Features of the Ancient Persian Government

Features of the Ancient Persian Government
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  • 0:01 Rise of the Persians
  • 0:50 Persian Administration
  • 2:45 Relationship with the…
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The Persians ruled one of the largest empires in ancient history, and did so in a way that largely kept its inhabitants content. This was accomplished through a surprising array of administrative techniques.

Rise of the Persians

Unlike most other civilizations that rose to dominate Mesopotamia, the Persians were not originally from that region, nor any other major river valley. Instead, the Persians originated in modern Southern Iran, in a region today still known as Fars, from which the Greeks got the word Pars, ultimately becoming Persians. The official imperial history of Persia states that it grew out of oppression, as their long-time partners, the Medes, had become oppressive, and the noble Persians had simply risen up to throw off the yokes of such slavery. As a result, Persian writers would often have one believe that their culture tried to bring those same freedoms to others around the world. However, unlike so many other examples of nationalistic propaganda, this one may have some element of truth to it.

Persian Administration

Until its destruction, the Persians were the largest empire that the world had seen up until that point in time. In fact, some scholars estimate that more than 40% of the world's population was under Persian rule during its high point. Earlier empires had failed with much less land for reasons of administration, so it was apparent that the Persians would have to be adept administrators in order to ensure the survival of their new empire. In this regard, the Persians were particularly gifted.

One of their most notable achievements was the construction of the Royal Road, which stretched from the Persian homeland west to the Aegean Sea. This permitted the quick transmission of trade, edicts, and armies across the width of the empire. Persian roads were augmented by the use of state-sponsored inns that dotted the countryside. Open to private travelers and officials on assignment, these inns guaranteed safety, a warm meal, and for officials, a change of horses to keep the message moving as quickly as possible.

Such communication was important as the Persians divided their empire into a number of provinces called satrapies, each governed by a satrap. These governors had considerable power, but a number of officials, especially military and financial officers, reported straight to the Persian Emperor, or Shahashah. Administration of the empire was also aided by the relative openness of Persian officials regarding language. Unlike later empires, which would attempt to forcibly impose language upon newly conquered regions, the Persians worked instead to figure out what languages were already common across a region, then use them instead. For this reason, the Persian Empire had two primary languages: Persian in the East and Aramaic in the West.

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