Persian Empire Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Persian Empire was one of the greatest empires in ancient history, controlling an area greater than any other civilization had ever achieved before. Learn about the rise and fall of the Persians and their legacy today in this lesson.

I Run the Show

You hear so many stories about fighting and unhappiness in the Middle East today that it's hard to think that the problems could ever be solved. But would you believe that not only did someone once control the entire Middle East in peace, but that it was the most powerful nation in the world?

Almost 2,500 years ago, the Persian Empire spread from modern-day Iran to Turkey. No empire before it managed to take over as much land or rule as many people. While it only lasted 200 years, the Persian Empire is remembered today as one of the great civilizations of ancient history.

Map of the Persian Empire at its greatest point
Persian empire map

Starting Off

Like most great empires in history, the Persians started small. Kings had ruled Persia, the region that today is Iran, for many years before. However, a kingdom only becomes an empire when it begins to take over its neighbors. The first Persian king to do so, Cyrus II, conquered next-door Turkey in 550 BCE.

Drawing of a carving of Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great drawing

As soon as he did, the other powers in the Middle East (like Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq and ancient Egypt) thought that they could defeat the Persians, but Cyrus was a great warrior and leader and managed to take over Mesopotamia too. He died before defeating Egypt, but his son Cambyses managed to do so in just ten days of fighting. Due to his accomplishments, Cyrus is remembered as Cyrus the Great.

Growing Stronger

While Cyrus laid the borders of the Persian Empire, it was another emperor named Darius who made it peaceful and prosperous. Darius built roads throughout the empire for communication and trade, and created the system of governors called satraps who would rule each region. Darius also conquered the northern part of India, then built a new capital city called Persepolis. Darius is also remembered as Darius the Great.

War with Greece

Perhaps the most important period of the Persian Empire came during a long series of wars with Greece. The Persians controlled next-door Turkey, but many people living there considered themselves Greeks and rebelled, or fought back, against Persia. These Greeks were supported by powerful cities like Athens and Sparta.

Painting of Greeks fighting Persians
Battle painting

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