Iran Zamin 2

This weblog contains personal views on the history of Iran in comparison with other ancient countries and information on Iran for those interested to learn about our heritage. (this is part 2 of Iran Zamin)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Darius The Great ( Dariush I)

Darius the Great (ca. 549 BC– 485/486 BC; Old Persian Dārayawuš: "He Who Holds Firm the Good"), was the son of Hystaspes and Persian Emperor from 521 BC to 485/486 BC. His name in Modern Persian is داریوش (Dariush), in Hebrew דַּרְיָוֵשׁ (Daryawesh) and the ancient Greek sources call him Δαρεῖος (Dareios).

The principal sources for the life of Darius are his own inscriptions, especially the great inscription of Behistun in which he explains how he gained the crown and put down many rebellions. There are also some informations related to his past, for example we know that his fathers name was Hystaspes. In modern times the veracity of Darius has often been doubted, but without any sufficient reason or suggestion of alternatives. The accounts given later by Herodotus and Ctesias of his accession are in many points evidently dependent on this official version, with many legendary stories interwoven, e.g. the tale that Darius and his allies left the question as to which of them should become king to the decision of their horses, and that Darius won the crown by a trick of his groom. Herodotus also informs us of Dariuse' past. He mentions that Hystaspes was a soldier in the Persian army during the last war of Cyrus the Great, which took place in 530. According to the story of Herodotus, Cyrus becomes suspicious of the son of Hystaspes, who was "about twenty at the time and had been left behind in Persia because he was too young for war". So he sent back Hystaspes to gain control over Darius. A few days later, Cyrus was killed in action. Cambyses was appointed as the new king and Hystaspes became the satrap ( governor) of Parthia.

Rise to Power:
Darius belonged to the cadet branch of the Achaemeid Dynasty. After the suicide of Cambyses II on March 21, Gaumata ,( Cyrus's younger son), seized the whole empire and ruled in under the name of Bardiya ( Smerdis), another son of Cyrus the great. No one dared to challenge him except Darius. Darius " with the help of Ahuramazda", decided to regain the kingdom for the royal family. According to an inscript found at Susa, both Darius's father, Hystaspes and his grandfather, Arsames, were alive when Darius became the king. Assisted by six noble Persians, whose names Darius proclaimed at the end of the Behistun Inscription, he surprised and killed Gaumata in a Median fortress and gained the crown. He also married Atossa, the widow of the false Smerdis and daughter of king Cyrus the great. In time, Xerxes, Darius's son from Atossa, would succeed his father on the throne.
These sudden changes in the central authority in Persia was percieved by the rulers of the eastern provinces as an opportunity to regain their independence. In Susiana, Babylon, Media, Sagartia, and Margiana, people in power pretended that they are from the royal race and gathered large armies to revolt. Even in central Persia, Vahyazdata imitated the example of Gaumata and introduced himself as the True Bardiya. Darius, with only a very small army of Persians and Medes and some loyal generals, overcame all these difficulties. By 520 BC all the rebellions were put down. Even Babylon, which had revolted twice, and Susiana, which had rebelled three times, both submitted, and recognized Darius's government as legitamit.

One of the first acts of Darius was to establish that, by the grace of Ahuramazda, he had overcomed all his enemies and promoted the monotheistic religion of Zoroaster. At Behistun, Darius ordered the relief and inscription of his victory by the help of Ahuramazda to be carved. Unfortunately, the text had to be written in Elamite and Akkadian cuneiform, the most common scripts of the ancient Near East. This was against Darius' chauvinist feelings, and he therefore ordered the invention of a special, Aryan alphabet suited for the Persian language.
Darius was also a great statesman and organizer. He thoroughly revised the Persian system of administration and also the legal code. His revisions of the legal code revolved around laws of evidence, slave sales, deposits, bribery, and assault. The time of conquests had come to an end; the wars which Darius undertook, like those of Augustus, only served the purpose of gaining strong natural frontiers for the empire and keeping down the barbarous tribes on its borders. Thus Darius subjugated the wild nations of the Pontic and Armenian mountains, and extended the Persian dominion to the Caucasus; for the same reasons he fought against the Saka and other Iranian steppe tribes, as well as the mysterious Turanians from beyond the Oxus. In the process of these campaigns he made military reforms such as introducing conscription, pay for soldiers, military training and he also made changes in the army and navy. But by the organization which he gave to the empire he became the true successor of the great Cyrus. His organization of the provinces and the fixing of the tributes is described by Herodotus (iii. 90 if.), evidently from good official sources. He divided the Persian Empire into twenty provinces, each under the supervision of a governor or satrap. The satrap position was usually hereditary and largely autonomous, allowing each province its own distinct laws, traditions, and elite class. Every region, however, was responsible for paying a gold or silver tribute to the emperor; many areas, such as Babylonia, underwent severe economic decline resulting from these quotas. Each satrapy also had an independent financial controller, an independent military coordinator as well as the satrap, who controlled administration and the law. All three probably reported directly to the king. This more evenly distributed power within the satrapy and lowered the chance of revolt. Darius also increased the bureaucracy of the empire, with many scribes employed to provide records of the administration.
Another innovation that dates back to the age of Darius is the construction of Royal roads. The roads themselves were centuries old and connected the main urban centers of the ancient Near East. But Darius introduced a system of caravanserais where a traveler could change horses and find a place to sleep. More important, those traveling on behalf of the Persian government, like the inspectors known as the king's eyes, received passports that entitled them to food rations all along the road. From the Persepolis fortification tablets, we learn that Darius' uncle Pharnaces was in charge of the department that gave out these passports.
Another reform by Darius was the rewriting of the Calendar. At the time Babylonian astronomers (the Chaldaeans) had invented a better system for the intercalation of months. Darius introduced it everywhere in the entire empire. Our first evidence for this calendar dates to 503 BCE, but an earlier introduction can not be excluded. This Babylonian calendar is still used by the Jews.

Building Projects
Many building projects were initiated during the reign of Darius, with the largest being the building of the new capital of Persepolis ( and Susa). The city would have walls sixty feet high and thirty-three feet thick and would be an enormous engineering undertaking. Darius' tomb was cut into a rock face not far from the city. He dug a canal from the Nile to Suez, and, as the fragments of a hieroglyphic inscription found there show, his ships sailed from the Nile through the Red Sea by Saba to Persia.
Darius also commissioned the extensive road network that was built all over the country and beyond, known as the Royal Road.
Darius is also remembered for his Behistun Inscription which was chiselled into the rock face near the town of Behistun. It showed Darius' successful ascension to the throne and described Darius legitimacy to be king.

Economy, diplomacy and trade
Darius is often renowned above all as being a great financier. He fixed the coinage and introduced the golden Daric. He tried to develop the commerce of the empire, and sent an expedition down the Kabul and the Indus, led by the Carian captain Scylax of Caryanda, who explored the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez. During his reign, the population increased and industries flourished in towns. Persia under Darius probably had connections with Carthage (cf. the Karka of the Naghshe Rustam inscription) of Sicily and Italy. At the same time he attempted to gain the good-will of the subject nations, and for this purpose promoted the aims of their priests. He allowed the Jews to build the Temple of Jerusalem. In Egypt his name appears on the temples which he built in Memphis, Edfu and the Great Oasis. He called the high-priest of Sais, Tzahor, to Susa (as we learn from his inscription in the Vatican Museum), and gave him full powers to reorganize the "house of life," the great medical school of the temple of Sais. In the Egyptian traditions he is considered as one of the great benefactors and lawgivers of the country. In similar relations he stood to the Greek sanctuaries (cf. his rescript to "his slave" Godatas, the inspector of a royal park near Magnesia on the Maeander, in which he grants freedom of taxes and forced labor to the sacred territory of Apollo); all the Greek oracles in Asia Minor and Europe therefore stood on the side of Persia in the Persian Wars and admonished the Greeks against attempting resistance.
Weights and measures were standardised (as in a "royal cubit" or a "king’s measure") but often they still operated side by side with their Egyptian or Babylonian counterparts. This would have been a boon for merchants and traders as trade would now have been far simpler. The upgraded communication and administration networks also helped to turn the Empire ruled by the Achaemenid dynasty into a seemingly commercial entity based on generating wealth.
Darius also continued the process of religious tolerance to his subjects, which had been important parts of the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses ( this was revolutionary since at the time it was accepted to call deviators barbaric and kill them). Darius himself was completely monotheistic - in royal inscriptions Ahuramazda is the only god mentioned by name. But, time and again he is mentioned worshipping, funding or giving 'lip-service' to various pantheons of gods. This was important as the majority of the empire's inhabitants were polytheists. Also, like many other Persian Kings, he maintained a no-slave policy; for example, all workers at the Persepolis site and other sites made for him were paid, which was revolutionary at the time. His human rights policies were also common to his ancestors and future Persian kings, continuing the legacy of the first human rights document ever made.

European and North African campaigns
About 512 BC Darius undertook a war against the Scythians. A great army crossed the Bosporus, subjugated eastern Thrace, Macedonia submitted voluntarily, and crossed the Danube. The purpose of this war can only have been to attack the nomadic tribes in the rear and thus to secure peace on the northern frontier of the empire. Yet the whole plan was based upon an incorrect geographical assumption; a common one in that era, and repeated by Alexander the Great and his Macedonians, who believed that on the Hindu Kush (which they called the Caucasus Indicus) and on the shores of the Jaxartes (which they called Tanais, i.e., the River Don) they were quite near to the Black Sea. Of course the expedition undertaken on these grounds could only prove a failure; having advanced for some weeks into the Russian steppes, Darius was forced to return. The details given by Herodotus (according to him, Darius had reached the Volga) are quite fantastic; and the account which Darius himself had given on a tablet, which was added to his great inscription in Behistun, is destroyed with the exception of a few words.
Although European Greece was intimately connected with the coasts of Asia Minor, and the opposing parties in the Greek towns were continually soliciting his intervention, Darius did not meddle with their affairs. The Persian wars were begun by the Greeks themselves. The support which Athens and Eretria gave to the rebellious Ionians and Carians made their punishment inevitable as soon as the rebellion had been put down. But the first expedition, that of Mardonius, failed on the cliffs of Mount Athos (492 BC), and the army which was led into Attica by Datis in 490 BC was beaten at the Battle of Marathon. Before Darius had finished his preparations for a third expedition an insurrection broke out in Egypt (486 BC).

The last letter from Babylon that is dated to the reign of Darius was written on 17 November 486, and the first one from the reign of his son and successor Xerxes on 1 December. In the two weeks between these dates, Darius died, after thirty days of illness, about sixty-four years old. He had been a great king, as even his Athenian enemies admitted. Thirteen years after his death, the tragic poet Aeschylus evoked the days of Darius as the golden age of Persia.
The body of King of Kings was placed in a coffin and transported to Naqsi Rustam, where his tomb had been prepared a long time before his death. Like the Behistun inscription, the tomb text at the tomb of Naqš-i Rustam is a rather stereotypical autobiography and it is interesting to see how Darius wanted to be remembered. In the upper part, he summarizes his reign and recalls the confused early days and his conquests:

Ahuramazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king; I am king. By the favor of Ahuramazda I put it down in its place; what I said to them [my subjects], that they did, as was my desire. If now you shall think that "How many are the countries which King Darius held?" look at the sculptures of those who bear the throne, then shall you know, then shall it become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone forth far; then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia.
Watch this beautiful documentary by Farzin Rezaian about Dariush the Great and his Palaces!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Persian Royal Road

The Persian Royal Road was an ancient highway built by the Persian king Darius I in the 5th Century BCE. Darius built the road to facilitate rapid communication throughout his very large empire from Susa to Sardis. These couriers could travel 1,677 miles (2,699 km) in seven days. Most of our knowdelge about the Road comes from the Greek historian Herodotus who wrote, "There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these Persian couriers." Herodotus' praise for these messengers — "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed" — is the inspiration for the unofficial motto of postal carriers.
Since the time of Herodotus the course of the road has been reconstructed by archeological research, and other historical records. The Road began in the west in Sardis (about 60 miles east of Izmir in present-day Turkey), traveled east through what is now the middle northern section of Turkey to the old Assyrian capital Nineveh (present-day Mosul, Iraq), then traveled south to Babylon (present-day Baghdad, Iraq). From near Babylon, it is believed to have split into two routes, one traveling northwest then west through Ecbatana and on along the Silk Road, the other continuing east through the future Persian capital Susa (in present-day Iran) and then southeast to Persepolis.
Herodotus describes the road between Sardes and Susa as follow (Histories 5.52-53):

Everywhere there are royal stations with excellent resting places, and the whole road runs through country which is inhabited and safe.
Lydia and Phrygia there extend twenty stages, amounting to 520 kilometers.
After Phrygia succeeds the river
Halys, at which there is a gate which one must needs pass through in order to cross the river, and a strong guard-post is established there.
Then after crossing over into Cappadocia it is by this way twenty-eight stages, being 572 kilometers, to the borders of
On the borders of the Cilicians you will pass through two sets of gates and guard-posts: then after passing through these it is three stages, amounting to 85 kilometers, to journey through Cilicia.
The boundary of Cilicia and Armenia is a navigable river called
Euphrates. In Armenia the number of stages with resting-places is fifteen, and 310 kilometers, and there is a guard-post on the way.
Then from Armenia, when one enters the land of Matiene, there are thirty-four stages, amounting to 753 kilometers. Through this land flow four navigable rivers, which can not be crossed but by ferries, first the
Tigris, then a second and third called both by the same name, Zabatus, though they are not the same river and do not flow from the same region (for the first-mentioned of them flows from the Armenian land and the other from that of the Matienians), and the fourth of the rivers is called Gyndes [...].
Passing thence into the Cissian land, there are eleven stages, 234 kilometers, to the river
Choaspes, which is also a navigable stream; and upon this is built the city of Susa. The number of these stages amounts in all to one hundred and eleven.
This is the number of stages with resting-places, as one goes up from Sardes to Susa. If the royal road has been rightly measured [...] the number of kilometers from Sardes to the palace of Memnon is 2500. So if one travels 30 kilometers each day, some ninety days are spent on the journey.

Because the road did not follow the shortest nor the easiest route between the important cities of the Persian Empire, archeologists believe the western-most sections of the road may have originally been built by the Assyrian kings, as the road plunges through the heart of their old empire. More eastern segments of the road (in present-day northern Iran) are coincident with the major trade route known as the Silk Road. However, Darius I made the Royal Road as it is recognized today by improving the road bed and connecting the parts together in a unified whole, primarily as a quick mode of communication using the kingdom's pirradaziš, or messengers. Our information about pirradaziš come from a number of tablets at Persopolis. These tablets refer to the system of horse changing on the Royal road that was called pirradaziš (a word related to modern Persian pishtaz, "post"). From these tablets, we know a lot about the continuation of the road from Susa through the formidable Persian gate to Persepolis -23 stages and a distance of 552 kilometers- and about other main roads in the Achaemenid empire. No less important was, for example, the road that connected Babylon and Ecbatana, which crossed the Royal road near Opis, and continued to the holy city of Zoroastrianism, Rhagae. This road continued to the far east and was later known as Silk road.
Herodotus describes the pirradaziš ,for which he uses another name, in very laudatory words:
There is nothing mortal which accomplishes a journey with more speed than these messengers, so skillfully has this been invented by the Persians. For they say that according to the number of days of which the entire journey consists, so many horses and men are set at intervals, each man and horse appointed for a day's journey. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed. The first one rides and delivers the message with which he is charged to the second, and the second to the third; and after that it goes through them handed from one to the other, as in the torch race among the Greeks, which they perform for Hephaestus. This kind of running of their horses the Persians call angareion.

The construction of the road as improved by Darius was of such quality that the road continued to be used into Roman times. A bridge at Diyarbakir, Turkey still stands from this period of the road's use. Unfortunatly, the remains of this road will soon go under water as the construction of the Sivand Dam reaches it's last stages. Archaeologists are currently doing their best to save the site by making new discoveries before the watering of the Dam takes place at the end of May.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pasargadae: The Tomb of Cyrus The Great

Pasargadae was a city in ancient Persia, and is today an archaeological site. Its ruins lie 87 km (54 mi) northeast of Persepolis, in present Fars province of Iran, and was the first capital of the Persian Empire. The construction of the capital city by Cyrus the Great, begun in 546 BCE or later, was left unfinished, for Cyrus died in battle in 530 BCE or 529 BCE.
The archaeological site covers 1.6 square kilometres, and includes a structure commonly believed to be the mausoleum of Cyrus, the fortress of Tall-e Takht sitting on top of a nearby hill, and the remains of two royal palaces and gardens. The gardens provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or four-fold garden design.
Although there are many important monuments at Pasargadae, I am going to concentrate on one that is undoubtedly the most important of all; the Tomb of Cyrus the Great.
The tomb has six broad steps leading to the sepulchre, the chamber of which measures 3.17 m long by 2.11 m wide by 2.11 m high, and has a low and narrow entrance. The style and construction of the tomb show strong connections with Anatolian tombs of a similar period. In particular, the tomb at Pasargadae has almost exactly the same dimensions as the tomb of Alyattes II, father of the Lydian King Croesus. (Croesus was spared by Cyrus during the conquest of Lydia, and became a member of Cyrus' court.) Some scholars believe that Cyrus may have "imported" Lydian stonemasons for the construction of the tomb. In general, the art and architecture found at Pasargadae exemplified the Persian synthesis of various traditions, drawing on precedents from Elam, Babylon, Assyria, and ancient Egypt, with the addition of some Anatolian influences.
The most detailed account about the tomb come from one of Alexander's warriors, Aristobulus who was ordered to enter the tomb when Alexander decided to pay a visit to the Tomb of Cyrus the Great. Aristobulus describes the seen as such:

The tomb was in the royal park at Pasargadae; a grove of various sorts of trees had been planted round it; there were streams of running water and a meadow with lush grass. The base of the monument was rectangular, built of stone slabs cut square, and on top was a roofed chamber, also built of stone, with access through a door so narrow that only one man at a time - and a little one at that - could manage, with great difficulty, painfully to squeeze himself through.
Inside the chamber there was a golden coffin containing Cyrus' body, and a great divan with feet of hammered gold, spread with covers of some thick, brightly colored material, with a Babylonian rug on top. Tunics and a candys -or Median jacket- of Babylonian workmanship were laid out on the divan, and Median trousers, various robes dyed in amethyst, purple, and many other colors, necklaces, scimitars, and inlaid earrings of gold and precious stones. A table stood by it, and in the middle of it lay the coffin which held Cyrus' body.
Within the enclosure, by the way which led up to the tomb, a small building had been constructed for the Magi who guarded it, a duty which had been handed down from father to son ever since the time of Cyrus' son, Cambyses. They had a grant from the King of a sheep a day, with an allowance of meal and wine, and one horse a month to sacrifice to Cyrus. There was an inscription on the tomb in Persian, signifying:

"O man, I am Cyrus son of Cambyses, who founded the empire of Persia and ruled over Asia. Do not grudge me my monument."

Account has it that Alexander had always intended to visit the Tomb of Cyrus the Great. But by the time he got the chance to make this dream come true he found that all it contained except the divan and the coffin had been removed. Even the royal remains had not escaped desecration, for the thieves had taken the lid from the coffin and thrown out the body; from the coffin itself they had chipped or broken various bits in an attempt to reduce its weight sufficiently to enable them to get it away. However, they were unsuccessful and went off without it.
Aristobulus tells us that he himself received orders from Alexander to put the monument into a state of thorough repair: he was to restore to tie coffin what was still preserved of the body and replace the lid; to put right all damage to the coffin itself, fit the divan with new strapping, and to replace with exact replicas of the originals every single object with which it had previously been adorned; and, finally, to do away with the door into the chamber by building it in with stone, covered by a coat of plaster, on which was to be set the royal seal. Alexander also had the Magians who were guarding the monument at the time arrested and punished.
During the Islamic conquest of Iran, the Arab armies came upon the tomb and planned to destroy it, considering it to be in direct violation of the tenets of Islam. The caretakers of the grave managed to convince the Arab command that the tomb was not built to honor Cyrus, but instead housed the mother of King Solomon, thus sparing it from destruction. As a result, the inscription in the tomb was replaced by a verse of the Qur'an, and the tomb became known as "Qabr-e Madar-e Sulaiman," or the tomb of the mother of Solomon. It is still widely known by that name today.
I wrote this post since lately there has been many talks about the Seyvand Dam and how its construction may possibly destroy this 2,500- year- old historical ruin. The Seyvand Dam is schedual to open at the end of May 2006 and currently many archaeologists are working at the area that will soon be covered under water.
Also see the biography of Cyrus the Great and some pictures that I took while visiting the area.
Watch this beautiful documentary by Farzin Rezaian about Cyrus the Great and the Empire he built.