From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire
Eisenbrauns, 2002 M01 1 - 1196 pages
Around 550 B.C.E. the Persian people--who were previously practically unknown in the annals of history--emerged from their base in southern Iran (Fars) and engaged in a monumental adventure that, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great and his successors, culminated in the creation of an immense Empire that stretched from central Asia to Upper Egypt, from the Indus to the Danube. The Persian (or Achaemenid, named for its reigning dynasty) Empire assimilated an astonishing diversity of lands, peoples, languages, and cultures. This conquest of Near Eastern lands completely altered the history of the world: for the first time, a monolithic State as vast as the future Roman Empire arose, expanded, and matured in the course of more than two centuries (530-330) and endured until the death of Alexander the Great (323), who from a geopolitical perspective was "the last of the Achaemenids." Even today, the remains of the Empire-the terraces, palaces, reliefs, paintings, and enameled bricks of Pasargadae, Persepolis, and Susa; the impressive royal tombs of Naqsh-i Rustam; the monumental statue of Darius the Great-serve to remind visitors of the power and unprecedented luxury of the Great Kings and their loyal courtiers (the "Faithful Ones").
Though long eclipsed and overshadowed by the towering prestige of the "ancient Orient" and "eternal Greece," Achaemenid history has emerged into fresh light during the last two decades. Freed from the tattered rags of "Oriental decadence" and "Asiatic stagnation," research has also benefited from a continually growing number of discoveries that have provided important new evidence-including texts, as well as archaeological, numismatic, and iconographic artifacts.
The evidence that this book assembles is voluminous and diverse: the citations of ancient documents and of the archaeological evidence permit the reader to follow the author in his role as a historian who, across space and time, attempts to understand how such an Empire emerged, developed, and faded. Though firmly grounded in the evidence, the author's discussions do not avoid persistent questions and regularly engages divergent interpretations and alternative hypotheses. This book is without precedent or equivalent, and also offers an exhaustive bibliography and thorough indexes.
The French publication of this magisterial work in 1996 was acclaimed in newspapers and literary journals. Now Histoire de l'Empire Perse: De Cyrus a Alexandre is translated in its entirety in a revised edition, with the author himself reviewing the translation, correcting the original edition, and adding new documentation.
Pierre Briant, Chaire Histoire et civilisation du monde achémenide et de l'empire d'Alexandre, Collège de France, is a specialist in the history of the Near East during the era of the Persian Empire and the conquests of Alexander. He is the author of numerous books.
Peter T. Daniels, the translator, is an independent scholar, editor, and translator who studied at Cornell University and the University of Chicago. He lives and works in New York City.
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Added to the variety of information given by Herodotus and Xenophon, the data taken from the military authors (both Classical and Hellenistic) enable us to reconstruct generally, if not in detail, the network of major Achaemenid — keeping in mind that the accounts of military campaigns only consider roads from the point of view of the provisions the army might be able to find there. We may note first that the capitals of the Empire (Pasargadae, Persepolis, Susa, Babylon, Ecbatana) were linked by major highways, in a rough quadrilateral. The best-known itinerary is Persepolis–Susa, since it can be reconstructed not only by analyzing Alexander's route but also from the Persepolis tablets: there were about twenty stops between Persepolis and Bezitme (near Susa). According to the Hellenistic authors, crossing the Fahliyun region took nine stages, from Parmadan to Dasher. From Susa to Ecbatana, the royal road avoided the central Zagros (Luristan), since the direct route crossing Cossean country was “difficult and narrow, skirting precipices” (Diodorus XIX.19.2✧). The main road took a longer route across the Babylonian plain before veering east to reach the Iranian Plateau near Behistun. From Ecbatana, another road reached Persia by Gabae (Isfahan) and ended up at the Persian Gulf at Bushire.
Furthermore, the variety of countries named in the tablets shows that the capitals were connected to all the provinces in the Empire. Northward, the venerable Khorasan road joined Ecbatana to Bactra, via Rhagae [Teheran], the Caspian Gates Gates, Hyrcania, and Parthia. Southward, leaving Fars, one could travel to Arachosia (Kandahar) and Gandhara (Kabul area), and from there to Bactra as well as to the Indus Valley. The North Road and the South Road were joined by a transverse road used by Cyrus and then Alexander via Aria (Artacoana/Herat), Drangiana (the Helmand basin and land of Ariaspi), and Kandahar. From Kandahar, another itinerary (used by Craterus in 325) gave access directly to the Indus Valley through the Bolan Pass. Toward the Mediterranean there were two main itineraries that coincided from Susa to Arbela (east bank of the Tigris). From Arbela, Herodotus's Royal Road reached Sardis via the upper Tigris and upper Euphrates, Armenia, and Cappadocia, the Halys, Greater Phrygia (Celaenae), and the Meander Valley. Here is Herodotus's version: Region crossed Parasangs Stops (stathmoi) Lydia–Phrygia 94.5 20 Cappadocia 104 28 Cilicia 15.5 3 Armenia 56.5 15 Matiene <137> <3>4 Cissia 42.5 11 The figures presented here include corrections to the manuscript tradition. The route of Herodotus's Royal Road is still controversial, which is rather surprising, especially within Cappadocia and Cilicia. In all, he writes, the route stretched some 13,500 stadia, if we agree (with him) that 1 parasang equals 30 stadia—thus about 2,500 km. And he ends with: “At 150 stadia per day, the journey would take 90 days. Adding the Ephesus– Sardis leg (140 stadia), he estimates it would take three months and three days to travel from the sea to Susa.
In another itinerary, known mainly from an Aramaic document (DAE 67 [AD 6]), to which we shall return at length (chap. 9/2 below, 364ff.), travelers left Arbela for Damascus and Egypt. Some of the stops on the itinerary are the well-known cities of Arbela and Damascus, but also Lahiru, which is known from several Babylonian texts of the same period (Darius II).
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