Sunday, February 5, 2012

History - Who were the Achaemenids?

Since "The Persian empire in 1,000 words or less" is coming along a bit slower than I anticipated, I'm going to buy some time by changing up the schedule a bit.  Hopefully, this post will become clearer upon rereading after I get that one done.

The traditional view of the first Persian empire is that their rulers all belonged to a single family, founded c.  700 BC by Achaemenes (Hakhâmaniš).  But Cyrus the Great does not mention an Achaemenes in the lineage he presents in the Cyrus Cylinder, the record of his conquest of Babylon, where he traces his ancestry to a Teispes.  The name first occurs among the inscriptions of Darius the Great at Behistun, the third man to hold the throne after Cyrus' death.

Cyrus' elder son and first successor, Cambyses II, died in 522 BC just eight years after his father.  According to the Behistun inscription, in the last year of Cambyses' life, during his lengthy occupations in Egypt, a man claiming to be his younger brother Bardiya (whom Cambyses had secretly killed before his Egyptian campaign years earlier) raised Persia and Media in rebellion and declared himself king.  This man, whom Darius identified as a Magian named Gaumata, ruled the empire from March to September of 522 BC before Darius and six other Persian noblemen gained access to his palace at Sikayauvatiš and killed him.  The story is essentially the same in Herodotus' Histories, except that he uses the name Smerdis in reference to the Cyrus' younger son.

It is in this same inscription that Darius details his shared ancestry with Cyrus:  Cyrus' grandfather Cyrus I was brother to Darius' great-grandfather Ariaramnes, their father was Teispes, Teispes' father was Achaemenes.

It should come as no surprise that modern historians have questioned whether Darius was really a relative of Cyrus at all, and whether Achaemenes existed or was an invention of Darius.  Adding to the suspicion is the fact that Cyrus' Pasargadae inscription identifying himself as an Achaemenid is written in Old Persian cuneiform, generally believed to have been invented during the reign of Darius.  For these reasons, some prefer to describe the ruling line before Darius as "Teispid" rather than Achaemenid.

I am not going to assert a conclusion here.  I'm bringing up this topic early on because I believe that reenactors shouldn't just recount the most popular version of history when there are real uncertainties.  We should aim to present the truth as best we can discern it; if that includes admitting sometimes that the truth is unclear or disputed, so be it.

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