Ancient—The Persian Empire 1. Intro 2. Geography 3. Cyrus the Great (550-530 BCE) 4.

The Growth of the Empire down to Cambyses (530-522 BCE) 5. Darius (522-486 BCE) 1. Introduction --for the last few classes we’ve been looking at some of the early river valley civilizations that grew up along the floodplains of two of the world’s most important watersheds --first, we looked at the culture of Mesopotamia, home to a number of important ancient cultures: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians and others --here we saw some of the prototypes for civilized life in the ancient Near East, prototypes that would ultimately appear in various places throughout the Eurasian landmass --indeed, the cultural models that appeared along the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates (and here I’m thinking of the various technological, political, religious and legal systems that emerged), well, these were dispersed throughout western Asia, the Mediterranean and beyond --consequently we’ll see many of these systems, often in slightly altered form, in Greece, Rome and other cultures as well --it’s a similar situation with the second society that we looked at: the one that grew up along the banks of the Nile --again, many of the philosophical, scientific and religious ideals of ancient Egyptians would ultimately go on to become the common intellectual and cultural furniture of other, subsequent civilizations --for example, when we discuss Alexander the Great in a couple of weeks, we’ll look at how the great Macedonian prince and his successors manipulated many of the religious and cultural ideals of Egyptian life to extend their political control over Palestine, the Sinai and the Nile Valley --likewise, when we come to discuss religious developments during Rome’s imperial period, we’ll look at how the cult of Isis (and other Egyptian beliefs) quickly spread throughout the Roman world (i.e., during the second and third centuries CE) --so, while they’re intrinsically interesting and worthy of study for their own sake, I’ve introduced these cultures to you, so that you’ll be able to recognise their contributions to Greece and Rome --well, it’s in a similar spirit that I introduce Persian culture to you --as you’ll see over the course of the next few weeks, in many ways, the culture of the ancient Mediterranean intersects with Persian


--before moving on to discuss Greece and Rome, I want to look at one other Near Eastern people: the Persians 1) the Persians became the primary rival of the Greek city states during the 5th century BCE; in a week or two, we will be studying the great epic struggle between the Greeks and Persians: a war that was fought for control of Asia Minor and the Balkans 2) under the so-called Seleucid dynasty (i.e., the heirs to Alexander the Great), Persia would be briefly incorporated into the political orbit of the Mediterranean world 3) the Persians would also become one of Rome’s most important and enduring nemeses: throughout the late Republic and most of the Imperial period, Persia was a menacing presence just beyond Rome’s eastern boundary 4) Persian culture came to have a profound influence on the culture of the Mediterranean world; three of its major religions (Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism) would greatly influence the theology of western faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam --so for all these reasons, I’d like to spend a few classes discussing this fascinating and important empire 2. Geography of Persia --the “land of Persia” is located on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf, directly east of the Mesopotamian kingdoms --this is the area that we know today as Iran --it is a stark land of looming mountains and trackless deserts --at the heart of the country is a broad, dusty plateau that stretches almost from the shores of the Gulf right up to the Caspian Sea --since prehistory, the topography and geographical position of the country have made it a virtual highway between East and West --thus, throughout its history, wave after wave of tough, wild and nomadic people have swept across its inhospitable landscape --indeed, the very harshness of the environment has been one of the major forces urging people on: they kept moving from east to west in order to escape the searing climate and the lack of resources --however, even though there’s very little water sources or agricultural land, archeological evidence confirms that, by about 2000 BCE, a series of small towns and villages emerged along the migration routes between east and west --these towns were certainly present when the ancient Iranians descended into this parched territory from the steppes of Central Asia around 1000 BCE --the Iranians were an Indo-European speaking people and their migration was part of much broader movement of peoples between ca. 2000 and 1000 BCE --some of the Indo-Europeans moved into northern India and displaced the indigenous population, others moved into Asia Minor and the Balkans; others went even further west into what is now Germany, France and Spain --as I suggested a moment ago, all of these wanderers spoke a common language, one which modern linguists refer to as “Indo-European”


--this group of languages is probably based on a single original form, but today the group includes such diverse tongues as Gaelic, English, Portuguese, Latin, German, Russian, Iranian, Sanskrit, etc. --anyway, these Indo-European Iranians were originally herders and pastoralists, who, like the Hyksos in Egypt, developed horsemanship and bronze working long before the other indigenous peoples of the region --thus, these nomadic shepherds were able to quickly defeat the earliest inhabitants of the region and to consolidate their hold over the area that would eventually become Iran --and gradually, the Iranians began to coalesce into 2 main groups: 1) the Medes, who lived in the land immediately south of the Caspian Sea; 2) the Persians, who settled nearer to the body of water that we know as the Persian Gulf --by ca. 700 BCE, the two confederacies dominated the region, and began to fight for supremacy amongst themselves --and with this struggle between the Medes and the Persians around 700 BCE, we see the first stirrings of what would become the mighty Persian Empire --so…how did it begin? 3. The Founding of the Empire by Cyrus the Great --well, to answer that question, we have to look to the story of one man, a king whom history knows as “Kuraš” or “Cyrus the Great” --let me tell you about him --what we know of Cyrus comes to us largely from the pen of one of Greece’s most esteemed early historians, Herodotus --Herodotus is the author of The Histories, a work that is generally regarded as the first historical book in all of history --in this work, Herodotus claimed that the great Persian monarch, Cyrus, had an extraordinary rise to power --and while many of the details are probably embellished, it is nevertheless a fascinating and instructive tale: --it seems that before Cyrus was born, his grandfather King Astyages of the Medes had a disturbing dream --in it, he dreamt that his daughter Mandane (who was Cyrus’s mother), emitted a vast quantity of urine; she produced so much water that she deluged Astyages’ capital city and then drowned out all of Asia --well, Astyages was perplexed by this vision, so he decided to take his dream to the Median priests (i.e., the so-called magi–this comes from the Persian word magush) and ask them what it all meant --after carefully considering the significance of the dream, the magi warned the king that because of his daughter, the kingdom of the Medes would be put in dire circumstances


--frightened by what they told him, Astyages decided to give Mandane in marriage to a Persian king named Cambyses --he figured that with his daughter safely out of the kingdom, the prophetic dream couldn’t come true --well, Mandane and Cambyses were not married more than a year when Astyages once again had a dream; this time he saw a vine issuing from Mandane's womb, and this vine eventually strangled the whole of Asia. --again, the magi saw this dream as a bad omen and they told the king that if Mandane had a son, he would grow up to usurp Astyages’ throne --so, Astyages sent for his pregnant daughter and kept her under tight guard until the child was born. --he then gave instructions to a Median nobleman named Harpagus, namely, that he should kill the baby and dispose of the corpse --well, as you might expect, Harpagus had misgivings about the task, and decided not to kill the baby --instead, he called for a herdsman (a shepherd) and ordered him to carry out the king's command, adding that he would be severely punished if the child was allowed to live. --it just so happened, however, that the herdsman’s wife had recently given birth to a stillborn child, and the couple decided to keep the royal infant and bring it up as their own. --the couple then presented Harpagus with the corpse of their still-born baby, claiming that it was the prince who they were supposed to dispose of --(I might mention that) in another version of the story, instead of giving the baby to the shepherd, Harpagus exposed the infant on a hillside, figuring that at least he was giving the baby at least half a chance at survival --very soon, a wild dog came along and took pity on the boy --she adopted the infant as her own, and suckled him for a number of months along with her puppies --in this version, it was only at this point that the shepherd and his wife entered the story (i.e., they discovered the dog and boy together, took both home) --anyway…as so often happens in stories of this sort, Cyrus soon developed into an outstanding young boy, and he quickly began to develop the royal qualities of leadership. --for example, one day, during a game with other children, Cyrus was chosen to play king. --because of the royal blood coursing through his veins, Cyrus quickly “got into the role” and in the course of the game, he beat the son of a nobleman because the boy refused to take orders from him. --well, the father of the badly beaten boy complained to King Astyages, who in turn called for Cyrus in order to punish him. --when Cyrus was brought before him, Astyages quickly discovered that this was not the son of a herdsman, but was instead his own grandson, the son of Mandane


--Astyages was outraged at the duplicity of his nobleman, Harpagus (i.e., the one who had given the boy to the shepherd so many years before) --as a punishment, King Astyages ordered that the son of Harpagus should be killed and roasted over a fire, and that Harpagus should eat the cooked remains of his dead son before an assembly of Median nobles --and, after consulting the magi, the king allowed Cyrus to return to Persia and to his real parents. --well, as you can imagine, Harpagus went mad with fury --he vowed to avenge his son's death and began to encourage Cyrus to seize King Astyages’ throne. --and, because Cyrus had his own reasons for hating his grandfather, Harpagus’ scheming quickly began to bear fruit --Cyrus went out into the towns and villages, he rode out into the countryside; everywhere he went, he persuaded the Persian and Median tribespeople to support him in his coming insurrection --with such powerful and widespread support, Cyrus quickly succeeded in overthrowing his grandfather and then became the ruler of the united Medes and Persians --well, it’s impossible to determine just how much of the foregoing story is embellishment --historians think that the rough contours of the story might be accurate, but that the details are a little far-fetched --so, it seems likely that Cyrus unified the Persians and the Medes after rebelling against his grandfather, but he probably wasn’t raised by dogs 4. Growth of the Empire --anyway…whatever route Cyrus took to power, it seems that by 550 BCE he had vanquished his grandfather and consolidated his victory --and, in the 20 years between 550 and 530 BCE, he did nothing less than redraw the map of western Asia --in 546, for example, he sent his cavalry into Asia Minor, where they utterly decimated the indigenous people (Greeks, and a culture called the Lydians); it was said that the smell of Cyrus’s camels caused a panic amongst the opponents’ horses --by 544, all the cities of Asia Minor were in the hands of the Persians --a few years later, Cyrus’s troops swept into Mesopotamia, where, through a combination of intimidation and diplomacy, he managed to subject the entire region to Persian domination --indeed, he installed his son, Cambyses, as the King of Babylon --this would mark the first time in almost 3000 years that a foreign monarch sat on the throne of a Mesopotamian kingdom --well, Cyrus died like the warlord he was: in the saddle --and in his wake, Cambyses, rose to take his father’s place


--the son would govern between 530-522 BCE --perhaps to honor his father’s memory, perhaps to put his own stamp on the growing Persian Empire, Cambyses also pursued an aggressive imperialistic policy --however, Cambyses decided to set his sights on a much richer prize: Egypt --and, in a series of extremely bloody battles, the Persians under Cambyses managed to incorporate the Kingdom of the Nile into the growing Persian Empire --Cambyses declared himself pharaoh of Egypt in 526 --as was the case with Mesopotamia, the Persian triumph over the Egyptians marked the beginning of the end for an ancient civilization --well, Cambyses didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of his labour, as he was assassinated on an expedition back to the Persian homeland in 522 --in the wake of the murder, the Persian world was submerged into a vicious civil war, one that involved dozens of Cyrus’ and Cambyses’ uncles and cousins --at length, one man emerged victorious --he was a king who would become one of the most influential and important monarchs of the ancient world --I’m speaking, of course, of “Darayavauch,” or “Darius the Great” 5. Darius the Great (522-486 BCE) --well, if Cyrus gave birth to the Persian Empire, and if Cambyses had grandiose plans to extend it, then it was Darius who presided over the apogee (or high water mark) of Persian civilization --Darius was actually a very distant cousin of Cyrus, but was, nevertheless a member of the so-called Achemenides dynasty (i.e., the dynasty to which Cyrus and Cambyses belonged) --he became king, as I said, during the power struggle that grew up in the wake of Cambyses’ assassination --from the beginning of his reign, Darius pushed the borders of the Persian empire even further: in the east, he extended Persian control right up to the Indus River (i.e., between Pakistan and India) --in the west, he sent his troops as far as the Danube River (indeed, the Persians were one of the first peoples to build a bridge over the Danube --further to the south, he established a string of forts throughout Thrace (i.e., Bulgaria and the northeastern part of modern Greece) --by 500 BCE, Darius was on the doorstep of Thessalonica, one of the northern provinces of mainland Greece --Darius was also interested in building up Persia’s maritime capabilities --accordingly, he dispatched fleets into the waters of the Indus Delta, the Red Sea, the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean


--he even built a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea so that his navies could be moved or redeployed from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean with relative ease --next, he turned to the administration of his growing sphere of influence --first, he moved his capital westward from the traditional Persian homeland to the city of Susa, on the frontier between modern Iraq and Iran --this was closer to the centre of his expanding empire, and presumably, he could govern Persia more efficiently from this location --next, he ordered his engineers to repair and extend an important military road that had initially been built by his predecessor, Cyrus --this road extended from the capital city at Susa, up the Tigris River, across Anatolia almost to the shore of the Mediterranean at Sardis in western Turkey --this was the so-called Persian Royal Road, and it represented one of the greatest public works projects that the world had ever known (indeed, at its height, the road extended more than 1600 miles from east to west) --at intervals along this road were over 100 rest stops and horse relays (i.e., places where riders could exchange an exhausted horse for one that was well rested) --these stations aided the king’s official messengers who traveled the route in a manner that was very similar to the Pony Express --according to sources, the entire distance, from Susa to Sardis could be covered in seven grueling 24-hour days. --so, if there was trouble at any point along the road, the royal court at Susa would hear about it within the week --it was an amazingly efficient transportation and communication route --in fact, the Persian king’s messengers were so dedicated to their task that the Greek Historian Herodotus claimed: “There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these Persian couriers…Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed” i) Administration and Satrapies --it was also Darius who divided the Persian world into 20 individual provinces, or satrapies (sing. satrapy, pl. satrapies) --over each satrapy there was a governor, or satrap, who was usually related to the king by blood or marriage --so, for example, Egypt became a separate satrapy, as did Babylonia, Armenia, Palestine and so on --the satrap’s court was a miniature version of the central court at Susa --and, because the satrapies quickly became hereditary, these provincial administrators quickly acquired a great amount of knowledge about local conditions and they developed close connections with the local native elite --and the further a province was from the centre at Susa, the more independent and autonomous the satraps became --this type of administration also brought significant numbers of Persians from the centre of the empire to the provinces, with a net result of acculturation


--that is, through intermarriage and other forms of cultural and technological exchanges, the Persian way of doing things was dispersed throughout the empire from the banks of the Indus, to the Danube and from the deserts of Sudan to the steppe country of Scythia ii) Court Life --above it all, the king presided from his sumptuous court at Susa --the first thing a foreign observer would have noticed about the Persian king’s domestic space, apart from the fabulous wealth that was everywhere on display, was the presence of large numbers of women and children --a number of sources point to this fact, including Herodotus’s Histories as well as the biblical book of Esther --the reason for such large numbers is that the Persian king traditionally had numerous wives, and in turn, each wife usually had a significant number of children --the wives of the Persian kings have traditionally been portrayed as schemers and connivers: indeed, many stories imply that the queens of Persia used intrigues and machinations to try and put their own children on the throne --however, a recent study suggests that this view is an over-generalized stereotype, and that in fact, royal Persian women played an important role protecting family members and in mediating conflicts (both domestic and external) --as well, new research seems to indicate that many of the kings wives were politically influential, possessed substantial property holdings, traveled and were prominent on public occasions --in addition to the royal family, the king’s entourage included several other groups: 1) the sons of Persian aristocrats; they were brought to Susa for two reasons: i) to be educated; ii) to serve as hostages against their parents’ good behaviour 2) noblemen; these were expected to attend the king whenever he commanded it 3) the central bureaucrats 4) the royal bodyguard 5) non-noble courtiers and slaves --the net effect was deeply impressive --when diplomats met the king, they very often saw hundreds, or even thousands, of people in attendance --each of them showed profound deference and obedience to the increasingly remote figure of the king --as the decades wore on, the Persian king became more aloof, more splendid and more majestic --his full title became: “The Great King, King of Kings, King in Persia, King of Countries” --and he referred to everyone, even the Persian nobility as “my slaves” --anyone who approached him had to ensure that their head never rose above the level of the king’s head --and no one could contradict anything he said


--the king owned vast tracts of land throughout his empire --some of it he parceled out to his noble subordinates --these gifts were called “bow lands,” “horse lands,” or “chariot lands” and in return for the gift, a Persian noble was expected to provide the king with military service whenever he was called upon to do so --of course, the king reserved the best land for himself, and so, scattered throughout the empire he had a large number of orchards, pleasure gardens and hunting preserves --some of these estates were referred to as paradayadam (lit. “walled enclosure”), which has come into English as the word “paradise” --and indeed, these lush, verdant oases must have been particularly impressive, situated against the backdrop of sand and dust