The Royal Persian Cities
Most of what we know about the Persians is from Greek accounts. The works of Greek authors have downplayed the importance of Persia in its historical setting. Yet the Persians cannot be dismissed so easily — for 250 years, they ruled almost half of the ancient world, managed from their royal cities.
The stones at the ancient city of Pasargadae tell a different story than have been formulated by Greek authors. It was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire under the Persian king Cyrus the Great, in the 6th century BCE. In just 30 years, Cyrus laid the foundations of an empire that would stretch from the borders of India in the East to Greece and the Mediterranean in the West, down to Egypt and Ethiopia, and toward to what is now Russia. Hidden in the undergrowth of Pasargadae are the irrigation channels of its royal gardens.
Persepolis was begun around 515 BCE by Darius the Great, the fourth king of the Achaemenid empire. It was a symbolic and ceremonial place. From all over the empire, subject peoples came from all over to give their gifts to the king. Gift giving at Persepolis was how the Persian kings reinforced the loyalty of their subjects.
Clay tablets found among the rubble of Persepolis provide one of the few sources of information of the workings of the empire written by the Persians themselves. They are the invoices of the Achaemenid Empire, including rations for the workers that built the ancient city.
Pictured here is a clay tablet from Persepolis in Old Persian cuneiform, c. 500 BCE (University of Chicago).
The Persian road system stretched from Persepolis to Susa, to Ephesus on the Mediterranean. Roads also went east into India and south into Egypt. The messengers who traveled along these roads kept the Persian kings at Persepolis informed of all that went on in the empire.
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "No mortal thing travels faster than these Persian couriers." Such speed was possible because of another innovation — staging posts: a system where a messenger rode a horse to a garrison every 20 miles and quickly changed onto a new horse. The messenger's speed continued as he was always on a new horse.
Persian architecture, gardens, and communication inspire us to this day, but there were those in the ancient world who despised everything the Persians stood for. This hostility would one day lead to the destruction of the Persian empire.
“History of Iran: Pasargadae.” Www.iranchamber.com, www.iranchamber.com/history/pasargadae/pasargadae.php.
“New Light Shed on Persepolis.” Tehran Times, 5 Mar. 2021, www.tehrantimes.com/news/458794/New-light-shed-on-Persepolis.
“The Apadana | the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.” Oi.uchicago.edu, oi.uchicago.edu/collections/photographic-archives/persepolis/apadana.
Andrew Selkirk. “Pasargadae.” World Archaeology, 20 Sept. 2019, www.world-archaeology.com/features/pasargadae/.