Hakhamaneshiyan(Achaemenid) Dynasty

 Cyrus the great


By 546 BCE, Cyrus had defeated Croesus, the Lydian king of fabled wealth, and had secured control of the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, Armenia, and the Greek colonies along the Levant. Moving east, he took Parthia (land of the Arsacids, not to be confused with Parsa, which was to the southwest), Chorasmis, and Bactria. He besieged and captured Babylon in 539 and released the Jews who had been held captive there, thus earning his immortalization in the Book of Isaiah. When he died in 529, Cyrus's kingdom extended as far east as the Hindu Kush in present-day Afghanistan


Cyrus Cylinder, The First Charter of Human Rights

His successors were less successful. Cyrus's unstable son, Cambyses II, conquered Egypt but later he died in July, 522 BCE, as the result of either an accident or suicide during a revolt led by a priest, Gaumata, who usurped the throne by pretending to be Bardiya (Cambyses' brother, who had been assassinated secretly before Cambyses started out for his Egyptian campaign in 525 BCE) until overthrown in 522 BCE by a member of a lateral branch of the Achaemenid family, Darius I (also known as Darayarahush or Darius the Great). Darius attacked the Greek mainland, which had supported rebellious Greek colonies under his aegis, but as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 was forced to retract the limits of the empire to Asia Minor.



The Achaemenids thereafter consolidated areas firmly under their control. It was Cyrus and Darius who, by sound and farsighted administrative planning, brilliant military maneuvering, and a humanistic worldview, established the greatness of the Achaemenids and in less than thirty years raised them from an obscure tribe to a world power.

Pasargad, Tomb of Cyrus the Great 


The quality of the Achaemenids as rulers began to disintegrate, however, after the death of Darius in 486 BCE. His son and successor, Xerxes, was chiefly occupied with suppressing revolts in Egypt and Babylonia. He also attempted to conquer the Greek Peloponnesus, but encouraged by a victory at Thermopylae, he overextended his forces and suffered overwhelming defeats at Salamis and Plataea. By the time his successor, Artaxerxes I, died in 424 BCE, the imperial court was beset by factionalism among the lateral family branches, a condition that persisted until the death in 330 of the last of the Achaemenids, Darius III, at the hands of his own subjects.

The Achaemenids were enlightened despots who allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A satrap (governor) administered the region, a general supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a state secretary kept official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the central government. The twenty satrapies were linked by a 2,500-kilometer highway, the most impressive stretch being the royal road from
Susa to Sardis, built by command of Darius. Relays of mounted couriers could reach the most remote areas in fifteen days. Despite the relative local independence afforded by the satrapy system however, royal inspectors, the "eyes and ears of the king," toured the empire and reported on local conditions, and the king maintained a personal bodyguard of 10,000 men, called the Immortals.

 The Perspolis, Capital of Achaemenid Empire

The language in greatest use in the empire was Aramaic. Old Persian was the "official language" of the empire but was used only for inscriptions and royal proclamations.

Darius revolutionized the economy by placing it on a silver and gold coinage system. Trade was extensive, and under the Achaemenids there was an efficient infrastructure that facilitated the exchange of commodities among the far reaches of the empire. As a result of this commercial activity, Persian words for typical items of trade became prevalent throughout the
Middle East and eventually entered the English language; examples are, bazaar, shawl, sash, turquoise, tiara, orange, lemon, melon, peach, spinach, and asparagus. Trade was one of the empire's main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute. Other accomplishments of Darius's reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system upon which much of later Iranian law would be based, and construction of a new capital at Persepolis, where vassal states would offer their yearly tribute at the festival celebrating the spring equinox. In its art and architecture, Persepolis reflected Darius's perception of himself as the leader of conglomerates of people to whom he had given a new and single identity. The Achaemenid art and architecture found there is at once distinctive and also highly eclectic. The Achaemenids took the art forms and the cultural and religious traditions of many of the ancient Middle Eastern peoples and combined them into a single form. This Achaemenid artistic style is evident in the iconography of Persepolis, which celebrates the king and the office of the monarch.

Persian and Median soldiers with Farvahar in center

Achaemenid kings and rulers


·         Achaemenes of Persia

The epigraphic evidence for these rulers cannot be confirmed and are often considered to have been invented by Darius I

·         Ariaramnes of Persia, son of Teispes and co-ruler with Cyrus I

·         Arsames of Persia, son of Ariaramnes and co-ruler with Cambyses I


Kings of Anshan


Reign (BCE)



Teispes of Anshan

7th Century B.C.E.


son of Achaemenes, King of Anshan

Cyrus I

Late 7th / early 6th Century B.C.E.


son of Teispes, King of Anshan

Cambyses I of Anshan

Early 6th Century B.C.E.

Mandana of Media

son of Cyrus I, King of Anshan

Cyrus II the Great

c.550-530 B.C.E.

Cassandane of Persia

son of Cambyses I and Mandana – conquered Media 550 B.C.E. King of Media, Babylonia, Lydia, Persia, Anshan, and Sumer. Created the Achaemenid Persian Empire.


Kings of Persia (529-359 B.C.E.); Twenty-seventh dynasty of Egypt (525-399 B.C.E.)


Reign (BCE)



Cambyses II

529-522 B.C.E.


son of Cyrus the Great and Cassandane. Conquered dynasty of Egypt.

Bardiya (Smerdis)

522 B.C.E.


Son of Cyrus the Great. (Imposter Gaumata acted in his place)

Darius I the Great

521-486 B.C.E.


brother-in-law of Smerdis (Bardiya), son of Hystapes, grandson of Arsames.

Xerxes I the Great

485-465 B.C.E.


son of Darius I and Atossa

Artaxerxes I Longimanus

465-424 B.C.E.


son of Xerxes I and Amestris

Xerxes II

424 B.C.E.


son of Artaxerxes I and Damaspia


424-423 B.C.E.


Son of Artaxerxes I and Alogyne; half-brother and rival of Xerxes II

Darius II of Persia

423-405 B.C.E.


Son of Artaxerxes I and Cosmartidene; half-brother and rival of Xerxes II

Artaxerxes II Mnemon

404-359 B.C.E.


son of Darius II (see also Xenophon)

Early in the reign of Artaxerxes II (in 399 BCE), the Persians lose control over Egypt. The Persians regain control 57 years later – in 342 BCE – when Artaxerxes III conquers Egypt.

Kings of Persia (358-330 B.C.E.); Thirty-first dynasty of Egypt (342-332 B.C.E.)


Reign (BCE)



Artaxerxes III Ochus

358-338 B.C.E.


son of Artaxerxes II and Stateira

Artaxerxes IV Arses

338-336 B.C.E.


son of Artaxerxes III and Atossa

Darius III

336-330 B.C.E.

Stateira I

great-grandson of Darius II


1. Apparel:
Herodotus described the equipment of the Median and Persian infantry:

"They wore soft caps called tiaras, multicoloured sleeved tunics with iron scale armour looking like the scales of fish, and trousers. Instead of aspides they carried gerrha with their bows cases slung below them. They carried short spears, large bows, cane arrows and daggers hanging from their belts beside the right thigh."


This description is thought to be a general list, rather than a description of what each soldier carried. Infantry on the stone and tile reliefs at Persepolis and Susa are not shown carrying bow, spear and shield, rather, they carry spear and shield, spear and bow or only a spear or bow.

The colours of the ancient world were derived from plant and earth pigments. These were mixed with natural resins, animal fats or drying oils to produce paints or boiled with or painted onto cloth as a dye. This range of available colours was quite extensive but in no way anything like the unlimited choice of colours we have today. However, for most peoples, the colours available to them were limited because of geographic isolation, expense or rarity of certain plant or mineral substances.


The practices and techniques of dyeing has remained mostly unchanged up until the mid 19th. century with the invention and wide spread use of synthetic dyes. Although much of the properties of natural dyes has been down played by commerial interests behind synthetic dyes, natural dyes, particularly the cheaper ones were prone to quickly wash out or become faded making bright colours or intense dark colours rare.


With many dyes only available through trade or others being very expensive to produce, most ancient people were restricted to those colours that could be obtained from locally produced from vegetable dyes or earth pigments. Trade networks from India to Egypt and Greece which had existed well before the beginning of the Persian empire. Trade greatly increased range of colours available but imported dyes were very expensive and would have only been available to the wealthiest. The poorer classes throughout the ancient world, apart from a possible coloured border would have worn unbleached or undyed linen or wool or leather.


Reds and browns, particularly in earthy or rusty shades from iron oxides and vegetable dyes were the most common and readily available in the ancient world. Less common would be grassy greens, dull yellows and blues. True black was a difficult colour to fix and pure white would not have remained white for long on campaign.


Listed below are some of the better known or more expensive dyes that were available to and were used by the Persians of the Achaemenid period.



Madder, is a bright red dye made from the roots of a small, yellow flowering perennial shrub, 'Rubia Tinctorum' which grows to a height of about one metre. Madder is native to India/ western Asia and had been used as a dye for thousands of years. Its earliest record of use is in Egypt in the fourteenth century BC.


Depending on the type of mordant used, it can produce a range of colours from brown, purple, red or pinks. Mordants might include alum, chalk, slaked lime, tin, charcoal, cow or sheep dung milk or fermented milk or grape juice

The process of digging up the roots, drying and making them into a powder made it a fairly expensive dye. Madder has been used on everything from the robes of Persian Kings, to Egyptian mummies and the British redcoats.




Indigo, (Indigofera tinctoria), is a shrubby legume which can grow to five feet in height. A native of India, it has been in use for over 4000 years. Indigo produces a beautiful blue colour which was prized for its fastness and it's resistance to sunlight. Denim was initially dyed with indigo before synthetic dyes.




was derived from the dried leaf of a shrub or small tree (Lawsonia inermis), which is indigenous to the area between Iran and northern India. A range of colours from black, to red, through to neutral can be produced for use with textiles and leather as well as a cosmetic dye for hair, skin and nails. A hectare would produce approximately 1,000 kg of dried leaf.




was and still is one of the world's most expensive spices. Originally used as a medicinal herb and a dye, saffron is now principally used for flavoring and colouring foods. Harvesting is still done by hand, the three rusty-red pistils from the crocus blossom, (Crocus sativus), give a range of colours from yellow to orange. Although occurring naturally throughout Persia and Media, the harvesting and drying process made it an expensive, luxury dye.
Each plant only flowers once a year, the blooms lasting for about fifteen days, so harvesting must be timely.
Yields can vary considerably according to local conditions. On average one hectare produces 10 kg of dried saffron or approximately 150 crocus stigmas are required to produce one gram of saffron.




Was the most expensive dye of the ancient world. The only source of 'royal' purple was from the Murex shell (Murex trunculus and Murex brandaris) from the waters off the coast of Lebanon. The shades of dye produced from these shellfish could range from bright red, to blue, and to deep, almost black, purple. So expensive it seems that it was only available to the richest. Unlike other dyes which were widely available, access to the Murex shell was limited and the Achaemenid kings seem to have controlled access and use of this resource. Achaemenid kings hoarded purple cloth and only distributed it sparingly. Plutarch's 'Life of Alexander' records that 5,000 talents by weight of purple-dyed cloth taken by Alexander from the treasury of Darius III at Susa had lost none of its freshness of color during almost two centuries of storage.


However, it is the 'Egyptian blue' or ultramarine colour that had puzzled historians and scientists for centuries as knowledge of its method of production had been lost. Although referred to as 'Egyptian blue', it was used throughout the Middle East region, Egypt, Mycenae and the later Roman Empire. The knowledge of producing the world's first synthetic pigment was strangely lost around the 9th century AD after over 4000 years of use.


It was not until the late 19th century that chemists rediscovered that the key to this pigment was lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone found only in Afghanistan. The blue stone was crushed with a mixture of sand, lime and copper and heated to between 850 and 1000 degrees C.




The pomegranate is a native of Persia and one of the oldest known edible fruits. Its many seeds making it a symbol of fertility and abundance. The rind or skin of the pomegranate was used fresh or dried to produce a range of colours from yellowish brown to a brownish black depending on how it is processed.



Walnut Tree

The fruit of the walnut tree is covered with a thick green rind. The rinds, along with the leaves were used to produce a green or blackish-brown dye. The colour will adhere directly to wool fibers without a fixing agent or mordant. It was also used as a medicine and as a hair dye.




Ochre is one of the oldest dyes or pigment know to man. It is a mineral, an oxide of iron, that produces a dye ranging from a golden yellow to orange or red depending upon mineral content or how it is processed. Ochre is processed by first being ground to a powder then either mixed with a binder to form a paint, or added to water to make a dye. Processing sometimes included it being roasted in an air tight container to form a darker, redder colour. Ochre was both readily available and cheap, but faded quickly.


Persian was referred to by Greek authors as very colourful. Their woollen, leather or silk tunics were multi-coloured and decorated with geometric, floral and religious designs. Colours used included blue, red, green, saffron (yellow -orange), almond, brown or purple or breached white. Purple would only be seen on kings or generals. Saffron being more expensive was more likely on guard and 'Immortal' troops. Some uniformity in colours, would be expected, particularly in the guard or full time regiments.



Achaemenid Imperial Army

"The armoured Persian horsemen and their death dealing chariots were invincible.

No man dared face them."

- Herodotus (484 - 430 BCE)



The Achaemenian/Achaemenid army is well known through descriptions by Herodotus, Xenophon, and Arrian as well as by illustrations on Persepolitan and Greco-Persian monuments. Of particular importance for the topic are the Greek representations of Persian warriors and the evidence of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus from Sidon. The Persians whom Cyrus united  did not possess a professional army: as in days of old, the "people" of a region was represented by its backbone, the "military force," so the two words were used synonymously in one Old Persian term, kāra (cognate with Lithuanian kārias/kāris "war, army," Gothic harjis "army," and German Heer "army,"), a sense still retained in the New Persian term kas-o kār "relatives and supporters."




At first the Achaemenid army consisted wholly of Iranian warriors, and even when other regions were subjugated, Iranian formed the nucleus of the imperial army. Darius the Great advises his successor: "If thus thou shalt think: `May I not feel fear of (any) other,' protect this Persian kāra; if the Persian kāra shall be protected, thereafter by the will of Ahuramazda happiness shall come down uninterruptedly and eternally upon this royal house". With the expansion of the petty kingdom of Persis into a world-empire embracing all Iranian groups from Central Asia to the Danube, a standing army was formed from Persians, Medes, and closely related peoples, and an imperial army was organized by incorporating warriors of all subject nations. Persepolitan representations, and official Persian economic and military documents ultimately used by Herodotus prove that the closer a nation was to the Persians; the more it shared in the domination of the empire by paying less tribute but contributing more soldiers. Thus, the Medes who had the second position in the empire furnished more soldiers than others and indeed many of the imperial generals were chosen from the Medes (Mazares, Harpagus, Taxmaspada, Datis, etc.). Then came the Sacians, Bactrians, Hyrcanians, and other East Iranian groups.


The general term for the professional army was spāda. This consisted of infantry (pasti), cavalry (asabāri "horse-borne," and occasionally usabari "camel-borne"), and charioteers (only the noblest warriors used the then obsolete but symbolic chariot), and a large number of camp followers. From the moment they met the Greeks, the Iranians incorporated subject or mercenary Greeks in their army. As the time went by, not only Iranian satraps in Asia Minor but also the King of Kings employed Greek mercenaries, each of whom received free board and a monthly wage (a gold Daric per month in 401 BCE). By the time of Alexander, these mercenaries had become a regular part of the spāda and their leaders had been incorporated into Iranian aristocracy. They played a major role in Greco-Iranian cultural relations, and helped an eastward expansion of Greek culture.


The size of the imperial army was never as large as the Greeks exaggerated. Careful examination of topography, logistics, organization of the spāda, and official battle orders enable historians to arrive at reasonable figures for Iranian forces. Thus, Xerxes' 3,000,000 fighting men  or 2,641,610 soldiers and an equal number of attendants  are reduced to 70,000 infantry and 9,000 horsemen; the 900,000-strong army of Artaxerxes II at Cunaxa  was in reality no more than 40,000, and the 1,040,000 soldiers of Darius III at Gaugamela  is brought down to 34,000 cavalry and some infantry. Unfortunately, historians have seldom paid attention to these overstatements, accordingly, their judgements of Iranian tactics, strategy, and motives have been impaired by faulty calculations.


The organization of the spāda was based on a decimal system "far superior to anything on the Greek side" and was not employed in any Asiatic army until the Mongols. Ten men composed a company under a daθapati ; ten companies made up a battalion under a *θatapati; ten battalions formed a division under a *hazārapati ; and ten divisions comprised a corps under a *baivarapati  . The whole spāda was led by a supreme commander (probably *spādapati, although a generalissimo with full civil authority was called *kārana [Greek karanos]), who was either the King of Kings himself or a trusted close relative or friend (e.g., Mazares the Mede led Cyrus the Great’s army and Datis the Mede that of Darius of the Great at Marathon). A characteristic of the Achaemenid period is that commanders and dignitaries participated in actual fighting, and many of them lost their lives in action.




The training of the Iranian nobility was arduous. As a youth, the Iranian was schooled-in companies of fifty-in running, swimming, horse grooming, tilling the land, tending the cattle, making various handicrafts, and getting accustomed to standing at watch; he would be trained in the arts of the chase (both afoot and on horseback), archery, throwing the spear and javelin, and of sustaining forced marches in unfriendly climate. At twenty he started his military profession which lasted till the age of fifty as a foot soldier or a rider. The elitist groups were trained for both tasks. Thus, Darius says proudly: "Trained am I both with hands and with feet. As a horseman I am a good horseman. As a bowman I am a good bowman both afoot and on horseback. As a spearman I am a good spearman both afoot and on horseback". The foot soldier carried a short sword (acinaces), a spear with wooden shaft and metal head and butt, a quiver full of arrows of reed with bronze or iron heads, and a bow about one meter long with ends formed in animals' heads, and a case which combined the bow-case and quiver-holder. A symbol of kingship and the Iranian national arm, the bow was held in the hand of the King of Kings on his tomb and coins. Battle-axe was also used, especially by North Iranians. For protection, the infantryman relied on his wicker shield (made of sticks evidently threaded through a wet sheet of leather capable of stopping arrows). The shield was either small and crescent-shaped or large and rectangular; the latter could be planted in the ground allowing the archer to discharge his arrows from behind it. Some guards carried the large "figure-of-eight" -shaped shield known as the Boeotian, while the Gandharans carried round shields not dissimilar to those of Greek hoplites. Some Iranians wore metal helmets, but only the Egyptians and the Mesopotamian contingents wore armour for body protection. The elite infantry had variegated costumes: the fluted hat, short cape over a shirt, pleated skirt and strapped shoes of the Elamite court dress, or the conical felt hat, tight-fitting tunic and trousers and boots of the Median cavalry suit. One division of the infantry comprised "one thousand spearmen, the noblest and bravest of the Persians" who formed a special royal guard; their spears had golden apples as butts from which they were called the Apple-bearers. As a prince, Darius served in this guard of spearmen under Cambyses. Their commander was the hazārapati of the empire, who, as the officer next to the emperor, possessed vast political power. All members of this guard fell at Plataea defending their position. One corps of the spāda consisted of ten thousand elite Iranian foot soldiers, the so-called "Immortal Guard," whose "number was at no time either greater or less than 10,000". These had variegated costumes and acted as the Imperial Guards. "Of these one thousand carried spears with golden pomegranate at the lower end instead of spikes; and these encircled the other nine thousand, who bore on their spears pomegranates of silver".


The cavalry had been instrumental in conquering subject lands, and it retained its importance to the last days of the Achaemenid Empire. The horseman was equipped more or less like the foot soldier; but he carried two javelins, one for throwing and one for fending-at least this was the case in Xenophon's time. Some wore metal helmets and padded linen corselets covered with metal scales. A Babylonian document dated to the second year of Darius II lists the requirements of a horseman as follows: a horse along with its girdle (?) and bridle, a helmet, a cuirass of iron, a bronze shield, 120 arrows, a mace of iron, and two iron spears. There were also units of camel-borne troops, and some riding chariots and scythed-chariots, but these were very seldom effective against massed infantry. At Gaugamela 15 elephants were also present but their action is not recorded. Various divisions bore particular standards (Herodotus 9.59), but the imperial banner was a golden eagle with outstretched wings borne on a spear at the side of the commander-in-chief of the army.



Apart from the standing army, the rest of the levies were recruited when the need arose, and it took a long time, sometimes years, to muster a grand army. There were many Iranian garrisons in important centres of the empire, and satraps and governors also had their guards and local levies, but these could not be depleted to form an army on short notice because the danger of revolt was always present. Tribal troops, especially from East Iran, were more readily available. Levies were summoned to a recruiting station (*handaisa) where they were marshaled and reviewed. Campaigns usually started in early spring. Provisions were stored at various magazines along the route of the army, and were also brought with it in baggage-trains. Royal and religious emblems accompanied the centre of the army where the commander had his position: the eagle standard and the holy fire in portable fire-holders attended by Magi chanting hymns, and the sacred chariots of Mitra, Ahura Mazda and others. Mounted scouts were sent in advance to watch the enemy's movements. There was also an excellent system of communication: couriers on the royal road changed horses at short intervals and speedily conveyed their messages to their destinations; also by their light and mirror signals the King of Kings in Susā and Ecbātanā received the news from the whole empire-it is claimed-on the same day. Fire signals communicating the news from towers and heights were widely used with good results. Fortified gates were set up in narrow passes leading into various provinces not only for custom checks but also for stopping the advance of an enemy. The Iranians disliked night marches and did not attack at night; their daily marches were, however, in slow pace because of the heavy baggage-train which often comprised litters for conveying the wives and concubines of the commanders. When night fell, they encamped in a flat area, and if they were approaching the enemy, they dug a ditch and set up ramps of sand-bags around it. Rivers were forded by using rafts, boat-bridges, or inflated skins or simply by riding across on horses and camels.



Before the battle (hamarana), a council of war was held and plans of action discussed. The line of battle was usually drawn up as follows: the foot archers were stationed in the front, flanked by cavalry and supported by light-armed and heavier-armed infantry. The commander-in-chief occupied the centre, observing the lines and directing the actions from an elevated point, where he was best protected, and his orders were received by both wings at the same time. When the battle was joined the archers discharged their arrows, and the slingers threw their stone missiles (lead missiles with longer range became fashionable from 400 BCE and an actual lead bullet bearing the name of Tissaphernes in Greek has survived). The aim was to throw the enemy lines into confusion. The effective range of the Persian archer was about 120 yards. Then the heavier infantry with spear and sword moved in, supported by cavalry attacking the flanks. These tactics worked well against Asiatic armies, but failed against heavy-armed Greek infantry (hoplites) and Macedonian phalanxes: the arrows were simply stopped by the body armour and the huge shield of the hoplites, and once the hand to hand combat began, no amount of personal bravery could compensate for the Iranians' lack of armour and their inferior offensive weapons. At the battle of Plataea, for instance, a fierce hand-to-hand combat raged between the Iranians and the Greek hoplites: The Iranians "many times seized hold of the Greek spears and broke them; for in boldness and warlike spirit the Iranians were not a whit inferior to the Greeks; but they were without shields, untrained, and far below the enemy in respect of skill in arms. Sometimes singly, sometimes in bodies of ten, now fewer and now more in number, they dashed forward upon the Spartan ranks, and so perished". Another weakness of the Iranians was the attitude towards their commander: with an able and farsighted general, they displayed unsurpassed courage, but the same men took to disorderly flight as soon as the commander was killed or forced to flee. Knowing that the King of Kings was the heart of his army, Cyrus the Younger ordered Clearchus-his Greek mercenary leader-to attack the centre where the King of Kings was stationed: "and if," he said, "we are victorious there, our whole task [of defeating his army] is accomplished,".



Cyrus the Younger who knew both the Iranian and Greek armies, tactics and strategies, nearly succeeded in removing Iran's military weaknesses. He supplemented his Asiatic force with a large army of Greek hoplites, formed battalions of heavy cavalry which wore helmets. Breast-plates, and thigh-guards (this protected the sides of the horse as well), and carried a Greek sword in addition to their own arms; their horses too were protected with frontlets and breast-pieces. He made effective use of the coordination of heavy cavalry and heavy infantry-an art which later Agesilaus and especially Alexander employed to the fullest and with the best results. It must be remembered, however, that the effectiveness of the Persian shock cavalry was severely hampered by the lack of stirrup and the saddle. "Encumbered with a corslet of scale armour and poised precariously atop his steed, the horseman kept his seat only through the pressure of his knees. He will have been in serious danger of being unhorsed whenever he delivered a blow with his saber or came within reach of an enemy soldier".


The Iranians gave quarter to the adversary who requested it, and usually treated their captives with respect and kindness. Noble prisoners were accorded due honour, and princes treated royally. Even rebellious peoples were deported only to be given new lands and houses and enrolled as ordinary subjects. Personal valour was greatly esteemed, and special boons were conferred on brave servants of the empire records of battles were kept, detailing the course of an engagement and casualty figures. The commander-in-chief's scribe wrote down distinguished deeds of warriors: "During the whole battle Xerxes sat at the base of the hill..., and whenever he saw any of his own captains perform any worthy exploit he inquired concerning him, and the man's name was taken down by his scribe, together with the names of his father and city". In the same way Darius recorded the names of his six helpers, together with those of their fathers and nationality, adding: "Thou who shalt be king hereafter, protect well the family of these men". In 335 BCE both Athens and Thebes sought Iranian help, and the ambassadors of the latter city were received with the greatest honour at the Imperial court and their wishes were granted on the account that their forebears had rendered military assistance to Xerxes 150 years earlier.



2. Armour:


Both Herodotus and Xenophon's mention Persians wearing a cuirass. This is backed up Greek vases that protray Persians in scale or quilted armour. A number of metal scales have also been found in the ruins of Persepolis, these are made of either bronze, iron or gold plated.


Masistius, the Persian cavalry commander at Plataea wore a breastplate formed of golden scales under a scarlet tunic.
Xenophon describes the Persian line as cuirassiers in front, javelin-men behind and archers behind them. This formation he says shall not waste a man and stand firm enough.



3. Battle-Axe or Sagaris


The Persian battle-axe or Sagaris was Scythian in origin, not being a traditional Persian weapon; it was rarely shown in Achaemenid art. However it was commonly used for throughout Asia and the Middle East and seems to have be favored in battle by some Persian subject nations and by some Persians themselves.


Greek art work and Greek historians commonly made reference to the 'Persians' use of the axe. Herodotus describes Callimachus, the hero of Marathon being killed by an axe.

"..They laid hold of the ships and called aloud for fire. It was in the struggle here that Callimachus the Polemarch, after greatly distinguishing himself, lost his life ... Having seized on a vessel of the enemy's by the ornament at the stern, had his hand cut off by the blow of an axe, and so perished.

Plutarch, (Life of Alexander) also describes another famous blow stuck by an axe when he tells how the Persian, Spithridates, strikes a almost deadly blow to Alexander at the battle of Gran.

"Spithridates came up on one side of him, and raising himself upon his horse, gave him such a blow with his battle-axe on the helmet, that he cut off the crest of it, with one of his plumes, and the helmet was only just so far strong enough to save him, that the edge of the weapon touched the hair of his head. But as he was about to repeat his stroke, Clitus, called the black Clitus, prevented him, by running him through the body with his spear."

The 'Sagaris' had a long slender handle with a heavy cutting or striking blade or point. It took a number of different styles but it was characteristically a light weight weapon that could be used by both cavalry and infantry. Being light enough to use effectively one handed but still able to penetrate a metal helmet or armour. Below is a Cimmerian or Scythian socketed iron axe with a narrow cutting blade and curled top. (7.25 inches ca. 7th century BC.)


The alabasta vase (480 - 470 BC) below, portrays an archer (probably a Blackman from African provinces serving in Imperial Army) dressed as a Persian, possibly as a marine which may have served in Xerxes fleet. He carries the Eastern-Iranian/Median style bow case and axe.



4. Archery:


The Persians used a composite recurve bow which had a wooden core with strips of horn glued to the back and reinforced with tendon. Its small size allowed them to be used both when mounted and on foot.


The arrows were of cane or reed, with three-feathered flights and triangular sectioned bronze tips. The arrows seem to be of relatively light weight and with their broad heads were more effective against unarmoured targets than for penetrating shield or armour.

The bow string was pulled back with the index and middle fingers of their right hand with the end of the arrow rested between these two fingers. This was the method used by the Scythians and others throughout the
Mediterranean. The Greeks however, held the end of the arrow between the thumb and the index finger, and pulled the string back with the end of the arrow. This was not as effective and so limited distance and penetration of the arrow.

The Persians seemed to have relied on long range shooting, their massed ranks and fast rate of fire would blanket enemy troops.


It is the Spartan, Dieneces' famous comment that probably gives us our best impression of Persian archery. One of the Trachinians at the battle of Thermopolyae, remarked,

"Such was the number of the barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude." Dieneces, not at all frightened at these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered "Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade." (Herodotus -The Histories, Bk 7,227)

This description of hiding the sun, suggests the Persians were shooting at long range with a high trajectory. Even despite the volume of arrows, the heavily armoured Spartans were able to shield themselves from the worst of it, the Persians lightweight arrows were not able to penetrate their cuirasses or shields.
Against disciplined and trained troops who maintained a tight stationary formation, the Persian archery had little effect. However the high trajectory was most likely due the the presence of the stone wall protecting the Spartans. In other situations such as the battle of
Plataea, where they formed up close to the Spartan line, their archery seems to have been more effective.


Xerxes boasted, "I will conquer Greece with my archers". Whether his pun was intentional or otherwise, it was never fulfilled. Part of the reason, is that around 490 BC a particularly rich seam of silver was struck in the Laurion mines some 25 miles south of Athens. After some powerful persuasion from Themistocles, the Athenians used the proceeds to build the fleet which destroyed the Persians at the battle of Salamis in 480 BC.



The silver coin depicts the King in the stylised archer pose, with spear and bow. It was with such coins that the Persians not only supplied and equipped their armies but bought off minor kingdoms, tyrants and individuals.

5. Chariots: 


Seal of Darius the Great


Chariots were still being used throughout the Achaemenid period in a number of different roles. Foreign contingents still maintained their use, however Persian's military use was now limited to that of a command vehicle, with a number of exceptions.
Although the chariot was not longer the main offensive arm it was still seen as a symbol of authority and power. Generals would still use them in cultural and military parades, for hunting and to transport themselves to battle.


No only is Xerxes recorded as being carried in a chariot during his invasion of
Greece but he also took with him the sacred chariot of Ahura-Madza. The golden solar chariot that was dedicated to the one great god. It was pulled by eight white horses with the charioteer walking behind holding the reins as no mortal was allowed to ride in it.

In Xerxes invasion of
Greece, both the Indian and Libyan contingents were said to have brought a chariot force.


Probably the most specialised chariot use was that of the scythed chariot which Xenophon described as used by Cyrus the Great.



Greek name for an elite regiment in the ancient Achaemenid Empire.

  Two Achaemenid Immortal Guards


In his description of the battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE), the Greek researcher Herodotus mentions a Persian elite corps which he calls the Ten Thousand or the Athanatoi, the 'Immortals'. He describes them as

a body of picked Persians under the leadership of Hydarnes, the son of Hydarnes. This corps was known as the Immortals, because it was invariably kept up to strength; if a man was killed or fell sick, the vacancy he left was at once filled, so that the total strength of the corps was never less -and never more- than ten thousand.

Of all the troops in Persian army, the native Persians were not only the best but also the most magnificently equipped; their dress and armor I have mentioned already, but I should add that every man glittered with the gold which he carried about his person in unlimited quantity. They were accompanied, moreover, by covered carriages full of their women and servants, all elaborately fitted out. Special food, separate from that of the rest of the army, was brought along for them on camels and mules. (History of Herodotus 7.83; tr. Aubrey de Selincourt)

As he indicates, Herodotus has already mentioned the Persian equipment:

The dress of these troops consisted of the tiara, or soft felt cap, embroidered tunic with sleeves, a coat of mail looking like the scales of a fish, and trousers; for arms they carried light wicker shields, quivers slung below them, short spears, powerful bows with cane arrows, and dangers swinging from belts beside the right thigh. (History of Herodotus 7.61; tr. Aubrey de Selincourt)

We also learn from Herodotus that this elite corps played an important during the Battle of Thermopylae. The Greeks had blocked a narrow road along the coast and prevented the Persians from invading Greece. However, the Immortals made a detour and were able to attack the Greeks in the rear. They are also mentioned during the second year of the war, in 479 BCE, when they remain in Greece in the army of the Persian commander Mardonius.

The big problem with this elite corps is that they are unknown from other sources. (There are, of course, other Greek and Latin texts that mention the Immortals, but they have taken this name for the Persian elite troops from Herodotus and simply mean: the royal guard.) There is ample evidence from
Persia -e.g., the Persepolis fortification tablets- but it does not mention a corps of Immortals. Probably, Herodotus' informant has confused the name Anûšiya ('companions') with Anauša ('Immortals').I 


Scythed Chariots



Cyrus the Great, according to Xenophon, would never refuse two gifts, horses and good weapons. He captured many chariots but considered them an inefficient use of horse and human resources.

" He abolished this system in favour of the war-chariot proper, with strong wheels to resist the shock of collision, and long axles, on the principle that a broad base is the firmer, while the driver's seat was changed into what might be called a turret, stoutly built with timber and reaching up to the elbow, leaving the driver room to manage the horses above the rim. The driver's themselves were all fully armed, only their eyes uncovered. He had iron scythes about two feet long attached to the axles on either side, and others, under the tree, pointing to the ground, for use in a charge. Such was the type of chariot invented by Cyrus, and it is still in use to-day among the subjects of the Great King."

Cyrus is said to have fielded a force of 300 Chariots divided into 3 commands of 100 against Croesus. One hundred of his own, a hundred from his Assyrian ally Abradatas of
Susa and a hundred converted from the old Median chariots.

There is debate about whether the Scythed chariot were used by the Early Achaemenid Persians, Xenophon is the only reference to their use by Cyrus the Great and they do not appear to have been used by Darius or Xerxes in their campaigns against Greece.

In support of Xenophon, scythed chariots are recorded on both sides of the battle at
Cunaxa 401B.C. The difficulty of transporting them overseas in the invasion of Greece. Four horses, and the carriage would not only take up valuable space on board a boat but also when the army was in march, the presence of numerous chariots would greatly lengthen the army's march formation. This could cause delays was well as making it harder to defend against attack when on the march.. They would be useless in any attacks on cities or fortifications. And finally they inclusion or not in the army would be dependent on the individual preferences of the King or commander.


6. War Wagons


Xenophon describes Cyrus' mobile towers as a car with 8 poles, drawn by eight yoke of oxen, to carry the lower compartment of the battering engines, which stood, with its wheels, about twenty seven feet from the ground. The towers were built with galleries and parapets, each of them could carry twenty men. They were built of planks as thick as the boards of a stage.


According to Xenophon's description of the battle of Thumbra, they were positioned behind the first line of infantry. The Egyptians forced the Persian infantry backwards until the war wagons behind came into shooting range.



7. Shields



Early Achaemenid armies were characterised by a number of interesting and unique shields. A large wicker shield called the gerrha or the Persian word 'spara'. A violin shaped shield protrayed on the reliefs at Persepolis and a 'pelta' which shows a Greek influence.



a. The 'Spara' Shield

The 'Spara' is beleived they were used by the armies of Cyrus the great, up until the time of Cyrus the younger at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC.


They were carried only by the front rank infantry to form a barrier or shield wall. The man who held it was referred to as the sparabara or shield bearer.


Surviving examples of Sassanian Persian shields from AD 255 are made of reed and leather and are considered to be similar the the earlier Achaemenid Spara. Although it is expected they they were dyed a uniform colour, the Sassanian shields found show no sign of dye or colour.

The spara seems to be supplied to the bulk of the Persian army included the Persian themselves and their bow armed mercenary and levy troops.



b. The Violin Shield:


This shield, so called because of its oval shape with circular cut-outs on either side gives it the appearance of a violin. It had a central metal boss and possible metal edge, the outside and inside is shown smooth so it would appear to be metal or leather covered wood rather than wicker. It may have been carried by guard regiments or the 2 -3 ranks behind the sparabara, as shown above.

Its shape may be ornamental or functional, it has been suggested that the cut outs enabled it to be used with a two handed grip on the spear. The shield is generally referred to as the Dipylon shield. The name coming from the Dipylon cemetry in
Athens where large numbers of representations were found. (Geometric period, 9th and 8th century BC).


Earlier, Hittites on the Egyptian reliefs of the battle of Kadesh, are also depicted carrying a violin-shaped shield. Casting moulds for the rims of violin-shaped shields have been found in Ramses' capital in the Nile delta.



c. The Crescent Shield:

This shield is shown being carried by Persian peltasts, archers and javelin men. Its appears mostly in battle scenes of the later period and may be limited to the western parts of the empire which adopted it from the Greeks.



8. Spears:



The main hand to hand weapon of the Persian


Longer spears are also shown on reliefs at Persepolis (left image), these are 8 to 9 ft to length and held by Persian guards. These may have be used one handed or possibly two handed like a pike. A Persian is shown on a Achaemenid 'seal' a long spear as a two handed pike in a fight against an archer. 


The seal on the right, shows a Persian fighting a charging boar. The spear is held in the right hand in an overhand fashion. Notice the cloak ie saddle cloth used as an improvised shield.



This bronze spearbutt was found in a 5th century BC cemetery at Deve Huyuk in Northern Syria. It is similar those shown on the reliefs at Susa and Persepolis.


Herodotus mentions the Guard and Immortals regiments carried spears with silver or gold apple and pomegranate shaped spearbutts. These may have been both a decorative as well functional use. It certainly would have been safer to stand behind a Persian soldier thrusting with a rounded end spear compared to standing behind a Greek hoplite with a sharp spear end.



9. Sword & Daggers

The Persians used a number of various weapons for hand-to-hand combat. These were some of Iranian origins inherited from Median and Scythians, or borrowed or adapted from Assrrians, Babylonians or Egyptian origins.



a. Akinakes

The characteristic Persian sidearm was the akinakes, which was short in length but could be used for both cut and thrust. It is of Scythian origin, adopted by both the Medes and Persians from at least the seventh century until the second century B.C.


The akinakes shown above, has the characteristic mount which allowed the wearer to suspend the weapon from a belt on the right side. The sword had a short, straight, double-edged iron blade, 34-45 cm (14-18") in length.


Median & Persian officials are pictured wearing the akinakes on the stone reliefs of Persepolis. Interestingly, only a small number are shown with sidearms. It could be supposed that only the most trusted officials were allowed be bear arms in the presence of the King.



b. Kopis



Greek art, however, does not show the akinakes but rather portrays Persian figures weilding an axe or kopis.

The kopis sword was predominantly a cutting weapon, similar to a machaira, but with a convex cutting edge of the blade, much like the modern Ghurka kukri. Its heavy, curved blade was large enough to make it the ideal weapon for both infantry and cavalry.

Although the kopis was used by the Greeks, the classical Greek weapon was the phasganon/xiphos, a straight-bladed and double-edged. Cut-and-thrust sword.


Achaemenid Armoured Cavalry 

 c. Cavalry Weapons

Xenophon (Anabasis 1.8.7) describes Cyrus the younger (401 BC.) Persian guard cavalry as carrying look-a-like Greek swords.

"and the men carried, besides their other weapons, Greek sabres."




10. Imperial and Military Standards

Persian army standards have been mentioned by Greek historians, depicted in Greek art and even


Xenophon makes several references to Persian standards in his books. In Cyropaedia he describes a royal standard with a gold eagle as well as each senior officer having their own distinctive standard.


In Anabasis, Xenophon describes the standard of Artaxerxes II at Cunaxa;

"the royal standard, a kind of golden eagle, with wings extended, perched on a bar of wood and raised upon a lance."

Herodotus mentions their use at the battle of Plataea 479 BC;

"When the commanders of the other divisions of the barbarians saw the Persians pursuing the Greeks so hastily, they all forthwith seized their standards, and hurried after at their best speed in great disorder and disarray." (Herodotus -The Histories, Bk IX )

Standards were not an invention of the Achaemenid armies, they had been used by other middle eastern nations for hundreds of years. Interestingly the Greeks had not yet made use of standards for battlefield command. One possible answer was the makeup of Persian armies. With large numbers of mounted troops, Persians armies were not only larger, but battles were much more mobile compared to the rather static Greek hoplite battles. So standards were needed to help control the armies of the wide plains of the middle east.


Other uses for Persian standards were as rewards for military service. Plutarch says that Artaxerxes II rewarded a Carian, who was said to have cast the fatal spear that killed Cyrus the Younger at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 B.C,

" the privilege of carrying ever after a golden cock upon his spear before the first ranks of the army in all expeditions"

This partly damaged image on the left is from the Alexander mosaic. It is thought to be either a Persian standard or possibly a red banner of the advancing Macedonians. As the latter, it may have been used to signal an attack or possibly to mark the position in the field of Alexander or of Darius.

Zvezda, the Russian plastics company have considered it to be the former and have used it together with the falcon tile (above) to create the plastic Persian standard bearer depicted below.


Standards could be decorated with a variety of animal, floral, religious or mythical symbols.

Animals common to the region were bears, ibex, wolves, leopards, lions, horses, bulls, roosters and falcons.


The rosette/Lotus bud was a commonly used symbol on Achaemenian architecture and also possibly used on banners or standards.

Religious symbols including the out stretched wings of the eagle or the fire fire alter/temples of Zoroastrian religion (the official religion), were possibly used, as were other religious symbols including the lily, lion or lightening bolts associated with the worship of Mithra and mythical symbols including the gryphon and winged bulls.


The fallen Persian on this red figure bowl, 470 B.C, (left), carries what appears to be a brightly coloured standard using geometric designs.

The post Achaemenid coin below (275 BC.), also shows a similar standard beside a fire temple.


If we consider that Persian standards are only mentioned as belonging to kings, generals, senior officers or individuals, we then need to consider that we have no reference to Persian regiments carrying their own standards.


I see it dangerous to assume Persian standards were the Legion standards of the Roman armies or the colours carried by Napoleonic armies. From the references we have, it would be more appropriate to depict Achaemenid standards positioned with the King or commanding officers rather then within infantry or cavalry units.




(left) Coins of Vabharz satrap of Achaemenid Period and Bagadates (right), a post Achaemenid Ruler 275 BC.

These rulers were known as fratadara, or "Keeper of the Fire." On reverse of both coins showing the imperial standard next to the fire alter.

The Art of Achaemenids

Under the dynasty of the Achaemenid rulers the Persian empire comprised Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor with its Greek towns and some islands, Central Asia, Caucasus, Thrace and parts of India. The founder of this, the largest empire of the ancient world, was Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE), whose Persian father, Cambyses, king of Anshan, had married the daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes (Median). Cyrus defeated his grandfather about 550 BCE and succeeded in welding Persians and Medes into an effective army with which he could undertake conquests beyond the frontiers of Iran.

In world history Cyrus is known as much for his victory over Croesus of Lydia (547 BCE) as for his generosity toward the Jews, to whom he reputedly granted permission to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and bring back to it the gold and silver utensils which Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon.

Similar restoration of local cults proceeded under his auspices throughout
Mesopotamia. This political acumen in dealing with conquered peoples helped Cyrus in his political and military conquests of the wealthy Greek towns that were formerly under Croesus' suzerainty. Only Miletus submitted voluntarily. The others were conquered one after the other, some by military force, others by treachery, for Persian gold was as powerful as Persian arms. Syria and Phoenicia fell to Cyrus by his easy conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE.

In north-eastern Iran Cyrus had to secure the frontiers against the ever-present pressure of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes from
Central Asia. In battles against these peoples the great king died in 530 BCE.

His son Cambyses conquered
Egypt in 525 BCE, Only Darius I [522-486 BCE], however, who also deserved the epithet Great, consolidated the empire by an efficient administrative organization. Within little more than a year after the death of Cambyses he had succeeded in establishing his rule over the rebellious leaders of the Medes, Babylonians and other peoples whom Cyrus had conquered. The pictorial and written memorial of his victory was carved upon the steep cliff at Bisutun which looks down upon the road that leads even today from the Iranian plateau to the Mesopotamian plain. The actual height of the relief is eighteen feet; about as large as any ancient Western Asiatic stone-carver--used to relatively small reliefs--could possibly conceive. But as seen from the road, the relief seems quite small.

The inscription was rendered in Old Persian, Akkadian (the language of the Babylonians) and Elamite. Above the inscription Darius is portrayed in the traditional posture of the victor, his foot placed on his fallen enemy, Gaumata the Magian. Here the posture may have been copied from the ancient relief of [p. 142] Anubanini at Sar-i-Pul, not too far distant from Bisutun. In the relief of Bisutun eight of the rebels stand behind Gaumata with their necks joined by a rope and their hands tied behind their backs. A ninth rebel was added after Darius' victory over the pointed-capped Scythians. Darius could truly call himself "Great King", "King of Kings", titles subsequently associated with the Achaemenids and assumed only by the most powerful rulers of later times.

The armies of Darius sustained reverses only in
Scythia and, in Greece, at Marathon (490 BCE). The epic resistance of small, disunited Greece against the most powerful empire of its day had begun. In the time of Alexander resistance became aggression, finally ending in victory over the last Achaemenid king, Darius III.[p. 143]

Greek writers who reported on Persia knew of the first residence of Cyrus at Pasargadae, of Susa as the principal seat of subsequent Achaemenid rulers, and also of royal residences at Ecbatana and Babylon. None, however, spoke of Persepolis, founded by Darius near Pasargadae, deep inside the empire. This may have been due to the character of the site, which appears to have been not an administrative centre but rather a religious one, where the Achaemenid kings went for ceremonies of inauguration at nearby Pasargadae, where their bodies were brought for burial in the rock-chambers of the valley of Naqsh-i Rustem near Persepolis or later in the cliffs around the Persepolis Terrace--and where the New Year's festival, the greatest religious event of Iran, was probably celebrated every year.

We may assume that the delegations of all the countries of the empire came to this festival bringing to the King of Kings their 'gifts', which were probably stored in the local treasuries. The geographical position of
Persepolis in the centre of the country would have added to the safety of these treasuries and of the armouries connected with them. The stress on quarters for the military at Persepolis, which became obvious from GodardÕs excavations, indicates extensive preoccupation with the security of the buildings on the terrace.

Pasargadae, the residence of Cyrus the Great, some 43 kilometres by air from Persepolis, probably also had as one of its principal functions the safeguarding of the king's treasures. There was a well-defined citadel there, covering a huge area of about two hundred metres in length and up to one hundred and thirty metres in width. In addition, a small enclosed valley immediately to the north of the citadel platform was 'guarded by a continuous mud-brick fortification wall with square towers at regular intervals'. Schmidt suggested many years ago that the treasury should be shut in this fortified area. Excavations at present under way in Pasargadae may eventually provide information on that point.

From the citadel a road led toward the south to the walled palace area. The first important building encountered in this area--and enclosed within its own precinct--was a stone tower which will be discussed below in connection with a similar tower at Nagsh-i Rustem. The principal remains of the palace area belonged to three buildings interpreted by Herzfeld as a gate structure, a palace called the audience hall of Cyrus, and another called the residential palace.These buildings, which lie quite far apart, may have been separated by the shady trees and the clear watercourses of a park.

The gate structure was assumed to have been similar to the well-preserved gate of Xerxes at
Persepolis. A pair of colossal winged bulls facing outside was thought to have guarded the opening of the gate and a pair of human-headed bulls to have faced toward the palaces. A columnar hall is said to have formed the middle room of the structure, which seems to have had a side room in the north-east. One jamb of the doorway of this room had the figure of a four-winged genius carved upon it. An inscription above the figure read in three languages: 'I, Cyrus the king, the Achaemenid [built this].
The audience hall was reconstructed with a rectangular columnar hall in the centre, surrounded on all four sides by porticoes, enclosed at the ends by a wall or a tower. The so -called residential palace had two similar porticoes but also small rooms built with mud brick, presumably living quarters.

A comparison of these halls and their porticoes with the massive brick architecture of
Elam as exemplified at Tchoga Zanbil shows the strikingly different architectural concepts which guided the builders of Pasargadae. The façade is not a solid wall; it is opened up. Literally speaking, the visitor is no longer kept out but invited into the cool shade of noble porticoes. Probably there were several reasons for this difference in architectural ideas: climate, building materials and social structure.

The form of the porticoes however, was not developed in
Iran but may be due to Urartian tradition, whereas the interior hall with a ceiling supported on columns is reminiscent of the columnar halls of Hasanlu.

The combination of different influences assumed for the plan of the buildings is also evident in the columns. They show considerable influence from the Ionic columns of
Asia Minor, although proportions were never correctly observed at Pasargadae. But the idea of a stone column with some standard relations between base and shaft as well as the general form of the base--square plinth and horizontally fluted torus--is surely due to Ionic prototypes. The colour contrast produced by the use of black limestone together with white limestone for the two blocks of the base, and black limestone for niches and door-frames in buildings otherwise made of white limestone, can also be paralleled by a few Ionic examples.Derivation of the alternating colour effects from Urartian architecture, however, has also been suggested, and it is not impossible that this desire for strong colour contrasts owes its ultimate origin to Near Eastern tradition, even in the Ionic examples.

Original Iranian elements can be found also on the top of the Persian column, which had the form of a gigantic clamp and held a ceiling beam such as one can still see in modern Iranian peasant houses, where simple forked branches hold the rafters of the roof. At
Pasargadae--perhaps even earlier--this simple device was transformed into a capital consisting of a double protome of leonine monsters or bulls; a fragmentary head of a horse belonging to a column protome was also found. In Persepolis most of the capitals had protomes of bulls or human-headed bulls. Forms of other creatures such as griffins were tried out and then discarded, obviously because they were unsuitable.

Still further to the south than the palace area stands the tomb of Cyrus, a far more impressive structure than one would expect from the photographs and drawings of the gabled house-shape on the stepped platform. The total height of the structure is 11 metres and the well-dressed building blocks are a most as tall as a man. In typically Achaemenid manner the blocks were held together by swallow-tail clamps of lead and iron, of which only those in the hollow roof have remained in place. Trees of different kinds are said by classical authors to have surrounded the tomb of Cyrus. We may assume them to have been planted at some distance from the tomb and to have been shorter than the total height of the structure, thus making it seem even more imposing ...

Elevation above the plane of ordinary human beings, for which Darius obviously strove in his rock relief at Bisutun and in his tomb façade, is also manifested in his choice of the high terrace of Persepolis for his treasury and his palace--an effective setting for the New Year's ceremonies. In the selection of the site he may have also been influenced by the existing terraces of the early Achaemenid periodwhich have been found at various sites, including Pasargadae, and which may have added some religious significance to the increased security that they afforded the citadel at Pasargadae and the palaces at Persepolis.

Persepolis, where Darius may have begun to build in 520 BCE, the fortifications and military quarters were erected first and, almost at the same time, the storehouses for treasure, weapons and supplies, the building complex called the Treasury by the American excavators. In its main features the entire layout of the great halls on the terrace seems to have been planned from the beginning, although it took about sixty years to complete. The functions of these different halls in the ceremonies of the New Year's festival were reconstructed vividly and for the most part convincingly by Chrishman, who used not only the remaining ruins of the building and the contents of their reliefs but also his knowledge of Iranian tribal meetings, in which many ancient customs are preserved.

Probably delegations from all parts of the empire streamed to
Persepolis long before the great festival. Around the town, which lay at the foot of the terrace, tents with gay pennants would have spread far into the plain. On the day of the festival the king's guests, the greatest dignitaries of the empire, Persians and Medes, ascended the broad stairs to the terrace. The stairs were designed as for a stage. Made of beautiful white limestone--the same material that was used for the walls--but carefully smoothed to resemble marble, two gently rising flights of steps led in opposite directions to intermediate landings where the direction was reversed and the stairs turned and converged toward the top landing After the completion of the Gate of Xerxes [described above on in connection with the supposed gate structure at Pasargadae], visitors passed through the Gate before entering the square in front of the great audience hall or Apadana of Darius and Xerxes. In turning toward the hall, the visitor faced one of the noblest structures of the ancient world.

The building was over twenty metres high and even further raised by a socle 2.60 metres tall. The square main hall, which was enclosed by thick mud-brick walls, had a side length of 60.50 metres, to which should be added the porticoes on three sides and the store-rooms in the back. At all four corners of the building stood towers enclosing stair-wells leading to the roof. At the entrance to each tower were guardian figures of great dogs or other animals.

From the square before the Apadana two monumental stairways led up to the porticoes, one in the east, the other on the north[6]. The parapets of these stairways were crowned by four-stepped battlements, used in the same way throughout the terrace. Battlements are presumed to have been used also for decoration of the roofs, but this cannot be proved. To judge by the use of battlements in the crown of Darius at Bisutun and in the blue head of a prince, they had a symbolic protective meaning in addition to their decorative value.

The façades and parapets of the stairways were covered with reliefs. "Each of the two stairways shows essentially the same scenes: a procession of twenty-three tribute-bearing delegations of the empire and lines of guards, dignitaries, horses, chariots and attendants, in addition to other motifs. These reliefs are thought to show in an abbreviated manner the sequence of the first phase of the New Year's festival, which will be described here as it can be read from the reliefs.

Before the stairs stood the king's guards, called the Immortalsbecause their number of ten thousand was immediately re-established after every loss. On the sides of the stairs were the Persian guards, attired in a flowing robe, candys, and fluted cap, or tiara. Everyone was turned toward the entrance of the audience hall in which the king was present.

Guests and dignitaries who were admitted to the audience in the Apadana probably went in through the two northern entrances, while the king himself doubtless came through an entrance on the east side. After the audience the king and his entourage would take their places on the western portico and its narrow forecourt, which extended to the edge of the terrace and permitted an excellent view of the happenings below.

The order of groups in the procession pictured at the back of the stairs on the socle of the audience hall indicated that the Susian guards in their brilliantly coloured robes came first. We know the beautiful colours and the patterning of these robes from the reliefs of glazed brick discovered at Susa. At Persepolis none of the original colour has been preserved. The garments from Susa show scatter patterns of rosettes, stars, squares, each inscribed with a city gate, and borders of lotus flowers, all in different colour combinations. The guards carry bows and great quivers with arrows and set the globular end of their spears on the forward foot, a gesture which corresponds to that of setting the bow on the foot, seen on the façades of the royal tombs.

The Susians were followed by three groups of royal grooms, horses of the royal stable, and chariots, all led by ushers. After them came interminable rows of Susian guards, followed by a group of Persian and Median nobles or dignitaries in which the Persians seem to have had precedence over the Medes. The Medes wore a tall, rounded felt cap with a ribbon hanging down in the back, a long tight coat which reached to slightly above the knees and was tied by a belt, and long trousers probably made of leather, as well as laced shoes. Most of them have a coat with empty sleeves hanging over their shoulders, as at Qyzqapan. Persians and Medes wear the same type of jewellery, a twisted or plain torque, ear-rings and bracelets. On the reliefs most of the persons in this group carry a blossom. It may have been one of those sweet-smelling flowers which are often used instead of perfume in the
Near East and which preserve their fragrance for days.

To judge by the reliefs, the March of the Nations must have begun after these groups of Susians, Persians and Medes had passed. First came the Medes with their fine horses, then the Susians, who brought with them a lioness and her cubs, as well as bows and daggers, the later surely of precious metal. After a few more delegations, all led by ushers, followed the Lydians. They wore short-sleeved long gowns with a wavy pattern, perhaps suggesting wool. Over the left shoulder was draped a scarf with tasseled corners, and on the head they wore a tall turban-like head-dress below which hung a very stylized braid, perhaps no longer made of hair but of ribbon. They had low boots with slightly upturned toes, the age-old characteristic footwear of
Asia Minor. Their tribute consisted of two metal vessels with handles ending in winged bulls, two low metal bowls, and two oblong rings each ornamented with two griffins. Finally there was a chariot with a plain body drawn by two stallions led by turbanless grooms.

Other delegations which presumably created much interest were the Sogdians with their broad-tailed Karakul sheep and lamb-skins, probably valuable furs, then the Indians, bare-chested, which was most unusual, though their leader wore a flowing Indian dress which was surely of gay colours and must have been striking. One of the Indians carried a pair of baskets containing pots presumably full of gold dust. The Arabs with their dromedary and the crinkly-haired Ethiopians with an okapi would have delighted the onlookers. After the conclusion of this long procession the king probably left the Apadana and may have passed through the so-called Tripylon on this way to the banquet, the second phase of the festivities. The Tripylon has also been called the 'Central' building or Council Hall. It is a beautiful little building with three monumental doorways which probably indicate its function as "the main link of communication between the northern area of open courts and spacious public buildings and that portion of the site which was occupied by the residential palaces of the kings.

The reliefs on the jambs of the northern and southern doorways show the king followed by two attendants, one of whom carries the royal parasol, while the other holds a fly-whisk over the king's head and carries a towel. The banquet probably took place in the principal hall of the
palace of Xerxes, once that structure was completed. Whether or not it could have been held earlier in the much smaller palace of Darius is difficult to say.

The third and perhaps most important symbolic phase of the festival appear to have been the carrying of the king on his throne by the representatives of the nations from the Tripylon to the Hall of a Hundred Columns. There, perhaps on the large square before the hall, one may reconstruct as a fourth phase an impressive military parade of the Immortals before their king.

This interpretation has been deduced in large part from the reliefs, some of which admittedly come from the time of Darius' grandson, Artaxerxes (465-423 BCE). Yet it seems likely that changes occurred only in details and that the ceremonies portrayed corresponded to those instituted in the time of Darius and continued until his last successor.

An exceptional representation is found only in the reliefs on the jambs of the eastern doorway of the Tripylon. These show King Darius and the Crown Prince Xerxes in the same relief, protected by a canopy over which floats the god Ahura Mazda in the winged disk. Nowhere else is there such an expression of a close relationship between father and son.

The plate on page 157 renders the relief on the left jamb of the eastern doorway of the Tripylon. For reasons that are difficult to explain, every motif at
Persepolis had a counterpart.

The colours of the Ahura Mazda symbol on the Tripylon can be reconstructed after those of a similar symbol discovered by Herzfeld in the Hundred Column Hall and sketched by him before they disappeared. They showed turquoise blue, light scarlet red, golden or orange yellow, deep purple, lapis-lazuli blue and a few touches of emerald green, all on a black background. Additional colour in these reliefs would have been provided by the gold or heavily gilded material with which the royal insignia were covered. Traces of such covering can be seen in the damaged Tripylon reliefs, which show slits on the side of the crowns in which metal fittings had been fastened.

To this description of the colours originally used in the decoration of
Persepolis may be added that of the glazed reliefs of Susa--given on page 152. This evidence gives us some idea of the blaze of colours presented by the Achaemenid court, especially at the time of the New Year's festival.

To the buildings described in the course of the hypothetical reconstruction of the New Year's festival may be added the unfinished gate opposite the Hundred Column Hall; this gate may have been intended to assure an impressive entrance to the military groups thought to have paraded on the square north of [p. 154] the hall, which measure four thousand s quare metres in area. Furthermore, there was the so-called harem, now identified more convincingly as additional storage facilities.

In its loose grouping of single halls, Persepolis resembles Pasargadae, whereas at Susa, where another Achaemenid palace was excavated, the ancient Near Eastern palace plan seems to have influenced the arrangement of rooms around courts so that the palace was reconstructed--albeit not very reliably--as a coherent complex.[p. 156]

Darius The Great's Inscription at Naqshe Rostam

I. A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king of many, one lord of many.

II. I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage.

III. Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda these are the countries which I seized outside of Persia; I ruled over them; they bore tribute to me; what was said to them by me, that they did; my law -- that held them firm; Media, Elam, Parthia, Aria, Bactria, Sogdiana, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Arachosia, Sattagydia, Gandara, Sind, Amyrgian Scythians, Scythians with pointed caps, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Sardis, Ionia, Scythians who are across the sea, Skudra, petasos-wearing Ionians, Libyans, Ethiopians, men of Maka, Carians.

IV. Darius the King says: Ahuramazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king; I am king. By the favor of Ahuramazda I put it down in its place; what I said to them, that they did, as was my desire. If now you shall think that "How many are the countries which King Darius held?" look at the sculptures (of those) who bear the throne, then shall you know, then shall it become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone forth far; then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia.

V. Darius the King says: This which has been done, all that by the will of Ahuramazda I did. Ahuramazda bore me aid, until I did the work. May Ahuramazda protect me from harm, and my royal house, and this land: this I pray of Ahuramazda, this may Ahuramazda give to me!

VI. O man, that which is the command of Ahuramazda, let this not seem repugnant to you; do not leave the right path; do not rise in rebellion!


Words of Darius the Great in Biston's Inscription

1. I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King in Persia, King of countries, son of Hystaspes, grandson of Arsames, an Achaemenian.

2. Darius the King says: My father was Hystaspes; Hystaspes' father was Arsames; Arsames' father was Ariaramnes; Ariaramnes' father was Teispes; Teispes' father was Achaemenes.

3. Darius the King says: For this reason we are called Achaemenians. From long ago we have been noble. From long ago our family had been kings.

4. Darius the King says: there were 8 of our family who were kings before me; I am the ninth; 9 in succession we have been kings.

5. Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda I am King; Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me.

6. Darius the King says: These are the countries which came to me; by the favor of Ahuramazda I was king of them: Persia, Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, (those) who are beside the sea, Sardis, Ionia, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, Maka: in all, 23 provinces.

7. Darius the King says: These are the countries which came to me; by the favor of Ahuramazda they were my subjects; they bore tribute to me; what was said to them by me either by night or by day that was done.

8. Darius the King says: Within these countries, the man who was loyal, him I rewarded well; (him) who was evil, him I punished well; by the favor of Ahuramazda these countries showed respect toward my law; as was said to them by me, thus was it done.

9. Darius the King says: Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me; Ahuramazda bore me aid until I got possession of this kingdom; by the favor of Ahuramazda I hold this kingdom.

10. Darius the King says: This is what was done by me after I became king. A son of Cyrus, Cambyses by name, of our family -- he was king here of that Cambyses there was a brother, Smerdis by name, having the same mother and the same father as Cambyses. Afterwards, Cambyses slew that Smerdis. When Cambyses slew Smerdis, it did not become known to the people that Smerdis had been slain. Afterwards, Cambyses went to
Egypt. When Cambyses had gone off to Egypt, after that the people became evil. After that the Lie waxed great in the country, both in Persia and in Media and in the other provinces.

11. Darius the King says: Afterwards, there was one man, a Magian, named Gaumata; he rose up from Paishiyauvada. A mountain named Arakadri -- from there 14 days of the month Viyakhna were past when he rose up. He lied to the people thus: "I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus, brother of Cambyses." After that, all the people became rebellious from Cambyses, (and) went over to him, both
Persia and Media and the other provinces. He seized the kingdom; of the month Garmapada 9 days were past, then he seized the kingdom. After that, Cambyses died by his own hand.

12. Darius the King says: This kingdom which Gaumata the Magian took away from Cambyses, this kingdom from long ago had belonged to our family. After that, Gaumata the Magian took (it) from Cambyses; he took to himself both
Persia and Media and the other provinces, he made (them) his own possession, he became king.

13. Darius the King says: There was not a man, neither a Persian nor a Mede nor anyone of our family, who might make that Gaumata the Magian deprived of the kingdom. The people feared him greatly, (thinking that) he would slay in numbers the people who previously had known Smerdis; for this reason he would slay the people, "lest they know me, that I am not Smerdis the son of Cyrus." Nobody dared say anything about Gaumata the Magian, until I came. After that I sought help of Ahuramazda; Ahuramazda bore me aid; of the month Bagayadi 10 days were past, then I with a few men slew that Gaumata the Magian, and those who were his foremost followers. A fortress named Sikayauvati, a district named Nisaya, in Media -- here I slew him. I took the kingdom from him. By the favor of Ahuramazda I became king; Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me.

14. Darius the King says: The kingdom which had been taken away from our family that I put in its Place; I re-established it on its foundation. As before, so I made the sanctuaries which Gaumata the Magian destroyed. I restored to the people the pastures and the herds, the household slaves and the houses which Gaumata the Magian took away from them. I re-established the people on its foundation, both
Persia and Media and the other provinces. As before, so I brought back what had been taken away. By the favor of Ahuramazda this I did: I strove until I reestablished our royal house on its foundation as (it was) before. So I strove, by the favor of Ahuramazda, so that Gaumata the Magian did not remove our royal house.

15. Darius the King says: This is what I did after I became king.

16. Darius the King says: When I had slain Gaumata the Magian, afterwards one man, named Asina, son of Upadarma -- he rose up in
Elam. To the people he said thus: "I am king in Elam." Afterwards the Elamites became rebellious, (and) went over to that Asina; he became king in Elam. And one man, a Babylonian, named Nidintu-Bel, son of Ainaira -- he rose up in Babylon; thus he deceived the people: "I am Nebuchadrezzar the son of Nabonidus." Afterwards the Babylonian people all went over to that Nidintu-Bel; Babylonia became rebellious; he seized the kingdom in Babylon.

17. Darius the King says: After that I sent (a message) to
Elam. This Acina was led to me bound; I slew him.

18. Darius the King says: After that I went off to
Babylon, against that Nidintu-Bel who called himself Nebuchadrezzar. The army of Nidintu-Bel held the Tigris; there it took its stand, and on account of the waters (the Tigris) was unfordable. Thereupon (some of) my army I supported on (inflated) skins, others I made camel-borne, for others I brought horses. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda we got across the Tigris. There I smote that army of Nidintu-Bel exceedingly; of the month Asiyadiya 26 days were past, then we fought the battle.

19. Darius the King says: After that I went off to
Babylon. When I had not arrived at Babylon, a town named Zazana, beside the Euphrates -- there this Nidintu-Bel who called himself Nebuchadrezzar came with an army against me, to deliver battle. Thereupon we Joined battle; Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda I smote that army of Nidintu-Bel exceedingly. The rest was thrown into the water, (and) the water carried it away. Of the month Anamaka 2 days were past, then we fought the battle.

20. Darius the King says: After that, Nidintu-Bel with a few horsemen fled; he went off to
Babylon. Thereupon I went to Babylon. By the favor of Ahuramazda both I seized Babylon and I took that Nidintu-Bel prisoner. After that, I slew that Nidintu-Bel at Babylon.

21. Darius the King says: While I was in
Babylon, these are the provinces which became rebellious from me: Persia, Elam, Media, Assyria, Egypt, Parthia, Margiana, Sattagydia, Scythia.

22. Darius the King says: One man, named Martiya, son of Cincikhri -- a town named Kuganaka, in Persia -- there he abode. He rose up in Elam; to the people thus he said, "I am Imanish, king in Elam."

23. Darius the King says: At that time I was near
Elam. Thereupon the Elamites were afraid of me; they seized that Martiya who was their chief, and slew him.

24. Darius the King says: One man, named Phraortes, a Median -- he rose up in Media. To the people thus he said, "I am Khshathrita, of the family of Cyaxares." Thereafter the Median army which (was) in the palace, became rebellious from me, (and) went over to that Phraortem. He became king in Media.

25. Darius the King says: The Persian and Median army which was with me, this was a small (force). Thereupon I sent forth an army. A Persian named Hydarnes, my subject -- I made him chief of them; I said to them thus: "Go forth, smite that Median army which does not call itself mine!" Thereupon this Hydarnes with the army marched off. When he arrived in Media, a town named Maru, in Media -- there he joined battle with the Medes. He who was chief among the Medes, he at that time was not there. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly. Of the month Anamaka 27 days were past, then the battle was fought by them. Thereafter this army of mine, a district named Kampanda, in Media -- there it waited for me until I arrived in Media.

26. Darius the King says: An Armenian named Dadarshi, my subject -- I sent him forth to
Armenia. I said to him: "Go forth, that rebellious army which does not call itself mine, that do you smite!" Thereupon Dadarshi marched off. When he arrived in Armenia, thereafter the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A place named Zuzahya, in Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Thuravahara 8 days were past, then the battle was fought by them.

27. Darius the King says: Again a second time the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A stronghold named Tigra, in
Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Thuravahara 18 days were past, then the battle was fought by them.

28. Darius the King says: Again a third time the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A fortress named Uyama, in
Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Thaigarci 9 days were past, then the battle was fought by them. Thereafter Dadarshi waited for me until I arrived in Media.

29. Darius the King says: Thereafter a Persian named Vaumisa, my subject-him I sent forth to
Armenia. Thus I said to him: "Go forth; the rebellious army which does not call itself mine -- smite them!" Thereupon Vaumisa marched off. When he arrived in Armenia, then the rebels assembled (and) came out against Vaumisa to join battle. A district named Izala, in Assyria -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Anamaka 15 days were past, then the battle was fought by them.

30. Darius the King says: Again a second time the rebels assembled (and) came out against Vaumisa to join battle. A district named Autiyara, in
Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; on the last day of the month Thuravaharâthen the battle was fought by them. After that, Vaumisa waited for me in Armenia until I arrived in Media.

31. Darius the King says: Thereafter I went away from
Babylon (and) arrived in Media. When I arrived in Media, a town named Kunduru, in Media -- there this Phraortes who called himself king in Media came with an army against me to join battle. Thereafter we joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda that army of Phraortes I smote exceedingly; of the month Adukanaisha 25 days were past, then we fought the battle.

32. Darius the King says: Thereafter this Phraortes with a few horsemen fled; a district named Raga, in Media -- along there he went off. Thereafter I sent an army in pursuit; Phraortes, seized, was led to me. I cut off his nose and ears and tongue, and put out one eye; he was kept bound at my palace entrance, all the people saw him. Afterward I impaled him at
Ecbatana; and the men who were his foremost followers, those at Ecbatana within the fortress I (flayed and) hung out (their hides, stuffed with straw).

33. Darius the King says: One man named Cisantakhma, a Sagartian -- he became rebellious to me; thus he said to the people, "I am king in Sagartia, of the family of Cyaxares." Thereupon I sent off a Persian and Median army; a Mede named Takhmaspada, my subject -- I made him chief of them. I said to them thus: "Go forth; the hostile army which shall not call itself mine, and smite them!" Thereupon Takhmaspada with the army went off; he joined battle with Cisantakhma. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army and took Cisantakhma prisoner, (and) led him to me. Afterwards I cut off both his nose and ears, and put out one eye, he was kept bound at my palace entrance, and all the people saw him. Afterwards I impaled him at

34. Darius the King says: This is what was done by me in Media.

35. Darius the King says:
Parthia and Hyrcania became rebellious from me, called themselves (adherents) of Phraortes. Hystaspes my father -- he was in Parthia; him the people abandoned, became rebellious. Thereupon Hystaspes went forth with the army which was faithful to him. A town named Vishpauzati, in Parthia -- there he joined battle with the Parthians. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda Hystaspes smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Viyakhna 22 days were past -- then the battle was fought by them.

36. Darius the King says: After that I sent forth a Persian army to Hystaspes, from Raga. When this army came to Hystaspes, thereupon Hystaspes took that army (and) marched out. A town by name Patigrabana, in
Parthia - there he joined battle with the rebels. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda Hystaspes smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Garmapada 1 day was past -- then the battle was fought by them.

37. Darius the King says: After that the province became mine. This is what was done by me in

38. Darius the King says: A province named Margiana -- it became rebellious to me. One man named Frada, a Margian -- him they made chief. Thereupon I sent forth against him a Persian named Dadarshi, my subject, satrap in
Bactria. Thus I said to him: "Go forth, smite that army which does not call itself mine!" After that, Dadarshi marched out with the army; he joined battle with the Margians. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Asiyadiya 23 days were past -- then the battle was fought by them.

39. Darius the King says: After that the province became mine. This is what was done by me in

40. Darius the King says: One man named Vahyazdata -- a town named Tarava, a district named Yautiya, in Persia -- there he abode. He made the second uprising in Persia. To the people he said thus: "I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus." Thereupon the Persian army which (was) in the palace, (having come) from Anshan previously -- it became rebellious from me, went over to that Vahyazdata. He became king in Persia.

41. Darius the King says: Thereupon I sent forth the Persian and Median army which was by me. A Persian named Artavardiya, my subject -- I made him chief of them. The rest of the Persian army went forth behind me to Media. Thereupon Artavardiya with his army went forth to
Persia. When he arrived in Persia, a town named Rakha, in Persia -- there this Vahyazdata who called himself Smerdis came with his army against Artavardiya, to join battle. Thereupon they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that army of Vahyazdata exceedingly; of the month Thuravahara 12 days were past -- then the battle was fought by them.

42. Darius the King says: After that, this Vahyazdata with a few horsemen fled; he went off to Paishiyauvada. From there he got an army; later he came against Artavardiya to join battle. A mountain named Parga -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that army of Vahyasdata exceedingly; of the month Garmapada 5 days were past -- then the battle was fought by them, and that Vahyazdata they took prisoner, and those who were his foremost followers they captured.

43. Darius the King says: After that I took that Vahyazdata and those who were his foremost followers -- a town named Uvadaicaya, in
Persia -- there I impaled them.

44. Darius the King says: This is what was done by me in

45. The King says: This Vahyazdata who called himself Smerdis had sent an army to Arachosia -- a Persian named Vivana, my subject, satrap in Arachosia -- against him; and he had made one man their chief. Thus he said to them: "Go forth; smite Vivana and that army which calls itself King Darius's!" Thereupon this army marched off, which Vahyazdata had sent forth against Vivana to join battle. A fortress named Kapishakani -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Anamaka 13 days were past -- then the battle was fought by them.

46. Darius the King says: Again later the rebels assembled (and) came out against Vivana to join battle. A district named Gandutava -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote that rebellious army exceedingly; of the month Viyakhna 7 days were past -- then the battle was fought by them.

47. Darius the King says: After that, this man who was the chief of that army which Vahyazdata had sent forth against Vivana -- he fled with a few horsemen (and) got away. A fortress named Arshada, in Arachosia -- past that he went. Afterwards Vivana with his army went off in pursuit of them; there he took him prisoner and the men who were his foremost followers, (and) slew (them).

48. Darius the King says: After that the province became mine. This is what was done by me in Arachosia.

49. Darius the King says: While I was in
Persia and Media, again a second time the Babylonians became rebellious from me. One man named Arkha, an Armenian, son of Haldita -- he rose up in Babylon. A district named Dubala -- from there he thus lied to the people: "I am Nebuchadrezzar the son of Nabonidus." Thereupon the Babylonian people became rebellious from me, (and) went over to that Arkha. He seized Babylon; he became king in Babylon.

50. Darius the King says: Thereupon I sent forth an army to
Babylon. A Persian named Intaphernes, my subject -- him I made chief of them. Thus I said to them: "Go forth; that Babylonian army smite, which shall not call itself mine!" Thereupon Intaphernes with the army marched off to Babylon. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda Intaphernes smote the Babylonians and led them in bonds; of the month Varkazana 22 days were past -- then that Arkha who falsely called himself Nebuchadrezzar and the men who were his foremost followers he took prisoner. I issued an order: this Arkha and the men who were his foremost followers were impaled at Babylon.

51. Darius the King says: This is what was done by me in

52. Darius the King says: This is what I did by the favor of Ahuramazda in one and the same year after that I became king. 19 battles I fought; by the favor of Ahuramazda I smote them and took prisoner 9 kings. One was named Gaumata, a Magian; lied and said, "I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus;" he made
Persia rebellious. One, named Asina, an Elamite; lied and said, "I am king in Elam;" he made Elam rebellious to me. One, named Nidintu-Bel, a Babylonian; lied and said, "I am Nebuchadrezzar, the son of Nabonidus; he made Babylon rebellious. One, named Martiya, a Persian; lied and said, "I am Imanish, king in Elam;" he made Elam rebellious. One, named Phraortes, a Mede; lied and said, "I am Khshathrita, of the family of Cyaxares;" he made Media rebellious. One named Cisantakhma, a Sagartian; lied and said, "I am king in Sagartia, of the family of Cyaxares;" he made Sagartia rebellious. One, named Frada, a Margian; lied and said, "I am king in Margiana;" he made Margiana rebellious. One, named Vahyazdata, a Persian; lied and said, "I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus;" he made Persia rebellious. One named Arkha, an Armenian; lied and said: "I am Nebuchadrezzar, the son of Nabonidus;" he made Babylon rebellious.

53. Darius the King says: These 9 kings I took prisoner within these battles.

54. Darius the King says: These are the provinces which became rebellious. The Lie (druj) made them rebellious, so that these (men) deceived the people. Afterwards Ahuramazda put them into my hand; as was my desire, so I did to them.

55. Darius the King says: You, who shall be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from the Lie; the man who shall be a Lie-follower, he do you punish well, if thus you shall think, "May my country be secure!"

56. Darius the King says: This is what I did; by the favor of Ahuramazda, in one and the same year I did (it). You who shall hereafter read this inscription let that which has been done by me convince you; do not think it a lie.

57. Darius the King says: I turn myself quickly to Ahuramazda, that this (is) true, not false, (which) I did in one and the same year.

58. Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda and of me much else was done; that has not been inscribed in this inscription; for this reason it has not been inscribed, lest whoso shall hereafter read this inscription, to him what has been done by me seem excessive, (and) it not convince him, (but) he think it false.

59. Darius the King says: Those who were the former kings, as long as they lived, by them was not done thus as by the favor of Ahuramazda was done by me in one and the same year.

60. Darius the King says: Now let that which has been done by me convince you; thus to the people impart, do not conceal it: if this record you shall not conceal, (but) tell it to the people, may Ahuramazda he a friend to you, and may family be to you in abundance, and may you live long!

61. Darius the King says: If this record you shall conceal, (and) not tell it to the people, may Ahuramazda be a smiter to you, and may family not be to you!

62. Darius the King says: This which I did, in one and the same year by the favor of Ahuramazda I did; Ahuramazda bore me aid, and the other gods who are.

63. Darius the King says: For this reason Ahuramazda bore aid, and the other gods who are, because I was not hostile, I was not a Lie-follower, I was not a doer of wrong -- neither I nor my family. According to righteousness I conducted myself. Neither to the weak nor to the powerful did I do wrong. The man who cooperated with my house, him I rewarded well; whoso did injury, him I punished well.

64. Darius the King says: You who shall be king hereafter, the man who shall be a Lie-follower or who shall be a doer of wrong -- to them do not be a friend, (but) punish them well.

65. Darius the King says: You who shall thereafter behold this inscription which I have inscribed, or these sculptures, do not destroy them, (but) thence onward protect them, as long as you shall be in good strength!

66. Darius the King says: If you shall behold this inscription or these sculptures, (and) shall not destroy them and shall protect them as long as to you there is strength, may Ahuramazda be a friend to you, and may family be to you in abundance, and may you live long, and what you shall do, that may Ahuramazda make successful for you!

67. Darius the King says: If you shall behold this inscription or these sculptures, (and) shall destroy them and shall not protect them as long as to you there is strength, may Ahuramazda be a smiter to you, and may family not be to you, and what you shall do, that for you may Ahuramazda utterly destroy!

68. Darius the King says: These are the men who were there at the time when I slew Gaumata the Magian who called himself Smerdis; at that time these men cooperated as my followers: Intaphernes by name, son of Vayaspara, a Persian; Otanes by name, son of Thukhra, a Persian; Gobryas by name, son of Mardonius, a Persian; Hydarnes by name, son of Bagabigna, a Persian; Megabyzus by name, son of Datuvahya, a Persian; Ardumanish by name, son of Vahauka, a Persian.

69. Darius the King says: You, who shall be king hereafter, protect well the family of these men.

70. Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda this is the inscription which I made. Besides, it was in Aryan, and on clay tablets and on parchment it was composed. Besides, a sculptured figure of myself I made. Besides, I made my lineage. And it was inscribed and was read off before me. Afterwards this inscription I sent off everywhere among the provinces. The people unitedly worked upon it.

71. Darius the King says: This is what I did in both the second and the third year after I became king. A province named
Elam became rebellious. One man named Atamaita, an Elamite -- they made him chief. Thereupon I sent forth an army. One man named Gobryas, a Persian, my subject -- I made him chief of them. After that, Gobryas with the army marched off to Elam; he joined battle with the Elamites. Thereupon Gobryas smote and crushed the Elamites, and captured the chief of them; he led him to me, and I killed him. After that the province became mine.

72. Darius the King says: Those Elamites were faithless and by them Ahuramazda was not worshipped. I worshipped Ahuramazda; by the favor of Ahuramazda, as was my desire, thus I did to them.

73. Darius the King says: Who so shall worship Ahuramazda, divine blessing will be upon him, both (while) living and (when) dead.

74. Darius the King says: Afterwards with an army I went off to
Scythia, after the Scythians who wear the pointed cap. These Scythians went from me. When I arrived at the sea, beyond it then with all my army I crossed. Afterwards, I smote the Scythians exceedingly; another (leader) I took captive; this one was led bound to me, and I slew him. The chief of them, by name Skunkha -- him they seized and led to me. Then I made another their chief, as was my desire. After that, the province became mine.

75. Darius the King says: Those Scythians were faithless and Ahuramazda was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Ahuramazda; by the grace of Ahuramazda I did unto them according to my will.

76. Darius the King says: Whoso shall worship Ahuramazda, divine blessing will be upon him, both while living and when dead.


Royal Road


Royal Road: according to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus (5th century BCE) the road that connected the capital of Lydia, Sardes, and the capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, Susa and Persepolis. From cuneiform texts, other royal roads are known.

Herodotus describes the road between Sardes and
Susa in the following words [History of Herodotus 5.52-53].

As regards this road the truth is as follows. Everywhere there are royal stations with excellent resting places, and the whole road runs through country which is inhabited and safe.

  1. Through Lydia and Phrygia there extend twenty stages, amounting to 520 kilometers.
  2. After Phrygia succeeds the river Halys, at which there is a gate which one must needs pass through in order to cross the river, and a strong guard-post is established there.
  3. Then after crossing over into Cappadocia it is by these way twenty-eight stages, being 572 kilometers, to the borders of Cilicia.
  4. On the borders of the Cilicians you will pass through two sets of gates and guard-posts: then after passing through these it is three stages, amounting to 85 kilometers, to journey through Cilicia.
  5. The boundary of Cilicia and Armenia is a navigable river called Euphrates. In Armenia the number of stages with resting-places is fifteen, and 310 kilometers, and there is a guard-post on the way.
  6. Then from Armenia, when one enters the land of Matiene, there are thirty-four stages, amounting to 753 kilometers. Through this land flow four navigable rivers, which can not be crossed but by ferries, first the Tigris, then a second and third called both by the same name, Zabatus, though they are not the same river and do not flow from the same region (for the first-mentioned of them flows from the Armenian land and the other from that of the Matienians), and the fourth of the rivers is called Gyndes [...].
  7. Passing thence into the Cissian land, there are eleven stages, 234 kilometers, to the river Choaspes, which is also a navigable stream; and upon this is built the city of Susa. The number of these stages amounts in all to one hundred and eleven.

This is the number of stages with resting-places, as one goes up from Sardes to Susa. If the royal road has been rightly measured [...] the number of kilometers from Sardes to the palace of [king Artaxerxes I] Mnemon is 2500. So if one travels 30 kilometers each day, some ninety days are spent on the journey.

This road must be very old. If the Persians had built this road and had taken the shortest route, they would have chosen another track: from
Susa to Babylon, along the Euphrates to the capital of Cilicia, Tarsus, and from there to Lydia. This was not only shorter, but had the additional advantage of passing along the sea, where it was possible to trade goods. The route along the Tigris, however, lead through the heartland of the ancient Assyrian kingdom. It is likely, therefore, that the road was planned and organized by the Assyrian kings to connect their capital Nineveh with Susa. Important towns like Arbela and Opis were situated on the road.

It is certain that the Assyrians traded with Kanesh in modern
Turkey in the first half of the second millennium BCE. The names of several trading centers and stations are known and suggest that the route from Assyria to the west was already well-organized. This road was still in existence in the Persian age.

A traveler, who went from
Nineveh (which was destroyed by the Medes and Babylonians in 612) to the west, crossed the Tigris near a town that was known as Amida in the Roman age (and today as Diyarbekir). This was the capital of a country called Sophene. Further to the west, he crossed the Euphrates near Melitene, the capital of a small state with the same name, which may have been part of the Persian satrapy Cilicia. It is probable that the ruins of the guardhouse mentioned by Herodotus are to be found near Eski Malatya.

The border between Cilicia and Cappadocia was in the Antitaurus mountain range. The last town in Cilicia, and probably the place of the 'two sets of gates and guard-posts' mentioned by Herodotus, was at Comana, a holy place that was dedicated to Ma-Enyo, a warrior goddess that the Greeks identified with Artemis.

The route continued across the central plains of modern
Turkey, a country that was called Cappadocia. The exact course of the road is not known, but it is likely that it passed along the capital of the former Hethite Empire, Hattušas.

The Halys was crossed near modern
Ankara -which may well have been a guard-post- and the next stop was Gordium, the capital of another kingdom that had disappeared in the Persian age, Phrygia. Passing though Pessinus, a famous sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Cybele, and Docimium, famous for its pavonazetto marble, and the Royal road reached Sardes.

Persepolis, many tablets were found that refer to the system of horse changing on the Royal road; it was called pirradaziš. From these tablets, we know a lot about the continuation of the road from Susa to Persepolis -23 stages and a distance of 552 kilometers- and about other main roads in the Achaemenid Empire. No less important was, for example, the road that connected Babylon and Egbatana, which crossed the Royal road near Opis, and continued to the holy city of Zoroastrianism, Rhagae. This road continued to the Far East and was later known as Silk Road.

Herodotus describes the pirradaziš -for which he uses another name- in very laudatory words:

There is nothing mortal which accomplishes a journey with more speed than these messengers, so skillfully 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.

[History of Herodotus 8.98]

To the Greeks, this was most impressive. There is a story by Diodorus of Sicily that between Susa and Persepolis, even greater communication speeds were reached:

Although some of the Persians were distant a thirty days' journey, they all received the order on that very day, thanks to the skilful arrangement of the posts of the guard, a matter that it is not well to pass over in silence. Persia is cut by many narrow valleys and has many lookout posts that are high and close together, on which those of the inhabitants who had the loudest voices had been stationed. Since these posts were separated from each other by the distance at which a man's voice can be heard, those who received the order passed it on in the same way to the next, and then these in turn to others until the message had been delivered at the border of the satrapy.

[World history 19.17.5-6]

We can not establish whether this is true. If it is, it is the ultimate tribute to the Persian talent to organize this; if it is a mere fantasy, it is a beautiful compliment.

The road, although without the pirradaziš system, was still in use in Roman times. The bridge at Amida (modern
Diyarbakir in Turkey) is an illustration.


Old Persian Cuneiform

Darius I [522 - 486 BCE] claims credit for the invention of Old Persian Cuneiform in an inscription on a cliff at Behistun in south-west Iran. The inscription dates from 520 BCE and is in three languages - Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian. Some scholars are sceptical about Darius' claims; others take them seriously, although they think that Darius probably commissioned his scribes to create the alphabet, rather than inventing it himself.

Old Persian, the language used in the cuneiform inscriptions of Achaemenian dynasty and the vernacular of the Achaemenian elite. Old Persian was spoken in south western
Persia, an area known as Persis, and belongs to the Iranian branch or the Indo-Aryan family of languages.

Notable Features

  • The Old Persian Cuneiform glyphs are both phonemic and syllabic.
  • There are five logograms which represent commonly used words: God, King, Country [in two forms] and Earth.