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See also the related deity Satrapes.


Satrap ( Persian: شهرب ) was the name given to the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid (Persian) Empires and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire and the Hellenistic empires.

Satrap is derived from Sanskrit word Kshatrapa used in India from there was taken into Persian language, the Old Persian 𐎧𐏁𐎰𐎼𐎱𐎠𐎺𐎠 xšaθrapāvan ("protector of the province"), from xšaθra ("realm" or "province") and pāvan ("protector"). In Greek, the word was rendered as σατράπης, satrápēs, and was romanized as satrapes, from the Old Persian xšaθrapā(van)). In modern Persian this would have naturally evolved to شهربان (shahrbān). "Sharbān", translated from modern Persian, literally means "town keeper"; (ﺷﻬﺮ "shahr", meaning "town", بان "bān" meaning "keeper"). The word is likely ultimately derived from ancient Indo-Persian.

The word satrap is also often used in modern literature to refer to world leaders or governors who are heavily influenced by larger world superpowers or hegemonies and act as their surrogates.

Medo-Persian satraps

The first large scale use of satrapies, or provinces, originates from the conception of the first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great, beginning at around 530 BC. However, Provincial organization originated during the Median era from at least 648 BC.

Up to the time of the conquest of Media by Cyrus the Great, Median emperors ruled their conquered territories as provinces, through client kings and governors. The chief difference was that in Persian culture the concept of kingship was indivisible from divinity: divine authority validated the divine right of kings. The twenty satraps established by Cyrus were never kings, but viceroys ruling in the king's name, although in political reality many grabbed any chance to carve themselves an independent power base. Darius the Great gave the satrapies a definitive organization, increased their number to twenty-three and fixed their annual tribute (Behistun inscription).

The satrap was the head of the administration of his province, and found himself surrounded by an all-but-royal court; he collected the taxes, controlled the local officials and the subject tribes and cities, and was the supreme judge of the province before whose "chair" (Nehemiah 3:7) every civil and criminal case could be brought. He was responsible for the safety of the roads (cf. Xenophon), and had to put down brigands and rebels.

He was assisted by a council of Persians, to which also provincials were admitted; and was controlled by a royal secretary and by emissaries of the king, especially the "eye of the king" who made an annual inspection and exercised permanent control.

There were further checks on the power of each satrap: besides his secretarial scribe, his chief financial official (Old Persian ganzabara) and the general in charge of the regular army of his province and of the fortresses were independent of him and reported directly to the shah, periodically, in person. But the satrap was allowed to have troops in his own service.

  • The great satrapies (provinces) were often divided into smaller districts, the governors of which were also called satraps and (by Greco-Roman authors) also hyparchs (actually Hyparkhos in Greek, 'vice-regents'). The distribution of the great satrapies was changed repeatedly, and often two of them were given to the same man.
  • As the provinces were the result of consecutive conquests (the homeland had a special status, exempt from provincial tribute), both primary and sub-satrapies were often defined by former states and/or ethno-religious identity. One of the keys to the Achaemenid success (as with most enduring great empires) was their open attitude to the culture and religion of the conquered people, so ironically the Persian culture was the one most affected as the Great King endeavoured to melt elements from all his subjects into a new imperial style, especially at his capital Persepolis.
  • Whenever central authority in the empire weakened, the satrap often enjoyed practical independence, especially as it became customary to appoint him also as general-in-chief of the army district, contrary to the original rule. "When his office became hereditary, the threat to the central authority could not be ignored" (Olmstead). Rebellions of satraps became frequent from the middle of the 5th century. The great usurper Darius I struggled with widespread rebellions in the satrapies, and under Artaxerxes II occasionally the greater part of Asia Minor and Syria was in open rebellion.

The last great rebellions were put down by Artaxerxes III.

Hellenistic satraps

The satrapic administration and title were retained—even for Greco-Macedonian incumbents—by Alexander the Great, who conquered the empire and even enlarged it, and by his successors, the diadochi (and their dynasties) who carved it up, especially in the Seleucid empire, where the satrap generally was designated as strategos; but their provinces were much smaller than under the Persians. They would ultimately be replaced by conquering empires, especially the Romans.

Parthian and Sassanian satraps

In the Parthian Empire, the king's power rested on the support of noble families who ruled large estates, and supplied soldiers and tribute to the king. City-states within the empire enjoyed a degree of self-government, and paid tribute to the king. Administration of the Sassanid Empire was considerably more centralized than that of the Parthian Empire; the semi-independent kingdoms and self-governing city states of the Parthian Empire was replaced with a system of "royal cities" which served as the seats of centrally appointed governors called shahrabs as well as the location of military garrisons. Shahrabs ruled both the city and the surrounding rural districts. Exceptionally, the East Roman Empire also adopted the title "satrap" for the semi-autonomous princes that governed one of its Armenian provinces, the Satrapiae.

Western satraps

The Western Satraps or Kshatrapas (35-405 CE) were Saka rulers of a land called Ariaca according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, in the western and central part of the Indian subcontinent, today the Saurashtra and Malwa regions of India. They were successors to the Indo-Scythians, and were contemporaneous with the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the subcontinent from the area of Mathura and were possibly their overlords, and with the Satavahana (Andhra) who ruled in central India.

Satraps today

  • By analogy, the word satrap is also used anachronistically for various governors, especially in the Orient, whose real title is etymologically independent, such as the shaknu and bel pihati in the earlier Assyrian (and consecutive [New] Babylonian?) empire, about the first empire of such size west of the Far East, which rather seems the model for the provincial concept.
  • It is also used in modern times to refer (usually derogatorily) to the loyal subservient lieutenants or clients of some powerful figure (with equal imprecision also styled mogul, tycoon, or the like), in politics or business.
  • In the Hungarian language a slightly changed version of the word, satrafa refers to old women, often mothers-in-law, who always quarrel and try to force their will on others.
  • In the Spanish language the word sátrapa carries not only the aforementioned ancient historical meaning, but in modern usage it also applies to people who abuse power or authority. It can refer as well to those living in luxurious and ostentatious conditions or to individuals who act astutely and even disloyally.
  • The title is also used by the College of Pataphysics as Transcending Satrap for certain of its members, among which were counted such peoples as Marcel Duchamp, Jean Baudrillard and the Marx brothers.

See also


  • A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, 1948.
  • Pauly-Wissowa (comprehensive encyclopaedia on Antiquity; in German).
  • Robert Dick Wilson. The Book of Daniel: A Discussion of the Historical Questions, 1917. Available on
  • Rüdiger Schmitt, "Der Titel 'Satrap'", in Studies Palmer ed. Meid (1976), 373–390.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain..
  • Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses, 1992.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also satrap


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Satrap m.

  1. satrap (governor of a province in Ancient Persia)

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Ruler of a province in the governmental system of ancient Persia. The Old Persian form of the word, "khshathrapavan" (protector of the kingdom), occurs twice in the inscriptions of Darius Hystaspes at Behistun (iii. 14, 55) with reference to the rulers of Bactria and Arachosia; and this is corrupted into the Biblical (hebrew) . The office was created by Darius, who selected the satraps from the Persians only, and frequently from those of royal blood. They originally numbered twenty; and their primary duty was to regulate the taxes of the provinces which they governed and to send to the king the revenues collected therein, although they were likewise required to levy troops.

The late and distorted references to satraps in Ezra, Esther, and Daniel are of little historical value. Ez 8:36 states that the decree of Artaxerxes for rebuilding the Temple was delivered to them - a statement obviously absurd, since only one could, under any circumstances, be concerned with Palestine. In like manner, in Est 3:12, R. V. (comp. ib. ix. 3), Haman issues orders in the name of Ahasuerus "unto the king's satraps, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the princes of every people." These provinces, which extended "from India unto Ethiopia" (comp. the mention of "Hindu" [India] and "Mudraya" [Egypt] in the Old Persian inscriptions of Darius, Persepolis e 11, 17-18; Naḳs-i Rustam a 25, 27), were in all 127 (Est 1:1, Est 8:9, Est 13:1, Est 16:1; Dan 6:1; Esd 3:2; Josephus, "Ant." xi. 6, §§ 6, 12), a number which at once shows the lack of historical accuracy in these accounts (comp. the conflicting and valueless statements of Josephus, who says, "Ant." x. 11, § 4, that Darius founded 360 satrapies, but in another passage, ib. xi. 3, § 2, only 127). In Dan 3:2, R. V. (comp. ib. iii. 27, vi. 7), the satraps of Nebuchadnezzar (!) are mentioned together with "the deputies, and the governors, the judges [or chief soothsayers], the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs [or lawyers], and all the rulers of the provinces." Over the satraps, according to the account in Daniel, were set three "presidents" as supervisors (Dan 6:2ff), evidently a reminiscence of some such system of mutual control as that described in Xenophon's "Cyropedia," viii. 6, § 16.

Bibliography: Brisson, De Regio Persarum Principatu, pp. 234-250, 631, Strasburg, 1710 (1st edition, Paris, 1590, still of value for its collection of classical references); Lagarde, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, pp. 68-70. Leipsic, 1866; Spiegel, Eranische Alterthumskunde, i. 227-234, iii. 629-633, ib. 1871-78; idem, Altpersische Keilinschriften, 2d ed., ib. 1882; Buchholz, Quæstiones de Persarum Satrapis, ib. 1896.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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