The Persian Empires: Chapter 1

The Achaemenid Dynasty: 500 - 330BC

 The Achaemenid Dynasty is the first of the Persian Empires and its creator was Cyrus the Great. It is widely regarded as the largest empire to ever exist encompassing 40% of the worlds population at its vastest moment. It stretched from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east. Its structure was copied by many of the great world empires, including the Greeks and Romans.

It was the first successful model of a centralized bureaucratic administration through satraps under the king. It brought us building infrastructure such as road systems, the postal system, use of an official language across all territories, development of civil services and a large professional army. The legendary "Immortals" were part of this great army. According to Herodotus the Immortals consisted of a steady force of 10,000 highly trained soldiers (men and women, as both sexes enjoyed equality under the Achaemenids). The force was kept steady by replacing dead, injured or ill soldiers immediately and it was only disbanded in 1979 with the Revolution, at which time it was only 5,000 men strong, lasting an astonishing 2,500 years!

Its' founder, Cyrus the Great, was the son of Cambyses I, king of Anshan, and Mandane, daughter of Astyages - king of Media. According to legend Cyrus' grandfather, Astyages, had two dreams in which a flood and then a series of fruit bearing vines emerged from his daughter's pelvis and covered his entire kingdom. This happened while Mundane was pregnant and his advisers interpreted this as a foreboding sign that his coming grandson will dethrone him. So Astyages summoned Mandane back to Ecbatana and ordered the baby to be killed upon birth. The task was given to Mithradates, a shepherd, who instead passed off his own stillborn infant as the dead baby and raised Cyrus as his own son. At the age of 10, however, Cyrus was reunited with his real family when the truth was revealed. After his father's death Cyrus inherited his throne. Astyages wanted to overthrow Cyrus but after key figures of his army defected to the side of Cyrus, a 3 year war ensued that saw Cyrus as the victor and for the first time the Achaemenid kingdoms were united.

Cyrus had to defend the borders of his newly founded kingdom and in so doing conquered more lands. He was a just king and demanded tolerance and respect towards all races and religions inside the borders of his kingdom. He wrote the first human right's charter (contained in the Cyrus cylinder) of which the original is held in the British Museum and a replica in the United Nations headquarters. He was called "the father" by all inhabitants of the empire and is still called that by all Persians. As part of his empire's expansion he encountered the Massagatae, a tribe from the southern desserts of Kwharezm and Kyzyl Kum. During one of the battles he was fatally wounded by an arrow and buried in his capital city, Pasargade, where his tomb stands to this day. The translated ancient Roman and Greek accounts give a vivid description of the tomb both geometrically and aesthetically; the tomb's geometric shape has changed little over the years, still maintaining a large stone of quadrangular form at the base, followed by a pyramidal succession of smaller rectangular stones, until after a few slabs, the structure is curtailed by an edifice, with an arched roof composed of a pyramidal shaped stone, and a small opening or window on the side, where the slenderest man could barely squeeze through.

Within this edifice was a golden coffin, resting on a table with golden supports, inside of which the body of Cyrus the Great was interred. Upon his resting place, was a covering of tapestry and drapes made from the best available Babylonian materials, utilizing fine Median worksmanship; below his bed was a fine red carpet, covering the narrow rectangular area of his tomb. Translated Greek accounts describe the tomb as having been placed in the fertile Pasargadae gardens, surrounded by trees and ornamental shrubs, with a group of Achaemenian protectors called the "Magi", stationed nearby to protect the edifice from theft or damage.

After his death various successive kings expanded on his empire until it was finally brought to an end by Alexander the Great. A part of the empire survived in the Pontic Empire, founded by the Persian, Mithridates. It is believed that it was directly related to Darius the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty. The kingdom was proclaimed by Mithridates I in 281 BCE and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BCE. It reached its largest extent under Mithridates VI the Great, who conquered Colchis, Cappadocia, Bithynia, the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonesos, and for a brief time the Roman province of Asia. After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic Wars, Pontus was defeated; part of it was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province Bithynia et Pontus, and the eastern half survived as a client kingdom.

Here are some key innovations, inventions, and contribution of the ancient Persian Empire: 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. They also built in 400s BC the very first stadium, the Apadana in Persepolis (later burnt down by Alexander). The Apadana was able to seat 15 (fifteen thousand) people in it, with space left for a grand ceremony. This massive building was roofed. Unlike the Colosseum, the architectural and worth of this single building, if it lived through the fire Alexander put it through, would have dwarfed the city of Rome. Persian emperors of the 6th century BC are among the first to make a display of lavish floor coverings. Carpets became 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 Achaemenids 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 precursor of the Suez Canal). Embroidery was first invented by the Scythian people (a branch of Persians). The first travelers Inns called caravansaray (Inns of caravan) some of which still exist along the Silk Road, were built in Persia. The largest mud-brick structure is the citadel of Bam, in Kerman Province of Iran. King Cambyses II, of Persia, was the first person that examined the dead bodies of the mummies of Egypt, after conquering the Egyptian City of Memphis.