Medo-Persia

A Second Kingdom

Silver chest

Daniel chapter 7, verse 5:

And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.

bear

Shush, Khuzestan province, is the site of the ancient city of the same name (Susa) originally belonging to the Elamite, then Persian, and Parthian empires of what is modern-day Iran. It is at the foot and toward the southern end of the Zagros Mountains, 250 kilometres east of the Tigris River —between the Karkheh (Choaspes or Eulaus) and Dez Rivers— near the Ulai [see Daniel chapter 8].

Not labelled here, the Ulai is the tributary joining the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates, before all rivers, as one, empty into the Persian Gulf.

Shown but not labelled, the Ulai is the tributary joining the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates, before all rivers, as one, empty into the Persian Gulf.

 

 The Medo-Persian Empire, renowned for emancipation of slaves, postal and transport infrastructure, centralised administration, a large professional army and civil service, and an official language throughout its territories, included most of Asia and extended into significant chunks of Europe and Africa so that, at its greatest extent, it would control all of the following modern-day nations:

  • Turkey and eastern Greece
  • a significant bite of Central Asia
  • Pakistan
  • Black Sea coastal regions04-empire-persian
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • northern part of Saudi Arabia
  • Jordan
  • Israel
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • most of Egypt and into Libya

Both temporally and functionally then (and perhaps also diametrically-opposed, geographically), the Medo-Persian Empire [lower Mesopotamia] was to the Babylonian Empire [upper Mesopotamia] what Rome [Western Europe] later was to Greece [Eastern Europe]. In this way we imagine successive empires as dynamic ‘pulses’ emanating from respective epicentres within a larger region more-or-less common to all —a gradually ever-expanding area surrounding the centre of the world, Jerusalem. (And it is in this context that one, especially a Westerner, ought be mindful of when reading particularly the Old Testament but perhaps also the New.)

Two Empires Meet [Wikimedia Commons]

Cyrus I of Persia took Media in 550 BCE and just over a decade later (539 BCE) the Medo-Persian Empire officially began at the taking of Babylon. The Median Empire —including within it a Scythian Kingdom— had spanned more than a century [678–550 BCE] before control of it (and Iran) then shifted to the Achaemenids (starting with Cyrus) for more than two hundred years (see Kings of Persia, below). Then power was taken from the Persians by the Seleucid, Parthian, and the Sassanid empires, successively. This was all before the rise of the Umayyad and then Abbasid, Caliphates.

Prior to the Medes (Kurds) however, Iran’s origins lay with the Proto-Elamites, Elam, and finally the Mannaeans:

    • Proto-Elamite period is named from the still undecipherable script that was in use between 3200 to 2700 BCE
    • Elam, a period spanning more than two millennia, from 2700 to 1970 BCE
    • Mannaeans, who flourished between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE, conquered in the 7th century by Media
    • MEDES
    • ACHAEMENID
    • Seleucid dynasty began when Seleucus I, one of Alexander’s phylacteries was given the satrap of Babylon in 321 BCE and continued into the 6th century CE
    • Parthians, in the mid-3rd century BCE by Arsaces I when he conquered Iran’s north-east, then a satrap in rebellion against the Seleucid Empire.
    • Sassanids, the last pre-Islamic Persian empire, established in 224 CE lasting until 651 CE when it was overthrown by the Arab Caliphate
    • Umayyad, the first great Muslim dynasty to rule the Caliphate, from 661–750 CE
    • Abbasid, second of the two great dynasties of the Muslim Empire of the Caliphate, it overthrew the Umayyad caliphate in 750 CE and reigned until destroyed by the Mongol invasion of 1258

The ACHAEMENIDS

The Achaemenid Medo-Persian kingdom at its greatest extent [490 BCE] encompassed Egypt in the west to parts of India in the east and included Asia Minor from the eastern border of Greece to Tajikistan.

Kings of Persia [550–330 BC] with biblically important ones in bold silver:

  • Cyrus (II) the Great:  550–530 BCE
  • Cambyses (II) 530–522 BCE
  • Bardiya:  522 BCE
  • Darius (I) the Great:  522–486 BCE
  • Xerxes I:  485–465 BCE
  • Artaxerxes I:  465–424 BCE
  • Xerxes II:  424–423 BC
  • Darius II:  423–404 BC
  • Artaxerxes II:  404–358 BC
  • Artaxerxes III:  358–338 BC
  • Artaxerxes IV:  338–336 BC
  • Darius III:  336–330 BC

Cyaxares the Mede, in 625 BCE, overthrew Assyria to become the leading power of Asia. He was followed by Astyages. Cyrus [Koresh, Persian: “the sun”] was born of the union of Mandane (daughter of Astyages, the last king of Media) and Cambyses (a Persian of the Achaemenid family).

Acting on a dream, Astyages sought (via Harpagus) to have his grandson killed. But the herdsman to whom Cyrus was given preserved him. Enraged, Astyages served Harpagus’ own son at a feast. Harpagus in turn helped Cyrus —at Pasargadae (near Persepolis) in 559 [or 550] BCE— to defeat and dethrone his grandfather, Astyages, making himself king of both the Medes and the Persians and heralding the beginning of the (Medo-Persian) Empire.

Cyrus invasion of Babylonia [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

In 538 BCE during a Babylonian feast of revelling, Cyrus (II) opportunistically diverts the Euphrates to make his way along the dry bed and capture the city. That same year, Cyrus issued the decree for the Jew to return to his homeland to rebuild the Temple, which they began to do the following year.

Expansion of the Achaemenid Dynasty [Wikimedia Commons]

After his death in 530 BCE, Cyrus is replaced by Cambyses II [529 BCE] who conquers Egypt [525 BCE] and reigns until 522 BCE. At that time Pseudo-Smerdis rebells and Darius Hystaspes (the Great) becomes king [reign: 522–486 BCE]. Persia invades Greece in 498 BCE and Darius succumbs at the Battle of Marathon [490 BCE] amidst the Greco-Persian Wars [492–472 (498–448) BCE].

In 486 BCE Ahasuerus (Artaxerxes I) becomes king of Medo-Persia. He marries Esther the Israelite. (This period corresponds in Athens to Herodotus and Socrates, and in China to Buddha.) Six years later Ahasuerus is defeated at the Battle of Salamis. Later that year it was the Greeks who were defeated at Thermopylae, and Athens burned. The following year saw the Battle of Plataea. (This was the time of Confucius).

Artaxerxes I king of Medo-Persia [465–424 BCE] reigned at the time of Pericles of Athens [460–429 BCE]. And in 456 BCE, Ezra returns to Jerusalem. Nehemiah did not do so, to begin rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, until 445 BCE.

A formidable opponent from the West

The year 431 BCE saw the start to the Peloponnesian (Civil) War in Greece [431–404 BCE], around the time of Plato [430–350 BCE]. In 422 BCE, Xerxes II rules the Medo-Persians [424–423], followed by Darius II [423–404 BCE]. The Elephantine Jewish temple is destroyed at this time [410 BCE], before Artaxerxes II [404–358 BCE] rises to power, coinciding with the temple being rebuilt in Jerusalem [404 BCE]. This corresponds to the time of Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, bringing a close to the Old Testament period [400 BCE] — at the time of both Aristotle of Athens [384–322] and Philip of Macedon [359–336 BCE].

Artaxerxes III is the next king of Medo Persia [358–338 BCE]. Attempting to revolt against his rule in 348 BCE, some Jews are deported to Hyrcania. Arses then takes the reins of the kingdom [338–336 BCE] on the same year that Philip (at Chaeronea) defeats, and therein assumes commandership of, the Greeks [338 BCE].

Darius III comes to power in Medo-Persia [336-331 BCE] in the same year that Philip is assassinated, and his son, Alexander III (the Great), replaces him as leader. In 335 BCE Alexander destroys rebellious Thebes and then wins the Battle of Isis, in 333 BC. Moving south, the following year he lays siege and destroys Tyre before invading Gaza —the Jews now under Macedonian control— and then Egypt. The Battle of Arbela occurs in 331 BCE and in 330 BCE Alexander burns Persepolis to snatch control of Medo-Persia.

Bibliography

Featured Image: Greatest extent of Achaemenid dynasty [Wikimedia Commons]

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