historical periods: Old Persia (600-300 B. C.

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E), Middle Persia (300-800 B. C. E. ) and modern Persia (800-Present). The height or the Empire was reached around 500 B. C. E. (Ancient and Medieval History Online. ) The rise of the Persian Empire began with Cyrus II in the 6th century B. C. E. Cyrus was the first king to control such a large empire without any serious rivals, as mentioned before. The kings of Persia were from the Achaemenids family. Cyrus overthrew his king’s man, Astyages, king of the Medes, in 550 B. C. E. , with the Median nobles. The median kingdom was founded by Deioces. The Medes’ kingdom stretched from the black sea to Afghanistan.

Four years after his conquering of the Medes Cyrus claimed the title “king of Persia”. Later he also became Cyrus “The Great”. Cyrus immediately began to start his campaign of imperial expansion. The first kingdom he overtook was the Lydian kingdom in western Anatolia. He captured the Lydian king, Croesus, in 546 B. C. E. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition) Most of the Greek cities in Anatolia surrendered after the Persian Empire laid siege on the cities. (Sacks, 2005. ) After conquering these cities, Cyrus began to focus on Babylon. The Babylonian king, Nabonidus, was not favored in Babylon.

This made for a very quick and easy victory. Babylon fell in 539 B. C. E. and allowed Cyrus control over the whole Middle East. The People of the Persian Empire were very acceptant of Cyrus’ rule. This was because Cyrus believed in a benevolent or nice rule. After conquering a kingdom he did not enslave the people he ruled. He would allow the king to stay and lead and the people kept their religious beliefs and all of their customs. His only conditions were that he be recognized as “King of All Kings” and that the city-state paid him tribute. Paying Tribute is similar to the modern worlds taxpaying.

These conditions were seldom ever disobeyed because, unlike most, a king got to keep his life as a king and would have some reassurance that he and his kingdom were safe. (Stokes, 2009) We can see evidence of his benevolence toward the people of Persia in a document on a clay cylinder. The document is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform and it is about his conquest of Babylon and capture of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king. He tells of his help from the Babylonian god, Marduk, and of how he returned a number of images to their rightful temples throughout Mesopotamia.

He also restored these temples and organized the return of the people to their original countries. (British Museum) The document reads the following: “Marduk, the great lord, bestowed on me as my destiny the great magnanimity of one who loves Babylon, and I every day sought him out in awe. My vast troops marched peaceably in Babylon, and the whole of Sumer and Akkad had nothing to fear. I sought the welfare of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries. As for the population of Babylon …, who as if without divine intention had endured a yoke not decreed for them, I soothed their weariness; I freed them from their bonds.

Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced at my good deeds, and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son my issue, and over my all my troops, that we might proceed further at his exalted command. ” *(British Museum) The Jews are not mentioned in this source, but he had a great influence on them. So great, they decided to include him in their Torah. Cyrus’ Cylinder is considered, by many countries, the “first charter of human rights” and can be seen in many constitutions around the world.

This is probably due to the following portion of the cylinder: “The population of Babylon calls blessings on my kingship, and I have enabled all the lands to live in peace. Every day I copiously supplied … geese, two ducks and ten pigeons more than the geese, ducks and pigeons …. I sought out to strengthen the guard on the wall Imgur-Enlil, the great wall of Babylon, and … the quay of baked brick on the bank of the moat which an earlier king had built but not completed, I … its work. … Which did not surround the city outside, which no earlier king had built, his troops, and the levee from his land, in/to Shuanna? With bitumen and baked brick I built anew, and completed its work. … Great doors of cedar wood with copper cladding. I installed all their doors, threshold slabs and door fittings with copper parts. ” *(British Museum) Long before the great king, Cyrus’ death the Persian Empire had reached the milestone that allowed it to be the first empire that was so large. Cyrus had a son, who took over the throne in 530 B. C. E. , named Cambyses II. Cambyses would show the same ambition we saw in his father. In 525 B. C. E he added Egypt to the Persian Empire. His victory was not to be enjoyed for long.

He died in 522 B. C. E. and it is assumed that he may have died from a sword wound. This wound is believed to be accidental. Although, his death was not mourned for like that of his father. This may have been due to his way of rule. Unlike his Father, who believed in a benevolent rule, he ruled oppressively or tyrannically. One example of his oppressive rule was his denial to those in his empire to keep their religions. Following his death were widespread rebellions. (Beck, 2007) Darius I, Cambyses’ successor, a noble, and also one of his generals, was next in line for the throne.

He made his way to the throne through the use of the most elite soldiers. They were given the name “The Ten Thousand Immortals. ” He used this elite group of soldiers to put down the revolts that followed Cambyses’ death. Most of his reign was marked by rebellion. Due to the size of the Empire, the situation caused by the last emperor, Cambyses, who ruled opposite to what the people favored in his father, and the cultural diversity of the Persian people, the empires rebellion against itself was imminent. After spending much of his rule putting down revolts, he began to reorganize the empire.

In addition to this he added Bactria (Afghanistan/Pakistan) and India to the empire. (Beck, 2007) In his administration, he divided the empire into approximately 20 provinces called Satrapies, installed governors called Satraps, sent out tax collectors, created a secret police called “The King’s Eyes and Ears”, built a series of roads called “The Royal Rode” and minted Persian money. Each province, or Satrapy, was usually based off of the borders of people he conquered. Also each satrap, governor of a satrapy, was constantly in communication with the king. Darius also kept a standing army of 10,000 troops to protect the empire. Beck, 2007) The Secret police that he installed was only a system of spy’s that everyone knew of, but was unaware of the people that served in it. This organization was installed to keep tabs on the people and make sure that there were no conspiracies against the king and the empire. If someone were to be caught conspiring with another person, possibly an officer of the secret police, then the officer that heard of the conspiracy would go missing and never be seen again. Next the conspirator(s) would go missing and, unlike the officer who would still be alive, the conspirator(s) would be killed.

This was by far one of the greatest methods, outside of a benevolent rule, to keep rebellions and conspiring down. (Beck, 2007) The Royal Road that was installed allowed for Darius rule and administers an empire that at the time was the largest in the world. The Royal Road stretched 1,500 miles (2,414 km) long and connected the Persian capitol to the Aegean Sea. The most important use of this road was the emperor’s travel. Its uses also included: mail, trade, and military travel. The road had a system of relay stations, where fresh horses were swapped out and supplies could be gathered.

With these stations it is said that the road could be traveled in only 9 days. Although this is possible, on average, the travel time was closer to 3 months. This road was later used in the downfall of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great. (Karam, 2001) In 502 B. C. E. Persia suppressed rebellions by many of the Ionian states. After putting down the Ionian states, Darius became determined to conquer the Greek mainland. Initially Darius saw victory as the only outcome, when Macedon, Thrace, Eretria and various other islands fell, until the Empire was defeated at the battle of Marathon(490 B.

C. E). The Persians brought 25,000 men Northeast of Athens at a plain called Marathon and fought against a mere, 10,000 Greek soldiers. In Herodotus’, a Greek historian, account of “the Victory at Marathon” we can see that the Persians suffered a great defeat. Herodotus explains the deaths in numbers when he says “In this battle of Marathon there died, of the Barbarians, about six thousand four hundred men, and, of the Athenians, on hundred and ninety-two. ” In this source he refers to the Persians as “Barbarians”. This is due to his Greek origin and shows that his stories are slightly biast.

From this we can assume that the numbers are slanted and that the real numbers are closer to 6,000, for the Persians, and less than 200 on the side of the Greeks. *(Herodotus) 10 years after the battle of Marathon, Darius’ son Xerxes invaded Athens again. Due to their loss of soldiers, at the last battle, the Athenians decided to bring the rest of the Greeks together. The battle occurred at a small mountain pass, called Thermopylae. The united Greeks made a stand with 7,000 soldiers against the Persian army which still had more than double the amount of soldiers the Greek had.

The Persians came across a traitor, to the Greeks that told them of a small pass around the Greeks. After the Greeks found out about the Persians knowledge of the pass they began their retreat and left 300 Spartans behind to stall the Persian forces. The Spartans were killed and the Persians treaded forward. Athens was burned to the ground without any effort. When the Persian fleet was ordered to block access to Athens, they were surprised by the Athenian soldiers that would soon destroy them. The remaining Persian forces were attacked by combination of Spartan, Athenian and Corinthian forces around Plataea.

After their defeat, the Persians began their retreat back to Asia. (Beck, 2007) Later, in 334 B. C. E. , Alexander the Great led his 35,000 soldiers across the Hellespont. When Darius III receives word of this invasion he sends his 40,000 troops to meet Alexander. Alexander won the battle at Granicus River and continued to march. At the Battle of Issus, Alexander was outnumbered by the Persian forces, 3 to 1. Knowing ordered his top elite soldiers to attack Darius III. Darius fled and the Persians lost another battle. Alexander and his soldiers continued to march.

Alexander took Palestine and Egypt. He then reached Gaugamela where he faced 250,000 soldiers. The Persian Empire was defeated, yet again and Darius III fled. After this Alexander “The Great” took over the Persian Empire. Although his goal was met, he felt the urge to find and kill Darius III. He pursued him and his men until he found him. Darius III was killed by his own men, in an attempt to save their own lives. Their efforts were wasted; Alexander “the Great” felt the need to avenge Darius’ death. So he pursued his army and killed them one by one. Beck, 2007) This journey expanded the Macedonian Empire that now ruled the Persians, past the boundaries of India. This was the end of the Persian Empire. Similar to the Roman Empire the Persian Empire stretched across vast lands without any serious rivalry until they came across the Greeks and the Romans. At the height of the empire it stretched across, not only, Asia, from the Aegean past the Indus River, but also included part of the continent of Africa. The word, Persia, is derived from the Greek word Parsa meaning, “Above reproach”. The Persian Empire is arguably the second largest empire in the Middle East. Ancient and Medieval History Online. ) Works Cited Beck, Roger B. World History Patterns of Interaction. Evanston: McDougal Littell, 2007. Print *”British Museum – Cyrus Cylinder – translation. ” British Museum – Welcome to the British Museum. Web. Dec. 2009. . “British Museum – Cyrus Cylinder. ” British Museum – Welcome to the British Museum. Web. Dec. 2009. . *Herodotus. “Herodotus on the Victory at Marathon. ” The History Guide — Main. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. . Karam, P. Andrew. “The Royal Road of Persia. ” Science and Its Times. Ed. Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer. Vol. : 2,000 B. C. to A. D. 699. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 371-373. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Vernon Hills High School. 11 Dec. 2009 . “Lydia, ancient country, Asia. ” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition. Columbia University Press. Web. 20 Nov. 2009. . “Persian Empire. ” Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www. fofweb. com/activelink2. asp? ItemID=WE49&iPin=CRC02046&SingleRecord=True (accessed October 2, 2009). “Persian Empire. ” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2009. Web. 2 Oct. 2009. . Sacks, David. “Persia. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World, Revised Edition. Revised by Lisa R. Brody. New York: Facts On File, Inc. , 2005. Ancient and Medieval History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www. fofweb. com/activelink2. asp? ItemID=WE49&iPin=EAGW0402&SingleRecord=True (accessed October 15, 2009). Stokes, Jamie, ed. “Persians. ” Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East, vol. 2. New York: Facts On File, Inc. , 2009. Ancient and Medieval History. New York: Facts On File, Inc. http://www. fofweb. com/activelink2. asp? ItemID=WE49&iPin=EPAMii0225&SingleRecord=True (accessed October  11, 2009).


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