Achaemenids

Article

August 15, 2022

The Achaemenids (pronounced /a.ke.me.nid/) are a dynasty of kings who founded and ruled the first of the Persian empires to rule much of the Middle East during the 1st millennium BC. It is one of the largest empires to have existed during antiquity, spanning approximately 7.5 million square kilometres. It then extends north and west into Asia Minor, Thrace and most of the coastal regions of Pont-Euxin; east to present-day Afghanistan and part of Pakistan, and south and southwest to present-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and as far north as Libya. The name "Achaemenids" (in Old Persian: Haxāmanišiya) refers to the founding clan which freed itself around 550 BC. BC from the tutelage of the Medes, previously their sovereigns, as well as to the great Empire which then resulted from their domination. The Empire founded by the Achaemenids seizes Anatolia by defeating Lydia, then conquers the Neo-Babylonian Empire and Egypt, thus uniting the oldest civilizations of the Middle East in a single political entity in a lasting way . The Achaemenid Empire twice threatened ancient Greece and collapsed, defeated by Alexander the Great, in 330 BC. J.-C., not without bequeathing to the diadochi who succeeded him a notable part of his cultural and political traits. During the two centuries of its supremacy, the Achaemenid Empire developed an imperial model incorporating many features of its Assyrian and Babylonian predecessors, while presenting original aspects, such as constant flexibility and pragmatism in its relations with the dominated peoples, as long as they respected his rule. The Persian kings carried out important works on several sites in the heart of their Empire (Pasargadae, Persepolis, Susa), synthesizing the architectural and artistic contributions of several of the dominated countries and expressing their imperial ideology with pomp.

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The great Achaemenid kings left royal inscriptions, sources of information on the construction activity of the sites and on their vision of the Empire. They provide many clues which, put into perspective with the historical context of the time, make it possible to understand the political will of the kings and their way of conceiving the exercise of power. They were rediscovered and translated from the middle of the 19th century. Other testimonies are made up of administrative, satrapic or royal archives, in which the most important decisions were recorded (land movements, tax documents, etc.). It is rather thanks to external writings that we traditionally know Achaemenid history, in particular by Greek authors such as Herodotus, Strabo, Ctesias, Polybius, Aelian and others. In the Bible, the Book of Esdras, the Book of Esther and the Book of Daniel also contain references to great kings. The ancient authors also wrote about Persia, in works called the Persika, works whose knowledge is limited to a few fragments, the rest having been lost. The documentation on the Achaemenids is therefore ultimately large and varied. The iconographic elements are numerous, but their analysis poses a problem because they are very unevenly distributed in space and time, as are the archaeological works which have long favored certain regions. This has resulted in a documentary gap: there are few or no sources on certain regions, while others such as Fars, Susiana, Egypt, Babylon are very well documented. Moreover, if the documents on the reigns of Cyrus the Great, Artaxerxes I and Darius II abound, it is not the same for other periods. This