Ancient Persia

By: Sabrina Iddir and Patrick Burns

Map of the Achaemenid Empire (UNCP Ancient Civilizations Webpage)

The Persians were a very strong and unbeatable nation. They would bow down to no one and continued to spread all throughout the Middle East. The Persians' amazing geography, many important and major historical figures, unstoppable army, and unique culture has had a very large impact on modern society and still continues to affect us, and fascinate us, as of today.


The land of Ancient Persia, now modern-day Iran, is located between the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean to the South and the Caspian Sea to the North. (Cheshire and Hammond, 41) The actual country is actually quite small compared to its vast empire. (Balcer, 299) Eventually after becoming a country of their own, Persia ended up joining along with Medes and becoming a new state, becoming stronger than when the two were separate. Soon after, the Persian Empire extended by capturing and defeating Lydia. They then moved on to an attack on Babylonia and the nearby lands to the west, becoming an even larger empire. The Persians won Battles all across Central Asia, bringing their borders to modern-day Tajikistan. (Burgan, 11)
Map of Persia (Bahai Library Webpage)

The Persians traced their roots all the way back to the people of the Steppe, which was an area of vast, flat, treeless plains. Once the Persians decided to wander off onto new territory, they ended up settling on a plateau near the Zagros Mountains and the Persian Gulf. This area was known as the Near East. There was a part of the Near East called the Fertile Crescent, which curved from the northern end of the Persian Gulf through modern-day Iran. The Fertile Crescent was where they developed farming and agriculture. (8-10)

The movement of the Persians was phenomenal. After defeating Lydia and Babylonia, they had moved on to conquering Egypt. (Balcer, 298) They soon controlled Cyprus as well, and continued their movement into Central Asia and northwest India. They had invaded Scythia, Thrace, and Macedonia. (Burgan, 11-12) They had extended their empire yet again and didn't feel to end there. Although they had attacked so many places and had experienced so many victories, they tried to take on the small city-states of Greece, who wouldn't bow down to the mighty Persians. (Balcer, 299)

Most Persians were farmers who raised mostly grain and livestock. To feed their vegetation, they brought water from mountains to valleys and plains. Peasants had developed irrigation to grow wheat, barley, oats, and vegetables. (297) They were successful with their attempts at innovating agriculture.

The Persians had a very unique type of culture. They took different elements of other cultures and blended them to create their own, which was something that no one had ever seen before.

Men's clothing especially designed to be worn on the move. Men were mostly on the move when on horseback, especially during battle. They wore trousers that were cut at either knee or ankle length. These trousers fit legs such as modern-day tights do. Men also wore knee-length sleeved coats that were worn open and fastened at the waist with a belt. These coats mostly included hoods, which were used a lot in battle or when hunting. Also, men tended to wear earrings more frequently than women had.

Women's clothing was quite similar to the type that men wore. One difference was the length. The coats for women were longer and had a fuller cut than the ones that men tended to wear, and the front was sewn closed rather than open. Women also wore very little jewelery, unlike many other civilizations.
Both men and women wore soft-soled, slipper-style shoes, but only when needed. (Cheshire and Hammond, 43-45)

Major Historical Figures

The Persians had so many leaders and rulers that led them to victory and success, especially when it mattered the most. Three of these leaders were Cyr
Cyrus the Great (Islam Watch)
us the Great, Darius, and Xerxes.

Cyrus was born into a noble Persian family, the Achaemenids. In 559 BC, he had become ruler of Anshan. In 550 BC, he had overthrown King Astyages of Media (whom he may have been related to, but it is not a completely reliable fact) and founded the Persian Empire, making the Median Empire the center of it. Cyrus soon took control of Asia Minor, overcoming the Greek cities along its coast. In 539 BC, he conquered Babylonia. He had soon controlled most of the Middle East.
With all his captive cities, Cyrus wasn't much of a cruel leader. He respected local customs and religions. He freed the captive Jews from Babylonia and allowed them to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Accomplishing much throughout his lifetime, Cyrus had been renamed Cyrus the Great and died in battle in Central Asia. (Balcer, 1208)

Darius (New World Encyclopedia)
Darius had taken power in 522 BC after Cyrus's son had. But he wasn't the only one who wanted to take the throne. Bardiya, who was a supposed brother of Cambyses, had also claimed the throne. Darius and Bardiya battled, and Darius won. (Burgan, 11) Darius expanded his Empire eastward and westward, trying hard to conquer Greece but instead gained several small city-states. (Balcer, 36) Darius extended the empire into northwestern India, Scythia, and Macedonia. (Burgan, 12) In about 513 BC, Darius conquered Thrace. Then he soon conquered modern-day southern Pakistan. He divided the empire into twenty satrapies, or provinces. (Balcer, 36)

Soon enough, all the Greek city-states that had been conquered rebelled against Darius. Darius was too powerful, so the city-states were unsuccessful. (Burgan, 12) He continued to try to conquer more city-states, but began to fail more and more. (Balcer, 36) Darius tried to weaken Greek power the best that he could, but still could not prevail. Before he could try yet again, he died in 486 BC. (Burgan, 11-12)

Xerxes I (Iran Chamber Society)

Xerxes I was born in 519 BC. At the time, Persia was the largest empire the ancient world has ever come to known. He was a direct descendant of Achaemenes, who happened to be the founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty. (Bowman) Xerxes' birth name was Khshayarsha, but his Greek name was Xerxes. (Loveday, et al. 29) During the first few years of his reign, Xerxes rebelled against Egypt, Babylon, and Asia Minor. (Bowman) He did not originally want to attack Greece, but he was convinced that the prestige of Persia would suffer without anything being done. So he decided that he would try to conquer Greece, and attacked many times. After losing the Battle of Plataea, Xerxes gave up on trying to take over Greece, even after all the hard work he had put forth. In 466 BC, Xerxes was assassinated by the Captain of His Guard, Artabanus. (Loveday, et al. 29-31)

These three leaders had their successes and failures, but had brought Persia to the successful civilization it had come to be.


The Persians were and still are known all around the word for their excellent military military system, which allowed their empire to expand with each conquered nation.

The Persians had a very well planned out and organized military system that was modeled in a larger degree of the Assyrian military. The Persian law decreed that all Persian men were required to serve in the military. Each boy was taught to ride, draw bows, and to tell the truth.They would be taught about serving in the army as early as age five. Young men would take place in the military at the age of twenty and would serve for the rest of their life. Without the idea of fostering and recruiting young ones, the Persian army would never have accomplished the things they did.

The Persian army was organized into regiments of a thousand men. The old Persian term for these regiments was a "hazarabam". Each of these regiments was commanded by a "hazarapatis", or "commander of a thousand", and divided into ten "sataba" of a hundred. Each sataba was commanded by a "satapatis" and was, in turn, divided into ten "dathaba" of again from the Assyrians. This was the archer-pair, which consisted of a spearman bearing a very large, light but sturdy shield made of leather and wicker, and an archer; The spearman faced the enemy and held up the shield, behind which the archer hid and fired off volleys of arrows. The Persians called these tactical unit "sparabaraten men. Normally, the dathapatis of each group carried a short fighting spear six feet long and was expected to protect the rest of the group. Sometimes, the whole dathabam was armed with bows and shields were propped up in the front as a wall of protection. The Persians used a tactical procedure developed once ".(Nardo, 28)

The other great powers in the near east, Egypt, Babylonia, and Lydia, looked on Cyrus the Great as an upset who posed a threat to their own security, which was made true when Cyrus successfully invaded Lydia in 546 B.C.
A painting of the Lydian King Croesus
A painting of the Lydian King Croesus

In order to gain such success, the Persian military also had to have excellent weaponry. Each Persian warrior would be equipped with a spara, or a special shield composed of leather and wicker. In combat, the Persians would fend
A painting of the Battle of Salamis (Getty Images)
off their enemie with a falchion or a curved sword used for close-range battle. Each dathapatis, or leader, was armed with a short fighting spear about six feet long. Then, of course, they had the archers, which were equipped with bows and arrows. All of these provided a good artillery for the Persians.(Nardo 29)

The decline of the Persian army came at the Battle of Salamis. When the naval forces entered the strait between Athens and Salamis for a surprise attack on the Greeks, the Greeks startled the men by meeting them at the Strait. The Greek forces took the Persian ships out one at a time, for the strait was too narrow for more than one ship to fit through at a time. A short time later, the Persians were also defeated by the Greeks in the Battle of Plataea. The Persian military rapidly declined during this period of time.

Map of the Battle of Salamis (Emerson Kent)

The decline of the Persian army came at the Battle of Salamis. When the naval forces entered the strait between Athens and Salamis for a surprise attack on the Greeks, the Greeks startled the men by meeting them at the Strait. The Greek forces took the Persian ships out one at a time, for the strait was too narrow for more than one ship to fit through at a time. A short time later, the Persians were also defeated by the Greeks in the Battle of Plataea. The Persian military rapidly declined during this period of time.

The Persian military is still remembered to this day as the most powerful and successful army in the world.


The Persians were also known for their articulate and diverse culture, including their unique religious beliefs, education system, and much more.

At first, the Persians worshipped many gods. Then, in about 570 B.C., a religious leader named Zoroaster told the Persians about two gods. One god, Ahura Mazda, was wise and truthful. He created all good things in the world. The other god, Ahriman, made all evil things in the world. The two were always at war with each other (Greenblatt, 124-125). The Persians often made sacrifices to their gods. First, they would sprinkle water on the land that the sacrifice would take place on. This was to protect the land from demons. Then, a fire was built and prayers would be said. When time came for the sacrifice to be made, the name of the god being worshipped would be called out just before the animal was killed. After this sacr
A picture of the god Ahura Mazda
A picture of the god Ahura Mazda
ifice The Persians were very grateful people and honored gifts from gods. The gifts of water and fire were considered special to the Persians, since they were gifts from Ahura Mazda. To show respect, The people of Persia would send a small amount of milk and two leaves down a stream or river. These would represent animals and plants, which neither could live without water.(Zeinert, 50-53)

An example of the written language Cuneiform (
An example of the written language Cuneiform (

The Persians also expressed their religious beliefs in works of art. The early Persians did not have any temples but only small statues of gods, especially Anahita, the fertility godess, and Haoma, the god of immortality. These statues were small and easy to carry around. During the Achaemenian period, The people still continued the small statue, but also began to create larger works of art. The people chieseled figures of dietes into stone for all to see. The people of Persia decorated their homes with delicate vases, beautiful sculptures, and luxurious fabrics that people still use in their homes today. The Persian education system was mapped out and organized quite well. From age five to twenty, the children were raught three things: To ride a horse, to draw bows, and to speak the truth. The children would learn the written language of cuneiform and how tocommunicate with it. Until the fifth year of a young boy's life, they are not allowed to come in sight of their father, but to pass their life wih the women. Also, every morning before it was time to learn, the children would run at command a distance of 7.5 to 10 miles!

Persian homes varied according to the family's wealth. Workers homes were simple, consisting of sun dried bricks made from a mixture of mud and straw. The roofs were made of mud and straw rushes on a timber frame. The homes of nobles were more luxurious, usually made of blocks of limestone or bricks baked in an oven. Thick carpets covered the floors of these houses.(Zeinert, 23)
A small model showing an inside view of a Persian home (Break Media)
A small model showing an inside view of a Persian home (Break Media)

Most of Persia's scientific contributions came from the freedom to explore, study, and experiment. Some famous accomplishments came from the astronomer Nabu-rimanni in the 5th century B.C. This outstanding figure made accurate predictions of lunar and solar eclipses and also plotted the moons phases and varying length of days throughout the year. The people of Persia were the first to understand that seasons occured predictably in a regular pattern throughout the year. They also subdivided years into 360 days. Later, these people even subdivided a year into 24 hours.

The Persian Empire was one of the strongest and most prosperous nations the world has ever known. They excelled on the battlefield and conqure much land, and at the same time had a very advanced and developed knowledge perspective. Almost all of what we have today, both strategy and knowledge-wise came from the Persians.


Works Cited

Balcer, Jack Martin. "Ancient Persia." World Book Encyclopedia. World Book Student. Web. 1 May 2010.

- - -. "Cyrus the Great." World Book Encyclopedia. Print.

- - -. "Darius I." World Book Encyclopedia. Print. Bowman, Jeffrey. "XERXES I." Middle Search Plus. EBSCO, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. Burgan, Michael. Great Empires of the Past: Empires of Ancient Persia. N.p.: Chelsea House Publishing, 2010. Print.

Loveday, Helen, et al. Iran - Persia: Ancient and Modern. N.p.: Odyssey Books and Guides, 2005. Print .

Cheshire, Gerard, and Paula Hammond. Cultures and Costumes: Symbols of Their Period: The Middle East. N.p.: Mason Crest Publishers Inc., 2003. Print.

Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth. "Alexander the Great." Advanced Search. Gale Virtual Reference Library, 2005. Web. 29 Apr. 2010.

- - -. Nardo, Don, The Persian Empire. San Diego, California; Lucent Books, 1998. Print.

- - -. Greenblatt, Miriam, Peter S. Lemmo, Human Herritage. Chicago, Illinois; McGraw Hill-Glencoe, 2004. Print.

- - -.C. D. Hunter, Dr. Erica, First Civilizations. New York, New York; Facts On File, Inc., 2003. Print.

- - -. Zeinert, Karen, The Persian Empire. Tarrytown, New York; Benchmark Books,1997. Print.