Persian Empire

Highlights: Persia (Key
Concept 2.2)
Key Concept 2.2: Development of
States and Empires
Know about ONE of these Persian empires:
Why PERSIA? In 500 BCE largest and most
impressive empire, 35 m. people from diverse
Persia—in Period 2 (600 BCE- 600 CE)
Persian Empire: 525 B.C.E.
Persia—in Period 2 (600 BCE- 600 CE)
Parthian Empire: (247 BCE – 224 CE)
Persia—in Period 2 (600 BCE- 600 CE)
Persian Empire: 600.C.E.
Administrative Institutions
allowed early empires to thrive
Centralized governments
Elaborate legal systems and bureaucracies
For example, in Persia:
Darius divided the Persian Empire into several provinces
to make it easier to govern.
He appointed a governor called a satrap to carry out his
orders in each province and to collect taxes.
He used a system of imperial spies “eyes and ears of
Darius also started use of a Royal Road that allowed
messages, soldiers, and mail to be sent quickly across
the empire.
He promoted trade and business and established a law
General policy of respect for non-Persian cultural
Projection of Military Power
Developing Supply lines
Building Fortifications, walls and roads (Royal
Drawing new groups of military officers and
soldiers from local populations or conquered
Creation of a professional army was
necessary for both maintenance of the
peace, and also to enforce the authority of
the king in cases of rebellion and foreign
Land army and later a navy as well
Imperial expansion and
Human Rights
When Cyrus invaded
Babylonia, he treated the
locals honorably –no
Set free Jewish captives
and gave back the stolen
ornaments of the Temple of
Jerusalem and money to
rebuild that Temple.
Cyrus issued a decree that
guaranteed social and
religious freedoms of the
Babylonians -first ever
declaration of human
A copy of this decree,
known as the Cyrus
Cylinder (6th c. BCE)
Promotion of trade
 Economic integration (roads and currencies)
For ex. in Persia:
Standardized currency/ coinage
 Predictable taxes
 Newly dug canal (linking Nile and Red Sea)
 Royal Road (1700 miles—1 week message from
end to end through official courier service) Used
also by merchant caravans
Herodotus: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor
darkness of night, prevents them from accomplishing
the task proposed to them with utmost speed.”
(USPS motto later…)
 elaborate
 Symbol of imperial
authority and
 Materials were
from all parts of the
Social Structure
 Royal
(palaces with
 the priests
 the military
 the soldiers
 the scribes
 The Peasants
(mud huts)
Methods used to maintain
Food production
Crop Diffusion
Persian farmers grew wheat, barley, olives and wine.
They raised cattle, goats and sheep.
Hunting and fishing were also an important source of
Rich Persians also enjoyed hunting wild animals.
Crops from one region were introduced to another.
Rice and flax were introduced into Mesopotamia.
Sesame was introduced into Egypt.
Rewards for elite loyalty
Gender Structure
Persian society was patriarchal
Men held the dominant positions in
government, commerce, the military, and the
BUT the position of Persian women in this
society was rich, varied, and important.
Women owned property, often managed
their own assets, could work and earn wages
for themselves, and were capable of
becoming economically independent.
Much of this was swept away by Alexander’s
conquest, in the guise of Greek “civilization,”
and the remainder with the rise of Islam.
Environmental impacts
 Digging
 Building roads
 Use of windmills
by 7th c. CE for
water and corn
Changes in Farming and
Irrigation Techniques—Qanat
@1000 BCE, Persians started
constructing elaborate tunnel
systems for extracting
groundwater in the dry mountain
basins of present-day Iran
Qanat tunnels were hand-dug,
just large enough to fit the person
doing the digging.
Along the length of a qanat,
vertical shafts were sunk at
intervals of 20 to 30 meters to
remove excavated material and
to provide ventilation and access
for repairs
The main qanat tunnel sloped
gently down to an outlet at a
From there, canals would
distribute water to fields for
These amazing structures
allowed Persian farmers to
succeed despite long dry
periods when there was no
surface water to be had.
Many qanats are still in use
stretching from China on the
east to Morocco on the west,
and even to the Americas.
Changes in Farming and
Irrigation Techniques
One possibility for the diffusion of qanat technology.
“While the above diffusion model is nice and neat, human
activities are rarely so orderly. Qanat technology may have been
introduced into the central Sahara and later into western Sahara
by Judaized Berbers fleeing Cyrenaica during Trajan's persecution
in 118 AD. Since the systems in South America may predate the
Spanish entry into the New World, their development may have
occurred independently from any Persian influence. The Chinese,
while acknowledging a possible Persian connection, find an
antecedent to the qanats of Turpan in the Longshouqu Canal
(constructed approximately 100 BC). The Romans used qanats in
conjunction with aqueducts to serve urban water supply systems
(a qanat-aqueduct system was built in Roman Lyons). A Roman
qanat system was also constructed near Murcia in southeastern
Spain. The Catalan qanat systems (also in Spain) do not seem to
have been related to Islamic activity and are more likely later
constructions, based on knowledge of Roman systems in southern
Trade Networks—Eurasian Silk
Parthians and Persians were intermediaries on
the Silk Roads (silk and textiles)
Legacy of Persia
 For
next 1000 years, Persian imperial
bureaucracy and court life, including
administrators, tax collectors, record
keepers, and translators, provided a role
model for the entire region.
Will Durant (American) in 1948:
“For thousands of years Persians have been
creating beauty. Sixteen centuries before Christ
there went from these regions or near it... You
have been here a kind of watershed of civilization,
pouring your blood and thought and art and
religion eastward and westward into the world... I
need not rehearse for you again the
achievements of your Achaemenid period. Then
for the first time in known history an empire almost
as extensive as the United States received an
orderly government, a competence of
administration, a web of swift communications, a
security of movement by men and goods on
majestic roads, equaled before our time only by
the zenith of Imperial Rome.”

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