Persian Empire

The Persian Empire spanned from Egypt in the west to Turkey in the north, and through Mesopotamia to the Indus River in the east. Today Persia is the country of Iran. By the 5th century BCE, Persia was the largest empire the world had ever seen.

Cyrus Is Desirous

In 539 BCE, King Cyrus decided to expand the boundaries of Persia. First he conquered Babylon. Cyrus was known for his mercy rather than his cruelty. For example, the Hebrews had been captives in Babylon for over fifty years. Instead of turning the Hebrews into slaves, Cyrus allowed them to return to Jerusalem. He also returned sacred items that had been stolen from them, allowed them to rebuild their capital and the Holy Temple, and let them worship as they chose.

Cyrus and his successors employed a similar policy of adaptation and reconciliation toward all their new subjects. They cooperated with local rulers, interfered as little as possible, and even adopted some of their subjects' religious practices.

A Kinder, Gentler Kingdom

Rather than destroy local economies for their own selfish gain, the Persians worked to increase trade throughout their kingdom. They standardized weights, developed official coinage, and implemented universal laws.

The Persian leaders imposed a 20 percent tax on all agriculture and manufacturing. They also taxed religious institutions, which had not previously been taxed. The Persians themselves paid no taxes.

The Persian kings developed a model for the administration of a large empire that was copied by other rulers in the future. Laws were carried out fairly and evenly among all the people. The Persians divided their empire into 20 provinces, managed by governors. In addition, they provided land to feudal lords, yet most of the people in the empire were struggling farmers or craftspeople.

They developed a mail system and a 1,600-mile-long royal road.

Thus Spake Zarathustra

The Persians developed a religion based on monotheism, the belief in one god. It was founded by the prophet Zoroaster, called Zarathustra in old Iranian. Many of his ideas were collected in a series of poems called the Gathas, which became part of the religion's most sacred book, the Avesta.

Zoroaster believed that people were training for a future life. He taught that the earthly world was in a constant struggle between good and evil. When good would triumph over evil, all earthly existence would disappear. The Zoroastrian god, Ahura Mazda, embodied goodness and wisdom. Some religious scholars believe that Zoroaster's ideas strongly influenced the development of the Hebrew and Christian religions.

The Persian empire did not last despite the effective and conciliatory leadership. The Greek city-states defended themselves well against the Persian threat. Alexander the Great conquered all of the Persian Empire.

Source: Persian Empire
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