Cyrus the Great is generally regarded as the first Persian king, or Shah. He began as a ruler of a small kingdom. Over a ten year period between 559 and 549 B.C. he united the various Persian tribes and conquered the Medes to create the Persian Empire. Said to have been of humble origins, he was regarded as both a great warrior and a just statesman, who treated his subjects and enemies with compassion.

According to a semi-mythical story retold by Herodotus Cyrus had an Oedipus-like childhood. He was condemned to exposure as a baby but returned as a young man to seek revenge against all those who wronged him. Cyrus the Great conquered Babylonia, defeating the declining Neo-Babylonians with relative ease, released the Jews from captivity, and slowly expanded westward across Asia Minor. The Persian and Medes warriors under his command were skilled charioteers and fighters. They carried out light, hide-covered shields and fought with bows and arrows. They relied on speed, quick attacks and luring armed opponents within range of their arrow attacks.

Cyrus the Great’s Conquests

Cyrus the Great won Assyria by defeating the Medes. He conquered Lydia, ruled by King Croesus, in 546 B.C. This gave him possession of much of Asia Minor. Babylon was ruled by the Chaldean Empire, who had enslaved the Jews. The Chaldeans gave up Babylon without a fight in 539 B.C. Cyrus thus claimed ancient city and acquired Palestine. He allowed the Jews to return their homeland and rebuild their temple. With his empire in the Middle East secure, Cyrus the Great turned his attention to the east. He extended the border of his empire into India. Among the early kingdoms to fall was exotic Massagetae, which did not have much experience with wine and were easily subdued after they were all gotten drunk. Over the next 60 years, Cyrus and his successors Cambyses (ruled 530-522 B.C.) and Darius I swept north, east and west to expand the Persian Empire. Cambyses was Cyrus’s son. He captured weak Egypt in short campaign and was regarded a cruel tyrant. See Egyptians

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: ““Cyrus became king of Anshan in 559, and Astyages, cognizant of Cyrus' intention to revolt, prepared to attack. A rebellion within his army frustrated Astyages' plans, and by 550 Cyrus was in control of the Persian-Mede empire and was beginning a series of brilliant military maneuvers. Nabonidus, fearful of Cyrus' power, entered into alliances with Croesus of Lydia in Asia Minor (560-546) and with Amasis of Egypt (569-525). Cyrus moved across northern Mesopotamia, removed Syria from Babylonian control, and disregarding the usual military practice whereby hostilities ceased during the winter months, attacked Croesus in his winter palace at Sardis and made Lydia part of his kingdom. The Babylonian-Egyptian pact was dissolved. Cyrus conquered Afghanistan and prepared to move on Babylonia. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“Babylon was ready for Cyrus. Fifth columnists had been at work spreading pro-Persian propaganda. Babylonians, irritated by Nabonidus' long absence in the desert and troubled by the monarch's religious deviations, were willing to heed reports about the liberal-minded Persian. It is not impossible that the subversive work reached into the Jewish community.6 The Persians entered Babylon without battle. According to the Cyrus cylinder,7 Cyrus came at the invitation of Marduk who, angry with Nabonidus, searched for a righteous man and pronounced the name of Cyrus, commanding the Persian king to assume control of the land (cf. Isa. 45:4).8 Cyrus records that his army strolled toward Babylon, weapons sheathed, welcomed by the entire countryside. Upon taking control of the city, he forbade plunder by his troops, began a program of urban renewal, permitted captive peoples to return home, restored sanctuaries and returned sacred implements to their respective shrines. Cyrus speaks of himself as a worshipper of Bel-Marduk.9 Whether or not he was a follower of the prophet Zoroaster cannot be known for sure, but some parts of II Isaiah have been compared with the religious documents of Zoroastrian faith, known as the Gathas, and parallels suggesting dependence have been noted,10 but the evidence is still sub judice.

Cyrus was killed in India in 529 B.C. fighting eastern nomadic tribesmen. He died after an ill-advised crossing of the river Araxes, considered the boundary between the Near East and the Far East (Asia) and was buried in a tomb in his capital, Pasargadae, The ruins of the tomb remain today.

Cyrus the Great, the Father of Human Rights?

Some have called Cyrus the Great a pioneer of ideas about freedom and human rights. Before the classical Greeks developed their form of democracy, he not only freed the Jews enslaved in Babylonia in 539 B.C. he let them to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Cyrus is also credited with establishing what has been called the world’s first religiously and culturally tolerant empire, More than 23 different peoples coexisted peacefully under a central government, originally based in Pasargadae.

The Chaldeans gave up Babylon without a fight in 539 B.C. to the Persian king Cyrus, who acquired Palestine and allowed the Jews to return their homeland and rebuild their temple. For 200 years the Jews lived under Persian rule. A religious revival occurred under prophet Ezar and the Persian Jewish leader Nehemiah.

Herodotus tells one story about Cyrus the Great and a dog. About 550 B.C. Cyrus received a large mastiff from the King of Albania as a gift. To test its fighting ability Cyrus puts the dog up against another dog and then a bull, which the mastiff show no interest in fighting. In disgust Cyrus ordered the mastiff killed, When news of this got back to the King of Albania he sent another mastiff with the message that this dog was no ordinary cur and took no notice of common creatures such as Persian dogs or bulls. He urged Cyrus to come up with a worthy opponent such as a lion or elephant. The king of Albania concluded by saying that mastiffs were rare and royal gifts and he would not send another. Cyrus then pitted the new mastiff against an elephant. The dog attacked with such furry and efficiency Herodotus wrote, the elephant was brought down to ground and would have been killed by the dog if someone hadn’t intervened.

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Cyrus cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder, the Earliest Written Bill of Rights

The Cyrus Cylinder — perhaps Iran’s most important artifact — is a decree that has been described as the charter of human rights — predating the Magna Carta by nearly two millennia. Resembling a corncob made of clay and housed in the British Museum in London, with a replica at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, it banned slavery and oppression of any kind, outlawed the taking pf property by force or without compensation and gave member states the right to subject themselves to Cyrus’s crown, or not. In cuneiform it reads: “I never resolve on war to reign.”

The Cyrus Cylinder is about the size of a rugby ball. Ben Hoyle wrote in The Times, “The Cylinder was made after Cyrus, King of Persia, conquered the city-state of Babylon — ancient kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar — in 539 B.C. It records, in intricate gouged cuneiform script, his decree that the peoples whom the Babylonian kings had enslaved and deported should be allowed to return home, and it proclaims the rights of all worshippers to honour their different gods.[Source: Ben Hoyle, The Times, April 18, 2011]

Cyrus's move proved to be a stroke of political genius. This tolerant approach secured the loyalty of conquered peoples across the Persian empire and it won for Cyrus the admiration of history: in 18th-century Europe, he was still held up as the model enlightened ruler. Critically, Cyrus's decree allowed the Jews deported by Nebuchadnezzar to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It is recorded with gratitude in the Old Testament. The Cylinder is the fullest surviving version of this historic proclamation, which transformed the Middle East.

When the Cyrus Cylinder was loaned by the British Museum to the National Museum of Iran in Tehran more than one million people paid to see it, more than for any loan exhibition in the UK since the Treasures of Tutankhamun came to London in 1972. Visitors on the final day said that everyone they knew had already been at least once. Most spoke of it in terms of "human rights". One young artist said: "It is so important for us that 2,500 years ago we had human rights in our country. We get very emotional about this. Government and people are separate. Government think one thing and the people something else."

Cambyses II: the Persian Conqueror of Egypt

Cambyses II

Cambyses II, son of Cyrus and Cassadane, was born in 558 B.C. and came to the throne during a major rebellion. He moved swiftly to put down the uprisings only to find that his brother, Smerdis, was a primary instigator behind it. In Persian, it was a tradition for the younger sibling to attempt a coup and usurp the throne of the elder brother. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato]

Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: After the death of Cyrus, Cambyses inherited his throne. He was the son of Cyrus and of Cassandane, the daughter of Pharnaspes, for whom Cyrus mourned deeply when she died before him, and had all his subjects mourn also. Cambyses was the son of this woman and of Cyrus. He considered the Ionians and Aeolians slaves inherited from his father, and prepared an expedition against Egypt, taking with him some of these Greek subjects besides others whom he ruled. . [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]

Cambyses II once reportedly remarked to his mother that when he became a man, he would turn all of Egypt upside down. After eliminating his brother, he was now free to organize a long-anticipated expedition to bring the riches of Egypt into the Hittite Empire. And the time was ripe after Egypt weakened its military with two disastrous campaigns into Syria and Babylon by the unpopular pharaoh, Hophra. There was also a power struggle between Hophra’s regime and the supporters of Amassis, a popular military commander. This struggle ended in Hophra’s untimely demise. Amassis knew the danger that Cambyses II posed and looked to the Greeks for help, which proved fruitless. In fact, Polycrates of Samos actually offered his aid to the Hittites. +\

Cambyses II’s Campaign Against Egypt

“But now Cambyses II had a logistical problem. He had to march his army across fifty miles of desert. He was in luck. Phane of Halicarnassus, a Greek mercenary in the employ of Amassis, quarreled with his employer and now offered his services to the Hittites. He knew the Sheiks of the desert and arranged for their aid with provisions. Cambyses II was also building a fleet in his Phoenician ports to threaten from the sea. +\

“During this, Egypt was plagued by ill omens. Amassis died shortly before the invasion began, and it rained on the city of Thebes, an event that had been recorded no more than twice in one century. This put his heir, Psammeticus III, in a hard situation. He must defeat a numerically and better equipped enemy with a despairing populace and a country coming apart at the seams. Undeterred, he gathered all the troops he could muster ( Greeks, Libyans, Cyrenaeans and Ionians), and set out to face the Hittites at Pelusium. Outnumbered, the Egyptians and their allies were put to flight and a rout began. Rather than finding a defensible position in the swamps of the delta, Psammeticus let Cambyses II pressure him all the way to Memphis and this move from a historical stand point has proved to be a debacle for anyone foolish enough to attempt it. +\

“During one battle, a Persian ambassador sailed up the Nile in a Mitylenean boat, and proposed terms of surrender to the Egyptian rebels in Memphis, Egypt. When the Egyptians saw the boat coming, they attacked it and smashed it to pieces as well as killing all of the crew members. The Persian army moved up to Memphis and forced the rebels to surrender prompting several other groups to offer gifts of tribute to Cambyses II. Ten days later, Cambyses II protested to the royal judges for justice. It was decided that ten Egyptians would die for every Persian who had been killed on the boat. In the end two thousand Egyptians had been executed. Many years after this had occurred, Egypt, like Babylon and Assyria, became a province of the Persian Empire.” +\

Cambyses II’ Conquest of Egypt

David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Herodotus provides the most coherent account of the Persian invasion of Egypt, a theme elaborated upon much later in the Coptic “Cambyses Romance”, and the Ethiopic “Chronicle “of John Nikiou. Cambyses reputedly attacked Egypt out of anger towards Amasis, who insulted Cyrus by sending Nitêtis, a daughter of Apries and not his own child, to wed the Persian king . Yet his foreign policy was a logical extension of his father’s campaigns, especially since Amasis had pledged Egypt into an alliance with Lydia, Babylon, and Sparta. With the logistical support of Arabian chiefs, Cambyses led his army through northern Sinai, from Gaza to Pelusium . After a short battle, Amasis’s heir, the short-lived Psammetichus III, and his mercenary army retreated to Memphis, only to surrender after a heavy siege. Libya and Cyrenaica quickly followed suit, and preemptively sent tribute to the Persian king. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

“Cambyses humiliated Psammetichus III before the army in Memphis, and when the latter king refused to accept the Persian authority, he was condemned to death by drinking bull’s blood . Despite his ephemeral reign, Psammetichus III completed a temple to Osiris in Karnak and was posthumously commemorated by Udjahorresnet on his statue, and thus he was more than a “nebulous figure”. The Egyptian campaign began roughly in the winter of 526 B.C., and Cambyses was crowned by the summer of 525 B.C. at the latest.

“Cambyses then advanced with his army to Sais, capital of the preceding 26th Dynasty, where he disinterred the mummy of Amasis and abused his corpse. The posthumous attacks upon Amasis are further evidenced by the systematic erasure of his cartouches on both royal and private monuments throughout Egypt, and possible attacks specifically targeting his temples. While Amasis approved major temple construction projects throughout Egypt, none of his monuments stand today, but survive only as fragmentary blocks. Nonetheless, the “damnatio memoriae “did not last long, as the statue of Udjahorresnet, carved under Darius I, once again mentions Amasis, and his son Henat served in Amasis’s posthumous royal cult.”

Cambyses II as the Ruler of Egypt

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: After reducing Memphis after a short siege, Cambyses took steps to assure a legitimate path to the throne. He adopted the double cartouche of the Pharaohs, the royal costume, and laid claim to be the son of Re. He also embraced Egyptian religion and land usage methods, and had a tutor, Uazahor- resenet, to teach him Egyptian customs. Overall, Cambyses had a profound affect on Egypt, bringing new vigor and quality leadership as well as a genuine interest in the Egyptian way of life. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato +]

Cambyses II's meeting with Psammetichus III

During his reign, Cambyses had destroyed several temples at Memphis and became a tyrant in the eyes of his people and court members. Some even thought he was crazy due to the outlandish things he would do such as having twelve Persian nobles buried in the ground up to their neck for reason at all. He had many killed because of comments that upset or offended him. It is said that Cambyses reigned for seven years and five months. In an attempt to rush off on one of his horses, Cambyses was wounded in the thigh when a portion of the scabbard of his sword fell off. He soon died from the effects of the wound, which caused the limb to mortify and affect the bone.” +\

David Klotz of New York University wrote: ““Much like the Roman Emperor Caracalla centuries later, Cambyses seems to have entered Egypt with good intentions, respecting local temples and religious customs. Yet after his failed campaigns, Cambyses stormed back to Memphis, reportedly leaving behind a trail of looting, destruction, and impiety that gave him one of the worst reputations in the ancient world. Many classical authors report that Cambyses stole precious objects from the temples, and the careful damage to the cartouches of Amasis throughout Egypt suggests attacks were primarily directed against his structures during this time. Upon his return to Memphis, the testy Cambyses could not bear to witness celebrations for the newly crowned Apis and he reportedly murdered the sacred calf. Scholars frequently debate the fragmentary evidence from the Serapeum, but the extant records do not entirely disprove the accusations Herodotus recorded. Even if Cambyses granted an official Apis burial early in his reign, this does not mean he could not have killed another during a fit of rage. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

“Whether the charges of impiety leveled against Cambyses are exaggerations or ideologically charged fabrications of anti- Persian propaganda, documentary evidence indicates that he significantly reduced the fiscal resources of most temples in Egypt. Dillery argued that Herodotus’s native Egyptian informants did not objectively narrate their history, but instead resorted to literary tropes to frame recent events within their mythological worldview. If anything, native accounts of Cambyses recall legends surrounding Seth, the god of chaos, charged with committing numerous impieties in Egypt during the Late Period. A decree of Cambyses is preserved on a Demotic papyrus. Although Cambyses may have simply intended to boost the Egyptian economy, the clergy remembered this period as a regrettable hiatus in temple donations, falling between the more beneficent reigns of Amasis and Darius I.”

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Darius I

David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Darius assumed the throne, reorganized the Empire, and spent much of his time stamping out regional uprisings, including one in Egypt. Recently discovered temple inscriptions from Amheida (Dakhla Oasis) reveal the extent of his rebellion. Furthermore, Aryandes, the first Egyptian satrap, may have tried to break away from the Empire; Darius had him executed for introducing his own coinage; a different tradition maintains that Egyptians revolted against Aryandes and his oppressive policies.” [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

Darius I (ruled 522-486) made Persia into a great empire, raised it to the pinnacle of its wealth and glory and added vast lands to the east, west and north. He was a nephew of Cyrus the Great and a cousin of Cambyses. He died in 486 B.C. after the Persians embarrassing defeat at the Battle of Marathon to the Greeks, while he was preparing to retaliate. Darius married at least 5 women and had 12 children, including Xerxes, his successor. He ruled for thirty-six years.

Darius I, is said to have become king in a very unusual way. His predecessor Cambyses left Egypt in 522 B.C. and died en route to Persia. His brother, Bardiya/Smerdis — or the impostor Gaumata — succeeded him briefly until Darius led a coup and assassinated him in the same year. Darius was one of seven men who were to find and kill an imposter named Smerdis. Upon the death and beheading of Smerdis and several others who got in the way of the seven men, a massacre broke out when the people saw the heads of the traitors. The remaining men decided that after they were mounted on their horse, whichever horse neighed first at sunrise should have the kingdom. Oebares, groom of Darius, managed to get Darius’ horse to neigh when everyone was mounted at sunrise one day making Darius ruler of the New Kingdom. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato]

Darius established an empire that extended from the Mediterranean to the Indus River. His greatest contribution was perfecting a system of government that could rule such a large empire and bring wealth and military support from all corners of the empire to the central government. He built imperial highways and oversaw the construction of a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea.

Darius I’s Wealth and Power

Darius declared himself “Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of things.” He extended the Persian empire into the Indus Valley (Pakistan), Central Asia, Egypt and Thrace (Bulgaria) and created the largest and more powerful empire the world had known up to that time. By comparison, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Assyria were all regional kingdoms.

Darius I was very fat and accumulated great wealth. It is said he had more than 50,000 brood mares as well as 10,000 men traveling “all over the world” seeking delicacies and wines for his table. Once he hosted a huge feast in which more than a thousand animals were slaughtered. Guests were served smoked camel hump, oxen, zebras, gazelles, stags, ostriches, gamecocks, geese, pilaf, kebabs, figs, eggplant stuffed with lamb, poultry with yoghurt sauce, baby lambs stuffed with raisins, peas and pine nuts, deserts, fruits and nuts.

Herodotus wrote that Darius offered to pay his Greek subjects to eat the bodies of their fathers instead of burning them as was their custom. They refused no matter how much was offered them. He then offered to give money to Indians, who customarily ate the bodies of their deceased fathers, if they would burn their bodies. They also refused no matter how much was offered them.

Herodotus dismissed Darius as being “shopkeeper” for the contribution he made: introducing coinage established a reliable postal system and divided the empire into manageable provinces called strapies.

Persian Empire Under Darius I

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Darius I ("the Great") emerged as king (r. 521–486 B.C.), claiming in his inscriptions that a certain "Achaemenes" was his ancestor. Under Darius the empire was stabilized, with roads for communication and a system of governors (satraps) established. He added northwestern India to the Achaemenid realm and initiated two major building projects: the construction of royal buildings at Susa and the creation of the new dynastic center of Persepolis, the buildings of which were decorated by Darius and his successors with stone reliefs and carvings. These show tributaries from different parts of the empire processing toward the enthroned king or conveying the king's throne. The impression is of a harmonious empire supported by its numerous peoples. Darius also consolidated Persia's western conquests in the Aegean. However, in 498 B.C., the eastern Greek Ionian cities, supported in part by Athens, revolted. It took the Persians four years to crush the rebellion, although an attack against mainland Greece was repulsed at Marathon in 490 B.C. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Darius's Palace in Susa

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Gaumata, the usurper, was overcome by Darius I, the Great (521-486), an Achaemenid prince who recorded his achievement and his version of events leading up to his victory in the Behistun rock inscription carved into a high cliff above the main highway between Ecbatana (the capital city) and Babylon. A relief panel shows Darius with one foot on the neck of the prostrate Gaumata, behind whom are the captured leaders who attempted to defect. What is more significant, perhaps, is the figure of the winged disc with a human head, the symbol of Ahura Mazda, god of the Zoroastrian faith. With Darius, Zoroastrianism became the religion of the Persian court. There is no evidence of any official change in attitude toward the beliefs of the different groups constituting the empire, but, as we shall see, there is ample evidence that some Persian concepts made a lasting impression on Jewish religious thought. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Under Darius the empire prospered. From all parts exotic products flowed into central cities. Beautiful new buildings were erected. Communication was facilitated with road improvements, a canal was dug linking the Nile and the Red Sea, and better protection was provided for caravans. Banking and commerce were encouraged and a coinage system was developed for the empire.

“Meanwhile, development and expansion were taking place in the Aegean world. Greek mercenaries had fought both for Cambyses and against him in the war with Egypt. Greek power had now become a threat to be reckoned with on Persia's western front. Finally, Darius engaged in war with the Greeks, suffering bitter defeat at Marathon in 490. When Darius died in 486, the Greek-Persian struggle was inherited by his son, Xerxes.

Darius I’s Rule of Egypt

Darius as Pharaoh

Egyptian images of Darius I showed him dressed in the style of the old Egyptian kings. He went by the name Ra-SETTU (king of the South and North). According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: He placed his name Darius into hieroglyphic characters within a cartouche as "son of the Sun". Darius has founded a college for the education of the priests. His goal was to erase the negative impressions the Egyptians had of the Persians, including that of Cambyses. His greatest work was the completion of the digging of the canal to join the Nile and Red Sea, which had begun by Necho II. He became acquainted with Egyptian theology and the writings in books. At one point he gained the title of god, which no other Persian king had done. Darius repaired architectural works, but his greatest attempt was the building of the temple in Oasis Al-Kharga in honor of the god Amen. Darius ruled for thirty-six years. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato,]

David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Darius certainly took an active interest in the administration of the country, and he reportedly codified the laws of Egypt. His most notable accomplishment was the excavation of a canal system at Suez, a feat commemorated by several enormous stelae inscribed in both hieroglyphs and cuneiform. According to the Egyptian versions, Darius consulted with Egyptian officials in his palace at Susa and ordered them to excavate a canal in the Bitter Lakes region. After its completion, numerous cargo ships set sail in the Red Sea, circumnavigated the Arabian Peninsula, reportedly in cooperation with the Sabaeans of Southern Arabia, and ultimately arrived in Persia. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

“This maritime route was preferable to the arduous land journey. Statues and other large stone objects likely took a similar course from the Wadi Hammamat to Persia via the Red Sea , as well as the thousands of Egyptian workmen shipped to Persepolis, Susa, and other building sites. A Persian Period Demotic papyrus from Saqqara mentions the toponym “Twmrk”, perhaps to be identified with the coastal city of Tamukkan near the Persian Gulf, frequently mentioned in Persepolis Fortification Tablets in connection with Egyptian laborers.

“It is uncertain whether Darius ever visited Egypt, or if he mainly corresponded with the satrap and conferred with Egyptian officials residing in Susa and Persepolis. Nonetheless, there is no reason to assume the Great King was somehow oblivious to the Suez Canal excavation or the various temple construction projects going on throughout Egypt, as these enterprises must have required significant resources, manpower, and organization. The Pherendates correspon- dence reveals how closely the satrap micro- managed seemingly trivial questions involving sacerdotal appointments at Elephantine during this reign.”

Darius I’s Building Campaign

David Klotz of New York University wrote: ““In dedicatory texts from Susa, Darius I boasted of assembling an international crew of skilled artisans to construct his palaces. While Babylonians were charged with clearing rubble and making bricks, Egyptian recruits worked the gold, wood, and decorated the walls. Egyptian style is evident in Achaemenid architecture and reliefs, although the cosmopolitan iconographic program interwove artistic traditions from across the Persian Empire. As mentioned above, numerous administrative tablets from Iran record the movements of these Egyptian workers; an Elamite tablet even mentions rations delivered to a local “scribe of the Egyptians, Harkipi”. Egyptian artifacts were discovered at Susa and Persepolis, including amulets, scarabs, and even a Horus “cippus”; various administrative seals from Iran bear short hieroglyphic texts, and numerous stone vessels feature Egyptian cartouches of Persian kings. Artisans and laborers were not the only Egyptians imported to Persia. Cyrus reputedly employed an Egyptian doctor, and Udjahorresnet advised Darius within “Elam,” most likely at the royal court at Susa. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

“The mass transport of skilled artisans and advisors to Persia may have led to a minor “brain drain” in Egypt. Compared to the Saite Period, temple inscriptions, as well as private stelae and statues, became relatively scarce and of lesser quality. Yet unlike Cambyses, Darius I devoted significant resources to Egyptian temples, earning a positive reputation for religious tolerance . Darius reportedly studied Egyptian theology along with priests, and when he ordered Udjahorresnet to restore the House of Life in Sais, it was because the king “knew the efficacy of the craft of healing the sick, of establishing the name of every god, their temples, their offerings, and conducting their festivals”. As mentioned above, Darius renewed Amasis’s donations of temple lands, and he earned the unique Golden Horus name: “beloved of all the gods and goddesses of Egypt”.

“Although there is only limited evidence for temple construction within the Nile Valley, with fragmentary reliefs from Karnak, Busiris, and Elkab, this phenomenon may result from post -Persian damnatio memoriae . In Kharga Oasis, Darius I rebuilt the large temple of Hibis, and the smaller sanctuary at Qasr el -Ghueita. In Dakhla Oasis, blocks with similar decoration, almost certainly attributable to Darius I, were reused in the Roman Period temple of Thoth at Amheida. Nonetheless, assorted votive objects from his reign have been found across Egypt, including faience and bronze objects from Karnak and Dendera, as well as decor ated naoi at Tuna el -Gebel and an unspecified temple of Anubis and Isis , most likely Cynopolis in Upper Egypt At Memphis, three Apis bulls were interred in regnal years 4, 31, and 34. If the burial ceremony under Cambyses had been a modest affair, the first embalming ritual for Darius was celebrated with much fanfare under the direction of the General Amasis, who aimed to create respect for the Apis “in the heart of all people and all foreigners who were in Egypt”. He sent messengers across Egypt summoning all local governors to bring tribute to Memphis and perform a lavish burial. Around the same time, the Treasurer and Chief of Works under Darius I, Ptahhotep, took credit for “guarding over the temples” of Memphis, multiplying offerings, increasing the clergy, and “reintroducing sacred images, putting all writings (back) in their proper place” . Cambyses had mocked the divine effigy of Ptah in Memphis, but Darius wished to erect his own statue before the same temple (Herodotus II, 110; III, 37).”


Xerxes (ruled 486-465 B.C.) was the son of Darius. He was regarded as weak and tyrannical. He spent the early years of his reign putting down rebellions in Egypt and Babylon and preparing to launch another attack on Greece with a huge army that he assumed would easily overwhelm the Greeks.

Herodotus characterizes Xerxes as man a layers of complexity. Yes he could be cruel and arrogant. But he could also be childishly petulant and become tear-eyed with sentimentality. In one episode, recounted by Herodotus, Xerxes looked over the mighty force he created to attack Greece and then broke down, telling his uncle Artabanus, who warned him not to attack Greece, “by pity as I considered the brevity of human life.”

In October, a mummy was found with a golden crown and a cuneiform plaque identifying it as the daughter of King Xerxes was found in a house in the western Pakistani city of Quetta. The international press described it as a major archeological find. Later it was revealed the mummy was a fake. The woman inside was a middle-age woman who died of a broken neck in 1996.

Xerxes Takes the Throne After a Succession Dispute

Herodotus wrote in Book VII of “Histories”: “Now, as he was about to lead forth his levies against Egypt and Athens, a fierce contention for the sovereign power arose among his sons; since the law of the Persians was that a king must not go out with his army, until he has appointed one to succeed him upon the throne. Darius, before he obtained the kingdom, had had three sons born to him from his former wife, who was a daughter of Gobryas; while, since he began to reign, Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, had borne him four. Artabazanes was the eldest of the first family, and Xerxes of the second. These two, therefore, being the sons of different mothers, were now at variance. Artabazanes claimed the crown as the eldest of all the children, because it was an established custom all over the world for the eldest to have the pre-eminence; while Xerxes, on the other hand, urged that he was sprung from Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, and that it was Cyrus who had won the Persians their freedom. [Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VII and VIII on the Persian War, 440 B.C., translated by George Rawlinson, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“Before Darius had pronounced on the matter, it happened that Demaratus, the son of Ariston, who had been deprived of his crown at Sparta, and had afterwards, of his own accord, gone into banishment, came up to Susa, and there heard of the quarrel of the princes. Hereupon, as report says, he went to Xerxes, and advised him, in addition to all that he had urged before, to plead- that at the time when he was born Darius was already king, and bore rule over the Persians; but when Artabazanes came into the world, he was a mere private person. It would therefore be neither right nor seemly that the crown should go to another in preference to himself. "For at Sparta," said Demaratus, byway of suggestion, "the law is that if a king has sons before he comes to the throne, and another son is born to him afterwards, the child so born is heir to his father's kingdom." Xerxes followed this counsel, and Darius, persuaded that he had justice on his side, appointed him his successor. For my own part I believe that, even without this, the crown would have gone to Xerxes; for Atossa was all-powerful.

“Darius, when he had thus appointed Xerxes his heir, was minded to lead forth his armies; but he was prevented by death while his preparations were still proceeding. He died in the year following the revolt of Egypt and the matters here related, after having reigned in all six-and-thirty years, leaving the revolted Egyptians and the Athenians alike unpunished. At his death the kingdom passed to his son Xerxes.”

Xerxes After He Becomes the Ruler of Persia

Xerxes Inscription

Herodotus wrote in Book VII of “Histories”: ““Now Xerxes, on first mounting the throne, was coldly disposed towards the Grecian war, and made it his business to collect an army against Egypt. But Mardonius, the son of Gobryas, who was at the court, and had more influence with him than any of the other Persians, being his own cousin, the child of a sister of Darius, plied him with discourses like the following: “"Master, it is not fitting that they of Athens escape scot-free, after doing the Persians such great injury. Complete the work which thou hast now in hand, and then, when the pride of Egypt is brought low, lead an army against Athens. So shalt thou thyself have good report among men, and others shall fear hereafter to attack thy country." Thus far it was of vengeance that he spoke; but sometimes he would vary the theme, and observe by the way, "that Europe was a wondrous beautiful region, rich in all kinds of cultivated trees, and the soil excellent: no one, save the king, was worthy to own such a land." [Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VII and VIII on the Persian War, 440 B.C., translated by George Rawlinson, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“All this he said, because he longed for adventures, and hoped to become satrap of Greece under the king; and after a while he had his way, and persuaded Xerxes to do according to his desires. Other things, however, occurring about the same time, helped his persuasions. For, in the first place, it chanced that messengers arrived from Thessaly, sent by the Aleuadae, Thessalian kings, to invite Xerxes into Greece, and to promise him all the assistance which it was in their power to give. And further, the Pisistratidae, who had come up to Susa, held the same language as the Aleuadae, and worked upon him even more than they, by means of Onomacritus of Athens, an oracle-monger, and the same who set forth the prophecies of Musaeus in their order. The Pisistratidae had previously been at enmity with this man, but made up the quarrel before they removed to Susa. He was banished from Athens by Hipparchus, the son of Pisistratus, because he foisted into the writings of Musaeus a prophecy that the islands which lie off Lemnos would one day disappear in the sea. Lasus of Hermione caught him in the act of so doing. For this cause Hipparchus banished him, though till then they had been the closest of friends. Now, however, he went up to Susa with the sons of Pisistratus, and they talked very grandly of him to the king; while he, for his part, whenever he was in the king's company, repeated to him certain of the oracles; and while he took care to pass over all that spoke of disaster to the barbarians, brought forward the passages which promised them the greatest success. "'Twas fated," he told Xerxes, "that a Persian should bridge the Hellespont, and march an army from Asia into Greece." While Onomacritus thus plied Xerxes with his oracles, the Pisistratidae and Aleuadae did not cease to press on him their advice, till at last the king yielded, and agreed to lead forth an expedition.

“First, however, in the year following the death of Darius, he marched against those who had revolted from him; and having reduced them, and laid all Egypt under a far harder yoke than ever his father had put upon it, he gave the government to Achaeamenes, who was his own brother, and son to Darius. This Achaeamenes was afterwards slain in his government by Inaros, the son of Psammetichus, a Libyan. After Egypt was subdued, Xerxes, being about to take in hand the expedition against Athens, called together an assembly of the noblest Persians to learn their opinions, and to lay before them his own designs.

So, when the men were met, the king spake thus to them: "Persians, I shall not be the first to bring in among you a new custom- I shall but follow one which has come down to us from our forefathers. Never yet, as our old men assure me, has our race reposed itself, since the time when Cyrus overcame Astyages, and so we Persians wrested the sceptre from the Medes. Now in all this God guides us; and we, obeying his guidance, prosper greatly. What need have I to tell you of the deeds of Cyrus and Cambyses, and my own father Darius, how many nations they conquered, and added to our dominions? Ye know right well what great things they achieved. But for myself, I will say that, from the day on which I mounted the throne, I have not ceased to consider by what means I may rival those who have preceded me in this post of honour, and increase the power of Persia as much as any of them. And truly I have pondered upon this, until at last I have found out a way whereby we may at once win glory, and likewise get possession of a land which is as large and as rich as our own nay, which is even more varied in the fruits it bears- while at the same time we obtain satisfaction and revenge. For this cause I have now called you together, that I may make known to you what I design to do.” [Source: See Separate Article on “Ancient Greeks and the Persian Wars”

Persia Under Xerxes

20120209-Xerxes_at_Doorway_of_his_Palace Persepolis.jpg
Xerxes at Doorway of
his Palacein Persepolis
Xerxes (ruled 486-465 B.C.) was the son of Darius. He was said to be a tall and handsome but is regarded by history as cruel, weak and tyrannical. He spent the early years of his reign putting down rebellions in Egypt and Babylon and preparing to launch another attack on Greece with a huge army that he assumed would easily overwhelm the Greeks. Herodotus characterizes Xerxes as man a layers of complexity, Yes could cruel and arrogant, Put he could also childishly petulance and tear-eyed sentimentality. In one episode Xerxes look over the might force fore he has created to attack Greece and then breaks down, telling his uncle Artabanus, who warned him not to attack Greece, “by pity as I considered the brevity of human life."

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Darius' son Xerxes (r. 486–465 B.C.) attempted to force the mainland Greeks to acknowledge Persian power, but Sparta and Athens refused to give way. Xerxes led his sea and land forces against Greece in 480 B.C., defeating the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae and sacking Athens. However, the Greeks won a victory against the Persian navy in the straits of Salamis in 479 B.C. It is possible that at this point a serious revolt broke out in the strategically crucial province of Babylonia. Xerxes quickly left Greece and successfully crushed the Babylonian rebellion. However, the Persian army he left behind was defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Plataea in 479 B.C. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Xerxes, or Khshayarsha (485-465), who is probably the King Ahasuertis mentioned in Esther 4:6, had a troubled reign. A revolt in Egypt was followed by another in Babylon, and on this great city Xerxes released his anger, pulling down portions of the city wall and demolishing Esagila, the shrine of Marduk. The war with Greece went badly and Xerxes was forced to withdraw from Europe. In 465 he was assassinated. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Xerxes ruled for twenty years and was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes. He was murdered by Artabanus and Spamitres about B.C. 465. There aren't many monuments attributed to Xerxes.

Persians, Purim and the Biblical Story of Esther

The Chaldeans gave up Babylon without a fight in 539 B.C. to the Persian king Cyrus, who acquired Palestine and allowed the Jews to return their homeland and rebuild their temple. For 200 years the Jews lived under Persian rule. A religious revival occurred under prophet Ezar and the Persian Jewish leader Nehemiah.


The Biblical cannon was established by 4th century B.C. Some scholars think most of it was written during the reign of the Judean King Josiah (ruled 639 to 609 B.C.). This period also saw the emergence of rabbis, arbiters of law and custom.

The story of Esther — the basis of the holiday Purim — takes place in Shishan, the winter capital of Persia. Esther was a beautiful Jewish woman who lived there with her uncle Mordechai, who had adopted her. The leader of Persia was Emperor Akshashversus (also known by the Greek name Xerxes). After dismissing his wife Vashto because she refused to follow his orders, the emperor selected Esther as a new wife. She had been a member of his harem. Akshashversus didn’t know she was Jewish. Shortly after she became queen, she warned the emperor of a plot to kill him after being told of the plot by Morechai. Akshashversus was grateful.

Haman, one of the king’s favorite ministers and a fanatical anti-Semite, became enraged when Mordecai refused to bow to him and decided to vent his anger on all the Jewish people in Persia. He asked for and received permission from Akshashversus to exterminate the Jews on the false charge of treason.

Mordechai pleaded with Esther to plead with Akshashversus for help but she could only communicate with the emperor if he called her. If she called him she risked being put to death. After fasting for three days she appeared in the inner court. There Akshashversus asked her what she wanted. She said she wanted to invite the emperor to a banquet. He agreed. That night he couldn’t sleep and asked that book of records be read to him. From the records he learned that it was Mordechai who uncovered the assassination plot and saved his life. At the banquet, Esther pleaded with the emperor to spare the Jews.

Akshashversus decided that the Jews must be saved. But changing a ruling was impossible because it would mean the emperor wasn’t infallible. Instead, Akshashversus supplied weapons to the Jews who defeated troops loyal the Haman. Haman, his top aides and 10 of his sons were hung on gallows that had been prepared for the Jews.


Esther's Accusation

“Purim” (“Feast of Lots”) is held on the 14th day of the last Jewish month (in March). It commemorates the rescue of the Jews in Persia from extermination, as ordered by the Persian leader Haman, by Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai in 480 B.C. Purim means “Lottery,” and was thus named because Haman chose the date by pulling a name from a hat.

Purim celebrates the unwillingness of the Jews to compromise their religious principals by bowing to secular authority. It has traditionally been observed with the reading of the Book of the Esther in a synagogue, accompanied by noisemakers, the eating of Haman’s ear (fried, triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, apricots or prunes) and bringing plates of goodies to neighbors and family members. In Israel, school is closed but most businesses remain open.

In Israel, Purim has evolved into a Jewish version of Carnival or Halloween in which children dress up in costumes, men dress up like women, and adults get so drunk they can’t distinguish between the words “curse of Haman” and “bless Mordechai.” It is he only time of the year that Jews are encouraged to get roaring drunk. It is not uncommon for Jews to dress up like Muslims.

After Xerxes

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Xerxes was assassinated and was succeeded by one of his sons, who took the name Artaxerxes I (r. 465–424 B.C). During his reign, revolts in Egypt were crushed and garrisons established in the Levant. The empire remained largely intact under Darius II (r. 423–405 B.C), but Egypt claimed independence during the reign of Artaxerxes II (r. 405–359 B.C). Although Artaxerxes II had the longest reign of all the Persian kings, we know very little about him. Writing in the early second century A.D., Plutarch describes him as a sympathetic ruler and courageous warrior. With his successor, Artaxerxes III (r. 358–338 B.C), Egypt was reconquered, but the king was assassinated and his son was crowned as Artaxerxes IV (r. 338–336 B.C.). He too was murdered and replaced by Darius III (r. 336–330 B.C.), a second cousin, who faced the armies of Alexander III of Macedon ("the Great"). Ultimately Darius III was murdered by one of his own generals and Alexander claimed the Persian empire. However, the fact that Alexander had to fight every inch of the way, taking every province by force, demonstrates the extraordinary solidarity of the Persian empire and that, despite the repeated court intrigues, it was certainly not in a state of decay. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Xerxes' Tomb

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: ““In 460, Egypt, supported by Greece, revolted against Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465-424), son of and successor to Xerxes, and it was not until 455 that Egypt again came under Persian rule. Darius II, son of Artaxerxes I by a Babylonian concubine, came to power following a civil war marked by numerous assassinations, and he reigned during a tumultuous time in Persian history. Satraps rebelled and weakened the empire. Fortunately for the Persians, the Greeks were embroiled in their own Peloponnesian war and were far too busy to take advantage of Persia's weakness. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-359), the next monarch, struggled through civil war, intrigues, assassinations, and a revolt by which Egypt gained her long-sought independence. When Artaxerxes III (358-338) assumed the throne, his able but ruthless approach brought the loss of provinces by rebellion to a halt and made possible the repossession of some areas previously lost. When provinces along the Mediterranean revolted, the Persian army, greatly strengthened by Greek mercenaries, attacked and destroyed a number of coastal towns, including Sidon, and opened the way for an attack on Egypt. About this same time, Philip of Macedon was uniting Greece, and now Greek armies, strengthened by Macedonian forces, were poised for world conquest.

“Artaxerxes III was murdered by a certain Bagoas, a eunuch, who exterminated most of the Achaemenid line before passing the kingship to Darius III Codommanus (335-331) because, as an imperfect man, Bagoas could not rule.

After the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, Judea became a province of the Greek-ruled Seleucid (Syrian) kingdom.

Darius III— Alexander’s Flawed Persian Rival

Darius III Codommanus (335-331 B.C.) reconquered Egypt but was unable to withstand the tremendous military power of the new Greek-Macedonian forces led by Alexander the Great. Under him, the Hellenization of the Near East, already well under way, was to be greatly accelerated.

The Roman historian Arrian wrote: ““This king was a man pre-eminently effeminate and lacking in self-reliance in military enterprises; but as to civil matters he never exhibited any disposition to indulge in arbitrary conduct; nor indeed was it in his power to exhibit it. For it happened that he was involved in a war with the Macedonians and Greeks at the very time he succeeded to the regal power; and consequently it was no longer possible for him to act the tyrant towards his subjects, even if he had been so inclined, standing as he did in greater danger than they. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“As long as he lived, one misfortune after another was accumulated upon him; nor did he experience any cessation of calamity from the time when he first succeeded to the rule. At the beginning of his reign the cavalry defeat was sustained by his viceroys at the Granicus, and forthwith Ionia Aeolis, both the Phrygias, Lydia, and all Caria except Halicarnassus were occupied by his foe; soon after, Halicarnassus also was captured, as well as all the littoral as far as Cilicia. Then came his own discomfiture at Issus, where he saw his mother, wife, and children taken prisoners.

Darius III

“Upon this Phoenicia and the whole of Egypt were lost; and then at Arbela he himself fled disgracefully among the first, and lost a very vast army composed of all the nations of his empire. After this, wandering as an exile from his own dominions, he died after being betrayed by his personal attendants to the worst treatment possible, being at the same time king and a prisoner ignominiously led in chains; and at last he perished through a conspiracy formed of those most intimately acquainted with him. Such were the misfortunes that befell Darius in his lifetime; but after his death he received a royal burial; his children received from Alexander a princely rearing and education, just as if their father had still been king; and Alexander himself became his son-in-law. When he died he was about fifty years of age.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, BBC and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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