A podcast dedicated to the history of Persia, and the great empires that ruled there beginning with the Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great and the foundation of an imperial legacy that directly impacted ancient civilizations from Rome to China, and everywhere in between. Join me as we explore the cultures, militaries, religions, successes, and failures of some of the greatest empires of the ancient world.
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Nearly a decade after Aristagoras first went into revolt, and longer since the Athenians had reneged on their offerings of earth and water, the Persian Army came to take Darius' revenge on Athens. For the first time, a Persian army landed on the Greek mainland. They made their camp on an unremarkable open plain that would soon be seared into Greek history forever: Marathon.
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Even once the Ionian cities themselves were defeated, the consequences of their Revolt were ongoing. In 492 BCE, a new general, Mardonius, took to the field to settle matters in the Balkans. Two years later, the Persians turned their sites on Athens and Eretria in retribution for the aid they sent to the Ionians. In 490, Artaphernes and Datis launched the first Persian invasion of mainland Greece.
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Even with Miletus defeated, the other rebel cities in shambles, Cyprus under control, and their armies victorious, the Persians had not heard the last of Ionian resistance. While the Greek rebels were fighting against the Persian Empire, the deposed tyrant Histiaeus was making plans to try and carve out a new niche for himself in Persian territory.
It is a dark time for the Ionian Revolt. Although Sardis has been destroyed, Persian troops have driven the Rebel forces from Aeolis and pursued them across Anatolia.
Facing the renewed Persian Fleet, a group of Greek cities led by Dionysius of Phocaea has established a new plan on the nearby island of Lade.
The Persian satrap Artaphernes, ready to end this rebellion, has dispatched the army and the navy to retake Miletus....
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While three Persian land armies were spreading out over western Anatolia to contain and defeat the Ionian Greek rebels and their allies, a fourth army was headed to the island of Cyprus. The Cypriot King of Salamis, Onesilos had usurped his brother's throne and incited his neighbors to rebellion. In our first "Battle of Salamis" the Persians retake the strange and strategic island.
This time I have something a little different. In place of a regular narrative episode this week, I have my recent interview with Dr. Michael Bonner, author of the new book: The Last Empire of Iran. This jumps far ahead of our current point in the narrative story, all the way to the Sassanid Persian Empire of the 4th-8th centuries CE.
Dr. Bonner and I discussed the origins, sources, conflicts, and fall of Iran's last pre-Islamic dynasty.
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The History of Persia is now on Lyceum! Lyceum is a new podcast app with a hand-curated catalog of high quality educational podcasts ranging from history to science to politics to arts. It's a really awesome app that I personally recommend.
It is also a new venue to access Bonus episodes and ad free listening previously only available through Patreon.
Listen now in the App Store and Google Play or at Lyceum.fm
After the shocking attack on Sardis, many more Greek cities joined the Ionian Revolt, despite Persian victory at Ephesus. In 497 BCE, three land campaigns were launched by three Persian generals: Daurises, Hymaies, and Otanes. After a series of lightning victories in early 497, the campaigns began set in to prolonged fighting. Two of the Persian generals were dead by 496, but the Ionians were still losing. Fresh revolts in the Troad and Caria were dealt serious defeats, and Aristagoras of Miletus, once the ringleader of the Ionians, fled into exile.
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To prepare ourselves for their role in the coming wars between Persian the Greek city states, I'm explaining the history and politics of Archaic Athens, from their first adoption of oligarchy rather than monarchy, down through the adoption of democracy, the Peisistratid tyrants, and the final restoration of democracy by Cleisthenes. At the end of that long process, the Athenians and their Eretrian allies joined forces with the Ionian Greek cities of Anatolia in their revolt against the Persian Empire. In 498 BCE, the Greek army set out from Ephesus in a lightning raid to attack, and ultimately destroy, the Lydian capital at Sardis.
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At the end of the 6th century BCE, a group of exiled aristocrats from the island of Naxos inadvertently set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to such famous battles as Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis. They asked the Milesian Tyrant, Aristagoras, to help them retake their home island after being kicked out. Aristagoras went to the Satrap of Lydia, who in turn asked Darius the Great. When Darius gave the go ahead, a Persian fleet invaded, and subsequently retreated from Naxos. Out of money and out of options Aristagoras and the rest of the Ionian Greeks in western Anatolia began hatching a plan to launch an Ionian Revolt against the Persian Empire.
To celebrate the Persian New Year's festival of Nowruz, check out the 2nd Sort-of Annual Holiday Special, exploring the New Year's celebrations of the Achaemenid Empire. Called Navasarda at that time, many of the traditions associated with the modern holiday were still developing during the Achaemenid period. The origins and original purpose of the holiday season are hazy and changed and developed as Iranian society evolved over centuries.
This time it's just one episode for a different kind of tour. Explore the early phases of construction at Susa and Persepolis under Darius the Great. The grand Apadana audience halls with their splendid columns. The lavishly decorated palaces built to house Darius throughout the year. The famous works of art and architecture that define the middle Achaemenid period are featured in this episode.
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It's the final stage of the tour! Our trip through the Persian Empire wraps up with three central provinces of the empire, located in western Iran. This time it's Susiana, Media, and Parsa itself. We'll traverse everything from rundown ancient kingdoms, hostile mountain tribes, royal capitals, and one of the wonders of the ancient world. For some of them, we won't even have to leave the same city. These are the provinces that ruled and defined the Achaemenid Persian Empire.
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The tour of the Persian Empire continues. This time I'm going through the empire within the empire to dissect Assyria and Babylonia. Within these two satrapies, there were many important administrative districts and geographic divisions including Judea, Palestine, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Akkad in addition to Assyria and Babylon themselves. With hindsight's 20/20 this was obviously one the most important parts of the empire, and we'll go through it in detail.
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The tour of the Persian Empire continues, this time covering the western Satrapies. I'm exploring the details and histories of the Persian provinces starting with Armenia and moving counter clockwise, through Anatolia and Europe, over the Mediterranean, North Africa, Arabia, and Assyria. Based on the maps of Ian Mladjov.
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With the Persian Empire at its greatest ever extent, it's time to start a tour of the empire. We're travelling east, out of Parsa, and following the excellent maps of Ian Mladjov counter-clockwise through the eastern provinces. From Karmana to India, to the steppe to Parthia and everywhere in between, to examine the little bit of information we have about the Persian east.
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Happy Holidays Everyone! In place of a regular episode this week, we have the first annual History of Persia Holiday Special. Regardless of what holidays you're celebrating, or not, I have a surprise topic to cover by audience request this week. Please enjoy!
Interesting topic? Check out Anthrochef's History of Food.
It's finally time to talk about the famous Behistun Inscription, commissioned by Darius to commemorate his victories over "Gaumata" and the rebel kings he faced from 522 - 518 BCE. It is part propaganda, part epic, part origin story, and part religious creed, declaring Darius' position over his hard-won empire. I go through the inscription step by step and give some of the history of the site beyond Darius.
With most of the Persian Empire firmly under his control in 519 BCE, Darius the Great set off to earn that title by conquering surrounding territories and spreading Achaemenid territory to its greatest ever extent. He pushed the boundaries of the known world and established an empire that stretched that spanned nearly 4,000 miles from North Africa to the Indus River Valley.
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Picking right back up in the late summer of 521 BCE, I'm talking about the rest of the rebellions against Darius. That's the last three campaigns against the Liar Kings from the Behistun Inscription, the strangely absent rebellion in Egypt, and the other rebels that were excluded from the famous monument before concluding with personal betrayal for the new King of Kings.
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No sooner was Bardiya dead, than the newly minted King Darius had to turn his attention on rebellious subjects. One satrapy after the next went into revolt at the end of 522 BCE, and Darius spent most of his first year on the throne directing his armies from place to place to try and hold the empire together. This time, I'm talking about Darius, the calendar, and the rebellious liar kings who sundered the Persian Empire.
After all that business with Gaumata that Magos, I figured we had time to keep talking about magi. This episode explores the religious developments and beliefs in Persia during the Achaemenid period. I'm focusing on Zoroastrianism, but also discussing how naming a religion like that for the ancient Persians is harder than it might seem.
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522 BCE was a crazy year for the Persian Empire. That was the year that Bardiya - or maybe Gaumata - seized power. He overturned his brother and ruled the empire to try and save it. He halted rebellion and made peace with the nobility. However, nobody can usurp the throne or be a reformer without making a few enemies, and Darius became a lethal enemy to Bardiya.
In 522 BCE, the Persian Empire sat on the edge of Chaos. Between March and September of that year, 3 men sat on the Persian throne, and according to the official royal history one of those kings was actually impersonated by a couple of magi. This episode is the first to really question who the Magi were. This episode also discusses the many theories of what really happened that year.
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The story of Polykrates, the Tyrant of Samos, intersects repeatedly with the history of the Persian empire during his life. From his rise to power in the vacuum left when Miletus was conquered, to his alliance with Egypt against the Persians, and finally to his death on the orders of a Satrap. His story feeds directly into the history around Oroites, the Satrap of Sparda (the kingdom formerly known as Lydia). Oroites tried to seize some power for himself in events that prepare our narrative for the chaotic years following Cambyses' death.
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Hello everyone! I've got some announcements, updates, and news about the show for you, and as a little bonus for listening to my fundraising spiel, there's a mini-episode on the history of the world's first coinage at the end. Thank you everybody!
The story of Cambyses isn't just the conquest of Egypt, but also the dark side of it. According to Herodotus Cambyses was a mad king, driven to paranoia and acts of terrible violence while he was Egypt. The Greek Historian, as well as the Behistun Inscription, tell how Cambyses II murdered his family members and drove his own empire into open revolt. This episode describes the Persian tragedy of the King of King's fall into madness.
In 525 BCE, the Persian army crossed into Egypt, in what seems to have been the culmination of years of antagonism between the the new empire and the last great kingdom of the Near East. To accomplish his task, the new King of Kings, Cambyses, mustered all his resources. He assembled a huge land army, constructed Persia's first navy, and formed alliances from the Greek islands in the Aegean to tribal kings in Arabia. Over the following three years, he established and consolidated Persian rule over the kingdom of the two lands, bringing one of the oldest civilizations in the world under Persian domination.
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In preperation for Cambyses' invasion of Egypt, we're covering the early Persian armies. These are the armies that helped Cyrus the Great conquer the known world. They started as troops levied from Persia and Media, but grew to incorporate every facet of the empire and built on the history of Near Eastern warfare to form a disciplined and organized system.
The narrative lurches forward again with a discussion of the new cast, so to speak. Meet Cambyses, Atossa, Bardiya, Artystone, and Roxane, the children of Cyrus the Great, and the new royal family of the Persian Empire. This time I'm breaking down marriage customs, inheritance rights, and political training. Or to put that another way: incest, dividing the empire, and the next round of political power plays. Cyrus the Great is gone, and his empire would never be quite the same again.
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What did it mean to be an early king of Persia? They were divine, but not quite. Warriors and economists. The king of Persia, but also Babylon, Egypt, and many other lands. Legitimacy came in many forms, and this episode explores them.
It's time to introduce religion into the mix, starting with the origins and background of ancient Iranian traditions in general, and then narrowing in on the most famous and significant: Zoroastrianism. This episode explores the traditions and gods of the Indo-European steppe peoples as they migrated and became the Iranians, Persians and Medes included. I'll also discuss the reforms and doctrines of the ancient prophet Zoroaster who established a religion centered around a single supreme god, Ahura Mazda.
Returning to the narrative, it's time to see what Cyrus got up to in the final decade of his rule, after conquering Babylon. He traveled around his empire, between a collection of important capital cities, founded cities, and constructed monuments. He also conquered. This episode pushes the narrative eastward into the provinces of Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia and explores some of the events that happened there. Then it's time to finish the story of Cyrus the Great, with one last campaign on the northeastern frontier.
What exactly is a Satrap? Is there such a thing as a Satrapy? How did all of these people manage to talk to one another? All this, and more as the History of Persia celebrates double-digits with a break down of how the Persian Empire was actually organized and managed during the Teispid Period.
This time we're taking a break from the narrative for a bit. Now that this show has all of Cyrus's major conquests under its belt, its probably worth getting a sense of what these Persians were actually like. This episode covers art, architecture, clothing, and the major cultural influences of the early Persian period, under the Teispid kings. Let's see what the world around Cyrus the Great might have looked like.
Cyrus the Great has finally completed his conquests in our narrative. I break down the Cyrus Cylinder, the official record of what he did next, one section at a time. In this episode, I shamelessly take advantage of current events and link Persian history to both Easter and Game of Thrones. Listen and explorer official Persian propaganda, an expanding royal family, the historic and religious legacy of Cyrus, and all the titles of the Persian King.
In Babylon, October of 539 BCE began in the 17th year of the reign of Nabonidus, but it ended in the 1st year of Cyrus. In this episode Cyrus the Great carries out his final campaign against Babylon. Our sources tell us that after a few short battles, the greatest city of the ancient world through open its gates and the Persians won the day. Of course, ancient history is never quite that clean. This time, we explore Cyrus's greatest conquest, and the troubled, but fascinating, reign of Babylon's last king.
Cyrus's generals take the reins for a bit and the Persian conquerors face their most grueling task yet: subduing the Ionian Greek city states. Persia's first interaction with the Greek speaking world was a drawn out, and possibly brutal conquest of the western coasts of Anatolia, but when they were done the empire was larger, more secure, and ready to keep pushing its boundaries south into the wealthy territory of Babylon.
Just as Cyrus the Great, now officially the King of Persia, was consolidating his hold over the recently conquered Median Empire, a new war started. This time, the Persians were facing Lydia, the fabulously wealthy Anatolian kingdom ruled by King Croesus. This war really had it all. Deceptive strategies, surprising alliances, strange tactics, and wildly confused ancient sources to tell the story, but in the end it was just one achievement for Cyrus.
Around 550 BCE, King Cyrus II of Anshan went into revolt against the Median King Astyages. The young Cyrus was aided by a rebellious Median general called Harpagus and conquered the whole Median Empire in one war. Then, Cyrus declared himself King of Persia, and took his first step on the path to becoming "Great."
We're bringing the stories from the last two episodes together now. The Medes and the Babylonians joined forces, beat the Assyrians and the Egyptians, and then divided up the Near East between themselves as they built their own empires. After this, I promise there will be some actual Persians on this History of Persia Podcast.
Last time, we got up to speed on what was going on in the Near East in the centuries before the Persians showed up. What we didn't cover, was who exactly are these "Persians," and what were they doing while their future empire was being taken over by the Assyrians. This time, we figure that out as we follow some steppe nomads called the Proto-Indo-Europeans on their 3000-ish year journey to becoming the Persians.
Here we go, episode 1! Now, as much as I want to get to Persian history, we should probably know at least a little bit about the world before the Persians got there, so this is you lightspeed tour of the Near East, from about 1200 BCE to 616 BCE. Maps for everything are available on the website.
Welcome Everyone! This is the introductory episode to the show, just so you can get an idea for the premise for the show, who I am as a host, and a couple of disclaimers before diving into the narrative of Persian history.