The Persian Empire dominated Mesopotamia from 612-330 BC. The Achaemenid Persians of central Iran ruled an empire which comprised Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, and parts of Asia Minor and India.
Their ceremonial capital was Persepolis in southern Iran founded by King Darius the Great (522-486 B.C.). Persepolis was burned by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.
Only the columns, stairways, and door jambs of its great palaces survived the fire. The stairways, adorned with reliefs representing the king, his court, and delegates of his empire bringing gifts, demonstrate the might of the Persian monarch.
The Stone Tablets of Darius the Great
The Persian Rosetta Stone
In the 5th century BC the vast Persian Empire attempted to conquer Greece. If the Persians had succeeded, they would have set up local tyrants, called satraps, to rule Greece and would have crushed the first stirrings of democracy in Europe. The survival of Greek culture and political ideals depended on the ability of the small, disunited Greek city-states to band together and defend themselves against Persia's overwhelming strength. The struggle, known in Western history as the Persian Wars, or Greco-Persian Wars, lasted 20 years--from 499 to 479 BC.
Persia already numbered among its conquests the Greek cities of Ionia in Asia Minor, where Greek civilization first flourished. The Persian Wars began when some of these cities revolted against Darius I, Persia's king, in 499 BC.
Athens sent 20 ships to aid the Ionians. Before the Persians crushed the revolt, the Greeks burned Sardis, capital of Lydia. Angered, Darius determined to conquer Athens and extend his empire westward beyond the Aegean Sea.
In 492 BC Darius gathered together a great military force and sent 600 ships across the Hellespont. A sudden storm wrecked half his fleet when it was rounding rocky Mount Athos on the Macedonian coast.
Two years later Darius dispatched a new battle fleet of 600 triremes. This time his powerful galleys crossed the Aegean Sea without mishap and arrived safely off Attica, the part of Greece that surrounds the city of Athens.
The Persians landed on the plain of Marathon, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Athens. When the Athenians learned of their arrival, they sent a swift runner, Pheidippides, to ask Sparta for aid, but the Spartans, who were conducting a religious festival, could not march until the moon was full. Meanwhile the small Athenian army encamped in the foothills on the edge of the Marathon Plain.
The Athenian general Miltiades ordered his small force to advance. He had arranged his men so as to have the greatest strength in the wings. As he expected, his center was driven back. The two wings then united behind the enemy. Thus hemmed in, the Persians' bows and arrows were of little use. The stout Greek spears spread death and terror. The invaders rushed in panic to their ships. The Greek historian Herodotus says the Persians lost 6,400 men against only 192 on the Greek side. Thus ended the battle of Marathon (490 BC), one of the decisive battles of the world.
Darius planned another expedition, but he died before preparations were completed. This gave the Greeks a ten-year period to prepare for the next battles. Athens built up its naval supremacy in the Aegean under the guidance of Themistocles.
In 480 BC the Persians returned, led by King Xerxes, the son of Darius. To avoid another shipwreck off Mount Athos, Xerxes had a canal dug behind the promontory. Across the Hellespont he had the Phoenicians and Egyptians place two bridges of ships, held together by cables of flax and papyrus. A storm destroyed the bridges, but Xerxes ordered the workers to replace them. For seven days and nights his soldiers marched across the bridges.
On the way to Athens, Xerxes found a small force of Greek soldiers holding the narrow pass of Thermopylae, which guarded the way to central Greece. The force was led by Leonidas, king of Sparta. Xerxes sent a message ordering the Greeks to deliver their arms. "Come and take them," replied Leonidas.
For two days the Greeks' long spears held the pass. Then a Greek traitor told Xerxes of a roundabout path over the mountains. When Leonidas saw the enemy approaching from the rear, he dismissed his men except the 300 Spartans, who were bound, like himself, to conquer or die. Leonidas was one of the first to fall. Around their leader's body the gallant Spartans fought first with their swords, then with their hands, until they were slain to the last man.
The Persians moved on to Attica and found it deserted. They set fire to Athens with flaming arrows. Xerxes' fleet held the Athenian ships bottled up between the coast of Attica and the island of Salamis. His ships outnumbered the Greek ships three to one. The Persians had expected an easy victory, but one after another their ships were sunk or crippled.
Crowded into the narrow strait, the heavy Persian vessels moved with difficulty. The lighter Greek ships rowed out from a circular formation and rammed their prows into the clumsy enemy vessels. Two hundred Persian ships were sunk, others were captured, and the rest fled. Xerxes and his forces hastened back to Persia.
Soon after, the rest of the Persian army was scattered at Plataea (479 BC). In the same year Xerxes' fleet was defeated at Mycale. Although a treaty was not signed until 30 years later, the threat of Persian domination was ended.
"I am Cyrus, who founded the empire of the Persians.
Grudge me not therefore, this little earth that covers my body."
Cyrus conquered most of the fertile crescent and ended the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Hebrews.
He overthrew the Median rulers, conquered the kingdom of Lydia in 546 BC and that of Babylonia in 539 BC and established the Persian Empire as the preeminent power of the world.
His son and successor, Cambyses II, extended the Persian realm even further by conquering the Egyptians in 525 BC. He died in an Egyptian campaign.
Darius I, who ascended the throne in 521 BC, pushed the Persian borders as far eastward as the Indus River, had a canal constructed from the Nile to the Red Sea, and reorganized the entire empire, earning the title Darius the Great.
Conquered Egypt but was alcoholic and was killed in a coup led by other family members.
Enthroned in Peresepolis, the magnificent city that he built, Darius I firmly grasps the royal scepter in his right hand. In the left, he is holding a lotus blossom with two buds, the symbol of royalty.
Darius (Greek form Dareios) is a classicized form of the Old Persian Daraya-Vohumanah, Darayavahush or Darayavaush, which was the name of three kings of the Achaemenid Dynasty of Persia: Darius I (the Great), ruled 522-486 BCE, Darius II (Ochos), ruled 423-405/4 BCE, and Darius III (Kodomannos), ruled 336-330 BCE. In addition to these, the oldest son of Xerxes I was named Darius, but he was murdered before he ever came to the throne, and Darius, the son of Artaxerxes II, was executed for treason against his own father.
According to A. T. Olmstead's book History of the Persian Empire, Darius the Great's father Vishtaspa (Hystaspes) and mother Hutaosa (Atossa) knew the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) personally and were converted by him to the new religion he preached, Zoroastrianism.
The empire of Darius the Great extended from Egypt in the west to the Indus River in the east. The major satrapies or provinces of his Empire were connected to the center at Persepolis, in the Fars Province of present-day Iran. The Royal Road connected 111 stations to each other. Messengers riding swift horses informed the king within days of turmoil brewing in lands as distant as Egypt and Sughdiana.
One of the most awe-inspiring monuments of the ancient world, Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenian empire. It was built during the reign of Darius I, known as Darius the Great (522-485 BC), and developed further by successive kings. The various temples and monuments are located upon a vast platform, some 450 metres by 300 metres and 20 metres in height. At the head of the ceremonial staircase leading to the terrace is the Gateway of All Nations built by Xerxes I and guarded by two colossal bull-like figures.
Darius was the greatest of all the Persian kings. He extended the empires borders into India and Europe. He also fought two wars with the Greeks which were disastrous.
He established a government which became a model for many future governments;
Established a tax-collection system;
Allowed locals to keep customs and religions;
Divided his empire into districts known as Satrapies;
Built a system of roads still used today;
Established a complex postal system;
Established a network of spies he called the "Eyes and Ears of the King."
Built two new capital cities, one at Susa and one at Persepolis.
From 499 to 493 BC he engaged in crushing a revolt of the Ionian Greeks living under Persian rule in Asia, and then launched a punitive campaign against the European Greeks for supporting the rebels. His forces were disastrously defeated by the Greeks at the historic Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
Darius died while preparing a new expedition against the Greeks; his son and successor, Xerxes I, attempted to fulfill his plan.
Xerxes (meaning "ruler of heroes" although his real name was Ahasuerus) was king of Persia from 486-465 BCE. He was son of Darius the Great and Atossa, daugher of Cyrus the Great. During his reign he put down uprisings in both Egypt and Babylon, but his efforts to invade Europe were thrown back by Greece in 480. He was assassinated by his chief minister, Artabarus, in 465 and succeeded by his son Artaxerxes I.
Artaxerxes continued building work at Persepolis. It was completed during the reign of Artaxerxes III, around 338 BC. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian armies of the third Darius. He marched into Iran and, once there, he turned his attention to Persepolis, and that magnificent complex of buildings was burnt down. This act of destruction for revenge of the Acropolis, was surprising from one who prided himself on being a pupil of Aristotle. This was the end of the Persian Empire.
Xerxes's Hall of the 100 Columns is the most impressive building in the complex. It is also the most crowded--a jumble of fallen columns, column heads, and column bases.
The Gate of Xerxes at Perespolis shows that the Winged Lion was placed at the corner of one entrance. When you stood in front of the gate you saw a lion with four legs and when you were inside the gate you also saw a lion with four legs.
Alexander was born in Macedon, a province of ancient Greece, in 356 B.C. He seemed destined at a young age for power.(For more information on Alexander's early life).He assumed the throne of Macedon at the young age of twenty. At the age of twenty-two he attacked and conquered the Greek-occupied portion of the Achaemenid Empire, unifying the territories and becoming the great king of Greece. He then peacefully acquired most of Egypt and was made a pharaoh, which to the Egyptians meant he was the son of a god, therefore like a god himself.
Alexander then set his sights on Persia, possibly for reasons of protection for Greece but mainly just for conquest. Any doubts Alexander might have had about the success of his Persian campaign were put to rest when he consulted the Oracle at Delphi, who told him, "Thou art invincible, my son." He invaded Persia in the year of 334 B.C. and quickly gained victory upon victory in war. Along the way he exercised such faculties as sharp intellect, discernment, knowledge of warfare and politics, and human nature. He treated his generals well and commanded their respect. However in spite of being admired for his generosity, mastery, and loyalty, he was feared for his terrible temper. He once caught a traitorous lieutenant and cut off his ears and nose before killing him. He even slew one of his most capable generals and a loyal friends, Cleitus, over a drunken misunderstanding.
Alexander rapidly conquered Persia and declared himself the lord of Asia. He adopted a policy of fusion between his own kingdom of Greece and the vanquished Persia. He left the previous Persian rulers in control whenever possible. He encouraged the flow of ideas, customs, and even preferred a Persian style of dress, and took a Persian wife Roxanne. Alexander's conquests, in addition to bringing him great fame and untold riches( The historian Callisthenes began a rumor asserting that Alexander was the son of Zeus), significantly contributed and enriched Greek and Western culture in the areas of thought, science generally and specifically founded at least sixeteen cities, created new coinage, and pioneered methods for ruling and administrating government.
Alexander's next and final conquest would be what is now known as India. He began in 327 B.C. and eventually acquired a significant portion. Alexander dreamed of continuing eastward where he hoped to find a great eastern ocean. But facing a minor political disturbance at home, he returned to Greece in 324 B.C. and died in 323 B.C. of fever due to exhaustion and wounds recieved in previous battles, leaving his dream unfulfilled. He was thirty-two years old and had ruled for twelve years and eight months.
Alexander had succeeded, as Columbus did much later, in opening up a new world for western culture. Alexander amassed a territory from Greece to the Caspian sea. He was unquestionably the strongest power that the world at that point had ever seen. He seemed to be able to do just as he wished. He was one part realist and one part visionary and excelled at making war.
In AD 226 Ardashir I, a Persian vassal-king, rebelled against the Parthians, defeated them in the Battle of Hormuz, and founded a new Persian dynasty, that of the Sassanids. He then conquered several minor neighboring kingdoms, invaded India, levying heavy tribute from the rulers of the Punjab, and conquered Armenia. A particularly significant accomplishment of his reign was the establishment of Zoroastrianism as the official religion of Persia. Ardashir was succeeded in 240 by his son Shapur I, who waged two successive wars against the Roman Empire, conquering territories inƯ Mesopotamia and Syria and a large area in
Asia Minor. Between 260 and 263 he lost his conquests to Odenathus, prince of Palmyra, and ally of Rome. War with Rome was renewed by Narses; his army was almost annihilated by Roman forces in 297, and he was compelled to conclude peace terms whereby the western boundary of Persia was moved from the Euphrates River to the Tigris River and much additional territory was lost. Shapur II (r. 309-79) regained the lost territories, however, in three successive wars with the Romans.
The next ruler of note was Yazdegerd I, who reigned in peace from 399 to 420; he at first allowed the Persian Christians freedom of worship and may even have contemplated becoming a Christian himself, but he later returned to the Zoroastrianism of his forebears and launched a 4-year campaign of ruthless persecution against the Christians.
The persecution was continued by his son and successor, Bahram V, who declared war on Rome in 420. The Romans defeated Bahram in 422; by the terms of the peace treaty the Romans promised toleration for the Zoroastrians within their realm in return for similar treatment of Christians in Persia. Two years later, at the Council of Dad-Ishu, the Eastern church declared its independence of the Western church. Near the end of the 5th century a new enemy, the barbaric Ephthalites, or „White Huns,¾ attacked Persia; they defeated the Persian king Firuz II in 483 and for some years thereafter exacted heavy tribute. In the same year Nestorianism was made the official faith of the Persian Christians. Kavadh I favored the communistic teachings of Mazdak (flourished 5th century), a Zoroastrian high priest, and in 498 was deposed by his orthodox brother Zamasp.
With the aid of the Ephthalites, Kavadh was restored to the throne in 501. He fought two inconclusive wars against Rome, and in 523 he withdrew his support of Mazdak and caused a great massacre of Mazdak's followers. His son and successor, Khosrau I, in two wars with the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, extended his sway to the Black Sea and the Caucasus, becoming the most powerful of all Sassanid kings. He reformed the administration of the empire and restored Zoroastrianism as the state religion.
His grandson Khosrau II reigned from 590 to 628; in 602 he began a long war against the Byzantine Empire and by 616 had conquered almost all southwestern Asia and Egypt. Further expansion was prevented by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, who between 622 and 627 drove the Persians back within their original borders. The last of the Sassanid kings was Yazdegerd III, during whose reign (632-41) the Arabs invaded Persia, destroyed all resistance, gradually replaced Zoroastrianism with Islam, and incorporated Persia into the caliphate.
Persian culture and religion has had a significant impact on western civilization. Persians had a concept of "One World" and the "Unification of All People" which was taken up by Alexander, the Romans and future world powers.
The Persian religion, known as Zoroasterianism, was founded C. 600 BC by prophet Zoroaster. Zoroaster wrote down his beliefs in a sacred book known as the "Zend Avesta."
The central theme of the religion is a belief in a struggle between good and evil.
Persians had a dual god system with "Ahura Mazda" (light) representing goodness and "Ahriman" (Darkness) representing evil.
The concept of heaven and hell also was important to the Persians.
Many believe the three wisemen were Zoroastrian priests.
Many concepts of Zoroasterianism seem to have been integrated into the Christian religion.
A vast ancient silver treasure found in the Middle East is stirring fascination - and frustration - among archaeologists.
The spectacular find - at least 230 silver pieces, and possibly twice that number, aged between 2500 and 5000 years old - has been shrouded in secrecy since it was discovered, apparently in the late 1980s.
Found by local treasure hunters in a cave half way up a cliff in western Iran, the hoard fell into the hands of sugglersand part of it is now being dispersed around the world to countries such as Switzerland, Britain, the US and Japan.
But by far the largest chunk of the treasure was seized by the Iranian authorities and is in the possession of two government ministries in Tehran.
The information filtering out of Iran suggests that it is amongst the half-dozen largest ancient treasures ever found anywhere in the world.
The treasure could easily be worth up to pounds 20m. It consists of between 230 and 500 objects including more than 100 silver bowls, vases and drinking vessels, at least 20 silver animal figurines and statue groups, several silver human masks and numerous other silver items - especially furniture fittings.
There are also some gold items, though relatively few - perhaps because the economies of the ancient Middle East ran on the silver standard and royal treasuries may have consisted largely of silver plate and other silver items.
The animal figurines portray sheep, goats and cattle, and some groups in which lions are shown attacking bulls - a classic Iranian artistic motif. The masks - perhaps used to adorn statues - probably date from the ancient Akkadian empire of the 23rd century BC and are of extraordinary archaeological importance. There are also a variety of 'ears' possibly made of gold - almost certainly from wooden idols.
The material seems to cover a very wide chronological range, from the 3rd millennium to the 7th or 8th century BC. Some later items - mainly bowls, vases and other vessels -are inscribed in Elamite script with the names of their royal owners. Based in what is now western Iran, Elam was one of the great civilisations of the ancient Middle East.
One possibility is that the hoard was part of the royal treasure of the last known truly independent kings of Elam and that royal officials hid it after the Assyrians sacked the Elamite capital, Susa, in 647 BC. Alternatively the treasure may have belonged to a large temple and was hidden to prevent it being captured by the Assyrians.
Elam first came into existence sometime between 3500 and 2500BC. In around 2000BC the Elamite dynasty conquered most of southern Mesopotamia. At its zenith, Elam controlled an empire that stretched from what is now the Baghdad area to the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
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