Aryan Tribes in Iran (3,000—1,000 B-C.) [ Part 2]
At the beginning of Darius’s reign, there were twenty satrapies, but as time went by, their number increased somewhat. Each satrapy was assessed for tax purposes and was obliged to provide a ﬁxed annual tribute. Despite their relative independence, the satraps were always kept under control, since royal inspectors, “the eyes and ears of the king”, toured the empire and reported on local conditions. Military affairs in each province were handled by an army general, directly responsible to the king rather than to the local satrap.
On the whole, Achaemenid rule sat lightly on the subject peoples. As long as they obeyed the central authority and paid their taxes, they were free to follow their laws, pursue their artistic and religious traditions, and retain their languages, writing systems, and social orders. In some cases, even the local dynasties were left undisturbed, and the native kings retained their hereditary rights to kingship.
Hence the Achaemenid king was called “the King of Kings”. The Medes and the Persians comprised the ruling caste, and did not have to pay taxes, in return for this exemption, they contributed soldiers for the army. Magnanimous and liberal, the Achaemenians nevertheless had high regard for law and order, and stories of Persian justice abound in the Greek sources. Darius particularly wished to be remembered as the great lawgiver, and law reform, with the codiﬁcation of laws and the creation of a universal legal system, was one of the cornerstones of his program for reorganizing the empire.
The efﬁciency of the Achaemenid administration was facilitated by their famous road system, the most impressive stretch being the stone-paved Royal Road, 2,703 km long, running from Susa to Sardis on the Aegean Sea. Over the roads ran a postal system based on relay stations (Chapar-Khaneh) with remounts and fresh riders located a day’s ride apart. Royal couriers could reach the most remote areas in ﬁfteen days, it was they who inspired Herodotus to author the famous phrase that (as adapted for the inscription on the Main Post Ofﬁce in New York City) reads: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.
The Achaemenid economy was based mainly on agriculture and trade. Darius took care of both. He encouraged agriculture by investing in irrigation and land improvement, the Qanats were developed on a great scale. Darius revolutionized trade by placing it on a silver and gold coinage system. The exchange of commodities between the farthest ends of the empire was extensive, and as a result of the 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, sugar, shawl, tiara, orange, lemon, peach, pistachio, spinach, and many more. State-sponsored voyages of exploration were undertaken to search for new markets and new resources. In Egypt, Darius completed a canal begun by the Egyptians. This waterway linked the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and became a forerunner of the Suez Canal. He also encouraged port development on the Persian Gulf coast. An imperial standardization of weights and measures was another project to encourage commerce and economic activity within the realm.
The cultural policies of Darius included the introduction of a new cuneiform script for writing the Old Persian language and the creation of a new, stunning capital at Persepolis. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Darius was inﬂuenced by Zoroaster’s teaching, and Darius may have contributed to the widespread of Zoroastrianism in Iran. Darius died in 486 B.C., after a reign of thirty-six years, and was buried at Naqsh-e Rostam (216—225). After his death, the quality of the Achaemenians as rulers began to decline at an ever-more-rapid pace. Despite the established principle of primogeniture regarding the succession to the throne, Darius nominated his son Khasha‘yar (Greek: Xerxes) as a king.
Xerxes, I was not Darius’s eldest son. He was, however, the ﬁrst to be born to Darius after Darius became king. The mother of Xerxes was Queen Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great. Xerxes may have been co-regent with his father during the later years of Darius’s rule. Powerful and determined, Xerxes. However, was not as shrewd as his sire. He seems to have abandoned the conciliatory policy of earlier Achaemenid kings. He ruthlessly ignored the local lifestyles of his subject nations and suppressed their slightest revolt with a heavy hand.
Xerxes is mainly remembered for his Greek campaigns, undertaken to stop the Greek mainland from inciting revolts in Greek colonies under the Achaemenid dominion. At ﬁrst, the invasion of Greece was successful, and Xerxes’s armies even managed to occupy Athens, where they set the famous Acropolis on ﬁre. However, the Persians then lost the battles of Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale, and the Persian army was driven from Greece. After that, Xerxes seems to have lost interest in war campaigns.
He returned to Fars and launched an extensive construction program at Persepolis. He appears to have spent his later years doing little but indulging in the comforts of court life. His extravagant ways set the scene for the famous stories about the riches of Persia and established the legendary reputation of the Persian kings. He was murdered, together with his eldest son, in 465 B.C., as a result of court intrigues. Ardashir I the Long-Armed (Greek: Artaxerxes I Langimanus), another son of Xerxes, ascended the throne. His reign was relatively calm, particularly after he quelled a series of revolts (the most important of which was in Egypt) and signed a peace treaty with the Greeks. It was during his reign that Herodotus was able to travel freely throughout the region, gathering information for his History.
Artaxerxes’s rule is also remembered for the introduction of the Zoroastrian calendar as the ofﬁcial calendar of the empire. Altogether, Artaxerxes’s monarchy was the last prosperous reign of the Achaemenians, by the time of his death in 424, the imperial court was beset by the splitting of the lateral family branches into factions. Artaxerxes’s son and successor, Xerxes II, ruled for a mere 45 days before being murdered by his half-brother.
His other half-brother ascended the throne and ruled as Darius II for almost twenty years, which were characterized by continual disturbance and gradual economic decline. The greatness of Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius is made yet more evident by the fact that the empire they constructed maintained a measure of resilience even under the incompetent leadership of the later Achaemenid rulers. Darius was succeeded by Artaxerxes II Mnemon (“the Mindful”), called so by the Greeks because he seems never to have forgotten anything. During his long rule, Persia won a war with Sparta, and once again the Greeks had to give up any claim to Asia Minor.
Moreover, according to the terms of the so-called King’s Peace treaty of 387 B.C., they further agreed to maintain the status quo in Greece itself. The provinces in Asia Minor were put under command of Cyrus the Younger, Artaxerxes’s younger brother, who was urged to rebel against the king by his designing mother. In 401 B.C, supported by a great army which consisted mainly of Greek mercenaries, Cyrus the Younger marched from Sardis to contest the throne. He was, however, intercepted by Artaxerxes near Babylon, and was slain at the Battle of Cunaxa. Cyrus the Younger inspired the admiration of aristocratically-orientated Greeks, particularly of the historian Xenophon (one of the Greek mercenaries), who in his Anabasis wrote an account of the Greek retreat.
However, from the standpoint of the Achaemenians, Cyrus was a traitor who, to gain his ends, used hostile Greeks to attack the empire. Nevertheless, had he taken Cyrus the Great as a model, Cyrus the Younger might have been a better ruler than his weak and indecisive brother Artaxerxes, whose later years are marred by the revolt and loss of Egypt, and the uprising known as the revolt of the satraps. Curiously, under Artaxerxes II the ancient Iranian god Mithra and the goddess Anahita had been accepted in the royal religion alongside Ahuramazda.
They, however, seem to have been of little help: the Achaemenid Empire was in its death-throes. Artaxerxes III mounted the throne after putting all possible rivals to death. The ruthless king strove vigorously to restore the empire, but could not put down the unceasing revolts. After twenty years of reign, Artaxerxes and his sons were poisoned by the royal physician at the order of the eunuch Bagoas. Bagoas placed on throne Arses, Artaxerxes’s youngest son and only survivor, with the object of making Arses a pawn at Bagoas’s hands Arses, however, did not bend easily to Bagoas’s will, attempted to poison Bagoas, and was himself killed in retaliation.
Bagoas then engineered the accession of Darius III, a grandnephew of ” Artaxerxes III, and former satrap of Armenia. Darius, however, was not destined to rule for long. His reign was synchronous with the beginning of Alexander’s reign in Macedonia, a great misfortune. In less than ﬁve years, after two major battles at Issus and Gaugamela, Alexander conquered all of the Persian Empire. Darius, in hiding, was killed by one of his ofﬁcials, and the new Macedonian emperor burned down Persepolis to symbolize the passing of the old order and the introduction of Greek civilization into western Asia.
The Achaemenid heritage, however, could not be so easily destroyed. In a sense, the Achaemenians passed on a concept of empire that, much modiﬁed by others, has come down through history as a model demonstrating the possibility for diverse peoples having a multiplicity of customs, languages, religions, laws, and economic systems to ﬂourish under a central government for the mutual beneﬁt of all concerned, from the point of view of the Iranians themselves, and of no less important to them, the Achaemenid Empire was also the beginning of their nation and history and still constitutes one of the most glorious chapters of the Iranian past.