Reproduced with permission from Masoud Vakhshouri
The First Empire
The Iranian plateau was settled about 1500 BC by Aryan tribes, the most important of which were the Medes, who occupied the northwestern portion, and the Persians, who emigrated from Parsua, a land west of Lake Urmia, into the southern region of the plateau, which they named Parsamash or Parsumash. The first prominent leader of the Persians was the warrior chief Hakhamanish, or Achaemenes, who lived about 681 BC. The Persians were dominated by the Medes until the accession to the Persian throne in 558 BC of Cyrus the Great. He overthrew the Median rulers, conquered the kingdom of Lydia in 546 BC and that of Babylonia in 539 BC and established the Persian Empire as the preeminent power of the world. His son and successor, Cambyses II, extended the Persian realm even further by conquering the Egyptians in 525 BC.
Darius I, who ascended the throne in 521 BC, pushed the Persian borders as far eastward as the Indus River, had a canal constructed from the Nile to the Red Sea, and reorganized the entire empire, earning the title Darius t he Great. From 499 to 493 BC he engaged in crushing a revolt of the Ionian Greeks living under Persian rule in Asia, and then launched a punitive campaign against the European Greeks for supporting the rebels. His forces were disastrously defeated by the Greeks at the historic Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Darius died while preparing a new expedition against the Greeks; his son and successor, Xerxes I, attempted to fulfill his plan but met defeat in the great sea engagement the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC and in two successive land battles in the following year.
The forays of Xerxes were the last notable attempt at expansion of the Persian Empire. During the reign of Artaxerxes I), the second son of Xerxes, the Egyptians revolted, aided by the Greeks; although the revolt was finally suppressed in 446 BC, it signified the first major assault against, and the beginning of the decline of the Persian Empire.
Alexander the Great and the Seleucids
Many revolts took place in the next century; the final blow was struck by Alexander the Great, who added the Persian Empire to his own Mediterranean realm by defeating the troops of Darius III in a series of battles between 334 and 331 BC. Alexander effected a temporary integration of the Persians into his empire by enlisting large numbers of Persian soldiers in his armies and by causing all his high officers, who were Macedonians, to wed Persian wives. His death in 323 BC was followed by a long struggle among his generals for the Persian throne. The victor in this contest was Seleucus I, who, after conquering the rich kingdom of Babylon in 312 BC, annexed thereto all the former Persian realm as far east as the Indus River, as well as Syria and Asia Minor, and founded the Seleucid dynasty. For more than five centuries thereafter, Persia remained a subordinate unit within this great realm, which, after the overthrow of the Seleucids in the 2nd century BC, became the Parthian Empire.
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