Sunday 29 May 2016

The Persian Empire

From provincial beginnings, a dynasty of kings - the Achaemenids - emerged to exert power across the continent of Asia from Mediterranean to Northwest India. The empire of the Persian  kings was one of an unpredictable scale.

When the Assyrian empire fell in 612 BC, they left rich cities and trade links open for exploitation for their successors. The bulk of Assyrian lands was taken over by a dynasty ruling from ancient city of Babylon. These neo-babylonian kings rebuilt Babylon into an imperial Capital.

Detail of Ishtar Gate, Babylon, c.580 BC    

After the fall of Assyrian empire, the state of Medes developed a luxurious empire to match their Mesopotamian neighbors. Greek historians, influenced by Persian views,describe how Medes fell. Of the Persians who attended their court, one individual, Cyrus, supposedly took over the empire from within.  

Cyrus the Great,

Contemporary chronicles  unearthed in Babylon instead tell how Cyrus conquered lands surrounding Mesopotamia in the mid 6th century BC before conquering the capital itself. First to fall was Lydian kingdom in the west of modern Turkey. Next to fall to Cyrus was the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Cyrus's son Cambyses was also successful in invading Egypt in 524 BC.

The Cyrus Cylinder
This clay foundation document inscribed in Akkadian, the traditional literally language of Babylon, gives Cyrus's carefully positive account of his conquest of the city in the 540s BC, in which he ws welcomed by the locals as a better ruler than his predecessor, the Babylonian king Nabonidus. 

When Cambyses died, his brother Bardiya was proclaimed king, but he was proved impostor and replaced by Darius I. In a foundation document from Susa ,Darius claimed that the building materials had come from far-flung corners of his realm, from India to the Ionian coast.

When Persian held Greek cities on the Ionian coast revolted in 490s BC, Athens and Eretria sent help from mainland Greece. In response the Persian leader sent a punitive expidition in 490 BC and another led by Darius's son Xerxes in 480 BC. But in following years Persians had to withdraw from Greece due to their acts of defiance.

Persian Empire under Xerxes I (485-465 BC).

Despite withdrawal from Greece, Persia continued to wield influence in the Mediterranean. The Persian throne did not come under any threat until the invasion of Alexander the Great in 334 BC.

Despite their success, the Persians left no sustained historical account of themselves. The kings did, however, leave monumental statements on their palace walls about how they had wished to be seen. Images and texts found in Darius I 's palace at Susa, show Darius boasting of massive excavations for a platform for his columned halls. This relief shows Persian guards dresses in colorful robes.

Relief in the Palace of Susa
A griffin designed to sit at the top of a column watches over Persepolisthe ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire(ca. 550–330 BC). This city was developed by Darius I and his successors from 519 BC. The structures included massive columned audience halls and smaller palaces build of stone and mud-bricks.


Under Darius, his son Xerxes and subsequent kings, the image of the monarch carved into the walls of their palaces remained unchanged, emphasizing the continuity of their family line. Here, a royal heir in his court robe resembles the king exactly.

A royal heir

The Persian wars between the Greek city-states and the Persian empire are seen as a period that defined ideas of "East" and "West". Afterwards East would be regarded as foreign to the West and vice versa. 

The last king of Achaemenid Dynasty was Darius III ,who lost half of his empire to the invasion of Alexander. He was apparently imprisoned and killed by his own entourage in 330 BC. Although Alexander cut a swath through the ruling elite and burned a part of Persepolis, the structures and traditions of Persian empire exerted a huge influence on rulers and empires who followed. Sassanid emperors who ruled Persia centuries later identified themselves as heirs to the Achaemenids. 


  1. I can’t imagine focusing long enough to research; much less write this kind of article. You’ve outdone yourself with this material. This is great content. Iranian market


Follow me on Blogarama