The Achaemenid Empire (/əˈkiːmənɪd/c. 550–330 BC), also called the First Persian Empire, was an empire based in Western Asia, founded by Cyrus the Great.
Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans andEastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east,
it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers.
Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings),
for building infrastructure such as road systemsand a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army.
The empire’s successes inspired similar systems in later empires
The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest territorial extent,
under the rule of Darius I (522 BC to 486 BC)
The Persian daric was the first gold coinwhich, along with a similar silver coin, thesiglos, introduced the bimetallic monetary standard of the Achaemenid Persian Empire which has continued till today.
This was accomplished by Darius the Great, who reinforced the empire
and expandedPersepolis as a ceremonial capital;
he revolutionized the economy by placing it on the silver and gold coinage and introducing a regulated and sustainable tax system
that was precisely tailored to each satrapy, based on their supposed productivity and their economic potential.
For instance, Babylonwas assessed for the highest amount and for a startling mixture of commodities – 1000silver talents, four months supply of food for the army.
India was clearly already fabled for its gold;
Egypt was known for the wealth of its crops
it was to be the granary of the Persian Empire (as later of Rome’s)
and was required to provide 120,000 measures of grain in addition to 700 talents of silver.
This was exclusively a tax levied on subject peoples.
Other accomplishments of Darius’ reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system, and construction of a new capital at Persepolis.
Under the Achaemenids, the trade was extensive and there was an efficient infrastructure that facilitated the exchange of commodities in the far reaches of the empire.
Tariffs on trade were one of the empire’s main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute
Reliefs of gift-bearing delegations in Apadana staircase of Persepolis; the ones depicted here areArian
upper) and Babylonian (lower) delegations.
In some areas, one tribe would manage to gather a collection of other tribes under its leadership.
The Medes were one such. They built a capital at Ecbatana (‘meeting place’) in the eastern Zagros from where they extended their power.
In 612 BCE, Cyaxares, King of the Medes, stormedNineveh with the Chaldeans, after which he pushed into the north-west.
In 585 BCE, the Medes were fighting the Lydians on the Halys river when a solar eclipse frightened both sides into making peace. Soon afterwards, Cyaxares died leaving an empire of sorts to his son Astyages (585–550 BCE).
One of the regions whose tribes paid tribute to the Medes was Persia, which lay south-east of Ecbatana, beyond Elam. There were around 10 or 15 tribes in Persia, of which one was thePasargadae.
The leader of the Pasargadae always came from theAchaemenid clan, and, in 559 BCE, a new leader was chosen: Cyrus II (‘the Great’)
Cyrus took the title ‘Shah [‘King’] of Persia’ and built a capital on the site of his victory, which he called Pasargadae, after his tribe.
Winning the Medes over had landed Cyrus with a vague, sprawling empire of countless different peoples, however. He faced cultural diversity, suspicion, and outright hostility.
Lydia and Chaldean Babylonhad agreements with the Medes; neither felt comfortable about a Persian takeover.
Lydia was won because Cyrus did not play by the rules.
After an indecisivebattle near the Halys river one autumn, King Croesus (c. 560–c. 546 BCE) returned to Sardis, expecting to resume fighting in the spring according to custom.
But Cyrus followed him home and captured Sardis itself, Lydia’s capital and richest of the Ionian cities. A century earlier, Lydia had minted the first coins, making Ionia a hub of commerce.
Now all this fell to Cyrus.
As for Croesus himself,
it seems Cyrus may have spared his life, again against all precedent.
Cyrus developed a reputation for sparing conquered rulers so he could ask their advice on how best to govern their lands.
How much of this reputation was warranted is hard to know,
but before Cyrus no one would have wanted it anyway; it would have been a sign of weakness.
The Achaemenid Persian empire was the largest that the ancient world had seen, extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia.
Its formation began in 550 B.C.,
when King Astyages of Media, who dominated much of Iran and eastern Anatolia (Turkey),
was defeated by his southern neighbor Cyrus II (“the Great”), king of Persia (r. 559–530 B.C.).
This upset the balance of power in the Near East.
The Lydians of western Anatolia under King Croesus took advantage of the fall of Media to push east and clashed with Persian forces. The Lydian army withdrew for the winter but the Persians advanced to the Lydian capital at Sardis, which fell after a two-week siege.
The Lydians had been allied with the Babylonians and Egyptians
and Cyrus now had to confront these major powers.
The Babylonian empire controlled Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean. In 539 B.C., Persian forces defeated the Babylonian army at the site of Opis, east of the Tigris.
Cyrus entered Babylon and presented himself as a traditional Mesopotamian monarch, restoring temples and releasing political prisoners.
The one western power that remained unconquered in Cyrus’ lightning campaigns was Egypt.
It was left to his son Cambyses to rout the Egyptian forces in the eastern Nile Delta in 525 B.C.
After a ten-day siege, Egypt’s ancient capital Memphis fell to the Persians.