Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Administer this

Feudal systems aside, a new system of government entirely had to be devised to rule the huge, multinational empire.  To manage the territory, it was divided into provinces, which are called satrapies (Greek satrapeies).  The word is not attested in Persian, but xsaça-pa-van means "protector of the kingdom" and is presumably the root of "satrap" (provincial governor).  The satrapies are probably what the Persians called dahyava ("countries," sing. dahyu).  Each satrap was required to assess and collect taxes, settle disputes, protect the satrapy from invasion and suppress rebellion.  The term satrapy may apply to administrative divisions at several levels.

The empire preferred to make use of native governmental structures or structures that appeared to be agreeable to the natives when such structures were amenable to imperial rule.  So, in Ionia the initial approach was to back tyrants; after the Ionian Revolt, Mardonius deemed that backing democracies would win the Greeks' support.  The client state of Judah was ruled jointly by high priests and (at least initially) governors descended from the last kings of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity.  At Behistun, Darius speaks of replacing a hostile Scythian king with one of his choosing.

Satrapies paid taxes to the central government, assessed based on the land's productivity.  Lands might be expected to pay in the form of precious metals, grain, livestock or other commodities.  Persia itself was not taxed, but the Persians were required to serve in the military.  During major campaigns, military levies could also be imposed on the satrapies.

Another source of income was tariffs on trade between different regions of the empire.  To encourage the growth of trade, the Achaemenids built new roads and expanded on old ones, forming a network which additionally allowed the quick movement of messengers and armies.  Starting with Darius the Great, the kings also took the initiative to mint coins, the gold daric and the silver siglos.  These coins have been found from Pakistan to independent Greece, where the Achaemenids often disbursed them to influence Greek politics, and even as far off as Italy.

While satraps and viceroys acted in the name of the king, another group of government officials were the king's informants, known in Greek as the "king's eyes."  They were to range about the empire, reporting on troubles, ensuring that taxes were collected and royal orders carried out.  Xenophon even claims they commanded armies to put down uppity satraps and shore up those who were having trouble.  Unfortunately, we have no Persian testimony as to the existence of these officials, but Jona Lendering has suggested that their title was spasaka, "overseer."  The Athenian empire had a similar institution in the 5th century, the episkopos, also meaning "overseer."

Next up:  His cloak, most deep and distinguished.

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