The Persian Empire

By 530 BCE, Persia had become the largest empire in the ancient world.  Centered in modern-day Iran, the Persian empire stretched from the Indus River Valley all the way to Egypt in north Africa and just beyond Turkey into the fringes of Europe.

It was Cyrus the Great who made the Persian Empire (also known as the Achaemenid Empire). He ruled from 559-530 B.C.E. Cyrus was different than most rulers at the time.  Why? He displayed a level of tolerance for other cultures that went beyond anything displayed by other rulers at the time. He let conquered people keep their languages and traditions, for example.

In 539 BCE, Cyrus captured the city of Babylon in Mesopotamia. There, the Jewish people had been held in captivity for at least 50 years after Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. After Cyrus captured the city, he freed the Jews, allowing them to return to Jerusalem.  In the Old Testament of the Bible, Cyrus is referred to as the "Messiah," or "Anointed one," and is the only non-Jew to be given that title.

Cyrus the Great's Tomb
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Cyrus the Great died in 530 BCE. Supposedly, he is buried in a tomb located in the ancient city of Pasargadae, in modern Iran. His epitaph once read:
O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who won the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth that covers my bones.
Darius the Great ruled the Persian Empire from 521-486 BCE. He had, during his reign, attempted to invade Greece and failed.  His major accomplishments include the creation of the "Royal Road."

The Royal Road was one of the first major roads built in the ancient world.  It was made from stone and connected the new capital of Persia, Persepolis, to the Persian cities in what is now modern-day Turkey. Every 18 miles was a rest house, where riders could get fresh horses. In total, the road stretched for over 1600 miles. Along this road, mail would be sent and it allowed the Persian Empire to stay connected to his vast empire.

The Royal Road
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Darius built a new capital for the Persian Empire at Persepolis. This city was huge by ancient standards.  The palace was built by workers, not slaves. In fact, Darius continued the tradition established by Cyrus the Great to pay workers for their work.  It is said the great hall in his palace could hold 10,000 people.

Nation's Gate at the ruins of the royal palace at Persepolis.
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Finally, in 331 BCE, the Persian Empire was defeated at the hands of a young man from Macedonia. That man was Alexander the Great.

Important Points to Remember:

  • The Persian Empire was the largest empire in the Ancient world before the coming of Rome
  • The Persian kings were known for their tolerance of other cultures
  • The Royal Road connected the Persian empire and stretched over 1600 miles