The Persian Empire - World History

The Persian Empire - World History
Posted on 28-12-2022

The Persian Empire ( 550 ) King Cyrus II founds the Persian Empire.

In 548 Thales of Miletus died. He had earned the label "wise." When asked what was the most difficult undertaking for a man, he said, "knowing yourself." When asked what justice is, he replied that "it is not doing to others what we do not want done to us." He left behind a disciple, Anaximander, who was the first to draw a map of the known world, and also made remarkable discoveries in mathematics and astronomy, for whom Anaximenes was his disciple. They were the main representatives of the Miletus school.

Meanwhile, the rapid rise of the Persian king Cyrus II did not seem to worry his neighbors much. The Lydian king Croesus thought that so many upheavals in the east could mark a propitious moment to extend his domain, so he decided to cross with an army the river Halis, which had long been the natural border between Lydia and the Median Empire. It is said that before undertaking such an undertaking he consulted the oracle at Delphi about his suitability, and the answer was: "If Croesus crosses the Halis, he will destroy a great empire." Croesus did not ask which empire would be destroyed, instead he launched the attack in 547 .and he was not long in achieving the complete destruction of his own empire. Indeed, Cyrus II's troops easily repulsed the invaders. They say that the Lydian horses felt disconcerted by the smell of the Persian camels, which caused confusion in the battle that Cyrus II knew how to take advantage of very well. The Lydians were pursued beyond the Halis, and in 546 Cyrus II had seized Sardis, the Lydian capital.

While all this was going on, the Chaldean king Nabonidus was busy on an archaeological expedition in the southwestern desert regions. When it became clear that Cyrus II's next step would be to annex the Chaldean Empire, Nabonidus entered into an alliance with Egypt, which brought him no real benefit and instead served as an excuse for the Persian king to attack Chaldea.

The Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor, that is, the Ionian cities that until then had been under Lydian rule, feared that as soon as Cyrus II finished off the Chaldeans, he would finish consolidating his victory over Croesus and annex them to his own. empire. Bias of PrieneHe suggested that all the Greeks in the area embark to the west, but no one listened. At that time, Greek power in the western Mediterranean was on the rise. They had just established colonies in Corsica and Sardinia, in addition to those they already had in Sicily. This worried both the Etruscans and the Carthaginians, who feared that the Greeks might come to monopolize maritime trade in the area. War was soon declared. In 540 the Etruscan-Carthaginian fleet defeated the Greek against the Greek colony of Alalia,in Corsica, which (according to the victors) had become a base for pirates. The result was that the Etruscans took all of Corsica, while the Carthaginians took Sardinia. The Greeks eked out some colonies on Sicily, in constant conflict with the Carthaginian colonies on the island. With the battle of Alalia the period of Greek colonization practically ended.

Meanwhile King Bimbisara took the throne of Magadha, which under his reign became the most important empire in India. He annexed the kingdom of Anga in the east, whose capital, Campa, had a port where ships sailing up the Ganges and south India met. The new king strove to reorganize the country. He fired incapable officials, made inspection tours, controlled road construction and other public works. He built the city of Rajagrha and made it the new capital of the kingdom.

In 539 Cyrus II arrived at the gates of Babylon. Nabonidus entrusted the defense of the city to his son Baltasar, but there was no defense. Again, Ciro II used more diplomacy than force. Aware of the discontent that the Chaldean king had earned among the nobility and clergy, he easily achieved an internal rebellion and the surrender of the city.

Among the most stalwart supporters that Cyrus II found in Babylon were the exiled Jews. In recent years a new ideologue had emerged among them. His name is unknown to us, as his writings were later attributed to the prophet Isaiah, who had lived two centuries earlier (doubtless to give them greater authority). Indeed, the first chapters of the biblical book of Isaiah refer to the time of Sennacherib, while from chapter XL they mention Cyrus. For this reason this anonymous author is known as "the second Isaiah". From a religious point of view, the thought of the second Isaiah was a revolution with no precedent in history other than that of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Until then, Yahveh was the only God the Jews could worship, for Yahveh would get angry if they worshiped other gods. Second Isaiah affirmed that Yahweh was not only the god of the Jews, but that he was the only true god. All the rest were idols,powerless hunks of stone, metal, or wood that were foolish to worship (as well as heretical, of course). Undoubtedly, this position arose as a defense against the great influence that the Babylonian religion must have had on the Jews: the best way to refute the evidence that Marduk was much more powerful than Yahveh was to deny the existence of Marduk. If the Temple had been destroyed and the Jews had been subjected to the Chaldeans, it was not because Marduk helped the Chaldeans more efficiently than Yahveh helped the Jews, but only because Yahveh had used the Chaldeans as an instrument to punish the Chaldeans. sins of the Jews, but now that they had repented, Yahveh would return his kingdom to them through the messiah. For the second Isaiah, this anointed or messiah was none other than Cyrus II. That Cyrus himself was unaware of this fact was unimportant:

This is what the Lord says to my anointed Cyrus, whose hand I have taken to subdue the nations and turn the swords of kings, and to open the gates before him, so that none can resist him. I will go before you, and I will humiliate the great ones of the Earth, I will break the bronze gates and break the iron bars. I will give you hidden treasures and hidden riches, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name. For the love of my servant Jacob, and of Israel my chosen one, I called you by your name, I gave you the nickname of Messiah, and you did not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other but me, there is no god besides me, I girded you with a sword, and you have not known me, (Is. XLV, 1-6)

In 538the Chaldean Empire was already a part of the Persian Empire. Cyrus must have been very surprised by the devotion shown to him by the Jews, but he must have concealed it and taken advantage of it, since unlike the Assyrians, the Persian king adopted from the outset the policy of treating the peoples he conquered well, with tact and diplomacy, trying to make them feel comfortable as much as possible. Thus, Cyrus authorized the return of the Jews to his land (although there was never any talk of founding an independent kingdom, of course). If for the Jews he passed as Yahveh's envoy, in Babylon he assumed the priestly functions of a Chaldean king, and presented himself as a humble servant of Marduk. Thus he earned the respect of the priests, who kept Babylon loyal to the Persian Empire.

However, outside of Chaldea, the Mazdean doctrine founded by Zarathustra at the beginning of the century was gaining ground. His disciples developed it remarkably, so that it is difficult to determine what part of it comes from Zarathustra himself. The main attraction of Mazdaism was that it explained the presence of evil in the world and promised a final reward for good men. Indeed, the history of the world was divided into four periods of three thousand years. The first corresponded to the creation of the two main spirits: Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman, and to the conflict between them. The second corresponded to the creation of the material world, and concluded with the appearance of the first man, Gayomart.During the third period, gods and men fight for good and others for evil. Ahura-Mazda has under his command six divinities, the Amesha Spentas, who in turn directed many others (old Indo-Iranian divinities that rejoined Mazdeism, after a first attempt to eradicate them). Similarly, Ahriman led an army of witches and demons. After death, the souls of men who have fought for good go to the "best of all worlds", while the bad end in "the abode of pain". Those whose good and bad deeds are balanced go to a place called Hamesta-Kan.They all await the fourth period, when Ahura-Mazda will destroy Ahriman, the dead will rise, the Savior will come, Sawsyant, who will judge them and destroy hell and all the damned. The world will be purified and the just will live in a Universe where only Good will exist.

As for the language, the Persians were an Indo-European people, so Akkadian was a strange and difficult language for them. Cyrus II always showed great (perhaps real) admiration for Chaldean culture, but encouraged the use of Aramaic over Akkadian, because although both languages ​​were Semitic, at least Aramaic had an alphabetic base and was simpler. Under Persian rule, the use of Akkadian was reduced exclusively to the religious sphere.

Although Cyrus had authorized the Jews to return from exile, the truth is that only a minority were willing to do so. Most of the Jewish population was well established in Babylonia and their life was prosperous. However, there were several groups of Jews who decided to leave. The first was led by Sebasar, who was considered by a certain tradition to be the son of the overthrown King Joaquín, although this is not tenable. Cyrus II had also authorized the reconstruction of the Temple, and apparently Sebasar presided over the start of the works. However he soon disappears from history (probably died). He was succeeded by Zorobabel, apparently Sebasar's nephew and presumably Joaquín's grandson. next to him wasJoshua, son of the high priest who officiated in Jerusalem when the Temple was destroyed. Thus, the Jews formed the more fictitious than real image that their pre-exilic status had been restored : Zerubbabel represented the house of David (although without any effective power) and Joshua the priestly family that went back to Zadok, the King Solomon's priest.

In reality, the return from exile was not as idyllic as the Jews had supposed. In ancient Judah there were many humble men who continued to practice the Jewish religion in its primitive form, completely oblivious to the many changes it had undergone in Babylon. The newcomers did not recognize the natives as Jews and called them Samaritans,identifying them with the new settlers that Sargon II brought to Israel in his day when he deported the Israelites. The Samaritans offered their help to rebuild the Temple, but it was not accepted, which generated tensions and misgivings. They ended up concluding that the Jews had corrupted the religion by incorporating Chaldean elements (which was true), so the Jews and Samaritans branded each other heretics. Perhaps this is a good moment to abandon the name of Judah and refer to the region in its new political situation as Judea, which is the name that the Greeks and later the Romans would give it a little later.

In addition there were Ammon, Moab, the former Edomites, now Idumeans, and the Philistines, who in the rebuilding of the Temple saw a resurgence of Jewish imperialism. Naturally, the entire region was under Persian rule, so they could not use force, but intrigues did begin to indispose the Jews against Persian authority. It wasn't hard to get it. At that time the Jews had two prominent prophets: Haggai and Zechariah.Both regarded Zerubbabel as the Messiah (apparently Cyrus II didn't measure up, after all), so it couldn't have been difficult to convince the Persians that the Jews intended to make Zerubbabel king. We do not know the details, but the truth is that Zerubbabel disappears from history and the authorization to build the Temple was revoked (perhaps not by Cyrus II himself, but by one of his local officials). Zerubbabel was probably executed as a rebel, but the biblical authors did not see fit to mention it.

In 535 the ruling oligarchy on the island of Samos was overthrown by a tyrant named Polycrates. He had a hundred pirate ships built with which he took over the Aegean. On the other hand, as was customary among tyrants, he encouraged culture and public works. In particular, he ordered the construction of a great aqueduct. He entered into an alliance with Pharaoh Ahmés II, one of the many that he established with various Greek cities to promote trade and the defense of Egypt. Meanwhile, Phocian Greeks found a new colony on the southwest coast of Italy: Elea.

In 534 Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, was assassinated. Apparently, the conspiracy was organized by Lucio Tarquino, son of the former king Tarquinio Prisco, and husband of a daughter of Servio Tulio. The conspirator immediately proclaimed himself king, and was soon known as Tarquin the Proud. The Romans said that the seventh king ruled with a despotism and cruelty unknown until then. They said that he appointed a personal guard that guaranteed him the necessary impunity to govern without more law than his will.

The background to these stories is undoubtedly that the reign of Tarquin the Proud was a period when Rome came under Etruscan domination, something that Roman historians would never have been willing to openly admit. Indeed, although it seems that Servius Tulio was of Etruscan origin, the truth is that his policy did not favor Etruscan interests at all. On the contrary, he had organized the Latin League, with which Latium was in a position to maintain its independence against the Etruscans. However, after the battle of Alalia, Etruria had become the greatest power in the area, and must have been in a position to influence Rome and ensure that power ended up in the hands of a king loyal to her interests. This was Tarquin the Proud.

Meanwhile Cyrus II continued to expand his Empire. His generals took over one by one the Greek colonies in Asia Minor that had previously been under Lydian rule. Again Miletus managed to preserve its independence, at least formally, as it had done before with Lydia. In the chronicles of the Persian Empire, "new" peoples such as the Armenians or the Parthians appear for the first time. They were Indo-European peoples who arrived after the Medes and were occupying different territories. The Parthians, for example, were an Aryan people whose name is in fact a variant of "Persian." Another group of Aryans retained their primitive name and the region they occupied received the name of Aria,which is still preserved in today's "Iran". Cyrus II himself led several campaigns to the east, annexing Margiana, Bactria, and distant Sogdiana. Thus the Persian Empire reached a greater extent than the Assyrian Empire had had. Cyrus II died in one of his campaigns, in 530. His fame as a just and enlightened ruler earned him the nickname of Cyrus the Great.


During Cyrus II's absence, his eldest son was in Babylon as regent. When the death of his father was known, he succeeded to the throne without incident, under the name of Cambyses II. He soon headed east to complete the projects his father had left unfinished.

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