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Persian Empire – Map, Timeline and Founder

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Cyrus the Great

The Persian Empire began as a collection of semi-nomadic tribes who herded sheep, goats, and cattle on the Iranian plateau.

Cyrus the Great, the leader of one of these tribes, began to defeat neighboring kingdoms, including Media, Lydia and Babylon, joining them under one rule. He founded the First Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire, in 550 BC.

The first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great quickly became the world’s leading superpower. It brought together under one government three important sites from the beginnings of human civilization in the ancient world: Mesopotamia, Egyptthe Nile Valley and IndiaThis is the Indus Valley.

Cyrus the Great is immortalized in the Cyrus Cylinder, a clay cylinder inscribed in 539 BC with the story of how he conquered Babylon from King Nabonidus, thus ending the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

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Darius the Great, fourth king of the Achaemenid Empire, ruled the Persian Empire at its height, stretching from the Caucasus and western Asia to what was then Macedonia (the Balkans of ‘today), the Black Sea, Central Asia and even as far as Africa, including parts of Libya and Egypt. He unified the empire by introducing standard currency and weights and measures; making Aramaic the official language and building roads.

The Behistun Inscription, a multilingual relief carved on Mount Behistun in western Iran, extols its virtues and was an essential key to deciphering cuneiform writing. Its impact is compared to that of Rosetta stonethe tablet that allowed scholars to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Where is Persia?

Map of the Persian Empire
Provisional archives/Getty Images

The map titled “The Persian Empire in the Age of Darius and Xerxes” shows the territories of Asia and the Middle East during the 330s.

At its height under Darius the Great, the Persian Empire stretched from Europe’s Balkan Peninsula (in parts of what is now Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine) to the Indus Valley northwest India and south to Egypt.

The Persians were the first to establish regular lines of communication between three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. They built many new roads and developed the world’s first postal service.

Persian culture

The ancient Persians of the Achaemenid Empire created art in many forms, including metalwork, rock carvings, weaving, and architecture. As the Persian Empire expanded to encompass other artistic centers of early civilizations, a new style formed with influences from these sources.

Early Persian art included large carved rock reliefs carved into cliffs, such as those found at Naqsh-e Rustam, an ancient cemetery filled with tombs of Achaemenid kings. Elaborate cave murals depict equestrian scenes and battle victories.

The ancient Persians were also known for their metalwork. In the 1870s, smugglers discovered gold and silver items among ruins near the Oxus River in what is now Tajikistan.

The artifacts included a small gold chariot, coins, and bracelets decorated with a griffin motif. (The griffin is a mythical creature with the wings and head of an eagle and the body of a lion, and a symbol of the Persian capital of Persepolis.)

British diplomats and military personnel serving in Pakistan brought around 180 of these gold and silver coins, known as the Oxus Treasure, to London where they are now housed at the museum. British Museum.

The history of carpet weaving in Persia dates back to nomadic tribes. The ancient Greeks appreciated the artistry of these hand-woven rugs, famous for their elaborate design and vibrant colors. Today, most Persian rugs are made of wool, silk and cotton.


Bas-relief relief sculptures depicting servants bringing gifts to the king on the side wall of the stairs in front of the Tachara Palace, also known as the Palace of Darius, in Persepolis.

The ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, located in southern Iran, is among the largest archaeological sites in the world. He was named a Unesco World Heritage in 1979.

The Achaemenian palaces of Persepolis were built on immense terraces. They were decorated with ornamental facades that included the long rock relief sculptures for which the ancient Persians were famous.

Persian religion

Many people consider Persia to be synonymous with Islam, although Islam did not become the dominant religion in the Persian Empire until after the Arab conquests of the 7th century. The first Persian empire was shaped by a different religion: Zoroastrianism.

Named after the Persian prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra), Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It is still practiced today as a minority religion in parts of Iran and India.

Zoroaster, who probably lived between 1500 and 500 BC, taught his followers to worship one god instead of the many deities worshiped by earlier Indo-Iranian groups.

The Achaemenid kings were devout Zoroastrians. By most accounts, Cyrus the Great was a tolerant ruler who allowed his subjects to speak their own language and practice their own religion. Although he ruled according to the Zoroastrian law of asha (truth and righteousness), he did not impose Zoroastrianism on the people of the conquered territories of Persia.

The Hebrew scriptures praise Cyrus the Great for freeing the Jewish people of Babylon from captivity and allowing them to return to Israel. Jerusalem.

Later rulers of the Achaemenid Empire followed Cyrus the Great’s hands-off approach to social and religious affairs, allowing the various Persian citizens to continue to practice their own way of life. This period is sometimes called Pax Persica, or Persian peace.

Fall of the Persian Empire

Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and Darius and the Perian Empire
Leemage/Corbis/Getty Images

The Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and Darius III in 333 BC led to the fall of the Persian Empire.

The Persian Empire entered a period of decline after the failure of the invasion of Greece by Xerxes I in 480 BC. The costly defense of Persian lands depleted the empire’s funds, leading to heavier taxation among Persian subjects.

The Achaemenid dynasty ultimately fell to the invading armies of Alexander The Great of Macedonia in 330 BC. Later rulers sought to restore the Persian Empire within its Achaemenian borders, although the empire never quite regained the enormous size it had reached under Cyrus the Great.

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Religions under Persian domination; BBC.
The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BC); Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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