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The Achaemenid Empire or Persian Empire (550–330 BCE) was the successor state of the Median Empire, ruling over significant portions of what would become Greater Iran. The Persian and the Median Empire taken together are also known as the Medo-Persian Empire, succeeding the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It was succeeded in turn by the Seleucid Empire.

At the height of its power, the empire encompassed approximately 8 million km2. The empire was forged by Cyrus the Great, and spanned three continents, including territories of Afghanistanmarker and Pakistanmarker, parts of Central Asia, Asia Minormarker, Thrace, much of the Black Seamarker coastal regions, Iraqmarker, northern Saudi Arabiamarker, Jordanmarker, Israelmarker, Lebanonmarker, Syriamarker, and all significant population centers of ancient Egyptmarker as far west as Libyamarker. It is noted in western history as the foe of the Greek city states during the Greco-Persian Wars, for freeing the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting Aramaic as the empire's official language. It was invaded and conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE.

In universal history the role of the Persian empire founded by Cyrus the Great lies in their very successful model for centralized administration and a government working to the advantage and profit of all.Schmitt Achaemenid dynasty (i. The clan and dynasty)



The Persian domination by the Achaemenid empire over the Iranian people started by an extension of the Achaemenid dynasty who expanded their earlier ruling clan over the Persians going, possibly, back to the 9th century BCE. The founder of this dynasty was Achaemenes (Old Persian: Haxāmaniš, a bahuvrihi compound translating to "having a friend's mind"). Achaemenes built the state Parsumash and was succeeded by his son Teispes (Cišpi) who was the first to take the title King of Anšānmarker after seizing Anšān city from the Elamitesmarker and enlarging his kingdom to include Persismarker.

According to many inscriptions Teispes had a son called Cyrus (Kuruš) succeeding his father as "King of Anshan". It has also been discussed that the kingdom of Teispes was divided between Cyrus and his brother Ariaramnes (Ariyāramna, 'Having the Iranians at Peace').name=shahbazia-EI>A. Sh. Shahbazi, Ariaramnes. See also R. Schmitt, Schmitt Achaemenid dynasty (i. The clan and dynasty) They were succeeded by their respective sons Cambyses I of Anshan (Kambūjiya, "the Elder"), and Arsames (Aršāma "Having a Hero's Might") of Iran (Persia), thus forming two branches of the Achaemenid royal house.

Formation and expansion of the empire

The empire took its unified virgin form with a central administration around Pasargadaemarker erected by Cyrus the Great. The empire ended up conquering and enlarging the Median empire to include in addition Egypt and Asia Minormarker. During the reigns of Darius I and his son Xerxes I it engaged in military conflict with some of the major city-states of Ancient Greece, and although it came close to defeating the Greek army this war ultimately led to the empire's overthrow. However evidences of elements of continuity including restoration of the empire almost to the exact limits given to it by Darius the Great and the maintenance of system of satrapies has made some modern scholars to reconsider Alexander as the “last of the Achaemenids“.P. Briant

In 559 BCE, Cambyses I the Elder was succeeded as king of Anšān by his son Cyrus II the Great, who also succeeded the still-living Arsames as King of Persia, thus reuniting the two realms. Cyrus is considered to be the first true king of the Persian empire, as his predecessors were subservient to Media. Cyrus II conquered Media, Lydia, and Babylonmarker. Cyrus was politically shrewd, modeling himself as the "savior" of conquered nations. To reinforce this image, he instituted policies of religious freedom, and restored temples and other infrastructure in the newly acquired cities. (Most notably the Jews of Babylon, as recorded in the Cyrus Cylinder and the Tanakh).

His immediate successors were less successful. Cyrus' son Cambyses II conquered Egypt, but died in July 522 BCE as the result of either accident or suicide, during a revolt led by a sacerdotal clan that had lost its power following Cyrus' conquest of Media. These priests, whom Herodotus called Magi, usurped the throne for one of their own, Gaumata, who then pretended to be Cambyses II's younger brother Smerdis (Pers. Bardiya), who had been assassinated some three years earlier. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Perses, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68).

The claim that Gaumata had impersonated Smerdis, is derived from Darius. Historians are divided over the possibility that the story of the impostor was invented by Darius as justification for his coup [34437]. Dr. Ranajit Pal holds that Gaumata was the same as Gotama Buddha. In his view, Davadatta, the adversary of Gotama was Zoroaster. Darius made a similar claim when he later captured Babylon, announcing that the Babylonian king was not, in fact, Nebuchadnezzar III, but an impostor named Nidintu-bel. [34438]

According to the Behistun Inscriptionmarker, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown in 522 BCE by a member of a lateral branch of the Achaemenid family, Darius I (Old Persian Dāryavuš "Who Holds Firm the Good", also known as Darayarahush or Darius the Great). The Magi, though persecuted, continued to exist, and a year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (Gaumata), had a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.

Herodotus writes that the native leadership debated the best form of government for the Empire. It was agreed upon that a oligarchy would divide them against one another, and democracy would bring about mob rule resulting in a charismatic leader resuming the monarchy. Therefore, they decided a new monarch was in order, particularly since they were in a position to choose him. Darius I was chosen monarch from among the leaders. He was cousin to Cambyses II and Smerdis, claiming Ariaramnes as his ancestor.

The Achaemenids thereafter consolidated areas firmly under their control. It was Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great who, by sound and farsighted administrative planning, brilliant military maneuvering, and a humanistic world view, established the greatness of the Achaemenids and, in less than thirty years, raised them from an obscure tribe to a world power. It was during the reign of Darius I that Persepolismarker was built (518–516 BCE) and which would serve as capital for several generations of Achaemenid kings. Ecbatanamarker (Hagmatāna "City of Gatherings", modern Hamadanmarker) in Media was greatly expanded during this period and served as the summer capital.

Darius I attacked the Greek mainland, which had supported rebellious Greek colonies under his aegis; but as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Marathonmarker, he was forced to pull the limits of his empire back to Asia Minormarker.

Greco-Persian Wars

Nonetheless, by the 5th century BCE the kings of Persia ruled over territories roughly encompassing today's Iranmarker, Iraqmarker, Armeniamarker, Pakistanmarker, Afghanistanmarker, Tajikistanmarker, Usbekistanmarker, Turkeymarker, Bulgariamarker, Egyptmarker, Syriamarker, Jordanmarker, Palestine, Lebanonmarker, Caucasia, many parts of Greecemarker, parts of Central Asia, Libyamarker, and northern parts of Arabia. Eventually by 480 BCE the Achaemenids went on to hold the greatest percentage of world population for an empire, and became the largest empire in ancient history.

Xerxes I (485–465 BCE, Old Persian Xšayārša "Hero Among Kings"), son of Darius I, organised a massive invasion aiming to conquer Greecemarker. His army entered Greece from the north, meeting little or no resistance through Macedoniamarker and Thessaly, but was delayed by a small Greek force for three days at Thermopylaemarker. A simultaneous naval battle at Artemisium was tactically indecisive as large storms destroyed ships from both sides. The battle was stopped prematurely when the Greeks received news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. The battle was a strategic victory for the Persians, giving them uncontested control of Artemisium and Aegean Sea.

Following his victory at the Battle of Thermopylaemarker, Xerxes sacked the evacuated city of Athensmarker and prepared to meet the Greeks at the strategic Isthmus of Corinthmarker and the Saronic Gulfmarker. In 480 BCE the Greeks won a decisive victory at the Battle of Salamis and forced Xerxes to retire to Sardismarker. The army which he left in Greece under Mardonius was destroyed in 479 BCE at the Battle of Plataea. The final defeat of the Persians at Mycale encouraged the Greek cities of Asia to revolt, and marked if not the end of the Greco-Persian Wars, at least Persian expansion to Europe.

The cultural phase

Xerxes I was followed by Artaxerxes I (465–424 BCE), who moved the capital from Persepolis to Babylon. It was during this reign that Elamite ceased to be the language of government, and Aramaic gained in importance. It was probably during this reign that the solar calendar (based on the Babylonian one) was introduced as the national calendar. Under Artaxerxes I, Zoroastrianism became the de-facto religion of state, and for this Artaxerxes I is today also known as the Constantine of that faith.

Artaxerxes I died in Susa, and his body was brought to Persepolis for interment in the tomb of his forebears. Artaxerxes I was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Xerxes II, who was however assassinated by one of his half-brothers a few weeks later. Darius II rallied support for himself and marched eastwards, executing the assassin and was crowned in his stead.

From 412 Darius II (423–404 BCE), at the insistence of the able Tissaphernes, gave support first to Athens, then to Sparta, but in 407 BCE, Darius' son Cyrus the Younger was appointed to replace Tissaphernes and aid was given entirely to Sparta which finally defeated Athens in 404 BCE. In the same year, Darius fell ill and died in Babylon. At his deathbed, his Babylonian wife Parysatis pleaded with Darius to have her second eldest son Cyrus (the Younger) crowned, but Darius refused.

Darius was then succeeded by his eldest son Artaxerxes II Memnon. Plutarch relates (probably on the authority of Ctesias) that the displaced Tissaphernes came to the new king on his coronation day to warn him that his younger brother Cyrus (the Younger) was preparing to assassinate him during the ceremony. Artaxerxes had Cyrus arrested and would have had him executed if their mother Parysatis had not intervened. Cyrus was then sent back as Satrap of Lydia, where he prepared an armed rebellion. Cyrus and Artaxerxes met in the Battle of Cunaxamarker in 401 BCE, where Cyrus was killed.

Artaxerxes II (404–358 BCE), was the longest reigning of the Achaemenid kings and it was during this 45-year period of relative peace and stability that many of the monuments of the era were constructed. Artaxerxes moved the capital back to Persepolis, which he greatly extended. Also the summer capital at Ecbatana was lavishly extended with gilded columns and roof tiles of silver and copper (Polybius, 10.27.12). The extraordinary innovation of the Zoroastrian shrine cults can also be dated to his reign, and it was probably during this period that Zoroastrianism was disseminated throughout Asia Minormarker and the Levant, and from there to Armeniamarker. The temples, though serving a religious purpose, were however not a purely selfless act: they also served as an important source of income. From the Babylonian kings, the Achaemenids had taken over the concept of a mandatory temple tax, a one-tenth tithe which all inhabitants paid to the temple nearest to their land or other source of income (Dandamaev & Lukonin, 1989:361–362). A share of this income called the quppu ša šarri, "kings chest"—an ingenious institution originally introduced by Nabonidus—was then turned over to the ruler. In retrospect, Artaxerxes is generally regarded as an amiable man who lacked the moral fibre to be a really successful ruler. However, six centuries later Ardeshir I, founder of the second Persian Empire, would consider himself Artaxerxes' successor, a grand testimony to the importance of Artaxerxes to the Persian psyche.

Fall of the empire

[[File:Battleofissus333BC-mosaic.jpg|thumb|200px|The battle of Issusmarker, between Alexander the Great on horsebackto the left, and Darius III in the chariot to the right, represented in a Pompeii mosaic dated first century BCE - National Museum of Archaeology in Naplesmarker.]]According to Greek sources , Artaxerxes' successor Artaxerxes III (358 BCE–338 BCE) came to the throne by bloody means, ensuring his place upon the throne by the assassination of eight of his half-brothers. In 343 BCE Artaxerxes III defeated Nectanebo II, driving him from Egypt, and made Egypt once again a Persian satrapy. In 338 BCE Artaxerxes III died under unclear circumstances (natural causes according to cuneiform sources but Diodorus, a Greek historian, reports that Artaxerxes was murdered by Bagoas, his minister). while Philip of Macedon united the Greek states by force and began to plan an invasion into the empire.

Artaxerxes III was succeeded by Artaxerxes IV Arses, who before he could act was also poisoned by Bagoas. Bagoas is further said to have killed not only all Arses' children, but many of the other princes of the land. Bagoas then placed Darius III (336–330 BCE), a nephew of Artaxerxes IV, on the throne.

Darius III, previously Satrap of Armenia, personally forced Bagoas to swallow poison. In 334 BCE, when Darius was just succeeding in subduing Egypt again, Alexander and his battle-hardened Macedonian troops invaded Asia Minor.

At two different times, the Achaemenids ruled Egyptmarker although the Egyptians twice regained temporary independence from Persia. After the practice of Manetho, Egyptian historians refer to the periods in Egypt when the Achaemenid dynasty ruled as the twenty-seventh dynasty of Egypt, 525–404 BCE, until the death of Darius II, and the thirty-first dynasty of Egypt, 343–332 BCE, which began after Nectanebo II was defeated by the Persian king Artaxerxes III.

Alexander defeated the Persian armies at Granicus (334 BCE), followed by Issusmarker (332 BCE), and last at Gaugamela (331 BCE).

Afterwards, he marched on Susamarker and Persepolismarker which surrendered in early 330 BCE. From Persepolis, Alexander headed north to Pasargadae where he treated the tomb of Cyrus II with respect. From there he headed to Ecbatanamarker, where Darius III had sought refuge.

Darius III was taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men murder Darius and then declared himself Darius' successor, as Artaxerxes V, before retreating into Central Asia leaving Darius' body in the road to delay Alexander, who brought it to Persepolis for an honorable funeral.

The Achaemenid Empire was succeeded by the Seleucid Empire, ruled by the generals of Alexander and their descendants. They in turn would be succeeded by the Parthian Empire.

Istakhr, one of the vassal kingdoms of the Parthian Empire, would be overthrown by Papak, a priest of the temple there. Papak's son, Ardašir I, who named himself in remembrance of Artaxerxes II, revolted against the Parthians, defeated them and established the Sassanid Empire.


The Achaemenids were absolutists who allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the a satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A satrap (governor) administered the region, a general supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a state secretary kept official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the central government.

Accomplishments of Darius' reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system upon which much of later Iranian law would be based, and construction of a new capital at Persepolismarker, where vassal states would offer their yearly tribute at the festival celebrating the spring equinox.

The practice of slavery in Achaemenid Persia was generally banned, although there is evidence that conquered and/or rebellious armies were sold into captivity. Zoroastrianism, the de facto religion of the empire, explicitly forbids slavery, and the kings of Achaemenid Persia followed this ban to varying degrees, as evidenced by the freeing of the Jews at Babylon, and the construction of Persepolis by paid workers.

The twenty three satrapies were linked by a 2,500-kilometer highway, the most impressive stretch being the Royal Road from Susamarker to Sardismarker, built by command of Darius I. Relays of mounted couriers could reach the remotest of areas in fifteen days. Despite the relative local independence afforded by the satrapy system, royal inspectors, the "eyes and ears of the king", toured the empire and reported on local conditions. The king also maintained a personal bodyguard of 10,000 men, called the Immortals.

Darius revolutionized the economy by placing it on a silver and gold coinage system. Trade was extensive, and under the Achaemenids there was an efficient infrastructure that facilitated the exchange of commodities in the far reaches of the empire. Tariffs on trade were one of the empire's main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute.

The vexilloid of the Achaemenid Empire was a gold falcon on a field of crimson.


The Achaemenid Empire,which at the height of its power had more than 23 nations under its control, was built on the most basic principles - that of truth and justice, which formed the bases of the Achaemenid culture. Based on the Zoroastrian doctrine, it was the strong emphasis on honesty and integrity that gave the ancient Persians credibility to rule the world, even in the eyes of the people belonging to the conquered nations (except for the frequent rebellions i.e. the Ionian rebellion and the fierce resistance put up to it from all of the sovereign nations they invaded such as the Scythians, Egyptians, Ionians).

Herodotus, in his mid-5th century BCE account of Persian residents of the Pontus, reports that Persian youths, from their fifth year to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things - to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the Truth.

He further notes that:
the most disgraceful thing in the world [the Perses] think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt: because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.

Truth for the sake of truth, was the universal motto and the very core of the Achaemenid culture that was followed not only by the great kings, but even the ordinary Persians, who made it a point to adhere to this code of conduct.

In Achaemenid Persia, the lie, druj, is considered to be a cardinal sin, and it was punishable by death in some extreme cases. Tablets discovered by archaeologists in the 1930s at the site of Persepolismarker give us adequate evidence about the love and veneration for the culture of truth during the Achaemenian period. These tablets contain the names of ordinary Iranians, mainly traders and warehouse-keepers. According to Professor Stanley Insler of Yale Universitymarker, as many as 72 names of officials and petty clerks found on these tablets contain the word truth. Thus, says Insler, we have Artapana, protector of truth, Artakama, lover of truth, Artamanah, truth-minded, Artafarnah, possessing splendour of truth, Artazusta, delighting in truth, Artastuna, pillar of truth, Artafrida, prospering the truth and Artahunara, having nobility of truth. It was Darius the Great, who laid down the ordinance of good regulations during his reign. King Darius' testimony about his constant battle against the lie is found in cuneiform inscriptions. Carved high up in the Behistunmarker mountain on the road to Kermanshahmarker, Darius testifies :

I was not a lie-follower, I was not a doer of wrong ... According to righteousness I conducted myself. Neither to the weak or to the powerful did I do wrong. The man who cooperated with my house, him I rewarded well; who so did injury, him I punished well.

Darius had his hands full dealing with large-scale rebellion which broke out throughout the empire. After fighting successfully with nine traitors in a year, Darius records his battles against them for posterity and tells us how it was the lie that made them rebel against the empire. At Behistun, Darius says:

I smote them and took prisoner nine kings. One was Gaumata by name, a Magian; he lied; thus he said: I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus...One, Acina by name, an Elamite; he lied; thus he said: I am king in Elam... One, Nidintu-Bel by name, a Babylonian; he lied; thus he said: I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus. King Darius then tells us, The Lie made them rebellious, so that these men deceived the people.

Then an advice to his son Xerxes, who is to succeed him as the great king:
Thou who shalt be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from the Lie; the man who shall be a lie-follower, him do thou punish well, if thus thou shall think. May my country be secure!


[[File:Silver ryhton Iran.jpg|thumb|200px|Silver rhyta such as this were ubiquitous and used as a drinking vessels inPersia, underscoring the eclectic taste of the Achaemenids; the fanciful beast that forms its base is both mammal and bird.]]

During the reign of Cyrus and Darius, and as long as the seat of government was still at Susamarker in Elammarker, the language of the chancellory was Elamite. This is primarily attested in the Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets that reveal details of the day-to-day functioning of the empire. In the grand rock-face inscriptions of the kings, the Elamite texts are always accompanied by Akkadian and Old Persian inscriptions, and it appears that in these cases, the Elamite texts are translations of the Old Persian ones. It is then likely that although Elamite was used by the capital government in Susa, it was not a standardized language of government everywhere in the empire. The use of Elamite is not attested after 458 BCE.

Following the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Aramaic language (as used in that territory) was adopted as the "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic or Imperial Aramaic, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did." In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an "official language", noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language. Frye reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the "lingua franca" of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought. Many centuries after the fall of the empire, Aramaic script and - as ideograms - Aramaic vocabulary would survive as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi writing system.

Although Old Persian also appears on some seals and art objects, that language is attested primarily in the Achaemenid inscriptions of Western Iran, suggesting then that Old Persian was the common language of that region. However, by the reign of Artaxerxes II, the grammar and orthography of the inscriptions was so "far from perfect" that it has been suggested that the scribes who composed those texts had already largely forgotten the language, and had to rely on older inscriptions, which they to a great extent reproduced verbatim.


Herodotus mentions that the Persians were given to great birthday feasts, which would be followed by many desserts, a treat which they reproached the Greeks for omitting from their meals. He also observed that the Persians drank wine in large quantities and used it even for counsel, deliberating on important affairs when drunk, and deciding the next day, when sober, whether to act on the decision or set it aside.

On their methods of greeting, he asserts that equals kissed on the lips, persons of some difference in rank kissed on the cheek, and the lowest ranks would prostrate on the ground to the upper ranks. It is known that men of high rank practiced polygamy, and were reputed to have a number of wives and a greater number of concubines. On their same-sex relations, high ranked men kept favorites, such as Bagoas who was one of Darius III's favorites and who later became Alexander's eromenos. Persian pederasty and its origins were debated even in ancient times. Herodotus claimed they had learned it from the Greeks, however, Plutarch asserts that the Persians used eunuch boys to that end long before contact between the cultures.

Also from Herodotus we learn that the Persians had a very high regard for truth, teaching the respect of truth to their children and despising nothing so much as a lie. On the education of the children, we learn that from the age of five until twenty they were taught to ride, shoot the bow, and speak the truth. Until the age of five children spent all their time among the women and never met the father, so that, should they die in infancy, he would not sorrow over their loss. (Herodotus, The History, passim)


It was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism reached South-Western Iran, where it came to be accepted by the rulers and through them became a defining element of Persian culture. The religion was not only accompanied by a formalization of the concepts and divinities of the traditional (Indo-)Iranian pantheon but also introduced several novel ideas, including that of free will.

Under the patronage of the Achaemenid kings, and by the fifth century BCE as the de-facto religion of the state, Zoroastrianism would reach all corners of the empire.

During the reign of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, Herodotus wrote "[the Perses] have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine." He claims the Persians offer sacrifice to: "the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times. At a later period they began the worship of Urania, which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, whom the Arabians call Alitta, and the Persians Anahita." (The original name here is Mithra, which has since been explained to be a confusion of Anahita with Mithra, understandable since they were commonly worshipped together in one temple).

From the Babylonian scholar-priest Berosus, who—although writing over seventy years after the reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon—records that the emperor had been the first to make cult statues of divinities and have them placed in temples in many of the major cities of the empire (Berosus, III.65). Berosus also substantiates Herodotus when he says the Persians knew of no images of gods until Artaxerxes II erected those images. On the means of sacrifice, Herodotus adds "they raise no altar, light no fire, pour no libations." This sentence has been interpreted to identify a critical (but later) accretion to Zoroastrianism. An altar with a wood-burning fire and the Yasna service at which libations are poured are all clearly identifiable with modern Zoroastrianism, but apparently, were practices that had not yet developed in the mid-fifth century. Boyce also assigns that development to the reign of Artaxerxes II (fourth century BCE), as an orthodox response to the innovation of the shrine cults.

Herodotus also observed that "no prayer or offering can be made without a magus present" but this should not be confused with what is today understood by the term magus, that is a magupat (modern Persian: mobed), a Zoroastrian priest. Nor does Herodotus' description of the term as one of the tribes or castes of the Medes necessarily imply that these magi were Medians. They simply were a hereditary priesthood to be found all over Western Iran and although (originally) not associated with any one specific religion, they were traditionally responsible for all ritual and religious services. Although the unequivocal identification of the magus with Zoroastrianism came later (Sassanid era, third–seventh century CE), it is from Herodotus' magus of the mid-fifth century that Zoroastrianism was subject to doctrinal modifications that are today considered to be revocations of the original teachings of the prophet. Also, many of the ritual practices described in the Avesta's Vendidad (such as exposure of the dead) were already practiced by the magu of Herodotus ' time.

Art and architecture

Art, like religion, was a blend of many elements. Just as the Achaemenids were tolerant in matters of local government and custom, as long as Persians controlled the general policy and administration of the empire, so also were they tolerant in art so long as the finished and total effect was Persian. At Pasargadaemarker (Pāsargad), the capital of Cyrus II and Cambyses II, and at Persepolismarker, the neighboring city founded by Darius the Great and used by all of his successors, one can trace to a foreign origin almost all of the several details in the construction and embellishment of the architecture and the sculptured reliefs; but the conception, planning, and overall finished product are distinctly Persian.

Moreover, when Cyrus chose to build Pasargadae, he had a long artistic tradition behind him that probably was distinctly Iranian already and that was in many ways the equal of any. The columned hall in architecture can now be seen as belonging to an architectural tradition on the Iranian Plateau that extended back through the Median period. The rich Achaemenid gold work, which inscriptions suggest may have been a specialty of the Medes, was in the tradition of the delicate metalwork found in Iron Age II times at Hasanlumarker and still earlier at Marlik.

This artistic style is particularly evident at Persepolis: with its carefully proportioned and well-organized ground plan, rich architectural ornament, and magnificent decorative reliefs, the palace there is one of the great artistic legacies of the ancient world. In its art and architecture, Persepolis celebrates the king and the office of the monarch and reflected Darius' perception of himself as the leader of a conglomerate people to whom he had given a new and single identity. The Achaemenids took the art forms and the cultural and religious traditions of many of the ancient Middle Eastern peoples and combined them into a single form.

In describing the construction of his palace at Susa, Darius records that "The cedar timber from there (a mountain by name Lebanon) was brought, the yaka timber was brought from Gandara and from Carmania. The gold was brought from Sardismarker and from Bactria . . . the precious stone lapis-lazuli and carnelian . . . was brought from Sogdiana. The turquoise from Chorasmia, the silver and ebony from Egyptmarker, the ornamentation from Ionia, the ivory from Ethiopiamarker and from Sindhmarker (Pakistan) and from Arachosia. The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Ionians and Sardiansmarker. The goldsmiths were Medes and Egyptians. The men who wrought the wood, those were Sardians and Egyptians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians. The men who adorned the wall, those were Medes and Egyptians."

This was an imperial art on a scale the world had not seen before. Materials and artists were drawn from all corners of the empire, and thus tastes, styles, and motifs became mixed together in an eclectic art and architecture that in itself mirrored the empire and the Persian understanding of how that empire ought to function.

Achaemenid kings and rulers


*Achaemenes of Persia
The epigraphic evidence for these rulers cannot be confirmed and are often considered to have been invented by Darius I
*Ariaramnes of Persia, son of Teispes and co-ruler with Cyrus I
*Arsames of Persia, son of Ariaramnes and co-ruler with Cambyses I


*Teispes of Anshan, son of Achaemenes
*Cyrus I of Anshan, son of Teispes
*Cambyses I of Anshan, son of Cyrus I
*Cyrus II, the Great, son of Cambyses I, ruled from c.550-530 BCE E(ruler of Anshan c. 559 BCE – conquered Media 550 BCE)
*Cambyses II, son of Cyrus the Great, ruled 529-522 BCE
*Smerdis (Bardiya), alleged son of Cyrus the Great, ruled 522 BCE (Possibly a usurper)
*Darius I the Great, brother-in-law of Smerdis and grandson of Arsames, ruled 521-486 BCE
*Xerxes I the Great, son of Darius I, ruled 485-465 BCE
*Artaxerxes I Longimanus, son of Xerxes I, ruled 465-424 BCE
*Xerxes II, son of Artaxerxes I, ruled 424 BCE
*Sogdianus, half-brother and rival of Xerxes II, ruled 424-423 BCE
*Darius II Nothus, half-brother and rival of Xerxes II, ruled 423-405 BCE
*Artaxerxes II Mnemon, son of Darius II, ruled 404-359 BCE (see also Xenophon)
*Artaxerxes III Ochus, son of Artaxerxes II, ruled 358-338 BCE
*Artaxerxes IV Arses, son of Artaxerxes III, ruled 338-336 BCE
*Darius III Codomannus, great-grandson of Darius II, ruled 336-330 BCE


File:Tresury relief.JPG|Relief of Xerxes I the Great at Persepolismarker in Iranmarker.File:Persepolis 06.jpg|Panorama of Persepolis RuinsFile:Persepolis recreated.jpg|Ruins of Throne HallFile:Achaemenid coin daric 420BC front.jpg|Achaemenid coinFile:Model of a chariot from the Oxus Treasure by Nickmard Khoey.jpg|Gold chariotFile:Gold artifacts from the Oxus Treasure by Nickmard Khoey.jpg|Gold artifacts from the Oxus TreasureFile:Chopped gold pieces from the Oxus Treasure by Nickmard Khoey.jpg|Chopped gold piecesFile:Gold statuettes from the Oxus Treasure by Nickmard Khoey.jpg|Gold statuetteFile:Gold and Silver objects from the Oxus Treasure by Nickmard Khoey.jpg|Gold and Silver objects from the Oxus TreasureFile:Persepolis Pot.jpg|Achaemenid potteryFile:Gold fish shaped vessel from the Oxus Treasure by Nickmard Khoey.jpg|Fish shaped gold vesselFile:Persepolis stone dishes.jpg|Persepolis stone dishFile:Archers frieze Darius palace Louvre AOD487.jpg|Archers friezeFile:Bull capital Apadana Louvre AOD1.jpg|Bull capitalFile:Ibex rhyton AO3115.jpg|RhytonFile:APC235336.JPG|Persepolis CastFile:Lion-persepolis.JPG|LionFile:Persepolis - statue of a mastiff.jpg|MastiffFile:Cylinder seal Louvre AOD108.jpg|Cylinder sealFile:Persepolis_reliefs_2005a.jpg|Persepolis reliefsFile:PersepolistwoPersianSoldiers.jpg|Two Persian Soldiers in PersepolisFile:Persepolis The Persian Soldiers.jpg|Apadana Hall, Persian and Median soldiers at PersepolisFile:Nowruz Zoroastrian.jpg|Nowruz ZoroastrianFile:Persepolis gifts.jpg|Persepolis giftsFile:khanjar-acha.jpg|artistic dagger relief.


  1. Vasseghi, Sheda, " The other Iran story: Re-engineering the nation's cultural DNA", Breaking... World Tribune News, (12 October 2009).
  2. Stewart, Basil, " Restoration of Palestine", (In reference to the Achaemenid Empire), p. 3 (2003).
  3. Schlerath p. 36, no. 9. See also Iranica in the Achaemenid Period p. 17.
  4. e. g. Cyrus Cylinder Fragment A. ¶ 21.
  5. Ranajit Pal, "Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander", New Delhi, 2002.
  6. While estimates for the Achaemenid Empire range from 10-80+ million, most prefer around 50 million. Prevas (2009, p. 14) estimates 10 million 1. Langer (2001, p. 40) estimates around 16 million 2. McEvedy and Jones (2001, p. 50) estimates 17 million 3. Strauss (2004, p. 37) estimates about 20 million 4. Ward (2009, p. 16) estimates at 20 million 5. Aperghis (2007, p. 311) estimates 32 million 6. Scheidel (2009, p. 99) estimates 35 million 7. Zeinert (1996, p. 32) estimates 40 million 8. Rawlinson and Schauffler (1898, p. 270) estimates possibly 50 million 9. Astor (1899, p. 56) estimates almost 50 million 10. Lissner (1961, p. 111) estimates probably 50 million 11. Milns (1968, p. 51) estimates some 50 million 12. Hershlag (1980, p. 140) estimates nearly 50 million 13. Yarshater (1996, p. 47) estimates by 50 million 14. Daniel (2001, p. 41) estimates at 50 million 15. Meyer and Andreades (2004, p. 58) estimates 50 million 16. Pollack (2004, p. 7) estimates about 50 million 17. Jones (2004, p. 8) estimates over 50 million 18. Safire (2007, p. 627) estimates in 50 million 19. Dougherty (2009, p. 6) estimates about 70 million 20. Richard (2008, p. 34) estimates nearly 70 million 21. Mitchell (2004, p. 16) estimates over 70 million 22. Hanson (2001, p. 32) estimates almost 75 million 23. West (1913, p. 85) estimates about 75 million 24. Zenos (1889, p. 2) estimates exactly 75 million 25. Cowley (1999 and 2001, p. 17) estimates possibly 80 million 26. Cook (1904, p. 277) estimates exactly 80 million 27.
  7. Historical Estimates of World Population U.S. Census Bureau.
  8. Chr. Walker, "Achaemenid Chronology and the Babylonian Sources," in: John Curtis (ed.), Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism, 539-331 BCE (London 1997), page 22.
  9. M. Dandamayev, “Foreign Slaves on the Estates of the Achaemenid Kings and their Nobles,” in Trudy dvadtsat' pyatogo mezhdunarodnogo kongressa vostokovedov II, Moscow, 1963, pp. 151­-52
  10. In .
  11. From
  12. p. 251
  13. p. 457.
  14. pp. 249ff.
  15. p. 53
  16. p. 20.
  17. Herodotus. Histories. "[...]moreover they adopt all kinds of luxuries when they hear of them, and in particular they have learnt from the Hellenes to have commerce with boys[...]"
  18. Plutarch. On the Malice of Herodotus. "The same Herodotus says that the Persians learned the defiling of the male sex from the Greeks. And yet how could the Greeks have taught this impurity to the Persians, amongst whom, as is confessed by many, boys had been castrated before ever they arrived in the Grecian seas?"

See also


Modern Sources

  • Stronach, David "Darius at Pasargadae: A Neglected Source for the History of Early Persia," Topoi
  • Stronach, David "Anshan and Parsa: Early Achaemenid History, Art and Architecture on the Iranian Plateau". In: John Curtis, ed., Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 539–331, 35–53. London: British Museum Press 1997.

Further reading

  • There have been a number of editions since 1996.
  • A collection of articles by different authors.
  • From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Pierre Briant, Eisenbrauns: 2002, ISBN 978-1-57506-0316
  • The Greco-Persian Wars, Peter Green
  • The Greek and Persian Wars 499–386 BCE, Philip De Souza
  • The Heritage of Persia, Richard N. Frye
  • History of the Persian Empire, A.T. Olmstead
  • The Persian Empire, Lindsay Allen
  • The Persian Empire, J.M. Cook
  • Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, Tom Holland
  • Pictorial History of Iran: Ancient Persia Before Islam 15000 B.C.–625 A.D., Amini Sam
  • Timelife Persians: Masters of the Empire (Lost Civilizations)
  • Dandamaev, M.A. A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1989 (ISBN 90-04-09172-6).
  • Hallock, R., Persepolis Fortification Tablets

External links

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