Persian Empire

Persian_warriors_from_Berlin_Museum

Introduction

Persian Empire, one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world, was created through a combination of leadership skills, military tactics, and efficient governance. Persia is the ancient name of Iran and was derived from the Greek word “Persis”.
The Persian Empire was created by Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great (559-529 BC). Cyrus first defeated another Iranian people called the Medes, then in 547 Cyrus defeated the kingdom of Lydia (in what is now Turkey) at the battle of Pterya and he became the ruler of most of Asia Minor. Soon afterwards Cyrus also defeated the Greek cities on the Turkish coast. In 539 BC the Persians conquered the rich and powerful city-state of Babylon.
Despite its brilliance the Persian Empire declined after 400 BC. For one thing the empire suffered from its sheer size, which made it difficult to control. The empire suffered a series of rebellions. It also suffered from political instability. Another ruler, Artaxerxes III, was assassinated in 338 BC. Finally the great Persian Empire was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 331 BC.
map-of-persian-empire

Society

The family was the basic social unit in Persian society. Fathers had tyrannical authority, treating their children as slaves. Marriage was a formal affair which saw grooms toasted and brides kissed. Children were much sought after as legitimate heirs and hence polygamy was encouraged.

Several such families made up the clan. Several clans made up the tribe. The Achaemenids were one clan of the Pasargadae. Intermarriage went on between families within the same clan. The clan was the basic unit of identification.

Slavery was commonplace in Persian society. A substantial number of slaves consisted of prisoners of war captured in military campaigns.

A substantial majority of Persian society were free citizens who were not slaves; but did not enjoy the privileges of clan leaders or government bureaucrats. Inside Persian cities, free people were often merchants, craftsmen, and lower ranking government employees. Members of the free societies participated in religious observances at local temples. The temples themselves often owned agricultural and craft industries such as textiles, and the local free populace were allowed to share in the temple’s income.

The empire was divided into twenty provinces, or satrapies, each ruled by a governor called a satrap. To check the satraps, a secretary and a military official representing the King were installed in every province.

Rich Persians lived in palaces of timber, stone and brick. They had comfortable upholstered furniture such as beds, couches and chairs. Tables were overlaid with gold, silver and ivory. For the ordinary people in Persia things were quite different. They lived in simple huts made from mud brick.

Ancient Persian Queen

 

Food & Agriculture

Farming in the Persian empire was difficult. To deal with the arid climate the Persians developed an irrigation system. They built underground canals. These irrigation tunnels were often several kilometres long. They sloped slightly so gravity moved the water.

The economic foundation of Persian society was agriculture. Because of the vast size of the Persian Empire crops from one region were introduced to another. The most commonly grown crops were barley and wheat, but peas, lentils (a form of bean) mustard, garlic, onions, cucumbers, dates, apples, pomegranates, pears and apricots also were cultivated. The most common beverages were beer and wine. Rice and flax were introduced into Mesopotamia. Sesame was introduced into Egypt.

Persian farmers also grew a lot of olives and raised cattle, goats and sheep. Hunting and fishing were also an important source of food. Rich Persians also enjoyed hunting wild animals.

Spices of Ancient Persia

 

Beliefs & Religions

The Persian Empire had a variety of religions and worshiped more than one god. One of these religions known as “Zoroastrian” what its followers claimed was the world’s first monotheistic religion developed on the Iranian plateau, though, based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster.

The humaneness of the Persian rulers stemmed from the ethical religion founded by the prophet Zoroaster, who lived in the early sixth century B.C. Zoroaster sought to replace what he called “the lie”-ritualistic, idol-worshiping cults and their priests with a religion centered on the sole god Ahura-Mazda (“Wise Lord”).

The Persian kings and nobility were Zoroastrians, a religion named after its founder Zoroaster.

Owing to the toleration of the Parthian Kings, Christianity kept slowly but steadily advancing in various parts of the empire. With the advent of the Sassanian dynasty, however (A.D. 226-641), Christianity was often subjected to very severe trials. Its chief opponents were the Zoroastrian Magi and priestly schools, as well as the numerous Jews scattered through the empire.

One of the other religions was Christianity. Owing to the toleration of the Parthian Kings, Christianity kept slowly but steadily advancing in various parts of the empire. With the advent of the Sassanian dynasty (A.D. 226-641), Christianity was often subjected to very severe trials. Its chief opponents were the Zoroastrian Magi and priestly schools, as well as the numerous Jews scattered through the empire.

 

Technology

They also built in 400s BC the very first stadium, the “Apadana”. The Apadana was able to seat fifteen thousand people in it, with space left for a grand ceremony. This massive building was roofed and was a great feat of engineering for the time.

Persian emperors of the 6th century BC are among the first to make a display of lavish floor coverings. Carpets become one of the characteristic art forms of people living on the high plateau of west Asia, from Turkey through Iran, where winters can be extremely cold.

The Persians built an efficient infrastructure of roads and ports. They bought water to remote areas throughout the empire through the use of qanats, (underground irrigation system). Darius the Great, had a canal built to link the Nile to the Red Sea (an early version of the Suez Canal).

The world’s first public postal system was invented in the Persian Empire some 3,000 years ago.

Ancient Irrigation

 

Contributions to Modern Society

The Persians were the first people in history to give men and women equal rights, abolish slavery and write the very first human and animal bill of rights.

We owe a lot today to how we run a country to the Persian empire for it is they who created a workable structure for the empire that we us today. The Persians designed a system with such detail and the system of running the empire consisted of a sustainable system of taxation; a communication network based on good roads and efficient message-carrying; a single language, Aramaic, used in government documents throughout the empire; and firm control in the armed forces.

Ancient Persia city

 

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