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Achaemenid Empire


ca. 550 BC–330 BC

Standard of Cyrus the Great.

Achaemenid Empire around 500 BC shortly before its greatest extent under Emperor Darius the Great (without the conquest of Punjab).
Capital Pasargadae, Ecbatana, Persepolis, Susa, Babylon
Language(s) Old Persian, Imperial Aramaic, Elamite, Akkadian
Religion Zoroastrianism
Government Monarchy
 - 559 BCE–529 BC Cyrus II the Great
Darius I the Great
 - 336 BCE–330 BC Darius III
Historical era Ancient history
 - Established ca. 550 BC
 - Construction starts at Persepolis 515 BC
 - Conquest of Egypt by Cambyses II 525 BC
 - Greco-Persian Wars 498–448 BC
 - Conquered during Wars of Alexander the Great 330 BC
 - Darius III is killed by Bessus 330 BC
Currency Daric and Siglos
Faravahar background
History of Greater Iran
| until the rise of modern nation-states |
See also
Kings of Persia

The Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC), also known as the Persian Empire, was the successor state of the Median Empire, ruling over significant portions of what would become Greater Iran. The Persian and the Median Empire taken together are also known as the Medo-Persian Empire, which encompassed the combined territories of several earlier empires.

At the height of its power, the empire encompassed approximately 8 million km2.[1][2] The empire was forged by Cyrus the Great, and spanned three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. At its greatest extent, the empire included the territories of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, parts of Central Asia, Asia Minor, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and all significant population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya. It is noted in western history as the foe of the Greek city states during the Greco-Persian Wars, for emancipation of slaves including the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting the usage of official languages throughout its territories. The Achaemenid Persian empire was invaded by Alexander III of Macedon, after which it collapsed and disintegrated in 330 BC into what later became the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence after its collapse.

In universal history the role of the Persian empire founded by Cyrus the Great lies in their very successful model for centralized administration and a government working to the advantage and profit of all.[3]




The Persian domination by the Achaemenid empire over the Iranian people started by an extension of the Achaemenid dynasty who expanded their earlier ruling clan over the Persians going, possibly, back to the 9th century BC. The eponym of this dynasty was Achaemenes (Old Persian: Haxāmaniš, a bahuvrihi compound translating to "having a friend's mind").[4] Achaemenes even if he was a historical personage, may have built the state Parsumash. Teispes (Cišpi) who was the first to take the title King of Anšān after seizing Anšān city from the Elamites and enlarging his kingdom to include Persis.[3] The early Teispid rulers of Achaemenids, consistently identified themselves with the indigenous name of Elamite highlands, Anshanite. Furthermore, there is no mention of Achaemenes in genealogy of Teispids, in Cyrus Cylender. [5] According to Cyrus Cylinder[6] and other inscriptions, Teispes had a son called Cyrus succeeding his father as "King of Anshan".

There are no arguments[7] in favor of the previously held view that the kingdom of Teispes may have been divided between Cyrus and his brother Ariaramnes (Ariyāramna, 'Having the Iranians at Peace'),[8] who were succeeded by their respective sons Cambyses I of Anshan (Kambūjiya, "the Elder"), and Arsames (Aršāma "Having a Hero's Might") of Persis, thus forming two branches of the Achaemenid royal house.

Formation and expansion of the empire

The tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire in Iran.
The Cyrus cylinder, a contemporary cuneiform script proclaiming Cyrus as legitimate king of Babylon.

The empire took its unified virgin 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. However evidences of elements of continuity including restoration of the empire almost to the exact limits given to it by Darius the Great and the maintenance of system of satrapies has made some modern scholars to reconsider Alexander as the “last of the Achaemenids“.[9]

In 559 BC, Cambyses I the Elder was succeeded as king of Anšān by his son Cyrus II the Great, who also succeeded the still-living Arsames as 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 Media. Cyrus II conquered Media, Lydia, and Babylon. Cyrus was politically shrewd, modeling himself as the "savior" of conquered nations. To reinforce this image, he instituted policies of religious freedom, and restored temples and other infrastructure in the newly acquired cities. (Most notably the Jews of Babylon, as recorded in the Cyrus Cylinder and the Tanakh).

His immediate successors were less successful. Cyrus' son Cambyses II conquered Egypt, but died in July 522 BC as the result of either accident or suicide, during a revolt led by a sacerdotal clan that had lost its power following Cyrus' conquest of Media. These priests, whom Herodotus called Magi, usurped the throne for one of their own, Gaumata, who then pretended to be Cambyses II's younger brother Smerdis (Pers. Bardiya), who had been assassinated some three years earlier. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses 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).

The claim that Gaumata had impersonated Smerdis, is derived from Darius. Historians are divided over the possibility that the story of the impostor was invented by Darius as justification for his coup [2]. Dr. Ranajit Pal holds that Gaumata was the same as Gotama Buddha. In his view, Davadatta, the adversary of Gotama was Zoroaster.[10] 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. [3]

According to the Behistun Inscription, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown in 522 BCE by a member of a lateral branch of the Achaemenid family, Darius I (Old Persian Dāryavuš "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), had a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.

Herodotus writes[11] that the native leadership debated the best form of government for the Empire. It was agreed upon that a 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 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 I that Persepolis was built (518–516 BC) and which would serve as capital for several generations of Achaemenid kings. Ecbatana (Hagmatāna "City of Gatherings", modern Hamadan) in Media was greatly expanded during this period and served as the summer capital.

Darius I 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.

Greco-Persian Wars

Persian warriors, possibly Immortals, a frieze in Darius's palace at Susa. Silicious glazed bricks, 510 BC, Louvre.

Nonetheless, by the 5th century BC the kings of Persia ruled over territories roughly encompassing today's Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Caucasia, many parts of Greece, parts of Central Asia, Libya and northern parts of Arabia. Eventually by 480 BC the Achaemenids went on to hold the greatest percentage of world population for an empire,[12][13] and became the largest empire in ancient history.

The Ionian Revolt in 499 BC, 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 BC. 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 BC 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 BC 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.[67] [The Athenian support was particularly troubling to Darius since he had come to their aid during their conflict with Sparta]. 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 Greece. However, the Persian forces were defeated at the Battle of Marathon. Darius would die before launching a formal invasion of Greece.

Xerxes I (485–465 BC, Old Persian Xšayārša "Hero Among Kings"), son of Darius I, vowed to complete the job. He organised 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 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 at the Battle of Salamis and forced Xerxes to retire to Sardis. The 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.

The cultural phase

Achaemenid golden bowl with lion imagery.
Achaemenid gold vessels from the Oxus Treasure.
Ancient bracelet, Achaemenid period, 500 BC, Iran.

Xerxes I was followed by Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC), 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 BC), 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, 10.27.12). 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, and from there to 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 ša šarri, "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.

Fall of the empire

Achaemenid Empire during the wars of Alexander.
The Battle of Issus, between Alexander the Great on horseback to the left, and Darius III in the chariot to the right, represented in a Pompeii mosaic dated first century BCE - National Museum of Archaeology in Naples.

According to Greek sources[citation needed], Artaxerxes' successor Artaxerxes III (358 BCE–338 BC) came to the throne by bloody means, ensuring his place upon the throne by the assassination of eight of his half-brothers. In 343 BC 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).[14] 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 BC, when Darius was just succeeding in subduing Egypt again, Alexander and his battle-hardened Macedonian 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 BC, until the death of Darius II, and the thirty-first dynasty of Egypt, 343–332 BC, which began after Nectanebo II was defeated by the Persian king Artaxerxes III.

Alexander defeated the Persian armies at Granicus (334 BC), followed by Issus (332 BCE), and last at Gaugamela (331 BC).

Afterwards, he marched on Susa and Persepolis which surrendered in early 330 BCE. From Persepolis, Alexander headed north to Pasargadae where he treated the tomb of Cyrus II with respect. 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 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.

The Achaemenid Empire was succeeded by 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, Ardašir I, who named himself in remembrance of Artaxerxes II, revolted against the Parthians, defeated them and established the Sassanid Empire.


The Behistun Inscription tells the story of Darius the Great's conquests, with the names of twenty-three satrapys subject to him.
Behistun Inscription, column 1 (DB I 1–15).

The Achaemenids were absolutists[citation needed] who allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the a satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A satrap (governor) administered the region, a general supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a state secretary kept official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the central government.

Accomplishments of Darius' reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system upon which much of later Iranian law would be based, and construction of a new capital at Persepolis, where vassal states would offer their yearly tribute at the festival celebrating the spring equinox.

The practice of slavery in Achaemenid Persia was generally banned, although there is evidence that conquered and/or rebellious armies were sold into captivity.[15] Zoroastrianism, the de facto religion of the empire, explicitly forbids slavery,[16] 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 twenty three 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. 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 10,000 men, called the Immortals.

Darius revolutionized the economy[citation needed] by placing it on a silver and gold coinage system. Trade was extensive, and under the Achaemenids 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 vexilloid of the Achaemenid Empire was a gold falcon on a field of crimson.[17][18]


The ruins of Persepolis.
Golden Rhyton excavated at Ecbatana; kept at National Museum of Iran.

Herodotus, in his mid-5th century BCE account[citation needed] of Persian residents of the Pontus, reports that Persian youths, from their fifth year to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things - to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the Truth.

He further notes[citation needed] that:

the most disgraceful thing in the world [the Perses] think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt: because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.

In Achaemenid Persia, the lie, druj, is considered to be a cardinal sin, and it was punishable by death in some extreme cases. Tablets discovered by archaeologists in the 1930s[19] at the site of Persepolis give us adequate evidence about the love and veneration for the culture of truth during the Achaemenian period. These tablets contain the names of ordinary Iranians, mainly traders and warehouse-keepers.[20] According to Professor Stanley Insler of Yale University, as many as 72 names of officials and petty clerks found on these tablets contain the word truth.[21] Thus, says Insler, we have Artapana, protector of truth, Artakama, lover of truth, Artamanah, truth-minded, Artafarnah, possessing splendour of truth, Artazusta, delighting in truth, Artastuna, pillar of truth, Artafrida, prospering the truth and Artahunara, having nobility of truth. It was Darius the Great, who laid down the ordinance of good regulations during his reign. King Darius' testimony about his constant battle against the lie is found in cuneiform inscriptions. Carved high up in the Behistun mountain on the road to Kermanshah, Darius testifies[citation needed]:

I was not a lie-follower, I was not a doer of wrong ... According to righteousness I conducted myself. Neither to the weak or to the powerful did I do wrong. The man who cooperated with my house, him I rewarded well; who so did injury, him I punished well.

Darius had his hands full dealing with large-scale rebellion which broke out throughout the empire. After fighting successfully with nine traitors in a year, Darius records his battles against them for posterity and tells us how it was the lie that made them rebel against the empire. At Behistun, Darius says:

I smote them and took prisoner nine kings. One was Gaumata by name, a Magian; he lied; thus he said: I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus...One, Acina by name, an Elamite; he lied; thus he said: I am king in Elam... One, Nidintu-Bel by name, a Babylonian; he lied; thus he said: I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus. King Darius then tells us, The Lie made them rebellious, so that these men deceived the people.[22]

Then an advice to his son Xerxes, who is to succeed him as the great king:

Thou who shalt be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from the Lie; the man who shall be a lie-follower, him do thou punish well, if thus thou shall think. May my country be secure!


The Persian queen Atossa, Darius the Great's wife and mother of Xerxes I.
Silver rhyta such as this were ubiquitous and used as a drinking vessels in Persia, underscoring the eclectic taste of the Achaemenids; the fanciful beast that forms its base is both mammal and bird.

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.[20] 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."[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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"[26] 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.[27]


Herodotus mentions[citation needed] that the Persians were given to great birthday feasts, 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.

On their methods of greeting, he asserts that equals kissed on the lips, persons of some difference in rank kissed on the cheek, and the lowest ranks would prostrate on the ground to the upper ranks. It is known that men of high rank practiced polygamy, and were reputed to have a number of wives and a greater number of concubines. On their same-sex relations, high ranked men kept favorites, such as Bagoas who was one of Darius III's favorites and who later became Alexander's eromenos. Persian pederasty and its origins were debated even in ancient times. Herodotus claimed they had learned it from the Greeks,[28] however, Plutarch asserts that the Persians used eunuch boys to that end long before contact between the cultures.[29]

Also from Herodotus we learn that the Persians had a very high regard for truth, teaching the respect of truth to their children and despising nothing so much as a lie. On the education of the children, we learn that from the age of five until twenty they were taught to ride, shoot the bow, and speak the truth. Until the age of five children spent all their time among the women and never met the father, so that, should they die in infancy, he would not sorrow over their loss. (Herodotus, The History, passim)


Bas-relief of Farvahar at Persepolis, Iran.
The image of a lioness used as a pendant, late sixth–fourth centuries BCE, from Susa - Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre.

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 fifth century BCE as the de-facto religion of the state, Zoroastrianism would reach all corners of the empire.

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, whom the Arabians call Alitta, and the Persians 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-fifth century. Boyce also assigns that development to the reign of Artaxerxes II (fourth 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, third–seventh century CE), it is from Herodotus' magus of the mid-fifth 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.

Art and architecture

Winged sphinx from the palace of Darius the Great at Susa.
Lion on a decorative panel from Darius I the Great's palace.

Art, like religion, was a blend of many elements. Just as the Achaemenids were tolerant in matters of local government and custom, as long as Persians controlled the general policy and administration of the empire, so also were they tolerant in art so long as the finished and total effect was Persian. At Pasargadae (Pāsargad), the capital of Cyrus II and Cambyses II, and at Persepolis, the neighboring city founded by Darius the Great and used by all of his successors, one can trace to a foreign origin almost all of the several details in the construction and embellishment of the architecture and the sculptured reliefs; but the conception, planning, and overall finished product are distinctly Persian.

Moreover, when Cyrus chose to build Pasargadae, he had a long artistic tradition behind him that probably was distinctly Iranian already and that was in many ways the equal of any. The columned hall in architecture can now be seen as belonging to an architectural tradition on the Iranian Plateau that extended back through the Median period. The rich Achaemenid gold work, which inscriptions suggest may have been a specialty of the Medes, was in the tradition of the delicate metalwork found in Iron Age II times at Hasanlu and still earlier at Marlik.

This artistic style is particularly evident at Persepolis: with its carefully proportioned and well-organized ground plan, rich architectural ornament, and magnificent decorative reliefs, the palace there is one of the great artistic legacies of the ancient world. In its art and architecture, Persepolis celebrates the king and the office of the monarch and reflected Darius' perception of himself as the leader of a conglomerate people to whom he had given a new and single identity. The Achaemenids took the art forms and the cultural and religious traditions of many of the ancient Middle Eastern peoples and combined them into a single form.

In describing the construction of his palace at Susa, Darius records that "The cedar timber from there (a mountain by name Lebanon) was brought, the yaka timber was brought from Gandara and from Carmania. The gold was brought from Sardis and from Bactria . . . the precious stone lapis-lazuli and carnelian . . . was brought from Sogdiana. The turquoise from Chorasmia, the silver and ebony from Egypt, the ornamentation from Ionia, the ivory from Ethiopia and from Sindh (Pakistan) and from Arachosia. The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Ionians and Sardians. The goldsmiths were Medes and Egyptians. The men who wrought the wood, those were Sardians and Egyptians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians. The men who adorned the wall, those were Medes and Egyptians."

This was an imperial art on a scale the world had not seen before. Materials and artists were drawn from all corners of the empire, and thus tastes, styles, and motifs became mixed together in an eclectic art and architecture that in itself mirrored the empire and the Persian understanding of how that empire ought to function.

Achaemenid kings and rulers


The epigraphic evidence for these rulers cannot be confirmed and are often considered to have been invented by Darius I




  1. ^ Vasseghi, Sheda, "The other Iran story: Re-engineering the nation's cultural DNA", Breaking... World Tribune News, (12 October 2009).
  2. ^ Stewart, Basil, "Restoration of Palestine", (In reference to the Achaemenid Empire), p. 3 (2003).
  3. ^ a b Schmitt Achaemenid dynasty (i. The clan and dynasty)
  4. ^ Schlerath p. 36, no. 9. See also Iranica in the Achaemenid Period p. 17.
  5. ^ Stronach, David "Anshan and Parsa: Early Achaemenid History, Art and Architecture on the Iranian Plateau". In: John Curtis, ed., Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 539–331, 35–53. London: British Museum Press 1997. (see pages: 37, 38, 39, 49, 50)
  6. ^ e. g. Cyrus Cylinder Fragment A. ¶ 21.
  7. ^ [1], Josef Wiesehöfer
  8. ^ A. Sh. Shahbazi, Ariaramnes. See also R. Schmitt, Schmitt Achaemenid dynasty (i. The clan and dynasty)
  9. ^ P. Briant
  10. ^ Ranajit Pal, "Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander", New Delhi, 2002.
  11. ^ Herodotus. The Histories Book 3.80-83. 
  12. ^ While estimates for the Achaemenid Empire range from 10-80+ million, most prefer 50 million. Prevas (2009, p. 14) estimates 10 million 1. Langer (2001, p. 40) estimates around 16 million 2. McEvedy and Jones (2001, p. 50) estimates 17 million 3. Strauss (2004, p. 37) estimates about 20 million 4. Ward (2009, p. 16) estimates at 20 million 5. Aperghis (2007, p. 311) estimates 32 million 6. Scheidel (2009, p. 99) estimates 35 million 7. Zeinert (1996, p. 32) estimates 40 million 8. Rawlinson and Schauffler (1898, p. 270) estimates possibly 50 million 9. Astor (1899, p. 56) estimates almost 50 million 10. Lissner (1961, p. 111) estimates probably 50 million 11. Milns (1968, p. 51) estimates some 50 million 12. Hershlag (1980, p. 140) estimates nearly 50 million 13. Yarshater (1996, p. 47) estimates by 50 million 14. Daniel (2001, p. 41) estimates at 50 million 15. Meyer and Andreades (2004, p. 58) estimates to 50 million 16. Pollack (2004, p. 7) estimates about 50 million 17. Jones (2004, p. 8) estimates over 50 million 18. Safire (2007, p. 627) estimates in 50 million 19. Dougherty (2009, p. 6) estimates about 70 million 20. Richard (2008, p. 34) estimates nearly 70 million 21. Mitchell (2004, p. 16) estimates over 70 million 22. Hanson (2001, p. 32) estimates almost 75 million 23. West (1913, p. 85) estimates about 75 million 24. Zenos (1889, p. 2) estimates exactly 75 million 25. Cowley (1999 and 2001, p. 17) estimates possibly 80 million 26. Cook (1904, p. 277) estimates exactly 80 million 27.
  13. ^ Historical Estimates of World Population U.S. Census Bureau.
  14. ^ Chr. Walker, "Achaemenid Chronology and the Babylonian Sources," in: John Curtis (ed.), Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism, 539-331 BC (London 1997), page 22.
  15. ^ M. Dandamayev, “Foreign Slaves on the Estates of the Achaemenid Kings and their Nobles,” in Trudy dvadtsat' pyatogo mezhdunarodnogo kongressa vostokovedov II, Moscow, 1963, pp. 151-52
  16. ^ "Volume 2". 
  17. ^ "Vexilloid of". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. 
  18. ^ "Flags". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. 
  19. ^ Garrison, Mark B. and Root, Margaret C. (2001). Seals on the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Volume 1. Images of Heroic Encounter (OIP 117). Chicago: Online Oriental Institute Publications. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  20. ^ a b Dandamayev, Muhammad (2003). "Persepolis Elamite Tablets". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  21. ^ Insler, Stanley (1975). "The Love of Truth in Ancient Iran". Retrieved 2007-01-09.  In Insler, Stanley; Duchesne-Guillemin, J. (ed.) (1975). The Gāthās of Zarathustra (Acta Iranica 8). Liege: Brill. .
  22. ^ "Darius, Behishtan (DB), Column 1".  From Kent, Roland G. (1953). Old Persian: Grammar, texts, lexicon. New Haven: American Oriental Society. 
  23. ^ Shaked, Saul (1987). "Aramaic". Encyclopedia Iranica. 2. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 250–261.  p. 251
  24. ^ Frye, Richard N. (1955). "Review of G. R. Driver's "Aramaic Documents of the Fifth Century B. C."". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 18 (3/4): 456–461. doi:10.2307/2718444.  p. 457.
  25. ^ Geiger, Wilhelm & Ernst Kuhn (2002). Grundriss der iranischen Philologie: Band I. Abteilung 1. Boston: Adamant.  pp. 249ff.
  26. ^ Ware, James R. and Kent, Roland G. (1924). "The Old Persian Cuniform Inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 55: 52–61. doi:10.2307/283007.  p. 53
  27. ^ Gershevitch, Ilya (1964). "Zoroaster's own contribution". Journal of Near Eastern Studies 23 (1): 12–38. doi:10.1086/371754.  p. 20.
  28. ^ Herodotus. Histories. "[...]moreover they adopt all kinds of luxuries when they hear of them, and in particular they have learnt from the Hellenes to have commerce with boys[...]"
  29. ^ Plutarch. On the Malice of Herodotus. "The same Herodotus says that the Persians learned the defiling of the male sex from the Greeks. And yet how could the Greeks have taught this impurity to the Persians, amongst whom, as is confessed by many, boys had been castrated before ever they arrived in the Grecian seas?"

See also

Ancient history

Ancient Near East

Sumer · Elam · Akkad · Babylonia · Hittite Empire · Syro-Hittite states · Neo-Assyrian Empire · Urartu

Ancient Africa

Egypt · Nubia · Land of Punt · Axum · Nok · Carthage · Ancient Ghana

Classical Antiquity

Archaic Greece · Median Empire . Classical Greece · Achaemenid Empire · Seleucid Empire · Dacia · Thrace · Scythia · Macedon · Roman Republic · Roman Empire · Parthia . Parthian Empire · Sassanid Empire · Late Antiquity

East Asia

Hồng Bàng Dynasty · Gojoseon · Shang China · Qin Dynasty · Han Dynasty · Jin Dynasty

South Asia

Vedic India · Maha Janapadas · Mauryan India · Chola India · Satavahana India · Gupta India

Pre-Columbian Americas

Paleo-Indians, Incas · Aztecs · Wari · Tiahuanaco · Moche · Teotihuacan · Chavín · Mayas · Norte Chico · Olmecs · Poverty Point · Hopewell · Mississippians
see also: World history · Ancient maritime history · Protohistory · Axial Age · Iron Age · Historiography · Ancient literature · Ancient warfare · Cradle of civilization
Middle Ages


Modern Sources

Further reading

  • Wiesehöfer, Josef; Azizeh Azodi (translator) (2001). Ancient Persia. London, New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1860646751.  There have been a number of editions since 1996.
  • Curtis, John E.; Nigel Tallis (editors) (2005). Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0520247310.  A collection of articles by different authors.
  • From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Pierre Briant, Eisenbrauns: 2002, ISBN 978-1-57506-0316
  • The Greco-Persian Wars, Peter Green
  • The Greek and Persian Wars 499–386 BCE, Philip De Souza
  • The Heritage of Persia, Richard N. Frye
  • History of the Persian Empire, A.T. Olmstead
  • The Persian Empire, Lindsay Allen
  • The Persian Empire, J.M. Cook
  • Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, Tom Holland
  • Pictorial History of Iran: Ancient Persia Before Islam 15000 B.C.–625 A.D., Amini Sam
  • Timelife Persians: Masters of the Empire (Lost Civilizations)
  • Dandamaev, M.A. A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1989 (ISBN 90-04-09172-6).
  • Hallock, R., Persepolis Fortification Tablets

External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010
(Redirected to Achaemenids article)

From BibleWiki

The descendants of Achaemenes, the first king of Persia.

General Overview

 |                         |
Ariaramnes co-regency w.  Cyrus I
 |                         |
Arsames co-regency w.     Cambyses I                                            
 |                         |
 |                        Cyrus II, the Great (ca. 550-530 bce)                  
 |                         |
Hystaspes (never king)     |\---Cambyses II (529-522 bce)                                 
 |                         |
 |                         \----Bardiya ("Smerdis") (522 bce)
Darius I, the Great (521-486 bce)
Xerxes I (485-465 bce)
Artaxerxes I Macrocheir (Longimanus) (465-424 bce)
 |\---Xerxes II (424 bce)
 |\---Sogdianus (424-423 bce)
Darius II Nothus (423-405 bce)
 |                 |
 |                Artaxerxes II Mnenon (404-359)
 |                 |
 |                Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-338 bce)
 |                 |
 |                Artaxerxes IV Arses (338-336 bce)
Darius III Codomannus (336-333 bce)
Alexander the Great

External Links

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