Site Contents  •  Contact

Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

spacer

Contents

Darius the Great

Page 1

Introduction

Rule of a Just Law

Darius' Ascension to the Throne

Magophonia

Choice of Governance

Lineage

Page 2

Extent of Darius' Empire

Imperial Governance

Administration

Capital Cities & Regional Imperial Headquarters

The Satrapy

Weights and Measures

Language Policy

The Immortals

Navy

Infrastructure

Roads & Trade. The Royal Roads

Postal System

Canals & Underground Waterways

Suez Canal

Persia's Greek Allies

Medized Greeks

Conflict with Greece

Battle of Marathon 490 BCE

Death & Tomb

Peace with Greece - Really?

Page 2


Suggested prior reading:

» Early Achaemenian History

» Cambyses

Related reading:

» Behistun Historical Site


Extent of Darius' Empire

After Darius quelled the rebellions in his first year as monarch, he set about consolidating the Persian empire established by Kurush / Cyrus I, the Great. The empire established by Cyrus, included for the name part the sixteen Vendidad nations - the traditional lands of Aryan influence - with a few additions. Cyrus' son Kabujiya / Cambyses II had added Egypt to the empire. Darius added Scythia, Thrace and many cities of the northern Aegean, Macedonia (which submitted voluntarily) and the Punjab [the north-east of the Indus lands and possibly including lands somewhat further south that the traditional Hapta-Hindu or seven Indus river lands since Darius mention Hindush (Indus) without qualification].

The nations listed by Darius the Great, King of Persia on an inscription at Naqsh-e-Rustam as part of his Persian empire are: Parsa (Persia), Mada (Media), Ujva (Elam), Parthava (Parthia), Haraiva (Aria), Bakhtrish (Bactria), Suguda (Sogdiana), Uvarazmish (Chorasmia), Zraka (Drangiana), Harauvatish (Arachosia), Thatagush (Sattagydia), Gadara (Gandara), Hindush (Sind), Saka haumavarga, Saka tigraxauda, Babirush (Babylonia), Athura (Assyria), Arabaya (Arabia), Mudraya (Egypt), Armina (Armenia), Katpatuka (Cappadocia), Sparda (Sardis), Yauna (Ionia / Greece), Saka tyaiy paradraya, Skudra (Skudra), Yauna takabara (petasos-wearing Ionians), Putaya (Libyans), Kashiya (Ethiopians), Maciya (people of Maka), Karka (Carians).

Cuneiform Inscription  on rock at Behistun, Iran
Darius' listing of Persian Empire nations
Cuneiform Inscription on rock at Behistun, Iran
Column 1 lines 9-17
Persian Empire of Darius
Persian Empire of Darius. Click for a larger map.

Imperial Governance

Administration

In order to effectively administer his empire, Darius became a prolific builder of infrastructure and institutions. He built new palace / capital administration complexes in Susa and Persepolis. Together with the building of the physical structures, he employed and trained a large administrative force and fanned out throughout the empire and worked closely with local administrators. The administrative structure was organized at various levels starting with imperial provincial administrators.


Capital Cities & Regional Imperial Headquarters

Darius gave the Persian empire a connected and cohesive administrative and institutional structure.

The three primary imperial headquarters were Susa, Babylon and eventually Persepolis. Of these Susa and Persepolis served as capital cities, Susa being the king's winter residence, while Persepolis served as his the summer residence. While writers are quick to point out that the classical Greek historian Herodotus makes no mention of any other capital other than Susa, the administrative records unearthed in Persepolis - whether by an accident of better historical preservation or not - far exceed the records found in Susa (please also see our pages on Persepolis and Susa).


Reconstruction of Darius' palace at Susa
Reconstruction of Darius' palace at Susa
Source: Ridpath's History of the World by John Ridpath. 1901

Darius also established regional imperial headquarters throughout the empire, where presumably, the king resided and held court during his visits to the regions. These were located at Balkh in Bakhtrish (Bactria) for the eastern empire, Hangmatana (Ecbatana, Hamadan) in Mada (Media) for the northern empire, Sparda (Sardis) for the western empire (and possibly neighbouring Dascyclium as an alternative), and Memphis for northeast Africa: Mudraya (Egypt), Putaya (Libya), and Kushiya (Ethiopia).

He organized the various kingdoms that made up the empire, into twenty imperial provinces called satrapies, each governed by a satrap that he appointed.


The Satrapy

When Darius ascended to the Persian throne after a palace coup, rebellions broke out throughout the empire established by Cyrus the Great. These rebellions might have provided the motivation for Darius to institute a cohesive governance structure that was responsible and accountable to the emperor. He did this by organizing the various kingdoms that made up the empire, into twenty imperial provinces called satrapies - each governed by a satrap that he appointed. The satrapies also served as 'federal' taxation entities.

Each satrap had a treasurer who kept accounts of revenues, expenses and 'federal' contracts, and a garrison commander who was responsible for the troops. As well, there were royal inspectors who reported directly to the imperial throne.

Herodotus records (3.89) that "in the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses after him there was no fixed tribute, but payment was made in gifts." Darius introduced a fixed and pre-determined system of taxes. Taxes from the satrapies were paid in silver and gold talents (see weights and measures below). Gold talents were equated to a standard amount of silver talents, and the total taxes from the satrapies came to about 15,000 silver talents. The satrapies were assessed for the amount of taxes they should remit, The assessment was done by a commission that evaluated the expenses and revenues of each satrap.

To communicate with the satrapies, Darius needed an official language policy as well as a transportation and communication infrastructure. The transfer of taxes to the central government also developed the need for a uniform system of weights and measures, a development that also led to the institution of an imperial monetary system.


Weights and Measures

The Babylonian talent was the standard used to measure silver, and the Euboic talent was the measure used to measure gold. During the reign of Darius, gold was thirteen times as valuable as silver. Authors are divided on the modern equivalent of these ancient weights. Estimates for the Euboic talent range from 25 to 31 kg.

Darius' monetary system included standardized coinage based on a silver coin with a weight of 8 grams, and a gold coin called the Darayaka (Greek Daric). The Darayaka were nearly pure gold and contained a miniscule amount of other metals. One surviving coin in the collection of Lord Pembroke weighed 129 grains (8.34g), the exact weight of an English guinea.

The standard unit of measurement was the royal cubit also called the king's measure.


Language Policy

Darius developed a multilingual language policy to facilitate communication with his vast international empire.

For official communication within the empire he used a derivative of Old Aramaic called Official Aramaic as a language written in the Aramaic script. Despite the vast extent of the empire and the diversity of officials employed in its administration, the Aramaic used by the officials was so uniform and it is not possible to establish the source of the communication based on the language structure alone (it would seem knowledge of Aramaic was a qualification for employment and this would not be possible without an education system that enabled this learning).

Administrative tablets found at Persepolis are in Aramaic using the Aramaic script and in Elamite using the cuneiform script. There is only one known example of an administrative tablet in Old Persian using the cuneiform script.

For public pronouncements inscribed on monuments, Darius used a multilingual policy. Three languages were used at Behistun - all inscribed using the cuneiform script. The main panels was in Old Persian. The surrounding panels were in Elamite and Babylonian. Given that Aramaic was not used in these inscriptions - even though Aramaic was the administrative language - we might venture to surmise that while Aramaic was a language understood by administration officials, it was not necessarily a popular language.

In the case of the Behistun inscriptions, the message was copied in Aramaic on parchment and distributed throughout the empire. The Behistun inscription (4.88-92.) reads, "Says Darius the King: I have had this inscription prepared by the grace of Ahuramazda. In addition, it was composed in Ariya (the Aryan language), on clay tablets and on parchment." We do know that one translated copy of the Behistun inscriptions - written in Aramaic on papyrus - was discovered in the Elephantine Islands on the upper Nile near the town of Aswan in Egypt.


The Immortals - Achaemenian elite soldiers
The Immortals - Achaemenian elite soldiers.
Photo Credit: dynamosquito at Flickr.
At Pavilion Sully at the Louvre museum, Paris, France

The Immortals

Darius' army included an elite ever-ready fighting force of 10,000 soldiers known as the Immortals. We are told that this number was maintained at all times. If one member of the force was a force was incapacitated, he was immediately replaced. This implies that there was a trained and pre-selected body of recruits available at all times. The recruits were exclusively Persians and Medians.

The Immortals was organized as battalions of a thousand soldiers each commanded by officers named chyliarchs. There were provided with the highest quality of weapons and uniforms.

The Immortals participated in all major imperial campaigns.


Offsite reading:
» Achaemenid Army by Prof. A. Shapur Shahbazi at ICS
» Immortals by Jona Lendering at ICS


Navy

We have no evidence of a Persian navy before Darius became king. However, it is likely that, since his empire extended to the Mediterranean coast, King Cyrus the Great (who established the Persian Achaemenian empire) had access to the Phoenician navy.

In addition, Cyrus probably acquired a navy when the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms became part of his empire.


Replica of a Persian navy trireme
Engraving of an Assyrian river warship
From Nineveh c. 700 BCE

The need for an imperial navy arose as a result of Greek naval assaults on, and constant harassment of, Persian controlled lands along the coast of Asia Minor during the reign of Darius. The accounts of Darius' retaliatory campaigns against the Greeks mention his use of a substantial, well organized and trained navy in amphibious assaults. The navy probably employed experienced Phoenicians and Egyptians.

Gabriel, R.A., in The Great Armies of Antiquity (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), p.166 states, "Darius I seems to have been the first to commission the construction of ships for specific military tasks – ships of the line , transports, horse carriers, supply ships and shortly thereafter the Persians had fully integrated the use of naval warfare and tactics in their grand strategy, designed to counter Greek powers in the Aegean and Mediterranean."


Replica of a Persian navy trireme
Replica of a Persian navy trireme (3 rows of oars per side)

Darius also maintained a navy that operated in the Persian Gulf, along the Mesopotamian Rivers, the Indus River, and the Caspian Sea. He used the Caspian navy in campaigns against the Central Asian Saka Tigrakhauda (Pointed-Hat Scythians / Saka). According to Herodotus, Darius employed Scylax, a Carian Greek to discover a sea route between India and Persia. Scylax set out from Caspatyrus (Peshawar) to the Pactyikan country (Gandahar), and sailed down the Indus to the sea, from where he skirted the coasts of Persia and Arabia, sailed up the Red Sea and landed in the neighbourhood of Suez.

We also known that Darius dug a canal from Suez to the Nile in order to connect the Red and Mediterranean Seas.


Infrastructure

Roads & Trade. The Royal Roads

To facilitate trade, commerce, and travel, Darius developed and improved the Aryan trade roads into an extensive networks of highways. The main arteries that provided travel to the different corners of the empire were called the Royal Roads. The section of the road with which Herodotus was familiar was the western arm that ran from Sardis to Susa. Susa was in turn connected by a Royal Road to Persepolis. As an example of the network of road, the Sardis-Susa road was intersected by the road that connected Babylon and Ecbatana, which crossed the Royal road near Opis, and continued westward to the holy city of Rhagae. From there the road continued to the far east, a section that came to be known as the Silk Road.

Along the roads, he commissioned the construction of inns, way stations, and guard houses with troops that policed the transportation network, making travel convenient and safe. He instituted a travel system that included travel authorization by the King, a satrap, or some other high official, which entitled the traveler to draw provisions at daily stopping places.


Postal System

The Persian Achaemenians invented the concept of the mail being delivered from one end of the empire to the other through sleet or snow, come rain or shine.

In his Histories 8.98, Herodotus has this to say about the postal courier system:

"There is nothing mortal which accomplishes a journey with more speed than these messengers, so skilfully has this been invented by the Persians. For they say that according to the number of days of which the entire journey consists, so many horses and men are set at intervals, each man and horse appointed for a day's journey. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed. The first one rides and delivers the message with which he is charged to the second, and the second to the third; and after that it goes through them handed from one to the other, as in the torch race among the Greeks, which they perform for Hephaestus. This kind of running of their horses the Persians call angareion."

Tablets found at Persepolis provide us with more information about the postal courier system which they called pirradazish, a word from which the modern Persian word for post, pishtaz, is derived. The system of changing horses on the road from the two Imperial capitals, Susa to Persepolis was based on dividing the 552 kilometre road into 23 stages each with a post that housed fresh horses.


Canals & Underground Waterways

Darius commissioned the construction of a network of canals underground and waterways. This network served to meet the agricultural needs of farmers, as well as the water supply needs of towns and cities. The canals connected to rivers were integrated into the transportation system that ran from the heartland to the sea.


Suez Canal

Map showing the Nile delta and the route of Darius' canal connecting the red Sea to a branch of the River Nile
Map showing the Nile delta and the route of
Darius' canal connecting the Red Sea
to a branch of the River Nile

In 1866, by Charles de Lesseps, Ferdinand de Lesseps's son, discovered near Kabret, a town some 130 kilometres form Suez, a stele of pink granite which contained an inscription engraved by Darius. The stele which is also known as the Chalouf Stele (alt. Shaluf Stele) states:

"Says King Darius: I am a Persian. Setting out from Persia, I conquered Egypt. I ordered to dig this canal from the river called the Nile that flows through Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. Therefore, when this canal had been dug as I had ordered, ships could sail through this canal from Egypt to Persia, as I had intended."

To open the canal, Darius traveled to Egypt in 497 BCE, where he inaugurated the canal amid much fanfare and festivities. Darius' Suez Canal, which ran from modern Zaqaziq to modern Suez, appears to have stayed in use for over 200 years after its construction. However, by the time of Cleopatra it filled with sand, silt and debris and fell into disuse. The Roman Emperor Trajan repaired and cleaned out the canal and put it back to use. By the time the Arab Amr ibn el-As conquered Egypt, however, the canal had fallen into disrepair again.


Map showing the route of Darius' canal including the location of various steles containing his message
Map showing the route of Darius' canal including the location of various steles containing his message

The canal passed through Wadi Tumilat, and connected the easternmost branch of the Nile River, the Bubastite, with Lake Timsah which was connected to the Red Sea by natural waterways.

According to Herodotus, Histories, 2.158, "...the canal to the Red Sea ...the length of which is four days' journey, and the width such as to admit of two triremes being rowed along it abreast. The water is derived from the Nile, which the canal leaves a little above the city of Bubastis, near Patumus, the Arabian town, being continued thence until it joins the Red Sea. At first it is carried along the Arabian side of the Egyptian plain, as far as the chain of hills opposite Memphis, whereby the plain is bounded, and in which lie the great stone quarries; here it skirts the base of the hills running in a direction from west to east, after which it turns and enters a narrow pass, trending southwards from this point until it enters the Arabian Gulf. From the northern sea to that which is called the southern or Erythraean, the shortest and quickest passage, which is from Mount Casius, the boundary between Egypt and Syria, to the Gulf of Arabia, is a distance of exactly one thousand furlongs. But the way by the canal is very much longer on account of the crookedness of its course."


Persia's Greek Allies

The world at large knows Persian-Greek relations by the wars that ended in the bitter defeat of the 'immense' army of evil Persian aggressors by a small handful of brave Greek defenders. The sequel to that myth is the vengeful and wanton destruction of the Persian empire and civilization by Alexander. There is more to this story. Persian-Greek relations go far back in history and there may be more kinship than histrionics in that relationship.

An examination of Greek mythology indicate that the Greeks and Persians may be related as a people and that the relations between them are akin to those between members of a family - sometimes supportive and at other times marked by bitter quarrels. If mythology has its roots in history and the lessons of history; if mythology makes gods of great kings and queens, valiant warriors or others with some claim to posterity, then some of the myths may give us pause for reflection.

We examine some of the possible connections between the Greeks and Persians in our page on the Origins of the Olympic Flame Tradition.

With this as our backdrop, the Greeks themselves record that Darius recognized the kinship between the Greeks and Persians and promoted an open door policy under which Hellenic aristocrats could enter his service and receive honoured positions (Cook, pp. 71-72 & Junge, 1944, pp. 95-120, 185-91).

The following excerpt from Herodotus' Histories is an example of the kinship and also how the Persian got themselves involved in inter-Greek quarrels:

(3.139-141) "After this, king Darius besieged and took Samos, which was the first city, Greek or Barbarian, that he conquered. The cause of his making war upon Samos was the following: During the campaign of Cambyses in Egypt, a great many Greeks visited that country for one reason or another: some, as was to be expected, for trade, some to serve in the army, others, no doubt, out of mere curiosity, to see what they could see. Amongst the sightseers was Aeaces' son Syloson, the exiled brother of Polycrates of Samos.

"While he was in Egypt, Syloson had an extraordinary stroke of luck: he was hanging about the streets of Memphis dressed in a flame-coloured cloak, when Darius, who at that time was a member of Cambyses' guard and not yet of any particular importance, [Note: The word translated here as "guard", doryphoros, means lance carrier and is in fact the title of one of the most important Persian court officials. Herodotus has not fully understood what he has heard] happened to catch sight of him and, seized with a sudden longing to possess the cloak, came up to Syloson and made him an offer for it. His extreme anxiety to get it was obvious enough to Syloson, who replied that he would not sell it at any price, but added that, if it was really necessary that the cloak should be his, he would give it him as a free gift. Darius thereupon thanked him and took it. Now subsequent events showed that Syloson must have been inspired to answer as he did, though at the moment he merely thought that he had lost his precious cloak by his own stupidity.

"But as time went on and Darius, after the death of Cambyses and the revolt of the seven against the Magian, ascended the throne, things began to look very different; for Syloson now had the pleasant news that the man whose request for the flame-coloured cloak he had formerly gratified in Egypt, had become king of Persia. He hurried to Susa, sat down at the entrance of the royal palace, and claimed to be included in the official list of the King's Benefactors [Note: The Persian king had a book in which his benefactors were mentioned. He had to do something in return].

"The sentry on guard reported his claim to Darius, who asked in surprise who the man might be. 'For surely,' he said, 'as I have so recently come to the throne, there cannot be any Greek to whom I am indebted for a service. Hardly any of them have been here yet, and I certainly cannot remember owing anything to a Greek. But bring him in all the same, that I may know what he means by this claim.'

"The guard escorted Syloson into the royal presence, and when the interpreters asked him who he was and what he had done to justify the statement that he was the king's benefactor, he reminded Darius of the story of the cloak, and said that he was the man who had given it him. 'Sir,' exclaimed Darius, 'you are the most generous of men; for while I was still a person of no power or consequence you gave me a present - small indeed, but deserving then as much gratitude from me as would the most splendid of gifts to-day. I will give you in return more silver and gold than you can count, that you may never regret that you once did a favour to Darius the son of Hystaspes.'

"'My lord,' replied Syloson, 'do not give me gold or silver but recover Samos for me, my native island, which now since Oroetus killed my brother Polycrates is in the hands of one of our servants. Let Samos be your gift to me - but let no man in the island be killed or enslaved.'

"Darius consented to Syloson's request, and dispatched a force under command of Otanes, one of the seven, with orders to to as Syloson had asked; and Otanes, accordingly, went down to the coast and made ready to cross over."

And so started a new phase in Greek-Persian relations. Darius was honour-bound to fulfil Syloson's request and in doing so got himself embroiled in inter-Greek rivalries. What is not so well known is that when the Greek fought amongst themselves, one side in the conflict invariable asked the Persians for assistance.


Medized Greeks

As with the example above, there were certain Greek individuals and groups who were pro-Persian. These Greek allies of the Persians were called Medizing Greeks and Darius opened his court to them. [The word Medizing comes from Mede-izing. The Greeks at that time called all Persians, Medes. To Medize was to become an ally of the Medes, that is the Persians. Likewise to Atticize was to become an ally of Attica.] Medized Greeks served as soldiers, artisans, statesmen and mariners for Darius. One group of Medizing Greeks at Athens promoted improved Greek-Persian relations.

Relations between the main body of Greeks and Persians were largely peaceful until some Greek states led by Athens started to raid and plunder settlements along the Ionian* coast - settlements under Persian rule or protection. In conducting these raids, Athens and her allies put themselves in conflict with the Persians. The power group in Athens simultaneously took steps to remove from positions of power all the Pro-Persian aristocrats in Athens.

*The Persian called the entire western Asia Minor coast Yauna or Ionia. However, Ionia was one of several Greek settlements in Asia Minor.


Conflict with Greece

According to Herodotus [5.99]. "Some time after this, Miletus having revolted, and Aristagoras, its ruler, having solicited aid from the Athenians for the purpose of enabling it to maintain its independence, they sent twenty ships, to which the Eretrians added five more, in order to requite a kindness previously received from the Milesians. Aristagoras, upon the arrival of this fleet, resolved to make an expedition against Sardis, the residence of the Persian satrap. Accordingly, landing at Ephesus, the confederates marched inland, took Sardis, and drove the governor into the citadel. Most of the houses in Sardis were made of reeds, and even those that were built of brick were roofed with reeds. One of these was set on fire by a soldier, and immediately the flames spread from house to house and consumed the whole city. The light of the conflagration showing to the Greeks the great numbers of their opponents, who were beginning to rally, being constrained by necessity to defend themselves, as their retreat was cut off by the river Pactolus, the former retired through fear and regained their ships (501 BCE). Upon the receipt of this intelligence, Darius, having called for a bow, put an arrow into it, and shot it into the air, with these words, 'Grant, O God, that I may be able to revenge myself upon the Athenians.' After he had thus spoken, he commanded one of his attendants thrice every time dinner was set before him, to exclaim, 'Master! remember the Athenians.' "


The battle at Marathon. Artist unknown
The battle at Marathon. Artist unknown

We see from the episode above that Eretria and Athens supported Aristagoras in his revolt against the Persians by sending ships to Ionia and burning Sardis. The Persians responded and regained control of Ionia. Then, anti-Persian parties took power away of the pro-Persian Medizing Greek aristocrats in Athens and exiled them from Athens and Sparta. Darius responded to their pleas for help by sending a group of troops led by his son-in-law across the Hellespont. However, the battle was lost due to a violent storm and harassment by Thracians.


Battle of Marathon 490 BCE

Darius launched a second expedition that ended with the battle of Marathon. The myth surrounding this battle is that a large Persian army was defeated by a handful of brave Greek defenders. The fact is that the numbers of the two sides was almost equal but the Persians were greatly hampered by their supply lines stretched thin.

The Persian expedition consisted of 20,000 men under Datis. Datis captured Eretria and moved on towards Marathon. In 490 BCE, at the Battle of Marathon, the Persians were defeated by an allied Hellenic force led by Miltiades and consisting of 9,000 heavily armed Athenians, 10,000 lightly armed soldiers and 600 Plataeans. That puts the numbers in the armies as fairly equal. The Greeks however had home field advantage and the Persian, the disadvantage of stretched lines of communication and supply.

History - or what passes as history - is written by the victors.


Death & Tomb

Darius' tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam
Darius' tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam

Darius now became obsessed with gaining victory over the Greeks. What had started with him supporting Syloson in a petty internecine dispute between Greeks, had now ended with him embroiled in a pointless dispute with the Greeks, a threat that had only served to unite a group of warring petty states. Darius planned to personally lead an expedition against the Greeks and began to make preparations. A revolt in Egypt and his failing health intervened.

In late November 486 BCE, at age of sixty-four, Darius passed away and was entombed at Naqsh-e Rustam. He was succeeded by his son Xerxes I.


Peace with Greece - Really?

Xerxes would lead yet another unsuccessful expedition against the Greeks in 480-479 BCE. The Greek-Persian Wars ended with the Peace of Callias of 449 BCE. By this time Athens had gained power over the other Greek states and had developed her own mini-empire - euphemistically called an alliance - consisting of states and islands bordering the Aegean Sea (including Ionia and other city-states and islands of the west coast of Asia Minor). With the Persian threat removed, the pan-Hellenic alliance soon feel apart. Athens' heavy-handed dealings with with many of its subject states (it's allies), and Sparta's traditional fear of Athenian power and ambitions lead to conflict between the Athenians and Sparta.

The Peloponnesian War ensued with the first battle in 431 BCE. Persia could not resist the temptation to settle scores with Athens by supporting the Spartans, and in 411 BCE, Darayavahush / Darius II (423-404) authorised his satrap in Samos, Tissaphernes, to support Sparta. The Persians quickly got their fingers burned when in a battle in March of 410 BCE, when the Spartan alliance supported by Persian troops suffered an ignoble defeat at Cyzicus on the Sea of Marmora. The defeat gave Athens maritime supremacy in the Aegean.

In the autumn of 408 BCE, Sparta appointed Lysander as the new admiral of their fleet. Lysander arrived at the chief Spartan naval base at Ephesus and began building a new fleet with substantial aid from the new Persian satrap, Cyrus. In September 405 BCE Lysander in a decisive move, captured the main body of the Athenian naval fleet without much resistance, and in doing so fatally weakened Athens by cutting of Athens' source of food and grains.

Eventually in 404 BCE, after six months of near starvation, Athens accepted generous surrender terms offered by Sparta. It gave up its empire, joined the Peloponnesian League, and accepted a regime of thirty oligarchs. The Spartan allies Corinth and Thebes protested the leniency of the terms and demanded total destruction of Athens, but Sparta was concerned that a total destruction would create an untenable power vacuum. As a compromise, Sparta tore down the city walls and those connecting Athens to Piraeus and the Athenian empire was dissolved. According to Xenophon, the Spartans "tore down the Long Walls among scenes of great joy and to the music of flute girls" (Hellenica 2.2.24).

The Persians celebrated vicariously, but the story was far from finished.

The regime of the Thirty Oligarchs was unpopular and alienated Sparta from other Greek states. The Thebans grew suspicious of the Spartan occupation of Athens, and started to support the democrats. The Thirty were divided, sought to entrench their power and executed a moderate member. Persia at this time was undergoing its own internal political problems. Prince Cyrus, needed help when his father Darius II was succeeded in 404 BCE by Artakhshassa / Artaxerxes II. Sparta, who owed Prince Cyrus a debt of gratitude for his generous support for their cause, supported Prince Cyrus in his revolt and bid to gain the Achaemenian Persian throne for himself. The Spartan Clearchus gathered a troop of ten thousand mercenaries and marched towards Persia. In 401 BCE, they met the Persian army in the battle of Cunaxa, which ended in their defeat and the death of Prince Cyrus. The account of this expedition and the return journey of the survivors is given by Xenophon in his book Anabasis.

The Spartans now began to interfere and harass the Persians in the Persian zones of influence, repeating the provocations in which Athens had previously engaged. Spartan King Agesilaus invaded Asia Minor and met with considerable success. The Persians now switched allegiances and supported Athens in its quarrel with Sparta. By 395 BCE, Athens had rebuilt its Long Walls. With Persian support they began to rearm, strengthen their fleet and re-emerged as the dominant Hellenic power.

The reader can make her or his own judgment if the Greek-Persian interactions sound or do not sound like constant bickering between members of an extended family.

Again, the Persians celebrated vicariously. They had emerged as the ultimate beneficiaries of pan-Hellenic internecine quarrelling.

But a storm cloud was gathering to the north in Macedonia, and the Persians, weakened by their own internal dissention, would come to rue their entanglement in Greek affairs. The wheel of the Aryan tragic cycle would inevitable turn as it had done from the dawn of history.


» Previous page 1


Offsite reading:
» Darius I the Great by Prof. A. Shapur Shahbazi at CAIS
» Photographs - History of Iran by Bijan1351 at Flickr
» Achaemid Dynasty at Encylcopaedia Iranica


» Top


» Site Contents

Search Our Site: