Tuesday, February 28, 2012

811 (1/2)

Little is known of the pre-imperial history of the Persians, but it's clear that they were established in the eponymous kingdom or principality of Pârsâ in southwestern Iran before the 6th century BC.

The area was the home of a very ancient, pre-Iranic people, known in Old Persian as Huzi, in Greek as Cissians and in the Bible (and most modern histories) as Elamites.  Once a large empire, Elam seems to have been weakened by internal conflict and war with Assyria.  Migrants into an established and highly-developed civilisation, the Persians adopted Elamite dress, used the Elamite language for royal records and made the Elamite city of Anshan their capital.  It was from here that King Cyrus II (Kurush or Kurash) started his empire.

A century later, Herodotus wrote that Cyrus was the son of Persian noble Cambyses (Kabujiya) and Mede princess Mandane.  The Median king, Astyages, ordered the infant killed because of a prophesy that his daughter's offspring would overthrow him; Cyrus was instead raised in secret by a shepherd and grew up to lead the Persians in rebellion against their Mede overlords.

Cyrus was then attacked by King Croesus of Lydia, an ally of Astyages.  The kings fought indecisively at the Halys River in central Anatolia; with winter and the end of the military campaign season drawing near, Croesus called the whole thing off and went back to his capital of Sardis.  As did Cyrus.  (To Sardis.)

Stunned like a bug on a windshield by this unorthodox strategy, Croesus had only time to watch his cavalry's horses run in confused terror from the Persians' camels before getting conquered the hell out of and nearly burnt at the stake.  Herodotus claims he was saved by a miraculous rainstorm after telling Cyrus of his meeting with the legendary Athenian lawgiver Solon.  Right.

Meantime, Cyrus had inadvertently added Lydia's vassal Greeks of Ionia and Aeolis to his empire.  The Greeks weren't happy and had to be, er, added to the empire again, one by one and holp along with many stabbings by Cyrus' lieutenants.

Meanmeantime, in 539 BC, Cyrus conquered Babylon, and was well-received if his propaganda is to be believed, earning a spot in the Bible as the liberator of the captive Jewish nobles, who rebuilt Judea as a client state of Persia.  Herotodus has a nifty story about Cyrus diverting the Euphrates with trenches and marching his army under the river gate, but Herodotus clearly didn't know squat about Babylon, since he thought it was the size of New Jersey.

Stories of Cyrus' death (in or around December, 530 BC) vary, sometimes fighting the Dahae, or peacefully at his capital of Pasargadae.  Herodotus claims to have heard several and recounts one where he dies in a vicious battle against the Massagetae.  He was interred in an above-ground tomb at Pasargadae, which stands there still.

He was succeeded by Cambyses II.  His short reign was troubled; though he conquered Egypt in 525, his campaigns against Kush and Carthage failed; Herodotus describes him suffering a madness as punishment for killing the bull sacred to the Egyptian god Apis, and while he tarried in Egypt, the aforementioned Gaumata/Smerdis/Bardiya arose to seize the throne.  Cambyses died in 522, variously of an accident, or (according to Darius I the Great) suicide.

Bardiya/Gaumata's assassins placed Darius on the throne, which he held for 36 goddamn years.  He spent the first years of his reign quashing rebellions all over the empire.  He also conquered parts of northern India c.  515.  At around this time, the new ceremonial capital of Persepolis was built.

In 514 or 513, he invaded Scythia, crossing the Bosphorus with a pontoon bridge.  The nomads conducted a scorched-earth retreat and couldn't be confronted, so after capturing part of Scythia, Darius built a series of fortresses along the river Oarus (possibly the Dniepr or Volga).  He commemorated what success the campaign had with inscriptions at the ancient Elamite city Susa.  Afterward he gained a loose hold over Thrace.

Little is known of the years between these inscriptions and the Ionian Revolt of 499 BC.  This revolt resulted from the decision of the Persian kings to support a single lord (tyrannos) from among the cities' factional aristocrats.  These tyrants often lacked popular support.  The spark came the previous year when exiled aristocrats from the new democracy of Naxos approached Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, to help reconquer the island.  Aristagoras in turn asked Artaphernes, the satrap of Lydia, to lend him an army for the purpose, planning to repay him with the island's captured treasure.

Herodotus blames the attack's failure on a dispute between Aristagoras and the Persian commander Megabates, who chose to warn the Naxians of the invasion.  Whatever the reason, Aristagoras was now unable to repay Artaphernes, and in desperation, abdicated power, declared Miletus a democracy and incited the Milesians to revolt against the imperial government. To Be Continued

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