The Empires of Persia
a) The empires of Persia arose in the arid land of Iran. For centuries, Iran had developed under the shadow of the wealthier and productive Mesopotamia while absorbing migrations and invasions. b) During the sixth century BCE, rulers of the province of Persia in southwest Iran embarked on a series of conquests that led to the formation of an enormous empire. c) Four dynasties ruled during the times- The Achaemenids (558-330 BCE), Seleucids (323-83 BCE), The Parthians (274-224 BCE), and the Sasanids (224-651 BCE). 1. The Achaemenid Empire
a) During the centuries before 1000 BCE, two closely related peoples known as the Medes and the Persians migrated from central Asia to Persia, the southwestern portion of Iran, where they lived in loose subjection to the Babylonian and Assyrian empires. b) They spoke Indo European languages, their movements were similar to other Indo European migrations, and they shared many cultural traits with the Aryans. They were mostly pastoralists, although they also practiced a limited amount of agriculture. c) The Persians organized themselves by clans rather than by states or formal political institutions, but they recognized leaders who collected taxes and delivered tribute to their Mesopotamian overlords. d) The Persians were not tightly organized politically, but were a considerable military power, had equestrian skills, and were expert archers, leading to their vastly successful imperial venture. e) Cyrus the Achaemenid launched the imperial venture, and his conquests laid the foundation of the first Persian Empire, and eventually became the leader of all of Iran, Lydia in Anatolia, Asia and Bactria, Babylonia, and everywhere from India to the borders of Egypt. f) After Cyrus had died, his son Cambyses conquered Egypt and brought its wealth to Persia. Then, Darius, the greatest of the Achaemenid emperors extended the empire to the Indus River, to the western coast of the Black Sea in southeastern Europe. With a population of close to 35 million people, Darius’ empire was by far the largest empire the world had ever seen. g) To maintain their empire over various cultures, languages, and such, the Achaemenids established lines of communication that would enable them to tax and administer the territories, and in turn, pioneered administrative techniques that would outlast their dynasty and influence political life for centuries to come. h) Darius also centralized his administration, and the government depended on a finely tuned balance between central initiative and local administration. The Achaemenids appointed governors to serve as agents of the central administration and oversee affairs in various regions, 23 in fact, that were called satrapies, or administrative and taxation districts governed by satraps. i) Because the satraps often held posts far from the city, there was always a possibility that they might form rebellions and become independent, so Achaemenid rulers relied on two measures to discourage this possibility. First, each satrapy had a contingent of military officers and tax collectors who served as checks on the satraps’ power and independence. Second, the rulers created a new category of officials- essentially imperial spies- known as the eyes and the ears of the king, who traveled throughout the empire conducting surprise audits of accounts and procedures in the provinces collecting intelligence reports. j) Darius also sought to improve administrative efficiency by regularizing tax levies and standardizing laws. Darius replaced irregular tribute payments with formal tax levies. To expedite the payment of taxes, Darius also issued standardized coins, built good roads, organized a courier service, built new roads between Persia and India, and facilitated trade which helped integrate the empire’s various regions into a larger economy. 2. The Decline and Fall of the Achaemenid Empire...