Cyrus the Great showed the way to empire

A file photo taken in 1971 showing the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, in Pasargad, Iran. (AP)


2017/11/19 Issue: 132 Page: 12


The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche



Beirut- In its historical heyday Iran — universally known as Persia un­til 1935 — was a superpower, a status achieved during the rule of the Achaemenids from 559- 330BC and which the modern-day Islamic Republic now seemingly seeks to replicate.

At the apogee of the Achaemenid rule around 500BC, the dynasty had conquered Asia up to the Indus River along with Greece and North Africa, including what is now Egypt and Libya.

The Achaemenid dynasty’s writ also covered ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq), Afghanistan and prob­ably Asia Minor and Yemen as well.

At its height, the Achaemenid Empire under Darius the Great and his son Xerxes I ruled over an esti­mated 44% of the known world’s population, the highest figure for any empire in history.

The main force behind the Achae­menid Empire’s massive expansion was Cyrus II, better known as Cyrus the Great, in the mid-sixth century BC.

Cyrus and his son Darius I estab­lished a centralised government, an extensive trade network and a 2,500km road system that was the empire’s economic underpinning.

Cyrus maintained control over his vast domain by installing regional governors known as satraps to rule each province.

He also created an army of 120,000-150,000 men to enforce state authority in his multicultural empire, at its core the elite 10,000- man Immortals, and gave Persia its first imperial navy.

The Persian infantry was trained in hand-to-hand combat with spears, axes and swords but they preferred to wear down opponents from a distance with superior mis­sile power using bows and arrows — rather like their modern descend­ants have the largest force of ballis­tic missiles in the Middle East de­spite US and allied efforts to block them.

A 10,000-man formation of arch­ers known as a sparabara haivara­bam could launch approximately 100,000 arrows in a minute and maintain that deadly rate for several minutes.

Cambyses II and Darius I greatly extended the empire but in 330BC, Alexander the Great and his invin­cible Macedonian Greeks toppled the last of the Achaemenid rulers, Darius III.


Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.


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