The Persian Empire

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Information about The Persian Empire

Published on December 11, 2007

Author: Sabatini


The Persian Empire:  The Persian Empire HST 397 Prof. Marc Cooper General Comments:  General Comments Conquests of Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius created the world’s largest empire in a period of less than 50 years. The Empire stretched from the Danube in Europe to the Indus in India Most important Persian source is the Behistun trilingual inscription Old Persian Elamite Babylonian Our sources are mostly Greek Heavily Biased Interested entirely in the west The Rise and Expansion of Persia:  The Rise and Expansion of Persia Cyrus the Great:  Cyrus the Great Achaemenes founder of a local Persian Dynasty Cyrus came to power in 559 BCE By 550 Cyrus defeated Media and incorporated it into his kingdom Cyrus defeated Croesus of Lydia in 547 Campaigned in eastern Iran from 546-540 Conquered Babylonia in 539 Died fighting in northeastern Iran in 530 Cambyses (529 – 522):  Cambyses (529 – 522) Conquered Egypt in 525 Made himself king of Egypt Fully incorporated Egypt into the empire Over extended his forces attempting to control Libya and the Saharan oases Revolt of Gaumata began in the spring of 522 Gaumata recognized as king in Babylon in summer Cambyses died from an accidental infection on the way to crush the revolt Gaumata killed by Persian nobles led by Darius Cambyses with the Apis bull Darius the Great (521 – 486 BCE):  Darius the Great (521 – 486 BCE) Cousin of Cambyses Defeated rivals in a brief civil war Incorporated Lybia and reduced Nubia to vassalage Incorporated Gandhara (upper Indus valley) Reduced much of Greece to vassalage, conquered the Balkans south of the Danube and campaigned north of the Danube Darius and the Greeks:  Darius and the Greeks Scythian expedition failed disastrously in 513 Scythians could not be brought to battle Ionians holding the bridge across the Danube (the only possibility for retreat) destroyed the bridge Ionians revolted in 499 Athens supported the Ionians and sacked Sardis By 494 the Ionian towns were back in Persian hands Darius punished Athens with a naval expedition in 490 Persian War:  Persian War Expedition in 490 defeated by Athenians and Plataeans at Marathon Darius dies in 488 Egyptian revolt broke out in 486 Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 with an army of 2.6 million men and a navy of at least 200 ships Navy defeated at Salamis by Athens in 479 Army defeated by coalition led by Sparta in 479 Athenian navy decisively defeated Persian navy of Mt. Mycale in 479 Athens continued the war against Persia through 449 when Athens and Persia accepted the Peace of Calias Persians controlled Greek politics from 413 to 336 by bribing Greek politicians Seal of Darius:  Seal of Darius Political Development:  Political Development Problem of unity:  Problem of unity Size of empire greater than any previous state Administration difficult Rebellions common Power struggles among elite constant feature of government Insurrection of 522-518:  Insurrection of 522-518 Cambyses younger brother Bardiya proclaimed himself king in 522 Many claimants to the conquered kingdoms appeared Nebuchadnezzer son of Nabonidus Hashatritu descendent of Cyaxares claimed Median throne Psametikus III appeared in Egypt Darius’ reforms:  Darius’ reforms Changed empire from a group of conquered kingdoms into 20 provinces, satrapies Provinces broke up ancient kingdoms Strengthened Persian/Median cohesion Promoted many Medes to high office Built new capital at Persepolis ca. 518 Promoted Zoroastrianism Dualistic Proclaimed an end of times Divine judgment Imperial law code Road system joined Sardis to Babylon and Persepolis Organization of the Empire:  Organization of the Empire Toleration as policy:  Toleration as policy Persians respected the many political-religious traditions in their empire Persepolis reliefs depict many ethnic groups Ethnoi included as tribute bearers Ethnoi depicted as throne bearers Decrees rendered in many languages Persian king developed into the patron of local religious cults Cyrus allowed the Temple in Jerusalem to be rebuilt Returned the Esagila to the worship of Marduk and even participated in the New Year ritual Tribute:  Tribute Central feature of administration was the collection of tribute Each satrapy was assessed according to its ability to pay Tribute said to be paid in gold, silver, horses, and eunuch boys (Babylonia paid 1000 talents silver annually) Alexander is said to have captured 180,000 talents of gold (even if this is exaggerated, it was still much more than Greece could absorb without inflation) Tribute used to: Supply court Supply army Bribes for Greek politicians were usually a talent or two of silver Weakness of the empire:  Weakness of the empire Military weakness became endemic at the end of the 5th century Spartan king Agesilaos defeated Persians easily with a tiny army in 401 and would have conquered Anatolia if he had not been recalled Greek mercenaries became decisive in battles for the throne Anabasis tells the story of mercenaries Greeks could march through the heart of the empire without serious resistance from the Persians Only corrupt politicians, according to Isocrates, kept the Greeks from conquering Persia Final thoughts:  Final thoughts Mesopotamian science remained vital during the age of Alexander’s successors developing numerical astronomy into the first true predictive science Cuneiform tablets continued to be written until the 1st or even 2nd century CE Mesopotamian culture continued to thrive into Hellenistic and Parthian times, but the oldest layer of Sumerian tradition and cuneiform literature were forgotten once the Seleucids moved away from Babylon

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