2.2.2- Persia's Imperial Management

By: Ally Kane & Emily Mertz

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The Basic Gist

Around 500 B.C.E., Persia was considered to be the largest empire in the world. Persia, through its numerous conquests, reached from Egypt to the northeastern border of Greece. Because of the vast size of the empire and the great number of peoples it conquered, Persia was one of the most culturally diverse empires of the time. When taking over another region, Persia would adopt the religions, art, economic systems and more. This was the main reason for the prosperity of Persia at the time. A structured imperial administration, a legal system based on the region-wide religion, monumental economic and trade developments and an extensive military all contributed to the rich culture of the Persia Empire.

The Persian Empire, around 500 B.C.E.

Imperial Administration

The vast size of the Persian Empire size was due to the numerous conquests of other empires that reached from Egypt to India. The two most influential monarchs that reigned during this time were Cyrus (557-530 B.C.E.) and Darius(522-486 B.C.E.). Cyrus the Great controlled conquests of Lydia, Media, and Babylon, whose cultures and ideals Persia took in to their own. In terms of the imperial administration, Persia was divided into four capital states. These regions were Pasargadae, Babylon, Susa, and Ekbatana, but the capital of the empire later switched to Persepolis. There were 23 "satraps" or governors, that controlled the regions. These satraps were often checked up on by imperial spies, who would report back to the monarchs. These satraps were more powerful than the "generals" and "state secretaries", who supervised the local regions of the military and kept offical records, respectively. The satraps were appointed by the central government, while the local officials were selected from among that particular population. The monarchs encouraged education in order for a person to be elected.

Darius the Great (522-486 B.C.E.)
Cyrus the Great (557-530 B.C.E.)

Legal Systems

The laws of Persia, under the rule of the monarchs, satraps, and local officials,
The symbol of the great Persian God, Ahura Mazda. The three rows of wings represent Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds.
were often based upon religion, specifically Zoroastrianism. For example, one could only approach a monarch through elaborate rituals. When a king died, sacred fires across the empire were extinguished out of mourning, the people were expected to shave their hair, and the manes of horses were cut off out of respect for the leader. The laws of the empire were centered around the Zoroastrian ideals, which included such things as the value of truth and moral choice. Those who were true were deemed good, while those who were not true would be punished.

Some beliefs of Zoroastrianism that shaped Persia's legal systems included:
  • There is one supreme God, Ahura Mazda
  • Good thoughts, good words, & good deeds ensure happiness
  • People would undergo judgement upon death.
    • Honest and moral beings would go to a heavenly paradise.
    • Evil beings would experience pain and suffering.

While Darius was the ruler of Persia, he permitted religions to coexist, so Zoroastrianism grew rapidly among the empire. Thus, the monarch, satraps and over officials would all enforce rules according to the teachings of Zoroastrianism.

Military Power

The Military was a very important, and well known asset of the Persian Empire. The size of the military was somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 troops, with the addition of several tens of thousands of troops made up of allies. In fact, the military reached an enormous size while under the ruling of Cyrus the Great. Military members wore purple and saffron colors because, at that time period, purple was the most expensive die color (derived from a murex shell) available in the world at that time. Saffron was used as well because it was the second most valuable color die at the time. The fact that the Persians spent such a great effort decking army members in lush colors reveals that the Persian Empire viewed the military as valued members of society. These military members used bow and arrow
The Immortals, dressed in their opulent war gear
s, the most common weapon, in combat. However, shock action was left to be performed by the Calvary, a team far better equipped for the job. In addition to the Persian Empire’s military, the king maintained a personal bodyguard of 10,000 men known as the Immortals. The Immortals were the most special, valued members within the military, getting their name from fighting under the Sassanid Army. The weapons of the Immortals were more advanced than those belonging to regular military members and included wicker shields, short spears, swords, large daggers, bow and arrow, and silver and gold spiked spears depending on the soldiers rank. Attire of these special members consisted of scale armour coats underneath elaborate robes and gold jewelry. The Immortals are best known for their participation in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.E.

Before Greece or Egypt had ever even had a true imperial navy, Darius the Great, King of Persia was the first Achaemenid king to invest in a creating a Persian fleet. The first ships measured about 40 meters in length and 6 meters in width, and were able to transport up to 300 Persian troops at a time, and not before long, other nations began to copy the design of the Persian navy. Vast and useful, the ships were a vital asset to the Persians. The ships meant that there was a strong presence in the Persian Gulf, serving as means to help keep peace between allies and to patrol many rivers including the Nile and Tigris. In addition to this, the navy allowed for a massive military bridge to be created by the joining of 37 Persian navy ships across the Tigris river. The success was so great, that later on, King Xerxes the Great decided to build a bridge using a similar technique in hopes of allowing Persia to conquer Greece. However, King Xerxes was unable to completely capture all of the Greek city-states. Nonetheless, the bridges formed by the Navy’s efforts worked exactly as they were supposed to.

A depiction of an ancient Persian ship.

Military Diplomacy

Persia used diplomacy, which are negotiations between nations, in order to form alliances, prevent war, and to increase its size. In about 550 B.C.E, Ki
King Nabonidus of Babylon 550 B.C.E.
ng Cyrus initiated diplomatic relations with Babylon’s King Nabonidus, which was one of the first steps to making Persia into a successful, prosperous empire. From this alliance, Cyrus the Great was able to win over Hypargus and much of the Median aristocracy when he revolted against Astyages and took over the Median empire. On some occasions, Persian Rulers used wealth to bribe other nations to keep peace. King Xerxes, for example, attempted to use bribery and diplomacy to try to win over an alliance with the Greeks, but was unsuccessful. Around the year 394 B.C.E, the old alliance of Persia and

Athens established democracies in numerous Asian cities under the patronage of the Persian empire, allowing the Persian empire to expand. In addition, the Persian navy, with the help of the Phoenicians and Greeks, was able to defeat the Spartan navy off Cnidus, a huge accomplishment. Overall, diplomacy was a successful way for the Persian Empire to expand by utilizing negotiations between other nations.

Supply Lines

The supply lines of the military for the Persian Empire were lines of production that allowed the military to be constantly re-supplied with food, ammunition, supplies, and clothing. Persia had long supply lines, which made them more vulnerable to attacks. The supply lines would cross roads, bridges, and seas. In fact, this was one of the reasons that led to the Greeks eventually defeating the Persians. The supply lines for the Immortals, however, were different from the regular supply lines of the military and of the lower ranking military members. The regiment was followed by a caravan of covered carriages, camels, and mules that transported the needed—and extra lavish—supplies, along with concubines and attendants to serve them. This supply train carried special, more expensive food that was reserved only for them, showing how valued and high ranking the Immortals were. While the supply lines were potentially dangerous in warfare because of the lengthy process, they did serve their purpose for the most part, keeping Persian soldiers fed, clothed, and armed.

Supply lines are vital in supplying the military with clothing, gear, and food.


The Persian Empire created many military constructions and buildings designed for defense in the act of military warfare. The Persian Navy had a huge part in this, and created used the tactic of building bridges in order to create peace between empires, to build their own empire, and to help them conquer other empires. One very common, simple fortification of the Persian military was to form a shield wall that would protect archers as they fired arrows over it. It was mostly used in the early period of the empire by the military, and was rarely used amongst the Immortals. Interestingly enough, Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets, which contained written language, revealed the daily functioning of the empire. So not only did fortifications help protect the Persians during combat, but it helped protect historical facts concerning the empire.

Roads and Promotion of Trade

The Persian Empire was ruled by a series of monarchs who unified its diverse tribes and nationalities by constructing a complex network of roads. These roads allowed for a postal system, a national language, and for the nation to be divided into satrapies, linked by the 2,500-kilometer highway. It was King Darius, however, who made the biggest impact on roads and trading within the Persian Empire. King Darius encouraged trade and economic development in many different ways, one of them was by building roads. He created a network of roads including a royal highway from Susa to Sardis, Lydia. The creation of The Royal Highway was an impressive feat for that time period, allowing record breaking traveling speeds. A mounted traveler could travel 1,677 miles in seven days, which was faster than had ever been done before. According to the Greek historian Herodotus concerning Persian messengers on the road, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor darkness of night prevents these couriers from completing their designated stages with utmost speed." Another great accomplishment of King Darius was the promotion of trade. King Darius created a standard system of weights, measures, and coinage on a metal system of gold and silver. The system was originally introduced by a man named Croesus from Lydia, but was not official until King Darius made it official. He also approved the satrap of Asia Minor and Syria for transplanting fruit trees from beyond the Euphrates, thus stimulating and encouraging trade. In fact, through the promotion of trade, King Darius fortuitously raised living standards. The trade of useful tools, household products, and inexpensive clothing raised the living standards of many people.

The Royal Road of Persia

Economic Integration

The main source of revenue for the Persian Empire came from agriculture and tariffs on trade. On the bottom of the class system in Persia were peasants and slaves, who farmed for the whole empire. Persia would rely on their agriculture not only for themselves, but to trade with other empires as well. Job specialization was also implemented in the different regions of Persia. Since Persia conquered so many other empires, the citizens of those regions would bring their own skills and use them to build up the Persian empire. For example, the conquered peoples of Babylon were used for their skills as carpenters, metal engravers and goldsmiths. While he was leader, Darius instituted a silver and gold coinage system that served as Persia's currency, most likely based of the Lydians. The tax system of the empire varied among each region and the economic capability it contained. Trade was also a very significant part of Persia's economy. The "Great Royal Road" was a 1700 mile highway that extended across Persia, from the regions of Susa to Sardis. Darius supervised the construction of this road, and it was used for communication and trade between the regions, as well as with other empires. This road increased the speed of Persia's accomplishments significantly, allowing easy access for merchants and officials.
The "Great Royal Road" stretched across the vast empire of Persia.

Final Summary

The great empire of Persia is best known for its diverse culture and massive size. These two aspects go hand in hand with each other, for through their multiple conquests, Persia would adopt the cultures of the other empires. This allowed them to grow economically as well as technologically. First of all, the art and architecture in Persia consisted of many religious temples and large buildings. The Greeks in particular inspired much of the pillar-like architecture found in many Persian structures. There were also many sculptures of animals, like lions and mastiffs. This, along with the delicate metalwork for the tools of the soldiers, showed the aggressive and powerful behavior of the Persians. A major continuity through time can been seen here, because many civilizations have used art and architecture to express their power and values. In terms of the geography, Persia was very large in comparison to other empires of the time. Stretching all the way from Egypt to India
Persian Soldiers adopted many weapons and stylistic techniques from the Median peoples they conquered.

, this immense size only added to Persia’s power. Each of the satraps in Persia was organized by location. Military is one of the most important aspects of Persia’s rule. The enormous size of the army and the careful craftsmanship of the weapons allowed for the multiple conquests of other empires. Again, the continuity demonstrated here represents the nature of humans to naturally want more and their techniques in using other countrys' strategies to improve their own..

The social aspect of Persia conveyed the organized infrastructure of the empire, with a monarch in power and several officials below him. Persia was such an immense empire, that it was crucial to maintain a balanced governmental structure with clear levels of authority. Although Persia adopted many religious ideals through their conquests, Zoroastrianism was later chosen to
A modern-day Zoroastrian temple in Iran, built in 1934.

be the main religion of the empire. This affected the laws and behavior of the citizens. Modern-day Iran still encompasses Zoroastrianism as a religion in their country, which proves that the religion, in context, has been passed down throughout time. In terms of the intellectual aspect, Persia was able to come up with many new ideas to help manage their vast empire, specifically the Royal Road. This allowed for easier trade as well as easier access for the military. This road was somewhat like a highway, which humans use today for many of the same purposes: exchange of goods and communication. This goes along with the technological capabilities of Persia. Finally, the economy of Persia was mainly based on trade and agriculture. Taxes on trade and the convenience of the Royal Road allowed for faster, more efficient exchange of goods among the empire as well as with other regions. In a general statement, a prominent technique for empires and countries is to adopt other cultures and ideas into their own, so as to grow as a whole and create innovation from the people. Persia can also show how changes have occurred throughout time. We have advanced significantly in terms of weaponry, and we have also developed new religions, structures of government and technology. Overall, the Persian Empire has been a major breakthrough in history due to its immense power and vast accomplishments.

Works Cited

"Achaemenid Empire." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire#Art_and_architecture.
Online Learnding Center- The Empires of Persia. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072424354/student_view0/chapter7/table_of_contents.html.

"Persian Immersion." The Princeton Review. 2012th ed. New York City: Random House, Inc., 2011. Print.

Strayer, Robert w. Ways of the World: A Global History with Sources. N.p.: n.p., 2011. Print.

"Zoroastrianism." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism#Origins.

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