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550-330 BCE

Persia /
Achaemenid Dynasty
Also: Ancient Egypt / Late Period / 27th Dynasty | 31st Dynasty
Old Persian: hakhamanishiya

1. Administration
2. Economy
3. Culture
4. Religion
5. History

Rulers (Kings)
Years BCE
Achaemenes of Anshan 7th century BCE
Teispes of Anshan 7th century
Cyrus 1 of Anshan 600-580
Ariaramnes of Persia Around 580
Cambyses 1 of Anshan 580-559
Arsames of Persia 559-550
Cyrus 2 the Great (559) 550-530
Cambyses 2 530-522
Smerdis or Gaumata 522
Darius 1 522-486
Xerxes 1 486-465
Artaxerxes 1 465-424
Xerxes 2 424-423
Sogdianus 423
Darius 2 423-404
Artaxerxes 2 404-358
Artaxerxes 3 358-338
Arses 338-336
Darius 3 Codomannus 336-330

Dynasty of Persia 550-330 BCE, altogether about 220 years.
The Achaemenids also ruled Egypt for 132 years, first period 525404 BCE, 121 years, the second period 343-332 BCE, 11 years. In Egyptian history these are counted as respectively 27th and 31st Dynasties.
The dynasty emerged a good 100 years earlier, with King Achaemenes. He controlled a territory for which it is difficult to ascertain borders, at a time when Media was the dominant Iranian country. Around ca. 600 Anshan was divided into two; Anshan and Persia. For the next 50 years, both or either or Anshan and Persia must have extended their territory. In 550 they were peacefully united under Anshan king, Cyrus 2 the Great.
At its greatest, around 480 BCE, they ruled over lands from Bulgaria to Afghanistan, from Armenia to Egypt and northern parts of Arabia.
For Egypt's part, the Achaemenid period was largely not a bad one. Persian kings facilitated the continuation of Egyptian culture, but the mere fact that Egypt was under foreign rule was a provocation by itself, and it was with nationalism as the main official explanation that the Persian satraps were driven out in 404. Still, 61 years later, the Persians defeated the Egyptians again, forming a new satrapy. What little information is available, it tells not about a stable period. What ended this second era of Persian control in 332 was the very same that would bring about the end of the Achamenids altogether: Alexander the Great.
While the end of the dynasty came from the two defeats of Darius 3 by Alexander the Great, in 333 and 331, the real end is set to the death of Darius 3 the following year. Persia would be annexed into the domains of Alexander the Great, from which the Seleucid Dynasty would emerge some 20 years later.

A central part of the Achaemenid administration was the satrapy system that allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy. The empire had at its most 20 satrapies, that were connected by a 2500 km highway. Couriers could reach any part of the empire within 2 weeks.
The ruler of a satrapy, the satrap, or governor, acted as political administrator, leaving the military in the hands of a general.
The interests of the king and the empire were controlled by royal inspectors sent out to control and report from each satrapy. The king had a personal guard that is said to have counted up to 10,000 men, being called "Immortals".
Controlling the vast territories, the Achaemenids prevented emerging nationalism within their borders by forcing whole groups of people to move to new locations. This policy proved effective, and facilitated a relatively peaceful period.
A new capital, today known as Persepolis, was established around 500 BCE by the command of Darius 1 the Great. Until then Pasargadae had been the Achaemenid capital.
During the reign of Darius 1, a legal system was established. Also, laws for Egypt were established.

A money economy was introduced, using silver and gold coins. Trade became highly developed, benefitting from good infrastructure and stability. The economic progress also permitted great cultural progress.

Art in this period allowed the introduction of foreign elements, but the main structures and designs remained according to Iranian culture. With the construction of Pasargadae by the command of Cyrus 2, the most sophisticated elements of Iranian culture came alive, seen both in the columned halls and the gold work. Although the Achaemenids allowed much to be imported into their culture, both artistry and artists, it is not correct, as some have alleged, that their culture entirely was imported. Rather is shows that this era represented a continuation from Iranian pre-history.
The main language of the empire was Aramaic; Old Persian was used mainly for ceremonial purposes.
Morals was highly promoted, honesty was the highest of virtues. Polygamy was accepted his this time, as well as homosexuality.

Cults with similarities to Zoroastrianism may have been the cult of the Acheamenid elite, which can be seen in the use of fire altars. but there seem to have been many other cults too. Other gods, like Urania taken from Arabian or Assyrian religion, and Mitra were strong cults too.

Ca. 650 BCE: A king of Anshan, possibly named Achaemenes, takes control over large territories. He would be succeeded by Teispes.
Beginning 6th century: Two sons of Teispes become kings of each their lands, Cyrus of Anshan and Ariaramnes of Persia. They would continue the division of the land through their sons.
550: Cyrus 2 the Great, king since 559 of Anshan, inherits the land of Persia upon the death of King Arsames.
525: Egypt is conquered by Cambyses 2, establishing Persian control. This is often referred to, misleadingly, as the beginning of a new Egyptian Dynasty, the 27th.
518: The construction of Persepolis is begun.
Early 5th century: Years of battles with Greece leads to the defeat of the Persians.
Middle of 5th century: Slow decline of the dynasty, much due weak leaders and decadence.

By Tore Kjeilen