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Under the Achaemenid Dynasty


By: Philip Huyse



Ethiopia (OPers. Kûša-), Elam. ku-ša‚, Akk. ku-u‚-šu, was located on the western fringe of the Achaemenid Empire (cf. DPh 6 = DH 5 [Kent, Old Persian, pp. 136 and 147]). The Ethiopians (OPers. Kûšiyâ; Gr. Aithí-opes "with [sun]burnt faces") are named among the peoples of the Persian Empire (DNa 30, DSe 30, XPh 28 [Kent, Old Persian, pp. 137, 141, 151]) and are included at the end of Herodotus' satrapy list (3.97, 2f.). Their country was probably not part of a satrapy in the Achaemenid Empire and they did not pay regular taxes; they rather seem to have exchanged biennial gifts only like gold, ebony, boys, and elephant tusks (Herodotus, 3.97, 2) such as the ones shown on the Apadâna reliefs at Persepolis on which they are depicted last in the series of the tributaries of the Persian Empire. The use of Kushite ivory is confirmed on one of the building inscriptions at Darius' palace at Susa (DSf 43f. [Kent, Old Persian, p. 143]).


Soon after Cambyses had succeeded his father Cyrus in 529 B.C.E. he led his army to the eastern borders of Egypt. The expedition against the "long-lived" Ethiopians (Herodotus, 7.17-22) was ill-prepared and hasty, however, and ended in disaster with heavy losses of manpower due to lack of food; Cambyses himself is said to have gone mad after the campaign had failed. This invasion by Cambyses has been a matter of constant dispute within Nubian studies: Decisive in the matter of its authenticity is the answer to the question whether the ruler named Kmbswdn in the so-called stela of Nastasen can be identified with Cambyses or not (cf. Morkot, pp. 323, 326f., 330f. for an analysis of this stela). A possible allusion to the Cambyses campaign may be seen in the Aithiopika‚ of Heliodorus of Emesa (3rd century C.E.), which is a romance at the background of a conflict between a Meriotic king (Hydaspes) and the Persian satrap Oroondates.


From the time of the early Greek literary sources until the Hellenistic period Ethiopia was idealized by the Greeks, who considered the Ethiopians to be a semi-mythological people. Memnon, the ruler of the Homeric Ethiopians, they identified with the Great Persian King (cf. Georges, pp. 48f., 68f., 267 n. 1) and even at a time when the Greeks had come to know the Persians a little better, they continued to link the two Eastern peoples: e.g., for Herodotus Achaemenid Susa remained the Memno‚neion a‚sty (5.54, 2).


According to Herodotus the Ethiopians, clad in leopard or lion skins, wearing long bows and painted with vermilion and chalk provided one of the most colorful, as well as warlike, contingents in the army with which Xerxes invaded Greece in 480-79 B.C. (Herodotus, 7.69, 2; cf. also Head, p. 53. For a description of Kushites on Greek pottery cf. Morkot, pp. 328-30). A delegation from the Ethiopians is included in the lists of Arrian (7.15, 4-5) and Diodorus (17.113, 1-2) amongst those which awaited Alexander on his return to Babylon in the spring of 323 B.C.


During a lengthy conflict in the 6th century C.E. between Byzantium and the Sasanians, with South Arabia at stake as an object of obvious economic interest for control over the lower Red Sea and trade with India, Persian and Ethiopian armies clashed again; at the request of Justinian, the Ethiopians landed in Yemen in 525, in order to help their Monophysite Christian co-religionists (for the background and evolution of this conflict cf. Bosworth, pp. 604-7 and Frye, pp. 156f.).



Bibliography (for cited references not given in detail, see "Short References"): 

F. de Blois, "The 'Four Great Kingdoms' in the Manichaean Kephalaia," in P.O. Scholz, ed., Orbis Aethiopicus: Studia in honorem Stanislaus Chojnacki natali septuagesimo quinto dicata, septuagesimo septimo oblata, Albstadt, Germay, 1992, pp. 221-30 (esp. pp. 227-29 on the Ethiopians in Manichean literature). 

C. E. Bosworth, "Iran and the Arabs before Islam," Camb. Hist. Iran III/1 (1983), pp. 593-612. 

R.N. Frye, "The political history of Iran under the Sasanians," Camb. Hist. Iran III/1 (1983), pp. 116-80. 

P. Georges, Barbarian Asia and the Greek Experience: From the Archaic Period to the Age of Xenophon, Baltimore and London, 1994. 

D. Head, The Achaemenid Persian Army, Stockport, England, 1992. 

J. Leroy, "Les 'Éthiopiens' de Perse‚polis," Annales d'Éthiopie 5, 1963, pp. 293-95. 

R. Morkot, "Nubia and Achaemenid Persia: Sources and Problems," in H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg and A. Kuhrt, eds., Achaemenid History VI. Asia Minor and Egypt: Old Cultures in a New Empire, Leiden, 1991, pp. 321-36.




Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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