Persian Period


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X. Persian Period (547 - 330 BCE.)

Medes and Persians who, in the 13th C. BCE, entered Northwest Persia via Caucasus were of Indo-European origin. Medes settled first in the Ecbatana region (today's Hamadan), and Persians settled in the mountainous Zagros region later they moved to another area called Parthia. Medes and Persians were first mentioned in the annals of Assyrians in about 843 and 835 BCE. 

Medes, towards the end of 8th C. BCE., gathered and built the foundations of their first kingdom. About 715 BCE the Median chieftain Dayaukku, led the Medes in an unsuccessful rebellion against the Assyrian king Sargon II (reigned 722-705 BCE). The later rulers of Media considered Dayaukku the founder of the Median dynasty. 

Subsequently, another chieftain named Khshathrita (reigned 675-653 BCE), brought the Median tribes together and expelled the Assyrians. Later, Khshathrita was killed by the Scythians.

Khshathrita's son Cyaxares (reigned 625-585 BCE) chose as his capital the city of Ecbatana. In 625 he drove the Scythians out of Medes territories and imposed his rule over the Persians. He attacked the Assyrians next and captured (614 BCE) the city of Ashur. In 612, in alliance with the newly independent kingdom of Babylonia, he captured the city of Nineveh and overthrew the Assyrian Empire. Thereafter Cyaxares extended the territory of his kingdom to include all of eastern Anatolia including the lands of Urartians. Almost of all western Asia, except the Lydian state was divided between Babylonians and Medes. By this time, Persian king made every effort to maintain good relationship with the Medes, moreover the king of Medes gave his daughter in marriage to one of the Medea princes, and from this marriage was born Cyrus the great. 

Cyaxares was succeeded by his son Astyages (reigned 584-c. 550 BCE). Medes with the poor administration of Astyages were on the decline. The Persians, under Cyrus the Great, revolted against Astyages about 550 BCE. Joined by a portion of the Median army under a chief named Harpagus, they took Ecbatana and deposed the Median king. 

When Cyrus the great (reigned 550 to 529 BCE.) took the throne of Persia, the Near East was divided between the Medes, Babylonians, Lydians and Cilician kingdoms. Cyrus was an able soldier and a great statesman and he was also a merciful king, one of his deeds was to grant the Jews to return from their exile in Babylon to their home land in Israel and rebuild the temple of Solomon. First, he reorganized his army. After defeating the Medes, he incorporated this kingdom to his own, and extended his territories as far as the river Halys in Central Anatolia. As he was the son of Cambyses, a descendant of Achaemenes, this ruling dynasty was called Achaemenid. Cyrus' main target was to expand his borders towards west and to control the main harbors of the Mediterranean and trading roads from east to west. That's why, he marched to Sardis at an unexpected time and put an end to the Lydian state in 547 BCE. Later, he was to bring the Babylonian kingdom under the Persian domination in 539 BCE. He  gained the control of the near east and Greece. Greek city states in Asia Minor, with the help of Spartans, put some resistance against the Persians, however they failed to gain their liberty. Only, in the Lycia area in the southwest Anatolia, the Xanthians of the city of Xanthos refused to surrender. They gathered their families, wives and children in the acropolis of their city, and set fire on them, and kept fighting against Persians  until the last soldier fell on the ground. The people of Phocaea and Teos got on their boats and sailed away to the Aegean islands. Miletus came to an agreement with the Persians and accepted to be the part of Persian empire. 

Cyrus began ruling the areas he captured by appointing local military rulers who were called "Satraps". Harpagus was appointed as the satrap of Ionia and Lydia provinces in Anatolia. Cyrus died while leading a military campaign against Massageate, one of the eastern Tribes. When Cyrus the great died in 529 BCE, he left behind him,  a realm extending from Thrace to Indian Ocean. For the next two centuries, until the arrival of Alexander the great and the conquest of Persia by him, the Persian empire was the super power of the ancient world. 

The successor of Cyrus was his son Cambyses II (reigned 529 to 522 BCE.). Cambyses was another brilliant man in military terms. He brought the Egyptian empire under his hegemony and for the first time, the whole ancient world was under only one king. While Cambyses was in Egypt, a group of Magian priests tried to grant the throne to a certain man called Gaumata who pretended to be Smerdis the brother of Cambyses who was murdered by him. On hearing what was going on in his capital, Cambyses decided to go back and solve the problem, but he died on his way back. Gaumata and his fellows ruled the Persia for a very short period of time. This time, Darius came on the stage and defeated the usurper Gaumata and claimed himself the king of Persia. 

Darius the great (reigned 522 to 486 BCE.) was the son of the noble Hystaspes who was the satrap of Parthia and a member of royal family and Achaemenid dynasty. Darius after dealing with some minor internal conflicts and rebellions and the most important Babylonian rebellion, turned to the reformation of his empire. He further developed the Satrapy system founded by Cyrus the great, and he divided his empire into 20 satrapies. But by this time, the western frontier began boiling. On hearing some preparation for a revolt from the Greek city states on the Aegean coast, he turned his attention to this area. He marched through Anatolia and appeared in the year 513 BCE, at Chalcedon which is a town on the Bosphorus opposite of Byzantium. He crossed his army over the pontoon bridge that he built by placing the boats side by side. He continued his marched through Thrace into Macedonia. Meanwhile, the Greek city states under Ionian satrapy, unhappy because they lost their political independency and also suffering from heavy economic crisis, revolted against the Persians. The satrap of Sardis tried to prevent this revolt but failed. So, the Persian army arrived at Ephesus and suppressed the rebellion. But his time, Byzantium, the cities on the Dardanelles, Carian people and Cyprus revolted again. Aeolians and Ionians gathered at Miletus to gather their forces. They were supported by number of city states from Priene, Myus, Teos, Chios, Erythrae, Phocaea, Lesbos, Samos and some other minor cities. On the side of Persians were Egyptians and Cilicians. Off the coast of Miletus, around the island Lade, a naval battle began between the Persians and allied states in 492 BCE. Persian navy forces burned the fleet of the allied forces, and suppressed the revolt. Cities that revolted were severely punished by the Persians; however this did not stop the revolts to follow this one. 

Darius the great died in 486 BCE. His son, Xerxes (reigned 486 to 465 BCE.) came to power after his father. Xerxes, after suppressing the rebellion in Egypt, in the spring of 483 BCE., he began his march towards Greece, over the land and sea. His land army was of Anatolian people, as his navy was of mainly people from the Anatolian coastal towns. Persians, after a short siege, entered Athens and looted and burned the city down. On the other hand, Persian fleet was defeated by the Greeks at the Salamis naval battle. The chief commander of the navy was killed by the Greeks, eventually the battle was won by the Greeks. Pausanias, the king of Sparta, in the memory of this victory, presented to the oracle of Apollo temple at Delphi, a huge gold plated bronze cauldron with on the legs three snakes twisted with each other. On the base of this cauldron were the names of the Greek city states involved in the battle, 31 in total. Later, Constantine the great brought this cauldron to Constantinople to decorate the hippodrome of the city. This still today stands at the ancient hippodrome of Istanbul. 

Right after this long waited victory, the Persian fleet parked at the beach near Mycale on the southwest coast of Anatolia, was totally burned. Hearing that, most of the Ionian cities revolted again and proclaimed their independency. Persians did not try to take these cities back by force, because they lost a large part of their army and weapons. The Greeks' aim was to drive the Persians to the hinterlands of Anatolia, and liberate the Greek city states on the Aegean coast. Pausanias, the king of Sparta, and with the title of the commander of Greeks, leading his navy to the Aegean coast of Anatolia, liberated Caria region, Cyprus and Byzantium on the Marmara sea from Persian domination. 

Athens, in the year 478 BCE, founded "Delian Naval League" against the Persian threat. The main purpose of this league was to lead a constant war against Persians, and provide liberation for the Greek cities. We can also include here, one of the reasons was to take the revenge of the destruction of Athens. In short time, many Greek cities joined this league and the league gained some victories over the Persians. Southern coast of Anatolia was liberated. The Persians' loss in prestige was more than tolerable. And the responsible was, of course, Xerxes. Xerxes was killed and his son Artaxerxes took the throne.

Artaxerxes (reigned 465 to 425 BCE.) took a heavy burden on his shoulders. He signed a peace treaty called Callias treaty, with Athenians. At first sight, this treaty seemed in favor of Persians; however this treaty was to develop later Athens into a naval empire. About his time, the Persian empire went into a gradual decline and the satraps began asking freedom one by one. Artaxerxes inherited a huge empire and endless troubles at the same time. 

After Artaxerxes had died, his son Xerxes II has been the king of Persia for a few weeks until he was murdered by his half brother, Sogdianus. Sogdianus' reign was short-lived one as well. Only after a few weeks, he shared the same fate as his brother he killed and he was murdered by another half brother Ochus. Ochus was one of  Artaxerxes' illegitimate sons. On ascending the throne he changed his name from Ochus to Darius II. Indeed, his name in Greek was Nothos meaning "bastard". 

Darius II (reigned 425 to 405 BCE.), as soon as he became the king, he was able to put down some rebellions that have been going on. Meanwhile, a big war broke out between the Spartans and Athenians, the Peloponnesian war to last for 27 years. Athenians already having lots of troubles in their front, felt obliged to ignore the goings on in Anatolia. Darius II by instinct knew how to turn the events to his favor and he demanded from his satraps to collect tax from all Greek city states in Anatolia. Athens expressed very strong opposition against his demand. Darius II got into diplomatic relationships with the Spartans and formed a union against Athens. Thus the conflict between the Athenians and Spartans began spreading over Anatolian cities as well. Spartans supported by the Persians defeated the Athenians and put an end to the Peloponnesian war and Attica-Delian Naval league in the year 404 BCE. With the collapse of Athens, the Athenian navy that did most damage to the Persian state was eliminated. Spartans agreed to the terms dictated by the Persians that all Greek city states in Anatolia to remain under Persian hegemony.  Although, the Persian domination was formally acknowledged by the King's peace of 386 BCE, city states of Anatolia led by Miletus always took every opportunity for a revolt against the Persians. The Persians, in the following years, although they controlled much of Anatolia through their satraps, but have never been able to posses an absolute hegemony over the Anatolians. Meanwhile, the reigns of the succeeding kings Artaxerxes II and III and Darius III, saw a gradual but constant decline. The losses were growing everyday, and the satraps seeing the powerless kings at the head of the state revolted and took a bite off the empire.  This was just a drop in the ocean, more trouble was yet to come, Alexander the Great who swept the Persian empire. All the wealth,  territories and peoples of the Persian empire came under the Alexander's Hellenistic empire that covered almost the whole ancient world. 

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