Notes on Iranian influences: Achaemenid kingship and governance style

A look at the possible influences of the Achaemenid (Iranian) empire upon East Asia and ancient Japan:

“Genealogy. The genealogy of the Achaemenid dynasty up to Darius I and Xerxes is reported by Darius himself (DB I.4-6: Darius-Hystaspes-Arsames-Ariaramnes-Teispes-Achaemenes); by Herodotus, 7.11.2 (Xerxes-Darius-Hystaspes-Arsames-Ariaramnes-Teispes-Cyrus-Cambyses-Teispes-Achaemenes); and partly by two important Akkadian inscriptions, the well-known Cyrus-cylinder from Babylon (539 B.C.: Cyrus-Cambyses-Cyrus-Teispes) and a prism-fragment of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal (from his 30th year = 639 B.C.) mentioning Cyrus I and supplying a significant synchronism for Assyrian and Persian history (see E. F. Weidner, “Die älteste Nachricht über das persische Königshaus,” Archiv für Orientforschung 7, 1931-32, pp. 1-7). On this basis we can establish the abridged genealogical tree of Table 4. (All dates for the time before Cyrus II and Darius I are calculated averages; the name of ruling kings are in capital letters.)

Kingship. Kingship in the Persian empire seemingly was hereditary within the Achaemenid dynasty. If descent by Achaemenid blood was an essential foundation of the Achaemenids’ kingship, it is no wonder that the kings reiterated the last element of their title, Haxāmanišiya, “an Achaemenid.” The succession seems to have been settled by the king’s designation (Herodotus 7.2.1). Usually the heir was the first-born son, and only by way of exception (cf. Plutarch, Artaxerxes 2.4) the son born first after accession. P. Calmeyer (“Zur Genese altiranischer Motive. V. Synarchie,” AMI N.F. 9, 1976, especially pp. 68-90) has now tried to show that from Darius I to Artaxerxes II a kind of synarchy (a co-regency of father and one of his sons) seems to have been customary. The king’s election by relatives of the most distinguished Persian families (as in the case of Darius, when succession was not settled automatically) was apparently not the rule. The Achaemenid kings were no gods, in spite of Aeschylus (Persae 157), where Queen Atossa is called “a god’s [Darius’] wife” and “a god’s [Xerxes’] mother” (here and elsewhere Greek ideas are brought forward); and they were not of divine origin. But the other fundamental basis of their kingship beside the genealogical principle is the theory of divine right of kings, Gottesgnadentum. They are kings vašnā Auramazdāha, “by the favor of Ahura Mazdā;” it is unthinkable that Darius would have erected an inscription saying that “he obtained the Persian kingship by the excellence of his horse and groom,” as claimed in Herodotus 3.88.3. This supreme god “bestowed the empire” (xšaçam frābara) on the kings. As these and similar expressions show, the Achaemenids’ reign is legitimized by the gods, and the king is invested by them; i.e., he is their elect and their representative on earth (cf. Gnoli 1974; Schmitt, “Königtum”). These two principles, the dynastic one and that of divine right, belong to contrasting areas and periods—respectively, to prehistoric nomad tribes of Indo-European origin and to the highly civilized Mesopotamian peoples. Three constitutive elements thus enter into Achaemenid kingship and royal ideology: (a) Near Eastern heritage, (b) Indo-Iranian heritage, and (c) a Persian combination of these two.

A special practice, of which not enough notice is usually taken, is that the Achaemenid kings, at least from Darius’ time, took throne names at accession. These expressed, so to speak, the king’s program: e.g., Darius (OPers. Dāraya-vau, “holding the good”), Xerxes (Xšaya-ṛšan, “ruling over heroes”), Artaxerxes (Ṛta-xšaça “whose reign is through Truth”). Evidence for this custom is to be found particularly in Greek accounts and in Late Babylonian astronomical texts (see Schmitt, “Thronnamen” and “Throne-Names”).

Darius and several of his successors say that Ahura Mazdā “made them kings, the one the king of many, the one the lord of many” (cf. Aeschylus, Persae 762f.). This means, at the same time, that the Persian king was no primus inter pares but rather a sovereign governor, who united in his person all power as supreme lord and judge in peace and warfare and therefore stood far above his subjects. (Cf. the famous Persepolis relief with representation of an audience with the king, which shows the Mesopotamian influence reflected in so much of the protocol and symbolism connected with the Achaemenid kings.) The king was above the law and allowed to do whatever he liked (Herodotus 3.31.4). As the gods’ representative the king was sacred, and to his person was attached the farnah (a word which is the Median equivalent of Avestan xᵛarənah), a kind of divine splendor or royal charisma. The role played by a council of the (seven?) most distinguished Persian families (who may have had certain privileges, cf. Herodotus 3.84.2), when essential things had to be decided (e.g., to establish the Jewish community in Jerusalem [Ezra 7:14-28] or to go against the Greeks [Herodotus 7.8ff.]), may have been greater in the early Persian kingdom than in later years or during the reign of a mighty king.”

 

“The designation of the Achaemenid “empire” was, I think, xšāça (OPers. form from Iranian)
 
In 550 B.C. Cyrus (called “the Great” by the Greeks) overthrew the Median empire under Astyages and brought the Persians into domination over the Iranian peoples; he achieved combined rule over all Iran as the first real monarch of the Achaemenid dynasty. Within a few years he founded a multinational empire without precedent—a first world-empire of historical importance, since it embraced all previous civilized states of the ancient Near East. In 547/6 B.C., Cyrus conquered the Lydian kingdom of Croesus, i.e., nearly the whole of Asia Minor, and in 539 B.C., Babylon and the Neo-Babylonian empire. Already Cyrus’ state, which was to be further enlarged under his successors, surpassed in extent all its forerunners in the ancient Near East. His son Cambyses II added Egypt (in 525 B.C.), Nubia, and Cyrenaica (Libya). With Darius I, undoubtedly the greatest of the Achaemenid kings, the collateral (younger) branch of the family reached power. He was able, not only to “hold together the empire” (DB I. 25ff.) violently shaken by a dozen usurpers (as he described in DB), but also to extend its frontiers in the east (Indus valley), north (Saka tribes), and west (Thracia and Macedonia). In his thirty-five year reign he thus completed the work of his predecessors. In the short span of a single generation of Achaemenid kings, Iran had become one of the major powers in the world: At the time of its greatest extension, under Darius I, the Persian empire reached “from the Scythians, who are beyond Sogdiana, to Nubia, from the Indus (province) to Lydia” (DP[ersepolis]h 4-8 and DH[amadān] 3-6). The most important of Darius’ achievements, however, was not his expansionistic policy, which was frustrated by the Greeks, but the tightly organized, centralized administration of the empire (see below) and the high cultural and artistic level reached, e.g., in the palace buildings at Susa and Persepolis (see below). 
 

The ceremony of the investiture of the Achaemenid kings has been described by Plutarch (Artaxerxes 3.1-2): It was performed by the Persian priests in Pasargadae “in the temple of a goddess of war comparable to Athene;” there the designated king had to take off his own clothes, put on the old ones worn by Cyrus before he had become king, eat pistachios and a brick of dried figs, and drink a cup of sour milk. Other formalities are not known to Plutarch or to us. To the royal insignia belong the throne (cf. especially, for this and the following, the audience reliefs from the Persepolis Treasury), the long scepter in the right and the lotus-blossom in the left hand, the upright, purple tiara (cf. Arrian 3.25.3) or, as a sort of military headgear, the crenellated crown (cf. the Bīsotūn relief and various coins and seals), particular “royal” clothes, and also smooth shoes without laces.

 
In 550 B.C. Cyrus (called “the Great” by the Greeks) overthrew the Median empire under Astyages and brought the Persians into domination over the Iranian peoples; he achieved combined rule over all Iran as the first real monarch of the Achaemenid dynasty. Within a few years he founded a multinational empire without precedent—a first world-empire of historical importance, since it embraced all previous civilized states of the ancient Near East. In 547/6 B.C., Cyrus conquered the Lydian kingdom of Croesus, i.e., nearly the whole of Asia Minor, and in 539 B.C., Babylon and the Neo-Babylonian empire. Already Cyrus’ state, which was to be further enlarged under his successors, surpassed in extent all its forerunners in the ancient Near East. His son Cambyses II added Egypt (in 525 B.C.), Nubia, and Cyrenaica (Libya). With Darius I, undoubtedly the greatest of the Achaemenid kings, the collateral (younger) branch of the family reached power. He was able, not only to “hold together the empire” (DB I. 25ff.) violently shaken by a dozen usurpers (as he described in DB), but also to extend its frontiers in the east (Indus valley), north (Saka tribes), and west (Thracia and Macedonia). In his thirty-five year reign he thus completed the work of his predecessors. In the short span of a single generation of Achaemenid kings, Iran had become one of the major powers in the world: At the time of its greatest extension, under Darius I, the Persian empire reached “from the Scythians, who are beyond Sogdiana, to Nubia, from the Indus (province) to Lydia” (DP[ersepolis]h 4-8 and DH[amadān] 3-6). The most important of Darius’ achievements, however, was not his expansionistic policy, which was frustrated by the Greeks, but the tightly organized, centralized administration of the empire (see below) and the high cultural and artistic level reached, e.g., in the palace buildings at Susa and Persepolis (see below).  
 
Susa was the administrative capital of the Achaemenid empire, probably from Darius’ time; and its cosmopolitan nature is amply attested by archeological finds. (Under Cyrus the seat of government remained in Ecbatana.) Susa was the most important capital, as we see from contemporary accounts (Aeschylus, Persae, whose scene is laid there; Herodotus, 5.49.7; Esther 1:2, etc.); the old Elamite fortress there had been magnificently enlarged by Darius (see DSf). At times, according to the season, the king’s residence was also in Babylon (seven months in winter: Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.6.22) and Ecbatana/Hamadān, which was an ideal resort in midsummer (ibid.; idem, Anabasis 3.5.l5; but see Athenaeus 12.8, where it is said that in winter the kings were at Susa, in summer at Ecbatana, in autumn at Persepolis, and the rest of the year at Babylon). In the Persian mother country, Pasargadae, founded by Cyrus, and nearby Persepolis did not function as seats of government. Both were unsuitable because of their remoteness. (For late Achaemenid times, however, Diodorus Siculus makes the interesting remark that Persia “excelled by far the other satrapies with regard to density of population” [19.21.4].)
 
 

The state created by Darius’ reforms was primarily based on a reorganized provincial administration, although the political system was partly adapted to the local circumstances (see above). Many problems are unsolved, e.g., that of the integration of Cilicia, whose local dynasty was removed only by Artaxerxes II. The Achaemenids’ rule over the conquered peoples was, on the whole, quite liberal, and a great deal of autonomy was conceded to the individual peoples of the empire, especially to those of ancient civilization—the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Jews. There was only an administrative unification of the peoples, and there seems to have been no intention to achieve cultural uniformity. Each people could maintain its own institutions, customs, forms of business or government, language, and religion (in brief, its individuality), as long as the general administration of the empire was under Persian control. Note, e.g., the Jews’ return to Palestine, permitted by Cyrus, or the attitude of Cyrus to the Babylonians and of Cambyses to the Egyptians, so that the Babylonians acknowledged Cyrus as rightful successor of Nabonidus and the Egyptians recognized Cambyses as founder of a legitimate new dynasty (the 27th). Living and working together in the great centers of the empire such as Susa or Persepolis, where the population was mixed (as one sees from the names attested), caused mutual tolerance, assimilation, lively contacts between various ethnical groups, and a sort of cultural-religious syncretism.

The satraps themselves underwent regular inspections by other officials, called “the king’s eyes” or “the king’s ears” who traveled all over the empire (accompanied by troops sufficient for immediate action), paid unexpected visits for examination of the satraps’ conduct or other representatives’ administration (e.g., at the immense royal estates), and reported directly back to the king. These royal inspectors or controllers, confidants to the king (to avoid saying his spies) normally stood in strained relations to satraps and local authorities. Unfortunately the Iranian form of such title(s) is not attested; in Iranian sources we find neither “the king’s eyes,” “the king’s ears,” or anything similar. Greek sources vary between “the king’s eye” (Herodotus 1.114.2; Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.2.10-12, 6.16, etc.) and “the king’s ears” (ibid., 8.2.10-12; cf. Herodotus 1.100.2 on the Median Deioces’ “watchers and listeners”); an Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine does preserve gwškyʾ, the plural form of *gōšak, which reflects (as does Armenian gušak “informer”) an OPers. *gaušaka- “listener.”

The state created by Darius’ reforms was primarily based on a reorganized provincial administration, although the political system was partly adapted to Cyrus’ division of the empire into satrapies was adjusted by Darius after the suppression of the revolting usurpers. The state of things at the beginning of Darius’ reign is attested in DB, where the following “twenty-three countries” are enumerated (DB I.14-7): Persia, Elam, Babylon, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, “the peoples at the sea” (i.e., Dascylitis; see R. Schmitt, “Die achaimenidische Satrapie tayaiy drayahyā,” Historia 21, 1972, pp. 522-27), Lydia, Ionia, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, and Maka. But even during the reign of Darius further changes must have taken place; since in later lists of peoples and countries (Old Persian as well as hieroglyphic), other names occur, such as Sagartia, India, Thracia, Libya, and Caria. The lists known to us vary greatly in number, form, and content over time; the number of satrapies tends to grow, while their size becomes smaller. The changes in the division and boundaries of the satrapies, and the causes thereof, are largely unknown; we must reckon with new conquests (since our sources encompass a long period of time) as well as with reorganizations (mergers of several satrapies or the lifting of former sub-satrapies rendered more independent); and we must consider that the original twenty-three countries were too large for efficient government. Moreover the smaller and less mighty the satraps were, the simpler was control (see below); finally, the feudal structure of society called for more and more people to be incorporated into the government.

The satraps themselves underwent regular inspections by other officials, called “the king’s eyes” or “the king’s ears” who traveled all over the empire (accompanied by troops sufficient for immediate action), paid unexpected visits for examination of the satraps’ conduct or other representatives’ administration (e.g., at the immense royal estates), and reported directly back to the king. These royal inspectors or controllers, confidants to the king (to avoid saying his spies) normally stood in strained relations to satraps and local authorities. Unfortunately the Iranian form of such title(s) is not attested; in Iranian sources we find neither “the king’s eyes,” “the king’s ears,” or anything similar. Greek sources vary between “the king’s eye” (Herodotus 1.114.2; Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.2.10-12, 6.16, etc.) and “the king’s ears” (ibid., 8.2.10-12; cf. Herodotus 1.100.2 on the Median Deioces’ “watchers and listeners”); an Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine does preserve gwškyʾ, the plural form of *gōšak, which reflects (as does Armenian gušak “informer”) an OPers. *gaušaka- “listener.”

Source: Iranica Online “Achaemenid dynasty

The reach of King Darius’ reign:

Cyrus’ division of the empire into satrapies was adjusted by Darius after the suppression of the revolting usurpers. The state of things at the beginning of Darius’ reign is attested in DB, where the following “twenty-three countries” are enumerated (DB I.14-7): Persia, Elam, Babylon, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, “the peoples at the sea” (i.e., Dascylitis; see R. Schmitt, “Die achaimenidische Satrapie tayaiy drayahyā,” Historia 21, 1972, pp. 522-27), Lydia, Ionia, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, and Maka. But even during the reign of Darius further changes must have taken place; since in later lists of peoples and countries (Old Persian as well as hieroglyphic), other names occur, such as Sagartia, India, Thracia, Libya, and Caria. The lists known to us vary greatly in number, form, and content over time; the number of satrapies tends to grow, while their size becomes smaller. The changes in the division and boundaries of the satrapies, and the causes thereof, are largely unknown; we must reckon with new conquests (since our sources encompass a long period of time) as well as with reorganizations (mergers of several satrapies or the lifting of former sub-satrapies rendered more independent); and we must consider that the original twenty-three countries were too large for efficient government. Moreover the smaller and less mighty the satraps were, the simpler was control (see below); finally, the feudal structure of society called for more and more people to be incorporated into the government.

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