Early Persian History
Suggested prior reading:
|Map of Ancient Persian & Mesopotamian States. Base map courtesy Microsoft Encarta|
English: Persian, Modern Persian: Parsi, Old Persian: Parsa, Greek: Perse, Old Iranian: Parsava, Assyrian / Akkadian: Parsuash or Parsumash.
English: Persia, Modern Persian: Pars, Old Persian: Parsa, Greek: Persica & Persis, Assyrian / Akkadian: Parsua.
Unification and Nation Building under the Achaemenids (7th Century BCE)
The southward migration by some Persian groups would not be sufficient for the Persians to live in peace - they would also need to unite and build a standing army of sufficient size in order to repel the constant attacks. It is amidst these conditions that around the late eight or early seventh century BCE, a leader emerged from among the Persians - a leader who began the process of unifying the Persians into a kingdom, and in doing so, established a dynasty that would bear his name.
Hakhamanishah / Achaemenes (? - 675 BCE)
The leader who would unify the Persians into a nation that began to successfully defend itself against the Assyrians was Hakhamanish(ah), known to the Greeks as Achaemenes. In doing so Hakhamanishah / Achaemenes established the Hakhamanishiya / Achaemenian dynasty that ruled Persia until 330 BCE. We do not know the year in which Hakhamanishah established himself as king (say around 700 BCE). However, the end of his reign is estimated at 675 BCE.
[Note: Hakhamanish is thought by some to mean 'having a follower's spirit or a friend's mind. Hakhamanishiya (Achaemenian) is attested to in Elamite as Hakamannushiya, Haakkamannuushiya and Hakamannasha; in Akkadian as Ahamanishi, Ahamaniishshi, Ahamaanniishshi, Ahamannishshi, Ahamamanniishshi, and Ahamanuush.]
According to Herodotus (1.125.3), the Achaemenids were a clan belonging to the Pasargadae 'tribe' , the bravest of the ten Persian tribes. According to Plato, Achaemenes / Perses was the son of the Ethiopian queen Andromeda and the Greek hero Perseus, and a grandson of Zeus - a linking by the Greeks of the cultural heritage of the two peoples and one that is not supported in Persian literature.
Not only did the unified Persians led by Hakhamanishah defend themselves, they also set about to attack and dismantle the destructive Assyrian empire. An Assyrian inscription from the time of King Sennacherib (705-681 BCE) tells us that in 690 or 691 BCE the Parsumash and Anzan (Persians allied with the Elamites) attacked the Assyrian city of Halule. The inscription mentions Achaemenes as one of the commanders, and states that the Assyrian king repelled the Persian cavalry and Elamite army at Susiana (currently Ja Nishin in the Khuzestan Province of Iran). Despite the Assyrian claim, the results of the battle appear inconclusive. The battle did mark the beginnings of the Persian campaign to remove the Assyrian threat - a campaign in which they would ultimately succeed. It also marked the beginning of a forty year long battle between Elam and Assyria - a battle that would greatly weaken Elam and set the stage for the Persians to fill the power vacuum in the Elamite lands.
In Sennacherib's inscriptions we find mention of the nation of Parsumash, a nation with different geographical boundaries than the 8th century Parsua / Parsuash.
Parsamash / Parsumash (7th century BCE)
In addition to the inscriptions of Assyrian King Sennacherib mentioning Parsumash, the 7th Century BCE inscriptions of his grandson, King Ashurbanipal (668 - c. 627 BCE) also mentions the nation of Parsamash or Parsumash which was apparently located along the western slopes of the Zagros and Bakhtiyari mountains bordering on Elam and perhaps extending as far south as the region around present-day Masjed-e Soleyman. [The city-state of Susa (today called Shush) was a part of Elam.]
Persians & Elamites
|Map of Elam (shown above in red).|
Elam became part of Persia
Towards the end of Hakhamanishah / Achaemenes' reign, Elam itself, weaken and diminished by constant Assyrian raids, had been reduced in extent to the city state of Susa and the surrounding plains. The Persians had been moving into lands previously under Elamite rule, though it does not appear that the Persian migration into Elam was forceful.
It is quite possible that the Persians afforded the native Elamites protection from further Assyrian attacks and a more stable environment. The Persians began to adopt various Elamite cultural customs and to use the Elamite language alongside their own. The two peoples would eventually live side-by-side in a bi- if not tri-lingual nation ruled by the Persians and where the Elamites freely practiced their religion and preserved their culture.
Susa / Shush
|The destruction of Susa by Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, 647 BCE.|
Tablet discovered in Nineveh depicts flames rising from the city
as Assyrian soldiers hack away with pickaxes and plunder the spoils.
Photo Credit: Zereshk at Wikipedia
Susa, one of the city-states of Elam, is credited as being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world dating back to 4200 BCE, with evidence of a c. 7000 BCE village having existed at the site.
Today, Susa is located in the south-west of Iran, close to the Iraqi border in the province of Khuzestan. It situated between the rivers Karkheh Kur (Choaspes) to its west and and Dez to the east. The archaeological site that includes the ruins of the Achaemenian palace of Darius was heavily damaged by Iraqi bombardment during the first Gulf War.
As we had noted in the opening sections of these pages, the rulers of Elam had called themselves the kings of Susa and Anshan. Following the battle of Halule (see above) when allied Elamite and Persian forces attacked the Assyrians, Assyrian King Ashurbanipal sought to avenge the aggression by invading Elam and destroying the city of Susa in 647 BCE. The devastation continued until 639 BCE by which time the country of Elam was in complete disarray and the extent of Elam and its central authority was reduced to what was left of the city-state of Susa. It is during this period - which was also the beginning years of the Achaemenian dynasty - that the Persians established themselves in neighbouring Elamite Anshan.
Susa became part of the Persian empire under Cyrus II, the Great in 538 or 539 BCE. During the balance of Achaemenian period, Susa was one of the rotating capitals (a winter capital) of the Achaemenian Kings (539-330 BCE). Cyrus does not seem to have renovated the palace significantly as did Darius I, the Great who built an extensive palace complex (see image below) and Herodotus mentions Susa as being the capital of Darius' empire (Herodotus does not mention Persepolis). The palace was destroyed by a fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE).
|Reconstruction of Darius' palace at Susa|
Source: Ridpath's History of the World by John Ridpath. 1901
The photograph below is of the ruins of the 1250 BCE ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil 45 km. south-east of Susa. It was built on a plateau above the banks of the Dez River. A ziggurat is thought to be a large temple tower ascending to the heavens. In 640 BCE Assyrian king Ashurbanipal set about trying to destroy the ziggurat.
» Image site Darius' palace at Susa - Wikimedia
» Image site Susa artefacts - Wikimedia
Anshan (also called Anzan, Assan and Anduan) was an ancient Elamite city that we find first mentioned in the early Sumerian epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta as being between the southern Sumerian city of Uruk and the legendary land Aratta. Aratta was within marching distance for the Sumerian army and it was also upstream from Uruk. Road travellers from Susa to Aratta had to pass through the mountainous land of Anshan. In the pairing of Susa and Anshan, writers frequently refer them them as lowland Susa and highland Anshan. These features point to Anshan being located in the central Zagros mountains.
|Ancient Persia Site Map|
Based on the Sumerian epic, historians have speculated that Anshan lay on the early gem trade route called the 'Great Khorasan Road' (also called the Silk Roads - the Aryan trade roads). The road passed through the north-eastern region of Khorasan (Aria of Strabo's Geography) and northern Iranian lands before one arm turned south and followed the Zagros mountains towards Sumer. The road was used to transport Lapis Lazuli from the Badakhshan mountains to Mesopotamia.
Following the Assyrian assaults on Elam, the rule of the kings of Elam was reduced to the city-state of Susa and it is during this time that the Persians appear to have settled in the city and lands of Anshan.
There are now two principal theories about the location of Anshan, which by the time of Chishpish/ Teispes had become a city and a state:
Recent literature identifies the city of Anshan with the ruins found at Tall-e Malyan, 36km northwest of present-day Shiraz in the province of Pars. In doing so, these sources locate and equate the state of Anshan with ancient Parsa.
Pre-1970 literature, places Anshan 500 km northwest of Shiraz - in the highlands around Susa, or in the present-day province of Elam close to the border with Iraq. These authors further state that Anshan was located in the highlands - along the foothills of the Zagros - and base their conclusions on descriptions in inscriptions. If the latter is correct, then Anshan would have been in the neighbourhood of Parsumash. Further, the names Anshan and Parsumash could have been used interchangeably when referring to the kingdom of the early Achaemenians.
Chishpish / Teispes (675-640 BCE)
The Persian migration into Elamite lands of Anshan culminated during in the reign of Hakhamanishah / Achaemenes's son Chishpish (also spelt Chispish, Cishpish and Cishpaish), known to the west as Teispes. Around 653 BCE, the Medes briefly came under the domination of the Scythians from the north and it would appear that at this time the remaining Persian groups in the northern areas migrated south to join their compatriots. (The Medians with the help of the Persians liberated themselves from Scythian domination in 626 BCE.)
While amongst the Persians and the Medes, the Achaemenians called their new lands Parsa, for the rest of the nations in the area, they used the better known name of Anshan as the name of their country. Chishpish/ Teispes referred to himself as 'king of the city of Anshan' and the Persian kings continued this practice up to the time of Cyrus II (the Great).
Teispes / Chishpishconsolidated the Parsumash lands north of Susa with Anshan and Parsa as the new Persian lands. The extent of Persian lands under the Achaemenian lands extended southeast from Susa across the river Idide (now known as Ab-e-Diz or Dizful) along the Zagros and Bakhtiyari foothills up to the Karmania (Kerman) plains in the east.
Eventually, the Persians would concentrate in the lands around Parsa - the future Pars or Persia. While there would be setbacks along the way, the foundation on which to build a nation and empire had been laid.
According to Cameron (1936: 212 and 223ff) and Hinz (1971b: col. 1024), Chishpish/ Teispes divided his new and substantial kingdom into Parsumash (the region north of Susa) and Parsa (the area south-east of Susa), each to be ruled by one of his two sons. The north-western area of Parsumash was ruled his son Kurush I / Cyrus I, while the south-eastern area of Parsa was to be ruled by his son Ariyaramna / Ariaramnes, apparently, the younger of the two brothers. This division between the two brothers resulted in the early Achaemenid dynasty consisting of two lines of kings.
Ariyaramna / Ariaramnes (c. 640-590 BCE)
Ariyaramna / Ariaramnes (meaning Aryan peace), was Darayavahush/Darius (the Great) I's great grandfather. There is an inscription stating that he ruled Parsa. He could have also ruled Anshan.
Kurush I / Cyrus I (c. 640-600 BCE)
Kurush I / Cyrus I is believed to have governed Parsumash - the region north of Susa around present-day Khuzestan province. Kurush I / Cyrus I was Cyrus (the Great) II's grandfather. An Assyrian inscription appears to refer to him as the king of Parsumash.
One of Ashurbanipal's inscriptions relating to his destruction of Elam mentions a king of Parsuwash (likely another spelling for Parsumash) named Kurash.
Arshama / Arsames (?)
Ariyaramna / Ariaramnes was succeeded by Arshama / Arsames (meaning the hero's might). Arshama / Arsames son was Vishtasp / Hystaspes who did not become king, but who was Darius I's father.
Kabujiya I / Cambyses I (c. 600-559 BCE)
Kabujiya I / Cambyses I succeeded his father Kurush I / Cyrus I. The name Kabujiya (Kambiz in modern Persian) means elder. Kabujiya I / Cambyses I's son was Kurush II / Cyrus II, the Great, was founder of the Persian empire.
||Persian name/Greek or Latin name
| ? - 675 ||Hakhamanishiya (Hakhmanish)/Achaemenes|
|675-640 ||Chispish/Teispes||son of Hakhamanishiya|
|640-590 ||Ariyaramna/Ariaramnes||son of Chispish - Line 1|
|640-600 ||Kurush I/Cyrus I||son of Chispish - Line 2|
| ? - ? ||Arshama/Arsames||son of Ariyaramna - Line 1|
|600-559 ||Kabujiya I (later Kambiz)/Cambyses I||son of Cyrus I - Line 2|
|559-530 ||Kurush II/Cyrus II (the Great)||son of Kabujiya I - Line 2|
|530-522 ||Kabujiya II/Cambyses II||son of Kurush II - Line 2|
|522-522 ||Gaumata. According to Darayavahush/Darius I, was usurper & pretender|
claiming to be Bardia (Smerdis), younger son of Kurush II
|522-486 ||Darayavahush/Darius I (the Great)||son of Vishtaspahya grandson|
of Arsames - Line 1 hereafter
|486-466 ||Khshayarsha/Xerxes I||son of Darayavahush I|
|465-425 ||Artakhshassa/Artaxerxes I||son of Khshayarsha I|
|425-424 ||Khshayarsha/Xerxes II||son of Artakhshassa I|
|424-423 ||Secydianus/Sogdianus||son of Artakhshassa I|
|423-404 ||Darayavahush/Darius II||son of Artakhshassa I|
|404-359 ||Artakhshassa/Artaxerxes II||son of Darayavahush II|
|359-338 ||Artakhshassa/Artaxerxes III||son of Artakhshassa II|
|338-336 ||Arsha/Arses (Artaxerxes IV)||son of Artakhshassa III|
|336-330 ||Darayavahush/Darius III||great grandson of Darayavahush II|
Persian's Zoroastrian-Aryan Lineage
|Monuments and Inscriptions at Naqsh-e-Rustam.|
The Persian Achaemenian Kings opened the messages they inscribed in rock with a declaration of their Aryan lineage, their faith and Zoroastrian heritage. An example is the Persian Achaemenian King Darius I's (522-486 BCE) inscription at Naqsh-e-Rustam near Persepolis. [Naqsh-e-Rustam is located about 7 km north of Persepolis in Pars, and consists of four tombs of Achaemenian Kings carved into the side of stone hills.]
The inscription states:
"I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of people, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage... . By the grace of Ahura Mazda..."
By the time Darius came to the throne, the Persian empire included all the original Aryan or Iranian nations listed in the Avesta.
Persian or Parsi Zoroastrians
Once the Persians had formed themselves into a cohesive group and had established themselves as a nation, Persia became the centre of the Zoroastrian religious structure. Many later religious texts sponsored by Persian royalty, were written by Persian authors and priests.
Today their descendants, the Parsees (Persians), are a tiny yet identifiable Zoroastrian minority around the world.
Features of Persian Migration
Herodotus (c. 430 BCE) noted this in his histories: "There is no nation which so readily adopts foreign customs as the Persians. Thus, they have taken the dress of the Medes, considering it superior to their own; and in war they wear the Egyptian breastplate. As soon as they hear of any luxury, they instantly make it their own."
A feature of Persian immigration is that the Persians did not seek to displace the people already living the the regions to which they migrated. Nor did they seek to impose Persian customs on the local population. On the contrary, the Persians readily adopted the outward customs of the natives, so much so that in some ways, the Persians became indistinguishable from the native population.
This feature is also true of the of Parsi migration to India after the Arab invasion of Iran and the defeat of King Yazdegird II in 651 CE. The Parsees adopted the language, dress, food and marriage customs of the local Hindu population in India.
What is less known or obvious is that while the Persians readily adapted external customs, they privately remained steadfast to their Zoroastrian faith, even in the face of tremendous adversity and oppression. It is for this reason, Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest surviving religions.
When the Persians migrated into the Lake Urmia region, they would have readily adopted the language of commerce, dress and customs of the local population. They would, however, have maintained their Zoroastrian religion and they would have spoken their native language between themselves. If their numbers were relatively small in the early years, they would have left scant trace of their existence, especially since they did not construct religious monuments, and since their expression of faith was devoid of much paraphernalia.