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Main Idea
The Persians formed one of
the largest and best governed
empires in the ancient world
and made great cultural
Focus Questions
Focus Questions
• Who shaped the growth and organization
of the Persian Empire?
• What were the most significant Persian
• How did Darius balance the problems of
governing a huge empire?
Growth and Organization
Persia under the Medes Cyrus the Great
• Both Indo-European • Defeated Medes in 559 BC
tribes • Founded and enlarged
• Medes conquered Persian Empire
Persians • Freed Jews in Babylon
• Persians allowed to keep • Respected by those he
their own leaders as long conquered
as they Darius
did not rebel Persia in Decline
• Enlarged Empire to • Rule of Darius high point
Greatest size of Persian culture
• Strengthened army, • Son, Xerxes, failed to
empire conquer Greece, last
• Built Royal Road strong ruler
• Created satraps to help • Persia conquered by
• Governing such a far-flung empire
would prove to be a more difficult
challenge than conquering it
• Darius was an excellent administrator
• He arrived at a finely tuned balance
between central initiative and local
• Centralization
– Authority
– Persepolis
– Royal Road
– Standardized taxes
• Localization
– Satraps
– Tolerance
Centralization: Authority
• Persian rulers held the official title of
“The Great King, King of Kings, King of
Persia, King of Countries”
• King’s decision on all matters of policy
was final
• King was commander-in-chief of the
army and ceremoniously took his
position in the center of the formation
Centralization: Persepolis

• Soon after Darius • Persepolis had vast

came to power he reception halls, lavish
began centralizing royal residences, and
his administration a well-protected
• About 520 he treasury
began building a • It was designed to be
new capital in not just an
Persepolis administrative center
– Would become the but also a monument
nerve center of the to the Achaemenid
Persian empire dynasty
Localization: Satraps
• Darius divided the kingdom
into 23 satrapies • Before Darius, Cyrus had
– Administrative and accepted irregular,
taxation districts
governed by satraps periodic “gifts” as tribute
• Satraps were royal from subject lands and
appointees, often members cities
of the royal dynasty by birth
or marriage • Though often lavish, these
– Satrapies tended to gifts did not provide a
become virtually consistent and reliable
hereditary source of income
• Principal duty of the satrap
was to collect taxes and – Darius changed all that
deliver them to the central
Centralization: Standardized
• Darius replaced the
irregular payments
with formal tax levies
• Each satrapy was
required to pay a set
quantity of silver– and
in some cases a levy of
horses and slaves also–
to the imperial court Gold coin issued by
• In order to expedite Darius, known after him
payments, he issued as a daric
standard coins
Localization: Legal & Religious
• “Now then, Tattenai,
• Darius did not governor of Trans-
abolish the Euphrates, and Shethar-
existing laws of Bozenai and you, their fellow
officials of that province,
individual lands stay away from there. Do
and peoples not interfere with the work
• He had no on this temple of God. Let
the governor of the Jews and
uniform law code the Jewish elders rebuild this
for the entire house of God on its site.”
empire Ezra 6: 6-7
• Darius also funded the
project and provided harsh
Centralization: Royal Road
• The Royal Road stretched • Darius established 111
1,600 miles from the postal stations at 25 to 30
Aegean port of Ephesus mile intervals along the
to Sardis in Anatolia, route
through Mesopotamia
along the Tigris River, to • Each station kept a fresh
Susa in Iran, with an supply of horses so
extension to Pasargadae couriers could travel the
and Persepolis entire route in one week
• Caravans took 90 days to • Herodotus praised the
travel the route
couriers saying, “Neither
• Inns along the way snow nor rain nor heat nor
provided lodging
gloom of night stays these
• The road was well policed couriers from the swift
for safety
completion of their
appointed rounds.”
Checks and Balances

• Since the satraps were often far away from

Persepolis, there was always the possibility
they might ally with local groups and become
independent of the central authority
• To prevent this, Darius:
– Placed a contingent of military officers and tax
collectors in each satrapy to serve as a check on
the satrap’s power and influence
– Appointed agents to serve as “the eyes and ears of
the king” by traveling throughout the empire
conducting surprise audits and gathering
End of an Empire
• Ultimately the Persian Empire will fall as it
continues to try to expand westward and goes
to war with the Greeks

• Falls to Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.

• Alexander will have an even larger empire and

he will rely largely on established Persian
institutions such as the satrapies to govern it