The First Persian Empire
Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.)
Cyrus the Great was the first important Achaemenid ruler. By the time he became king, Persia was already a large domain, but Cyrus aspired to nothing less than the conquest of the entire known world. In a campaign that lasted for less than two years, he took Elam, Media, Lydia, and several Greek cities on the Ionian coast. Having strengthened his power, Cyrus besieged and captured Babylon and released the Jews who had been held captive there, thus earning immortality in the Book of Isaiah. His territories in the east also were great and stretched as far as the Hindu Kush in present-day Afghanistan.
Cyrus was a world conqueror unlike any other. Not only Persians but even Greeks held him in the sentiments of esteem and even awe. and it was no accident that Xenophon praised Cyrus as an ideal monarch.
Cyrus died in battle, while putting down a revolt, and was buried in Pasargadae, the capital he had founded. Cyrus's son and iI successor, Cambyses II, was less successful. However, he managed to invade Egypt and create the dynasty of Persian kings there. He was killed (or died of a self-inflicted wound) during a revolt led by a priest, Gaumata, who held the throne until overthrown by a member of a collateral branch of the Achaemenid family, Darius I.
Darius I, another "Great" of the Achaemenid dynast)', finished Cyrus's incomplete job of invasion, having conquered Northern India and some parts of Greece, as well as the whole of Asia Minor and parts of southern Europe. He also recaptured Egypt. where he ordered a canal to be dug between the Red and the Mediterranean seas, a forerunner of Suez. He even ventured to the northern Black Sea region, but was thrown back by the Scythians. Darius also attacked the Greek mainland, but as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Marathon was forced to retract the limits of the empire to Asia Minor. Despite this defeat, Darius's empire was the largest the world had ever known, and administering such a gigantic land was quite a challenge.
Darius was certainly a man of exceptional farsightedness and the greatest of politicians. One of his amazing achievements was creating the world's first highway network. The stone-paved Royal Road, 2,703 km long, ran from the empire's winter capital at Susa to Ionian Ephesus on the Mediterranean and had III stations. Darius is also credited for the introduction of the world's first postal system (barid). He coined money (darik), established the institution of political marriage, appointed royal inspectors to be aware of state affairs, and was the first ruler to ask for sons and heirs of the defeated kings as hostages and guarantors of their fathers' loyalty. Other accomplishments of Darius's reign included the codification of data, a universal legal system upon which much of later Iranian law was based, and the construction of a new capital at Persepolis. Trade was extensive and, as a result of this commercial activity, Persian words for typical items of trade became prevalent throughout the Middle East and eventually entered Western languages.
Examples in English are bazaar, shawl, tiara, orange, lemon, peach, spinach, and asparagus.
After Darius the Great and his successor Xerxes, the Achaemenid power started to decline. The last Achaemenid king, Darius III, was overthrown by Alexander the Great. In 330 B.C., the 26-year-old Macedonian conqueror set fire to Persepolis and put a full stop to the Achaemenid rule.
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