Kings of the Achaemenian/Hakhamanish Dynasty
Cyrus II, The Great (559 – 529 BC) 1
Cambyses II (529-521 B.C.) 1
Darius I, The Great (521-486 BC) 2
Xerxes I (486-465 BC) 3
Emperors after Xerxes 3
Artaxerxes II (405-358 BC) 3
Artaxerxes III (359-338 B.C.) 3
Darius III (336-331 B. C.) 3
End of the Median empire
Before the Achaemenian empire was established, Media ruled over north-western Iran. Its capital was Hamadan. Much is not known about the Median kings, except or these four:
1. Deioces: He overthrew the Assyrian rule and founded an independent kingdom of Media, making the fortified city of Ecbatana his capital. He was succeeded by his son Phraortes.
2. Phraortes: Phraortes extended the empire.He ruled for 20 years, and was succeeded by Cyaxares.
3. Cyaxares: He was a great warrior and a wise ruler. He defeated and captured Nineveh. He waged a war with Lydia but was not able to capture it. He ruled for 35 years, and was succeeded by Astyages.
4. Astyages: He was the last Median king, who ruled for a long time till the middle of the 6th century B C.
Rise of the Achaemenians
Achaemenian or Hakhamanish was the first historical Persian Empire, founded by Cyrus II, the Great, after overthrowing the last Median king Astyages in about 559 BC. The dynasty is named after Achaemenes, one of the ancestors of Cyrus, who ruled in Anshan under the Median kings.
Cyrus II, The Great (559 – 529 BC)
Cyrus (originally, Kurush) was born in 599 BC to Cambyses I. In about 559 BC he overthrew Median Emperor Astyages, and became independent king. He built his capital city Pasargadae.
Cyrus first defeated king Croesus, took Sardis and annexed Lydia in about 546 B. C. Thereafter the Greek kingdoms of Asia Minor came under him. Then he turned to Central Asia and brought the Bactrians and the Sakas under his rule. He also conquered Hyrcania, Chorasmia, Parthia, Sogdiana, Drangiana, Aracosia, Sattagidia and Gandara and thus brought the Iranian countries under one rule.
Cyrus then conquered the ancient kingdom of Babylon. The Babyloniain king Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the city, demolished the famous Temple of Solomon, and kept the Jews in captivity. His successor Nabunaid, was not popular. When Cyrus marched into Babylonia, people opposed Nabunaid, opened the city gates and received him as their deliverer in 539 BC. Cyrus freed the Jews who were in captivity for seventy years. He granted rights to life, work and religion to the Babylonian people, which are engraved on a clay tablet, now immortalized as ‘The Cyrus Cylinder.’
Cyrus laid down the wise policy of allowing the conquered people to rule their countries, and to follow their religion. Accordingly, he allowed the Jews to return to their country, and helped them to rebuild the famous Temple of Solomon, which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. For this act of magnanimity, Cyrus is remembered in honourable terms in Ezra 6.3-4 and 14-15, and Messiah, ‘the anointed of the Lord’ in Isiah, 45.1 in the Old Testament.
While engaged in a battle, Cyrus was wounded and he died at the age of 71 years in 529 B. C. The last resting place of Cyrus is situated at Pasargadae. Nearby are also found the ruins of his palace. He is considered one of the most enlightened rulers the world has ever seen.
Cambyses II (529-521 B.C.)
Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses. In the beginning of his reign, Cambyses conquered Egypt in 524 BC. He received the title ‘Pharaoh’, and he and his descendants constituted the 27th dynasty of the Pharaohs for a period of about 124 years. On the western bank of the river Nile a city was laid out, which is still known as Cambusis.
When Cambyses was engaged in Egypt, a Magian, Gaumata by name, claiming to be Smerdes the son of Cyrus, rose in rebellion, and seized power in Pars, Media, and other provinces. Hearing the news of the rebellion, Cambyses hurriedly left Egypt, but he died while he was on his way to Pars in 521 BC.
Darius I, The Great (521-486 BC)
When Gaumata, the imposter, seized power in Pars and Media, rebellions spread through out the Empire. Darius, a member of the younger line of the royal family, courageously answered the call of duty, quelled a number of rebellions and consolidated the Empire.
He led an expedition to the Scythian countries in Southern Europe. In about 512 BC, he crossed the Bosphorus, entered Europe, and marched upto the Ister (the Danube) and occupied Scythia.
All the Greek States, except Athens and Sparta, surrendered to Darius. Later in about 499 BC, the Greek States rose in rebellion and burnt Sardis. Darius sent an army to Greece to occupy Thrace, Macedonia, Athens, and Eretria. The army of Darius landed at Marathon, but the attempt proved a disaster for his army. This battle of Marathon is regarded as one of the fifteen decisive battles of the world.
Darius built royal palaces at Persepolis (administrative capital), Susa, Ecbatana, (summer residence) and Babylon (winter residence). He divided his Empire into about 29 administrative districts called Satrapies. Each Satrapy was governed by a Satrap appointed by the Emperor. The Emperor maintained secret services, called “the King’s Eyes and Ears”, for proper administration.
Darius built roads, threw bridges across rivers, and dug canals to bring the far-flung countries of the Empire in close contact. The famous Royal Road, the highway connecting Susa with Sardis, was about 2550 kilometres long, with rest houses for the use of government officials and public.
Darius introduced postal service, which may be regarded as the first postal system in the world. Along the important roads, he fixed postal stages at an interval of about 24 kilometres. The post was carried by horsemen, and at every stage new riders were ready with fresh horses. A dispatch from Susa reached its destination at Sardis – a distance of about 2500 kilometres – in just six days. Describing the Iranian postal systems, Herodotus says “Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers.”
Darius constructed a canal connecting the Red Sea with the Nile. An inscription about it was discovered in 1866 while excavating the present Suez Canal.
Darius passed away at the age of 65 years in 486 B.C. His ossuary is at Naqsh-i-Rustam. He has left many inscriptions, in three languages, Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian, which have shed important light on ancient Parsi history. In his inscriptions, Darius proudly records his ancestry in the following words: adam darayavaush khshayathiya vazraka, khshayathiya khshayathiyanam……. parsa parsahya puthra ariya ariya chithra. “I, Darius, the great king, the king of kings…….a Parsi, the son of a Parsi, an Aryan, of Aryan family.”
Darius was a brave warrior, a benevolent monarch, and a wise and skillful administrator. His Empire consisted of the countries of diverse peoples. Following the wise and benevolent policy laid down by Cyrus, he allowed the conquered nations to rule their countries, follow their religion, and observe their customs and manners.
Xerxes I (486-465 BC)
After Darius the Great, his younger son Xerxes ascended the throne. He made preparations to send an expedition to Greece to avenge the defeat of Darius at Marathon. The Greek States, with the exception of Athens, and Sparta, surrendered.
With great difficulty the army of Xerxes outflanked the dangerous pass of Thermopylae. After six days his army captured Athens, and burnt the temple of goddess Athena. The Greek fleet, retreated to Salamis, from where the Greek commander Themistocles, sent a misguiding message to Xerxes. The Persian fleet of ships was shattered. This battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. was a serious disaster for the Persians. Thereafter the army of Xerxes suffered another setback at Hellespont in 479 B.C.
Xerxes was murdered in 465 B. C. while he was asleep in his royal apartment.
Emperors after Xerxes
After Xerxes I, deceit prevailed in the royal family. Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) ruled for 41 years. His reign was marked by internal conflict. Xerxes II (424BC) and Sogdianus (424 BC) were murdered. Darius II (424-405 BC) concluded a treaty with the Greeks in 412 BC, and received tribute from them.
Artaxerxes II (405-358 BC)
He was the son of Darius II. He was reputed to have wonderful memory, and therefore, the Greeks called him Mnemon (Greek word for “mind, memory”). He was a wise and generous ruler. He inspired confidence among the Greek States and acted as a peace-maker. He brought out an edict which decreed that the Greek city states in Asia Minor belonged to the Persian Empire. The edict, known as the “King’s Peace”, was accepted by Athens, Sparta and other Greek States.
Artaxerxes II was a kind, generous and wise ruler. He strengthened the Empire by his intelligence, wisdom and foresight. He ruled for forty-six years, and passed away peacefully in 358 BC at the ripe age of ninety-four years.
Out of the three sons of Artaxerxes II, one was executed, another committed suicide, and the third, Ochus, ascended the throne as Artaxerxes III.
Artaxerxes III (359-338 B.C.)
In the beginning of his reign, several members of the royal family and courtiers were murdered for political reasons. Artaxerxes III was poisoned by his courtier Bagaos. The King’s youngest son Ariaspes occupied the throne in 338 B.C., but even he and his children were put to death by Bagaos, and Darius III ascended the throne.
Darius III (336-331 B. C.)
Darius III was a brave and good ruler. A part of his subjects, believed Alexander to be the rightful heir to the. Ironically, Darius ascended the throne in the same year in which Alexander became king in Macedonia at the age of 20 years.
Alexander refused to pay tribute to Darius III. In 334 BC, he marched from Macedonia, across Hellespont, invaded Mysia, and defeated the Persian army on the banks of the Granicus. Then Alexander advanced unopposed, entered Syria, and took Damascus without a fight.
Thereafter he entered Egypt and laid foundation of a city which became famous as Alexandria. Darius sent envoys to Alexander with letters offering friendship and alliance. To this, Alexander replied that Darius will have to come himself and accept him as the master of all Asia or else prepare for a war. An appeal of settlement from Darius was turned down by Alexander, and a total surrender demanded.
Alexander returned to Asia, crossed the Euphrates, and met the army of Darius, which was awaiting him at Gaugamela. This was the famous battle of Arabela in which Alexander defeated Darius in 331 BC. Now Alexander came to Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire. Though the brave warrior Ariabarzanes fought back the frontal attack of Alexander, during the night, Alexander outflanked the defenders, surprised them from the rear, and took over Persepolis. He looted the royal palaces, secured enormous wealth, and burnt the palaces of Persepolis.
After his defeat at Persepolis, Darius fled to Ecbatana, from there to Ragha, and thence to the eastern provinces, hotly pursued by Alexander. In 330 B. C., when Alexander was about to capture Darius, the latter was killed by Bessus, the Satrap of Bactria. Darius passed away just as Alexander reached the chariot in which he was left dying. Such was the tragic end of the great, illustrious Parsi Empire of the Achaemenians.
After defeating the eastern provinces of Areion (Herat), Cancasum (Kabul), Bactria and Sogdia Alexander proclaimed himself the Emperor of Persia, put on the imperial crown and adopted Persian dress and ceremonial costumes. In 328 BC he married Rokhshana, the daughter of Oxyartes, a Bactrian prince.
At Alexander’s orders, Bessus, the murderer of Darius, was put to death in Bactria. Alexander died at Babylon on 13th June, 322 BC.