The Persian Empire was an ancient Iranian empire based in West Asia. The historical country of Persia was located in modern-day Iran. Over time, the Empire spread west, overtaking the land of Mesopotamia and reaching as far as Eastern Europe.
The generally accepted “Persian Empire” lasted from the 6th century BC to the 20th century AD – roughly 2600 years! However, the First Persian Empire only lasted 180 years, from 550-330 BC.
There were seven Persian Empires over the 2600 years it remained in power. However, the most significant of these was the first: the Achaemenid Empire.
The first ruler of the Persian Empire was Cyrus the Great. Unusually, Cyrus the Great was famous for his mercy rather than his cruelty; in this way, he was very different from the Kings of Assyria who had come before him.
An example of this mercy can be seen in how he allowed the Hebrew people to return to their holy city of Jerusalem, and released them from captivity instead of making them slaves.
The policy of peace Cyrus employed towards the Hebrew people was part of a wider policy of religious tolerance held by the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus the Great’s kingdom respected the local traditions of the lands they conquered, and allowed people to worship whatever gods they chose.
Under Cyrus the Great, the Achaemenid Empire published one of the world’s first human rights charters. A cylinder containing an example of this charter was discovered in 1878, during a research trip in the ruins of ancient Babylon.
In this charter, Cyrus stated that all the inhabitants of Babylon and the kingdoms it conquered would be treated with respect, and that all who threatened this peace would be harshly punished.
While these rules aren’t merciful by today’s standards, this level of tolerance was unheard of at the time.
The Achaemenid Empire was also famed for its architectural achievements. Building activity was extensive during the empire’s peak, and ruins found in the ancient cities of Persepolis (the capital of Persia) and Pasargadae are among the most outstanding.
The Empire also had a very well-developed art style, and metalwork was a particularly common form of sculpture.
The most common profession in the Persian Empire was farming. Peasants of the Persian Empire lived a very ordinary life, and the amount of food they were paid with was dependent on their job performance.
Outside of farming, people of the Persian Empire also worked as merchants, soldiers, government workers, and tailors/seamstresses. Both men and women were allowed to hold high positions in government, too. In general, the Persian Empire provided the same employment chances to both men and women.
However, some peasants of the Persian Empire were forced to live a nomadic lifestyle. This meant that, instead of settling in one city, they would have to move from place to place. They did this to follow the herds of animals that made up the bulk of their diet; but unfortunately, this meant that they could not hold regular jobs.
The First Persian Empire fell after 180 years, when Alexander the Great arrived, who replaced the dying Persian Empire with his own Macedonian regime. The Empire fell due to its military weakness, influenced partially by the tolerance Cyrus held for people from all religions to fight for him.
– The Achaemenid Empire.
– West Asia, in the modern country of Iran.
– Cyrus the Great.
– His mercy, and his tolerance towards people of other religions.
– 330 BC.