The Middle East United
The Persian Empire – 800 BC > 300 BC
Almost two thousand years before Genghis Khan and his Mongols forged an empire linking China to Turkey, there was the Persian Empire. Five centuries before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon to lay the foundation for the Romans, there was the Persian Empire. Two centuries before Alexander the Great took his Macedonian warriors to the banks of the Indus River, there was the Persian Empire. The Mongols, the Romans and the Greeks often get credit for creating the largest land empires, but long before their conquering hordes subdued the known world, it was the Persians who had built the greatest land empire known to man, subjugating peoples from as far away as Greece, Egypt, Babylon and India. Born in the land we today call Iran, the Persians were the first to connect Europe, Asia and Africa, creating a paradoxical rule known as much for its unyielding violence and oppressive taxation, as for its religious toleration and progressive stance on civil liberties.
The Persian Empire started in what today would be known as the southern Iranian province of Fars – about fifty miles off the coast of the Persian Gulf and about five hundred miles away from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon. In about 600 BC, the Parsi/Farsi people of this southern province were tired of being ruled by the Median people who taxed them too much, failed to safely protect the countryside and refused to recognize their own regional lords. As so often happened in the ancient world, a regional lord used a combination of military force and diplomacy to unite neighboring tribes to topple the ineffective ruler. In this case, the regional lord was Cyrus, and once Cyrus had deposed the Median ruler to the north, he united the lands under his Parsi banner. Cyrus then spread his domain through Mesopotamia to the edge of Egypt. Future kings would expand the empire even further, taking Egypt, India and many of the Greek colonies that had started popping up on the western coast of the land we today call Turkey. Cyrus established a method of government that many actually embraced. He would rule as ultimate leader from afar, but as long as every conquered region paid taxes to Cyrus, he would let local lords, known as satraps, control the day-to-day operations of their province. This meant that locals could keep worshipping their own gods, could keep conducting their same economic transactions and could keep practicing their local traditions. As long as the money kept rolling in, they would be left alone.
Under the rule of Cyrus then Cambyses then Darius I then Xerxes I then Xerxes II then Darius II then Araxerxes II, III and IV and then finally with Darius III, the Persian Empire flourished, amassing more riches than any land west of the Indus River and constructing temples and palaces (like the Apadana Palace in Persepolis) that dwarfed the creations of Ancient Greece. Their engineers contracted massive irrigation projects to bring water to their arid valleys and built thousands of miles of roads to connect their vast empire. Their artists polished lavish gardens and lined palace walls with intricate carvings. All of this was made possible by the elaborate and strictly enforced tax system...