Iranian History/The Era of the Three Dariuses
Smerdis 522 BC[edit | edit source]
In 522 BC, when Cambyses II was busy with his campaigns in Africa, a prominent Magus named Gaumata who was favored and appointed to a very high position by Cambyses usurped the throne claiming to be Smerdis or Bardiya the son of Cyrus the Great who was believed to have been long dead killed by Cambyses II.
The history of the "false" Smerdis is narrated by Herodotus and Ctesias according to official traditions; Cambyses before his death supposedly confessed to the murder of his brother, and in public explained the whole fraud. But, as Darius said, nobody had the courage to oppose the new king, who ruled for seven months over the whole empire.
Soon after his accession to the throne, Smerdis started to issue proclamations designed to favor the old Magian religion and to supersede Zoroastrianism. First of all, Magism was made the state religion and the capital was transferred from Pasargadae to a castle in the district of Nisaya. Following this proclamation, Zoroastrianism was targeted and numerous Zoroastrian temples were destroyed. But the most infamous act Smerdis is held responsible for is the edict reversing the decree of Cyrus guaranteeing religious freedom to the Jews of Babylon. The construction of Solomon's Temple had to be stopped temporarily.
In September 522BC, after a reign of seven months, Smerdis was killed by Darius, a distant cousin of Cambyses, who was hailed as a liberator and a true scion of the Achaemenid family and was crowned as Emperor in the year 522 BC
Darius I 522 - 485 BC[edit | edit source]
Darius was twenty-eight years old when he led the rebellion that overthrew the false Smerdis and restored the Achaemenid dynasty.
The Name 'Darius'[edit | edit source]
Darius was originally called Khashayarsha Darayavaus which was Romanized to Xerxes Darius by Roman historians. Darayavaus, itself might have been actually Darayavahu, which has been suffixed with an -s in tune with the practice of writing Old Persian. His name could be roughly translated as "He Who Holds Firm the Good". Darius is credited with the famous inscription at Behistun in which he declares:
"Adam Darayavaus, Kshaayathiya Vazraka, Hakhamanisha Parsa,Arya Aryacita"
which would roughly translate as
"I am Darius, Great King, Achaemenid Persian, an Aryan with an Aryan lineage"
Rebellion and Disorder 522 - 516 BC[edit | edit source]
Soon after his accssion to the Persian Empire, Darius had to contend with numerous insurrections and counter unrest in the provinces. There was a rebellion in Susiana where a certain Atrines had crowned himself king. The rebellion was crushed with an iron hand the leader put to death. But a new commander appeared in the person of a certain Martes (Martiya) who resumed the insurrection. Darius took the field in person and advanced against the enemy. This alarmed the Susianians so much so that they laid hands on the pretender and slew him.
Simultaneous rebellions emerged in Babylonia where the rebellion was led by Nebuchadnezzar (Nidintu-Bael), a son of Nabonidus and prince of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty. Darius led a huge army into Mesapotamia and defeated the Mesapotamians on the banks of the Tigris. A second battle was fought outside the Babylonian capital by the Babylonians in their retreat in which the Babylonians were defeated once again. Nebuchadnezzar escaped on his horse and threw himself upon Babylon. But Babylon was besieged by the Persians who captured it in a matter of days. Nebuchadnezzar was captured and killed.
At this juncture, the Persians were thrown into peril by three simultaneous eruptions in Media, Armenia and Assyria which comprised the most important provinces of the Empire. A Median candidate to the throne rose in the form of one Xathrites (Kshatritha) who claimed descent from the Median king Cyaxares. Armenia and Assyria aided him and he tried to snatch Media by force. A battle was fought in the three fronts in Media, Armenia and Assyria all of which were indecisive (though Darius claimed victory in his inscriptions). Soon, Hyrcania and Parthia rose in rebellion against Persia and supported Xathrites. Darius took the field in person and marched against Xathrites at the head of a large army. Xathrites gave battle at a place called Kudrus and was defeated. He captured Ecbatana forcing Xathrites to become a fugitive anbd flee to the East. However, the unfortunate Xathrites was overtaken and brought before the king. Xathrites was made prisoner and horribly mutilated as a punishment before being put to death.
Darius now resolved to take revenge and invaded Parthia and Hyrcania annexing all the cities and towns on the route.But he was forced to return early in order to tackle a rebellion in Sagartia. A new pretender (Chitrantakhma) rose in the province of Sagartia who declared himself king. Darius moved against the new pretender and captured him with ease. He was subjected to the same kind of punishment as Xathrites.
At the same time, a second pretender (Vahyazdatha) claiming himself to be the actual Smerdis rose in North East Persia. However, a majority of the Persians and Medes were highly pleased with the efficient rule and administration of Darius that they refused to desert him. The impostor was defeated in two successive battles by Darius' general Artabardes (Arthavardiya) and crucified.A second rebellion arose in Babylonia which was once again quelled with an iron hand.
Around this time, Oroetes the Governor of Sardis, had a quarrel with Mitrobates the Governor of a neighbouring province and murdered him. Darius sent him a message severely reprimanding him for his conduct. Angered, Oroetes murdered the messenger. Furious at this challenge to authority, Darius raced to Sardis and ordered his men to arrest the Governor and kill him.
Quite similar was the case with the Governor of Egypt who minted pure gold and silver coins in his own name without the knowledge of the Emperor. But when Darius came to know of it he was captured and killed.
It was six years before rebellions and insurrections could be quelled and peace established all over the Empire. However, once having established peace and stamped his authority over the provinces, Darius proceeded to rule in moderation and justice and renew the policy of Achaemenid expansion followed by Cyrus II and Cambyses II.
The Behistun Inscription 515 BC[edit | edit source]
In 515BC, soon after establishing his hold over Persia, Darius inscribed the details of his accession in face of the usurper Smerdis and details about his legitimate claim to the Persian throne on the rock-face of a mountain near the town of Bagasthana or "God's place" (Romanized to Behistun) in the Kermanshah province of Iran. The inscription is approximately 15 metres high by 25 metres wide, and 100 metres up a limestone cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana). The inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian and was used by Henry Rawlinson to decipher the First Persian cuneiform texts in 1838.
Conquest of the Punjab 515 BC[edit | edit source]
Darius was as ambitious as his predecessors Cyrus II and Cambyses II had been. Having earlier sent a mission to survey the Indus from Attock to its mouth on the Arabian Sea coast, he sent an expedition under Scylax to reduce the whole Indus plain. This brought Punjab,Sindh and Gandhara under Persian suzerainty. The two Indian satraps were the richest provinces of the Empire and yielded the highest tribute.
Expedition to Thrace and Scythia 513 -512 BC[edit | edit source]
Darius launched an invasion of Greece in 513 BC with the probable intent of expanding the Achaemenid kingdom into Europe and with the ambition of conquering the whole world. However, Herodotus says that the expedition was initiated with the purpose of capturing a Persian rebel and fugitive Democedes who had sought refuge in Greece. Nevertheless, Darius did desire to subjugate Thrace and the Greek city-states and with this aim in mind he crossed the Bosporus into Europe.
So, in 513 BC, Darius set out along with the Persian fleet comprising 600 ships and an army of 700,000 to 800,000 men, as per George Rawlinson's estimate, across the Bosporus to conquer Thrace and the countries that lay beyond. Marching along Thrace's northern shore, Darius entered the Balkan and defeated the Getae. Crossing the Danube, the Persians proceeded northwards and subjugated Scythia. Returning to Thrace with his army intact, Darius posted a body of 80,000 in Europe under the command of a certain Megabazes to subjugate Thrace before returning to Persia.
Megabazus appears to have been fully worthy of the trust reposed in him. In a single campaign (B.C. 506) he overran and subjugated the entire tract between the Propontis and the Strymon, thus pushing forward the Persian dominion to the borders of Macedonia. Among the tribes which he conquered were the Perinthians, Greeks; the Pseti, Cicones, Bistones, Sapaei, Dersaei and Edoni, Thracians; and the Paeoplae and Siripasones, Pseonians. These last, to gratify a whim of Darius, were transported into Asia. The Thracians who submitted were especially those of the coast, no attempt, apparently, being made to penetrate the mountain fastnesses and bring under subjection the tribes of the interior.An embassy was sent to Macedonia whose king, an ancestor of Alexander the Great at once accepted Persian suzerainty.
The Ionian Revolt 499 - 494 BC[edit | edit source]
In 502BC, the usland of Naxos in the Aegean Sea rose into revolt against the Persians and appealed to Aristagoras the overlord of the Greek city of Miletus for help. Aristagoras, in turn, sought out the aid of Artaphernes, the satrap of Lydia and brother to Darius I of Persia. Artaphernes agreed to supply Aristagoras with a fleet of ships under the command of the esteemed Persian admiral Megabates.In return, Aristagoras promised to cede the islands and Cyclades to Artaphernes.This was possible only if the conspirators won. However, the conspiracy was discovered before it could be executed and the fleet was forced to retreat.
Due to the failure of the plan, Aristogoras was unable to repay Artaphernes who insisted that the former fulfill his promise.Aristagoras chose to incite the Ionian Greeks, to revolt against their Persian masters.
In 499BC, Miletus rose in rebellion. Aristogoras relinguished his post as a Persian Governor and sent soldiers to arrest the Governors of Mylasa,Termera and Mytilene. But Aristogoras realized that the Persian soldiers might arrive sooner or later and hence appealed to Greece for help.Sparta did not respond favorably. But Athens provided a fleet of twenty ships and Eretria,five.
The combined European and Ionian Greek contingents attacked the Lydian capital, Sardis and plundered the city. However, they were forced to bid a speedy retreat by an accidental fire that broke out in the city. Aristagoras retreated, but the Persian troops stationed At Ephesus caught up with them and defeated them severely.
The fact that such a small Greek contingent could overthrow a Persian garrison and capture an important town in the Persian Empire such as Sardis convinced other subject people of the Persian Empire that the Persians were not invincible. Soon, the Greeks of the Hellespont, the Carians and the Caunians of the south-western coast,Cypriots and Scythians rose into revolt and plundered Thrace. The Athenian fleet even defeated the Phoenician fleet of the Empire near the island of Crete.
However, these victories were short-lived. Darius launched a major counter-offensive recovering Crete by the end of the year and defeating the Carians, Hellespontine Greeks and Aeolians. Ionia was ravaged and Aristogoras was murdered by a Thracian. Darius concentrated his energies on Miletus, the cradle of the revolt destroying it completely and settling the bulk of its inhabitants on the Persian Gulf. Ionia was ravaged and the coastal islands were depopulated. The cities on the Hellespont and the sea of Marmara were burnt.
A year after the capture of Miletus, The Capture of Miletus, a play by the poet Phrynichos, was performed in Athens, reducing the entire amphitheater to tears. The Ionian Revolt, although ultimately a failure for the Ionian Greeks, was a touchstone for both Persia and Greece. As such, it marks the beginning of the Persian Wars.
Expeditions to Greece 492 - 490 BC[edit | edit source]
Humiliated and Enraged by the rebellion of Greek city-states in Asia Minor, Darius dispatched an expedition under Mardonius across the Bosporus to reduce Thrace,Greece and Macedonia in the year 492BC. Mardonius was successful at first taking Thasos and invading Athos but an thunderstorm broke out killing 20,000 men. Seizing this opportunity, a Thracian tribe Brygi attacked the Persians killing a large number of them. The Persians, however, retaliated completely subjugating them. But Mardonius was unable to advance further and had to retreat.
A couple of years later Darius sent another expedition under Datis whioch followed the coast of the Cyclades and fell upon Eretria and Attica. Eretria was reduced and a large number of its inhabitants massacred. However, the siege of Athens failed completely with a Persian Army of 100,000 to 200,000 men facing a crushing defeat at the hands of 20,000 Athenians and Plateans in the Battle of Marathon.
Battle of Marathon 490 BC[edit | edit source]
The main historical account of the Battle of Marathon comes from Herodotus' Histories Book VI, paragraphs 102–117. Calculations as per the Julian Calendar suggest a date of September 12, 490BC for the battle.
Darius had sent a part of the navy under Aristapharnes which laid siege to Athens on the 12th of Sepmteber 490BC. Meanwhile, the Persian cavalry had already retreated. The Persian Army was arranged in a straight line close to the coast while the fleet was a few miles away at sea. Miltiades, a powerful politician of the Athenian Republic who had led Greek troops in the Ionian revolt led the Greek army.
The front of the Greek army numbered 1,625 men of whom 500 guarded the centre while the rest formed the sides of the formation. If the Persians had the same density as the Greeks and were 10 ranks strong then the Persian army opposing the Greeks numbered 16,000. men. But if the front had a gap of 1.4 meters between soldiers compared to 1 meters for every Greek and had a density of 40 to 50 ranks as seems to be the maximum possible for the plain—the Persian army had even fought in 110 ranks—then the Persian army numbered 44,000 to 55,000.
Prior to the commencement of the battle, runners were sent to Sparta to request the Spartans for their help. The runners reportedly ran an unbelievable 200 kilometres in less than 36 hours.
When the battle began, the Greek centre made a ferocious charge at the Persian troops piercing the gaps between the troops. But when the Persian archers attacked the Greeks with a barrage of arrows, the Greeks retreated pulling the Persian troops in. When the Persians were close enough for the kill, the sides charged. The warriors who made up the flanks reportedly covered he one and half kilometres that separated them from the Persian troops in less than 10 minutes. With no time to fire their weapons, the Persians fled. The Persian fleet was at a great distance from coast of Marathon. Unable to make their escape, the Persians lost miserably and over 6,000 soldiers were killed.
The Battle of Marathon heralded a new dawn in the history of Perso-Greek relations. This battle, in particular, led to the commencement of the Persian Wars which lasted over a hundred years and culminated in Alexander's conquest of Persia in 331BC. However, the most imminent result of this battle was that it fuelled insurrections against Persian rule all over the Empire. It proved that the Persians could be defeated and commenced a string of Greek victories over Persia in land and sea.
Revolt in Egypt 487-486 BC[edit | edit source]
Still undeterred, Darius was making elaborate preparations for another invasion of Greece when rebellion broke out in Egypt. Darius hurried to the scene, but was soon struck by illness and died in 486 or 485BC according to some accounts at the age of 64.
Administration[edit | edit source]
It has always been the habit of West Asian countries to rebel at the slightest provocation that kingdoms often collapsed in a short time. Darius was the first one to find a solution to this problem and he devised a new system of government hitherto unknown. This form of government not only sustained the Persian Empire for two hundred years but also contributed to the rapid expansion of the dominions. This system of governance was the decentralization of power through the appointment of provincial governors or satraps.
Satraps (Kshatras) of the Empire[edit | edit source]
The word satrap is the Romanized form of Old Persian "Kshatra" or "province" which is the Iranian counterpart of the Sanskrit "Kshetra". It administrator was known as "Kshatra-pava" or "protector of the satrap".
The duties of the Persian satrap (Kshatra-pava) were
- Collection and transmission of revenue
- Administration of justice
- Maintenance of Order
- General supervision of territory
This policy of establishing satraps
- brought a sense of uniformity with each satrap having a similar form of administration
- The imposition of checks and counterpoises over provincial governors and officials
- Equal distribution of authority amongst the provinces.
|S.No||Greek Name of Satrap||Old Persian Name of Satrap||Modern Name|
Taxation and Tribute[edit | edit source]
The mode of taxation employed often was left to the wishes and whims of the satrap who exacted the tribute. Generally, the exactions were made by land-tax. As far as tribute was concerned, the provinces usually paid a tribute of 150 to 1000 silver talents except in the case of the two satraps of India which furnished the Empire with vast quantities of gold and men. These were the richest provinces of the Persian Empire and yielded the highest tribute.
Population[edit | edit source]
The population of the Empire has been estimated at over forty million and these included people of various nationalities as Persians, Medes, Indians, Arabs, Mesapotamians, Turks, Africans, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Jews, Greeks and Scythians.
Legacy[edit | edit source]
Darius I is arguably the greatest ever monarch to have ruled Persia. Cyrus II may actually have been the one who established the Achaemenid Empire, but practically speaking, the Persian Empire owes its greatness to Darius I. He was the one who consolidated the Empire and brought his nation into direct conflict with Greece. The kingdom was a fledgling power, not much more than a barbarian state, ruled by semi-civilized ancients before Darius came to power. Darius transformed it into an Empire and gave it a system of administration, rarely if at all, seen anywhere in the ancient world. Cyrus had been given the epithet "the Great" by Persians at a later stage. But Darius declares himself "Kshaayathiya Vazarka" or "Great King" in his inscriptions. It was obvious who deserved it more. It was definitely, Darius I the Great.
Xerxes I 485-465 BC[edit | edit source]
Xerxes was the son of Darius I and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great. His throne name in Old Persian was Khashayarshah which means "ruler of heroes".
The reign of Xerxes was completely devoid of unnecessary adventures in unknown lands. His first campaign was again Egypt soon after the death of his father and he was extremely successful in putting an end to the rebellion and reducing Egypt. Another rebellion broke out in Babylon and he was able to quell this one too without much effort.
Wars with Greece[edit | edit source]
In 483BC, Xerxes sent a large expedition to invade Greece. A channel was dug through the isthmus of the peninsula of Mount Athos, provisions were stored in the stations on the road through Thrace, two bridges were thrown across the Hellespont. The Persian soldiers who invaded Greece were estimated to be over 2 million strong.
The Persian troops crossed the Hellespont and laid siege to the city of Thermopylae.
Battle of Thermopylae[edit | edit source]
Various accounts exist of the Battle of Thermopylae between the Greeks and the Persians but even the oldest, by Herodotus, was written a full generation after the event, and none is entirely reliable. Greek accounts of the time say that Xerxes dispatched an army of 10,000 Medes to assault the Pass but it was cut to pieces on the very first day. He then sent an army of 20,000 Immortals, but they too failed. Accounts say that Xerxes sent an army of 50,000 on the second day but once again, they weren't able to achieve any success.
On the third day, with a crucial piece of information from a Greek traitor called Ephthalite, the Persians were able to sneak into Thermopylae. A skirmish followed. In this struggle, Herodotus tells us that two brothers of Xerxes I fell: Abrocomes and Hyperanthes. Leonidas, the commander of the Greek army, also died in the assault.
The Persians won the battle and proceeded to take Athens. The body of Leonidas was captured by Xerxes, who, in a fit of rage, ordered it to be brutally mutilated and crucified.
Battle of Artemisium[edit | edit source]
On the same day that the Battle of Thermopylae was fought the Battle of Artemisium raged between the Greeks and the Persians. This battle brought a complete victory for the Persian fleet over the Greeks in the Greek waters. Following these two victories, the Persians laid siege to Athens. The Oracle at Delphi had earlier prophesied that the Greeks would be saved by a "wooden wall". The defeat at Artemisium seemed to imply that this did not refer to the wooden hulls of the fleet, so the Athenians hoped that building a wooden wall around the Acropolis would save them from the Persians. However, as expected, the wooden wall was burnt by the Persians and the Athenians inside were massacred.
Battle of Salamis[edit | edit source]
The Delphic Oracle had also predicted ambiguously that Salamis would "bring death to women's sons." In September 480BC, the Persian fleet met the Greek navy off the coast of Salamis island near Athens and the Battle of Salamis was fought. The Persian fleet was made of 800 ships while the Greek fleet was made of around 378 ships. However, soon after the battle began, a storm broke out which tossed the flimsy Phoenician ships of the Persians up and down. Ariamenes who commanded the Persians was killed in hand-to-hand combat and confusion followed.The battle was tightly contested and in the end, the Persians had to flee. Unable to provide for the troops in Greece, Xerxes led his army back across the Hellespont into Asia, leaving behind Mardonius. Mardonius once again recaptured Athens, but was defeated in the Battle of Platea and the Battle of Micale.
Battle of Plataea[edit | edit source]
After the Battle of Salamis, Xerxes I returned to Persia, leaving Mardonius in charge of the conquered Greek territories. Mardonius, through Alexander I of Macedon, asked for a truce with Athens, offering autonomous government and Persian aid in rebuilding their city. Athens rejected this and asked for Spartan assistance, though the Spartans were more interested in protecting the Peloponnese. Mardonius then recaptured Athens, but the Athenians once more rejected his offer of peace.
Mardonius fortified the Asopus river in Boeotia, hoping that the Greeks would be unable to unite against him. However, the Athenians sent 8,000 men and marched with the Spartan force to the pass over Mount Cithaeron, where they could successfully defend themselves from Persian raids. Mardonius sent cavalry charges led by Masistius to attack the Greeks, hoping to lure them onto the plain or to check whether his cavalry could successfully attack a phalanx on hilly terrain. Masistius met resistance from the Megarans and Athenians under the command of Olympiodorus, in the centre of the Greek formation. Masistius was killed and his cavalry retreated. The Greeks began to move away from the pass towards the plain of Plataea where Mardonius had built a fortified camp, and where the Greek hoplites could fight more easily. The Athenians formed the left wing of the army, with the Spartans on the right and the Tegeans in the centre.
At this point, the Greek army numbered 80,000 men while the Persians are estimated to have numbered anywhere between 50,000 and 300,000 men. The Athenians and Spartans switched positions so that the Athenians would defend against the main Persian force while the Spartans would fight the Greek subjects within the Persian army. The Persians thought that the Greeks were retreating and attacked them. The Persians fought with their large heavy shields while the Greeks used long spears which gave them a tactical advantage. The Tegans attacked followed by the Spartans. Mardonius was killed and his successor Artabazus pulled back his troops.
Battle of Mycale[edit | edit source]
The Battle of Mycale was a turning point in the history of Greco-Persian wars and marked the end of Achaemenid intrusion into Greece. This was fought during the same period as the Battle of Plataea. The Ionian Greeks in the Persian army went over to the Greeks and the Persians suffered a crushing defeat.
The Persians hastily evacuated Greece after this battle. Never again would they set foot on European soil.
Battle of the Eurymedon[edit | edit source]
In 477BC, the Greek city-states form the Delian League with Athens at its head. This was inaugurated as a defensive and offensive alliance against Persia. The first major offensive carried out by the Delian League was the Battle of the Eurymedon in 466BC.
Starting with 477BC, when the Delian League was formed, the Greeks launcdhed a major offensive to drive out Persians from Asia Minor. This led to the Battle of the Eurymedon in 466 BC when the Athenian general Cimon led a fleet of 250 ships against the Ionian cities. Most Greeks surrendered without resistance, however, Ionians of mixed Persian and Greek descent held out. The Athenian fleet was assisted by an Ionian fleet of 100 ships from the surrendered cities of Asia Minor. The Greek city Fasilida gave the stoutest resistance. However, this resistance was overcome in time and Persian hold over the Ionian cities of Asia Minor was completely lost.
Cimon then moved against the Persian fleet stationed on the Eurymedon river which resulted in a complete victory for the Athenian fleet. Persian rule over the Ionian cities completely disappeared with this battle.
Missing Later Years[edit | edit source]
Of the later years of Xerxes, little is known. He sent out Sataspes to attempt the circumnavigation of Africa. He left inscriptions at Persepolis, where he added a new palace to that of Darius, at Van, now in present-day Turkey, and on Mount Elvend near Ecbatana. In these texts he merely copies the words of his father. In 465 he was murdered by his vizier, Artabanus, who raised Artaxerxes I to the throne
Artaxerxes I 465 - 424 BC[edit | edit source]
Xerxes was succeeded by Artaxerxes I in 465BC. His name in Old Persian was "Artakshasa" which may be roughly translated as "one who rules through truth (arta)". He was given the epithet Minuschir or (Greek) Longimannus because his right-arm is believed to be longer than his left.
According to some accounts, Xerxes was killed by his eldest son Darius who tried to usurp the throne. But Artaxerxes, a younger son of Xerxes removed Darius and ascended the throne. Immediately after his accession, he killed Artabanus who made an attempt on his life.
Rebellions[edit | edit source]
Soon after Artabanus was killed, Bactria rose in rebellion under Artabanus, a younger brother of the king Hystaspes. But this rebellion was sternly put down. Simultaneous eruptions followed in Africa where the King of Libya Inarus overthrew the Persian satrap of Egypt, Achaemenes who was an uncle of Artaxerxes I. At the same time, an Athenian fleet under Cimon sent to help the Egyptians won a decisive victory near the coast of Egypt. After having hoped in vain for help from Sparta, Artaxerxes sent a relieving force under Megabyzus who set free the Persians besieged in Memphis after a contest which lasted more than a year. The mutineers were besieged at Byblos in the Nile Delta and forced to surrender in 454BC. The Athenian fleet faced a crushing defeat and was forced to retreat. Arsames was made the new satrap of the province.
Relations With Greece[edit | edit source]
As soon as Artaxerxes I ascended the throne, he commenced the practice of bribing city-states hostile to Athens in order to keep the Athenians in check and prevent the formation of a Greek confederacy. Athenians resorted to desperate measures as demanding tribute in the form of money from the members of the League instead of men or ships. Open hostilites commenced in 450BC when the Athenians lent their aid to an Egyptian revolt against Persia.
Battle of Salamis in Cyprus[edit | edit source]
The Battle of Cyprus or Battle of Salamis (in Cyprus) took place in 450BC near the coast of Salamis, a Greek city-state in the island of Cyprus.
In 454BC, the Athenians made an unsuccessful bid to aid the Egyptian revolt. The insurrection was crushed and the Athenians lost a fleet in the attack. In 451BC, a truce was concluded between the warring Athenians and Spartans which enabled the Athenians to renew hostilities with Persia.
In 450BC, Cimon sailed into Cyprus with a fleet of 200 ships. He sent sixty ships into Egypt to aid the revolting Egyptians. Cimon besieged the Persian stronghold of Citium in south-west Cyprus. The siege was completely successful though Cimon was killed in the battle. The Greeks did not press further and returned to the mainland.
In 447BC, the First Peloponnesian War commenced between the Delian League and the Boetian League which brought about a temporary truce between the Athenians and the Persians. The Peace of Callias was signed to this effect in the year 449BC.
Rebellion in Syria[edit | edit source]
Soon after the Peace of Callias, the Persian commander at the battle against Egypt, Megabyzus rose in rebellion against Artaxerxes for violating the terms of Inarus' surrender by killing him. He established a stronghold in Syria and defeated two Persian armies sent against him. However, peace was soon agreed upon by the opposing parties and the rebellion came to an end.
During the last years of his reign, Artaxerxes faced the rebellion of Pissuthenes, the satrap of Sardis. The Athenians made an unsuccssful invasion of Caunia. During the fag end of his reign, Artaxerxes was approached by both Sparta and Athens requesting his help in the Peloponnesian Wars. But no definite treaty seemed to have been arrived at.
Character of Artaxerxes[edit | edit source]
Artaxerxes I is often portrayed as an Emperor with a weak character. But historians and writers of the period have endowed lavish praises on him for his kindness and benevolence. Like his father, he supported building activities in the Empire. The construction of the "Hall of 100 Columns" begun in the reign of his father was completed under his supervision and patronage.
Xerxes II 424 BC[edit | edit source]
Xerxes II succeeded his father Artxerxes I in 424 BC but reigned for a brief period of 45 days. He was the legitimate heir to the throne being the son of Artaxerxes nthrough his principal wife Damaspia. Very little is known about him. ostly from the writings of Ctesias. He was murdered by the orders of his half-brother Sogdianus forty-five days after his accession.
Sogdianus 424 - 423 BC[edit | edit source]
Xerxes II was succeeded by his half-brother Sogdianus in 424BC. Sogdianus was an illegitimate son of Artaxerxes I. He ruled for a few months from Elam. Even during his time, Darius II (Ochus) another son of Artaxerxes I ruled from Hyrcania.
Soon after the death of Xerxes II, Sogdianus usurped the throne and ruled for six months and fifteen days. In 423BC, after a short fight, Ochus, a son of Artaxerxes II killed Sogdianus and ascended the throne as Darius II
Darius II 423 - 404 BC[edit | edit source]
Rebellion in Lydia and Caria[edit | edit source]
Soon after the accession of Darius II there was a rebellion by his brother, Arsites and Zopyrus, the son of Megabyzus. Darius sent two armies against them but both were defeated by Zopyrus with help from Greek mercenaries. Finally, Darius resorted to strategem and bought the mercenaries with Persian gold. Devoid of allies, Arsites and Zopyrus were forced to capitulate under pressure from advancing Persian forces. The duo surrendered under the pledge of protection but his wife Parsyatis persuaded Darius to disregard the pledge. Both Arsites and Zopyrus were mercilessly killed in violation of the pledge.
The revolt of Lydia, a satrap of Persia was another prominent outbreak. The rebellion was led by one Pissuthunes and had started in the reign of Artaxerxes I. Darius sent Tissphernes against him. Once again Lycon, the Athenian commander of the Lydian troops and Pissuthunes' Greek mercenaries were bribed and switched sides over to the Persians. Pissuthunes was captured and put to death.
The Loss of Egypt[edit | edit source]
During this time, there was a rebellion in Egypt. Darius made an unsuccessful attempt to quell the rebellion resulting in the loss of Egypt. The revolt of Egypt is placed by Heeren and Clinton in B.C. 414, by Eusebius in B.C. 411, by Manetho in the last year of Darius Nothus, or B.C. 405. These indiscrepancies arise from the belief that Manetho considered Nepherites (Nefaorot) as the leader while some feel that the leader was Amyrtseus of the twenty-eighth dynasty.
Relations With Greece[edit | edit source]
Darius observed the affairs and political situation in Greece with a watchful eye and was keen to support one party against the other. The crushing defeat of the Athenian army in 413BC created news all over the Empire. Athens was reduced to a status of a minor power by this battle. The Persian satraps Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus made overtures to Sparta and a formal treaty was signed between the Persian Empire and Sparta. The Persians followed a policy akin to the "divide et impera" or "Divide and rule" practised by the British in India, always supporting one city-state against the other.
Rebellion in Media[edit | edit source]
In 409 or 408BC, a rebellion broke out in Media which is described in detail by Xenophon. Terutichmes, who belonged to a noble family with a good standing and influence was the satrap of Media. He was married to Amestris, the daughter of Darius II. However, soon, he became enamored of his own half-sister, Roxana and desired to marry her. However, he could not do so while Amestris was alive and made secret plans to murder her. The conspiracy hatched by Terutichmes reached the ears of Darius II and he sent a certain Udiastes to secure the life of his daughter. Udiastes overwhelmed Terutichmes and 300 associates of his and slew him. His extended family was rounded up with the one exception of his sister Statira who was married to the Crown-Prince Artaxerxes Memnon and was brutally extinguished at the orders of the queen Parsyatis.
Darius II's character[edit | edit source]
Darius II was an extremely weak,incompetent and a wicked monarch and functioned as a mere puppet at the hands of his favorite wife, Parsyatis. His reign was ridden with palace intrigues, conspiracies and brutal executions.
Artaxerxes II 404 - 358 BC[edit | edit source]
Artaxerxes II was the eldest son of Darius II but Parsyatis preferred her younger son Cyrus to her elder and persuaded the Emperor in his last years to appoint Cyrus as the heir-apparent. However, Darius was too weak to prevent Artaxerxes II from capturing the throne and crowning himself Emperor soon after his death in 404BC.
Meanwhile,Cyrus returned to his satrapy in Asia Minor and plotted to take over the Empire. He found a cause of quarrel with Tissaphernes and utilizing this, he recruited an army of 13,000 Greek mercenaries focring Tissaphernes to report the matter to the Persian Emperor.
Cyrus quitted Sardis in 401BC and with an army of over 100,000 Persian soldiers and 13,000 Greek mercenaries, he rapidly advanced through Asia Minor taking Cilicia,Phrygia and Syria. At last, when Cyrus entered Babylon, Artaxerxes decided to give battle and according to reports, took the field at the head of an army in excess of 900,000. A showdown took place near the banks of the Euphrates. When the battle began, the Greek mercenaries of Cyrus advanced at their Persian opponents forcing them to retreat. But Cyrus, unwisely, pitted the guards who protected him against the persona of Artaxerxes. Cyrus was pierced in the eye by a javelin and killed in the melee that followed.
Relations With Greece[edit | edit source]
After the death of Cyrus, Lydia and Phrygia were ruled by satraps who had a deep and bitter rivalry towards one another. They were willing to engage the support of one or more of the Greek city-states in order to increase their power and influence. Meanwhile, Sparta provoked the open hostility of the Persian Government by welcoming the "Ten Thousand" survivors of the Battle and supporting the independence of Asiatic Greeks.
As a result, the Persians allied with Athens against Sparta and invaded the Peloponnese in 393BC. The island of Cythera was occupied. The Spartans learnt their lesson and concluded peace with the Athenians, the Persians and the smaller Greek city-states. Sparta assured the Persians that the Greeks would never henceforth interfere with the Persian provinces in Asia. The Greek city-states meanwhile were to remain autonomous. Persia agreed to this peace in the year 387BC
The Cyprian Revolt 391 - 380 BC[edit | edit source]
Cyprus broke into revolt under Evagoras of Salamis who allied with the Athenians in 391BC. The Athenians agreed to supply them with men and materials.With assistance from Achoris of Egypt and Hecatomnus of Cadia they occupied Tyre and extended into Cilicia. The Persians sent Tiribazus with an army of 300,000 men and 300 ships. Evagoras fought bravely and the battle lasted six years. But in the end, the rebels were defeated and forced to surrender. Evagoras was surprisingly pardoned and was given a high position in the administration.
The Cadusian Revolt[edit | edit source]
Around the same time as the Cyprian revolt, the Cadusian revolt broke out in Cadusia which was a part of the Great Emperor's dominions. However,Artaxerxes invaded their territory at the head of an army which is estimated at 300,000 foot and 10,000 horse. Artaxerxes suffered a crushing defeat and was contented to reach Persia alive.
Invasion of Egypt 375 BC[edit | edit source]
In 375BC, Artaxerxes, with the services of the great Athenian general Iphicrates invaded Egypt and surrounded Memphis. But the Persians delayed in investing Memphis and paid the price. The rains came and the river banks of the Nile were flooded forcing the Persians to withdraw.
Rebellions[edit | edit source]
As the king grew older and feebler, the provinces began to revolt. Ariobarzanes, satrap of Phrygia shook off the Persian yoke in 366BC and declared himself independent. Cappadocia too broke into revolt. However, both Phrygia and Cappadocia were conquered and their satraps deposed. In 362BC, there was a general revolt of the western provinces of the Empire. The Persians resorted to bribery and bought the loyalty of the new satrap of Phrygia apart from one of their generals. The insurrection was crushed. Following this rebellion, Artaxerxes II died in 358BC at the age of ninety-four.
Artaxerxes III 358 - 338 BC[edit | edit source]
Artaxerxes III was a cruel, despotic monarch who immediately after his accession killed all his relatives and other claimnants to the throne. He even destroyed the princesses cruelly. When he had got rid of all his opponents, Artaxerxes commenced the invasion of Egypt.
Egyptian Campaign and Rebellions 351 - 346 BC[edit | edit source]
In around 351BC, Artaxerxes embarked on a campaign to recover Egypt. The Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo with the services of the Greek generals Diophantus and Lamius inflicted a crushing defeat on the Persians. Artaxerxes was compelled to retreat and postpone his Egyptian enterprise. Following on the heels of the Egyptians, leaders of Phoenicia,Asia Minor and Cyprus declared their independence.
In 346BC, Artaxerxes initiated a counter-offensive by deputing Belesys, satrap of Syria and Mezseus, satrap of Cilicia to invade Sidon. Both suffered crushing defeats at the hands of the Sidonese king aided by Greek mercenaries. So, Artaxerxes proceeded against Sidon in person at the head of 330,000 men and burnt the city to the ground. Forty thousand persons lost their lives in the conflagration.
Soon after the conquest of Sidon, Artaxerxes launched an invasion of Egypt. Nectanebo resisted with an army of 100,000 of whom 20,000 were Greek mercenaries. The Persian army completely routed the Egyptians and occupied the Lower Delta of the Nile plundering its temples and destroying the idols. Artaxerxes returned to Persia and spent the next few years effectively quelling insurrections in various parts of the Empire so that a few years from the conquest of Egypt the Persian Empire was firmly entrenched in the grasp of the Great Emperor.
Last Years and Death[edit | edit source]
In 340BC, Artaxerxes sent a large army to assist the Thracian prince Cersobleptes against the Macedon Emperor Philip (father of Alexander the Great). Philip was baffled and forced to lift the siege on Perinthus.
His violence and cruelty rendered him hateful to his subjects; and it is not unlikely that they caused even those who stood highest in his favor to feel insecure. Bagoas may have feared that sooner or later he would himself be one of the monarch's victims and poisoned him.
Artaxerxes IV (Arses) 338 - 336 BC[edit | edit source]
Soon after killing Artaxerxes III, Bagoas raised the young Artaxerxes IV to the throne as a puppet while retaining actual control over the Empire. But as Artaxerxes grew older he refused to act according to the wills and whims of Bagoas and was expectedly murdered by the latter who now raised a friend of his, Condomannus to the throne with the title 'Darius III'
Darius III (Condomannus) 336 - 330 BC[edit | edit source]
The same year that Darius III ascended the Persian throne, Philip of Macedon was assassinated and succeeded by his son Alexander. In 338BC, the League of Corinth had nominated Philip to lead an army into Persian territory to avenge the Greco-Persian wars and the destruction of the acropolis at Athens. But his life was terminated even before he could embark on his mission. So, the mantle of avenging the Greco-Persian wars fell upon Alexander and in 336BC, soon after ascending the throne, Alexander made preparations to lead an enormous expedition into Asia.
Meanwhile, soon after ascending the throne, Darius III punished Bagoas by forcing him to drink the poison that the latter had prepared for him. Having disposed the only inside threat to his sovereignty, Darius III concentrated his efforts on destroying the rising power of the Macedonians.
At first, Darius was successful to some extent. His general Memnon from Crete entered the Hellespont and drove away the Macedonian occupants. But he was powerless to stop Alexander intrusion into the Persian Empire which began in the spring of 334BC. The Persians suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Granicus and retreated. In 333 BC, Darius himself lead an army against Alexander and was defeated once again. In September 333BC, Darius suffered a third defeat at Gaugamela in present-day Iraq resulting in the Macedonian conquest of Persia. Darius fled to Ecbatana where he held court and tried to collect a Persian army for fighting the Greeks. But as he was planning to organize an invasion, he was murdered brutally by his general Bessus who took on the title Artaxerxes V. Alexander's invasion and the Greco-Macedonian wars are covered in great detail in the next chapter.
Artaxerxes V 330 - 329 BC[edit | edit source]
In 330BC, the Persian general Bessas murdered the last Achaemenid Emperor Darius III and took on the title Artaxerxes V. This pretender to the Persian throne held court in Ecbatana for a few months before it was conquered by the Macedonians. Bessas was captured and crucified by Alexander as a punishment for the murder of Darius III. With this, the Achaemenid Empire ceased to exist.
The Achaemenid Legacy[edit | edit source]
Persia, under the Achaemenids, was a world empire that dominated Eurasia for two centuries. At the height of its power and influence, the grandeur and splendor of the capital Persepolis was unparalleled. Fortunately, for us, a few monuments of the Achaemenid period have survived, like the 'Hall of a Thousand Columns' and the ruins of the palaces of Persepolis. This enables us to recreate the seat of the Imperial Government of the Shahs of Iran.
Persepolis[edit | edit source]
Persepolis rose in the middle of the 6th century BC in the reign of Cyrus. It is a city often identified with the Achaemenid Empire, for its rise and fall mirrored the rise and fall of Achaemenid fortunes. Most of the monuments in Persepolis, however, were constructed by Darius I, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I. The city rose to spectacular heights in the subsequent period when it became the centre of lavish feasts, hunting festivals and religious ceremonies. Its inhabitants l;ed a life of luxury and leisure. Their pastimes included playing board games, dining and drinking. Persepolis was connected with the rest of the Empire by means of royal roads. The capital was supplied by means of artificial streams and reservoirs which helped create a garden in the middle of the Persian desert.
Royal Road[edit | edit source]
A system of well-built roads connected the capital Persepolis with the rest of the Empire. The most prominent among these was the 'Royal Road' which ran from Persepolis to Sardis the capital of Lydia. It began in the west in Sardis (about 60 miles east of İzmir in present-day Turkey), traveled east through what is now the middle northern section of Turkey to the old Assyrian capital Nineveh (present-day Mosul, Iraq), then traveled south to Babylon (present-day Baghdad, Iraq). From near Babylon, it is believed to have split into two routes, one traveling northwest then west through Ecbatana and on along the Silk Road, the other continuing east through the future Persian capital Susa (in present-day Iran) and then southeast to Persepolis.
Communication was maintained through a system of couriers who relayed important messages across the Empire. These people seem to have been the predecessors of the system.
Society[edit | edit source]
Achaemenid Persian society was quite moderate compared to those of other cultures. Persians were of Indo-European descent migrating to an area neighboured by Semitic cultures of Assyria, Babylonia, Sumer and Akkad. The Indo-European Iranians had different moral codes compared to the more strict neighbouring countries. Persians established the first true multi-cultural society where each region maintained their religion, language and culture. The country was run on a Federal model with representatives of the central government providing general guidance but not interfering in local affairs. Cyrus set the model based on respect for local laws, language and religion so the Achaemenid Society was a cosmopolitan one where the local norms thrived and not influenced by the ruling government.
Women had special roles in the Society with significant influence in court affairs. Many women in the Achaemenid society held prominent roles in the society as seen with leadership roles in the army and navy. Atoussa was the daughter of Cyrus the Great and wife of Darius. She played a significant role in the Court of Darius influencing many decisions. Panthea commanded the Immortal army of Cyrus the Great; Artoniss was a Lieutenant General (Sepah-bod) of Darius the Great and Artemis lead the navy of King Xerexes.
The remaining artefacts depicting women demonstrate the women's clothing from this era. Anahita, the Goddess of Water is depicted with long hair and a flowing tunic. Other artefacts show women in flowing dresses and open tunics. Not many artefacts are found depicting women but those discovered demonstrate the Indo-European influence similar to those found in Greece.
Contemporary Perception[edit | edit source]
The Achaemenids have been perceived in modern times as the true standard bearers of Persianism and the Persian legacy. Secularists,Persian nationalists and monarchists have adopted Cyrus and Darius as symbols of their anti-theocracy movement against the Islamic republic. Tempers rose during the Gulf War when Iran fielded Cyrus,Xerxes and Darius as the symbols of the resistance movement in retaliation to Iraq's extensive use of Qadesiyyah as political propaganda. Today, Achaemenids are lauded for their greatness and tolerance and remembered with tear-filled eyes by Iranians destroyed by the ruthless policies of a theocratic state.