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A Brief History of Persian Empire





The civilisation on the Iranian plateau is very ancient; copper was smelted there about 5500 BCE, and Elam in the lowlands lagged only slightly behind Sumer in the development of hieroglyphic writing 5,000 years ago. However, the Elamites adopted the written language of Akkadian as the most universal language of the area for two millennia. An overlord in Susa ruled over vassal princes.



Proto-Iranian & Elamite Period

The oldest written document of a treaty found so far was between the Akkadian Naram-Sin and an Elamite king about 43 centuries ago. Much of what is known about Elamite civilisation comes to us from Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian records. The cities of Susa and Anshan were important links for trade and communication between Mesopotamia and the Harrapan culture of the Indus valley. Elam overthrew the Third dynasty of Ur in the 21st century BCE; three centuries later they were conquered by Babylon's Hammurabi, but they were able to defeat his son.


In the 17th century BCE when the Kassites began to take over Babylon, they also dominated Elam, as Aryans came through Iran on their way to India bringing Indo-Iranian languages in the first half of the second millennium BCE. Elam clashed with Assyria in the thirteenth century BCE but reached its height of power in the twelfth century BCE when Shutruk-nahhunte I overthrew the Kassites in Babylon, and his son took the statue of Marduk to Susa. King Shilkhak-Inshushinak invaded Assyria as far as Ashur and besieged Babylon, establishing a brief Elamite empire which used the proto-Elamite script in its inscriptions. However, before the twelfth century was over, Babylon's Nebuchadrezzar I defeated the Elamites and took Marduk's statue back. For the next three centuries little is known of Elamite culture. Assyrian military campaigns against Elam in the eighth century BCE increased in the seventh century climaxing in 639 BCE when Ashurbanipal's armies destroyed Susa and sowed the land with salt. Elam continued to exist for another century but never rose to power again.



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  The Median Dynastic Empire (Click to enlarge)

Coming of Aryans and Formation of the Iranian Empires

The name Iran derives from the word "Aryan," and in the first half of the first millennium BCE Iranian-speaking peoples moved gradually into the area of the Zagros mountains, the largest groups being the Medes and the Persians. More effective use of iron tools and irrigation from the ninth to the seventh centuries BCE enabled the Iranians to farm more successfully and increase population in the plains. The Aryans brought horses and chariots, and their use of cavalry stimulated the Assyrians to do the same. The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III conquered and deported 65,000 Medes replacing them on the plateau with Aramaeans. Urartu led by its king Rusas I tried to fight back against the Assyrians, and the semi-legendary first king of the Medes, Daiukku, was said to have united dozens of tribal chiefs to join the effort. According to Herodotus Daiukku had been made king because of his reputation for making fair judgments. Assyria's Sargon II defeated dozens of Median chiefs and settled 30,000 captured Israelis in the towns of the Medes in the late eighth century BCE. From the northwest came Scythians and Cimmerians who devastated Urartu so badly that Rusas committed suicide.


While Assyrian king Sennacherib was busy fighting Babylon, Elam, Egypt, and Judea, the Medes rallied around Khshathrita (called Phraortes by Herodotus), the son of Daiukku, and with Cimmerians as allies and Persians as vassals they attacked Nineveh in 653 BCE but were defeated, and Khshathrita was killed. The Scythians took advantage of this opportunity by invading and subjugating the Medes for 28 years. Herodotus told how the next Median king Cyaxares killed the drunken Scythian chieftains at a banquet and went on to recover Median power. The growing hatred of the Assyrian nobility, priests, military, administrators, and merchants was going to bring about the downfall of that empire. Adopting the specialized military units that had been used by the Urartians and Assyrians for more than a century, the Medes marched west and took Arrapkha in 615 BCE, surrounded Nineveh the next year, and then went on to take Ashur by storm. Nineveh fell in 612 BCE with help from the Babylonians. The Assyrian empire was divided between the Medes and the Babylonians.


Babylon ruled over the southern and western section, while Media controlled the north and east former empire. The Medes came into conflict with Lydia, the only power in Asia Minor, and fought with them for five years before an eclipse of the sun stimulated superstitious Lydian king to agree to a truce with Iranians, mediated by Babylonians in 585 BCE. That same year Astyages succeeded as Median king and ruled for 35 years. Astyages was reluctant to engage in continual conquest and thus alienated the ambitious aristocracy. A plot of the nobles was organized by Hypargus, and border tribes were incited to rebel by Oebares and others. After the uprising of the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who also was the grandson of Astyages, Babylonian king Nabonidus invaded Harran in 553 BCE. Faced with Cyrus's revolt and the betrayal of the Median aristocracy, Astyages was captured, and the royal city of Ecbatana had to submit to Cyrus.


Cyrus the Great inherited the vassal kingdom of Persia from his father Cambyses I in 559 BCE. The mother of Cyrus the Great, named Māndānā was daughter of the last Median king Astyages. Herodotus, who delighted in relating stories of how oracles and dreams unexpectedly came true, wrote that because of a dream Astyages tried to have Cyrus murdered when he was a baby; but Hypargus did not want to kill him and left it to another who saved the child. When the boy was found to be acting like a king he was discovered and returned to his true mother and father. This ironic story may have been fabricated to justify Cyrus for overthrowing his grandfather.


  Achaemenid Dynastic Empire

(Click to enlarge)


As a vassal king in Anshan, Cyrus reigned from his capital at Pasargadae and united seven Persian princes into a royal council under his leadership. Cyrus initiated diplomatic relations with Babylon's king Nabonidus and was able to win over Hypargus and much of the Median aristocracy when he revolted against Astyages and took over the Median empire in 550 BCE. 


Cyrus which history gave him the tile of 'the Great', with a vision of a 'world order', and national under one government, began executing his doctrine by expanding his empire, and soon bypassed the fortresses of Babylon and marched north to capture the former Assyrian cities of Arbela and Ashur whose gods' statues had been taken to Babylon. Harran, the city sacred to Nabonidus, must also have fallen, as Cyrus proceeded on to invade Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Armenia. In each of these cases Cyrus allowed native kings to retain power under his rule as he established satrapies. 


Croesus, who held the regional power as king of Lydia, formed an alliance with Egypt's Amasis, Babylon's Nabonidus, and the Spartans. Believing the Delphic oracle, which declared he would destroy a great empire, Croesus refused to be a king under Persian sovereignty. Croesus crossed the Halys River, which divided the empires, and began to devastate the Syrian lands in Cappadocia and enslave the inhabitants not driven out. The Median general Hypargus suggested to Cyrus to place camels in the front line which intimidate the Lydians' horses and enabled the Persians to win a victory and take Sardis after a two-week siege and Lydia became part of the Persian Empire. Croesus blamed Apollo for his defeat, saying, "No one is fool enough to choose war instead of peace - in peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons. Yet he had chosen war."


Since Miletus was the only city with Greek inhabitants to surrender, the others were conquered by the Persian army led by Hypargus; then the islanders surrendered. Cyrus once again was able to use local disaffection for another easy victory over a Mesopotamian power, this time Babylon, winning over their general Gobryas, who took Uruk in 546 and Babylon in 539 BCE and become satrap of the new province of Babirush. While in Babylon Cyrus issued the world's first declaration of human rights, also known as the 'the bill of rights'. Business went on without much change under Persian rule, however, abolished the slavery and forced labour, respected the faiths religions and gods, and freed the slaved Jews and permitted to return to their homeland under generous conditions that allowed them to take the precious utensils that had been stolen from their temple a half century before by the Babylonians. Cyrus had been heralded as the Lord's anointed by Jewish prophets.


Cyrus the Great also expanded the Persian empire greatly in the east to the edge of India; but if he was influenced by the new religion of Zarathushtra, it did not quell his desire for imperial conquest. Near the Jaxartes River he ran into the Massagetae led by Queen Tomyris who sent him the following message:

King of the Medes, I advise you to abandon this enterprise,
for you cannot know if in the end it will do you any good.
Rule your own people, and try to bear the sight of me ruling mine.
But of course you will refuse my advice;
as the last thing you wish for is to live in peace.8

According to Herodotus, in 529 BCE a bloody battle was fought, destroying most of the Persian army and killing Cyrus, however Babylonian chronicles proves otherwise, and reports that Curs died in peace.


Eight years before he died Cyrus had made his son Cambyses king of Babylon, while a second son Bardiya administered the eastern provinces. When Cambyses II succeeded his father, he had his brother Bardiya secretly assassinated and then invaded Egypt, according to Herodotus claim. Cambyses with the Bedouin help, crossed the Egyptian desert. In a battle, in which mercenaries from Greek city states fought on both sides, the Egyptian forces of Psamtik III fled to Memphis, which then fell to the Persians. From Egypt Cambyses tried to attack Carthage, but his Phoenician allies refused to fight against their own former colony. According to Herodotus, a venture against a Libyan oasis failed because of a sandstorm. Cambyses did manage to invade Nubia, but the Persians suffered great losses on their return. In 522 BCE a man claiming he was Bardiya rose up and tried to rule in Persia, and Cambyses headed home but died on the way.



Darius the Great and Achaemenid Empire

Darius, a Persian prince and governor of Parthia who had commanded the ten thousand immortals against Egypt, led a group of seven Persian nobles, maintained control of the army, and put down the revolt, defeating the false Bardiya two months after the death of Cambyses, though it took two years to put down the various revolts in the empire. 


Darius sent forces led by Otanes to help Syloson, the exiled brother of Polycrates, to retake the island of Samos. He appointed Zerubbabel governor of Judah, and when the order of Cyrus to restore the temple was discovered, Darius supported that project. In 519 BCE Darius himself crossed the Caspian Sea and led the invasion of the eastern Scythians, and the following winter he marched to Egypt where he sought wise men and reinstated the former Egyptian laws. He also ordered the digging of a canal 150 feet wide from the Nile River to the Gulf of Suez, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. According to Herodotus, Darius's canal was wide enough that two triremes could pass each other with oars extended, and required four days to traverse. Darius commemorated his achievement with a number of granite stelae that he set up on the Nile bank, including one near Kabret, and a further one a few miles north of Suez. The Darius Inscriptions reads:

"Saith King Darius: I am a Persian. Setting out from Persia, I conquered Egypt. I ordered this canal dug from the river called the Nile that flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. When the canal had been dug as I ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, even as I intended."


After seizing a great empire Darius endeavoured to judge it by establishing laws. The empire was divided into twenty provinces or known as 'Satrapis', each governed by a Persian satrap (xšaθrapāvan, the protector of the province) and a commander-in-chief. The Persians were exempted from taxation, and India's gold provided nearly a third of the total annual tribute valued at 14,500 talents of silver. Inspectors called "the ears of the king" kept him informed and had their own armed forces. The laws were intended to keep the weak safe and protected. Judges were appointed for life unless they were removed for miscarriage of justice. Darius claimed that he loved what is right and hated lies and what is wrong, that he was not angry but restrained those who were angry. Those who injured he punished. Those who did not speak the truth, he did not trust, believing that anyone who lies, destroys. He even withdrew a death sentence when he realized that he had violated his own law not to execute anyone for only one crime, but in weighing the man's services against his crime ended up making him a governor. However, the death penalty was used for offences against the state or the royal family.


Darius the Great encouraged trade and economic development in a number of ways. He standardized weights and measures and coinage on a bimetallic system of gold and silver that had been introduced by Croesus in Lydia. Darius created a network of roads including a royal highway from Susa to Sardis in Lydia. He commended the satrap of Asia Minor and Syria for transplanting fruit trees from beyond the Euphrates. Sesame spread to Egypt, and rice was planted in Mesopotamia. Generally large estates were worked by serfs and war-captured soldiers but paid for their works. Industry not only produced luxury goods made from precious metals, but also trade of useful tools, household products, and inexpensive clothing raised the living standards of many people, throughout the Empire. However, the empire did have to be supported, and there were taxes on ports, internal trade, and sales as well as on estates, fields, gardens, flocks, and mines. The wages of skilled workers, labourers, and even women and children were strictly regulated.


The Indus valley had been subdued and made into the satrapy of Hindush by 513 BCE when Darius the Great crossed the Bosphorus and led an attack against the Scythians who also were of the Iranian stock. With the vassal help of hundreds of Phoenician ships the Persians defeated the Getae and got the Thracians to submit. However, the Scythians destroyed their own land and while retreating harassed the Persian army with arrows from horsemen. King Darius fled back to Asia but left behind 800,000 soldiers led by Megabazus, Median satrap of Dascyleium, to continue the fighting. The next year Libya was conquered after a nine-month siege of Barca, while Megabazus was taking the towns of Thrace one by one and deporting their warriors to Phrygia. Envoys demanded of Macedonia's Amyntas earth and water, the sign of submission, and he complied. Darius appointed his brother Artaphrenes satrap in Sardis to oversee the Greek cities of Ionia, and he replaced Megabazus with Otanes, who controlled the grain trade through the straits, cutting off the Scythians from Greek art treasures, Milesian business, and threatening the food supply of the European Greeks. Megabazus strengthened this blockade by capturing the islands of Lemnos and Imbros.



Persian-Greek Wars

For Persians, the Greeks were considered as low beings and savages who had no honour, treated women as objects and used them only for breeding, their men were sinful who slept with each other, and they could be easily purchased and turned against each other. As the result, Persians had no intention to rule over them or include them into their empire.


In 500 BCE, as the result of provocation from Athens and Eretria, the Ionians revolted (cities of Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria) against the Persian sovereignty, attacked Sardis and after pillaging, raping and killing the inhabitants burnt it down. Darius promised that Ionians along with Athens and Eretria will be punished for their atrocities committed in Sardis.


The war went on between the Persian army and savages went on sporadically until the Persians defeated the their fleet off Miletus in 494 BCE. The next spring Chios, Lesbos, and Tenedos were taken along with mainland cities. Cities and temples were burned. Only the historian Hecataeus, who had opposed the revolt, was spared. The Ionian cities that had been allowed local autonomy before were now brought under imperial administration. Private wars between cities were no longer allowed but were arbitrated. A census was taken, and the taxation imposed on the weakened cities was burdensome. Darius appointed his son-in-law Mardonius, who according to Herodotus ejected irresponsible despots from Ionian cities and set up democracies. The Persians took Thasos after which much of the Persian fleet and over 20,000 men were destroyed by a storm off Athos. At the same time a Thracian tribe of Brygi inflicted heavy losses on the Persian army on land while wounding Mardonius, who eventually subdued them before retreating to the Empire.


In 490 BCE Darius the Great sent envoys to Greek cities demanding the earth and water of submission, to repel their sporadic attack ont he cities of the Empire. The trading island of Aegina cooperated, but Sparta and Athens were determined to resist. The Persian attack was led by Datis. When the people of Naxos fled to the interior, the city was burned. Eretrians were divided but decided only to defend themselves, not to attack. After the Persians had assaulted Eretria for six days, two democrats betrayed the city hoping their party would gain power; but the Persians made the moral mistake of destroying the temples and enslaving the people. This stimulated the Athenians to attack the Persians on the plain of Marathon, defeating them so badly that the Persians fled for home.


In Egypt where graft had been rampant, Darius instituted a new code of laws. The Egyptian satrap Aryandes was executed for violating the coining laws, probably for melting down royal coins with the king's image and selling the bullion at an enormous profit, which was considered treason. Upset by the heavy taxation imposed to raise money for the war against Greek city states, in 486 BCE a revolt erupted in Egypt and was soon followed by the death of Darius.


His eldest son by Queen Atossa the daughter of Cyrus the Great become the new King of Kings. Xerxes, who had been administering Babylon as viceroy for twelve years, became King of the Persians and the Medes and the four corners of the world, spent his first imperial year putting down the Egyptian revolt as well as Babylon after their satrap Zopyrus was killed in a revolt in 482 BCE. As the result, the Babylonian fortifications demolished and was incorporated into the Assyrian satrapy, which had to provide a thousand talents of silver. Even the name Babylonians also changed to the Chaldaeans.


Urged on by the war party led by Mardonius, Xerxes amassed a huge army formed from 46 nations and commanded by 29 Iranian (Persian and Median) generals, to launch an attack against Greece. Gold raiment marked the 10,000 immortals, elite Persian and Median soldiers allowed to bring their concubines and servants on the march. The navy of 1200 ships was mostly furnished by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Anatolians, and by Dorian, Aeolian, and Ionian Greeks. Half of the Persian imperial army was used - about 180,000 men. So confident were they that when they caught three men in Sardis spying for the Greek allies, they showed them the vast army and let them go make their report.


However, the Persians suffered losses when they met determined resistance from 300 Spartans at the Thermopylae pass, though eventually the Spartans were killed, and the Thebans surrendered and were branded. The army of Xerxes then burned deserted Plataea and Thespiae before entering Athens and burning the acropolis. In the major naval battle at Salamis the imperial navy lost 200 ships, the Greek allies only 40. Xerxes reacted by executing the Phoenician captains, causing the Phoenicians and Egyptians to go home. Xerxes then went back to Sardis, leaving Mardonius in command. At Plataea both armies had been promised victory by seers if they stayed on the defensive. Mardonius refused to retire and bought the Greek defenders. When the allies were withdrawing, which might have broken up the coalition, the Persians attacked, causing the desperate Greeks to fight. Mardonius himself entered the battle and was slain along with his guard of a thousand Persians. This and news of the Persian defeat at the island of Mycale caused the imperial army to retire from the newly seized lands. As the result, Greek city states become united and formed the Delian league led by Athens, which attacked Thrace in 476 BCE, driving Persian imperialism out of modern Greece except at Doriscus and Macedonia. 


In 466 BCE two hundred Greek ships invaded Caria and shot arrows into besieged Phasaelis, persuading them to pay ten talents and join the war with Persians. Xerxes sent a navy, but eighty ships were delayed at Cyprus and captured after the battle at the Eurymedon.


In 465 BCE Xerxes was assassinated in the royal bedchamber by a conspiracy led by Artabanus, Megabyzus, and the eunuch chamberlain Aspamitres. Artabanus was able to persuade 18-year-old Artaxerxes that his older brother Darius, who hated Xerxes for seducing his wife, had killed their father, causing Artaxerxes to murder his brother Darius. When Artabanus tried to get rid of Artaxerxes, he was betrayed by Megabyzus and killed after wounding the young king. The eunuch Aspamitres was put to death. Hystaspis, another brother of the new king, revolted in Bactria and was defeated by Artaxerxes, who then made sure that all his brothers were killed. Artaxerxes reigned the Persian empire for forty years collecting annual taxes that totalled about 10,000 talents plus nearly half as much again from India. Little value from this ever went back to the satrapies that provided it except in payment to imperial soldiers from their countries. Taxes were so heavy that many had to borrow money at 40% interest until they were ruined and lost their land to the original owners, who were also being taxed. Many revolts resulted from this oppression.


In Egypt Inaros, a son of Psamtik of the Saite line, drove out the tax collectors and requested aid from Athens in 460 BCE. The satrap Achaemenes was killed, and most of Memphis was taken. While this revolt continued, Ezra was given permission by Artaxerxes to take the written law of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. Persian money aided Sparta in defeating Athens at Tanagra in 457 BCE, and a pacified Judah allowed safe passage of the Persian army led by Syrian satrap Megabyzus on its way to Egypt where it drove the Athenians out of Memphis, capturing 6,000 Greeks. Inaros and the Greeks were taken to Persia, and several years later the queen ordered him and fifty Greeks executed. Some Greeks were still holding out in the Nile Delta when Cimon of Athens attacked Cyprus with 200 ships, but the Persians successfully resisted this and the ships that were sent to Egypt.


In 449 BCE a peace treaty was made between Athens and Persia which confirmed what had been the situation before the long war. Persia acknowledged the autonomy of the Greek cities in Asia, while the Athenians renounced attempts to liberate others there as long as the Persian king would recognize the autonomy of his vassal Greek cities and their low tribute amount from before the war. A demilitarized zone was proclaimed around the borders between the two empires. Athens also agreed not to support rebellions in Egypt and Libya. However, when the queen had the Greeks and Inaros executed, Megabyzus, upset that his pledge had been violated, revolted in Syria. After redeeming his honor in two victories against the empire, Megabyzus agreed to return to loyalty provided he remain satrap. This Syrian revolt may have stimulated rebellious feelings in Jerusalem where the walls were being rebuilt. Artaxerxes ordered this building stopped and the work destroyed, but later his cupbearer Nehemiah with the help of wine persuaded the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, and Nehemiah was even given an armed guard for his journey.


Herodotus recited his History in Athens in 445 BCE, as Pericles made a thirty years' peace with Sparta and moved toward challenging the Persian empire by accepting a large present of gold and grain from Libyan rebel Psamtik and establishing tribute districts from cities in Caria, Ionia, Hellespont, and the islands. When democratic Miletus appealed to Athens after having been defeated by oligarchic Samos, Pericles in 441 BCE sent an expedition to re-establish the democracy. The oligarchs driven out turned to Pissouthnes, the satrap of Sardis, who allowed 700 mercenaries to be hired to recover the island and capture the Greek garrison for the satrap. Samos, however, was taken over by the Athenians when Phoenician ships failed to defend it. Thus the peace treaty was broken. Persia regained some cities, and Pericles countered with imperial gains in the Black Sea area.


Megabyzus, who on a hunt had saved Artaxerxes from a charging lion, was exiled for killing an animal before his master, and his son Zopyrus aided by Athenians assaulted Caunus and was killed. Megabyzus eventually was invited back to the king's table; but when he died, his wife Amytis, the king's sister, became the mistress of a Greek physician, who when it was discovered was buried alive for polluting the royal blood, Amytis dying the same day.


Jews complained of the Persian taxes, but Nehemiah who as governor was supported by the imperial bureaucracy, blamed the rich Jews and said he loaned money without interest. Nehemiah's criticism of the wealthy probably led to his recall by Artaxerxes in 433 BCE, but he returned to Jerusalem again to institute reforms such as forbidding commerce on the Sabbath. Meanwhile a plague spread from Ethiopia through Egypt and into Athens and the Persian empire that further oppressed the overtaxed. The Persian court sent the great beauty Thargelia and courtesans to gather information from lusty Athenian statesmen.


When Artaxerxes and his queen died on the same day in 424 BCE, Xerxes II became king but was killed a month and a half later while sleeping after heavy drinking at a festival. Secydianus, the assassin, was a son of Artaxerxes by a Babylonian concubine; but he was replaced by a different Babylonian concubine's son, who raised an army in Babylon and declared himself Darius II, promising Secydianus half the kingdom but half a year later causing his death; other conspirators in the assassination of the king were put to death or committed suicide. His sister and wife Parysatis became an influential queen especially on behalf of Cyrus, who was the next son born to them. Darius II began by renewing the treaty with the Athenians, but continued imperial taxation caused more fields to go out of cultivation and only be used for grazing.


In 413 BCE Pissouthnes in Sardis revolted; Persian forces led by Tissaphernes compelled him to surrender, and Darius II ordered him killed. When Darius' own son Amorges rebelled in Caria with Athenian aid, Darius decided to help the Spartans fight the Athenians. Governing Sardis now, Tissaphernes started collecting taxes from the Greek cities and offered to support Spartan troops in Asia. Clazomenae, Teos, Lebedos, Ephesus, Phocaea, and Cyrene accepted Persian garrisons and paid their owed tribute. Persia signed a treaty with Sparta through Tissaphernes, agreeing to wage war together against Athens. However, in Sparta politicians refused to ratify a treaty that recognized Persian territory that had belonged to ancestors of the Persian king. When the Spartan ambassador Lichas demanded this change in 411 BCE, Tissaphernes left in a rage. Meanwhile the Athenian Alcibiades, who had gone over to the Spartan side, persuaded Tissaphernes to delay most payments to the Spartans, because a triumphant Sparta would challenge Persian imperialism. In a third treaty Sparta acknowledged Persian taxes in Asia while excluding them from Europe and the islands, and Tissaphernes agreed to pay for Spartan ships. Miletus and Cnidus reacted to this Spartan abandonment by driving the Persian garrisons out.


Darius II had to contend with a revolt by the Medes which he put down and palace intrigues that included a eunuch who tried to make himself king but failed. In Egypt a revolt was motivated by the desire to destroy the Jewish temple at Elephantine that was offensive because of its animal sacrifices. In 409 BCE the Athenians invaded Asia and burned the grain in Lydia. The queen got her 16-year-old son Cyrus appointed commander of the Persian forces in Asia Minor, and he began paying Sparta what had been promised; but he kept the Spartan general Callicratidas waiting two days while he drank. Cyrus also had two sons of the king's sister executed for showing their hands in his presence. Recalled to his ill father, Cyrus turned his money over to Lysander which enabled the Spartans to win the battle at Aegospotami and cut off grain supplies from Russia, starving Athens into surrender in 404 BCE.


By the time Darius II had died in 404 BCE Egypt had revolted and was lost to the Persian empire. Artaxerxes II began his rule by cruelly executing Udiastes for having assassinated Teriteuchmes. Cyrus was caught plotting to murder the new king at his coronation; but their mother pleaded for her favorite, and Cyrus was allowed to return to his satrapy. Cyrus was able to win over the Ionian cities abandoned by the Spartans except for Miletus, which was held by Tissaphernes after they banished their aristocrats. The exiles were received by Pharnabazus, giving Cyrus a reason to gather an army that included 13,000 Greek mercenaries to besiege Miletus. As Cyrus and his army headed east, the mercenaries demanded more money. At Cunaxa near Babylon Cyrus met the Persian army that might otherwise have been used to reconquer Egypt. Cyrus wounded Artaxerxes but was then killed. The next year the queen-mother Parysatis poisoned Queen Stateira and was banished to her native Babylon, but later the forgiving Artaxerxes recalled his mother.


Tissaphernes succeeded Cyrus as margrave of Anatolia, but ungrateful Sparta, roused by accounts of the ten thousand mercenaries' escape from Persia, sent Thibron to liberate Asian Greek cities. He incorporated into his army the mercenaries, who had made it to the Black Sea after their generals were killed. Accused of allowing his troops to plunder their allies, Thibron was replaced by Dercylidas, who made a truce with Tissaphernes and attacked Pharnabazus, who was supported by the Dardanian widow Mania and her Greek mercenaries until she was murdered by her son-in-law Meidias, who allied himself with Spartan Dercylidas and used Mania's treasure to pay 8,000 soldiers for a year. The Spartan army plundered Bithynia, and agreeing to another truce Pharnabazus returned to the king to urge a naval war. Five hundred ships were to be built at Cyprus and put under the command of Athenian admiral Conon and the satrap.


The Spartans marched into Caria, but Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus joined together to defend it and then attacked Ionia; then these two satraps and Dercylidas agreed to a truce for a year. In 396 BCE Spartan king Agesilaus himself arrived and, after a three-month truce which enabled Tissaphernes to send for reinforcements, was ordered to leave Asia. With Caria defended, Agesilaus invaded Phrygia and captured towns of Pharnabazus, whose attacks were avoided by using captives as screens. While Pharnabazus sent Persian money to stir up rebellion against Sparta in Europe, Agesilaus defeated Tissaphernes and captured their camels, the Greeks plundering much unprotected land. Forgiven and plotting once again, Parysatis arranged to have Tithraustes sent to murder Tissaphernes which was accomplished by Ariaios and his men.


Since Agesilaus would not leave Asia without instructions from home, Tithraustes gave him 30 talents to invade Pharnabazus' satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia again. Pharnabazus reacted by confiscating the property of Tissaphernes and giving 220 talents to the Athenian Conon. Tithraustes provided another 700 talents to his generals Ariaios and Pasiphernes for diplomatic maneuvering. By these bribes and diplomatic machinations the Greek cities of Asia were garrisoned by Persian money. Conon had to fight off mercenaries at Cyprus and then went to the winter palace at Babylon to get funds from Artaxerxes II. After ravaging Phrygia, Agesilaus was recalled to Sparta; he said it was because of the king's ten thousand golden archers, by which he meant the gold coins used for diplomacy. Obviously we know more about this west side of the Persian empire and these long wars because of Greek sources; yet the lack of business documents in this period may be because of the devastation and looting in these wars which accomplished little except destruction.


In 394 BCE the Persian navy manned by Phoenicians and Greeks mercenaries defeated the Spartan navy off Cnidus. The old alliance of Persia and Athens established democracies in numerous Asian cities under the auspices of the Persian empire. Only Abydos and Sestos resisted. The Persians and Athenians even ravaged European Laconia and established a Persian garrison on the island of Cythera threatening the Peloponnese. The allies at Corinth were given money, and the walls of Athens were rebuilt by Conon. However, the new satrap of Sardis from Armenia, Tiribazus, now feared the Athenian Empire and had Conon imprisoned and secretly gave money to Antalcidas to build up the Spartan navy. At a peace conference in Sparta, representatives of Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and Argos agreed on a treaty, but Athens rejected it by denouncing and banishing their delegates. At the same time Tiribazus was replaced by Struthas as satrap of Ionia, and he sided with Athens against Sparta. Thibron returned from Ephesus and resumed the war; but he was slain by Struthas at a discus game, and his army was devastated by the Persian cavalry. However, Thibron's successor Diphridas held some cities loyal to Sparta and got money for mercenaries by ransoming the daughter of Struthas and her husband Tigranes.


In all this confusion many rulers showed their independence by issuing coins, including Euagoras of Cyprus, Milkyaton of Citium, Hecatomnus of Caria, and Autophradates of Lycia. Autophradates and Hecatomnus were ordered to put down the rebellion of Euagoras, while the Spartan governor of Abydos regained Aeolian cities from Pharnabazus. Athenians assisted Euagoras and replaced Milkyaton and his coins. Athens even allied itself with Egypt, stimulating Artaxerxes to change sides again and to replace both Autophradates and Struthas with the pro-Spartan Tiribazus. Sparta responded by sending Antalcidas from Ephesus to Susa to meet the king. Then Tiribazus and Antalcidas used Spartan and Syracusan fleets to destroy the Athenians guarding the Hellespont, threatening Athens with the same starvation that ended the Peloponnesian War seventeen years before. Delegates soon gathered at Sardis in 386 BCE and agreed to the King's Peace named after Antalcidas in which Persia retained the cities in Asia and the islands of Clazomenae and Cyprus, except that Lemnos, Lesbos, and Scyros would belong to Athens as they had before. The Persian empire had lost Egypt, but they had retained Asia.


Imperial taxation was still oppressive, stimulating many revolts and uprisings by workers that were often put down by local tyrants, while newly minted coins indicated a growing wealthy class and economic development. Barred by the peace treaty from helping Cyprus, Athenian mercenaries led by Chabrias went to defend Egypt, which thus was able to resist for three years and turn away the long delayed Persian invasion to regain Egypt, while Euagoras of Cyprus allied himself with Egypt and invaded Cilicia and Phoenicia, capturing Tyre. The Persian army led by Aroandas (Orontes) regained Cilicia and invaded Cyprus to restore Milkyaton at Citium. With the help of pirates Euagoras tried to cut off their food, causing a mutiny by the Ionian mercenaries which was put down; but after losing a naval battle Euagoras had to submit, asking to be treated as a king, which was denied in 380 BCE, the same year Isocrates tried and failed to raise a crusade against the Persians at the Olympic games.


When Pharnabazus complained that Chabrias' mercenary activity in Egypt violated the treaty, Athens recalled him on pain of death. Though Tiribazus was winning over mercenaries with money, the rivalry of Aroandas caused Artaxerxes II to have Tiribazus arrested; but Aroandas had to accept the terms of Euagoras at Cyprus that Tiribazus had rejected. The Cadusian revolt was so nearby that Artaxerxes took the field himself; after much suffering, a peace was made, and the Persian king only escaped on foot. Out of this frustration Artaxerxes had several nobles executed for disloyalty. With Cypress settled Pharnabazus prepared to invade Egypt again and enlisted Athenian general Iphicrates to lead the Greek mercenaries. In Asia Bithynia was independent, and Hecatomnus passed on his rulership of Caria to his son Mausolus in 377 BCE. Three years later Artaxerxes imposed another treaty on the Greeks and with the younger Dionysius of Syracuse.


By 373 BCE Pharnabazus had gathered 300 triremes, 12,000 Greeks, and countless Persians and easterners. They landed on the Delta, but unable to take Memphis had to retreat from the flooding Nile to Asia. In 371 BCE Thebes won a big victory over Sparta at Leuctra and refused to accept the latest King's Peace. A year later Jason of Pherae, who united Thessaly and aimed at conquering Persia, was assassinated. The king's money was also used to contribute to the famed oracle at Delphi, but Thebes still refused to accept the imperial terms.


Within the Persian empire revolts led by Datames and Ariobarzanes were breaking out. Needing the loyalty of Carian satrap Mausolus, Artaxerxes II punished envoys who had complained about Mausolus. When Aroandas felt he had been demoted from Armenia to Mysia, he accepted the leadership of the coalition of revolting satraps. Ordered to send tribute, Mausolus merely collected more money for himself. Aroandas' presence in Syria stimulated more rebellions there and among Lycians, Pisidians, Pamphylians, and Cilicians; even Autophradates joined him, and Artabazus was imprisoned. The Persian empire had lost half its revenues.


Djedhor, the new king of Egypt in 361 BCE, known to the Greeks as Tachos, seized on this opportunity and, with the help of rivals Agesilaus of Sparta and Chabrias of Athens, joined the revolted satraps and invaded Palestine and Phoenicia. However, his brother in Egypt used resentment against taxes to put forth as king of Egypt his son Nekht-har-hebi, who had joined the satrap revolt in Syria. All kinds of rebellions were breaking out, and Nekht-har-hebi was forced by the feudal chiefs to abandon Asian conquest and return to Egypt, where he was saved from a siege by Agesilaus; but when his uncle Tachos was captured by the Persian prince Ochus and died on his return to Egypt to be a vassal king for Artaxerxes, Nekht-har-hebi ended up ruling Egypt from 359 to 340 BCE. All this enabled the army of Artaxerxes to slowly advance and cross the Euphrates, and Aroandes, abandoned by the Egyptians, returned to loyalty and surrendered the other rebels with him. Autophradates also freed Artabazus and came to terms with the empire. Then Aroandes and Artabazus fought the mercenaries, and Datames was eventually murdered at a conference of the revolting satraps by Mithridates, who had also betrayed his own father Ariobarzanes to crucifixion.


Darius, the oldest son of Artaxerxes II by Queen Stateira, was executed for plotting with fifty of the king's sons by concubines to kill their father. Ochus, the youngest son of the queen, persuaded his only other brother of the queen to take poison, because he thought his father was angry at him. Arsames, another son, beloved by Artaxerxes for his wisdom, was also murdered, and the king soon died of grief in 359 BCE after ruling the Persian empire for 45 years. Ochus became Artaxerxes III and ruthlessly had his relatives killed regardless of age or sex. He ordered the satraps in Asia Minor to get rid of their mercenaries, causing Artabazus to revolt and appeal to Athens when an army of 20,000 was raised against him in Phrygia. In 356 BCE Mausolus organized a confederacy with Rhodes, Chios, Cos, Erythrae, and Byzantium, his coins showing himself as a Heraclean leader. Artabazus got 5,000 mercenaries from Thebes, but sensing treachery from agents bribed by the king, he fled to Philip in Macedonia. Aroandes, who had joined his revolt, held out for a while in Lydia but eventually came to terms again. Mausolus, whose magnificent funeral sculptures in Halicarnassus his wealth financed coined the word mausoleum, died in 353 BCE.


Ochus spent a year campaigning in Egypt, but once again the Persian army had to retire in 350 BCE. However, seven years later as the captives taken at Sidon entered Babylon and Susa, Egypt finally fell to the Persian reconquest that was supported by 10,000 Greek mercenaries. Nekht-har-hebi retreated to Ethiopia and claimed to rule from there. The Greeks and Persians fought over the spoils, and Ochus carried off the leading Egyptians to Persia.


In 338 BCE while Philip of Macedonia was on his way to defeating the Athenians and Thebans at Charoneia, Ochus was poisoned by his physician by order of the eunuch Bagoas. Arses, the son of Ochus, became king and refused to pay reparations to Philip for Persia's having helped Perinthus. So Philip led a Greek crusade to liberate all the Greek cities under Persian domination. Arses tried to poison Bagoas, but was poisoned himself, and all his children were killed. Bagoas found a 45-year-old Achaemenid noble remaining he made Darius III but, trying to poison him too, had at last to drink his own brew.


Philip's assassination was blamed on the king of Persia by his son Alexander. Macedonian troops already in Asia were defeated by the Persian fleet at Magnesia, and Darius III was able to put down a revolt in Egypt. In 334 BCE Alexander's army crossed the Hellespont into Asia at the same place Xerxes' army had come the other way 146 years before. The Greeks won a narrow victory over the Persian army at Granicus. Persians who surrendered were sent home, but Alexander had most of the captured Greek mercenaries slaughtered, sending the rest to Macedonia as slaves. Halicarnassus was burned during a siege. Alexander replaced the Persian satrap, general, and treasurer of each conquered province with Macedonians. At Issus the Greeks met the army of Darius, who fled. Parmenio then took Damascus, the Persian baggage train, and the rest of the royal family. The Phoenician cities surrendered to the Greeks except Tyre, which was destroyed after a seven-month siege. After taking Gaza, where he was wounded, Alexander was welcomed by the Egyptians glad to be rid of the hated Persians.


Offered half the empire by Darius III, Alexander refused and crossed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers unopposed. The two armies met again at Gaugamela in 331 BCE, and once again Darius deserted his army. Alexander entered Babylon and ordered the temple of Bel that had been destroyed by Xerxes rebuilt. The major capital of Susa surrendered to the Greeks without resisting, and the immense treasure accumulated by the Persian empire was found in the palace. Alexander began to train Persians by his new military methods. More treasure was found at the other main capital at Persepolis, where the men were killed, the women were enslaved, and the city was burned, perhaps in revenge for the burning of Athens. Alexander then went east in pursuit of the viceroy of Bactria who had imprisoned Darius, and by 330 BCE Darius was dead and Alexander reigned over his former empire. Uncooperative satraps were punished; others were retained by Alexander, who founded numerous cities named after himself. Two years were spent in putting down the resistance of the Sogdians in the north. Alexander went as far as India before his troops demanded to return; by 324 BCE they were back in Susa.


Alexander married the daughter of Darius III and had 10,000 of his men marry Persian girls, hoping to breed an army for his new empire. He was already treating Persians equally with Greeks and using them in his army, and the Persian nobility was being educated by Greek teachers. The Persian treasure was coined as money and distributed. Warned that if he entered Babylon he would die, Alexander finally did and succumbed to an illness in 323 BCE. The immense empire was divided and ruled by the Greek generals of the armies who had conquered it. The Persian empire was no more, and the Hellenistic era had begun.



The Persians and their Subjects

In general the Persians represent their conquests of foreign peoples as liberation from previous oppression. For example, when conquering Babylon, Cyrus is careful to discredit Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king, as a tyrant.


In each area the king of Persia is represented as the protector of the native gods. This is true at Babylon, where Cyrus is keen to show favour to the local priests, and in 538 has his son Cambyses ceremonially crowned as king of Babylon. It is also true in Egypt, where (it appears from local records) that the Persians mostly respect the temples and gods, and in Jerusalem.


In Egypt, Cambyses is shown to have reduced temple revenues by taxation but now seems to have had himself crowned "pharaoh" as a concession, though the evidence is controversial. It is Darius who consolidates Persian rule most effectively in Egypt, identifying himself (as was traditional) with the Egyptian son-god, and it seems making ceremonial visits to important temples - as to the temple of Hibis in 496 for example. In Judea, Cyrus decrees that the Jews and other native groups should be allowed to return from captivity in Babylon, a process that Babylonian documents show to continue into Darius's reign. Cyrus also decrees that the Temple at Jerusalem be restored, and regular worship continue - again a major way of conciliation towards a native people.


Darius is also responsible for asking Udjahorresne to systematically codify the Egyptian legal system, so that Darius can effectively govern the province by their own laws.


In administration, the Persian satrap is often assisted by a local official with previous experience in government - it is a policy that in general works well for Cyrus (though not a first in Lydia). But Ionia responds less well to this technique. For there is no tradition of priestly control, as there was in Egypt or Babylon, so that the favours shown by Persian rulers to Greek gods do not bring any immediate political advantage. And the practice of appointing native rulers as tyrants is sufficiently unpopular to be a major cause of the Ionian Revolt. This shows that the Persians were mis-guided in their calculations. So the same techniques that help the Persians to exercise effective control in some conquered territories are ineffective in Greece. Examples of Persian respect to Greeks: Delos is respected before the Marathon campaign as Apollo is a god that often told the truth.


A letter exists from Darius to the satrap Gradates, who appears to have controlled Western Asia Minor, before Artaphernes. In it, Darius reproaches Gradates for taxing the priests of Apollo, and forcing them to cultivate sacred ground, "disregarding the will of my ancestors towards the god, who has spoken the truth for the Persians." The chance survival of this letter shows that it is official Persian imperial policy to cultivate good relations, especially with the presets of Apollo. But of course despite the efforts of Apollo at Delphi, the priests cannot significantly affect Greek political behaviour.



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